The Faith To Repent

This talk was given at the Oak Creek Ward in Meridian Idaho on 23 April 2017.

Often when a member of the Bishopric will ask you to give a talk they will ask you to stay within a theme or reference a talk from General Conference.  I asked for permission to choose my own and my plan was approved.  In previous talks I’ve given I’ve talked about dad jokes, fonts, and oddly specific words.  If those things aren’t interesting then you might as well plan on sleeping through my talk.  As many times as I’ve slept in church, I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through my talk.  I think one of the reasons why I’ve been asked to talk today is so that way there’d be at least one week where I wasn’t sleeping in the pew.

For a habitual church sleeper like me, it was quite refreshing to hear President Uchtdorf’s talk about how Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear.  While it was about that topic, it included a tangential semi-endorsement of those of us who like to sleep in church.  In President Uchtdorf’s words, “I am pretty sure that church sleep is among the healthiest of all sleeps.”  

Sometimes when we learn something new it’s easy to do it wrong or poorly or inefficiently. When baptisms for the dead were announced they were initially done in the Mississippi River. Then it was revealed that they should be done in the temple.  Now many believe they’ve been given permission to sleep.  If this is your inclination during my talk today I would like to present you with a more perfect way to follow what you might believe is a call to nap from on high.  

If you’re one of the one’s blessed with the inclination to sleep today I would like to teach you a trick that will keep those unsightly lines from forming on your forehead.  First, you must commit to being a forward sleeper.  A backward sleeper is a bit rude, but not unacceptable.  Backward sleep tends to lead to more snoring and an unsightly gaping of the mouth.  Forward sleeping is good but the pew leaves a line that makes it awkward to socialize in the hallway on the way to Sunday school.  To fix this you just need to roll/fold your tie and place it on the pew in front of you as a pillow.  Experts will realize that the need to leave enough slack so that their mouth isn’t covered by their tie in case it turns into a drool nap.  This way the drool doesn’t get on the tie.  

If you think this is bad advice you should see what I’ve taught in youth Sunday School over the years.  I’ve taught about multiple sizes of infinity, the math problem in the book of Job, the verb of the atonement, and being fanatically selfish.  You should be cautious about calling me to substitute.

Our brains are hardwired to make correlations, but many of the correlations we make are wrong.  We often associate a route with multiple turns as being longer than one that is straight even though they may be the same distance.  At some point in my life, I associated the repentance process with being something unyielding and difficult.  With Satan’s influence, the awkwardness of admitting I had done something wrong grew into a fear of the repentance process.  For me, this happened when I was younger and it’s taken me years to overcome this false correlation.  Repentance may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Fear and faith cannot coexist.  I grew up afraid of repenting because I had only focussed on the part of the experience that was hard.  I had convinced myself that this part was so hard that it wasn’t worth going through the whole process.  It was a lie, and I believed it.  Today I’d like to tell you how wrong that is.

Admitting your mistakes is hard, but it gets easier with practice.  In team dynamics, environments where the team fails fast are better environments for building the team.  When I was younger I used to work on the Army’s telephone equipment.  It was a cumbersome piece of early 1980’s engineering.  If the equipment went bad it would sometimes take us a long time to get a part and get back up and running again.  I used to adopt the mantra that it was better for me to be what’s wrong with the system not working because I was trainable.  This threw a lot of people off.  Generally, the military thinks so highly of itself that it creates a social stigma for anyone to admit failure.  I was the exception and because of that, I wasn’t afraid to ask more questions and learn faster than my peers.  The result was that I learned the equipment so well that I was able to engineer something that no one else had ever done or will ever do again.  I wouldn’t have been able to count that among my successes if I wasn’t willing to admit my mistakes.

Practice makes perfect.  Repentance takes practice.  It’s not something you do once and you’re good at.  That sort of thinking leads people to apply death-bed repentance, which may be a thing, but it reduces your ability to be a contributor to this world.

Being a contributor is extremely important.  Just take a look at the book of Job and ask yourself, what turned Job’s life around?  The only book in the Old Testament to mathematically demonstrate that families are designed to be together forever wouldn’t have happened if Job hadn’t decided to contribute.

We often talk about the fruits of the gospel, but I like to dissect that phrase a little further.  What is the gospel?  It is the good news of Jesus Christ.  What was Jesus Christ’s role?  To take our sins upon Him so that way we can be clean.  So we can be clean.  That sounds like repentance to me.  That sounds like Christ’s role was to provide the means by which we can repent of our sins.

One of the greatest stories that talks about this is often misread.  It comes from 1 Nephi 11.  Nephi asks to see and understand his father’s vision of the tree.  The vision his father saw was bout the tree of life.  Think of that title for a second.  The tree of life.

For Nephi’s vision, he starts off with seeing Mary and is introduced to her as the Mother of the Son of God.  But Nephi doesn’t record that he understands this phrase.  There’s no typical Book of Mormon explanatory detour.  The vision simply continues.  The key to the conversation occurs in verse 21 which reads, “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Here Nephi is introduced to Christ as the Lamb of God.  Previous to this, Nephi’s relationship with the repentance process has been assisting his father conducting animal sacrifices.  He would literally help with the sacrificing of a lamb.  I wonder how often he must have pondered how the lamb being burned as an offering would translate to a forgiveness of sin.  He likely didn’t have a good answer but proceeded with faith that this is the process he was to follow.  Faith is putting your foot down on the ground in front of you even when you can’t see it.  You have to trust that it will be there.

Later in the chapter we get the explanatory detour as Nephi shares his excitement about how the tree represents the love of God.  What I always find interesting is how the angel one-ups Nephi’s excitement about Christ being the Lamb of God.  The angel describes it as the most joyous to the soul.  It’s not often in the scriptures that we get a dialogue as this!

So Nephi is asking what the tree means, and he’s shown Christ but introduced to him as the Lamb of God.  What did the Lamb of God provide?  The means for repentance!  The fruit of the tree of life is the fruit that comes from repentance!  It’s at the end of the path with the iron rod.  You get there by trusting the word of God and taking steps of faith though your vision is clouded and foggy until you get there.  When Lehi took the fruit he looked around for his family.  He wanted to share.

I had often pondered the scripture in Matthew 11 where Christ says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I used to think this scripture was somehow wrong.  How could Christ’s yoke be easy and his burden light?  He took on the weight of the sins of the world.  That doesn’t sound like a light burden to me.  That sounds like a bleeding out of every pour situation.  But when he was bleeding out of every pore he wasn’t bearing his yoke, he was bearing ours.  He was bearing mine.  His is light because he is without sin.

Article of Faith 4 lists baptism as happening immediately following the repentance process.  In John 3, Christ describes baptism as being born again, and we often discuss taking the sacrament as renewing our baptismal covenants.  When we are born the world is new, and we are excited to explore its beautiful treasures.  Repentance should lead us to the same feelings of joy as those of the angel who one-upped Nephi in a conversation!  It should lead us to a joy so powerful that the awkwardness and fear of admitting failure isn’t an overpowering thought, but a moment of truth that leads to great joy.

Just this morning I woke up to a vivid memory of one of my failures being told me in a dream.  Unlike other times when this has happened this time I conquered it with the confidence that only comes from repentance.  Repentance gives us the confidence to stand before God and the ability in this life to find all the joy possible.

Book of Mormon Lexicon

This talk was written to be given in the Oak Creek Ward, Meridian ID on 12 March.  Due to a fire alarm getting pulled, it wasn’t presented and I don’t want the thoughts to be unshared and so I’m posting it here.

While Chrissy has introduced our family as part of her talk I get to introduce myself.  I grew up a kid with a lot of energy and as I’ve aged I’ve learned to put that energy into different subjects over the years.  I rarely lose myself in a novel, because I just tend not to read novels.  I’m more comfortable going through a text book on a subject I’m curious about or thumbing through etymology in a dictionary.  On my commute to work I’ve usually got a podcast or an audio book playing.

We all have places we've said fond goodbyes to over the years.
We all have places we’ve said fond goodbyes to over the years.

I’ve become a bit eccentric about certain things I’ve studied over the years.  A friend of mine at work and I are putting together a list of things people shouldn’t ask me if they want short answers to questions.  We’ve titled the list “Don’t ask the following if you want a short answer.”  The list includes my opinion on the merits of the Oxford Comma.  Which I imagine others have strong opinions about as well.  It also includes things like asking me which font to use.  My farewell talk in Germany included fonts.  The #1 thing on the list is asking me what my favorite dictionary is.  Yes there is a difference, and if you’d like to talk about it, let’s do it when there’s some good food.  I’m sure this subject will make me the most popular person at the Ward Christmas party.  Set a reminder on your phone to sit with the Roeckers!

Usually in my talks I try to throw in some odd insight and tie it back to the gospel.  Today I’d like to share two words with you in my talk about the Book of Mormon.  Today’s words are gongoozle and adieu.  The first word is wonderfully specific and I doubt you realize that you’ve been guilty of gongoozling in your life.  The word has truly British origins and means to stare at the behavior in a canal.  It’s oddly specific right?  It doesn’t mean to look at a stream, or a river, but only the behavior in a canal.  While you probably didn’t ever believe you needed that word in your life, enough people did that some lexicographer added it to the dictionary and there we have one of the most oddly specific words in the English lexicon.  So, if the weather’s good and you see a canal, go ahead and do a bit of gongoozling.  I personally find it very relaxing.

I was asked to talk about the Book of Mormon and in particular reference the conference talks from the October’s General Conference.  The talk I’ve chosen to reference today is by Elder Gary E. Stevenson.  In his talk he has four sections.  First he starts with a personal story about a twelve year old girl being touched by the spirit to read the Book of Mormon while others had concluded she was too young to grasp its meaning and importance.

The second part of his talk explains the keystone of an archway and how the Book of Mormon is often compared to a keystone.  Joseph Smith is the most pronounced individual to declare that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.  Elder Stevenson challenged his audience in this section to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimony.

His final two sections involve his personal witness of the book and encouraging others to seek within its pages to obtain their own personal witness.  In his call to receiving your own personal witness he quotes the specific challenge and promise at the end of the Book of Mormon where Moroni challenges his audience to read, remember, and ask if the book is true.

Rainey and I were talking this morning about how some gospel rules come with specific blessings while others are more general.  We covered why tithing is sometimes referred to as fire insurance.  We discussed the word of wisdom in D&C 89, and then talked about the ten commandments.  The challenge to honor thy father and thy mother comes with the promise that thy days may be long on the land the Lord thy God shall give thee.  After just having talked about daylight savings time, Rainey believed–just for a moment–that this meant there’d be more sunlight during the day to give you time to play with friends.

When you have a detailed promise in the scriptures it’s ok to be detail oriented in your study of the scriptures.  I loved the details I’ve discovered in the Book of Mormon.  1 Nephi 13:12 has Christopher Columbus.  One verse later you read that all of our ancestors who crossed the ocean to come to this land were each led by the Spirit.  3 Nephi 11 is rich with the simplicity and beauty of the instructions the Savior personally gave to the Nephites, but for my father this section was an answer to prayers he said as a non member.  He told a friend once that if Jesus Christ really was who he said he was, then more ought to be written about him than just what’s in the Bible.  One of the friends he shared that with was LDS, and my dad’s life has never been the same since.

Nephi’s writing style is like a delicious meal.  He’s very careful in the way he talks about his brothers.  Laman and Lemuel may have made poor choices, but have you ever noticed how Nephi never uses aggressive or demeaning language when writing about them?  He goes out of his way to narrate their role in his family’s story without any excess negativity.  I do hope that we can adopt this tone in our own families.

The second word I wanted to share with you is the word Adieu.  It appears one time in all of the standard works at the end of the book of Jacob.  We teach our children that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English.  But Adieu is a French word.  I struggle often with words that have a French etymology.  French words have been known to invade the English language before.  Most of our meat words are from French.  For example beef has a French origin but comes from a cow.  This has to do with the fact that the French nobility in England could afford to eat their animals and used words for the meat that were different than the words the peasantry used for the animals themselves.

So Joseph Smith is commanded to translate the book into English and chooses a French word.  While to most of us Adieu is nothing more than an elegant way to say goodbye and certainly when it’s used in Jacob 7:27 it is when Jacob is saying goodbye to his readers, but why didn’t Joseph just use goodbye?  The answer is in the specifics of the word.  No word in English is specific enough to share what Jacob is trying to say.  He’s not simply saying farewell. The dieu in adieu refers to deity and adieu means not only farewell, but a parting that calls upon the listener to remember their God.  He’s saying in our parting I commit you to God.  The farewell is familiar and contains a tone of finality fitting of an eloquent man.

While we may have specific words like gongoozle in our lexicon, we had nothing better to express this thought.

Elder Stevenson’s challenge to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimonies is a challenge with great promised blessings.  His testimony included the belief that these blessings are available to all regardless of age.  The process for doing this is to follow Moroni’s advice to read, remember, and ask.  My testimony to you this day is that the Book of Mormon is true and that as you return to Moroni’s formula you can have a greater appreciation for what the keystone of our religion can do in your life.  Sometime it’ll inspire a dramatic instantaneous life change.  Other time it may just be enough to teach an amateur etymology enthusiast like myself that words with French origins aren’t that bad.

An Intersting Way to Make Your Home a Refuge From the World

    Today I’ve been asked to talk about how as a father you make your home a refuge from the world for your family.  Anyone who knows me from speaking, knows full well I’m not going to start my talk on topic.  So let’s start with a confession.

    I really enjoy photobombing, but I try not to be mean about it.  In December we were in Nuremberg and I totally photobombed some lady and she called me on it.  I felt terrible and so we bought her some of that cinnamon bread on a stick.  Our next big family trip was this last weekend.  We went to see the tulips in the Netherlands.  Everyone was taking pictures while walking around those beautiful gardens and I really wanted to photobomb.  This time I figured out a way to be nice about it.  

     Large groups have trouble taking photos without a selfie stick and so I’d walk around and volunteer to take the group’s photo.  After taking a couple of shots of them I’d pretend I was having trouble with the phone but really I was switching the camera to the selfie camera.  I’d then turn it around and selfie me into their photos.  Everyone smiled and laughed and I’m sure I got deleted from their album, but for a moment us strangers were sharing a fun memory.  I could photobomb without feeling guilty.

    I’ve been in the Army for 18 years and as we travel we get asked where we’re from.  I’ve almost been in the Army more years than I ever was at home and there’s no place I call home back in the states.  At this stage we can make a home out of anywhere.  We may not hang pictures on the walls, but we can make it a place for fun memories.  Growing up I felt intimately attached to home.  Home growing up was in the Farmington River Valley in Simsbury Connecticut.  Driving home from church we’d pass gorgeous lakes, cross the Metacomet trail, and the oak tree that hid the state’s constitution back in colonial days.  

    As pretty as those things were, the best memories I have of that home are now feelings.  My mother and father worked hard to provide a refuge for their family and it worked.  But it didn’t work perfectly.  There was fighting.  My brothers and I tell a story of a broken door.  My room was in the early stages of a sedimentary experiment with the hardwood floor and a throw rug as the base layers.  Additional layers of clothing and toys were built upon it.

    Our home now is at the stage where it doesn’t work perfectly.  Sometimes I think my kids have been sneaking around rewriting the lyrics to church songs.  One version of choose the right could be:

Choose to fight when a choice is placed before you.  
In the fight the Holy Spirit flees

Everyone else is wrong except you
When you fight there is no peace

At some point in life we all adopt the philosophy that since you’ll be repenting of it afterwards make sure you win.  As parents we also have at least one verse of Love at Home

There is beauty all around when they’re not at home.  
There’s no messes being made when they’re not at home.
You can read and take a nap, you can sit with an empty lap
Oh you feel like your brain is back when no one’s at home.

    I mention this because those of you that don’t know my family may think that we’ve magically got it all together.  Even though we’ve got full verses of a couple of songs we still get some things right.  I love bringing in a sense of humor to our home.  Before my kids got watches they’d yell, Dad, what time is it?  I’d respond with it’s 1000, what time is it where you are?

    We’ve tried various rules for using screen time.  One was that they had to watch a conference talk before getting on their screens.  Although we’re terrible at being consistent with such rules by making them and following them, even for just a short season, we’ve invited more of the spirit in our home and provided memorable references for our children to use as a reference point later on in life.  The more we keep including the gospel in our conversation the more reference points I give them to be spiritually successful.

    We’ve tried to find the magic set of rules that will get us back to heaven together as a loving family only to find there is no magic equation.  Hormones will overrule whatever set of rules we’re trying to adopt.

Dad joke:  Which prophet broke the most commandments?  Moses, he broke all ten at once.

    One of the largest reference points for my life occurred outside of the home.  It wouldn’t have happened with all the smaller reference points my parents provided me growing up.  When I was single I made some extremely poor choices one night and was no longer able to exercise the Priesthood.  I needed to see the Bishop and started working through the repentance process.  If it weren’t for my parents supporting my baptism, youth temple trips and advancement in the priesthood where I had to have interviews with the bishop I wouldn’t have gone as an adult.  Because of these experiences I had a reference point to how Bishops are generally blessed with the right ability to be both firm and kind in just the way the Savior would.

    President Uchtdorf was right.  He said, “Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.”  It was the weekend after I made those poor choices that Chrissy walked into my life.  After a year of working through the repentance process we got married in the Cardston Alberta Temple.  I have a lot of spiritual reference points from that experience on my knees over that year.  Some were awkward and embarrassing, but they’ve helped me chart a course in life that leads to our ultimate home.  

    In order for you to understand this next part you’ve got to realize that we got married in 2000.  After our families left the sealing room in the temple I pulled Chrissy back inside and we looked at our ever repeating reflection in the mirrors.  I looked at her and said “to infinity and beyond!”  I am such a romantic, but she was stuck with me for good after that and my jokes have only gotten better since.  

Dad joke:  What kind of man was Boaz before he got married?  Ruthless.

     When I was working through the repentance process I had to redesign the influences  I let into my life.  I learned something over that year.  I learned that if I invite the good things of the world to come in.  Those good things would fill up the space where bad things can occur.  One good decision at a time and pretty soon you’ll be wondering how you screwed up in the first place.  

     Richard G. Scott said, “be certain that every decision you make, whether temporal or spiritual, is conditioned on what the Savior would have you do. When He is the center of your home, there is peace and serenity. There is a spirit of assurance that pervades the home, and it is felt by all who dwell there.”

     With our home in some sense of order we’ve had a tradition of inviting others to join us for Sunday dinners.  Partaking of the spirit and gospel conversation over time has lead to some long lasting friendships.  There’s been at least two marriages in the temple, a few reactivations and more of the spirit in our home.

      Right now our kids are 14, 11, 9 and 6 ½.  Maybe I’ll have all the answers when they’re out of the house, but for now the method that’s working for us is to just make good choices.  Each good choice we make takes the place where a bad one could grow.  Ok, one more dad joke?

Dad joke:  What’s a missionary’s favorite car?  A convertible.

     Incorporated more good is the a large part of my conversion story and by patterning my home after that model I hope it can be a portion of my children’s conversion story.