Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who would send a baby?

The writer E.T. Sullivan once said: “When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born, perhaps in a simple home and of some obscure mother. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”

The birth of Jesus Christ is the most perfect example of this principle. His birth set in motion those events which would forever alter our relationship with God. And what a miracle that birth was! For just a moment, let us ponder some of the significant aspects of the Savior’s birth:

His birth was a gift of love from our Heavenly Father: “For God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Christ, who had created this earth and countless others, did not come as the creator he was, but as a helpless baby boy. Of all kings that have ever lived or ever will he was the most high, but no king was ever born in the humble circumstances that he faced. In this, He shows us that the circumstances of our birth have little to do with what we can accomplish in this life, and that out of small and simple things proceedeth that which is great.

His parents couldn’t find any lodging better than a stable, heralding the type of rejection He would face throughout His life.

Shepherds and Kings came to adore and honor him, symbolizing both the loving care he would have for all of us, and his role as King of Kings. Their visits also teach us that our stations in life are of no consequence when coming to the Savior. All that is required is a willing heart to go and find him.

A new star shone, celebrating this wonderful occasion and symbolizing the new light that had come into the world with the birth of the Savior.

In the western hemisphere there was a night, a day, and a night with no darkness, symbolizing that the light and life of the world had come.

One of my favorite Christmas images is of the angel announcing the birth of the Christ child to the shepherds.
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:10-14

I imagine that, if I had been there that night, I would not have been able to contain my joy and would have joined those angels in their songs of praise.

During this special time of year, let us remember the many gifts that we have been given as a result of our Savior’s life and mission:

Peace in the midst of our afflictions.
Strength to bear life’s infirmities and deal with our losses and sorrows.
Trust, that He knows us and cares for us.
Hope for a wonderful and glorious life that can come to all of us.
Gratitude for the small and simple blessings that give us the assurance that we are not alone in this life, and that he will not leave us comfortless.
Joy in our redemption and in the knowledge that the way is open for us to return home to our Father in Heaven.
Love for our Father and for our Savior who first loved us.
Humility in the realization that, in spite of all our frailties and imperfections, He counted the cost of our redemption and still found us worth the price that He paid.
Faith that our experiences in life are for our good and will bring us closer to Him.
Charity for each other as we draw closer to Him and become more Christlike.

As Christians we are not following “cunningly devised fables.” Jesus Christ is real! And at some future day we will each become “eyewitnesses of His majesty and glory.” In the meantime, let us walk and grow in the light of our faith until that perfect day when we will know as we are known, will see as we are seen, and will witness for ourselves with a perfect surety that Jesus is the Christ.
God be thanked for the gift of His perfect Son, of whom I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Of Faith, Failings, and Cosmic Anvils

Earlier this week I discovered an interesting characteristic about myself - I'm human.
Before you zone out because I am being "Master of the Obvious", hear me out.

I frequently make mistakes, I am not as discreet as I should be, at times I say things that I regret, on several occasions I do things I know I shouldn't, and most of the time I just plain screw up. (I know, I know - master of the obvious - blah, blah, blah...)

My issue with my frequent failings is that perfection is my goal and it is honestly and sincerely where I want to find myself eventually. Each time I fall I castigate myself for not being perfect and spend a lot of time and energy on the useless exercise of mental self flagellation. It is almost as though I believe that there is some enormous cosmic anvil that God is waiting to drop on me everytime I mess up.

This thinking is very dangerous, and gets in the way of my ultimate goal of perfection.

Of course God doesn't want to drop an anvil on me. That would defeat both His purposes and mine. He is my Heavenly Father, and His first inclination is to help me. He never hates me for being human, and the only time I have really failed in every sense of the word is when I stop striving for perfection.

In our life we are given weaknesses, not as stumbling blocks, but as stepping stones towards the ultimate perfection our Heavenly Father has in mind for us. In fact these weaknesses are a fundamental part of the Plan of Salvation. Lehi taught that there must be opposition in all things or there could be no progress. A seminary scripture we are all familiar with shows how this opposition helps us become more like Christ:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

Our weaknesses are given to us so that we can learn to rely on our Savior. As we humble ourselves before him by acknowledging our weaknesses and relying on the "merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8) we learn how to control ourselves when facing temptation, and are given extra help and strength to overcome these challenges each time we face them.

In 2 Nephi 31:20 Nephi invites us to follow the Savior, encourages us to be hopeful and helpful, gives us a key for facing our challenges, and points out our final destination.

"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. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

By feasting on the words of Christ, we are given added strength and instruction in the way we need to face our challenges. Another side benefit of this exercise is found in the Doctrine and Covenants. If we let virtue garnish our thoughts (which is the natural consequence of feasting on the words of Christ) then our "confidence [will] wax strong in the presence of God". (D&C 121:45). We can live with hope for our future!

Which brings me around to my first observation about God and the whole cosmic anvil myth.
If I am continually striving for perfection and doing all in my power to become like my Redeemer, I can have confidence in God - even in my failings!

Now, knowing that I can have this confidence, what role does sorrow play in the perfecting process and how is my current "sorrow" counterproductive? After all, isn't remorse a part of the repentance process?

Not just any remorse will satisfy this crucial piece of the repentance process. In the scriptures the proper remorse is referred to as "Godly Sorrow". Godly sorrow is not self centered abasement. It is a genuine acknowledgement that we have not lived up to our Heavenly Father's standards and a recognition that this action has separated us from his presence. It is heartfelt mourning for our own spiritual separation from our Heavenly home and Parents. It is knowing that we have hurt the Person who loves us the most and, in many cases, other members of His family who we should also love and respect.

The problem with the shallow type of sorrow I have been splashing around in is that it is a sort of false humility. I am not mourning my separation from God, only the fact that I might be punished for my mistakes. And therein lies the danger. This self-centered and counterfeit sorrow acts like a spiritual novacaine. I think that my self imposed suffering is filling the requirement that only Godly Sorrow can satisfy. In the process I also abase myself and negate my worth as a son of God. Most importantly, until I experience real Godly sorrow there will be no change in my behavior, and I will continue to suffer needlesly. This deceit is a subtle snare that I am all-too-often caught in.

Godly sorrow is cleansing, uplifting, and full of hope. It doesn't demean my status as a son of God, it affirms my divine nature and puts me in touch with the One who loves me enough to have redeemed me.

God be thanked for the gift of adversity, the cleansing power of the Atonement, and the strengthening grace that helps bring us hope in the midst of our difficulties!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Veteran's Day

My favorite holidays have always been the patriotic ones (i.e. Independence Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Constitution Day, Veteran's Day) Each of these days gives us an opportunity to remember and be grateful for the wonderful freedoms and opportunities we enjoy, and to remember the sacrifices which have brought us to this point in our national history and the individuals who made those sacrifices. On Independence Day we celebrate our nation's birth and the brave patriots who answered the call of history and stepped into the battle lines that freed us. We remember the brilliant men who framed our government and pledged their "lives, fortune and sacred honor" to the concept that God has given us the right and the ability to govern ourselves. On Memorial Day we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that those ideals of self determination which we cherish can continually experience a "new birth of freedom." And on Veteran's Day we honor all of the men and women who have served our country in uniform. I love Veteran's Day! How appropriate is it to take a day each year to thank the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces. What I especially like about Veteran's Day is that we get to not only remember those who died for our freedom, but also those who served, survived, and have continued to contribute.

Each of these Veterans has given a part of themselves for us and deserves our undying gratitude. It is only fitting and proper that we take at least this one day to honor them. And in honoring them, let us never forget to honor and thank their families who also sacrificed for our freedoms in less visible ways.

God bless our Veterans and their families!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reflections on my son's 1st birthday

My little boy, my only son, turns 1 today. Three hundred and sixty six days ago we didn't know him, but in one sacred moment he became as much a part of our family as my wife and I.
This experience of instant bonds and connections is unique to families. In any company, team, neighborhood or even church organization there is always a period of adjustment where you get to know others and they get to know you before you find your "niche". Not so with a family. Upon arrival there is instant acceptance and love. What an awesome phenomenon!

Love is an interesting aspect of the human experience. There isn't only so much to go around, it is created with every new relationship we form. I first learned this on my mission when I began to care so deeply about the people I was interacting with on a daily basis.

The experience became even more powerful as I began dating the woman who would eventually become my wife. I was amazed at the heart's capacity for love. When my wife and I got married I felt like a new door in my heart was opened. A room I didn't even know existed was suddenly thrown open for me to explore. I had no idea that so much love could be felt for another person. During the ensuing 13 years I have found that not only is this room always new, it is always growing. Thirteen years from now I will look back on my feelings for her today and say "I didn't know anything about love back then."

With each of my children's arrival this experience has repeated itself. The love I feel for each child is not taken away from anyone else, but a new room in my heart is built for that person and the door is thrown wide open for me to enter.

I am personally grateful for the blessing of love in our lives, especially the love that is found in families. It adds a sweetness and flavor that colors our entire existence.

So, as I celebrate my son's birthday tonight I will also celebrate the love that each of my family members brings into my life. Life is worth living because of the love that is in it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Why Banners and Ensigns?

Throughout my life I have been consistently intrigued by the power of symbols and symbolic communication. Whether it is with carefully crafted words, brilliant artwork, or the standard of a nation, symbols can quickly and succinctly communicate a multitude of messages to us. Of all the symbols that are in the world around us, few elicit the emotional responses that a flag does.

The flag communicates so much with such elegant simplicity. It represents the history of a nation, its values, its hopes for the future, and the highest ideals that move it toward its ultimate destiny in the world. The flag brings back memories of victories won, of accomplishments achieved, and of challenges overcome. It reminds us of the foundations upon which we are built, and then impels us onward to new achievements in the ongoing chapters of our nation's history.

Our flag graces the tops of our most important government buildings and monuments, and greets us each morning in classrooms around the country. When we come home from abroad, the flag waves its welcome to us from the port of entry.

The flag leads our young men in battle, reminding them of home and the loved ones they are defending. In honored glory it also accompanies our dead, reverently covering them in its folds as they make their final journey home.

In moments of celebration, the flag is a bouyant and cheerful symbol of national pride and joy as it is waved from the hands of children and from the homes of each proud citizen. In moments of mourning, nothing speaks so eloquently of national sorrow as a flag at half mast.

So again, why Banners and Ensigns?

Because symbols move me, and this name is symbolic of two very important aspects of my character - my religious faith and my feelings of patriotism.

In this blog I hope to explore some of my thoughts on these subjects. My goal is mostly to clarify and develop my own thinking on them, but I also want to solicit the feedback of my good friends and family members who can enhance my learning with their own thoughts and opinions.

A final note on the name - Banners and Ensigns:

Earlier this year I was given a Hopi name by one of my close friends in a rather moving ceremony. The name he gave me, which is intended to be a unique reflection on my personality, is: Oyi Yta Tuvoyla.

It means "Keeper of Banners".