Category Archives: Serving Others

Do You Believe in God? Part 2

Last night I watched a new BYU production, Joan of Arc, streamed live from BYUTV.org. The story itself is stunning in its impact, inspirational in content, and as historically accurate as they could make it – taking the dialogue straight from the extensive trial transcripts that have miraculously survived over 500 years. Click HERE to view their upcoming schedule.

At about age 13, Joan claims to have been visited by an angel announcing her calling by God to lead the crown prince of France out of exile and be crowned in Reims. Then she was to lead the French patriots against the English who already occupied much of the country. How could a mere farmer’s daughter hope to accomplish any of this? But she believed this was from God, and she had repeated visits and messages from her “voices” who tutored her until she was 17 or 18, when she set out secretly to obey. Well might we think she was schizophrenic or otherwise deluded if it weren’t for the fact that she miraculously succeeded beyond even her own wildest dreams. That she was subsequently tried for heresy for merely political reasons and burned at the stake doesn’t change this history at all. God evidently didn’t want France to be English! And her martyrdom guaranteed that we would never forget His divine role.

I think many people would agree that individuals can and do receive answers to prayer, even many miracles in their own lives. But do we also believe that God directs those leaders, who are willing, on how to bless whole groups of people? Do all people who claim divine authority actually have it? And are there limits on the reach of authority of those who are genuinely inspired?

I think we can all agree that some people are either deluded or lying about claiming revelation and divine authority. But I suggest that Joan’s story gives us one guideline for discerning the source of claimed revelation:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (New Testament, KJV, Matthew 7:15-20)

Here are some others:

Moses claimed that God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to free the Israelites from bondage in Eqypt, in spite of his personal weaknesses. Moses doubted, but obeyed. The result was a series of miracles and deliverance of his people into a better land and a newness of life – clearly “good fruit.” See Exodus 3-15.

The Virgin Mary learned she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the promised Messiah, in spite of her lack of social prominence, wealth, and existing betrothal to another man. The result was the best fruit to ever come forth in all of mortal existence: Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

Teresa D’Avila was Mother Superior and reformer of a Carmelite order of nuns in Spain in the 1500’s. She was a practical administrator as well as famed mystic. She would retreat into prayer for long periods of time, communing with the Spirit of God. The famed sculptor Bernini portrayed her being flooded with divine light and pierced with the love of God. I was privileged to see this amazing work on the wall in the church of Santa Maria Vitória in Rome in 2001 and have never forgotten its impact as lovely soft light filtered down on it from above, just as it evidently did on her in real life! She reports that these experiences informed all areas of her life and very successful leadership.

Bernini Sculpture, St Teresa D'Avila http://www.luiginovarese.org/2015/03/27/il-beato-novarese-e-santa-teresa-davila/

Bernini Sculpture, St Teresa D’Avila
Courtesty www.luiginovarese.org

Peter Marshall was a Scottish immigrant who had received a call to the ministry in his native land after being saved by a divine warning from tumbling over a cliff during a late night walk. He emigrated, attended Seminary, eventually headed a successful Presbyterian church in Washington DC, and finally became the US Senate Chaplain. He was known for his fiery sermons and no compromise on principles. He died young, and his widow Catherine Marshall became a prolific and beloved Christian writer. Reverend Marshall felt the call many times in his work and in his message. His wife’s biography of him, A Man Called Peterwas eventually made into a popular movie – I highly recommend both book and movie (which has a rare audio recording at the end of the real Dr. Marshall speaking). Once again, we have someone called to a specific work for God, and his fruits are far-reaching and good.

Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported a visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees in Palmyra, New York, after reading James 1:5 (If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him) and praying to know which church to join. The result was a totally new church with over 15,000,000 members today, approximately 100,000 missionaries (most paying their own way), and 150 temples, and growing, in operation worldwide providing saving ordinances and sealing families together eternally.  With an emphasis on personal sacrifice, Christ-like love and service, this is an abundant harvest of goodness.

People in other walks of life often claim inspiration and divine guidance in their work and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be a religious leader to receive guidance for groups and individuals over which they have some stewardship (family, patient, client, employee, etc.), just sincere humility and honest intent.

I pray for my children and grandchildren daily and often see the fruits of those prayers. I prayed to be a better teacher, and I still pray for my real estate clients and to know how to properly advise them. I believe we each have an opportunity to become a conduit for God’s love, mercy, wisdom and power in this fallen world.

Just think how much light all of us joined together in faith and charity can bring to it!

New Dawn Courtesy Pixabay #570881

Joyous New Dawn,   Courtesy Pixabay.com

Come To Bethlehem and See

Last Sunday we had our annual Christmas program at church. It was beautiful and uplifting from start to finish. At one point, the congregation joined in for Angels We Have Heard on High, and when we started verse 3, I was struck by the first line and couldn’t get past it:  Come to Bethlehem and SEE…

I had a flashback to my conversion to Christianity when my very first prayer, God, if you’re there, I need to know it…., was answered with a stunning outpouring of love. Suddenly, I could see: see that God was real, see that He loved me, and see that I should henceforth follow Him. My life has never been the same, and my focus shifted from:

  • How do I get this baby to sleep through the night?
  • What am I doing this weekend?
  • How do I pay my bills?

To:

  • How can I be a more serene and loving mother?
  • How can I teach Kevin (and Billy and Roxanne) to read?
  • How do I stand approved before my Savior?

Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Well, this Christian journey has made all the difference in my life, taking me far from where I would certainly be today without it.

We start looking at baby Jesus in the manger at Christmas, but we can also look ahead to His full triumphal return in glory. Please enjoy the following pictures and scriptures as we turn our eyes to more fully see “Him whose birth the angels sing”:

Baby Jesus in a White Stone Manger Courtesy JenedyPaige.com

“Little Lamb” (in a White Stone Manger)
Courtesy JenedyPaige.com

And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. (Matthew 17:8)

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)

Come to Bethlehem and see – see differently!

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson
Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

 

A Deeper Surrender 3 – Stroke and Glide

I grew up across the street from a huge city swimming pool, so I took a lot of swim lessons. For years, though, I was afraid to spend much time underwater. Treading water for long periods of time was a favorite assignment of my teachers. I frantically paddled hard enough to always keep my head above water, quickly becoming exhausted. Ditto with swimming laps. So I was never completely at home in the water, unlike many of my friends who swam like fish. Was I just a weakling or did they know something I didn’t?

Living in New Hampshire at the foot of Highland Lake, I would swim in the clear, shallow water regularly. It was so peaceful that I let go of my anxiety, spending more and more time gliding through the water with my head and face below the surface. I got lost in limbo between earth, water, and sky, a welcome meditation. Later, several of us would swim after dark in remote Center Pond. I’d picture creatures lurking below the surface waiting to grab me and pull me down to unspeakable depths. But then I’d look up at the stars and the silent pine trees ringing the shore and lose myself again in that magical limbo world.

Finally, when I was teaching my daycare kiddies to swim, a professional swim teacher turned on the final light bulb. We all float and can just fully relax in the water; it’s just that most of us only reach that point when we’re completely underwater! Once we accept that, we can swim for hours if need be. Just try to float lower in the water than your body naturally wants to go – you can’t do it without real effort. The trick is to pair breathing in with a swim stroke that lifts our heads above water, then submerge, find our flotation point, and fully relax while we glide and exhale slowly through our noses.

The glide portion lasts two or three times longer than the stroke. Oddly, until we know better, we focus on the stroke since it’s the action part and necessary for moving forward. But as I mastered this swim style, I also came to appreciate the power of the glide. If I fully relaxed in the water, trusted the power of the previous stroke, and exhaled in a long, controlled breath, I could go on and on. And I found that I never sank very far in the water, no matter how much I relaxed. When I moved into an apartment complex with a large indoor pool, I could swim laps for surprising distances, racking up a half mile, then a mile. It was liberating and exhilarating to overcome those childhood fears and limitations.

I find that relating to my emotional, creative, and spiritual highs and lows is a lot like swimming laps. I appreciate the power of the glide here as well. The rest and reflection that my burned-out body force on me bear great fruit, perhaps as great as my bursts of energy and productivity. I sit in my comfortable chair, watching flocks of birds at my feeder, the “wall of green” beyond my patio undulating in the breeze, and new insights come to me that fuel the next “stroke” or push in life. And I find that the Lord never lets me sink below my spiritual “flotation” point as long as I’m truly reaching for Him.

I recently hit an emotional wall, feeling overly isolated, frustrated, and creatively constrained. But instead of frantically “swimming” against this downward force, I let myself glide through the underwater of my soul, checking out what I was really feeling and why, as well as what my many options for response were. I received insightful advice, solved a persistent sign-in problem on a web forum for like-minded people, and read a Guideposts story about its publisher’s stack of prayer requests that he turns to in odd moments – a good example of how I could serve even in tired moments. Doors started to open in my soul and in my life.

Living from my spiritual and creative “flotation point” has been both empowering and humbling. It’s allowed God into my soul. Next time you find yourself in a pickle, try a long glide under your conscious mind and see what surfaces.

A Deeper Surrender

40 years ago I had a profound spiritual experience with God’s spirit and became a Christian. As I studied the promises contained in scripture, I found a totally different way of life: serve God first, work hard, and then we may “stand still and watch the salvation of the Lord” operating to bless us.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power;
and then may we 
stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God,
and for his arm to be revealed.      
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 123:17)

I’ve seen this principle work many, many times and expressed in many different ways:

        • What goes around, comes around. 
        • Virtue is its own reward.
  • What you send out comes back multiplied.
  • What you focus on increases (good or bad).

Recently, however, I found myself in a spiritual “log jam” and struggling to muster the faith to break out of it. I hit a wall with my health and energy levels, my prospecting efforts in real estate weren’t bearing fruit so my bank balance was operating on fumes, and I was finding very little time for other writing. After some deep thought and hearing about how people near me were getting great breakthroughs of energy through serving God and other people, I decided I needed to give more, trust more, and ask for more divine help.

Immediately I ran up against human resistance: laziness, procrastination, the “I’m too tired” syndrome, and just plain lack of faith that the Lord would keep His promises. However, I knew I was really stuck at a set level of contribution, happiness and success. I knew there was more to be had, and that I had extra reserves of dedication and effort within. Remembering another scripture, I decided to “experiment upon the word”:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Book of Mormon, Alma 32:27)

Moreover, I knew that experiment needed to include actually stepping out and living my faith before I could see results, and frankly I found this scary. I already felt stretched thin, tired and overwhelmed, so this required a pretty big leap of faith. But I was determined. I pictured the figurehead of a ship and set my face into the wind to forge ahead.

 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (New Testament, John 7:17)

Ship's Figurehead Courtesy Andrea Malz, Wikipedia.org

Ship’s Figurehead
Courtesy Andrea Malz, Wikipedia.org

So how did my experiment turn out?

I actively sought opportunities to serve my friends, neighbors and fellow church members, I dug into some daunting family history challenges, and I worked “harder and smarter” each day. This still seemed like only a token effort – sincere but minimal. However, the results were amazing!

I was thrust into a new level of energy, connection with the universe, and success. I felt currents of love around me and through me. A For Sale By Owner property turned into a listing. Another agent paid me in advance for marketing work. Happy interactions just sprang up seemingly out of nowhere. And a spiritual healer brought welcome release from energy stuck in the past, as well as advising me to increase my salt intake for my adrenals, which worked dramatically. It was a stunning validation of the principles of faith and sacrifice. “The laborer is worthy of his hire” was utterly fulfilled, far beyond my puny efforts. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 106:3)

I hope I can maintain this vision and level of effort – please keep me accountable. Try it, you’ll like it, as the song goes, and let us know what you learn.

Picking Up the Pace

I have to confess that I’m a closet drag racer.  If I’m the first car in line next to some guy at an intersection and can safely beat him through when the light turns green, I go for it. Friday afternoon, I drove four friends to see the new movie, Meet the Mormons (now in theaters). On the way home, a fellow from our congregation pulled up alongside me in a minivan. He did a great bobble head, nodding toward the light. Like red to a bull, I took the bait. I pulled ahead of him a little smugly until I realized he let me win. Who knew? A bobble head gentleman!

Sitting in church this morning, listening to both a departing and a returning missionary, I realized we are in a different kind of race – the race between those in God’s army and those promoting a life based on selfish pleasure and gain.

I thought about how the many amazing people around me are increasing their contributions to the human family: ministering to prison populations, serving the homeless, or taking their kids to do service in the Third World (see Two Roatans). I thought about how the spread of Christianity is accelerating worldwide, especially in third world countries, and how those converts beam as they describe finding God. Click HERE for numbers and HERE for some stories.

Many Christian churches are sending missionaries and humanitarian aid workers all over the world to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and help those in dire need. My own church has over 83,000 missionaries in 409 missions worldwide, plus 12,000 humanitarian aid workers in 182 countries, most paying their own way. There’s been an urgent call from our leaders to hasten both the missionary and family history work, helping our ancestors also receive saving ordinances.

But here in America, the opposite is too often true. Church attendance is declining and the numbers of nonbelievers is increasing, according to the Pew Research Institute. For a nation whose founding fathers were solidly Christian, we’ve departed far from their vision (see my post, Covenant America). Selfless idealism has yielded to the entitlement mentality. Morality has degenerated into Animal House. Church attendance, prayer in many public places, and a belief in a higher power are decidedly unpopular and even illegal. And the trend seems to be picking up speed.

Perhaps there’s a race that’s intensifying between the secular and the Christian world to see who can win the most converts. Scriptures have long foretold our day when the forces of evil and the forces of good would collide in the largest battle ever seen. This could be really scary except they also tell us the ending, and that the good guys win!

But it’ll be easier to ride out those struggles if we know what we believe and which race we’re running. Where do you stand, and how fast are you running?

Check out a great personal story:

The WWII Candy Bomber

The Candy Bomber in Germany, 1948 Courtesy Blog.Chron.Com/Mormon Voice

The Candy Bomber in Germany, 1948
Courtesy Blog.Chron.Com/Mormon Voice

 

Two Roatans

This week I happened on a PBS travel show in which a charming young woman was exploring exotic sites in Central America, one of which was the island of Roatan in Honduras. She hiked, scuba dived, and dined in elegant style on the their gorgeous beaches. She had a blast and learned interesting things about their culture and history.

Coincidentally, some friends had just spoken in church about their own trip to Roatan, spending six months there with their two teenagers, Ethan and Ellie. Family goals certainly included fun, but with their main focus was on serving others and learning to “do hard things” by lowering their standard of living. With no car, they walked, hitchhiked, or took buses and taxis. They only had electricity and hot water some of the time, no washer and dryer, unwelcome bugs, and a rustic home that needed frequent repairs.

The kids did home school for three months, often doing homework in a hammock, then attended a local school the last three months. It was a tough adjustment walking a mile and a half to church and over two miles to their current service project, but they hung in there. They learned to sing to pass the time and get to know people along the way. By trip’s end, the grumbles turned to good memories and gratitude for a rich experience.

What’s the difference? Our first traveler focused on fun and experienced Roatan strictly as a tourist. My friends lived the life of the locals, eating in “hole-in-the-wall” cafes no tourists ever saw or cooking their own food bought at the native market. They volunteered at the local orphanage, in a mobile dental clinic, at the local library, photographed headstones for billiongraves.com, and more.  Here are some of their personal photos. I wholeheartedly recommend their blog:  What I Learned in Roatan

Ethan and Ellie at Mobile Dental Clinic Used by permission, All Rights Reserved

Ethan and Ellie at Mobile Dental Clinic
Used with permission, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethan at Lighthouse Ministries Orphanage Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

Ethan at Lighthouse Ministries Orphanage
Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

Ethan and Ellie in Paradise Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

Ethan and Ellie in Paradise
Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roatan Library Donation Box, Painted by Mom Stephanie Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

Roatan Library Donation Box, Painted by Mom Stephanie
Used with Permission, All Rights Reserved

I can’t help but wonder how this trip will affect Ethan and Ellie’s future, compared to kids raised with not only a silver spoon in their mouths but also in their souls, living for themselves and not so much for what they can give back to humanity.

I think of the following scripture in Matthew 16:24-27:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Jesus was the ultimate example of serving others, not Himself. I think Ethan and Ellie learned precious lessons in Roatan, not just how to do good but also how to live a happier, more fulfilled life, connected to the grand, eternal cycle of life.

Two Roatans.  Two perspectives in life.  One on self, one on others.  It’s a choice we all face.  And just like the two roads that diverge in a wood, that choice makes all the difference.