Help us be what our Father Sees

One doesn’t have to be religious to consider how powerful the message of a loving Heavenly Father is to those who subscribe to the belief. Recently in our family scripture study we discussed the question,

If you were asked to to describe what Jesus Christ was sent to earth to do, what would you say?

It was a pretty powerful question as we then heard several thoughtful responses from each of our children. I did my best to summarize and consolidate their responses. Here’s what I came up with.

He’s here to help us be the person our Heavenly Father sees.

This is why John 3:16 says

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And Moses 1:39 says

For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

The work and the purpose of the Savior is to help us be the person our Heavenly Father sees.

Iterate

It’s not uncommon in different faiths to have a lay clergy, but I don’t know if any other religion that does this on the scale of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That religion with more than 15 million members has no paid clergy in any congregation.

As a practical matter it’s safe to say that none of those serving are perfect at what they do, but those imperfections give us added opportunities to exercise faith.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a tenant of the church and is generally seen as an action verb. Faith isn’t something you passively have. It’s something you do.

We iterate on most of the things we do in life and that extends to the things we practice in our church.

We know that it requires repetitive practice to become good at anything. Whether it’s playing the clarinet, kicking a ball into a net, repairing a car, or even flying an airplane, it is through practicing that we may become better and better.

The organization our Savior created on earth–The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–helps us to do just that. It offers a place to practice living the way He taught and blessing others the way He did.

As Church members, we are given callings, responsibilities, and opportunities to reach out in compassion and minister to others.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

It’s not just good manners to be patient with others, but our patience is a sign of us exercising our faith in the organization He established here on the earth.

We Already Fail Often

Failing in professional settings is now seen as opportunities to improve.  There’s a good professional discussion on the mantra Fail Forward.  There’s also more than one article parsing through the rhetoric to expose that a simple phraseology is not the cure for everything. While the phrase and concept have had some success in professional settings there is something to be noted about the concept in spiritual settings as well.  We are here to learn from failure. 540px-falcon_heavy_croppedPaul said in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  Failure is a part of our human existence.  If the fail fast, fail often can work (even with the mantra’s flaws) to get Space-X to new heights applying the mantra spiritually should enable us to get to new heights. This doesn’t mean we should go out and find new ways to fail.  I think it means that we should take the time to find new opportunities for us to improve.  While we have Paul’s words on our failure in the New Testament, we have these words in the Book of Mormon (emphasis added):
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27
In this section not only do we have an explanation of the purpose of our weaknesses that often lead us to fall short, but we also have a description of the pathway to improve and the promise that our weaknesses will be turned into strengths if we are humble enough to involve God’s help. Fail forward is a great phrase in many, but not all, settings professionally.  It also has some application in our lives from a spiritual stand point.  If we exercise humility and allow ourselves to rely upon the mercies and merits of Jesus Christ, we can become strong in the thing where we are weak.

The Faith To Repent

This talk was given at the Oak Creek Ward in Meridian Idaho on 23 April 2017.

Often when a member of the Bishopric will ask you to give a talk they will ask you to stay within a theme or reference a talk from General Conference.  I asked for permission to choose my own and my plan was approved.  In previous talks I’ve given I’ve talked about dad jokes, fonts, and oddly specific words.  If those things aren’t interesting then you might as well plan on sleeping through my talk.  As many times as I’ve slept in church, I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through my talk.  I think one of the reasons why I’ve been asked to talk today is so that way there’d be at least one week where I wasn’t sleeping in the pew.

For a habitual church sleeper like me, it was quite refreshing to hear President Uchtdorf’s talk about how Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear.  While it was about that topic, it included a tangential semi-endorsement of those of us who like to sleep in church.  In President Uchtdorf’s words, “I am pretty sure that church sleep is among the healthiest of all sleeps.”  

Sometimes when we learn something new it’s easy to do it wrong or poorly or inefficiently. When baptisms for the dead were announced they were initially done in the Mississippi River. Then it was revealed that they should be done in the temple.  Now many believe they’ve been given permission to sleep.  If this is your inclination during my talk today I would like to present you with a more perfect way to follow what you might believe is a call to nap from on high.  

If you’re one of the one’s blessed with the inclination to sleep today I would like to teach you a trick that will keep those unsightly lines from forming on your forehead.  First, you must commit to being a forward sleeper.  A backward sleeper is a bit rude, but not unacceptable.  Backward sleep tends to lead to more snoring and an unsightly gaping of the mouth.  Forward sleeping is good but the pew leaves a line that makes it awkward to socialize in the hallway on the way to Sunday school.  To fix this you just need to roll/fold your tie and place it on the pew in front of you as a pillow.  Experts will realize that the need to leave enough slack so that their mouth isn’t covered by their tie in case it turns into a drool nap.  This way the drool doesn’t get on the tie.  

If you think this is bad advice you should see what I’ve taught in youth Sunday School over the years.  I’ve taught about multiple sizes of infinity, the math problem in the book of Job, the verb of the atonement, and being fanatically selfish.  You should be cautious about calling me to substitute.

Our brains are hardwired to make correlations, but many of the correlations we make are wrong.  We often associate a route with multiple turns as being longer than one that is straight even though they may be the same distance.  At some point in my life, I associated the repentance process with being something unyielding and difficult.  With Satan’s influence, the awkwardness of admitting I had done something wrong grew into a fear of the repentance process.  For me, this happened when I was younger and it’s taken me years to overcome this false correlation.  Repentance may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Fear and faith cannot coexist.  I grew up afraid of repenting because I had only focussed on the part of the experience that was hard.  I had convinced myself that this part was so hard that it wasn’t worth going through the whole process.  It was a lie, and I believed it.  Today I’d like to tell you how wrong that is.

Admitting your mistakes is hard, but it gets easier with practice.  In team dynamics, environments where the team fails fast are better environments for building the team.  When I was younger I used to work on the Army’s telephone equipment.  It was a cumbersome piece of early 1980’s engineering.  If the equipment went bad it would sometimes take us a long time to get a part and get back up and running again.  I used to adopt the mantra that it was better for me to be what’s wrong with the system not working because I was trainable.  This threw a lot of people off.  Generally, the military thinks so highly of itself that it creates a social stigma for anyone to admit failure.  I was the exception and because of that, I wasn’t afraid to ask more questions and learn faster than my peers.  The result was that I learned the equipment so well that I was able to engineer something that no one else had ever done or will ever do again.  I wouldn’t have been able to count that among my successes if I wasn’t willing to admit my mistakes.

Practice makes perfect.  Repentance takes practice.  It’s not something you do once and you’re good at.  That sort of thinking leads people to apply death-bed repentance, which may be a thing, but it reduces your ability to be a contributor to this world.

Being a contributor is extremely important.  Just take a look at the book of Job and ask yourself, what turned Job’s life around?  The only book in the Old Testament to mathematically demonstrate that families are designed to be together forever wouldn’t have happened if Job hadn’t decided to contribute.

We often talk about the fruits of the gospel, but I like to dissect that phrase a little further.  What is the gospel?  It is the good news of Jesus Christ.  What was Jesus Christ’s role?  To take our sins upon Him so that way we can be clean.  So we can be clean.  That sounds like repentance to me.  That sounds like Christ’s role was to provide the means by which we can repent of our sins.

One of the greatest stories that talks about this is often misread.  It comes from 1 Nephi 11.  Nephi asks to see and understand his father’s vision of the tree.  The vision his father saw was bout the tree of life.  Think of that title for a second.  The tree of life.

For Nephi’s vision, he starts off with seeing Mary and is introduced to her as the Mother of the Son of God.  But Nephi doesn’t record that he understands this phrase.  There’s no typical Book of Mormon explanatory detour.  The vision simply continues.  The key to the conversation occurs in verse 21 which reads, “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Here Nephi is introduced to Christ as the Lamb of God.  Previous to this, Nephi’s relationship with the repentance process has been assisting his father conducting animal sacrifices.  He would literally help with the sacrificing of a lamb.  I wonder how often he must have pondered how the lamb being burned as an offering would translate to a forgiveness of sin.  He likely didn’t have a good answer but proceeded with faith that this is the process he was to follow.  Faith is putting your foot down on the ground in front of you even when you can’t see it.  You have to trust that it will be there.

Later in the chapter we get the explanatory detour as Nephi shares his excitement about how the tree represents the love of God.  What I always find interesting is how the angel one-ups Nephi’s excitement about Christ being the Lamb of God.  The angel describes it as the most joyous to the soul.  It’s not often in the scriptures that we get a dialogue as this!

So Nephi is asking what the tree means, and he’s shown Christ but introduced to him as the Lamb of God.  What did the Lamb of God provide?  The means for repentance!  The fruit of the tree of life is the fruit that comes from repentance!  It’s at the end of the path with the iron rod.  You get there by trusting the word of God and taking steps of faith though your vision is clouded and foggy until you get there.  When Lehi took the fruit he looked around for his family.  He wanted to share.

I had often pondered the scripture in Matthew 11 where Christ says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I used to think this scripture was somehow wrong.  How could Christ’s yoke be easy and his burden light?  He took on the weight of the sins of the world.  That doesn’t sound like a light burden to me.  That sounds like a bleeding out of every pour situation.  But when he was bleeding out of every pore he wasn’t bearing his yoke, he was bearing ours.  He was bearing mine.  His is light because he is without sin.

Article of Faith 4 lists baptism as happening immediately following the repentance process.  In John 3, Christ describes baptism as being born again, and we often discuss taking the sacrament as renewing our baptismal covenants.  When we are born the world is new, and we are excited to explore its beautiful treasures.  Repentance should lead us to the same feelings of joy as those of the angel who one-upped Nephi in a conversation!  It should lead us to a joy so powerful that the awkwardness and fear of admitting failure isn’t an overpowering thought, but a moment of truth that leads to great joy.

Just this morning I woke up to a vivid memory of one of my failures being told me in a dream.  Unlike other times when this has happened this time I conquered it with the confidence that only comes from repentance.  Repentance gives us the confidence to stand before God and the ability in this life to find all the joy possible.

Book of Mormon Lexicon

This talk was written to be given in the Oak Creek Ward, Meridian ID on 12 March.  Due to a fire alarm getting pulled, it wasn’t presented and I don’t want the thoughts to be unshared and so I’m posting it here.

While Chrissy has introduced our family as part of her talk I get to introduce myself.  I grew up a kid with a lot of energy and as I’ve aged I’ve learned to put that energy into different subjects over the years.  I rarely lose myself in a novel, because I just tend not to read novels.  I’m more comfortable going through a text book on a subject I’m curious about or thumbing through etymology in a dictionary.  On my commute to work I’ve usually got a podcast or an audio book playing.

We all have places we've said fond goodbyes to over the years.
We all have places we’ve said fond goodbyes to over the years.

I’ve become a bit eccentric about certain things I’ve studied over the years.  A friend of mine at work and I are putting together a list of things people shouldn’t ask me if they want short answers to questions.  We’ve titled the list “Don’t ask the following if you want a short answer.”  The list includes my opinion on the merits of the Oxford Comma.  Which I imagine others have strong opinions about as well.  It also includes things like asking me which font to use.  My farewell talk in Germany included fonts.  The #1 thing on the list is asking me what my favorite dictionary is.  Yes there is a difference, and if you’d like to talk about it, let’s do it when there’s some good food.  I’m sure this subject will make me the most popular person at the Ward Christmas party.  Set a reminder on your phone to sit with the Roeckers!

Usually in my talks I try to throw in some odd insight and tie it back to the gospel.  Today I’d like to share two words with you in my talk about the Book of Mormon.  Today’s words are gongoozle and adieu.  The first word is wonderfully specific and I doubt you realize that you’ve been guilty of gongoozling in your life.  The word has truly British origins and means to stare at the behavior in a canal.  It’s oddly specific right?  It doesn’t mean to look at a stream, or a river, but only the behavior in a canal.  While you probably didn’t ever believe you needed that word in your life, enough people did that some lexicographer added it to the dictionary and there we have one of the most oddly specific words in the English lexicon.  So, if the weather’s good and you see a canal, go ahead and do a bit of gongoozling.  I personally find it very relaxing.

I was asked to talk about the Book of Mormon and in particular reference the conference talks from the October’s General Conference.  The talk I’ve chosen to reference today is by Elder Gary E. Stevenson.  In his talk he has four sections.  First he starts with a personal story about a twelve year old girl being touched by the spirit to read the Book of Mormon while others had concluded she was too young to grasp its meaning and importance.

The second part of his talk explains the keystone of an archway and how the Book of Mormon is often compared to a keystone.  Joseph Smith is the most pronounced individual to declare that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.  Elder Stevenson challenged his audience in this section to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimony.

His final two sections involve his personal witness of the book and encouraging others to seek within its pages to obtain their own personal witness.  In his call to receiving your own personal witness he quotes the specific challenge and promise at the end of the Book of Mormon where Moroni challenges his audience to read, remember, and ask if the book is true.

Rainey and I were talking this morning about how some gospel rules come with specific blessings while others are more general.  We covered why tithing is sometimes referred to as fire insurance.  We discussed the word of wisdom in D&C 89, and then talked about the ten commandments.  The challenge to honor thy father and thy mother comes with the promise that thy days may be long on the land the Lord thy God shall give thee.  After just having talked about daylight savings time, Rainey believed–just for a moment–that this meant there’d be more sunlight during the day to give you time to play with friends.

When you have a detailed promise in the scriptures it’s ok to be detail oriented in your study of the scriptures.  I loved the details I’ve discovered in the Book of Mormon.  1 Nephi 13:12 has Christopher Columbus.  One verse later you read that all of our ancestors who crossed the ocean to come to this land were each led by the Spirit.  3 Nephi 11 is rich with the simplicity and beauty of the instructions the Savior personally gave to the Nephites, but for my father this section was an answer to prayers he said as a non member.  He told a friend once that if Jesus Christ really was who he said he was, then more ought to be written about him than just what’s in the Bible.  One of the friends he shared that with was LDS, and my dad’s life has never been the same since.

Nephi’s writing style is like a delicious meal.  He’s very careful in the way he talks about his brothers.  Laman and Lemuel may have made poor choices, but have you ever noticed how Nephi never uses aggressive or demeaning language when writing about them?  He goes out of his way to narrate their role in his family’s story without any excess negativity.  I do hope that we can adopt this tone in our own families.

The second word I wanted to share with you is the word Adieu.  It appears one time in all of the standard works at the end of the book of Jacob.  We teach our children that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English.  But Adieu is a French word.  I struggle often with words that have a French etymology.  French words have been known to invade the English language before.  Most of our meat words are from French.  For example beef has a French origin but comes from a cow.  This has to do with the fact that the French nobility in England could afford to eat their animals and used words for the meat that were different than the words the peasantry used for the animals themselves.

So Joseph Smith is commanded to translate the book into English and chooses a French word.  While to most of us Adieu is nothing more than an elegant way to say goodbye and certainly when it’s used in Jacob 7:27 it is when Jacob is saying goodbye to his readers, but why didn’t Joseph just use goodbye?  The answer is in the specifics of the word.  No word in English is specific enough to share what Jacob is trying to say.  He’s not simply saying farewell. The dieu in adieu refers to deity and adieu means not only farewell, but a parting that calls upon the listener to remember their God.  He’s saying in our parting I commit you to God.  The farewell is familiar and contains a tone of finality fitting of an eloquent man.

While we may have specific words like gongoozle in our lexicon, we had nothing better to express this thought.

Elder Stevenson’s challenge to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimonies is a challenge with great promised blessings.  His testimony included the belief that these blessings are available to all regardless of age.  The process for doing this is to follow Moroni’s advice to read, remember, and ask.  My testimony to you this day is that the Book of Mormon is true and that as you return to Moroni’s formula you can have a greater appreciation for what the keystone of our religion can do in your life.  Sometime it’ll inspire a dramatic instantaneous life change.  Other time it may just be enough to teach an amateur etymology enthusiast like myself that words with French origins aren’t that bad.