The Parable of the Expired Coupon

I’m sure anyone with a loyalty card can relate. You spend, spend, spend so you can qualify for a discount or a coupon or a special offer thanking you for your loyal patronage. I do that at my local hardware store. This store doesn’t require me to buy much until I get a $5 or $10 off coupon in the mail. These are especially great when the seasons are changing because I can buy ice melt or landscaping materials. And I like to brag about getting a bargain.

Can you guess what happens? I get the coupon, put it away for safe keeping so I can use it when I’m ready, and then pull it out to use just in time to realize… it expired a week ago. Every. Single. Time. I hate that feeling. A deal was within reach. Plans were made. Ice was melted and flower beds were beautified. In my mind. In actuality, I still need those things, but now I have to shell out more of my OWN money instead of taking advantage of what had been offered me on behalf of the store.

The Lord Jesus Christ offered us a way to overcome our sins. His Atonement provides a way for us to repent of our wrongdoings, seek forgiveness from God and those we’ve hurt or offended, and be made spiritually whole again. Jesus Christ has already suffered, taking upon Him all our sins. He assumed the burden and paid the price of our sins. “For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; … yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement” (Alma 34:9). But for the atonement to have effect, we must exercise faith in Him. We must be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and obey His commandments. And we must be faithful disciples. And, the Lord has taught that we must not procrastinate the day of our repentance (Alma 34:33).

So back to the expired coupon. It’s not hard to imagine how I feel when I take full advantage of the deal that the hardware store has made available to me and the disappointment I experience when I realize I have missed my chance. Christ has made it possible to gain forgiveness and eternal life. Unlike the store coupon, available to only certain customers, His offer is available to every one of God’s children. And unlike the store’s policy of not accepting expired coupons, God is merciful. He knows we’re not perfect and will continue to sin. He wants us to repent and let the atonement take effect in our lives. I believe in His “policy.” I need His mercy always. 

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Back to school

ImageThe kids go back to school next week. As a parent, I worry about them making good friends, making good choices, being safe, and having confidence in themselves.

I’m certain our Heavenly Father has those same concerns for us, His children here on Earth. I’m thankful that the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that He knows us and is always near.

I take comfort in this scripture: “Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world.” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:40-41)

God and Jesus Christ know there are things we cannot handle at some points in our lives without divine help. In fact, our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan called for us to come to this earth, gain a body, and go through life’s challenges and trials. If we have that perspective, we should learn things that strengthen us. As we grow in our faith, and learn from experiences both good and bad, our ability to handle things increases.

As a father, there are times where it would be easier for me to step in, take control of situations, and do things for my boys. But learning from the Savior, I know that they will be stronger men someday if I let them figure some things out themselves. I’m willing and ready to help if needed. But I think if my kids know it’s ok to do hard things, they’ll benefit from facing what life puts in front of them.

And I’m glad our Heavenly Father does the same for us.

Happiness! 100% off.

written by guest blogger April M.

sale-iconThere are many emotions I’ve been privileged to experience in my 44 years.  Among these are desperate sorrow, crushing fear, overpowering joy, and indescribable peace!  Through this I have learned one truth: sorrow and fear can be erased and replaced with joy and peace!  This miracle is accomplished through the Atonement of Jesus Christ!

A friend once taught me about the beauty of this miracle, using an analogy.  She compared our access to the blessings of the Atonement to something each of us does – grocery shopping!  The blessings, or “goods,” we desire are available for us at a figurative “store”, as follows:

Our Elder Brother has paid the FULL price for every item in the store we desire! Everything we want is 100% off!  He spent His money for our goods and they are now free for us to enjoy!  But – we must make an effort to get them. We must grab our keys and get in the car.  We must drive to the store. We must push the shopping cart. We must remove the items from the shelves. We must fearlessly tell the cashier the items have already been paid for. Then, we go home, supplied with all we need!

Let’s take a look at what this truly means:

Jesus Christ already atoned for our sins, paying the price for every sin that every one of us will make! He knew that we would never be able to fully pay the debt required to purchase salvation so He paid it for us! But we must do OUR PART to access His wonderful gift. It requires effort.

We must “grab our keys and get in the car.” – Get on our knees and offer a heartfelt prayer!

We must “drive to the store.” – Plead to our Father in Heaven that the Holy Atonement may be applied in our behalf!

We must “push the shopping cart” – Promise to change!  We must push through the temptation with our eyes focused on Christ and trust in Him to pull us through it!

We must “remove the items from the shelves” – Forgive ourselves! Have courage!  Commit!  

We must “fearlessly tell the cashier the items have already been purchased” – BELIEVE that the Savior has the power to cleanse us!  We must HAVE FAITH!

Then, we “go home, supplied with all we need.” – We let go of fear and sorrow, knowing that Jesus Christ has made us whole!

 “Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying:  Depart from me?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.” (2 Nephi 26: 25, 27)

I know that the healing blessings of Christ’s Holy Atonement are real. I have experienced them. I could not survive without them. I know that Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to not only live again, but to live – HAPPILY!

What a difference 20 years makes!

Do you remember the Johnny Depp movie “Benny and Joon?” Yea, probably not, but I certainly do. I went to see it with a friend from high school just after graduation. You may wonder what an obscure movie from two decades ago has to do with a blog about Jesus Christ. On the way home from the movie, my friend asked me a question. “What do you want most in life?” The conversation that followed changed my life.

The conversation ended with an invitation to read a few passages from The Book of Mormon and to meet with two missionaries who could tell me more about the Church. Over the course of the next few weeks, I did meet with them, I challenged them with questions, prayed for answers of my own, and made some big decisions.

baptismTwenty years ago today, August 1, 1993, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that baptism is an ordinance that is essential to return to live with God after this life. We believe that it must be baptism by complete immersion in water, performed by someone who has the authority to do so (we’d refer to it as someone holding the priesthood). Jesus Christ set the example himself by seeking baptism from his cousin, John the Baptist. John held the same priesthood authority, and baptized Christ by immersion in the River Jordan (Mark 1:9). Immersion is symbolic of spiritual and physical death as well as spiritual re-birth and physical resurrection.

Baptism is also the way a person becomes a member of the Church. We make covenants, or promises between God and ourselves, to devote our lives to the service of God and His children. While baptism is a one-time event, each Sunday we take the sacrament (communion) and re-commit ourselves to those baptismal promises. The reason you may see your Mormon friends and neighbors doing service in the community or neighborhood is because of those promises to serve as Christ served. Any individual who is eight years or older and willing to live the standards of the Church may be baptized (read more about baptism here).

So I mentioned that one conversation changed my life. It did because it led me to the decision to be baptized. Because of that, I know my life has purpose. I know I’m not alone, that Christ knows me and my challenges. I know that we are all children of God, here on earth to gain experience and exercise faith. I know that my family can be together beyond this life if we all live true to the promises we make at baptism. I know that I have a responsibility to share what those things mean to me with others. I’d likely still be leading a happy life if I hadn’t been baptized 20 years ago today. The difference is that the happiness that I have in my life has eternal meaning and significance to me and my family.

Does church need to be cool?

seminary-students-reading-book-of-mormon-on-busThere are lots of online conversations happening this week surrounding Millennials and church (any church), and whether they’ll “stay or leave.” (original CNN article found here). One blogger said what I think anyone really wants from a church, regardless of age: “I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.” Nail-on-head. That’s the same reason I go to church. It may not be as fun as other activities (Mormons spend three hours at church on Sunday, more if you have additional church responsibilities), but I go because faith is important to me, and it needs to be real.

I once had the opportunity to ask a senior leader of the Mormon Church what is the biggest concern the Church leaders have when it comes to youth. His response: “We’re concerned that our youth aren’t being taught enough straight-forward, honest, real doctrine. We’re concerned that adults who are called to teach and guide the youth sometimes try to sugar-coat things, or look for ‘cool’ ways to teach principles, when all the youth are yearning for is simple, real truths that they can’t get anywhere else.” 

I go because it provides me the opportunity to recommit myself to following Christ and renew the promises I made at baptism. I go because it lifts me, and the people there lift me. I go because I feel others need to be lifted, and maybe there’s something I can do to help. I go because, as that blogger said, I’m seeking real doctrine, things that help me be a better Christian, a better citizen, a better husband, a better son and father. I go because I believe it to be true, the Lord’s church on the earth.

Pretty simple, and real. What keeps you going to church?

Is there proof that God exists?

My mother will tell you that, as a child, I hated getting dirty. As an adult, I joke about being “indoorsy.” I have my three year old convinced that staying in an air conditioned cabin with running water, wi-fi, and real beds is camping. My older boys disagree. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

existenceI have always believed God exists, and to me, the evidence of a divine Creator is all around us. We recently visited several national parks in the American West, and my conviction in the existence of God was naturally strengthened (pun intended). The majesty of a redwood forest, the grandness of red rock arches and canyons, and the subtleness of a rainbow arched behind Half Dome all proved to me, again, that we are not on this earth by accident. While all these places are beautiful and awe-inspiring, I find just as much evidence in the grass that grows in my backyard that God  “made the earth, and created man upon it.” Isaiah 45:12.

The creation of the earth is a key element in God’s plan. He provided this earth, with all its variety, for us to live upon in a mortal body, to gain experience and develop faith in Him, and to be happy while doing so. An apostle stated: “Grand as it is, planet Earth is part of something even grander—that great plan of God. Simply summarized, the earth was created that families might be.

So, while I may enjoy all the comforts of the modern age, I continue to appreciate the beauty of the earth that is all around. More importantly, I know God lives and loves us as His children. If you’d like to read more about the role Jesus Christ played in the creation and its purpose, I invite you to read this article by Russell M. Nelson. 

Is it time for dinner?

family-dinnerGrowing up, we knew it was time to sit down together as a family as soon as my dad came home from work. It was a special time for me. I felt like I mattered to my parents because there were no other distractions. I decided that when I got married and started my own family someday, family dinner would be the standard.

I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or a Mormon, shortly after high school. One of the things that appealed to me the most was the importance of families. That, of course, is not unique to the Mormon faith. Family is important to Christians and non-Christians alike. What is different is the gospel principle of eternal families. The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ promises that families can be together not just in this life, but for eternity when marriage between a man and a woman is performed by one holding the proper priesthood authority to do so in a temple. My wife and I will soon celebrate 14 years of marriage. Four active sons keep us busy.

“We understand and believe in the eternal nature of the family. This understanding and belief should inspire us to do everything in our power to establish a Christ-centered home.”  – Elder Richard C. Maynes

These days, traditional marriage and family are under attack. While raising a family isn’t always easy, we have found that things go better when we focus on what’s important: prayer, regular church attendance, and yes, eating dinner together. We carefully protect our schedules so that we have time for one another. We share household chores and play together. By centering our home on Christ, teaching our children about their relation to God, and focusing on faith-building activities, our family has been blessed. There is less arguing, a greater peace is felt, and stronger bonds are built when we are doing those things.

Now back to the dinner table. While it may simply be a piece of furniture, it’s the place where loving relationships are fostered in our family, support is given, and our children feel safe and heard. When it’s time for dinner, we put the gadgets away, we don’t answer the phone, and we focus on each other. We talk about our day and our kids tell jokes. Sometimes noses turn up because “vegetables are gross.” To some, that might seem a little too “Ward and June Cleaver” for our modern day. However, I’ve never regretted having a traditional marriage and choosing to raise a family. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than with my family. Pass the potatoes, please.

PHOTO CREDIT: TETRA IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

Is it selfish to be happy?

happyThis excerpt from an article in the Kansas City Star really resonated with me, and I wanted to share. The question was posed “With all the misery around us, is it selfish to be happy?”

There can be a very direct connection between the misery and difficulties that some people face and our personal happiness. We learn about this connection through something that Jesus Christ taught. In response to a query from a Pharisee who asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. … And the second is like unto it: Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
True happiness comes from doing what Jesus taught and showed us to do, to be obedient, decent, honest, forgiving and humble, for example. Most of all, he taught us the importance of having charity toward others. To underscore the supreme importance of Christlike charity, we learn from the Scriptures that even though we may have many other talents, if we “have not charity (we) are nothing.”
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that a new house, a new outfit, a promotion or becoming famous will make us happy. Some of these things may make us happy for a while. But generally, it never lasts because beauty, prestige or fame are often fleeting and don’t bring lasting happiness as much as we think or hope that they would.
Rather, true happiness comes when we pattern our lives after the Savior of the world. When we encounter those who are struggling, suffering or in need of our help, we should always ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do?” The answer, of course, is to do all that we can to help, comfort, relieve and succor. As we do, we will be happy because of selfless love and service. – Elder Donald D. Deshler of the Seventy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

What about you? How do you find lasting happiness in life?

The freedom to…

A Book of Mormon prophet wrote of the land we now know as America. “For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God.”(Ether 2:9-10)

Our family legend (meaning I have yet to validate the connection) has it that we are descendants of Robert Morris, Declaration of Independence signer. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was a sacred experience for me, and I consider it hallowed ground. Our Founders knew that individuals are entitled to certain rights and privileges  Many of them believed in a Greater Power, and that all people should be free to worship as they choose.

As Americans celebrate Independence Day today, we also give thanks to God from whom all blessings come.