Friday, October 31, 2014

The Truck Who Cried Ride-Along

The other night, I was asked to do a ride-along for the Bishop's Storehouse. Basically, someone drives a truck full of groceries from Point A to Point B, and I'm asked to tag along because that's church policy. Anyhow, this meant that I needed to get to the Bishop's Storehouse by 6:00 - 6:15 am this morning. Ultimately, I got there by 6:10, but by the time I got there, the truck had already left.

This wasn't the first time this has happened. I'm not sure if I blogged about it (I know I thought about blogging about it), but a while back, I was terribly late for a ride-along, arriving at 6:30 or some other dismally late time of day, and found that the truck had left without me - and with good reason. Those folks in Placerville, or wherever else the truck was headed that day, were expecting their groceries, and with no way of contacting me, the driver went on and delivered the groceries himself. I assume the same thing happened this morning.

The thing is that this time, I wasn't late. I arrived at the Storehouse within the time period by which I was expected to arrive. Granted, I wasn't there as early as I could have been expected to be there, and perhaps at 6:05 or promptly at 6:10, the driver decided that I, once again, had failed to show up, and that he had better deliver the groceries himself. My earlier failure to arrive on time may have caused the driver to believe that I had once again accidentally slept in.

Or perhaps the shoe was on the other foot this time. I arrived at 6:10 or 6:11, but I didn't stay long. When I saw that the truck wasn't there, I assumed it left before I arrived, as it had before, not considering that it might have been the truck driver who was late this time. Actually, the driver might not have even been late. He could have arrived at 6:13-6:15, and I wouldn't have known.

Because I had been late before, the driver may have assumed that I was late again and left without me, and because the driver had left without me before, I assumed that he had done so again, so I figured that there was no point in sticking around. One way or another, we both missed each other, and we each probably should have waited at the Storehouse a little longer.

They say that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. While that doesn't account for the possibility of someone learning from their mistakes, there is a decent amount of truth to it. What we do now will affect what others will expect us to do later. If we miss an appointment, it's only fair for others to expect that there's a high chance that we'll miss another appointment later. I don't blame the driver if he left without me, and I don't truly blame myself for guessing that he did. We were both at fault today, and we each only have our past and present selves to blame.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to Gain Enough Confidence to Come Unto Him

After scaring our pants off with the idea of having a personal interview with the Savior, Elder Jorg Klebingat reminded us about how we're supposed to feel about such a meeting, and how we could feel, if we prepare for it. Yesterday, I shared the first half of the first paragraph of his talk. Here's the second half:
Would sins, regrets, and shortcomings dominate your self-image, or would you simply experience joyful anticipation? Would you meet or avoid His gaze? Would you linger by the door or confidently walk up to Him?
Elder Klebingat taught us that the feelings of doubt and dread come from the adversary.
The adversary knows that faith in Christ—the kind of faith that produces a steady stream of tender mercies and even mighty miracles—goes hand in hand with a personal confidence that you are striving to choose the right. For that reason he will seek access to your heart to tell you lies—lies that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you, that the Atonement is beyond your reach, that there is no point in even trying, that everyone else is better than you, that you are unworthy, and a thousand variations of that same evil theme.
Notice that Elder Klebingat called all those things lies. It is a lie to think that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is not beyond our reach. There are still good reasons to keep striving to be righteous. You are not worse than everybody else. And you are worthy of God's love.

These are encouraging thoughts, and I believe that many of them are true, but I wonder about one of them. Is it a lie to think that Heavenly Father might be disappointed in me? I try to be righteous, but I sometimes fail. Wouldn't He be disappointed in me then? Isn't He disappointed when I get frustrated and angry, sometimes even with Him? Or is He just happy that I'm still trying to become a better person, even if I often fail at that? God is sometimes very patient in extending mercy, and sometimes He's rather vengeful in meting out justice. How long can I expect Him to be patient with me before He ultimately gives up on me? If I were Him, I'd have given up on me years ago. Hasn't He? Won't He?

I can imagine Heavenly Father being disappointed in me without giving up on me, but I can't imagine God giving up on me without Him being disappointed in me first. If what Elder Klebingat said is true, that it's a lie to think that Heavenly Father is disappointed in me as long as I'm trying to be righteous, then I'd guess that means that He hasn't given up on me, and so there's still hope. If that's true, then I'd say there's hope for anyone who's trying to follow God, even if they're doing very, very poorly at it.

I'd bet that a lot of people suffer from a lack of confidence before God. Elder Klebingat must have taken that bet, too, since he dedicated his Conference Talk to such feelings. In doing so, he presented six suggestions that will help us dispel feelings of self-doubt and restore feelings of confidence in our spiritual standing with God.

The first suggestion is to "take responsibility for our own spiritual well-being." This can be a painful choice to make, but we can't approach God honestly if we blame others for the way we are. God knows that we struggle with human weaknesses and that we will occasionally succumb to our weaknesses, through little or no fault of our own. But He also knows whether we're actually struggling against those weaknesses or not. If we only accept our weaknesses as just being part of who we are, we will never become better than the way we are right now. On the other hand, if we accept that this is the way we are now, but continue to strive to improve ourselves, God will be patient with our weaknesses, and those weaknesses will help us to become strong.

Elder Klebingat's second suggestion is to "take responsibility for our physical well-being," but in the name of time, I'm going to skip that one. If you feel that this may apply to you, I encourage you to review Elder Klebingat's talk yourself.

The third suggestion is to "embrace voluntary, whole-hearted obedience as part of your life." I'm not sure how well I like this one. I love the "voluntary obedience" part, but I'm a bit worried about the "whole-hearted" part. It reminds me of the "behavioral blank check" I had apprehensions about a few days ago. Though I ultimately decided to at least try to be obedient to all of God's commandments, even His future ones, whatever they may be, I wonder how willing I am to give all of my heart to God. There are some things that I enjoy doing that may not be completely in harmony with all of God's teachings, but that I don't feel ready to give up yet. I know that God doesn't have a problem with wholesome recreation, but what of recreation that's slightly less wholesome? Clean, peaceful video games are fine, in moderation, but what about Mario games, which involve kicking turtles around and throwing fireballs at walking mushrooms? The video game industry refers to this as "comic mischief," but I must admit that it's at least a little bit violent. It's probably not the kind of thing that Heavenly Father fully approves of, but it's not so bad that I need to give it up, is it?

Elder Klebingat said that "you can’t watch a bad movie and expect to feel virtuous because you did not watch a very bad one," and that "choosing something bad over something worse is still choosing wrong." I guess that answers my question. But still, I don't want to have to stop playing video games completely. I want to follow Jesus Christ, but I don't want to be so Christlike that I stop playing games with mild violence in them. Not yet, anyway. I'll have to blog more about this later. I'm running out of time and I have three more suggestions to list.

The fourth suggestion is to "become really, really good at repenting thoroughly and quickly." Repenting quickly is something that bothers me a little bit because it feels too easy. I feel like I need to suffer some remorse for my sins before I repent. I feel like I need to feel bad about myself, to punish myself, I guess, before I repent, and meting out my punishment for my wrongdoings is not my job - it's Gods. I should let Him decide how long and how hard I suffer before my sins are forgiven. He, through His prophets, has counseled us to repent quickly, so He can forgive us quickly when He's willing to. Sometimes, He'll let us "learn our lesson" but other times, we make ourselves suffer more than we need to because we feel unworthy of God's forgiveness, but we should let God be the judge of that - not us.

The fifth suggestion is to "become really, really good at forgiving." The assignment of punishment is God's job in both our case and in the cases of others. God will be just, or He will be merciful, but He has commanded us to be merciful, so we don't cause others to suffer any more than He thinks they should. Also, when we refuse to forgive others, we suffer a bit for it as well.

Elder Klebingat's final suggestion is to "accept trials, setbacks, and 'surprises' as part of your mortal experience." Life happens. Sometimes, life can be pretty rough. I'll admit that sometimes, God uses the trials of life to remind us that we need His help, and that we may need to repent of a few things to get it, but a lot of the time, God uses the natural trials of life to give us opportunities to overcome them and become stronger. Not all earthly trials are godly punishments for wrongdoings. Sometimes, they're really only there to give us experience. Elder Klebingat said:
Some trials come through your own disobedience or negligence. Other trials come because of the negligence of others or simply because this is a fallen world. When these trials come, the adversary’s minions begin broadcasting that you did something wrong, that this is a punishment, a sign that Heavenly Father does not love you. Ignore that! Instead, try to force a smile, gaze heavenward, and say, “I understand, Lord. I know what this is. A time to prove myself, isn’t it?” Then partner with Him to endure well to the end.
God doesn't want us or anyone to suffer any more than we need to. Sometimes, we need to suffer to get us to repent, and sometimes we need to suffer to become stronger. God will help us to judge between those things as we strive to follow Him. God wants us to come closer to Him, to "partner with Him" to help us understand and do what's right. He's not against us. God will never side against us. He always wants what's best for us. I still think that God may be disappointed in me sometimes, but I know now that God will never give up on me. He loves me. He loves all of us. And when we come home to Him, He'll be standing there ready to welcome us with open arms, ready to embrace us, if we're confident enough to come unto Him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Frightening Reminder

Most speakers at General Conference open their remarks with an amusing anecdote or remark, perhaps even a joke or some other manifestation of wit and humor. Not Elder Jorg Klebingat. He began his message by asking such questions as would fill with fear the souls of anyone who has a soul and is aware of the fact. And since Halloween is approaching, and this talk seems far more interesting to me know than the previous two talks which I intentionally skipped and might get back to later, I thought I'd repeat Elder Klebingat's questions to give us all a good scare.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your spiritual confidence before God? Do you have a personal witness that your current offering as a Latter-day Saint is sufficient to inherit eternal life? Can you say within yourself that Heavenly Father is pleased with you? What thoughts come to mind if you had a personal interview with your Savior one minute from now?
I can tell you right now that if I knew that I was going to have a personal interview with the Savior exactly one minute from now, those would be the most terrifying 60 seconds of my life. I am not ready to die. Elder Klebingat went on to ask whether our minds would be filled with memories of sins and regrets, or whether we would actually look forward to meeting our Maker and greeting Him as we would a friend. Of course, Jesus is supposed to be our Friend. Or rather, He is our Friend and we are supposed to be His. But for most of us, there is some concern about what Jesus must think of us, and more particularly of what we've done. Personally, I'd spend those 60 seconds repenting, and fearing that I was repenting too late.

How many seconds do you think I have left? More than 60, I hope. Several thousand, perhaps? A few million, even? A song I once heard reminds us that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. Multiply that number by 60, and you get 31,536,000 seconds in one year. Given that I'm in my 20's and have at least a few more decades left in me, the number of seconds I have left could be up in the billions. In light of that, I should have plenty of time to get my life in order and fully repent of all my sins. But do I?

In a few minutes, I'll be on my way to Math class. I'll go carefully, of course, but others might not be so cautious, and I may not see them in time, assuming I see them coming at all. The truth of the matter is that I could die almost any second. I may not have as many as 60 seconds left. If I would choose to spend my last 60 seconds on earth repenting, and if I know that I may or may not have quite that much time, why am I not repenting right now?

God has a funny way of blessing people sometimes. Sometimes, He inspires us with visions of heaven, encouraging us to do whatever it takes to get there. Other times, He inspires us with a healthy fear of hell and a strong desire to do whatever it takes to stay away from there. Sometimes, God needs to scare us to get us to repent. Preferably, He shouldn't need to. Whether we have only a few seconds left, or several billion, we should spend at least part of that time repenting. And for our sakes, we had better do it soon. Our final interview is coming. We'd do well to get ready for it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

World Series vs the Olympics

Apparently, there are some important games going on right now. Baseball, I think. The Giants, whom I think are from New York, vs the Royals from I'm-not-sure-where. The Giants are winning, but they have at least one more game to go. If they win that game, then they're World Series Champions, which is really awesome for them, and I'm sure they're very excited about it, but I'm sure how much I care.

But here's the weird thing: I don't care about the World Series, but I do care about the Olympics. There are a few reasons for this. One is on a world-wide scale while the other, I think, is only in the US. The Olympics are more entertaining to watch than baseball, with a greater variety of sports. But one of the major reasons I like the Olympics is also a good reason to care about the World Series. I like to watch people win.

Of course, it's not just the winning that excites me - it's the story behind the winning. I like to hear about how people practiced and struggled and ultimately overcame. For example, if an athlete trained all their lives to become a world-class athlete, but then suffered an injury that almost ended their career, or lost too many times and almost gave up, but then after months and years of training and fighting for their dreams, they made it back to the Olympics, I'd find that story pretty inspiring.

Then why am I not inspired by the World Series? Theoretically, there should be a dozen stories like that mixed into a single baseball team. Not all of them have been injured, but they all had to struggle and train hard to get where they are. They overcame challenge after challenge, and now, together, they're going to become Champions. That could be a very inspiring story - if I ever heard it.

When I hear about baseball players, I generally only hear their stats. How many hits did they get last year? How many runs? How many home runs? How fast can they pitch? How far can they throw? And so forth. Sometimes I hear about who they were traded to and who they were traded for, as if people could be traded. I guess that's the real reason I care about the Olympics and not professional sports. In pro sports, we're supposed to be loyal to a team, whatever its roster is, and we hear so little about the individual athletes. In the Olympics, it's all about the athletes, and I like that.

When I look at Olympic athletes, struggling and striving to overcome their personal challenges, I see myself striving to overcome mine. When they win, it gives me hope that I can win. When I look at professional athletes playing in a big game, I don't actually see the athletes. I see guys in blue shirts trying to keep a ball away from guys in white shirts. There are no individuals - no stories, inspiring or otherwise - just two teams and a game. Granted, it can be fun to watch, but I'm not likely to get into it the same way I get into the Olympics. In the end, I don't want to see one team overcome another team. I want to see one person overcome themselves.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Love Despite Disagreement


In the Saturday Afternoon Session of this last General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk about love and tolerance. Since I've heard another message about love and tolerance recently, and I just saw this quote from Elder Oak's talk on Facebook, I think I'd have to be pretty thick to not get the message.

What this talk does not include, but Elder Oaks' talk and the other message did, is the concept of loving others, even of other sexual orientations. We, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are in a difficult position in respect to those who are attracted to people of the same gender as themselves. We try to be loving and tolerant, but we find it so terribly awkward. On top of the weakening social awkwardness on the topic of same-sex attraction, we are influenced by the knowledge that sexual transgressions, including same-sex physical relationships, are serious sins. Despite our love for our brothers and sisters, or rather, because of it, we feel the need to warn them of the consequences of acting on their inclinations. To make matters even more difficult, there's the question of same-sex marriage. While same-sex couples fight to freedom and equality, we fight to uphold God's standards and His definition of marriage. Thus, we make opponents, and thus enemies, of those that we claim to love and try to befriend.

At the end (and toward the beginning) or Elder Oaks' talk, he said, "As difficult as it is to live in the turmoil surrounding us, our Savior’s command to love one another as He loves us is probably our greatest challenge." "It is difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs and values and covenant obligations."

If everyone had the same values and beliefs, living and getting along with one another would be much easier. Unfortunately, the Lord has never been much concerned with what's "easier." He commands us to do what's right. In a past blog post, I said that we all can and should "Act According to [Our] Beliefs," and not hate each other for doing so. This ties in to my thoughts about rivals. People can be on opposing teams, even on opposing sides of an important issue, while still not being enemies. They should both be courteous and respectful, and win or lose as graciously as they can, but they can still, as Elder Oaks put it, disagree without being disagreeable.

Another point that I should make is that, win or lose, I think people retain the right, and perhaps even the obligation, to disagree. Elder Oaks taught that while "Loving-kindness is required, ...a follower of Christ—just like the Master—will be firm in the truth."

I hope the same-sex community and their sympathizers will forgive me, but I believe that some things, including same-sex marriage and intimacy, are against God's laws, and that some of them, including same-sex marriage, should be against the laws of the land as well. You, of course, are entitled to you beliefs, and I hope that you vote and petition according to your heart-felt beliefs, as I will continue to vote and petition according to mine. We may have to agree to disagree on this topic, but we don't have to hate each other for that. As God's children we should all try to love and respect each other, despite the differences in our beliefs. I don't hate any of you, and I hope that none of you hate me. God teaches us to love one another, and I know that we can do that, even when we disagree.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Uphill, Downhill


Okay, let's try this again.

The reason I was so frustrated with this quote the other day was because I couldn't find the talk that it came from. That was partly because it didn't come from a talk. It came from President Eyring's book, "Seek Higher Ground." Also, according to deseretnews.com, President Eyring was quoting his mother's advice when he shared that, so the quote should actually be attributed to her.

But that's enough of a rant for this morning. Now I want to blog about why I wanted to blog about this quote in the first place.

Doing the right thing is usually difficult, and many apostles have related our spiritual progression to climbing a mountain or a hill. It's long and it's difficult, but the view is amazing, and there's safety in seeking the higher ground.

Alternatively, we could steer our lives in the other direction. If there's a hill and we're climbing it, we could theoretically climb back down. If we do, the going will be easier, ("It's all downhill from here"), but if we follow that path, we'll quickly find that our lives are "going downhill," and that's not a trajectory we want our lives to have. At least, it's not a trajectory I want my life to have.

I want to make progress. I want to do good and become a better person, even if the path of eternal progression is uphill and, at times, rather steep. It's a hard road to follow, but I need the blessings that come from striving to be righteous. Sure, it'd be easier to just not care about anything and let my life go downhill, but that's not going to get me anywhere I want to go. I'm going to the Celestial Kingdom, and the direction I need to go to get there is up.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Games with the Kids

I'm blogging a little bit late today because I've been playing games with one of my nephews and two of my nieces. It's been lots of fun, but it has kept me away from one of my obligations. I suppose I need to work on my priorities. That's been something of a theme in my life lately.