Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Practicing the Music of the Gospel

I don't subscribe to LDS.org's Daily Messages, but I probably should. Some of them are really good, including this one from about a week ago:

"If you’re not hearing the music of the gospel in your home, please remember these two words: keep practicing." - Elder Wilford W. Andersen, "The Music of the Gospel"

During my piano class, we had to learn to play several pieces. To accomplish that, we learned about the symbols of sheet music and we learned how to identify notes, so when we looked at a piece of sheet music, we would theoretically know how to play what was written. However, for each of those pieces, knowing what notes to play, and even hearing the music enough times to know what it sounds like and to feel its emotions, wasn't enough. In order to play those pieces well, it wasn't enough to merely know what we were supposed to play; we had to practice it.

Living the Gospel is a lot like that. None of us are perfect yet. Each of us have habits we need to break and Christlike attributes we need to develop. None of us have completely gotten where we need to be, in terms of our eternal progression. However, most of us already know what we need to do to improve. The hard part is in actually doing that.

The good news is that there's a way we can improve ourselves, and it's not some faddish trick or complicated series of steps. We simply need to keep trying. As simple as it sounds, and as frustrating as it sometimes is, persistence is the key to overcoming a surprising number of life's challenges, including the challenge of self-improvement. We can learn to recognize and appreciate the music of the Gospel theoretically, but learning to play it ourselves takes practice.

In practicing, we're bound to make plenty of mistakes, but as we keep practicing, we can learn to make mistakes less frequently, and even learn how to stop making certain mistakes altogether. That's how we attain perfection - not through some grand deed of ours or by God waving a magic wand over our heads, but by making gradual progress toward perfection, one imperfect step at a time. With enough practice, a person can learn to play a piece of music perfectly, and the same is true for living the Gospel. None of us are perfect yet, but if we keep practicing, we'll keep improving. With enough persistence, and an eternity of time to practice, we can achieve perfection.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Many"?

Many of us are familiar with the story of the brother of Jared. Being a man of great faith, he helped lead his family toward a land that was promised to him and his family. Along the way, it became necessary for the group to have light sources, and fire wasn't an option. Having been invited by the Lord to offer his suggestion, the brother of Jared brought 16 clear stones up into a mountain and asked the Lord to touch them, expressing faith that if He touched them, He could make them glow. The brother of Jared then had an experience that, until tonight, I had thought was unique. His faith was so great that he saw the finger of the Lord touch those stones, and then, after another expression of faith, saw the Lord Himself. Apart from those who were alive during Jesus' mortal ministry, I had thought that there hadn't been many who had seen Jesus, and there certainly couldn't have been many who had such great faith that they could not be kept from seeing the Lord, as had been the case with the brother of Jared.

Yet, despite the seeming singularity of this event, Ether 12:19 says that "there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil," and who saw Jesus Christ. When I read that verse in family scripture study earlier this evening, the word "many" stood out to me. I knew that there had been a few others who had seen the Lord, but could there really have been "many" others? I don't know of many other Christ sightings in the Book of Mormon or Old Testament. A few in each, sure, but not what I'd call "many." Then again, how many is "many"? Besides, it's possible that there were people who saw Jesus who just didn't have it mentioned in the scriptures. If Nephi hadn't mentioned in 2 Nephi 11 that his brother, Jacob, had seen the Lord, we'd have never known it. Come to think of it, I had forgotten that Nephi had seen Jesus too. There are certainly more people who had been given the privilege of seeing the Lord than I had realized.

This tells me two things: First, that Jesus is real. There can't have been that many people having seen Him without Him being there to see. I can imagine a handful of people experiencing a similar delusion, but not many. Second, it's sometimes (apparently often) easy for miracles, even miracles as great as someone personally seeing Jesus Christ, to go unnoticed by the general public. God doesn't toot His own horn as often as He could. Frequently, He finds it sufficient to have a strong impact on a handful of individuals, and leave it to the rest of the world to decide whether they take notice or not. This has the effect of there appearing to be far fewer miracles than there are, and I'd assume that God is okay with that, or He'd probably be more vocal about what all He does for us. God doesn't seem to feel the need for our recognition, at least, not to the extent that He deserves. Yes, He wants us to be mindful of our blessings and be grateful for them, but His blessings to us are sometimes so subtle and private that it sometimes takes effort to take notice of them.

Also, I'm certain that not all sacred experiences were meant to be shared with the world, so there must be countless of such experiences that just aren't written in the scriptures. Plus, many sacred experiences happened after the scriptures were written, so they wouldn't have been included either, and even had it been possible for them to have been written about ahead of time, there wouldn't have been room in the books for them all. There are innumerable miracles that have occurred without our knowledge, including (judging by Ether 12) "many" people having seen Jesus.

It would seem that I have a lot to learn about how the Lord does His work. I typically picture Him making grand appearances, ascending and descending to and from heaven in the eyes of multitudes, or at least groups of a dozen or so, not privately appearing to specific individuals more times than I could count. I had thought that the experience of the brother of Jared was a rare and remarkable experience, but now I feel that, while it's still certainly remarkable, it may not have been quite as rare of an experience as I had thought.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Our Heroes

One of the themes of the Book of Mormon is "remembering the captivity of our fathers" (Alma 36:2) and "how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, . . . and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies" (Alma 62:50). Today, we had an opportunity to remember the captivity of our forefathers and the great sacrifices they made to purchase our freedom. Surely, they deserve our deepest thanks and our enduring remembrance. Though Memorial Day is a day set apart to honor our fallen heroes, I think it makes sense to honor God on this day, too. We could not have fared so well in our many battles for freedom without His divine aid. He, too, deserves our thanks and remembrance, as do our living veterans, including those currently serving our country. We have many heroes to thank for our great blessings. I'm glad that we have Memorial Day and Veteran's Day set aside to remember and honor them. May God bless them for their service and continue to bless our country, and may we continue to praise and honor God, who has "delivered [us] out of the hands of [our] enemies."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Gift of Family

This evening, we commemorated my birthday with a small family gathering. We enjoyed a wonderful meal prepared by my mother and a fabulous dessert made by my sister. We also had good conversations and played a zany variation of my favorite card game, UNO. It was a great night. No physical gifts were exchanged (unless you count the portions of the meal my siblings brought) but none were needed. Virtually anyone in the world could serve as an example of the fact that physical possessions don't make people truly happy, but a loving family can. Spending a fun and pleasant evening with a few members of my family made me very happy. Even if that had been all I had gotten or would get for my birthday, this one evening with family was gift enough for me.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Josh, the Young Paladin

Last night, I typed the word "dragon" into the search bar on LDS.org, hoping to find a list of scriptures in which dragons are mentioned. What I found first was even better. The top results were two articles and a poem from three issues of the Friend magazine. The top result of those three was a story called Josh and the Dragon.

The story begins with Josh, a kindred spirit of mine, who, having just finished a meal at a restaurant, begins to climb on a play structure with his younger brother and sister. Josh pretended that he was a knight, his sister, Anna, pretended to be a princess, and his brother, Brian, pretended to be a dragon. Playing knights and dragons on a play structure sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm sure it was, until the other children showed up.

The other children were nice enough, but they used language that children shouldn't use, or even hear. Summoning up his courage, Josh asked the other kids to stop using that kind of language around him and his brother and sister, but they didn't stop. He said a silent prayer prayer for guidance, and in his mind, he saw himself as a knight fighting a dragon, with his brother and sister standing behind him. At that moment, Josh knew that he had a duty to protect his younger siblings from hearing the foul language, so he led them away.

When the three of them rejoined their parents, their father asked them why they were back so soon. Josh explained what had happened,  and his father told him that he was proud of him for protecting his brother and sister and setting a good example for them.
Josh smiled. It was almost like he really was a knight watching over those he loved while fighting a dragon. Josh also knew he’d done more than protect his brother and sister—he had also protected himself.
I, too, am proud of Josh for his courage in making that decision. It's nice to know that there are other people in the church that are inspired to righteousness by the thought of being a knight. I had always thought that I was a little bit crazy for choosing paladins as my role-models, and maybe I am a bit old for playing pretend, but at least there's at least one church-published article that suggests that I chose a good example to follow. Judging by his thoughts and actions, I'd say that Josh was a paladin. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Me and My Dragons

There are currently no less than ten dragons visible from my bed. One, I made out of legos (I've made extensive modifications to the original design. I think I've blogged about that. I've made another few changes since then). One was once a keychain, but I made it into a necklace. Two serve as bookends that hold a book series that I've been reading. Three are stuffed toys originally meant to be played with by dogs. And the last three are figurines, covering their eyes, ears, or mouth. In addition to that, two of my favorite T-shirts have dragons on them, my favorite Magic: the Gathering deck has ten or twelve dragons in it (depending on whether you count the Taurean Maulers as dragons) and most of my other trading card decks have at least one dragon each. Needless to say, I love dragons.

However, as awesome as I think dragons are, I have to admit that most dragons do not make good role-models. Dragons tend to be proud, greedy, violent, and sometimes vain and/or gluttonous, accounting for at least four of the seven deadly sins. Some might say dragons are slothful, too, so that would make it five out of seven. Not to mention, there's a certain scriptural "dragon" who is practically the antithesis of a role-model.

So, what does that mean for me and my dragons? The good news is that I know that dragons aren't good role-models, so I don't try to emulate them, like I do with Paladins. But, given that I know that dragons don't set good examples, is it wise for me to have so many around me? We're counseled to choose our friends carefully. Does that extend to our plush, plastic, and paper friends?

I'll have to think about this, and especially about what effects my dragons have on me. Do they, can they, help me be a better person?

One thing that dragons have always represented to me is power. Their wings give them the power to go where they choose. Their scales give them the power to withstand attacks. And their claws and fiery breath give them the power to destroy their enemies. Power, in itself, isn't a bad thing. It's really all in how a person uses their power. As such, having power and even wanting power aren't always bad things. The freedom and resilience of dragons are two aspects of dragons that are especially desirable and useful in the fight against the biblical dragon.

As for the destructive power of dragons (by far a dragon's most prominent aspect), it probably fits into the same category as the only non-armor component of the armor of God. Every Paladin, every soldier of God, needs to have some kind of weapon they can use against the adversary. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul represented that offensive power with "the sword of the Spirit," but in other places, the Spirit is presented not as being sword-like, hard, sharp, and solid, but as being like a fire, warm and bright, intangible in that it doesn't have a physical form, yet tangible in that it can be felt. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is sometimes called the baptism of fire, and receiving inspiration from the Spirit is sometimes called a burning in the bosom. I think that, in many ways, fire is more like the Spirit than swords are.

Allowing fire to symbolize the Spirit creates a potent visual when considering where a dragon's fire comes from. Some say that dragons have a sort of furnace within them, which is constantly burning with an incredible heat. If fire represents the Spirit, that tells me that such dragons have powerful, constant testimonies. But even in worlds where dragons' fires aren't lit by inner furnaces, dragonfire always comes out of dragons' mouths. Many of the things we can do to invite the Spirit, and especially to invite the Spirit to touch the hearts of others, are done with our mouths, such as by praying, reading scriptures aloud, singing hymns, teaching gospel truths, and bearing testimony of them. If fire represents the Spirit, then dragons have the Spirit with them more than most other mythological creatures.

So, dragons do have some spiritually-positive aspects to them. As long as I focus on those aspects, rather than on the negative ones, dragons can have a good influence on me, or at least not a bad one, and can help me win my spiritual war against the dragon spoken of in the scriptures. At the very least, I have just succeeded in justifying my love of dragons to myself, despite knowing that dragons don't always exhibit Christlike behavior. Besides, I'm sure that not all dragons are evil, greedy, lovers of destruction. I bet there are plenty of good dragons out there, including each of the ten I can see from my bed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Suffer Now..."


I don't hate life, and I certainly don't hate every minute of it, but sometimes, life gets challenging. In times like that, we need to endure, which in this case doesn't mean just surviving until the trial is over; it means to keep doing the right thing, even though it's difficult. The good news is that there are eternal blessings in store for those who can endure temporal trials. Life is our training. It's tough, but that toughness makes us stronger, and that strength can stay with us forever. Endure your trials now, and you can spend the rest of eternity as a champion.