Sunday, June 25, 2017

Finding Peace through Jesus Christ

I grew up in a small town in Indiana. I graduated with the largest class in the history of our school – 56. We were the only members of the church in town; and we were not active. In the fall of 1970 I walked onto the campus of BYU for the first time since I was two years old. I was born in Provo while my dad was at BYU. To say I was lost in a sea of Mormons would be an understatement. It had been 10 years since my family had attended an LDS church. Now I was surrounded by Mormons and in classes that had hundreds of students. I was alone which seems a little strange since it is “the Lord’s university”. Why did Heavenly Father lead me to come here and now I feel so alone?

The answer for me was to immerse myself in the culture of BYU. I joined the BYU Folk Dancers, the BYU soccer team, took a Book of Mormon class (well, that was required), and went to church; what else is there to do in Provo on Sundays?. It was not too long before I felt at peace; I was home where I belonged. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring peace to our lives, even in difficult times.

Brother Kieth Wilson, a professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, told of a student in one of his classes that had a similar experience to mine. Mary Ann was raised in a strong LDS family in Wisconsin. She always wanted to attend BYU but when she got to BYU she too felt lost and started to question why she was there and if the Lord was aware of her. She had prayed for help but no answers had come. Then one day in her Book of Mormon class she was sitting in the back of the auditorium and feeling despondent. The teacher, not Bro. Wilson,  suddenly walked up to her and whispered, “I don’t know why, but I feel impressed to tell you that the Lord loves you deeply and that he knows you.” (B-Y-You Matter to Him). Knowing that Heavenly Father was aware of her and that he would send someone to tell her that was all she needed.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland has said that the ministering of angels is real and many times those angels are people that we know; our neighbors, family members, ward members, or co-workers. (The Ministry of Angels) When we see someone that is having a difficult time or struggling with their testimony we can be there for them. Sometimes all it takes is a hug and a smile to let them know Heavenly Father is aware of them and loves them.

I would like to share just one of the many experiences that I had while serving as the Bishop of a married student ward. I often go on a bike ride in the mornings and then end at USU where I shower and then go to work.  One Monday morning I entered the locker room and tried to open my locker but could not remember my combination. I was frustrated and had to go out to the service desk to have them look up the combination. Standing at the counter was one of our ward members. Our ward had an activity the previous Friday and the member at the counter, had checked out some games to use at the activity. One of the games was croquet and one of the croquet mallets had been broken. He was trying to explain what had happened and was really embarrassed and did not know what to do to fix things. I told him that I would take care of it and he thanked me and left. I gave them the information needed to pay for the damage and went back in and took a shower and got dressed. As I passed by the service counter I asked the two girls there if they were LDS and they both said yes, they were. I said you just witnessed a tender mercy of the Lord. There was a reason that I forgot my locker combination that morning and it was because I was needed out at the counter to help that young man. The Lord was aware of his situation and he made sure I was there to help.

Do you think these things are just chance? I testify that they are not. Had I left on my ride a little earlier, a little latter, or had remembered my combination (that I never had forgotten); I would not have been there to help him. He went away knowing that the Lord loved him and he knew him personally.

If we will just have eyes to see, we will see the hand of the Lord in our lives. The more we see and acknowledge the more things we will see. When we live the gospel, we can have peace. The Nephites experienced 200 years of peace after Jesus Christ’s visit to them because of their faith and steadfastness in keeping God’s commandments. The Lord promises that “he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). Abraham learned that it was only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that would he be able to find greater peace and happiness (Abraham 1:2)

We can receive peace in our lives as we repent and look to the atonement of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sin and put away the natural man and become born again. Remember how the people of King Benjamin reacted to his address just before he died? After King Benjamin had finished his address, the people fell to the earth because they “had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth” (Mosiah 4:2). They all cried asking for the atonement of Jesus Christ to be applied in their lives. The scriptures tell us what happened to them:

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.” (Mosiah 4:3)

Those who are truly born again and are cleansed of their sins have a desire that all Heavenly Father’s children experience the same joy and peace. Remember Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah? Once they were converted they spent the rest of their lives trying to help others experience the peace that comes through keeping the commandments and living the gospel (Mosiah 27:35). The Sons of Mosiah even went on the mission to the Lamanites because “they were desirous that salvation should be declared unto every creature, they could not bear that any human soul should parish” (Mosiah 28:3)

Elder McConkie in our Stake Conference this last weekend talked of the importance of our sacrament meetings and especially the peace that comes when we partake of the sacrament. Sacrament meetings should be a spiritual experience for everyone that attends. Everyone should be able to feel peace when they come to sacrament meeting. We should come in the chapel and be reverent, we should not interrupt someone else’s attempt to feel the spirit by visiting or doing other things that would detract from the spirit. We should come early and listen to the prelude music and prepare for the sacrament. Everyone should be welcome to attend our meetings. How would you react if someone came and sat next to you in the chapel and they smelled of tobacco or alcohol? What if they had a lot of piercings or tattoos? What if they came in jeans and a t-shirt? Would you move or give them a look that tells them they don’t belong here?

What better place for individuals that are struggling with their testimony than in a sacrament meeting? The Lord speaking to the Nephites after his resurrection said that we should not cast anyone out of our meetings “for you know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them” (3 Nephi 18:32).

When I was set apart as a bishop I was also set apart as a judge in Israel, but now that I am released I am no longer a judge. It is not my place to judge others. We must treat others as the Savior would. While he did not condone or accept their sinful ways, he did minister to them. He loved them enough to help them change. He did not turn anyone away.

One of the most important lessons that I learned while serving in the student ward is that Heavenly Father loves all his children. I does not matter if they are members or not, active or not, have current temple recommends or not, 100% home and visiting teachers or not. I want to make sure that you understand what I am saying; he does not condone sin in any way, but he still loves his children and wants them to have the happiness and peace that comes from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. That fullness is only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I used to be very judgmental of members that did not live up to what I thought a committed member should be. To think of it now, I think I was trying to pull the mote out of everyone else’s eyes, while I was blind to the beam in my own eyes (Matthew 7:5). I was a hypocrite and am sorry if I have offended anyone by those actions. While I am still not perfect, I am trying to do my best to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hopefully others will see that light in me.

One of my favorite youth speakers is John Wilcox. He tells a story of when he was in high school and on the debate team. They would travel to debates on a school bus and while traveling they would often play a game called “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”. They would have to keep a rhythm going while saying all the names that had been said and adding another name at the end. The person whose name was added would have to repeat all the names in order and add another one. If you messed up you would be sent the back of the bus. He said that whenever he would get close to the front of the bus he would mess up and get sent to the back of the bus.

This would frustrate him. Then he realized that it did not matter how often he messed up and got sent to the back of the bus, if he stayed on the bus it was taking him home. The same is true with us and the Gospel. As long as we stay on the “gospel bus” by trying to do the best we can and not give up when we make a mistake or sin, we are still headed in the right direction, home to Heavenly Father. We are all on that bus, but we in different seats. Some are closer to the front than we are, others may be farther towards the back. Instead of trying to make others mess up and get sent to the back, we should all be encouraging everyone on the bus to do better and lift others to a higher commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Feeling the peace that comes from the choices we make every day; choosing to live the gospel, choosing to be loyal to the prophet and our local leaders, choosing to be good neighbors. Remember what Dumbledore told Harry? He said: “It’s not our abilities that show who we truly are, it is our choices”. Jesus said that it is by our fruits that we are known. Do the choices we make show the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or do we have fruit that is good for nothing but to be thrown in the fire and burned?

Like Abraham who desired greater happiness and peace; if we do these things we can have the peace the Lord promised when he said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Work of Fathers

Today is Father’s Day in the U.S. and I would like to share some of my thoughts on being a father and now a grandfather. I have been a father for 41 years and a grandfather for 15 years. A lot has changed since I became a father in the mid 70’s. Those where the days of the Walkman, 8-track tapes, and VCRs. To play video games you had to go to the Arcade where they had Pong, Pac Man, and Space Invaders. There was no Internet, cell phones, or personal computers. Apple was only a fruit and long distance calls cost a lot of money. My children had it good compared to what we had as children. We had to listen to music on records, to see a movie we had to go to a movie theater, we had one of the first TVs and it was only black and white, and even though the microwave oven was invented in 1946 we never had one. Each generation wants their children to have a better life than they had when they were growing up. 

Our children invented most of their games, playing outside in the field and trees behind our yard. We played board games like Risk, Monopoly, Shoots and Ladders, and Life. They used their imaginations to invent places and people they would be. Today my grandchildren play many of the same games but they are now played on their tablets, phones, or computers.

Times have changed for our children and grandchildren, but fathers are still mainly concerned about the same things; providing for their family, keeping their children safe, and helping their children develop emotionally and spiritually. Many fathers spend most of their time away from their children working to provide all the things that they need. They wish they could be there more for the sports, dance recitals, camping trips, or simply just sitting and talking about the things that matter most to children. For young families, income is another thing that often is in short supply because their careers are just beginning and the wages are lower. I often wished we could figure out how to pay families a higher income during the time that children were home and there are more financial demands and less as the children leave home and there are less income needs.

In “The Family:A Proclamation to the World” we are taught that families are the most important unit in time and eternity. We are taught the role that fathers and mothers share in raising their children.

“THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

One of the joys of being a grandfather is that I can help my children with the struggles they are going through with their children. While not all grandparents are retired, we generally have more free time and hopefully a little more flexible income. I can’t wait until I retire (just one more year) because I will be able to spend more time with my grandchildren doing many of the things that I did not do because I was too busy working. I enjoy being able to spend the time throwing the football with my 12-year-old grandson and playing hide and seek with my four-year-old grandson when I come home. I can’t wait until I can spend as much time with them as they want once I am retired. We love to go camping and watching them participate in youth sports.

This is what fathers and grandfathers do. They protect, provide, teach, and help our children grow up to become parents of their own children. We all wish we had more time to spend with our children. We want the best for them. We hurt when they make the wrong choices and suffer the consequences of their choices. We suffer with them when they come home crying because someone was mean to them at school, got picked last, don’t make the team, or missed the last shot to win the game. While we feel empathy for them in these situations, we know that these experiences will help build character and as they suffer they become stronger.

The Lord speaking to Moses said: “this is my work and glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). If this is our Heavenly Father’s work, shouldn’t this be every father’s work. - to bring our children back into the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.? We are all children of our Heavenly Father and he has sent them here to live with us so that we might teach them of their royal heritage; that their destiny is to qualify to live eternally with God and Christ. We need to prepare for them to receive the saving ordinances of baptism and the temple where we are become families that last throughout all eternity.

This should be the most important work we do. We can provide a comfortable home that is safe, we can teach them the importance of hard work, and to be good citizens; but if we fail to teach our children faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and baptism then we will fail in our primary responsibility as fathers.

Our work as fathers is never done. Even when our children are grown and leave home we still be involved in their lives encouraging them to continue to live righteously and teach their children to follow their examples. We are also there to help as much as we can and be there for our grandchildren. If Heavenly Father’s work is not done until all his children are brought back to his presence, then our work as fathers is not done until our children, grandchildren and all the generations to come have made it back to their eternal home with us.

Your comments and questions are welcome.