Virtue + Charity = Power – Trying to Be like Jesus in Deed and in Thought

I just got a new calling as a team teacher for the missionary prep class in our stake.  I taught my first lesson yesterday, and then saw this message today.   It’s so inspiring.  I am impressed today about the importance that virtue plays in doing the Lord’s work.

When the Savior was touched by the woman who was plagued with an “issue of blood”, the Lord knew that someone had touched Him because, as the scripture states,  he immediately [knew] in himself that virtue had gone out of him, Mark 5:25-34.  Virtue, or the power that flows freely from virtue was part of the Savior, because He was the perfect being, the Lamb without blemish, one without sin (see also Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46 – note that virtue and love are so vital to this scripture, and I am speaking about Christlike love, not lust, here.).

If we want to be effective leaders, teachers, mentors, spouses, parents, friends, etc. then it behooves us to follow the Master’s example on this point.  To quote from the talk that the video was taken from (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, We are all Enlisted, Gen. Conf. October 2011) –

Well, the Lord has drawn lines of worthiness for those called to labor with Him in this work. No missionary can be unrepentant of sexual transgression or profane language or pornographic indulgence and then expect to challenge others to repent of those very things! You can’t do that. The Spirit will not be with you, and the words will choke in your throat as you speak them. You cannot travel down what Lehi called “forbidden paths”5 and expect to guide others to the “strait and narrow”6 one—it can’t be done.

I also have a calling as the Primary Chorister.  This month, our song is I’m trying to be like Jesus.  I scoured the internet for ideas and found some great ones on Sugardoodle.  I quoted the scripture, Alma 5:14 –  Have ye received his image in your countenance.  We discussed what that meant, and I  took a mirror and a picture of the Savior and asked the children how their image was like the Savior’s (head, hair, eyes, etc.) and then we talked about the fact that as we spend time with people, we begin to behave and act, and sometimes look, like the people that we spend time with (I joked here about pegging my pants in High School – if you are reading this and went to school in the 90’s you’ll know what I’m talking about :). )

We began to discuss the scripture, 2 Nephi 9:9, which states that if we had not had a Savior, that we would have become like Satan, And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; and then we talked about the song , line by line –

I’m trying to be like Jesus,
I’m following in His ways.
I’m trying to love as He did
In all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted
To make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen
As the still small voice whispers:

CHORUS  – Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.

I’m trying to love my neighbor.
I’m learning to serve my friends.
I watch for that day of gladness
When Jesus will come again.

I try to remember the lessons he taught,
And the holy spirit enters into my thoughts, saying:

CHORUS

Note that the whole song is about kindness, and gentleness, and being loving, and listening to the Holy Spirit.  I talked to the kids about a friend of mine, who, one day when his child had made a mistake, got angry and yelled, “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?”  Well, for one thing, He probably wouldn’t have yelled.  He probably would have  taken the child aside to sit down and discuss the problem, and then, would have shown forth love and expressed faith that the child would make a better choice in the future.

Finally, we talked about Moroni 7:47-48, which talks about charity, the pure love of Christ, and that, if we ask, and are filled with this love, when he shall appear we shall be like him – what an amazing thought!  That by spending time with the Savior (through scripture study, worship, and following the Spirit), and by acting as He would act – acts of love and virtue,  we will become like Him.   If we become like Him, then we will have power to do His works (see John 15: 1-7 and John 14:12).  I can’t imagine that we would sit back and expect the Savior to “tow the line” and live virtuously, and then, conversely not expect  Him to have requirements for us to follow.  We use and appreciate the Grace that He provided through His infinite atonement, and then to not try to be virtuous and loving  in our daily walk – it just doesn’t make sense.

We just finished watching the London 2012 Olympics – how inspiring to watch those men and women who had worked for four years to become something great.  How wonderful is our Coach, who accepts us, yes, but then invites us to become something better.  Who sees our divine potential to become great, to do great things in this world, to be more than the man or woman sitting on the couch, eating doughnuts, and watching T.V.  He wants so much more for each of us, and the way that we start on the path is to begin to “try to be like Jesus.”

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Yielding our Hearts to God

Today was Stake Conference, and I felt so edified by our Stake President, John McConkie’s talk, that I felt the need to share part of it here. He began by discussing the fact that we all needed to learn to balance our time so that we could enjoy the things that our Heavenly Father has given us to enjoy while we are here on earth. We are supposed to have entertainment and leisure time, and time to enjoy our own creative endeavors.

Then, he began to discuss the powerful principle of yielding. When we yield, (for example in driving) we slow down to allow other cars to go forward (or stop to let them pass) and then we can move ahead. When we yield, (in the gospel sense) we allow for other things to take a higher priority in our lives for the time being, knowing full well that we will be able to go back to what we were doing in time.

Perhaps we are ready to settle down into a good book, and something inside tells us to go and contact a neighbor or friend. The book will be there when we get back. A father puts down the remote and spends time teaching a child to ride a bicycle. The TV will be there, when he gets back. A mother decides to put college on hold for a season so that she can bear and nurture children. College will be available in the future. A couple holds off going to the movies to go to the temple. Movies aren’t going anywhere.

The amazing thing about yielding is that we don’t have to put off our desires forever. Father in Heaven wants us to have rich and abundant lives! Yielding, to the promptings of the Spirit, however, will help us align our desires with His own.

A scripture that discusses this principle is about the missionary sons of Mosiah:

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God, Helaman 3:35.

I recently listened to a talk by BYU professor, Douglas Brinley, on Strengthening Marriages, in which he began to talk about the matter of the heart. He said that good marriages are not based on counseling, but on soft hearts. Hearts that yield. Hearts that have learned not “who is right, but what is right.” For example, a spouse holds back an angry, cutting remark and prays to find a way to discuss the problem with respect and kindness for the other.

In fact, the heart is mentioned repeatedly in the scriptures, here are the number of references to the word heart per book –

  • Old Testament – 712
  • New Testament – 159
  • Book of Mormon – 394
  • Doctrine and Covenants – 183
  • Pearl of Great Price – 25

There are only two kinds of hearts to God, hard hearts and soft hearts.

Yielding softens hearts. It changes us from the inside out. It makes us men and women of Christ. It allows us to keep the great commandment, to love the Lord, God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and coincidentally helps us keep the second commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember the goal is to become like our Savior, who said;

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost … (3 Nephi (9:20).

Or, as Elder Neal A Maxwell put it;

The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we’ve really given Him the one thing He asks of us.

This doesn’t make sense to the majority of people – all this talk about yielding, and proper hearts, and sacrifice – because the world teaches us to look out for #1, and to push and shove to be the first, and that whatever I do doesn’t matter, it’s my life, it’s my choice, don’t judge me. But no matter how much you push yourself forward, if you cross the wrong finish line, you won’t win the race.

What a hard heart will never understand is that we’re not in it for fame and fortune. We’re in it to become our best selves. To truly become Beings unbelievable in scope and power and majesty (see Doc. & Cov 121:45-46). Merely living and never yielding could never allow us to attain to this.

Besides that, in the words of the Pilgrim Song – (arranged by Ryan Murphy, 2000) –

My soul doth long to go where I may fully know the glory of my Savior.
And as I pass along I’ll sing the Christian song: I’m going to live forever.

(Special thanks to the Baylor University Acapella Choir, Dr. Alan Raines, Conductor, and youtube contributor, stephengoose, for this performance- )

It all begins with teaching our hearts to yield, and it ends in allowing us to live life more abundantly.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Grace: The price has been paid, the opportunity has been opened.

I had a wonderful Sunday School lesson today.  At the beginning, the teacher decided to stray from the lesson momentarily and share an excerpt from a talk that he had come across.  I am so thankful that he did.  It was worth the trip to Colorado to learn (of course road trips and visiting with family and friends is fantastic as well).  I think that acquiring gospel knowledge is like putting together a gigantic puzzle.  There are parts that you are working on, and then you get that one piece that illuminates the area that you had been focused on.  Today, I got one of those pieces.

It was from a talk by Brad Wilcox, BYU Professor and Sunday School General Board member, given at a BYU Devotional, 12 July 2011.  The  talk is entitled,  His Grace Is Sufficient and the full transcript can be found here.

He began by discussing a conversation that he had with a female student about grace.  I quote from the talk here (excerpts of the talk will be in italics) –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

He went on to draw on a paper two dots – one that represented God, and the other her, and asked if she would draw a line to God that represented how much was her part.  She drew a line just over her dot to which he answered, “Wrong.”   He said the following:

“The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a
few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we
plan to stay there.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”

“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”

Then he went on to provide a fantastic analogy, one that really resonated with me –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. … Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange forhis paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to. …

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us — part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Think about the difference between a person who has just started practicing the piano, and someone who has been playing for years.  What’s the difference?  Practice.  What’s the difference between someone who has just started to learn a language and someone who has been speaking it for years?  Practice.  But remember that the more effort you put into the task, the better you will become.  Can you imagine what a lifetime of someone trying to put the teachings of Jesus into practice would be like?  Brother Wilcox then began a section that I think is so important to understand because we all live in the world.  The world (as Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it) is a laboratory for learning to be Christlike.  And it can be a very harsh lab, very real, and very difficult –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice?  I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they <graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.

There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.

I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.

In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13). …

As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus
Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. … The task ahead of [us is] never as great as the power behind [us].

Now, doesn’t that make you fell more confident in your ability to become something great with the opportunity that has been so greatly given.  It does for me.

Spirituality – a definition (or How to Live the Abundant Life)

“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love, every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake – that is spirituality….

“Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite.  Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more strength.  To feel one’s faculties unfolding, and truth expanding in the soul, is one of life’s sublimest experiences.”

President David O McKay from the book, Man May Know for Himself. (Complied by Clare Middlemiss, SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p.72.)

My favorite line from this quote – “Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more strength.”

It’s time to stop living low, and to begin live the abundant life.

I will never understand why our society celebrates mediocrity.

“No matter our age, circumstances, or abilities, each one of us can create something remarkable of his life.

“David saw himself as a shepherd, but the Lord saw him as a king of Israel. Joseph of Egypt served as a slave, but the Lord saw him as a seer. Mormon wore the armor of a soldier, but the Lord saw him as a prophet.

“We are sons and daughters of an immortal, loving, and all-powerful Father in Heaven. We are created as much from the dust of eternity as we are from the dust of the earth. Every one of us has potential we can scarcely imagine.”

(Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, The Abundant Life, April Conference 2006.)

Living a Spiritual Life requires sacrifices, but with those sacrifices comes strength and abundance.

When a person patterns his/her life “to the sacred and enduring example of the Savior, Jesus Christ, that basic principle of gospel living will be incorporated into his life for eternity. (See Doc. & Cov. 130:18-19)

“To the person who becomes absorbed in acheiving eternal goals, life becomes more abundant.” (The Pursuit of Excellence, RS booklet, 1978)