Monday, September 30, 2013

Doubt Not in Thyself

A scribe once asked Christ what, of all the commandments, was the greatest commandment. To which the Savior replies: to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, with all thy heart, and with all thy strength. Upon this one commandment hangs all the Law and all the Prophets. And the second is like unto it: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Upon these two commandments hang everything we do as disciples of Christ. I've learned that the greatest hindrance to these two laws and perhaps to our lives in general as human beings is that of doubt. Especially self doubt. 

Doubt in its simplest form is the absence of faith. Doubt of the self is an absence of faith in our ability to accomplish what we desire and a fear that we won't be able to progress. Just as serious sin can vastly impact our lives, so can doubt drag us down and hinder our progress. We are commanded to doubt not, only believe, so how can we learn to believe in ourselves? 

Faith in ourselves is gained in much the same way that we build our faith in God. It comes mainly through being able to experiment and see edifying results. We build faith in God by reading scriptures, praying, and going to church. Then as we live his commandments, he blesses us in return and we are able to see the results of our faithfulness. This in turn builds our faith to follow the commandments even more and thus the cycle continues. We come to recognize that we are sons and daughters of a divine Heavenly Father. A spark of divinity rests within each of us and as we allow ourselves to be influenced by it, we build ourselves up and realize our potential. 

“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. …
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 6:34, 36–37.)
We would do well to remember this scripture. When all else fails, we can turn to our savior who's been down the path that we're going through. He's suffered all so that we may rise above our mistakes and obtain our deepest desires. We have a promise, now let us stretch out our hands and take it. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Enormity of Nothing

My next entry for video game week comes to you from a distant galaxy known as New Eden. This is the absolutely enormous game world of EVE Online, my current favorite MMO. (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) The game revolves around piloting spaceships ranging in size from small and nimble frigates to city sized Titans. You can do whatever you want whether it be mining, trading, bounty hunting, or piracy. As long as you got the right ship for the job. Meanwhile all the other players are trying to do the same thing which means there's a lot of player interaction. Especially if they've got you locked in their cross-hairs, ready to unleash all kinds of interstellar hurt on you because they want your stuff.

EVE is different because there isn't any set path to follow, you're in control of your own destiny. It's not like Halo or Call of Duty where you start from point A and try to get to point B while shooting everything in the face with big guns. Rather you are given a HUGE menagerie of choices to follow based on what you want to do because the structure of the game is largely player run. All the while you're traveling billions of miles across the universe. Being in the world can make one feel very, very, very small. 

Isn't that how it's always been? Whether in EVE online or in the real world, we sometimes feel infinitesimally small sometimes. Douglas Adams had this to say on the subject: 

"The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.

Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do.

For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the large forest planet Oglaroon, the entire "intelligent" population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death and the importance of birth control, fight a few extremely minor wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches.
In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the Galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing."

The earth is large with billions of people living on this planet. Living our own little lives and influencing those that have the luck to come in contact with us. Meanwhile everyone else is doing the same thing in their own little bubbles of existence. Perhaps that's why a clear midnight sky evokes such thought in us as we gaze up, reminded of just how small we really are. We read of galaxies and planets that are this many light years away from us. Incomprehensible distances that the human mind is unable, or unwilling, to grasp as we observe the seemingly limitless reaches of God's creation.

This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to god. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within us. We have the incomprehensible promise of salvation within our grasp. And it is God's great desire to help us reach it. Therein we can find hope when we feel the vast enormity of the universe weighing down upon our shoulders. Everything he created is for us and we are the center of everything he does. His glory comes through us and our receiving of our own glory. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Gravity of Choices

I'm going to continue using favorite video games to illustrate gospel principles. An unofficial game week of sorts. So buckle up people because we're visiting the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout 3 

The game takes place in Washington DC, at least what's left of it after the bombs fell and eradicated most human civilization. The main reason I love this game, and what I want to talk about today is that the choices you make, whether in game or in life, have impact. In Fallout, you are pretty much given free reign as to what you want to do. 

You wanna shoot zombies in the face? 

do it. 
Do you wanna fight Super Mutants, big monsters that carry assault weaponry? 

You bet your cerebral cortex you can do that!
In fallout, you are free to do whatever you want. However, each choice you make has an impact on how the game unfolds and how certain characters in the game will treat you in the future. You can crash, burn, pillage, and steal, but be prepared to deal with the consequences. There is a certain gravity to everything that you do. 

I feel that there is a great misconception among the general public that the day where we'll have to make a big decision is far away. That the choices we make today aren't that important or don't have any impact. The simple reality is that every day we make decisions that will impact our lives further on down the road. We are constantly making decisions that will make our lives different or have an impact on other people. 

Back in Fallout, there were decisions that I made that didn't seem to have any impact, like what kind of gun I wanted to carry that in the beginning didn't really seem to be all that important. Fast forward an hour or so when I find myself in the depths of an abandoned subway, being chased by swarms of radioactive zombies through the old metro tunnels. Suddenly a sniper rifle doesn't sound like such a good idea. 

We may not need to worry about what sort of high power weaponry is going to get us through the day, but we make decisions that impact how our days go. There seems to be an never ending list of decisions to make. Some choices are easy to make because they either camp out in the white space, others in the black, but there's an obnoxiously large amount of decisions that seem to hang out in the grey areas where there's  a mix of good and bad with every decision. Suddenly we're forced to consider the long term consequences of what we choose to do.  

Fortunately God has given us things such as scriptures, prayer, and modern prophets who help us know what choices need to be made. The difference between the good and wrong has been made known to us and God expects us to follow through. It's our ability to make choices that is perhaps the greatest gift that God has given us besides his son, so of course He's going to help you make the right choices. However, that also means that we have a responsibility as his children to actually USE this gift. We simply cannot sit in an empty room, unwilling to make ANY choice because we fear what the consequences might bring us. Nor can we expect God to make the decisions for us because then we would miss out on the greatest opportunities of growth. 

There's no doubt that he'll be there to guide us when we need it, but there are other choices where we won't have that clear guide, we'll simply need to make the decision and see where the consequences take us. The time to decide isn't tomorrow. It's today. Character, who we are as people, isn't given to us, but rather it is earned.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

How Not to Play Starcraft

Anyone who knows me knows I like to play video games and anyone who knows me well knows that Starcraft is one of my favorites. 

It's an RTS (Real Time Strategy) game that takes place in the distant future where you play as three different factions; Terran, Protoss, and Zerg which all have their own unique play styles. You control groups of units to collect resources in order to build combat units. These are then used take out your opponent who is trying to do the same thing to you. It's basically a fast and violent version of chess as you use different strategies to stay ahead and defeat your opponent. 

This game takes a lot of practice to get good at playing it. One needs to understand the workings of the game, strengths and weaknesses of each race, and what strategies work best in certain situations. The learning process is as rapid as the game action, which means that you'll make a LOT of mistakes. 

I remember playing a couple matches in Starcraft where I just got owned in some way or another. Sometimes it was because my opponent would use really cheap tactics, something hard to defend against, so that he could squeeze out an easy win. Other times it was a massive army of units so numerous that it would be impossible to defeat all of them with the meager force that I had. In either case, I would quit the game fuming from the defeat and rather than trying to learn from my mistakes, I immediately went into another match. Therefore I missed out on the opportunities to learn so I could better defend myself in the future. Thus I would get owned in the future by the EXACT same tactics used by someone else. If I had taken the extra bit of time to watch the replays of my past games and learn from my mistakes, things like zerg rushes and protoss Death-balls would have become a thing of the past.  

We as humans are going to make mistakes. It is an unavoidable part of because it is how we are able to progress as human beings. The true test is whether we are able to learn from those mistakes and do better next time. Thankfully, we have a loving Heavenly Father that is always willing to help us in the same way that our parents lift us up when we fall down. In the same way that they brush us off and wipe away the tears. As long as we earnestly seek to do better, he will lift us up. 

We shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. That's how life works. But what we should fear is when we are unwilling to make mistakes or to fix them. Then we will be left unto ourselves because just like our earth parents, God cannot help those of us who are unwilling to change or accept the help. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Forging Your Own Path

Have you ever heard the old saying that people who get lost tend to walk in circles?

Jan L. Souman, a German psychologist, wanted to determine scientifically if this was true. He took participants of an experiment to a large forest area and to the Sahara desert and used a global positioning system to track where they went. They had no compass or any other device. Instructions to them were simple: Walk in a straight line in the direction indicated. 

Dr. Souman later described what happened. "Some of them walked on a cloudy day, with the sun hidden behind the clouds and with no reference points in view. They all walked in circles, with several of them repeatedly crossing their own path without noticing it." Other participants walked while the sun was shining, with faraway reference points in view, "These participants followed an almost perfectly straight course. 

This study has been repeated by others with different methodologies. All returned similar results. Without clear markers of direction, Human beings tend to walk in circles. 

There seems to be an interesting phenomenon that I've become acquainted with over the past year and a half of my mission being in contact with countless people on the streets and now over the web as the Church gets it's act together to finally plunge into the 21st century. It's not a serious problem, but I feel it's one of the major reasons that certain people find themselves in the positions that they are in. 

I speak about setting goals. Being able to set up markers and sign post for ourselves on the paths of life that we each follow and then being able to follow through in order to achieve what we want out of life. It's not hard to do, but it's something that everyone needs to know in order to get ahead. 

I had an inspiration when it comes to figuring out our life goals such as cars, education, future wife, etc. are best figured out by asking yourself two three word questions: Why and How. When I have a certain idea pop into my head about something I want in life, such as a Subaru BRZ 

I first have to ask myself WHY I want a fast, six cylinder, rear wheel drive, race car. I want her because I want a car that's fast, steezin' to look at, and is something that I can have fun with. 

So that's why I want a BRZ. Now the question is HOW I'm going to get my hands on one. By simply considering what we need to do, the mental to do list practically writes itself, and because it can get extensive in a hurry, it's always best to keep something to write it down and it's not enought to simply know where we want to end up at, but we need to know where we're going to be in between START and FINISH. You can't climb a ladder that only has the bottom and top steps and so we also need to set intermediate goals of where we want to be at certain steps in achieving our dreams.

First, I need to get a job that pays well. Second, I need to set up a separate bank account or two to fund this car, her modifications, and of course a paint job. Third, I need to check out with separate insurance agencies to get the best deals. Fourth, find a joint that sells these things. (Used preferably) 

And so on and so forth. 

My dream car is but an example in how we can set goals to get what we want in life. I know what I want and how I'm going to get there. Now all that remains is to put these plans into action so I can roll around in style sooner than later.

Setting goals and carrying them out isn't all that complicated, nor hard to pull off, it just requires a little effort and willingness to follow through on our part.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sink the Bismarck

So I had a revelation of sorts, an analogy to life that I found inspiring. I've since used it in my correspondence with a number of people, however, I also feel that it could inspire a lot more people here.

(Now please bear with me, some of my history may be off, so don't criticize me too much. Besides, it's the thought that counts, right?)

Back in World War II, Nazi Germany possessed two of the most powerful battleships to sail the Atlantic. The Tirpitz and the Bismarck, these iron sisters were made to disrupt the Allied shipping between 'Merica and the allies. Both Tirpitz and Bismarck carried 38 cm main guns carried in four two-barrel turrets that fired shells that were basically the size of your little sister and had enough fire power to take on a navy convoy by themselves. The Bismarck even came equipped with 4 float planes just for good measure. (I'm going to focus on the Bismarck for the rest of this little analogy)

In the Bismarck's first real engagement. She singlehandedly took out the pride and joy of the British fleet, the battle-cruiser HMS Hood as well as severely damaging the HMS Prince of Wales, however, she was wounded herself and the allies had learned of her position and decided to give chase to put an end to this German threat. In all, six battleships and battle-cruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers were committed to take out ONE battleship and her support. In the resulting battle that finally brought Bismarck's demise, it wasn't from the salvos of who knows how many battleships and battle-cruisers that did the Bismarck in. The deciding factor of the engagement with Bismarck was from the MK II torpedoes of a squadron of obsolete swordfish torpedo bombers. Bi-planes that could fit in your garage, made of wood and canvas, were the deciding factor in sinking the Bismarck and the deaths of many German servicemen that served on her.

So what does all this nautical nonsense have to do with helping you? Simply put, everyone has a Bismarck to face. We all have that one challenge that seems determined to drag us down and sink us. Bismarck was commissioned and designed to disrupt shipping (valuable supplies that kept the allied war machine going), Likewise, the Bismarck's that we face seem designed to hit us where it hurts. And in the end, just as the British fleet did, we need to face these challenges head on. To wound them and chase them down when they try to slip away and when the deciding moment comes, it's always the little things that we do that'll help decide whether we sink the Bismarck or she gets away.

Do not let fear get a hold of you. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There are always people ready and willing to help you out in a moments notice. You have me and my family behind you as well. Music to bear you up and take your mind off of what's happening. There's a million different little 'swordfish' in our lives that make overcoming challenges possible. And if all else fails, we all have a very loving heavenly father who's ready and willing to lift our burdens and make the weight on our shoulders light because Christ already went through exactly what your experiencing. Just ask him.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Praying for a Mantis

Here's a picture of a Praying Mantis, a somewhat larger species of Orthoptera that I found while doing service for a non-member about a week ago. Some of you ask, "Dear elder, what does this insect have to do with anything important in my life? Is she going to fix the stock market? The Syrian crisis? Daytime television? Why is this Mantis relevant?" The truth is she's an object lesson so buckle down. 

This praying mantis is near the top of her environment, the only thing that she needs to worry about are orb web spiders and birds. She's been given certain tools to use in order to maintain that position. The most notable being her front legs which have evolved into a deadly set of claws for catching prey. You see, a preying mantis hunts by standing absolutely still with her legs held close to her body, making it look like the mantis is 'praying.' She then waits for food to come within striking distance and pounces. Catching whatever hapless prey in her arms where she can then feed at her gruesome leisure. 

So what does this elegant huntress have to do with the gospel, you ask? Simply put she uses the tools that she's been given to hunt and keep herself well fed. On a larger scale, every animal has SOMETHING that gives it an edge in the wild. Something help it find food, avoid getting eaten, or to find a mate. We all have ways that help us get ahead in life and of the competition. Heavenly father has done the same for us. He's given us a set of tools that we can use to get ahead of the competition, overcome temptation, and live happy lives because, Contrary to popular belief, God wants us to be happy in this life. 

He's given us things like the scriptures, living day prophets and apostles, and even the ability to communicate directly with him whenever we want to. Because even though we're at the top of the food chain, I don't believe we're at the top of the spiritual food chain. There's always something greater that we have to watch out for. Some temptation lurking below the water that's waiting to jump when we're not looking. But I know that if we continually try to do what we're supposed to. To put on that armor of God. Then we'll never fall to the darts of the adversary. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Let the Chronicle Begin

This post marks the beginning of a chronicle of the thought process of an elder who found himself serving in the Charlotte, North Carolina mission. It's simply a way for me to share my somewhat longer thoughts of Life, the Universe, and Everything Else as I trudge through the long valley of Mission work and whatever comes after. 

It's a chronicle of me and my time walking with the Lord and Savior while called to his service on a mission.

My thoughts begin with what we are in our very gut of guts. Our inner sanctum. Our... that deep secret thing that Indiana Jones is always trying to break into. Simply put, our identity as individuals. 

Trying to find a common definition for identity of the general public is trying to hold onto water without a secure vessel to hold it in. It'll slip through your fingers every single time. However that may be the best definition for us as human beings. We are liquid. Subject to change in a variety of ways whether it be composition, temperature, shape of vessel holding us, or current state of matter (Liquid, solid, or gas for those who need a reminder.) Because of that, we'll never be the same today as we were ten, five, or even a year ago. Due to those constant changes and influences in our lives, we are always different. Flowing from one state of existence to another. It's that kind of volatility that drives the human brain absolutely bonkers because we as people need constants in our lives, things we can count on to happen on a regular basis. The sun comes up, bugs go squish when you step on them, water freezes at a certain temperature, etc. We need something stable in life to measure ourselves by. 

Fortunately for us, there is such a point of reference. No, it's not the Code of Hammurabi.  We may be subject to change and ditto everything around us. But in the eyes of God, we are the same today, tomorrow, and forever. We are his children and he loves us. Therefore he will go to great lengths to let us know whether it be through living prophets or that dusty black book that you keep on the shelf otherwise known as the bible. The word of God speaks nothing but his love for us. A great comfort to those of us that need something static in a world of constant change.