Sunday, December 26, 2010

A weekend to end all weekends

First of all, I wanted to wish everyone a Merry (late) Christmas! This has certainly been a great one for me so far, especially considering it was my first one at home since before my mission. I'd have to say that the two Christmases I spent in the mission field were unique and remarkable experiences. Nothing can compare with them, and likewise there is nothing that compares with Christmas at home. I received several new books, including Pres. Monson's biography and an NBA Coaches Playbook, which should help me a great deal in my future coaching aspirations. I also pretty much quadrupled the number of Oregon Duck's apparel that I own, meaning that I can now probably where a different shirt practically every day for a month! OK, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Also had another excellent Christmas dinner prepared by Mom; all I can is that roast was WAY good! A definite highlight of the day, which came as a great surprise, was being called by Shawntae Stone and her kids, a remarkable family that I had the privilege of teaching and baptizing while in Cincinnati. We talked for well over an hour, and I found out that they have not missed a Sunday since they joined the Church and remain active and involved in many ways! I was also called by another Cincinnati investigator named Michelle Baker, who called to wish me a Merry Christmas and tell me that she was doing well and going through rehab so she can get baptized! Elder Kirk and are worked for countless hours with these beloved individuals and families, and it was a tremendous blessing to hear how well they are doing. Isn't the gospel just great?! Today was a very busy Sunday! I had the opportunity of speaking with my Dad, who is on our stake high council, in 3 different wards! I've obviously never spoken that many times in one day, but I enjoy speaking and it was a very spiritual experience each time. We both spoke on the subject of agency and choosing to follow the example of the Savior. We received many handshakes and compliments from the congregations afterwards, and I spoke with many individuals who were familiar either with elders who served in my mission, the areas in Ohio and Kentucky, or were directly related to members that I knew. One of them introduced himself as Bro. Fish, who was related to the Bang Family that started the Church in Cincinnati! He is also the first cousin of Ralph Blackwelder, who's family lives in Cincinnati and is very well known and whom I spent lots of quality time with. I know all those names pretty well, especially considering I own a book that details the history of the Church in the Cincinnati area. Small world, isn't it? The capstone to the day was spending the evening with the Heaton family, members of our ward who we have a great friendship with. Bro. Heaton was my YM President when we moved into the ward, and he likes to invite returned missionaries over to share their experiences, and that's exactly what we did. It was an awesome experience and certainly had me longing for my mission BIG TIME. There's just not enough good things I can say about what my mission has done for me, and I won't attempt to summarize them here. Boy, after a weekend like this, I have so much to be reminded of and grateful for! What a wonderful thing the Church is!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Heroic Journey

For my Humanities class, our final essay asked us to summarize 4 different subjects that we discussed throughout the semester, and how they relate to what is known as the Heroic Journey. The following is my best attempt to describe this. Hopefully you learn something. :)

I would like to begin with a story that I often used on my mission to illustrate the importance of how we can move forward in the journey called life. I hope this may be a fitting introduction into the topic of how the Heroic Journey has applied to me, and specifically a focus on Creation, Abraham, Sacred Spaces, and Temples.
A man hired a young boy, whose father owned a small boat, to row him across a lake. About halfway across the man noticed a “W” painted on one oar and an “F” on the other. When he asked what the letters meant, he was told that F stood for FAITH and W stood for WORKS. The boy explained, “If you just row with faith, you go in circles to your left; and if you row only with works, you go in circles to your right. In order to go straight ahead you have to use both of them.” The same principle applies to life. If we just use faith, or only works, we will go in circles. We must use both to make progress! I love the quote from Stephen R. Covey when he said, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

All of us are undertaking that journey even now, regardless of whether or not we all understand that fact. When we discussed the concept of Creationism and the accounts from other belief systems, for me it only reinforced my belief in who I am and where I came from, as well as why I am here. Too often we tend to throw up our red flags whenever some different idea is presented to us, and that’s probably just part of our “natural man” tendencies. However, I don’t think it’s possible for us to completely understand our own beliefs without first understanding the beliefs of others. We don’t have any obligation to prove what is right and what is wrong, but as various leaders in the Church have said, “We accept truth from whatever source it may be found.” I enjoyed seeing what relations our account of the Creation had with others rather than the differences. The same could probably be said for the other things that we talked about in class.

I have always enjoyed studying about Abraham, and not just because his son Isaac shares my name. I appreciate more the fact that he was willing to do whatever it was that the Lord asked Him to, and that made his heroic journey extremely rewarding. Of course, those rewards didn’t come without a price. I can’t imagine being asked to sacrifice my own son, and I’m sure Abraham didn’t even give any thought to the idea until the Lord commanded him to do so. Whenever I think about what Abraham had to go through, I am reminded of something that Truman G. Madsen asked Pres. Hugh B. Brown and the response he was given. The essence of Bro. Madsen’s question was this: Why did the Lord require Abraham to go through such a trying and terrible ordeal? The response from Pres. Brown was a classic: “Because Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham.” The same principle holds true for all of us. The Lord does not place trials or burdens on us to make us weaker or less capable of doing things, but actually He is hoping for the opposite effect. Of course, we tend to feel that whenever we face trials that we have done something wrong or we are being picked on, but we should instead have an attitude of humility and of asking the Lord what He wants us to learn. Abraham passed his test with flying colors, and we know what the rewards were (Abraham 2:9-11). There is no sacrifice asked of us that we will be impossible, because that is not the way God works.

On now to Sacred Spaces, or Sacred Time. Other than experiences in the temple and my own baptism, I cannot think of a time in my life where I stood in more sacred spaces than when I was on a mission. Whether I was able to recognize it or not, every day provided some kind of sacred moment. I felt that any chance that I had to bear testimony or read scripture with the aid of the Spirit became a sacred space or sacred time. It didn’t matter if the person accepted what we taught; our only obligation was to tell them what was true. I’m trying not to turn this into a sermon, but it’s nearly impossible when you’re talking about sacred things….at least for me anyway. As we learned in class, there are many places in the world that are considered sacred to different religions. I think one of the best examples can be found in the city of Jerusalem, considered sacred to the world’s three most well-known religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. While there may be political strife there, as has been the case for practically the entire history of the Holy City, there are no arguments when it comes to the sacred spaces and sacred times which have taken place there. That is one place that I have always wanted to visit, and hopefully the future holds that reward somewhere. It’s important that we respect the sacred sites and other rituals of different religions; we ourselves ask for it, so we should be more than willing to be courteous to others’ similar requests.

Lastly is Temples, which is probably a fitting capstone in the concept of the Heroic Journey. I really enjoyed the video Between Heaven and Earth because it showed how temples are important not only to Latter-day Saints, but to other religions as well. In a gospel perspective, the Heroic Journey must pass through the temple. There is no way back to heaven that goes around it! It is the way by which we develop a more personal relationship with God, and likewise make covenants that sustain us when we are passing through the tribulations of the world. One of my favorite things about the temple is that even when you are on the grounds, all cares and worldly issues are out the window. There is no other place that I know of except probably the home where you learn more about yourself. We should be forever grateful that we have so much access to temples in this day and age, and I believe that each element of the Heroic Journey that I have talked about can be found within the confines of a temple. To conclude, a temple represents the ultimate and desirable end for our Heroic Journey: The presence of God. If you think about it, that is where the whole journey began in the first place!

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: Most if not all journey’s recorded in history find their end at the place where they began. We’re not expected to move through life without learning anything or without striving to find our way back to our Heavenly Father’s presence. Inside each of us is a desire to become better than we are, which is only waiting for us to recognize and then fuel it. Many among us have yet to discover it, but once we find it, then our Heroic Journey has begun!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Tis the Season

How can it already be the Christmas season again?! Not that I'm complaining, but it just comes around the corner so fast! The big difference between this year and last year is that I'll be celebrating Christmas at home for the first time since 2007. That will be wonderful, of course, but I have to say that I very much miss the holidays that I was able to celebrate with beloved members and investigators in the mission field. A mission seems like 2  years of Christmas, in that you are striving to be filled with the Spirit of Christ and share that with those around you. With all the emphasis on getting new stuff these days, a mission was a time where I had never focused less on myself. Certainly, I plan on keeping that same mindset during this holiday season and many others, and really on any given day. Easter and Christmas should not be the only two times during the year that we turn our thoughts to the Savior. Salvation comes only through Christ, and He commands us to think of Him and be like Him every day of the year and not just when the calendar says to. Today was a great day for at least a couple of reasons: First was that today was the 1 year anniversary since I baptized Joey Couch into the Church in Hazard, KY. What a remarkable day that was for everyone that attended, and coincidentally it was the first snowfall of the winter that same day. White baptismal clothes + snow= Perfect! Secondly, the First Presidency Christmas Devotional was broadcast this evening. If there is anyone who can help us remember the true meaning for the season, it would be our beloved prophet and his two faithful counselors. It almost feels like a mini General Conference because their messages are as Christ-centered as ever! As the Christmas season presses on, let us be reminded of the need to reflect the Savior in our day to day lives. Just like the song from Michael McLean's "The Forgotten Carols" says:
 "3 kings found the Lord, and so can we." Certainly a worthy and reachable goal for all of us!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some Food for Thought

So, I just got done eating a really good roast made by my Mom. The crazy thing is that it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but the food at home is already approaching that level. Why do I bring this up? For no other reason than to thank Mom for helping me rediscover how much better it is to eat food made by hand instead of microwaving it. Ah, but such is the norm for college students....well, at least guys anyway. It's not that I couldn't prepare food if I wanted to; however, when you've just had a long day filled with classes and homework, you're stomach starts begging for your attention, and you want something QUICK. Call it patience or desperation if you want, but I think it's more along the lines of laziness. Microwaves are not bad, of course, but I think it's just one more example of how our society today seeks to make things as quick and easy as possible. Now you're probably thinking, "OK good, I thought Ike was gonna go off ranting about microwaves, but it looks like he's about to tie it in to something meaningful and applicable. If he was only going to talk about microwaves, then I'd probably tell him that I hear enough about them on Food Network." To you readers, fear not! There won't be any microwave rants this time around. I can save that for more informal settings (i.e. not on a blog). So anyway, back to what I was attempting to get at. On my mission, I talked with plenty of people who, while professing belief in God, were looking for the easiest and most pain-free way to gain salvation. The most common method seemed to be reading a prepared text about getting "saved" and then saying a prayer....and that's it! I was given my share of these pamphlets as well, but it was more of an opportunity for us as missionaries to explain to these people what it really meant to gain salvation. There are none of us in this world who can even begin to comprehend even the smallest portion of the sacrifice that was paid for by our Savior Jesus Christ. He did something that was so hard that only He was capable of experiencing it. What does He ask that we do in return? We not only teach what He taught, but we strive to live as He lived. What is a gospel without application? Nothing more than words, either on a page or coming from our mouth. This is a perfect time for a story that illustrates this principle:

A group of theological instructors were taking some summer courses about the life of the Savior. One of these ministers focused on the parables. On the day of the final exam, the students in this class arrived to a room with no teacher, but instead found a note on the desk which stated that the exam was being offered in another room across campus and that the students had 2 hours to complete it from the time they read the note. As you can imagine, there was a rush to the door as the students hurried to take the exam. Along the way, they passed a girl who was crying over a flat tire on her bike; then, they hurried past an older man who was spilling his books along the sidewalk and having a hard time gathering them back up; lastly, they saw a shabbily dressed man outside the union building holding a sign that read, "I am hungry. Please help me." The students rushed ahead to the classroom, where they were met by their professor.....and informed that they had ALL failed the exam. Then he taught them this powerful lesson: As important as were the lessons taught by the Savior in His parables, the greatest lessons that could be gained from them would come as they LIVED them. I return to the question I asked before, only said a little differently: What good is the gospel of Jesus Christ to us if we aren't trying our hardest to live it? I will close with one last quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to sum up this roast-eating/microwave/ gospel application rant:

"I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy! We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?"

And THAT is some food for thought..... microwave users, beware!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Props to My Sis

For those of you who visit my blog and marvel at how nice it looks, don't give credit to me. The only thing I had to do with it was the name, but the credit for the layout and design must go to Kenz and her creative skills. My only hope is that I can avoid laziness and keep it looking this good. And yes, this is my first post in 2 months....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who is my hero?

I have just finished watching a CES Fireside talk from Elder Richard G. Scott, a fitting capstone to my first week at BYU-Idaho. His topic focused on dating and marriage, and how to successfully do both with the Lord's help. It's no secret that I'm not the biggest dater in the world, but it's also not a secret that I need to be more serious about it. Before the mission, it wasn't even something I wanted to consider, at least not seriously. Now that I'm home, that's the next thing to prepare for. However, this post is not going to focus on that. Rather, I feel impressed to share some thoughts that we were asked to give for an assignment in my Humanities class. The official name of the class is The Heroic Journey, and hence, each of us was asked to write a short essay about what our definition of a hero is and who ours would be. So without further ado, this is my entry:

"The world has many different definitions of what a hero is. Without elaborating, I would say that the most common definition used to define a hero is that of someone who accomplishes things. While that certainly can be true, the other things which are too often hidden between the lines need to be examined as well. Therefore, I personally feel that a true hero is someone that you need to have an actual relationship with. I have selected as my heroes(yes, more than one) my parents, Scott and Ginger. I’m not sure who said it, but one of my favorite quotes says, “The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” For reasons that may appear obvious, my parents have basically devoted their entire married lives to the benefit and nurturing of their children. I cannot remember one day where they didn’t encourage me to do my best in everything that I tried, even if it was things that I either didn’t enjoy or things that I felt I’d already mastered. My parents know when it’s the right time to relax a little, but they have never been complacent. In fact, there hasn’t been a time where they weren’t working on some kind of project, whether it was helping me get ready for my mission or simply running to the store to grab some needed essentials. While I was gone in Cincinnati where I served my mission, my parents went to the temple at least once a week, EVERY single week that I was gone. Why? They set a goal to serve others, and they did it. No two people can be credited more for helping me see the value of goal-setting than my father and mother. Had I been a teen when asked to write this blog, I don’t think I’d be 100% certain that I would’ve selected my parents. My thinking at the time of what a hero was would more closely follow that which I wrote at the beginning…. that accomplishment is what counts. To be sure, my parents have accomplished numerous things in their lives for which they are to be commended. However, they don’t ask for recognition and are always the first to get right back to work and improve. In short, my parents exemplify the Christlike attributes which are ESSENTIAL, not optional, to complete spiritual and temporal growth: Faith, hope, charity, love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience. Our family is firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ because my parents truly live what they believe. As Pres. Brigham Young taught, “For every 100 people who would die for the gospel, we only find 1 who would live for it.” Well, in my parents’ case, that number would be 2. I can honestly say that my parents are my heroes because I’ve spent ALMOST every day of my life around them, and they don’t pretend to be great people. That’s just who they are."  

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why am I blogging at 1 AM?!?!

Because I'm not quite tired enough to fall asleep. Not a very concrete reason, and I'm sure I'll hear about this from the parents. Hey, Kenz is still awake too! Anyway, I had meant to post this earlier but didn't get around to it, so I guess this is as good a time as any, right? My dad and I attended a fireside this evening featuring members of the BYU football team, including Coach Bronco Mendenhall. I was very aware of their tradition for doing these firesides, but never actually got to go until tonight because our stake was among those invited to attend. All I can say is that it was everything I thought it would be plus a lot more. The mission of BYU is unique from every other school in the country, and as Coach Mendenhall pointed out, the football team is the most visible part of that. Not the most important, but the most visible. Notice the difference. As many if not all of you are aware, BYU recently announced their intention to become independent in football and join the West Coast Conference in all other sports. It is too early to see what will result from this, especially considering the move doesn't become  official until next year. Suffice it to say, though, I believe this move will help BYU to further their REAL message, which is of course centered in the teachings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Coach Mendenhall shared an interesting stat during his remarks, and that is that 90% of student athletes who attend BYU list their number 1 reason for choosing the school as being faith-based. The sports aspect of it, which I'm sure almost every other major school has at the top of the list, came in 5th for student athletes in their process of choosing BYU. There are many other things I could share from the fireside, but that would just be an awfully long blog to read! I'm grateful that I have the privilege of being able to attend one of BYU's sister institutions, BYU-Idaho. In my mind, it is the same....just in a different state and you can't wear shorts to class. (Sigh) However, the Lord knows I am needed there at this time and I will benefit greatly from the experience. In conclusion, I saved the least important topic: COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS BACK!!!! And with that, good night to you all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And so it begins....

Well, this is my first (and flawed) attempt to maintain a blog. I doubt if it will be anywhere near as impressive as my mission blog, considering that I wasn't even the one who was running it! Nonetheless, I will do my best at keeping this thing updated as well as keeping up with everyone else's goings-on. And so, without further ado, let the blogging begin!