How the Spirit testifies of truth

I’m going to be vulnerable and admit that when it comes to how God communicates with us, I’m still learning. The time when God spoke most clearly to me is the single most defining and important moment of my life. It changed everything. It changed the course of my life. It came after over a year of gospel study, prayer, and investigation. I prayed one day to ask God if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. In response, I felt the Holy Spirit of God burn in me like a flame. It was epic. At the time I was investigating the church, I would characterize those years of my life as being like a fireworks show when it came to the Spirit of God. I felt it, and I felt it again, and I felt it again, and I saw miracles. However, each experience was like a single firework, a single good feeling. When I prayed to know if the Church was true, that day was like a grand finale at a fireworks show. It was overwhelmingly powerful.

Since then, surprisingly, I have often been uncertain about what the Spirit is, how we feel it, and how we know if it testifies of truth. Just as importantly, I’ve been uncertain about how other people feel it. I feel like I’ve learned some important things with respect to this topic and I’d like to share them.

As a missionary, I would share the scripture in James 1:5 that teaches that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask of God–meaning you can ask God a question about him and his gospel, and he will answer. I would also share the scripture in Moroni 10:4, that says when you shall receive these things (meaning the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), that if you ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, the Holy Ghost would manifest the truth of them. I knew that these scriptures were true, I had experienced communication myself and I knew God would do the same for others in the same circumstances.

And yet, I had an investigator of the church who visited with me as a missionary a few times, who read some of the Book of Mormon, who prayed, and didn’t feel he received any answer. Nearly three decades later, we are still good friends, and yet up until a couple years ago, I didn’t know what to make of our differing experiences with respect to the Spirit. Why had God, through the Spirit, spoken directly and clearly to me, but not to him?

A couple years ago at a BYU devotional, an apostle spoke about how testimonies of God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through the Spirit, are gained. He said that it is a rarity that people feel a burning in the bosom, a clear and unmistakable big bang experience that is in that moment huge, undeniable, and unforgettable. He said for most people, the obtaining of testimony was like the rising of the sun, that over the course of time, with concerted effort to know, it simply became clearer and clearer to the heart and the mind that they knew.

This message from an apostle was astounding to me. I thought that everyone received a witness the same way I did. Knowing that they don’t makes me suddenly sympathetic to anyone who struggles with their faith. I still believe that each of us can know, as the scriptures promise us, but not necessarily at the same rate. Although I received an undeniable witness, it wasn’t fast or easy, it was at least a year in the making. In the modern world of quick answers via Google searches, it is so easy for anyone to miss the fact that a witness of the Spirit is as much a gift as playing the piano or being an elite athlete–it takes time and effort and not a cursory glance or a single light-minded prayer.

To close out, I’m going to mention something related to this initial topic, which is how we feel the Spirit over the long run of our lives. In fact, that is what motivated me to write this message today. I have seldom felt the Spirit again in the same way that I did on the day that I felt a burning witness. At times, this has left me to wonder how the Spirit operates in my life now, compared to then. I would put to God that I don’t need a new witness, or a renewed witness, because I feel that I already received one. But I wonder what I’m supposed to feel when I pray, read the scriptures, meditate, fast, attend the temple, and attend church.

I keep a card on my office desk at home, next to where I keep my scriptures. On it I have written “What did you ask God today?” and underneath it, I have a second question, which is “What did he tell you today?” I believe it is by actively seeking revelation, receiving it, and recording it so that we remember it, that each of us who has already gained a testimony of God and His church can maintain that testimony.

In that spirit today I fasted and I asked the Lord, Lord, help me to understand what feeling the Spirit is like or supposed to be at this stage in my life, because honestly, I’m not certain. Amazingly, on the very day that I asked this question, and was praying for an answer, our Bishop shared the answer. He said that when talking with the youth about their developing testimonies, he shares Galatians 5:22-23, in which Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, and others. When we feel these things, we are feeling the Spirit.

As I ponder this passage, my past and present life are very vivid to me with respect to these feelings that are gifts of the Spirit. When I began to investigate the Church, attend church, pray, and attempt to live the gospel, my soul felt different. I felt those fruits mentioned by Paul regularly, and what was really clear to me was that I hadn’t felt them before on a deep or consistent level. I hadn’t felt a deepness of joy, love, and peace before and suddenly it was like I was having a different life experience on a daily basis–I had a new heart.

Since those early days of becoming worthy of the the Lord’s Spirit by actively working to earn it each day, I have felt these fruits of the Spirit almost constantly, every moment of every day. And I’ve very strongly noticed that if I do things in my life that offend God, that I have this really weird feeling like emotionally dropping in an elevator and my stomach goes up into my chest. When I do wrong or when I stop working to have the Spirit with me, I lose those fruits of the Spirit.

I am really, really grateful for an answer to prayer to today. I’m still learning what the Spirit is, but today was a great education that helped me see my life more clearly and know that things are probably just as they should be.

The Lord hears and answers prayers

Recently the topic of seeing God’s hands in our lives has been on my mind.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it easy to forget the times that I needed the Lord’s help, asked for it, and received it, sometimes in dramatic fashion.  Forgetting the Lord’s answers to prayers strikes me as huge disservice to his miracles on my behalf.  With that in mind, allow me to share a few important miracles that have happened to me.

Once on my mission, while serving in Algeciras, Spain, I found myself without money to buy food for a period of about two weeks before the next monthly living stipend would arrive in my account.  The reason for being short on money was that some travel expenses had occurred that were unexpected and the expenses drained all the funds that I and my missionary companion had in our accounts.  Not knowing what to do, we prayed, and were mindful of our situation.  Amazingly, in the very week when we needed food, a Catholic priest randomly stopped us in the streets.  He regularly received food donations for the facility that he oversaw where he housed elderly and disabled people.  He had more food than he needed, so he asked us to come to his place where he overwhelmed us with a great gift of food.  This food allowed us to make it through the month without needing additional money.  An experience like this had never happened to me before, and it has never happened since then, and what I take from this is a recognition that the Lord is aware of us and our needs.

On another occasion, I was returning home from my first year of college, on the road between Utah and California.  Somehow, I had lost track of how much gas I had, and I ran out.  I was driving a motorcycle and headed downhill.  Therefore, I coasted a couple of miles in neutral until I arrived at a deserted offramp.  The road from the offramp led off into a direction that was essentially barren land.  I said a prayer, and started to push my heavy motorcycle down the deserted road.  Within five minutes, a gas truck stopped, and the driver asked how he could help. He said he was a motorcycle rider himself and was glad to help another rider.  He gave me a gallon of gas, accepting nothing for payment in return.  I knew that God had heard my prayer.

On yet another occasion, when I was still 17 years old, I was driving on my motorcycle to visit a friend in Redmond, Washington. I had never been there before, but I knew the street name.  This was before the era of GPS guidance and cell phones.  I asked the Lord to guide me where I should go.  After just a single wrong turn while in the city (one that took me out of town), I listened to the promptings that I was feeling and made numerous turns throughout the town. I drove right up to the home, on a random street, in a track of houses, that I was looking for.  Again, the Lord guided me.

I don’t see myself as particularly important, and as I share these memories with you, I imagine that you are of more interest to our Heavenly Father than I am.  If the Lord is aware of me, then I am even more certain that he is aware of you and your needs, and I encourage you to look for His guidance in your life, and possibly record your own miracles as they occur, so you can have greater faith in Him.

Sheep are darling, and ridiculously stupid.

During one period of my life I was fortunate to live in Oklahoma. Unlike my upbringing in California, while in Oklahoma, I was exposed to people who had lived on farms. One of the funniest things I ever heard was a guy in church talking about sheep. He was beside himself with how stupid they are. They are always getting themselves into trouble, and they are always dying because of the dumbest things. For example, if the ground is uneven, they will invariably fall over and die, legs up. If they get fat and roll on their backs, they will die there, unable to get back up. If they get a minor scratch on one of their legs, they will give up on life and die. He went on and on.

Obviously, sheep and lambs are the cutest things in the world. Watch any video online of sheep hopping and it is delightful. It has to be incredibly frustrating to interact with creatures that are so darling and harmless, but also so prone to getting themselves into a bind and perishing.

As I read in the Psalms this weekend with my family, the scriptures spoke of the Savior as the shepherd and the sheep that represent each one of us. In the modern era, the analogy about sheep is probably understood by virtually none of us who are city slickers. Maybe if the analogies were about dropping smartphones without their protective cases or running out of power, we’d understand them better.

As I compare what it is in the scriptures to what the farmer in Oklahoma is saying, it means that Heavenly Father thinks we are the most wonderful, darling creatures in the whole universe. And that he sees us constantly getting ourselves into trouble. As I picture myself, my family, and my friends as sheep who are constantly on their backs, stuck there until someone rolls us back over, I have to admit that is pretty funny. And true.

The Power of God is Within Us

Recently I was listening to a talk in which I learned that we can stand strong amidst the social discord and the COVID isolation of our day. We can withstand all of this if we have the Power of Christ to strengthen us. We can actively seek this power. As I thought about this, I considered that not only do we need this power personally, but others in our lives need us to have it as well. One of of the missions of the Marriott School is to build Christlike leaders. If we are Christlike, we will have the power of Christ of which has been spoken.

I’m reminded of a story that I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my life from my mother, who is not a member of any faith. In one of her jobs during her career as a teacher, one of the key leaders of the district was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For decades she has spoken of his competence and kindness and how the effects of these were felt by everyone. My mother at times would teach in troubles places, and she always compared those places to the place where this man of faith had been a leader.

As I look back on my own life and career that spans over a quarter of a century, I see what my mom has experienced over and over. In every walk of society, from construction sites to government to technology startups, there are Christlike people drawing on the Power of Christ and their presence lifts and strengthens and protects everyone around them. Sometimes people don’t have the power on their own, but they benefit from those that do.

I’m going to share a slightly silly example that drives this idea home. Recently, I was playing a video game called Warcraft III. In it, heroes imbued with magical powers roam around with non-magical comrades and fight off evil and oppression. One day I noticed a pattern in the artificial intelligence of the game. Whenever a troop member engaged a group of bad guys, all the bad guys would target their attack on the troop member that first engaged them. If this troop member was non-magical, they would die quickly, even though the rest of the good guys jumped in and joined the fray. On the other hand, if the magical hero initiated the fight, then the bad guys would focus their attack on him or her. With the attack focused on the hero, with a regenerating super power that limited the damage that they took, the supporting troops could safely join the fight and the result was a reliable win.

This pattern in the game reminded me of what my mother observed, that people drawing on the Power of Christ are like tentpoles in a tent–they create the space for victory, they are also a light on a hill that everyone looks to.

Although many young adults at BYU may feel like they are not special, the day will come when they are no longer here, and in whatever role they fill in life, the power that they draw from Christ will make them be a leader. In the every day localized pandemics of the workplace and the community, they will be strong and help others to survive situations that would otherwise be overwhelming.

Making French Toast

I make a lot of technology videos for my classes. One thing that helps me to learn the features of video editors is to make home videos. Here the my latest for my cooking channel “Kettles in the Kitchen”:

Best of Provo 2021

As I’ve lived in different cities around the world, I’ve found that there are often signature dishes that are worth driving an hour or more to try. Here in Provo, I bet a lot of students graduate without having tried some foods which are mind blowing. So here are some of my favorites:

Shirley’s Bakery and Cafe – The cinnamon rolls, all flavors, are amazing. I really l like raspberry, but you can’t go wrong. This place is slammed during Conference Weekends.

Cup Bop Korean BBQ in a Cup – Get a Combo Bop and try it spicy, the higher levels of spice come with an amazing combination of flavors.

Molly’s – This is a catering company, and their food is so delicious. Their carrot cake, mashed potatoes, are just some of the fantastic things here.

Lehi Bakery – Yeah, I know, it is a few miles up the road, but I’ll claim it. Their Apple Fritters are the best I have had in Utah. Do it!

Brooker’s Founding Flavors Ice Cream – Colonial Themed Ice Creme, inspired by Gelato recipes. The founder spent days in the basement of the person who invented Cookies in Cream, out in New York. That gives you an idea of the level of detail and effort that has gone into their ice cream. Never had better. Their flavors are like nothing you’ve ever had.

Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria – I’m not even sure how to begin to pick one, they are soooo good. The Texan is an an example, it has pulled pork and bacon.

Magleby’s Fresh – They have bottomless buttermilk pancakes with a house-made buttermilk syrup. Add the berries and whipped cream, and you are going to be sooo happy. Oh, and it comes with bacon that has been cartelized in maple or brown sugar or something similar. I want breakfast just thinking about it.

Bumble Bee Cafe – They have something there called KPOP fries, rated the best fries in Utah. And they are. One of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted in my life…it is more of a meal than fries.

R and R BBQ / OR / Bam Bam-s BBQ – Hard to pick here. I never would have thought that Provo would have gourmet-level BBQ. The Bam Bam’s place has a story on the wall of how the founder became a pit boss down in Texas or some story like that, and he brought back the award-winning BBQ to here. One thing I like there is SWACHOS with Beef Brisket. Over at R and R BBQ, they have great stuff too. You can’t go wrong.

Jurassic Street Tacos – Imagine marinated steak, in a taco the size of a football, with melted white cheese spilling out that got partially caramelized on the grill top. I can’t begin to describe how good it is.

Don Joaquin Street Tacos – If you like those little Mexican street tacos seasoned to perfection, this is the place for you. Many varieties of meat, a fantastic topping bar, and a spinning spit of meat as you walk in the door. It is fun to watch the food get cooked right before you eyes, but even if you couldn’t, these are some of the best tacos around. Always busy, always fantastic.

Five Brothers Sushi Bros ` Late Nate Sushi – How good could a Sushi place be that was founded on the idea of late night (like midnight) sushi delivery? Surprisingly, the flavors and appearance of their dishes are next level. Just go look at the online menu.

Update on AWS Accounts for BYU Students

I just got off the phone with the cloud team and it seems there are some updates in what to use and when for AWS.

First, if a class needs AWS access for each student, the preferred way is for the individual instructor to go to and choose the AWS Educate classroom. (not credits and not LMS integration). That should give each student about $50.00 in credits. I can’t remember what the lead time is, but a couple weeks is probably a good idea. Signing up this way requires an email address for each student.

Sometime before fall, BYU should have integration with Canvas (if they don’t already), and that is great way to avoid adding in each student via email, and helps students log in easier as a module mouse click in Canvas.

Separately, faculty may want to have their own accounts, and they are glad to spin up accounts for each faculty member. In fact, this is preferred. You can also create group accounts. So more accounts is better to be able to wrangle billing better.

Related to that, it would be possible to set up special research accounts as well for a research team.

There is also a sandbox, but that is just meant to be used as experimentation for free (for proof of concepts) and it gets wiped out every week.

First Week of School Winter 2021

Well, the week is out and the first week of school is over. Overall it has been a good week.

I am teaching the introduction to programming course for the first time. One feature of this course is that there is a fair amount of students adding and dropping the class in the first week. That leads to having a less productive week as an instructor because I can’t leave people in the dust that had to add a week late.

I am also teaching a class on becoming a CIO. My course content is set, but my calendar of guest speakers is still being created, so I’m trying to arrange that while also teaching my classes. It is interesting that I lost about half of my original students before the week started because they switched over to the full stack development class when that elective came available. An interesting feature of our student base is that we see more interest in technical content than in IT management content. Having walked that path as a student, I would compare their focus to how younger kids like legos and aren’t concerned with the opposite gender, and then later it flips. I wish I had a way to help students see what they will really care about once they have been out for 5-10 years and get them interested in that now.

Most days I get an avalanche of email. I wish I didn’t have to address it, there is so much. One email today was particularly lame “you haven’t logged into your account recently and so we’ll cut you off if you don’t log in soon.” I probably have 750 different online accounts for different things I’m involved in at this point in my life, and if they all started saying that, it would really stink.

How to get AWS Accounts for university students

As an instructor, setting up AWS accounts for students is sort of like filling out tax paperwork when I owned businesses, since I only do it once a year I completely forget what I did the previous year.

Since I just looked it up again today, I’ll record my notes on how this can be done.

At present, one option for instructors is to use the website.  From here, instructors have two options.  One, is there are a handful of “classrooms” that allow students to use most of the useful AWS services.  The turn around is 4 days for requesting one.  Another option is to have students apply on their own (it appears) for AWS Starter Accounts, which are somewhat limited but can be renewed annually.  If memory serves me right, it seems like some of my students didn’t get approved the last time they did this.

Here at BYU, we have some other options as well.  We have sandbox accounts that people can request and it gets refreshed on a regular basis.  Another option is to apply for a department account and giving students access (scary).  A final option that BYU is working on but which is not ready to go today is similar to the awseducate option for starter accounts, a special account for each class can be set up that would allow $100 per class per student account. E.g. a student could have two AWS-related classes and have two accounts and therefore $100 in credits per account for a total of $200).

As a last resort, students can sign up for personal accounts under new email addresses each year and will get a free year’s worth of free tier resources. Or, as a last last resort, sometimes I just tell students to use their own credit card and normally they don’t run up more than $10.00 in the semester as long as they are careful. This did bit me in the buttocks this last year when I had students use AWS Workspaces (windows desktops in the cloud) for the first time ever and just spinning up a few desktops for an hour cost my students as much as $40.00 and they each had to contact support at AWS to request a refund which was granted in each case.

As a side note, as an instructor using the awseducate website account, I can log in and under the AWS Account link in the navigation, and apply for credits to apply to my personal account, which are redeemed as coupon codes in my real aws account. Hence, my process is different than for my students. I can also apply for a starter account just like the students and see what they experience.

Alright, well, hopefully I’ll remember to check this blog post the next time I need to do this for my students.