Monday, October 31, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Things of the Spirit

Today I read 2 Corinthians 4 which seems to have been a continuation of what we talked about yesterday. Paul talks to the Saints about keeping our minds and thoughts on the things which are of the Spirit and therefore eternal. In this life, we are surrounded by things that will not last through the eternities. We know that there are all kinds of people who will do anything for money, as if money could buy happiness. People will literally kill over it. They will commit all kinds of atrocities over a piece of paper that if the government decided to, could become worthless tomorrow!

And yet, being mortal, and having a need for money in order to provide for ones family, it is easy to see how some of us could become confused or could become infatuated with obtaining more money and more material possessions in the mistaken belief that it will bring us happiness of even give us a sense of peace and satisfaction. I remember when I was a missionary, I used to teach an English class for service among the Chinese people. One night during my class they asked me why I did what I did, meaning serve a mission and pay for it all myself. So I asked them a question, what brings happiness.

To a person, they all answered money. I threw it right back at them and declared that money does not bring happiness. Happiness comes from helping those around you, from seeing your those you deem your friends help themselves, by living a good and righteous life. They tried to tell me I was too young, I didn't understand the way the world works. It was quite sad to be the only one in the room to really understand exactly how the world works and to understand that true happiness comes from keeping as far from it as possible.

Yesterday, my Stake had our Stake Conference and we had a member of the 70 in attendance. He shared some very good counsel with us. He told us that God has a plan for us and if we want to get the most out of our lives, we need to find out what that plan is. We can get through life on our own, but we will be much happier and a lot more productive if we figure out what God's plan is and what He wants us to be doing. In other words, if we focus on the things of the Spirit.

Now, that is not to say that we need to not worry about this life. Far from it. As parents we have an obligation to provide for our families and our children. It is up to us to obtain enough money to sustain a comfortable life for our loved ones. This requires doing a lot of focus on the temporal and the here and now, unless you are one of the few lucky ones who are in the service of the church and receive monetary compensation for it. But for the 90% of us that are not, we have to spend an average of 40 hours a week, mired in the world. But it does not have to be an uncomfortable or unhappy experience. Rather, life is what we make it. If we choose to be happy no matter what, then we will be happy. It is our choice and ours alone. Now, that is a lot easier said than done, that is for sure. It is not always easy to ignore what is happening around us and choosing to be happy. But probably the easiest way to make that happen is to serve those around us.

As we server our fellow man, we will forget about our own troubles. We will come to realize that whatever trials and tribulations we may personally face is quite small in comparison to some. There are those in our world who do not have enough food to eat. Once upon a time, I was one of those people. It is not pleasant. However, my situation was never as dire as some. And I got through that hardship by focusing instead on what I could do to help those around me. And I got through it just fine. It was not fun to go through and it was not an enjoyable experience but I think I am a better man because I went through it. And I never lost my focus. I always kept true to what I wanted and to the Gospel. I served in my callings that I had and helped those around me. I kept my eye on the things that were most important. And despite it all, I look upon those days as quite pleasant and even happy. Not the going hungry part of course, but everything else I did during those years. Somedays I even miss them. You learn things when you go through tough times that are very hard to learn in any other way. But they are necessary and we need to learn them. Remember that Heavenly Father does not put us thorough things just because. He does it because we need to learn the lesson and this is the most efficient way for us to learn it. He loves us and wants us to progress. It is up to us if to choose if that is what we want too. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Truth will Set you Free

Today I read 2 Corinthians 3 and I was really impressed with the second to last verse. Paul states that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Now at first glance, this does not always seem to be the case. After all Joseph Smith was in jail many, many times and ironically enough was in a jail named Liberty for six months! However, Paul is not referring to liberty of the body. Rather when we have the Spirit of the Lord with us, we will not feel inclined to sin which frees us from our spiritual bondage.

When Adam partook of the forbidden fruit then it brought two kinds of death into the world, physical death and spiritual death. Physical death was overcome by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and everyone who is ever born will get a physical body again after death. Spiritual death though, is also overcome by the Savior's Atonement, but it is conditional upon us doing our part. We have to obey the commandments of God in order to keep the Spirit about us so that we can be free from sin.

When we keep the commandments of God we little by little become more like Him. We slowly lose any desire that we once had to commit sin. We overcome the natural man. That is what Paul means that when we have the Spirit of the Lord we are free. We could be chained to a wall in the deepest darkest dungeon and if we remained true and faithful to our covenants then we are free. It doesn't matter what happens to our physical body, our spirit will be redeemed and we will be free. There are terrible, horrible absolutely vile things that happen each and every day in this world. I honestly don't know how God can stand to watch them all happen to His children. I think part of it is that no matter how bad things get in this life, it is only temporary. We can be tortured in the most cruel fashion imaginable, but if we hold true to our testimony and do not allow ourselves to be led astray by sin, then we can overcome any obstacle put in our path, even physical death.

If we allow the Atonement into our lives and do what is right always, then we truly will be free. Nothing in this life can stop us from living the commandments of God. It is a choice each of us makes. No one forces us to break the commandments of God. With very few exceptions. And God will not hold us accountable for the actions of others. It is always our choice to live our life how we want to, even in captivity we can stay true to God and His commandments. Choose life, choose to obey God. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Forgiveness, a Mercy

Today I read 2 Corinthians 2 which is yet another chapter on forgiveness and forgiving each other, especially our fellow Saints. At first I wondered at yet another chapter on this subject, but then I realized that people holding grudges and not forgiving one another was just as much an issue back then as it is now. It was an issue for the church and has always been an issue for mankind. Holding grudges, being offended, there are literally dozens of ways that we can be upset with someone for something and will require us to forgive them.

Now, holding a grudge is very foreign to me, I have mentioned in the past that even when I try and do so, I am unable to. It is one of my spiritual gifts. However, the whole thought process behind holding a grudge almost seems laughable to me. What does it hurt the other person if you stay mad at them? What harm does it cause them? Do they even notice that you are upset with them? Does it affect their life in anyway? Unless you are in some kind of authority over them to make their life miserable, they probably don't notice in the slightest to be honest. They are going on with their lives completely unaffected where as you are being eaten up inside by hostility and unhappy feelings. You are literally damning yourself for something that the other person may not even remember. Is it really worth it?

Now, I'm not saying that forgiving others is easy. Hardly. It can be one of the most difficult things to do, period. For most people anyway. As we strive to overcome our challenge with forgiving others however we will learn to view people the way the Christ sees them. And then it will not be a challenge but a pleasure to forgive those around us. There's really not much more to say than that. Until tomorrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Avoid Idleness

Today I read 2 Corinthians 1 which is Paul's opening in what we know is actually his 3rd letter to the Saints in Corinth. He speaks about a lot of things in this chapter and it is very hard to narrow down what to talk about, but I think I will focus on something that has been on my mind recently. Every 6 months, after the new General Conference, I download the talks and burn them an MP3 CD to listen to in my car as I drive around town. I listen to it about 4-5 times at least and then put it away until the next March or September to refresh myself and get myself in the mood to listen to the next Conference.

One of the themes I have noticed in the October Conference of this year as I have listened to it a couple of times now, is avoiding idleness. Satan's plans are fulfilled by us doing nothing as much as they are if we do that which is wrong. We live in a world of excitement and infinite distraction. If we allow ourselves to, we can be distracted by things which are not bad, but which do not further the work of the Lord to the point where Satan's plans are accomplished. For those of us who have gone through the temple, we have made covenants to avoid idleness. To me that means we should be anxiously engaged in the work of the Lord.

I'm sure most of you have heard the old adage that idle hands are the devil's workshop. To me this has always meant that when we are not doing something productive, we will be tempted to do something that is not productive, something that is wrong. In this day and age of so much technology however, I think it has another, new meaning also. I think it also means that when we are not doing something good and productive, we are accomplishing the devil's plans by being idle.

I like to play video games, actually I LOVE to play video games. My top 3 favorite things to do are to spend time with my family, read a good book and play video games. And depending on my mood determines which of the three I want to do at any given time. I remember after my mission when I was about to leave for college I asked for a father's blessing from my Dad. I remember the blessing told me that there is nothing inherently wrong with video games and they were ok for recreation, this is back before most of the bad video games that have come out in the more recent times, but too much of them isolate us from other people which is not good. I really cannot tell you another single thing that blessing said, not one, but that part of it has always stuck with me. We need to make sure that if we play video games, they are in keeping with the values of the church, just like with all other forms of media. But we also need to make sure that they do not consume and control us. Video games can become very addictive. I have read numerous stories about people who have literally killed themselves playing them too much, or killed others through negligence or downright anger when a concerned family member tried to step in.

Anything that is addictive is against the Lord's plan, because it limits our agency. Even seemingly good addictions, like exercise or spending time with your family, can become tools of the devil if we do them instead of the things of the Lord and what He wants us to do. As I re-read the verse that prompted this, verse 17, I not realize that Paul was not referring to idleness but to how he had communicated his message to the Saints. However, I feel strongly that this is what God wanted me to talk about today. I pray every morning before reading the scriptures and doing my blog that He will help me know what is most beneficial for me to talk about. Obviously He wanted me to talk about idleness today and to re-evaluate my own life and perhaps help some of you re-evaluate your lives too.

Parents, are you spending your time when your children are awake playing with them? Or do you find yourself glued to your cell phone in one fashion or another, or playing on the computer, or watching TV? Your children only get one childhood and trust me when I say that as much as they probably love TV and cartoons and movies, they would much rather spend time with you. I personally view my day and time as only having free time when my daughter is asleep. If she is awake, I am spending time with her, or I am at work. That is MY priority.

It disturbs me to read articles about how much time we as a nation spend watching TV or movies or playing on the internet. Everytime I read that type of an article I can't help but wonder where their children are while they are doing this. One of my all time favorite commercials is about a dad who comes home from work. He goes into the house and his wife and three children are all in different rooms, all using different things with electronics. So he turns off the circuit breaker to the house and starts cooking some hotdogs or sausages on the grill outside and his family comes out to join him. It is a sausage commercial I believe, but what a wonderful message! And it's not even an LDS commercial is one of the reasons I like it so much! We need to learn to turn off the TV, the radio, the cell phone, the computer, the video games, and go for walks as a family. Play a board game together. Go for a bike ride. If they are old enough, are you going on Father/Mother/Children dates? Are you spending quality alone time with each of your children at least once a month? You should be. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are when my Dad and I had our monthly "date" together. Sometimes all we would do is go get some ice cream and talk, but I cherish those memories more than any video game I ever played, or any book I ever read for entertainment purposes.

We need to be anxiously engaged in a good cause the scriptures tell us. Sometimes that good cause is spending time with our children and teaching them that there is more to life than TV or Facebook. My daughter loves to be outside and go for walks more than anything in the world. If you put on her all time favorite movie and then tell her we are going outside for a walk, she will run to the door and wait without even looking back at her movie. She loves it! Let's put down the electronics and spend more time doing quality things with our children, even if it's just a board game of some kind. They will remember even playing a board game together much longer, faster and with more fondness than watching a movie together, I promise. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We Should Support Our Fellow Saints

Today I read 1 Corinthians 16 where Paul basically ends his epistle to the Saints and tells them to be good and to do all things in charity. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about how the world views Latter-day Saints and how we view each other. The world, even if they don't realize it, holds Latter-day Saints to a much higher standard than others, which in my opinion is a compliment. Think about it, if someone commits a crime, on the news they don't tell you what religion that person is, unless it's a Latter-day Saint. Why is that I wonder?

I think it is because people have come to expect a certain behavior from Latter-day Saints and it shocks them when LDS members deviate from that behavior. Also, I think it has to do with the natural man. Think about it. When is the last time you found someone that, at least in your eyes, was perfect? What happened when that person made a mistake? Did you think how awful that such a one goofed? Or did you cheer and pump your fists and say, "Take that, goody two shoes!"? I'll wager at least 99% of us would be in the latter group. This is because when we see someone who is better than us, in whatever aspect, it reminds us of our shortcomings and we don't like it. So when those who are not LDS see a Latter-day Saint goof up, it makes them feel better about themselves. They don't feel quite as flawed because this other perfect person, it turns out is no so perfect. That is the natural man.

It is a humbling thought to know that I am always on display for others to watch. People notice that I don't swear. That I don't tell inappropriate jokes. That I am nice to everyone and that I rarely if ever lose my temper. And so when I do slip up and goof, people notice, big time. I have been greatly ashamed to hear someone exclaim that they never would have thought to hear something like that leave my mouth. That is one of the worst things for me to hear and thankfully I don't hear it all that often because I get a little better each day. But mistakes do happen. Now, if we are held to such a standard by those not of our faith, how do we hold each other?

I would say perhaps even higher. Latter-day Saints seem to forget that we are human and prone to make mistakes. We forget that we all sin and we all fall short of the mark. Some of us sin in more public ways than others. For example, someone who has a problem with smoking is going to stand out a lot faster than someone who views pornography. You can't really hide the smell of cigarette smoke. However, even if we are not committing the big sins, we are all falling short of the mark and we should be each other's support group. Instead what I usually see is gossip, turning away and outright hostility. Why do we turn our back on those who arguably need our help the most?

When we become aware of a fellow Latter-day Saint's shortcomings and their need for increased help, we should be the first ones there to offer support and to encourage professional help if needed. We should not be rushing off to tell our best friend what Sister So-and-So did. Or what Brother You know Who said. We should be their friend and should stand by them in their time of infirmity. Just like we would if their were physically ill. We are all spiritually sick because we all have our challenges. Even President Monson sins from time to time and has need of repentance. Only Jesus Christ was perfect in this life. Everyone else has need of repentance.

We should all strive to be our fellow Saints greatest support group no matter what their trial is. Even if it is of their own making. It is not for us to judge. Our lot is to support, love and forgive. Isn't that what you would want if your biggest sin was revealed? I sure would. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Resurrection of the Dead

Today I read 1 Corinthians 15, which is a bit of a conundrum. There are several good things to talk about in this chapter and it's hard to narrow down what would be most beneficial for me to write about today. I will try and cover everything and we will see how it goes. The first thing I was impressed with is Paul tells them that he knows some of the people do not believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. This reminds me a lot of the argument that some people try and make that they think Jesus Christ was a great teacher but He was not the Son of God. Whenever I hear such a nonsensical statement I just smile and shake my head. I am reminded of what C. S. Lewis once said about it. I will not be doing a direct quote but will paraphrase. C. S. Lewis stated that it is impossible to view Jesus Christ as a great teacher but not the Son of God. It's really not possible. Jesus purposefully took that option away from us.

The reason is because Jesus claimed, multiple times that He was the Son of God. If this is true, then there is nothing wrong. However, if Jesus was not the Son of God, then He was a blasphemer of the worst sort, or perhaps mentally ill. We can only take Jesus at His word that He was what He said He was, the literal Son of God on earth, or He was a deplorable, despicable human being that should be shunned and everything He ever taught would have to be discounted. He was either for God, or for Satan. Those are the only 2 possibilities He left us with, on purpose I believe. I am quite confident that He purposefully did not leave it open that He was a great teacher but not the Son of God.

Likewise if we doubt His rising from the dead, then like Paul says our faith is in vain and it is all for nothing. Because if He did not rise from the dead, then neither will we and this whole life is pointless. I once lived with a missionary, he was not my companion but we lived in the same apartment for about 3 months. He was very logical about most things and he and I once got to talking about atheists. He told me the next time I met one that I should ask them what drives them to get out of bed in the morning. At first I just laughed and shrugged it off, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was right. If you do not have a hope in a future life after this one, then what is the point of this life at all? If this is all we get, how can anyone justify getting out of bed at all with the chance for death all around us? What drives people to do that which is good if not the hope for a better life after this one or love of God, or even fear of eternal punishment? Such people that don't believe in a better life or even another one whether it is better or not, I have no idea what motivates them to do anything. it is a mystery.

This chapter also contains Paul's famous question to the Saints in Corinth that doubt the resurrection in verse 29 where he asks them why do they perform baptisms for the dead if the dead rise not at all? He is using something that was common to the time and understood and accepted that needed no explaining because everyone knew what it was. It would kind of be like me giving an example using airplanes. I would feel no need to explain what an airplane is because they are so commonplace that everyone over 4 years of age knows what they are. But in 200 years if someone read my words they might not understand them because they might not still be using airplanes. But the early Saints did baptisms for the dead. Which means that they did proxy work for those who had passed on without a chance to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ for themselves, just as we do in this day and age in our temples. Non-members frequently want to know what we do in our temples that is so secretive. We are not shy about what goes on in our temples, but it is very sacred so we choose only to talk about it in certain ways.

I have mentioned in the past that in the temples we perform sacred ordinances for those who have passed on and for ourselves. This does in fact include baptisms for those who are deceased and have not had an opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel if they had been allowed to tarry and hear the Gospel in this life. It is more evidence of a loving and merciful God in my opinion.

The last part of the chapter that I like is the reference to the various types of bodies that we can have in the resurrection. Paul does not go into detail, but he does mention that there are more than just one type of resurrected body that we can receive in the next life. As a matter of fact, I am not sure how it works, but there are 3 different types of glory that we can inherit, so perhaps there are 3 different types of bodies we can receive too, I truly don't know. I do know that not all resurrected beings will receive the same reward though. And that is only fair, because not everyone lives the same kind of life. I am extremely uncomfortable with some kinds of people in this life and I can't imagine spending eternity with them at all. That, to me, would be hell. But that does not mean they are bad people. We just don't see eye to eye on most things and so I find them annoying or downright offensive. I am extremely grateful that there are multiple degrees of glory that we can inherit and that God has provided for almost all possible scenarios.

God is perfect and has prepared the perfect plan. We need to have faith in that and trust in Him that He will do right by us. He has not a hint of deception in Him. He is open with us and has told us all about His plan through His prophets and has made it perfectly clear to us what will happen to us after this life. All we have to do is read His words that He has provided to us and trust them. If we do that, then we have the potential to inherit any kind of life we want after this one. God loves us and has provided a place for each one of us according to our desires. He truly is merciful. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Gift of Tongues

Today I read 1 Corinthians 14 which is mostly about the gift of speaking in tongues. Now, having served a mission, I have come to realize that there are at least two, if not more, manifestations of the gift of speaking in tongues. There is the gift of learning new languages that most missionaries called to speak a foreign language are blessed with, and then there is the gift of speaking spontaneously in an unfamiliar language, which is what Paul addresses here. In the Latter-day Saint community, you almost never hear of the latter happening anymore.

In the early days of the Church, you used to hear about people speaking in unfamiliar languages all the time. I believe it was Brigham Young who once stood up to say a prayer and it came out in what Joseph later declared was the Adamic language, or the pure language of Adam and Eve. There are lots of stories from the days of Joseph Smith where people spoke in languages unknown to them. Paul teaches in this chapter that when such an occurrence happens, it is to glorify and edify God, because it does nothing for the speaker or the hearers because they cannot understand it. If such gifts come without the interpretation of tongues, then it is only to edify God.

And truly, Paul is right. What good would speaking in a foreign language be if no one, not even the speaker, could understand what he is saying? You might be able to feel the Spirit, but you would have no idea why because you would not be able to understand what you are saying without the interpretation of it. And this is perhaps the greatest reason you don't hear about this happening anymore in the church, I would imagine. They might help build faith a little bit, but Paul teaches they are more for those who are outside of the faith as opposed to those who are already baptized.

Now, the much more common aspect of the gift of tongues would be what thousands of missionaries discover every year. The Lord helps them to learn new languages quickly. I have always found it easier than some to learn a new language, but I will freely admit that the Lord helped me to learn my mission language of Mandarin Chinese at a much faster rate than I ever would have alone. It would have been almost impossible for me to have picked it up as fast and quickly as I did without His help. I know this because every single time someone wants to learn how to say something in Chinese, they cannot pronounce the sounds correctly. They just can't do it. It is very, very hard for a speaker of a Western language, like English, to get used to speaking the sounds in Chinese. I saw missionary after missionary pick it up like they were a blank slate and learn to say those same sounds with ease. That is gift of tongues in my opinion.

And unlike the random speaking in a foreign language, the gift of tongues as evidenced in missionaries, is given to edify both the Saints and those not of the LDS faith alike. I can't tell you the number of times I got into a house just because I was a white man speaking Chinese, with some degree of fluency. What usually impressed them was my lack of an accent. There was a couple of times when I would speak and they couldn't see me, such as on a phone call, that they thought I was from China or Taiwan. Those instances always made me feel really good!

So the gift of tongues has not gone away, it has changed to better suit the needs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. It is manifested to thousands upon thousands of missionaries each and every year, month, week perhaps even day! And they use it in the work of the Master furthering the work and allowing everyone to hear the Gospel in their own tongue. Truly it is a wonderful thing to be given the gift of tongues to help those who have not yet heard the Gospel to hear it in their own language. Heavenly Father loves all His people very much and wants them all to have an opportunity to fully understand His Gospel. He really is no respecter of persons. Until tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paul Teaches about Charity

Today I read 1 Corinthians 13, which most people know because it is the commonly quoted verse of scripture in the Bible at weddings. This chapter has to do with charity. What Paul says about charity is very similar to what Moroni had to say about Charity a few hundred years later in the Book of Mormon. Charity is the pure love of Christ, the ultimate form of love for those around us. Charity is unconditional love, the kind of love a parent has for their child. The kind of love a baby has for their parents. The kind of love we strive to have for our spouse in this life but few manage to achieve.

Paul teaches that charity is kind. Charity is the love that we have for our fellow man that causes our hearts to go out to our fellow man when we see them suffering. Charity is the love that we have for those around us when we are in the "giving" spirit around Christmas time. Charity is kind because when we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, we will want to give service to one another. It is a natural part of the feeling, as natural as falling into water makes you wet! You cannot help but want to help those around you, even if you don't know them, if you are filled with charity.

Charity envieth not. I remember when my wife and I first got married, she was very competitive. Well, she's still very competitive but not towards me anymore. When we would play a game together I would root for her to win because it was more important to her than it was to me. At first, I think she found it a little annoying. But over time, she has become much less competitive with me which is wonderful. Now, most people will probably think this story has more to do with pride and humility, but I think it fits here too. Envy is the feeling of wanting what others have. In the world of competition, we call this being a sore loser. The sore loser is very upset that they lost and all they want in the world is to have the victory the winner has. To me that is envy. But the opposite of that, when you are genuinely happy that your friend, family member or competitor has gained a great victory, then you are a better person for it. You are filled with charity. Charity is humble and desires to lift up those around them. It does not desire what it does not have, but is content with its lot in life.

Now, that is not to say that the desire to succeed is bad. I think that envy is more characterized by the desire taking over you so that it consumes you and it is all you think about and desire to have. You would even take it from someone else if that is the only way you could get it. King David had envy when he saw Bathsheba bathing. The Gadianton Robbers from the Book of Mormon during the days before the Savior visited them had envy of the government seat. Envy is bad because if it gets out of hand, it can limit our agency, just like an addiction. And this is not conducive to the Spirit and so cannot be part of Charity.

Charity is not easily provoked. This is because charity is humble. Pride is the reason that when someone insults us our blood boils and our adrenaline rises and we feel the urge to strike something. Pride it the reason we cannot let harsh words go unanswered. Pride is the reason that we think that we need to express our displeasure when someone cuts us off while driving. If we have charity, then we are humble and don't desire to put ourselves upon a pedestal above others and so there is no place to fall if someone tries to insult us or provoke us. If we have charity we will be more saddened by someone who does this to us than upset by it. We will desire to help that person overcome these feelings and emotions that are causing them to react this way.

Charity does not behave itself unseemly. This is because, again, charity is the pure love of Christ and we will only have it if we are behaving in such a way that the Spirit can be our constant companion. While this attribute on the surface may seem a little odd, to me it is actually one of the most straightforward ones of all. Going hand in hand with this one, for the same reason, is that charity rejoiceth not in iniquity. For the same reason, we cannot have the Spirit of the Lord if we do not do what is right. We have to make sure we are obeying the will of God to ensure that we have His Spirit with us always.

Each one of us should strive to have charity. If we successfully achieve this goal, then we will be well on our path to exaltation and becoming more like God is. I can only imagine what a world where everyone had charity would be like. What a wonderful place that would be! Until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

God's Church has Apostles and Prophets

Today I read 1 Corinthians 12 which is mainly about Gifts of the Spirit. Paul talks about them and how we cannot all have all the gifts of the Spirit, but rather the gifts work in harmony and that if we did not have them all we would not be able to function properly. He does this by comparing the Church of God to the body. He talks about how the body is not whole without all of its parts and so likewise is the church not complete without all the gifts of the Spirit.

Paul also talks about how in the Church of God there are Apostles and Prophets. Yet another instance where it is clear as clear can be in the Bible. I wonder how people can rationalize away the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church with Apostles and Prophets, at least that I am aware. But Paul states that the Church of Christ will have these offices and that they are necessary. It just is very interesting to me how so many people seem to just ignore the parts of the Bible that they are not interested in or do not want to believe in, so they just flat out ignore it, or make rationalizations as to why it does not apply to them. But again, if God is no respecter of persons, how are they different than anybody else? They need to listen to the Spirit and do as it directs them just as much as I do. They need to understand that God does not change, not yesterday, not today or tomorrow. Anytime it looks like He has, it is actually His people that have changed, like we stated before. We have to do what is right and become the best people we can be. As we make those changes, we will become better men and women and will become more like He is. And that, as we have said dozens of times before, is our ultimate goal. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Men and Women are Incomplete Without Each Other

Today I read 1 Corinthians 11, a chapter where Paul spends the first part of it talking about the appropriate way to cover or keep one's head uncovered. It is quite interesting to me how the culture of the time when Paul was writing this was the same as it is today, that it is impolite for men to cover their heads while praying. This seems to have been a common aspect of most cultures that I know of.

This chapter also talks quite a bit about the nature of the relationship between women and men. I had a friend whose father used to be a Catholic Cardinal I believe he was. Then one day he was reading this chapter and read verse 11 and got to thinking about it's meaning and how man is not complete without the woman in God's sight. He thought about how he was not allowed to marry in his current religion and so he quit. He then got married and one day the Latter-day Saint missionaries knocked on his door. At first he had no interest in them at all until he learned that they were completely unpaid for their proselyting. He was eventually baptized and has been a faithful member ever since. I knew his son when we were both missionaries together. I was very impressed that this verse could so touch someone that they quit their faith and determined that it was incorrect because it was not compatible with what he was reading in the Bible.

I have often wondered just what it is that a woman gains out of a relationship with a man. Most men when they get married will marry a woman who will help uplift them and help them be better than they currently are. Women push their husbands, and sometimes boyfriends, to be better men than they were before they met them. They will help them be cleaner, more goal oriented, eat healthier, be better parents and other things. Women can help uplift men and make them better.

But what is it that a woman gains from being in a relationship with a man? I know my wife loves my company and when she's had a rough day her favorite thing to do is to curl up on the couch and lean against my chest with my arm around her shoulders. But aside from giving her comfort, I am not sure if I have added anything to my wife's life. I set an example to her by reading my scriptures everyday and writing this blog, but she could get that from other places too. So what does she get from me that she cannot get other places, besides children and physical intimacy? I honestly don't know. I think I will ask her and see what she says. I firmly believe that neither of us are complete without the other and that we need to be sealed in the temple and working towards becoming one flesh to be exalted one day, but am I actively adding to her life right now? I'm not so sure.

Perhaps that is on me more than it is upon her. Perhaps I should be actively examining my life and looking for ways to better and improve my wife's life. Perhaps I should be suggesting more often that we turn off the TV and the electronics except for maybe some nice music and just talk more often or spend time enriching our minds by reading a good book together and discussing it? I'm sure she would be receptive and it would push me even further to better myself. Perhaps my discussion with her will shed some light on the subject but I do know one thing for sure. Paul was exactly right when he stated that we are incomplete without each other. I would not be where I am today without my wife, and that's a good thing! Until tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

We Will Not Be Tempted Above what We are Able to Resist

Today I read 1 Corinthians 10, a chapter I have been familiar with for over half my life if not more so. This is because it has one of my favorite and most comforting verses in all of the Gospel in it. This is verse 13. As all mankind does, I have a sin that has plagued me most of my life and is impossible to overcome on my own. Everyone has such a sin, we know this from Ether 12:27. For some it is overeating, for others it is a bad temper. Others are temped by alcohol or tobacco, still others cannot follow the Law of Chastity. Everyone has a weakness given to them by God to humble them so that they will seek Him out and He can help them progress.

I have long taken comfort in verse 13 of 1 Corinthians 10 because Paul teaches us that God will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear but will prepare us a way out of the temptation. This is so wonderful! This means that no matter how badly things get, you can handle it! It may not feel like it, and you may need to involve Heavenly Father in your fight against this sin, but ultimately, you can defeat it with His help and you are not a slave to your flesh. This is great news to all of us, because as I stated above, we all have sins that plague us and keep us from fulfilling our callings and covenants.

As society has become more and more afraid of offending people and conversely become more and more accepting of wrong behavior, I have thought long and hard on the nature of man and his/her predisposition to do that which is wrong. In particular I have watched and read much on the subject of homosexuality. I utterly reject the notion of a man being born inside a woman's body or a woman being born in a man's body by mistake. First of all, God does not make mistakes. But perhaps just as importantly, this is false doctrine put out there by Satan and his followers to carefully lull the unwary down to hell. We know from revealed doctrine that we have always been men or women, ever since we were spiritual children of our Heavenly Father. That means that if you were born into this world male, you have always been a man. If you were born a woman, you have always been female. It is that simple. There are no "mistakes".

But what I DO believe because of revealed truth, is that some people are born with the trial of homosexuality and find themselves, perhaps even at a very young age, attracted to the same sex instead of the opposite gender. I believe this very much so, just like I believe there are those who are born with the predisposition to be alcoholics. What is wrong though is acting on these impulses and not doing what is right and following the commandments of God. That is where society has erred. Society is so busy stating that there is nothing wrong with people who choose to live an "alternate" lifestyle and practically tripping over themselves to make them feel accepted that they are ignoring the simple fact that there is a right and a wrong way. There is God's way, and then there is Satan's way. It is that simple.

The Latter-day Saint stance on homosexuality is that all men and woman are children of God no matter what their circumstance or what they have done. We love all men and women and want to help them. However, those who actively practice a homosexual lifestyle are living contrary to the will of God just as much as an alcoholic is or a whoremonger. Sin is sin. God has spelled out very clearly His stance on sin thousands of years ago in the Old Testament. There are not "new" sins out there that are being discovered. Just variations of ones that have been around since the days of Cain. We love those who choose to live a homosexual lifestyle but believe that their actions are contrary to God's will and will never be accepted by God if they practice these sins. That does not mean that they are horrible people or bad people though. That means they are good people who are doing that which is wrong. Much as a 2 year old who has been told not to touch the stove because it will hurt chooses to do it anyway.

Despite being predisposed to a certain sin however, like Paul stated in verse 13 of this chapter, if we so choose, God will assist us in overcoming and it is possible to eventually stop having those desires altogether. We have to choose it though and God will not force us to live the lifestyle He desires us to live. He wishes we would choose His way, because He knows what it will take to be happy and what will bring us the most joy in this life. But as always the choice is ours. If we want to accept it, all we have to do is ask. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sustain Your Leaders

Today I read 1 Corinthians 9. I'm not too sure what Paul is driving at in this chapter. He starts off by declaring his Apostleship and talks about his authority. I can only surmise that some of the Saints have started questioning his authority to preach to them. I have often wondered just why it is that so many Saints over the years seem to call into question the authority of their Priesthood leaders and their "right" if you will to lead them and give them directions. It seems rather silly to me that someone would object to the Lord's anointed giving them direction. But then again, such people are probably not humble enough to take direction from anyone.

I have met several people who put their salvation on the line because they have a problem with the bishop. I have generally found that such people, while it is true they might have a problem personally with the current bishop, the real problem is actually sin on their part. Such people generally are not keeping the commandments in the way they should. If they were, they would not let something like someone else's worthiness, even a priesthood leader, keep them from attending church. It goes back to allowing yourself to be offended. It is a choice, make no mistake about it. I don't really want to go back into the topic of being offended as we just covered that a few weeks ago. However, it is important to point out that every member of the church who has been to the temple for themselves and performed their own saving ordinances has made a covenant to sustain their priesthood leaders, and I don't know about you, but I take my covenants with God very seriously. My advice would be that if you have an issue with your priesthood leader you should take it to God and ask for help. I would also suggest going to the next priesthood leader above him so that you can get help. That is what I would do. I would never put my personal salvation on the line just because I didn't like my bishop!

Now, this also begs the question, what does it mean to sustain your leader? Well, to me it means that we will do as he asks us to do. When he extends a calling to us, we accept it. When he asks us to give service, we do it. We do what we need to do in order to make his job easier and run more smoothly. This also includes doing as those he has called through revelation has asked us to do. When we sustain someone in the ward, that means we are promising to do all that we can to make sure that person succeeds in their calling. I promise you that if you ever have questions about it, your bishop will be more than happy to help you understand it better. But it is that important and we need to make sure that if we raised our arm to the square when asked, then we follow through on that commitment. Because God will hold us to it. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

There are Many Gods, but Only One God for Us

Today I read 1 Corinthians 8, which I must say confused me. In this chapter Paul teaches that there are Gods many and Lords many, but for us there is only 1 God, Heavenly Father. It makes me wonder how people can read the Bible and not have a correct understanding of the nature of God. How can someone read that statement by Paul and not understand that there are many Gods in the universe? How else can one interpret that? Apparently it can be interpreted in quite a variety of ways.

That is why I am thankful for the Book of Mormon and modern revelation to clarify statements in the Bible that someone might not understand or interpret correctly. God loves us and does not want us to be lost in confusion and so has prepared a way for us to know the truth of all things. We have the Gift of the Holy Ghost for those who are confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. It's sole purpose is to convince Jew and Gentile of the divinity of the Savior. It's also there to help clarify the Bible and those obscure verses that might not make very much sense to us. The Book of Mormon is meant to help make sense of what the Bible teaches us and what the Bible has lost over the years.

We also have the Doctrine and Covenants and modern revelations to let us know even more. Joseph Smith taught us that God is an exalted man and that as man is God once was and as God is man can become. That helps clarify what Paul means and helps us understand how there can be many Gods. It also helps us know that despite there being many Gods, there is only one God for us. Heavenly Father is always our Father. I suppose that people could misinterpret what Paul is saying by stating that he is referring to false gods and idols. However, I think that is a mistake. I think he is stating that we should not make idols to anyone, but in addition, there are many Gods in heaven. And he is referring to those who have attained a celestial glory.

The rest of the chapter Paul talks again about eating meat and not offending our brethren. I have a friend that chose to not eat meat because she did not like the idea of an animal suffering to be her food. While I do not agree with her sentiments, I understand where she is coming from and she never once tried to get other people to see her point of view other than humbly explaining what she thought and what she felt. She never once told anyone that they were out of line for eating meat or that they should refrain from doing so. I have had other friends that also chose not to eat meat and when they would come over to my house for a dinner party I would refrain from having any meat on the table out of respect for them and their desires. I have also had friends that could not process meat, it would cause them to be sick. As Paul says, we will not be exalted by the eating of meat, or the not eating of meat so there is no need to make a mountain out of a mole hill about the eating of meat. Each person must do what is best for their body, just like Heavenly Father says. We should not impose what we think we should refrain from into our bodies. I personally don't drink soda at all because the carbonation hurts my stomach. But I do not condemn other LDS because they choose to drink soda. It is their personal choice and perhaps carbon dioxide does not hurt them the way it does me.

We have talked about this topic quite extensively during the past few weeks so there really is no need to continue on about it. It is just interesting to me that so many people in so many generations have had a problem with it and it is has been a stumbling block for so many. That is very interesting to me. And that is all I will say on it. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wives and Husbands

Today I read 1 Corinthians 7, which probably has confused the Christian world more than any other chapter Paul wrote. And I'll be honest, I don't really understand what Paul is trying to say either. Paul certainly understands the doctrine of the church and he almost undoubtedly understands that in order to become like God is, we have to be married for time and eternity. And yet Paul's language in this chapter leads most people, including me, to think that what he is saying is that the best thing to do is to remain single. This is what has led to the Catholic order of nuns, monks and priesthood all being single and celibate. Now, I commend those who, while unmarried remain celibate, it is a hard thing to do, especially in this day and age.

And yet, like I said before, Paul must have understood the doctrine of Christ and that we have to be married in the temple for time and eternity to inherit all that God has. Now, some of what Paul says here in this chapter I do agree with. For example Paul states that the husband, or wife, should not put away the wife, or husband. I agree with this statement. Now, the Church of Latter-day Saints allows people to be divorced in certain situations, it is not forbidden. However, in order for someone who has been married in the temple to have that sealing annulled, it has to be approved by a member of the First Presidency. It's sad that spouses can't be more faithful to one another. When my wife and I were married, we made a promise to one another that no matter how bad things got, we would not even consider divorce. It was not even an option to us and it has made a huge difference in our marriage. I think if more people went into their marriage with that intention, then there would be a lot less divorce in this world and people would take their marriage vows more seriously.

Sadly, there are those that I am sure have taken Paul's words and twisted them to their own desires. For example, Paul says that the wife's body is not her own but her husband's. And likewise the husband's body is not his own, but his wife's. Now, I believe that Paul is trying to let us know that as a husband or a wife, our main desire should be to please our spouse. However, I could easily see how because of this verse, a wife or a husband would try and dominate their spouse in very inappropriate ways. However, we know that husbands and wives are partners and one is not ahead of the other but should walk, hand in hand, side by side. As we partner with the Lord and become one flesh with our spouse, we will gradually become better people and be able to help each other become like God is.

It is a wonderful thing to be married and it saddens me that more marriages are not happy and that too many people are not putting the happiness of their spouse ahead of their own. Of course, if we all did that with everyone we met, there would be no crime and no one would purposefully hurt one another. What a world that would be? We will find out when the Millennium arrives. Then we will not have to worry about sin and about other people doing the things that are wrong. It will be a time of piece and happiness and we will be able to spend our time doing the work of the Lord. I look forward to those days. Hopefully I will live to see those days. Time will tell. Until tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Forgive and Forget

Today I read 1 Corinthians 6. I found this chapter very interesting. Paul is telling the Saints in this chapter to view each other as brothers, to not take each other to the law but to settle disputes between themselves. It is a sad thing when brothers and sisters cannot forgive one another and move on. It's a toss up for me as far as which one is more sad, that fellow Saints will treat one another in such a fashion, or that after they are treated so poorly they will not forgive one another. I have a very hard time understanding this because I was blessed with the gift to forgive others. I have never been able to hold a grudge about anything, no matter how hard I have tried at times. I will always forgive those who treat me poorly, give me a day, sometimes a little longer, and I will be ok.

But I have met those who seem unable to forgive and it eats them up inside and it is horrible to watch. I had a friend once call me up in the middle of the night. I don't remember why he called, but I remember that eventually the conversation turned to a period in our lives when we lived together and things had not gone well. We had a really rough time, not with each other, but just our circumstances at the time were not ideal. We were treated poorly by those around us and we did not have a lot of money so from time to time we went hungry. I had long since gotten over it and chalked it up to live and learn. But that night it was clear to me that my friend had not gotten past it despite it being 2-3 years since those events occurred. I am not usually a forceful person, but that night I was a little harsh in what I said to my friend. I told him that he needed to let it go. Yes it was horrible that we had to go through that. Yes we were mistreated by some, but there were wonderful experiences during those years too. I told him he needed to move on and take the lessons he had learned from those years but forgive those who had made them necessary.

Luckily for my friend, he took my advice and is a much better person today because of it. But I have seen the other side of things, where people could not let it go and it ate them away inside and they turned away from the Gospel and wanted nothing to do with the church. They even went as far as to blame God for their misfortune. As if God was causing people to behave so poorly! I hate the question, "why do bad things happen to good people". I have talked about this before. People who say such things do not understand the plan of salvation. If we have faith in God's plan, then we understand that everything that happens to us is for our benefit. Bad things are going to happen, but when they do, we must turn to Him to help us through them.

Such people may even need help forgiving those who did them wrong. They may even need help forgiving Heavenly Father, at least in their own mind. Perhaps forgiveness is the wrong word, I would say understanding is the better choice. God has a plan for each one of us and our growth and development is part of that plan. In my opinion God has done nothing to us worthy of forgiveness because He knows what will be of the most benefit to us. If we will be humble and submit our will to Him, then we will slowly, but surely become as He is and become a little more perfect.

There was another part of the chapter I really liked. In verse 13 Paul tells the Saints at Corinth that the body is not for fornication but it is God's. I found that very interesting. Most people who do things like have sex outside of marriage, or drink alcohol or take illegal drugs fool themselves by saying that it's their life and it's not hurting anyone except themselves. However, Paul is telling us here that our bodies are not ours at all, but we belong to God. That, to me, means that we cannot just do as we like with them. But rather we need to respect the wishes of the one whose it is. If we were to borrow someone's belongings we would not just treat it without respect, but rather we would treat it with respect and try and return it in as good a condition as we received it. So we should treat our bodies. Since they belong to God, we need to make sure that we are treating them with respect and not abusing them in any way at all. I will be honest that I had never thought of it like this before, but it is a beautiful sentiment. As we learn to treat our bodies with the respect they deserve, we will find that we want to treat them that way. That it is not a burden but a pleasure to obey the commandments. That is where I want to be. That is my goal, hopefully it is yours too. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Choosing Friends with Care

Today I read 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul urges the saints to associate not with those who are not living the commandments. He says it much more eloquently than I do, but that is the gist of what he is saying to the Saints. He tells them that we must cast out the old leaven to make way for new leaven and not to company with fornicators. I have often wondered about this very thing and what is prudent for a good Latter-day Saint as far as friends are concerned.

The fact of the matter is, unless you live in Idaho, Utah, or certain parts of Arizona the majority of your options for friends are going to be those who are not Latter-day Saints. So it begs the question, given Paul's counsel, do we make friends with those who are not of our faith? I say yes, undoubtedly. Paul is not saying do not be friends with those who are of another faith, he is saying do not keep company with those who are fornicators. In other words, do not associate with those who are not keeping the commandments. There are plenty of people in this world that are not Latter-day Saints that are wonderful people and are living the Gospel of Jesus Christ the best they know how. And to be associated with such good people is a very good thing. They make it easier to live the Gospel and uplift you when you are down.

I have always tried to use the measuring stick of, can I feel the Spirit when I am around this person? If the answer is yes, then it is fine. But if the answer is no, then it is probably best to not associate with that person any longer. Now, even friends who you can feel the Spirit around may not live the Gospel 100% of the time. In such circumstances, I have always made known what I would and would not tolerate in my presence and allowed them to make their own choices. But such a relationship also begs the question of if those friends are doing things that are against the Gospel too often, do you continue your association? There is the argument that you can uplift them and bring them closer to Christ, but there is also the old adage that one bad apple spoils the bunch. But just because people are doing things that aren't necessarily in accordance with the Gospel, I don't think association should just be discontinued.

I think Heavenly Father wants us to be a good example to those around us and to make sure that we are standing up for what is right. I do think that anyone we cannot feel the Spirit around should be associated with, but otherwise, part of the 3 fold mission of the church is to spread the Gospel so I see no reason why we can't be friends with those not of our faith as long as we are still living up to our covenants and doing what we know we should be doing. If we need more guidance than that, Heavenly Father is always available to talk to and is more than willing to help us out. Be an example of a believer of the word and you will be able to help many people and show what a good Christian is capable of. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Despised for His Sake

Today I read 1 Corinthians 4 and I'll be completely honest, I didn't get a whole lot out of it. About the only thing I took away from my reading today is Paul is telling the Saints that the Apostles are despised of men because of their testimony of Christ. I have often wondered why religion seems to make perfectly reasonable people behave so erratically. Religion is one of those things that causes strife, contention and wars. It's so sad that the good news of the Gospel, which is designed to uplift the poor in spirit and comfort the afflicted causes men and women to behave so poorly.

I remember as a missionary how people would react to me. Most were polite and friendly, but I had several instances where people treated me quite poorly. For example I once had a person throw their can of beer at my head as I was biking along. I hadn't even said anything to the person and they threw it at me. By the trajectory of the can, it was not empty either. A person would rather waste a portion of their beer by trying to hit me with it than drink it. That's crazy. I had people turn their dogs loose on me, insult me and swear at me. I was literally hated by some people. And they knew absolutely nothing about me beyond the fact that I was a Latter-day Saint missionary. They were treating me that poorly based on that assumption alone.

Like the Apostles of old, I was being mistreated because I represented Jesus Christ. It is as simple as that. And we can't help it if that is how people treat us in this life. All we can control is how we respond to those people who treat us poorly. But that's how it is with any situation in life, we can only control our own actions, we cannot control the actions of others. As representatives of Jesus Christ and His church, through our baptismal covenant, we are to behave in such a way that Jesus Christ can be proud of us no matter what. We must not rise to the bait that others place before us when they want to argue about scriptures and want to prove us wrong. We must behave in the manner that Jesus Christ Himself would if He were here. Our garments must remain spotless as it were. Until tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Our Body is a Temple

Today I read 1 Corinthians 3, a very well known chapter for it's verses 16 and 17 where Paul declares that we are the temple of God. As a Latter-day Saint, it is not uncommon for our beliefs to clash with those of the world and for us to receive questioning looks from those who differ from our beliefs. Most often the things that get me the most questions about being a Latter-day Saint involve the Word of Wisdom, and our stance on the body, namely tattoos and piercings.

The Word of Wisdom, it seems every culture has their own vice when it comes to the Word of Wisdom and so depending on who you talk to, you get a different response. I know that having served a mission where I worked with the Chinese people, the big hang up was tea. In America, it's coffee, alcohol, possibly cigarettes and if you are in the South, tea. Living in Alabama I have co-workers that break every don't on the Word of Wisdom on a regular basis. I will never understand why people want to drink alcohol, I just don't understand it at all. The tea I can understand, it has a pleasant smell to me. The coffee, it makes sense, they want the caffeine to help them stay awake. Even the cigarettes make sense to me. But alcohol, I have never understood it in the slightest. I mean, if you drink too much of it you throw up. It takes the salt out of your body and dehydrates you giving you a "hang over" the next day. It makes you do things you regret when you sober up. It makes you say things that you normally wouldn't. I mean, what's the draw? Where is the upside to drinking? I just don't see it.

There are so many ways to talk about our bodies being a temple. I could talk about the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Chastity, appropriate language, all of it fits. However, I think I will focus on keeping our appearance clean and orderly. Another fad I have never understood is that of piercing your body and getting tattoos. I like a nice pair of earrings on a girl, I really do. But when people start getting their bodies pierced in weird places, it is just bizarre and a HUGE turn off for most Latter-day Saints. For one thing it hurts. Ask anyone who got their nose, not the nostril but the bridge, pierced. Ask them how awesome it was the first time they sneezed or had to blow their nose. It just makes no sense to me. I know I keep saying that, but I really can't understand why people do it. It started out, so I understand, from a desire to be different. I don't know why it continues however because now people who do it are typecast into one lump of people. And truly most of them fit quite nicely in there.

The other aspect I have never understood are tattoos. I get that it's art to these people, but the skin is not an appropriate medium for any art. It changes. Let's say for the sake of argument that you stay the same size your entire life and so the tattoo does not stretch or sag because you never got bigger or smaller, laughable I know, but for the sake of argument let's go with it. Your skin is still going to sag when you get older and it will look ridiculous! I cannot think of one good reason to get a tattoo, not one. It's painful to get. Most of them do not add anything to the appearance of the individual. In my opinion most of them are pointless anyway. Some I have seen are quite intricate and honestly pretty neat to look at. But it is still inappropriate to deface the body like that. These artists would be much better appreciated by putting their work down on canvas and being appreciated for their art in my opinion.

I have often wondered if the reason young Latter-day Saints sometimes get a tattoo is because everyone around them is doing it, the peer pressure aspect, or if it is because they don't understand the principle behind keeping our bodies clean, inside and outside. I think it's a little of both. Although I have never understood the point of peer pressure and if your friends were true friends once you explain to them why you don't want to do something, they would back you up on it. But that is a completely different conversation entirely. As for the other reason, the lack of understanding about why we should not get tattoos in the first place, I have always liked the argument of our bodies are a temple and we would never spray paint the temple walls. It's a wonderful analogy and, at least for me, puts it into perspective. If our bodies are a temple, we need to treat them like the temples of the earth.

You would never deface a temple. At least I hope not and if you would then you have much bigger problems! We need to treat our bodies with the same reverence that we would treat the temple itself with. The temple is the most holy building on earth and so our bodies should be as holy as we can make them too. We should not defile them and should not do anything to make Heavenly Father disapprove of how we are treating our bodies, inside and out. Respect for ourselves starts with how we treat our bodies. We cannot have the Spirit with us if we do not respect our own bodies and don't treat them the way Heavenly Father wishes us to. It is possible to have the Spirit as your companion with a tattoo, but as with anything else, it can be more difficult to keep the Spirit around us when we do not follow the commandments as strictly as we should. And do you really want to take that chance that the Spirit will not be there to help when we need Him the most? I sure don't. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Understanding the Things of God

Today I read 1 Corinthians 2. This chapter mainly consists of Paul talking about how if we want to understand the things of God, we have to be spiritually minded. Paul teaches that no man can know the things of God except he has the spirit of God. This is because, like we have talked about many times before, the natural man is an enemy to God and all things spiritual. I have wondered before why some people seem to have a propensity for things of the spirit and will humble themselves rather than be compelled to be humble. I am quite confident that it has something to do with how we behaved ourselves in the pre-earth life and how obedient we were to the commandments of God.

The majority of people fall into the category of needing to be compelled to be humble. We have to have something bad happen to us to shake us up. Like September 11, 2001, that really got the nation to come together and to turn to God. It put everything on hold for over a week, even sports! But within a month, the majority of the nation had forgotten about God again, attendance at churches across the nation started to dwindle again and people only focused on the outrage part. There were a few that it was enough of a wake up call that they truly did humble themselves and turned to God. And there were those who were already humble of their own accord who turned to God more completely. But it is a sad fact throughout history and the scriptures that only times of calamity cause people to turn to God. When things are going well, most people forget about God and don't give Him much thought at all. It's human nature for most. But when we have truly humbled ourselves and had a change of heart like Alma says, then we become a changed creature. And like Paul says in this chapter, if we want to understand the things of God, we have to have that change of heart and have the spirit of the Lord to be with us.

Ultimately, like everything else pretty much, if we want to better understand the things of the Spirit, then we have to allow the Spirit to change who we are and become a better man/woman. It's ultimately up to us and what we want out of life, both this one and the next one. If we are fine with the terrestrial kingdom and being separated from our family then we only need to perform the ordinances necessary for that kingdom and don't need to keep changing. However, if our goal is to be an eternal family and become like God is, then we need to start that process now, without delay and live the kind of life that God would live if He were on the earth to the best of our ability. God is merciful, He will grant us our desires, even if we don't realize that those are our desires. We need to be sure of what we want and that we are working towards getting those desires. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Parents and Priesthood Ordinances

Today I read 1 Corinthians 1. The Saints in Corinth had a lot of problems if what Paul teaches them in the 2 epistles that we have a record of are any indicator. Paul starts out chastising them because they are dividing themselves up based on who baptized them. They are more concerned with who performed their baptism than with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is understandably disgusted with this type of behavior and admits that he is glad that he only baptized one family and that is it lest people use his name for such foolishness.

Such a thing seems silly to us and yet, several Latter-day Saints do the exact same thing. I had a mission companion that grew up in the same home ward as Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. My friend told me that everyone who had any ordinance coming up would ask Elder Maxwell to perform it for them. For awhile he agreed but then it became overwhelming and a little ridiculous. My mission companion said that Elder Maxwell finally had to remind the ward that the Priesthood is the same no matter what office you hold. A baptism is just as valid if done by a priest as if done by an Apostle. A baby blessing was the right of the father if available and so forth. It is no different who does the performance of the ordinance as long as that man honors his priesthood and many fathers were passing up the opportunities for sacred moments with their children to have it done by an Apostle. There is a difference Elder Maxwell said in a blessing performed by an Apostle, but the Priesthood ordinances are just as valid and just as true when performed by a priest or an elder in the church as when performed by an Apostle.

I will agree that there is a certain novelty about having an Apostle perform certain ordinances but to pass up a sacred opportunity of a righteous father being able to perform the ordinances of salvation if at all possible, to me is unthinkable. I remember I was sad that my father was not a sealer when it was time to get married because I would rather have had him perform my marriage than any other person on earth, including the prophet. It is a shame that more people do not have that relationship with their fathers. I remember Elder Boyd K. Packer's General Conference talk a few years back about a man whose father was perfectly able to perform a priesthood ordination but the son had chosen another to do it until Elder Packer stepped in and insisted that the father perform the ordinance. I suppose children don't realize what it means to a father to be able to perform such ordinances for their children until they become fathers or mothers themselves. Most anyway. I'm sure there are those like me that have the kind of relationship with their father that they want him involved and to perform as many of the ordinances as possible.

It is sad really, to me anyway, that so many children grow up with the influence of a good and righteous father. It's sad that too many people are so selfish that they deny their children the opportunity to grow up in a home with a loving mother and father. Children have the right to be born into a family that will love them and teach them the things they need to know in order to be a good, upstanding, successful individual in the world. And because of lack of self control and selfishness, millions of children are being denied that right. It must be so hard for Heavenly Father to just sit back and watch it happen to His beloved children. I don't know how He does it. I think about my daughter and the thought of anyone hurting my precious little girl just fills me with anger and rage. I would do just about anything to protect her from physical harm and do everything in my power to protect her from emotional and spiritual harm as well. We owe it to our Heavenly Father as well as our earthly children to love them enough to correct them and hurt their feelings in the little ways to prevent true pain with eternal consequences. Children cannot see the road they are walking down because they don't have the experience their parents do. Children, especially teenagers, think their parents just don't get it because the times are different. Parents may not have encountered the exact same situation you do now, but they had something similar to deal with. The principles are the same.

If we do not currently have a good relationship with our parents, we should strive to cultivate one if at all possible. For some of us, it is too late. For others, our parents did too many wrong things and the pain is still very real and the healing power of the Atonement has not yet healed you. To them I say keep working towards it. Keep relying on God and He will help you overcome those feelings. For all of us who had loving parents and WE were the knuckleheads, don't let past mistakes stop you from having the kind of relationship with your parents that you want to have. They will be forgiving in most instances. As we strive to put our lives in order and to cultivate those righteous relationships, God will help us and will uplift us. All we have to do is ask. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Avoid the Spirit of Contention

Today I read Romans 16 where Paul closes his espistle to the Saints in Rome. He spends most of the chapter talking about individuals and sending his greetings to them. His parting words to the Romans were to avoid those who cause disputations among you. This is similar to what Christ told the Nephites when He visited them after He was resurrected. In 3 Nephi 11:29 Jesus taught, "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."

Because of this scripture, I have sometimes wondered if any debate is healthy or if they are all wrong in the sight of God. I have always used the measuring stick of attitude. What is my attitude when debating? Am I calm and collected? Or am I upset and frothing at the mouth, so to speak? I think it normally depends on what is being debated, at least for me. If it is something inconsequential, I can be calm and debate it without passion. When it comes to the scriptures and the church, I have a harder time keeping emotions out of it.

When I was a missionary we were always told to avoid debates about certain scriptures, sometimes colloquially referred to as "bible bashing". At the time I did not really understand why we were urged to avoid this practice. But as I continued to serve in my mission it became apparent that these people had no interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were only trying to convince us "poor deluded missionaries" of the error of our ways. And every time no matter how innocently they started out, they always ended up with the spirit of contention and one or both parties becoming hostile. You cannot help someone feel the Spirit to testify of the truth if they have the spirit of contention in them.

It is almost impossible to convert someone by arguing scriptures with them. For one thing, just like Joseph Smith found out almost 200 years ago, people will interpret the same scripture different ways. So to you it may be plain as the nose on your face, but to someone else, they may not interpret the scripture the same way you are. And to them their interpretation is just as plain and they can't understand why you don't see it. The Spirit is what converts people to the truth, and as we have mentioned it is very hard if not impossible to feel the Spirit of the Lord when arguing.

Now sometimes people will ask you for interpretations of scriptures in earnest and not for the sake of arguing. It is perfectly acceptable to talk scriptures and interpretations with these people and help them feel the Spirit. As we become better at living the Gospel and the Spirit becomes our constant companion, we will know who is being earnest and who desire to contend with us and will be able to act accordingly. The Lord desires us to be good witnesses at all times and to represent Him appropriately. As we do so, we will be an instrument in His hands and be able to do much good in His name. Until tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Choosing the Best Option

Today I read Romans 15 where Paul continues to counsel the Saints to uplift one another and not be a stumbling block to them. Nothing really stood out to me in this chapter. It got me thinking about Paul though and how he fulfilled his duty to God and did all that he was asked to do. I sometimes think about the ancient prophets and Apostles and compare my life to theirs. For example, Alma the Younger was redeemed because he turned his life around and literally spent the remainder of his life atoning for the sins he had committed in his youth. He spent a few years in the judgment seat but afterwards he spent the rest of his life preaching the gospel among his people.

Ammon and his brethren did the same. As did Paul and the other Apostles of Christ after His death and resurrection. And I can't help but compare them to my life and how I spend all my time working and trying to provide for my family. I know the times are different now, but I still feel like I should maybe be spending more time on the things of the Lord than I do. It is so easy to get distracted in this life. That is why the Apostles sometimes will talk about choosing between that which is good and that which is best. The most resent Apostle to talk about it was Elder Dallin H. Oaks. In this world of distractions we are constantly faced with choices on what on what to spend our time on and it won't always be a clear cut decision because we might be choosing between two good things.

When faced with a choice I sometimes will remind myself of what is important based on the eternal perspective. When I die, it does not matter how much money I earned. It does matter if I provided for my family though. It won't matter what position I held or what company I worked for, within reason. It will obviously matter if I worked for a tobacco industry or alcohol or something else that is against the commandments of the Lord, but otherwise God doesn't care where we work generally as long as we are providing for our families. It will however matter if I spent time with my family and taught my children the right way to live. It will matter if I fulfilled my callings and helped in the church to do what is expected of me. When I remember which of these things the Lord is truly concerned about, it becomes easier to make the right choice and to do what is expected of me.

I find that he older I get, the more weight my decisions have. What I mean by that is now that I have children, my decisions and my actions don't just affect me. They will affect my children, maybe even for the rest of their lives and by extension, eternity! If my children see me put off doing my calling or the things of the Lord for selfish reasons, they will remember that and will correctly guess that I don't place much emphasis on the things of God. But, if I rearrange my life to do things for Him and to perform my duties and my callings for the church, they will see that too and will understand that the Lord is first in my life, even above my family. We all know that actions speak louder than words and you can tell your children a million times to do something, but if you don't do it yourself, then you are a hypocrite and your children will pick up on that in a heartbeat. If you are going to talk to the talk, you've got to walk the walk also. The Lord will hold us accountable for the lives we might have influenced if we had been doing what is right. I truly believe that. And you don't want to be in that situation where you might have helped but didn't because your favorite TV show was coming on, I promise you that. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Uplift, do not Judge or Condemn

Today I read Romans 14, which I found to be a very interesting chapter. It was all about not judging people for the choices they make and to not be a stumbling block for one another. In particular he was talking about those who eat meat, and those who do not. I think it is very interesting that even back in the days of Christ there were those who did not eat meat and those that did that tried to convince the other side of the error of their ways.

I do not know how it was in the times of the Romans, but in our day, most people will agree with me I think that vast majority of the people that do the arguing these days are those trying to convince the world that we shouldn't eat meat. I don't hear too many rallies where people are eating steaks talking about how wrong the vegetarians of the world are. I'm sure they are out there, but I don't know of any of them. We have talked about this before, how God created animals for the benefit of man, and that includes consuming their flesh on occasion. There is nothing wrong about it, there is nothing bad about eating meat. There is also nothing wrong with those who choose not to eat meat. There is something wrong with those who judge others because of their dietary choices though, and that is Paul's point.

We are all at various points in the Gospel and in life and it is completely unfair to judge others against ourselves. We do not know the situation of others and so we cannot say to ourselves, well I can do it, why can't they? We do not understand what they are going through and what they might be suffering. Isn't the purpose of the Gospel to help others when they need it? To mourn with those that mourn? To help the needy? Why do we judge those who stand in need instead of just help them as they ask for it? Does it make ourselves feel better to judge and convince ourselves that we are better than somebody else? It shouldn't. We should feel better because we are helping those who need our help and helping each other to grow and become more like the Savior.

We are here to learn to be more like Jesus Christ and we are in family units because we cannot do it alone. It is almost impossible to make it back to our Heavenly Father without someone's help. We all need assistance and we all need emotional support from someone else. We all need a hug from time to time and someone to tell us it is going to be ok. That is why babies deserve to be born into families, they deserve a father and a mother and a loving family that are going to help raise them appropriately and teach them the things they need to know. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is our role to uplift people and to help them be better than they currently are. We are to uplift one another and help each other grown, not become yet another stumbling block for our fellow members. That is what Paul is talking about and that is what the Lord expects from us, to help one another grow and become more Christlike. We should not worry about whether or not other members of the Church are following our own interpretation of the scriptures and the commandments.

The Word of Wisdom is a great example. It is purposefully left open to interpretation beyond what is specifically spelled out. This is because what may be harmful to your body may be perfectly ok for my body. The things that are listed in the Word of Wisdom are harmful for everyone no matter who they are. But some people get it into their heads that they shouldn't do this or that and for them, I am sure it is for the best, but that does not mean it is harmful for others do partake of those things. For example, eating meat, just like Paul spoke about. Just because one person has made the choice to eat meat, does not mean that another person is wrong for choosing to eat meat. We are here to help each other progress. Not serve as police for the ward or even the Bishop. As we strive to become more Christlike, we will find it easier to help those in need and not look down upon those who do not live as we do and will find ourselves wanting to lift them up, not condemn them. It's much nicer to help than to judge and condemn in our minds. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

Today I read Romans 13 which seemed to me to be all about the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. Paul actually said what I have said for years, although I did not know until today he said it too, that all the commandments that have to do with how we interact with others, are really just ways to keep the commandment to love our neighbor. I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if we actually followed this commandment, all of us. What would it feel like to know that no matter who you bumped into, you would be treated like you want to be treated. What a feeling that would be!

I have noticed as I get older, that more and more people are becoming selfish and are adopting the attitude of "what's in it for me?" instead of an attitude of "how can I help my neighbor?". We really need another speech like JFK gave and for someone to ask the country to think what we can do for our country and not what the country can do for us. It's almost inconceivable to me that we would live in a world where people would not want to provide for themselves. How can someone even think along those terms? If I were bedridden tomorrow I would go crazy about the fact that I can't provide for my family. I don't know what I would do. But all across this country there are thousands of people who seem to be content to just let others take care of them and seem to have no remorse over the fact that they not only do not provide for themselves, but don't want to either.

Such thinking is as foreign to me as a serial killer's is. I just can't even force myself to think along the lines those people are thinking. I really don't want to either. In both instances, those people's thought processes are very much in opposition to God. It is contrary to the law of heaven to not provide for yourself if you are able to. The Doctrine and Covenants state that wives, and children, have claim on their husbands and fathers for their support. That to me says that if you are able to and you are not supporting your families, then you are under condemnation from heaven. The Lord wants us to be self-sufficient in all aspects, both physical and spiritual. He does not want us to be reliant on someone else. That is why the Prophets and Apostles for years have been urging us to get out of debt. When we are in debt, we are reliant upon someone else and we are truthfully not our own person. We are as much in bondage as if we were addicted to drugs or pornography.

And if we are in bondage of any kind, we are not free to do the work of heaven. We are not free to help those around us as God wants us to. We are here to learn to overcome our natural man and to help those around us so that we can grow to be more like God. Loving our neighbor is an essential part of that. God loves His neighbor, He loves all of us and desires to help us. If we are going to one day be comfortable in His presence then we need to love our neighbor as well. And it really is a much better alternative than to hate your neighbor. But I guess it's all about what you want out of your life. God has laid it out for us what will make us the most happy. We can either believe Him and follow His plan, or do it our own way and hope for the best. As always the choice is ours. Choose wisely. Until tomorrow.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Natural Man, Natrual or Learned?

Today I read Romans 12. The Gospel is not easy to live and follow. It is not meant to be. At every turn it typically does that which is contrary to the nature of man, or the natural man. It is no surprise to me that God denied the Israelites the opportunity to have the higher law when they weren't even living the basic 10 commandments. The higher law is not easy to live, it requires you to put aside what you want and do as God asks you to do.

Paul tells the Romans in this chapter what the Savior told the Israelites when He was alive. He is re-teaching the Sermon on the Mount. It is not an easy thing to hear for most people. I have sometimes wondered just why the natural man is the way He is. Why is the natural man an enemy to God? Does it have something to do with the way our physical bodies try and take control over our spirits? I mean if someone who was really righteous in the pre-earth life can come to earth and take upon him/herself a mortal body and suddenly just start doing everything that is contrary to the will of God, how does such a thing happen? What is it about a physical body that does not agree with God and His commandments?

I personally think it is more about conditioning as opposed to just being that way. Think about children, they are pretty willing to do as their parents ask and learn very quickly. They might get upset when they want to do something and you don't allow them to, but they get over it pretty quickly. So what changes them? Well, I think it is all about what they are exposed to. Ever since my daughter was born I've watched her growth with interest. And I have learned several things. Probably the most interesting to me is how much she loves and wants to be outside. She doesn't even care what we do outside, she just prefers to be outside as opposed to being inside. I really think that is normal for babies and it is a learned behavior from their parents that staying inside is preferred. Now, my daughter loves to watch her movies and few shows that she likes, but given the choice, she would rather go outside than watch her favorite movie, every time. So that's is part of the reason that I think all the qualities we normally attribute to the natural man are learned instead of being born that way.

Although every child seems to come down to earth with a sense of fairness and justice. That too could be a learned behavior and could be part of the way their parents interact with them, I don't know. I personally see nothing wrong with parents spoiling their children in different ways. I do not buy into the philosophy that every time you do something nice for one child, you need to do something nice for all the children right then and there. Now, you certainly need to spend equal amounts of time with all the children and make sure you are spoiling in equal amounts but it doesn't have to be all at the same time. In fact I personally think it is kinder not to do that. The world is NOT fair and will not cater to a child's sense of justice. It is better to prepare them for it gently as opposed to feeding their false impressions all their early lives and then tossing them to the wolves so to speak when they become adults, unprepared for society and the world. I spend all day every work day dealing with people that fit into that category and it isn't pretty!

If we start young and teach our children correct principles and how to overcome the natural man, then it will be much easier for them in their life. They are going to encounter people who take advantage of them and treat them poorly. They are going to find situations that are not fair in one sense or another and they need to be able to behave properly about it, not like a spoiled child who isn't getting their way. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to change us and it will if we allow it a place in our hearts. And it is a change for the better in every sense. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

God is no Respecter of Persons

Today I read Romans 11 where Paul talks about how God is merciful and allows the Gentiles to partake in His mercy and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It can sometimes seem like, despite what the scriptures say, God IS in fact a respecter of persons. I mean, when Jesus was on the earth, the Gospel was only preached to the Jews, to the point of exclusivity. When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first on the earth, the Priesthood was not allowed to those of African descent. However, we need to remember that we do not know the mind or will of God.

I have talked about the blacks not being able to have the Priesthood before and stand by my explanation. But ultimately, when it comes down to it the only explanation I need is that it was done the way God wanted it done. Because Heavenly Father is in charge of this church, no one else. Whatever God's reasons are for doing as He has done in the past, I am fine with it. Who am I to argue with God and say His ways are not the best? How foolish that would be! As Jesus told Paul, it is hard to kick against the pricks. Not to mention pointless!

The main point I took away from this chapter is that salvation is open to all of us. Jew and Gentile alike. God does not deny anyone from accepting the Gospel and truly He has declared that everyone shall have an opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot ask for more than that. The scriptures state that we will all confess that His judgments are just and if the scriptures have declared it, we know it will happen. Because God's words cannot pass away and must be fulfilled. I am eternally grateful to Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ for the Atonement and the path they have provided us to return to live with them and partake of blessings that would otherwise be as unattainable as grabbing the moon with your bare hands. The path is there, all we have to do is decide if it really is what we want, like we talked about yesterday, and take it. I love this Gospel and I love what it can do for those who give it a chance. It is truly a gift without price and beyond measure. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do You Really Want to go to Heaven?

Today I read Romans 10 which talks about salvation and confessing the Lord. It makes sense to me now why some religions would think all you need to do is profess that Jesus is the Christ and your Savior. Because that is what Paul says here in verse 9 that if you will confess that Jesus is the Christ and believe that God has raised Him from the dead, then shalt thou be saved. And Paul is right, if you do those things, and perform the necessary ordinances, you will be saved.

People don't realize that heaven is not going to change who you are and it is not a magical land where you can do whatever you please all the time. I really wonder what some people think that heaven is, do they think it will be just like this earth? Or that we will sit around on clouds playing harps all the time like in the cartoons? They would be bored out of their minds. No, I will wager that most of them have not given it any thought at all. They know they want to go there because the alternative is horrible to think about, at least they think it is. But do the vast majority of the people, at least in America, truly want to go to heaven, to where God is? Well let's review.

Do the majority of people go to church on a regular basis, I mean more than twice in a month on average. No they don't. The majority of people who are a member of a particular faith do not attend church on a regular basis. Some may not see the point, some may not like to go to church, some may not be able to find one that they like, and I'm sure there are quite literally a hundred other reasons. But if one doesn't like attending church, what makes them think they will enjoy living in the presence of God? I just don't understand the logic of people sometimes. It would make me laugh if it weren't so backwards.

Do the majority of the people keep the 10 commandments? No, they don't. Most people regularly keep the commandment thou shalt not kill, but all the other ones, people break them on a daily basis and never even think twice about it. Name a teenager that honors their father and mother. Good luck! A lot of Latter-day Saint teenagers will but even among Latter-day Saints all too often the teenagers reject the counsel of their parents. People have false gods aplenty, NOBODY keeps the Sabbath day holy anymore. Let's not even talk about taking the name of God in vain or committing adultery. Coveting is a way of life in the United States and bearing false witness is second nature to most people these days. So if they can't keep the 10 commandments, the basic of the basics, why do they think they would be happy in God's presence? It's because they don't understand that God lives them and abides by them and so much more.

Do the majority of the people respect those who do live the laws and commandments of God? Do I even need to respond here? I mean, that question is almost laughable. I know kids and teenagers are more prone to mock and tease when they see someone as being overly good and nice. I don't understand why they do it either really. I mean what is there to be ashamed about living the Gospel and keeping the commandments? But kids just want to fit in so they get embarrassed and try to prove they are not as good as the others make them out to be. As adults, they might say they respect you for your beliefs and admire your dedication to the Gospel and other things and truly some of them will respect you for it. But do they really? People challenge our beliefs, they try and get us to break the commandments even when they know our reasons for not doing as they ask. Is that respect? No, it isn't. Respect would be helping someone stay true to their beliefs. Not trying to get them to change who they are to fit your perceived notions of how they should be.

The problem is, people don't understand these principles that we are talking about and so they don't understand the true nature of God. If they don't understand the nature of God, how can they understand the nature of heaven? But the people who desire to learn more and become better people will seek it out and find a way. They will notice that you are different and ask you why that is. It is up to us to make sure we are ready to give our answer and teach them what we know.

I for one, do in fact want to go to heaven, or where God is. I understand what that means, and I understand it means giving up some things that I currently do. And I accept that as a more than acceptable sacrifice. To give up this world to gain a better one. That is what I am working towards. What are you working toward? Until tomorrow.