Apr 13

Perceptive Moses

1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

2 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

4 And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

7 And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;

8 And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; (Exodus 3:1-8).

This is a rich experience between Moses and The Lord. First comes the sign of the glory of The Lord – the burning bush. Why a burning bush? Moses was out in the desert. Seeing wildfires was not uncommon. So maybe at first Moses saw the bush appearing to be on fire and didn’t think much of it. But then he realized that the bush was not being consumed – the fire was not wildfire, it was something else. So Moses turned aside, temporarily leaving his flocks, to investigate. When The Lord saw that Moses was paying attention and taking the time to approach, He spoke to Moses. Moses heard and heeded and was in turn blessed to not just see the presence of The Lord but also to see Him.

How many times in our lives does The Lord wait for us to notice Him and approach Him? How many times have we missed great blessings because we did not or would not notice the Lord’s presence? Do we put the things of the world first rather than putting God above all else? Do we take the time to see the many signs of God around us? Do we recognize His hand in our lives? Do we see and appreciate the tender mercies of The Lord?

Moses did and was richly blessed with the presence of The Lord. At first, Moses was afraid, hiding his face but Moses gained confidence at the urging of The Lord and spoke with The Lord face to face, learning the calling The Lord had for him. Moses was called as prophet, a great prophet who would go before the children of Israel and lead them out of captivity into a land of promise.

Mar 30

Response to Ordain Women

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published a letter they sent to the leaders of a  group calling themselves Ordain Women.

I’ll reprint the text of the letter here since it has been released to the public. Copyright belongs to the LDS Church. Here is the link to the press release: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans

Dear Sisters,
Thank you for your letter and email.

Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make. The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.

Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instruction about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets. You are certainly welcome to view the live broadcast of the priesthood session on lds.org, the Mormon Channel or BYUtv. We invite you, as our sisters, to participate with women everywhere in the parallel meeting for women and girls on March 29, and hope you will join us in a spirit of love and harmony. The women’s meeting is a remarkable gathering of worldwide sisterhood, and was proposed and planned by the presidencies and boards of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society as a time to focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.

Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider.

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map.

As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.

Again, we hope you will join us for the General Women’s Meeting on March 29 and contribute to the strength of sisterhood in our communities.

 

Kindest regards,

Jessica Moody
Public Affairs,
On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There does not seem like there is more to say after that kind letter from Jessica Moody (a woman releasing an official statement from the Church) but as there is still some discussion concerning the matter I will add a few of my opinions. My discussion is by no means complete but I hope it is respectful. I will likely update this post over time but will make any changes clear.

Ordain Women

Ordain Women is making clear their motives regarding the issue of women and the Priesthood. I do not like to make assumptions about people’s motives. Most of the time we do not know why people do what they do (I’m saying this as a psychologist by training) unless they explicitly tell us. Even then, what is told as a motive is not necessarily true because people do not always understand their own motives for doing things. Looking at actions, even repeated actions, does not always elucidate motives because motivation is psychologically complex and changeable. So let’s look at what the group Ordain Women says about their motives:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Equality

Two thirds of this statement are about “gender equality.” One of the major problems in pressing for equality is that equality is an opinion – it’s relative. What some people view as equal will be shocking to others as grossly unequal. This is clear in politics and in much of life. One of the few places where equality is clear is in mathematics (even then, there might be room for discussion on the matter). The word equal comes from words meaning anything from uniform, identical, level, even, to just. Is Ordain Women wanting identical equality, level equality, or equality that is just?

Equality outside mathematics is complex and relative. As one example, let’s turn to statistics. There is an area within statistics called equivalence testing. Part of the use of equivalence testing is determine if groups/drugs/treatments/etc. showing no statistical difference are equivalent. In other words, just because there are no differences does not mean the things being compared are equivalent. There is considerable discussion on this matter by researchers and statisticians. So in statistics the concept of equivalence is neither clear nor straightforward. In life it is a much more nebulous concept. Does this make discussions of equality pointless? No, but without complete, ‘equal’ agreement to the definition and expression/implementation of equality there will never be satisfactory answers for the parties in discussion.

Now, add in the layers of hierarchy and authority (not just priesthood) and equality becomes even more complex. Hierarchy itself can be viewed as inherently unequal so do we need to abolish all hierarchy (that’s essentially anarchy)? If not, then it stands to reason that someone at the top of a hierarchy gets to make a final decision. Turning back to the issue of women and the priesthood – who gets to decide what is equal? Who has the final word? Ordain Women? Is the matter closed only when they say it is? These are all difficulties with basing a platform on equality. We can’t decide what equal is so how are we going to decide what constitutes gender equality? I’m all for civil discussion but dialogue is different from policy and doctrine.

Motivation

The final paragraph of the Ordain Women statement starts to get at the motives of the group: “As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.”

The motivation is to “put [themselves] in the public eye [to] call attention”. That means that unless the LDS Church tells Ordain Women that the full authority of the priesthood will be extended to women just as it is to men, the group will continue to seek public attention. Hence, even though Church leaders have answered their questions respectfully and definitively, Ordain Women continues their call for protests (they might be respectful and peaceful protests but that’s what they are) at the priesthood session of General Conference because they are not satisfied with the answers given. Now I’m not saying that what they do is for personal attention, they say it is about the issue of women and the priesthood and until evidence points otherwise we should take Ordain Women at their word, but public attention is a motivation nonetheless. Public attention is not inherently good or bad but what can be good or bad is the motivation behind the seeking of public attention and the reasons for the advocacy.

Priesthood

From the LDS Church Handbook:

“The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.”

As is clear from this quote, there are two components of the priesthood – 1) power and authority of God and 2) power and authority of God given to man here on earth to act in His name.

I’ll address the second part first.

There is priesthood power and priesthood authority. On earth boys and men are given priesthood authority to act under direction of someone holding priesthood keys (ultimately the President of the Church who is the presiding authority). Priesthood power comes from faithfulness to covenants and righteous living. Priesthood power is available to all who are worthy. What does that mean? Does that mean that women can have the power of the priesthood? Yes, it means exactly that. Priesthood is not men (that’s why it’s not accurate to say something like, “I’d like to thank the Priesthood for their service…”); priesthood is God’s power and authority. On earth God has given men the authority of the priesthood and both men and women access to the power of the priesthood. Both men and women partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Men who are given the priesthood can never bless themselves. Priesthood authority is a call to service, a call with responsibility. Women on this earth have been given alternate but complementary responsibilities, responsibilities that might just be weightier than what men have been given. A man needs a wife in order to have access to the full blessings of the priesthood. A women similarly needs a husband for the same reason. That blessing of a spouse might not occur in this life but it will occur in order for full priesthood blessings to be granted. What this tells us is that full blessings of the priesthood are not realized in this life, they are only realized in the life to come as we remain worthy of what we have received from the Lord.

There is much that we do not know about the organization of authority in the life to come (other than it’s largely around families) but priesthood authority here on earth is given to worthy males. Women and girls have complementary and certainly no less important roles. To argue that such an arrangement represents inequality is opinion and frankly, short-sighted. If people search for inequalities they will find them or create them.

Now for the first part – priesthood as the power and authority of God. God’s power comes in part from His priesthood and His faith. He uses the Priesthood to create and administer. His Priesthood is power and authority much greater than priesthood delegated to those in this life. This power and authority only comes to those who are like God and then only as He grants this power unto them. Little has been revealed about this so any further discussion would be speculation. What we do know is that this power and authority is not given to individuals on earth.

What has been revealed about the priesthood is not complete but seeking to change doctrine by protest is not the method God endorses.

Questions

There is a parable told by Christ of an unjust judge (and a very persistent widow).

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

We should weary the Lord in prayer. But that does not mean we will be granted what we ask. It also does not mean that what we ask for is right. Wisdom is knowing what we should not ask for. However, sometimes persistence pays off, although not always in a positive manner.

Martin Harris was spending a lot of time and money supporting Joseph Smith through the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris’s wife complained and Martin felt that he should be able to show her the fruits of his labors and money. He asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript and show his wife – after all, wasn’t that the purpose of the Book of Mormon – to share it with the world? Joseph said he would ask God. The answer was “No.” Again Martin begged and again the answer was “No.” Finally, after much wearying of Joseph, Joseph agreed to ask the Lord again. This time the answer was “Yes, but if anything happens to the manuscript, both of you will be under condemnation until you repent.” On those conditions, the manuscript pages left the possession of Joseph Smith and traveled home with Martin Harris. He showed his wife. Then, unscrupulous hands acquired the manuscript, stealing it away from Joseph Smith. Work on the Book of Mormon halted until Joseph had repented sufficiently. The lost pages of the Book of Mormon were not re-translated and are lost to us for now.

In this case, persistence paid off for Martin but the consequence was not what expected. Things might have turned out well with no pages lost but because of the wickedness of men, precious pages of the Book of Mormon were lost to us. The take home message is that yes, we can be persistent in asking the Lord, but we should be ready to accept the consequences should things not turn out as we desire. The Lord allowed Martin to take the manuscript pages but it would have been better for him, Joseph Smith, and for us had the first and second “No” answers been heeded.

Ordain Women asks “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” Our leaders have done so. There is no significant or insignificant issue facing the Church that our leaders do not pray about.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a liberal religion. I do not mean liberal in the modern political usage in the United States. There is room for and encouragement of differing viewpoints and beliefs. The tent of our church is blessed to have members from all over the world with different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. What keeps the Church strong though is not the diversity but the centrality of the Savior to the Church. He guides and directs us through His chosen prophets and apostles.

Questions are encouraged. After all, it is through the questions of a 14 year old boy that we received this great restoration of the gospel. Keep questioning but hold on to the truth you know. Questions are great but if they diminish our faith or if they diminish the faith of others, the questions need to be set aside until the firm foundation is restored. This does not mean do not question, it just means that our questioning should be in the context of faith.

That comes down to my final point. What is the result of Ordain Women’s protesting? Does it strengthen the faith of others? If not, maybe the actions need to be reconsidered. We are not responsible for the actions of others but whatever we do should be edifying.

Mar 23

The Conversation of Conversion

When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one of these outings we got to our mountain campsite late in the evening, which meant that we had to set up our tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in good working condition. While we had set up many tents, the three of us assigned that tent hadn’t set up that particular tent before. Trying to put up a tent in the dark with tent poles that didn’t quite fit together was a challenge. Because we were tired we decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right but it was up and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a typical Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing. After we settled down and were asleep, it started raining. Soon the rain was coming down in torrents. The three of us woke up as our tent collapsed around us and we found the water level in the tent rising rapidly. Apparently we got the tent with the jacuzzi. Two of us made the best of our soggy situation and had fun with the experience. The other scout in the tent wasn’t thrilled but we all survived the night – if soaked and cold.

We thought we were sufficiently prepared for the night but we were not prepared to weather a storm. Although we tried to make the best with the tent we had, we were not fully prepared.

I will turn to another experience I had as a scout, an experience with a different outcome. On another campout I was not weathering a thunderstorm at night in a collapsing tent, this time it was daytime in the desert. My scout patrol and I found ourselves with a compass and instructions directing us to a destination.

We were part of an orienteering competition. If we wanted to win, my patrol had to try and complete an orienteering course faster and more accurately than the other patrols. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the waypoints, and then end up at the destination. My patrol and I had spent many hours practicing. We prepared by practicing our pacing of distances and understanding and following compass bearings. Because of our preparation and conscientiousness during the course, our scout patrol won that competition and won every other orienteering competition we were in. We won because we prepared and stayed true to our preparation. We strove to be like the worthy warriors of Helaman’s army who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). We did not just act blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and then we acted (see D&C 9:7-8).

In the gospel and in life a key to success is firstly being prepared and then acting with integrity to the capability we have. In the end, integrity to God is what really matters. One measure of our integrity to God is the measure of our conversion. Conversion takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. Conversion comes from striving to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God.

The word conversion comes from a word meaning “to turn around”. In the gospel setting, it means turning our backs on our previous lives to turn back towards Christ. We turn back to Christ because we knew Him and accepted His plan in the grand council of Heaven. We go through a change – a change of heart, a change of direction, a change of motivation. Conversion is never a single event; it is a process. One way to look at conversion is as a life-long conversation. Conversation, incidentally, comes from the same root words as conversion. While this is not the common use of the word today, conversation means to turn about with, to keep company with, and to live with. This can bring new meaning to the phrase “converse with the Lord”. When we converse with the Lord we follow Him, we keep company with Him, and we live with Him. Conversion brings conversation with the Lord.

This reminds me of a story told about a meeting one of the apostles had with a group of ministers from other churches. During this meeting one of the ministers asked the apostle, perhaps condescendingly, “Would you give your life for Jesus?” After a brief pause, the apostle responded, “I thought that’s what I was doing.” When we are converted we give our lives to the Savior. Not just the breath of life – Jesus gives that to us – but the breadth of our lives.

As we are converted we go through a process of upconversion. The Lord takes what exists and replaces it with a higher quality version. We are upgraded from our base, natural tendencies to be more like the Savior. The apostle Paul spoke of this upconversion when he counseled the Saints to “put off concerning the former conversation [-] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God[,] is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:22-25; emphasis added).

Conversion means throwing off the old man or woman of sin and putting on a new man or woman of Christ. It is not just an inner change, it affects our interactions with others. As we are converted we take upon us a new name and a new persona that is better and brighter than what existed before. Christ made us from the dust of the earth but He wants us to shine like the sun. “From physics we learn that there are set laws that govern the conversion of matter into energy, and the conversion of energy into matter. It is through these laws that the sun and other stars convert matter into energy, thereby giving us our light. In the same way there are laws governing our conversion from a natural man or woman to a son or daughter of God[, a radiant being full of light and the hope of eternal lives].” (Ryan Tanner, personal communication).

What are these set laws that govern our conversion? They are the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures and by the living prophets: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, priesthood, service, charity, prayer, temple worthiness, endurance to the end.

If we do not strive to follow Christ we go through a process of deconversion. In the gospel this means we turn away from Christ. As we become deconverted we turn our backs on the Savior, rejecting Him and His atonement. We change from the new back to the old. Even as we turn away, the Savior reaches out to us, hoping we turn back – convert – to gaze upon His glory and have conversation with Him.

This conversation – this turning around with the Lord, this keeping company with the Lord, occurs as we repent. “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.” (D&C 112:13) We are healed spiritually as we convert. The temple is vital for this conversation and conversion to occur: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; emphasis added). If you have not gone to the temple, now is the time to obtain a recommend and go. For those with recommends, frequent attendance will bring great blessings to our lives. We will feel the Spirit of the Lord more powerfully.

As we become conversant with the Spirit, we are converted. When we are converted we are counseled to ”strengthen [our] brethren [and sisters].” (Luke 22:32). This strengthening comes from the conversation of our lives and in our invitations to those around us to come unto Christ and be purified in Him.

I knew a man named Bill who was invited and then taught the gospel by friends. Bill was a contractor and an ex-Marine with a soft heart. After being taught the fundamentals of the gospel, Bill was baptized at age 50. Three weeks later he baptized his son. He quickly became immersed in the church, serving as ward executive secretary and then going to the temple to make sacred covenants a year after his baptism. Shortly after he joined the Church I overheard him talking to a ward member. He was happy to have the gospel and to be baptized but he expressed regret at having not been taught years before. Bill used to play basketball with LDS friends at the local church building. Although he was around them weekly, not once did they offer to share the gospel with him by inviting him to meet with the missionaries. Over the years Bill kept in touch with those friends but it took 20 years for them to finally offer to share the gospel with him. Although they had taught him in the conversations of the actions of their lives, they finally taught him the principles of the gospel through the conversation of missionary discussions; he rejoiced, he accepted, and he was baptized. His regret was that if his friends had simply started that conversation years ago, he would have joined the church as a younger man and been able to experience the blessings that come from it for those 20 years. He thought that perhaps if he had the church earlier he could have saved his marriage and been saved from some heartache over the years. Bill was happy to have the gospel but hurt that it took so long for that conversation and invitation to happen.

How many Bills are there in our lives – individuals just waiting for us to open our hearts and mouths in invitation? Is Bill your neighbor or good friend? Is he your co-worker or your brother? Just as we should not delay the day of our repentance, we should not delay our sharing with others the conversation of conversion.

President Monson has charged us as members of Christ’s church to participate in hastening the work of salvation. This requires us to be become conversant with others about the church and be bold in invitation.

The Lord has blessed us with a large increase in full-time missionaries. Since President Monson’s announcement that lowered the age at which missionaries could serve, we’ve had a 55% increase in the number of missionaries. What we have not yet seen is a similar increase in member referrals to missionaries. How many of us have friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) because we never extend the hand in invitation? Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has asked us to lengthen our strides and get to work by participating in the hastening of the work of salvation. ”For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4). The field is white when we as members do our part in preparing, teaching, and then inviting those around us to meet with the missionaries. We help the Lord of the Harvest by planting and nurturing seeds and working along side the missionaries in the field.

The prophet Zenos delivered a great allegory pertaining to the work of the Lord in the latter days.

“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said. And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire. And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil. And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit. Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.” (Jacob 5:57-62).

We are not alone in this work. “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few…. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.” (Jacob 5:70,72). The Lord is out there too; He not only directs the work, He performs it. We are called to participate with the Lord in this great work of salvation.

Another way we can hasten the work is in our own homes as we strive to raise our children in such a manner that they are firm and steadfast, abounding in good works. Preparation for full-time missionary service needs to occur in our homes. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. We can soften the shock by teaching our children to be missionaries all the time. We need to prepare our children by acting as missionaries to all those around us. Then, when they enter the mission field they will already be comfortable with the work. They will still be in over their heads but that’s where growth occurs. Just as do the rest of us, missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up. Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings happens most powerfully in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth preparing to serve missions need to know doctrine, understand the scriptures, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. As our youth are filled with “faith, hope, charity and love, [and have eyes] single to the glory of God” (D&C 4:5) they are qualified for the work. It is our responsibility to be filled with those attributes and encourage those around us to likewise be filled.

As we are converted, we will strive to participate with the prophet in rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers where in our conversations we strive to strengthen conversion – that of others and our own. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Let us be proactive so that we do not need to spend time helping others become re-active. Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence to our covenant responsibilities that come with our conversion to the gospel. As we do so, we and they can converse with our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

The prophet king Benjamin taught his people a powerful sermon. “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.” (Mosiah 5:1-5).

King Benjamin’s people experienced a mighty change of heart. They were converted and healed. Are we converted? In the words of Alma: “I ask of you…have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? And now behold…if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14,26).

As we prepare and are converted, conversing with the Lord, we should work with the Lord in rescuing those who are lost and in hastening the work of salvation. May we seek out to rescue the John Greenwoods around us or invite and teach the Bills in our lives! May we be prepared for whatever paths or storms come our way. May we be healed through our conversions and conversations with God. This I so pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Dec 25

Giving

As a father at Christmas time there are two things that particularly fill me with joy – 1) Giving gifts to my children and seeing their joy over those gifts and 2) seeing my children give gifts to each other and express gratitude for those gifts.

Perhaps all parents love giving gifts to their children, especially when they are young. There is little in life more rewarding than seeing expressions of joy and wonder on the faces of children when receiving gifts. There is little more rewarding than spending time figuring out what gifts children will like. Christmas time in particular gives me a glimpse into how our Heavenly Father feels towards us. All the joy I receive in giving gifts to my children is a reflection of the joy He must feel as He gives us gifts. Do we recognize those gifts and express gratitude for them? How must He feel when we abuse or do not acknowledge the gifts we receive from Him?

Last night, so as not to have them lost in the shuffle of opening other presents, my wife and I had our children open the gifts they had for and from each other. My oldest daughter spent many hours making gifts for her siblings. She sewed by hand stuffed animals for her sister and brother, making their favorite animals. That was touching enough to see how much time she spent on the gifts (they turned out quite well and cute). Even better was seeing the reaction of my other daughter upon opening the present; she pulled it out, looked at it, gave it a hug and said, “I love it!” Seeing the joy and the gratitude on my younger daughter’s face for the gift that had been made with a lot of love and time and a little stuffing brought tears to my eyes. I thought about how much Heavenly Father must love seeing His children do kind things for each other and be touched when gratitude and joy are shown in response.

I thought of the Sermon on the Mount when Christ taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:7-11).

Our Father wants to give us gifts and He does! He blesses us many times and in many ways we will never know in this life. This is one reason we are commanded to be grateful in all things. This Christmas season is a particular time of giving. May we we experience the joy and wonder that comes as give freely with love to those around us! May we express gratitude to those who give so much to us – parents, family, friends, strangers, and God.

Dec 22

Scientific Revolution and Restored Religion

“But Copernicus’s new doctrine [that the earth was not the center of the universe] inspired fear as well as ridicule and confusion, because it led almost at once to questions that transcended science. If the Earth was only one planet among many, were those other worlds inhabited, too? By what sort of creatures? Had Christ died for their sins? Did they have their own Adam and Eve, and what did that say about evil and original sin? ‘Worst of all,’ in the words of the historian of science Thomas Kuhn, ‘if the universe is infinite, as many of the later Copernicans thought, where can God’s Throne be located? In an infinite universe, how is man to find God or God man?’” (p.99; Dolnick, E. (2011). The clockwork universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the birth of the modern world. New York, NY: HarperCollins).

The gospel of Christ as restored to Joseph Smith answers all those questions without difficulty.

  • Yes, the other worlds are inhabited. “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose….But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:33,35).
  • Other worlds are also inhabited by sons and daughters of God.
  • Yes, Christ died for the sins of those on other worlds (probably): “Since Jesus is the creator of other worlds whose inhabitants are also ‘begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D&C 76:24), it may be that the benefits of the Atonement will extend to all of the spirit children of our Father in Heaven, wherever situated. [“Not My Will, But Thine” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), p. 51].” (as cited by Robert Webb). Also, Joseph Smith wrote in verse: “Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,\ Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;\ And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons\ By the very same truths and the very same powers.” (as cited in Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 66)
  • Yes, they had their own Adams and Eves: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” (Moses 1:34).
  • Original sin does not exist or apply as many others understand it. Read here (short) and here (long).
  • Where is God’s throne? Near to a celestial body called Kolob: “And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” (Abraham 3:9).
  • How is man to find God or God man? Man finds God through the Holy Ghost and the teachings of His prophets. God doesn’t have to find man: “For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:35).

True science and true religion support each other.

Dec 20

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen [Video]

This is outside the normal range of posts on this site but in the spirit of Christmas and because I enjoy good music I want to share a new version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen I discovered. It’s performed by Postmodern Jukebox, a fabulously talented group of individuals. The arrangement is far from traditional – the whole thing just works perfectly though.

Merry Christmas!

Nov 10

Enduring with Diligence: Gospel Weekend Warriors

When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river as the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink of water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts, we played in the quicksand. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith waned, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and in diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. The hardening of the endurance process is not the hardening of hearts experienced by the unrighteous. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence. [Ref for the source of some of these terms].

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

Elder Maynes said at this past General Conference, “Our ability to endure to the end in righteousness will be in direct proportion to the strength of our testimony and the depth of our conversion. When our testimonies are strong and we are truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, our choices will be inspired by the Holy Ghost, they will be Christ-centered, and they will support our desire to endure in righteousness. If our testimonies are weak and our conversion superficial, the risk is much greater that we will be enticed by the false traditions of the world to make poor choice)

The prophet Lehi had a great symbolic vision of the earth. In his vision he saw the Tree of Life, an iron rod, a great and spacious building, and many people. We read:

“And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree…. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those [in the great and spacious building] that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. [And my father Lehi] saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 8:20-29).

In this passage of scripture we learn of various groups of people. Some find the path that leads to the Tree of Life, some wander off elsewhere, some enter the gaudy and godless spacious building, some find and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life only to be ashamed and wander off; others partake of the fruit continually and heed not the mockers. From this passage we learn that it is not enough to simply partake of the blessed eternal fruit, we must continue feasting upon it – we must endure to the end of our lives. There are many opportunities and roads to become prodigal but only one path to perfection and eternal life. This eternal path requires our every effort; we must endure unto the end.

The gift given unto those who endure is great, even the greatest gift possible. Jesus said, “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). He also promised, “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:8). Again, suffering is implicit to endurance but those who endure are strengthened against and through suffering. But what is important are the promised blessings that come unto those who endure. “If thou endure it [adversities and afflictions] well, God shall exalt thee on high.” What a beautiful promise! Endurance leads to exaltation.

Some time ago I sat watching my daughters play with helium-filled balloons. As my children played with the balloons, the helium inside slowly leaked out. At first the balloons stayed up at the ceiling but then over time they lost their lift and sank to the floor. The spiritual significance of this was striking. Before I mention the spiritual, I’ll focus on the physical.

Toy balloons are usually made out of rubber or plastic or latex. All of those materials, especially when stretched thin, are porous. Being porous, balloons will leak whatever is inside based on the principles of equilibrium of pressure and diffusion. Because many balloons are filled with helium, which is the second “lightest” element, it diffuses through quickly, up to 3 times faster than normal air, because it is a small and simple atom. This means that latex balloons filled with helium will deflate quickly as the buoyant helium escapes or is replaced by air.

We, spiritually, are like helium-filled balloons. Over time we start to deflate spiritually. Remaining pumped full of spiritual helium requires effort and recharging. If we slack off in our spiritual efforts and endeavors, we will lose our lift and sink slowly down. For a time, if we are connected and tied to others, their buoyancy can keep us afloat but not indefinitely. Eventually we will sag and hang down, deflated and dejected. To counteract this spiritual diffusion and deflation we need to actively recharge with new helium. We should do some of the soul-searching Alma did and asked his people to do.

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:26-27).

I’ll repeat the key question: “If ye have experienced a change of heart…can ye feel so now?” Change once is not enough; conversion and salvation and exaltation take a lifetime of effort. We must seek daily for the Lord’s mercy and grace to free us from our sins. We must fill our lives with goodness and good acts. We must endure to the end: “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20). If we do not: “watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what [we] have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of [our] lives, [we] must perish. And now…remember and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

In order to keep our spiritual balloons inflated and buoyant, we must remember what we have learned and endure to the end. We must continually fill our spiritual balloons with new helium in order to be lifted up at the last day.

Part of enduring is heeding the words of the living prophets. What our beloved prophet has asked us to do includes:

  • Hastening the work of salvation by maximizing the blessings of the missionary surge
  • Performing our family history work and bring our own names to the temple
  • And rescuing those who have been lost

A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescuing the lost.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence and enduring in our efforts to strengthen those around us. As we do so, we and they can approach our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

Pres. Monson stated at this past General Conference: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel “weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things becoming strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to rescue the lost and hasten the work of salvation in this area. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Oct 27

Rescuing the Lost

There is little more beautiful than those who have wandered returning home and changing their ways. In what is one of the most powerful teachings ever given, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son.

Related to this is the parable of the lost sheep. Both the prodigal son and parable of the lost sheep demonstrate God’s great love for us. He yearns for us to return home to live with Him again.

Whether we are prodigal sons or daughters (we all are in our own ways), lost sheep, or are those seeking the lost, the call is to follow the Savior home. God loves us and rejoices when we repent and help others repent. We must take part in hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost, particularly if we are the ones who are lost.

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the sheep of his fold;
Dear is the love that he gives them,
Dearer than silver or gold.
Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are his “other” lost sheep;
Over the mountains he follows,
Over the waters so deep.

Out in the desert they wander,
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue he hastens,
Bringing them back to the fold.

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the lambs of his fold;
Some from the pastures are straying,
Hungry and helpless and cold.
See, the Good Shepherd is seeking,
Seeking the lambs that are lost,
Bringing them in with rejoicing,
Saved at such infinite cost.

Out in the desert they wander,
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue he hastens,
Bringing them back to the fold.

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the “ninety and nine”;
Dear are the sheep that have wandered
Out in the desert to pine.
Hark! he is earnestly calling,
Tenderly pleading today:
“Will you not seek for my lost ones,
Off from my shelter astray?”

Out in the desert they wander,
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue he hastens,
Bringing them back to the fold.

Green are the pastures inviting;
Sweet are the waters and still.
Lord, we will answer thee gladly,
“Yes, blessed Master, we will!
Make us thy true under-shepherds;
Give us a love that is deep.
Send us out into the desert,
Seeking thy wandering sheep.”

Out in the desert they wander,
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue we’ll hasten,
Bringing them back to the fold.

Mary B. Wingate, Dear to the heart of the Shepherd

Oct 20

The Covenant Path of Testimony

In order to participate in President Monson’s call to hasten the work of salvation and rescue those who are lost, we must develop and maintain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. It is to declare our knowledge of truth. The word testimony comes from a Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that the witness stands as a third or third-person (and therefore independent) witness. We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book. All of God’s word is established by multiple witnesses (Deut. 19:15Matt. 18:16D&C 6:28). The Godhead, though one in witness, purpose, and glory, constitute multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove to bear witness to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

When Alma and Amulek started preaching to the people in the land of Ammonihah, people were astonished that two people bore witness unto them: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason LDS missionaries go out two by two – they act as multiple witnesses of the truths of the gospel. Their witnesses are further fortified by the witness of the Holy Ghost, who carries the words of testament directly into the hearts of those present who are willing to hear.

A testimony is belief or knowledge of truth and is most effectively shared by multiple witnesses. In order to share a testimony, it must first be gained. Testimonies are gained by seeking to know the truth through humble and honest prayer while diligently seeking to obtain knowledge from God. Testimonies are strengthened by living the principles of the gospel. Elder Richard G. Scott stated: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, that is the surest way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles for which you strive to gain a testimony. If you want a testimony, act as if as though you have it and that action will help create the reality of it. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, keep His commandments. If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it, pray about it, and live the doctrines contained within. That is one reason we are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth. We rarely receive a witness when we seek not; testimonies are gained and strengthened through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel Elder Scott offers His apostolic counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting…. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Thus, testimonies effect changes in our lives. A testimony is a foundation of faith upon which we anchor our actions and as such becomes the foundation for our life of covenant service to God.

The prophet Joseph Smith saw in vision people who had received testimonies of Jesus Christ but who were not valiant in their testimonies. They were good people but people who did not live up to or partake in all the covenants required for exaltation. They received testimonies but did not take the additional steps required as disciples of Christ. These individuals, in Joseph’s vision, were unable to return to live with God again (see D&C 76:79).

Being valiant with our testimonies includes sharing them with others. Such declarations are recorded in heaven: “Ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 62:3).

I know of a group of youth who recently held their own testimony meeting using social media. They shared their testimonies with friends and strangers alike. In a world full of much filth and negativity, it was beautiful to see young men and women freely bearing their witnesses of Jesus Christ and the restored church. As they shared their testimonies, many of the youth were touched by the Spirit. In sharing their testimonies freely, they were following apostolic admonitions to share the gospel using the internet, social media, and whatever other means are available (see M. Russell Ballard, July 2008 Ensign).

An important part of developing and strengthening testimonies is to develop and strengthen faith. Faith and testimony are intertwined – we cannot have one without the other. The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust, belief, or confidence. Understanding faith to be simply belief or trust does not encapsulate the real meaning of faith.

The apostle Paul said: “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Alma gave this definition of faith: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271). “Faith is a gift of God.” We give the gift of our belief, hope, and trust to God. What He gives us in return is faith. Faith is a gift from God that is granted unto us in return for our belief and righteousness.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is the evidence or proof of our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent. Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

If we are seeking a testimony of the gospel, if we are seeking or want to strengthen faith in God, we can plant what Alma called a seed in our hearts. This seed is the word of God, it is also the seed of faith. We do not create this seed – it is a gift from God – but our responsibility is to plant the seed and not cast out it out by our unbelief. We believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (namely, faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit. Faith is not believing without evidence, faith is the evidence supporting our belief.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” or “in blind faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. However, faith is the proof we are looking for. Faith is a gift from God. Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. Faith and testimony are core components of disciples of Christ.

The apostle Peter provided a blueprint of a strait and narrow road, a path whereon disciples of Christ travel and become more like the Savior. “And beside [giving up sinful ways], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

First, we act with diligence. We cease our sinning, we repent, and we follow the teachings and commandments of Christ. This takes tenacity and perseverance. As we start to follow the teachings of Christ and His prophets, we are blessed with faith.

Faith is just a start. We next add virtue to our faith. Virtue is goodness, it is chastity. It is being morally clean in all the meanings of the word moral. Once we are filled with virtue we can gain knowledge. So first faith, then virtue, then knowledge. Why is this order important? Nephi provides an answer: “O that cunning plan of the evil one [notice that Satan has a plan for us just as Heavenly Father has one]! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28). Without a foundation of faith and virtue (goodness or valor in living truth), knowledge has a way of fostering pride and sin; without a foundation of faith and virtue, knowledge profits nothing. Knowledge can be powerful and without a virtuous foundation, knowledge can be misused.

Along this path to Christ – to diligence, faith, virtue, and knowledge we add temperance. Temperance is control, it is restraint. It is power over our appetites, passions, and desires. We learn and grow and understand the value and power of self-mastery. Part of learning temperance is learning self-restraint. Within the LDS Church we have Fast Sundays where part of our practice is to gain control over our appetites. We also are taught and given other reminders to be temperate in our physical appetites and passions.

To temperance we add patience. We can be patient in the midst of afflictions; we can be patient towards others; we can be patient by living in the hope of Christ’s promised blessings. Life flows more smoothly when we have an abundance of patience.

Next, we add to patience godliness. Godliness means having the characteristics and qualities of God – particularly holiness. Holiness means that we consecrate all we have to God and to His work. It means that we separate ourselves from and rise above the sins of the world living sanctified lives. It means, for Latter-day Saints, attending the temple and remaining true to the covenants we make there.

Now, all these Christian characteristics so far have been primarily focused on the self. That’s only part of what the gospel is about; being a disciple of Christ affects our interactions with others. To be truly like Christ we serve others. In order to serve others as Christ did, we develop brotherly kindness. We recognize that each individual is a child of God. We are all children of God and are asked to treat one another as such. If we are godly, we can then develop a true brotherly kindness and strive to do good to all others, even those who do evil to us.

Lastly, we add charity. The chief virtue is charity. This is the “pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47). Charity is without end, it endures forever. Charity is much more than helping others, it is more than treating others well, it is a pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God. It is a pure fruit from an everlasting tree of beauty and purity with preciousness above all else.

The path to Christ and our Father in Heaven is clear but strait and narrow. The foundation of this path is built on faith, our testimony, repentance, keeping God’s commandments, and receiving necessary ordinances. As we are diligent, we can become more like the Savior, becoming filled with the pure love of Christ. We will be able to bless the lives of those around us and have a desire to bless the whole world. As we walk the path of faith, starting with a simple testimony and persevering on, we will feel the pull to share God’s love with those around us.

This path of testimony is a covenant path. It leads from baptism through the temple unto life eternal. What begins as a simple witness turns into a life of consecration. We consecrate all we have to building the kingdom of God and serving God’s children. Recently, Pres. Monson has called for a renewed focus on hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

When asked the similar question of: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with a parable:

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.

The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he stopped and helped. He might have been on his way to a business meeting or to a family gathering; maybe his fields needed sowing. Surely he was not less busy than those who did not stop. He took care of a man on the edge of death just as the Continental Army sergeant did for John Greenwood. It is our covenant duty we have as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate in Pres. Monson’s prophetic priorities by participating in hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost by sharing our testimonies with those in need.

When criticized by the Pharisees for spending time with sinners, Jesus said,

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7)

May we develop and strengthen our testimonies and move onward and upward in supporting the work of the Lord by strengthening those in need. I bear my testimony that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. I bear witness of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ. I bear witness that Pres. Monson is a prophet of God. In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.