Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cracks in the Sidewalk: A Family Story

The sidewalk that led the way from my childhood home to the nearby elementary school was plagued with cracks of every shape and size. Some had filled with grass or made a home for a colony of ants. Others were barren except for some crumbling cement and debris, used only to give the children that passed by one more crack to avoid if, as the game goes, they were to prevent their mothers' backs from breaking.

In the years that have passed since plodding along that sidewalk each day to school, I've learned that there are measures that can be taken to prevent a sidewalk from cracking. While things like the type of concrete or size of sidewalk blocks can make some difference, more than 90 percent of sidewalk cracks can be prevented by using a chemical sealant. Sealing a clean sidewalk creates a protective barrier that repels damaging liquids like water and motor oil while binding the concrete together to guard against extreme temperatures or invading plants.

Sealing a sidewalk has a very similar result to sealing food in cans or plastic bags. Whether at home or in a factory, canned and packaged foods are sealed in a container that keeps out the oxygen and insects that could harm or decay the food while preserving the good stuff (like homemade strawberry jam, if you're lucky). Sealing the good stuff in and the bad stuff out allows food to last much longer while retaining its nutritional value; or for a sidewalk to stay strong and smooth, as the case may be.

Two thousand years ago, before cement sidewalks or canned foods, Jesus Christ taught his disciples about a type of seal that protects and preserves our families and ourselves. To Peter the Savior promised that he would, 'give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven' (Matthew 16:19).

The sealing power promised to Peter is the ability to preserve earthly things into a heavenly sphere. Christ uses the metaphor of a key to illustrate that only those who have received the priesthood can gain access to this sealing power. Like the wax seals used on correspondence at the time, keys not only protect and preserve the contents of a room or storage chest but are also indicative of position and authority backed by a government or church (which is why many government leaders, including the president of the United States, often still stand behind a podium bearing the seal of their office when giving important speeches). Those authorized to seal in heaven and on earth act with the endorsement and backing of the Creator of the universe.

Peter, to whom Christ promised the sealing power, used this power to lead the ancient church and raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 1-12).

Nephi, the prophet on the American continent just prior to the birth of Christ, sealed the heavens and stopped a war with the terrible famine that ensued. He called down rain to end the famine after the people had repented. He was told the sealing power could flatten a mountain at his word (Helaman 10:7-10; 11).

Elijah also used the sealing power to create a great famine and turn the people from idolatry. He raised a boy from the dead and called fire down from heaven that consumed the priests of Baal and his drowned sacrifice (1 Kings 17-18).

The most important use for the sealing power is its ability to bind together generations and create a protective barrier around us and our families. King Benjamin taught that if we would, 'be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life' (Mosiah 5:15). Embedded in the covenant of baptism is a promise to be unified with Christ in this way through our faithfulness (D&C 20:77-79).

Families are sealed together for time and for eternity in holy temples. This ordinance carries the promise that the marriage and family relationships we have on earth will be preserved into the heavenly sphere beyond the veil of death. Our marriage or sealing in the temple bears the promise of unity with God, our Heavenly Father, and that we can be united with Him and with our families for all eternity.

Elder Scott has taught that, like the seal on a cement sidewalk, 'the temple sealing has greater meaning as life unfolds. It will help you draw ever closer together and find greater joy and fulfillment in mortality' (April 2011). If we are faithful, the sealing power can bring us joy in this life and unity with our families forever after.

The sealing keys spoken of by Christ, promised to Peter and entrusted to prophets throughout the ages are on the earth today. In keeping with His pattern, God has vested these powers in his living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, who then delegates the use of these keys throughout the world. The blessings of the sealing power are readily available to us through holy temples and the priesthood authority found in the stakes of Zion.

In a figurative but nonetheless very real way, each of us walking the path of life paves a sidewalk behind us for our children and grandchildren who come after us. Before we can apply the blessings of the sealing power, we must make sure our lives are as clean as newly-poured concrete or a bottle ready for the jam. We can clean off any disqualifying and undermining spots as we repent and come unto Christ.

As we are found worthy by our bishops, as judges in Israel, and as we continue to live faithfully, we can be bound to Christ and to our families through the sealing power of the priesthood. We can be protected from the devil's assault on families and preserve our righteousness. We can pave a sidewalk for our children that is without spots or cracks that they can follow to come closer to their Savior.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Nazis, Rats and a More Excellent Hope

I've often heard the fable of a frog in a pot of water. The story claims that a frog put into a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out while a frog in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated will eventually boil to death. It's a bit of a cruel tale (and completely untrue; the frog will get uncomfortable as the pot heats and try to jump out) but it's very useful in reminding us that the small things we tolerate today could cook our goose, or frog as the case may be, down the road.

In 1957, a psychologist conducted a real, equally cruel experiment on rats. He put one group of rats in containers of water from which they could not escape. On average he found that these rats would stop swimming, drown and die within about 15 minutes. A second group of rats were put into similar containers of water but were rescued when they stopped swimming and given time to recover. When this group was put back into the water, they astounded the researchers by swimming for an average of three days. The hope of being rescued provided motivation and strength even beyond the fear of death.

The results of this study immediately turned my thoughts to a talk Bishop Richard C. Edgely gave at a BYU devotional in 2008. He spoke of a  Jewish coworker he once had who had survived a Nazi concentration camp. On one occasion, this coworker shared some of his experiences with Bishop Edgely. When he concluded, he asked, 'Do you know what the most powerful force in the world is?' After Bishop Edgley proposed love to be that force, his Jewish coworker replied, 'No, it is not love. All those years I was in the concentration camp, I had love. I had love for my mother, father and sister. I had love for my grandmother. But that love did not sustain me. It did not keep me alive.'

After a moment the coworker answered his own question. 'Hope,' he said. 'Hope is the most powerful force. It was hope that kept me alive. It was hope that I would survive. It was hope for freedom. It was hope that I would someday be reunited with my loved ones.'

Hope is the reward we all seek, the proverbial light at the end of whatever dark tunnel may be limiting our perspective. More than passive wishing, hope is a powerful and active force. It is the new vigor we feel when we can see the top of the mountain at the end of a long hike. Hope provides a solid foundation for our faith amid the flurry of doubt and excuses all around us; it is the root of happiness and joy.

The trouble for most of us is that we're usually not at the shallow end of the tunnel or approaching the summit of the mountainous journeys we face in life. The percentage of our lives we spend on starting new adventures is equally brief. Most of our time is spent somewhere in the middle. Somewhere where the summit is not yet in sight, where our packs are feeling heavy and where our muscles may be beginning to strain and ache.

It is for this part of our journey that hope is so important. Real, substantive hope is the ability to see what can't yet be seen and know what can't yet be known. It is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in our mind's eye and knowing that we'll get there because we're driving in the right direction. It is visualizing the majestic view that waits at the top of the mountain and knowing that we'll experience it because we're prepared for the hike below and working toward our goal.

Paul related hope to the farmers of Corinth when he taught, 'he that ploweth should plow in hope' (1 Corinthians 9:10). Farmers don't plow their fields on a fleeting wish for a full harvest, but on the robust hope that if they do what is necessary to care for the plants they'll reap what they have sewn. They see the fields of grain before the first seed is in the ground; then they get to work until the last granule is harvested.

More important than hoping for fields of grain or mountain views is a more excellent hope in Christ. President Uchtdorf taught:

Hope is a gift of the Spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior. This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope. Hope in our Heavenly Father's merciful plan of happiness leads to peace, mercy, rejoicing, and gladness. The hope of salvation is like a protective helmet; it is the foundation of our faith and an anchor to our souls.

When we have hope in Christ we can see ourselves in the celestial kingdom of God and know that we will be there because we are repenting and striving to become better through the Atonement of Christ each day. We can see our families united together and know that we will be together forever because of temple covenants that have or will be made and kept. We will see our bodies raised immortal and know as Job that it will be so because of the witness we carry in our hearts of the reality of the resurrection of our Savior.

It is this kind of hope--hope of salvation--that anchors our souls and delivers life-sustaining motivation and strength to our minds and hearts. Each of us carries some of this hope with us, but our habits and choices reinforce or diminish our hope day by day, minute by minute, thought by thought.

Which brings us back to rats and frogs. It is useful to note that the rats that swam for days and days could not see their rescuers. They had no more evidence of rescue to support their hope than the rats that drown; only a brief encounter with a curious scientist that taught them what was possible.

Like them, each of us are dependent upon our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their mercy, to catch us when we begin to sink (Matthew 14:29-31, see also Mosiah 27). More than curious scientists, they are our father and our brother, they love us, they are watching over us, and they very much want for us to both grow and succeed. At times, trial and temptation may swirl around us and it may seem that we'll never reach the summit of our lives. We must have the hope to keep swimming, to keep walking and to keep striving, even when it seems impossible or defies all worldly logic. If we do so, we have the unbreakable promise of our God and our Creator that He will calm the storm and pull us into the boat before we drown. He will save us:

For ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. 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 31:19-20).