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Sunday, April 23, 2017

I AM BARABBAS

I AM BARABBAS
I was reminded of something today at Church while sitting in sacrament meeting and waiting for the sacrament emblems to be blessed and passed.  It is a time of both self-reflection as well as pondering about the Savior and His priceless sacrifice for me individually as well as for all of humanity.
In light of the fact that we just recently passed Easter weekend, when the stories of this time in the Savior’s life tend to be more closely examined and remembered, I thought of the side-story often overlooked in the midst of the atonement, crucifixion and resurrection miracle.  I speak of when Jesus stood on trial before Pilate.

During the time of Christ Jerusalem was under Roman rule.  In attempt to appease the religious Jewish population, it was customary at the time of the Feast of the Passover for the Roman ruler, in this case Pontius Pilate, to release a Jewish prisoner and pardon his crimes.
We all know the story of how Pilate brought forth both Jesus, a sinless in man in whom he found no fault, and a man named Barabbas who was identified as a “notable prisoner, an insurrectionist and a robber.”

Clearly the distinction between the two characters could not have been more dramatic.  On the one hand was a sinless being, who taught of love, kindness, forgiveness and charity, who went about doing good and healing the sick and lame.  On the other was a known criminal, rightly accused of his crimes and fully deserving of punishment according to the laws of justice.


But the raucous crowd, emboldened and inflamed by the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought Christ’s death because of the threat they felt he posed to their wicked way of life and control of religious power, cried out for Jesus to be crucified.

Pilate, knowing that he was innocent, eventually relented to appease the crowd, setting Barabbas free and turning Jesus over to be scourged and crucified.  We all know of the gruesome events which then followed as that justice was meted out.
But the thoughts I would like to focus upon today are in relation to the reactions of Jesus and Barabbas.
I am sure that upon realizing he would be set free, Barabbas was no doubt shocked and overjoyed.  We don’t have a record of what actually happened or what was in his heart, but I envision him probably high-tailing it out of there as fast as he could go before anyone changed their minds.
But through this whole process Christ stood silently, patiently, neither begging for relief nor trying to plead his justly innocent state.  Instead, he willingly submitted to process and voluntarily offered himself to take the punishment he did not deserve, but which Barabbas surely did.

So as I sat in church today pondering on the meaning behind the upcoming sacrament and what it represented, I came to an understanding of something…. “I AM BARABBAS”.
In fact, each and every one of us is Barabbas.  All of us have fallen short of perfection.  All of us have sins and darker sides of our nature that we may try to keep hidden at times, but which nevertheless put us on the wrong side of justice.  We are all spiritual criminals deserving of a punishment for our wrongdoings.
We may try to plead our case or justify our deeds, but the fact remains, we are all spiritually guilty to some degree or another.  We are all Barabbas, justly in spiritual prison for our crimes.
But alongside of us stands Jesus the Christ.  Sinless, perfect, flawless and completely deserving to be free from justice or punishment.  But stand there He does, patient, loving, so willing to pay the price for OUR misdeeds.
So with the recognition of this fact, that indeed we are all Barabbas, I ask the question: “What is our reaction to this situation?”
Do we take for granted this priceless offering in our behalf, and seek to run away from punishment somehow and hide among the teaming and frenzied masses of the world, hoping that perhaps we won’t have to face justice if we just blend in with the crowd and adapt to the level of those around us?
Or do we spiritually scramble in gratitude past the Pilates of the world and throw ourselves at the feet of the One who willingly offered Himself in our behalf?
This is essentially the situation we face each week as we prepare to partake of the holy sacrament.  Do we take it casually, simply trying to blend in the hopes that we don’t really have to face punishment for our sins and wrong doings?  Do we ignore the One who so willingly and lovingly paid the price so that we won’t have to, mindlessly partaking of the bread and water while our thoughts are caught up in other things?  Do we go through each day focused upon our worldly thoughts and cares… or are our hearts drawn out and knees bent in gratitude to Him?
Do we come to a realization of how truly fallen we are at any given time?  Do we recognize our brokenness and how much we deserve the punishment for our faults and sins and how desperately we need Him to pay the price of justice to restore what we can never repay?

Do we have that recognition each day of our lives?
What does Christ ask of us in return for the payment of this horrible debt which He paid in our behalf?  Nothing more than a broken(humble) heart and a contrite (repentant) spirit, as mentioned in many scriptures, but which is summed up so beautifully in Psalms 34: 18-19 “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
Such a small price to ask in return for what He so willingly suffered and sacrificed in our behalf!
May we all do a better job at remembering that we are all Barabbas, and never take for granted what He so freely offers us in our behalf.  May we not run away in attempt to hide among the crowds and distractions of life, but instead come to His wounded feet in humble and repentant worship as He deserves.

I believe that when we do, what we find is not a life running and hiding from our fears, but a Love that is liberating, everlasting, cleansing, redeeming, uplifting and more magnificently divine and joyous than we can begin to imagine!
I am Barabbas… and so are you.  And may we always remember it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Imagination Stagnation

Imagination Stagnation

Okay, I will admit, that with the writing of this blog, it will probably be a little indicative of my age.  But nonetheless, it is an important topic to consider across all generations – IMAGINATION (or the lack of it).

When I was a little boy, my older brother Dirk and I spent countless hours together with nothing more than a few simple toys and what seemed to be an unlimited amount of imagination.  If we had a few plastic army men or hot wheels cars and some dirt, we could play all day long in a world of make believe excitement and wonder.

It seems like most kids now days can hardly function without a TV, computer or smart phone in front of their face.


Now, before you get all upset and quit reading, please know that I am not saying that electronic devices are a bad thing, far from it!  There are countless benefits and blessings associated with such devices, and I in fact, use them quite regularly myself.  So let me clarify as we go along.

I will also admit, that when it comes to reading a book, I highly favor having an actual printed book in my hands rather than an electronic kindle or other such device.  There is something about the weight of the book in your hands and the turning of the paper pages that allows me to connect with the story so much deeper than glaring at a flickering screen.

I think that there is something lost in all of this artificially induced stimulation – Imagination.  And with that loss, I believe there are some rather unfortunate side effects as well.

Think of the difference between sitting and staring at a TV screen watching a movie vs. reading a book.  The TV images and sounds require almost nothing of the participant.  What you see and hear is what you get.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have been moved deeply and in very profound spiritual ways by many movies or programs.  But you have to admit that most of what is on your Cable or Satellite broadcast is nothing but mind numbing drivel.

For kids growing up and immersed in this type of society, the imagination is artificially produced through Apps, electronic games and videos, with little or no firing of brain synapses required.  Social interaction is also incredibly minimized to that point that even in social setting, people are sometimes hardly even aware of each other.

Now think of what happens when you give a child a book, or perhaps even do what our family did when our kids were growing up and read books together as a family.
When we read our imaginations are forced to go into overdrive as they create mental pictures, sounds, characters, places and events.



There is an emotional connection that happens in ways that just can’t be produced through electronic means for the most part.  I believe this mental imagination process also carries over into non-book thinking as well, allowing individuals to think and solve problems better on their own, without the help of Google or YouTube simply generating the information automatically for them.


I don’t have any scientific studies to back up these next thoughts, but I have often wondered if the increasing amounts of depression and anxiety might somehow be related to an increased immersion in electronic media, and far less actual social and personal interactions.  Let’s face it, your digital friendships through social media are hollow when compared to spending time with actual friends and loved ones.

Now again, don’t get me wrong, I love the tremendous access to information that is available through the internet, and I have been very highly educated through YouTube and other means as well (and have saved myself a lot of $ by learning how to do my own auto repairs, etc…).  These things have their place in the world and we are all the better for them – As long as they aren’t allowed to dominate our lives.

But let me pose a possible more serious side effect of relying solely on the digital world around us, that of SPIRITUAL DISTRACTION.

Let’s ask ourselves a few honest questions here and see how we do:

1.     What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed each morning?  (Are you getting down on your knees and saying your prayers or are you checking your social media notifications?  Are you reading and pondering your scriptures or are you reading emails and twitter posts?



2.    If you have down time during any given day, are you taking time to meditate and contemplate divine truths and improve your relationship to God? (Or are you uncomfortable with the silence of your own thoughts and therefore feel a compulsion to fill that quiet with music, shooting out texts or watching distracting videos or video games?)


3.    During the course of your average day, do you feel a compulsion to have to check your phone on a regular basis, even if you haven’t received a notification?  (Does this distraction affect your concentration on your job duties or school studies?)

4.    How about when you take your phone to Church on Sunday, so you can “use it to look up scriptures or lesson materials”?  (Do you ever feel a compulsion to click off the lesson or scriptures to check your social media accounts during Sacrament meeting or Sunday school?)  If so, can’t you almost imagine the Lord looking at you and asking, as he did His sleeping apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “What? Could you not stay with me one hour?”


5.    If you need to talk to a friend or loved one, do you prefer to call and talk to them, or simply send a text message? (is this because you feel uncomfortable with your ability to think and talk dynamically with them?)

6.    Do you find it easier to go and sit through an action movie in the theater, or to go to the temple and receive instruction in things that have eternal significance?


We could go on with such questions, but if you feel as if your day would be a disaster without being able to check you cell phone or blast music through your headphones constantly, then you might consider if you have some kind of actual addiction going on.

If you want to use those electronic devices for something useful and be addicted to something worthwhile and spiritually uplifting, how about turn off the social media accounts and try doing some genealogy for a change!

Again, all things have their place and I am not suggesting that we should eliminate them from our lives.  It also wouldn’t be a good thing to just have your face in a book all day and never have any interaction either.  We are designed to be social and spiritual beings, so finding some control and balance over these things would definitely be a good idea.

Don’t take my word for it - Consider these thoughts and quotes:


“Hearken ye to these words.  Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Treasure up these things in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.” (D&C 43:34)


“We are so plugged in to the world that it’s hard to be plugged in to God.  We have to put things aside.  God required the ancient Israelite's tabernacle (temple) to be exact.  Everything had its proper place.  And the thing is, if they built it carelessly, God would never show up!  So you wonder and say, ‘How come I don’t feel the presence of God in my life?’  Well, how much are you putting into your prayer life?” – Rabbi Jonathan Caan




So, all I am suggesting is that perhaps we could use a bit less of the artificial, electronic stimulation in our lives, and instead have a bit more spiritual imagination and connection.


Connect a bit less with the internet and let your prayers and meditation be a connection to the divine.  After all, if you really want answers without having to filter through all the garbage and biased perspectives, connect to the source of ALL KNOWLEDGE AND TRUTH!


I know I’ve still got some work to do in this area.

Let’s take some time and consider what a more fulfilled life would be like with less artificial and more of what is really true.  I’m guessing we will find it a much more rewarding and meaningful existence than what we are currently experiencing.

I'll share just one more digital thought and video to conclude this discussion about limiting such things.  You can then share it with someone you think might benefit... then put that stuff aside for awhile and... Just Imagine!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Merciful Master Teacher

The Merciful Master Teacher

In the spring of 1992, I was living with my wife and 2 children in Orem, Utah while attending my final semester at BYU.  I had already been accepted into graduate school which was scheduled to start later that summer… IF I was able to pass all my classes during this final semester to meet the prerequisite requirements.

To complete this task, I was registered for 17 credits, while working 30 hours per week, and serving as our ward Elder’s Quorum president.  Oh, and did I mention that I was married and had two small children at the time?  On top of that, my wife came down with a sudden onset of facial numbness, which the doctors worried might be early signs of multiple sclerosis. (As a great blessing it turned out to be only a transient case of trigeminal neuralgia from which she had no lasting effects, but it was very nerve-wracking at the time).

To say I felt overwhelmed during this time would be an understatement of monumental proportions.  As I began that final semester and considered the task of completing those 17 credits while juggling everything else in my life, I felt exhausted and almost defeated before my classes had even began.



But in the midst of that crazy first day on campus, I scurried in late to my 4 credit Microbiology class, and an incredible thing happened.

The professor was an elderly gentleman, who walked in with a warm and inviting smile.  He greeted all the students fidgeting anxiously in their seats, introduced himself, and then spoke these words, as best as I can recall, “I have been teaching for many, many years, and this is my final semester of instruction before I retire.  It has been wonderful to teach at this University and I am happy for my coming retirement and I am in a very good mood about it all as my career comes to its end.  As a result, and because I am in such a good mood, you will have to work hard at it if you want to fail this class, because I want to end on a positive note.  I wrote the text book.  I think it is a good book, so we will follow it during our lectures each day and the examinations will be based off the material in the book and the chapter reviews.  You will gain all the information you need from the book, but if you have questions, I will be more than happy to discuss them with you in class or in person to make sure you have the information you need to pass the exams.  I will not take attendance role in this class, but you will need to be present when the exams are administered.  Now, let’s learn and have a wonderful experience together.”

His kindness and demeanor were so refreshing, inspiring and inviting. It was a ray of sunshine and relief in what looked to be a stormy semester ahead.


True to his word, his lectures followed directly out of the book, and I quickly realized that if I but spent time to read the chapters, focus on the materials bold print and chapter summaries, that I could easily pass the tests when they were administered.  What I thought would be a daunting microbiology class, became my easiest and most uplifting class that semester, and offered the relief necessary to fulfill my other responsibilities better and progress to graduate school and further advanced studies.

As I reflect back on that experience, I can’t help but draw some spiritual comparisons which are so applicable to all of us in the current world we live in.

Let’s face it – life can be and is in fact pretty crazy and hectic most of the time.  It seems as if there is a constant barrage of things to be done, responsibilities to be met and things to do and keep our attention focused upon – all at the same time! On top of that, others often place demands upon us in work, school or other areas of life, and some of them in not such nice ways.

Amidst all of these pressures and strains of the mortal life, our spiritual and Church responsibilities are also present, and if we are not careful, can also be looked at as burdens rather than opportunities for meaningful service.

So let us ask some questions of ourselves.  If we put ourselves in the shoes of the “professors” of the world, which kind of professor are we?  Are we the unrelenting kind, who is dishing out demands to our spouse or children, coworkers, peers or fellow Church members, with an expectation that, “It’s all up to you, and you’re going to have to work hard to earn a passing grade in my book, and by golly the tests are going to be very difficult and require all of your energy to live up to the task.”

Or are we more like my retiring professor, who offers a kind, mild, gentle path of learning and growth amidst the challenges of life?  Life is already a hard journey, as we all well know, and the Charity and kindness is needed and appreciated far more than harshness, inflexibility and judgement.  The kindness we offer may be the light others need to help them along their pathway.


Love, kindness and service lifts the burdens of others and helps both them and us progress together to a more relaxed and advanced state of graduate-study-level-living.

When you think about it, this is the path our Lord and Savior, the Master Teacher offers to us. He stands at the head of the human class, with loving invitation and welcoming smile.  Can’t you picture Him looking at us with encouragement and saying, “I love you, and I want you to be successful and pass this class called mortal life.  I want to make it easy for you to understand what you need to know, so I have written a textbook for you.  It is called the Holy Scriptures.  It is a good book and I am the author of it.  So if you are willing to follow the textbook, it will teach you what you need to know to pass the examinations when they come.  If you don’t understand something, I am more than happy to talk with you in person in prayer and answer your questions and do everything possible to help you be successful so we can all enjoy this experience together.”

He might then also add, “But there will be mandatory tests along the way, just to see if you are really learning what is contained in the text book and understanding how to apply it in your life.  You will have to be present for these exams, but if you have done your part, I will help you and make sure that you can pass with as little difficulty as possible.”

He also encouragingly offers, “Because I am on your side, you will have to work hard if you want to fail this course.”


The Savior is merciful, kind and willing to go as far as He can to help us succeed in the classroom of mortality, but he will not force us against our will.  I believe that ultimately, if we want to fail, it will be because of our own choice, not because of any punishment of His.  I believe that He will go to the uttermost degree to offer us mercy, grace, pardon and forgiving understanding – to the fullest extent we allow Him to do so through our agency.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am trying to suggest here.  The scriptures teach that the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.  And the life we need to experience is often full of challenges and trials designed to help us learn and grow in ways we could not do otherwise.  But amidst that, what the Lord offers is Charity, the pure love of Christ.


“And Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in inquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. ...Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and who so is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:45-47)

Indeed, amidst all of the challenges of this 17 credit, crazy, busy life – what the Master Teacher offers if we are willing to enroll in his class is this invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I will be forever grateful for my microbiology teacher, who offered me a path of hope during a very difficult time.  And I will be forever grateful to The Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, who offers us a much easier way through the classroom of life as well!

May we all choose to enroll as His students, and offer that charitable kindness to each other throughout the time we are in this class together.