Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Stable -- A Symbol of Hope

For the past few years I have tried to look at different aspects of the Christmas story to keep the spirit of Christmas ever fresh in my mind. This year, my focus has been on the lowly stable where Christ was born. This stable brings up many questions in my mind.

What was the stable like? In various nativity scenes the stable is portrayed as a quiet, quaint, and almost sacred place. But I don’t think this romanticized view of this wretched place does justice to the lesson God is trying to teach.

image Rather than a place worthy of the birth of the King of Kings, the stable was likely a cave filled with soiled hay. It was probably cleaned out infrequently but even after this cleaning, it wreaked of decades of dirty animals.

My guess is the air in the stable was heavy, difficult to breath, and filled with flies. The ground as always damp an covered with saturated hay. There as a constant scurrying about of rodents.I can imagine that prior to entering this stable, people would take a deep in order to avoid breathing in this putrid air. This was not a place fit for humans.

Why would the Father choose the stable to be the birthplace for His Son?

image Jesus was a new-born baby. He had no recollection of the stable. So, the stable could hold no lesson for Him.

image Joseph clearly understood the importance of Mary’s child. To help him avoid breaking off their engagement, an angel appeared to him. From that point on, Joseph did all he could to protect Mary and to ease her great burden. I assume that Joseph felt only guilt for not finding a more suitable place for this sacred Child to be born.There was no lesson here for him.

image Mary needed no more lessons on humility or submission. For nine months she bore the shame of being an unwed mother and almost lost the opportunity to marry the man she loved. That Mary so willingly accepted this inhospitable place to bring her Child into this world is a testament of her great humility and her willingness to submit to all the will of the Lord.

No, I don’t think the stable held any vital lessons for Jesus, Joseph, or Mary.Rather, I believe the stable is an important symbol for anyone seeking to be a disciple of Christ.

What can we learn from the stable?

image I feel the most important lesson we can learn for this wretched stable is that our personal pathway to eternal life pass right through that most horrible place. Our mortal experience is symbolized in this most lowly of stables.

Each of us is beloved child of God. Yet, in spite of our birthright, we are all sent to this fallen earth awash in filth and grime. Mortality is our stable. None of us will come through this experience unscathed. But we are not without hope.

Because of the Christ-child, we can all be cleansed from the seemingly indelible stains of mortality. There is no sin we can commit nor pain we must endure that cannot be lifted by the selfless sacrifice of God’s beloved son.

image This is the message heralded by the angel announcing the birth to the shepherds:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

I urge each of you to follow the shepherds and come with haste to worship the Son. Let Him bind up your wounds and dry your tears. That ancient stable blessed to be the birthplace of our Savior is our message of hope.

To Touch the Face of God

We have all been hurt by the tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary school yesterday. It will be difficult, if not impossible to make sense of this tragedy. We may never understand why this young man with a troubled mind would act so brutally and callously against those who did him no wrong.

But we must be careful not to allow our hurt, our attempts toward empathy,and our profound sense of loss devolve into anger or hate. This will serve no purpose.

image These events reminded me of another time this nation, and its school children, faced a tragedy that left us reeling. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger blasted off from Cape Kennedy bearing seven astronauts. Among them was a school teacher named Christa McAuliffe.

Because she had special permission from NASA to join the crew, school children from all around the world took a break from their classes to watch the space shuttle launch. Unbeknownst to all, an O-ring on one of the massive fuel tanks was damaged. As the super-hot gases ignited in the tank, this small device failed and flames tore through the exterior of the tank.

image Only 73 second into the flight, in front of the nation and its anxious school children, the space shuttle exploded killing all seven of its crew.

There was no way to shield the children from this tragedy. There was no way to prepare them for what they saw. Millions of children were stunned that day as was an entire nation.

That night, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national TV to help start the healing process. In, what I view as his finest moment, the President spoke to the nation and its children about the tragedy. He ended his speech from a line of the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee which reads:

“…[they] slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

As you seek to frame this tragedy in its proper context, I urge each of you to view this video from that speaks to the concept of tragedies and the hope that follows when we have an open heart. I pray that you will allow this message to reawaken the spirit of Christmas to speak peace to your souls.

Remember, it is in the midst of tragedy that we are more open to recognize the tender mercies of a loving Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Proper Perspective

In light of the elections last night and the vitriol expressed by many through social media outlets, I feel it imperative to focus your attention on how to place these events in their proper perspective to help you develop a pattern for the future.

image As the Civil War raged on, President Lincoln faced the difficult task of seeking his second term amidst the flames of battle. The press predicated not only that President Lincoln would lose but that he would be embarrassed by his opponent General McClellan.

The nation had grown tired of war and blamed Lincoln for all that was wrong in their lives. The campaign was brutal. Both sides predicated that if the other party won it would be the end of the United States.

Lincoln won.

The nation endured.

This nation will always endure.

When the results of last night’s election became apparent, my wife was monitoring the responses from friends and family on Face Book. As you are all aware, many, whose candidate lost the election, starting posting extremely negative, even hateful responses. Among those posting were my wife’s family members.

image As their posting became more negative, my wife tried to make the case for more tolerance. Instead of tempering their emotions, these family members turned their venom on her. Such uncivil behavior is unbecoming of a Latter-day Saint. We are all better than that.

While many of our family and friends feel compelled to spew their disgust in a public forum, I am very pleased with the restraint I have seen from many of you who may be been equally disappointed but you, unlike those older and more experienced than you, were better able to measure your responses.

Please note, that as my friends and acquaintance feel justified in unfettered rants, I have explained to them how you have been very successful in being just as passionate for your beliefs without descending into the abyss of hate-mongering. I am very proud of you.

I think we can all learn from Governor Romney's concession speech where he stated publically that he would pray to God for the President's success. Mitt Romney is a great man. Great in victory and gracious in defeat.

So, please do your best to avoid the natural tendency to vent. Nothing good comes from the expression of raw emotion. I suggest you take the time to read what the Brethren say about last night’s election.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It is Almost Here

No, this is not about the elections. Rather this is about something almost equal in importance. You guessed it – Ward Date Night!!!

Let me make sure you all have clarity about the evening so that any misgivings can be avoided.

Exemption from the dancing ban. Yes, I know I have classified dancing as one of the seven deadly sins. You guys don’t listen to me anyway, so don’t use my aversion to dancing as an excuse not to come. To be clear:

  • This is not a ward dance.
  • Your are not expected to be an experienced dancer.
  • You will not walk away from this event proficient in dancing.

Sister Mullen will be teaching all aspects of etiquette that will be used at some time in your life. Her main goal is to prepare you for the real world, most especially, the business world. She uses basic dancing skills to provide you greater confidence is an unfamiliar word. So don’t stress over the dancing.

This is a date, albeit assigned. Guys, once you are told who your date is, you MUST contact her immediately and go through that painful process of asking her out. I would encourage you to have this done by Tuesday, if not earlier. Because this is an “assigned” date, the normal pressure that attends the dating game is gone. She will say yes.

Girls, you will say yes, right?

The dress is Sunday formal. Do not spend any money renting fancy clothes. This is not prom. Rather wear what you would to church. If you are military, you are welcome to wear your dress uniform. We will all be impressed.

There will be food. The food will be great and there will be enough for all. You will be served by experienced waiters (well, maybe not that experience).

You will have fun! No, this is not by way of commandment. But Sister Mullen makes the whole evening great. Also, you will be with fellow ward members and any time we get together we have fun.

If you have not signed up, please do so as soon as possible. Contact Rachel Winiecke today.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Not of the World

image For most of my working career, I have been the only LDS person among my co-workers. Even now, while I live in Utah, I am almost always the only member of the church on all teams I work on. While this has been a great experience, it has led to some rather difficult situations.

On those rare occasions when I travel and meet face to face with members from my team, I quickly realize that we do not all share the same standards. For example, after the work day is over, the vast majority of team members enjoy going to the bar or seeking out entertainment that is not consistent with my standards.

image Along with that, there is a tendency for team members to use profane language and to share vulgar and inappropriate stories and jokes with each other. Now, I want to make it clear, these are not bad people; in fact, quite the opposite, these are very good people. This is simply the reality of living in a fallen world.

I bring this up because almost all of you will find yourselves in similar situations in the not do distant future. In fact, some of you are facing such situations today. Let me share with you some advice that has worked well for me.

image Stand your ground. Simply because everyone else is participating in conversations or activities inconsistent with LDS standards does not mean you have to. In my own situation, over time I have gained more respect by not participating in any activities that would compromised my standards.

Live the standards at all times. The real measure of your devotion to Christ is how you live your standards when no one is watching or when you are with a group of friends. Don’t let the questionable standards of others cloud your judgment.

image If my mother could see me, would I still act this way? Typically, our resistance against the world weakens when we are relaxed and with friends. This is when we must be on our guard against the filth so prevalent in our society. Do your best to act as you would if our mother was in the room with you.

Discipline defines the disciple. In my opinion, the use of profanity and the occasional foray into vulgarity represent a severe lack of discipline. Likewise, it violates the charge we all have to bridle our passions. Think before you speak.

I am convinced that if you can apply these four simple suggestions into your lives that you will never struggle with being in the world and not of it. Also, I promise that those with whom you associate, both in and out of the church, will hold you in higher esteem and respect you for being true to your standards.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Which Fork to Use?

image So, do you hate that awkward moment when you sit down at a table and there are more forks than you know what do to with? Or perhaps you sat down at a round table and could never quite determine which glass was yours. And what about that napkin? Does it stay on your lap, tuck into your collar, or do you really even need it? (Most guys don’t.)

Well, this is your lucky day. On Friday, November 2, we will have our second Ward Date Night of the semester. This is no ordinary Date Night because we are not ordinary ward. This Date Night will include a formal multi-course dinner, expert instructions on proper etiquette, basic dancing instructions, and a most wonderful time.

image Do all you can now to clear your calendar to attend this great event. It is the third time our ward as done this an each time all participants have had a great fun. More information will be coming in the next weeks.

image Lest you forget, D&C 139:1 reads: “Thou salt willingly attend Ward Date Night.”

We look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Ain’t High School

This post is directed at the male population of this ward but I encourage the sisters to read as well. I would really appreciate comments from anyone as this may be a bit lecture-y.

I have had a few complaints from the female population regarding questionable topics of casual conversation from the male population of our ward. Now, I am not assuming this is a rampant problem. In fact, I am convinced this is a very minor problem. But big or little, it is still a problem and one that is easily resolved.

First, I strongly recommend to all Priesthood holders, that you refrain from treating the sisters like one of the guys. They are not one of the guys and in most cases they resent being treated like one of the guys.

But how do you know if you are treating them like one of the guys? Well, with questions such as this, I always look for a pattern that is easy to apply.

If you are going to make a joke or say something that you hope to be funny, before you open your mouth, ask yourself if you would say that in front of or directed at your mother. If there is even the slightest chance that you would not, then don’t say it.

Second, learn to elevate your casual conversation. In High School, comments about bodily functions, body parts, and similar related topics are easy ways to get a quick laugh from the gang. Likewise, using off-colored language always got snickers from the pack. Those days are over.

It is just not funny any more. Sure, you may still get a laugh now and then, but the price to you is too high. A frequent return to locker room slang will only set you apart as one lacking the maturity to function in the adult world.

Is it worth it? I hope not.

Third, it is NEVER appropriate to make rude, insulting, or off-color comments about girl’s bodies in their presence. If you want a free pass to the social purgatory, make this mistake more than once. In fact, make it once and you may already be on the train to limbo.

Likewise, it is equally unacceptable to speak of girls is such a way when you are with the guys.

Come on Elders, let’s be men. Better yet, let’s be worthy of the priesthood you hold. Take the time to do some self-evaluation. Have the courage to make those course corrections necessary. We can all be better.

Sisters, don’t accept such disrespect. If you can, say something. If you can’t walk away. They will get the message.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

So, What is Ward Date Night

For those new in the ward, which is many, you may be a bit leery about the concept of Ward Date Night. Well, let me put your minds at ease by providing mock dialog regarding this frightening (and somewhat required) event.

To make this more realistic, this dialog is between Elder Oaks, the Apostle most expert with dating and marriage, and Jeremy Struk, the ward member most likely to be concerned about this event.

imageElder Oaks, it is good to meet with you. My ward has this thing called Ward Date Night and I am a bit worried about this. Can you help me understand this scary concept?



imageJeremy, you have nothing to fear. Your wise Bishop and his great Relief Society President have invented this most inspired program to promote greater unity in your ward. Ward Date Night is nothing more than a ward activity that you all attend together only this time you come, stay, and leave with a date. You do know what a date is, right Jeremy?

imageHmmm… I heard about dating, but the whole concept is foreign to me. So, do I have to actually ask a girl out to attend this event?



imageTry not to stress over this. The Date Night Committee will gather a list of all those wishing to attend and they will determine who goes with whom. Yes, it is “randomly” assigned. This helps remove the awkwardness of the event. But, yes, you may have to actually contact a girl and ask her out. Sterling Scott is really good at this and is currently gathering information on this very topic. So you can ask him for advice.



What if I am in an exclusive relationship?



imageFirst of all, I don’t think you are, but I know there are people in your ward who have elevated their relationship to this level. Rest assured that the Date Night Committee will be sensitive to their needs. If you are in such a relationship, simply note it when you sign up and make sure you include the name of the person with whom you are exclusive. It would be best if you both put each other’s names on the list. Otherwise we will categorize it as a “wishful thinking” exclusive relationship.

imageWhat if I think I am in an exclusive relationship?



imageWell, you do have faith... But, as we know, faith without works is dead. This event can help you supply the work that is lacking. But don’t worry. It is a randomly assigned date and there is no hint of romantic entanglement. So if you are not in a real exclusive relationship, just accept the random assignment and you will be fine?

imageCan I invite people from outside the ward?



imageDo you know people outside the ward? This can be accommodated, but I would coordinate that with the Date Night Committee. Remember, they need to make sure that all ward members have dates. Let’s not make it so confusing.


imageWhat if I happen to develop a relationship with my assigned date after Date Night?



imageJeremy, isn’t that part of the reason why you are in a singles ward? Wake up and smell the pheromones….



Wow, I never thought I would see the day when a Apostle told someone to wake up and smell the pheromones.

So, I hope this mock dialog provided you enough information about Ward Date Night. I know Elder Oaks would have mentioned it, but I will remind you now. D&C 139:1 clearly states: “Thou shalt attend Ward Date Night.”

Look it up!

Those “Wonderful” Heber Valley Beds

image In a shameless effort to keep the pending Ward Campout foremost in your minds, I want to remind you that while the facilities are top-notch, the beds…. well, the are somewhat of a challenge. What they lack in comfort they make up in … well, nothing. They are just hard and uncomfortable.

image So, to have the best chance of getting any consistent sleep, which may not even happen regardless of the beds, I strongly encourage you to bring whatever you can to mitigate the Spartan nature of the beds.

Remember, do all you can to leave Provo early enough to make the most of our time up there. I do hope that only a small handful plan to leave Provo at 8:00 p.m.

image It is going to be great and we have worked with upper management to insure great weather.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It’s Going to be Cold, Bring a….

image So, it has been a fairly warm pre-Fall but don’t let that fool you. When you come to the Ward Campout, this Friday and Saturday, it will be cold. So, bring blankets and, of course, bring a jacket. Now about that jacket….

image Well, I can’t share my jacket with you. But there are lots of jackets in the ward. Great jackets. Perhaps the best jackets in the world. Now, you can’t bring two jackets. We don’t do that any more. Besides, let’s just focus on one jacket. One jacket for everyone on the ward.

image Well, some of us may be a bit young for a jacket. Others are preparing for a mission so really shouldn’t be focusing on a jacket. I know, they can bring a coat, or a thick sweater. But jackets for the rest of you!!!

Hope to see you all there.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ward Cabin Out



As you should all be aware, the ward “Cabin Out” will be this Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22. I want to make sure you are all aware of how totally awesome this event will be.


imageThe food is most amazing. (No hot dogs or other familiar camping food.)

  • The facilities are are awesome. (Running water! Electricity!! Bathrooms!!!)
  • Company is incredible. (You will really get to know all the ward members.)


So, please do all you can to arrange your schedule to attend.

image There will be three caravans heading up there. They will leave at 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00.

I would see the 8:00 departure time for the smallest minority of ward members, You really want to be there as soon as you can.

I will be posting more about this activity throughout the coming days.



I promise this will be great. There is even a chance you will meet your eternal companion there. They did!

Friday, September 7, 2012

On Being Civil

For those new to the ward, I want to send out a quick reminder of what I feel is acceptable in regards to the looming Presidential elections.

image 1. The Church is very clear on its official stance of complete political neutrality. The church will not endorse a candidate, party, or platform. I feel this MUST apply to us. Please do not use Sacrament meeting talks, Sunday lessons, or any other ward forum to espouse your political beliefs. We must respect the Church's position – both the spirit and the letter of the law.

2. God has not ordained any candidate over the other. Neither does one party have God’s endorsement over other. God is not an American. He is not voting. You are not voting on His behalf. Never assume that your political position is His.

image 3. We are a diverse ward. We do not all support the same candidates, policies, or issues. Do not accuse or demean others because they do not agree with you. I encourage dialog, even political dialogs, so long as all parties can remain civil. Do not seek to lecture those who view the world differently than you do.

image 4. We must remain civil in all our conversations regarding policies. This is especially important in our usage of social media. It is inappropriate to demean a candidate, party, or those supporting an issue. True, you can disagree, that is your right. In fact, I encourage political disagreements. But we must not let those who espouse hatred influence our participation in the the American conversation. I strongly discourage name calling, blatant disrespect, sweeping judgments, or public rants. Be very careful in the tone and content of what you post.

image 5. Never assume that your vote doesn’t count. Millions have died to provide us the opportunity to vote. The importance of your vote is not if your candidate, party, or issue  wins. Rather, the importance of your vote is in your willingness to take advantage of the sacrifices countless others have made to provide you this great opportunity. Just Vote!

Please take the time to review President Hinckley’s official position on proper political discourse and do your best to comply to this inspired counsel.

image "This is an election year, and there are many strong and strident voices incident to political campaigning. It’s a wholesome and wonderful system that we have under which people are free to express themselves in electing those who shall represent them in the councils of government. I would hope that those concerned would address themselves to issues and not to personalities. The issues ought to be discussed freely, openly, candidly, and forcefully. But, I repeat, I would hope that there would be an avoidance of demeaning personalities. - Gordon B. Hinckley"

As always, I am open for and strongly encourage your input.

Monday, September 3, 2012


What could DAP stand for?

image Well, of course, it is the abbreviation for the Drama Abatement Program. Now, if your are unclear what the word abatement means, I added the link.

One of the biggest threats to ward unity is apartment or inter-apartment drama. The chief cause of such drama is the lack of clear communication. So, I feel if we focus our attention on clear communication then we will see success with the DAP.

image So, how can we all participate in enhancing communication and eliminating drama? The best tool I know of is regular apartment inventory. Those who served a mission are already familiar with this concept as they had companionship inventory or a weekly basis.

I am convinced that if it is good enough for the Lord’s missionaries, then it is good enough for each apartment. But apartment inventory is not exactly the same as companionship inventory. Here is what I suggest:

1. Set up a time, most likely on Sunday, when you can all sit down for no more than 15 minutes.

2. Make sure there is food because food makes everything easier (except losing weight).

3. Go around the room and let each roommate have an opportunity to express any concerns.

4. Never gang up on other roommates. Talk about the issues and not the people.

5. Never accuse. Accusation ends dialog. No dialog, no communication.

6. Be open minded. The minute you think you are guiltless is the minute you have made a mistake.

I challenge each apartment to hold their first apartment inventory on or before Sunday, September 9. Please share with me how things went and any ideas from which other apartments may benefit. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Help Thou Mine Unbelief

image One of the more touching stories of Christ earthly ministry is when the bereft father brought his epileptic son to be healed (see Mark 9:14-27) At the time, Christ was on top of the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. The remaining Apostles were in the local town and many had gathered to seek healing from them.

As you may recall, the Apostles had already been on their missions and had successfully cast out devils and healed the sick. So they were known by the locals as having the gift of healing. Thus, they were sought out even when Christ was not with them.

image Now, let’s turn our attention to this struggling father. We can tell that he loved his son for he sought out the Apostles to find a cure. I can imagine that the father and son started this hopeful journey walking side by side anticipating that they would finally put this awful ailment behind them.

As the came near unto the village, I can imagine the son starting to show those common signs of a pending seizure. They quickened their pace but the seizure ensued before they could make their way through crowd.

I can see this caring father feeling helpless as his son began to tremble, thrash, and foam at the mouth. People around him began to shy away upset by this horrible scene. Undeterred by the reaction of others, the father scooped up his poor son and forced his way through the crowd to see the Apostles.

The Apostles had seen this before and they had confidence that they could heal the son. But try as they did, they could not stop the boy from seizing. Indeed, it appeared as though the seizure increased in intensity. The Apostles looked at each other perplexed as to why they could on heal this boy.

image As the minutes crawled by and the boy’s plight worsened. The father was in a panic. These men were his only hope. If they could not heal him, then there was nothing left to do. The father’s faith was taxed beyond his ability to bear it – or so he thought.

At that moment, when things looked most bleak, the Savior made His way through the crowd. He saw the seizing boy and the desperate father. He also saw his Apostles in a fit of panic. In an instant, Christ took charge of the situation.

He took the thrashing boy in his arms and looked at the father and said: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

The boy’s father could sense the calming influence that Jesus brought with him. He desperately wanted to believe. But his faith was so severely shaken that he feared to even hope. Yet he responded: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Fast forward the video to 9:57)

Of course, we all know the child was healed, but embedded in this story is a valuable lesson. We are here on earth to live by faith. This is very hard to do because too often when faced with a difficult situation, we begin to feel doubts where once there was clarity. Then we may falsely assume that our faith was in vain because we have doubts.

image I don’t agree with that. I feel that understanding doubt is a critical part of learning to live by faith. God is not discouraged by our doubts, He expects us to doubt. He will help us overcome our doubts after the trial of our faith.

Look to that father of they epileptic son. He had faith, great faith. But when things didn’t go as planned, his faith waivered. The key to this great story was the humility of the father to say to Christ: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”