Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Patience to be Free

Prophets have long counseled against incurring debt. President N. Eldon Tanner explained:

Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus, control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage. (Ensign, Nov 1979).

Financial debt occurs when we spend more than the constraint of our budget. Other kinds of debt might include physical debt if we intake more calories than our physical constraint allows or spiritual debt if we act outside of the constraint of the commandments. Though these kinds of debt are usually not referred to as debts, prophets have warned us to care for our bodies and avoid sin, which keeps us free of physical, spiritual and other kinds of debt.

For many of us, the opposite of debt is patience. We go into debt because we want things now, so we borrow from our future earnings to be instantly gratified. That desire for instant satisfaction often contradicts the laws of God as it becomes lustful or covetous. Reaping what we sew, low-effort, instant returns often bring more problems than solutions. For example, not waiting for sexual intimacy can lead to broken families or disease. Not waiting until you could afford to buy your dream home may lead to foreclosure. Not waiting for food to cook properly, or too frequent use of the microwave, has been linked in some studies to disease and cancer. Similarly, not waiting to buy the things we want or even things we think we need can lead to financial illness, marital stress, depression and bankruptcy.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained:

Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.

Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.

... Patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!

Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.

... Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels. Patience is truly a fruit of the Spirit.

Patience means staying with something until the end. It means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings. It means reining in anger and holding back the unkind word. It means resisting evil, even when it appears to be making others rich.

Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith. It means being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.” 1 Ultimately, patience means being “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord” 2 every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so. In the words of John the Revelator, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and … faith [in] Jesus.” 3

... The lessons we learn from patience will cultivate our character, lift our lives, and heighten our happiness.

When we are patient, we are better able to avoid debt. We will find that we are more successful and more prosperous. President Ezra Taft Benson said:

In the long run, it is easier to live within our income and resist borrowing from future reserves except in cases of necessity.

Patience is the ability to live within a budget. It is an attribute of discipline and obedience. In matters of finance, we are encouraged not only to live within our means, but also to save for a rainy day. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave this counsel in a 1998 conference address:

I urge you... to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.

... If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That's all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.

It is clear what is expected of us. We must be patient, actively pursuing worthy goals without overextending ourselves. As we live within the constraints given to us, be they financial, physical, spiritual or otherwise, we will have peace. For more on constraints, click here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Word on Caffeine

Quoting Daniel 1:3-20, the First Presidency has clarified what the Word of Wisdom, or D&C 89, would have us avoid. They wrote:

Never use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, and pipe tobacco. They are very addictive and will damage your body and shorten your life. Also, do not drink coffee or tea, for these are addictive and harmful.

Any form of alcohol is harmful to your body and spirit. Being under the influence of alcohol weakens your judgment and self-control and could lead you to break the law of chastity or other commandments. Drinking can lead to alcoholism, which destroys individuals and families.

Any drug, chemical, or dangerous practice that is used to produce a sensation or “high” can destroy your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. These include hard drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medications that are abused, and household chemicals.

Even with this clarification, members of the Church have sometimes wondered whether caffeine is or isn't prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. At least two prophets have commented on this matter. In the April 1922 General Conference, President Heber J. Grant said:

I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious. The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.

President Kimball said something similar:

Wisdom goes beyond the letter of the law. Generally when we speak of the Word of Wisdom, we are talking about tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor, and all of the fringe things even though they might be detrimental are not included in the technical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application.

I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, 'But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug.' With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this, but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them.

Thirty years later, the Church still has not taken an official position on caffeine. They have, from time to time, warned of its dangers in Ensign articles or passing comments in local conferences, but the ultimate choice is left up to the members of the Church. It is then our responsibilities to be good stewards, making choices that will lead us back to our Heavenly Father according to the dictates of our own inspiration and conscience.

Strength Unto Deliverance

We all need deliverance from something. Whether it be an overwhelming day, the pain of injury or disease or the burden of sin, "all mankind [are] in a lost and in a fallen state" in need of deliverance (1 Nephi 10:6).

While deliverance will come in and through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we have a vital role in our own salvation. It is sometimes said that "God helps those that helps themselves". That phrase isn't scriptural, but those who make the greatest progress are those who accept the help available through the atonement and get to work.

The Red Sea wasn't parted for the children of Israel, for example. Rather, the Lord made help available and required Moses to use his staff to part the sea. Moses had to choose to act to be delivered from the armies of Pharaoh.

When Alma Sr. and his group of followers were taken captive, the Lord heard the prayers of the people and made their burdens light. Alma's people were given strength to endure. At length, the Lord provided an opportunity for the people to be delivered. Without action, the deep sleep of the Lamanite guards would have only created a small pause from tribulation. Alma and his people were prepared for the opportunity the Lord gave them, and were delivered from bondage through swift obedience (action).

Understanding this principle, Alma Jr. and his recently reactivated missionary companion, Amulek, provide us with a model for obtaining deliverance. Bound in prison, having just witnessed the massacre of all the Christians in Ammonihah, these missionaries endured all kinds of abuse with great patience. Alma's prayer was that the Lord would, "give us strength according to our faith in Christ, even unto deliverance" (Alma 14:26).

When Alma concluded his prayer, he and his companion were able to break the cords that bound them and emerge from a prison that had been shaken by the power of God and collapsed, killing their abusers. The narrator of the story, Mormon, explained: "Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ" (Alma 14:28).

Whatever our burden, we can be delivered like Alma and Amulek. If we will but endure a little while, preparing to act when the Lord gives us power to do so, we can be delivered from sin, death, sorrow and tribulation of every kind. With faith in Christ, we can choose to act rather than being acted upon. Through our action, we can choose deliverance.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reality Shows and a Change of Heart

Millions of Americans tune in each week to NBC's The Biggest Loser. The reality TV show pits overweight contestants against each other in a weightloss competition. The winner goes home with hundreds of pounds lost and hundreds of thousands of dollars gained as a victory prize.

Successful contestants on The Biggest Loser always have a moment they remember that fuels their success. They remember waking up or looking in the mirror or talking to their kids and suddenly feeling motivated or disgusted or desperate-- at that moment, they know they have to change. 

There is a similar moment for the successful callers on The Dave Ramsey Show. These people have usually paid off tens of thousands of dollars in relatively short periods of time through disciplined budgeting. These people call in to scream, "I'm debt free!" as a rite of the victorious over debt. Very often, these recent fiscal independents say their path began with a moment when they realized they had to make changes.

In either case, a change of heart about their weight or their money motivates radical changes in their lifestyle. You make know others who have quit smoking or overcome some other habit in similar fashion. Paraphrasing Elder Packer, we see in these instances where the change of heart changes behavior more quickly than the study of behavior would have changed those behaviors.

We can have similar changes of heart with respect to many aspects of our lives. One awakening moment may change our view on health, money, politics, family, food storage, family history or a host of similar possibilities.

Manoah's wife had such a change of heart in Judges 13. Though barren, when an angel appeared to her and told her she would have a son, she gave up alcohol and unclean foods so the boy could be the Nazarene that would deliver Israel from the Philistines, as promised by the angel. The boy would be named Samson.

When Jonah was swallowed by a whale, he changed his heart and agreed to preach to the people at Ninevah. Subsequently, Ninevah repented and was spared.

The Brother of Jared was chastized for three hours when he had not prayed for several years. A change of heart resulted, and the Brother of Jared turned to the Lord frequently thereafter, including his prayer to make sixteen stones glow inside their barges.

Whether regarding parenting, missionary work, prayer or other important doctrines, we can have changes of heart that convert us to single principles. Still other scriptural examples show that we can also have a change of heart with broader strokes.

Job was completely converted when the devil assailed all that he held dear. Alma the Younger and Paul the Apostle both had miraculous changes of heart, despite being bitter opponents to the gospel beforehand, through the visitations of angels. King Lamoni, his father and an entire generation of Lamanites dramatically changed their lives and lifestyles with the help of only a few powerful moments. There are many, many others.

Once these moments are experienced, it is critical that we remember them. Laman and Lemuel also saw angels and changed their behavior, but slipped back into poor habits quickly. Yet Amulek remembered, and sustained beatings, the massacre of many of his people and the interrogation of men who wanted to kill him-- all on the strength he gained by remembering the change of heart he had when an angel asked him to feed the prophet.

We can also have a change of heart. Alma teaches that such a change will loosen the chains of hell, expand our souls and allow us to sing redeeming love (Alma 5:9). That kind of change will come by the word of God. Alma reminded:

"[Abinadi] preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts" (Alma 5:13).

It was similar for King Lamoni:

"And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them... and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil" (Alma 19:33).

Again, for King Benjamin's people following his sermon:

"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually."
It is the same for us. As we study the scriptures, the teachings of the modern prophets and the inspired words of our local teachers and leaders, we will also experience a change of heart. We can eliminate our desire for evil that binds us down with the chains of hell and instead expand our souls with songs of redeeming love.
Like contestants on The Biggest Loser or listeners of The Dave Ramsey Show, we can be victorious over the obstacles in our path as we allow a change of heart to motivate us to righteous action. May each of us then seek to find and to follow a change of heart that will turn our lives to Christ and allow us to be saved in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Love Grows Out of Virtue

Joseph Smith taught, "That friendship which intelligent beings would accept as sincere must arise from love, and that love grows out of virtue, which is as much a part of religion as light is a part of Jehovah."

In the common vernacular, virtue is often used to refer to sexual purity or chastity. Virtue is, however, much broader than the morality niche of personal worthiness. It is an all-encompassing purity or worthiness before God that gives power to our faith. Synonyms of virtue may include chastity, purity or power.

The significance of virtue is that, although it may seem to have multiple definitions, these definitions need not be mutually exclusive. When the Lord tells us to let virtue garnish our thoughts, for example, chaste thoughts as a rule only tell half of the story. The other half is to fill our minds with power, or in other words, to always remember him.

Thus, Proverbs can speak of a virtuous woman being more precious than rubies while Doctrine and Covenants refers to powers and influences being held by virtue of the priesthood. Because worthiness is power, either definition of virtue can be used in either case.

We often list virtues or 'powers' that guide a disciplined life. Peter listed virtue as a necessary step between faith and knowledge (see 2 Peter 1:3). It is more than just coincidence that Peter's list of virtues are listed in the same order several other places in scripture (D&C 4, D&C 130, etc.). We cannot receive knowledge, or a confirmation of our beliefs, without first acting on our faith. As we do so, we add power to our faith-- that is, we add virtue to our faith, and can qualify for a knowledge of things that are true.

Lust is the opposite of virtue. Lust turns us to our carnal desires-- be they for sexual things or for power or for another piece of pie-- and allows the physical to overcome the spiritual. When we give in to lust, we lose capacity for love and also friendship. Though we may seek the unity of marriage, for example, we lose the ability to love even our spouse when we allow lust to control our lives.

On the other hand, as Joseph Smith taught, as we grow in the worthiness and power of virtue, our capacity to love grows. Hence the saying of Jesus, who had perfect virtue, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That kind of friendship "must arise from love, and that love grows out of virtue."

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the Path

It is natural to wonder from time to time just how strait and narrow the paths of our lives are. We may ask ourselves if we are still as converted as we once were or whether we are enduring well. Are we still making progress or have we drifted-- even just a few inches-- from the iron rod?

Thankfully, prophets of ancient and modern times have given guidelines that we can use to evaluate our lives. The prophet Alma asked a group of members in his stewardship whether they still felt to "sing the song of redeeming love" (Alma 5:26). President Hinckley taught that optimism is another indicator of the strength of our faith and trust in God.

King Benjamin had this to say about knowing whether we are walking along the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life. If we are, we:

"...shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of... that which is just and true. And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due. And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another... And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor."

As you evaluate your progress in life during this General Conference weekend, and in sacrament meetings and on quiet Sunday afternoons to come, this counsel can be used to guide our evaluation. Are we growing in knowledge of things that are just and true? Are we generous and compassionate to the less fortunate, including in our fast offerings? Do we teach our children to obey?

These prophetic guidelines, and others like it, will help us know where we are along the path back to our Heavenly Father. What guidelines will be given at conference this year?

You'll have to watch and see.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Understanding and Edification

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord teaches: "He that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the spirit of truth[.]

"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together" (D&C 50:21-22; italics added).

Elder Scott has clarified: "The verb understand refers to that which is heard. It is the same message to all. Edified concerns that which is communicated by the Holy Ghost. The message can be different and tailored by the Spirit to the needs of each individual" (Address to CES Religious Educators, February 4, 2005).

Understanding relates primarily to facts. The gospel of Jesus Christ is laid out in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon for all to understand. We may further understand doctrines doctrines like temple ordinances or priesthood keys that have been clarified by modern prophets. Independent of conversion or feeling, understanding happens in the mind-- often a necessary starting place-- so we may understand gospel principles just as we understand the principles of accounting or biology.

When we use our agency to be active in our scriptures, prayers and church classes, we may also experience edification. Edification occurs when the Spirit, having authorization from our righteous choices, instructs us individually. Then the truths that we understand may be carried down into our hearts. Then we may know how particular doctrines are to be applied in our own lives. Then and only then may we truly become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Understanding and edification may come at any time and with any subject. As an economics student at BYU, I understood and was edified by the principle of sunken costs. My professor helped me understand, but it was the Spirit taught me while I sat in Econ 110 that I needed to make forward-looking decisions and let go of past mistakes. This truth-- of immense value to me at the time-- sunk into my heart and became a part of my testimony that God lives, that He loves and watches over me, and that the atonement of Jesus Christ is a reality.

On the other hand, our actions may limit the ability of the Spirit to reach the depths of our hearts. If we are unprepared, stubborn or not open to learning, we may miss wonderful opportunities to be edified. It does little for our spirituality to attend Sunday School and critique the performance of the teacher, for example. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves and approach learning experiences with a willing heart, the Lord can edify our hearts and minds through His Spirit, regardless of the teaching experience of the presenter.

If we are to be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must have both understanding and edification. In other words, we must learn by study and by faith: through searching the scriptures and the two-way communication of prayer. As we do so, and as we use our agency to be edified in our church meetings and our daily lives, the Lord will reinforce our souls with spiritual strength necessary for our circumstance and the environment that may surround us.

"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one my edify another" (Romans 14:19). That is your challenge and mine. How will you edify, and be edified, today?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Exercising Faith

We've all sat in a sacrament meeting or temple service or some host of other places when the request has come to 'exercise our faith' on someone else's behalf. If you're like me, most of those times you haven't been exactly sure how to do that. Yes, I have empathy for the afflicted. In any such moment I might say an extra prayer inside-- a kind of hoping really hard that the person will be healed, or find comfort or whatever else was requested. I might simply sit there feeling empathetic. Or, at most, I might decide to go home and make some cookies for whomever may be struggling-- because cookies solve most anything.

But my confession here is that I have too often misunderstood what it means to exercise my faith. I have too often not done-- or at least done only inadvertently-- what is necessary for the power of God to be active in my life. So I must learn and relearn this same, vitally important lesson.

President Eyring taught of unwavering faith, "Faith is not to hope. Faith is not simply to know God could do something. Faith is to know He will."

What is the difference? What changes when we believe God will act versus simply knowing that He could act? In the popularized terminology of Stephen Robinson, what is the difference between believing Christ and believing in Christ?

The greatest difference must be our behavior. If we settle for knowing only that God could do something, we will go through life with a lot of hopes-- and a lot of disappointments. We will not seek, nor will we find. We will know there is an all-powerful atonement, but simultaneously trudge along under the weight of our own heavy load. Our religious feelings will drift toward superstition and our life will be undermined by a lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, God will intervene and save us from our drudgery today.

Conversely, if we know that God will act on our behalf, our behavior will be very different. We will not fear, nor will we doubt or hesitate. Our actions will be intentional, confident and divinely directed. We will spend much of our time in prayer, scripture study and in doing good. We will happily obey the principles that lead to the Lord's blessings. Thus our loads will be lightened by the power of the atonement, through our faith, and we will have a sure foundation.

In short, exercising faith is behaving with the knowledge that God recognizes and responds to our efforts. It is acting with the knowledge that the atonement has already been successfully performed. It is moving forward with a firm belief that good things will happen if you are doing what you should be.

However much room for improvement I have recognized in myself, I understand and do know that God is real. I have felt the spirit of God confirm that the atonement of Jesus Christ truly happened, that salvation is available to all through the gospel of Jesus Christ and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's organized church on the earth.

Our task, yours and mine, is to show our belief with our actions as well as our words. This is true faith. It is through our faith that God acts in our lives. May we then show our faith by our behaviors, that God may confirm it through his magnificent blessings. He can. And He will.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Duty of a Teacher

Whether at home or in the Church, all of us have or will have a responsibility to teach. Those who taught in Jarom's time provide an excellent example of how this should be done:

Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. (Jarom 1:11)

Those with teaching responsibilities labored diligently, as Jacob did:

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. (Jacob 1:19)

Each of these groups of teachers understood the requirement to motivate faith and repentance. They filled that requirement by teaching the intent of the Law of Moses, or in other words, by pointing their teaching to Christ. Focusing on Christ had the desired effect:

And it came to pass that by so doing they (the teachers) kept them (the people) from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance. (Jarom 1:12)

The same is true for us. Focusing on Christ in our teaching will save those we teach from being destroyed-- at least spiritually, and perhaps temporally as well. Thus, the duty of teacher is less about relaying facts, stories or historical details, and much more about inspiring faith and repentance in their students. As we do so, all will be edified of all and we will rejoice together (see D&C 50:22, 88:122).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Enos' Faith

The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Elder Eyring has taught that faith "is not simply to know God could do something," rather "faith is to know He will." Knowing God will do something will change our behavior.

Consider how knowledge of what God would do changed the behavior of Enos.

As is often the case, Enos felt compelled to apply to gospel to his life because of some sort of realization of his own weaknesses. He wrote, "And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens" (Enos 1:4).

Enos was motivated to pray through the day and night by his knowledge that God not only could, but would forgive him. This is confirmed by two statements, the first by Enos and the second by the Lord.

After being told he was forgiven, Enos, "knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away."

Then, in response to Enos' inquiry, the Lord confirmed that forgiveness was possible for Enos "because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou has never before heard nor seen... wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

What would have happened if Enos did not believe God would forgive him? He was the grandson of Lehi, a nephew to Nephi and the son of Jacob-- surely he would have known the doctrine that God could do it. What if he'd have wavered in his belief that God would do it? Would he have prayed as long? Would he have obtained forgiveness? Would there even be an experience worth recording?

Thankfully, Enos did know and God forgave Enos. This confirmation of the faith of Enos expanded his faith further, until Enos' faith "began to be unshaken in the Lord." Enos knew without doubt that God would do all that He had promised through scripture that He could. In the vernacular of Stephen Robinson, Enos not only believed in Christ, Enos believed Christ-- he believed Christ was who He said He was and would do all that He said He would do.

Consider a second example of Enos' faith, how knowing God would act changed his behavior and the result brought by Enos' faith.

Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.

And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.

And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest. (Enos 1:15-17)

What do you know God will do in your own life? Certainly He will grant repentance when it is sought diligently. God will keep His promises. God will bless your life for good, leading you on the best path and protecting you from the devil's snares. These and many other blessings are promised to us in the scriptures and through the ordinances and covenants in which we participate.

As Enos, knowing God will do these things should change our behavior. We should walk through each day confident the Lord is guiding us. We have every reason to be optimistic. Of course we should study and pray and repent and change, for the Lord will richly bless us in our efforts to improve and draw near to Him. This changed behavior, based upon the knowledge of what God will do, is true faith.

God is prepared to bless you and I with the things we desire. He will. Let us have the faith to act upon that knowledge, to move forward with trust in Him. As we do so, He will work miracles because of our true faith, just as He did for Enos.

We Must Raise Our Sights

Recently, I was told something of the sights and sounds of the modern high school. Not a school in the inner city, but a suburban school just a few miles from my house attended by the relative of a relative. It was astonishing to hear how much worse things have become since my own high school graduation eight years ago. The perversions children and teens see in their schools each day are the same abominations that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, worse than those that brought Noah’s flood and comparable to any dark corner of the world.

The leaders of the Church see and have foreseen the severe tests that face our youth. In 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring taught religious educators that “the world in which our students choose spiritual life or death is changing rapidly… The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough. Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith. But even the best of them are sorely tested. And the testing will become more severe.”

This is an ominous prediction for the future generations. Thankfully, prophetic leaders like Elder Eyring have also taught us how to shore up the spiritual strength of our youth-- and ourselves-- against the severe tests that “will become a torrent of sounds and sights and sensations that invite temptation and offend the spirit of God.” The place to begin, he explains, is with our “vision of what we seek” in the lives of our youth.

“We must raise our sights… The pure gospel of Jesus Christ must go down into the hearts of students by the power of the Holy Ghost. It will not be enough for them to have had a spiritual witness of the truth and to want to do good things later. It will not be enough for them to hope for some future cleansing and strengthening. Our aim must be for them to become truly converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ while they are with us. Then they will have gained a strength from what they are, not only from what they know…

“What we seek for our students is that change… True conversion depends on a student seeking freely in faith, with great effort and some pain. Then it is the Lord who can grant, in His time, the miracle of cleansing and change. Each person starts from a different place, with a different set of experiences, and so a different need for cleansing and for change. The Lord knows that place and so only He can set the course.”

Members of the Church, particularly our youth, can protect ourselves against the difficult world around us by becoming converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As parents or in our callings, we can help strengthen our families and wards by teaching the pure gospel in plain simplicity. Pure and simple gospel teaching requires more of us—we must know the scriptures better and be more worthy of the Holy Ghost-- but the gospel will be relayed more powerfully as we teach with plainness. The Holy Ghost will carry the truth down into the hearts of our youth.

“But there is more. We can raise our sights by adding greater faith that the change promised by the Lord will come to our students… Faith is not simply to know God could do something. Faith is to know He will.”

The Lord will change the hearts of all those who diligently seek Him. He has intentionally given us experiences and relationships that will help us come to a converted conclusion. We must take advantage of the opportunities He gives us to build our faith, and we must be careful to fulfill our role in the conversion of those around us, particularly the youth of the Church.

Yes, the world is getting tougher. But we can help those coming after us to face it. We need only raise our sights.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cleansing the Inner Vessel

During the April Conference of 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “we must cleanse the inner vessel, beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church.” We could do this, President Benson taught, through converted hearts, avoiding sexual sin, using the Book of Mormon and humbling ourselves before God.

After reminding us of the many programs and resources of the Church, President Benson counters, “We don’t need changed programs now as much as we need changed people!” The adversary will seek to pacify and lull away the people of the latter days that he may lead them away carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21). We must awake, “awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell… awake… [and] 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 Nephi 1:13, 23).

With changed hearts, we must then avoid sexual immorality. “This, the Prophet Joseph said, would be the source of more temptations, more buffetings, and more difficulties for the elders of Israel than any other… If we are to cleanse the inner vessel, we must forsake immorality and be clean.”

We must also say and do more with the Book of Mormon. Quoting President Marion G. Romney, President Benson taught, “By [reading the Book of Mormon] we will fill and refresh our minds with the constant flow of that ‘water’ which Jesus said would be in us—‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ (John 4:14). We must obtain a continuing supply of this water if we are to resist evil and retain the blessings of being born again… If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with and call them back to the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by reading the Book of Mormon…” Reading and heeding the teachings in the Book of Mormon will lift the condemnation of God pronounced on the Church (D&C 84:56-57).

Finally, President Benson expresses “grave concern” over the “universal sin” of pride. “Essentially,” President Benson explains, “pride is a ‘my will’ rather than ‘thy will’ approach to life… Pride does not look up to God and care about what is right. It looks sideways to man and argues who is right. Pride is manifest in the spirit of contention… It is the fear of man over the fear of God.” Pride is how the devil became the devil.

We are to combat pride with the opposite of pride-- humility. Christ removed self as the force in His perfect life. As our perfect example, he said, “not my will, but thine be done.” In the last days the proud will burn as stubble. The humble will “be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge (D&C 1:28), for the Lord is “merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts” (D&C 61:2).
President Benson concludes, “As we cleanse the inner vessel, there will have to be changes made in our own personal lives, in our families, and in the Church. The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. But we can do it… We must first cleanse the inner vessel by awaking and arising, being morally clean, using the Book of Mormon in a manner so that God will lift the condemnation, and finally conquering pride by humbling ourselves.”

You and I remain bound to these words, these scriptures given to us through a modern prophet. May we cleanse our inner vessels, prerequisite to the development required of us for eternal life, through conversion, sexual purity, studying and applying the Book of Mormon and adopting selfless humility.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Sons, Three Priesthood Generations

Though he lived to be 950 years old, the scriptures only record three of Noah's children by name. "And Noah was four hundred and fifty years old, and begat Japheth; and forty-two years afterward he begat Shem of her who was the mother of Japheth, and when he was five hundred years old he begat Ham" (Moses 8:12). From these three sons would come the peoples known in scripture as the Gentiles, the Israelites, and the people of Egypt and Africa.

It appears that each of these sons were righteous before the flood. "And Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God... And thus Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord; for Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation; and he walked with God, as did also his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Moses 8:13, 27).

When it comes to the priesthood, the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth were each given a time and a dispensation in which they could be ordained with the priesthood power. The timing of these ordinations appears to be based in part upon the actions of these three sons of Noah, though the scripture is more clear in the cases of Ham and Shem and less clear when it comes to Japheth.

Japheth was the oldest son, yet he is often mentioned last when the sons of Noah are listed together. In a not altogether uncommon scenario, the birthright blessings and the priesthood authority passed over Japheth's descendants to Shem, who, like Nephi or Joseph, carries the spiritual torch for the family and the people of God in his time. Nothing negative is ever mentioned about Japheth, however. Japheth's descendants, the Gentiles, were allowed to be ordained to the priesthood following the resurrection of Christ (see Acts 1-2).

As mentioned, Shem was the spiritual leader of his generation. Jewish tradition holds that Shem was also known as 'Melchizedek', the great high priest to whom Abraham paid tithes. The validity of that tradition is not certifiable, but among the supporting evidences is the presiding authority common to both (for more evidences, look here). The descendants of Shem, Israelites including Peleg, Abraham, Moses, Christ and Peter were the only people considered worthy for the priesthood from the time of Shem until after the death of Christ. Including Joseph Smith in our own dispensation, descendants of Shem have had access to the priesthood in all dispensations of time since the days of Noah's ark.

Ham is the youngest son of Noah mentioned in the scriptures. His descendants, the people of Africa, were unable to hold the priesthood until the modern age because of two curses pronounced upon and preserved by Ham.

The first curse upon the seed of Ham was initially pronounced upon Adam's son, Cain (Genesis 4:11-15). This curse was not pronounced upon Ham, but it was passed to the descendants of Ham when he married Egytus, a decendant of Cain. Abraham later commented that "thus, from Ham, sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land" (Abraham 1:21-24).

A second curse was pronounced upon Ham's descendants after a curious incident in Genesis 9:20-27. In these verses, the Bible outlines a drunken Noah passed out in his tent. Ham sees the nakedness of his father and reports it to his brothers, who cover their father's nakedness without looking. When Noah awakes, he curses his youngest son's posterity while blessing the posterity of the older two.

Hugh Nibley provided the following insight into those verses about Noah's nakedness: "Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis [9] from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the 'erwath of Genesis [9:22] did not mean 'nakedness' at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of 'skin covering.' Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it or else a woven garment like it which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of the two sons but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment" (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, p. 162; see also Old Testament Student Manual, p. 57).

We subsequently read of two of Ham's descendants going on to prominent leadership positions in their respective societies. Nimrod, the mighty hunter, claimed to have the priesthood by virtue of the fact that he owned the garment of Adam stolen from Noah. Nimrod conquered many people and eventually founded a place called Babel, where the people built a tower to reach the heavens. Most of us know how that turned out, but suffice it to say the priesthood was not among the people of Nimrod.

Ham also had a righteous grandson named Pharaoh. "Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations... and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood" (Abraham 1:26).

Ham's descendants were allowed to hold the priesthood for the first time beginning in 1978. The First Presidency of the Church announced at that time that "the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom... without regard for race or color" (Declaration II, September 30, 1978).

Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, each fathered large nations which covered the Earth. To each people was also given a time to hold the priesthood: Shem's descendants held it throughout scripture; Japheth's descendants received the priesthood again after the resurrection of Christ; the descendants of Ham received the priesthood just 32 years ago. Each time the priesthood has been extended, it has been done so at the Lord's direction. He knows the timing and directs all things.

To some degree, however, the priesthood has been extended or withheld based upon the choices of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Their legacy has clearly affected hundreds of generations. As we see the profound variation in blessings based upon the actions of these three brothers, it is worthwhile to also consider our own legacy. What are we doing today that will affect future generations? Will our legacy be a blessing or a curse to those who follow us? If our legacy is not what we would want it to be, what can we do today to bring our lives and teachings more in line with the teachings and gospel of Jesus Christ?

If we do all we can to bring our lives in line with the will of Christ, the legacy we leave to our children will surely be one of testimony and righteousness. Then we will find that we have more that just the authority of the priesthood, but the power of the priesthood as well. May that be our goal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Noah's Ark Testifies of the Book of Mormon

When most of us think about Noah's ark, we imagine something like the picture below. In our minds eye, we envision the world's largest houseboat with a deck that a cruise ship would envy and a cosy cabin on top for Noah and his family. When we read the account more carefully however, we may find Noah's ark to be more like a massive Jaredite barge than an ancient cruise ship.

Before Noah's death, God scattered the people across the earth for building a tower to get to heaven in Babel. Among those scattered were Jared and his brother, along with their friends and family. In preparation for their evacuation to the American continent they didn't know existed, the family that would become the mighty Jaredite civilization built eight barges. God directed the people to make their barges like two dishes clasped together-- watertight with peaked ends and holes on the top and the bottom of the barges for air. As with Noah, God also instructed the Jaredites to take seeds and animals for their new land.

The Jaredites were commanded not to put windows in their barges. "For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces," the Lord says, "For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you" (Ether 2:23-24). Instead, the brother of Jared arranged for the Lord to make 16 glowing stones for the barges.

A footnote in the LDS Version of the Bible suggests Noah's vessel may not have been so different. The footnote for Genesis 6:16 explains that the Hebrew word tsohar translated as 'window' in the King James Version is believed by some rabbis to reference a precious stone that shone in the ark.

This explanation of Noah's 'window' also provides some insight into how the brother of Jared had that same idea for his eight barges. Noah was still alive, after all, and even if the brother of Jared didn't speak to him in person, the story of Noah's ark was recent and many details would have been more readily available. But the glowing stone reference alone doesn't mean Noah's ark was a larger version of Jared's windowless barges.

Consider what happened to Noah after the rains had ceased, however. Noah sent a dove "out of the ark" to find dry land. Had Noah been able to stand out on the deck of his houseboat, such a gesture may have been unnecessary. When the dove returned, Noah "put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him in the ark" (Genesis 8:9-10). The verbiage of sending forth a dove out of the ark and pulling it back in unto him in the ark contributes to the idea that Noah's ark may have been a deckless, windowless, closed-top barge.

Finally, when the dove discovered dry earth, Noah, "removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry." Noah emerged from the belly of a closed, cave-like ark to see the dry ground for himself for the first time since the rains began. His initial reaction is reflected in the expression, "behold," not inaccurately repeated, "Behold! The face of the ground was dry."

The exact shape and form of Noah's ark is wonderfully irrelevant to our individual salvation. Understanding its ties to the Book of Mormon, however, may be inspiring to a degree. The Jaredite barges found in Ether mirror the shape and planning of the ark on a smaller scale. Details of the ark not known to scholars of the day and still not commonly perceived by Christians are unlikely to have been noticed and recreated by a young, uneducated Joseph Smith.

Like so many other Book of Mormon evidences now confirmed, Noah's ark and the subsequent descriptions of the Jaredite barges testify the Book of Mormon is true. The Jaredite people really did leave Babel thousands of years ago to settle on the American continent. The historical account of this people in the Book of Mormon is valid, just as the recorded teachings of their prophets are inspired of God. And if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a true prophet whose teachings were also inspired of God. It is then only a few small steps to find the truthfulness of the church he founded and the revelation that continues today.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nephi's Knowledge

Knowledge plays a critical role in all of our lives. The Bible Dictionary states, “knowledge of divine and spiritual things is essential for salvation.” The scriptures and living prophets, it continues, are given so that we can have this essential knowledge.

The need for and value of knowledge is made clear many times in scripture. Abraham sought for and received one of the greatest covenant blessings known to men on Earth after he desired to be “one who possessed great knowledge… and to possess a greater knowledge.” Joseph Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ came after a yearning prayer for knowledge. Abraham and Joseph Smith both gained the knowledge they sought, as can we if we seek for it.

There are many other scriptural references to knowledge and our need for knowledge. Though there are many treasures in these other references, perhaps there is no place that says so much about knowledge in so few verses as the first three verses of the Book of Mormon. In these familiar verses, Nephi writes:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

Careful review of these versus shows the value of knowledge in our daily life and our need for knowledge in the eternities. For example, Nephi explains that his parents were ‘goodly’ because they taught him all they knew—they gave him knowledge. We are also commanded to share our knowledge with our children; as we teach them all we know, we can also be ‘goodly’ parents.

As with his earthly parents, the favor of our Heavenly Father also comes in the form of knowledge and mysteries. Mysteries in the scriptures are defined in the Bible Dictionary as revealed spiritual truth—new knowledge. The Lord gives knowledge line upon line, precept upon precept, to those favored few who keep His commandments, like Abraham, Joseph Smith and Nephi.

Nephi makes his record because he has received knowledge from his earthly father, Lehi, and from his Heavenly Father, who is God. It makes sense, then, that the record of Nephi is made “according to my knowledge,” which Nephi knows is true.

In three short verses, we see that knowledge is good for all things, earthly and heavenly. Knowledge can help us be better parents and more successful in life. Knowledge is also an essential gift from God necessary for salvation.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Behold, I Come Quickly

When speaking of His Second Coming, Christ often admonishes, "Behold, I come quickly" (Revelation 3:11; Revelation 22:7,12, 20; D&C 33:18, 34:12, 35:27, 87:8, etc.). This admonition is often received by members of the Church as a reference to time or speed, suggesting that Christ will come again very soon. This common understanding of this phrase is appropriate and I am certainly not the one to discount it. I can, however, suggest an alternate meaning may also be intended.

In the Bible Dictionary, the word "quick" is defined as "living" or "alive". Similar definitions are found in older dictionaries where "quickly" is defined much more closely to the word "quicken," as in, "quickened by the spirit" or "made alive by the spirit". If we accept this alternate definition, Christ is not declaring the time of His Coming, rather the manner or way in which He will come. Christ will return full of life-- resurrected and powerful. He will come quickly, or as a vibrant, living being.

Accepting this definition also changes another frequent phrase in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord often says we should, "give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword" (D&C 6:2, 11:2, 27:1, etc.). Again, our new (or actually, very old) definition changes the meaning from a statement of timing to a statement of vibrancy. His word is alive and powerful. His word is vibrant.

Each of these examples correctly point to Christ as the source of life. Christ has said that he is the life (John 11:25, 14:6), the living water (John 7:38) and the God of the living (Matthew 22:32). We live by His word (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4, D&C 84:44), or we have eternal life through His gospel and obedience to His commandments. We obtain the life of which Jesus speaks when we are baptized, or born again, as Christ told Nicodemus (John 3:3). Through this covenant, we become the children of Christ, or those to whom He gives life.

Jesus Christ will come again. He will come as a glorified, vibrant, powerful and resurrected being. We will see the prints of the nails on his hands and in his side, but He will be living flesh. We can secure eternal life for our souls as we have faith in Christ and His atonement, repent of all of our sins, make and keep sacred baptismal covenants, receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost and continue to endure faithfully. As we do so, we may go quickly to the place prepared for us in the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don't Be A Goat

In Matthew 24, Christ outlines several of the signs of his Second Coming. This chapter is significant enough to our day that the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew 24 is published in the Pearl of Great Price as Joseph Smith--Matthew.

The very next chapter, Matthew 25, contains three parables used to teach the same principle of preparedness. Just as we see Matthew 24 as a significant chapter at least partially because of its repetition, the repetition of the principles taught in Matthew 25 should be seen as an indication that these principles are significant to our salvation.

The first of these parables is the parable of the ten virgins. Elder Oaks pointed out in 2004 that these virgins were all invited to the feast, an indication that these virgins are symbolic of the members of the Church prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Of ten virgins waiting for admittance to a wedding feast, only five of the virgins in the parable were prepared with enough oil for their lamps to enter the feast when the bridegroom came. The other five, who had gone to get more oil, were denied entrance upon their return. This parable concludes with the warning to, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 25:13).

The second parable is the parable of the talents. In this parable, a man gives each of his three servants a respective number of talents. When he returns, he is pleased to find that two of his servants have doubled their allotment. The third, unprepared servant had done nothing with the talents he had been given and is chastised for not even collecting the interest on the investment given to him. The talent of the third servant is then given to the first with the warning that unprofitable servants will be cast into outer darkness.

Finally, we read that Christ shall come again he will divide the sheep from the goats. The sheep, as metaphors for the faithful who were prepared for Christ at his coming, will then inherit the kingdom of God while the unfaithful, unprepared goats will go away into everlasting punishment (v. 34, 46).

In the third parable encouraging us to be prepared for the Second Coming, Christ teaches us what we must do. That is, Christ teaches us how to be a sheep instead of a goat. After teaching that he will separate the sheep from the goats and put the sheep on his right hand, he says:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 

This is, then, the key. Service to Christ is how we can be prepared for the wedding feast, multiply our talents and be counted with the sheep. To be absolutely clear, Christ continues:

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

The point here is one with which we are all familiar. Those who will be saved in the Kingdom of God will not be the selfish, but the servants. As we are willing to serve Christ by serving those around us, we will be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ and will be on his right hand. This is a task that is within our grasp-- if you just have the wisdom to not be a goat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is It Me or Is It the Spirit?

I watched an excellent devotional address by Elder David A. Bednar on the "me or the Spirit" question this week. In his introduction he commented that this was one of the most frequent questions members of the Church ask him worldwide. Certainly, there have been times in my own life where I have wondered that very thing and have hesitated to some degree in hopes of receiving that clarification before moving forward.

Elder Bednar's answer was a little bit of a surprise, but a comfort at the same time. His answer to this question was quit worrying about it! Stop fussing, stop analyzing and stop worrying about it. In doing this he corrected what he called a cultural departure from doctrine and went on to say that if we are good boys and girls, keep our covenants and keep the commandments, it doesn't matter if it is us or the spirit. Many times when it is the spirit, we won't recognize it at the time; and it is okay to be doing good without the prodding of spiritual promptings. The bulk of his talk was spent on three incredible stories illustrating these points.

The scripture that came to mind while listening to his talk were these from the Doctrine and Covenants:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58:26-29)

So we know this stuff. I've heard these verses several times in church classes, conference talks and seminary/religion classes. Why do so many of us hesitate, then? Elder Bednar commented that he has observed members and missionaries who were "paralyzed" by this question. Why? Why is this question one of the most frequently asked to Elder Bednar worldwide? Do we simply not have the faith to act on our own? Or are we misapplying scriptures like, "If ye have not the spirit, ye shall not teach"?

This was a timely reminder for me. My wife and I have been thinking and praying about moving to a new area to be closer to her family and give me the opportunity to go to graduate school. We have stood at the crossroads of this decision uncertain of what to do for a period of weeks. It felt almost liberating to hear again that God trusts us to make good decisions. The idea that we can decide and move forward, trusting that he won't allow us to go too far down a bad path unwarned, was comforting and exciting all at once. I know what I will choose to do!

Perhaps the more subtle point of Elder Bednar's talk was that often the spirit is guiding us without us realizing that the spirit is guiding us. While I puzzle at how I could have forgotten my agency in the first place, I take comfort in the knowledge that by pressing forward and making good choices, I will be led home to that God who is my Creator, the Father of my spirit and the architect of the Plan of Happiness.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mutinous, Adulterous Apostasy

Sometimes when discussing apostasy, I have found that we tend to discuss the symptoms or results of apostasy as though they were the causes. These typically external symptoms may include persecutions, changed scriptures, increasing philosophical influence or a host of others. Noel Reynolds has commented that this is kind of like coming upon a car wreck and determining that the twisted metal and broken glass caused the accident. The causes of apostasy are not the external results, rather the internal conflicts.

Leaning for a moment on the expertise of Reynolds (which has been seconded by Stephen Robinson, the BYU professor and well-known author of Believing Christ), we learn that the Greek term apostasia, from which the word "apostasy" comes, means rebellion. It often references a military rebellion or mutiny. The word "apostasy" references such a mutiny in the church. Consider the mutinous nature of apostasy in the experience of Alma the Younger. An angel declares to him:

Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people (Mosiah 27:13).

The Lord clearly states in this verse that no external force can overthrow His church. This is confirmed by a statement of Joseph Smith so famous it has been given a title by which to reference it, The Standard of Truth. It declares:

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. (HC 4:540, p. 9)

Apostasy is not the result of external forces, rather internal conflicts or transgressions. While apostasy is tied to obedience, or rather disobedience, it is particularly closely tied to keeping covenants. Consider this warning given to Moses:

You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them. (Deut 31:16)

Leaning again on the teachings of Reynolds, we learn of this verse that "the word used here is apostasion, meaning 'little rebellion' or 'little apostasy,' and specifically indicates divorce, or breaking of the marriage covenant. The Lord repeatedly likened his covenant with Israel to the covenant of marriage, and apostasy from that covenant was likened to adultery." We cannot be adulterous against a relationship in which we have no part. Thus, the rebels at the roots of apostasy must have always been members of the church, perhaps sometimes leaders as we saw in the days of Kirtland, seeking for power or glory or justification of sin. Such was certainly the case for Lucifer, the first apostate, who rebelled against the plan of God to gain glory for himself.

Modern revelation confirms this approach of covenant-breaking as apostasy. The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants says, referring to those who will be cut off because of their refusal to heed to the word of God and his prophets:

they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (D&C 1:15-16)

Straying from the covenants and ordinances of God is the cause of apostasy. It cannot occur by external force, but it can happen to individuals or large groups when they stop striving to heed the words of God and His prophets. This is what happened in the ancient church (see Galatians 1:6-8, 2 Cor 11:13-15, 2 Tim 1:15, 3 John 1:9-10, Revelation 2-3, 1 Cor. 1:11-13). This is how apostasy happens today.

With General Conference fast approaching, the next few weeks may be an ideal time to consider our willingness to heed the words of God and His prophet. Are we keeping the covenants we have made at baptism, when we we ordained to the priesthood, when we were married or at other times?

I agree with Noel Reynolds:

As individuals, we must carefully keep our covenants, or we will lose the guidance of the Spirit, and fall into apostasy ourselves. Further we must teach this lesson to our children. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, the Church is never more than one generation away from extinction. In each new generation-- each individual member, needs to be converted, to make a covenant of obedience to the Father, and to grow in faithfulness in his service.

In summary, apostasy is mutiny or rebellion that results from the disobedience of church members to the commandments and covenants of God. We can be safe from individual or widespread apostasy as we heed the words of the prophets, keep our covenants and strive to be obedient to God's commands.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Prophets on the Power of the Scriptures

I was reading a talk today by President Benson called, "The Power of the Word." I was impressed by the several prophetic quotes he used, although they are only a small portion of a much larger teaching on this subject. I have included those quotes below with only a short commentary from me at the end. These are powerful quotes from God's prophets; I'm sure there is much we can learn from their counsel. The quotes:

Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.  Nephi (1 Ne. 15:24)

(Interesting here that Nephi says the temptations and fiery darts of the adversary are intended to blind people, perhaps through pride, rather than immediately destroy them. Then once we are blind, we are led to destruction. But back to the quotes...)

From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make the wise unto salvation.  Paul (2 Tim. 3:15)

We are convinced that our members are hungry for the gospel, undiluted, with its abundant truths and insights... There are those who have seemed to forget that the most powerful weapons the Lord has given us against all that is evil are His own declarations, the plain simple doctrines of salvation as found in the scriptures. President Harold B. Lee, 1 Oct. 1970

I am convinced that each of us, at least some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves-- and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again... The Lord is not trifling with us when he gives us these things, for 'unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.' Access to these things means responsibility for them. We must study the scriptures according to the Lord's commandment; and we must let them govern our lives. President Spencer W. Kimball, Sept. 1976

We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we have 'omitted the weightier matters of the law.'... However talented men may be in administrative matters; however eloquent they may be in expressing their views; however learned they may be in the worldly things--they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Apr. 1982

Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.  President Ezra Taft Benson, May 1986

I told the Brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.  The Prophet Joseph Smith

There are so many motivations for scripture reading in these quotes. Protection against temptation, coming nearer to God and salvation for ourselves and others are three primary motivators, though even these huge blessings are not a complete summary of what comes from scripture study. It is remarkable how, in light of such enormous blessings given to those who study the scriptures, we sometimes allow even the most trivial cost of time or convenience to divert our path or blind our view.

It seems that if we were always aware of these blessings that we would rather miss a few moments of air than a day of scripture study. If so, what can you or I do to remember these blessings that will also help us be faithful in our daily scripture study?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Note on Ordination, Ordinances

All of us know ordinations and ordinances are vital to our salvation and exaltation. We have often defined ordinances in our various church meetings as sacred acts which, when performed properly, contribute to our salvation. Ordinations are necessary to pass along a priesthood office or calling.

This general understanding of ordinances and ordinations are correct. There are certain ordinances, such as baptism, which we must have for salvation; and there is a certain connection to the priesthood required for exaltation. Keeping this in mind, Elder Packer teaches: "Remember, the word order means to put in rows or in proper relationship. Ordaining is the process of doing it, and ordinance is the ceremony by which it is done" (The Holy Temple, 217).

Ordination, then, is the process of putting things into proper relationship and ordinances are the ceremony by which this relationship organization is performed. More specifically, through ordinations and ordinances each of us may be put into our proper relationship with God and with our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is done piece by piece, bit by bit, ordinance by ordinance until we become "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).

If this is true, than ordinances such as sacraments, baptisms, endowments and marriage are more than symbolic expressions of faith and devotion; on the contrary, these are also the practical means by which we are justified, restored and sealed to our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, His Son, and our heavenly family. No wonder we are required to extend these blessings to both the living and the dead, for how could a person without these ordinances expect to return to their Heavenly Father?

It becomes us as Latter-day Saints to do all we can to help in this great work putting the family of God into their proper relationship with their Heavenly Father. We can do this through missionary work, temple attendance and teaching our families. The Lord has promised us that as we do all we can for the salvation of others we will also bring salvation to our own souls (Mark 8:35-37). Let us all do all we can for this great cause.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moral Discipline and Public Policy

The sacrament meeting remarks in my ward today were based on an excellent conference talk from Elder Christofferson called, "Moral Discipline." As I came home and reviewed that talk, I found significant commentary on current policy decisions. Rather than paraphrase poorly, I think it would be worthwhile to simply include an excerpt of that talk. After defining moral agency as the right to make choices and the obligation to account for those choices; and after defining moral discipline as the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right; Elder Christofferson says this:

The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16).

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. . . .

“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”

In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.”

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.

The policy implications here are many, but I am especially intrigued by the question of the role of government in the development of the moral fabric of society. It seems an especially frustrating question for the current political schools of thought: the right can no more ignore their way into a satisfactory laissez faire solution than the left can regulate their way into a socialist one; nor can either claim innocence in this failure of society that we are taught has spanned periods of heavy influence for both sides over more than a generation.

From Elder Christofferson's talk, it seems the role of government and society in developing the moral discipline required for the common good is twofold: 1) fostering home atmospheres where moral discipline may be taught and 2) denouncing sin. These solutions require active doing; as a society we should protect and promote traditional marriage, reject obscenities and sexual content in our entertainment and be family friendly in our legislation. There is much that can be done. There is much that must be done.

Elder Christofferson warns: We cannot presume that the future will resemble the past—that things and patterns we have relied upon economically, politically, socially will remain as they have been. Perhaps our moral discipline, if we will cultivate it, will have an influence for good and inspire others to pursue the same course. We may thereby have an impact on future trends and events. At a minimum, moral discipline will be of immense help to us as we deal with whatever stresses and challenges may come in a disintegrating society.

Ultimately, the improvement or continued decay of moral discipline in our societies rests with us. If all of us were to be more morally disciplined in our personal lives, that would soon be reflected in our government and in our society. Whether enough of us are morally disciplined to turn the tides of decay or not, this principle will help each of us in our personal lives. On that, we have a prophet's promise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who's on the Lord's Side, Who?

There seems to be a growing trend among LDS bloggers to attempt to be scientific or neutral in their posts. Perhaps we hope in this way to make our blogs appear more credible, less biased or more attractive to a nonmember audience. Speaking of blogs generally rather than individually, I suggest this is not the correct approach.

Elder Packer taught, "The idea that we must be neutral and argue quite as much in favor of the adversary as we do in favor of righteousness is neither reasonable nor safe." He continues, "We should not be ashamed to be committed, to be converted, to be biased in favor of the Lord" (The Mantle Is Far, Far Geater Than the Intellect, 22 August 1981).

Elder Packer warns, "In an effort to be objective, impartial, and scholarly, a writer or a teacher may unwittingly be giving equal time to the adversary."

Might I be so bold as to suggest Elder Packer's advice applies to those of us blogging under the name of Mormonism or as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know we cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). We know the Lord spews the lukewarm (Rev 3:16). So let us then no longer be lukewarm.

As you and I try to improve our blogs, we can easily reference this talk by Elder Ballard. Both Elder Packer and Elder Ballard's talks are worth reading in full. Among other things, Elder Ballard teaches:

Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior. Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul has admonished us to not be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Let us all stand firmly and speak with faith in sharing our message with the world.

As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of new media, remember who you are—Latter-day Saints. Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.

This is sound counsel. I hope my blog, as my life, will be seen as an example of a believer (1 Tim. 4:12); that you and I will let our light so shine (Matt. 5:16) and help edify, inspire and uplift a downtrodden world.

Happy blogging!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Not This The Fast That I Have Chosen?

When we dig deep, most of us want the same things. We want to feel peace, freedom and the love of God. We want to be healthy, happy, making progress and to know God is listening and approves of us. Deep down, these are the kinds of things we really want more than anything else. The Lord taught Isaiah how obeying the law of the fast brings us the things we want most:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be they rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. 

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 they soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, 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 (Isaiah 58:6-11).

We can become the celestial person described in these verses if we follow the examples of Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ in obeying the law of the fast. These three prophets, including Christ who is the son of God, also represent three different causes for which we may fast.

Under Mosaic law, the children of Israel would fast each year for their own welfare. On this day, known as the day of Atonement, special sacrifices were made by the high priest, in combination with the fast, to bring forgiveness and strength to the people (see Lev. 16:30, Heb. 9:24). As Moses, we may also fast for our own welfare or help in our daily lives.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah laments the iniquity and hardness of the people. He feels like no one has heard him, that his efforts have been in vain, and he is discouraged enough to wish he could die. The Lord had Elijah fast for forty days and directed him to Mount Horeb. Then, fasting and in a temple-like setting, the Lord taught Elijah through wind, an earthquake and a still, small voice. Elijah was told of faithful thousands and directed to the home of Elisha, his new missionary companion. Like Elijah, we may see miracles as we fast for others.

Finally, Christ fasted at the beginning of his ministry. Victor Ludlow taught, "Jesus' atoning sacrifice symbolizes the potential value of a fulfilling fast. His fast was a valuable preparation for his mortal ministry, culminating in his atoning sacrifice. When we fast, we symbolically reenact the sacrifice of Christ in our own flesh: we deny ourselves the things that sustain our physical being so as to bring our spirits into communion with God, and this makes us better Saints... In fasting we reconcile ourselves spiritually to God and sacrifice our physical means for our fellowman in a truly Christlike manner" (Principles, 316).

A fast for our own welfare, the welfare of others or to bring our spirits into communion with God will be most effective when we remember the two great commandments: to love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-40). We add power to our fast when we show our love to God through frequent prayer; similar power is added when we show our love to our neighbor through generous fast offerings.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it's simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation" (The Law of the Fast, May 2001).

Of our offerings, Elder Wirthlin reminds us that "our offering to bless the poor is a measure of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father." President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, "Each member should contribute a generous fast offering to care for the poor and the needy. This offering should be at least the value of the two meals not eaten while fasting. Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord... We ought to be very, very generous. I think that we should give... perhaps much, much more-- ten times more when we are in a position to do it... If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally" (And the Lord Called His People Zion, December 1984).

Through the law of the fast we may develop the discipline, the confidence, the gratitude, the spiritual gifts, the freedom from sin, the soft, unselfish heart and the eye single to the glory of God to become the glorious people described by Isaiah. In fasting for ourselves, for others and for communion with God, and combined with prayer and generous offerings, we can obtain the important things we want most in life and thereafter.

Is this the fast that you have chosen?

(See also: Exodus 34:28, 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, Judges 20:26, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Matthew 4:2-11, D&C 59:13-14, D&C 88:76, 119, D&C 109:8, 16, Luke 10:30-34)