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Inspiration

17

An elbow to the ribs. A squeeze of the hand. A gentle tap on the knee. A harder elbow to the ribs. My EC has lots of ways to communicate with me, many of them through subtle nudges. Usually she employs them to get me to stop doing or saying whatever I am doing or saying. Sometimes, however, it she is giving me a gentle nudge to action.

It is her rightful place to nudge me as the official person on the planet who knows me better than anyone else does. We have been married for 31 years. Not only does she know what I do, she usually knows what I’m thinking.

The only people who know me better than she does are Deity – and they aren’t afraid to give me the spiritual elbow to the ribs, either. Elder Rasband refers to it as a “gentle nudge.” “The Spirit speaks words that we feel. These feelings are gentle, a nudge to act, to do something, to say something, to respond in a certain way.” (link)

I feel those nudges sometimes. Sometimes they are gentle. Sometimes they are as subtle as my wife’s elbow to the ribs. Especially during General Conference.

As you may know, I post a brief summary of my Conference notes immediately after each session. I do this for several reasons.

  1. It keeps me intently focused on what is being said.
  2. I retain notes to help me remember stuff.
  3. To share my thoughts with others.
  4. To provide a cheat sheet so my readers can know enough to fake like they actually saw the session. (Nah, you guys would never do that…right?)

I’ve written before about my note-taking process. I try to do a good job not only capturing what was being said, but what was being said to me. (Which is something we have been counseled to do, repeatedly.)

“Further, listen not only to what is said, but what is not said:

The unspoken promptings of the Holy Ghost. Each is important.” Elder Jay E. Jensen, The Power of Diligent Learning.

“For you to obtain the maximum benefit from our time together, I suggest that you carefully write down any impressions that come to you.  They are personalized messages from the Lord, sent through the Holy Ghost for your guidance.” Elder Richard G. Scott, To Have Peace and Happiness.

As a result, I have a stack of notebooks spanning decades that contain my notes from various meetings and Conference sessions. The problem is that those notebooks rest comfortably in a drawer where they are rarely exposed to light or to my eyes.

I have decided that I am going to make a slight adjustment to my Conference ritual. Yes, I will still post my summaries, but I am also creating something new:

The Nudge List.

As I do every Conference, in addition to my Cliff Notes, I will record two types of things:

  1. Things spoken by my leaders that have direct application to me. Things I am counseled to do, or not to do, etc.
  2. Unspoken nudges from the Holy Ghost. Things I should do, things I shouldn’t do, warnings, affirmations, inspirations, etc.

Historically, I have recorded a sort of Nudge List within the flow of my notes. The problem is that the notebook eventually gets put away, and by time the next Conference rolls around, I have forgotten what the nudges were. Problem.

This year I am going to keep the Nudge List separate, and then, wait for it….

…put it on my phone!

Yes, I am going to put my Nudge List on my phone so I will remember to look at it. Then, over the next six months, I will be more likely to remember, and act, on those special promptings. Maybe by then I will have crossed some of those spiritual calls to action off the list.

I invite you to join me in this experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Enjoy Conference. Let the heavens open for you, personally, and soak in the deluge.

18

Brace yourselves: I have a sort of “super-power.” I suppose that a few of you share the same amazing ability. Imagine for a moment that we are riding together in a car, and you are flipping channels on the radio. Up pops some impossibly old song from the 70’s or 80’s that neither of us have heard for 30 years.

I know every word.  Every. Single. Word.

It’s true. I have a remarkable ability to remember the lyrics and music of songs from decades past. This is made more ridiculous because there is a really good chance that I won’t remember your name next week, or what I was supposed to get at the grocery store. I don’t claim to have a good memory, but when it comes to music, I am amazing. (The 80’s channel on XM as my witness.) An additional benefit of this super-power is that I can drive everyone in the car with me crazy.

About 12 years ago, I thought that maybe I should try and find some way to benefit from my super-power. It was about this same time that I was called to be bishop. Good timing. Here is what I decided to attempt:

I learned all of the words to all of the hymns that might be used during the sacrament services in the ward. Even the extra verses that are dragged out when the priests are slow.

It turned out to be a wonderful decision – so wonderful, that I expanded it and tried to memorize as many hymns as I could.

For the five years I sat up on the stand, I rarely looked at a hymnbook. Instead, I would use that time to look around the chapel. I would watch the priests as they prepared the bread. I would give the skunk eye to deacons if they got chatty. I would look around at the members of the congregation and seek inspiration.

As I pondered the Savior and the covenants associated with the sacrament, the Spirit would guide me. Many times my gaze would be drawn to someone in the ward who the Spirit wanted me to notice. Sometimes even a darkened countenance was visible. It was a time when I was very receptive to guidance and inspiration, and the Spirit would tell me who to reach out to. The Lord knows me well enough to grab me in those brief moments when I’m actually paying attention.

All this while singing a hymn that was embedded in my brain, and my heart – because I wasn’t looking down at the hymnbook.

That mantle has long since passed on to others, but my habit of singing without the hymnbook continues. The difference is that now I spend those few minutes singing from heart, while lost in thought. Sometimes I watch the priests as they break the bread, sometimes I just stare off into space and think about the Savior, and the words I’m singing. Often it is a time of personal inspiration. It has become my “normal.”

In our hymnal, the First Presidency published a preface that touched on this idea. The highlighted two reasons why memorizing hymns can be a blessing:

“Hymns can also help us withstand the temptations of the adversary. We encourage you to memorize your favorite hymns and study the scriptures that relate to them. Then, if unworthy thoughts enter your mind, sing a hymn to yourself, crowding out the evil with the good.”

“Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, ‘and it shall be answered with a blessing upon your heads.'”  (link)

There is a non-sacrament application as well. When I was a new deacon, Elder Boyd K. Packer taught how using music could help fend off attacks from the “imps of unclean thinking.”

“If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them you will have a happy life.

This is what I would teach you. Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration. Remember President Lee’s counsel; perhaps “I Am A Child of God” would do. Go over it in your mind carefully. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a hymn.

Now, use this hymn as the place for your thoughts to go. Make it your emergency channel. Whenever you find these shady actors have slipped from the sidelines of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this record, as it were.

As the music begins and as the words form in your thoughts, the unworthy ones will slip shamefully away. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear. For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light.” (link)

Having a mental iPod full of hymns at the ready can be a mighty weapon to fend off attacks, bad moods, anger and all sorts of other cankering feelings. I recommend it highly.

There are also some logistical advantages to having some hymns memorized. FHE is much easier if everyone doesn’t need to go find a hymnbook.  Priesthood opening exercises might actually begin with something besides “Called to Serve.”

Finally, having the ability to memorize music and lyrics seems like a gift that is less-wasted if I use it to store up prayers to the Lord.

Here’s some links, if you are interested:

The Nourishing Power of Hymns.” Elder Jay E. Jensen. April, 2007.

“Worship through Music.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October, 1994. (In it, he calls out the saints in North America for being cruddy hymn singers.)

Here is the entire Hymnbook with music and lyrics. They can be played on the website or downloaded.

13

Kids Sacred Grove

We teach our kids a lot of stuff. Saturday I taught my youngest how to trim some bushes with a hedge trimmer. Last night I taught him about Neil Peart. If you think about it, we are constantly teaching our kids new stuff.

This past week I saw a conversation where the question was asked, “What is the most important thing you can teach your kids?” We have given a lot of thought to that question over the years as parents, and we know what our answer is.

It isn’t to have them love their neighbor,. It isn’t for them to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. It isn’t even for them to have a personal relationship with the Savior – even though all of these things are terrific and important. Our answer is based on a warning the Lord gave the saints in 1831.

“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25)

Yikes. Pretty direct. The Lord wants us to teach our kids the first 4 principles of the Gospel.

  1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
  2. Repentance
  3. Baptism
  4. Gift of the Holy Ghost

Well, one of those items is wrongly seen as a check-list item that can be marked off (baptism). IN essence, baptism is never really done, because of the weekly re-baptism through the sacrament. The others are more obviously seen as lifetime efforts. One of the four stick out to us, and has defined a lot of what we have done as parents. Here are our thoughts on what is the most important thing we can do as parents:

We believe it is crucial to teach our children to recognize and follow the voice of the Holy Ghost.

All of the other things I listed before – a testimony of the Book of Mormon, a relationship with Christ, a testimony of the Gospel, charity towards others, and so many more – all of those things happen through the Holy Ghost. The only real testimony of the Savior or his Gospel comes through the Holy Ghost. Any relationship with the Savior is communicated through the Holy Ghost. Any testimony of the Book of Mormon or the modern prophets is gained through the Holy Ghost. (Do you sense a pattern here?) He is at the center of the acquisition of all truth – religious or secular.

Even charity is a spiritual gift – brought to us from…you guessed it…the Holy Ghost. Here is Moroni’s take:

“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.

And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.” (Moroni 10:5-8)

What more important thing can we try and teach our kids than to recognize and follow the voice of the Spirit? I can’t think of anything more important. I once heard an idea expressed and, for the life of me, I cannot find the reference. Here it is paraphrased, and un-cited: “Introduce your children to the Holy Ghost, ad He will lead them to the Savior.”  (If you know the actual quote, please help me!) I believe this to be true. All too often we think we need to handle the heavy lifting that the Holy Ghost is prepared and anxious to provide for our children.

“Several years after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, he appeared to President Brigham Young and shared this timeless counsel: “Tell the people to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach [you what] to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 98). (Link)

I would like my family to “go right,” both in their childhood, as adults, and eternally.

How do we get there? By looking for and creating what we call “Spiritual Collisions.”

A “Spiritual Collision” is simply this: An opportunity to feel the Holy Ghost. We have made it a point, as parents, to find opportunities for our children to “collide” with the Holy Ghost. Of course, “collide” may not be the best word for the interaction, but it works for us.

Now I know your mind is already churning out ideas, and you are on the right track. Here are a few more thoughts about Spiritual Collisions that have been powerful for our family:

• The picture at the top of this post is my son Alex and me walking together through the Sacred Grove. With some preparation, and an open heart, it is  a perfect place to encounter the Spirit. Sure, we could have gone to Disney World that year instead, but I think the Holy Ghost ride at Epcot was down that year.

• We took the our young kids to temple open houses in American Fork, San Clemente and Gilbert. Whenever we travel we always try and stop by and see whatever temple is in that area. This was especially impacting before the kids were old enough to actually enter the temple and do temple work.

• Teaching them to do family history, and then taking the names to the temple for the ordinance work. This has been especially sweet with my youngest, because I wasn’t very into family history earlier in my life. All of our older kids have taken family names to the temple on a regular basis. The temple is a no-brainer for spiritual collisions.

• Musical firesides, Messiah sing-a-longs or any kind of religious music – even played at home. Music brings the Spirit. I would add visiting the Christmas temple light displays.

• Every time one of my boys turned twelve, I took them to the site of the Aaronic Priesthood restoration. The peaceful setting on the Susquehanna river is perfect for inviting the Spirit.

• Whether it is working at the church farm, fixing the neighbor’s fence, or taking in dinner, grab whoever you can to take with you so they can feel the spirit that comes with service.

• Once we took a right turn in Flagstaff and ended up taking an unplanned trip to Nauvoo. Visiting places like the Liberty Jail, Carthage, Andam-Ondi-Ahman we drenched in the Spirit. I specifically remember the sweet, peaceful feeling at those places, and helping my kids recognize what the Spirit can feel like to them.

• One of the most obvious collisions my sons experienced was actually a non-collision. It was enlightening for them to sense the difference in what they felt in the de-commissioned Kirtland Temple, vs. the Gilbert Temple where they participate in ordinance work.

You might be thinking, “Sure, I would love to go have Spiritual Collisions in places like that.” True, we have been very fortunate, but it has also been a matter of choice as to what we do with our time and resources.

Thankfully, you don’t have to even leave home for you or your kids to have a spiritual collision. Family Home Evenings, watching General Conference, family scripture study and prayers, family councils – all of these events can be prime opportunities to cause a collision.

Not far from our home there is a chapel and a temple which provide an abundance of opportunities for spiritual collisions.

I know that some of you won’t agree with this next part, and that is okay. In our home, we believe in mandatory Church, Mutual and Seminary attendance. Why?  Let me put it this way…

If my son wants to stay home from church and play video games, there is 0001% chance that he will have  any sort of spiritual collision with the Holy Ghost. BUT, if he attends Sacrament meetings and his classes, there is at least a chance that something just might click, and a chance encounter is greater than no encounter  – even if that chance is small. I know from personal experience that the Holy Ghost can push his way through reluctance, given the opportunity.

Most of my kids are now out of the house and off being adults. I do believe that each one of them has grown to understand how the Spirit communicates with them, and are doing their best to follow that voice. (Note: The manner in which the Spirit communicates can differ wildly from person to person. It is an incredibly individual, and sometimes tricky thing to learn.)

It is not merely enough to arrange the collisions, we must be at the ready to help point out when these collisions are happening. This requires us to be in tune as well. If we can sense that our child is feeling the Spirit, and can point it out to him/her, it will help the child learn to understand the method the Spirit uses to communicate with them.

If my children maintain the voice of the Holy Ghost in their lives by staying worthy and responding to Him, we, as parents, can breath a bit easier, and also feel that the Lord is not gonna smite us for not doing our parental duty.

Start while they are young, and find any and every opportunity you can to help your children have spiritual collisions with the Holy Ghost. Whether at home or on the road, there is nothing you can do as a parent that can make a greater impact in their lives – both mortal and eternal.

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Great talks on the subject:

“Receive the Holy Ghost.” Elder David Bednar.

“An Unspeakable Gift From God.” Elder Craig C. Christensen

“Guided by the Holy Spirit.” President Boyd K. Packer

 

51
 This past month we have been talking about Testimony in Sunday School. I was recently reminded of this post, and since it is the time of campfires and testimonies, I figured I should dust it off.
campfire1

A few years ago, I heard someone say something that stuck with me. Here it is years later, and I can’t find where I heard it, who said it, or exactly what was said, or even if I just thought it – so I won’t attribute it to anyone, or claim it to be doctrine or policy. But it stuck in my head.  (If any of you can source this, please let me know.)

The gist of the quote is this:

“I am concerned that we are raising a generation of youth who can only bear their testimony in the mountains, or around a campfire.

It probably stuck in my head because I agree with it.  Having had the privilege of serving a large chunk of my adult life with the youth of the Church, I know that testimony meetings around a campfire are often the only place a young man or woman will ever bear their testimony.  I get it. Testimony meetings are scary. Campfires are safe, semi-occluded, and peer-pressure responsive. I have been witness to some wonderful testimony meetings around campfires – important, life-changing testimony meetings. I am not trying to denigrate this experience, rather I hope to add to it.

A few years back, when I was privileged to serve as bishop of a large and vibrant youth program (90+ kids), one of my favorite things was to go to Girl’s Camp.  I don’t know how other stakes do it, but in ours, the bishops were all invited to come up one day to participate in activities with the girls, and end the night with a bishop’s fireside and testimony meeting. I loved this experience, and it is one of the things I miss most about being a bishop.

For many of the young women, and we adult leaders, this testimony meeting was often the high point of the week at Girl’s Camp. It was as close to a guaranteed spiritual experience as you could find.

One particular year, we cleared out an area in a grove of trees and hauled in enough stumps, logs and chairs for everyone to be seated. We decided against having a fire because it can be so distracting. Lanterns and flashlights were placed strategically. We had an opening prayer and sang a hymn, after which I had a few moments to talk to the girls and deliver my message to them. Such good girls. Strong, pure, and happy.

Before I opened the meeting to testimonies, I had a idea come to mind that made me instantly uncomfortable. I tried to dismiss it, but it persisted – so I went with it.  After I shared my thought and testimony, I closed with the following request -as best that I can remember:

“As you bear your testimonies, I would like you to do something a little different this year. Let’s do away with some of our traditions and try something new. This year I would like to hear what you know. I would like to hear your testimonies about the Gospel and the Savior.

For example: We all know that you love coming to Girl’s Camp. So, nobody needs to stand up and tell us that they love Girl’s Camp. We also know that you love your friends, and your leaders. Your friends already know, and so do your leaders, so you don’t need to share that with us either.

We also know that you are thankful for a lot of things – parents, brothers and sisters, friends, etc. We don’t need to hear that, either.  What I am hoping, is that we can hear from each of you and understand what you believe, and what you know in your hearts to be true.  That is a testimony.  I know it’s different, but I feel that it will be worth it.

Finally, I would also ask our wonderful Young Women leaders to abstain from bearing their testimonies tonight, and leave the time for our young women.”

Then I sat down. Terrified.  I caught a few of glances from Young Women leaders. One of concern, one of confusion, and one of irritation. So I just looked at the ground in front of me and waited.

Crickets. That’s all I heard. Literally, crickets.

Nobody stood up.

Crickets.

Five minutes passed.

Ten minutes.

Silence, except for the crickets.

I did it. I actually destroyed a testimony meeting. I ruined a grand tradition – the high point of Girl’s Camp.

As I sat there in the dark, trying to figure out how to dig myself out of this disaster, I heard a sound. One of our sweet, shy young women stood up, and cleared her throat. She testified that she knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that through him, Jesus restored the true Church to the earth. I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember what I felt.  I felt the Holy Ghost surge into my heart and confirm what this courageous young lady had said.

The dam burst. One by one, every one of the young women stood and testified to the things they knew to be true. The prophet, the Book of Mormon, the Priesthood, the Plan of Salvation, the temple, and mostly, the Savior. It was powerful. No fluff, no filler.

These sweet, strong young women were rewarded for their courage with an outpouring of the Spirit that I had never felt around at a camp before. The girls had risen to a challenge from a priesthood leader, and all were blessed because of it.

Two stuck out in my mind: The first was a young woman who stood and explained how she was not to a point in her testimony where she could declare knowledge, but that she believed many things to be true. It was humble, and honest. The other, which happened to be the last girl, was not a member of the Church. But she stood and bore testimony that she knew the Church was true. (She was later baptized.)

As I sat and listened I prayed inwardly that the young women and their leaders would feel what I was feeling, and poured out my heart in gratitude for permitting me to witness this wonderful event.

We closed with a gentle hymn, had a prayer, and quietly made our way back to camp – to the sound of crickets.

(An amazing talk that has had great influence on my perception of testimonies is ‘Pure Testimony,” given by Elder Ballard in October of 2004.  I highly recommend it.

Originally publish October 23, 2012

50

Note:  I am getting lots of requests to comment on the latest Church policy announcement (That was leaked prematurely). I hadn’t planned on it, but decided, at my EC’s encouragement (pressure), to chime in.  I’ll respond with some thoughts and with a story that, until now, I thought everyone was familiar with -I was wrong. Here you go:

Two Wolves

There is a story told of an old Cherokee teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil: he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good: he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”  (Link)

Every so often the Church comes out with a new policy, directive, announcement, etc. that causes a stir. Today’s announcement regarding the standing of same-sex couples and their children is no exception. There is much angst, doubt, and struggle in the hearts of many members.

And it will happen again.  And again. As the gulf between the Church and the World widens, there will necessarily be more and more days like today.

 

The question – which I consider MUCH more important that the issues at hand is this:

Which wolf will we feed?

The Wolf of Faith?

or the Wolf of Doubt?

The Wolf of Doubt quickly turns to anger, indignation, public acrimony and discussion. He takes offense, and is quick to share it.  He searches for allies and information to validate his views. He turns to sources that are not enlightened, are not sanctioned by God. He often doesn’t even bother to read the very thing that he is so upset about. He will look to support his doubt…

And he will find it. There are many who are more than happy to feed the Wolf of Doubt.

The Wolf of Faith is quick to restrain his reaction. He turns to sources he knows are endorsed by God. He reads the actual policy – instead of seizing on the exploitive headlines in the media. He is not afraid to drop to his knees and seek truth from God through the Spirit before he makes up his mind – and especially before he speaks out. He will look to find that which will support his faith…

And he will find it.

Which wolf are you?

Do you desire understanding, enlightenment, inspiration and truth?

Or do you desire contention, justification and doubt?

You can find either.

And you can feed at the trough…or drink at the fountain.

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LATE ADDITION:  Here is what a lot of us have been waiting for.  Elder Christofferson did a remarkable interview today that explained the policy changes and all that was involved. This is “going to the source.”  http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/handbook-changes-same-sex-marriages-elder-christofferson

(I had to take the video down, because my ISP got ad at me for hogging the CPU.  Go to the link instead.)

 

Here is a great article that helps explain things in more detail for Wolves looking for faith.

http://blog.fairmormon.org/2015/11/06/a-look-at-the-churchs-new-policy-on-children-of-gay-couples/

Here is a quote by President Boyd K. Packer as well:

“The family is safe within the church. We are not in doubt as to the course we must follow. It was given in the beginning, and guidance from on high is renewed as need may be. As we continue on our course, these things will follow as night the day: The distance between the church and the world set on a course which we cannot follow will steadily increase. Some will fall away into apostasy, break their covenants, and replace the plan of redemption with their own rules.”  (Link)