Friday, November 6, 2015

Church policy on children of gay couples: An act of mercy and compassion.

It's the #1 trending topic on Facebook right now (Nov. 6, 2015): The Mormon church has affirmed that their policy does not allow children of gay couples to be blessed, baptized, or receive other priesthood ordinances, as long as they are living with the parent who is living in a homosexual relationship.

Unfortunately it's trending because most of the world misunderstands the purpose behind this policy. Most headlines say something to the effect of "Mormon church announces ban on baptism of children of same-sex couples".  Many use the phrase "Mormon church excludes children of same sex couples".  The vast majority see this as a way for the LDS church to punish those who don't agree with them.

People who are offended by this policy do not understand the purpose of ordinances such as baptism. In the LDS church, a person is considered an official member of the church when they are baptized, but that is not the reason we baptize our members.  Baptism is first and foremost a covenant with God; you promise to live by His standards and in return He promises to forgive your sins AND give you the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. That is the purpose of baptism. If someone breaks God's commandments after making the covenant to keep them, they are under a greater condemnation than if they had violated His standards without making the covenant. This is one of the reasons we don't baptize children before they are 8 years old: they do not understand what is right and wrong, and if we were to put them under covenant to always do right, we would be setting them up for failure since they don't know what that means. Instead, we wait to give them that responsibility until they are ready to live up to it.

I want to share a brief story about a woman I taught on my mission. For this blog post, we'll call her Sarah. Sarah was a single mother who wanted very badly to be baptized. She believed in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, she had a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he saw and heard what he said he saw and heard.  She attended church every week, and was constantly praying and studying her scriptures. She knew it was true and tried her best to live the commandments. But Sarah was not allowed to be baptized because of one thing: Sarah worked in a prostitution house.

Now, let me be clear, Sarah was NOT a prostitute.  She fully lived the law of chastity.  Her job at the prostitution house was to "assign" girls to customers.  She was basically the receptionist who made the work flow easier.  She worked there because it was good money and most of her hours were at night, which allowed her to be with her kids during the day. She didn't agree with the work; in fact most of the time she encouraged the girls who worked there to get out of the industry.  She in no way wanted to be part of it, but for the time it was how she provided for her family.

We could not baptize Sarah while she held this employment - not because we thought she was being rebellious or because we wanted to exclude her, but out of love and mercy for her specific situation.  Had we baptized Sarah, she would have been held to a covenant and responsibility which, under the circumstances, would have been impossible for her to live up to.  How could we expect her to "always remember Him (Christ)" when she spends 40+ hours a week around people in the act of fornicating?  How could we promise her that the Holy Ghost would be her companion to teach her and warn her of danger when she is constantly in an environment that He won't enter?  It was better to wait until she was in a position where she was actually capable of living her covenant before asking her to take that responsibility.

That is the same thing the LDS church is doing with children who live with same-sex parents who are living in a homosexual relationship.  These children are not being excluded from blessings, but rather they are being given a break from being held to the same standard as the vast majority of members. Their home environment makes it almost impossible for the Holy Ghost to dwell with them because they are constantly surrounded by a lifestyle that embraces one of the most serious sins a person can commit.  The Church isn't saying "We don't like you (or your parents), so you can't be part of our club". They are saying "We recognize that it would be almost impossible for you to keep these covenants, so we are relieving you of the responsibility...for now."   If the church were to baptize those children, it would be setting them up for failure because they are not in a position where they could fully keep their covenants. It is an act of mercy towards those children, not an act of punishment. In releasing them of responsibility, those children CANNOT fall under condemnation for breaking their covenants, because those covenants were never made. This means that if they were to violate God's laws (which is more likely to happen if they are being taught at home that such a lifestyle is okay), then God can show greater mercy to them because they were not under obligation to keep them in the first place.

It is the same when the church needs to remove someone's name from the records through ex-communication.  It isn't a way of saying "You were naughty so we don't want you anymore" but rather a way of saying "you aren't in a position to keep your covenants right now, so you are relieved from that responsibility until you can put yourself in a position to keep them".

Now, obviously those who aren't baptized or have been ex-communicated cannot receive certain blessings, such as having the promise of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, or receiving forgiveness of their sins by renewing their covenants through partaking of the Sacrament.  But they can do their very best to live God's commandments, and they will still receive blessings in accordance with those laws to which they adhere.  They are always welcome to attend church, to participate in activities, and to volunteer/participate in almost every aspect as those who are currently baptized. They are not condemned for not participating in something that is not available to them. God understands their situation and judges accordingly.  He will never hold someone accountable for something that truly is out of their hands.

If there is a child of a same-sex couple who wants to be baptized but cannot (due to this policy), and they live their life in accordance with the gospel anyway, they will receive as many blessings as God can give them. They will still receive the promised blessings to the laws to which they are obedient.  If something should happen to them and they die before they are at the age when they can leave home and choose to be baptized, God will not deny them the fullness of His blessings.  I believe He will treat that situation the same as He does children who die before the age of accountability.  They are not condemned or lost because they died before they had a chance to be baptized.  They are saved because God is understanding that it was not their fault.

I would now like to finish my story about Sarah.  Sarah decided that it was a higher priority for her to be baptized and receive the promised blessings that come with that covenant, than to continue working at a place where she felt she could always count on a secure pay.  After months of struggling with the decision, she quit her job and was baptized the very next morning.  It was really hard for her to find work after that, but she never returned to the prostitution industry.  To this day (as far as I know) she is still really struggling to find employment that pays as much as when she worked as the receptionist - but she is happy because she lives her covenants to God, and He in turn makes up the differences that she can't provide financially.  She has received her temple recommend and been able to enter the temple in Buenos Aires.  The act of making her wait until she was in an environment to fully live her covenants and fully receive the promised blessings was one of mercy and compassion.  Waiting gave her the chance to keep her covenants from the start, rather than make them prematurely, and then break them.  Waiting set her up for success rather than failure.

I give thanks for leaders who understand that some situations make it more difficult to live your covenants, and that they willingly extend mercy to people in those situations by not holding them accountable.  I support the church and their policies, and I testify that God loves and wants all of his children to come home.  These policies only further facilitate that possibility.

***Some may wonder why I did not address the part of the church policy that states that members who embrace a same-sex couple lifestyle by living with or marrying a partner of the same gender are considered "apostate".  I didn't bring it up simply because it needs no explanation. This has always been the standard of the church, and this is not something that will change.
See the first paragraph under "Same-Gender Relationships" for why this standard will not change***
**Also please note that the views expressed in this blog post are not representative of the views of the Church.  I speak solely as myself and the views expressed are my own.**

Friday, June 12, 2015

Getting your degree in being Christlike

Since we just finished college, I've had a lot of "life realizations" if you will. One of them being about why we go to college. I think a lot of people have the misguided idea that you attend college to get a degree so that you can get a good paying job. I've realized that isn't the case. We do not attend college so that we can get a piece of paper after 4 years, and magically that paper means someone is going to give you $100k a year - just because you have a piece of paper. No, the real reason we should be going to college is so that we can gain skills and knowledge that will help us become a good employee.  Being a good, hard-working, reliable employee with practiced skills who cares about doing a good job is the reason someone will pay you $100k year. It is silly to imagine that someone will give you a certain amount of money every year for the rest of your life, just because you have a paper that said you went to school for 4 or 6 or even 12 years. No matter how many years of school you attended, if you aren't a good employee who does his best and cares about doing his (or her) job right, you just aren't going to have the reward. You have to become a good employee through all of that schooling and experience.

This seems simple enough to understand given the education/work context, and yet many don't seem to be able to grasp the same concept when it comes to God and our purpose here on earth.  You see, God didn't just send us here to earth so that we could do a bunch of good deeds and then show up at the pearly gates and get admitted to a paradise resort for the rest of eternity.  He sent us here to become. We are supposed to become as Christlike as we can in this life so that when we pass to the next life we can assist Christ in His work. We are like His employees (I hope that doesn't sound too sacrilegious), and this life is like going to college to get the skills and know how in order to do the job. Do we have to be perfect at it? Of course not.  But He does expect us to try our very best. When we show Him through our actions that we care about doing His work, that we put His work as our first priority, and that we will sacrifice what we want now in order to do His work and become like Him, that's when He can look at us and say "I know I can trust THAT person to be my employee".

I have seen so often that we as people will start out really strong and committed to the gospel, but as life throws us challenges, we tend to stop doing the things that matter because it's hard. We rationalize that we will be just fine if we don't live the gospel now, because 2 years ago we served a mission, or 5 months ago we helped a friend in need, or just last year we donated a bunch of money to help orphans in another country.  Often we think that since we did all those good deeds, God isn't going to deny us when we show up in the afterlife - look at all the good we've done! Of course He'll welcome us with open arms, even if we have been skipping church to watch sports games, or fudging the numbers a little on our reports at work, or gossiping about the neighbors dirty laundry (it is true, after all).

That kind of thinking is like saying that since we got really good grades as a freshman in college, than we don't have to work really hard to get good grades as a junior or senior.  The company who hires you will see you got awesome grades as a freshman, AND you graduated, so you're set, right?


We cannot let ourselves be complacent just because we've done good things before.  God doesn't care so much about who you used to be as He does about who you are becoming right now. This applies to both good and bad choices in the past. Is He sad that you sinned in the past? Yes, but if you've repented and become better, that's what He cares about. Is He happy that you have made righteous decisions, or even sacrificed something important in order to serve Him in the past? Of course He is, but if you've become stagnate now, that's what He cares about.

And don't be fooled into thinking that after this life we go to a paradise resort that is all frolicking in sunshine and flowers forever. After this life, we will be doing God's work (if that is what we have desired to do in this life)! And only in doing God's work will we be able to be with our families forever. God want's us to have the same happiness that He has, and it takes a lot of work to get there. He loves us and will help us in every way that He can.  In truth, we can do nothing without Him. But He can also do nothing for us without action on our part. We cannot be lazy and still expect to receive a full portion of His blessings.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why does God make me wait?

This year Ben and I decided to read the New Testament together, and it's been a very enlightening experience.  I've seen stories of the Savior in an entirely new light, and I enjoy discussing His teachings together.  A few weeks ago we read the story of when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. It's a familiar story; Lazarus falls ill, his sisters tell Christ to come and heal him, but Christ gets there a few days after Lazarus has already died and been buried.  Christ commands him to come forth from the tomb, and Lazarus walks out, very much alive.  Of the 3 instances when Christ raises someone from death, this is probably the most famous, and the most miraculous to anyone who witnessed it. On the previous occasions of raising someone from the dead, a non-believer might be able to rationalize that the people presumed dead were in fact not dead, and that they had conspired with Christ to pretend in order to make people think that He had power, or they might assume that the spirit had come back to the body of it's own accord, and that Jesus simply got lucky. In this instance however, Lazarus had not only been pronounced dead, but had been that way for days. Nothing short of the Master's voice could command his spirit to re-enter his body.

However, when I read this story a few weeks ago, I thought a lot about how Lazarus and his sisters must have felt leading up to this ordeal. Put yourself in Lazarus' shoes: you have been following and serving Christ from the very start of his ministry, you are personal friends with Him, and you have seen Him perform miracles countless of times; you KNOW that He can heal you, and you're pretty certain that because you are so close to Christ, He will do it without hesitation. 

But for some reason, things don't go the way you think they will. When your sister goes to tell Christ that you're deathly ill, He doesn't come right away.  Christ, who is omniscient and knows all (and therefore knows that you will soon die) waits several days before even starting His journey to come and see you. Why would He do that?  Is He perhaps upset with you? Have you done something wrong?  Are you not worthy of a miracle? Your prayers seem to go unanswered. 

Now put yourself in Martha's and Mary's shoes.  You're brother has died. You already did everything you could to help him, including leaving his side and traveling to ask Christ to come to heal him. Despite all of your prayers and pleadings, Christ not only didn't come in time, but He chose to be too late. You've seen Him bring people back from the dead before, so maybe He will bring your brother back...if He get's here in time.  But too much time has passed to wait anymore, and you bury your brother. He's dead, and you have to accept that. You might be asking yourself why didn't Christ answer your prayer. You still believe in Him, but you are confused as to why He would heal complete strangers as soon as they show a spark of faith, but for you, who know him personally, He didn't come. Did you just not have enough faith?  Maybe His blessings just aren't meant for you...

Now, obviously, I have no way of knowing if this is how Lazarus and his sisters felt, but if they did, I could completely relate to those feelings. I have felt them before, but under different circumstances.  I've felt the despair of having done everything I could, and the blessing I've been praying for just never comes. I've asked myself if maybe I've just not done enough, or if I'm not righteous enough, or if God chooses not to hear me, even though I have been doing my best to keep my covenants and promises to Him. 

So in the instance of Lazarus, why did Christ wait?  After reading the entire story, we know it was because this was to be one of the most amazing displays of His power in the scriptures.  Christ loved Lazarus so much, that He saved one of His biggest miracles to be used on him, and so that Lazarus could know without a doubt that his blessings come from the grace of God, and not from anything that man could do. At least one of the purposes of the wait was so that Lazarus could know just how important he really was to Christ.

What an honor! To be chosen to come back from the dead to testify of Christ, and to be the subject of one of His greatest miracles!  After the story is over, we cannot doubt that Jesus truly loved Lazarus and his sisters, and that they were indeed very special to him (not to mention righteous and full of faith). 

So what does this mean for us?  If we have been doing everything in our power to keep the commandments and honor our covenants, and yet we haven't received the blessings we think we need, does that mean we are simply not worthy?  No.  The most likely reason is that Christ is waiting so that when we receive the relief, it is truly a miracle, and it glorifies His name. It means that He trusts us to continue to be faithful throughout the "despair" period (like the 4 days that Lazarus was in the tomb, yet his sisters still believed that Christ could raise him if He wanted to).  He knows you and loves you, and because of how righteous and faithful you are, He wants your miracles to be unmistakable.  That means that you have to wait. It doesn't make the waiting easy, but you can rest assured that He is aware of you and that your faith and efforts are recognized. 

This realization came to me because at the time we read this story, Ben had been turned down for a job. A job we really needed. We moved across the state believing we would get it, and he made it all the way to the last round of interviews, just to be told that they chose the other guy. We felt totally lost. Wasn't God listening to our prayers? We needed this job for multiple reasons, and now we were back at square one, but with less options. I felt a lot like I imagined  Lazarus and his sisters felt. Had I not prayed enough?  Maybe I hadn't been studying enough in my scriptures. Maybe God wanted me to sweat a little just because "it's good for me".  

But then again, maybe not. Maybe God was making me wait because Ben's job needed to be inspired. Once the idea of where to apply came to us (in the middle of praying by the way), everything fell into place almost as if God had planned it out himself...and  I come to think of it, He probably did.  In the last several days everything has suddenly made sense. All of the job rejections, us feeling the need to move to our new house even though we didn't have a job secured yet, and even the difficult financial situation it put us into has all made sense. But not in a "wow, that was a really lucky coincidence" kind of sense, but more of a "wow, God had it all planned out the entire time" kind of sense. I feel so blessed and loved.

I know that God is a God of love, and that He never makes us go through something hard for no reason. He doesn't make us wait out of bitterness or rejection. He makes us wait only because He wants us to receive certain blessings only when they will be the most beneficial to us. He knows what is best for us, even if we don't understand or agree at the moment. God loves you, and He is excited to bless you and make miracles happen in your life.  

Come Unto Christ

I've discovered that life is hard.  Okay, I've actually known that for a while now, but leaving the college scene and feeling like a legitimate "adult" has been a bit of a shocker for us.  Life hit us hard.  All of a sudden our bills are bigger, I have less time in the day (even though I somehow thought that
would change once school was done), and I have a yard and a house to take care of.  Okay, the last one really isn't a problem, we definitely enjoy taking care of a property that is "ours".

But realizing that life is never going to get easier has caused me to think a lot on what I really want in my life and what is most important.  The name of this blog is Christian Family Values.  In it we hope to write those things that are most important for a family to remain centered on Christ.  And so as I've pondered this question of what to do with my life and what doctrines I need to focus on to keep my family centered on Christ, I continually have come back to that which is most important: Christ.

Yeah, yeah, I know it seems simple, maybe even cliché, but it is the truth.  So I've asked myself, how
is my relationship with Jesus Christ?  How well do I know Him?  Do I really know Him?

Ezra Taft Benson, a latter-day prophet, said the following about living a Christ-centered life:

When we live a Christ-centered life, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ” (2 Ne. 25:26). We “receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love” (Jacob 3:2). Even when Nephi’s soul was grieved because of his iniquities, he said, “I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support” (2 Ne. 4:19–20).We remember Alma’s counsel: “Let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings” (Alma 37:36–37).“Remember, remember,” said Helaman, “that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, … that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, … [they] shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery” (Hel. 5:12).
I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.  I invite all of us, myself most of all, to come unto Christ.  We all know of things we can do better to come unto Him.  Above are highlighted just a few things we can do to live a Christ-centered life.  I know that as we come closer to Christ that His spirit and His love will envelop us and strengthen us.  Most of all, walking the path that Christ walked, following in His footsteps, will bring us back to our Father in Heaven, where we can live with our families forever.

To close, I just ask that you watch this video and listen to the music.  I'm not so sure about the slideshow that goes with the music, but at least listen to the music and follow its counsel.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Airplanes and Destinations

In 2009 David A Bednar, a leader in the LDS Church, visited local members in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During a speech he told them: "If you want to get to Salta (the northern part of Argentina) you don't get on a plane heading to Tierra del Fuego (the most southern tip of Argentina)".  The idea is that if you have a goal, or even an idea of where you want to go, you can only get there by following the path that leads to that goal. Just following a path won't get you there, you have to be on the right one.

Unfortunately, reaching our goals isn't as easy as boarding a plane; it takes countless decisions and hours of hard work to reach something that is important to you.  Every decision you make will either help you continue on your path or deviate from it. When we deviate from our goals just a little, we often rationalize to ourselves that it's okay, because that much of a deviation won't make a big difference in where we end up.  Only after we have reached the wrong destination do we fully realize that we've gotten on the wrong plane, or that we've allowed our plane, which was originally on the right course, to be turned completely around.

I've been thinking about this because Ben graduated with his Bachelor's degree this last weekend, and I feel like it's a pretty big deal.  He had a goal and worked hard to achieve it. Right now he's in the final interview process for the company he wants to work with, and we have plans to attend BYU and get an MBA in a few years.  Overall, we're pleased with where we have ended up so far, and we're excited about our future "destinations". However, these accomplishments don't just happen, we have to make them happen with everyday decisions.  Ben didn't earn a degree because he's smart and can afford it; he earned his degree because he put his best effort into every assignment, even the seemingly pointless ones.  He made the decision every day for 4 years to get up early in order to work before going to school, or to stay up late to finish assignments, or to put off having a movie night in order to study for a test.  Was it fun? No, not always. But was it worth it? Absolutely. We know that because of the little everyday decisions that keep us on track, we eventually reach what we really want.

I bring this up because I personally know people who started out with the goal of going to Salta, and ended up in Tierra del Fuego because they didn't think that small deviations from their goal would put them that far off course. Examples include friends who had the goal to be married in the temple, but then started dating people who weren't worthy to go there; or friends who want to get out of debt, but continue to spend impulsively on "wants".  Do not let Satan deceive you into thinking that you'll reach your goal "eventually" if your actions are not currently leading you there!

Ben and I personally have several goals for the future, including getting a good paying job, owning a home, becoming debt free, going on a mission together, and having more kids (not necessarily in that order). While all those goals are important, our biggest goal is to return as a family to the presence of Heavenly Father.  We already know the way to do this. Jesus Christ brought His gospel to the earth for this very purpose, and by living it, we will reach our goal of being a forever family.  That means that we cannot rationalize occasional sin because "it's not that bad"; if we do that we risk changing which "airplane" we are on.  We must make decisions every day that keep us on our path. They aren't always easy, and sometimes it can be really frustrating and it is usually hard work. However, just as all those assignments that Ben put effort into finally culminated in earning his degree, each of our prayers, scripture reading sessions, and times that we stand up for what is right even if others judge us for it will all be worth it in the end when we live as a family in Heaven.

I know that living the gospel is the way to bring happiness to our lives. I saw it over and over on my mission with people of all different circumstances and life situations; no matter who the person was or what they were going through, the gospel never failed to bring happiness and peace as long as they were living it.  I also saw over and over again people who had abandoned the gospel because it was "inconvenient", or embarrassing for them.  The result was always bitterness and emptiness, and usually involved the break-up of their marriage or relationships with their children. Addiction and financial hardship were also a common results of abandoning the path of the gospel. I feel so much sorrow for these people. They basically sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. Don't sell yourselves short! If you have turned your plane in the wrong direction through sin or just laziness, make the necessary sacrifices now to get yourself back on track.  Even if you have to do something "inconvenient" to do so. Tell me which is more "inconvenient": constantly adjusting your flight pattern to make sure you're staying on course, or walking off the plane in the wrong destination?

I encourage you to pay attention to your goals and where you are at on the path to achieving them, and I sincerely hope that you regularly sit down and evaluate what you want to accomplish and where you want to end up in life.  It is my greatest hope that your #1 goal is to return to our loving Father in Heaven.  Not only is that the end goal that will bring the greatest joy, but it is also the only path in life that will bring you real joy along the way. Christ said "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). There is no other way to be truly happy and find the peace and joy we desire. It takes sacrifice and hard work, but living the gospel will always take you to the right destination.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My image, or His?

Sorry it's been so long, we seem to do that a lot; we'll be really good at writing for a few months, and then fall off the band wagon. I'm resolved to do better! We'll see how it goes.

So update in our lives, Ben will be graduating in April.  Our lease will be up in April as well, so that means farewell to Rexburg! The only problem? We don't know where we're going yet.  We have it narrowed down to a few options, but nothing solid. Graduate school applications are in and we're in the interview processes right now; it's just the waiting game that keeps us from knowing where we will be.

This "decide where we will live and go to school for the next 2-4 years" process has been really interesting for us. As we usually do with important decisions, we've been praying about it for a while. There have been many options as to what we could do, and (not surprisingly) the answer of what to do isn't coming all at once.

I think God wants us (not just Ben and I, but all of His children) to be able to make important decisions with a sure knowledge that what we are doing follows His plan for us. That knowledge doesn't come from Him saying "Hey, do ______ thing, at _______time, in _______place."  He gives it to us one small piece at a time as we diligently seek answers.  If God gave us the entire answer all at once, we wouldn't have to be very consistent in asking, would we? We would have to be diligent until the big answer came, but then, what reason would we have to continue to seek His guidance?  For us at least, the answers have come in the form of really small steps to take.  It's been a process of feeling out which program to pursue, and then which colleges to apply for. Do we work for a few years to gain experience before going into a program, or look for a program that is tailored to those without experience? Then we had to revisit which colleges we were applying for...about 3 times. Then we had to go over every detail of the application process (especially the essays) and come up with the money to pay all the application fees.  Now we are in the interviews, and later it will be comparing offers and pros and cons of each program. Starting next week it will be visiting each campus to see how we feel about it.  It takes a lot of time and effort and sacrifice, but I believe we're at a point where we are okay with that.  Nothing that is worth anything is easy, and usually easy street is a dead end anyway.

Hopefully in the next 4 weeks we will know where we are moving to, which program Ben will be studying in for his masters degree, what employment we will have in order to not starve to death, and overall have a rough sketch of what the next 2-4 years holds for us.  In the mean time, my biggest struggle is to resist the temptation to freak out.  Not because I'm actually worried about whether or not we will end up in the right place or find a job or housing or anything like that, but because my pride tells me that I need to freak out.  The temptation to be worried about something important comes from the natural desire within to not look like a fool to those around me who constantly ask "So what are you're post graduation plans?".  I've realized that if I take out the factor of other people possibly judging me, and just think about if I trust God is in control or not, I'm really not worried at all.  But when I think others are judging me or think that I'm foolish for not having our plans worked out yet, that's when the urge to act like a freaked out maniac strikes.  Why is this? I think it comes from the desire to feel normal. Maybe an effort to not look like I think I'm better than everyone else, or an effort to look like I can relate to everyone else's circumstances too. It's tough to put a finger on why, but I know that it's rooted in my pride and desire to build my own self-image.

That's a problem. Obviously we all struggle with our own personal problems, and pride is a sin that nearly no one can escape. In fact I think Jesus Himself was the only person who was able to fully evade the temptation to indulge in pride at least once or twice. The problem with pride is that it's all about me. How do I look? How do I feel? What will others think of me? If I'm constantly focusing on myself and how I look, than I don't have time to worry about God or what He desires for me, or how He looks through me.

That probably doesn't make sense at first, but think about it.  As Christians one of our duties is to use our time and efforts and resources to glorify His name. We are to do all things with "an eye single to the glory of God".  The scriptures say that we are to "receive His image in our countenances".  If I'm so worried about MY image, then I definitely don't have HIS image. It's something we all need to work on. For me, right now, I'm working on resisting the urge to worry about how I look, and trying to make God look good by doing what He would do and saying what He would say.  Do others recognize Him when they see me? If they don't, then I have a lot of changing to do.

So back to my urge to freak out about not knowing what we're doing with our lives in the immediate what?  So I don't know what's going on, who does really?  Why worry about whether or not I look like everyone else who does or doesn't "know" (or rather have a plan which will possibly not go accordingly) what their doing?  I just need to worry about making sure I'm doing what He would do and saying what He would say.  Everything else will fall into place. My trainer on the mission always had a saying "Everything will all work out," and she's right. I just need to stop worrying about my image and start worrying about if I have His.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The 3 step miracle process

Well, the holidays are over, so I guess I have no more excuses as to why I haven't written in our blog! We've been traveling and gearing up for our last semester of school (and by "our" I mean Ben's) and trying to figure out where we are going after that. Grad school here we come! We're just not sure which grad school yet.

The last few weeks have really taught me a lot about how aware of us God really is. Even when I'm not thinking about my problems, He is, and He's preparing to help me with them. Of course, He can't just drop the solutions into my brain without me asking for them, and He can't force me to do what I need to in order to solve the problem. I need to make the choice on my own. Going through some of the trials we've been dealing with (health issues, financial issues, and baby sleep issues, to name a few) I've noticed that God always has a solution ready and waiting for me, I just have to access it. I learned how to do just that in one of my religion classes, and I thought I would share it here.

The way to access God's solutions to our problems is a 3 step process that is actually pretty simple to follow. I learned this in context of accessing miracles, but I have no problem replacing the word "miracle" here with "solution", since miracles we seek usually tend to solve problems we are facing. To give credit, this information comes from Ross Baron, a Stake President and religion teacher at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The first step to finding the solution to our problems is to desire. Now, that might seem like a no-brainer, since everyone would love to have their problems go away; this is actually talking about proving to God that you're serious about finding a solution. Nobody likes having problems, and most people will complain about them, but complaining doesn't mean you're serious about doing something to solve the problem. Like I said earlier, God isn't going to just drop the solution in my lap. I have to ask for it. Asking in prayer is one way to show our desire to receive an answer. Studying the scriptures is another way to manifest desire, because it shows we are searching God's words, believing that we will find the answer there. Pondering possible solutions is another way. God gave us a brain and He wants us to use it. He wants us to use logic and reasoning and think through things. If we expect God to give us a detailed description saying exactly what we should do, we are being slothful, (according to the scriptures). So the first thing to do is show God you truly desire an answer (or miracle, or solution).

The second step is usually easier, it is to receive inspiration. Now, this is actually God's part of the process: we seek a solution, He inspires us as to what action we need to take. Receiving this inspiration will only happen if we are paying attention. Do you have a feeling you need to do something specific? Did an idea pop into your mind of what do to while you were praying or studying? Did you suddenly remember an experience where something you learned earlier would apply to your current situation? Pay special attention to your feelings and thoughts when you're praying, studying the scriptures, and thinking about solutions. This is how God reveals to you what you're supposed to do. Occasionally He will place someone in your path that says "you need to do _____ in order to fix your problem", but usually He answers you with thoughts and feelings. If you aren't sure if your thought or feeling about something is coming from Him, ask Him in prayer. He'll let you know.

The third step is the hardest.  The third step is to do what God inspired you to do, or to put it in gospel terms, to act.  The reason this is so hard is because sometimes the thing God has asked us to do doesn't seem as if it will directly or immediately solve your problem. A perfect example is financial issues: most people would readily accept the answer to get a second job if they have insufficient finances to provide for the family, because more working = more money, and therefore the deficit is taken care of in simple math.  A lot of people struggle with receiving the answer to pay their tithing, because paying something doesn't put more money in your bank account, it takes away from it. This is where we need faith. Do I have the faith that if I pay my tithing - which initially gives me less money than I already have - that God will provide the way for me to pay all my bills and feed my family?  This is where most people fail to receive a miracle, because they fail to act on what God has asked them to do. They just don't see how paying ANOTHER "bill" could be the answer to their financial problems, and so they ignore the instruction from God.  Without their action, God cannot produce the miracle, and so they are left to themselves to figure our their financial problems.  On the other hand, if they act and pay their tithing (even if it doesn't make sense), God works miracles in order to bless them with the answer to their problems. Sometimes those miracles are subtle, and sometimes they are very obvious, but He works them just the same. The important thing to remember is that He WILL NOT provide the miracle if you don't act on what He has asked you to do. A lot of people expect God to just give them the answers, but there is nowhere in scripture where we find evidence of God doing a miracle for somebody before they were obedient to what He told them to do.

My favorite example of this pattern in the scriptures comes from the Old Testament. In Joshua chapter 3, the Israelites are finally done wandering in the wilderness and need to enter the promised land, but they have a problem: The Jordan river stands between them and the promised land, and it's currently at flood level. Joshua (the Prophet at the time) has big shoes to fill - he's been called to be their leader right after Moses, who did amazing miracles like parting the Red Sea,making water come from a dry rock, and causing an earthquake to happen that only destroyed the part of land where the wicked people were standing. Joshua is doing a lot of seeking in order to know how to be an effective leader to these people. God promises him in verse 7 that He will do miracles through Joshua and show the people that Joshua is God's prophet just as Moses was. God then instructs Joshua to tell the priests carrying the Ark to go and stand in the middle of the river. Now to the common man, this seems pointless and silly. How will a handful of men standing in the middle of an overflowing river help thousands of people get across it?  This is where faith comes in. They just need to do it, even if they don't understand why.  So the priests do it. They act on what they were told to do.  The result was a miracle. As soon as their feet touch the water, it stops flowing from that point, but further up stream the water is still flowing.  It literally looks as if an invisible wall is blocking the water, causing it to heap higher and higher as if the water was standing up. Kind of like this, but I imagine it higher:

The people then walked across on completely dry ground - not mud - dry ground.  God could only do this miracle after the people got their feet wet. This pattern repeats itself over and over and over in the scriptures.

So to recap - desire the answer, pay attention to receive the inspiration of what to do, and then DO IT, no matter how hard or ridiculous it seems. Without the action, the rest of the process is useless, and you receive no miracle. It all comes down to whether or not you have the faith to act.