Monday, February 28, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

So, last night was the Academy Awards (apparently). I had no idea about this. I had heard nothing about it from anyone, so I was completely in the dark. This is usually an exciting time for me, being an avid movie buff. I always look and watch and hope my favorite movies win (which they do from time to time, if they even get nominated). It's always fun to see big name celebrities (and a bunch of other people who make you wonder "how the heck did they get invited to the Oscars?") present awards to their fellows. I'm often quite upset with the outcome, and with the Oscars in general, however. It seems that, too frequently, the movies are awarded because of their obscurity, their "artsy" appeal, or how controversial they were, rather than the actual caliber and merit. Movies that are well written, directed, acted, and portrayed are often overlooked because they didn't tick people off. But that's besides the point.
The point of the Academy Awards are to award the people who worked on these films for their hard work, and to honor their creations. Many months, even years, of labor were put into them: from concept, to script, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, casting, marking, filming, editing... the process is a long one, and I would imagine rather painful. You can run into many problems that could set back the deadline, or even threaten cancellation. But, the cast and crew work through all these set backs, and out comes a (hopefully) fantastic movie. And, if the Academy approves... Oscar Gold!
Our lives are a constant work in progress. There is a long process of making it the best that we can. There is a lot we have to do, tons of rewrites, and lots of set backs. But, we have to endure these things, and just push forward, and eventually we'll have our finished product. How much time and effort we put into our masterpiece will be evident. How was the character development? Did the director seem to really care about the message being conveyed? Were there any plot holes? We are director, producer, writer, and star of our own movie. And the Academy is (you may have guessed): Heavenly Father. He watches every single movie that's put out there, and He judges each one. He watches for any little flaws there might be, and chooses which is deserving of the prize. We're all striving for that goal, that "Oscar": we all want to return to live with our Heavenly Father. So, it's up to us to make the best movie possible, and if we do, when time comes, Heavenly Father will open that envelope, and say "And the Oscar goes to... You".

Friday, February 25, 2011

Like the Potted Plant...

We are all plants. All of us. Doesn't matter what kind of plant you are (ok, it kind of does), but we're all plants. And what is something we all learned in 5th grade science about plants? Plants use photosynthesis to eat. How do plants do this? They need certain things: air, water, light.
If you have a house plant, and you want it to survive, you have to take care of it. You make sure it gets water. There will (almost) always be air around it. It needs sun... you can't provide sun, but you can put it in a place where there is sun. Now, the more sun it gets, the more it'll be able to produce all that stuff that it needs to to feed itself. If we just put it in the windowsill for a few minutes a day, it probably won't do so well. Where as if we put it in the windowsill, and just let it go, it'll do great.
When we quickly read our scriptures, or say a quick, meaningless prayer, or do any of the things we should be doing grudgingly and half-heartedly, we are cutting ourselves off from that sunlight. The more we do things like scripture study, praying, church attendance, and more, the more we expose ourselves to the Spirit. We put ourselves in the windowsill when we follow the commandments of God, no matter how small they are. That Spirit is able to more fully fall upon us, and bless us with even greater blessings. The more we do these things, the more we'll feel the Spirit, and the better off we'll be.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Special Witness of the Book of Mormon

video
Elder Holland is one of my favorite speakers. He is so passionate, wise, and just plain amazing. This talk he gives on the Book of Mormon gets me every time. He is so sure of its truth and divinity. I am too. It's when I see men like this, intelligent, well spoken men bear such strong testimony, that it must be true. There are people that you can just listen to as they talk about these things, expound the scripture, and assure you they know it's true, and it must be true. There's just no way men like them could be duped, tricked, or scammed. This is real; I know it is. I've tried it for myself. I've prayed, I've fasted, I've asked my Heavenly Father "with a sincere heart, will real intent, having faith in Christ". Because of this, I know it is true, and I will tell that to anyone. I will not ever waver on this. I will never doubt. I have made my decision, and I'm sticking to it, come whatever forces of evil may try to tear me down, make me flinch, or chip away. I have built my foundation on the Lord, and He is a rock. The Book of Mormon is scripture; it is the word of God; it is true, and I defy any man to listen to watch this video and still think that a man such as this, who has been ordained an Apostle, a special witness of Christ, is deceived.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Prophet of the Restoration

I was going to post a video of Joseph Smith's story, and how he was called to restore the Gospel, and be the Prophet of this dispensation, but it wasn't working, so I'd just like to bear my testimony on the Restoration:
It seems hard to accept, at first, hearing the story of a young boy praying in a grove of trees, and being visited by God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, especially when you're pretty convinced there is no God. But, through reading, pondering, and praying, I found out that that really did happen. When Joseph Smith was just a boy, he was confused by the war of religions going on around him. He saw how many different sects there were, and was confused by that. He wondered which of these churches was true. There had to be one true church, because as it says in Ephesians 4:5 "One Lord, one faith, one baptism", and he wanted to be part of that one. After talking with the local ministers and weighing everything, he was leaning towards the Methodists, but every time he came close to choosing one, another minister would come and convince him otherwise. Finally, one night, while reading the scriptures, he came across James 1:5 which reads "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." He took the advice laid out in that scripture, and approached his Heavenly Father in earnest prayer, seeking truth and knowledge. And truth and knowledge he got. He was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and they told him, in answer to his question, that none of the churches were true; that they drew near to Him with their mouths, but there hearts were far from Him. He was then informed that he would be responsible for restoring the fullness of the gospel, and ushering in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, the final dispensation before the Second Coming.
I know this is true. I am sure of it. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the Prophet of this Dispensation. I know that through his work, and through the Power of God, we have the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which is divine and inspired writings that testify of Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's church, the one true Church on the earth today, and that Jesus Christ is the head of it. I know we are guided and led by Prophets and Apostles who are called of God and receive revelation from God to help us in these trying times. I am so thankful for these men, for Joseph Smith, and am eternally grateful for the Savior, Jesus Christ, and for his Atoning sacrifice. I am thankful for my testimony, and my knowledge of the truthfulness of this Gospel. We are in the Latter-days, the last days as prophesied by prophets of old, and the fact that we have a prophet, just as in biblical times, is so reassuring, and has blessed my life immensely. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that Christ's church has been restored again to the earth, by him.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sound of Music

I love music. I love playing music, listening to music, going to shows. It's the best. One of the best experiences in my life (pre-mission) was playing concerts. When you've got other awesome bands playing with you, a good sized crowd full of pumped people, and everyone's just going nuts to the songs that you wrote and are playing... Few things can beat that! Music is such an amazing thing. Few people, if any, dislike music. Everyone can find something they like. It can be anything heard on the radio, or old stuff that isn't made anymore, or different stuff that few people have even heard of. It speaks to everyone on the most personal of levels, can lift people up, and can be used for the perfect expression of your feelings. But, despite all the vast amounts of different music styles out there, music as a whole can speak to anyone and everyone. Not everyone can make music. Some people I know are obsessed with music, and yet don't play an instrument. You don't have to be part of it to love it, just have an appreciation for the skill required and the sounds produced.
The Gospel is very similar to music. Though there are differences in all people, and they each require different things, the Gospel can speak to them specifically and help them with whatever they may need. Also, different specific aspects will apply to various people. Someone may really latch onto the Plan of Salvation, and others may be truly touched by the story of Joseph Smith. But, regardless of the specific circumstances, the Gospel as a whole can reach anyone and everyone. It's so multi-layered that at any time, despite your struggles or issues, you can find something there that will encourage, strengthen, and enlighten you. Plus, just like with music, you don't have to be an expert to benefit from it. You don't have to know the Bible and Book of Mormon inside-out and backwards. You don't have to be a scholar or doctrinal genius. Even the simplest of people with just a very basic understanding of the doctrine can feel the Spirit and be edified. All we need to do is live righteously, follow the commandments, and stay strong and faithful, and anyone can be blessed from the wonderful gift of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just like music has the power to break through any and all barriers, so does the Gospel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Yes, But Not This Way

I read an amazing talk by Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, though he gave the talk when he was President of Brigham Young University, the other day. It was called "The Inconvenient Messiah", and it talked about us dealing with our temptations, and choosing to make the right choices, even if they're not what we'd like to do. This religion wasn't created so we could follow it when we chose, and do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It was created so we would know how to live our lives, and what we should be doing to return to live with our Heavenly Father. Elder Holland gave another talk in the MTC while I was there on obedience that was full of great quotes, one of them being: "This isn't Burger King, you can't have it your way." He was specifically referring to the Mission, but it can be applied to our every day lives. We can't be "cafeteria members", picking and choosing what we like and don't like. We were given an unchanging list of rules. There are no loopholes, there is no sliding. Once you've entered into those covenants, you're in 'em.
In the talk, Elder Holland refers back to the Temptations of Christ, seen in Matthew 4:1-10. In this account, Christ had just been baptized, and had retreated to a secluded place, where He fasted for forty days. At the end of this, Satan came to tempt him. First, he tempted him on a physical basis, telling him to turn the rocks to bread. It wasn't that the evil in the temptation came from eating, it was taking the easy way out. Satan was tempting Christ to abuse his powers to make it easier for himself, more convenient. Christ, of course, resisted. Next, Satan tried to appeal to his Spiritual side, taking him to the pinnacle of the temple, and telling Him to cast Himself off. He would be protected, as the Son of God, and the angles would carry him gently down. He would not only be safe, but the world would see what had happened, and would know for a fact that He was the prophesied Messiah. It would have been an easy way for the people to gain that knowledge, and it wouldn't be faith based. People needed to believe that Jesus was the Christ, and have faith. Again, Christ resisted. Finally, Satan went all out. He showed Christ the kingdoms of the world, and offered them all to Christ... if He just worshiped Satan. Christ was fully aware that, at His Second Coming, all would be His. The world would be His kingdom, and He would rule over all. Even if Satan could give him all these things, it would have cheapened it. Christ will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and all will be his. All these things, eating, the belief of his children, and dominion over all, will come in time to Christ. He will have all these things, but He will have them in the proper order.
Yes, but not this way.
We all have temptations in our life, things we need to overcome. We all have those demons. It's up to us to stay strong, and not take the easy way out. Not look for convenience. As President Kimball told a woman who was convinced that a daily cup of coffee wouldn't keep her out of the Celestial Kingdom: "No, the coffee won't. But disobedience will." We must always rely on the Lord for relief from hard times. Just as it was said of him, "his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up". Nothing is ever too hard. The Lord does not let us go through trials too difficult for us to handle. Keep your head up, you eye single to the glory of God, and go forth with faith, knowing that He will protect you. I'm not sure who said this quote, but it's perfect: "Obedience brings blessings. Perfect obedience brings miracles."
No one is perfect, no one is without temptation. Don't worry so much about how hard things are, focus on how good things will be. Look to the eternity. Look long term. Just as a close friend of mine did, as he was recently struggling with health issues and going through a really rough time, yet every time I talked to him, he had a positive attitude, and was looking forward to something good that was coming up. 
Worry is the anticipation that the outcome will be bad,
Faith is the anticipation that the outcome will be good,
Faith in God is the anticipation that whatever the outcome, it will be for your good!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Service

"And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.." (Mosiah 2:17)
This is true. I know it is. King Benjamin, in his amazing address to his people, expounded in large part on the Godliness of service. He was their King, but he worked right along side with them. He didn't just sit back and have everything done for him, lavishing in his great riches; rather he worked for what he had, and what he had wasn't just material goods and wealth, but the love, respect, and admiration of his people. He knew the true merit of service, and he passed along this knowledge to his adoring people. "And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!" (Mosiah 2:19). King Benjamin realized that any service rendered here was just a model for our devotion to the Lord. He truly understood what service was and the importance of it.
Jesus also expounded on the advantage of service. He taught his disciples, in a way that anyone could understand, that service unto the least of these, your brethren, would be service to Him.
"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:35-40). Come the judgment day, we will be held accountable for what we did in our time of probation. If we live our lives in a service oriented way, as the Lord taught and expects of us, He will recognize that service, and relate it to himself, saying that the kindness you showed towards those around you, you also showed to your Savior. 
May we always look for opportunities to serve those around us. Even the smallest gesture can make a big impact. Service doesn't always have to be labor or volunteer work. A smile, an encouraging word, a kind deed can make the difference in someone's day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Lord is my Shepherd

Wow. So, thanks to a plug for my blog on the Mormon Times website, I've gotten a pretty good amount of views. I am incredibly grateful for that! But, it seems to kinda up the bar for me. I wrote something that received attention (which is way cool!), and now I feel pressed to write something really good to live up to my Nerd entries. Part of me considered doing another Gospel according to a Nerd entry, but I didn't want to overdo it (and frankly and pretty much out of ideas for that), so... Let's see what I can do!
In Luke 15, we see 3 parables given, that have a pretty common thread to them; they all deal with losing something of great importance, and finding it again. The first one we see is the parable of the lost sheep, where a man lost one of his sheep, and though it was just one of one hundred, he went off searching diligently until he found it, and rejoiced when he did. Now I'm not the biggest fan of sheep. They're kinda dumb and ugly and gross, but I would imagine that if these sheep were central to your livelihood, and if you spent as much time around them as this man did, you'd care a great deal about them, and would be very upset to have even one wander off, but incredibly joyful to have it back. The next parable is of a woman who loses a silver piece. The footnote to "piece" identifies is specifically as a drachma, which was a workers daily pay. That's a lot of money. Sure, she still has nine left, but ten is better than nine. She sweeps every corner of her house, looking and looking, until she finds it, and, like the Shepard, celebrates over finding it. The final parable given is the Prodigal Son, one of the best known parables. In it, a selfish son demands his inheritance, and leaves his father, brother, and home to live a riotous life. He soon realizes his mistakes when he gets so broke that it comes down to begging, or eating what the pigs eat. So, he decides that he'll return to his home, and offer to be a hired hand for his father. When he returns, his father runs out to meet him, hugs him, and puts shoes on his feet, a robe on him, and a ring on his finger. He then slaughters the best calf, and they have a large feast.
All three have closely linked meanings, but if you look at the details, you can see why Christ gave all three, rather than just summing it up into one: The sheep in the first one wandered off. Maybe he didn't mean to, maybe he was just misled, or curious, and misfortune struck in the way of him getting lost. The sheep was sought out and brought back to the fold. In the woman's case, through her own irresponsibility and lack of attention, she lost something very valuable to her. In searching for it, she found all the dust and cobwebs in her home, finding the dirties places and sweeping them out, making her home clean, then finding that which she cherished. In the Prodigal Son, the son willingly leaves, following his own desires and selfish wants, but then realizing the error of his ways, returns to what he knew was right.
These three exemplify many ways in which souls are lost from our Heavenly Father's fold. Some just wander off, out of curiosity, laziness, or a busy schedule. It's not that they're bad people, and that they're going against the church, they're just fall into unfortunate circumstances that take them away. Some people, however, lose sight of what matters most, through a worldly view and desires for something bigger and grander. They finally realize what wonderful thing they've lost, and in so searching for it, they discover all the dirty nooks and crannies of their souls, and clean it out, and in so doing find that which they hold most dear. And others, knowing full well what they have, willingly leave it in search of personal gratification and their own selfish desires. They often find themselves hitting rock bottom, and realize they have to go back to that life they abandoned if they want to be truly happy. What people in this situation often do is think that their Heavenly Father will be angry with them, and won't want them back, so they go hesitantly. They worry about judgments of others, and whether they'll actually be able to come back, but once they do, they realize that Heavenly Father isn't angry with them, and never was. He embraces them warmly, and welcomes them back into his fold.
We need always be aware those around us that are lost are still precious in the sight of God. He loves them all, just as He loves you and I, and we can help those souls return to the fold of our Heavenly Father, and if we do, we can rejoice right alongside Him over their return.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Gospel according to a Nerd: Part 4

Another day, another post, another chance to show off my nerdiness. It's been a couple days, and hopefully you've all just been sitting on my blog page pressing "refresh" over and over again, hoping a new post would pop up. Well sorry to keep you waiting, but here it is, part 4 in my nerdy saga!
I'm actually kinda well known in the Montana Billings Mission. There are a few things people know me for: 1) Kermit (don't ask). 2) Being a convert (not the only one, though). 3) My school ID pictures (they're pretty famous, see my blog post "Changes" to see a pre-mission pic). 4) My love, and seemingly endless knowledge, of Harry Potter.
I'm a huge fan of those books. Have been since I was like 10 years old (or so) and first starting reading them. I've read the entire series multiple times (several times). I pretty much know the books inside and out. Have a question? I'm a pretty good source to turn to. I've also done some research as to the future of the characters (J.K. Rowling has done some interviews where she actually tells you what becomes of several of the characters). See, I told you... I'm a nerd. But I'm okay with that (as I've stated, and you can plainly see). I'm actually quite proud of my Harry Potter knowledge. I actually had a running joke with Elder Matthews while we were companions: whenever I felt we should change the subject, or there was an awkward silence, I would say "So, anyways, in Harry Potter...". I usually wouldn't say anything, but then he'd challenge me to tell him something new... and I did.
Being such a big fan, I'm also a bit of a purist. I love the books, and have watched all the movies (except, obviously, the 7th one as it came out while on my mission, but that is definitely going to be the first movie I watch when I get back). I'm not terribly impressed with the movies, overall. Some were good from a strictly movie standpoint, but the only ones that were good adaptations were the first two, which are the most boring. There are so many details that are so important and necessary that are often just left out of the movies. I have often felt that they should have waited until all 7 books were out before making the movies, guaranteeing that all the details that were available, and all the pieces could be included. But no. Hollywood... what can ya do? Obviously, Harry Potter was not the only book/comic book/play/whatever-to-movie adaptation that kinda missed the mark, but it's the one I'm choosing to focus on right now.
And now... tie in to the Gospel...
Throughout centuries, things have been changed. Different people have had control of things, either as broad as Christianity in general, or even just the Bible. Following the crucifixion of Christ, the Apostles were killed off, until they were all gone, and the authority that Christ had given them, the Priesthood, the right and authority to act in the name of God, was gone from the earth. As such, we entered into the Great Apostasy. In this time, doctrines were distorted, the Bible was translated and altered, parts taken out, and all this decided by mere men, and the fullness of the Gospel was lost. Many plain and precious truths were lost. We were left with bits and pieces of what Christ had organized and set up, and did our best to fill in the gaps. We all want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we want to see it unravel before our eyes. We want to see exactly what happened in the 6th Harry Potter book portrayed exactly on the screen (as that one is probably the most exciting). We want that entirety. Unfortunately for purist Harry Potter fans who want to see that perfect book-to-movie adaptation, that isn't going to happen, but for the people out there seeking truth, seeking more, and wanting that fullness that's missing, that does exist. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and living church of Jesus Christ. It is the fullness of the Gospel, restored in its entirety. No missing pieces, no wanting of answers, no plain and precious truths gone. Everything is there, in its entirety. So, while we may not always get the perfect adaptation, we can be comforted in knowing that, where perfection and completeness really matter, it's there. We have the fullness, we have the truth. This is the Lord's Church.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Gospel according to a Nerd: Part 3

This nerdy thing is working pretty well. I enjoy writing it, and it seems that people enjoy reading it, so I'll continue. I'd say, of all the nerdy things I'm into, my main focus would be comic books (I have been called a movie nerd, which is a big focus as well... and a literary nerd... we'll get to those later.) Comic books are awesome. I love them. They portray amazing stories with (most of the time) awesome artwork that just add so much depth. I love that they come out in segments, leaving cliffhanger endings, constantly leaving you wanting more. Whether you do just the single issue, where you have to wait a month for the next installment, or go through the finished works and get the compiled graphic novel every two weeks when you get paid again (like I did), there's always that longing and anticipation, wondering what becomes of your hero in the next issue! Often the ending left the characters in a perilous situation, and you're wondering how they could possibly get out, or they're in good circumstances, but that obviously can't last long.
If I were to make a top three list of favorite comic book series, it would be: 1) Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, 2) Watchmen by Alan Moore, and 3) Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan. They're all so original, and exciting. They keep you hooked throughout, and Watchmen is a classic, even earning a spot on Time's All Time 100 Novels.
Y: The Last Man: The story follows Yorick Brown who has, for some reason, become the last living male. Him and his monkey, Ampersand (the last living male non-human), team up with Agent 355, from a secret government organization meant to protect the President, and Dr. Allison Mann, the world's leading geneticist (even before all the male competition was wiped out) to find out what caused this, and see if they can't fix it. Along the way, they run into lots of problems, including the Daughters of the Amazon, a group of women headed by Victoria Waverly who are happy all the men are gone, because they viewed them as evil, and Tse'elon, a gun toting leader of the Israeli Army who wants Yorick for the salvation of Israel. The trio first proceed to Dr. Mann's lab in Boston, only to find it destroyed, but Dr. Mann is a good scientist, she naturally has backups to everything, they're just in her other lab... in California. All the while, Yorick is worried about his girlfriend, Beth, who is in Australia. He just wants to reunite with her, Dr. Mann wants to bring back mankind, and Agent 355 just wants to make sure Yorick doesn't die.
Watchmen: This is a classic. I'm sure most of you have heard of it (at least from the movie). The Watchmen was an organization of superheroes, comprising of The Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, The Comedian, Rorschach, Ozymandius, and Dr. Manhattan, who were just trying to do their job. However, public unrest forced most into retirement. Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian started working for the government, Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II just blend in with society, but Rorschach still dons the costume and fights crime, vigilante style. The story starts with an investigation into the murder of Eddie Blake, soon discovered to be The Comedian. Rorschach starts his own investigation, which leads him down the rabbit hole to a huge plot that involves the death of millions. But is it for the greater good? He enlists the help of Dr. Manhattan, who is carrying on a relationship with Silk Spectre, and Nite Owl, and they eventually get to the bottom of it all... but is the plan really that bad?
Ex Machina: Mitchell Hundred is a civil engineer who's called in to take a look at the Brooklyn Bridge because of a strange green glow coming from it. The green glow ends up, literally, exploding in his face. He's left with strange scars on his face, as well as the ability to communicate with technology. He uses this to create new technology, like a jet pack and strange laser gun thing, and become The Great Machine. However, he soon realizes that he's hurting more than helping, and retires. He sets his sights higher, then, and decides to run for Mayor of New York under the Independent ticket. As part, he reveals his identity. Shortly after, on the morning of September 11, 2001, he's asked to don the Great Machine once more. He saves the second tower, and as such is elected in a landslide. Now, strange things are happening (naturally), including the re-emergence of his former nemesis, and strange hieroglyphics in the subways that are causing people to die.
All of these are fantastic stories that follow the same basic outline: Good vs. Evil. There is a definite line between the villains and the heroes. You root for the heroes, and boo the villains. As the fight continues, and the evil side seems to strengthen, and it seems like all is lost for the good guys, suddenly something amazing happens. Someone shows up at just the right time, or the hero does something crazy that works out, or something fantastic happens, and they come out okay! The world is in this battle of Good vs. Evil. There is Good, Christ and his followers, guided by a prophet and knowing who they are and what they stand for, clad with the whole armor of God. There is Evil, Satan and his followers, temptation, and wickedness. Bad things that people reason into acceptable, and follow their vices, regardless of the repercussions. We see the path, we have the Iron Rod to guide us, and the Spirit, but sometimes it seems easier to step off the path. Sometimes, it seems like we're left abandoned, our friends aren't there to save us. We're alone, trapped in this place, surrounded by the enemy. How can we possibly get out? But there's hope. At the last second, someone swoops in and saves us! Jesus Christ, our Savior, is always going to help us. It may be right away, where the battle was no problem, or it might be at the last second, just when we think all is lost. No matter when it may be, it will come. He wants to help us. He wants us to win. He wants our story to have a happy ending. Good guys win, bad guys lose. And as always, the Lord prevails.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Gospel, according to a Nerd: Part 2

I'm not the biggest video game fan, but I still enjoy them from time to time. All those first person shooters, too hard. I can't possibly aim a gun while moving, the joystick is far too sensitive. Too much hassle. But, there are some great games that I love. I like the games that have a long, continuing storyline (which I know fits a lot), but that also have more of a purpose than "kill the bad guys" and more room for improvement and growth. One game that comes to mind is "Castle Crashers" a spoof game you can download off X-Box Live, where you (and up to 3 others) take the roles of knights, mages, or a king and try to save the multiple princesses that have been kidnapped. It's all very goofy, from the animation to the villains, but is highly enjoyable.
Another game, that holds a very special place in my heart, is Pokemon (granted, I've only played Red, Blue, and Yellow, but I'm sure the others are enjoyable as well). You're a poorly pixelated character who runs around the country finding small creatures to capture, then strengthen through fighting other creatures, then using them to fight other creatures in a more structured environment so as to win a prize that, in all actuality, doesn't benefit you whatsoever, but it sure is fun to brag about, and eventually you return to your home with a level 100 Blastoise and, just for fun, walk around the tall grass, find a level 5 Rattata, and blast it away with your Hydro Cannon. But what's neat about these games is the progression. As you work hard (and by work hard I mean killing the bad guys, as in "Castle Crasher", or in Pokemon beating the stuffing out of that stupid Metapod that only knows harden! Why would I want a Pokemon that can't attack!?), you gain experience (or XP), and when you get enough, you level up. A classic quote from my friends while playing "Castle Crashers" was "'Grats on the level up, dawg." Yes, my friends and I were the epitome of cool. Gaining levels is cool: it makes you stronger, you can learn new attacks, and (in Pokemon) at some points you evolve! You become something bigger, stronger, and (usually) cooler looking! And you ditch the dumb cocoon thing and actually turn into a Pokemon that's worth a darn in a battle!
Progression is a part of life. We have to learn and to grow in order to better ourselves as people. We didn't just come here to dwindle our time away, not advancing in anyway. We were given the opportunity to come here to work hard and do the right things, to become better people. We gain experience (XP) as we study, learn, work, and follow commandments. As we gain this XP, we can level up, and become better than we were before! We have the potential to become great, and we do this through hard work. Nothing comes for free, nothing comes easy. Everything that's worth having is worth working for. And working hard. We have to show the Lord that we are willing to earn what things He will give us, and we have to show faith that He will provide them. Often times, we're faced with situations where we know what we want the end goal to be, but we can't be sure it's going to happen. Anything is possible with the Lord, so we just need to go for it, having complete trust in the Lord, and knowing that everything will work out for the best. As we work hard, and gain that experience, we learn new skills, we become stronger in the face of adversity and temptations, and we can become something better and stronger (though not necessarily cooler looking) than we were before. We must all progress to make this life what we want.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Gospel, according to a Nerd: Part 1

I'm kind of a nerd. And I'm totally ok with that. It makes for some pretty fun jokes. I really enjoy making really nerdy comments, or getting really excited over really nerdy things, and having people just kinda look at me. My main nerdy thing is definitely comic books, but there are others. I'm pretty well versed with the internet and all it's little jokes.
For the next couple days, I'd like to use my nerdy skills and try to relate them to the Gospel.
 So, first example: Mario Bros. What do you want to get in Mario? A mushroom. Why? Because the mushroom makes you big, thus more powerful, and it allows you to take two hits before death, rather than just one. But, are you ever just given the mushroom*? Does a Goomba or a Koopa Troopa just walk up to you and hand you a mushroom then say "Hey! Jump on me and flatten me!"? NO! You have to search for those little "?" or "!" boxes, then jump and hit them. Not all of them are going to be mushrooms (most will be just coins), but every so often, you'll get that mushroom, and it will make you bigger, and stronger. And, once you have that mushroom, maybe one of the "!" boxes will have a feather that, for some reason or other, turns you into a flying raccoon (I don't question the ways of Mario), or a frog suit that allows you to swim, or a flower that, again, for some unexplained reason, allows you to shoot fireballs. Either way, you get something cool. But wait there's more! Because in some of those "!" boxes are green mushrooms that give you extra life! All you have to do is search for those boxes and hit them!
Now, this is a surprisingly straight forward analogy. In life, we all have to look for those things that will make us better and stronger, and increase our faith and testimony. They're never going to just come to us, we need to do our part. And, even when we do find one of those things that will help us, it's still not going to just fall in our laps. We need to jump up, directly beneath it, and hit it with our fist while making a "BOING!" sound (ok, that's a bit of a stretch with the metaphor). We need to do something, though. There needs to be an action on our part to get that level up or extra life. Sometimes it's painful (as I'm pretty sure jumping and punching a seemingly metal box would be), but if we endure it well, we will be blessed.
So, be like Mario. Don't let those Goombas and Koopa Troopas get you down, just jump on them! (They're obviously metaphors for trials and temptations). And always be on the look out for those "?" or "!" boxes to help you toughen up, or even give you EXTRA LIFE!

*Obviously, in Super Mario Bros., 2, if you get Yoshi and he eats enough of those tomato looking berry things, he'll just kinda poop out a mushroom. That is a rare occurrence, and should not take away from my metaphor.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Christ gave a parable of a rich man and a beggar. In it, the beggar, named Lazarus, sits at the gate of the rich man's house. He begs for food, and has no company other than the rich man's dogs. After they both die, no mention is made of Lazarus' funeral, but it mentions that the rich man was buried, certainly a grand occasion. However, in the afterlife, it's a much different scenario. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham (a common term at the time for paradise as used by the rabbis) and the rich man is in fiery torment. He calls up to Father Abraham, asking to send Lazarus down so he can dip his finger in water, and give the rich man just a drop to satisfy his parched tongue. Abraham says no. Then, the rich man, thinking of his family, his father and brothers, asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them, to warn them of what awaits them if they continue on the path they're on. Abraham responded, saying "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
How true is this? Often, people will say "I'd believe if I saw an angel" or something along those lines. I've personally heard that multiple times. But that's not true. We have all the evidence we need: we have the Bible, we have the Book of Mormon, we have a Prophet and Apostles, and the testimony of them, as well as millions of members worldwide. We have enough evidence of the truth, and if people will turn a blind eye to that evidence, and still not believe, and rather go completely against it, then their hearts are so hardened that not even an angle, a resurrected being, or a loved on who has passed coming to them and telling them, in no uncertain terms, of the errors of their ways and what they should do to save themselves will convince them. They're set in their ways, and they aren't about to change, and not even angelic and divine messengers will change that.
We know what's what. It's up to us to take what we have, look into, study it out, and find out for ourselves if it's true. If we choose not to take that advice, or to ignore the answer we get, then it's on us. The truth is out there, and no heavenly vision is going to tell us, God doesn't work like that. It's up to us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sacrifice and Choice

This past Sunday, we went to our usual two wards, the student ward then the family ward. It was Ward Conference in the student ward, and the Stake President gave an amazing lesson on sacrifice. Then, in Elder's Quorum, we had a great lesson on choice. The two go pretty much hand in hand. Sacrifice is something we do, willingly, that may be an inconvenience for us, but benefits us in the long run. But, a big part of sacrifice is choice. You have to choose to do this thing, to make this sacrifice, and do it gladly. If it's done grudgingly, then it's not going to be as meaningful. Sacrifices bring blessings. If we are willing to do the things that the Lord requires, regardless of how it effects us, we will see great things come of it. An easy example is tithing. Tithing can be difficult. 10% of your paycheck can go towards some cool things. I remember before coming on my mission, I was working full time and getting $500 paychecks. Well, $400 of it would go towards rent, leaving me with only $100. I could easily have not paid my tithing and used the money to go do things with my friends. I even could have used it to help pay for the supplies I still needed for my mission. That's not selfish, I would need them to do the Lord's work. But, I still knew that tithing had to be paid, so I did. I would pay my $50 of tithing every 2 weeks, and be left with only $50 to somehow pay for everything, while also having fun with my friends. It all worked out, though. I was able to do the things I wanted, and get all the things I needed for my mission (thanks, in big part, to the kindness of others!). I definitely saw the blessings of paying my tithing. 
Choice is the driving force behind sacrifice. We have to choose to do these things, and do it with a glad heart. If we are doing it because we feel we have to, or we do it just cause we're going to get blessings, but not because we honestly want to do it, knowing it's the right thing, then our hearts won't be there, and it won't be meaningful. In the last general conference, President Monson gave a talk called "The Three R's of Choice". According to the talk, the three R's are the right, the responsibility, and the results of choice. Thanks to our Heavenly Father, we have the right to choose for ourselves. We can choose to follow his counsels and his prophets, and to obey his commandments, or not to. We can choose to come to church, or not. We can choose to make necessary sacrifices for our Lord and for those around us, or not. We are all able to choose. The responsibility of choice is an interesting one. Along with the right given us, we are responsible for making the right choice. It falls on us: the only thing that is truly ours is our free will, and what we do with it. The Lord has given us prophets, scriptures, and commandments to show us what we should be, how we should act, and what we should do, and we have the responsibility to follow what he wants of us. Whether we follow them or not, there are results. If we are faithful and do these things, we are blessed. The Lord said "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). If we choose the right, we have the promise of the Lord, which are great blessings. If we don't, then we are subject to the repercussions of our actions. There is a result to every choice, right or wrong. It's simply up to us to choose which result we get, whether they be good or bad. We have been given the tools and guidance, we just have to decide what to do with it. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Man in the Moon?

Ever look up at the moon? Ever been entranced by what you see? It's this massive rock, floating thousands of miles away form the Earth. It orbits around us, and based on where it is in regards to the sun and us, it's anywhere from full, to seemingly nonexistent. It effects the tides, gives us light, and has often been the source of dreaming. It was one giant leap for mankind when we set foot on the moon 42 years ago.
I remember, back when I worked at a movie theater, I would have to bike to and from work. It was about a 20 minute bike ride down the bike paths. When I closed, or when I would watch a movie afterwards, I would have to bike home in the dark. They didn't put lights on the bike trails like they did on roads, so when it was 11 o' clock, or later, it was a pretty dark trip. I always enjoyed when there was a full, bright moon because it made it easier for me to see, and I didn't have to worry as much about any obstacles that my be in front of me. I wasn't such a big fan of the nights when we had new moons, and it was very dark. It made me weary of going too fast, so it would take me longer to get home.
Think of our preexistent state as day time. God is present, giving us light and warmth, and we have no hindrance to our vision. We can see everything just fine. However, when we come to this world, it becomes as night. We are no longer in the presence of our Heavenly Father, and have much greater difficulty seeing what lies ahead. But fortunately, God won't just leave us to our own devices. Rather, he sends us a wonderful gift: prophets. Prophets are like the moon: they receive light from the sun (God) and give it to the people. Thanks to prophets, even on dark nights, they give us enough light that we are much better able to see the path ahead of us. Throughout history, people had accepted and rejected the prophets, in an ongoing cycle of apostasy and dispensations. We can think of this as similar to the lunar cycle. A prophet is introduced to the people, and they listen to his words and heed his counsel. This is like the waxing of the moon, as it grows towards its full state. Eventually, it is full, and the people prosper.
However, it doesn't take long for people to start disliking being told what to do, or what they're doing wrong. So, as so often seen, the prophets were rejected, persecuted, and sometimes killed. The people lost that light and guidance. This can be compared to the waning period of the moon, as it begins to get smaller, until it reaches the new moon. The new moon is an apostasy, when that light and guidance is gone.
How lucky we are to be in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. We have that full, bright moon that gets light from God, and gives it to all of us to help us along in our journey. We should always follow the counsel of the prophets, because he will always guide us in righteousness.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Parable of the Bike

Once upon a time, a little girl was walking downtown with her dad. They had just finished up their shopping, and were going back to the car to head home. The little girl was quite bored after the long day, and was clutching to her dad's hand. As they crossed the street, a store caught the little girl's attention. It was a small store, with a large front window, and in that window was a bright, shiny pink bike, with a white basket, and tassels on the handlebars. The girl stopped abruptly and stared at the bike. She released her father's hand, and went right up to the window, gawking at it.
"Daddy!" she said. "I want that bike!"
The father looked at the glowing face of his daughter, then at the bike. He considered long and hard. He looked at the price tag. It wasn't too bad. But, he saw an opportunity to teach his young daughter a valuable life lesson.
"How about this, honey. I'll start giving you an allowance, and every time you do your chores, I'll give you money, and you can save up and buy the bike yourself."
The daughter thought about it for a moment. "Ok, daddy!" She said excitedly.
Over the next couple weeks, the little girl did every chore her mom and dad asked her to do, and kept her allowance money in a piggy bank she kept hidden under her bed. Every night, she would count it out.
Finally, a few weeks later, the little girl came running down the stairs.
"Daddy! Daddy! I have enough!" The little girl squealed with excitement. She was holding her piggy bank. "We can get the bike!"
"Ok, honey," her father laughed. They got in the car and headed toward the store. When they got their, the little girl was excited to see the bike still their. She ran into the store, her father right behind her.
"I'd like the pink bike, please!" the girl said to the man behind the counter. The man laughed and got the bike.
The clerk rang up the price, and the little girl spilled the contents of her piggy bank onto the counter. The man counted it all up. The grand total of the girl's savings was $5.75. The bike cost $40. The father looked down and laughed to himself. He apparently forgot to explain the purpose and value of money. The clerk also laughed, recognizing what was going on.
"Honey, you don't quite have enough money," the father began. He saw the smile disappear from his daughter's face. "But, I'll pay the difference so you can get it." The father pulled out his wallet and handed the cashier the money.
The little girl happily rode the bike all the way home, and continued to do all the chores her mom and dad asked her to.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Farmer Forgiven

Once, there was a man who wanted to become successful, but he wanted to earn it. He was poor, and didn't have the means to start anything up. He had been raised on a farm, and knew farming, so he decided his best bet would be to start his own farm. He talked to a bank about getting a loan. They accepted, giving him a rather rigid repayment schedule, and expecting full repayment in the span of just 2 years.
The man started his farm, and lived off of the wealth he made. He would work hard, but would often take breaks to go hit the town with his friends. He was easily supporting himself, and making minimum payments on his loans. After all, it was still 2 years before the debt needed to be repaid. That was plenty of time. He didn't have to worry about it now. He just continued living the comfortable life that he had earned for himself.
However, all too quickly, those 2 years were up. The bank had given him the stipulation that if he hadn't paid back his debt entirely by the end of this time, they would take the farm from him. This would leave him jobless, homeless, and destitute. He didn't know what to do. He didn't have the money to pay the loan, and he couldn't lose his job. He begged and pleaded for an extension, but it was made very clear in the contract, no extensions. The man was given until the end of the month. He had no idea what he was going to do.
The end of the month came, and the loan officers came. The man had to either pay the rest of the debt, or give up his farm. When the man was about to sign over his farm to the bank, another man came in.
"I will pay his debt," the man said. The loan officer looked at him. "It doesn't matter where the money comes form, as long as the debt is paid, right?"
The loan officer nodded in agreement. The man continued, "Then I will pay the rest of the debt for him, and he can keep his farm, but I will be the official owner. Do you agree?" he asked the farm owner. He nodded in agreement."Then that is what we will do." The benefactor signed the necessary paperwork, and the debt was repaid.
After the loan officer left, the farm owner could only stare at his benefactor.
"Thank you so much," he said, fighting back tears. "I don't know how I could possibly repay you."
The benefactor smiled at him. "All I require is your hard work and do what I ask of you."
The farm owner readily agreed, tears now streaming down his face. From that point on, he worked hard, all day, never taking a break when there was work to be done. He lived modestly, and didn't squander his money on unnecessary things. He did everything his benefactor asked of him, and was rewarded for his service.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cold Weather

Being in Montana in February, cold weather is expected. And it gets cold. I'm apparently in a downright balmy area of Montana right now, as I've heard accounts of -30, even down to -40 degrees. We're sitting at a tropical 7 degrees (give or take). That's still cold. Yesterday was chilling in the negatives, and I've gone through -30 (that's with the wind chill, mind you). I'm not a big fan of cold weather. It makes it difficult to do things, like walk, and breathe, and just kinda... be. You don't want to go outside, you don't want to walk anywhere, you just want to stay where it's warm. Unfortunately, that's not really an option. As nice as it sounds to just chill at home, drinking hot cocoa and staying warm, we must strike out and work. We still gotta pound the pavement (as snow covered as it may be) and knock those doors. Luckily, I am blessed (at least until Friday) to have a car. I feel for Elders out there right now in carshares that don't have the car right now. (I'm also quite lucky that the weather forecast is saying by Friday it'll be in the 40s. Yay!)
Yeah, the cold is no fun. But, it makes the warm that much better. Even 40 degrees sounds like paradise after single digits. I recall, back in December, me and Elder Matthews were out doing work, and we got out of the car and thought "man, it is so nice out here! I wish we could take our jackets off." Shortly after, we drove past a bank that had a big display for time and temperature. 32 degrees. It was literally freezing, but with no wind and the sun out, it felt so nice. If you would have told me it was in the 60s I would have believed you. It's crazy what comparison can do.
The same can be said about our lives. Sometimes, we go through rough patches. Sometimes, they're very rough. We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we can't fathom how we're possibly going to pull through. But we have to persevere. We have to make the best of what we've got, cause once we get through those trials, we'll get back to the good times, and how great are those times going to be, compared to the hard times we just went through!
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men." (2 Nephi 31:20). When all hope seems lost, know that it's not. There is always hope that can be found in our Lord. Turn to Him; through prayer, scripture study, and faithful living, you can be strengthened and make it through those times of difficulty. All hope is never lost! "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." (Romans 15:13). Never fear, the Lord is near, and he is simply waiting for you to ask for help. Through him, all of your trials will be made simpler. "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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt 11:29, 30).
The Lord loves you and wants to help.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Temples

It's very possible that at some point or other, you've seen a temple (for most people reading this, you've probably been to a temple). They're beautiful buildings, expertly designed and built, usually with spires, and white. They are wonders to behold. Some of the more extravagant looking are Salt Lake City, San Diego, CA, Washington, D.C., and Portland, OR. All are amazing buildings.
The question is often brought up, why do we have temples? And what goes on inside them? We have temples because the Prophet, Joseph Smith, was instructed that temples were once again needed on the earth to make possible certain ordinances the Lord saw fit to do. The first temple built was in Kirtland, Ohio. Now, there are 134 temples, with 10 being built, and 13 more recently announced. The temple is a very sacred place, and as such, not just anyone can get in. In order to enter a temple, you must be a worthy member of the church. You have to have an interview with your Bishop and Stake President to get a temple recommend. Inside the temple, we do several different ordinances. What exactly goes on is not openly discussed, not because it's secret, but because it's sacred. Things that go on in the temple shouldn't just be flouted about because they represent a very important aspect of our beliefs, and as such are not something commonly discussed.
The Temple is a great place for members of the church to go and reflect. The Spirit can be felt so strongly there, and prayers can be answered with such force and clarity, many people go there to reflect and get guidance for important things.
The temple is a symbol of our church. We are recognized for them, and they are one of the many unique things about our faith. If you have anymore questions about Temples, feel free to ask me, or any other missionary of Facebook, or visit mormon.org or lds.org.
The Temple is the greatest place in the world because it's the farthest from it.