September 30, 2012

Special Lessons

I spoke in Church today and my theme was based on Elder Ronald A. Rasband's talk in General Conference from April 2012. I love General Conferences of the Church which are available to the entire world, free of charge, and always center around the Savior, Jesus Christ and His teachings. I am grateful for opportunities to speak in Church regarding those teachings because of the things I learn as I prepare. The text of my talk is below...

It is wonderful to see a missionary return home after faithfully serving the Lord. Whether it be in the mission field or in our everyday lives, our loving Father in Heaven sends messengers with special lessons for us to learn and then apply. I’d like to focus my remarks today on three such lessons I learned from Elder Rasband’s last General Conference address entitled “Special Lessons.”

Lesson 1 – The Body is a Frame

Elder Rasband began by mentioning a grandchild that had been born with a genetic disorder. He quoted Elder Russell M. Nelson who said, “For reasons usually unknown, some people are born with physical limitations. Specific parts of the body may be abnormal. Regulatory systems may be out of balance. And all of our bodies are subject to disease and death. Nevertheless, the gift of a physical body is priceless. … A perfect body is not required to achieve a divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail frames. …Eventually the time will come when each ‘spirit and … body shall be reunited again in … perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.’” (Alma 11:43)

I love Elder Nelson and Alma’s description of the body as a frame. Several months ago we took our Ward Young Men and Women to the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU. Carl Bloch was a Danish artist who painted some of the most stunning scenes from the life of the Savior, many of which have been used by the Church. As our group walked around looking at the paintings, I was struck by their beauty, the way the light reflected on the Savior, the representation of healing and helping painted on canvas. As I have thought about the beauty of the artwork, I realized something. Though I can remember most of the paintings, I cannot remember one single painting frame! I remember that which the frame contained, but the frame itself holds no memory for me. And that’s the way it should be. In the world of art, the frame has one major purpose, to surround, highlight and draw attention to the art itself. The frame is never the main focus.

This has wonderful gospel application. All of us on earth have a physical body, however it is just a frame. The true work of art is what’s inside the frame; our Spirit, our character, the essence of who we really are. The body should never be the focus of attention. Now this is not to say that we should just let our bodies go. Our bodies are a priceless gift from God and they have a divine purpose so we need to treat them with our utmost respect and care. But I worry that sometimes we get caught up in worldly thinking that the body is the art, not the frame. That is dangerous doctrine. If we are not careful, we could spend too much time emphasizing and decorating and building up the frame, our bodies, at the expense of our spirits, the true masterpiece. That approach, gone on for too long, could lead to an individual who is prim and proper on the outside but hollow on the inside. It would be like going to an art gallery and seeing on the wall empty frames. None of us would spend 5 minutes in that gallery, yet so much focus in this world is on our frames, our bodies.

We can learn a great deal from those whose frames are frail, who have physical illness and limitations. For those of us that know these individuals, we have learned that the condition of their frame is irrelevant. We focus instead on the true work of art within. And how marvelous those works of art are. As beautiful the masterpieces of Bloch, Monet, DaVinci and Picasso are, none compare to the magnificence of the human spirit, especially a spirit housed in a frail frame. These amazing individuals know that through Christ’s death and resurrection, they will one day be restored to “their perfect frame” (Alma 40:23) so instead they focus on things of the Spirit and by so doing bless the lives of all who spend time with them. We would all do well to determine where our focus lies. Do we spend more time developing our bodies (the frame) or our character (the masterpiece within)?

Lesson 2 – The Flat Tire

Earlier this month I noticed that a tire on one of our vehicles was flat. Given my extremely limited mechanical capabilities, it was a miracle that I figured out how to get air into the tire so I could drive it to the tire shop. For those of you that may not already know, a car tire is not like a balloon. You cannot use your mouth to blow into the nozzle to insert more air. Just thought I’d add that in to save any of you any future embarrassment. Now I’ll admit, with other things going on that day, the last thing I needed was to spend time or money on a new tire. Once at the shop, the mechanic motioned for me to come over. He pointed out a nail that had caused the flat tire and that it could be repaired, however he also pointed out two of the other tires that were in much worse shape, one of which he said could fail at any time. I looked at the tires myself and could immediately see that he was right. I quickly realized that as inconvenienced as I had felt by having the flat tire, it was actually a great blessing as it brought to light other problems that needed my immediate attention. Without the flat tire I would never have even been aware of the greater need.

Speaking of physical trials, Elder Rasband taught “Some might ask when faced with such suffering, how could Almighty God let this happen? And then that seemingly inevitable question, why did this happen to me? Why must we experience disease and events that disable or call precious family members home early or extend their years in pain? Why the heartaches? At these moments we can turn to the great plan of happiness authored by our Heavenly Father. That plan, when presented in the pre-earth life, prompted us all to shout for joy. Put simply, this life is training for eternal exaltation, and that process means tests and trials. It has always been so, and no one is spared. Trusting in God’s will is central to our mortality. With faith in Him, we draw upon the power of Christ’s Atonement at those times when questions abound and answers are few.”

I have come to learn that physical trials, like flat tires can bring to light significant spiritual problems that need our immediate attention. Though this is a hard doctrine, I have learned that these “flat tires” so to speak, are placed in very strategic and customized areas by an all-powerful and all-loving God who wants nothing more than for us to find joy in this life and to return home, worthy to remain in His presence. (See Moses 1:39) He knows that because we are mortal, we are not apt to work on divine characteristics without some motivation. Elder Keith B. McMullin once taught that “Were it not for adversity, we would not know to ‘choose the better part.’ Adversity helps us see where we need to repent, to bring into subjection baser instincts, to embrace righteousness and enjoy “peace of conscience.”  (General Conference, October 2005) And so God provides “flat tires,” trials for us that bring to light greater needs.

Most of you here today know that my wife Jeni’s health has been poor for most of our marriage and for the last 10 or so years, she has had serious health challenges including strokes, seizures, body changes, and a myriad of other physical issues. As inconvenienced as we have felt at times, these physical trials have directed our attention to weightier matters; more important lessons we needed to learn and are still learning such as:

How do you retain faith in the Lord Jesus Christ when there is no visible reward of that faith?
How do you retain hope for the future on days when all seems dark and discouraging?
How do you retain charity for others when pain draws you constantly to your own suffering?
How do you submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord (Mosiah 24:15), when that will includes suffering?
When you are physically exhausted and feel you can do no more, how do you access strength through the atonement of Jesus Christ so that you can last another day?

Just as Elder Rasband shared about his grandson Paxton, I too testify that through Jeni’s physical suffering, “the works of God” have been made manifest in her. (John 9) Knowing that these physical trials or “flat tires” are customized for our good to teach us the lessons we specifically need to learn, we have also done as Matt Oldham shared last month, to move from “Woe is me” to “Lucky me.” I was not feeling “lucky” when I saw the flat tire, but I feel lucky now. We can feel that same way about our trials, if we will allow them to divert our attention to the weightier matters that need to be considered, addressed and overcome.

Lesson 3 – The Drowning Neighbor

The first two lessons have focused on how we respond to our own trials and the purpose behind them. This last lesson focuses on how we respond to the trials of others. Everyone has sorrows and struggles of some kind and in most cases they go unseen by the rest of us. Would it surprise you to know that everyone here today has some struggle or trial or difficulty that they are faced with even now? For some they may be minor but for most of us it’s probably a significant issue.

For some here today it’s a financial struggle with fear for the future on how you’re going to make ends meet. For others it’s the worry that you may never find a job or at least a job you enjoy. Some of us have a close friend or family member that has lost their testimony and have either left the Church or have one foot out the door. Several here today are alone or feel alone and would give anything for a true friend or companion. Others are single parents who try to raise their children on their own and are overwhelmed much of the time. Or perhaps we have a loved one who is sick or suffering with severe health challenges that don’t appear to be getting better and in some cases are getting worse. Whatever the concern, it does not mean that we are shallow people if we struggle with the depth of the trial. Sometimes our difficulties are a result of sin or poor choices. Sometimes they come as a result of someone else’s misuse of agency. And sometimes they are allowed to come by our Father in Heaven to teach us and train us for greater things ahead. Often more important than the reason for the trial is our response to it.

In that regard, Elder Rasband taught “If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well-meaning and often given, ‘Let me know if I can help’ is really no help at all.” Brothers and Sisters – “Let me know if I can help” is no help because the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of action! When we emulate the Savior, we don’t hide in a corner or avoid situations to help others in need.
Like Sister Graff, when missionaries knock on the door and tell people they have a message from God, do they say “Let me know if you’re interested” and then walk to the next house? Or do they say “May we come in?”
If we’re driving down the road and see someone who has run out of gas, do we roll our window down as we drive by and say “Let me know if I can help?” Or do we stop and say “Let’s go get you some gas.”
If someone we love’s cupboards are bare, do we say “Let me know if I can help” as we head home to our own abundance? Or do we say “I’m bringing you dinner in 30 minutes.”
If we’re at a friend’s home and the kids are all screaming and the house is a disaster and our friend is frazzled and overwhelmed, do we say “Let me know if you need anything” as we quickly sneak home with a sigh of relief? Or do we roll up our sleeves and say “You go sit down and take a break. I’m going to watch your kids and help you clean up.”

Think of the Savior’s parable of the Good Samaritan. The first few men that came upon the beaten traveler simply walked by him, not pausing to do a single thing. It wasn’t until the Good Samaritan came that action was taken. The Samaritan did not leave a note pinned to the man’s shirt that said “Call me if you need anything.” No, he immediately dressed the wound and took him to someone that could help him further. Remember that this parable came in response to the question asked of the Lord “Who is my neighbor?”  If the Good Samaritan was determined to be the traveler’s neighbor, then by that definition a neighbor is more than just someone we know or live by. This parable teaches us that a neighbor is anyone we come across who is need, regardless of who they are, where they live, what Church they attend, their political party, or their station in life.

There are opportunities to be “neighbors” right in our way, all about us in this ward. It does not require a calling as a home or visiting teacher to reach out and give aid or assistance, though certainly the home and visiting teachers should be right there on the front line. But any of us can and should help anyone else. If we see a need, we shouldn’t wait until we’re asked or offer the “Let me know if I can help.” We can be rescuers, lifeguards to jump into the waters of mortality to give aid to those who are drowning. Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves “Who do I know that is drowning? What can I do today to follow the example of the Savior and show mercy (Luke 10:37), jumping in, lifting up hands that hang down and strengthening feeble knees. (D&C 81:15)


In closing, in these three lessons and in all lessons in life, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ not only blesses us with the example of how to apply these lessons, but it is through Him that we receive the strength to do so if we will but Come Unto Him. (Matt 11:28) If we find ourselves spending more time on our physical development than on our spiritual development, the Savior can help us change our priorities. If we are struggling with “flat tire” trials in our lives, the Savior can teach us where our focus should be. And if we see our “neighbors” drowning, the Savior’s great example can help us know in an instant how to jump in and emulate His mercy and grace and power of deliverance.

If any of us today have felt a stirring in our souls to make some changes, whether big or small, I pray that we’ll have the humility and submissiveness to make those changes without delay, whatever the inconvenience and whatever the cost. I testify that Christ lives and that we can follow His example in all things. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.