30 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 9

Conversely, with sin we suffer the pains of hell by being separated from the Spirit and from Heavenly Father. It is in separation that we suffer. When we ignore or shut out others in this life, when we place ourselves ahead of others and view others simply as objects that help or hinder us, we suffer. In doing so we cut the cords that bind us to others; we selfishly turn inward and refuse to connect with others. In this manner we force others away, even subconsciously, and make ourselves alone. It is in this aloneness, this separation from others, that we truly suffer. Even if we serve others, if we do not do it in the proper attitude, one of love and honest concern for the Other, then we can suffer because of that service. Being selfish separates us from others.

Being separated from others makes us suffer. Sartre once stated, "Hell is other people." There might be some truth to that but I believe he is wrong. I believe that hell is isolation from other people. Hell is complete focus on the Self with no regard for the Other. Or, in other words, hell is being completely alone without connection to the Other. When we turn inward, disregarding others, we experience hell - we suffer. Hell is being with and only with the one person we ever learned to love - ourselves. The irony is that it is not possible to truly love oneself without loving another. Thus, those who are in hell or experience hell are alone and can't even truly love themselves. Again, this is because love of Self only survives or has meaning when love is Other-directed. Those in hell have been cut off without root or branch. The Savior came to redeem humankind from death and hell - both of which are separations. Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit. Spiritual death (which, without the Atonement of the Savior would require the sufferings of hell), is separation from God caused by sin. God is the one Other to whom a direct connection is vital. The Savior provides the reconnection between our bodies and our spirits and between our Father and us. He gives us both root and branch.

Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering. We suffer when we sin. We suffer when we are selfish. We are strengthened when we have faith and serve others. We overcome suffering when we love. God is love and only in truly loving others do we find solace from the storms through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We have a choice to not suffer. Viktor Frankl - a Jewish man who endured the unspeakable horrors of a Nazi concentration camp - wrote: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." Those who chose to love others and share, even in their need, did not suffer even though they were in some of the worst situations imaginable. It is in forgetting ourselves and serving others that we become truly happy. There is an end to suffering, there is an end to pain. That End is reached by taking no thought for ourselves and following the Savior as He beckons and carries us Home.

28 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 8

It was this same prophet speaking to these same people who explained the role as comforters we all receive when we are baptized, "And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-9). A main responsibility we have as Latter-day Saints is to help alleviate the suffering of others. We have been commanded to "look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer" (D&C 38:35). As Latter-day Saints and Christians we have been commanded to, "Bear ye one another's burden's, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

The miraculous thing is that by mourning with those who mourn and helping other people bear their burdens, our own burdens and suffering are alleviated. The Savior's whole life was spent focused on others but in the act of the Atonement, His will was completely swallowed up in the Father's. The Atonement is an infinitely Other-focused act - it was not done to benefit Himself. In the pre-mortal world, Christ answered the call to act as propitiation for the sins and sorrows of humankind. He performed the greatest selfless act the world ever knew or will know. As we turn our focus outward and serve others without seeking personal gain, we will find the cure for suffering. In doing good to others, we will overcome our sorrows and sufferings. It is not possible to suffer while selflessly serving others. I'm not talking about playing a martyr's role (e.g., "I do so much for other people; I suffer in silence") as we sacrifice for others. There is an attitudinal difference between helping others and feeling, even to a small extent, unappreciated or underappreciated - even in hindsight - and simply serving truly without thought of oneself - without feeling inconvenienced or that we are playing the "Suffering Saint" role.

The problem with playing the martyr's role is that it's exactly that - playing a role, acting, putting up a facade. Being a martyr usually is honorable; playing a martyr is not. Playing a martyr's role is taking upon ourselves the black shroud of victimhood - it is assuming the victim's role and attitude. The only way to feel victimized is to focus on yourself. [Note: There are many true victims in the world; however, there are some people who have been victimized who don't act like victims; you can be a victim without having to feel like a victim. I'm not minimizing any who have been truly taken advantaged of or victimized; I just think that true healing only comes when the feelings of victimization are gone]. However, when we honestly are focused outwardly, inwardly we find peace, comfort, and balance.

26 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 7

The Prophet Joseph Smith also suffered much affliction; however, most of his suffering was due to the persecution he received from others who did not believe his story. "I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until...one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision" (JS-H 1:27). Joseph Smith was persecuted from when he had the First Vision until he was assassinated 25 years later. He was persecuted and murdered for telling the truth; he was despised and rejected yet he remained faithful.

The word suffering implies patience. The Lord stated on occasion, "Suffer it to be so" (cf. Matt. 3:15). Suffering can mean "allow", as in "suffer [allow] me first to go and bury my father" (Matt. 8:21). Thus, the word suffer is used contritely, even in a begging manner. In these instances suffering is a plea for patience. We should follow the Prophet Joseph Smith's example and be faithful and patient in our afflictions and sufferings.

Three young Jewish men named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were living in captivity in Babylon. They, like Joseph in Egypt, impressed their captors and were eventually placed as rulers over the province of Babylon. They were respected by Nebuchadnezzar and many others. However, not all were fond of these men. When the king made a large gold idol, some of his advisers and other leaders sent out a decree that all people must worship the idol. The king signed off on the decree. Then his advisers told the king that these men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not worship the idol. The king was upset and sent for the three men. Their reply shows their faith and courage. "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee [we won't try to hide the truth] in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:16-18). What an example of faith! They would not deny their faith even if it cost them their lives.

The king was furious with these men. He commanded that the furnace be heated up 7 times hotter than normal. The fire was so hot that it killed those who put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace. However, when the king looked into the furnace he saw 4 men, one of whom looked "like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25). None of the men were hurt. The astonished king commanded them to come forth, which they did. None of their hair had been burned. None of their clothes had been so much as singed. They did not even smell like smoke. They had been protected and strengthened by God. They were blessed because of their faithfulness. After this, the king commanded that no one should speak ill of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He also promoted them to a higher position in their government, they had impressed him so much.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were faithful. They did not suffer but were strengthened in their afflictions. They were patient when being punished for their faithfulness. They were like Joseph in Egypt, or Moses, or Daniel who sat with lions, or Joseph Smith, who all were patient and suffered long, yet remained faithful. The Lord's chosen have always suffered many afflictions at the hands of their enemies but they always could look to One who is more powerful and comforting than the waters of Bethesda. The Lord's people are rarely without affliction but they need not suffer. They can have the faith of Alma and his followers: "And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mosiah 24:15).

24 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 6

Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, "Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing" (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior's suffering was essential so that we all had a way to be resurrected and to be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we could not be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer to some degree we won't fully learn the impact of our sins or the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering - it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can also turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead.

Many years ago there was a great military leader named Naaman. He was not only a good leader but also a good man. However, he was a leper. A maid to Naaman's wife was an Israelite. She told Naaman's wife that there was a man in Israel who could cure Naaman. Naaman went to his king (the king of Syria) who then sent a letter in the hands of Naaman to the king of Israel. The king of Israel was distraught because the king of Syria had asked the king of Israel to cure Naaman of his leprosy, and the king couldn't do it; he thought the king of Syria was seeking offense - looking for a reason to start a war. However, the prophet Elisha heard about the request and stated, "Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel" (2 Kings 5:8). In response, the king of Israel sent Naaman to Elisha.

The story continues: "So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:9-13).

Naaman was firstly offended that Elisha did not come out to great him personally. Then he was offended that the way to be cleansed seemed so minor. He was like the Israelites who did not believe they would be healed by looking upon the snake on the staff Moses held up. However, Naaman was a good man and he listened to his servants; he repented of his initial pride and did as Elisha said.

"Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:14). Naaman washed himself in the river Jordan (where, incidentally, the Savior was baptized) and not only was cured of his leprosy, he came forth effectually reborn with skin like that of "a little child." By following the counsel of the living prophet, Naaman was reborn and made a new man. By following the prophet, Naaman was relieved of his suffering. It was not the water that cleansed Naaman but the power of the priesthood and his faith in God (or at least his faith that Elisha might be a representative of the One True God).

Naaman had the desire to believe and was blessed. From this we learn that the desire to believe is a sufficient start to having our sufferings washed away in Christ. "But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27).

21 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 5

The Savior suffered so that we need not suffer.
"Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit" (D&C 19:15-20).

The last sentence explains what true suffering is: being without the spirit of the Lord. There are many on earth who live without the Lord's spirit. Some have completely forced out any influence of the Spirit - it is these people who truly suffer. Those who suffer even more are those who had the presence of the Spirit (i.e., had received the Gift of the Holy Ghost) but, through their choices, removed themselves from that Spirit. They have tasted a small part of the sufferings they will have to endure if they repent not of their sins. This is part of the suffering the Lord endured - the loss of the Spirit. When He took upon Himself the sins, pains, illnesses, and sufferings of the world He suffered the withdrawal of the presence of the Holy Ghost, of His Father. He truly was alone (which is why the Father sent an angel to help strengthen Him in the garden of Gethsemane). Christ suffered so that we might have His spirit with us always, as we do what is right and repent when we sin. We are never alone when the Holy Ghost is with us.

This means that no matter how hard the circumstances we might be in or how sad we might feel, if the Spirit of the Lord is with us we will not truly suffer. We can take comfort in the Spirit and be strengthened by it. Amid the tumultuous cacophony of a sinful and floundering world, the Spirit brings inner peace when the waves are crashing like cymbals and the world seems to be collapsing around us.

18 January 2009

We Thank Thee Oh God For a Prophet

SethAdamSmith once again has created a beautiful video. This one is about the prophets of the Restoration. Enjoy! I'm posting this because there is little more central to the gospel of Jesus Christ than prophets and apostles and continuing revelation from God.

Our Father's Role in the Atonement

When we think about the Atonement, we commonly think of it as the Savior's sacrifice. As I was thinking about the Atonement the other day I thought of the sacrifice our Heavenly Father made. I can't say this is a novel thought, it just isn't something I've thought about much. Heavenly Father had to give up His Beloved Son to those who would abuse and kill Him. During the suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, the Father had to remove His presence as His Son took upon Him the sins, sorrows, and sicknesses of the world. How the Father must have suffered as He watched His Son suffer! He surely match the Savior's tears with His own. Just as the Son asked for the cup to be removed, if it was possible, I'm sure His Father would gladly have asked a lesser sacrifice if it was possible.

In the book of Genesis we read the story about Abraham being commanded to offer up his first-born son Isaac. He dutifully followed the Lord's commands, even though he did not fully understand why he was asked to sacrifice his son. How Abraham must have suffered in seeking to do what was required of him. Isaac was to be sacrificed but Abraham was the one offering his sons as the sacrifice. Isaac was willing and trusted his father. The similarities between Abraham and Isaac and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are intentional. Of course, Isaac was replaced with a ram at the last moment but the Father and the Son had to go through with their sacrifice. It's important to remember our Father's sacrifice in addition to the Savior's.

17 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 4

Suffering is an integral part of life. Once we understand this we no longer need to be upset when we suffer; rather we can seek to find the meaning in our suffering. We can choose our attitude toward our suffering; we can choose how we will bear our crosses when they invariably come. The Savior, who lived a perfect life, suffered more than any other person. Through His suffering He brought salvation to humankind: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9). Christ provided the way to overcome suffering. Christ learned obedience through His suffering and through His suffering He became the Way to eternal life and salvation. In and through Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering in this life. John the Revelator told of the comfort the Lord gives unto those who follow Him and endure unto the end: "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17). In this life and the next, the Lord is there to mourn with us when we mourn and to wipe away our tears.

The apostle Paul wrote much on suffering and the solace the Savior provides. "Blessed be God...who comforteth us in all tribulation.... For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation" (2 Cor. 1:3-6).

For those struggling, Elder Holland gave these words of encouragement: "Don't give up.... Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead.... You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come." (Holland, Ensign, Nov. 1999). There is an end to the suffering; there is hope. That end and hope comes in and through the Savior.

15 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 3

However, not all suffering is caused by sin. One terrible event in the Book of Mormon partially explains why innocent people can suffer. "For behold the Lord receiveth them [martyrs and other righteous] up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wealth may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (Alma 14:11). We have been given agency and the Lord lets us be agents unto ourselves if we so desire.

The Lord's mission, His work and glory, is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39) so anything that furthers or does not hinder His work, is allowed to happen; in this case it is the death of many women and children - horrific but not tragic in the eternal perspective. Those who killed the women and children will receive the fruits of their labors. They will have to stand before the Judgment Seat and hear the witness against them by these individuals. There are many other examples of the wicked being responsible for causing the righteous much suffering: "But behold, now the Lamanites are coming upon us, taking possession of our lands, and they are murdering our people with the sword, yea, our women and our children, and also carrying them away captive, causing them that they should suffer all manner of afflictions, and this because of the great wickedness of those who are seeking for power and authority" (Alma 60:17).

For the most part, people are free to do what they choose. However, freedom of choice does not imply freedom from responsibility. Those who killed the innocents and caused them to suffer would in turn have to suffer for their choices. The idea of suffering seems to contradict what the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught: "men are...that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25). We can have joy in this life but that does not mean we are free from suffering.

Additionally, we can have joy in our suffering. That does not mean we enjoy our suffering; rather, we rejoice in it because of what we can learn from it and what it can bring. The apostle Peter taught: "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Pet. 4:13). Other suffering can bring more immediate joy. Think of a mother in labor. She experiences great suffering and pain, suffering which can even lead to death. In labor, many mothers place one foot in the grave in order to bring forth new life. After the suffering and trial comes great joy; joy in new life; joy in a child. However, some mothers fear the suffering of labor while others joy in it. What's the difference? It could be past experience. It could be that some mothers are focused on the immediate pain and suffering while others focus on the outcome and the miracle of the whole experience. Those mothers have more than just perspective. They understand the suffering - what it means, its outcome, and its purpose. When we are righteous, the Lord promised that we will "reap eternal joy for all our sufferings" (D&C 109:76).

13 January 2009

A Father's Job

I've been reading the book Bonds that make us free by C. Terry Warner. It's life-changing. It's one of the most important books I've ever read. Even though the book is not scripture, I thought this short quote would be quite appropriate for this blog.

First, a little context. A man became upset at his children. He responded to them angrily and they started to cry. Realizing his error, he went to their room and asked for forgiveness. They quickly jumped into his arms and kissed him, forgiving him for any wrong. Now for the quote:

"Well, I leaned a lot of lessons from that. But the one that sticks with me the most, because I'm a father, is that it's a father's job to repent first. That's what is means to me to be a father - to be the first one to repent and heal the relationship. My children were anxious and willing to forgive and be friends with me. But I had to start it. It seems to me that that's the way relationships are healed. It's no more complicated than that. It may take longer in some cases, but there isn't much more to it than simply yielding your heart to what you know is the truth and saying, 'I'm sorry.'" (p. 261).

Even though I've only been a parent for just over four years, I've made my share of mistakes. Parenting is very hard work; it takes a lot of effort and patience. But it also take more than that; it takes love and selflessness. I find that pride and selfishness usually cause the most friction in relationships. As a parent, as a father, it is especially important to be the first one to repent and ask for forgiveness.

12 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 2

"It must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter" (2 Ne. 2:15). If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge "they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin" (2 Ne. 2:23).

The Savior taught about suffering. When Pilate killed some Galilaeans, some wondered if they deserved their fate. The Savior said, "Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay" (Luke 12:2-3). He continued by telling the listeners, "But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 12:3). Those who suffer did not necessarily sin but those who sin and don't repent, suffer. What is unfortunate is when people suffer as a result of their own sins because that suffering is preventable. We all sin but none of us have to sin.

We don't seek suffering but we don't shy away from it when we understand the meaning and purpose of suffering. Not all suffering is positive though. Much suffering in this world results from sin - our own or others'. When we suffer due to the sins of others we still have a choice as to how we will bear the suffering and what we will learn from it. It's unfortunate when people suffer as a result of the sins of others. It's a reality of life but unfortunate. Many times suffering can lead to repentance: "For many of them, after having suffered much loss and so many afflictions, began to be stirred up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached to them in their land; therefore they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus there were many of them converted in the wilderness" (Alma 25:6).

There is a story told of a young man who wanted to see the world and experience life. He was tired of what he thought was a boring and simple life. He went to his father for some money - his portion of the inheritance he was to receive. His older brother watched as the younger took the money and left. This young man spent all of his money pursuing pleasure. Money and pleasure were his gods - he wasted his strength worshiping them. When this man's money was spent he looked around for more. Finding none, he thought he might get a job; however, he had few employable skills. He had spent all of his money "living it up" and no longer had any for the basics of life. He was miserable and suffering. He felt ashamed of what he had done. He was too ashamed to return home to face his father and elder brother. The man was so destitute he begged for food, even scraps that unclean animals rejected. Finding no solace, no sustenance, he finally stopped being prideful; he accepted responsibility for his actions and started the journey home in humility. When approaching his home, he came with the attitude that maybe his father would accept him back as a servant, for he felt unworthy to be called son. When the prodigal approached, his father saw him from afar and ran to him. The father embraced him and wept upon his shoulder. As the son contritely begged to be received as a servant, his father called for his best robe. He called to have a feast prepared - a celebration of his son's homecoming and repentance. The father expressed great joy over his son's return.

One main moral of this story is that with sin and selfishness comes sorrow and suffering. The prodigal son was not happy in his pursuit of pleasure. He experienced momentary happiness but quickly began to suffer for his sins. As he expressed contrition and penitence, the prodigal son found joy in his return home; he found forgiveness and love.

10 January 2009

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering - Part 1

People often ask the question, "Why must we suffer?" Philosophers and many others have been debating that same question for ages. Even in the pre-earth life, I believe the question was raised. If I may interject some opinion, I think that Lucifer learned about the Plan of Salvation and was scared. He did not want to suffer, which is one reason he wanted all people to be forced to return to live with Heavenly Father (although, on the other hand, he knew his plan would not allow anyone to return to live with God). He thought that would prevent suffering. He also was prideful, he wanted Father's glory and power without expending any of the effort. He wanted that glory regardless of what it would cost others. He may not have fully understood the Plan but I think he did. I think he understood it and was scared. He was afraid of the suffering - of the pain and sickness and sorrow.

There have always been some who were scared of suffering and sought to eliminate all suffering, regardless of what it might cost. Others sought to understand suffering and did not shy away. Even though philosophers have argued over the meaning of suffering for millennia, truth about it comes from prophets.

Lehi, speaking to his son Jacob, "Thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain." (2 Ne. 2:2). "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery [note the interesting and important juxtaposition of those two], neither good nor bad." (2 Ne. 2:11). Why are misery and holiness placed in opposition? Holiness is consecration; it is purity and sanctification. Does that mean that there is no sadness for one who is holy? No, but is means there is no misery, no being miserable. The distinction is important. It does not mean that those who are miserable have necessarily sinned, although "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10). However, sin will always bring misery.

08 January 2009

Fasting and Prayer, Part 7

There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it's interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through faithfulness and fasting.

Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, "O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!" (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast - to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be "steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his" (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God's commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.

To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weak, those that were fastened together may slip apart and weaken. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and "fastened it upon the end of a pole" (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni's call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.

When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.

I close with the scripture that is the theme of this blog: "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God" (D&C 88:119). As we establish our homes on the foundation of prayer, faith, and fasting, we will continue to grow in unity with the Savior and our Eternal Father.

06 January 2009

Fasting and Prayer, Part 6

"And satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough for water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. He gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water. He turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. We, as we forsake water for a time during our fast, will become like watered gardens. These promises are more than just physical promises - they are spiritual. We will be well-watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a well-spring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in." These last series of promises are all connected. The blessings of fasting and faithfulness extend beyond ourselves to bless the lives of our children. They in turn can bless our lives; they can build up the waste places. The hearts of the children will turn to the fathers. By our faithfulness, we are strengthening the foundation of many generations. We can be the one who forges a strong link between generations. We can repair the breach in the wall and rally others to our side with the words of Shakespeare: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, line 1).

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this responsibility, this need to be faithful and not be a weak link.

In that sacred and hallowed house [the temple] there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.

I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, "Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations." It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. (Keep the Chain Unbroken, Hinckley, 1999).

If we are faithful, our generations will praise us as ones who kept the faith, who restored the paths and rebuilt the breached wall.

05 January 2009

Hugh Nibley on Teaching

While reading Hugh Nibley's Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (on page 167) I came across this very important truth.

"The interesting thing we find out from Nephi very soon is that all preaching is to yourself. You are preaching to nobody but yourself. If I preach, I preach only to myself. You can see how that is here [in 1st Nephi]. Others may pick it up, as far as that goes. That's like teaching the point; that's all you do. You can't teach a person; that's not a transitive verb. You might hit a person or see a person, but you can't teach a person. What do you do when you teach a person? Well, the word for teach is touch, tactile, didactic. That's when you point to something. Teach is the same word as touch. It just means point the finger. All I can do is point. You look and then you see for yourself. I don't go directly from one person to another that way. So the teacher is just didactic. He teaches and points so others may pick it up. Nephi goes on preaching too, and later on he tells us in 2 Nephi that it's just himself he has been talking to all along anyway."
Why is this important? Why is this true? Being taught (implying learning) requires the listener to actually listen and to be changed by what they hear. This change comes not from the teacher but from within. Even the Holy Ghost cannot teach us anything without our willingness to be taught, to learn. No person will be forced to heaven. No person will be forced to learn anything they are not willing to learn.

04 January 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions for a few weeks now. I decided that I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. Let's use the example of repentance. Today is always the best day to repent. Far too often we resolve that starting on January 1st we will be better at saying our prayers regularly or reading our scriptures. Or, we resolve that we will start exercising or go on a diet. The problem is that by allowing the timeline of our change to be dictated by a particular (and traditional) date, we make some of the impetus of change extrinsic to ourselves. In other words, it places some of the responsibility for change outside of ourselves and onto an arbitrary, culturally-significant date. We have a long background of making and breaking New Year's resolutions.

My real concern is, if something is so important to do - to change - then why wait until January 1st? What's wrong with changing today? There is nothing wrong with making New Year's resolutions, I just think that, especially if the needed change is related to repentance or the gospel, it is better to go ahead and make the change now instead of waiting until the new year.

As one last example. Last June I decided I needed to revamp my study of the gospel (I've mentioned this before). I could have kept going on in my less-than-ideal scripture study until the new year, then made a resolution and changed. Or, I could have done what I did do and make the change then. Even if this desire to re-immerse myself in the gospel had happened in December, I still would have started my new gospel study then rather than on January 1st. If you feel the need to improve some aspect of life, just do it now; don't wait.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 5

Next we come to some more conditions to the blessings. "If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul...." When we fast we should treat others well. We shouldn't burden them down or deride them and point fingers or be lifted up in pride and vanity. We need to share of our substance with the needy and hungry. We need to "satisfy the afflicted soul" physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

If we meet these conditions, we are promised: "Then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday." God is Light. The Savior is the Light of the World. We, too, can be filled with this light. The Savior taught, "If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him" (John 11:9-10). When we fast and help others, we walk in daylight, in the light of the Son. With this light, with the light that surely will be inside us as we follow the Savior, we can help guide others.

Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save. [Hymns, 1985, no. 335]

"And the Lord shall guide thee continually." He will be there as a pillar of fire or a cloud of shadow, just as He was for the children of Israel in the wilderness. The Lord will be our Liahona, our compass pointing the way to the Promised Land.


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