Sunday, January 20, 2019

Three Lessons from the Rich Young Ruler

The Rich Young Ruler by Liz Lemon Swindle
The gospel of Matthew includes an account of a rich young ruler who approached the Savior for counsel. Their short conversation is of such value to all of us that it was recorded by Matthew and has been preserved over thousands of years. At least three lessons in this account are of particular emphasis.

First, the young man was seeking what he desired. Matthew records, "And, behold, one came and said unto [Christ], Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" Sincere desire is a first step in following Christ. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness," the Savior promised, "for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Do we seek after the blessings we want from God as actively and as often as we seek for a sandwich or a cup of water? This is the first lesson.

The Savior responded to the young man's inquiry:

And he said unto him... if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and they mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Many of us would be content with this answer. The young man, evaluating himself, pressed for more, "All these things have I kept from my youth up," he continued, "What lack I yet?"

How often do we forfeit blessings because we stop asking for them? Are we satisfied with a surface-level answer or do we dig for how we can be better? And are we willing to sacrifice to make up for what we lack? This is the second lesson.

Again, the Lord, who knows all of our hearts, responded to the young man's inquiry:

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect,go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:16-23).

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven," the Savior taught on another occasion, "but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). The apostle James, a half-brother of Jesus', added, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26).

We must ask a question to receive an answer. We have to actively seek for blessings to find them. If we desire to enter into heaven, we must learn how to knock on the door and enter in by the way (see Matthew 7:7).

The need for faith and works to obtain the blessings we desire is frequently demonstrated in scripture.  When his steel bow broke, leaving his family without a way to find food, Nephi prayed for the Lord's help and then started crafting a wooden bow. When he had done all he could, the Lord showed him where to find game in the desert (see 1 Nephi 16).

Moses was commanded to free his people and wanted to obey. Facing the pharaoh was a perilous task, but he had trust in God and acted on the direction he received. His faith and works contributed to parting the Red Sea and other mighty miracles.

For those seeking blessings of health, the Lord instructs, "And whosoever among you are sick, and... believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food... And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name" (D&C 42:43). Blessings of healing include asking God and pursuing medical treatment.

Knowledge and learning requires faith and works. "Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom," the Lord commands, "yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). When we do all we can, the Lord will multiply our efforts. This is the lesson the rich young ruler missed.

With the advantage of hindsight, we can learn from the Savior's encounter with the rich young ruler. We can remember that we find the things we seek most diligently, so we should seek the kingdom of God like a starving person seeks a meal; We can learn to ask probing questions of ourselves and the Lord in order to find where we can improve and better qualify ourselves for salvation; And we can learn to follow through on the knowledge we receive from God by doing all we can to receive the blessings we desire.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sons of Perdition, Sons of God

Benedict Arnold was an American general during the Revolutionary War. He had led several successful military campaigns including the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and the Battle of Valcour Island, which allowed New York to prepare its defenses. Arnold had been injured in battle on more than one occasion and had proven himself a true American patriot. He had the full trust and confidence of George Washington.

In 1780, Benedict Arnold was given command of the strategic fortifications at West Point, New York. Shortly after his assignment was given, Arnold plotted to surrender his position for a cash payment from the British. His scheme was discovered and he fled for his life to the British lines, where he was given command of the forces fighting against the same troops he had once led.

Arnold lived the remainder of his life in exile in England. His name has since become synonymous with treason and betrayal. To this day, he has been removed or omitted from monuments and many historical records.

Like Benedict Arnold, the scriptures record that an angel of God, "who was in authority in the presence of God", "rebelled against the Only Begotten Son... [and] was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son. And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him-- he was Lucifer, a son of the morning" (D&C 76:25-26).

John the Beloved described:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:7-9).

On earth, the devil and his followers, "maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about" (D&C 76:29). They are the authors of the great lies in the world that deny the power of God and seek to destroy faith and families, the unity of communities and the peace of nations. They seek perdition, which is destruction and damnation, and rebellion against the throne of God and His church and kingdom.

Lucifer carries the titles of Serpent, Devil, Perdition and Satan in the same way that Jesus Christ is called the Only Begotten of the Father, the Prince of Peace, Eternal, Savior and Redeemer. The followers of the devil are sometimes called sons of perdition. None of them obtained this status in a rash moment of unclear thinking or by some kind of unfortunate accident. In the premortal realm, these rebelled in the presence of God. Those who join the ranks of the sons of perdition in this world choose to follow Satan in defiance of divine knowledge delivered through the power of the Holy Ghost. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that "the sin against the Holy Ghost [to become a son of perdition] requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin" (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 123).

The sons of perdition are traitors and mutineers. They are men and women who have experienced the favor of the Lord, who know of his blessings and goodness, who have been trusted and rendered service and yet would still betray him and us to crucify the Lord again if they could. They have received every possible opportunity to change and have defiantly remained toxic and rebellious in the most extreme ways. Our own salvation requires their influence be severed from our lives.

Speaking of the sons of perdition, the Lord said:

Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power-- They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come... And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath (D&C 76:25-38, emphasis added).

The "second death" refers to separation from the presence of God. Though none of us walk with God as we once did, we are sustained by the Light of Christ, our conscience, and can often feel of God's love and direction through the Holy Ghost. When we die, we will be judged and enter one of three kingdoms of glory. The Apostle Paul explained:

All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial is one; and the terrestrial, another; and the telestial, another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:40-42).

Even the liars, murderers and adulterers in the Telestial Kingdom, those who we might call the "children of their own desire", will be compelled to suffer for their sins in hell for a time and one day emerge from their redemptive process to live forever in a telestial glory. They will be resurrected and experience the presence of God through the Holy Ghost.

The sons of perdition have no such hope. They will be separated from God through all eternity in a dark and miserable hell comparable only to fire and brimstone. Such is the fate of traitors.

The treachery of Benedict Arnold is not in what happened because of his treason. His act was discovered, West Point remained under American control and the United States won the war a couple of years later. Arnold's treason was only directly responsible for one death: the messenger who carried the plot was caught and hanged.

Lucifer's treachery is arguably much more destructive, but the end results are unchanged. The Lord's plan is already accomplished. Christ has won the victory over sin and death. The outcome is certain.

The treachery of Benedict Arnold's treason, and of Lucifer's mutiny, was not the consequences of his choice but simply that he had a choice. He was an American patriot and hero. He needed only to remain loyal to be rewarded far beyond the 20,000 pounds he desired from the British. Instead, he abandoned what he wanted most for a cash payment he never received and a life of shameful infamy.

We also have a choice. In the true church of Jesus Christ, we covenant to take his name upon ourselves through baptism. As we do, we become "the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7).

Paul said it simply: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together" (Romans 8:17).

All Benedict Arnold needed to do was to stay loyal to George Washington and the United States. To receive celestial glory, we need only to become the sons and daughters of God, the children of Christ, through making and keeping sacred baptismal covenants. The results are known, we need only decide whose side we are on-- Perdition, who will lose, or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Good Shepherd, the Creator, and the Prince of Peace, who has already won.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Jesus Christ is the Way

At the last supper, the Savior shared a final sermon with his disciples. After teaching that he would soon leave them, Thomas asked, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:5-6).

The disciples' subsequent questions provide some evidence that they did not immediately understand what Christ had taught them. He was not a stone path or a list of instructions and he had just said he would no longer be with them to lead them. How could he be the way?

The answer is myriad, but any number of responses may be useful to our understanding of and relationship with our Savior. In direct reply to Thomas' inquiry, for example, the Savior indicates that he is the way back to the presence of the Father. Each of us, as sinful mortals, are unworthy to enter the Father's presence and incapable of withstanding His glory (D&C 67:11-13). Through Christ's suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross and his resurrection, we can overcome sin and death.

The apocryphal Gospel of Phillip records, "Until Christ opened the way, it was impossible to go from one level to another [death and resurrection]. He is the great opener of the way because he gave us the plan by which we can progress. He is the way."

President Joseph F. Smith taught that an innumerable company of the just who had died prior to the resurrection of Christ, and who viewed the separation of their spirits from their bodies as a form of bondage, anxiously awaited the opening of the way to resurrection and the presence of God. "These the Lord taught, and gave them power to come forth, after his resurrection from the dead, to enter his Father's kingdom, there to be crowned with immortality and eternal life" (D&C 138).

Christ was also the way from our premortal existence to life on this earth. Under the direction of the Father, he was the creator of the earth. All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3).

As we counseled in heaven before this world was, we knew that this life would include pain and sorrow that could be overwhelming. The cost was too great unless a way was provided that we could be comforted in our trials and benefited by our challenges. Through obedience to his commandments, frequent repentance and the acceptance of sacred covenants, Christ has made it possible for us to inherit all that our Father has. We can experience joy as exquisite as our pains.

Christ is the way we commune with God. He is our great mediator in prayer, in covenant and in judgement. We take his name upon ourselves through baptism and other ordinances as a symbol of our willingness to follow him and his commandments.

Christ is the way we can repent. His life is a model for how we should live and he gives us power to change and improve when we seek his direction. Though our sins be as scarlet, Christ can make us as pure as fresh-fallen snow.

Christ is the way we can heal from hurt and injustice. He knows our sorrows and counts our tears. He is the master physician who knows how to provide comfort and counsel for imperfect bodies, aching hearts and troubled minds. His way is the only way to replace scars and scabs with confidence and peace.

Christ is the way we can be unified with each other and bring peace to our communities, our nations and the world. When he comes again, he will rule for a thousand years of peace as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords. No other political power or priority can bind our hearts as one.

Christ is the way we can know our mission on the earth and have power to accomplish it. He has overcome all things so that we might be empowered to do those things he commands us to do.

Ultimately, Christ is the way we must go for lasting joy, an understanding of our divine nature and eternal progression in this life and beyond. He is the source of all truth and life. His life provided the perfect example of the path that leads back to the presence of God. As we follow his example, we will be blessed to come to the Father through the tender mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

How to Catch a Monkey

Monkeys can be hard to catch. They are small, fast and able to jump from tree to tree. A person might never expect to catch a monkey if not for a well-known trick that works with incredible consistency.

To catch a monkey, all one needs to do is put a hole in a coconut or container that is large enough for a monkey's hand but too small for its fist. Baited with a piece of fruit or another desirable object, the monkey will reach in to grab the bait but will not be able to remove their fist from the trap. Unwilling to let go of the prize, the monkey can then be easily caught or even killed.

In March 1831, Leman Copley was caught in a metaphorical monkey trap. Although he had been baptized some time before, he still held to some of the teachings of his prior congregation among the Shakers. "Some of the beliefs of the Shakers were that Christ's second coming had already occurred and he had appeared in the form of a woman, Ann Lee; baptism by water was not considered essential; the eating of pork was specifically forbidden, and many did not eat meat; and a celibate life was considered higher than marriage" (D&C 49 section heading).

Responding to Joseph Smith's inquiry about these subjects, the Lord explained that the Shakers, "desire to know the truth in part, but not all" and that they "are not right before me and must needs repent" (D&C 49:2). The Lord then addressed the teachings in question, reasserting the principles of the gospel and directing Leman Copley and others to teach these principles to the Shakers.

The Shakers are not the only ones with their hearts and hands in a monkey trap. Too often we can find ourselves holding on too long to a political opinion, a bad habit, worldly philosophies or praise, or a grudge against someone else. When we refuse to let go of what might seem like a prize, we risk being caught and spiritually destroyed.

To be right before the Lord, we must desire to know all the truth He has revealed and strive to live by what we know. If we do this, the Lord promises he will "go before you and be your rearward; and I will be in your midst, and you shall not be confounded". With faithful repentance and honest seeking for truth, we can avoid the monkey traps of life.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Receiving the Blessings We Desire Most

For about a week each February, a waterfall in Yosemite National Park turns into a cascade of fire. It's a rare sight that only happens when it's wet enough, warm enough and clear enough to have winter waterfalls and a view of the setting sun. The Yosemite Firefall is, of course, an optical illusion, but people travel from all over the world to see the wonder of Horsetail Fall appearing like a pillar of fire.

We all have things we want to see with our own eyes. For some of us it may be natural wonders; for others, it might be an incredible feat or a rare collectors item or a prayed-for event.

For Martin Harris in March of 1829, the thing he wanted to see most was the gold plates Joseph Smith was translating into what we now call The Book of Mormon. He had invested considerable time and money in the translation and his wife was increasingly upset with his involvement. Lucy Harris thought her husband had been deceived and even filed a legal complaint against Joseph Smith and gathered a number of people willing to testify that he had lied about the plates. She told Martin he would join Joseph in jail if he did not also testify of Joseph Smith's deception and fraud.

Martin believed the plates were real, but he decided to travel from his home in upstate New York to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to ask Joseph if he could see the plates. Perhaps he thought that seeing the plates would justify his involvement with the work of translation and avoid further conflict with Lucy.

When Martin arrived in Pennsylvania, Joseph took Martin's question to the Lord and received a revelation now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants Section 5. In this revelation, the Lord gives two answers to Martin's question. First, he directs Joseph:

And now, behold, this shall you say unto him...: I, the Lord, am God, and have given these things [the plates] unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and have commanded you that you should stand as a witness of these things; And I have caused you that you should enter into a covenant with me, that you should not show them except to those persons to whom I commanded you; and you have no power over them except I grant it unto you (v. 2-3).

Martin was not allowed to see the plates at that time. Instead, the Lord affirmed that it was Joseph Smith's role to witness the plates were real. Martin would be required to walk by faith a little longer, even and perhaps especially in face of opposition to his belief.

More than 120 years later, President Joseph Fielding Smith shared that he had often observed similar inquiries:

Frequently when [people] … hear the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they ask if the plates are in some museum where they may be seen. Some of them with some scientific training, [suggest] that if the scholars could see and examine the plates and learn to read them, they would then bear witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of Joseph Smith, and the whole world would then be converted (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. [1953], 1:40).

The Lord's ways are not our ways however, and on this occasion there is more to the explanation. The Lord continued the revelation:

If they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you... I have reserved those things which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations; But this generation shall have my word through you (v. 7, 9-10).

Had Martin Harris, or anyone else, seen the plates; or if we could see the plates in a museum somewhere; he or she or we still may not believe. Certainly those inclined not to believe could dispute the translation and origins even with the plates right before their eyes. So the Lord reserved the plates to emphasize Joseph Smith's unique calling and for "a wise purpose" he didn't immediately elaborate.

Rather than relying on our senses alone, the Lord teaches that it is crucial for each of us, as it was important for Martin Harris, to have a testimony of his gospel and the great work of restoration. A testimony is a divine witness or evidence that is impressed upon our hearts and minds. Its effects are often deeper and more profound than what we learn from our senses.

When we come to really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet called of God to translate the Book of Mormon and restore the priesthood and organization of Christ's church upon the earth, we can know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's church upon the earth today. This testimony guides us to the covenant blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, ordinances that can be performed by proper authority and ultimately, if we are faithful, salvation from sin and death through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God.

Of course, none of us need take the word of Joseph Smith alone. We have the testimony of the Book of Mormon. We can read it, ponder the words it teaches and ask God if they are true. He has promised that if we "ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4). Millions of people have had this experience and can add their testimonies to the witness of Joseph Smith.

Among the millions, three men in addition to Joseph Smith were called to be witnesses of the plates themselves. The Lord taught Joseph Smith on that day in March 1829:

And in addition to [the testimony of Joseph Smith], the testimony of three of my servants, whom I shall call and ordain, unto whom I will show these things, and they shall go forth with my words that are given through you. Yea, they shall know of a surety that these things are true, for from heaven will I declare it unto them. I will give them power that they may behold and view these things as they are; And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation.... And the testimony of three witnesses will I send forth of my word (v. 11-15).

Each copy of the Book of Mormon begins with a title page, introduction and a copy of the written testimony of Three Witnesses, which stands as another evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The Lord continued:

And behold, whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit... And their testimony shall also go forth unto the condemnation of this generation if they harden their hearts against them (v. 16, 18).

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that "we each need to get our own testimony of the Book of Mormon through the Holy Ghost. Then our testimony, coupled with the Book of Mormon, should be shared with others so that they, too, can know through the Holy Ghost of its truthfulness" (“The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, May 1987, 84).

After admonishing Joseph Smith to "walk more uprightly" and "yield to the persuasions of men no more", the Lord provides the second answer to Martin Harris' question:

And now, again, I speak unto you, my servant Joseph, concerning the man that desires the witness-- Behold, I say unto him, he exalts himself and does not humble himself sufficiently before me; but if he will bow down before me, and humble himself in mighty prayer and faith, in the sincerity of his heart, then will I grant unto him a view of the things which he desires to see (v. 23-24).

Through a multi-step process, the Lord offered Martin Harris the opportunity to become one of the Three Witnesses. As with the first answer, the Lord provided more explanation of this promise, including an admonition to testify to the world of what he saw and a warning that failure to be sufficiently humble and obedient would result in not seeing the plates and Martin's condemnation and destruction.

Often the Lord responds to us the way he responded here to Martin Harris. He doesn't usually give us what we want outright, but he provides a way for us to receive the blessings we desire. We don't usually have to travel the world to find them, but the Lord does require us to pursue our desires with humble and sincere prayers and acts of faith. Along the way, he provides guidance and commandments that protect us from the obstacles, including sometimes those we love, who would take us off the path and lead us another way toward worldly approval and the destruction of our souls.

Three months after the Lord's responses to Martin's question, Martin Harris was one of three men who saw the plates and testified to the world of their reality. Likewise, if we walk the path the Lord lays out for us, he will send the proverbial rain and part the clouds so we can receive the blessings we desire.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Consecration of Job

The Old Testament tells of "a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). Job was a wealthy man with a large family, many friends, a large property and servants who cared for his crops and animals. Through a series of disasters and misfortunes, Job lost all his wealth and property, his servants and family were killed, he contracted agonizing diseases and his friends all turned against him. 

Alone in the world, and having lost everything, Job was overburdened by grief for months. "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, 'Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1:20-22).

Like Job, the followers of Christ are asked to give all they have and are in the service of the Lord. When we are baptized, we witness that we will always remember our Savior and are willing to both keep all of God's commandments and take the name of Christ upon ourselves (D&C 20:77, 79). Alma taught what this looks like when he said:

As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God... If this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments...? (Mosiah 18:8-10).

Those who have been ordained to the priesthood have made a further covenant to give all they have for the work of salvation. Specifically, a Melchizedek Priesthood holder covenants to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (D&C 84:43-44); take the testimony of the Savior to the world (D&C 84:61-62); not boast of himself (D&C 84:73); become the Savior's friend and trust Him like a friend (D&C 84:63, 77-88); and fulfill responsibilities associated with the Abrahamic covenant (D&C 84:34)(see also Renlund, Dale G. and Ruth Lybbert Renlund. The Melchizedek Priesthood. Deseret News. 2018. 68-69.).

Through baptism and priesthood ordination, we covenant and promise with the Lord to give our will, first of all, to Him. Willing to give all we have and are to the Lord, we move forward with Paul's admonition in our hearts: "Know ye not that... ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The Lord expects more than our devotion and righteous action, however. The first of the ten commandments given to the children of Israel in the wilderness was, "thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). So the Lord taught his disciples:

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:37-39).

In modern times, as in biblical times, the Lord has revealed his law of consecration. This law requires that we dedicate everything we have-- time, talents, possessions and resources-- to the Lord to care for His people and do His work. Thus, the author of Acts wrote that "all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need" (Acts 2:44-45). When we are not required to give all, we are instructed to remain willing to do so.

Even Joseph Smith, who was driven from state to state, slandered and falsely accused, betrayed by those who had been his associates and assaulted by those sworn to protect his rights, was asked to give all he had. Responding to Joseph's plea from the inhumane conditions of the Liberty Jail, the Lord reminded the prophet, "Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job" (D&C 121:10). On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith would give his life for the Lord and His church.

Though the Lord's requirements can be a high price to pay, he offers much more in return. As we keep our baptismal covenant, we are promised the spirit of the Lord will comfort and strengthen us through our trials and sanctify us from our sins so we can one day inherit all the Father has. Honoring priesthood covenants entitles the priesthood holder to receive all the blessings of Abraham, to be sanctified by the Spirit to the renewing of their bodies, and again to become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ to our Heavenly Father's kingdom.

In short, for our best efforts to give of the little we really have, the Lord offers us a universe beyond our comprehension through the gift of His Only Begotten Son. As Christ taught his disciples, "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matthew 19:29).

So it was with Job. Scripture records that "the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning;" for he acquired much larger herds, his friends returned and he was able to have ten more children, the fairest in the land, and lived to see the fourth generation of his posterity (Job 42:12). "So Job died," the record states, "being old and full of days" (Job 42:17).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Keys of the Kingdom

Years ago I accepted a position with a small swimming pool supply store in Salt Lake City. I was 18 at the time and ready to make the jump from mall retail to the grey area between management and indentured servitude. I was grateful to have some additional responsibility in my new job and for the support of a good store manager with whom I became fast friends.

After a few weeks in my new position, the store manager gave me a key to the store. He wanted me to open the store several days a week and run things until he could get there.

This felt like a major promotion. I remember setting multiple alarm clocks to make absolutely certain that I would wake up with enough time to stock the shelves, turn all the merchandise so it faced forward and prepare the registers for the day. The key to the store in my pocket and the trust it represented were sources of professional pride that elevated all aspects of my performance.

Two thousand years before I started stocking chlorine tablets and inflatable lounge chairs on long retail shelves, Christ had a similar conversation with his disciples. To Peter he said:

Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church... And I will 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 16:18-19).

The keys to which Christ referred were not physical keys to a store, a chapel or even a temple. Instead Christ referred to priesthood keys that would authorize Peter and the other apostles to lead the church in Christ's absence. It is only by virtue of priesthood keys that divine authority can be accessed to perform saving ordinances and enter the kingdom of God. Though the keys themselves are not tangible, they are literally the 'keys of the kingdom'.

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

[Priesthood] keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood.

Elder Dale G. Renlund adds:

Some priesthood keys are given to all priesthood holders, and some priesthood keys are given only to leaders. Except in the case of Apostles, priesthood keys of leadership are held only temporarily and are relinquished upon a release. Priesthood keys are the mechanism by which the Lord organizes His priesthood on the earth. A man with priesthood keys has specific and special responsibilities in addition to those that accompany his ordination to an office in the priesthood (Renlund, Dale G. and Ruth Lybbert Renlund. The Melchizedek Priesthood. Deseret Book. 2018. 176.).

Ultimately, all priesthood authority belongs to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He has commissioned prophets and apostles in every dispensation and given them the keys necessary for their time. Moses was given stewardship over the keys of the gathering of Israel; Elias (possibly Melchezidek) held the keys for the dispensation of Abraham; and Elijah was responsible for the keys of sealing power, or the priesthood power to validate ordinances on earth and in heaven. These are just a few priesthood keys that have been entrusted to mankind; and still others, such as the keys to the powers of creation or resurrection, the Lord retains for himself.

Many of those who have received priesthood keys from the Lord, including Moses, Elias and Elijah, have appeared in modern times to restore those keys to the earth. Restored priesthood keys have, in turn, been passed down through ordinations performed by the laying on of hands. In this way, the same way the Savior himself gave the keys of the kingdom to his twelve apostles, each generation has been called to serve as prophets, apostles, bishops and quorum presidents. Only those who have been ordained in this way and by one holding the requisite priesthood keys are divinely authorized to act in the Lord's name for the salvation of His children.

Technology is now changing the way we understand keys. Fundamentally, keys are still needed to gain access to a facility, resources or functionality, but tangible keys are disappearing. Instead, digital keys are embedded in your new car fob, your nametag at work, the online password to your bank account and your favorite hotel chain app.

We cannot see priesthood keys, but that doesn't take away from their authority or their absolute necessity to gain access to the powers of heaven required to perform sacred saving ordinances. Those who hold priesthood keys have a solemn duty to be as diligent as I was on my first day opening the small swimming pool supply store in Salt Lake City. With worthy striving, the Lord promises that the work that is done to benefit His children on earth will be acknowledged in heaven-- that through His priesthood keys we may all gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven.