Essay 3 – Injustice

Essay 3 – Injustice

My very first memory is of a small injustice I suffered as a three-year-old boy when my family lived in Santa Barbara, California. Apparently, my brother and I had been turning on the gas stove in our kitchen, which, of course, our parents told us not to do. This particular day, my parents were in the front room socializing with visitors while my older brother and I were in the kitchen. He pushed a chair from the table over to the stove, climbed up, and turned it on. Apparently, he was fascinated with the ability to control such a dramatic thing as fire. I scolded him and reminded him that we were not supposed to turn on the stove. He got down from the chair, leaving the stove on, so I climbed up on the chair to turn it off. My brother then ran into the other room, loudly proclaiming that I had turned on the stove. Of course, when my mother rushed into the kitchen, my protestations of innocence were overshadowed by the evidence of me standing on the chair next to the stove. My mom spanked me and sent me to my room. After she left, my brother stepped into my room and snickered. Oh, how this injustice hurt!

It is interesting that the substance of my very first memory is that life is not fair. This certainly was not the last time I experienced injustice in my life. Indeed, injustice has been a familiar companion, and looking around, I see that it intrudes into the life of practically everyone. It seems that when it is least welcome, injustice disrupts an individual’s quest for a tranquil existence and often inflicts the greatest pain a person endures.

We are all children of God, the Great Lawgiver, so we all have an acute sense of justice. But bad things happen to good people. Some things—actually, many things—in this world are not fair. Consequently, life itself sets up a great internal conflict. Something is wrong, terribly wrong. Life should be fair, and justice should prevail, but it doesn’t. This tension between one’s basic beliefs regarding reality and what one actually experiences is called cognitive dissonance. People cannot remain in a state of cognitive dissonance, so they will either deny or reinterpret their convictions in light of their experiences or bury or transform their experiences so that they can live in a fantasy world in conformity with their beliefs.

When we suffer unfairly, we confront the classic theodicy problem of how suffering, injustice, and evil can exist if God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. Some people attempt to resolve this dilemma by asserting that suffering is fair: that whenever misfortune befalls someone, it is simply payback for something this person had done and gotten away with until God or an eternal force executes justice through this suffering to return balance to the universe. Most Eastern religions are based on this concept of karma, and the friends of Job in the Old Testament also espoused this proposition. It is often easy to see the direct connection between bad choices and their dire consequences, so it is natural to project this observation onto all adversity. But is this correct? What of the innocent child who endures unspeakable abuse? These Eastern religions teach that the child was not innocent but deserved this mistreatment as a result of some misdeed performed in a prior life. What does this belief do to the believer? Does this idea elevate the soul? Does it engender feelings of charity, the pure love of God? Does this concept bring us closer to God? No! It leads to a callous, judgmental society full of prejudice and misery as exemplified by the caste system that India still struggles to relinquish. So, even though we often create our own problems, life is intrinsically unfair.

The traditional Christian response is the free-will explanation: That when God created man, God gave him free will, and humans misuse this freedom to create evil. So, it is not God’s fault that suffering exists. Wrongs are simply the absence of God and his influence. To a great extent, I agree with this argument, but it is still lacking. I fully concur that a lot of suffering results from individuals misusing their freedom to make choices. However, the free will explanation does not address the horrendous suffering caused by accidents, disease, and natural disasters. Even though our modern secular self-absorbed world often looks for the human cause of every tragedy, in reality, usually these “acts of God” are simply caused by natural forces outside human influence. Additionally, misfortune often results from innocent human error, not evil choices.

Another frequent Christian response, which I also agree with to a large extent, is the eschatological explanation: In essence, in the end God will make it all better. Every tear shed will receive comparable recompense in the hereafter.

Others resolve this dilemma by asserting that God is not a supernatural being involved in our personal lives but is simply the force that set things in motion and does not play an intimate role in human and worldly affairs. God is basically like a great watchmaker who created the clock, wound it up, and lets it run on its own. In essence, God is not all powerful or all knowing. This approach echoes the teachings of the early Greek philosophers and the Deists during the Age of Enlightenment. God, however, is a caring, loving being and not some impersonal mechanical force.

All these approaches have some merit and attempt to explain why injustice exists, but they do not adequately explain why it is God’s will that suffering exists. We will explore this issue and the impact of injustice throughout this book. This imperfect world is God’s perfect plan for us to become more like God by creating an environment for us to develop our divine capacity to love. This unjust world does this in three ways: 1) it creates the quest for meaning, 2) it provides opportunities to feel empathy, and 3) it creates the need to forgive and be forgiven.

One of the main reasons for a flawed world is to create our quest for meaning itself. The quest is the purpose. Without it, we will not seek God. The unreasonableness of injustice creates the quest to find meaning or, in other words, to find God. Is this explanation a lame excuse for a sadistic egotistical god? Is the quest really worth all of life’s suffering? I propose that we once thought it did and we even agreed in a pre-mortal existence to participate in this plan involving pain and sorrow because we knew it would facilitate our ability to develop love so that we could experience greater joy. Maybe God can really heal our soul. Maybe the quest is actually worth it.

I believe that free will is an essential element of human existence. I believe that God’s glory and our ultimate divine destiny is to achieve unity with God by developing our capacity to love, and love requires free will. Without free will, love cannot exist. So, the freedom to love (and hate) are essential to God’s eternal plan for our ultimate realization of indescribable joy. With human free will, individuals invariably are injured by unwise and evil choices. Combine this with natural phenomena and you have a formula for endless opportunities to feel empathy, which motivates us to sacrifice. Empathy and sacrifice are essential elements needed for love to grow.

Love also grows through forgiveness, which would not exist in a perfect world. We all repeatedly have the need to forgive and to be forgiven. We feel gratitude when we experience the grace of forgiveness from those we offend. When we truly forgive, our understanding of those who hurt us increases, leading to a softer heart. Indeed, unity between a victim and an offender is only possible through forgiveness and the love it creates.

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Essay 6 – Learning to Ride a Bike

Essay 6 – Learning to Ride a Bike

“A bike! A bike!” I exclaimed on Christmas morning when I saw a bicycle leaning against the wall next to the tree. But I was soon disappointed. My parents wouldn’t let me learn to ride it because we lived on a busy street. I had to wait six long months before we moved to a new house in a quiet neighborhood, where I had a chance to learn to ride my cherished bike. My older brother and I talked all week long about him teaching me to ride my bicycle that coming Saturday morning.

I woke up early because of my anticipation, and even though it was pouring down rain, nothing could dampen my excitement. My awesome big brother didn’t hesitate either. We both put on our coats and burst out the front door to launch my new adventure. He helped me get on the bike and held it steady as I learned to peddle. He ran beside me, keeping me upright. Then, after I had some practice, he let go. I peddled for a short distance before the bike and I fell over.

My older brother was immediately by my side, lifting me up, encouraging me, and helping me get back on the bicycle. Again, he held me upright until I built up enough speed that he felt it was time to let go. I peddled a bit longer than I previously did, but it wasn’t long before I was on the ground again with my brother standing beside me, lifting me up and helping me start over again.

This pattern repeated itself until I was confident and capable enough to ride a considerable distance, but the gutters at each intersection were overflowing with water and became impassable obstacles. As the wheels entered the flood, the bike just seemed to slow down and stop in the middle of this stream, so over I went into a flowing current of water. I clearly remember the water splashing my face and drenching my clothes as I rose from the ground to get back on my feet and grab my bicycle to try and navigate through these torrents of water again. I was soaked, but I didn’t feel cold because the exhilaration of learning this new skill eclipsed everything else.

An hour or so later, after successfully riding my bike all the way around the block without falling down, I ran into our house to announce my triumph. My mother was standing at the stove cooking eggs for breakfast. She heard my excitement and turned to see her young son, drenched head to toe, with torn jeans and a scraped knee. She exclaimed, “Oh, my dear boy! What happened? Are you OK?” I couldn’t understand why she was so concerned. I had just learned how to ride a bike!

Life is a time to learn and grow. We make mistakes and scrape our knees, but it is all part of the program. We have Jesus who lifts us up and helps us move forward each time we fall. His love, expressed through his grace, empowers us to get back up and move forward so we can learn from our mistakes as we can grow to become more like him.

God knows that our efforts will be imperfect. He expects it. The Lord just wants us to keep trying because He knows the outcome is worth it. One does not learn how to succeed without going through a learning curve. The Lord Almighty himself did not immediately receive a fullness of his wisdom and glory on earth but continued little by little until he received a fullness. Paul tells us, “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Are we greater than he? We learn by doing things. We improve by making mistakes and trying again. We become more like God through practice, and His grace sustains us through the process.

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Essay 5 – Polished Stones

Essay 5 – Polished Stones

One of my earliest memories is staying at a neighbor’s house for a few days when my younger brother was born. Some of the new and unusual things that this family did created lasting memories in my impressionable four-year-old mind.

I remember how strange it seemed that they turned their chairs around at the kitchen table and knelt next to their chairs when they asked a blessing on their food instead of just folding their arms and bowing their heads as we did in our family.

Another thing that fascinated me was all the interesting and unique rocks the older gentleman had collected. There were geodes, all sorts of crystals, and buckets of polished stones. I wondered how any rock could become so smooth.

The neighbor must have sensed my bewilderment, so he showed me the tumbler that he used to polish the stones. It was a metal cylinder about eighteen inches long with lots of small holes around its circumference. The cylinder was placed horizontal to the ground and connected to a motor that rotated the cylinder. The cylinder had a flap that opened so that one could place objects inside. This opening could be latched shut so that the object placed inside the cylinder would not fall out while rotating.

This elderly neighbor explained to me that those really pretty smooth stones were simply ordinary rocks that had been polished in his tumbler. I am sure he recognized my skepticism, so he suggested we go outside and find some rocks together and put them inside the tumbler to prove to me that it actually worked the way he had explained.

We went outside and selected several ordinary-looking rocks of different shapes, colors, and sizes. We placed them inside the tumbler, and he turned it on. It did not spin very fast; it simply rotated at about the same speed of a clothes drier. Those rocks we had placed inside tumbled all around crashing into each other. After a few minutes, the neighbor showed me a few small specks of stone that had fallen out of the holes in the cylinder into a catch basin underneath it.

He explained to me that when the rocks hit each other as they tumbled inside the cylinder, the rough edges of one stone would chip off because of the impact that stone would have on the rough edges of another stone. He explained that through this process, all the stones would have all their rough edges knocked off, and they would eventually become smooth and polished like the stones I admired in his collection.

He went on to explain that this process did not happen overnight but would take time. A week or so later, he invited me back to show me the progress as those ordinary rocks I picked up in his yard became beautiful polished stones.

Over the years as I recalled this experience, I realized that it taught an important life lesson. We are each like those rough and jagged rocks I picked up in my neighbor’s yard as a young boy. God has placed us in this tumbler we call life, where we get knocked around by all the other thick-headed numbskulls we come in contact with each day. We all are irritated by the stupid and hurtful acts of other people. Sometimes it seems that the greatest irritation comes from dealing with the imperfections of members of our own family. What’s with this? Can’t other people be less irritating?

I have observed that much of the difficulty in interpersonal relationships stems from people being hypersensitive to the offenses that invariably flow from human interactions with other imperfect individuals. It is easy to focus on how wrong the offender’s actions were. They hurt us. So, our perspective becomes myopic, and all we see is the error of the other person.

Now, another big life lesson: whenever someone else does something that annoys us, instead of focusing on how wrong the other person is, we should look inside ourselves to figure out why it bothers us so much. After all, there are many things that are not right in the world that do not disturb us. So why did this particular action, as wrong as it was, irritate us? That is the right question.
If we are honest with ourselves, usually we will recognize that the reason someone else’s rough edge bothers us is because we have a rough edge of our own that conflicts with the other person’s. We have little or no control over others, but we ultimately have complete control over ourselves.

Consequently, if we learn to identify why something bothers us and then let it go, our rough edges will be chipped off. As life’s hard knocks chip away our imperfections, we will find that not only are we less bothered by other people’s imperfections, but we will also be less irritating to others.

The key, then, is to be willing to let go of our imperfections instead of holding on to them. We go through life holding on to things. As a babe, we held on to our mother’s blouse and our father’s finger. As a child, we held on to our toys and schoolbooks. Today, we are still holding on―holding on to our wallet, our job, you name it. We seem to be programmed to hold on to things, and the more personal, the tighter our grip.

Isaiah mentions that we carry our sins behind us with a cart rope. (Isaiah 5:18). This image has helped me a lot in learning how to let go of my issues and move on. Our sins generally result from us using inappropriate behavior to deal with some emotional issue or deficiency that we have. Accordingly, I view our emotional issues as the cart that we carry the heavy load of our sins in, and we pull both of them behind us with that rope Isaiah refers to.

Sometimes the burden of those emotional issues and accompanying sins seems almost too heavy to bear in order to move forward. But let go? No way! Why, those issues and sins are mine, and they are very personal to me. So, I tighten my grip on that rope and trudge along in life ever so slowly, making very little progress.

The sad point is, however, that while my hands are clenched around that rope, I am not open to receive the gifts of love that God offers me. We all need to learn to open up and let go of our past so that we can receive the blessings from God that he offers us right now.

I have found that the following exercise actually helps me let go and open up to receive God’s healing love. You may want to try it as well.

Think of some situation that upsets you, or think of the last time you did or said something you wish you had not. Take a few moments to identify what the underlying issue was that made you upset. Was it that someone did not value you? Did you feel abandoned? Were you nervous because you were not in control of the situation? Try to identify whatever the behavior was that upset you or that you are ashamed of, and try to tie it to some basic fear and its source from your childhood.

Now close your eyes and visualize that big cart loaded up with all the inappropriate behavior and emotional hurts from your past. Visualize that you are pulling that heavy cart up a hill, and you can hardly take another step because it is so heavy. Hold your closed fist out in front of you like you are pulling that rope with all your effort.

Now, slowly count—one, two, three—and open your hands. Visualize that rope slipping through your fingers. Turn and watch that cart and all your issues roll away. Now look forward with your hands opened out in front of you and visualize your Savior standing there with open arms to receive you.

Can you feel his love? Do you feel relieved of the burden you carried just a moment ago? If you felt your load lightened to any degree, you have found the source to heal your pain. Christ is the source to turn to for peace. He wants us to let go of our emotional garbage so that we can grab hold of the treasures of eternity that he offers us.

It usually does not happen all at once. My wife says it is like peeling onions. Once you finish one layer and you think you are done, there always seems to be another layer, and each layer seems to bring its own set of tears. But, in the process, we become more in touch with our emotions and experience greater joy and peace of mind. We are freed to love others more deeply and benefit from reciprocal loving relationships. We draw closer to God, and He is able to bless us with His healing Spirit.

I sincerely hope that we all will learn to let go and open up to God so that He can draw us near to Him and shine as polished gems in his hand.

Emotional Black Holes Book
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Essay 38 – Pride: The Real Original Sin

Essay 38 – Pride: The Real Original Sin

We can learn much from studying the story of Adam and Eve, even if we view it as a metaphor for human nature. The second and third chapters of Genesis state:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. . . . And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, “Where art thou?” And he said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And he said, “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” And the Lord God said unto the woman, “What is this that thou hast done?” And the woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.’. . .

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” . . . [T]he Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So, he drove out the man.

Adam and Eve’s original sin was pride, as demonstrated by their separating themselves from God by choosing to follow their own will instead of His expressed direction. The first sin was not simply eating some fruit that God told them not to eat; it was consciously deciding to disobey God’s direct instruction. Pride was the real original sin, and all other sins are simply various expressions of pride being repeated by individuals thereafter. Pride is the one universal sin.

In reality, the original sin was not committed by Adam and Eve but by Satan himself. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that the devil is a fallen angel. (Isaiah 14:12; Luke 10:18; Jude 1:6). It was Lucifer’s pride that caused him to fall, and he has been trying to destroy mankind with pride ever since.

The first effect of Adam and Eve’s transgression was shame or guilt, which immediately produced fear, so they hid themselves in the garden. They separated themselves from God. They became spiritually dead. Death is simply separation. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Likewise, spiritual death results from our separation from God. Sin is nothing more than an expression of our will that is contrary to God’s will, or pride. The simple act of electing to do something contrary to the will of God is an act of secession from Him. Consequently, all sin separates us from God and brings spiritual death. We each are responsible for our own spiritual death because sin is an expression of our own will in competition with God’s.

The main objective of mortal existence is to become unified with our Creator by developing our capacity to love. One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it impedes our ability to love God and our fellowmen. Our natural reaction when we do something that we know is wrong is to withdraw from God and others. So sin becomes our major obstacle to realizing our divine potential. Our guilt obstructs our ability to feel and to develop love. Repentance is how we accept the gift of God’s grace to free us from our guilt so we can love more fully and thus become more like God.

When we separate ourselves from God, we remove ourselves from his love and goodness. We cannot escape the reality of this loss and the truth that it was a natural consequence of our own action. We all are children of the Great Lawgiver, so we all inherently have a sense of justice. When we sin and separate ourselves from God, we naturally feel guilty. This guilt triggers our sense of justice that demands punishment. We now fear the punishment of God, so, in our warped minds, God becomes our enemy. If we feel that God is our enemy, then we naturally seek to hide and run away from him like Adam and Eve, resulting in even further separation with increasing guilt and fear. This false perception that God is our feared enemy generates animosity or enmity toward God.

Thus pride, by its very nature, immediately separates us from God, creating sin, guilt, fear, spiritual death, and enmity toward God. Thus pride, or the expression of our self-will over God’s will, creates a state of hostility between ourselves, God, and our fellowmen. Conversely, Christ is our great example. We learn that he was perfect because he always sought to do his father’s will and not his own.

Pride separates and isolates, while love attracts and unifies. Pride and love are polar opposites. At its heart, pride is competitive. It pits one’s self against others in a contest to prevail. The very nature of this dynamic leads to contempt and enmity, enmity to God and to our fellowmen. Everyone becomes our enemy. This enmity drives people away and exacerbates the loneliness we feel, creating the human condition of universal loneliness, which becomes the source of much of our sorrow and trouble.

Again, analyzing the fall of Adam and Eve helps us understand the source of this enmity toward others. The first actions taken by Adam and Eve when they felt the guilt of separating themselves from God were to cover up their shame and hide. Then, when they could not hide their guilt, they each attempted to divert their guilt onto someone else. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. We tend to follow this same pattern. None of us like feeling guilty, so we follow Adam and Eve’s example and try to suppress or hide our guilt, and then when that does not work, we project our guilt onto others.

We all have become very adept at hiding from our guilt. We do not want to face the consequences of our pride, our choice to rebel against God and pursue our own will. The image in the mirror is too ugly to look at. We cannot endure the terror of justice that our divine nature demands when confronted with our guilt, so we attempt to hide from our sins and pretend that they do not exist. We rationalize our behavior and pretend that we really didn’t do anything wrong. We may even subscribe to the idea of moral relativism. But this denial is simply our first defense against guilt. Psychologists generally refer to this futile attempt to avoid guilt as repression without realizing that it’s actually our natural defense against divine law. But sewing an apron out of fig leaves to cover our sins doesn’t work.

In spite of all our efforts to repress our guilt, we still subconsciously feel it gnawing away at our peace and emotional contentment. We know something is missing in our life. We miss God’s love when we choose to withdraw from him. Abandoning God to pursue our self-will leaves an emotional void in our lives. The greater our emotional deficiency, the more pride we have as we try to counterbalance the emptiness we feel with a deluded sense of significance. Thus, pride begets more pride, which in turn produces greater denial in an ever-deepening cycle leading us away from God and the peace and love we actually crave.

Because our first defense against the justice of God―denial―does not fully succeed, we naturally follow Adam and Eve’s second defense and project our guilt onto others. We pretend that the guilt we feel is not inside us but in someone else. We subconsciously project our guilt onto others in a futile attempt to remove it from ourselves. Once we disassociate ourselves from this guilt, we are then free to unleash our sense of justice and attack the person we have projected our own guilt onto. Consequently, the natural man needs other people, groups, ideas, political parties, or concepts that are outside himself that he can blame for his internal turmoil. This subconscious defense mechanism creates an us-versus-them mentality, with a world full of good guys battling bad guys, instead of the reality that we are all flawed and imperfect creatures who still have infinite worth because we are children of God.

Just as with denial, our effort to avoid the consequences of our guilt by projecting it onto others does not work. The source or root cause of our anger with other persons is generally found in our attempt to find justice by projecting our disapproval of our own guilt onto the other person. Our execution of justice on others is expressed in a variety of ways, such as resentment, criticism, prejudice, unrighteous dominion, abuse, et cetera. Sins against others are typically our misguided attempts to displace the justice that is due us onto others. Of course, this dysfunctional behavior is contrary to God’s will, so our separation from God continues to increase, producing a greater need for denial and someone else to project our anger onto.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we all suffer from this same dysfunctional spiritual illness and are prone to attack others in an attempt to displace our own guilt. However, when we attack others, we believe that they will attack us. Consequently, we become defensive. Of course, because this whole dynamic is an attempt to eliminate our own guilt, we feel any potential attack on or criticism of us is unjustified. The stage is now set for this dysfunctional human interaction to perpetuate our separation from God and each other, exacerbating our unhappiness.

Whenever we separate ourselves from God, our guilt produces fear. Fear is the genesis of most, if not all, of our dysfunctional behavior. Paradoxically, love is the remedy for our spiritual and emotional illness and its symptoms of guilt and fear. The inappropriate behavior generated by our fears is typically both an expression of our pride and an appeal for love.

When the Lord established his covenant with the house of Israel through Moses, he directed that they should observe a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) each year, which was to be the most solemn and sacred of all their religious holidays. On this day, two goats were selected. One was given the name of Jehovah and sacrificed, and the other became the scapegoat that carried all the sins of the people away into the wilderness where it was abandoned. In the ninth and tenth chapters of Hebrews, Paul explains how the annual observance of this sacred day symbolized Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. I find it instructive that the Lord used our natural tendency to project our sin and guilt onto others as a means to renew his covenant with Israel, in which God himself would bear our burdens and set us free. But how is this done?

The Savior provides the answer in his last public discourse, the apex of his teachings, when he taught that the first great commandment was to love God with all our hearts and the second great commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first great commandment is the antidote to the first sin: pride, or enmity toward God. The second great commandment, to love our neighbor, is the antidote for our sins (pride and enmity) against our fellowmen. (Matthew 22:37-40).

We all are deficient in love and cannot produce the love necessary to cure their own spiritual and emotional illness. It must come from an outside source. Just as a person dying from a poisonous snakebite needs an injection of antidote to counteract the deadly toxin, we likewise cannot personally create the antidote of love to save ourselves from the poison of pride that brings spiritual death. We need a source outside our contaminated souls to inject the lifesaving cure of love. Another person with their own deficiencies cannot fully administer it, though they can help. God is the only source to completely heal our soul. This is why grace is so fundamental to all Christian doctrine. As John taught, we love God because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19). Christ’s atonement is the ultimate expression of love, the means to bring salvation from this spiritual death, and the cure for societal discontent. The antidote to pride’s deadly poison is God’s healing, liberating, and life-giving love. Our personal, family, and societal well-being will improve as we open our hearts to receive the love God offers us.

Looking back, I can see how pride was the source of many of my difficulties in life, and am very grateful that God has shown me this weakness.

Emotional Black Holes Book
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Essay 24 – Otavalo Miracle

Essay 24 – Otavalo Miracle

While serving as a missionary in Otavalo, Ecuador, I had the distinct impression that a great missionary work was about to proceed among the Quechua-speaking natives living in the hills surrounding the town. However, when I met with the mission president at a zone conference a short time later, he informed me that he was transferring all the other missionaries out of my district, leaving just me and my companion. Additionally, he instructed me to not go into the countryside to teach but instead to work only with the Spanish-speaking residents in town.

I wrestled with this apparent contradiction the whole day during the bus ride back to Otavalo. Was I inspired, or was the president/ There was no question that I was going to obey the president’s directive, but I struggled with the apparent conflict. That night, while my companion slept, I continued to wrestle with God to understand his will regarding this issue. Sleep eluded my eyes as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and pondering this matter. After a while, the hymn “We Are All Enlisted” kept coming into my mind. Then a verse of instruction came into my mind stating that we are to send less experienced Christians before us to fill appointments that we are not able to fill. My mind’s eye opened up, and I could see the Quechua-speaking members teaching their relatives and neighbors by themselves without direct full-time missionary involvement.

The following Sunday, we informed the small congregation that we were not authorized to teach in the countryside anymore, so it was now all up to them. The burden of teaching their community rested directly on their shoulders, but we would help them learn how to teach the gospel message to their friends and family. We told them that they had to do a good job because I would interview everyone who wanted to be baptized, and if they were not ready, they would have to wait. We then proceeded to instruct the members how to teach their families, friends, and neighbors.

A few weeks later, one of the members asked me to interview a couple of his relatives to see if they were ready to make the commitments for baptism. The whole way out to their homes in the country, this member kept saying he had taught them everything he knew. He kept pleading with me to “pass them” so that they could be baptized.

The first interview was with his eighteen-year-old cousin. This young man expressed a sincere testimony of Christ, his atonement, and a commitment to follow Him. His only concern was if there was some commandment that he was not aware of and was ignorantly disobeying. I assured him that we had reviewed all the major commandments in our interview and that based on his commitment to follow the Savior, he was ready to be baptized.

The next interview was with the member’s uncle who lived just up a hill. This older man seemed anxious when I asked him if he was aware of the Ten Commandments. In the past, individuals would get nervous talking about the Ten Commandments if they had difficulty keeping the law of chastity. So, I was concerned that he was having a problem with this or one of the other commandments. I asked him to tell me what he knew about the Ten Commandments. He was visibly nervous. He took a deep breath and then proceeded to quote the Ten Commandments word for word. We told the member missionaries that they needed to teach their baptismal candidates the Ten Commandments, so this member made sure his students memorized them. This dear man was nervous that he would forget how to quote them in Spanish, which was not his native tongue.

Needless to say, the Quechua-speaking members taught their friends and family members much better than I would have done, and they were certainly ready to make the personal commitment to follow Christ that is associated with baptism.

The taller young man in this photo is the eighteen-year-old mentioned above. He was the first individual who was baptized after being taught exclusively by the native members. Later, the rest of his family was baptized. This photo was taken by my companion, Elder Markanich, when we helped them dedicate their newly constructed home to God.

I realized that because this Quechua-speaking community was so closely knit, they were not very receptive to outside influences from the Hispanic community, let alone foreigners. However, they were much more open to hearing the message of God’s love from individuals in their own community. So, both the mission president and I were inspired. I just needed to care enough to wrestle with what appeared to be an irreconcilable conflict and seek God’s inspiration before God revealed the solution to me, which made all the difference. Today there are four stakes in this little town and their attendance and tithing rate is twice that of other stakes in Latin America. I believe that this high percentage of church membership in the community and faithfulness is partially due to the members building on the foundation laid by these pioneers realizing that they personally needed to rely on the Lord to help them build the kingdom in their community and not depend on the efforts of others.

As you can imagine, I cherish this photo of the first family to lead this phenomenal conversion story. Unfortunately, I was not able to keep in touch with the people from my mission. I had no contact with any of the members from that small town for thirty-seven years until a friend asked me to host a reception for the coordinators of the Liahona Children’s Foundation (a charitable organization dealing with malnutrition) from Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Cambodia. I was pleased to find out that the representative from Ecuador was from this small town I served in years ago. When I showed the coordinator from Ecuador this photo hanging in a prominent spot in my den, he froze and tears welled up in his eyes. It was a picture of his family! The Liahona coordinator is the small child kneeling on the right side in the picture. His older brother was the first person to be baptized under this member missionary approach and is now a bishop in the Church. The Liahona coordinator is now the stake president (similar to the archbishop who presides over a diocese).

He did not remember me, of course, but he did remember his family kneeling down and praying for the first time together and having their picture taken. He had been searching for this picture for years, contacting other missionaries who served in this community after I had returned home and asking them if by chance they had a copy of this picture. All this time, no one was able to help him. Now he finally saw this picture hanging in my den. I immediately made him a copy, which he took back to Ecuador to show his family just two months before his father passed away.

This experience has taught me that God always answers our sincere prayers. It may not be what our finite minds think would be the right response, and it might even take decades, but he will always answer in his own way and time according to his wisdom and infinite mercy.

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