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.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin