Sunday, November 30, 2008

Linger Longer

I believe that we are all painfully aware of our weaknesses.  I know that is surely the case with me.  I hate to report it, but I also believe Jo Anne is painfully aware of them as well.  She is very kind however, in that she does not broadcast them about.

One of my greatest challenges throughout my life is that I have been very jealous and possessive of my time.  It has always been far easier for me to give money than time.  Paying tithing, etc., has never been a challenge or a perceived sacrifice.  Giving of my time however is another story. 

Don't get me wrong, over my lifetime I have given freely of my time to others, but in my heart of hearts sometimes it has been given far too grudgingly.

My brother Darrel, eight years older than me, had an interesting experience during the BYU/Utah football game this year.  I am a strong BYU fan, but compared to my brother, I pale in passion, intensity, and longevity.  Just as the game was beginning last week the missionaries came to his home thinking they had a dinner appointment at that time. There had been some miscommunication and Darrel and his wife had gone out to eat lunch just before the elders arrived.  Darrel had settled down in front of his TV to watch this epic match between the "good guys" -- BYU, and the "villainous University of Utah Utes."  Shocked and horrified within, he recovered quickly and took the two elders out to dinner at a nearby restaurant missing the entire first half of the "biggest game" of the year.  The elders ate well as usual, but Darrel kind of choked down what little he could eat.  He was gracious, I believe, and was quite uncomplaining, as he explained to me what had happened.  Well, the last half of the game was nothing a true BYU fan would want to watch, so the "big game" was quite a wash for my brother.  I honestly don't believe I would have been so gracious.  I would have probably had the elders dig through the cupboards and refrigerator and fix themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Anyhow, I think my brother is on his way to ultimate sanctification and exaltation as evidenced by the way he handled this experience.

For some time now, at the end of certain stake meetings that are cut a little bit short on purpose, the member of the stake presidency who is conducting announces that we will dismiss to the cultural hall for a "Linger Longer" time.  Instead of rushing out and away from the building immediately, time is set aside for us to just visit and renew acquaintances with good friends that we don't see nearly often enough.  Of course, Jo Anne has never needed any one to invite her to "linger longer" in a social setting.  She has been "lingering longer" as long as I can remember. 

I am sure the concept is not necessarily original with our stake, but I personally believe it is a wonderful concept, especially for a time challenged person like me.  It is always a test for me to "linger longer" willingly and cheerfully.  There are so many other "important" things on my agenda that need to be done.

The life of the Savior has always been an inspiration to me as I have tried to learn to "linger longer", visiting with, and hopefully being blessed and blessing others in the process. I believe one of Jesus' most beautiful attributes was his sociability and willingness to "linger longer" with others.  It was not his purpose to give money to those in need, but to give of himself and his time, selflessly and constantly.  I carry many pictures of him in my mind that inspire me when tempted to not "linger longer" happily and willingly. 

For example, John's account of the Savior visiting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well [John 4] has always had a profound impact upon me.  Tired and hot he taught this woman, and a Samaritan at that, with all of his heart, revealing to her who he was and ultimately converting her and many of her friends and family in the adjacent village, because he was willing to "linger longer."
He was not too busy to assist his mother at the wedding feast by changing the water to wine -- his first recorded miracle.  I have often wondered how long he "lingered" there.  Wedding receptions are not my favorite thing I hate to admit and I usually try to "linger" as little as possible. 

After the resurrection he walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."  [Luke 24: 21]
It was not given to them to know who he was at that point and as he was about to part from them, Luke recorded the following:  " But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them."  [Luke 24: 29] It was while he "lingered longer" that he revealed himself to these two men as the resurrected and glorified Savior. 

Example after example of course could be cited of Jesus' willingness and desire to give of his time, not just to the multitudes, but to individuals in obscure settings as well. It seems to me that his entire life was all about "lingering longer" to bless the lives of others with his time and presence.

My favorite picture of his "lingering longer" however, is as he finishes his first day of ministering to the descendants of Lehi here in the Americas as the resurrected Christ, Mormon recorded:  "And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.  And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you."  [3 Nephi 17:5-6] And then Jesus said: "Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them..." [3 Nephi 17:7]

I think I love this passage so much because I see myself in many of the categories Christ mentioned.  Just think of the joy that came to those who were paralyzed who could now walk -- I identify with that -- just because Jesus was willing to "linger longer."

I have a long way to go to approach Jesus' willingness and desire to "linger longer" with those who needed his help.  I think I am making progress though, but if we are ever visiting and you notice me looking over your shoulder at one of the three clocks I have hanging on the walls of my bedroom you have my permission to pull the air hose off my trachea!


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Blow Your Lead

Last week Jo Anne and I went to the Newport Beach Temple for the first time in some time because of various difficulties we have been dealing with.  One of the Temple workers came up to me and said, "It is so good to see you here."  I responded with, "It's good to be seen!"  In my mind I was also saying, "It's better to be seen than to be viewed!"  And then yesterday I had some surgery done on my pressure sore.  While the doctor was performing the procedure she noticed a spot that looked suspicious and decided to do a biopsy.  As she was working away I thought, "Better to be the subject of a biopsy than an autopsy!"

As challenging as life can be at times, I am still happy to be around.  I am one person you will never hear complaining about getting older.  I will take every day I can get, realizing the precious gift mortality is.

Life is particularly good at this time of the year if you are a sports junkie like I am.  We have college football, college basketball being initiated, and the NBA season beginning as well.  I suppose my love for sports is evidence of a misspent youth; however, it surely does add an enjoyable dimension to my life.

Many years ago I heard President Joe Bentley, president of the Newport Beach Stake at the time, give a talk to the youth about how important it is not to "Blow our lead," in life.  He was alluding to how frequently in the NBA one team will have a 20 or even 30 point lead and almost unbelievably lose the game at the end. 

I have already seen this phenomenon occur in the NBA several times this year -- in fact I observed it almost happen last night to my beloved Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers were playing the New Orleans' Hornets and had a 21 point lead most of the game, but almost ended up getting beat in the fourth quarter.  They were very fortunate to barely win a game they should have won easily, and almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as teams do who "blow their lead." 

Why do basketball teams blow their lead so frequently?  There is probably no easy answer, but I think human nature, being what it is, they become complacent, depart from the fundamentals that built their lead in the first place, and quit playing with intensity.  In most cases, I observe that they quit playing tough defense.  There is not a great deal of glory in playing defense.  It requires constant and consistent hard work and is not nearly as fun or glorious as launching a three pointer that splashes through the net to the applause and cheers of the crowd.  However, teams that don't continue to play hard-nosed, in-your-face defense, usually end up blowing their lead and often times losing the game.  In basketball as in life, to ultimately win the prize -- the game or eternal life -- we must endure to the end and not "blow our lead!"

I have always been intrigued by the lives of three characters in the Old Testament -- Saul, David, and Solomon.  Each of them was given an "early lead" in life.  Of Saul it was said that he was "... a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people."  [1 Samuel 9:2] Anointed by Samuel to be the King of Israel as a young man with the promise of a long and productive life ahead, we know that he "blew his lead" through pride and disobedience, was filled with jealousy and hatred toward David, and eventually died an ignominious death as a miserable old man.

Samuel the Prophet was inspired to anoint the young boy David to replace Saul as the next King of Israel.  We read of David, "... Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward...." [1 Samuel 16:12-13]

Whoever was given a bigger lead as a young man than David?  He had the faith to go forward to slay Goliath.  He was a great poet and musician, as well as a powerful warrior.  He loved the Lord and was loved by the Lord.  Our heart aches for David as we observe him through the pages of history "blow his lead," in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the slaying of her husband.  How could you have done it, David?  I know why -- he quit reading his scriptures and praying, [he quit playing defense and departed from the fundamentals of his faith] and undoubtedly was also lifted up in his pride.  And so this boy of such promise and infinite potential blew his lead and ended his days in misery and heart ache.

David's son, Solomon, was a sweet and humble young man who loved the Lord when he began his reign as King of Israel, as evidenced in the following prayer he offered to Jehovah. "And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in... Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?" [1 Kings 3:7, 9]

Solomon was blessed with wisdom.  He loved the Lord and built the great temple.  Under his direction Israel flourished as never before; but, even great Solomon eventually "blew his lead", as we all know.  He forsook Jehovah, married many "strange women", allowed the worship of false gods in the kingdom and eventually died a hollow shell, and but a shadow of his former humble and wise self.

Surely the Lord could have called men to be kings of Israel that would have endured faithfully to the end.  I believe there is a great lesson in his not doing so, however.  I call it the "Two Faces of the Three Kings of Israel."  Those two faces are the natural man and the spiritual man we are all capable of being.  Birth, the privileges we receive in our youth, our infinite potential as sons and daughters of God mean nothing if we do not, day by day, do those things that enable us to not blow our lead, give in to the natural man that is always lurking just beneath the surface, and endure faithfully to the end. 

We, who have been given so much, must never grow complacent, quit playing intense defense and "blow our lead."

As I give patriarchal blessings to the youth of our stake, I am overwhelmed with who they really are and of their infinite potential.  Just coming for a blessing is evidence of the great lead they have been given in life already.  I hope many, if not all of them, will never "blow their lead" which they need not do if they will continue to play intense, consistent defense and never grow complacent.  At what age can we afford to abandon the fundamentals of life that strengthen faith, and to not play the game of life with intensity?