Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spiritual Spurs - Sacrament talk - 24 April 2016

Spiritual Spurs
24 April 2016

The Spur

In the summer of 2002, I shattered my ankle playing softball.  I was taken to the hospital, where they operated to put the ankle back together, and get me back on the road to recovery.  I spent a month in a wheelchair, a while on crutches, and eventually got moving again.  In October a year and a half ago, I dropped something on that same foot, and it started to hurt, and didn’t really get better.  A couple of months later, I went in to get my foot looked at.  XRays were inconclusive, and I ended up getting a cortisone shot in my ankle.  This helped things for a little while, but the pain came back. 

I tried ignoring it for a while.  Whenever I thought I could, I would try to not limp.  Usually this meant having to sit down at night and put my foot up for hours.  I came to church on Sundays and did my very best to hide it.  It wasn’t the easiest thing to hide all the time, but I still tried.  The ankle hurt all the time.  I finally went back to the doctor.  We scheduled a surgery for the middle of August.  Last summer, I had an increasingly hard time getting around.  I met with the surgeon one more time, and we decided to delay the surgery until mid-December or early January.  I got another shot in my ankle, but that didn’t really help things the second time.

I simply couldn’t walk without pain.  I could choose to hide it, to a point, but the pain was still there.  If I tried walking more than short distances at a time, I couldn’t even hide it, and limped.  I did less and less, deferring where I could in order to avoid walking.

Finally, it came time to have the surgery.  The surgeon presented three outcomes, either he would find something in the ankle that he could fix, he would find something in there that he couldn’t fix, or he wouldn’t find anything.  We were hoping for the first option.  I had gotten a blessing from my Dad in August while back East, and just before I went over to the surgical center, I got another blessing.  I was calm going into the surgery, not really worried at all.

After the surgery, the surgeon came in, and let us know that I had a bone spur in my ankle that he ended up removing, along with bad cartilage and some scar tissue.  He was very positive about a full recovery. 

I went reading up on bone spurs afterwards.  They are small little growths of bone, that in the wrong place, like a joint, and at the wrong size, can cause a lot of issues.  You can have a small spur in a joint that maybe doesn’t bother you at all, or enough to do anything about.  Others, like mine, eventually get noticed, and are always with you, bothering you.

Spiritual Spurs

While teaching in the Americas after His resurrection, the Savior taught: “What manner of men ought ye be?  Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” 

Brothers and sisters, do we have spurs in our lives, causing us problems?  Maybe spiritual spurs? Are we carrying around scar tissue from previous mistakes, holding ourselves accountable to things that we may have repented of, but just can’t forgive ourselves for? It may not take very long at all to identify a few areas in our lives that are those thorns in our sides.  We may be good at hiding them from others, but most are perfectly clear to us. 

Don’t let these things discourage you.  Yes, absolutely we need to work on them.  Yes, absolutely we need to get past our sins, our bad habits, the natural man. 

In Ether 12:27, the prophet Moroni writes the words of the Lord: “And if men come unto me, I will show them their weaknesses.  I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” And then, two verses later, Moroni's response, which is sometimes looked over: “And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted, and said: O Lord, they righteous will be done, for I know that thou workest unto the children of men according to their faith.”

It may be sin that we just can’t give up.  It may be that we struggle with certain Gospel topics, we struggle with doubt.  It may be like we heard last week.  It’s not that we are doing bad things, it’s that we aren’t really engaged doing good things.  Maybe our scripture study or prayers can be deeper, richer, and more meaningful.  Maybe we can engage in our callings or home and visiting teaching assignments more fully.  Maybe we struggle to attend the temple regularly. 

The point is that in most cases, we can see these things in our lives.  Yes, there are a few circumstances where we may have a blind spot, and need help from those that love us to see.  Family, a spouse, your Bishop; these are all people that love you and can help you know what you need to work on, when you are just stymied about what is holding you back from progressing.
Those things we know, we can work on.  We can be better.  Pick one, and set a goal, if only to yourself, to start working on it.  Then take it to the Lord and ask His help.  It will take work, but in the end, that work is worth it.  We come closer to our Father in Heaven, we have the Spirit more abundantly in our lives, we become more like our Savior, step by step.

Seeing progress

Back to my recent ankle surgery.  Shortly after the surgery, I noticed something interesting happening.  I started seeing, day after day, just a little bit of progress.  Little small things.  The ability to move my toes one day.  Getting out of the cast, and able to move around a little easier day by day.  Being able to bend the ankle a little.  After I was allowed to start putting weight on the ankle, feeling each and every day that I was able to put more and more weight on it, and go just a little further than I could the day before.  Really little things.

Does that mean that every day was easy?  No.  There were days when I did too much, pushed too hard, and paid the price for it.  There were days where I was just so sore, I didn’t want to get moving.  Days where my shoulders were just shredded, and I dreaded getting back up on the crutches.  What do you do in that case?  Say a prayer, ask to have a good day, and keep going.

I still tried to hide the issue the best I could, especially on Sundays.  I traded Brother Selway months to conduct Sacrament meeting.  I got sat down on the stand before most of the ward arrived for Sacrament meeting, stashed the crutches, and sat there until most were out at the end of the meeting. 
Despite that, day after day, things were getting better.  One day, I decided it was time to ditch one of the crutches.  Eventually the other.  When I was walking halfway decent, I started tackling stairs.  One step at a time, small improvements that stacked on each other.

Seeing Progress

As you work to improve yourself, to work on that thing that you most want to improve, you too can see small improvement in yourself, day after day.  The Savior is our perfect example, but he didn’t come to that all at once.  We are not asked to be perfect all at once, either.  It is, however, a pattern or goal for us to strive for as we go about our lives.  The Savior learned and grew, just as we are all doing now.  We read in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  It was a process for the Savior, just as it is a gradual process with us.  In D&C 93:13, we read: “And He received a fullness not at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness.”

There is a pattern there for us.  That thing – the one thing - that biggest issue for you – you don’t have to overcome it all at once.  You may not be able to.  We can however, take a step in the right direction, do the best we can do, and then take another step in the right direction.  When we fall short of the example the Savior has set for us, or struggle to really and truly progress, we have the Atonement that lets us repent, that lets us lean on Him for support, to give us strength to carry on, and He gets us put back on course to continue changing and being more like the Savior, day after day. 
As we work on our weaknesses, which we are all personally aware of, taking them to the Lord, we will slowly but surely work those things out. It may be a one step at a time, a slow but sure pace, but it will eventually happen. Perfection, or being like Christ, is not a quick process. It's not meant to be.
I am surprised by the number of temple recommend interviews that I do, where we go through all the questions, the member is living a good life, really striving to keep the commandments, which makes them temple worthy, and we get to the last question that says “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances”, and the member is not confident enough in themselves to give a definitive yes answer, even though we have already reviewed that they are living a good life and really striving.  It’s not everyone, but it is definitely some.  They just don’t see the progress they are really making, I guess.  As you go to the Lord to work on these weaknesses, of which you are painfully aware, ask him to allow you to see the progress you are making along the way.  In the same way I saw little tiny improvements in the state of my ankle, you can certainly see the good progress you are making, the Lord can certainly open your eyes to see that.

Striving for ‘perfection’

Where am I at with my ankle today?  This week was interesting.  I was in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday, I walked 4 or 5 miles each day.  This is more than I have walked in a very long time.  I expected to have a lot of swelling, and wake up in the morning sore each day.  To my surprise, there wasn’t that much swelling, and it wasn’t sore.  I’ve turned a bit of a corner this week.  I don’t think I am trying to get my ankle rehabilitated anymore.  It’s certainly much better than it was before the surgery.  On Friday, I went to help my brother pour 10 yards of concrete.  I expected to come back sore and swollen, but Friday night, when I thought about it, I was fine.  I am suddenly past the issue, without even realizing it.

Does that mean the ankle is perfect?  No.  I went more than a year walking funny on it, so it will still take a while to get a full range of motion.  If I walk too fast, I can still feel it a bit, I certainly have not started running yet.  When I get on an incline, I can feel it a little.  What I do know is that I am past the issue, well past where I was when I had the surgery, and headed towards 100%.  I’m not going to worry about it anymore, I will keep going, and look for another area of my life to focus on really improving.  The ankle doesn’t need the intense focus on it for it to continue to improve.

Striving for perfection

Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 reads: “That which is God is light; and he that received light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”  Brothers and Sisters, there is a perfect day ahead.  There is a perfect day for that one thing you want to work on right now, there is a perfect perfect day.  What there isn’t is a timetable for that perfection.  The scriptures do not say that we need to be perfect by our 23rd, or 40th, or 72nd birthday.  It doesn’t say when the perfection needs to come, just that it needs to come.

We have to understand that the process of improving ourselves, the process towards perfection, takes time.  It takes a lot of effort and humility on our part.  We may fall short of our expectations, and see the same thing happening in others.  In this process, we will continue to make mistakes, need to seek forgiveness from the Savior.  We also need to forgive both ourselves and those around us.  I know I can be my own worst critic.  I also have to understand that I am trying, that the Lord has not given up on me, and when I make mistakes, I can pick up from there and carry on.  Our Savior is always there for us.  He is always ready to take our sufferings, our setbacks, and our sins upon Himself. 

The Lord is able to take all of it on, no matter what the problem is.  The person struggling with paying a full tithe might first decide to pay some.  Then they find they can pay more.  They continue to have faith, and one day take the step to pay a full tithe on an income. And the Lord blesses them. Then they do it again on another income, maybe the next check, maybe a few checks later. They continue to ask the Lord for help, continue to act in faith, and eventually they find that they can always pay a full tithe. It's not a problem for them anymore. They've become a perfect tithe payer. Suddenly the title perfect fits with something in their lives. They've taken steps to become more like the Savior. It's not a problem for them ever again, because they have seen the difference paying a full tithe has in their life.  Then they work on something else in their life.

Sometimes we sin. Everyone makes mistakes in their lives, some come under the category of 'sins'.  When this happens, we need to repent. Sometimes we need to visit with the Bishop about it. We most definitely need to overcome our sins. There is nothing better in the world than to know that our sins have been forgiven. The process of laying those sins at the feet of the Savior and overcoming them brings us closer to him.


We all have things in our life that we struggle with, that keep us from reaching our full potential, that we can work on and improve.  It can feel daunting, especially when we are in the middle of them.  In Lehi and Nephi’s vision of the tree of life, they saw multitudes of people pressing forward along the path that lead to the tree of life.  Lehi says some of the people lost their way on the path as a mist of darkness came, wandering off and becoming lost.  Others pressed forward and clung to the iron rod, which Nephi interpreted to be the word of God, until they came to be able to partake of the fruit of the tree. 

I imagine these people, of which we are a part, all had their trials and struggles along this path, even while they held firmly to the rod of iron.  Others may not have had quite the same grip, but stayed close and eventually found their way back to the straight path.  Others may have temporarily lost their grip, and wandered for a while before finding their way back, or getting help from those around them to return to the path.  I will say it again, we are a part of those people that Lehi saw on the path.  The fact that you are here today is an indication that you are somewhere along the path that leads to Eternal life.  You are not totally lost.

Brothers and Sisters, it doesn’t matter where we are in this path, where we feel like we are in this path, no matter what our circumstances, and what all we feel like we need to work on, we can always turn to our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ for help.  They love us, and want the absolute best for us.  Our Savior truly understands our pains, our trials, our struggles, and is always there to help us.  He knows us, and knows how to help.  He can help us see clearly both where we are, where we need to be, and can show us the progress we are making along the way, even when that progress is small amounts at a time.

When we have a problem, we can take that problem to the Lord. We plead with him to help us overcome our problem. We decide on ways we can improve that day, and go out and try. Then we come back and review with the Lord how we did. The next day, we try to do just a little bit better.  Sometimes we have a setback, but we keep working on it. Eventually, we find that it gets easier and easier to overcome the problem. We build confidence in ourselves. We thank the Lord for His help. We suddenly find that whatever the problem was is no longer a problem.  The Lord is able to take all of it on, no matter what it is. 

We live in a hard time.  It can be hard to live the way our Father in Heaven would have us live.  It can be incredibly easy as well.  We have the path before us, and our Savior will always be there for us.  We also live in a wonderful time.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is on the Earth.  The Priesthood is real.  Our Father in Heaven and Savior Jesus Christ love us very much.  They can and will help each and every one of us, as we stretch and do the work to reach out for their help.  May we all have the strength and humility to work to remove those spiritual spurs from our life.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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