Tuesday, July 26, 2011

White Fire!

 I love Fire.  To me, fire is a mystery and a wonder.  It is clear, yet ephemerally solid.  It brings light and warmth to any environment.  Fire can save lives, if controlled.  Just as easily, it can destroy pretty much everything if left to its own device.  It can cleanse and purify, as well as burn to ashes.  It is little wonder to me, having found comfort in the cold of winter before a warm crackling fire, that the Spirit of God too burns "like a fire."  The Spirit often speaks through a "burning" feeling.  When we receive the Holy Ghost, it is known as the "Baptism of Fire". Throughout scripture, whenever God shows His power from Heaven, He shows it by bringing the fire.

  I have had the wonderful opportunity to recently begin training a brand new missionary.  To anyone who has trained, or even been in close proximity with, a new missionary, they've more than likely experienced the phenomenon known as "Greenie Fire".

 Greenie Fire is powerful.  It can overcome any contact's resistance by sheer will and desire to share our message!  It can face any and all opposition with inerrant optimism!  It can tract all day in 100+ degree summer days, and still want to skip dinner!  It can't be deterred by dogs, flat tires, no mail, angry yells, and slammed doors. It is a flame that is bright and hot, and it is contagious, especially to other missionaries.  It is a wonderful spiritual "new car smell" reserved only for those fresh to the mission field.

My boy, Elder Longstaff.

 What makes Greenie Fire so wonderful, and new missionaries so powerful, is that they are completely uncomfortable and new at missionary work.  They don't know how to tract. They've never taught a 25 year old single mother about the Law of Chastity.  They've never even invited someone on the street to be baptized!  They are completely new.  Therefore, they rely completely on the Lord.  They aren't afraid to do any of the aforementioned missionary activities, because they know the Lord will help them.

  Yet, as with any flame, the Greenie Fire begins to fade.  As the missionary gains experience, learns the lessons, and can contact just about anyone on the street, the work becomes easier.  Familiar.  Comfortable.  Faith in what the Lord can accomplish through you is replaced by confidence in things you have accomplished.
  And so, who is the better missionary: the inexperienced "Greenie" overflowing with enthusiasm, or the seasoned veteran who is capable and experienced?

 In my opinion, one is not better than the other.  But a missionary that is both would be truly powerful.

  Imagine if a missionary were to keep that Fire in their heart their whole mission!  Even with all the experience and lessons and contacts and baptisms that come over time, they relied solely on the Lord with reckless, desperate abondon!  The Greenie Fire would give way to something that burns much hotter.  A more refined Fire that is controlled, powerful, and Divine.

 This is White Fire.

 White Fire isn't just for missionaries, either.  It comes from an insatiable desire to do good.  It is that power, that light, that certain people seem to carry with them.  They bring warmth to all those around them, and they attract weatherworn souls as a moth is drawn to a flame.  We all see these people.  If you are like me, you want to be like those people.  This light isn't some magic trick, it isn't solely personality either (although I know that certainly helps, sometimes).  It is because these people follow the Master.

 I testify that we can all have this power!  We can all have this light!  The Spirit of God is for everyone; everyone can feel the warmth of it's flame.  All we have to do is follow the Savior, trust in the Father, and seek the Spirit.
 Then all will be able to feel your White Fire.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Parable of the Light(house)!

Here is part 2 of the parable experiment.  In Matthew 12, the Savior gives the parable of the Sower.  Afterwards, the apostles ask Him for the interpretation of the parable.  He does so, explaining what each of the examples in the parable mean.  So that's what I'll do too!  Remember, this is open for anyone to interpret, just because this is what got out of it doesn't mean that it's the only answer. So, without further ado, I give you my interpretation of the Parable of the Light(house):

The Stormy Night:

 Is this life on Earth.  It isn't always stormy, night, cold and wet, or threatening.  In fact, there are times, when it's bright, calm, and clear, that things like lighthouses seem entirely unnecessary.  That, however, is not addressed in this parable, and could merit one of its very own.  This is about the storm; when life is dark, when we feel lost and lonely, and when the waves of tribulation just seem relentless. 
 "...when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you..."

The Other People on Deck:

 We are surrounded by people.  Everywhere you go, there are men and women, brothers and sisters, who are each living their own lives.  Many of them are weathering storms of their own, and are struggling to find peace and solace in their trials.  They don't know where to look for help, but they are strong and are doing everything they can to survive and weather the storm as best they can.

The Flashlight:

 Is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a light that we can rely on to direct us personally in all things.  However, it is a gift we must receive.  That doesn't just mean it needs to be given to us, but we also must choose to seek it.  A flashlight is useless if you don't press the button.  The Holy Ghost is dormant if we don't ask for it's guidance.  Also, although the beam is brilliant and clear, it only works for us.  Others cannot see the light it brings us, or receive it's witness secondhand.  Although it can guide us here and now to find shelter in the storm, it cannot guide the ship as a whole to shore.  It can only direct you. 
However, you can use it to help others.
 "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do."

The People Locked Below Deck:

 Are those who have received a witness, but do not use this knowledge to help others.  They feel safe knowing they have secured their salvation, but they do not offer this hope and light to others. 
"Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor."

The Wheel:

 Is the call to lead and serve others.  We all must be a leader at some point in our lives.  It may be in the mission field.  It may be in the home with your children.  It may be as a captain on a sports team.  It may be as an older brother or sister, a concerned friend (or stranger), giving a talk or accepting a church calling.  We are all called upon to take the wheel at some point in our lives, for the betterment of others.  When that time comes, we must all make the decision: Will I grab the wheel?
 "And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies."

(and finally)
The Lighthouse:

 Is the Prophet of God.  We all receive our own portion of the light by the Holy Ghost, but only one is called to direct the children of God through the storms that we face today.  His voice pierces through the wind and the rain, calling us to safety and guiding us through the rocky shallows. 
 I know that God speaks to us through His prophets, not to command us, but to bring us safely home.  If we choose to follow the light.  We can brave the storm alone, if we choose.  But we have a lighthouse because a Loving Father wants us all to make a safe voyage home.

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Make Your Own Parable!

 Ok, I had an idea I want to try out.  Here is the Parable of the Light(house).  But before I give My interpretation, I want to hear Yours! What is the storm?  What are the lights?  What is significant in this parable to You, and how does it relate to the gospel? :) Leave a comment, and let's hear what you think!!!
You wipe the cold sea spray from your squinting eyes, as the strong taste of salt fills your mouth and nose, making you cough into your sleeve. As you wipe the freezing water off your face, you pitch forward, falling on your knees and hands.  What's going on?  Where are you?
 As you get back on your feet, your eyes adjust to the blackness all around you, although the howling wind and bitter spray still causes you to squint.  You realize that you are on a ship at sea, that it must be nighttime, and that you are caught in the middle of a dark, tremendous, violent storm.

 You can hear the voices of others somewhere on the ship, but the wind makes them seem distant, and you can't tell if they are feet, or miles, away.  It's so dark, you can only make out the dark silhouette of the ship around you, and an occasional streak of lightning that illuminates the surrounding sea in a flash.
 You're scared.

 As another enormous bolt of lightning dances across the sky, a huge crack of thunder follows, rumbling the slick floorboards beneath you.  You drop to your knees, half to keep your balance, but more out of desperation. On your knees, you unconsciously begin to pray to be delivered from this storm. The howling wind is mute the words as they leave your mouth, but you refuse to yield until "Amen".  With that, you feel something in your hand, as if it had been there all along.  You hold it a few inches away from your face, and investigate it beneath your fingers.
 It's a flashlight!
 You find the button, and press it.  It illuminates instantly, brilliantly, insomuch that you are now squinting to protect your eyes from the radiant beam.  They adjust, and you can finally see your surroundings.
 The planks beneath your feet are weatherworn and moldy, and you are surprised that they are holding your weight.  As you look around, you see other people seeking shelter from the storm, crouched wherever they can stay the driest amidst the raging typhoon.  None of them have flashlights, you notice.  You also notice a door in front of you leading below deck.  As you approach the door, one of the people shivering behind a barrel on the deck stops you.
 "All the people who have flashlights are down there.  They locked it and won't let us in."

 Perturbed, you turn around, determined to find a safe haven. As you lift your light's beam, you see that the mast has been torn to shreds in the storm, and the wheel of the ship on the upper deck is unmanned. 
 Although your experience with commandeering ships is limited to what you have seen in pirate movies, you know that an unmanned boat, especially in a hurricane, is not a good place to be.  You look up, wipe the biting rain off your face, and press towards the wheel.
 Illuminated under the dazzling beam of your new flashlight, you see that the wheel is green and slimy with scum. It's spinning wildly as the ship is tossed to and fro, and at first you flinch as you reach for it.  But as another crack of lightning strikes dangerously near, you throw caution to the winds and grab the wheel.  You cry out as your flashlight is thrown across the deck and into the sea, but now that you have hold on the wheel, you don't dare let go. Darkness surrounds you, and you realize that you have no place to steer the ship to for safety.  Any way could be the way to land, and any way could steer you further out to sea, amidst the storm.
 You close your eyes, and wish you at least still had your flashlight.

 Suddenly, a deep, penetrating noise pierces through the howling wind and crashing waves. A foghorn.  You open your eyes, and search the darkness for the source of the sound.  After a few seconds, a brilliant beam of light sweeps across the horizon to port.  A rush of relief sweeps over you.  You turn the ship towards the lighthouse, and you can see it is still several miles to land.
 Although you know there is still a lot of storm ahead of you, you know that as you follow the light, you will reach the safety of the harbor.


 Let's hear YOUR parable! :D

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nerd's Eye View: Episode VI

Elder Williams has asked me, Elder Sharples, fellow nerd in the cause of righteousness, to finish out the “Nerd’s Eye View” saga with this, the sixth installment.  The task is, of course, a daunting one.  But how could I turn down the opportunity to write about one of my favorite things in the world, namely, Satan Star Wars?  I couldn’t resist.  So, I’ve decided to (hopefully) rise to the occasion, and bring you this post, a comparison of Darth Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, the Emperor of the Force, whatever you want to call him, and Satan.  I hope you enjoy.

 Of Sidious and Satan:

      Anyone who has seen the piece of cinematic history that is the Star Wars saga knows that of all the villains in history, none surpass the pure evil of Darth Sidious.  Yes, Emperor Palpatine is the embodiment of everything sinister, scheming, and slimy.  Is it any wonder, then, why the comparison between the Emperor of the Force and the prince of darkness is one so apparent?  In many ways, their existences and tactics parallel one another.
      While many of us recognize the Emperor as being a pale-faced, dark-robed, mysterious, yet powerful figure, such was not always the case.  He was once the unassuming Senator Palpatine, high in the echelons of society, and even trusted by the Jedi Council.  However, he wanted more.  He sought to gratify his pride by becoming the Emperor, an act that eventually proved to be his downfall. 
      Likewise, Satan was not always the adversary.  The scriptures tell us he was once Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, obviously high in Heavenly Father’s view (see Isaiah 14:12).  Unfortunately, he too had a problem with pride.  He sought to be more than he was, even placing himself above God.  As a result of this act of rebellion, he was thrust down from Heaven.
      The similarities do not end there.  The means of manipulation of the unseen adversary and “the Phantom Menace” are eerily nearly identical.  For example, let’s look at the life of young Anakin Skywalker, our favorite Jedi-turned-Sith.
      At an early age, Anakin adhered closely to the teachings of the Jedi Council, walking in the ways of his master, Obi-Wan.  However, this quickly changed when he began having visions of his wife, Padmé Amidala, dying in childbirth.  Now, this would make anyone distraught, and gave Anakin a weakness that Sidious was quick to exploit.  Sidious began to tell Anakin of a famous Sith Lord who had the power to restore life to those who had died.  Anakin began to trust less and less in the counsel of the Jedi, and more in the advice of his newfound “friend”.  Sidious seemed to offer Anakin everything he desired.  And so, without realizing it, Anakin had slipped into the grip of the evil Emperor.
      In similar fashion, Satan tempts us with things that we think will bring us happiness.  He knows our weaknesses and seeks to use them against us.  He offers us the temporary promise of satisfaction, with little regard to what this satisfaction will or will not bring us in the long run.  When we give in to these temptations, we fall into the grasp of our Adversary.  The scriptures illustrate this point very well:   
      22 And there are also secret acombinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the bdevil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and cworks of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever. (2 Nephi 26:22)
      The devil and Darth Sidious both lead using flaxen cords.  To lead us, the devil gets us to do little things, like cheat on a math test, illegally download a song, or entertain impure thoughts.  Anakin allowed himself to be led by the small acts at first.  He told Palpatine the plans of the Jedi Council, spent a little more time with Palpatine than he should have, and ever so subtly, his allegiances changed. 
      Unfortunately, these small acts grew, as they often do, into horrific deeds that Anakin probably never thought himself capable of doing.  He betrayed the Jedi by cutting off Mace Windu’s hand, leading to his death, rather than finishing off Darth Sidious. He then killed everyone in the Jedi temple, a despicable act. He even eventually kills his own master, Obi-Wan.  All of this could have been avoided, had Anakin nipped his relationship with the Dark Side in the bud.  While our actions may not be as drastic as those of Anakin, surely the principle applies.  When we grow too dependent on our little sins, we will do more and more to cover them up, or we will justify ourselves in taking the sin to the next level.  We can find ourselves doing things that we once never even considered.  In this manner, Satan binds us with his strong cords.
      Now, while it is always easier to cut off sin in its infancy, or better yet, never give in to the buffetings of Satan, there is a way out.  After Anakin became “Lord Vader”, he told his son, Luke, that it was too late for him.  There was no escape from his past.  I think we can all feel that way sometimes, that there is no hope for us.  However, that was not the case for Anakin, nor is it the case for us.  In one of the most touching scenes of the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader is redeemed.  He abandons his past and sacrifices his life for his son.  Now, whereas Vader was redeemed by his son, we are redeemed by the Son. 
      Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our past transgression.  We can turn from our ways, and abandon and forsake Satan.  With the aid of Christ’s Grace, we can become new men and women.  This is the most hopeful aspect of the Gospel.  Through Christ we can be cleansed from sin.  However, it does take work, it takes sacrifice, but the sacrifice is always, always, worth it.  The Son of God feels the same way about us as Luke did about his father, that within us is the potential to give up the natural man and become something better.  And, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can echo the statement of Anakin to his son as we stand at the judgment bar and say, “You were right.”  So, let’s prove that Christ is right and take hold of His Sacrifice for us, and not give in to the subtle temptation of our adversary.  God speed, and may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Cowboy Code

 My stomach lurched nervously as the landing gear met terra firma once more with a jolt.  I was subdued; unusually so to anyone who knew me.  As it was, the only people who really even knew my name on this plane had only known it for the last three weeks.  I was away from my family.  I was away from my friends.  I was away from the beautiful ridge-lined mountains of Utah. I was away from everything familiar and safe.
 As the plane coasted into the Oakland Airport, I knew it was official.  I was in California.  I was on my own.
 I was now, officially, a missionary.

This is us! Note: I'm the only one crouching.
  Although this was several, several months ago, I can still remember quite vividly my first day in the field.  The next week would be a blur, with moments including being whisked away on my first night twenty miles over the speed limit by pizza-craved missionaries, sleeping on said missionaries' couch under my (still damp) towel, being assigned to Napa, buying my (trusty) bike MJ, and getting locked inside of a gated community at nine o' clock at night with my trainer.

 Still, the weeks passed.  Then, coming up on the calendar, we had a wonderful occurance known as "Zone Conference"!  I had never attended one before, but I admit I had never been that excited to attend a meeting before in my life.  The morning finally came, and, after a 40 minute drive, we arrived in Vacaville for the long-awaited meeting.

 We learned much that day, but one thing in particular stuck out to me.  President and Sister Bunker told us of their experience as ranchers in Star Valley.  We learned of a code of the old west, mostly unspoken among cowboys.  They lived tough, dusty, unforgiving lives in the wilds of the old west, but cowboys always knew to treat a woman with the utmost courtesy.  They knew that talk was cheap, and your honor was upheld by your actions.  They were loyal to their brand, and were respectful and honest with cattle bearing another's seal. Though sometimes stealing was necessary for survival, they would never dream of stealing another man's horse, for his life was dependent upon it.

 What was remarkable was that the Cowboy Code paralleled and applied with missionary work. 

 The Cowboy Code:

1: Live Each Day with Courage

2: Take Pride in your Work

3: Always Finish what you Start

4: Do what Has to be Done

5: Be Tough, but Fair

6: When you make a Promise, Keep It

7: Ride for the Brand

8: Talk Less, and Say More

9: Remember that some things Aren't for Sale

10: Know where to draw the Line

 As missionaries, we strive to live lives of diligence, obedience, and service.  Although these men (and women) of the wild west were far from perfect, they stood up for their values and their beliefs.  They were unflinching in their duties, and loyal to those they served.  They didn't have the luxuries and society that we know today, but they knew what was important. We all need to remember our many blessings, what it is that we stand for, and be loyal to the Master for whom we ride.
 In the wise words of President Bunker, may we all "Cowboy Up!"

Friday, July 8, 2011


The other morning, as I was thoroughly enjoying a romp through the scriptures in my personal study, I came across a verse that spoke to my heart and captured my mind:
 "...he shall mount up in the imagination  of his thoughts as upon eagles' wings."

 Now, anyone who knows me is aware that I have been blessed with an abundance of imagination.  In some cases (usually during classes involving Algebra), I have a bit too much imagination, which often results in odd comments, excessive doodling, and apologies to teachers (and, occasionally, mission presidents) that I had not been paying attention and did not, in fact, hear the question.
 Although these are definite drawbacks to having an overactive imagination, I have a special place in my heart for the ability to ponder, wonder, and create, all within the confines of our own craniums.

 What would reading be like if we could not picture the words coming to life in our minds?  What would sleeping be like if we didn't have the wondrous (and sometimes, profoundly random) dreams that fill the space between dusk and dawn?  What would living be like if we could not dream, hope, and conceive?
 That I don't want to imagine.

 As I pondered (wooh!!) upon this subject, I realized that our Heavenly Father must have the greatest imagination of all.  I mean, all things on this earth and in the universe only came to be because He created it. "For I, the Lord God, created all things...spiritually before they were naturally upon the face of the earth."  Before we do anything, we have to think it first.  That is the beauty of the imagination: it is the laboratory inside all of us where we test, hypothesize, reject, or create.  Any idea must go through this cerebral crucible before it comes to life through or words or actions.  Through this, we learn what works, and what doesn't work.  We grow and progress, our thinking improves, our logic sharpens, our capacity to create expands.  We learn from failed ideas, and revel in successful ones.  When asked about his eventual success at creating the lightbulb, Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have
successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."
 In the profound words of Dr. Seuss, "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"
 The imagination is truly a wondrous gift from a very creative Father.  I believe we could all stand to devote a little more time to pondering and dreaming! As we do so, we follow in the footsteps of Him who imagined up everything.
  Then perhaps we, too, may "mount up...as upon eagles wings" in worlds of our own creation.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nerds Eye View: Episode V

A Lady Like Leia

 As the middle child between two sisters, I grew up around girls.  My sisters were my best friends growing up, despite the occasional sibling rivalry/wrestling match. When I was little, I had many friends in my little neighborhood that were girls. But as I started growing up, girls became scary for a while.  It became difficult and nervewracking to talk to them, but for some reason, it seemed like I started noticing them more.  As time progressed, I eventually outgrew that stage and had many close friends that were of the female variety.
 Of all my friends, it was my friends that were girls that taught me most about spirituality.  For whatever reason, they seemed more mature, more spiritually minded, more bold sometimes, and more caring most times.  I admired these women greatly, and their example still teaches me today.  To me, it seemed (and still seems) that no matter how hard we try, we guys just cannot compare to a strong, righteous woman.  They are just lightyears ahead of us.

 Princess Leia was worthy of the title of "princess" in every way.  She didn't just sit on a throne and look pretty; she was a leader.  She was devoted to the wellbeing of her people, and sacrificed everything to serve them.  She knew that being a leader sometimes meant sacrifice.  She knew that being a leader sometimes meant facing all kinds of adversity with poise and courage. She knew that being a leader meant facing failures and pains and struggles.  She probably didn't know that she would have to face an evil-pointy-droid-sphere of death and pain to defend her people. 
 But she did anyways.
 Even when she was held in a prison cell as the "damsel in distress", the moment she was rescued by Luke and Han, she wasn't afraid to take charge and lead them to safety.  This was not a princess that waited in the tower for help, this was a woman every bit as strong as the guys in the stormtrooper outfits.

 There are women in all of our lives that are like that; they sacrifice and suffer and shine and lead. So many mothers, mine included, have taught us priceless values such as giving, serving, and unconditional love. Countless single mothers across the globe raise their children alone, with patient hope and courage, knowing that they are solely responsible for their children's future.  Innumerable young women, growing up in a society that demeans their divine role as daughters of God and belittles their true potential and worth, still strive to live modestly and righteously amid the onslaught of immorality and filth. 

 Little wonder that the Lord tells us the worth of women is "far above rubies".  They are precious, stalwart daughters of the King of All Creation.  They are princesses that shine in a world that has grown terribly dull and dark.  Without the light and hope that these daughters, mothers, and sisters bring, mankind would be lost.
 They are truly our "only hope."