30 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 6

Another of the best things we should focus on is serving God. One of the saddest experiences I had as a full-time missionary occurred in the MTC. While there we manned the call lines for people who called in requesting a copy of the Book of Mormon, Bible, or church video. One man with whom I spoke told me that he felt like he had spent much of his life serving God but didn't feel like he received anything for it. He told me he was going to stop serving God and instead wait for God to serve him. That brief conversation has remained with me over the years. At the time I had no good response to the man's statement. Over the years I've thought about my experience with that man and spent time learning about the importance of serving God.

We are commanded to serve God: "And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water" (Exodus 23:25). When we are baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we covenant with God to serve Him. Further, being baptized is one way we show God by our actions that we will serve Him: "[The people of Limhi] were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts" (Mosiah 21:35). Those who serve God with all their might are sanctified: "And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength" (D&C 20:31).

When we cease serving God we turn away and serve other gods, as is stated repeatedly throughout the Old Testament: "Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them" (Deut. 11:16). We do not stop serving gods, we just stop serving the True and Living God. "When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you" (Josh. 23:16). Ceasing to serve God is a sign of wickedness. It is not pleasing to the Lord. Why does God want us to serve Him though? Through our service to Him, He is able to fulfill His purposes. What are those purposes? "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). He wants us to serve Him so that He can sanctify us and help us return to live with Him. Serving God helps us become more like Him.

Link to part 5 of this essay.

28 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 5

What is it about Isaiah's prophecies that are so powerful? Most of his prophecies focus on Jesus Christ, especially Jesus as our Messiah and Redeemer. On the Atonement - the Savior's propitiation for our sins - Isaiah wrote, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: ye we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. Be he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:3-7). How much clearer could Isaiah be about Jesus' role as Redeemer and as our Savior?

Isaiah also wrote much about the temple and temple-related doctrines. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:2-3). Isaiah wanted the people and all of us to know that the Savior, living pure, and the temple should be central in our lives. The Savior's Atonement should be particularly central. Those are some of the "best" things we should focus on.

Link to part 4 of of this essay.

26 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 4

Jacob, brother of Nephi, again taught the importance of Isaiah (at his brother's suggestion), "I will read you the words of Isaiah.... And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God" (2 Ne. 6:4). From the prophecies of Isaiah we learn the name of our God but more importantly we learn to glorify His name. What is the name of our God? Jehovah, who was born into this world in a humble manger. Jesus Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of the Old Testament. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He is the Son of the Eternal Father. While Jesus and Heavenly Father are distinct personages, They are one in purpose and one in power. "The members of the Godhead are infinitely more one than separate, they just happen to be separate beings" (Robert L. Millet, 1998, heard in class at BYU).

Jacob continued, "And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel" (2 Nephi 6:5). We too, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are of the house of Israel and can liken the words of Isaiah to ourselves. Nephi loved Isaiah's words, "I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken is words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.... Whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men." (2 Nephi 11:2,8). There are many more references to the words of Isaiah being great (see 2 Ne. 25:1; 2 Ne. 25:4-7). The Savior, after His resurrection, commanded the people of Nephi to read and study Isaiah's words.

Jesus taught, "Ye remember that I spake unto you, and said that when the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled - behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them" (3 Ne. 20:11). Again he commanded, "And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah" (3 Ne. 23:1). We must not only search Isaiah's words but also search them diligently.

Link to part 3 of this essay.

24 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 3

So, in the end, the innate goodness of humankind is really not separate from God; however, I believe people can be good without being directly inspired by God. My point is that there are things that people do or there are events that happen that are good or bad but this does not mean that God caused them or is responsible for them. Why is this important to understand? Because there are good things, as I wrote before, but just because something is good does not mean it is something we should expend a lot of energy and effort on; we should focus most of our efforts on the better and best - things that are inspired directly by God; things that lead us to do good continually and serve and love God.

What are some of these best things in life? In the Doctrine and Covenants we are commanded to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom" (D&C 88:77). The doctrine of the kingdom is certainly one of the best things. Related to this verse is the following from the Doctrine and Covenants, "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). What are some of the other "best" things we can do? Teach one another words of wisdom, seek out the best books (particularly the words of wisdom in those books), seek learning but particularly learning by study and faith. Those are all some of the "best" things we can, or rather, we must focus on.

The scriptures are included within the category of the "best books" but that category is not exclusive to scriptures. There are many other non-scriptural books that can be included in the "best books." However, there are no books that are better than the scriptures. One of the books that we should particularly focus on is the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-quoted prophet in the scriptures. His prophecies are particularly prevalent in the Book of Mormon. Nephi talked about the importance of Isaiah, "And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Nephi 19:23). Isaiah is a powerful source of knowledge about the Savior.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

22 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 2

Those things that are best in our lives are the things that lead us to do good, love God, and serve Him. This does not mean that we have no time for things that might simply be good, but we do not have time to do every good thing; we need to prioritize and put the best first, as Elder Oaks said. There are many good works of art - books, music, paintings, sculptures, and so forth - that are worthwhile to read and listen to and view. There are many good activities but if they do not lead us to do good continually by serving God and loving Him, they are not directly inspired by God. Should we avoid doing and partaking of these things? No, but we should be wise consumers. "O be wise. What can I say more?" as the great teacher Jacob stated (Jacob 6:12).

Quoting Elder Oaks again: "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)" (Source).

One thing I think is important about goodness being somewhat independent of the direct inspiration of God (i.e., not all that is merely good is directly inspired by God), is that it supports the notion of the innate goodness of humankind. I believe that people are inherently good. Whenever I look at a baby, I see that goodness and innocence. There is no sin or depravity. God created man - Adam and Eve - and saw that they were good. Adam and Eve made a brave choice in choosing to enter the mortal and dark and dreary world; they transgressed but they repented of that transgression and the Savior's Atonement freed all humankind from the blame of that transgression. As Joseph Smith wrote in the Wentworth Letter, "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression" (Articles of Faith 2).

Mankind is in a fallen state but we are not fallen creatures. We all have a spark of divinity within us. Further, all humans are given the light of Christ to provide guidance. We all know, even if it is only deep down, what is right and wrong, in part because we've been given this light to guide us. It isn't until we willfully rebel against the light and force it out of our lives through sin and other wrong choices, that we become evil and depraved - not before. We are not born blind because of any sins of our parents, we blind ourselves by our disobedience (see John 9:2-3).

Link to part 1 of this essay.

20 April 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 1

"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God" (Moroni 7:13).

We can learn a lot from this interesting scripture. We learn that which of God invites and entices us to do good continually. In other words, that which of God does not just invite us to do good; it invites us to do good all the time. Another important lesson from this verse is that God does not force us - He invites us and even entices us (for example, with the promise of eternal life) because that is sometimes what it takes to motivate us. Being enticed to do good provides us with hope; hope and faith are inseparably connected. Another thing that this part of the verse teaches us is that there are things that invite us to do good that are not necessarily "of God", or rather, there are good things that are not necessarily inspired of God. The second sentence in this verse teaches us more about the conditions of inspiration.

"Every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God" (Moroni 7:13). This is a conjunctive statement. That means that all of the separate conditions or clauses of the sentence are required to support the conclusion. That which is inspired of God invites us to do good and love God and serve Him. It requires all three - do good, love, and serve. Why is this important to understand?

This means that there are things that invite us to do good that are not necessarily directly inspired of God, as I mentioned earlier. I don't want to minimize any good thing but that which is good does not necessarily equal that which is best. As Elder Oaks stated in General Conference in October 2007, "We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives" (Source).

18 April 2009

Impressions of Conference

I recently finished listening to all the talks from General Conference again (other than the Priesthood Session but I've started re-reading those). I am struck by how wonderful all the talks are. Conference is always good but sometimes there are some talks that aren't quite so interesting or full of impact. That might just reveal something about myself though. However, this Conference was amazing. Every talk was worth listening to again and again. Normally I listen to all the talks again once, then just listen to the talks by the apostles again (or maybe a particularly good talk by one of the Seventy or general officers). However, I really want to listen to every talk again. I already started.

The other thing I was struck by is how much Elder Holland's talk about the Savior touched so many people. All I heard from other church members after Conference were things like, "What did you think of Elder Holland's talk?" or "Wasn't Elder Holland's talk amazing?" It was; it is. It's an instant classic. Elder Holland has always been one of my favorite speakers; there are a few of his talks I've listened to and re-read many times. I love his talk As Doves to Our Windows he gave in April 2000. I also really enjoy his talk Broken Things to Mend. A talk I particularly love is his talk An High Priest of Good Things To Come, which he gave in October 1999. I think I've listened to that talk at least 10 times, maybe 20. While his talks are frequently encouraging to those who suffer or who are sad or who feel lost, that talk is particularly comforting. In it he tells the story of a young father setting across the country with his young family to attend school. I'll reprint the story here.

"Forgive me for a personal conclusion, which does not represent the terrible burdens so many of you carry but it is meant to be encouraging. Thirty years ago last month, a little family set out to cross the United States to attend graduate school--no money, an old car, every earthly possession they owned packed into less than half the space of the smallest U-Haul trailer available. Bidding their apprehensive parents farewell, they drove exactly 34 miles up the highway, at which point their beleaguered car erupted.

"Pulling off the freeway onto a frontage road, the young father surveyed the steam, matched it with his own, then left his trusting wife and two innocent children--the youngest just three months old--to wait in the car while he walked the three miles or so to the southern Utah metropolis of Kanarraville, population then, I suppose, 65. Some water was secured at the edge of town, and a very kind citizen offered a drive back to the stranded family. The car was attended to and slowly--very slowly--driven back to St. George for inspection--U-Haul trailer and all.

"After more than two hours of checking and rechecking, no immediate problem could be detected, so once again the journey was begun. In exactly the same amount of elapsed time at exactly the same location on that highway with exactly the same pyrotechnics from under the hood, the car exploded again. It could not have been 15 feet from the earlier collapse, probably not 5 feet from it! Obviously the most precise laws of automotive physics were at work.

"Now feeling more foolish than angry, the chagrined young father once more left his trusting loved ones and started the long walk for help once again. This time the man providing the water said, 'Either you or that fellow who looks just like you ought to get a new radiator for that car.' For the second time a kind neighbor offered a lift back to the same automobile and its anxious little occupants. He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry at the plight of this young family.

"'How far have you come?' he said. 'Thirty-four miles,' I answered. 'How much farther do you have to go?' 'Twenty-six hundred miles,' I said. 'Well, you might make that trip, and your wife and those two little kiddies might make that trip, but none of you are going to make it in that car.' He proved to be prophetic on all counts.

"Just two weeks ago this weekend, I drove by that exact spot where the freeway turnoff leads to a frontage road, just three miles or so west of Kanarraville, Utah. That same beautiful and loyal wife, my dearest friend and greatest supporter for all these years, was curled up asleep in the seat beside me. The two children in the story, and the little brother who later joined them, have long since grown up and served missions, married perfectly, and are now raising children of their own. The automobile we were driving this time was modest but very pleasant and very safe. In fact, except for me and my lovely Pat situated so peacefully at my side, nothing of that moment two weeks ago was even remotely like the distressing circumstances of three decades earlier.

"Yet in my mind's eye, for just an instant, I thought perhaps I saw on that side road an old car with a devoted young wife and two little children making the best of a bad situation there. Just ahead of them I imagined that I saw a young fellow walking toward Kanarraville, with plenty of distance still ahead of him. His shoulders seemed to be slumping a little, the weight of a young father's fear evident in his pace. In the scriptural phrase his hands did seem to hang down.' In that imaginary instant, I couldn't help calling out to him: 'Don't give up, boy. Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead--a lot of it--30 years of it now, and still counting. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.'"
As with any of his talks, as wonderful as they are to read, they are even better when listened to. Here is the link to the audio of that talk (I believe it requires Windows Media Player or something that can play the format).

15 April 2009

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 4

While the phoenix and grail can be viewed as symbolic or representative of the Savior's power, we have His actual power here on earth - it's not mythology. The Lord gave to his apostles power to act in His name and to do the works He would do. In the book of Acts we read stories of the apostles healing and otherwise continuing the miracles that the Savior did (e.g, Acts 3). This priesthood power was taken from the earth when the apostles were killed. Different branches of the church quickly apostatized. The priesthood was not found on the earth (other than the three Nephites and John the Beloved, all who remained to watch the earth and to prepare for the restoration of the Church) until May 15, 1829 when John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Shortly after this the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored. Once again, the Lord's power and authority was upon the earth. Once again were men able to act in the name of the Lord and perform miracles in His name. The priesthood is far greater than the power of the phoenix or the Holy Grail (ignoring the fact that they are mythical). Those who have been given the priesthood hold real power and authority.

Those who have the priesthood have a portion of God's power. They should strive to be like Him in faith, in righteousness, and in holiness. One of the most important and sacred names for our Father is Man of Holiness. When we are commanded to "arise from the dust and be men" we are commanded to be like the ultimate Man (not intending any disrespect) - our Heavenly Father. We should strive to live as our Heavenly Father wants us to live. As we shake ourselves free of the dust of mortality, as we strive to remain free from the dirt and the mud of sin, we can better prepare to live with our Father again. We can, like the phoenix, arise from the ashes and dust of our past to a new life of purity.

13 April 2009

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 3

During a fireside in November 2000, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught us how we can arise from the dust and be upstanding men and women of God. He taught that we should be grateful, smart, clean, true, humble, and prayerful (Ensign, Jan. 2001, Pres. Hinckley). He called them the "6 Bs". By living each of those qualities we will be able to live free of the filthy influences of the world. We can remain spotless and pure.

Has anyone else risen "from the dust" quite like the Savior did? He was born in the lowliest of circumstances in a dusty manger. He spent much of His time as a youth learning to work in His father's carpenter's shop. The Savior, once He started His ministry, spent most of His time walking the dusty roads of Israel and teaching wherever there was room or an audience. He was baptized in the Jordan River, which was a somewhat murky river. When confronted over the adulterous woman, He wrote in the dust with His finger. The Savior used dirt and mud to help open the eyes of the blind. The Savior washed the dirt from the feet of His disciples. He knelt in the dirt in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood in Atonement for the sicknesses and sins of the world. He descended below all. He was then killed and laid in a tomb. On the third day, the Savior rose from the dust; coming back to life and bringing immortality to all who lived upon the earth.

The phoenix is symbolic of the Savior's resurrection and healing powers. Just as the phoenix, a bird of light, arises from the ashes anew, the Savior arose from the grave. The phoenix also can heal with a drop of its tears. The Savior shed many tears for those who were sick or in pain. His hands brought health and life back to others. The tears He shed and the great drops of blood that fell like sweat in the wine press of Gethsemane were part of His great healing Atonement. Just as the phoenix is a legend, there is another legend that is symbolic of the Savior's Atonement. The Holy Grail is a legendary chalice that caught some of the drops of the Savior's blood when He was upon the cross, as the story goes. Thereafter, anyone who drank from the Holy Grail would gain power over death and would be healed of all illnesses or infirmities.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

10 April 2009

Elder Pearson's General Conference Talk

I've really enjoyed listening to the General Conference podcast. While I enjoy all conferences, I think this one was particularly good. I've been touched and impressed by all the talks given. Oftentimes I do not focus as much (and not really enjoy quite as much) on the talks given by the Seventy or general officers but this time they've all been wonderful. One that sticks out to me is Elder Kevin W. Pearson's talk on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Update: Visit this post for a video of Elder Pearson's "6 Destructive Ds"). It is not only powerful but beautifully crafted. I love his "6 Destructive Ds" (patterned, I'm sure, after Pres. Hinckley's "6 Bes", which were all constructive and uplifting). He links them together in a tidy chain, each one leading to the next. It's linguistically and logically a beautiful construction showing a pathway that leads to destruction.

"We do have a choice. We get what we focus on consistently. Because there is an opposition in all things, there are forces that erode our faith. Some are the result of Satan’s direct influence. But for others, we have no one but ourselves to blame. These stem from personal tendencies, attitudes, and habits we can learn to change. I will refer to these influences as the 'Six Destructive Ds.' As I do, consider their influence on you or your children.

First is doubt. Doubt is not a principle of the gospel. It does not come from the Light of Christ or the influence of the Holy Ghost. Doubt is a negative emotion related to fear. It comes from a lack of confidence in one’s self or abilities. It is inconsistent with our divine identity as children of God.

Doubt leads to discouragement. Discouragement comes from missed expectations. Chronic discouragement leads to lower expectations, decreased effort, weakened desire, and greater difficulty feeling and following the Spirit (see Preach My Gospel [2004], 10). Discouragement and despair are the very antithesis of faith.

Discouragement leads to distraction, a lack of focus. Distraction eliminates the very focus the eye of faith requires. Discouragement and distraction are two of Satan’s most effective tools, but they are also bad habits.

Distraction leads to a lack of diligence, a reduced commitment to remain true and faithful and to carry on through despite hardship and disappointment. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, but it need not lead to doubt, discouragement, distraction, or lack of diligence.

If not reversed, this path ultimately leads to disobedience, which undermines the very basis of faith. So often the result is disbelief, the conscious or unconscious refusal to believe.

The scriptures describe disbelief as the state of having chosen to harden one’s heart. It is to be past feeling.

These Six Destructive Ds—doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief—all erode and destroy our faith. We can choose to avoid and overcome them." (Source).

09 April 2009

Be of Good Cheer

At the recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pres. Thomas S. Monson shared the follow story. I reprint it here in its entirety. As I listened to it again this week (I subscribe to the Conference podcast and listen to the conference talks as I travel to and from campus on the bus), I marveled at the suffering the woman endured. Yet she remained faithful. She suffered more than I ever will in my life (at least I certainly hope so, I would never wish this type and intensity of suffering on anyone). When you feel down or feel overwhelmed by trials, reading this story can help put suffering in perspective; at least it does for me.

"The setting for my final example of one who persevered and ultimately prevailed, despite overwhelmingly difficult circumstances, begins in East Prussia following World War II.

In about March 1946, less than a year after the end of the war, Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied by Frederick W. Babbel, was assigned a special postwar tour of Europe for the express purpose of meeting with the Saints, assessing their needs, and providing assistance to them. Elder Benson and Brother Babbel later recounted, from a testimony they heard, the experience of a Church member who found herself in an area no longer controlled by the government under which she had resided.

She and her husband had lived an idyllic life in East Prussia. Then had come the second great world war within their lifetimes. Her beloved young husband was killed during the final days of the frightful battles in their homeland, leaving her alone to care for their four children.

The occupying forces determined that the Germans in East Prussia must go to Western Germany to seek a new home. The woman was German, and so it was necessary for her to go. The journey was over a thousand miles (1,600 km), and she had no way to accomplish it but on foot. She was allowed to take only such bare necessities as she could load into her small wooden-wheeled wagon. Besides her children and these meager possessions, she took with her a strong faith in God and in the gospel as revealed to the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith.

She and the children began the journey in late summer. Having neither food nor money among her few possessions, she was forced to gather a daily subsistence from the fields and forests along the way. She was constantly faced with dangers from panic-stricken refugees and plundering troops.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Each day, she stumbled over the frozen ground, her smallest child—a baby—in her arms. Her three other children struggled along behind her, with the oldest—seven years old—pulling the tiny wooden wagon containing their belongings. Ragged and torn burlap was wrapped around their feet, providing the only protection for them, since their shoes had long since disintegrated. Their thin, tattered jackets covered their thin, tattered clothing, providing their only protection against the cold.

Soon the snows came, and the days and nights became a nightmare. In the evenings she and the children would try to find some kind of shelter—a barn or a shed—and would huddle together for warmth, with a few thin blankets from the wagon on top of them.

She constantly struggled to force from her mind overwhelming fears that they would perish before reaching their destination.

And then one morning the unthinkable happened. As she awakened, she felt a chill in her heart. The tiny form of her three-year-old daughter was cold and still, and she realized that death had claimed the child. Though overwhelmed with grief, she knew that she must take the other children and travel on. First, however, she used the only implement she had—a tablespoon—to dig a grave in the frozen ground for her tiny, precious child.

Death, however, was to be her companion again and again on the journey. Her seven-year-old son died, either from starvation or from freezing or both. Again her only shovel was the tablespoon, and again she dug hour after hour to lay his mortal remains gently into the earth. Next, her five-year-old son died, and again she used her tablespoon as a shovel.

Her despair was all consuming. She had only her tiny baby daughter left, and the poor thing was failing. Finally, as she was reaching the end of her journey, the baby died in her arms. The spoon was gone now, so hour after hour she dug a grave in the frozen earth with her bare fingers. Her grief became unbearable. How could she possibly be kneeling in the snow at the graveside of her last child? She had lost her husband and all her children. She had given up her earthly goods, her home, and even her homeland.

In this moment of overwhelming sorrow and complete bewilderment, she felt her heart would literally break. In despair she contemplated how she might end her own life, as so many of her fellow countrymen were doing. How easy it would be to jump off a nearby bridge, she thought, or to throw herself in front of an oncoming train.

And then, as these thoughts assailed her, something within her said, “Get down on your knees and pray.” She ignored the prompting until she could resist it no longer. She knelt and prayed more fervently than she had in her entire life:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I do not know how I can go on. I have nothing left—except my faith in Thee. I feel, Father, amidst the desolation of my soul, an overwhelming gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot express adequately my love for Him. I know that because He suffered and died, I shall live again with my family; that because He broke the chains of death, I shall see my children again and will have the joy of raising them. Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.”

When she finally reached her destination of Karlsruhe, Germany, she was emaciated. Brother Babbel said that her face was a purple-gray, her eyes red and swollen, her joints protruding. She was literally in the advanced stages of starvation. In a Church meeting shortly thereafter, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all the ailing people in her saddened land, she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died and was resurrected so that we might live again. She testified that she knew if she continued faithful and true to the end, she would be reunited with those she had lost and would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God. (Source).

08 April 2009

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 2

The call to arise from the dust is a call to repentance. We should stand up when we fall. "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me" (Micah 7:8). This is one of my favorite scriptures. I love the determination and the faith. I can picture a person sitting, huddled and afraid - lost in the darkness but praying for the Lord to illuminate the way. Then a bright light shines in the darkness, dispelling the encroaching blackness. As the light shines, the person comprehends it and is comforted by its presence. She stands up, ready to continue on her journey, strengthened by the light of the Lord.

"Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations" (D&C 115:5). Again the call to arise comes from the Lord. This time we are commanded to let our lights shine forth, like a lighthouse providing light to ships in stormy seas. Our lights can become standards for the nations. A standard has multiple meanings. One meaning is that of a guide, specifically a flag. In a military group the standard is the unit's flag. The standard bearer is an important member of the unit (although, this was true more in the past than than currently). In a battle, troops rallied to the standard bearer who had the flag. He guided them to their destination. A standard can also be something against which other things are measured. For example, a particular set of expectations for performance or behavior can be a standard, or guide for other people. When we are commanded to arise and shine forth, we are called to be guides unto others; we receive a call to service and sacrifice and selflessness.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, arising from the dust is used to describe the resurrection: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead" (Isaiah 26:19). We can arise from the dust of death - spiritual and physical - and awaken into a new life.

This theme of arising from the dust is important enough that the Book of Mormon opens and closes with it. To be precise, most of the references pleading with people to arise from the dust are found in the book of 2nd Nephi, which is not the first book in the Book of Mormon but it is very near the beginning. At the very end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni brings back the theme as he wraps up his writing. "Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O Daughter of Zion" (Moroni 10:31). It's interesting how often arising from the dust and putting on beautiful garments go together. We shouldn't just clean off the dust - we need to put on beautiful and clean clothing. The beautiful clothes we should put on are temple clothes, which among other things represent purity and holiness.

Link to part one of this essay.

06 April 2009

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 1

There is a myth about a bird that lives hundreds of years. When this bird approaches the end of its lengthy life it builds a nest, then sits upon the nest. This bird then erupts into flame, leaving an egg - surrounded by ashes - in its place. This egg then quickly hatches and the bird is reborn. The new bird is not a child of the old bird - it is the same bird. The bird is known as a firebird, or, more commonly, a phoenix. Its plumage is usually described as gold or purple or other royal colors. It's a bird of beauty and purity. The phoenix is not only known for its miraculous rebirth cycle but also for its ability to heal others with its tears. When it dies, this bird arises, reborn, out of the ashes. It awakens to a new life.

The great Book of Mormon prophet and teacher, Jacob, pleaded with his brethren. "O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death" (Jacob 3:11). Many times throughout the scriptures we are commanded to awaken, to stop mindlessly sinning. We need to get up, rub the sleep from our eyes, cleanse ourselves, and get ready for the dawn of a new day of righteousness. We should arise and be ready to greet Him who is the Son of God, the light of the world.

The prophet Isaiah also preached using this theme. "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion" (2 Ne. 8:24-25; see also Isaiah 52:1-2). Nephi, in his beautiful psalm, similarly pleaded, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul" (2 Ne. 4:28). Lehi pleaded with his wayward sons: "Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men" (2 Ne. 1:21).

Again Lehi pleaded with his sons, "Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust" (2 Ne. 1:23). Not only did he command his sons (and all of us) to awaken, but also to array themselves in battle armor. We need to remove the bonds of sins and step into the light. We need to shake the dust off ourselves and be "clean that bear the vessels of the Lord" (D&C 133:5; see also Isaiah 52:11). All of us, who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost or the priesthood or any responsibility within the Lord's kingdom, need to be worthy of the vessels, the responsibility, we bear.

04 April 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 6

As we build our foundation upon the gospel and strengthen our foundation by attending the temple, we will feel and be closer to heaven. The veil is very thin in the temple. As the heavenly and the earthly meet there, we can often feel the presence of those on the other side of the veil. In the temple we take place in the great work of anchoring the generations of humankind together. We anchor ourselves to our ancestors and to the Lord.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this connection with those who have passed:
"In that sacred and hallowed house 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.

You young men and you young women, most of you will marry and have children. Your children will have children, as will the children who come after them. Life is a great chain of generations that we in the Church believe must be linked together. I fear there will be some broken links. Do not let yourself become such, I pray.

Stay close to the Church. Stay close all of your lives. It really does not matter where you serve, what office you fill. There is no small or unimportant duty in this Church and in the kingdom of God. (Source; emphasis added).

As we build upon the foundation of Christ, I too pray that we are not weak links in the chain of the ages; I pray that we are not weak stones in the building of the Kingdom of God. We must stay close to the Lord and His gospel. As we strive to keep the commandments, the Savior will be a starting block rather than a stumbling block unto us. We can build our spiritual houses upon the rock of Christ, our sure foundation.

Link to part 5 of this essay.

02 April 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 5

Our chief corner stone gave some of His authority and power to us to help us be able to return home. "Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live" (D&C 84:20-22). Without the ordinances of the priesthood, we cannot return and remain in the presence of God. The priesthood ordinances culminate in the temple, which buildings have sure foundations and strong corner stones. Temples are houses of the Lord and symbolic of Him. They are the places where we can firmly anchor ourselves to the Savior. Temples are places where we can learn of the Savior's great care for us; we who are His fruit in the vineyard.

Temples provide a foundation for us, connecting earth and heaven. They are places of holiness where we can suspend our worries, concerns, and cares of this life and focus on eternal things. Pres. Ezra Taft Benson asked these questions about temple worship: "Do we periodically participate in all of the temple ordinances and thus receive the full blessings of vicarious work for our ancestors? Do we return to the temple often to receive the personal blessings that come from regular temple worship? Prayers are answered, revelation occurs, and instruction by the Spirit takes place in the holy temples of the Lord" (May 1988 Ensign). Temples and temple worship should be a foundation in our lives.

In April 1993, Pres. Thomas S. Monson spoke in General Conference about the temple and its importance in our lives:

"On another occasion, President Benson instructed us: 'Sometimes in the peace of lovely temples, the serious problems of life find their solutions. [At times] pure knowledge flows to us there under the influence of the Spirit.' Said he: 'I am grateful to the Lord for temples. The blessings of the House of the Lord are eternal. They are of the highest importance to us because it is in the temples that we obtain God’s greatest blessings pertaining to eternal life. Temples really are the gateways to heaven.' He said: 'May we remember always, as we [visit and work in these glorious temples], that the veil may become very thin between this world and the spirit world. I know this is true.' He declared, 'It is well also that we keep in mind that it is all one great program on both sides of the veil and it is not too important whether we serve here or over there, as long as we serve with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.'"

Link to part 4 of this essay.


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