Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Fifth Article of Faith

(Delivered in both English and Spanish)

I remember listening to a radio talk show following the General Conference in which Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar were sustained as apostles in the Church. During this program, the guests were criticizing the Church for not taking the opportunity to make the Church leadership more ethnically diverse.

The 5th Article of Faith states, "We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." When a change in leadership in the Church is needed, God does not consider things like race or ethnicity. Among the primary factors in the decision are one's abilities and worthiness.

For the majority of its existence in this dispensation, the Church has been regarded as an American church with a predominantly caucasian membership. Today, the majority of Church members don't even live in this country. During the last General Conference, I couldn't help but notice that as the Church has grown, the ethnic face of the leadership is starting to change. Obviously this change isn't fast enough for the talk radio critics but that's only because God does not work on man's timetable nor is he influenced by man's politics.

When we think of callings in the Church, we usually think of full time callings like those of General Authorities, bishops, priesthood and relief society leaders, teachers, etc. When we receive a calling in the Church, we are expected to magnify that calling. To complete our tasks to the best of our abilities. By putting forth that effort and appealing to our Heavenly Father for his guidance and strength, we will not only be blessed with the strength to complete our tasks within the Church but to find balance between those responsibilities and those we have to ourselves, our families and even our communities. But those of us with callings are not expected to rely solely on our strengths and our Heavenly Father.

In the Church, we are not alone. We are a family. We support one another When a person is given a calling in the Church, it's brought before the membership for a sustaining vote, including the Prophet himself. God does not just put people into positions of authority; as members of the Church, we have a voice in its government. For the most part, the membership places its trust in God and in Church leaders when a person receives a new calling. In the rare cases when there are votes of objection, those concerns are addressed.

But sustaining a person in a calling does not end when we put our hands down after a vote. We sustain our leaders by heading their counsel, from the Prophet down to our bishops and branch presidents. We sustain our priesthood and relief society leaders by completing our home teaching and visiting teach assignments among other duties we are asked perform. We sustain our Priesthood, relief Society and Sunday School teachers by coming to our meetings and classes and being prepared not only to hear what they have teach us but in being willing to participate in the discussion.

I want you to ask yourselves, "Am I sustaining those who have been called to lead and to teach me? Am I completing my assignments? Do I come to classes prepared to learn?" But more than anything, I want you to ask yourselves if you have considered the effect you have on a leader or a teacher when you do NOT sustain them. How do you think your priesthood and relief Society leaders feel when you fail to complete your home-teaching or visiting-teaching assignment?

When I was a boy, I was called to be the President of my Deacons Quorum. It was a calling that I was very grateful to receive and I tried my hardest to be a good quorum president, to be an example to my fellow deacons. But while I did my best to magnify my calling, I lacked a key component to being an effective leader. My Quorum would not sustain me. My counselors did nothing to help. My secretary refused to carry out the most basic and routine of tasks. Every Sunday, I passed the Sacrament with four or five Elders while the rest of the deacons sat with their families because they refused to pass the sacrament with me.

To this day, I don't know why they wouldn't sustain me as their president. The only reason I could think of was that they just didn't like me. While I didn't let it affect my testimony , it certainly affected my self-esteem and sense of self worth. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that story. I've even been told that something like that could never happen despite the fact that I just related my personal experience to them. But while stories like this are rare, the practice of ignoring and not sustaining someone in a leadership position is not unusual at all. One need only to look at the counsel we receive from the Prophet and then observe how that counsel is ignored by the membership.

Christ himself said, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house." (Matthew 13:57) When addressing the Priesthood in General Conference in 1978, Spencer W. Kimball quoted a children's songs that said, "Don't kill the little birds that sing on bush and tree?"

He then asked the members to refrain from killing God's creatures for fun, and quoted President Joseph F. Smith, who said, "I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is to them the ‘sport' of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood."

This admonition by two of our prophets is rarely quoted. Particularly at this time of year. Hunting season. Many of us tend to criticize each other for the clothes we wear, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the activities we participate in and preface it with the words, "The Prophet said..." While other activities and attitudes simply go ignored.

I was recently in a Sunday school class in which we were asked which Prophets we identified with. It was a difficult questions to answer. Not many of us would presume to be ANYTHING like a prophet.

These men who were called of God to be His spokespersons. Finally, someone in the class said they could identify with Jonah. A Prophet who's response to God's calling was to run away. Well everybody can relate to him! At least up until the part where he's swallowed by a whale. Though I'm sure there are those of us who have found ourselves inside a metaphorical whale of one kind or another when we tried to get out of a particular calling. And so we should be.

When we receive a calling of any sort, be it a full-time leadership position or to give a talk in Sacrament meetings, we are "called of God." No distinction is made between a calling to preach and a calling to administer, both require his authority, both are called by prophecy and we need to respect that and we do so by answering the call.

Think about it. When you are approached by someone in your bishopric or branch presidency and are asked to give a talk, it isn't that person who is asking you to speak. He is only a messenger. The person asking you to speak is God and he is doing so through his servant. When we walk away from such an opportunity or find an excuse to get out of it, we are not turning down the person who asked us to speak, we're turning down the One who prompted him to ask. And when we deny ourselves the opportunity to serve our Father in Heaven, we deny ourselves the blessings that come with that service. I don't think a single person in this room would turn down an opportunity to feed their families by finding gainful employment and by providing a service to their community. But how many of us have hid ourselves from our leaders in one way or another to avoid feeding our spiritual families with the bread of the Gospel? Remember, God makes no distinction between the temporal and the spiritual. Everything is spiritual to Him.

In a large congregation, like a Ward, it might be easy to hide in the crowd and avoid having to give a talk or teach a lesson very often but in a small group, like our little branch, the opposite is true. But we shouldn't look at that as a bad thing. We should see it as a blessing. Our members have many more opportunities to serve our Heavenly Father in the Church and we shouldn't shy away from that. We should embrace it. Celebrate it. Rejoice in it. I would like to extend a challenge to all of you. Resolve now to magnify the callings you have, to sustain your leaders and your teachers in their callings and to be open to accepting callings in the future. When a member of the Branch presidency approaches you and asks you to give a talk in Sacrament meeting, remember that it isn't he that's asking you to speak, it's your Father in Heaven giving you an opportunity to serve and learn. A chance to feed his sheep and reap the blessing that come with loving Him enough to head his counsel and keep his commandments.

I would like to close by sharing with you my testimony of the Gospel and the blessings that come from accepting the callings we receive from our Heavenly Father. I have tried to answer God's callings throughout my life both within the Church and in my work. I have had the privilege of being lead to many different places so that I might serve God's children in a wide variety of capacities and I look forward to continue serving him. At this time in my life, I feel called to be in a new Branch in Manti. That God has work for me to do there and it's my responsibility to follow his direction.

I want you all to know how much I love you and how blessed I am to have been a part of the Spanish Branch. Were it not for you, I'm not sure if I would have been active in Church at all. I've found in this congregation a closeness that I've only felt in branches and wards that I've attended in other parts of the country and during the time I spent in the Navy. One thing I've learned from moving from branch to branch and ward to ward over the years is that the farther you travel to be together, the closer you are when you get there.


El quinto Articulo de Fe

Me acuerdo que despues de la conferencia general en que los elderes Uchtdorf y Bednar fueron sostinidos como apostoles de la Iglesia escuché un programa de radio cuando los locutores trataron el tema del la seleción de apostoles. Los huéspedes criticaron la Iglesia por no usar la oportunidad de selecionar personas de otros culturas diversas.

El quinto Articulo de Fe declara, "Creemos que el hombre, debe ser llamado por Dios, por profecia y la imposicion de manos, por aquellos que tienen la autoridad, a fin de que pueda predicar el evangelio y administrar sus ordenanzas." Cuando hay cambio en el liderazco de la Iglesia es necesario, no le importa a Diós cosas como raza ni étnico. Eligiendo un apostol requiere ciertos requisitos incluiendo abilidad y dignidad. Por supuesto, requiere inspiración de Diós.

Por la majoria de su existencia en esta dispención, la Iglesia es juscado como un iglesia Americano y en que los miembros por mayor parte son Erupeos blancos. Sin embargo, hoy la mayor parte de los miembros no viven en este pais. Durante la ultima conferencia general de la Iglesia, yo noté que mientras la Iglesia se crese que la cara cutural del liderazco empiesa a cambiar. Obiamente este cambio no es suficiente rapido para los criticos. Diós no obra en el horario del hombre. Tampoco, la politica del hombre no puede influir a Diós.

Cuando pensamos en llamamientos en la Iglesia, usualmente pensamos en los llamamentos de larga duración como los de los autoridades generales, obispos, el sacerdocio, las lideres de la sociedad de socorro, maestros, etc. Cuando recevimos un llamamiento en la Iglesia se espera que magnificamos el llamamiento. Se espera que completamos nuestros deberes lo mejor que podamos. Esforzandonos a completar nuestros tareas siempre orando al nuestro Padre Celestial por su guía y apoyo, las tareas recibimos bendiciones y magnificamos nuestro llamamiento. Buscamos un equilibrio entre las responsibilidades a la Iglesia y los que tenemos a nuestros mismos, nuestros familias y tambien a la comunidad. Mas allá de nuestros proprios esfuerzos y nuestra fe en Diós tenemos ayuda.
En La Iglesia, no somos solos. Somos una familia, apoyamos uno al otro. Asi la lucha es mas facil, la carga mas liviana. Cuando una person recibe un llamamiento en la Iglesia, el preposito se presenta delante de los miembros por un voto de apoyo, el profeta mismo necesita recibir sustenimiento de los miembros. Diós no solamente impone personas en posiciones de autoridad. Como miembros de la Iglesia tenemos voz en el gubierno de la Iglesia. Por el mayor parte los miembros confien en Diós y en los lideres cuando llaman una persona al nuevo llamamiento. Muy pocas veces hay votos en contra al llamado. En estas ocasiones, los miembros tienen opportunidad de espresar sus sentimientos acerca del llamamiento.

Pero, al sostener una persona en una llamada no termina cuando levantamos la mano y no termina cuando bajamos la mano despues del voto. Sostenemos nuestros lideres por fielmente siguiendo sus consejos. Es necesario siguir direciones del profeta, obispos, presidentes de rama, etc. Sostenemos el liderazco del sacerdocio y de sociedad de socorro cuando completamos nuestras deberes de maestros orientadores, y maestras visitantes. Sostenemos el sacerdocio, la socieedad de socorro, la eacuela dominical cuando asistimos las debidas reuniones y clases y cuando preparamos, no solamente para oir, sino para participar en las clases.

Debemos preguntarnos, "¿Sostengo a los llamados para dirigir y enseñarme? ¿Yo cumplo con mis deberes en la Iglesia? ¿Vengo a las clases preparado para aprender?" Pero mas que nada debemos preguntarnos si hemos conciderado el efecto sobre nuestros maestros del sacerdocio y sociedad de socorro, cuando fallamos de completar nuestros deberes.

Cuando yo era un jovencito, Recibi llamamiento como presidente del quorum de deaconos. Estuve muy agradecido por la llamamiento. Me esfuerze ser un buen presidente de quorum y ser un ejemplo para mis companeros deaconos. Pero ,cuando yo hacia el mejor que podia para magnificar mi llamamiento, parece que me faltaba un componente clave para server como lider efectivo. Mi quorum no me sostuvo. Mis consejeros no hicieron nada para ayudar. Mi secretario nego de completer aun las mas basicas de tareas de su oficina. Todos los domingos participe en pasar la santa cena junto con cuatro o cinco elders, mientras que los otros deaconos se sentaron con sus familias porque negaron pasar la santa cena conmigo.

Hasta este dia, No se porque negaron sostenerme como su presidente. La unica rason que you pude pensar es que yo no les gustaba. Aunque el comportamiento de los deaconos no afecto a mi testimonio, en verdad, me causo pena, danando a mi autoestima. Muchas personas estan sorprendidos cuando les relato esta historia. Dudan que pudiera haber pasado estas cosas aunque yo les habia relatado esta historia como una experienza personal. Aunque relatos como este son raros la practica de no hacer caso y de no sostener personas en positiones de liderazco no es raro. Si solamente consideramos el consejo del profeta, entonces nos damos cuenta como los miembros frequentamente no le hacen caso.

Jesucristo dijo, "No hay profeta sin honra, sino en su propria tierra y en su casa." En su discurso al sacerdocio en conferencia general en mil noveciento setenta y ocho el president Spencer W. Kimball cito de una cancion de ninos. " No matan los pajaritos que cantan en los arbustos y los arboles."

Entonces el profeta pidio que nos refrenaramosos de matar las creaturas de Dios por deporte. Presidente Joseph F. Smith dijo, Nunca pude ver como un hombre puede ser infiltrado con un deseo sanguinario para matar y destruir las vidas de animals."

Esta admonision de dos de nuestros profetas se cita muy pocas veces. Especialment en east sesion del ano, la sesion de casar. Muchos de nosotros juscan el uno al otro a causa de la ropa que usamos, las peliculas que vemos, la musica que eschuchamos o las actividades en que participamos. Decimos que El Profeta nos consejo hacer tal y tal. Pero negamos seguir su consejo, no le hacemos caso en muchas actividades. No es correcto eligir el consejo del profeta que vamos a obedcer y lo que vamos a negar.

Recientamente asisti una clase de escuela dominical en la cual la maestra nos pregunto, "Con cual de los profetas pudimos identificarnos? No habian muchos de nosotros que pudian asumir ser semejante de un profeta.

Son hombres llamados de Dios para declarer su voz. Por fin, alguien en la clase dijo que se identeficaba con Jonas. Jonas fue el profeta quien respondio al llamamiento huiendo. Podemos identificarnos con el. Por lo menos hasta el punto cuando fue tragado por la ballena. Estoy seguro que hay de nosotros que nos encontramos en una forma u otra adentro de una ballena metaforicamente cuando tratamos de evitar un llamamiento particular.

Cuando recebimos qualquier llamamiento, que sea uno de tiempo largo o ofrecer discurso en la reunion sacramental es llamamiento de Dios. Todos los llamamientos para ensenar o administrar requiren la debida autoridad de Dios, que sean llamados por revelacion y imposicion de manos. Debemos respetar nuestros llamamientos y aceptarlos.

Piensenlo. Cuando alqien del obispado o la presidencia de la rama le pide que ofresca un discurso, el no es la persona quien le pedio ofrecer un discurso. El es solamente el mensajero, un sirviente de Dios quien es la persona piediendo que habla. Cuando evitamos la oportunidad o damos escusas no estamos rechazando al Obispo o a la persona que nos pidio, sino que estamos rechazando a Dios. Y cuando nos negamos la oportunidad de servir a nuestro Padre Celestial, nos negamos las bendiciones que vienen por el servicio que prestamos. No creo que ninguna de las personas que estan aqui rechazarian una oportunidad de alimentar a sus familias a travez de un buen trabajo. Pero cuantos de nosotros nos escondemos de nuestros lideres de una manera u otra para evitar alimentar nuestra familia espiritual con el pan del evangelio? Recuerden, Dios no distinge entre lo temporal y espiritual. Todo es espiritual para El.

En una congregacion grande, como un barrio, seria facil escondernos en la multitude y evitar tener que dar un discurso o enseñar una leccion. Pero en un grupo pequeño como nuestra ramita, es todo lo opuesto. Pero no deberiamos ver eso como algo malo. Debemos verlo como una bendicion. Nuestros miembros tienen muchas mas oportunidades de servir a nuestro Padre Celestial en la iglesia y no debemos negar esta oportunidad. Debemos abrazar, celebrar y regocijarnos de ser miembros de esta ramita. Me gustaria darles un desafio. Decidanse ahora de magnificar sus llamamientos, de sostener a sus lideres y sus maestros en sus llamamientos y estar listos a aceptar llamamientos en el futuro. Cuando un miembro de la presidencia de la rama se les acerca para pedirles dar un discurso en la reunion sacramental, recuerden que no es el quien se lo esta pidiendo, sino que es nuestro Padre Celestial dandonos una oportunidad de server y aprender. Una oportunidad de alimentar sus corderos y cocechar las bendiciones que vienen por amarle suficiente como para seguir sus consejo y guardar sus mandamientos.

Quisiera terminar compartiendo con ustedes mi testimonino del evangelio y las biendiciones que vienen de aceptar los llamamientos que recibimos de nuestro Padre Celestial. He intentado aceptar los llamamientos de Dios duarante mi vida. He tenido el privilegio de vivir en muchos lugares diferentes en que yo pudiera server los hijos de Dios en una variadad de capacidad. Espero continuar en el servicio de El. En este tiempo de mi vida, siento llamado a estar en una nueva rama en Manti. Creo que Dios tiena una obra para mi alla y es mi responsibilidad seguir Sus direciones.

Quiero que todos ustedes sepan cuanto les amo y cuan bendecido me siento de que he sido parte de la rama de español. Si no fuera por ustedes no estoy seguro que yo seria activo en la iglesia. Yo descubri en esta congregasion un sentido intimo que yo solamente senti en las ramas y barrios que asisti en otros partes del pais y durante el tiempo que estuve en el servicio marinero. Una cosa que aprendi a traves de los años moviendo desde rama a rama y barrio a barrio es que lo mas lejos que se viaja para congregarse lo mas intimo la esperiencia se enquentra alla.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Enduring Vs. Enjoying

(With a few editorial comments)

I was not assigned a specific topic to speak about so I did some thinking and I did some praying and my thoughts focussed on a wonderful quote by President Hinckley: "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." He said that in the mid 90's but I only heard it for the first time earlier this year.

As soon as I read it, the first thing I thought about was Lagoon. I could enjoy that. Then I came back to reality and thought, he's probably not talking about recreation. It also reminded me of something my dad would say when I was a kid about how we spend our time. He said, "There are twenty-four hours in a day. That gives you eight hours to sleep, eight hours to work and eight hours to play... Now go mow the lawn."

Now the enjoyment in our lives need not be limited to our 8 hours of playtime but before we get more into that, let's take a quick look at the basics. What's the difference between enduring and enjoying?

We are told to "endure unto the end" (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13, 1 Nephi 13:37), but what are we doing when we endure? The word itself means putting up with something difficult. Like, oh, I don't know–life? Enduring can also mean staying on a specific course. As Christians, we tend to think of being on a "course" with our final destination being Heaven where we'll finally be with God.

These are the definitions we're most familiar with. But "to endure" also means remaining "indefinitely in existence or in a particular state..." (Merriam-Webster 1994)(emphasis added) and that is NOT what we're supposed to do. Unfortunately, many of us are. Yes, we are supposed to endure life and all it's trials and difficulties but we are also expected to progress. Not necessarily in the sense of forward movement–which isn't far removed from enduring–but in our growth as children of God. In our intellectual and spiritual development. Our personal evolution from fallible mortality to a nature that is both divine and eternal.

You'd think enjoyment is a no-brainer. Taking delight or pleasure in something; but it's not limited to our "play time." We can learn to enjoy our work, enjoy our callings, even enjoy those unexpected changes in plans or even our lives.

But there are other meanings to these words that we don't usually think of. We can also confuse them with other concepts entirely.

Consider what I said before, that enduring can also mean UNchanging. But how many of us have plateaud in our eternal progression? Either by circumstance or even by choice.

Some of you might be thinking, "Why would anyone choose NOT to progress?" I think it's tied to what people are perceiving as joy but in reality is only contentment.

Think about it. Joy and contentment are NOT the same thing. We strive for joy. No one strives to be content. Contentment is something that one SETTLES for. Contentment is coasting on the highway of eternal progression. Sure, you're moving forward but you're putting little or no effort into it, you're satisfied with just doing the bare minimum, thus you are only enduring, unchanging and without real joy.

Meanwhile there are others who are on the same course as you but they're racing past you because they aren't willing to settle for contentment. They want joy. They are seeking it out, regardless of the pain and suffering that we must all endure.

Ask yourselves, "Am I content? Am I comfortable with my life? With my progress?" If you are, that's the fist sign that you might have a problem. It's been said that the gospel exists to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

I think that there are a lot of people who have settled for contentment, not because they don't WANT to enjoy life but because they don't know how. They're in a rut. Their lives have become routine. They go to work, they go to church, they go to the temple, they pray, they keep track of all the commandments they're keeping and all the sins they're not committing. They walk into Sacrament, Sunday school, priesthood and Relief Society hearing the same talks and the same lessons and asking themselves, "Is this it? Do I just keep doing this until I die?"

The answer is NO. There are others things that we should be doing. And yet there are those members who keep saying, "Just get through it. Just obey. Just do as you're told and everything will turn out right in the end."

That has got to be the worst advice you can give anyone. That's enduring without enjoying. Even worse, it's enduring life without even the POSSIBILITY of enjoying it. That is NOT what God wants for us. Yes, He wants us to be obedient but He also wants us to be happy. Not just in the next life but in this one. "Men are that they might have joy."

Remember that old saying that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you TEACH a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.

We have tens of thousands of young men and women serving full-time missions whose job it is to teach people how to fish. They're giving those people the basics. The first principles of the Gospel. Once they have learned those basics, they have the responsibility to start using them. To move BEYOND them, to progress, to delve deeper into the teachings of the gospel. To start catching those fish for themselves and sinking their teeth into them.

Unfortunately, as soon as some ofthese new members walk through the doors of their home wards, they are told, "It's so nice to see you here. Now keep coming back and we'll give you more fish." Going to the supermarket is not fishing. Sure, it's convenient, it's easier, you don't have to endure the elements or the dirtier aspects of preparing a fish to be eaten.

So instead of seeking truth for ourselves, we just do as we're told. We accept new knowledge just as quickly–or slowly–as we hear it in Sunday school, priesthood and relief society. We hang on every word of our church leaders or people that we presume to be very spiritual or have "figured it out" and accept everything they say at face value. God doesn't want us to just follow the leader and be drones. But so many of us do it anyway, because we don't even want to cook our own fish. It's just too much effort. We want our knowledge nicely packaged with someone else's understanding and interpretation–batter-dipped, deep-fried and flash frozen–instead of taking this new knowledge to God and asking Him to help us understand it.

"Do as your told... Endure to the end... It'll all be over... just as soon as you die.... have faith."

Faith is supposed to go hand-in-hand with hope. Where's the hope in only enduring? Where's the hope in just going the motions while you wait to die? It's faith, reinforced by hope and finding joy in this life that HELP us to endure our struggles.

The comedian Carlos Mencia often says, "If you're not laughing, you're not living." Well, I think if you're only enduring, then you aren't progressing.

I'm a big believer in finding and accepting truth regardless of its source. God has given us the ability to discern good from evil. Knowing that, one can find truth and a positive message in places where one might not expect. Bearing that in mind, I'm going to share a story with you that I feel does an excellent job of illustrating the difference between contentment and joy.

It's from an episode of "The Simpsons" titled "And Maggie Makes Three."

The story starts with the family looking through their photo albums when Bart and Lisa realize that there are no baby pictures of their sister Maggie in any of them. They ask their parents why and Marge and Homer start to tell them the story of how Maggie came into the picture.

When it was only himself, Marge and their two children, Homer managed to figure out how he could quit his job at the power plant and work his dream job at a bowling alley. So he quits his job, tells off the boss and literally burns a bridge behind him on his way out. Homer then decided that as long as nothing changed from that point on, he would be happy. He even kneeled at his bedside and prayed to God that nothing would change.

Sure enough, the situation changes. Marge becomes pregnant. When Homer finds out, he's disappointed to say the least an soon his job at the bowling alley wasn't paying enough to make ends meet so he had to crawl back to the power plant and ask for his old job back. He gets it but his boss, Mr. Burns, places a plaque in his workspace that reads, "Don't forget. You're here forever." A constant reminder that Homer could never quit again.

Because of this, Homer wasn't very enthusiastic about Maggie being born, but as soon she was, Homer fell in love with her.

Back in the present Bart and Lisa say that they still don't know why there aren't any baby pictures of Maggie in the photo albums. Homer says that he keeps them in the one place where he needs them the most.

The scene then cuts to Homer's workspace at the plant where Maggie's pictures are taped to the wall and positioned around the plaque so that it now says, "Do it for her."

Homer had to give up being content but managed to find joy in his children.

So, how do we find joy? It's not the same for everyone. But before I examine that question, I'd like to tell you where you aren't going to find joy.

Joy is not to be found in superficiality; in focussing on minutia that have little if anything to do with the gospel.

You do not find joy in wearing white shirts and long dresses to sacrament meeting. Outside of the mission field and the temple, there is no dresscode. There is no commandment regarding the color or style of our clothing.

I got up early one Sunday morning and, half asleep and in the dark, I thought I found a clean shirt to wear to church. Of course later that morning, when I was more alert and with brighter lighting, I realized, "Oh my gosh! This thing's filthy." I was so embarrassed. Then Brother Stevens came up to me and said, "You're looking really nice today."

"But my shirt is dirty," I said.

He came back with, "The important thing is that you're here."

Thank you!

Be honest, have you ever asked someone why they aren't wearing a white shirt or the "right" kind of dress? How do you think it makes a person feel when they're criticized for coming to church wearing the "wrong" thing? As if it's a measure of a person's spirituality or character. What if that person is coming back to church after a long absence? The first thing that comes out of our mouths should be that we're glad to see them, not criticize their wardrobe. You do not lift someone up by talking down to them. Such criticism is shallow and it is not Christlike. We all know that. But so many of us insist on doing it anyway.

I read about this guy who dressed very nicely to work every day of the week. He wore suits, ties and white shirts. From a distance, he didn't look much different than your average general authority. If he was walking down the street, I bet anyone would say to themselves, "That guy's got it together. He looks classy, dignified, responsible." Well he was responsible... for 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. His name's Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of a little company called Enron and he's serving a 24 year sentence at a federal prison in Minnesota. How's that for judging a person based on the clothes he wears?

Okay, enought of that.

(I did go off on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry. -JLP)

Joy is not found in the color or length of your hair.

Joy is not found in pretending to be something that you're not.

Joy is not found in pretending that everything is okay when it clearly isn't.

Joy is not found in abandoning your sense of free will.

Being superficial, shallow, overly critical, passive and living in denial are not virtues.

So where DO we find joy?

President Hinckley once said, "There is reading to be done, instruction to be received, discussions in which to participate that will stretch your minds and feed your spirits."

Who isn't excited, even comforted, when they learn a profound Gospel truth and, through the Holy Ghost, feel that it's true before understanding why?

And yet, there is that part in all of us that wants to run away and plug our ears at the prospect of learning something new about the Gospel. Why? Because we all know that as soon as we learn something new, we're accountable for it; but think of what we're denying ourselves as a result of that trepidation, that fear. We are only holding ourselves back. We are expected to learn and to progress as much as we can in THIS life. We will not pass through the veil and find ourselves immediately bestowed with new knowledge. We're going to pick up right where we left off and yet there are those of us who insist, not only in holding themselves back, but discouraging others from learning all that they can. They say things like, "You shouldn't ask questions like that" or "We aren't meant to know the answers to such things" even "That's only for the general authorities to know." These people refuse to believe that God WANTS us to ask those questions. He WANTS us to find the answers. He WANTS us to know that we are all entitled to this knowledge.

Two weeks ago, a gentleman stood at this very podium and declared to us that as long as we do what we're told, in the next life we will have the opportunity to meet with God. And he is absolutely right. If all we're willing to is just what we're told that's what we can count on. In all fairness the majority of us, regardless of our individual progress, will have precisely that experience.

I'm here to tell you that there is more to the Gospel than just "doing what you're told." God has given us free agency and has provided for us the guidance we need to make righteous choices. "...the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil..." (Moroni 7:16) It's okay to make our own decisions. We can't expect someone to hold our hand through every choice in our lives, nor should we impose such a burden on someone else.

I had a friend in Ogden who was a professional puppeteer. He had even worked with Jim Henson Company at one point. Well, he decided to join a regional organization of puppeteers in Utah and Wyoming. He went to one meeting, made a couple of suggestions and everybody wanted him to be the president of the organization. Now he didn't have the interest or the time to take on something like that. He just wanted to meet some other puppeteers in the area. When he told me about this, I said to him, "I'm not surprised. It's a pioneer mentality."

He said to me, "I don't think it's the pioneer spirit."

I said, "It's not. It's a pioneer MENTALITY.

"The 'pioneer spirit' says, 'Yes, lets take the lead and make this thing happen.'

"'Pioneer mentality' says, 'Yeah, let's do this... just as soon as we find a Brigham Young to lead us.... but that's not me.'"

(This might not have been well received considering the fact that I'm smack in the middle of a pioneer community... I wasn't ripping on pioneers, I was just making a cultural observation. -JLP)

Nobody wants the responsibility. We foolishly believe that if we just "do as we're told" then we can't be accused of doing anything wrong and THAT's what we're really afraid of, regardless of the fact that we aren't expected to get everything right in the first place. But we become so obsessed with trying not to do anything wrong that we're afraid to do anything at all. And that, in itself, is a sin.

Brigham Young once said: "Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will NEVER be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true INDEPENDENCE of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course." (DBY, pg. 383)

I know what you're thinking:

"Okay, so what do I do?"

There actually is an answer to that and it's in the scriptures. Doctrine and Covenants Section 58 Verse 27 makes it very clear: "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."

This does not limit us to activities and causes that are sponsored, sanctioned or approved by the Church. There are many good causes out there that bring about righteousness and we don't need to ask for permission to be a part of them; just as we don't need permission to do as Christ would do and we shouldn't wait to be asked or commanded to do them.

You don't need to drain your bank account with donations to charities. That isn't doing. Instead, give some of your time. Pick a cause. Something you believe in. Something you feel strongly about and play a part. Even a small part.

Now I want you to consider the blessings that can be enjoyed in this life by doing our best to keep God's commandments, especially the commandment to think and do for ourselves. Consider the promise we have to be with God.

In John 14:23 Christ says, "...If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."

Most people read that and think about the comforter. About feeling the Holy Spirit within us, assuring us that we are indeed loved by our Heavenly Father. But that isn't what it's saying.

I said earlier that the majority of us will have the opportunity to be with God in the next life.

I want you to look in Doctrine and Covenants Section 130 Verse 3. I want you to see the words on the page. It says, [in reference to] John 14:13 "The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false."

My brothers and sisters, such an appearance is not just for prophets and apostles. If we love Him and keep His words, the potential exists within all of us to commune with Our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ in THIS life.

I can think of nothing more wonderful than this to give us hope as we endure this mortal probation.