Monday, December 23, 2013

Of The Spirit of Christmas

It is a wonderful thing this Spirit of Christmas.

For the longest time I could not feel in the slightest that we are about to celebrate the birth of the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I felt down, sad. I felt blue. I did not know why. Also, my Mom as a nurse has to work night shifts these days before Christmas. My little sister too. She works in a jewelry store. My dad has a fever and I have two deadlines for music requests in January. All this didn't help me feel the Spirit of Christmas.

Earlier today, I crouched in the stairs to the second floor of the house my parents live in. It was dark and only light was given by the Christmas lights in the stairs. There was some pictures on the walls of Finnish Christmas gnomes, snow, raindeers and so on. My Mom somehow had made time to make the house beautiful. There I asked: "Where are you Christmas?" No-one answered and a tear appeared to the corner of my eye. I swallowed the rest of them and went to my room to continue composing.

Before Mom left to work she asked me to put up the lights to the Christmas tree since Dad was sick. After a while of composing I figured I could do it since working didn't make me feel any better. I went downstairs to our livingroom where we had our Christmas tree and all the decorations for it.

For the longest time I remember my Father has always put up the lights and then we children have decorated the rest of it. A sweet tradition I think. I started putting them up. As I started my work on the tree I started to feel a bit better.

Once I was done I turned on the lights. A beautiful white light filled the otherwise not well lit room. The tree was beautiful.

I went to kitchen. When I came back I stopped at the livingroom door to look at the now shining tree. A warm feeling of love filled my heart. I felt light and healing pour in to my mind and heart. Words of a well known Christmas carol (Silent Night, Holy Night) came to my mind in my native toung. A translation back to English would be as follows...

Christmas night, a night of celebration
All work has ended
Only two parents are awake
While a sweet Child is sleeping

The tears had returned to my eyes and in my mind I could hear clearly the words:

"It is time for you to end your work and prepare for Christmas"

Christmas is here. This is the time I celebrate the birth of my God, my Savior and Redeemer, my Brother who came to this world to dwell like me mortals do in order to bring peace to those seek it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Word On Discipleship

Generally it is believed by many that life as a disciple of Chirst would be easier or somehow more care-free than it under other circumstances would. From time to time it has dawned on me what great danger lies in this way of thinking. If it is practiced by one who calls him- or herself a christian (or by any follower of some faith or a deity).

First, challenges, temptations, hardships, pain, sorrow, anxiousness, fear, uncertainty, confusion, adversity, bad luck (if one believes in it), feelings of inadequacy, excessive stress or anything that might/could be considered negative is part of our mortal life. Life here was never supposed to be easy. It is not just a cliché people use to make themselves feel better. These exist for our benefit; for us to learn to know and feel the positive side of things, for us to grow. For every bad thing there exists a good one of equal intensity.

In The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the Lord Jesus Christ tells us something rather inspiring. As an answer to a fervent prayer filled with worry for his fellow saints Prophet Joseph Smith heard the voice of our Savior:

122:If thou art called to pass through tribulation

Earlier in the same revelation when the Lord starts speaking to Joseph He said:

121:7-8 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Second, as disciples we must be aware of the promises we have made and of the covenants we have taken upon ourselves. Being aware of these promises and covenants we become more aware of our actions and of what we allow ourselves to be influenced by. This because the blessings of true discipleship are based on commitment, obedience and integrity. When we do not succeed, even after several tries, it is easy to start feeling down. It is not easy to be a disciple.

In addition there actually exists forces in this world that inspire all of us be disobedient, unloyal, deviate from the course and rebel against God and Truth. We who desire to keep and receive the blessings promised to the righteous want to avoid, resist, fight against and overcome this force.

We are not talking of ghost stories here. We talk of things we meet, see, encounter every single day where ever we are; perverse and unwholesome thoughts, filthy or untruthful speech, actions that are not in harmony with Truth, Reality and the way God has shown us. It might be something we hear or see, someone might do something that invites us to act against what we know to be right. It is not easy. We fall too. We are not perfect but we want to be our very best.

Third, the point is not to run away from the world we live in. No, this is our world too.

I want to be part of it. I just believe from all of my heart that true and lasting foundational happiness is not found along or at the end of most of the roads the world decides to take.

I know that all men and women, young and old, no matter what or who they are, are entitled to Divine help, support and guidance when they sincerely seek to align their lives to be in harmony with the eternal Truth. There is a God and He cares where we end up. If we choose to follow Him wholeheartedly, we will receive all what we need to get there.

God bless You All,

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Talk: Purpose and Priority

A talk given at Kerava Ward while touring the Helsinki Stake after my return from my mission to Sweden.

Dear friends, my brothers and sisters,

I am thankful for this opportunity to talk to you on this great Sunday. To all old acquaintances it is a joy to say: "Nice to see you again!", and to all new faces: "Nice to meet you!".

Let us begin with this: Who am I? While I tell my own thoughts, ask this question from yourselves and ponder the answer to it.

My name is Markus Lappalainen. I am 23 years old Arts Management-student. My hobbies are music and self-defense/martial-arts.

In more spiritual terms...

I am a beloved son to Heavenly Parents. I have been sealed to an eternal family with my parents and siblings. By the way of baptism, I made a covenant with my Heavenly Father to follow His commandments always, everywhere and in all situations. Then I received the gift of the Holy Ghost, a divine help and a friend for the rest of my life who would be with me according to my righteousness. As time went on I received first the Aaronic priesthood and then the Melchizedek priesthood, authority to use the power of God for the salvation of His children.

Probably one of the best things what I've brought home with me from my mission has been the perspective and priorities which I found during those two years. I firmly believe that my decision to go on a mission was a result of a divine interception.

Brothers, a promise to teach and preach the gospel is an essential part of the oath and the covenant of the priesthood. Serving a mission is therefore a priesthood duty and when done, keeping our promises to God (=keeping our covenants). Young sisters, you have a great influence on how brothers will fulfill their responsibilities and duties. Do therefore everything within righteousness so that the brothers would keep this part of their covenant with the Lord. I promise, it is the best what you can do for the benefit of your future children and families in addition to preparing yourselves.

My original plan was not to serve as a missionary. I didn't feel the same burning as many of my friends did. And I didn't want to go just because I was expected to. The Lord had something else in mind. He organized some things and I found myself sitting in the general priesthood meeting in October 2010. My friend needed me to give him a ride there - go figures. I had not intended to attend. When I heard a living prophet of God say the words: "every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission" I knew the Lord had called me to work. My heart was burning, my mind was clear and enlightened by inspiration.

In my head and in my heart was a clear thought: "If you are going to become the man you want, you must serve a mission."

My aim, purpose and priorities were clear from that moment onwards.

For two years I knew exactly what was my purpose. My purpose was to simply help people find the truth. Truth, that was restored on earth after centuries.

Truth of who we are.
Truth of where we came from and where we are headed.
Truth of why we are here.
Truth of how we find true happiness.
The one and the only truth.

I testify you will find these truths, every and each one, from this Church, The Church of Jesus Christ.

I return to the divine intervention now. Because I didn't understand myself that the direction of my life was spiritually destructive, the Lord commanded a time-out for me. This is at least how it partly feels in retro perspective. I had to get a new perspective to life; real purpose and real priorities.
This is what I found.

We are children of a living God and as such we have a divine potential.

If we do not set God and keeping our covenants as first priority, we do not keep even the first of the ten commandments which was meant to stiff necked children of Israel. Let us serve God of all our heart, strength, mind and love. Let us keep Him first always, in all things and everywhere.

Family is the next priority; establishing it, strengthening it and taking care of it.
Men and women, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, those who are and are going to be, let us do all we can to fulfill our sacred obligations. Let us remember that the most important responsibilities for women AND FOR MEN are at home.

These are followed by work and other responsibilities.

We have been given great blessings, promises and knowledge. Of these the Lord demands a reckoning at the last day. Let us be determined. We have a Father in Heaven and He loves us.

Brothers and sisters, the message of the restored gospel is true and real.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just a Thought... A Great Debate

Today we had a debate during our Modern Culture Research class. We had two themes. First for/against a Guggenheim museum in Helsinki and then hmm... The assignment was a bit ambiguous. All that was given was the title: "Enforced Use of a Hijab".

In both debates of course we were divided to two groups: for and against. It was all random so we were not necessarily on our "own" sides. In the hijab debate luck called me to be for it.

So for all who do not know what a hijab is: Hijab is a piece of clothing worn by muslim women to cover their hair and faces. In the Noble Qur'an 33:59 Allah (the God of Islam) says: "O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused." Now, there exists a wide variety of applications of this particular verse. They range from free not to use a hijab to violent enforcing of the given commandment. It varies from region to region.

I will not go deeper into this in this entry, nor do I give my personal thoughts of it. My intentions were to express a thought that came to me during the debriefing of the hijab-debate.

There is much religious debate and discussion going on in the media of this day. Many comments and accusations are made. Much aggressive and non-aggressive criticism is raised up. Part of all this is founded on facts, some of it is not.

As the media tornado keeps going on, one cannot help thinking, who keeps it going? This hijab-question is a great example. In some European countries there now exists a law that prohibits the use of hijab for what ever the reason is (I have yet to do research on this matter). The party that I feel keeps the machine going, makes assumptions and comments is the non-believing part of our societies.

I don't know how much benefit for free exercise of faith, and for religion in general, it does when these discussions and forums, these "fights" are fought by those who have a little - if at all - conception of faith, conviction or a Deity.

A bit unfair? I think so. What do you think?

Now I must admit that this feeling and thought is not founded on research. It is a subjective thought, feeling, I got. I'd be happy if someone would correct me if I am wrong.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Insights from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 3:5

"And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord." ~The First Book of Nephi 3:5

The background for this is as follows. When Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, they did not have a record of the Jews with them; a record that would contain the commandments of the Lord, a record that would have their lineage. Therefore the Lord gave a commandment to go and get one that He had prepared and preserved for them. Lehi was obedient to this word. Because of Lehi's rather old age the instruction was that his sons Laman, Lemuel, Nephi and Sam would go and get them. The challenge was that the record was in the hands of Laban; a rich, easily angered, violent, greedy elite man with a private guard of a kind. This is why Laman and Lemuel did murmur.

But now you know the starting point I had. This sparked a thought in my mind. It reminded me of Christ's words when he spoke along these lines: "one who acts according to these words will know if they are from God or if I speak of my own."

For many of our youth it may be hard to grasp one of the lessons here. Standards and principles that the Father and Christ, our oldest Brother, expect us to follow are not just arbitrary limits to bug us. They are road signs to balanced life filled with inner peace and foundational happiness.

The challenge is that not too many of us remember hearing these things face to face from the Father or the Son. Someone else, a human being or our "conscience" has always been the one to teach us. That is maybe why so many argue them as inventions of control-freak men.

We know them to be from the Father because we have tried "these words" and received a result. All of us from a rebellious teenager to a law-abiding senior citizen must find out for ourselves if the commandments are from God who knows all things or from a man who has given his or her own, perhaps a well considered but not completely waterproof, solution.

For myself I know that we have a Heavenly Father who has given us commandments, counsel and direction that are founded on eternal laws - equally unchanging and equally unrelative as the laws of nature. These laws have been received in various ways. They have been forwarded with various methods but all the same "[a man has] not required it of [us], but it is a commandment of the Lord."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Insights from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 2:20

Here Lehi (a prophet living in Jerusalem about 600 B.C.) has fled out of the city with his family as the Lord commanded him to do. The people in Jerusalem were attempting to take his life because of his preaching. Two of Lehi's sons Laman and Lemuel rebelled against him in the wilderness. Nephi was much saddened by the behavior of his older brothers. He prayed for guidance and comfort. And the following words were spoken to him by the Lord.

"And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands." ~ The First Book of Nephi 2:20

Our Heavenly Father has given us, His children, a promise after a promise. Here we learn of the patter of how the promises are fulfilled.

The promise spoken of in this particular verse is "ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise...". It goes on to describe this land how it is chosen above all others. The condition is: "...inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments...". This is all Father asks here.

This is the pattern in EVERYTHING relating to the blessings and promises of our Father. No one is an exception. No one escapes the conditions of repentance and obedience. Additional verse in Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21

Another beautiful detail in this verse is how we can read it to ourselves today. For Lehi and his family the land of promise was very physical, a very tangible place. Today it is rather rare that the Lord would command someone to flee and leave everything behind. Especially when there is not always an immediate threat of being murdered.  Replace the word land with the word life.

Our Heavenly Father has prepared a life to each and every one of us, a life that is better and brighter than any other. When we follow the commandments given by our Father who as a God knows all things, we will find ourselves on a path that will lead to greatest happiness and peace in this life and to our Heavenly Home in the life to come.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Talk: Three We Are Responsible Of

This is my home coming talk. I had returned from my mission to Sweden on the Wednesday prior to the meetings on Sunday.

Brothers and sisters,

Already a year ago I discussed with my missionary companion about what would we say in our home coming talks. This discussion took place on our way home from the last lesson of the evening. We had visited a less-active brother, helping him to figure out his faith and conviction.

Together with my companion we ended up to a simple message with three items. Of these I'd like to talk now.

1. Let's take good care of our home teaching assignments
2. Let's explain the gospel
3. Let's live according to the gospel

1. Let's Take Good Care of Our Home Teaching Assignments

At the concluding interview my mission president told me of the following when he served a bishop. Every home teaching companionship had several elderly sisters to take care of. Visiting percentage was not the highest. A comment along the lines of the following was made by one of the leaders in a priesthood meeting.

"Next time when you visit sister so and so (lonely, age 75+), you may consider to start by asking: "Sister so and so, now that it has been about a month of our last visit, would you tell how have you survived alone this whole month?"

So why do we home teach?

Point, which my mission president wanted me to understand was, that where a need is found, there we visit often. Home and visiting teaching are the easiest and clearest way to fulfill our baptismal covenant:

...and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;  Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in...

(Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18:8-9)

Where the work is done well, there the Lord will send his children to hear the message of the restored gospel.

2. Let's Explain the Gospel

New members and many of the less- or in-active brothers and sisters are confused and unsure. Let us not be afraid of questions. People need answers. If we do not know, it is perfectly okay to say "I don't know, let's ask someone who knows". Let's guide each other in order to grow together on the ways of the gospel.

Reading from Ephesians chapter four. Paul teaches the members of the Church about the responsibilities of leaders and teachers. These verses are applicable to us too. We all do have a responsibility to teach and guide each other. Verses 11-16...

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

(The Holy Bible KJV, New Testament 4:11-16)

3. Let's Live According to the Gospel

In the days of Alma the younger (a prophet in the ancient Americas) the way how the members of the Church lived  became a stumbling block and a hinder for many in joining the Church. In the Scriptures Isaiah teaches that Zion should rise from the dust and put on her beautiful clothes.

Christ spoke of His followers as the light of the world. Of the pharisees he spoke as hypocrites. Let us take care that we are in the group Christ called the light of the world.

Light casts away the dark.
Light clarifies.
Light gives warmth.
Light gives life.
Light guides.
Light shows the truth clearly.

Let us be an uplifting force in this world. Someone once told he felt he had failed if one could not see without saying that he was a disciple of Christ. Christ meant His Church as a place where the children of God could come and find a way home

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.