What is your focus?

We recently went to the Payson Temple open house. It was stunningly beautiful. In the last 20 years or so, the Church has had a lot of experience building these, and they are getting really good. There was a special spirit present, and for the most part the whole family had a wonderful experience…

The other part consisted of my son, who had a difficult time dealing with the plastic footsies that they slip on over your shoes. They are awkward, they make a funny sound, and they cover up your cool star wars shoes. Eventually he got over it and enjoyed the rest of the open house (mostly).

I feel like there’s some gospel application in there somewhere…


Legos, legos, LEGOS!

Legos were a major part of my childhood. My brothers and I got a fair number of lego sets, growing up, and I loved it. I loved playing legos. I loved building things with them. I would create castles and have the brave soldiers defend themselves against hordes of bad-guys. I would create spaceships and run through the house as my ship would zoom through space, dodging enemy fire and asteroids. I built a dragon that (I thought) was on a massive scale. I built a grey-and-black version of the Sea Duck, a plane from the Disney show Tale-Spin. I made a castle tower that was 33 inches high (yes, I measured it)!

I played legos with my siblings and with friends. We had epic battles, heroic quests, and death-defying stunts. It was awesome.

Awe. Some.

Except the part about loosing pieces. It’s a sad but important part of the lego life–a given set only has a certain lifetime before the missing pieces make it impossible to rebuild the original set. Being someone that really hangs on to things (much more so than any reasonable man should), I really struggled with that. My earliest set that I can remember was the “Black Falcon’s Fortress.” Oh, how I loved that set! Pretty much from the moment that the remains of that set went into the general bin of legos, I idolized the time when the castle was complete! Whenever I played with castle legos (and I got a lot of much cooler castle sets over the years), I would typically imagine that the lego guys I was playing with were secretly Black Falcon men, waiting for their opportunity to return to their former glory and rebuild their castle!

But even as a kid, I did have to say, the Black Monarchs castle in particular was pretty. darn. awesome.

So, when I got married and Mom was de-junking her house, I was more than delighted to take the bin of legos with me. My kids are getting into the age where they can really enjoy legos as well, and in the last year or so especially, we’ve had a lot of fun.

Recently, some of my brothers were talking about the good old days, and how awesome those lego sets were. I realized just how much of a treasure I had gotten by getting that lego bin–my brothers had enjoyed those legos as much as I had; and that got me thinking…

So I did a little digging, and what I found got me pretty excited. So I did some more digging and research, and that got me even more excited.

You can probably guess where this is going. It’s about to get pretty nerdtastic…

I found the site brickset.com, which you can use to keep an inventory of sets that you own. Every set lego made (so far as I know) is listed on that site. I was able to pick out the sets that I remembered, and even guess a few based on the old lego pieces we had in the bin (Having organized the legos fully into screw containers at least twice–yes, just like the dad in the Lego Movie; stop laughing–I was relatively familiar with what odd lego pieces I had).

The other cool thing about brickset was that it also had the parts inventory for each set. So I could print out the parts list for any given set, and then separate those pieces out.

Now the other trick was getting the missing pieces, which there were bound to be a decent number (we’re talking decades of collecting, folks; back to some of the earliest sets). For that I quickly found what has become one of my most favorite sites ever–bricklink.com.

It’s ugly.

It’s got tons of controls, knobs and doo-dads.

And it is universally regarded as the best place for buying used legos. Thousands of sellers are connected to that site, and the site’s dozens of gizmos and text fields and buttons give you some really cool ways to search, build wish lists, and match up what you’re looking for with the seller that most closely matches what you’re looking for. For used legos, it is Google, E-bay, and Amazon combined.

The last couple sites I ended up making good use of are brickinstructions.com for getting instructions to any set I wanted, and also bricks.stackexchange.com, a lego Q&A site where I got some good info on gluing some pieces together (Apparently one of my kids jumped on a raised base plate somewhere along the line…).

Given that, I decided I would go on with my dastardly plan. I was  going to rebuild and re-gift some of my brothers’ sets back to them. And in doing so I could quite easily fulfill my childhood dream and rebuild some of my own sets as well!

Of course it started out relatively small, and grew to be much bigger than I had realized. But I had so. much. fun. putting all those old sets together. Of course it was extremely nostalgic, but there was almost a sense of awe as I built sets that were older than I was. OK, that sounded a little too cheesy, and perhaps just a little freaky. But it was really, really cool.

I was absolutely fascinated to see how as the sets progressed through the years there was a clear evolution of how sets are built–what elements go into a castle/spaceship and the ratio of “model” vs “toy” in each set.


The King’s Castle really is very impressive. It’s rather forbidding and austere.


The Black Falcon’s fortress was one of my earliest sets.


The shield and colors are still my favorite


But this guy is pretty darn cool, too.


The Black Monarch’s Castle was my personal favorite.


I really like how they did the corner towers



The Forestmen’s River Fortress was a really fun set. I loved how the dungeon was in the river…


And the Eldorado fortress had cannons that would really shoot legos! Not too mention the awesome cutlases.


The Fire-breathing fortress came with the first lego dragon, and the knight’s cape and helmet were sooo cool! Even the horse has some really cool head-gear.


I was surprised at how differently the Galaxy Explorer was built and designed.


But the cargo bay (with a ramp) was a pretty neat idea.


And I remember how much we loved the jetpacks!


My childhood spaceship was the Renegade


Like the Galaxy Explorer, it had a cargo hold and a small car to fit inside it.


The Dragster’s rear wheels have a differential


And we loved playing with the “Giant” lego guy that came with the Arctic Helicopter.


“Benny’s Sapceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP” is probably the coolest space ship ever.


Three awesome spaceships.




Lots and lots of really cool legos. These sets won’t last long, but they will continue to be the best toy ever for a lot of years.


The Ballad of the Model Steam Engine

When my brother and I were teenagers, we had a train layout in our room. My brother got a beautiful old-timer 4-4-0 steam locomotive as a gift. To this day, the only other 4-4-0’s I’ve seen that are nicer are the really really expensive brass models (and I’ve looked). There may have been some jealousy, but I’m not admitting to anything.

The problem with these kinds of models is that the engine (locomotive) is too small to hold a motor. Instead, the motor is placed in the tender and a rod connects the engine in the tender with the worm-gear (and wheels) in the engine.

And of course, that rod became lost. But not before the company that made that engine went out of business (probably from making such nice models and selling them too cheaply). The engine was put away back in it’s box until a replacement rod could be found. Eventually all the trains were boxed back up until about 5 or 6 years ago when my Dad and I got working on another layout. Then we found that beautiful train, and remembered the missing rod.

One day four years ago, we were at a train show and one of the shops there had bins with spare parts for sale. In those parts we found two different connecting rods! We bought both of them, anticipating that one of them should fit my brother’s train.

However, before we had even left the show that day, we lost the bag with those parts in them. We spent at least an hour retracing our steps through the busy show, asking the seller if someone had found it, peeking under tables. It was simply nowhere. The engine would have to wait.

Just a few days ago my dad called me to tell me he had found the bag! I was shocked. Where was it? My dad had put it in a hidden pocket in his jacket, and then forgotten about it, including the fact that the jacket had a hidden pocket. The bag was found when Mom insisted he wash his jacket and clean out the pockets. That bag had sat in there for four years and dad used it everywhere, including working out in the yard.

I got the two rods out and tried them on the train. One had ends that were too large. The other had ends that were the right size, but the rod was too long. I thought this was going to be an extremely anti-climactic end, but Dad insisted that we could still make it work.

We took the long rod and cut it. Then we dug through Dad’s spare brass parts (he’s a kit-basher) and found some brass tubing that was almost exactly the right size. With some experimentation, we discovered what the right length should be, cut the rod to length, and used the brass tubing and some glue to assemble it together.

Old-timer 4-4-0

Old-timer 4-4-0

And this beautiful train runs again!

The Gospel is like…

A Symphony.

We attended a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. We had the “cheap” seats, which meant we were in the front-right corner, smack behind the bases. As the symphony began, I wondered if we would hear any of the other instruments.

As it turned out, yes we did. The bases were a little louder than normal, sure, but it ended up being a small enough difference that it didn’t matter all that much. In addition, there were a number of places where the bases had a fairly interesting line that I hadn’t ever noticed. Also, at some points (especially the fourth movement), where they were playing a lot harder and faster than I would have thought they could play. I wondered how those performers managed it–it was really striking to see them working so furiously. It was an awesome performance, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

And of course there are some obvious parallels to the gospel and/or the church and a symphony orchestra. Similar parallels are much more commonly applied to sports teams. Here are some thoughts I had. Nothing really deep…

  • Follow the conductor. If the conductor thinks a certain part should be soft and you think it should be loud, you should still play it soft. “Going your own way” really doesn’t work in this setting. Neither does refusing to play (in protest).
  • Play your part. Not someone else’s. Don’t get worked up about whether your part is currently working furiously while someone else is resting (or visa verse). Everyone’s part is different, and important.
  • Your part is not the only part. You are not necessarily the only one playing your part. Be part of the orchestra. Like it or not, you are in this together, so you’ll have to figure out how to work with each other. The ability to blend is very important.
  • The best soloists know how to not drown out everyone else. Instead their voice enhances everyone else’s. In this particular performance, the soloists were in the back of the orchestra, and just in front of the choir, rather than all the way up front. I thought that worked out quite well.
  • A solo part is not as glamorous as it may seem. Earlier we heard Mahler’s 1st symphony, and a base player had a very important and difficult solo part. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone as nervous as he was! I certainly didn’t envy him.
  • Don’t get hung up on mistakes.

Watching the Priesthood Work

Last weekend we were working with the Deacons Quorum presidency to plan the upcoming year. We sat them down and helped them brainstorm some ideas for goals. After a while the boys seemed settled on three goals for the upcoming year.

I noticed the quorum president had been rather quiet. I asked him what he thought about the proposed goals. He thought for a second, agreed with two of them, but then suggested something else for the third goal–one of the ideas that had fallen away earlier.

While he was speaking I felt a witness that this 13 year old boy was called by God to lead this quorum, and that what he was saying was the direction the Lord wanted this quorum of deacons to take.

We asked the boys if they were willing to sustain the direction that had been set by their president. They all did so.

It was a really neat experience to see the priesthood in action.

Meet the Mormons Review

I saw Meet the Mormons over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. The idea of the movie is to showcase a few individuals who are faithful members, depicting what their daily life is like and how their choices are affected by living the gospel. So in that sense it is rather like an extended set of “I’m a Mormon” vignettes. Having said that, there are some pretty remarkable stories told here.

For myself, the introduction felt a little awkward to me–it wasn’t a really smooth transition into the vignettes. But that is alleviated by showing a number of humorous clips and comments about Mormons from various shows, including a brief clip of the famous South Park episode (“The correct answer was the Mormons”).

From the reviews I have read, many are critical because the movie doesn’t dig into the tenets of the faith–particularly the tenets that are controversial (such as the Church’s defense of traditional marriage). But the thing is, the supposedly deep, dark, controversial subjects that are such a big deal to critics and media (because those things make for a good story) simply are not what drives a faithful Mormon in their day-to-day life. But what I believe the show is really trying to put across is that the basic tenets of faith, love, service, fellowship, and family are the driving day-to-day forces in a Mormon who is honestly living their religion as best they can. And the vignettes show that in spades.

That is certainly been my own experience. From what the critics seem to imply, my daily life (as a faithful Mormon) must consist primarily of one of two things: either I spend my waking hours fretting about whatever the current controversy is, or those waking hours are spent vehemently arguing against said controversy. So of course the critics are mad that this is not portrayed in the film. And while the LDS faith certainly contains some who could be the embodiment of such caricatures, for the most part both of those ideas are simply false.

The reality is that, most of my life is spent working and familying, much like pretty much every other person. I go to church, I go to work. I come home and spend time with my family. However, because of the gospel, that working and familying is deeply affected each day by a commitment to family and gospel values that I would not otherwise have. This is what the movie portrays. And it does that quite well.

Don’t get me wrong–I do try to defend the Church that I believe strongly in. I am happy to spread gospel messages and promote and/or defend the Church through what small influence I have online. But that’s not the sole existence of my life. In fact, even in a recent talk from an apostle that was focused on increasing our use of social media and online tools to promote the gospel we were cautioned to “Not allow even good applications of social media to overrule the better and best uses of our time, energy, and resources.” The best way that I defend and promote the gospel is by living it day to day. So now we’re back to those basic ideas of love, service, family, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Especially for a first theater release from the Church, I am very impressed and would recommend this film to others. I hope they make and release more feature films.

Touch These Stones

I’ve taken a facebook “challenge” to state my favorite scripture verse as an excuse to write up a post I’ve been toying with for a while. Lately I have been rather fascinated by the story of the Brother of Jared building the barges.

In Ether 2 the Jaredites are commanded to build barges “after the manner which they had built.” So this is not so much like Nephi’s experience–apparently this group was familiar with barges, at least for short trips. But for crossing the ocean, the barges that were built had a couple major faults:

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

No light, and no air.

Imagine being a Jaredite helping to build these barges to cross the ocean. You know that there are some big problems with the solution that is being presented. But you are asked to pitch in anyway.

Imagine being the Brother of Jared, asking the people that have followed you all this way, and being commanded to build these barges, but there are some obvious problems. You have to ask your brethren to help you build these barges, and at some point the major design flaws come to light. And you have no idea what to do.

Are we ever asked to pitch in towards something that seems absolutely useless, pointless, or futile?

So The Brother of Jared prays and asks for guidance. God gives him the solution to the air problem. He then tells His prophet to come up with a solution for the light problem.

“Here comes the Brother of Jared! Hey, what did the Lord say?”

“He told me how to get air in the barges.”

“Wonderful! What about the light?”

“He asked me to come up with a solution”

“…Oh. OK, what are you going to do?”


Now it could perhaps be that the Brother of Jared had formulated an idea fairly quickly, but I rather doubt it. I would guess that he wrestled with it for a while. I think it was a hard time for him, and he spent a lot of time thinking and working. I think God wanted him to have that time to think and to struggle, and to come up with a solution.

I also think he worked hard on the solution. The scriptures state that he did “molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Perhaps not; but to me, that sounds like a lot of work.

I think he realized that he could not do it without help from the Lord. That in the end, his efforts alone simply would not be enough. But he needed to do the best he could.

In my own (much smaller) experiences, I’ve found that there is very often a difference between what I think is my best effort and what my best effort really can be (I’ve also learned that I can’t give everything my best effort all the time). Miracles come by the grace of God, but they are more likely to come after we have given much more than we thought we could initially.

So I think it quite likely that the Brother of Jared understood that it may be that God would not provide the miracle, but would give him further instruction and guidance (and that was OK).

But the miracle does come. And I love the implication behind this. God takes that effort, and makes it shine, providing light (and a constant reminder of God’s power and mercy) for everyone.

I love the lessons here, and there are a lot of them. God expects us to work and struggle to solve our problems. He will definitely help us, but the point is that we need to learn and grow. But most of all, that when we have worked and prayed and done everything we can do, and prayed some more, and worked some more, and it seems like all we have to show for our work is a lump of rock.

God touches it.

Lessons in Eternal Families

My sister recently sent me this very excellent and rather introspective text:

As a teen boy what was the most helpful thing you were told to prepare you for eternal marriage?

This has made me think a bit about the various lessons that I still remember from my own aaronic priesthood days… honestly, I don’t remember very many, although there are some that still stick in my mind.

But what I keep coming back to is that for me, the thing that prepared me the most for eternal marriage (and family) is the family culture that my parents raised me and my siblings in. Two things in particular stand out to me:

  1. We worked hard together as a family.
  2. We played and vacationed together as a family.

Working Hard

Growing up, we worked hard. Yes, I know everyone says that. However, while I don’t think we were worked to the bone, I think I can say that with a fair amount of honesty. I’ll list a few examples, and you can be the judge:

  • Cleaning up the acre lot that we moved into, which included several large piles of brick, some old cars, and lots and lots of pig bones. Fortunately we had some neighbor help with this one.
  • Re-digging the various irrigation ditches for the yard, putting in a very large garden (at one point it covered a full quarter of our yard).
  • Working in that yard and that garden, seemingly all the time. One time I remember thinking, “How can we possibly still be weeding out here? It’s well after dark, and I can’t even see the weeds anymore!”
  • Spring Cleaning. My mom was really big into this. It was typically at least a week of intense deep cleaning; scrubbing walls and baseboards, shampooing carpets, washing drapes, cleaning out cupboards, etc.
  • Newspapers. No, this is not the traditional paper route (although it started that way). We delivered between 800 and 1000 newspapers twice each week through most of my teenage years.
  • Family projects. There was always some project or other going on, whether it was re-finishing the cupboards, putting in a new kitchen floor (and discovering that the existing floor was nowhere near to level–about 1.5 inches difference in some places), putting in a swimming pool, finishing the basement, etc.

We worked. We worked hard. We worked as a family. We worked until the project was done right (there’s definitely a streak of perfectionism in my parents). Seeing how difficult it is to get my own kids to participate–to have something even close to the skill to participate, I am impressed at the effort my parents went through to have us all involved in these projects as much as possible. When we finished the basement, we were all down there working on it. When we were weeding the garden or doing newspapers, everyone was involved. Everyone had a task to perform.

Playing Together

My parents were pretty good at making sure we had a good family vacation every year. Some of my favorite trips were the family reunions in Yosemite and the trips down to San Diego (we loved the Wild Animal Park there). We regularly visited my mother’s small home town (where strangers recognized us every time).

We camped and hiked all the time. We had a tradition of hiking Mt. Timpanogos each year–my first time hiking it I was eight years old. And terrified. And thrilled. Dad held my hand the entire way (He was under strict instructions to do so).

We also began a habit of reading books together on our trips and campouts. Dad would read books from Watership Down to Winnie-the-Pooh to Riddle-Master of Hed.

And I have already begun to pass on the gloriously violent traditions of pig-sticks and pool-pomp.

But it wasn’t just the big family events, either. There were game nights and sledding trips and snowball fights and soccer games. We played together all the time. It’s not like we didn’t have our own sets of friends and do stuff with them. But it is the case that I am friends with my siblings and grew up playing with them as well.


Now, I’ve painted a very rosy picture. But we had the standard set of bumps that any family has. There were the family fights and “He’s such a jerk” and “She’s such an idiot.” There were debates and sides, and “I’m not talking to them.” There were the irreconcilable differences that kind of seemed to become less important over time.

And there were lots of years where the garden was a mass of weeds, and the lawn was knee high, and the laundry piled higher than my head (luckily I was short).

But my amazing parents kept at it. They kept trying, they kept doing. They kept packing that tent even when it came out that Dad really doesn’t care for camping and Mom is not a hiker.

We learned how to work. How to really work, rain or shine. Incidentally, the insane paper routes that we did as a family financed missionaries and family trips.

We learned to enjoy each other’s company. To look forward to seeing each other.

And my parents are still at it. They still arrange reunions–real reunions with real fun that everyone genuinely looks forward to. They visit their children as much as they can, and continue to do things with us (guess what? since many in my family have taken up running, my Dad has done several half-marathons–I believe each one with one or more of us kids). And my mom has to be just this side of death’s door before she’ll admit that she’s just not up for company right now…

I can’t think of a single piece of information, or nugget of truth that my parents told me that prepared me for eternal marriage and family, although I know there were plenty of discussions and lessons on that topic. But I have grown up in an environment where family is the great treasure, and well worth all the sweat and tears that are required. I’ve seen it and lived it, and I want that for my own family.

Father’s Day

I wanted to put down quickly a few things from my father’s day.

One: I love hearing my primary kids sing a father’s day song in church.

Two: When church got out I met back with my wife who had our kids already gathered. My youngest handed me a paper “card” with a lollipop taped to it that said, “I love my pop” I hadn’t looked at the card for two seconds before the lollipop was ripped off the card. Mommy informed me that she had insisted I see the card before they could have the candy.

Three: At lunch my wife just mentioned to my kids how we had bought the kitchen table when we were first married, and we were the only two that sat at the table, but how wonderful it was to now have our children sitting at the table with us.

Four: Our stake president spoke at church on the Father’s role as defined by the Proclamation on the Family. Those roles are to Preside, Provide, and Protect. He explained what those meant.

Preside – This is not a position of authority over others. It is a position of responsibility for others. The father is responsible for what happens in the home and with the family. The father should ensure that scripture study, family prayer, family home evening etc. are happening in the home.

Provide – The father should provide financially for the family, but in addition to that, the father is responsible to provide a safe and loving environment for the family. A place where nurturing can occur.

Protect – Again, protection from physical harms is part of this role, but the need to protect one’s family from spiritual harm is equally important. The father protects the family and home from evil influences (inappropriate media etc). Part of this includes keeping himself clean and pure.

How God Has Instructed His Saints to Win Friends and Influence People

I was recently told this quote by Winston Churchill:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Now, that’s a cool quote. When I first heard it I really liked it. There are a couple ideas that it communicates very effectively. One is to be crystal clear in what you are saying. Another is to be very forceful; even heavy-handed. The latter idea is the focus of this article. There are times when such force is needed. But the more I think about that quote, the more I think; that’s not how God usually works. He does have a “loud” or “forceful” voice (just ask Laman and Lemuel), but He rarely uses it. Rather, the Lord is not in the earthquake or in the terrible wind, but in the still, small voice.
The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all…
Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, “Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:10.)
That may be how God communicates to Man, but are we to emulate that? If we are trying to become like our Father in Heaven, then the answer must be yes. We have been commanded as much:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
This is how Christ instructs us to influence others. Obviously, the above verses are directed to Priesthood holders, but I would suggest that the principles taught here are generally applicable.
We are to persuade. To be kind and gentle. To be long-suffering. These are the traits that should characterize our efforts to teach and correct others. This makes a lot of sense–when someone tries to be argumentative with me, my immediate reaction is not to sit back and consider the merits of their argument, as noble as that would be. Instead my gut reaction is to immediately begin thinking of counter-arguments (Exercise for the reader: examine in your conversation at what point you begin building your counter-argument). I have to force myself to stop and think about what they are saying and what merit it has. Joseph Smith put it this way:
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 240).
I am NOT saying that we should not take a stand, or be bold in our stance. What I am saying is that Christ seems to have an opinion on how we take a stance–how we try to influence others. Alma taught his sons to be bold, but not overbearing (Alma 38:12).
In Elder Richard G. Scott’s Talk, “I Have Given You an Example“, he discussed how his grandmother had used ” just the right amount of courage and respect to help our father recognize the importance of his driving us to the church for our meetings. In every appropriate way, she helped us to feel a need for the gospel in our lives.”
Both Grandmother Whittle and Jeanene loved me enough to share their conviction that the ordinances of the gospel and serving Father in Heaven would bless my life. Neither of them coerced me or made me feel bad about the person I was. They simply loved me and loved Father in Heaven. Both knew He could do more with my life than I could on my own. Each courageously helped me in loving ways to find the path of greatest happiness.
Elder Jeffrey R Holland in the same General Conference emphasized the need for us to defend our faith, but to do so with courtesy and compassion. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently sent a letter to congregations across the United States about the Same-sex Marriage debate. The letter emphasized the need to uphold and encourage God’s standard of chastity, and also that all sides needed to show civility and respect.
A powerful lesson about teaching is contained in an object lesson that President Packer used when he was a mission president. He would present a beautiful 3 layer cake and ask who wanted some. An elder would be selected and invited forward:
“I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.
“Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’
“The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it?”
I learned something about this a few weeks ago from the deacons in my ward. One of the boys their age is a Catholic. He is very friendly and has attended a number of youth activities. Recently, while they were on the bus to school, this boy began asking some questions to learn about the differences between Catholicism and Mormonism, and a friendly conversation ensued. However, another young boy joined in the conversation, quoting scripture to the catholic boy to prove why Catholicism was wrong. He kept insisting that this boy ask more questions in order to be proven wrong again. What began as a very positive experience quickly turned sour.
How long will it be before this catholic boy asks any questions again? How has his perception of what Mormons are like changed from that experience?
Again, I don’t want anyone to think that they should avoid gospel discussion, or wait until the absolutely perfect moment (a stalling technique that Satan thoroughly loves to use). But I do think we have been and are being counseled to be considerate and careful. To think about what we are saying and how we can approach an individual in the best way possible.
In a CES devotional in 2012, Elder Holland counseled us on defending Zion and attacking Babylon and its evils:
“I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time.”
When teaching the gospel, counseling or correcting others, I believe it has been made pretty clear that we do need to have the “love unfeigned” spoken of earlier. Christ taught the Nephites and Lamanites:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
And we see this all the time. We see republicans vs. democrats; liberals vs. conservatives; Pro-choice vs. Pro-life; SSM vs. traditional marriage. Some of these issues and stances are really important, and some less so. Regardless of the issue; when both sides are simply yelling at each other or basking in the glow of their own rhetoric the end result is often more contention, which is just fine with Satan.
Christ further instructed that we are not to stir men’s hearts up to anger, and I think that strikes at a key difference. What is the purpose? Whose glory are we interested in? Whose progression are we interested in?
Think of the two great commandments.
The first is to love God with all our hearts. The second to love our fellowman as ourselves. Both commandments are about loving others. President Monson taught that the two commandments are inextricably linked:
“We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all.”
Our love for our fellowman is what should be our motivation. Consider the example of Ammon and his brothers’ mission to the Lamanites. What was their motivation?
3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soulshould perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
Notably, this was the first recorded successful mission to the Lamanites. And boy, was it successful.
The scriptures are literally filled with examples of God’s love and mercy for His children (Do I really need to cite examples? How about the Atonement). It is absolutely true that along with the blessings mercies, teachings and warnings, God’s wrath can be kindled. He does have a loud voice, after all; and he does use it when needed. A great illustration of this is in Moses 7. I would recommend the entire chapter, but this should give you the basic idea:
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.
37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
Even as God was preparing the floods to cover the earth; His wrath was matched by his sorrow. God is not vengeful or spiteful. He is the perfect, loving father. He asks us to follow His commandments because that is what will bring us the greatest joy. His motivation in counsel and in correction is love for his children. It is because of His love that He offers counsel and correction. Our efforts should have similar motivations (Of course we won’t be perfect, but we can at least try). “Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing afterward an increase in love toward him whom thou hast reproved” (emphasis added).
As we make our stand for the gospel, we also need to help and encourage others to do the same, and to be patient with their attempts. Each of us has been given some measure of light and knowledge, and many of us are honestly trying to be true to that and to increase in their understanding of the gospel. In short: nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes. For example, I don’t think any of the young men on that school bus had ill intentions. I rather think they were trying to do what was right. And I think a lot of us are in the same position; trying our best to live the gospel, including sharing it and defending it. And we may take that opportunity and really mess it up.
That’s OK. Really, it is. The important thing is that we try our best to make the most of the opportunity.
Remember, Elder Holland said we would have lots of practice. The idea is that in doing so, we will get better. Our testimony will grow stronger, and our ability to effectively communicate that testimony to others will increase. But we need to also remember that others are also practicing.
I love the illustration Elder Zwick gave of this principle. He told of driving a truck with his wife and baby when the cabin filled with smoke due to an electrical failure. As he worked to get the vehicle pulled over and stopped, his wife lept from the truck with their baby in her arms.
“When our truck cab filled with smoke, my wife acted in the bravest manner she could imagine to protect our son. I too acted as a protector when I questioned her choice. Shockingly, it did not matter who was more right. What mattered was listening to each other and understanding the other’s perspective.
The willingness to see through each other’s eyes will transform “corrupt communication” into “minister[ing] grace.” The Apostle Paul understood this, and on some level each of us can experience it too. It may not change or solve the problem, but the more important possibility may be whether ministering grace could change us.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way:
“Likewise, unremembered by some is the reality that in the kingdom we are each other’s clinical material; the Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a “student” rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.”
As the gospel spreads and the world shrinks, our ability to share the gospel has been dramatically increased. There are so many ways in which we can defend the faith, encourage others, teach gospel truths, and bear testimony. And we can be bold in doing so. I would encourage everyone to take part as we are continually counselled to do. As we do, please try to be considerate, careful, and patient. I believe we can do all those things even while being bold and courageous. It just takes some practice.
References and resources:
Boyd K. Packer, 1983, “The Candle of the Lord
Doctrine and Covenants 121
Richard G. Scott, 2014, “I Have Given You an Example
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2014, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship
Church Instructs Leaders on Same-Sex Marriage
Boyd K. Packer, (Teach Ye Diligently, rev. ed. [1991], 270–71) (quoted in Teaching, No Greater Call)
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2012, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling
Thomas S. Monson, 2014, “Love, The Essence of the Gospel
Moses 7
W. Craig Zwick, 2014, “What Are You Thinking?
Neal A. Maxwell, 1982, “A Brother Offended