Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Break

Today marks the beginning of Christmas break for Deb and me, so my posts on the blog will likely be less frequent for approximately two weeks.

Or, I may find so much material to write about that I'll be posting like mad.

Either way, stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Solution to Our Economic Crisis?

As a poor college student admittedly this whole 'economy' and 'recession' thing isn't bothering me too much. I don't have a 40-year accumulated nest egg cracking before my eyes, draining out its contents into a hot cast-iron skillet, to be eaten by forces I don't even pretend to understand.

But the advice given in the following clip is priceless for one such as me who hasn't a lot of discretionary funds. I think you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Spirit of Christmas

Deb and I went to the grade school she works at to help with the Christmas gift-giving program for children of low-income families. What we saw and experienced there is the highlight so far of this Christmas season.

The staff and faculty of Deb's workplace put together an 'angel tree' and the staff, faculty, and more affluent parents picked angels from the tree which corresponded to a boy or girl in kindergarten to the 6th grade. A toddler category was also included for younger brothers and sisters who would inevitably accompany their older siblings to receive their presents.

There were probably close to 100 presents under the trees and each child came up to the tree corresponding to his or her grade level and chose a present from a pile of gifts designated as 'boy' or 'girl'. A couple of baskets of books were set out for the children to take in addition to their gifts. Santa and Mrs. Claus came and handed out candy canes and spoke with each child.

The school had also procured turkeys and large sacks of potatoes to give to every family, and two live Christmas trees for two lucky winners.

The children were a delight to watch, their eyes sparkling as they took their pick from the presents. The parents beamed gratitude and some wept for joy as they and their children received perhaps all they would this Christmas season.

If I receive nothing else this Christmas but the memories of those happy children and parents I don't think I would care a bit. This has already been the best Christmas season I've ever experienced.

Monday, December 15, 2008


In an effort to make this blog more productive I've added feature to let you rate each post. That way I can gear my future posts toward subjects that are more interesting to you readers. Feel free to go back to any past posts and rate them. I'd really appreciate that.

Here's my rationale for doing this. A good personal trainer will always test the fitness levels of his or her clients to get an idea of what they currently are. That allows the personal trainer to map out a plan for the clients' future workout routines. Fitness testing provides for the individualization of workout plans. Repeat testing gives the clients an idea of their progress over time and provides an important incentive to keep exercising.

Consider this new ratings system to be a test of my blog's fitness. Knowing how each individual post rates will allow me to provide additional similar content that will benefit and interest you, the reader. Thanks for helping me out.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Can I Headbutt You in the Stomach?

Yesterday I went to Deb's workplace, an elementary school, to deliver cookies to the 'after-school program', where the children were to have a going away party for one of the adult leaders.

I arrived to witness the utter mayhem that Deb has repeatedly told me about, but my own experience with the kiddies left me wondering whether I should laugh my head off or shake it in dismay until it falls off.

Promptly upon my arrival I was confronted by a girl who seemed remarkably tall and large for her age. She stood nearly toe-to-toe with me and stared and grinned at me without saying a word.

I greeted her and asked her name. No answer, though her friend (or lackey, I'm not sure) quickly let me know who I was dealing with: a girl with a boy's name.

I asked her what grade she was in. A long pause, then, "The 3rd grade." Then came the unexpected, "Can I headbutt you in the stomach?"

I calmly declined her generous offer and informed her that that would be assault (actually battery). She responded with the third-grade-girl equivalent of maniacal laughter. I started worrying about my personal welfare.

"Can I kick you in the shin?" she inquired. No, that too would be assault. More giggling. "Can I punch you in the arm?"

Boy was I glad when she had to go early.

Paradoxically, the boys were uncharacteristically sedate, a number of them sat at a table with knitting hoops making stocking caps.

I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Good Eats

At the suggestion of a friend and his wife, Deb and I went to a nice little Chilean restaurant for dinner last night. Pantrucas, as it's called, offered a inviting, homey atmosphere to compliment the warm hospitality of its proprietors.

Upon entering, we were kindly greeted by the owners themselves, Ricardo and Margarita Minond, who also do all the cooking and serving. I asked Ricardo what he suggested and he graciously described the items listed on the hand-written menu contained in three wall-mounted chalkboards.

I went with the churrasco palta and Deb ordered the ave palta: delicious sandwiches consisting of a soft roll smothered in avocado (hence, palta) with tomatoes and in mine, grilled steak, in Deb's, chicken. We also got one of their ham and cheese empanadas and a side of french fries.

Based on the friendly service and comidas deliciosas, I would recommend Pantrucas (3161 N. Canyon Rd.) to anyone in the Provo area.

See here for an additional review of Pantrucas as published in the BYU campus paper.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Telephone, Anyone?

If you've been following this blog you know that I love Samoa and I also love Samoans. But though I've been told by many a Samoan that I'm "brown on the inside" that doesn't hide the fact that I'm about as far from being brown on the outside as I could get...unless I was an albino.

Nevertheless, beginning in 2003 I became affiliated with the campus Friends of Samoa club, and as my schooling has increased its demands on my time over the years my affiliation became looser and looser.

But my old mission buddy sent me a flier for a Wednesday night Friends of Samoa club dinner which indicated that not only was the meal free, it was being catered by campus dining services. Not a bad gig if you ask me.

So Deb and I make our way up to the seventh floor room where our hot meal is going to be served and I see one of my former students and his wife dressed all fancy and obviously on their way to something too. I wondered what his connection to Samoa was.

I ask him where he's headed and he tells me a dinner. My heart sank a little, but I brushed it off with the thought that multiple dinners could be happening on the same night on the same floor of the same building.

But when we exited the elevator and I asked a caterer where the Friends of Samoa club dinner was being held we received a blank stare and then the reply, "There's an athletics dinner tonight."

My heart sank a little further. We walked down the hall toward the dining room. I didn't have the guts to go inside so I called my mission buddy to confirm that we were there on the right night.

Then the guests started arriving and I recognized some of them as my fellow graduate students and former students. "Why are you here?" one of the PhD students asked. The dinner wasn't for athletes, we found out, it was for athletic trainers - a field that shares my same academic department.

The only thing is, I'm not a trainer. I study exercise physiology. So I'm called either an exercise scientist or an exercise physiologist, but I know very little about athletic training. If you get injured I'll probably tell you to get a bag of therapy ice and make a snow cone with it.

Deb saw one of her former lifeguard buddies and asked her what was going on. She informed us that the dinner was a "Seniors' Night" for the graduating class and that it was doubling as a recruiting effort to get Polynesians interested in majoring in athletic training.

Then my mission buddy and another mission buddy and the first mission buddy's wife show up. Deb explained to them the situation. Apparently there had been some sort of mix-up we come to find out. My mission buddy's coworker happens to be the staff adviser to the Friends of Samoa club. She had received the word that this dinner was happening and she passed the word on to my friend who passed it on to me, etc.

And now we're back where we started: I'm white. My wife's white. And so is my buddy and his wife and our other mission buddy. We could have gone into the athletic training dinner and filled five of the ten reservations in the name of the Friends of Samoa club, but we felt a little sheepish about doing so, and I was a little more than embarrassed to face my peers and former students as the lone exercise physiologist, non-Samoan crashing the athletic trainers' special evening.

Do you remember that game you used to play in grade school? You know, the one called telephone where the teacher whispers into the first kid's ear who whispers into the second kid's ear and so forth until the umpteenth kid blurts out what she heard to everyone else and all the kids roll around because it's so ridiculously funny?

Yeah, we lived that game Wednesday night. Except there's nothing funny about walking away from a free catered meal when you're hungry.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Good Read

Every now and then I like to pick up a good biography and more fully acquaint myself with an other's worthy life.

To date I've read a number of such works, including books on Joseph Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley, Hugh W. Nibley, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other such figures.

Currently I'm enjoying Brigham Young: American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington. So far, I'm liking it, and I would recommend it to any who would like to better understand the the man who, in addition to dedicating 46 years of his life to God's service, lead the settlement of a vast portion of the American West.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The End is Near

Is this post going to consist of apocalyptic foretellings and prognostications?

Not hardly. I've got better news for you than the end of the world.

I'll finish my thesis data collection within two weeks.

Starting in January we'll crunch the numbers, write the report, defend the thing, then in April walk the plank (graduate), and be off to who knows what.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In the Service of Others

Mormons have received a lot of media attention lately, and not all of it has been good. We've taken a lot of heat for our beliefs during Mitt Romney's bid for presidential candidacy, in the aftermath of the raid of the FLDS compound in Texas--a group which has no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and most recently because of the involvement of Mormons in passing Proposition 8.

But the stories which indicate that Mormons really do believe in being "benevolent...and in doing good to all men [and women]" (Articles of Faith 13) are largely overlooked.

Joseph Smith, whom Mormons regard as a Prophet of God, once said, "Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." (1)

Here are some notable illustrations of Joseph Smith's point.

A group of food scientists at Brigham Young University have developed a process whereby small, local tortilla mills in Mexico can fortify tortillas with vitamins and minerals "that are too often absent from Mexican's diet." Read more about their work here.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has presented 750 wheel chairs worth 100,000 dollars to the Department of Social Welfare for distribution to disabled persons in three regions of [Ghana] this year." According to this report, here, "last year, the church presented 600,000 wheel chairs to 60 countries world wide and provided some relief items to 52 countries as humanitarian gesture."

The state of Georgia is known to many as the Peach State. But recently Georgia charities found their shelves rapidly emptying as more people hurt by economic troubles and bad weather came for assistance. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "The Mormon church sent 70,000 cans of peaches to charities in metro Atlanta. Apricots, too." Those peaches came from Utah and Idaho where orchards experienced bumper crops. "The fruit was picked and processed by church members at church facilities, packed in boxes in Salt Lake City, and shared among churches for their needy. There were still tons left over." So they were sent to Georgia where they were greatly needed and appreciated.

The forgoing are but a sampling of ways in which Mormons are seeking to reach out beyond themselves to people of all ethnicities, nations, and religions to "bless the whole human race."

Additional Stories:

BYU student-designed device to help poor East Africans coax oil from coconuts. Read it here.

BYU and Empower Playgrounds install electricity-generating merry-go-round in Ghana. Read it here.

And Who is My Neighbor?: Highlights of humanitarian endeavors during 2007. Read it here.

1. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1979, pg. 174.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Prop 8

The Los Angeles Times reported, here, that “as of Saturday morning [November 8th], the [California] secretary of state reported 5,661,583 votes in favor [of] and 5,154,457 opposed [to Proposition 8].” That’s a total of 10,816,040 votes.

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are 749,490 Californian members of the Church, ages 8 and up. (See here)

Let’s pretend all those Californian Mormons are of voting age (which they aren’t), and that all of them voted yes on Prop 8 (which they didn’t). What percentage of all who voted on Prop 8 (either for or against) could have been Mormon? 6.9%. What percentage of all who voted yes on Prop 8 could have been Mormon? 13.23%.

That’s hardly a majority in either case, yet those are the maximum percentages of Mormon participation if (1) all 749,490 Californian Mormons were of voting age, (2) all Californian Mormons voted, and (3) all Californian Mormons voted in favor of Prop 8.

So why is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being “being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election”?

“Members of the Church in California and millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States — that of free expression and voting.

“While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process.

“Once again, we call on those involved in the debate over same-sex marriage to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other. No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.” (Church Issues Statement on Proposition 8 Protest)

The day after the citizens of California decided on Prop 8, a majority of which were not Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement:

“Most likely, the election results for these constitutional amendments will not mean an end to the debate over same-sex marriage in this country.

“We hope that now and in the future all parties involved in this issue will be well informed and act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different position. No one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information.”

“...Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

“Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society. While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the right to speak out on important issues.” (Church Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Votes)

I fully respect others’ right to entertain different opinions, and I hope others would respect my right to the same. Angry marches, vandalism of church buildings, or attempts to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches which exercise their “right to speak out on important issues” but do not cross the line to endorse candidates or parties do not bespeak love or tolerance on the part of those who speak so much of deserving love and tolerance.

If my math is correct, the Mormons as a group did not swing the vote in favor of Prop 8 at the ballot boxes by any stretch of the imagination. That many, many other people of all faiths, races, and creeds supported Prop 8 indicates that the traditional definition of marriage is not important to Mormons alone, but to a much larger percentage of California citizens.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Today I read that some consider it ironic for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be encouraging its members to defend the traditional definition of marriage. According to one,

This is a church that has been persecuted for its flavor of Christianity, for its past marriage practices, for its past religious practices. And here they are turning around and persecuting another group of people...

However, I'm failing to see the irony. Perhaps it's because no honest person in good conscience can compare the Church's involvement with promoting Proposition 8 to the persecutions heaped on the Mormons in the 19th century because of their religious beliefs.

For example, how many people have been tarred and feathered by the Mormons? I haven't read about any in the news, but many Mormons, including Joseph Smith, were tarred and feathered by angry mobs.

How many have been driven from their homes because they support same-sex marriage? Or how many have been robbed of their property? Or how many have been beaten, raped, or unjustly imprisoned for months on end?

Or how many can relate to the experience of one of my ancestors, Martha P. Thomas? She recorded:

When in 1839 the mobs came upon us in force and drove us away from our home with the loss of all we had save five children, a small yoke of cattle, one old wagon, the clothes we wore and one pair of shoes, all we had for our children....The leaders of the Church were imprisoned, my husband with them. We had to leave in a great hurry on account of the mob and to save our lives, many of our friends, the Saints, being killed.

Because of violent persecutions the Mormons were forced to leave New York, Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, and it wasn't even a full decade after they settled in Utah but what the Mormons were again the target of persecutions at the hands of corrupt individuals. How many proponents of same-sex marriage can make such a claim?

Again, we are reminded that

...under dreadful conditions, the Prophet Joseph Smith suffered in Liberty Jail for months while the mobs drove the Saints from their homes [in Missouri]. The words liberty and jail do not fit together very well.

...The Lord told the Saints to seek redress from the judges, the governor, and then the president.

Their appeals to the judges failed. During his life, Joseph Smith was summoned to court over 200 times on all kinds of trumped-up charges. He was never convicted.

When they sought redress from Governor Boggs of Missouri, he issued a proclamation: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good.” That unleashed untold brutality and wickedness.

They appealed to President Martin Van Buren of the United States, who told them, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”

...The final paragraphs of their third petition addressed to the Congress of the United States [read]:

“The afflictions of your memorialists have already been overwhelming, too much for humanity, too much for American citizens to endure without complaint. We have groaned under the iron hand of tyranny and oppression these many years. We have been robbed of our property to the amount of two millions of dollars. We have been hunted as the wild beasts of the forest. We have seen our aged fathers who fought in the Revolution, and our innocent children, alike slaughtered by our persecutors. We have seen the fair daughters of American citizens insulted and abused in the most inhuman manner, and finally, we have seen fifteen thousand souls, men, women, and children, driven by force of arms, during the severities of winter, from their sacred homes and firesides, to a land of strangers, penniless and unprotected. Under all these afflicting circumstances, we imploringly stretch forth our hands towards the highest councils of our nation, and humbly appeal to the illustrious Senators and Representatives of a great and free people for redress and protection.

“Hear! O hear the petitioning voice of many thousands of American citizens who now groan in exile . . . ! Hear! O hear the weeping and bitter lamentations of widows and orphans, whose husbands and fathers have been cruelly martyred in the land where the proud eagle . . . floats! Let it not be recorded in the archives of the nations, that . . . exiles sought protection and redress at your hands, but sought it in vain. It is in your power to save us, our wives, and our children, from a repetition of the bloodthirsty scenes of Missouri, and thus greatly relieve the fears of a persecuted and injured people, and your petitioners will ever pray.”

There was no pity, and they were turned away.

In 1844, while under the avowed protection of Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot to death in Carthage Jail. Words cannot express the brutality and suffering the Saints had endured.

Can any of the supporters of same-sex marriage truly say that they have suffered like persecutions at the hands of the Mormons?

The injustices suffered by the Mormons rank right up there with those suffered by the blacks and the Native Americans; same-sex marriage proponents have yet to even see a hint of suffering at the hands of the Mormons.

It's one thing to fight for your beliefs, but it's another thing entirely to resort to false analogies and distortions of history to advance your cause.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Deb and I celebrated Halloween a little early this year with the ward we're serving in. We were in Fairview, UT, with Deb's maternal grandparents last night so we didn't dress up. Here's some pics for you to enjoy of our sweet costumes.

Deb as a 70s snow bunny, Nate as a used-car salesman.

The mustache is real, sort of. I really did grow out my mustache for a week but I'm so blonde that you could hardly see it. The trick in darkening it up? Mascara!

Would you buy a car from this guy?

So, here's to dressing up for Halloween. Three years ago at a friend's, now brother-in-law's, birthday party, when Deb and I first officially met, she and her roommates weren't very impressed with my 'plain-clothes, undercover cop' costume. I thought it was genius, but it didn't win me any points with Deb at the time: it wasn't until nearly a year later when we met for a second time that I made any sort of good impression.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Deluge of Thoughts Precipitates Writing Drought

I haven't been a great blogger as of late and I think it's due to having too much on my mind.

For one, I'm concerned with the long-term outcome of this year's presidential election. Will it be President McCain or President Obama? Does either one truly have our best interests in mind and the ability to mobilize the deeply divided American citizenry to achieve those best interests? With such a deeply divided citizenry do we even know what our best interests are? Are our differences about what constitutes our best interests the source of our division? Are our differences so great, so insurmountable that the ideal of a united America is a myth of a bygone era? What of "united we stand, divided we fall?"

I'm also concerned about the passage of Proposition 8 in California and what the outcome of this issue will mean for the other States. I do not think it wise to redefine the traditional concept of marriage: that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, that ideally children are raised by a loving father and mother, that the family is the most fundamental, foundational unit of a healthy society.

I'm concerned that my religious beliefs may cause some to brand me as a bigot. I am not a bigot. I have never resorted to violence to attempt to force others to believe as I do. I have never promoted or condoned any acts of violence toward any person with differing views. What is it exactly about my beliefs that would make me a bigot?

I'm concerned at the development of a "tyranny of tolerance"; that tolerance toward religion and faith in God and those who espouse them is diminishing, while various groups demand tolerance for their particular viewpoints. Such unidirectional tolerance is in actuality intolerance. This concerns me.

I have other concerns too, but maybe I should save them for another post so that I'll have material to help end this writing drought.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Faith, Works, & Grace: A Mormon Perspective

I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with a friend of mine who is an evangelical Christian. We talked about faith and works and grace and the need to rely on Jesus Christ for our salvation. He asked questions about some of my beliefs as a Mormon and I tried to answer to the best of my ability.

Afterwards, I had a lot to think about because my friend seemed to believe that Mormons trust in their works to get them into heaven. I found that interesting because I don’t believe that and I’m a Mormon. If there is any substance to that claim then I think that we Mormons haven’t been clear enough about our beliefs.

What do Mormons believe about faith, works, grace, and Jesus Christ’s role in our salvation? Are we saved by grace? Are we saved by works? Do faith and works conflict with each other? I don’t think they do if we understand what each is and what each is for.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Christians, Mormons included, center their faith in Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation. Faith, then, becomes the motivating force in the Christian’s life, driving him or her to seek to do God’s will in all things.

And what of works? Well, unfortunately this is a very loaded concept. But I don’t think it needs to be. Let’s turn to the Bible to see what is said about works.

Jesus, Paul, and James each teach the importance of works as an aspect of discipleship. (Matthew 5:16; Acts 26:20; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:10; 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:14; James 3:17-26)

And Jesus, Paul, and John also teach that we are judged and rewarded according to our works. (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 11:15; 2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 2:23, 26; 20:12)

But Paul says that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Is Paul contradicting himself on the issue of works? Is he contradicting his Master, Jesus, or his fellow servants, James and John? What are we to do?

Like the Christians in Joseph Smith’s day Christians today “of the different sects [understand] the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12)

What are we to do then? Should we throw out the Bible entirely? God forbid, as Paul would say. What we need is some corroborating but clarifying testimony to support the Bible. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Corinthians 13:1) We have such a testimony in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was given for “the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace,” (2 Nephi 3:12) and for the intent that we believe in the Bible. (Mormon 7:9) So, let me turn to the Book of Mormon to examine the interplay of faith, works, grace, and our reliance on the Savior for salvation, and let’s see if we can shed any light on this matter.

On the title page of the Book of Mormon we read that one of its purposes is to convince the “Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God….” Later we read that “all mankind [are] in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on [the] Redeemer,” (1 Nephi 10:6) who is Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, we Mormons rely “alone upon the merits of Christ, who [is] the author and the finisher of [our] faith” (Moroni 6:4; emphasis added); indeed, we rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19; emphasis added).

What does the Book of Mormon say about grace and its role in our salvation? First, “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Nephi 2:6).

Second, “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8)

Third, a plea: “….My beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God…and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24).

Fourth, “…We labor diligently…to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

This last verse is probably the one verse in all scripture unique to the Mormons that is misunderstood to mean that we believe that we are saved by works. But a careful reading of the rest of the Book of Mormon clarifies this completely.

Perhaps the best way about it is to understand our terms. What do we mean by works? King Benjamin captured it nicely when he taught his people that “all that [God] requires of you is to keep his commandments” (Mosiah 2:22). Is it work to keep the commandments? I should think so. Fortunately, keeping the commandments is not all drudgery: we experience joy, happiness, and success in our lives as we keep the Lord’s commandments.

“Well,” one might point out, “it is impossible for a mortal to actually keep all of the commandments all of the time. Something’s got to give.” This is true, and herein we see the mercy of God’s plan for his children. In providing a Savior to work out an infinite and eternal atonement, God could bring about the conditions of mercy and repentance.

As recorded in the Book of Mormon, one group of converted sinners understood best what the extent of their works was. They had been a vicious, wild, and wholly godless people. But they had come to know their Savior. They had repented of their sins. Their king related that “it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God” (Alma 24:11; emphasis added). After that, knowing their repentance was sincere and that God is mighty to save, their guilt was swept away. (See also, Enos 1:2-8)

Upon baptism, we enter into a covenant with God, a contract of sorts, wherein He promises to save us from sin and death and the devil, but He asks us at the same time to work in His kingdom to assist Him in bringing about “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). We fulfill our obligations to God by following in the footsteps of His Only Begotten, Jesus Christ, and seeking to lead others of God’s children to Him.

So, let me recap a bit. We believe, unequivocally, that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The clause “after all we can do” refers to our obedience to God’s commandments (truly all He requires of us), and our ability to repent sufficiently. All this is made possible through the enabling power of the atonement, which is grace.

Joseph Smith stated it this way, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith 3).

Mormons do believe that God requires obedience of His children in order for them to receive His blessings. (See D&C 130:20-21) But it is inaccurate to say that Mormons believe that they earn God’s blessings. Blessings are gifts from God and cannot truly be earned by the merits of mortal, imperfect men and women; else, like impudent children, we might boast one to another of our achievements. Rather, God bestows His blessings on His own terms.

“Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35) Though God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matthew 5:45) only those who love Him and keep His commandments will be saved in His heavenly kingdom (Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

In the end, God will not force any of His unrepentant children to come home to live with Him in eternity. But as long as the earth stands, the invitation to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32) will remain extended.

I hope that I haven’t added to the confusion by what I have written here. I am grateful to be able to share my perspective on these very important concepts. They have brought me peace in this life and can do the same for you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In a Pickle

Every once in a while one of the other exercise science students offers money to anyone who will be a part of his or her research study. I like to participate in these as often as I am able for at least two reasons: 1). I get some pretty sweet moolah, and 2). I get to learn a number of nifty experimental design features and protocols that I otherwise might not have learned.

I read once that Midwesterners are most likely of any group of people in the United States to use the phrase "in a pickle". I'm not sure why that is, but after volunteering to be a subject in a study examining the gastric emptying rate of pickle juice versus water, a study designed and carried out by Kevin from Wisconsin, I came to know a little better what it means to be in a pickle.

Here's me, not fully knowing what I'm getting myself into, but giving my full consent to do it.

After being weighed, Kevin gave me a beaker of water to drink to flush my stomach of anything that might be in it. I drank it and sat for 30 minutes to let it do its work.


Periodically, 5 mL blood samples were taken throughout the test, so Kevin put a catheter into my right arm.

Then it was time to put in a 67 centimeter (2.2 feet) plastic tube up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach. First, I had to numb up and lube my nose:

Then, Kevin gave me the most amazing wild cherry-flavored throat-numbing spray:

After focusing the chi, I was ready to insert the tube:

The most difficult part is passing the uvula area at the back of the throat. Mission: Try not to hit the gag reflex.

Glad that I had gotten past the worst part, I kept on swallowing and pushing, swallowing and pushing until the tube had reached my stomach.

Then Kevin flushed my stomach with water:

With the tube in my stomach, I then had to drink something like 7 milliliters (mL) of water for every kilogram of body weight (body mass for you real sticklers). That worked out to about 705 mL (about 3 cups). On top of that, I had to drink it all in 1 minute and 30 seconds. Since Kevin is studying the difference of the rate of exit out of the stomach between water and pickle juice, I had to complete all these steps twice. So where you read that I had to drink 705 mL of water, also realize that on another day I had to drink 705 mL of pickle juice; all in one-and-a-half minutes.

Over the next forty minutes Kevin infused phenol red into my stomach, took samples of the water (or pickle juice) from my stomach, and sampled blood from my arm, while I periodically rated my level of nausea.

Later Kevin would analyze the samples he drew from my stomach to determine how much phenol red was present (phenol red doesn't leave the stomach very quickly compared to the two test fluids), indicating the rate of exit from my stomach of either the water or pickle juice.

In total, I twice spent over an hour and a half in that dilapidated dentist's chair with a tube down my throat. All this for $40 and a greater understanding of my field of study. In the end I think it was worth it, though I would probably think twice before I did this type of study while exercising like they do at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

A friend of mine also wrote about this with even more pictures illustrating the process. Her account is well worth reading: Musings of a Mad Scientist.

So what do you think? Was it worth it? Would you do it for $40? After going through this and comparing these procedures with those of my thesis, I'm even more confused why we can't get enough teens to come in to only run on a treadmill. I don't even joke about needles in their presence; they've got it easy.

(Photo credits: Dave Nielson)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An Unsung Hero

Lately, I've been studying the history of the London Missionary Society and its accomplishments in the Samoan islands. Not only is their history fascinating in its own right, but some of the personalities involved in the initial evangelizing of Samoa are quite remarkable.

I don't mean to do John Williams any injustice by not focusing this post on him and his incomparable work; indeed, were it not for Williams's enthusiasm, the message of Jesus Christ might not have made it to Samoa until many years later than 1830.

But one whose work is often passed over is that of the Reverend George Pratt, from Great Britain. According to The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795 - 1895, "Mr. [and Mrs.] Pratt reached Samoa [on October 26th, 1839], [and he] laboured there for forty-one years," Mrs. Pratt having died sometime while in Samoa. (4) Forty-one years in Samoa! What a sacrifice, and one that cost him his wife's life at that. Surely this man and his life's work is worthy of our admiration and attention.

"...Worthy of the highest regard and honour, the Rev. George Pratt, who [laboured] in the district of Matautu, on the island of Savaii, did a work of lasting worth in shaping the Christian thought and life of his flock." (1)

But perhaps his most enduring accomplishment was the Rev. Pratt's work on the translation of the Holy Bible into the Samoan language. "While many willingly and lovingly contributed their share of toil in the Samoan translation of the Scriptures, to Mr. George Pratt belonged the chief honour, and to his remarkable linguistic skill and diligent scholarship much of its great excellence was due. " (4)

One of the Rev. Pratt's colleagues, Mr. Samuel James Whitmee, eulogized Pratt with the following:

To him, more than to any other person, although several rendered efficient aid, the excellence of the Samoan version of the Scriptures is due. I think I may say he did more than all the rest put together. The translation, and then the revision of the Samoan Bible, was the great work of his life. To this he devoted almost daily attention for many years, with the result that the Samoans have a Bible which, as a classic, is, and will be to them, very much what the Authorized Version has been in England. (4)

Another wrote,

Only those who have had a share in such work can understand its difficulty. A beginning was made with the New Testament. Book by book this was put into the Samoan language and issued to the people, who from the very first were trained to purchase their books with their own money. The New Testament completed, the Psalms followed, and at intervals the rest of the Old Testament. Afterwards the first translations were carefully gone over word by word three or four different times, and numerous corrections made, so as to make the translations as perfect as possible, and in this work...most of all, as stated above, Mr. Pratt took the securing the result. (1)

In fact, the translation of the Bible into Samoan is considered so good that as of 1894, "all further revision [had] been laid aside, the present translation being regarded as practically as perfect as it can be made," (1) and Spencer Churchward, twentieth century linguist and writer of a remarkably good Samoan grammar, remarked, "There can be no doubt that the Samoan Bible is almost faultless." (5)

Apparently, the Rev. Pratt stood "pre-eminent as a student and master of the Samoan language," (1) and he

spoke it like one of the natives of a generation now passed away, before the language had suffered from modern corruptions. He was so familiar with the classic traditions of the people, and could illustrate and give points to his speech by such telling references and allusions, that it was always a treat to the natives to hear [Palate] speak. He had no uninterested hearers. He accordingly had little patience with missionaries who were contented with an imperfect knowledge of the language of the people to whom they preached, or who were given to careless speech. (4)

Moreover, "'Mr. Pratt was a specialist. He was a born linguist, and he faithfully used and cultivated his special talent in the service of Christ." (4) On June 5, 1876, Mr. Pratt wrote, "For my own amusement in 1875 I wrote out a syntax of the Samoan grammar."

I was led to do this by observing, while reading Nordheimer’s Hebrew Grammar, that the Samoan, in many points resembled the Hebrew. Shortly afterwards the Rev. S. J. Whitmee asked me to contribute the Samoan part of a comparative Malayo-Polynesian Dictionary. I at once, with the aid of pundits, commenced revising the first edition of my Dictionary, which was printed at the Samoan Mission Press in 1862. I read through the Hawaii, Maori, Tahiti, and Fiji Dictionaries, and from these I obtained some words which occur also in the Samoan dialect, but which had been overlooked in the first edition. I also culled words and examples from Samoan genealogical accounts, songs, traditionary tales, proverbs &c. In this way I have been enabled to add over four thousand new words or new meanings. (3)

As mentioned, in addition to his work on the Samoan Bible, the Rev. Pratt compiled a Samoan - English dictionary and wrote a grammar of the language, (3) both considered standard works to this day. He also translated a number of parables and allegories from many lands into Samoan, including a number of Aesop's fables. (2)

And so, this man, remarkably gifted in languages, of whom it was also said that "...his Hebrew Old Testament and his Greek New Testament were among his most cherished companions, whether he was at home or travelling," (4) spent out his days seeking to raise his English- and Samoan-speaking peers' understanding of both the Samoan language and the word of God.

I think I can say that anyone who learns Samoan as a second language is indebted in some way to the Rev. George Pratt. That all Samoan-speaking Christians are indebted to him for the Samoan Bible goes without saying. His work will stand as an eternal memorial to his dedication to a noble work.

1. George Cousins, The Story of the South Seas, London Missionary Society, 1894.

2. George Pratt, O Faataoto ma Tala Faatusa Mai Atunuu Eseese, Religious Tract Society, 1890.

3. George Pratt, A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, 3rd ed., Religious Tract Society, 1893.

4. Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795 - 1895, H. Frowde, 1899.

5. Spencer Churchward, A Samoan Grammar, 2nd ed., Spectator Publishing Co., 1951.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Koko Rice

Like Kopai Koko, and Suafa'i, Koko Rice (or Alaisa, Samoan for rice) is one of my favorite Samoan dishes that is easy to prepare here in the States. Deb and I recently made some koko rice for our friends, Justin and Angela. I thought I'd share some pics and the recipe so you can make your own if you'd like.

First thing, you need only five ingredients: water, white rice (not instant), sugar, coconut milk, and, of course, Samoan cocoa. The last is kind of hard to get unless you have connections, so you can use any cocoa powder. Just know that Samoan cocoa has a very distinctive taste that cannot be matched or beaten by any domestic cocoa powders.

I'm not good at making recipes; when I cook I experiment till I feel I've gotten things right. So for you who want more specifics, here's a recipe for Koko Rice I found online at Samoan Sa'o:

  • 1 Cup Calrose Rice
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Can Coconut Milk
  • 5 Table Spoons Grated Koko Samoa
  • Granulated White Sugar

Add rice and water in a sauce pan. Bring the water to a boil. After the water reaches a boil reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the rice cook for 20 min. (watch carefully as the water may boil over.) After 20 min. Turn off heat, add coconut milk, koko Samoa, and Sugar to taste (You'll probably need a lot of sugar.) then stir and serve hot with butter and bread or just by itself.


If you don't have koko Samoa you can use cocoa powder. You obviously won't get that unmistakeable koko Samoa flavor.
If you don't have calrose rice you can use any white rice.

This recipe also works with hot coco mix. But, instead of using 5 tablespoons koko Samoa, I added 10 Tablespoons of hot coco mix and 3 Tablespoons sugar. It tasted good but if you can get koko Samoa don't waste your time with hot coco mix.

My way is a little bit different. I like to cook the rice first in a rice cooker. While the rice is cooking, I grate the koko.

Then I put a large pot of water on the stove and turn the heat on to medium high. I mix in the powdered koko like so:

I sweeten the koko to taste with sugar. Some like it really sweet, others like it almost bitter. I am usually conservative with the sugar to accommodate the bitter enthusiasts, and put out a bowl of sugar for those sweet types. After I've sweetened the koko, I scoop in the cooked rice.

Then comes the coconut milk. Don't by coconut cream or creme d'coco, or whatever it's called, it's nothing like the coconut milk used in this recipe.

Share the deliciousness with friends:

Photo credits: Angela.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Samoa Part 20: Milovale's Faith

On Upolu, south of Pesega, in the Vilimaa area, up at the top of the road there is the source of the area’s name: O le Vilimaa--the rock grinder, or in more familiar terms, the gravel pit. Right before one enters the compound one can look to the left and notice a house. There lived an old lady 76 years of age (as of 2001) named Milovale. She was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but hadn't been to church for about 3 months: the time that she had lived in that house with her daughter and Catholic son-in-law, since the time she moved there from further away on Upolu.

We asked Milovale if we could get a ride to come and pick her up on Sundays and take her to church. She enthusiastically agreed. We told her that we probably couldn’t get her a ride for the upcoming Sunday but definitely for the next.

On Sunday morn while we were listening to the message of the speaker in the English-speaking ward, someone came to us and told us that an old woman and her daughter had asked for us. We exited the chapel to find Milovale and her daughter; they had walked from the Vilimaa to the chapel without really knowing where to go. The weather was hot, she had no water to quench her thirst, and the dust of the road only mocked her, I’m sure, as she set out, a 76 year old woman, to go to church. She hadn’t known exactly where the church building was, she just set out to find it.

The first thing that she asked for was a tithing slip and envelope that she might be square with the Lord and contribute to her son’s mission fund as he was serving in New Zealand. I did not see how much she put in the envelope, but I am certain that it was comparable to the widow’s mite.

The great faith of this woman drove her from the comforts of her daughter’s home to attend the meetings of a congregation unfamiliar to her. She had arrived 2 ½ hours early and patiently waited until the Samoan-speaking ward started, and she then remained there for the full 3 hour block. We secured a ride for her to take her home after the meetings.

Elder John H. Groberg who served his mission in Tonga, a close neighbor to Samoa, once wrote about the Tongans' faith. I think it is equally applicable to the faith typical of the Samoans. He wrote:

I would not characterize their faith by the English word simple, but rather the word profound. If we say there is a "simple faith," then by extension we need to say there is a more complex or sophisticated faith and that one faith may be superior to the other. I do not believe this. I do not believe there are various types of faith, such as simple or advanced or complex or sophisticated. I believe there is just faith or lack of faith. We either have faith or we don't. Of course, some have stronger faith than others. (1)

It may seem a simple thing for Milovale to have walked all the way to church that day in the blistering heat, but it still took faith to do it. Her example illustrates that faith is a principle of action, not only belief. Her belief in the resurrected Savior impelled her to church that morning despite the inconveniences of going.

After witnessing Milovale's expression of faith my own faith was strengthened. My desire to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only increased (see James 1:22). And thus, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6); that is, as we see the natural expressions of others' genuine faith in Christ, the fire of their faith kindles within us the desire to also live by faith. Such is the power of true testimony.

1. John H. Groberg, In the Eye of the Storm, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993, pg. xii.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Junk Mail

Are you tired of all the junk mail you get? Here's a tip I found while reading a post from No Impact Man, a New Yorker who is doing his best to reduce (and eliminate, if possible) his negative impact on the environment.

On his post Stopping the junk mail tree killers--repost I found the following comment from one of his readers:

[The junk mail] seems to be going down even more since I started following a tip a friend gave me -when someone sends me an offer I don't want, I take all their literature, including the original envelope, put it all into the postage paid envelope they include, and send it all back to them. Invariably, I never hear from them again!

Another readers adds: "If it's a credit card offer, make sure it is VERY clear that you are not accepting the offer!"

Deb I make it clear we are not accepting the offer by writing VOID all over the papers, thus eliminating the possibility that anyone could use the forms in our name and the possibility that the credit card company would issue us a new, unwanted credit card.

Yesterday while we stuffed a postage paid return envelope with all the literature the credit card company sent us, and with a little note asking to be taken off their mailing list, we admitted to each other that we had a strange feeling of satisfaction returning the company's garbage to them for disposal.

So here's to stickin' it to the men and women who care for nothing but increasing the thickness of their own pocket books by grinding up "100 million trees...each year to produce junk mail." As for me, I'd prefer the trees. As we discovered during our trip to the Oregon coast, trees are much prettier as trees in their natural environment than as junk mail in our mailbox, in our apartment, or in the landfills.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Oregon Coast 3

If you go to the Oregon Coast, you have to stop in at the Tillamook Cheese factory. We did and found the place was hoppin' with folks trying to escape from the rain. But we wanted to see how the cheese was made and to get some ice cream so we braved the crowds and stayed.

The Morning Star was used to ship cheese up the coast and up the Columbia River to Portland.

Tillamook ice cream being delicious, we decided to share three scoops of it. We also would have bought some of the famous cheese, but ironically it was expensive. We thought the factory would sell it at rock bottom prices, but since it was sold in a gift shop it was treated like a novelty and priced accordingly.

Deb and the Morning Star.

Tired of the rain, Deb and I drove to Lincoln City after Tillamook. We were hoping to see some glass blowing and perhaps even try our hand at it. Some glass shops offer lessons; what we didn't know is that they are far from free. Nevertheless we did get to see some glass being blown by others whose pocketbooks were a little fatter than ours.

After setting up camp in a state park in Lincoln City, Deb and I went to find some more fish 'n chips. We found some at a fifties diner and I decided that I preferred the cod to the tuna I'd had at the Wet Dog in Astoria. Apparently the chef at the diner knew we were honeymooners (albeit nearly 1-and-a-half years late) so he made us a special potato chip:


The fish 'n chips at the fifties diner had fresh potato chips instead of the traditional chips, which most Americans would call fries. That's a mistake I'll never make again. Nevertheless, fish 'n chips no matter what form it takes is worth it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Oregon Coast 2

We spent a day at Cannon Beach and found it very windy there on the beach. I thought it was nice but I'm a little better insulated than Deb, who was cold the whole time. I've been to Cannon Beach a couple of times before and was looking forward to taking Deb there.

We hoped to see the fauna of the tide pools at the foot of Haystack Rock, but once we arrived they were being shut down because, as the guide explained, a storm was coming in and rapidly bringing the tide with it.

The tide pools at Cannon Beach.

So we walked up from the beach to the town and found this crusty old sea captain.

The Cap'n and me.

We bought a kite at one of the shops but didn't get to fly it: too much wind. We milled around town, poking our heads into art galleries, toy stores, and candy shoppes (always spelled shoppe). I was hoping to get some more fish 'n chips but settled instead for some tasty clam chowder.

Haystack Rock.

Later we stopped at the outlet malls to find Deb a jacket to keep her dry and to protect her from the piercing wind. We found one at the Eddie Bauer outlet. At the book outlet I found an interesting read for $2.99 called Death Sentences: How Clich├ęs, Weasel Words, and Management Speak are Strangling Public Language. We returned to Fort Stevens at set up camp and, feeling tired, decided to call it a day.

A dry, warm, and happy Deb in her new jacket.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oregon Coast 1

To celebrate Deb's graduation and my break from work and school, we decided to take a trip to the Oregon coast. Here's a few pics and descriptions of some of our trip.

We started our trip in Astoria, a town known best as the location where the Goonies and Kindergarten Cop were filmed. Part of the excitement to me of going to the coast was fish 'n chips. So we asked a local where the best fish 'n chips place was; he gave us two place names and we were off to find them. The best place had just closed so we went to the second best place: The Wet Dog.

The Wet Dog had pretty good food, but the folks working there were most excited about their many uniquely named house brews. I think our waitress was confused why we didn't order any beers. The restaurant had a nice view of the Columbia River, but I thought the food was overpriced. And the fish 'n chips, though good, did not rate highest in my book.

For the first two nights in Oregon, Deb and I pitched our tent at Fort Stevens State Park. Both nights it rained on us. But our little tent, a wedding gift from Josh and Julie K., kept us very dry.

A sunken ship at the beach near Fort Stevens.


Our camp ground. The trees in Oregon are unbelievably beautiful.

In the picture above of our tent, Deb and I had unwittingly pitched it right next to a depression. The rain fly dripped water, filled the depression, and sent the puddle underneath our tent. It only took about a half and hour to and hour of that before we decided to relocate to the small patch of grass next to the car.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why the Wait?

If you're a regular reader of this blog (there might be three of you and I thank you), you've undoubtedly noticed a drop off in posts lately. There's a good reason for that: busyness and lack of computer access.

The first was due to things like a family reunion and my wife's graduation ceremonies and celebrations with family. Way to go, Deb!

The second is the result of our vacation to the Oregon coast. We just got back and as soon as I can get the pictures onto a computer, I'll post about our adventures. The break was much needed and very refreshing.

So stay tuned.

Monday, August 11, 2008

O That I Were an Angel

“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart,” wrote Alma, a Book of Mormon prophet. And what was Alma’s wish? “That I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!”

“Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder,” he continued, “repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:1-2).

Alma lived sometime in the century leading up to Jesus’ birth and knew that his wish, his heart’s desire, could not be fulfilled in his lifetime: “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me,” he concluded (Alma 29:3).

Perhaps because it was his desire to preach repentance and the plan of redemption to the ends of the earth that it is fitting that many of Alma’s sermons and writings are recorded in the Book of Mormon and now available in some 100+ languages.

We live in a day when our voices can be heard as it were in any part of the world via the Internet, a technological wonder Alma probably never dreamed of but would likely use, were he alive today, to share his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would listen.

I feel like I am living Alma’s dream to at least a small degree. The opportunity to share something of my faith with friends and family and readers from across the United States and around the world has been a source of great joy in my life.

I have personally tasted of the sweetness of the gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ, and I would like to share it with any who are seeking for lasting happiness and joy. If some of my religion-themed posts have sounded preachy, it is only because I am anxious to get the message out and struggle in my efforts to communicate it.

But, oh, what a message it is! At its core is God’s love for His children, all of humanity, and His desire to bless us beyond measure, beyond our current comprehension. The plan of redemption mentioned by Alma is God’s way of bringing us back to live with Him. Central to that plan is Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Or as Jesus put it on another occasion, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Therefore, “I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written” (Ether 12:41). I would also encourage you to make these things a matter of fervent prayer: “Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true” (Moroni 10:4). God will answer your sincere prayers without chastising or upbraiding you (James 1:5-6). I can affirm that one of the sweetest feelings is the understanding that God has actually communicated with you directly. That He is eager to do so is amply evidenced in the scriptures.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Great Thoughts

I'm now an avid blog reader--I actively follow a number of friends' and strangers' blogs. Here are a few of their thoughts that I've particularly enjoyed.

From Steve, my brother-in-law and good buddy:

I’ve heard people complain about there being too much conformity among members of [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], saying that we don’t have enough diversity. I’ve heard other people speculate that it’ll be pretty boring in heaven if everybody has to follow the same rules to get there. But how much do the commandments say about how we can and can’t behave, really? The gospel is that we should have faith, repent, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then continue on in keeping the commandments and our covenants to receive the remaining ordinances of salvation. The only limitation on diversity I hear in that list is a limitation on sin. And anyone who can’t imagine a way to be an individual without fornicating, backbiting, abusing, stealing, or being irreverent is suffering from nothing so much as a severe lack of creativity. Diversity will never be a problem in a church that declares heaven to be full of people from every nation, kindred, tongue, and era of human history. [Emphasis added]

From No Impact Man:

[W]hen people ask me how I don't get engulfed in despair about the human race, I tell them I pay attention to what's going on around me on the street. I see people laughing, people helping old ladies, mom's loving their kids, doormen joking together.

Sure, humanity has it foibles--and I admit that those foibles could cause a lot of suffering for us if we aren't careful--but for the most part, I think we're pretty neat. Remembering that, I keep the despair at bay.

From Kristen's Mental Notes:

Aside from obvious evils, it is hard to think of a greater evil we inflict upon ourselves and others than that of insisting on our own misery. Refusing to forgive or be forgiven; finding nothing but fault in ourselves and others; always looking for what is wrong or what might go wrong; refusing to acknowledge or accept any positive or lovely thing. The only thing that makes this disposition worse is if one also professes to be a Christian.

Again, from Steve:

Perhaps I can mention some things that won’t be a part of eternal life, which I think we’ll all be glad to be rid of: In the celestial kingdom there will be no more sickness or death (Isa. 33:24), no more sectarian confusion and fighting (D&C 76:99-100), no more lies, infidelity, hate, abuse, starvation, sickness, cruelty, injustice, or sin of any kind. Finally, all our enemies will be gone (D&C 76:61). If they remained wicked, they’ll be somewhere other than the celestial kingdom, and if they repented, they will be there; they’ll just be our friends, instead! Would it change the way we treat our enemies if we knew they might some day be our friends and live with us with God? Maybe that’s one reason Jesus commanded us to pray for them (Matt. 5:44). [emphasis added]

And lastly, from Sans Auto, a thought about how to spend more time together as a family:

People will often ask my wife what she does with the kids since we don't have a TV. This may be hard to believe, but she spends time with them. They help clean and cook. They play and she plays with them. Try turning the TV off and see just how entertaining your kids can be, really it's incredible.

There you have it: a few quotations that have got me thinking in the past little while. Thanks to the writers quoted for doing their part to share good thoughts with the world.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Samoa Part 19: Saved from Trouble

One day, Uilifoti and I were walking along a dirt road in a remote part of our area. It was the beginning of the rainy season and the road was very muddy, so much so that my shoes and the lower part of my pant legs were caked with mud.

As we walked in the direction of the main road we saw a taxi approaching us. We could very clearly hear a song by either the Cars or the Police blaring from the car radio. As the taxi drew near we could see that it had four passengers, all inebriated. We said hello as we passed and continued walking in the opposite direction. Once about 50 feet separated us we heard someone from behind us.

“Elders!” the voice called out.

We turned around to see one of the men getting out of the car. He was young, perhaps near our ages—between 19 and 21 years. I noticed that he had a large plastic alcohol bottle in the front of his pants; the bottle’s neck protruded above his waistline.

“Hey, come here.” We walked the short distance to see what he wanted to say to us. He told us that he desired to be like us, a common remark from people whose lives needed reordering. Then he asked us for some money.

Uilifoti replied that we didn’t have any money to give to him. The man continued his mumbling about money and asked us a few more questions. Without any forewarning his demeanor suddenly became serious and aggressive.

He looked at me and asked, “What would you do if I shot you through the head right now?” At that very moment a wave of evil feeling coursed through my body. I realized that this guy wasn’t stable and that we needed to leave.

Concerned at the possible consequences of turning my back on the man, I looked him directly in the eyes and replied, “Nothing.” He asked me again and my answer was the same, “Nothing.”

Then he turned his attention and questions to Uilifoti. “What would you do if I punched you? You want me to punch you? Do you want to fight?” Then swearing and cursing, he explained that we were on his stomping grounds, his turf.

Uilifoti looked at him and said, “We’ve got to continue our work.” Then he looked at me and urged, “Let’s go!”

I didn’t notice when they had gotten out of the taxi, but the man’s friends had made their way over to him by this time. At Uilifoti’s “Let’s go!” we slowly started walking away. The man’s friends began apologizing profusely for their friend’s behavior but we replied, “No worries, we just want to leave. We’re going to go.”

Fortunately, the man didn’t pursue his violent course of action—he let us leave in peace. The further away we got from the four drunk men the faster we walked, then jogged, then sprinted to put as much distance between us and our would-be assailant.

The adrenaline from the experience and the sudden burst of exercise set our blood to boiling. Once we were walking again, Uilifoti and I verbally raged between us at the indiscretion and utter rudeness of that man. By the time we made it to the paved main road, we had calmed down enough to feel gratitude to the Lord for having spared us any serious, violent altercation.

That day I witnessed the literal fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to his servants: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus and Sinners

What did Jesus teach about sin, repentance, and judgment? The most widely invoked saying of His is "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone..." (John 8:7). Yes, Jesus did say that and we should not go around seeking to destroy sinners in the manner of the scribes and Pharisees as described in the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).

But often when this particular saying is invoked, the implication is that we are all sinners (which we are) and that we can't ever expect change, reform, or repentance from each other (which simply isn't true). The mindset is that expecting such infers judgment ("Judge not," we readily quote from Matthew 7:1), and is like throwing stones. Unfortunately, we live in a time when many invoke Jesus’ teachings to justify sinful behavior rather than use them to overcome it. Lest anyone think that this is an indictment of all but myself, think again. This is as applicable to me as it is to anyone, and truly it applies to everyone.

The following synopsis of Jesus' words spoken during His mortal ministry as recorded in the Bible is given to bring to our consciousness His expectations of all of us. I highly encourage you to follow the links to the references to read His words for yourself and to come to your own conclusions on the matter.

Obedience, not lip service, is the first law of heaven (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus taught that to know God’s law and not comply with it is sin, but ignorance of God’s law is forgivable (John 9:39-41). Sin is a type of slavery, but the truth will make us free (John 8:31-34). Jesus declared that all but the unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, are forgivable (Matthew 12:31-32). But once made whole, Jesus instructed, we shouldn't continue in sin lest a worse thing come upon us (John 5:14). Ultimately, evil works lead to damnation (John 5:29).

Without question, Jesus preached repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). He also commissioned others, like His twelve apostles, to preach the same (Mark 6:12). He taught them to “rebuke the transgressor,” to admonish sinners to cast away their sins (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus instructed that repentance should be preached in His name, for He alone had power given Him of God to remit sins, and His atoning sacrifice and resurrection bring about the conditions of repentance and the remission of sins (Luke 24:46-47).

Unequivocally, Jesus proclaimed, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:1-5). He taught that the unrepentant will be condemned at the last day and will not go into the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41; 21:28-32; Luke 10:13-16; 11:31-32).

Often accused of defiling Himself by associating with sinners, Jesus taught that the whole need no physician, but they who are sick (Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30-32). Sin, compared to an illness, requires repentance to be healed by the Physician. Jesus taught that all efforts to reclaim even a single sinner are worthy of our time and attention. God, His angels, and all heaven rejoice over repentant sinners (Luke 15:1-10). We too should celebrate and rejoice rather than be as the brother of the repentant prodigal (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus has power to forgive and heal those with faith in Him (Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 5:5-12; Luke 5:19-26). The faith of friends and family can work great miracles in the lives of their loved ones. Faith in Jesus and repentant service to Him bring forgiveness. Those who feel that they need little forgiveness love God the least, whereas those who perceive that they need the most forgiveness love God the most (Luke 7:36-50). The faithless do not perceive or understand God’s will for them; they usually are not converted to Jesus and will not be forgiven of their sins (Mark 4:11-12).

Forgiving others opens up the avenue for our own forgiveness (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:37-38; 11:4). Jesus taught that we should forgive as often as we are sinned against (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, Jesus instructed His followers to forgive unceasingly the repentant sinner (Luke 17:3-4). As we extend mercy to repentant sinners, we in turn receive mercy from God (Matthew 18:23-35).

Jesus commanded His followers to judge righteous judgments (JST Matthew 7:2; John 7:24). He also emphasized that we correct our own faults before we attempt to correct others’ (Matthew 7:2-5; JST Matthew 7:4-8). God the Father has given Jesus authority to judge all humankind (John 5:22-30). His judgment is reserved until the “last day” (John 8:1-11, 15-16; 12:47-48). Christ’s word, or teachings, will judge us (John 12:47-48). Christ came to save the world (John 3:16-17; 12:47), not to judge and condemn the world (John 3:17; 8:10-11, 15-16), but some will be condemned at the last day by their works and unbelief in Jesus’ word (John 5:28-29; 12:47-48). Rather than judging others and justifying ourselves (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:36-38; 18:9-14; John 8:7), we ought, as the publican, to acknowledge our unworthiness before God at all times (Luke 18:9-14).

In summary, Jesus did not condone sin—He preached against it and taught about the consequences of sin: separation from God. He taught that He came to take away the sins of the world by the shedding of His blood (Matthew 26:27-28; John 1:29-34). He showed mercy to repentant sinners and indicated that final judgment would be reserved till the last day. However, He indicated that unrepentant sinners would incur stiff penalties for their lack of faith and their disobedience to His commandments. Jesus commanded His followers to repent, forgive, and extend mercy and to not justify their sins and find fault with others. That we all have need for repentance and improvement should be self-evident. That we will do Jesus’ words and not simply hear them; that we will repent and not perish; that we will have faith on His name unto salvation is my prayer and hope for all of us.