Friday, February 24, 2017

How Do You Measure Discipleship?

President Thomas S. Monson said, "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates." (see Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107)

What are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to become? What performance are we seeking?  I would like to submit that the most important thing we do during our mortal life is to seek to become like our Father in Heaven or in other words, to become his disciple.  

Peter Drucker is credited with saying: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."  So, if I want to increase my discipleship, how do I measure it?  

Many of the important elements of discipleship cannot be measured. For example, Christ-like attributes, personal and family devotion, covenant keeping, and service to others.  The process of becoming a disciple of Christ is a process that focuses on the heart, and not necessarily on the the hands (doing). 

Elder Daniel L. Johnson provided this excellent definition of discipleship:

"Making the covenant to be a disciple of Christ is the beginning of a life long process, and the path is not always easy. As we repent of our sins and strive to do what He would have us do and serve our fellowmen as He would serve them, we will inevitably become more like Him. Becoming like Him and being one with Him is the ultimate goal and objective—and essentially the very definition of true discipleship."

"Discipleship is all about doing and becoming. As we obey His commandments and serve our fellowmen, we become better disciples of Jesus Christ. Obedience and submission to His will bring the companionship of the Holy Ghost, along with those blessings of peace, joy, and security that always accompany this third member of the Godhead. And they can come in no other way. Ultimately, it is total submission to His will that helps us become as our Savior is. Again, becoming like Him and being one with Him is the ultimate goal and objective—and essentially the very definition of true discipleship."
(Daniel L. Johnson, "Becoming a True Disciple", October 2012 LDS General Conference)

In business we often have metrics or key performance indicators to help drive behavior that improves performance.  However, we have all see times when these indicators have been manipulated to achieve the goal without causing a change in undesirable behaviors or negative attitudes.  These tend to be indicators of outward compliance rather than inner commitment.  

In Leader and Clerk Resources under LDS.org the bishop also is provided some data on his ward that are called "Key Indicators".   These are the indicators that are shown on a graph for the bishop to review:
  • Sacrament meeting attendance percentage
  • Home teaching percentage
  • Endowed adults with temple recommend percentage
  • Young Men priesthood attendance percentage
  • Young Women attendance percentage
  • Melchizedek Priesthood attendance percentage
  • Relief Society attendance percentage
  • Visiting teaching percentage
  • Men holding the Melchizedek Priesthood percentage. 
As you review this list you will notice that the statistics we are tracking generally measure a person's externally displayed commitment, not their discipleship.  Looking at the list above, 7 of the 9 are simply measures of who "showed up".  Did you show up at church?  Did you show up to do your home teaching?  How are these really a true indicator of what is in someone's heart?  Discipleship is absolutely about "showing up", but it is more than just doing.  We do with our hands, but we become with our hearts.

The other two key indicators are the only two that require more than just showing up.  They both require an interview with the the bishop and the stake president.  When you go to meet with the bishop to be advanced in the priesthood or to receive a temple recommend, it is interesting to note that the bishop is not the person that determines if you are ready for advancement in the priesthood or if you are worthy to enter the temple.  Elder Quentin L. Cook said.  "Members, both adults and youth, self-certify their worthiness when they answer the temple recommend questions" (Quentin L. Cook, "See Yourself in the Temple" April 2016 LDS General Conference). During those interviews you are doing the searching of your soul to determine if you are on the path toward discipleship and are ready to take on additional covenants.  We make covenants to both deepen and document our commitment.   So, the first question you may want to ask yourself in your personal discipleship evaluation is "Are my actions in alignment with the covenants that I have made?" 

This quote by Elder Uchtdorf may help us find another question we can ask ourselves: 

". . . let us deepen our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us take upon ourselves His name and commit each single day to walk anew in the path of discipleship. Let our works make our faith perfect. Through discipleship we may be perfected one step at a time by serving our family, our fellowmen, and God. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Joy of the Priesthood", October 2012 General Conference

The next question might be "Am I serving others?"  When we are obedient to the the commandments that God has given us then we find ourselves in those types of places and situations where we can provide service to others.  

Two additional questions that may help you self-evaluate your personal discipleship are, "Am I on the right path?" and "Am I headed in the right direction?".  However, we would be wise to avoid questions that compare your progress on the path to other's progress or that try to follow their path exactly. 

While there is no formula for discipleship or is it a checklist.  These two scriptures in the Book of John may provide an additional measurement. 

 31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; (John 8:31)

 35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

These questions might be added to your list of personal discipleship measurements, "Am I continuing in His word?" and "Am I showing love to others?"  Finally, this statement by Elder Holland may help us understand a final question:  

"Obviously as the path of discipleship ascends, that trail gets ever more narrow until we come to that knee-buckling pinnacle of the sermon of which Elder Christofferson just spoke: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” What was gentle in the lowlands of initial loyalty becomes deeply strenuous and very demanding at the summit of true discipleship. Clearly anyone who thinks Jesus taught no-fault theology did not read the fine print in the contract! No, in matters of discipleship the Church is not a fast-food outlet; we can’t always have it “our way.” Some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation can only come His way. (Jeffrey R. Holland, "An Ensign to the Nations", April 2011 LDS General Conference)


Ask yourself, what am I doing with my hands, knees, tongue and heart?  Are my hands doing what is right?  Are my knees bending in humility? Is my tongue speaking of Christ? Has my heart been given to him?    As we ask ourselves these questions with the humility that is required to invite the spirit, the Holy Ghost will prompt us with ideas on how we can improve and become better disciples of Christ.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Testimony is Not Emotion

I'm not a crier.  However, there seems to be an de facto standard that says those who shed the most tears during their testimony are the most spiritual.
Because I rarely shed tears during my testimony, does that mean I don’t have a strong testimony? Do I have to cry as proof that I feel the spirit?

Richard G. Scott helps us understand this relationship between testimony and emotion.
A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.  (Richard G. Scott, "The Power of a Strong Testimony", LDS General Conference October 2001)
Perhaps this statement by President Howard W. Hunter will shed some additional light on this topic:
“I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.”
Howard W. Hunter, in Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004), 99.

As an example of bold testimony we can look to the story of Alma and Amulek when they were preaching to the the people of Ammoniah.  Starting in verse 6 of Alma chapter 9 the people asked Alma:
6.  And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?
Alma’s response was to bear bold testimony.
7.   And they stood forth to lay their hands on me; but behold, they did not. And I stood with boldness to declare unto them, yea, I did boldly testify unto them, . . .
As I envision Alma standing before the people bearing bold testimony I see him full of spiritual strength.  I don’t see him reaching for the box of tissues next to the pulpit.

Finally, this instruction by President Eyring may help us as we prepare for the next fast and testimony meeting.
Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won’t need to be reminded how to bear testimony should they feel impressed to do it in the meeting. They won’t give sermons or exhortations or travel reports or try to entertain as they bear witness. Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly. Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language nor to go on at length.
A testimony is a simple expression of what we feel. The member who has fasted both for the blessing of the poor and for the companionship of the Spirit will be feeling gratitude for the love of God and the certainty of eternal truth. Even a child can feel such things, which may be why sometimes the testimony of a child so moves us and why our preparation of fasting and prayer produces in us childlike feelings. (Henry B. Eyring, “Witnesses for God” November 1996 LDS General Conference)
Perhaps this instruction will help those who are less prone to cry feel that they can stand in fast and testimony meeting and boldly share their testimony, even if they don’t need to reach for the Kleenex.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ponderize D&C 89:13 - And it is pleasing unto me . . .

I came across this phrase as I was reading Doctrine and Covenants section 89.

13 And it is pleasing unto me . . .  (D&C 89:13)

As I pondered this phrase, I asked myself if I really understood what it means.
When was the last time I asked myself, "Is what I am doing pleasing to the Lord?”
1 Nephi 6:3-6 helps us understand that there are things that are pleasing to God and things that are pleasing to the world.

3 And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.
4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.
5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.
6 Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.

So, what's the difference between pleasing the world and pleasing God?  In his conference talk titled, “Which way do you face?” Elder Lynn G. Robbins said:

"Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments (see Matthew 22:37–39). It is forgetting which way we face. And yet, we have all made that mistake because of the fear of men.” (Lynn G. Robins, “Which Way Do You Face?”, October 2014 LDS General Conference)

With that quote in mind it is easier to see what it means to please God.   Perhaps one more scripture will help.

22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 3:22)

So, we are pleasing god when we love him and keep his commandments.  That is great, but most of are do not love perfectly nor do we keep the commandments fully.  One of my favorite scriptures gives me assurance.  Speaking about spiritual gifts, the Lord said:

9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a asign that they may bconsume it upon their lusts. (D&C 46:9)

That phrase “and him that seekers so do to” has given me much comfort. When I fall short or fail to live up to my possibilities, I can ask myself where my heart is.  What am I seeking?  If I am seeking to love Him and keep His commandments, then I can be assured that the life I am leading is pleasing to God.

To conclude, I would like to share a quote by Elder Holland about D&C 46:9:

Boy, aren’t we all thankful for that added provision “and … seeketh so to do”! That has been a lifesaver because sometimes that is all we can offer! We take some solace in the fact that if God were to reward only the perfectly faithful, He wouldn’t have much of a distribution list.

Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.” [Alma 36:18] He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek. (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You”, April 2016 LDS General Conference)


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ponderize Exodus 17:8-12 - Leading as a Counselor

How can you lead as a counselor in a bishopric, quorum presidency, or auxiliary presidency?   There doesn't seem to be very much information in Handbook 2 about how to be a counselor.   From Handbook 2: section 4.2  "The bishop’s decisions are better informed and implemented when made after discussions with his counselors."  Most of the rest of the handbook just lists what the bishop can delegate to his counselors.  So, how do we learn to be an excellent counselor?  

We can look to the Old Testament for an example.  Remember the occasion when Moses was leading the children of Israel in their battle against the Amalekites. Moses took the rod of God in his hands and went to the top of a sacred mount, where he held up his hands to God over the battle; and as long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed. But when he let his hands down, the Amalekites prevailed. And as Moses’ arms became heavy with weariness, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses and helped him to hold up his hands until the battle was won. (See Ex. 17:8–12.)

 8 ¶Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
 9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.
 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

To me, this picture of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands is representative of what a counselor does.  

As I think about all the times I have been a counselor I believe there are two parts to this responsibility.  
  1. Counseling together 
  2. Being a wingman
Counseling Together: As leaders in the Church we all work in councils. We both seek to counsel with others and we speak up and share our perspective in a way that does not antagonize or cause contention but encourages growth and open communication. We need to create an environment where others feel the council allows people to ask hard questions and share opinions.  The other side of this coin is that everyone must be receptive and humble when receiving correction or counsel.  We we are effectively leading as a counselor we put the interests of the council and what is best for the Church above our personal agenda.  Consider this statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard: 

"In my experience, lives are blessed when leaders make wise use of committees and councils. They move the work of the Lord forward much faster and farther, like a fine automobile operating at peak efficiency. Committee and council members are unified. Together they experience a much more pleasant trip along the highway of Church service." (M. Russell Ballard, "Counseling with our Councils", April 1994 LDS General Conference) 

Being a wingman:  A wingman is a pilot who flies in formation behind and usually off the right wing of the lead pilot.  The term wingman has been expanded to apply to a wide variety of situations.  Originally the role of the wingman is to add an element of mutual support during aerial combat.  The presence of a wingman increases the capability of both pilots by adding firepower, situational awareness, and increasing the tactical options of the team.  In addition to the wingman's responsibility to stay close to the leader, he also warns of immediate threats and maintains situational awareness so he is ready to assume the lead of the formation at any time. Speaking of wingmen, Elder Robert D. Hales said:

"When I was a lieutenant in the air force, our squadron selected as its motto “Return with Honor.” We realized that this motto applied to all members of the flight. It did not just apply to us as individuals. We flew jet fighter planes in a fingertip formation. For a moment, fold your thumb under your hand and look at the back of your hand with your fingers extended. You will see a flight of four planes with a leader and three wingmen. You are protected on the left and on the right, and the leader is concentrating on his goals. If for a moment you will separate and put two fingers on either side, you will still see a leader and a wingman, one plane ahead of the other, and one plane on the wing to protect. We all knew and were taught from bitter experience that a “loner” out of formation was unprotected and would surely be destroyed." (Robert D. Hales, "We Can't Do It Alone", October 1975 General Conference)


One reason wingmen are so valuable is that they see the world from a slightly different perspective.  I believe it is the counselor’s responsibility to bring both his unique talents as well as his perspective to the presidency.  Each of us are blessed with individual talents and spiritual gifts (Moroni 10:8-18).  With three sets of spiritual gifts the capability of the presidency is magnified and their unity offers protection.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ponderize Mormon 9:29 - Unworthily vs. Unconsciously

Recently I heard this question:  Which is worse, partaking of the sacrament unworthily, or partaking of the sacrament unconsciously?

Of course, the first scripture that comes to mind when you think of worthily partaking of the sacrament is Mormon 9:29
 29 See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out. (Mormon 9:29)
Many have asked the question about what this scriptures means?  Elder John H. Groberg gave this council.
What does it mean give or take it the sacrament worthily? Or how do we know if we are unworthy? If we have desires to improve, which is to repent, and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy. If, however, we refuse to repent and improve, if we do not remember him and keep his commandments, then we have stopped our growth, and that is damnation to our souls. The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we are the ones who, knowingly, are worthy, or otherwise.   (Elder John H. Groberg  "The Beauty and Importance of the Sacrament," Ensign, May 1989, 38.)
With that definition in mind, we can now ask ourselves what it means to take the sacrament unconsciously, or in other words, without realizing it or being aware.  And, if we do, is that a bad thing?   One of our problems as humans is that we have very short memories.  We tend to forget.  I suppose that is the purpose of this warning:
23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee.  (Deuteronomy 4:23)
We take of the sacrament each week so that we don't forget our covenants.  We take it to always remember Him.  When we are not continually reminded of our covenants, we drift quickly into iniquity.
8 Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one.  (Alma 46:8)
The problem with partaking of the sacrament unconsciously is not that we are committing some sin, but rather that we are making ourselves more susceptible to sin.  I believe that is why we are commanded in D&C 59 9-13 to go to church each week.
 9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my dholy day;
 10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
 11 Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
 12 But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
 13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.  (D&C 59:9-13)
Perhaps one more scripture will help us understand this principle of remembering.  Doctrine and Covenants 27:2 shows that the Lord is less concerned about the mechanics and logistics of the sacrament than he is about the purpose of the sacrament.  He just wants us focus our “eyes” on him and take some time each week to remember what He did for us.
2 For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins. (D&C 27:2)
So, which is worse, partaking of the sacrament unworthily, or partaking of the sacrament unconsciously?  Perhaps it isn’t a matter of degrees of badness.  Perhaps it is simply a case of missing the mark in different ways.  In either case, some personal re-commitment and correction is appropriate.  If we feel our worthiness is in question, then it is a matter of improving and repenting.  If, on the other hand we sit in during the sacrament thinking about or doing things that distract or prevent us from the purpose of the sacrament, then we have also missed the mark and an opportunity.    But more important, when we actively seek to remember and renew our covenants each week, we are blessed with increased protection and strength to avoid sin and iniquity.    President Henry B. Eyring sums it up beautifully when he said:
If we partake of the sacrament in faith, the Holy Ghost will then be able to protect us and those we love from the temptations that come with increasing intensity and frequency.  The companionship of the Holy Ghost makes what is good more attractive and temptation less compelling. That alone should be enough to make us determined to qualify for the Spirit to be with us always. (Henry B. Eyring, “The Holy Ghost as Your Companion”, October 2015 LDS General Conference) 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ponderize John 8:3-11 - A bag of stones

As I thought about the experience of the woman who was "taken in adultery", a thought came to my mind.  What do we have in our personal bag with when we leave our homes each day?  Did the scribes and Pharisees make sure they had a bag of stones with them at the ready just in case there was someone who needed their judgment and punishment?  Do we figuratively fill our pouch with stones so we are ready to meet out our own self-righteous verdicts and penalties?   Let's review the story:
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
I wonder if there are better things we could fill our bag with than stones.  Perhaps we would do well to leave the stones at home and instead fill a bag with the a tube of the balm of Gilead, a vile of the oil of healing, and a box of spikenard ointment.   


The Balm of Gilead


The Bible Dictionary says this about the balm of Gilead:
An aromatic gum or spice used for healing wounds (Gen. 43:11; Jer. 8:22; 46:11; 51:8). A bush producing the resin from which the balm was made grew so plentifully in Gilead in Old Testament times that the balm came to be known as the “balm of Gilead” and was exported to Tyre and Egypt (Gen. 37:25; Ezek. 27:17).
Elder Boyd K. Packer expanded  on this definition when he said:
In ancient times there came from Gilead, beyond the Jordan, an ointment made from the gum of a tree. It was a major commodity in trade. The Ishmaelite traders who purchased Joseph from his brothers were carrying this balm of Gilead to Egypt (see Gen. 37:25).  It became symbolic for the power to soothe and to heal.
There is a Balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole,
There is a Balm in Gilead, 
To heal the sin sick soul.
(Boyd K. Packer, "Balm of Gilead", October 1987 LDS General Conference)
By placing a tube of the balm of Gilead in our bag, we would be reminded to reach out and heal the physical and spiritual wounds of others as we journey on our daily path. 


Oil of Healing


The next item to put in our bag could be concentrated olive oil.  Like the balm of Gilead, this oil is used to bless and heal others.  But it also has another purpose.  Let's re-read  James 5:14-15:
 14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:  
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
President Brigham Young demonstrated his faith in the power of healing when he taught: 
“When I lay hands on the sick, I expect the healing power and influence of God to pass through me to the patient, and the disease to give way. … When we are prepared, when we are holy vessels before the Lord, a stream of power from the Almighty can pass through the tabernacle of the administrator to the system of the patient, and the sick are made whole.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 252
Continuing on this theme, President Spencer W. Kimball adds some insight on the purpose of faith in both those that are doing the healing and those that are being healed.  He said: 
“The need of faith is often underestimated. The ill one and the family often seem to depend wholly on the power of the priesthood and the gift of healing that they hope the administering brethren may have, whereas the greater responsibility is with him who is blessed. … The major element is the faith of the individual when that person is conscious and accountable. ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole’ (Matthew 9:22) was repeated so often by the Master that it almost became a chorus.” [“President Kimball Speaks Out on Administration to the Sick,” Tambuli, Aug. 1982, 36–37; New Era, Oct. 1981, 47.]

The consecrated olive oil reminds us to have both the faith to heal, and the faith to be healed.  The oil of healing will remind us that we can help develop greater faith in others. 


Spikenard Ointment


Let's review the story of the spikenard ointment in Mark 14:3-8:
3 ¶ And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. 
4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? 
5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. 
6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. 
7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. 
8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
The spikenard ointment can remind us to keep our priorities aligned with eternal perspectives.  The phrase "She hath done what she could" reminds each of us that we have abilities, gifts, and talents that we can contribute to this great work.  The spikenard ointment was what she had to offer.   There are times when we need to step forward and offer our personal talents and abilities.  When our perspective is aligned correctly we will know when it is time to open the precious oil of our personal offering. 

Note that all of these oils and ointments are used to bless, heal, and help others.  The stones are used to condemn and pass judgment.   When we fill our bag each day with those things that will help bless the lives of others then we are prepared to show the love that is asked in the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39)
Finally, I would like to conclude with a statement by President Thomas S. Monson:

     "We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. The Apostle John tells us, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.      
"Actually, love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love."     
"There are many attributes which are manifestations of love, such as kindness, patience, selflessness, understanding, and forgiveness. In all our associations, these and other such attributes will help make evident the love in our hearts. (Thomas S. Monson "Love-the Essence of the Gospel", April 2014 LDS General Conference

Monday, January 9, 2017

Essentialism

Essentialism as defined by Greg Mckeown in his book with that title, is the disciplined pursuit of less, or in other words it is doing what is absolutely necessary and extremely important.   OK, that is a great idea, but how do I define what is absolutely necessary and extremely important.  

Is this simply a matter of separating what I SHOULD be doing from what I WANT to be doing?
Is this another one of those "follow your passion" topics?  
Come to think of it, who defines "should"?  Why do we let others define "should" for us?

For those who are still struggling with the question, "Why am I here on this planet?", this can be a difficult exercise.  For the purpose of this discussion I am going to assume that you understand God's plan of happiness and you know what you are doing on this earth.  
 
With that as a foundation, now you can't simply separate your life into these two lists:
  1. What I should do (demands of others or demands that I imposed on myself based on my choices)
  2. What I what to do (my inner desires and passions)
There is a third column.  It is "What will help me become".  Let me explain it this way.  

Read this statement from the definition of Prayer in the Bible Dictionary of the LDS edition of the scriptures:  
"Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other." (BD Prayer)
Pause and think about that process of bringing our will into correspondence with the will of the Father.  What does correspondence mean?  Of course one definition relates to exchanging letters, but the definition we are looking for is this one, "a close similarity, connection, or equivalence."  The process of making our will similar or equivalent to the will of the Father is the path to becoming like our Father.  The very thought of the magnitude of becoming like our heavenly father tends to fill our mind with with piles of personal "natural man" type baggage.   We don't have to carry that baggage on the path to becoming.  We can leave it on the side of the road.  

As members of His church we have become programmed to create long lists of things we should do.  We assume that getting back to our Heavenly Father is some kind of checklist.   We all have this un-written list "should do's".   As I reflect on this, I'm wondering if we perceive this incorrectly.  Are we really trying to "get back" to Him?  Or are we trying to "become" like him?  There is a huge difference in this type of thinking.  Consider this quote by President Kimball:  
 “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 135.)
Ask yourself, why is there a separation in the first place?  What caused that separation?  Was it really our negligence in checking off some of our "should do's" from this imaginary list of requirements for perfection?   We allow ourselves to get confused between becoming and doing.  The goal is to become something, not just to do something.   

The other trap we may fall into is this idea of pursuing our passions.  These items fall in the "what do I want to do".   Here is the problem.  This idea of pursuing your passions is good if you are specifically focusing on using your strengths to build the kingdom, but if you find yourself listening to the wrong voice, he will remind you that you that things of this world can only be bought with money.  If you are seeking for things of this world, then you will need money.  Things of eternal significance can't be bought with money.  As we consider pursing our passions, we would be better served by asking our Father in Heaven questions related to our purpose, talents, and potential.

This exercise may be helpful.  Get a piece of paper and make three columns (landscape mode) and label each column as follows: 

Should do
Want to do
What will help me "Become" 
-




Spend some time prayerfully and  thoughtfully filling out this sheet.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ponderize 1 Timothy 4:1-3 - Forbidding and Abstaining

I was listening to an old episode of the Mormon Vegitarian Podcast and I heard a statement that I thought was quite interesting.  A fellow ward member said to the wife of the host of this podcast that she could show in the scriptures how vegetarianism leads to apostasy.
The scripture she quoted was 1 Timothy 4:1-3

 1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

One of the places I typically go when looking for greater insight on a particular scripture is to the LDS Scripture Citation Index.  You can receive incredible insights and clarification from modern prophets on difficult passages of scripture by using this index.  And, while what they say is very instructive, it is also very instructive to note what has not been commented on.  Verse 3 of the scripture passage above is an example.  There is complete silence from the brethren on this verse in regards to the "commanding to abstain from meats" phrase.   

Without help from the conference talks, I am left to try and figure this one out through study, pondering, and prayer.  Spoiler alert, this is what I came up with, avoid extremism, it can lead to apostasy.   Let's look elsewhere in the scriptures for additional insight.  You can find a similar statement about eating meat in D&C 49:18-19.  As you read this passage, notice how the words "forbid" and "abstain" are used.

 18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
 19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.

The same words, forbid and abstain, were used in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.  Is it possible that these two scriptures are referring to the same behavior?  I would like to submit that the point of these two scriptures is not about whether a person should or should not eat meat, but rather it is about how gospel extremism or gospel hobbies can start you on the path to apostasy.  Elder Boyd K. Packer commented on this verse.  

"Young people, learn to use moderation and common sense in matters of health and nutrition, and particularly in medication. Avoid being extreme or fanatical or becoming a faddist.
For example, the Word of Wisdom counsels us to eat meat sparingly (see D&C 89:12 Lest someone become extreme, we are told in another revelation that “whoso forbiddeth to [eat meat] is not ordained of God” D&C 49:181 [The context for verse 18 is verse 19: “For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air … [are] ordained for the use of man for food.” D&C 49:19 Section 49 was specifically directed to members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (the Shakers) to correct some of their erroneous doctrines. One of their beliefs was not to eat flesh-meat or fish.]" (Boyd K. Packer, "The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises", April 1996 LDS General Conference)

Elder Packer cautioned us to avoid extremism, fanaticism or fads.  Could it be that meat consumption is not the issue at hand?  These scriptures could be helping us try to avoid the extremism that leads to apostasy.   

With that context and a fresh understanding of the two scripture passages above, re-read D&C 89:12-15 
 12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
 13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
 14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts,to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
 15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

I have posted this before, but it is helpful to re-read the definition of sparingly from the 1829 Websters Dictionary before continuing.  
SPA'RINGLY, adverb
1. Not abundantly.
2. Frugally; parsimoniously; not lavishly. High titles of honor were in the king's minority sparingly granted, because dignity then waited on desert. Commend but sparingly whom thou dost love.
3. Abstinently; moderately. Christians are obliged to taste even the innocent pleasures of life but sparingly
4. Seldom; not frequently. The morality of a grave sentence, affected by Lucan, is more sparingly used by Virgil.
5. Cautiously; tenderly.

This verse does not say you can never eat meat, that you should go around forbidding others to eat meat, or that you should start your own religion of non-meat eaters.  All of those roads have a dead-end in cul-de-sac of apostasy.  Think about this verse in relation to the commands given in the garden of Eden.  There are things in this life that we are supposed to choose for ourselves.  I feel like he is saying to me.  You can eat meat if you want.  I'm pleased when you don't, but you can choose.  If you choose not to, I have some blessings that are waiting for you.  (D&C 89:18-21)

There is mounting scientific evidence that the standard American diet, that includes large quantities of meat and other animal products is harmful to us.  Just like the prohibition on tobacco in the Word of Wisdom has been scientifically proven to be correct, the nutrition guidance in verses 10-17 of the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants will also be as blatantly obvious to future generations as the consequences of smoking is to ours.  Watch this video for some eye-opening facts: Evidence-Based Eating

I believe the Lord has left this decision for each of us to decide what is best.  You are left to choose and act for yourself (2 Nephi 10:23).   Read the evidence, ponder, pray, and then act on the inspiration you receive.  That's not gospel extremism, fanaticism, following the latest fad, or looking beyond the mark.  That is how you receive personal revelation to keep your feet firmly planted in the center of the gospel.

Additional Study:    
In the spirit of proving all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21)  I commend the following authors to you as you seek to understand how the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants applies to you.  

Also, here is one of my favorite places to get fact-based information.  Nutritionfacts.org
Finally, this video has probably changed more lives than any other single source of media on this subject currently available: Forks over Knives




Friday, December 30, 2016

Discipleship: Where am I?

The Lord extends the invitation to all of us to follow him. He stands at the door and knocks. (Revelation 3:20).   His arms of mercy are extended to all of us.  The simile that is used several times in the scriptures about how He will gather us as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings applies to all of us.  We have to allow Him to gather us in and protect us.  If we run away when the arms of mercy are extended, then we won’t receive the benefit of his protecting arms. His invitation is for us to come to him. We are all invited.   We know that the fruit of the tree of life is the greatest of all the gifts of God and is the most precious and desirable of all other fruits (1 Nephi 15:36).   God’s greatest gift was manifest when he sent His Son to redeem his people.  It is clear that we must reach out and partake of the fruit.  Just as we have to accept the invitation to come unto him, we also have to reach and partake.  There is no force or coercion.  We simply have to make the choice to come to him.  

Elder Daniel L. Johnson said:  

Those of us who have entered into the waters of baptism and received the gift of the Holy Ghost have covenanted that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, or in other words, we declare ourselves to be disciples of the Lord. We renew that covenant each week as we partake of the sacrament, and we demonstrate that discipleship by the way that we live.
Making the covenant to be a disciple of Christ is the beginning of a lifelong process. . .  As we repent of our sins and strive to do what He would have us do and serve our fellowmen as He would serve them, we will inevitably become more like Him. Becoming like Him and being one with Him is the ultimate goal and objective—and essentially the very definition of true discipleship. (Elder Daniel L. Johnson, “Becoming a True Disciple”, October 2012 General Conference)

The road to discipleship does not go through a list of callings.  Your refiners fire may be through addiction, wayward children, loneliness, depression, scoutmaster or even nursery leader.  Your personal path to becoming a disciple of Christ begins with dropping to your knees.  That’s the first step.  Do you want the rest of the checklist?  Here it is:  Step 2 is consistent scripture study, and step 3 is acting upon the promptings you receive. Don’t make it too complicated.  The path is easy.  The yoke is light.  The storms will come.  And the rock of your redeemer will give you a sure foundation with power to become His sons and His daughters.   


I invite each of you to take some time very soon and ponder where you are on the path to discipleship.  Ask yourself, “What am I becoming?”  “Am I on a path that will help me and others become despises of Jesus Christ and more fully enjoy the blessings of the holy temple.   

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ponderize Jacob 4:14 - Looking Beyond the Mark

After hearing Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk "Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus" in the last general conference.  This quote has been on my mind.

"While there are many examples of looking beyond the mark, a significant one in our day is extremism. Gospel extremism is when one elevates any gospel principle above other equally important principles and takes a position that is beyond or contrary to the teachings of Church leaders.”

This phrase "looking beyond the mark comes from Jacob 4:14.  

 14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.  

If you look in the footnotes to Elder Cook's conference talk you will see that he wrote an article in the Ensign in 2003 on this topic, titled "Looking Beyond the Mark"
This article is significant because he wrote about specific was we can recognize when we are looking beyond the mark.  He said we look beyond the mark when we:
1. substitute the philosophies of men for gospel truths
2. engage in gospel extremism
3. seek heroic gestures at the expense of daily consecration
4. elevate rules over doctrine.

Perhaps one shield against the temptation to look beyond the mark comes from Mosiah 4:27.  Notice the principles of wisdom, order, requisite, and diligent are evident in this verses.  
 27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.  Mosiah 4:26-27

The gospel of Christ is simple, but we sometimes make it overly complicated and by so doing fall in the trap of preaching "more or less" than the simple doctrines of the gospel. 
 67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
 68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. (D&C 10:67-68)


This has caused me to wonder if our "mark" might change as we mature and progress in the gospel.  For some who are struggling with daily prayer and scripture study their mark may be different than for someone who has mastered that habit.  We start to wander off the path when we take a gospel principle that we are personally working on and try to convince others that they should also move over and use our personal spiritual journey as their own.  Each of us goes through phases where we concentrate on a particular gospel topic in order to gain a deeper understanding.  This is good and spiritually healthy.  However, when we have opportunity to teach or speak in Church we are commanded to teach the pure doctrine of the gospel.  We look beyond the mark when our personal gospel study, personal inspiration, and individual revelation is shared in such a way to convince others to elevate your current personal gospel topic above the basic doctrines and principles of the gospel.