30 December 2010

The Division between Home and Family--A Warning

Originally posted on WatersofMormon.org, a group blog to which I contributed until it closed.

--originally posted May 10, 2009--

I gave the talk in the singles ward today. Normally I post my talks on my personal blog, but I decided to make an exception for today. Enjoy

As an English teaching major, one of my favorite things in life is learning to appreciate and use the power of language. I view words and vocabulary as vessels that serve the purpose of literally holding spirit, whose exchange is powerful and sacred. I spend my life combining them, exploring their depths and precise shapes in order to understand the full and honest meaning of the oil they’re meant to hold, and it’s a talent with which I’m glad to be blessed.

I came to a discovery of two words recently that have long impressed me with their depth and complexity. Their ornate and masterful craftsmanship comes from their universal and eternal nature. Thousands of years, countless cultures and their history, have contributed unique and heartfelt loveliness to these two words. The best that mankind has ever had to offer can be summed up in both of these words. I felt impressed to talk about one of them as my topic, but found it to be inseparably married to the second word.

The first word is Family. The second word is Home.

My family isn’t exactly what you would call functional, and I grew up never knowing the safety and security, the peace and love that so many in this Church take for granted. What brought me into the church was the powerful love of God that, because of the spirit, exists wherever there is truth. At long last, I had found a place for my tired, broken, harrowed spirit—the closest thing to a home I had ever had.

Home…

Because I had the church, I had an opportunity to explore that word for the first time. I could bask in the warm glow of that one word’s oil for hours, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to go to Church and feel it again. Three hour meetings weren’t long enough to feed the hunger of my soul, the desire for more oil to fill this new word of mine. Time passed, and the day came when I finally had enough oil to keep my life well-lit after years of knowing only darkness.

But when my light grew bright enough, I could also see a new word that brought me sorrow every time I looked at it. Family; a word just as large and essential as Home, but I had let it become a very sad and dirty word by how much I had neglected it. I would peer into its dry depths and think to myself, “How am I supposed to fill this and make this better all by myself? I can’t do this. How am I supposed to live with that disappointment?” And so my division between Home and Family was set into place.

Brothers and sisters, I tell you this story because this mistake can happen to ANYONE. I’ll even venture to say that it can happen to those of you in this room who least expect it, and my heart goes out to any of you that struggle to live by the light of one vessel where we were designed to have two. It’s a pain and grief unlike any other, and we have been warned to be watchful and prudent in all that we do to keep the bond between home and family strong enough to protect us from that pain.

In Moses, we read of the first mortal family of Adam and Eve—their respective, yet equally important responsibilities that required them to depend upon each other in order to start their family and create a home. In Moses 5, verses 1 and 2 we see the model of unity the Lord intends for his children.

"And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth."

Let me emphasize; only by working together can families be established in righteousness, thereby creating a home that enjoys the fullest happiness Heavenly Father can bestow. Just as families do not exist with one person doing all the work, a home cannot be built through one person’s labors. Even the Lord does nothing alone.

I’ll admit now that I spent years feeling frustrated at the division of my situation because I was so focused on my own hurt, I fell for a division that never should have existed in the first place. Only after turning to the wisdom and council of the prophets did I understand my mistake. Elder Russell M. Nelson teaches that:
“In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” In my mind, this used to be a really depressing thought because I found it hard to imagine that my family would ever accept the gospel, even though I have every reason to believe in and hope for such a blessing. I tried to throw myself into the Church, telling myself that being surrounded by that Spirit and the people who brought it there would always be enough.

The only thing wrong with that idea is that it isn’t true. The First Presidency issued a letter in February of 1999 with a statement that read:
“The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.”

From my experience, I testify that this includes the Church itself. The Church is not a hiding place from life and its problems—at least, not permanently. Especially when it comes to families, we have a responsibility to seek for the healing powers of the Spirit to deal with our challenges, then get back to work serving and building our family relationships—always having Home as our objective.

That can be hard to see when we’re in more of a position like Abraham’s—fleeing from evil, traveling, maybe even wandering, from place to place looking for somewhere to call home in the mean time. When you focus on the fact that his father tried to kill him, his situation sounds miserable. Consider also the fact that he had to face the commandment to kill his son Isaac, and this story looks about as unfair as it gets.

President John Taylor once counseled,
“It is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals, and that we be tried. But why is it that we should be tried? There is just the same necessity for it now that there was in former times. I heard the Prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion: ‘You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.’ Some people have wondered why so many of the Twelve fell away. God tries people according to the position they occupy.”

So what is needed in times of adversity, especially when Satan’s target is our family, is a change of perspective. We see in John Taylor’s statement the idea that God will try the Priesthood according to the positions they occupy, but we are also tried according to the position within the family that we hold. Elder Nelson also teaches that:

“The final responsibility to prepare for salvation and exaltation rests upon each person, accountable for individual agency, acting in one’s own family, bearing another sacred title of mother, father, daughter, son, grandmother, or grandfather.”

Until recently, I didn’t realize that my position as a daughter within my particular family was so important as to be considered sacred. When I look at it properly, it makes sense that Satan would make the building of a strong, united, loving family so difficult to do, especially when he has had control over them for so long.

And now that I’m in a position to see better, I not only see that Heavenly Father loves His children, but I know what that means, and I know what it looks like when He bestows His peace, His love, upon families and homes.

It looks like Abraham’s trust in taking what family he has left, fleeing from Haran, and believing that eternity would be their covering as they dwelled in the tents that became their homes until they reached the Promised Land.

It’s the image immediately after Christ’s ascension in Acts 1, where the apostles AND Christ’s mortal family are praying together—symbolically and literally united; just like Christ would have wanted.

The scriptures are full of what might be labeled today as non-traditional families, families that go through changes of all kinds, and I’m sure that there are those in this room who can appreciate that because they’ve seen their share. But it can be so crippling to allow yourself to feel alienated or inadequate if your family isn’t perfect. We can do nothing alone, and if our families have a lot to work on, it isn’t our fault, and we can’t fix it by ourselves. Heavenly Father will be displeased if you exhaust yourself physically and spiritually, to the point of near apostasy, if you try to go through these challenges alone.

Also understand that sometimes, part of our responsibility to our families and to the Lord will be to leave our families for a season. Even if you are the only source of spiritual strength to them, know that the Lord loves all of His children, and He will take care of them. As it says in Luke 9:

"And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

If you endure the season of planting, always seeking the timetable and the will of the Lord in all things, your family will be gathered around you once again at the harvest. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I know that “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

If it wasn’t for all that I’ve been through with my family, for the sake of one day having a home with them, I never would have had the love and appreciation that I do for them right now. Knowing that, I’d willing do it a thousand times over because for the first time, there is oil in both of my lamps. Seeing the happiness that those drops have brought, I promise you that no other investment can provide such great returns.

Fill your vessels drop by loyal, obedient drop, and I testify that you will have the light of home and family to be with you once again. This Mother’s Day, I pray we all will remember what is most important in life. Our mothers have created families that can last forever. May we always support them with our every effort, no matter what our circumstances—always using what we’ve learned because of those circumstances to do so. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.

22 December 2010

Because I Have Been Given Much

As I was waking up early this morning, I was thinking about Heavenly Father's relationship with me.

I thought about the endless expanses of eternity--from the largest to the very smallest. I thought about the billions of people who currently live on this earth. I thought about the intricate identities they all possess--beyond any beauty my mind can fathom.

How remarkable is human life.

I thought of the infinite complexities which make up my own life, my identity. Stillness allowed me to see myself for who I really am, and all I could do was marvel at the amazing detail which has gone into my birth. I was born because Heavenly Father wanted me to live, and have joy. He wants to love me not only for who I am striving to become, but exactly as I am right now. 

In the privacy of the morning before sunrise, I felt the amazing assurance that my life has purpose and meaning. It has mass and takes up space. I exist because I am needed. I exist to love, and to be loved. And in those realizations, I remembered again the answer to a question I once held tightly to my chest with a kind of desperation.

Why does God love me?

To me, the answer was a mystery. Dear friends and leaders tried to help me understand: Because you are His daughter... Because you are a good person... Because you love Him... Because you are important to Him... Because He has to...

In the process of trying to find an answer I could live with and understand, I had a conversation with a friend.  He caused me to consider what kind of life I would live if I knew for certain I would never get to heaven. I thought about it for some time, then realized that I wouldn't change anything about the way I live. I would still live a life pleasing to God, and return to Him the glory and praise He is due. I would live to honor Him, even if I could not return to live in His presence. I would do my best to live joyfully and happily according to the manner of happiness because it has already brought me such great joy. A lifetime of that peace is enough of a reward for the good I would try to do in living the way God wants me to live.

I don't know why, but it was only then that I understood the answer to my own question.

To be loved by God--there is no greater gift He can give us. And that gift is one He has already given completely to all of His children. Being obedient doesn't make God love me more--no more than anyone's disobedience makes God love them less. Obedience is important because it creates peace and clarity for me from my vantage point. The commandments of God make it so I can see Him, hear Him, and understand Him. It brings me to a place internally where I can love myself for who I am, and the goodness in my own heart.

Keeping all the rules--it's not about control, and never was. It's not about showing up, performing some labor, and collecting my share of God's blessings, like a wage. I express my love for the Lord through obedience because Christ has said that's what He desires. (John 14:15)

I can give Him that gift completely independent of the prosperity or peril I experience. But if it wasn't for the commandments of God, I'd be so tangled up in my own desires, my own selfishness, my own way, I would never be able to see and understand what God sees or know what God knows.

It would remain as a mystery, an unwrapped gift, to me.

In a season that emphasizes gifts as an expression of love, may we always remember the gift we received with life itself--the love of God in its incomparable magnificence. When we ponder on the essence of life, knowing and feeling the all-encompassing blessing love is in our lives, may we never forget that "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Merry Christmas to you and yours, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

25 November 2010

On Peace and Pain

What happens when your happiness no longer relies on external circumstances? When no amount of personal discomfort or inconvenience can detract you from what you know you have to do? What happens when crisis and trial have gotten to the point where they seem hollow to you, and the trust that you live by is no longer a question?

I've just had the experience of being driven through a snowstorm, and finding it beautiful and peaceful. The image of red sins of scarlet being turned white like snow has never seemed more real to me as it did when visibility was nonexistent, and we were surrounded in whiteness.

I realized my life is a lot like this right now. I have a million things to do, places to go, I'm not the driver, I'm not making good time according to the timetable I'm only vaguely aware of, and yet I'm perfectly content to be at peace with everything exactly the way it is because I've realized I'm doing everything that I can to play an active role in it. I don't always have to be the driver or the leader in everything. I don't always have to have all the answers or fix every problem, or even be capable of fixing every problem I have.

Why? Because I'm not the only one working on it. I never will be. I trust it'll get worked out somehow. If there's anything I need to do, I trust myself to figure it out. If I don't figure it out, I trust God to bring me that clarity. He's done it before, and I trust Him to do it again. I've been through enough storms, decisions, turmoil, despair, and hardships of enough kinds that it just doesn't make much sense to me anymore to get worked up, frustrated, or to do anything other than to handle the situation appropriately and to live peacefully, no matter what happens.

I guess that's an involved way of saying that I'm happy despite the apparent circumstances and problems in my life. I'm content with my allotment and portion of both my blessings and trials. I'm surrounded by good and loving people, and I don't want for anything. Well, maybe my mission call. But I'm working through that steadily, and I know that no matter how long it takes me, I will eventually arrive at that destination.

Is struggle a necessary part of our earthly experience? To work through something patiently--to be content with my efforts and their results, to be content that God will be in and throughout everything I will ever face, guiding me as long as it takes. I see no reason for struggle in that. In fact, I'm coming to the theory that if I am struggling, it's probably because I'm doing something wrong. My perception is either incomplete, or I've made the wrong choice, or I'm choosing to be frustrated when it isn't necessary--but I simply don't see why peace can't exist in every circumstance there is--why the peace I feel right now should be reserved only for times of ease.

In Matthew 11, we read:

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I admit, there was a time when I didn't believe this. In the midst of trials which were not few in number, or weak in intensity, I've had occasions to wonder if difficulties would ever cease, if that promise was true for everyone except me. I've wondered, like many other Christians, what I had ever done that was so wrong that I deserved to suffer so bitterly, and whether that ease would not come simply because I didn't deserve it anymore.

But now I'm beginning to understand that my suffering is a reaction that will continue for as long as I choose it. Despair and suffering have no necessary connection to the troubles of my life--only in how I decide I will react to them. While there is a place in every life for grief, and even pain, there is also a place for the only healing that is the lasting balm for that anguish.

I think learning to be at peace despite pain and struggle is at the very heart of Christianity, and to navigate that contradiction is one of the most important things I can learn in this life. I think the ability to recognize and embrace it is an invitation to come to know the mind and heart of the Prince of Peace--for surely He was never without struggle. But I also believe that crucial to being the Only Begotten Son, He was always at peace--at peace with the Father, at peace with His plan, and at peace with His role in it.

No one who wasn't could have said, facing the infinite and eternal sacrifice of the Atonement "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done." (Matthew 26: 42)

He paid a great price to know the totality of human experience--the pain and the peace of our lives. To see that the real peace of life is our confidence in God and in ourselves, instead of in bountiful circumstances requiring no effort--it's a lesson worth taking with me.

I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and of my life. I know He loves me, and in every way is mindful of what I face every day--of the choices I make and of the ways in which I'm progressing. He's a wonderful teacher and a kind friend. He has endured with me through every hardship, and it's because of Him that I am now at peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

21 November 2010

Grateful for Good Men

There was an older Polynesian man performing baptisms in the Provo temple this past evening. He had such a loving spirit, you could feel of the deep regard he has for every person that he meets. As he helped me into the font, I overheard him answer one of the temple workers who asked him if they could use him a little while longer, or if he had to leave.

His words were so quiet and gentle, even I could have missed them standing beside him.

"I can stay. I belong to the temple."

I pray that I will never forget those words for as long as I live.

The light was bright in his eyes as he wrapped pruned hands around my wrist, and lowered me into the water.

I look forward to the day when I can thank him for the wisdom he has shared with me.

17 November 2010

The Gospel in My Life

Studying the scriptures through Preach My Gospel has been one of the most powerful transformations to my testimony I have ever experienced. I love Preach My Gospel, and I love the changes it has brought to me. I never realized that all the "dailies" and all the commandments we keep are functions of the gospel, and that the gospel is what brings Christ into our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of salvation we, as members of the Church, are under covenant to share with the world. That message includes 5 fundamentals:
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord, the only one who has/will ever atone for all of the sins of mankind
  2. Repentance to be reconciled with Jesus Christ for all of the sins we have ever personally committed
  3. Baptism under restored priesthood authority, as existed in Christ's church anciently
  4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, a confirming ordinance of that same authority
  5. Enduring to the End--to become continually converted to Jesus Christ by remaining true to the gospel

That's it. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those five things are the root of true conversion. And, as I recently learned, that gospel is not just a preliminary set of steps for new members to go through. Once the first four are finished, a person does not stay permanently at step five, in a vague state of generally doing what we know we should.

No, the gospel is a repeating cycle. To endure to the end means to repeat the cycle continually. The Sacrament becomes the symbolic representation of baptism and confirmation after someone has already been baptized and confirmed. The commandments we follow are then supposed to work together as functions of that gospel, to bless our lives for good and help us grow spiritually.

I attended this talk by Elder Ballard on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I came into it hoping to gain much-needed insight on time management.




Afterwards, I realized that if I would strive to make a schedule that is based on the gospel itself, I would feel the Holy Ghost's influence more abundantly in my life. So I sat down and categorized how all the things I have to do fit into the gospel itself.

For example, I was reminded that scripture study is inseparably tied to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ is almost impossible to maintain unless you consistently read the scriptures--especially the Book of Mormon. Personally, that's also where I chose to classify my studies and college classes because in order for them to be worth my time and money, they need to be building my faith in Jesus Christ. I've found that when I put forth the effort to find Christ in even my most secular subjects, He makes it possible for me to understand many lessons that only He can teach me.

Repentance, for me, is largely grounded in prayer. Once I understood that a crucial part of my prayers needed to be daily repentance, it became a lot easier for me to remember to pray every day, and for my prayers to be more than 30 seconds long. When prayers are a constant vehicle for repentance, they become the conversational prayers I have heard so many teachers strongly recommend, but never instruct anyone on how to begin. For someone who is trying to have more conversational prayers with the Lord, I would recommend starting with adding repentance to them each and every day.

Baptism by immersion was an interesting one. I associated that with temple worship because I'm still in the baptism-by-proxy phase of my temple experience. But this could also apply to the Sacrament, and thereby Church attendance. Because baptisms performed outside the temple are almost identical to the ones performed inside, the jump from the first to the second is not hard to make. But how often do we think of Church meetings as being a place to be immersed in the goodness of God? That's what Zion and the Church are supposed to be like--and whether they are or not depends entirely on what we personally put into them, i.e. all of ourselves. If we continually plop ourselves down in a chair and expect to be spiritually fed without putting any effort into it, we will continue to be disappointed when that feeling of immersion does not come.

The one that jumped out to me the strongest, however, was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This made me think of the priesthood, and the question I had to ask myself was "How can I get the priesthood to be more of an active force in my life?" The answer that came to me immediately was the Relief Society, and thereby Visiting Teaching. (If you're curious as to how I made that jump, read this and this.) FHE also came to mind, which actually surprised me way more than Relief Society and Visiting Teaching did. I never thought of FHE as being a means of having the priesthood in my life. As I continued to ponder, I realized that service opportunities fit well under this one because the Holy Ghost inspires people to serve. The laying on of hands in itself is a giving act--one we are commanded to extend to anyone who will receive it.

I have a white board I use to do my planning and time management, and I decided to color code each of the four principles with its own color. I plan to continue doing so as I implement this plan, in order to track the gospel's presence in my life. Once I can build the habits of following through with my plans, and assessing my performance, I can more easily identify how to add things to my life when I feel I need extra help in an area. By being a careful steward over the gospel's influence in my life, I can fortify myself against temptation and the attempts of the adversary to lead me astray.



From this I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a catch-all phrase to describe every good thing. The gospel is how every good thing--every commandment, every truth, every principle--is tied to Jesus Christ. When we see those connections as they really are, and keep them unimpeded in our lives, we magnify the ability of God to bless us and endow us with great faith and power. We become more true to what we know, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our light is more able to shine because it is more easily magnified through our righteous actions, and I know that as I strive to lay that gospel foundation in my life, that gospel will lay a foundation in me for greater things to come.

I testify of this in the holy name of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose gospel this is. Even so, Amen.

12 November 2010

Planning Ahead

A few days ago, I woke up to discover that all the leaves had fallen off of the walnut tree in our front yard. Summer is my favorite season, so seeing all the leaves on the ground is sometimes quite sad for me. It's a sign that I have a long time to wait before Summer comes again.

The leaves on this tree had turned yellow before they fell to the ground. They covered the yard in golden autumn, and they seemed to glow in contrast to the overcast sky.

It was beautiful.

Maybe it's because I'm in the desert now, but I truly appreciated how beautiful trees are for the first time in my life.

I have often thought about my children and how I would teach them about the Second Coming of Christ, how I could possibly be wise and confident enough to teach them what I know in my heart to be true.

But as I sat, staring at my yard, I realized I could already picture it.

Raking leaves into a huge pile, laughing together as we jump in them over and over again, then looking at my little ones in that day and asking them a question.

"How do you know the leaves on this tree are going to grow back?"

I'm anticipating the looks of confusion, the mom-are-you-dense? look.

"Mom, why wouldn't they? They always grow back."

"Yes, but how do you know?"

"We've seen it before."

And that's where I'd point out that we can say the same thing about Jesus Christ because of the scriptures. The Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Their combined purpose is to help us have faith that Christ will come again--evidenced by all the times He's come before.

We learn from the experiences of others in order to see His hand in our own lives. We rely on memories from our own lives when the winter sets in. We trust He will come to us again because He has come before.

I'm currently working my way through Helaman, and I always seem to feel discouraged when I get to that part of the Book of Mormon after reading about generations of war and bloodshed. Christ's entrance feels like it takes forever to happen. But He comes in the scriptures, just as He comes in real life.

And I don't find it so hard to believe that the only reason I can look out my bedroom window and see all of that--in a bunch of leaves in the middle of Provo, Utah--is because He wants me to know He cares.

I know He's real. I know He's coming back, and I plan to live on that hope for as long as it takes. No matter what I'm asked to do, no matter how hard it gets, no matter what's ahead of us as a Church, or me as a person. Even if it's trying to be patient--to wait well when time moves so painfully slow. I don't care. I'll learn to be patient, and I will wait for Him.

Why? Because He's worth waiting for.

And I say that in His name, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

26 October 2010

Rededicated

Going to the temple is a commandment from Christ, and has been for quite a long time. I would like to bring the prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4 to your attention:

Current map of temples for the announced temples
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1  Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2  That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4  Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.  [emphasis added]

Those verses tell any Christian who will read the New Testament that in the last days, the Lord will reveal Himself as God in His temple. Temples are to be a signature of the Lord's hand in the latter days--a reflection of His authority--and are precursory to the return of Jesus Christ. For Christ's people to be without temples in the latter days is impossible if one believes the teachings of the Bible to be true.

Temples are, as we say in the Church, a sign of the times. They are a sign that the latter days are upon us, and that Christ's authority has returned to the earth. That authority exists still with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ Himself said no less to His people in 1832 when He commanded through the Prophet Joseph Smith:

"Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen." D&C 87: 8 [emphasis added]

How quickly is "quickly"? I wanted to know. And seeing as the rate at which our temples are being built is a reliable (and measurable) latter day indicator, I did what anyone would do to grasp a change over time.

I made a graph. You see here displayed the number of unique temples to date which have been dedicated in this dispensation. The data begins with the temple dedicated in Kirtland, Ohio on March 27, 1836. Also note, with the 5 temples which were just announced in General Conference, this graph is already 23 temples behind because those temples have not yet been dedicated. They have been announced, however, and the work on each of them commences according to the will and blessing of the Lord.


[Note:  The increase which happens after the Priesthood was extended to all worthy males in 1978. Also, the largest increase begins in 1999 and tapers off seven years later--a fact more evident in the data than on the graph. That 7 year burst reflects a prophecy of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s in “To The Boys and To the Men” from October 1998 General Conference in which he warned of 7 years of plenty, followed by... well, life as we now know it. (I hesitate to say 7 years of famine because President Hinckley himself hesitated to say seven years of famine.)]



Latter-day Saints have a long history of building temples. Early in our history, the command to build them divided many families and cost many lives. No impostor, no one who is unauthorized by Christ Himself, could triumph over the hell we face to build these temples all over the world. Every time we build another one, the way becomes more treacherous for Saints everywhere. The only protection against the hardship the temples bring are the temples themselves--to worship in them, to praise God for them, to perform the work that takes place within their sanctified walls, and to bring the spirit out through our personal righteousness, and share that goodness with the world.

When Saints fail in that work--when they reject the temple, or do not live up to their responsibilities and covenants related to the temple--they are not the only ones who suffer. The world and everyone in it suffers. We must remember that as we pray and strive to take the gospel into the furthest reaches of the globe. There is no turning back, and there is no calling it quits.

I know that the work of the temple unites families, because my family has been united and strengthened by the ordinances performed vicariously on their behalf in the temple. I love the temple because it blesses my life and unburdens my soul. I have come closer to Christ through the work of the temple, and I look forward to the day when all that I still long for--those choicest blessings that are inseparably tied to the temple--are finally bestowed in my own life. I endure in faith because I know they will be. I have trusted God with my happiness, and I know He will deliver me to the Promised Land. Truly that Promised Land has been restored to us once more. It exists inside every dedicated temple on the earth.

I love my Savior. I know that He lives, and that He loves us. I bear this witness in His name, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

12 October 2010

Sustaining President Packer

I heard President Boyd K. Packer's talk the day he gave it. I've also read it--which is more that many apostates, apostates-to-be, and angry protesters can say. But rest assured, I'm not going to talk about the protests.

Instead, I'm going to point out the instructions President Packer specifically gave to my generation in the Ensign two months ago, about how we are to deal with these angry people who want to take our faith from us.

In Finding Ourselves in Lehi's Dream, President Packer warned us what we can expect in our future:


"Atheists and agnostics make nonbelief their religion and today organize in unprecedented ways to attack faith and belief. They are now organized, and they pursue political power. You will be hearing much about them and from them. Much of their attack is indirect in mocking the faithful, in mocking religion...
You who are young will see many things that will try your courage and test your faith. All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Let me say that again: all of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Be careful that you do not fall into the category of mocking." [emphasis added]


If my peers think our present concern is homosexuality, they need to wake up and pay closer attention to what is happening.

There are faithful members of this Church who deal with desires of homosexuality. They remain faithful and earn every blessing mortality has to offer. They make covenants in our temples. They hold callings in our congregations. They refuse to let this part of their lives rob them of their blessings, and they refuse to believe that their desires entitle them to break our Heavenly Father's commandments. I applaud them for their strength, courage, and faith. I am not ashamed to call them my brothers and sisters. There is nothing I wouldn't do to help them bear their cross of staying faithful to Jesus Christ. I love them, and I am honored to know the people I have known who deal with homosexuality and still glorify Christ in all that they do. They are no less Christian than any other member in good standing, and anyone who questions their faith offends Christ as they do so.

We could not be Christians if we hated homosexuality with the same disregard with which many gay rights activists have hated us. If any of the Brethren gave into such hatred, they would be removed from their place in the leadership of the Church. Having said that, I post President Packer's Conference talk below. The text is available here.



President Packer's warnings in his Ensign talk, together with the warnings in his Conference talk, are not solely about homosexuality. They are directed at anyone and everyone who would abandon their faith in Christ and His Church, feeling they are justified to do so for some unchangeable, "natural" part of their character. Some members will use homosexuality as an excuse to leave the Church, and therefore these warnings do apply to them. But the statement was worded exactly--to apply to anyone who will attempt to lay aside their covenants, pick up the titles of "atheist" and "agnostic," and attempt to leave this Church as if it had never happened to them. President Packer's statements aren't just obvious statements of something which is already happening. They are prophecies of things still to come.

Let me say it again, to be perfectly clear. If our concern in the Church was about homosexuality, we wouldn't have homosexuals in good standing in our church. But we do. So obviously there are people on the other side who need to get their facts straight.

Apostates come in every size and persuasion, and President Packer's talk in the Ensign has told my generation where we should look for our instructions on how to make sure we are not among them. And, surprise of all surprises, he didn't direct us to more statements from the General Authorities--which is what you would expect if this was about brainwashing us.

No, President Packer expects us to do our own study, get our own revelation from the Holy Ghost, and figure this out for ourselves. That's why he directed us to the scriptures:

"As we think of you young Latter-day Saints and think of the Book of Mormon and think of the dream or vision that Lehi had, we see that there are prophecies in there that can be specifically applied to your life. Read it again, beginning with 1 Nephi 8, and read on to the counsel that is given. The Book of Mormon talks about life after death: what happens to the spirit (see Alma 40:11–12) and what happens in the spirit world (see 2 Nephi 2:29; 9:10–13). All of the things that you need to know are there. Read it, and make it a part of your life. Then the criticism or mocking of the world, mocking those in the Church, will be of no concern to you as it is of no concern to us (see 1 Nephi 8:33). We just move forward doing the things that we are called to do and know that the Lord is guiding us." [emphasis added]

Upon inspection of that chapter, we see that verse 33 is the money maker:

"And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not." [emphasis added]

One of the things people in this Church need to figure out is that our covenants don't have a fine print, or terms of termination. Once you're baptized, it's forever; endowed and sealed, doubly so. When you make a covenant with God, He owns you--not the other way around. Our responsibility is then to give ourselves to Him completely. In thought, in word, in action. No more holding back. No more nooks for silent conspiracies. No more renegade philosophies of men, corrupt gender perception, cruel and selfish gay rights agendas, vengeful dwelling on personal offences, or any other refusal to repent and align ourselves with the mind and will of God. The two things all of those "issues" have in common is their total disregard for God's will, and their growing enmity against the leaders and members of His Church.

There is a growing divide between the people who are in this Church for keeps, and those who are not. I'm not surprised by this. It's a sign of the times. Wheat and tares, ladies and gentlemen. We play an active role in how we are being sorted by who we become each and every day. Those who choose to abandon faith once it's given to them by the Spirit offend God. That self-destructive action has a consequence of darkness--one so intense and miserable that any person subject to it is willing to engage in proselyting of their own. They rob the weak of faith simply so misery will have some company. It's an act of treachery, and most who engage in it are in total denial about it because the weight of what they do would literally crush them from the inside out.

That is what the truth does. It condemns us, or it sets us free. And if we stand condemned, we must admit we've been wrong before it can set us free. And if there's anything I've noticed about straying members of the Church, there are three things they could say to God that would lift them where they stand, which would end so much of what they face, and what they're in for. Three things they could say, but they either won't, can't, or are afraid to say:

"I'm wrong. I'm sorry. I love you."

When I came into the Church, I had to learn this lesson too. It's what Repentance is made of. There was hatred in my heart for many people, and much of what had happened to me in my past. I was hurt and angry, but my journey had to begin with learning how wrong I was about everything--about God, other people, and myself. I had to learn how to apologize, and mean it. I had to learn to love, and trust that love would heal my sorrow, and take away my grief.

That's where change begins. Only then did the love of God touch me, and heal every wound of my soul. One day at a time. First the broken heart. Then the wounded body. That's how I became a living soul all over again. Fertile ground for a testimony that saved my life, and has made my life so beautiful, so wonderful, I am glad to be alive. I cannot wait to see my Savior again. I rejoice at the thought of coming into His presence. I am not perfect, but I am happy. I may not be spotless yet, but He taught me how to change. To feast on joy, and to share that gladness with others.

It all began with "I'm wrong. I'm sorry. I love you."

Those words are beautiful to me still... Repentance is so beautiful, I couldn't have made it up to save my own life. It just wasn't in me. But it is now, and I know God is an awesome God of healing. I testify of my Savior Jesus Christ--that He atoned for our sins. He bears us up when no one else can. He loves us when no one else knows how to anymore. I love Him. I worship Him. I love His Church, and I love the leaders He has chosen for it. I love my brothers and sisters, and I look forward to serving all kinds of people when I finally leave for my mission. Even if they hate me. Even if they think I'm crazy. Even if most of them slam the door in our faces. Even if there are those who try to make my mission the worst experience of my life. I don't care. In time, they will know that I loved them.

And in time, those who hate President Packer right now will eventually realize that he loved them too.

That is my testimony, and I bear it gladly in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

28 September 2010

Diversity

I am currently taking astronomy and chemistry, and I'm learning to love science in ways I never knew how to before. Seeing how the precise interplay between planets and forces, chemicals and light contribute to mortal life and the existence of our earth has been an inspiring experience. It's amazing to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit as He uses chemistry and astronomy to explain the Plan of Salvation to me in new ways--the design behind the science from the Master of it all.

I was preparing for an exam earlier today, and was studying the physical and chemical design of the planets in our Solar System. I learned that Earth's liquid core is what provides for magnetism, but Jupiter and Saturn have an even stronger magnetism because of their liquid metallic hydrogen. Venus and Mars have atmospheres heavily composed of carbon monoxide, while Jupiter and the other Jovian planets are mostly composed of hydrogen and helium. Earth is the only one in our Solar System whose atmosphere is made predominantly of nitrogen and oxygen. And it's because of our atmosphere's unique composition of elements that we are shielded from the harmful parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In other words, the only reason the Sun doesn't kill us is because our planet is different in exactly the right way to keep us alive.

My book also explores the moons of many different planets, and makes an observation that you can scour the Solar System and never find two heavenly bodies that are exactly the same. And there's really something to that when you think about it.

There is a lot of diversity in our Solar System. That's true of the planets and the stars, and the chemicals from which they're made. The ebb and flow of the universe as those chemicals interact on atomic levels--and how those interactions have huge and cosmic consequences in the lives of planets and stars--is simply breath-taking.

However, it's important to remember that diverse and life-sustaining are two very different things.

You can't change a planet without changing what it's made of temporally, no more than you can change a person without changing what he or she is made of spiritually. Changing the spiritual make-up of a person is possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, but that change cannot be superficial. There is no superficiality in chemistry, as far as my 101 experience has shown me. Changes start from the inside, and work their way out.

On an atomic level, the innermost reaches of person or a planet, you either sustain life, growth, (and I would add) truth, knowledge, faith in God and testimony of his Church... or you don't. And sure, if you don't, that might make you different. But if those differences do not sustain life, they're completely useless to you at best, will destroy you if you're lucky, or will cause you to destroy others if you're unlucky.

After all, Mercury is solely unique--sort of like the Earth. It's the only planet in our current Solar System without an atmosphere. And it might have even had some "bragging rights" as being the planet closest to the Sun. But it has no protection from the most harmful electromagnetic waves of the Sun, which might for the analogy be rendered S-O-N.

And because of that, nothing grows there. And one might argue that nothing ever will.

(Gee, who does that sound like?)

But don't we kind of need Mercury to have balance, which ultimately allows for life to continue?


With the gravitational forces at play, I can believe Mercury the planet is part of how we have life right now on Earth. I have no beef with Mercury the planet.

But I'm talking about the misery and desolation that would cause someone to self-destruct--to try and steal someone else's faith. I'm talking about the kind of treachery that goes against what man, woman, and child were born to be, for no person was ever designed to be damned.

We exist to be exalted. That is God's plan of happiness, and always has been. We are divine sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents. Just as nebulae give birth to stars, so do divine Parents give birth to divine children. It's not difficult or unnatural to believe it. To believe anything else, in my mind, would be the only unnatural thing.

I rejoice to say with Job:
"The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." (Job 33: 4)
From what I've seen in my latest experiences in science, my breath of life right now is supposed to be oxygen. I don't have to fight against God to make my life interesting--because if you're going to do that, you might as well pick a fight with the air you breathe.

With the greatest happiness we could ever know being tied so completely to God's plan of salvation, choosing eternal life really can be as intuitive as breathing, if we will allow it to be so. That all of my brothers and sisters will come to know this joy is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

24 September 2010

"Are You Going to Serve a Mission?"

Sister Kinman saw me twice before we actually spoke to each other, but I could tell she wanted to speak to me. I didn't know her, but I could feel even from her passing glance her need for... something. Something from me. Something I could say to her.

But my roommate and I had just come from the South Visitor's Center, where she had tried to page another Sister missionary--one who had served the outbound portion of her Temple Square mission in Pennsylvania where my roommate is from. We were standing outside of the Tabernacle, waiting for the Sister to finish her tour so we could say hello.

While my roommate waited for her, I was reminiscing on the conversation I'd just had with another Sister. She was from Hawaii, and I didn't know her. She asked me, seemingly from nowhere, a question that shocked me where I stood.

"Are you going to serve a mission?"

Through a smile that touched the secret of my heart, I told her, "I wanted to, and I still do. But I don't know if I will any time soon."

When she asked why I wasn't going to serve, I proceeded to tell her about the missionary I'm currently waiting for. I told her sincerely that his mission has been my priority and in many ways has been like a mission to me. She understood. She showed me the ring on her left hand, and I knew there was nothing else I needed to say. We smiled at each other knowingly, and I felt comforted once again that I had done all the Lord had asked me to do up to this point in my life. I had made sacrifices, and they had been perfectly terrible to me at the time, but had turned out wonderfully in the end.

I could wait, I told myself. So familiar. How many times had I told myself that? I would serve a mission someday, and I could wait until then.

I looked up and saw two Sisters approaching me. Sister Kinman was one of them. She smiled at me and walked up to me and started talking. She didn't mistake me for an investigator at all. Instead, she also asked me what I hadn't yet recovered from.

"Are you going to serve a mission?"

I want to, I thought to myself. I really want to. In fact, I want to do that with the same intense aching, the same desire with which I want to be sealed to my family. To say I want it doesn't quite do it justice. It's a longing I could die from if I'm not careful.

"I'd like to," I said, still smiling. And I told her my conversion story. I told her that I hadn't had any missionaries to teach me because there weren't any assigned to our part of the stake. I told her I'd been converted "by members being good people," who weren't afraid to share that goodness with strangers. I told her I had been drawn to that goodness, and through mistakes of my own I had nearly lost that light. But when I got it back, I decided I couldn't live without it and I would never let it go.

I told her, "I am a missionary, and I will always be a missionary."

She looked at me, eyes shining with light of her own, smiled and thanked me.

"I needed to hear that," she told me. I was glad to be there for her, and realized again that being a part of this--this precise art of God's serendipity--is why I want to serve a mission.

She proceeded to tell me that I could serve a mission, that all the things going on in my life shouldn't stop me if it's what I want to do. And there are no words to describe how much I wanted to believe her, and I found myself believing her against my experience and judgment.

The bitter part of me--the one who was hurt the most when God said "No"--wore a cruel smile then. You may chain me here, but you'll never be rid of me, her expression read. I jabbed her as hard as I could, and she closed her eyes again. There was a tear on her cheek. And I turned away by looking outward. I'm not cruel enough to find joy in anyone's suffering, not even my own.

Sister Kinman walked away then, and her work inside of me was finished. She may not know what she has reawakened in me, or what it means for me to be here again. How long I've waited, and how painful the weight has been. When I first saw her, I thought she needed something from me. But now I see that what she gave to me was of more worth than anything I could've said to her that day.

But it didn't end with her. Several minutes later, my roommate met up with the Sister she had been searching for. That Sister's companion began speaking to me. Her accent was thick, and her last name was impossible for me to pronounce. She was from Ukraine. And in broken English, full of the beauty of revelation, she asked me the question I now have to answer.

"Are you going to serve a mission?"

She told me how she decided to serve a mission. She encouraged me to proceed in faith, and told me about the blessings her family had received since she had begun serving. She told me about the miracles she had experienced in trying to serve those whom the Lord brings to her on Temple Square. Her eyes were bright with faith and strength.

In just a few short months, I will be old enough to serve a full-time mission. And I have never wanted anything in the same way as I have wanted to serve a full-time mission. It wasn't until I fell in love that I was even sure I wanted to get married--but even when I wasn't sure of that or anything else, I knew I wanted to serve a mission. And now I see in myself that the desire has not changed.

The question remains, despite my certainty of many things: "Are you going to serve a mission?"

Am I?

Am I going to step up and begin the process which has been so difficult for so many of the strongest people I have ever known? Am I going to make the eternal covenants of the endowment in order to become who I must be in order to be a Sister--knowing I will have to bear my portion of that weight alone? Am I going to postpone my marriage even longer in order to do this wonderful thing which has such a power for good in the lives of others? Am I strong enough, brave enough, and wise enough to finish what I've wanted so much to do? Am I willing to go wherever the Brethren assign me to go, no matter how difficult, no matter how dangerous? Am I willing to go forth, knowing that I must forgive myself, then forget myself in order to serve others with all the love and strength of my heart? Am I able to live for Christ in every moment of every day, honoring Him and cherishing Him, and filling my soul with His light?

I knew the answer to these questions long before the Sisters asked me. That's the reality of what President Julie B. Beck was talking about when she said that preparing for a mission should be "a review and not a revelation."

I don't have to wonder if I'm able. I don't have to wonder if my testimony is strong enough. I don't have to wonder if I know enough. I don't even have to wonder if I want it desperately enough yet.

All I've ever wondered is if God will let me serve Him--if, in all He asks of me and my life right now, there might be a black badge somewhere with my name on it. A genuine smile I might learn to carry with me through all things, and eyes warm with testimony strong enough to liberate people from fear. Some words I might say in a right moment to a soul in need of someone like me. A handmaid to my Lord in His loving kindness and everlasting salvation.

To walk among my Father's kingdom, healing wounded souls, declaring:
"Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price."
2 Nephi 9: 50
That is still my dream.

30 August 2010

Precisely Hatred

One of the most important lessons for a student of scripture to understand is the importance of precision in interpretation. Especially when all of your scriptures--as is the case for Latter-day Saints--are products of translation, oftentimes looking up the words in the dictionary is not enough to truly understand the meaning of what we are taught from them.

One such word, which occurs with particular frequency in the Old Testament, is "hate."

There are times in the scriptures where hatred is expressed as we understand it; a passionate loathing or despising that is nothing short of a human frailty. Many times, this is exactly what the words mean in stories such as Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13.

However, when "hate" is used to describe God's regard, or in commandments in relation to our responsibility as His Saints, only the Holy Ghost can reveal its true meaning.

God does not give Himself over to the irrational, passionate, seething hatred of men. Those are not His ways. I direct you to Leviticus 19:

17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

We are not allowed, commanded, or encouraged by our God or our prophets to hate anyone in our hearts. To do so is a direct violation of the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ when He taught that instead of loving our neighbors and hating our enemies, He would have us:

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5: 43-45)

So what, then, is the hatred of God? I direct you back to the verses from Leviticus given above. God's hatred is a rejection, an eventual disassociation, a separation from His presence. It is an action, one that does not require a feeling of hatred--nor could God give Himself over to such a base feeling and still be God. It is NOT a total severing, for such does not take place until no more labor can be performed. For God to "hate" is purely administrative--but that is not to say that God does so without feeling. Quite to the contrary. Looking upon the record of Enoch in the the Book of Moses reveals that when God must cast off His wicked, idolatrous, disobedient children, the feeling of His heart is perfect sorrow.

At times, we may be invited through our experiences in life to share in that sorrow for those who disobey. But it is not our place to allow that feeling to be adulterated and perverted with anger and scorn--a refusal to love them. To do so is not Christian, and the Holy Ghost will not honor or abide with anyone who gives themselves to such unbecoming, unauthorized conduct.

We have to realize that when we say that Heavenly Father loves ALL of His children, that Christ's help is for everyone, it is not our place to add a self-righteous "except for this person," to the end of either of those statements. It is not our place to make allowances for ourselves to "love the sinner, but hate their sins." Many times when we say this, we condemn for sins which we do not know of with any certainty--and when we do, we sometimes use it as a license to continue in our negativity towards those "sinners" in our lives. It is never our place to punish those who have sinned with feelings of hatred or vengeance, and God rejects anyone who stands between Him and His children is such a brazen display of Satanic behavior.

We have every right to reject sin through our teachings and our testimonies, and to do so publicly--to warn our neighbors, just as we are instructed in Leviticus. But such "rebuke" needs to be solely comprised of teaching proper principle and truth with love, respect, and fondness born of trust. It needs to be given from a people who are quicker to reject their own sin and confess their own faults than to point out the faults of others. We will find that as we do this, to use harshness and anger is entirely unnecessary. That is the miracle of Christ's example. Teaching through love and respect is much more effective than to give into a spirit of meanness unbecoming of Heavenly Father's children.

Looking upon God's hatred as rejection finds consistent parallels in the temple imagery of Jude 1: 23 and Hebrews 1: 9. That imagery, also found in D&C 36: 6, teaches that those who are ordained to preach the gospel have the responsibility to say to all men:
Save yourselves from this untoward generation, and come forth out of the fire, hating even the garments spotted with the flesh.
But make no mistake: we are not being sent forth unto the world with a message to sow heated contention with those who would oppose us. Our message is one of love, from a Father who desires not only to love, but to bless all of His children. Because God cannot bless the unrighteous and still be God, our message is one of baptism, of renewal, rebirth, and resurrection. Ours is the message of Jesus Christ. That message can never be anything other than love. It may at times be sharp, or loud, or perhaps even severe. But a message of hatred from the heart is not God's message.

If our messages, public or private, written or spoken, to friend or to stranger, of the mind or of the heart, ever descend into feelings of loathing and hatred, we must understand that the best thing for us to do is to be silent. In choosing to be silent, we make the conscious decision not to give our discourse, our efforts, and ourselves over to the adversary. We must check ourselves against what God "hates"--see Proverbs 6: 16-19--and repent of all those things of which we might stand guilty. To do so is to regain the Spirit and to become wiser for the experience and to truly learn from our mistakes.

I testify that Heavenly Father is a perfect, loving God. I testify that Jesus Christ is His perfect, loving Son. I know that the Holy Ghost bears the perfect testimony, and that as we listen to Him we can learn to teach powerfully without a need for the coarse barbarism of the devil. I testify that to do so is our responsibility as Latter-day Saints. I know bearing true testimony of Jesus Christ provides security from sin which comes from actively opposing all which is evil, and that as we do so we will see the Church press forward towards both its destiny and destination. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

25 August 2010

That's Just Wrong

My iPod Touch is a lovely device which I have stuffed to the rafters with music and General Conference talks alike. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of that kind of versatility.

But at some point, I have to draw the line between versatile and just... well, wrong.



Dear little iPod. I fear I must correct you, because you are very confused.

Lynyrd Skynyrd   ≠  Elder Nelson

18 August 2010

Enduring to the End

I get a lot of people passing through here looking for stories on enduring to the end. I assume these searches are for lessons and talks. Because I aim to serve, allow me to share two of my favorite examples of this principle, and the talks associated with them.

The first example is from the life of Jesus Christ. I direct you to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk The Inconvenient Messiah. Elder Holland expands upon what Jesus went through when He was tempted by Satan, as recorded in Matthew 4: 1-11.

Elder Holland explains Satan's treachery in each of the temptations that he gives to Christ, and how we must be sure to avoid that same treachery in our lives. Elder Holland explains what Jesus does to overcome His encounter with Satan, and what we MUST do to follow Christ's example to overcome our showdowns with Satan throughout our lives.

"I wish to speak this morning of the demands of discipline and discipleship, of the responsibilities we have to face when we choose to follow Jesus Christ. In the Savior's life and in ours, Satan counters such discipline with temptations of an easier way, with an offer of 'convenient Christianity.' It is a temptation Jesus resisted, and so must we. Life was very inconvenient for him, and, unless I miss my guess, it will often be so for you and for me when we take upon us his name."

Enduring to the end, keeping the faith, is a part of our baptismal covenant. We give up the ability to ever stand on neutral ground regarding Christ when we are baptized. Because of this, we will be fighting and opposing Satan for the rest of our mortal lives--if not longer. Sometimes our fight will be more active and tiring than at other times, but even in times of peace we must oppose that which is evil. That is what enduring to the end means. I love this talk because it expresses that reality in no uncertain terms.

This second story comes from President Thomas S. Monson's talk Be of Good Cheer. In his talk, President Monson speaks of a woman who loses her husband in World War II. In order to evacuate to safety, this woman must then trek from East Prussia to Western Germany alone with her 4 children.

One by one, she loses each of her children to the unforgiving winter, and for the first three children she digs their graves with a spoon. She loses her baby daughter last, and digs that grave in the frozen ground with her bare hands. President Monson retells this woman's prayer and describes how it saved her life:

"'Dear Heavenly Father, I do not know how I can go on. I have nothing left—except my faith in Thee. I feel, Father, amidst the desolation of my soul, an overwhelming gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot express adequately my love for Him. I know that because He suffered and died, I shall live again with my family; that because He broke the chains of death, I shall see my children again and will have the joy of raising them. Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.'
When she finally reached her destination of Karlsruhe, Germany, she was emaciated. Brother Babbel said that her face was a purple-gray, her eyes red and swollen, her joints protruding. She was literally in the advanced stages of starvation. In a Church meeting shortly thereafter, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all the ailing people in her saddened land, she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died and was resurrected so that we might live again. She testified that she knew if she continued faithful and true to the end, she would be reunited with those she had lost and would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God." --President Monson

This woman understood the power of her testimony of Jesus Christ and her prayers to Him, and that's how she endured to the end of her struggle. She knew that her personal suffering had no bearing on the reality of Christ's atonement and resurrection, and the truth and power of His gospel. She knew and trusted that her covenants within His gospel would save her, whether she lived or died. That is a choice lesson, which only comes personally through suffering. It cannot be given in an easier, more convenient way.

That is the testimony of my life. My life has not been the most difficult in all of human history, nor has it been the easiest. But I trust God to help me through everything that I face. I trust His gospel and His servants to help me and teach me. I trust the insight and wisdom they've gained over a lifetime of service and preparation for and from their callings. I rejoice to be able to recognize the truth in what they teach. I share their words in every way I can because I know they are true, and I've gained that witness from the Holy Ghost.

I know the Holy Ghost speaks the words of Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, and that there is NO other name in heaven or on earth by which mankind can be saved from sin and death. I bear that witness joyfully in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

13 August 2010

Awesome Men

I recently gave a talk in my congregation's Sacrament Meeting. It was based on Elder David A. Bednar's most recent General Conference talk, Watching with All Perseverance. I recorded an audio copy for my fiancé who is currently serving a mission, and decided to preserve the audio here in addition to the usual text. The genealogist in me thinks this is a wonderful idea. We'll stick with it for a while and see how it goes.




In the Book of Moses, we read about Enoch and the dark times in which he lived. We read about the call Enoch was given to face those days of darkness, before the destruction of the Lord.

6: 27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off;

Brothers and sisters, everywhere around us are people blind to the darkness of this world. But as in the days of Enoch, the Lord has anointed and prepared a seer, someone who can discern good and evil for the benefit of his people.

We testify that we have a modern seer in Thomas S. Monson, which makes these next verses so revealing:

6: 36 And he beheld the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.

6: 37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.

6: 39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

As Elder Bednar told us in his talk Watching with All Perseverance, we live in a day of warning. We live in a day where we must accept that before long, we as a people will be hated and feared. Because our people alone have the authority to build Zion, we must look upon those who have built Zion before us, and realize they have shown us the way we must go.

Elder Bednar’s talk is striking because he isn’t just teaching us how to withstand darkness in our families. His counsel has a much broader application, in teaching us how to be watching in all perseverance for the coming of the Savior. He teaches us how to be like the followers of Enoch, the builders of Zion who look to their seer for direction. Elder Bednar teaches us to do three things that Enoch’s people also did.

The first is to read and discuss the Book of Mormon. Enoch taught his people:

6: 46 For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.

The Book of Mormon is our authorized book of remembrance for our day, in our language. It is the book of our people. Anyone familiar with its contents, translation, publication, and mission knows that it will build Zion wherever it goes, out of every hallowed person who embraces it. The Book of Mormon prepares our minds and hearts to be builders in Zion because it teaches us the signs to look for from President Monson, and the prophets who will follow him. If we will read and treasure the words in the Book of Mormon, we will recognize that everything our prophets ask us to do, no matter how small, has a purpose in the building of Zion.

The second thing Elder Bednar tells us to do is to bear testimony of the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ. We learn from the testimony God gave to Enoch that the gospel isn’t as involved as we sometimes like to make it. Listen to these verses from Moses 6 for the list of what we have been commanded to teach and testify:

6: 57 Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.

6: 59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

6: 60 For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

6: 61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

I testify to you that these verses contain secrets and mysteries that only the Holy Ghost can reveal. Elder Bednar told us to bear testimony of the doctrine of Christ because that is what makes a true testimony, and what makes this the one true Church upon the face of the earth. Anyone whose teachings are not in harmony with this testimony does not teach the truth. If we will bear true testimony, we will become inspired sons and daughters, and we will be able to receive greater light and knowledge from the inspired men and women around us. The most important lesson I ever learned in the Church is how to listen to inspired men and women. May we learn to bear inspired testimony, so we can receive inspired testimony from the Lord.

The last thing Elder Bednar taught us to do is to learn to act upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. He taught us this because too many of us have allowed the faith of others to act around us and act upon us, but to never truly act for ourselves as builders of Zion. We come to God and ask things of Him we are perfectly capable of getting for ourselves, and this does not please Him. We do this because we lack confidence in ourselves, and we misunderstand what faith truly is. Faith is a willingness to submit to the Lord’s power. On our own, we possess no power—therefore, there’s no reason to have confidence in our own power. Ours is not the power we need. Read with me about what Enoch does because of how total his submission to the Lord is:

7: 13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

Enoch goes on to build the city of Zion, where the Lord returns to His people, walks with them, and dwells with them. How glorious it would be to have our Savior return to us, to walk among us because we are sufficiently clean and pure to dwell in His presence! May we cease to strive after our own personal comfort in the gospel, and take up the cause of Zion. May we realize that Enoch saw our day, saw the darkness of it, saw the desires of our hearts as we longed for Christ, and He pleaded with Christ to return to us. And Christ said of us to Enoch:

7: 60 As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfil the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah;

7: 61 And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve;

7: 62 And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.

I testify that Elder Bednar’s message has prepared us for both the terror and triumph of our day, and the days to come. He is a seer, and his words are true. The apostles are servants to our anointed seer, even Thomas S. Monson, and to the kingdom of Zion. I testify that if we will watch our leaders with all perseverance, we will not be led astray by the adversary, who is working harder than ever to destroy us. I know that Christ is stronger and more faithful than the devil. I know Satan will lose this war he has started, as will everyone who stands in the way of Zion and her servants. I testify that Joseph Smith is the prophet of this dispensation, and I am honored to serve under him. I know that as long as I stand by Joseph Smith, I stand by my Savior Jesus Christ. I testify that Heavenly Father loves us, and who He loves, He chastens. I pray we will be chastened and improve every day of our lives, for this is the way to eternal life. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN

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