31 December 2009

Gospel Principles: The Nature of God

Joseph Smith said, "We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and that he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently, and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings center for life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Second).

As someone who saw God the Father and God's Son Jesus Christ, Joseph was qualified in a way relatively few others were to talk about the nature of God. It is important to understand God's nature so that our faith in Him is what it can and should be. Traditionally in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we refer to God as Heavenly Father, focusing on His Fatherhood, for we are His actual spirit children. Again, understanding the nature of God is important to our faith in Him.

Joseph Smith taught, "Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third).

Joseph Smith went on to write of the character of God: He was before the world was created, He is merciful and gracious, He changes not, He is truthful and cannot lie, He is no respecter of persons (meaning that "in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of Him"; this means that He is "not a respecter of persons" insofar as those persons are righteous), and God is love.

Of the attributes of God the Prophet Joseph said that God has knowledge, faith (or power), justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. All study of the nature of God should increase our faith in Him.

On one bright spring morning in 1820 Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy, went into a grove of trees near his home. As he knelt down in prayer he was attacked by the devil, who tried to stop Joseph's prayer and end Joseph's life. Suddenly a light appeared from heaven, dispelling the darkness and Satan. In the midst of this light appeared two beings, first one then shortly afterward, another. The first called Joseph by name and pointed to the other saying, "This is my Beloved Son, hear Him!" We do not know how long the visit lasted - it could have been a minute or many. In that short time Joseph learned more about the nature of God than had been known on earth for more than a thousand years. Joseph knew God the Father and Jesus Christ were two separate beings. He witnessed their glory and heard their voices. He viewed their countenances and knew that they knew him as an individual. They knew Joseph's name. They cared for him and loved him as they do each of us. Of all the things that the Prophet Joseph did (and "Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it."; D&C 135:3), one of the greatest things he did was reveal unto the world the true nature of God.

Much of God's nature is found in the Bible but over the years creeds and discussions and contentions led to distortions of people's conceptions of God. We know that we are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) but the added knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon (read, for example, about the experience the brother of Jared had when he saw the Lord on a mountain top: Ether 3:6-16), the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 76), and the Pearl of Great Price (see Abraham 4:26-27, for example). Countless prophetic declarations since Joseph Smith's day have further witnessed of what Joseph taught.

God created the universe. We know He did this through the power of His priesthood but beyond that we do not know how He did it. Was it created in the manner that science teaches? Maybe. Was it created in six 24 hour days? No (read in the book of Abraham for clarification: "And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time."; Abraham 4:18-19). God has all power yet He is not distant or disinterested in us. He knows us individually.

As we better understand God we will know of His love for us (see John 3:16), which love is manifest most strongly through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ (who is just like His Father; see John 14:6-9). As we feel God's love we can continue to grow in faith and knowledge of Him. We can grow and progress to be like Him. He is our Father in Heaven and wants us to become like Him and to return to live with Him again.

22 December 2009

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas - Part 3

This story of forgiveness reminds me of a story Truman Madsen told about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to "be an enemy to any living soul" (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, "George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn't locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, 'What kind of city are you running? I'll have your head if you don't get that blanket back.' Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, 'Are you blind?' What did he do? He said simply, 'I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket also, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.'" (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! The situation was not as drastic as the one the Amish faced but Pres. Smith's response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him - especially those who wronged him.

Forgiveness is such an important principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. That seems like a pretty good condition for forgiveness. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others!

I have been writing about the need we have for forgiveness and to forgive others. To help me transition back to a Christmas theme, I will quote some of the lyrics from the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament.

"As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.

With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament."

"Forgiveness is a gift" from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus' Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

20 December 2009

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas - Part 2

Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. By this love and His power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God's laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and to each of us, for we all sin), "Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death." (D&C 64:7). [As an aside, I think that were Joseph not a prophet {and not honest} he would not have included this statement. After all, who likes to tell the world that they sinned?].

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, "Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." (D&C 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people - without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not me that we sanction people's misdeeds or sins. It also does not mean that we do not seek retribution - legally or one-on-one - but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

I'm going to quote at length from a talk Pres. James E. Faust gave in the April 2007 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This talk was one of his most moving and powerful talks. It was the last conference talk he gave.

"My dear brothers and sisters and friends, I come before you humbly and prayerfully. I wish to speak on the healing power of forgiveness.

"In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.

"A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. Last October he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.

"This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, 'We will forgive you.'1 Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.

"One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, 'We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.'2 It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.'3

"The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public:

“'To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

"'Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

"'Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.'4

"How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.

"Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.

"Forgiveness is not always instantaneous as it was with the Amish. When innocent children have been molested or killed, most of us do not think first about forgiveness. Our natural response is anger. We may even feel justified in wanting to 'get even' with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family.

"Dr. Sidney Simon, a recognized authority on values realization, has provided an excellent definition of forgiveness as it applies to human relationships:

"'Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.'5

"Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. We can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness.

"Some hold grudges for a lifetime, unaware that courageously forgiving those who have wronged us is wholesome and therapeutic.

"Forgiveness comes more readily when, like the Amish, we have faith in God and trust in His word. Such faith 'enables people to withstand the worst of humanity. It also enables people to look beyond themselves. More importantly, it enables them to forgive.'6"
This is a powerful example of people living the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ. They were able to forgive the man who caused such great pain and tragedy. How many of us would feel those feelings of forgiveness in a similar circumstance? What if it were your little girl who had been shot and killed? Would you forgive? As the father of two beautiful girls, who are bright lights and joys in my life, I do not know how I would react. I'd like to believe I would be forgiving - I know I would but it might take a while; maybe not though. I hope I'm never in a similar circumstance.

18 December 2009

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas - Part 1

As Christmas day approaches some of us might be worried about getting presents and gifts planned, organized, completed, purchased, packed, wrapped, and shipped. Many might wonder how they are going to pay for presents. Others simply use credit and do not worry about paying for Christmas until their bills come due later (in fact, approximately 25% of Americans, according to one survey, take one year or more to pay off their Christmas debt {source}). Whether we can afford expensive gifts or no gifts, we can all afford one gift at Christmas - the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did unto us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote,
"Many of us have lost loved ones to death. We may be surrounded by individuals who seek to destroy our faith in the gospel and the Lord’s promises of eternal life. Some of us are troubled with illness and with poverty. Others may have contention in the family or no family at all. Yet we can invite the Light of Christ to shine on us and let us see and feel some of the promised joys that lie before us.

"For instance, as we gather in that heavenly home, we will be surrounded by those who have been forgiven of all sin and who have forgiven each other. We can taste some of that joy now, especially as we remember and celebrate the Savior’s gifts to us. He came into the world to be the Lamb of God, to pay the price of all of the sins of His Father’s children in mortality so that all might be forgiven. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14–15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received.

"When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this Christmastime you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness. The feeling of happiness that will come will be a glimpse of what we can feel at home together in the eternal home for which we yearn." (Ensign, December 2009).
Forgiveness is precisely what Christmas is about. 2000 years ago a baby was born in humble circumstances. His birth came without much earthly adulation but the heavens were resplendent with signs and wonders for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Angels appeared to shepherds, wise men followed a gleaming star, and the righteous and wicked alike went without night in the New World. That tiny baby was the Son of God, God Himself - the creator and Lord of heaven and earth. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Moses, Nephi, Alma, and everyone else. He who showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared now had a body of flesh. Christ the Conquering King was yet the Babe in Bethlehem. There is little we know about His early life; we do know Jesus grew up in Nazareth - Bethlehem was merely the city of His birth. He was visited by wise men some time in his first few years of life. He grew up learning from Joseph and Mary. At age 12 He spent time teaching the priests in the temple - they marveled at His knowledge. How did a 12 year old boy know so much? At age 30 Jesus started His ministry full-time. Over the next three years He lived without a home, spending most of His time walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. He called men to be apostles. He taught, healed, and performed other miracles - the greatest were in forgiving sin. Jesus then instituted the sacrament, atoned for all the sins, sicknesses, and pain of humankind, stood trial, and died upon the cross. But that was not the end! On the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead, bringing everlasting life to all people. He rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death and hell.

13 December 2009

Another Testament of Christ - A Video Slideshow

In our busy lives we often find the Christmas season the most busy. There are parties and gatherings to attend. There is shopping to complete, food to make, and jobs to do. We might spend time decorating our homes with garlands, wreathes, and trees of green. We might put up colored lights and nativity scenes. We might have snow covered grounds or bright and warm sunshine.

I hope that during this time of year we take time to focus on the Savior, who is the focus of the season. Is He the focus of yours? Should you find yourself frazzled from a frenetic schedule, take time to break from your busy-ness and ponder the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Take time to read the scriptures, view art of the Savior, listen to music about Him. Here is a beautiful video with photos and video depicting the Savior's life.

08 December 2009

Answering Prayers

A couple weeks ago we had an ultrasound. The baby was beautiful; we were excited to see him. However, the ultrasound technician saw something about which she was concerned. A second, more detailed ultrasound was scheduled for this past Friday in order to see if there really was something to be concerned about. We spent these past two weeks trying not to worry, a difficult task when a child is concerned. The potential problem area was within the skull and I, studying neuropsychology, am particularly sensitive to potential brain problems.

We spent the past two weeks praying specifically that everything would be well with the baby and pregnancy (that's not different from what we had already been praying for but because there was a potential concern, our prayers were more intense). Family and friends were also praying that all would be well with the baby. With our prayers, however, we were not seeking to change the will of the Lord but we were pleading with Him like He has asked us to do.

We went to the second ultrasound appointment and everything looked okay. The potential problem was within the normal range (I'm keeping everything non-technical and vague on purpose); there were no visible problems on the ultrasound. We were relieved; we felt our prayers had been answered.

Someone might ask, "Had your prayers really been answered?" Yes. We asked that everything would be okay with our baby's brain and it looks like it is. Now, did our prayers actually result in the Lord healing the problem? We do not know if there really was a problem in the first place so we do not know. But that does not matter; it does not matter whether or not a miracle occurred - our prayers were answered regardless of what happened.

Many times people pray that all will go well with something or that someone will get better or that a sibling can get a job or whatever else. The skeptic might state that all those things would have happened regardless of the prayer; that God did not really answer the prayers. Believing that He did is just deluding oneself. That is the difference between believers and unbelievers; to the unbeliever faith seems like self-delusion. To the believer it is recognizing God's hand in one's life.

That's one of the tests of life - to see if we will exhibit faith in God and His Son. This is what Alma taught Korihor, "Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." (Alma 30:44; emphasis added).

God is involved in our lives. He cares for us and more importantly, He loves us. That is why He answers our prayers, even if the answer is "No." Would we have been bitter if there had been a problem with the baby? No. Would we have felt that our prayers had not been answered? No, because we always pray that God's will be done. We have our wants and desires but God knows our true needs. He has a plan for each of us; we should seek to understand His will. If we put God first, all other things fall into line, even if the line is painful or twisted. God lives, seek Him.

06 December 2009

In Sickness and Health

As someone who is interested in aging and brain disorders commonly occurring in old age, this most recent Mormon Messages video was particularly touching. I have not had to struggle through the caregiver role but I have known many people who have. I also spent time a few years ago volunteering in an "Alzheimer's unit" at a very nice care center in Provo, UT. I was around many wonderful people who had Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. I also have worked clinically with people with dementias and Parkinson's disease.

The message of the video is powerful. Those who are full of faith can continue to have that faith even when their mental faculties are diminishing and dying. I believe infants can be full of faith, I also believe that those with dementia can have their faith in Christ undiminished. Faith is independent of cognitive ability. I hope you are able to enjoy this video and be touched by its message.

03 December 2009

The Worth of a Peso - Part 3

The summer after my mission I needed a summer job before I went back to BYU to resume school. I got a job as a car jockey at a dealership. I drove cars that people brought in for repairs from one lot to another and back. It was not hard work but I was out in the sweltering Arizona heat much of the day and it seemed like most of the cars needed air conditioning repairs. One car I got in was an older minivan with a mattress on its side in the back, which meant I could not see out the back on the passenger side of the car. As I backed up I heard and felt a crunch. "Oh no! What did I hit?" I thought, as I pulled forward back into the parking space and got out of the car. There was a new gray Corvette with a gash in its front driver's side wheel well. Corvettes (at least this 2001 one) have fiberglass bodies, which means the car body tore instead of denting. The minivan was not even scratched (not that it was really possible to tell anyway - it was old and a bit beat up). I thought of my options: I could go tell my boss or I could drive away and not tell anyone. The second choice was not an option so I went and found my boss. When I told him about the accident his first question was, "What color was [the Corvette]?" I said, "Gray, it wasn't the yellow one [a fancy Z06 in for a tune-up]." "Oh, that's good then. Thanks for letting me know." And that was it. I went back to work driving cars around. Later that same boss had me drive his wife's car (a BMW) that was in for repairs because he trusted me. I am always glad I told the truth. It is always better to tell the truth, regardless of consequences.

There is an interesting scripture in the book of Moses. It reads, "Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice." (Moses 4: 3-4). The interesting thing is Satan is called "the father of all lies"; he could have been called many other things (and he can be called many things) but the Lord chose to call him the father of all lies. Satan's self-proclaimed work is to deceive and blind men and lead them down to captivity, pawns to his will and whims. All lies come from Satan; he is their creator. Those who lie preach the devil's gospel and spread his bad word. Those who are dishonest become Satan's children. Is not it better to become sons and daughters of God?

Continuing on in Moses 4 we read the following (I will add some commentary in brackets):
"6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world. [Satan thought his lying to Eve would frustrate God's plan when in fact it furthered God's plan].
7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
8 And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
9 But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; [a lie].
11 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. [This is true].
12 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
13 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.
14 And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
15 And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?
16 And he said: I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
19 And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
20 And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;
21 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall [crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Moses 4:6-21).
Satan tried to lie to Eve. He tried to destroy God's plan but he didn't know that he was actually furthering God's plan; what Satan did was without authority or permission but Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit was part of God's plan - whether they eventually partook of it by themselves, or someone else gave it to them. In any case, when Satan realized that he was cursed for what he had done (he already was cursed but in this case he was upset he had not actually frustrated God's plans but furthered them). Satan became very angry and has been ever since. He rages against God and all of us. He tries to cause the nations to rage furiously together, brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother, neighbor against neighbor, and people against people. I do not believe that Satan is so angry that He cannot think properly - to the contrary, he thinks very clearly - but he is angry because of what he lost and angry at us mortals on earth who have opportunities for progression he will never have. And so Satan lies and deceives and encourages dishonesty in others. He knows that when we are dishonest we are not godlike or godly. He knows the pain and suffering lies cause and so he encourages them and laughs at the suffering of others. He rejoices in our failures and sins and sorrows. God does not.

01 December 2009

The Worth of a Peso - Part 2

The Lord expects His people to be honest and upright in their dealings with Him, others, and themselves. Of one group of righteous people in the Book of Mormon it is written: "And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end" (Alma 27:27). These were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, those whom were converted by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, rebellious and wicked youth turned righteous and powerful missionaries to the Lamanites. So righteous were these new church members that they were described as "perfectly honest...even unto the end." They lived their lives in righteousness and holiness because they were perfectly honest.

We can similarly be perfectly honest in all we do and inspire honesty in others. Elder James E. Faust told the following story of the power of honesty:
"I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young men are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity.

Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. 'Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.'

The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and is now the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple." (Ensign, Nov. 1996).
What courage that man had to stand up to his classmates and demand their honesty! What integrity and honor! There were blessings because of this honesty - more medical students graduated in that class than previous classes had graduated. Without cheating, the students had to work harder, which meant they learned more and could do better. The world would be a much better place if more people were like that man. The pain and suffering caused by dishonesty in our world is great.

29 November 2009

The Worth of a Peso - Part 1

What is the worth of a peso? How much would one be worth to you? A peso is not worth much to most people but there is one in particular that is worth a lot to me.

When I was young my family and I visited an old Spanish mission in Arizona. There were a lot of coins in the fountain. Many of the coins were pennies, nickels, and dimes; all glittered and sparkled in the sunshine and through the water. But some of the coins were different, some were from Mexico, which was not unexpected because we were maybe an hour from the Mexican border. I liked one of the pesos and took it. I remember looking at it in the car on the way home. Within the next couple days my parents discovered I had the coin and asked where I got it. I told them I had taken it from the fountain. I guess I knew what I had done was wrong because I remember hiding the coin from my parents but it also did not seem like a big deal. However, my father sat down with me and had me send the coin back to the director of the mission. Sometime later I received a letter from the director of the mission. In the letter he thanked me for my honesty in returning the coin. Within the envelope and in addition to the letter he included a few coins - including the one I returned - from around the world that had been tossed into that fountain. I was rewarded for my honesty (or at least the honesty of my parents). This was the start of my small collection of coins from around the world.

What is the worth of this coin to me? It is worth a lesson of the importance of honesty. It was a powerful lesson at the time and still is. The Lord blesses and loves those with honest hearts: "Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." (Psalm 32:2). Jesus was heartened (and still is) by those who were without guile and lies, in part because He faced so many who were full of deceit: "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47). This was a man to be trusted! This was a pure man. Jesus loves the pure in heart. Honesty is a building block of purity.

I love this description of the honest in heart: "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). The honest are like good gardeners who watch with patience until their efforts bring forth good fruit. Honest hearts are good hearts; honesty and integrity imply a lack of spiritual cardiac disease. For those who do suffer from spiritual cardiac disease, there is hope - the Lord promises a heart transplant to those who need it: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Ezekial 36:26). Continued honesty and integrity bring the Spirit, which serves as anti-rejection medicine for this new heart.

21 November 2009

False Temples - Part 3

Are we building up false temples in our lives? Are we worshiping at unholy altars? Are we letting the good crowd out the best? Do we make even token sacrifices to gilded calves? What are we allowing in our lives to take precedence over the gospel and the things of God? Do we wander on side-roads when we should be traveling on God's heavenly highway, which takes us to the temple and eternal life?
The prophet Isaiah wrote of God's highway, "And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35:8).

This highway leads through the deserts: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3); it leads to the exalted heights: "And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted." (Isaiah 49:11). On God's exalted roads, we are in the path to peace; we are on the temple road, a road for the clean and holy. Those who wander on strange roads find themselves on the way to false temples and worshiping false gods - maybe not always on purpose but nonetheless worshiping at false altars.

Our worshiping in false temples could range from shirking church responsibilities to spending too much time pursuing work or recreation (or even family) that other necessary activities are left undone. Our worship of false gods could range from obsessively following the latest trends or technologies or celebrities to dishonoring the Sabbath day to worshiping the self. All that is good is not exalting and too much of a good thing can at times be damning. I do not mean to imply that all our focus should be on the gospel and family - although those should be our primary foci - we can and should spend time doing other things, like working to support a family or developing our talents or even taking some time to relax and enjoy ourselves. The problem occurs when our devotion to these other activities because religious to the point of interference with what matters most.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on this at a recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said,
"A childhood experience introduced me to the idea that some choices are good but others are better. I lived for two years on a farm. We rarely went to town. Our Christmas shopping was done in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. I spent hours poring over its pages. For the rural families of that day, catalog pages were like the shopping mall or the Internet of our time.

Something about some displays of merchandise in the catalog fixed itself in my mind. There were three degrees of quality: good, better, and best. For example, some men’s shoes were labeled good ($1.84), some better ($2.98), and some best ($3.45).
As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all.

Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best. When the Lord told us to seek learning, He said, 'Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom' (D&C 88:118; emphasis added)" (Ensign, Nov. 2007).
Many things, people, and causes clamor for our attention. We can run around exhibiting a kind of attentional disorder trying to do everything (or conversely, doing far too little or focusing on far too narrow a thing) or we can wisely use and improve our time by choosing to spend the most effort on the best things. The kingdom of God and our Lord Jesus Christ come first, so does family (that is not contradictory to say that both God and family come first), everything else should fall somewhere on down the hierarchy of activities. Anything that takes away from the centrality of God and family (specifically family as God and Christ-centered) is a false god. We should work to purge this polytheism from our lives.

19 November 2009

False Temples - Part 2

The Tower of Babel, as it is commonly referred to today, was a false temple where people tried to makes for themselves a name (see Genesis 11:4). Instead of taking upon them the name of Christ, the builders of the Babel tower sought their own name. Tradition holds that Nimrod built the tower:
"Early Jewish and Christian traditions reported that Nimrod built the Tower of Babel, referred to as a pagan temple, in an attempt to contact heaven. Among the Jews, Nimrod’s name has always been a 'symbol of rebellion against God and of usurped authority': he 'established false priesthood and false kingship in the earth in imitation of God’s rule and 'made all men to sin'' (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, volume 5 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley [1980], 156).

Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, provided additional insight. He noted that Nimrod had tried to gain power over the people. Nimrod probably felt this counterfeit temple would add to his control (see Antiquities of the Jews, book 1, chapter 4, paragraph 2)." (Liahona, March 1998).
The authors of this article continue:
"The account in Genesis provides further insight regarding the significance of the building of the tower. First, the impetus in building this temple was to make themselves a name (see Gen. 11:4). In other words, Nimrod was proposing that they build a temple to receive the name of God without making eternal covenants. Second, they wanted to build this tower-temple so they would not be 'scattered' (Gen. 11:4). Latter-day revelation ties the sealing power to preventing the earth from being wasted at the Second Coming (see D&C 2:3). One meaning of the word wasted in Joseph Smith’s day was 'destroyed by scattering' (Webster’s Dictionary [1828]). Finally, the word Babel in Hebrew meant 'confusion,' but in Babylonian, the meaning was 'gate of God.' Nimrod and his people were building their own temple, their gate to heaven, without divine approval or priesthood keys.

The Babylonians, an apostate people, had some understanding of temple ordinances and temple purpose, so they constructed an edifice symbolizing to them their connection to God. And using their own contrived ceremonies to imitate true temple worship, they attempted to duplicate the process of preparation for the hereafter.

Further, the word Babel in Hebrew is the same word translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as 'Babylon.' Thus, in biblical terms, the people in this story were building Babylon—a city that has come to represent the world or worldliness (see D&C 1:16)."
Again, it is clear that the Tower of Babel was built as a false temple in the city that represents the antithesis of Zion. On one side we have the holy temple of the Lord built to reveal unto His people His salvation and power; on the other side we have a false temple created by a people trying to copy and usurp God's power.

16 November 2009

False Temples - Part 1

Here in the South, football, especially college football, reigns. We have massive football stadiums that seat close to 100,000 people. People spend all day Saturday watching games, tailgating, partying, and otherwise just killing time. Growing up I was not a sports-watcher; our family did not even own a TV. I was aware of sports teams and I enjoyed watching high school football and basketball games but I did not follow any professional (or college) team. My freshman year of college I lived with a couple die-hard BYU Cougar football fans. I went to many of the home games but still was not an avid fan.

Over the years I started watching college football more. I watched the Cougar games and then once I moved to an area with a lot of Florida Gator fans, my love of the sport developed more. Now I can watch multiple college football games on a Saturday (some days I do, some days I don't); I really enjoy college football. I understand how people spend so much time with it. The sport is exciting and entertaining. I find myself amazed at the abilities of the players to make plays. I marvel at quarterbacks who can throw those balls with such accuracy. I think about what is going on in the brains - physically - of the athletes; what areas of the brain are most active, what white matter pathways are involved and so forth. And sometimes I think of spiritual matters.

Recently, a store for a certain company opened in New York City. This store has been described as a temple for this company's products. Entering the store, the author wrote, was almost like entering a religious building. But this is for a religion of technology and gadgets, a false temple built up unto Mammon. I am not criticizing the store or the products (I use products from this company every day), but the author provided a sad commentary on our culture and world, without meaning to.

What temples do we worship at? Do we spend Sundays worshiping at sports temples? What gods do we place before God? Do we build up altars in our homes and lives unto false gods? Are we placing ourselves onto a path that leads to a showdown between our false gods and a proverbial prophet Elijah? Do we build up Babelic towers in our lives?

In Genesis we read of one early and prominent false temple built by the residents of the city of Babylon.

"4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth." (Genesis 11:4-9).

These people built a tall tower - maybe it was tall, maybe not. It was not the height of the tower that led to the Lord's displeasure, it was the purpose of the tower. This tower was a false temple. It was a building built to get the people to heaven; an imitation of the true temple but one without the proper power and authority. The people were trying to build themselves into heaven; they believed they could save and exalt themselves. For this great sin the people's tongues were confounded. The Lord does not tolerate mockeries of His holy house.

12 November 2009

Lessons from Life: Cockroaches - Part 2

We can and must fight the encroaching evils that try to enter our lives. Killing one cockroach is much easier than trying to root out a nest of them if they become established. There is an oft quoted poetic verse by Alexander Pope that explains why we must root out sin in its infancy:

Sin is a vice of such frightful mean
That to be hated has but to be seen
But seen too often, and familiar with the face
We first abhor, and then endure, and then embrace (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man {1732}, epistle 2, lines 217–20, in The Complete Poetical Works of Pope, ed. Henry W. Boynton {1931}, 144.).

This may sound like a slippery slope fallacy but that pattern is demonstrable repeatedly throughout history. It does not take much reading of the Book of Mormon to see people have a cyclical relationship with good and evil. We see this also in the Bible - righteous Adam and Eve who then have descendants quickly turn to evil. Similarly, in secular history we see countless civilizations rising, waxing, waning, and dying only to have other civilizations fill the void. I am sure that if we had a clear understanding of history we would see that the destruction of civilizations would in many cases be tied to the wickedness of the people. That might be a gross generalization and we know that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people and with nations, sometimes the destruction of a civilization is due to the wickedness or ineptitude of the leaders and not necessarily the wickedness of the people; however, I am sure that if we correctly understood history (like we will in the next life) we will see how the wickedness of civilizations usually led to their destruction. What I think we will see is that every wicked civilization was or will be destroyed but not all destroyed civilizations were necessarily wicked.

The light of Christ is given to all that they might know good from evil. The light of Christ provides inspiration - both spiritual and secular. When people en masse reject this light, their righteous progress as civilizations and individuals slows, stops, and even reverses. Knowledge can be lost. The ancient American civilizations knew much about astronomy and math and science - things that their more modern descendants had lost. The same goes for the ancient Egyptians - they understood much about architecture and mathematics that future generations lost. Fortunately in our day we have better record-keeping and access to knowledge so knowledge is less likely to be lost but it still can be lost. The overwhelming amount of information and knowledge to which we have access can be a problem, however. Things that are most important and useful can be lost in the shuffle of what is most flashy and trendy.

I'll close by quoting the prophet Jeremiah. He said that the wars and evils that came upon the Israelites was "because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, whom they knew not, neither they, ye, nor your fathers" (Jeremiah 44:3). When we worship and serve other gods (which will be the topic of an essay to follow) and let sin come crawling into our lives like cockroaches, we are speedily heading toward destruction - whether in this life or in the next.

10 November 2009

Lessons from Life: Cockroaches - Part 1

I live in Florida, which is great if you like warm winters, beaches, rain, and no snow. The downside is the number of insects and other critters. Occasionally we will see a cockroach in our home. There are only a few insects I do not like - cockroaches are one of them. Here in Florida, even in spite of deterrents and poisons, cockroaches can creep into our homes. They fit through small cracks and are virtually indestructible, as far as animals go; cockroaches have been known to live for at least a week without a head! Cockroaches live all over the world - even in Antarctica - but most are harmless to humans. Regardless of that, the cockroaches that invade homes can contribute to asthma and allergies. They are not clean insects and can spread their filth around as they scurry around. "They are also capable of mechanically transmitting disease organisms such as the bacteria which cause food poisoning. Recently, cockroaches have been found to be an important source of allergy in people, second only to house dust." (Source). It is never enough to kill a single cockroach if we want to eliminate them from our homes - nests of cockroaches can live in our walls, reproducing rapidly.

One effective way to eliminate cockroaches is to use cockroach bait. When one cockroach eats the bait, which is poisonous to it, it is able to walk back to its nest (hopefully) where it will then die. "Cockroach baits contain a slow-acting insecticide incorporated into a food attractant. Roaches locate and feed on the bait, typically contained in small, plastic bait trays, and crawl away to die. Bait carried back to the nesting area also kills other roaches after being expelled in the sputum and feces" (source). In this manner, instead of simply killing one cockroach, you are able to get to the root of the problem and allow the nature of cockroaches to lead to their demise. Using bait, it is possible to take out entire colonies of cockroaches over a short period of time. Even so, most preventative methods need to be reapplied frequently in order to prevent or minimize further encroaches of cockroaches.

Just as we can have physical cockroaches enter our homes, so too can we have spiritual roaches invade our homes. What are we allowing into our homes? Do we allow filthiness or do we prevent it? If some filthiness finds its way into our homes do we do all we can to purge it from our homes or do we ignore the problem and let it grow? Like cockroaches, evil is pervasive; it is worldwide. Satan looks for any crack or crease or crevice to invade. He looks for chinks in our armor - any part of our lives that seem weak. However, Satan is not limited to sneaking in back doors; his brazen influence is seen as he mocks all that is sacred. Satan roams about the earth with an openness rarely seen in the history of the earth.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "We live in a season when fierce men do terrible and despicable things. We live in a season of war. We live in a season of arrogance. We live in a season of wickedness, pornography, immorality. All of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah haunt our society. Our young people have never faced a greater challenge. We have never seen more clearly the lecherous face of evil" (Ensign, Nov. 2001). Yet, there is hope against this evil. Pres. Hinckley continued,
"And so, my brothers and sisters, we are met together in this great conference to fortify and strengthen one another, to help and lift one another, to give encouragement and build faith, to reflect on the wonderful things the Lord has made available to us, and to strengthen our resolve to oppose evil in whatever form it may take.
"We have become as a great army. We are now a people of consequence. Our voice is heard when we speak up. We have demonstrated our strength in meeting adversity. Our strength is our faith in the Almighty. No cause under the heavens can stop the work of God. Adversity may raise its ugly head. The world may be troubled with wars and rumors of wars, but this cause will go forward.

"You are familiar with these great words written by the Prophet Joseph: 'No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done' (History of the Church, 4:540).

The Lord has given us the goal toward which we work. That goal is to build His kingdom, which is a mighty cause of great numbers of men and women of faith, of integrity, of love and concern for mankind, marching forward to create a better society, bringing blessings upon ourselves and upon the heads of others" (Ensign, Nov. 2001).

08 November 2009

Gospel Weekend Warriors - Part 3

Something important to understand is that endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. The hardening of the endurance process is not the hardening of hearts experienced by the unrighteous. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it's in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. Enduring is more than just strengthening, it is also "going the distance."

When I was 12 or 13 I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, the Varsity scouts, and some leaders. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria (there is no "h" on the end). Just as the name implies - we were in the middle of nowhere in Arizona in what is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we also spent a lot of time walking through the river. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. We enjoyed the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of quicksand that we played in (link to a photo of someone {I just found the photo using Google - that's not me or anyone I know} playing in the quicksand). Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat. Shade was found only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river. The hike that had been pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said, "It's just around the next bend." After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, "It's not around the next bend; it'll never be around the next bend!"

Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, "It'll never be around the next bend!" but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that was not the best option. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination - the Colorado River. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time or we could have endured and enjoyed our time. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the old question: "How far can you run in a forest?" to which one clever answer is: "Halfway, because then you are running out!" It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. We need to endure to the end.

We read in the Book of Mormon: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20). I will return to how I started this essay by asking the following questions: Are you a gospel "Weekend Warrior?" Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church but nowhere else? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports? Are you trying to endure to the end or are you fighting only a portion of the battle and finishing only part of the race?

06 November 2009

Gospel Weekend Warriors - Part 2

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from the Latin indurare, meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress or trials or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a relatively weak or actually weak product. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him; He was hated and persecuted. Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be "hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured.

The gift given unto those who endure is great, even the greatest gift possible. Jesus said, "And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (D&C 14:7). He also promised, "And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 121:8). Again, suffering is implicit to endurance but those who endure are strengthened against and through suffering. But what is important are the promised blessings that come unto those who endure. "If thou endure it [adversities and afflictions] well, God shall exalt thee on high." What a beautiful promise! Endurance leads to exaltation.

There is a beautiful passage in Hebrews illustrating God's love for us through His chastening of us. Some may question how God's chastening of us is an expression of His love. How can His causing our suffering be loving? This passage from Hebrews explains: "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Hebrews 12:7-9). How can a parent say he or she loves his or her children and not discipline them? Children are inherently good but children are not always good. They do not always act with kindness unto others; they do not spring out as perfect and wise beings who know all right from all wrong or the good from the better from the best. Of course, it is possible for parents to be overbearing in their chastening and discipline but children need discipline and chastening. However, God is perfect - He does not make mistakes in His chastening of His children. God does not allow us to be tempted more than we are able to bear (see 1 Cor. 10:13), surely He will not chasten us more than we are willing to bear. The more we feeling we are being chastened by God - the more we may deserve it but also the more we can know that God knows that we can handle it as we trust in Him.

04 November 2009

Gospel Weekend Warriors - Part 1

Are you a gospel "Weekend Warrior?" Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling son as long as you are at church? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports? [Note: some of these terms came from the 22nd episode of the Mormon Identity podcast; that episode also inspired this essay].

One of the fundamental components of the gospel is enduring to the end. Jesus taught, "Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you...if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father" (3 Nephi 27: 13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth and commanded to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

The prophet Lehi had a great symbolic vision of the earth. In his vision he saw the Tree of Life, an iron rod, a great and spacious building, and many people. We read:

"20 And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
  21 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
  22 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
  23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
  24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
  25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
  26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
  27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
  28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
  29 And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.
  30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
  31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
  32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
  33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not." (1 Nephi 8:20-33).

In this passage of scripture we read of groups of people. Some find the path that leads to the Tree of Life, some wander off elsewhere, some enter the gaudy and godless building, some find and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life only to be ashamed and wander off, and others partake of the fruit and heed not the mockers. From this passage we learn that it is not enough to simply partake of the blessed eternal fruit, we must continue feasting upon it - we must endure to the end of our lives. There are many opportunities and roads to become prodigal but only one path to perfection and eternal life. This eternal path requires our every effort; we must endure unto the end.

01 November 2009

The Hand of the Lord

Ten years ago I was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the town of Sultan, a small settlement off Highway 2 up in the lovely Cascades of Washington. Our area covered a number of small towns along the highway. The ward in which we served was small - we met in a local middle school for the first four months I served in that area. For the first experience we were still meeting in the middle school, for the second, we had just moved into our new church building.

The two experiences I will share are similar in that I was preparing talks for church for both of them and had a similar experience in my preparation of both. Here is the - mostly unedited - first experience.

"Since today was a 5th Sunday we got to speak in church. I had my talk done by last night but this morning I woke up and started looking over my talk and I started rewriting it. I kept the basics [of the talk] but wrote it over, really basing it on the Plan of Salvation. This morning gave [a man] a blessing with the help of [a brother in the ward].... I gave my talk and it went well and I left plenty of time for my companion. He did well. People commented on how much they felt the spirit during Sacrament Meeting. I really felt it strongly. We filled in...teaching...the 7 and 8 year-olds [in Primary]. After church we saw all the women crying and then [a sister] told us that [a brother in the ward] had just died. He had a heart attack, called 911 and within 45 minutes was gone.... It is really interesting that I spoke on the Plan of Salvation. This day has been both a spiritual high and a sad day."

What I did not write at the time is what happened during my talk in Sacrament Meeting. Because we met in the cafeteria of a middle school, Sacrament Meeting was usually noisy due to the acoustic properties of the room. However, when I started to give my talk and throughout my talk, the room went completely silent. It was the strangest experience. I believe that the spirit was there in strength because of what the Lord had inspired me to speak on. That was one time in my life I knew I was speaking directly for the Lord. My talk had been about talents but then changed to talents as found in the Plan of Salvation. I talked about the pre-earth life, earth life, and life after death. I firmly believe that the Lord inspired my words to help prepare the ward members for the sudden death of the ward member who died at home during church (maybe even right around the time I gave my talk).

I was scheduled to give a talk in sacrament meeting the day Daylight Saving Time ended, which was on Sunday, October 31 that year. The Fall was cool, with gray skies more often than not and light, misty rains more often than not. Over the previous week I had tried to prepare a talk but had not had much success in my preparations. Now I'll quote from my missionary journal (I'll not make edits to my writing in order to keep the quote pure):

"I have learned many things today. I have really learned that the Lord does provide. I had to give a talk in Sacrment Meeting today and up to last night, nothing seemed right [i.e., which topic to write on]. I kept praying that I would know what to write. Last night it started coming to me and this morning I got to finish it. I even had an extra hour to write it because daylight-savings went off but I still got up at the normal time. I am really learning to trust in the Lord by really praying a lot. I find that out here I pray many times a day, even if it is a little plea or a prayer of gratitude in my heart."

Through sincere prayer, we can know God's will for us. As we pray and listen, we receive inspiration and revelation. Through us, the Lord can help others. We need to be willing and ready vessels of the Lord so that our lives do not hinder the work of the Lord. As we look for the Lord's hand in our lives we will see it.

28 October 2009

Lessons from Life - Part 4: Sunburn

A number of years ago I floated on an inner tube down the Salt River in Arizona with a friend. We had a nice time enjoying the hot sun and cool water. We floated at a leisurely pace - taking a couple hours to reach our destination. It was a great day with my friend (and the thousands of other people around us on the river).

Before going out in the intense Arizona sun it is a good idea to put on sunblock - it is particularly a good idea for someone with skin of an alabaster hue like mine. I've never been very tan in my life (except for a couple times when I spent a lot of time outside) and have always burned easily in the sun. I had done a good job of slathering myself with sunblock - or so I thought. I missed (or, it rubbed off) about an fifteen square inch area on the front of my lower left left (starting just below the ankle and extending upwards about five inches). Over the next couple of days this area of skin turned bright red and then purple. It was blistered, swollen, and very painful; I had a difficult time walking, which was unfortunate because my summer job involved a lot of walking. After a couple weeks the color returned to normal, the blisters drained, the swelling went away, and the pain subsided. I was able to walk without pain once again. However, I still have a patch of freckles over that area - the permanent residuals of my carelessness.

There's a spiritual lesson in this. In Mosiah 4:30 we read: "But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not." We need to watch ourselves - our thoughts, words, and deeds. We need to do this all our lives. This is not all. We also need to don the armor of God in order to protect ourselves. "Put on the whole armour of God," the apostle wrote, "that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11).

I had covered myself in sunblock, at least I thought I was covered, but I missed a large area of my skin. I did not "put on the whole armor of God" - my "feet were [not] shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15), so to speak. I, like Achilles, had an unprotected spot that led to great pain and suffering (although, unlike Achilles, mine did not result in death). I was severely burned by the sun. There is another spiritual analogy with this and making sure we are in a position where we are not burned at the Second Coming (or in the next life) but I'll not expand on that.

Are you protected against all the wiles of the adversary? Have you completely protected yourself with a spiritual sunblock? Do you reapply it frequently? Have you donned the armor of God? If so, do you wear all your armor all the time? We need to protect ourselves - physically and spiritually.

25 October 2009

Good and Evil - Part 3

Since the beginning, God has called prophets. The first man - Adam - was a prophet, a holy man of God, and one authorized to act in God's name. Other prophets were called after Adam, men such as Enoch, whose city Zion fled, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Then came prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lehi, Alma, Mormon, and many others. Finally came the greatest prophet - John - and Jesus Christ. Jesus established His church after His resurrection with Peter as president and James and John as counselors. This establishment of the Lord's church did not last long. The vineyard became corrupted and the priesthood authority and keys were taken from the earth. For about 1800 years, the Lord's authority was not found on the earth (at least in the Old World; the priesthood lasted until about 400 AD in the Americas). One spring morning a boy sought an answer to a question about which church to join. He retired to a secluded grove of trees near his home and tried to pray vocally to God. As mentioned previously, Joseph's prayer was interrupted by Satan, who sought to kill him. Joseph was saved by the appearance of God, the Father, and then Jesus Christ. They spoke with Joseph. He was called as the Lord's prophet - a modern Abraham - father to a new dispensation. Over time, Joseph received the authority and keys necessary to administer the Lord's affairs on earth through His church. Once again the Lord's authority and church were found on the earth.

It has always been the Lord's will and work to use prophets. Amos wrote, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). This is the Lord's pattern. Moroni wrote: "O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.... And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust." (Mormon 9:15, 19-20).

God is a God of miracles. God changes not. He appeared to Joseph Smith in our day just as He did to prophets of old. He does mighty wonders today, just as He did in ancient times.

For those who might not believe that we need prophets let me ask a hypothetical question. What if we needed someone like Noah today? Would God call someone to be a prophet or would he simply allow all of us, proverbially, to drown? Why if God called prophets in Biblical times would He not call them today? Do prophets become unnecessary with the times? We live in a modern society so there is no need for prophets? Did God speak all He needed to speak unto us in the past so there is no need for Him to reveal more to humankind?

I find all those explanations insufficient. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He continues to speak to prophets today. Their words and revelations provide direction and comfort. However, they are more than just comforters and tour guides - they hold the Lord's priesthood and the keys that authorize the use of that priesthood. They administer the affairs of the Lord here on earth. They are in charge of His church and are responsible not just for the members of the church but also for all humankind. They are responsible to oversee and direct the missionary efforts of the church. They are as laborers in the vineyard or shepherds to a flock. The roles of prophets (and seers and revelators) and apostles are not honors taken by those with those responsibilities. All were called of God as was Aaron (see Hebrews 5:4). The honor and glory of the callings all belongs to God, for they direct His church.

Again I ask, what if the Lord needed to tell us something important today like He told the world through Noah or Jonah or Moses? Would He leave us to our own devices or would He call a prophet who would speak His words and do His work? I testify that God does speak to prophets today. He does not lead us without a guide. He does love us as much as He loved His children in ancient days. Satan is real and God is real. Prophets of God have been called to counter the prophets of Satan. The prophets of Satan are myriad, the prophets of God are few but the Lord's prophets have His power and His authority. They direct His church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ's church is on the earth. We can know God's will and plan for us by listening to His prophets.

22 October 2009

Good and Evil - Part 2

None of us remember our life before this earth when we lived with our Father in Heaven as His children. However, just because we do not remember this does not mean it was not real or did not happen. Few people remember much of anything from their lives before the age of two. Many people do not remember anything from before the age of four. This is called infantile amnesia - the loss of memory from our earliest years. There are explanations why we do not remember but for now what is important is that even though we do not remember, those years of our lives actually occurred.

We know they occurred because we are here now - reading these words at some later stage in life. We might have photos or video of our youngest years. We might have heard stories about when we were born or about other things early in life. All of our knowledge about our first year or two of our lives comes from other people. We have to trust them (and photographs or video if we have them) but again, we know that those first years of our lives occurred because we are here now. This is the same as with our premortal existence. We do not remember that time but we know it occurred because we are here now. We have the testimony of latter-day prophets to trust. We have scriptural accounts in Abraham and Job referencing our premortal life. We are experiencing an amnesia now but some day we will remember our life before we came to earth.

While there we saw two plans presented - one by Jesus Christ and one by Lucifer. All of us here on earth now chose to follow God's plan - we rejected Satan's plan and watched as he and his followers were cast out - maybe some of us assisted with his expulsion. Evil at that point was definitely out of fashion.

Then we started coming to earth. It did not take long for Adam and Eve's children to leave the Lord and lust after worldly things. They were no longer in the presence of God, although they had access to His Spirit if they sought it. They were, however, in the presence of Satan and his followers, even if they could not see them (although they probably could sometimes). Even though Satan is on the earth, he has no power over people except as they give him power. Make no mistake, he has great power. He tried to kill Joseph Smith as Joseph knelt to pray in what became known as the Sacred Grove. Satan also wields power indirectly through governments, mobs, gangs, murders, lies, wealth, and armies. He calls himself the prince of this world and he is to an extent. He is given nearly free reign over the earth. Satan is very real with real power. Twice in my life I have met people who had evil spirits within them. I still remember how I felt in their presence - it was not good. I have met and talked with many people who were what we would call strong "anti-Mormons" and none of them were like these two men. These two men were full of evil. Satan is there but he only has strength over us when we give it to him.

Throughout the ages God has given us a way to counteract the influence of Satan. He has given us people who speak with authority and clarity against the wiles and insidiousness of Satan. All are entitled to the influence of the Holy Ghost. All are entitled to discern good from evil but the Lord's way is even grander and broader than that. He calls men who have been given His authority and authorization to act in His name.

19 October 2009

Consider the Lilies

Happy birthday to my dear little flower!

"Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Luke 12:27).

"For, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these." (D&C 82:82).

"Consider the lilies of the field--how they grow, how they grow.
Consider the birds of the sky--how they fly, how they fly.
He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the birds in the sky
and He will feed those who trust Him and Guide them with His eye.

Consider the sheep of his fold--how they follow where he leads.
Though the path may wind across the mountains,
He knows the meadows where they feed.
He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the birds in the sky
and He will feed those who trust Him and Guide them with His eye.

Consider the sweet tender children who must suffer on this earth.
The pains of all of them he carried from the day of his birth.
He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the lambs of his fold
and He will heal those who trust Him and make their hearts as gold.

He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the lambs of his fold
and He will heal those who trust Him and make their hearts as gold."

18 October 2009

Good and Evil - Part 1

I recently saw an ad for a Halloween party sponsored by a major corporation. The main tag-line of the ad was: "Evil never goes out of fashion." That line succinctly summarizes one of the major problems in our world - that evil does not go out of fashion. The love of evil is not new to our world. Thousands of years ago lived a man named Cain. His parents were illustrious - they were our first parents. Adam was a prophet of God; he and his wife Eve were a couple of the most chosen among all the sons and daughters of God. Some of their children quickly stopped following their counsels though. Among them was Cain who "loved Satan more than God" (Moses 5:18). Cain was not the first of Adam and Eve's children to leave God and love Satan: "And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish." (Moses 5:12-13). After that time Cain was born. He became notorious when he killed his brother and lied to the Lord. Before he killed his brother Cain did not love the Lord. He was one of the most secular in a rapidly-secularizing world. He was Satan's protege.

Since that time, Satan's influence has continued to flourish. Satan is the father of all lies (see Moses 4:4), one who seeks to destroy the agency of man (see Moses 4:3) by deceiving them and leading them carefully down to hell. Satan likes to spread rumors and contentions. He enjoys being a troublemaker. What's more is that he enjoys the fact that not only do many people in today's world not believe in God, even more do not believe that Satan exists. If Satan, and therefore evil, does not exist then moral relativism reigns. Further, if there is no devil then soon people will believe there is no God. That is not to say that God only exists if Satan exists - that is not true; however, once people stop believing that there is absolute evil, namely Satan, they will soon stop believing there is absolute good, namely God.

Satan exists as no more than an abstraction for many people (the same could be said for their conceptions of God but it is my impression that more people believe in God than believe in the Devil). Many believe that They are nothing more than unknowable concepts and not visible percepts. Even more, because of mistaken beliefs about the nature of God, many cannot conceive of the existence of a literal devil. If God created everything, did He create evil (i.e., the devil)? If so, why? Does that make Him not all good? Many arguments continue on in a similar manner. We as Latter-day Saints have a much clearer understanding of how Satan came to be, even if our understanding is limited.


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