Thursday, July 31, 2014

D&C 58: 42 - Forgive and Forget

D&C 58: 42 says, "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." But what does that mean, exactly? I understand the part about repentance and forgiveness, but what I don't understand is the part where the Lord said that He won't remember the sins that we've repented of. Could it be that He actually, literally, forgets them?

Part of me is thinking that that is completely ridiculous. For starters, He's pretty much omniscient. He knows everything, including all of the details surrounding every sin we've ever committed. It just doesn't make sense for an omniscient being to have fuzzy spots in His memory so that He literally doesn't remember the sins that He has forgiven. He must remember that they happened, so what does it mean that He will "remember them no more"?

I'm kind of guessing that it just means that those sins won't be counted against us - that they won't affect our spiritual permanent record. Sure, He'll remember that they happened, because He knows everything, but that doesn't mean He'll necessarily bring them up at Final Judgement. We repented, He forgave us, and that's really all that matters, so there's no reason to bring it back up. In that sense, He might as well have forgotten about them, because they're not going to come up again, but I still think that, somewhere in the back of His mind, He still remembers everything.

So, does Jesus remember repented-of sins or not? If we take His word literally, He must not. But how often does Jesus speak literally, anyway? He frequently teaches in parables and uses what we might call poetic language. He uses words more creatively than we do. Perhaps, when He says that He'll "remember [our sins] no more," it doesn't mean to Him what we think it literally means. It doesn't make sense for an omniscient being to literally forget anything, so what does it mean when He says that He won't remember them?

Once again, I really just kind of think that it just means that He won't bring it up again. Yeah, it happened, and He probably remembers that it happened, but it's been repented of, the debt has been paid for, it's all in the past, so there's no reason to bring it back up. There is, from that moment on, no real need to remember that sin, except to learn what you can from the experience. It doesn't need to stay on your permanent record or be brought up at final judgement. It may as well have not even happened, except that we hopefully have all learned something from it.

I haven't learned definitively whether Jesus literally forgets forgiven sins or not, but I think we've established that once a sin has been forgiven, the information concerning it is mostly no longer needed. If the information no longer matters, then I guess it really doesn't matter whether Jesus holds on to the information or not. Whether He actually forgets or not, what's important to remember is that He forgives.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Encourage Your "Competitors"

Another thing Bishop Stevenson spoke about is an experience that one LDS Olympic athlete did to help another athlete from a different country.
As a skier and a snowboarder myself, I was deeply impressed with the “four-minute” silver medal-winning performance of Australian LDS athlete and snowboarder Torah Bright in the half-pipe competition. She dazzled the world as she finished a virtually flawless run culminating in a backside rodeo 720. However, even more impressive and surprising to the world was the way she reached out and demonstrated Christlike love to her competitors. She noticed that American snowboarder Kelly Clark, who had a bad first run in her final round, appeared to be nervous about her second run. “She gave me a hug,” Clark recalls. “She just held me until I actually calmed down enough and I slowed my breathing. It was good to have a hug from a friend.” Kelly Clark would later join Torah on the winners’ podium as a bronze medalist. 
When asked about this unusual act of kindness toward her opponent, which could have put her own silver medal at risk, Torah simply said, “I am a competitor—I want to do my best—but I want my fellow competitors to do their best, too.” 
With that in mind, is there someone who needs your encouragement? a family member? a friend? a classmate or fellow quorum member? How can you help them with their four minutes?
Life isn't a race. It's not like in the Olympics where there can be only one or three winners (in my opinion, everyone who makes it to the Olympics is a winner, but they don't all get medals, let alone gold ones). In life, everyone can get "Gold Medals." We can all win. I don't think, as some people believe, that there are only so many spots available in heaven or that only a certain number of people will be allowed to go there. I just read a quote on Facebook (and I'm sure I've heard it earlier elsewhere), "The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday." Getting to heaven isn't about who can achieve self-mastery the fastest or who can live the commandments most perfectly. It's about whether we keep the commandments and achieve self-mastery at all. As far as our personal spiritual development is concerned, it doesn't matter how well or poorly anyone else did. We each pass or fail based on our own merits, not wether we were better or worse than anyone else.

So, given that elevating another person and inspiring them to live better isn't going to jeopardize our chances of getting to heaven ourselves, we honestly have nothing to lose by helping others. Torah Bright could have lost out on her Silver Medal if the encouragement she gave Kelly Clark helped Kelly perform a better run than Torah did, but she didn't use that as an excuse to be mean or even apathetic toward Kelly. She helped her fellow competitor do the best that she could do, and so should we. In fact, showing Christlike love is a great way to improve our own spiritual standing as well, so not only will helping another person NOT hurt our chances of qualifying for the Celestial Kingdom, it'll actually help us to do so.

I love the gospel. I love situations where everyone is on the same team and we can all win together. I love it when people help each other, and we all do better as a result of that than we could have done on our own. I love helping others and I love it when I get the help I need when I need it. I also love the fact that getting into heaven isn't a competition to see who can be more righteous than everyone else. I'd be in serious trouble if it were! And last but not least, I'm very grateful for the Atonement, which, as Bishop Stevenson put it, "can make up for imperfections in our performance." I haven't had a perfect run so far (I don't think any of us have), but thanks to receiving a great deal of help from multiple people, I'm doing better than I think I could have done on my own. Now I just hope that I can pay it forward and help other people do better as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remembering the Millennia of Preparation

I haven't blogged about a Conference talk for a while. There's one section left for me to finish up, and I only have about a month or two to cover it until the next one comes. The talk I just read this morning was Bishop Gary E. Stevenson's talk, Your Four Minutes. He spoke of how Olympic athletes had prepared for years for a contest which, in some cases, lasted only four minutes per person. He related these contests to our mortal lives, noting how such a relatively short time from the perspective of the eternities can nevertheless have eternal consequences. He even admitted that it may seem unfair that so much hinges on what we do in such a short period of time. However, just like the Olympic athletes, we have had a good, long time to prepare for this.
You are an eternal being. Before you were born, you existed as a spirit. In the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, you trained and prepared to come to earth for a brief moment and, well, perform. This life is your four minutes.

...

Dear friends, you are in the midst of an exhilarating journey. In some ways, you are racing down the half-pipe or sled track, and it can be challenging to perform each element or navigate each turn along the way. But remember, you’ve prepared for this for millennia. This is your moment to perform. This is your four minutes! The time is now!
My problem with this idea is that I don't remember the millennia I spent preparing for my few decades of mortality. Does training really do a person any good if they can't remember any of it? Yes, and here's why.

Imagine that you're in terrific physical shape. You exercise each morning. You jog for miles, lift weights that weigh as much as you do, and you do it all easily because you're extremely physically fit. Then, one afternoon, a flowerpot lands on your head, knocking you out, and you wake up with amnesia. You don't remember what you did that morning. You don't remember what you've done every morning since you were a child. You don't know that you've been exercising for years. Yet, your body is still strong. You don't have to remember how you got to be so strong. You just need to recognize how strong you are and put that strength to good use.

We've all spent eons developing great spiritual strength, and much of that strength stayed with us as we were born. Some of us may have lost some of our old strength through lack of recent exercise, and some of us may have done things that weakened our spirits even further, but we all still have a great deal of spiritual strength inside of us. We just need to tap into that strength and use it to choose the right - to start exercising again.

One part of our training that I'll admit may not still be useful to us is the study of techniques. If, in the pre-mortal world, we learned tricks that help us resist temptation, keep the spirit with us, and remember Christ always, we've probably forgotten many of those tricks. We don't remember the strategies we learned as we fought in the war in heaven. Yet, maybe subconsciously we do.

The idea of muscle memory is that your body has done something so many times that now you can do it almost without thinking about it. Like tying your shoe. When was the last time you had to ask yourself "Where does this end of the shoelace go at this step?" It's probably been a while because you've had so much practice at tying your shoes that now your hands can do it automatically. The same can apply to other things, like driving your car or writing or typing - things that may have taken a lot of practice at first, but now you can do them without even thinking about it.

It could be that there's something like a spiritual muscle memory. It's possible that we spent so much time learning and practicing spiritual techniques that our spirits may still subconsciously remember how to do them. This may be where we get such talents as singing hymns or saying meaningful prayers. Of course, I'm only speculating on this. It just seems unthinkable to me that we would spend an eternity preparing for our lives on earth without at least some of that preparation carrying over to being of use in our mortal lives. I'm sure that some of our pre-mortal training stuck with us in one form or another.

We may not consciously remember what we did during the thousands of years before we were born on this earth, but just as how we spend our time here will have a big impact on how we spend the rest of eternity, I'm sure that the training we experienced before our births can be of some benefit to us now. That training must still be helping us somehow, even though we currently don't remember any of it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Society Should Listen to God on the Topic of Traditional Marriage

I just spent an hour watching a man named Ryan T. Anderson talk about why marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman and what effects that and other possible definitions do or could have on society as a whole. He is in favor of traditional marriage, but for the sake of this argument, he left tradition, ethics, and religion out of the conversation for the most part - considering only what effects various definitions of marriage would have on society and why a permanent, monogamous, heterosexual serves as the best ideal setting in which to raise kids. It was very interesting.

What I mostly got out of it is that society has an interest in not letting society fall apart. As an organism, society has an interest in self-preservation. As a unit, society wants to continue to function, and to do so smoothly. Crime and poverty are disruptive to society. Criminals and the very poor are like auto parts that, instead of helping the car run optimally, add only dead weight or even directly sabotage the machine. It would clearly be great if there were less crime and poverty in the United States.

There are several factors that lead to poverty and to criminal behavior, which I believe are also linked to each other. At least one of those factors is the upbringing of those who eventually fall into poverty and/or turn to a life of crime. Studies show that some types of households and family relationships are less likely to produce criminals than others, and monogamous, heterosexual relationships have a better track record than unfaithful, single-parent, or same-sex-relationship families. Basically, a child is more likely to become an upstanding citizen if they're raised by a loving mother and a loving father. If either of those two parents are absent, that child is going to have a harder time in society, even if the missing mother or father is replaced by a second father or a second mother. Surely, having same-sex parents is better than having no parents at all. It's probably also better than only having one parent, though I haven't heard of many studies comparing those scenarios. But a loving, faithful, heterosexual couple is statistically probably to be better parents than same-sex couples, in terms of whether their kids end up being beneficial or detrimental to society.

As a person who believes, for religious reasons, that heterosexual couples are more favorable than same-sex couples, but who doesn't want to cram his religion down other people's throats, and as a person who believes that new ideas are sometimes (though not always) just as good, if not better than old ideas, I was glad to hear a non-religious, non-traditionalist argument in favor of traditional, god-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman. Essentially, it'll be better for America. There will be less crime and poverty, fewer broken homes, and generally more stability and happiness in our society.

Now, I don't want to put words into Mr. Anderson's mouth. That was my non-traditionalist, non-religious argument in favor of heterosexual marriage. If you want to hear his thoughts on the subject (and have an hour of time to spare), I'll include a link here.

To throw an inspirational thought onto this political argument, this just goes to show that God know what He's talking about. He knows what's best for His children, for society as a whole. He knows what will bring the most happiness, and He encourages us to support those things. He also knows what's not good for us or for our society, and He has asked us to stand against those things. I don't want to be discriminatory or bigoted, but I have faith that God wants all of us to be happy, that He knows what will contribute to or detract from our happiness, and that His commandments are given for the express purpose of improving our happiness. I want people to be happy, too, and normally that would lead me to allow people to pursue happiness however they choose. But God knows what's best for our happiness better than we do. If God says we'd all be happier keeping His commandments than breaking them, and I truly believe that, then I, too, should discourage people from breaking the commandments, even if they think that breaking God's commandments is what will make them happy.

I'm sure that a lot of people disagree with me on this topic, but I have to stand by my beliefs and by evidence that's shown by society as a whole, especially when those two things agree. And right now, they're both saying that traditional marriages are better for children, the backbone of society, than non-traditional ones.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tips for Withstanding Whirlwinds

The person who will be teaching in Elder's Quorum today asked me if I would share a brief message about how I prepare to withstand spiritual whirlwinds. The term "spiritual whirlwinds" refers to Elder Neil L. Andresen's talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, in which he said,
More concerning than the prophesied earthquakes and wars are the spiritual whirlwinds that can uproot you from your spiritual foundations... 
The worst whirlwinds are the temptations of the adversary.
Thinking of spiritual whirlwinds this way, it seems to me that the best way to withstand such whirlwinds is to be firmly rooted on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Helaman 5:12
But that's just a generic, Sunday-school answer. If the teacher wants to hear specifically how I keep myself rooted on the gospel of Christ and withstand spiritual whirlwinds, I'll tell them that I do it mostly by praying for God's help to be able to do it.

Satan's temptations are subtle, sometimes too subtle to detect, and they're strong, sometimes seeming to be too strong to resist. For the wisdom to recognize the devil's temptations and for the moral strength to resist them, I often need God's help, and to get God's help, you often need to pray for it.

Another thing I do to keep myself firmly anchored to the gospel of Jesus Christ is to occasionally review the basics of the gospel. I ask myself questions like "Why is faith important?" "How does faith lead to obedience and repentance?" "What makes repentance and forgiveness so awesome?" and "How do these basic steps help me progress toward my ultimate goal of moral perfection?" It's funny how small and simple questions can lead to big, important answers. And it's funny how having a strong testimony in the basics of the gospel can help a person more than having a vague understanding of the deeper points of doctrine. Perhaps I should devote more of my study time to revisiting the basics instead of looking for new insightful quotes to share or reporting on how my piano practice is going.

Basically, that request I got to share my thoughts on how to firmly root yourself to the gospel has reminded me of how important it is for me to make sure I'm firmly rooted. I haven't reviewed the basics in a while. Maybe it's time to revisit them.

Less Belief in Luck, More Belief in God

(This is yesterday's blog post. How did this not get posted yesterday?)

Blogging about piano tips Teresa taught me reminded me of another insight she shared with me that day. I hope she'll forgive me for sharing it without getting her permission first. The basic idea is that the word "lucky" could, in almost every instance I can think of, be fittingly replace with the word "blessed."

There are some people who don't believe in luck. Such people may believe in fate - that some things are just destined to happen no matter what. Others say that there is no luck because everything that happens is a result of someone's choices, be they ours or God's. I'm leaning more toward that way of thinking right now. Some, including some of those who believe in neither God nor luck ascribe every seemingly random event to the laws of physics which are perfectly predictable, if you know all the factors. Personally, I think that one of the factors is that God tends to pull strings when He needs to.

Not believing in luck can have many benefits, such as an increased sense of personal responsibility and a greater belief in a higher power. These things can be of great benefit when things are going well, but when things are going poorly, you may need a deeper perspective. When bad things happen and you can no longer blame it on a random streak of bad luck, you have little choice but to blame yourself, other people, or God for what has happened. This will require you to own up to your own mistakes, forgive other people for theirs, and understand that God knows what He's doing. But even these "downsides" to a lack of belief in bad luck can have long-term spiritual benefits, even though it's harder to deal with in the short-term.

Personally, I still kind of believe in luck, mostly because there are many times when the laws of physics have too many factors to make the outcome predictable and God doesn't care enough to pull any strings. For example, I could flip a coin right now and the result of the coin toss would be entirely dependent on what I would call luck. Though, theoretically, a person could practice flipping coins in just the right way to determine which side it lands on. Of course, that would take a level of skill that no living person has, but still, it's theoretically possible for a coin toss to not be random at all, so I guess there really is no such thing as luck.

The greatest benefit, I think, to not believing in luck comes in knowing that God is pulling the strings. When fortunate things happen to us, we can be reasonably certain that God had a hand in it. When unfortunate thing happen, we can be pretty sure that God had a good reason to allow it to happen. If we have enough trust in God, we can know that all of our experiences are designed for our benefit, and not just the results of random chance. This can encourage us to try to get on God's good side and remind us to thank Him for the many blessings in our lives. Essentially, we'll probably have more "good luck" if we give proper thanks to the source of it and remember to keep His commandments.

Friday, July 25, 2014

As Plain as the Notes on Your F.A.C.E.

Having read a few of my recent blog posts (I think she reads all of my blog posts, actually), my sister-in-law, Teresa, one of the great pianists I'm fortunate to be related to, taught me a few tricks to help me be able to read sheet music - and they work!

They most eye-opening thing she taught me is that the notes don't move up and down the staff. All this time, I thought that the key of a piece determined which lines of the staff represented which notes, so I had to count up and down the lines to find out which lines represented which keys on the piano, but that isn't true! The lines and the notes they represent are constant. For example, if you look at a hymn book, you'll see that there are five horizontal lines above the words to your favorite hymn. If there's a black dot on the middlemost of those five lines, that dot represents a B above Middle C. Always. Now, it might be a B Flat above Middle C sometimes - you'll have to look out for special symbols to be sure, but it'll never be an F or a C. That means that I can start memorizing which lines on the page go along with which keys on the piano, so I can tell which key a note is just by looking at where it is on the staff!

And there's a trick for that, too! Looking at those same five lines from earlier, you can see that there are four gaps between those lines. The notes that those gaps represent are, in ascending order, F, A, C, and E. So if you see a dot between the two bottom lines in the staff above the words, that's an F. If you see a note between the middle line and the line second from the top, that's High C. Again, there might be some Sharps or Flats involved (actually, neither of those notes can be Flat, so never mind about that part), but you can still tell, within about half a note, which key you need to strike on the piano to play the note you see on the staff.

I still need lots of practice, both at correctly identifying the notes on the staff and at accurately hitting the right keys on the piano, but at least I know a lot more about how to play music than what I knew before. This is awesome, and it's even starting to sound okay. So I just want to say Thanks to Teresa for teaching me those tricks and for lending me a book with even more great tips. She really helped me out a lot.