Homeward Bound to the Personal God

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During the final meeting with His apostles, a meeting paralleled many years later by Joseph Smith giving his last charge and saving ordinances to the latter-day apostles and others, Jesus gathered with His friends to celebrate Passover. He performed the ordinance of the washing of feet. Jesus broke bread and drank wine in sacrament with His disciples. He sent one off who would betray Him and then taught the apostles significant doctrines. Only after Judas departed did the real teaching and blessings begin. What the Savior taught during these late hours is covered in just over four chapters in the book of John – one fifth of a book covering three years of Jesus’s ministry. That so much of the book of John focuses on this time is one indication of the importance of what Jesus taught before His atoning suffering in Gethsemane and His death upon the cruel cross.

What did Jesus teach? One of the most powerful lessons in all scripture is found in John 17, what is commonly called the intercessory prayer, intercessory meaning praying or petitioning on behalf of another. Of this prayer John wrote: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:1-4)

The key verse here is “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). Life eternal is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. As we strive for eternal life we must strive for a knowledge of God. Even more, we must not only have a knowledge of Him but also truly know Him. The better we know Him the more we love Him. How can we fully love something we do not understand? How can we truly love someone we do not know? The more familiar we are with someone, the more we understand and love that person.

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a light in the darkness of knowledge about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph had clear evidence that the Father and the Son are distinct beings. One of the implications of knowing that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are distinct Beings is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we have an opportunity to become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent.

Most of Christianity, at least in formal theology, believes that Jesus Christ is not a separate Being from the Father – a distinct manifestation but not a separate physical Being. If our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are separate individuals – They are! – and if Christ is the Son of God – He is! – then all children of our Father have the potential to become more like Christ for that is what is clearly taught in the scriptures. The Savior prayed to His Father in the last hours of His mortal ministry: “Neither pray I for these [His Apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22).

Christ is the Son of God and we are also children of God; then we can be, as the ancient apostles taught and as modern prophets and apostles teach, joint-heirs with Christ of all that our Father has! To the Romans Paul taught: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17). That is quite a promise! This pleading for oneness with the Father is thus not just metaphorical. Christ pled that His Father would bless His apostles and all those who believe and follow Christ’s teachings with the same oneness that He and the Father share. This does not diminish the power or authority of God or Christ – for their power and authority are endless and eternal. Rather, it shows our true relationship to God; we are His children and He loves us not just as a perfect God but as a perfect Father.

This is all what was so revolutionary about what was re-taught in bright clarity to the world when Joseph Smith, a young man of 14, saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It upended not only the world’s misconceptions of the nature of God but also of the world’s misconceptions of the nature of men and women and of their divine potential, even though that potential would not be understood for years. We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just as we had with Him before we were born with physical bodies.

A simple recent experience reminded me of the nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears our prayers. Experiences like this can remind us of our Heavenly home.

There is a visual phenomenon called afterimage where when looking away from an object (usually a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of our eyes. This image “burn in” is caused by a severe depletion of pigment chemicals in the eye. Normally, we compensate for this loss of chemicals by rapidly and subtly moving the eyes around, changing where we focus our vision. Doing this gives the time for the pigments to replenish, allowing cells within the eye to work efficiently again. But when we stare at something, especially if it is bright, we can temporarily overuse these pigments.

To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds (not the sun – that will damage your eyes). Afterimages occur when you focus intently on an object with high contrast or brightness. This process often results in a negative afterimage (like camera film negatives) but bright lights can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the light appears to still be there when you look away. In other words, when staring at bright lights, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away. These afterimages last just for seconds but are reminders of the light that was before us.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We basked in His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light; it was continually before our eyes. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith said that this brightness and God’s glory were above that of the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14).

We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. The poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

We are not left utterly naked when we come to earth. We have the afterimage of our pre-earth life given to us by light of Christ; we have remembrances of old light and the giving of new light unto us through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point. The test is whether or not we accept and act upon those burnings. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives, becoming the light of common day, and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives by constantly looking to God and loving Him.

Service

One way can keep God’s light and love with us is when we love and serve others.

Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “Humans are prone to dislike or hate those we do not really know. This is our human nature. But the more we get to know those who are different from us, the more we learn that perhaps they are not so different from us after all…. If we each learned to genuinely love God and to love our fellowmen as our brothers and sisters, we would have more compassion and the problems of the world could be more easily solved.” (Pres. Uchtdorf, Facebook post Saturday, April 25).

Jesus taught:

“34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:34-40).

Knowing God comes as we know His children. Serving God comes as we serve His children. Loving God comes as we love His children.

I’m going to share an experience as an example of the kind of opportunities that are around us to serve others. Recently I had an opportunity to do a small act of service. A few months ago I was driving to work when I saw a man walking along the side of the highway. This man was dressed in old clothes and looked like he had experienced a hard life. He held a sign but I couldn’t read it until I was passing him; he needed a ride to a location in town that I would drive right by on my way to work. As I contemplated whether or not I should turn around and give him a ride, I was soon too far down the road to easily get back to him. I justified my actions by telling myself that I didn’t know where he was going until I was passing him at 60 miles an hour and I was in a hurry to get to work so I could get a better parking spot. What weak justifications these were! Those were probably similar justifications to those thought by the priest and Levite as they ignored the injured man who was later helped by the kindly Samaritan. Feeling bad as I drove on, I vowed that if I saw him again, I’d stop and give him ride. A few weeks later I saw him on the side of the road wanting to go to the same location. I was able to get over to a turning lane and work my way to him but another driver just ahead of me did the same thing and gave him a ride. This time, while I didn’t serve him, I had tried to serve and so I felt much better. Then just a couple weeks ago I saw him again. I was able to pick him up and give him a ride to his destination. Along the way John told me a sad story of a hard life. He was grateful for the ride and I was grateful for the opportunity to serve. It was a small thing but it helped me to reflect on the Savior’s teachings.

Are there times in our lives when we need to pick others up and give them a ride along the road to eternal life? Do we notice those around us who are struggling for the strait and narrow road and offer to help? Even simple acts of service are important because those simple acts done unto others are done unto the Lord. As we get to know others, as we serve others and love others, we serve and start to understand God. Knowing God is part of eternal life. As we come to know God, we can become one with Him, having a unity of purpose, love, and power.

Unity

It is worth repeating what Jesus prayed for His disciples and for us: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:19-22)

Unity. What a special blessing it is! We can be unified when we love and serve others.

Some years ago on a bright Utah morning, the weather was cooling down as Fall approached. I woke up early to get ready for class. It was my first semester back at Brigham Young University after my mission. I had worked through a busy summer and was excited to be back in school and back to one of my favorite places in the world.

My first class was at 8 AM that Tuesday morning so I was up early, getting ready for the day. I turned on the television to watch the morning news while I finished preparing for school. On TV was shocking news. Something – a plane or a missile (reports were unclear at that time) – had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I watched as smoke poured from the building. Everyone was in shock. Then, as I watched the coverage, a plane hit the second tower. Shortly later, the towers collapsed.

I attended both of my classes that day. One of my classes was cancelled after we got there but I have notes from another class so we worked the best we could through the terrible events. I watched more news coverage – much of the world watched the news. I read news stories online and saw photos and videos of the events of that tragic day. I had never been to New York City. I did not know anyone from New York or who had a personal connection with someone who lost a life in the attacks. I was only weeks into a new semester after a two year break from school. I was living in a new apartment with new roommates. There was so much going on that I don’t remember many more specifics of that day and following weeks. There are many more people who were affected much more than I was. The effects on me were circumstantial but still vivid. It’s difficult to imagine what it would have been like – and what it still is like – for those directly affected.

What I do remember is how the people of our nation came together; we united as people, we united as states, we united as a nation. We united across faiths and ethnicities. We united as one. The foundation of our nation for many years has been – e pluribus unum – “out of many, one”. We stand united, we fall divided. Unity is something desired by the followers of God. Unity is what Jesus pleaded for in His great intercessory prayer (see John 17) – that He and we might be one with His Father.

It was as a united people that we banded together in prayer and service. Many people answered that horrific act of hate and violence at the hands of wicked men with acts of love and compassion for others. As a nation, in spite of hurt and anger, our love for one another burned brighter and with more clarity in the days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Our hearts turned to family and friends. Our hearts reached out to strangers. Good Samaritans shared their oil of life, their means, and of their love with those in need.

The unity quickly dissolved in our nation but for a time it was there and powerful. We as individuals can strive for such unity in our homes, our wards, and our communities and not just in the face of great tragedy.

We can have unity when we serve, love, and care for others.

How can we apply these principles and make meaningful change in our lives? Without action, these words don’t mean much. I encourage each of you to start every day and ask your Father in Heaven in prayer for specific experiences to serve or help someone and then go throughout your day attentive to and acting upon such opportunities. I know some, maybe many of you do this already. As you do this, you will see the hand of God in your life and in the lives of those around you. As you do this, your love of others will grow. As you and I bear one another’s burdens, we serve God. As we serve God, we know Him. Our Heavenly Father placed us all here on earth through the miracle of birth. He loves us – He loves me and He loves you. Our Father wants us to return home to Him.

May we pray to the Father with the poet: “If you find it’s me you’re missing, If you’re hoping I’ll return, To your thoughts I’ll soon be list’ning, In the road I’ll stop and turn. Then the wind will set me racing As my journey nears its end, And the path I’ll be retracing When I’m homeward bound again. Bind me not to the pasture; Chain me not to the plow. Set me free to find my calling And I’ll return to you somehow. In the quiet misty morning When the moon has gone to bed, When the sparrows stop their singing, I’ll be homeward bound again” (Marta Keen, Homeward Bound).

May we be homeward bound to the loving and very personal God, our dear Father in Heaven! God lives and loves us.

Stepping on a Snake

Southern black racer
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Yesterday I walked down to our mailbox to collect the mail. There was an alumni magazine from my doctoral university so I started reading through it on my way back home. Being spring and Florida, I was wearing flaps (sandals). As I stepped onto the walk that leads to my front door I felt something rubbery under the front of my foot. I looked down, jumping back a bit as I did, to see a large black snake. My first fleeting thought was that it was a toy snake but I knew we didn’t have any and then it quickly slithered away to repair its dignity under some bushes. I always enjoy seeing snakes so I ran inside to call out my family to come look at the snake I stepped on. It was a Coluber constrictor priapus, also known as a southern black racer (because of their speed). These black racers are not poisonous, they can be feisty though so I was glad it did not bite me (I was in flaps so my foot was out in the open), as deserving of a bite I might have been. I shooed the snake away from our front door and it hurriedly slithered away, looking like it was thankfully uninjured.

This experience has direct gospel applications. I wasn’t watching where I was going and ended up stepping on a snake. I we are not careful in life and continuously mindful of where we are going we can step into dangerous situations. Life requires concentration and focus on our destination. even if we do not do anything wrong, we can end up somewhere where we do not want to be.

Note: snakes aren’t bad even if they terrify many people, I’m just taking a little license here and comparing it to something bad.

The Virgin Birth

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I came across an article written by Stephen Webb, a professor at Wabash College, who argues that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is obsessed with Jesus Christ. I haven’t had time to read the article in depth yet but one paragraph caught my eye.

“Mormon metaphysics is Christian metaphysics minus Origen and Augustine—in other words, Christianity divorced from Plato. Mormons are so materialistic that they insist that the same unchanging laws govern both the natural and the supernatural. They also deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

“Mormonism…is…Christianity divorced from Plato” – precisely. Mormonism is true to the original Christian church before post-apostolic Christian leaders modified it with Greek philosophy. I’ll agree with that statement.

However, the last line of the paragraph is an incorrect representation of LDS theology: “They also deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

No we do not deny the virgin birth (links to five different general conference talks that specifically reference Christ’s birth as a “virgin birth”). We do not understand the virgin birth; it’s one of the things God has not yet revealed but we accept it.

Elder Quentin L. Cook’s statement summarizes ‘Mormon’ theology on the matter: “The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel be based on faith rather than just external or scientific proof. Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed, such as how the virgin birth or the Resurrection of the Savior could have occurred or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures, will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith.” (Cook, In Tune with the Music of Faith, April 2012). In other words, while there are many things we would like to know, we do not and cannot know everything in this life so “obsessively” focusing on unknowns does not benefit us spiritually. We can study and pray to know such things but making sure our faith is true and our hearts are pure is more important.

Update: Another part of the article that is incorrect: ‘The Book of Mormon places the birth of Jesus in Jerusalem, much to the delight of biblical fundamentalists who use such discrepancies to score debating points.”

This is based on a misunderstanding of Alma 7:10, which reads: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” [By the way, this verse also counters his statement that Mormons do not believe in the virgin birth]. The key in the verse is Jesus is born “at” Jerusalem, not “in”. I won’t bother adding anything to what has been covered thoroughly elsewhere on the matter (and here). Okay I will. Why would Joseph Smith, who was versed in the Bible make such a blatant error as to say that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (ignoring the fact that the Book of Mormon say “at Jerusalem” and not “in Jerusalem”) when it’s clear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (5 miles from Jerusalem)? He wouldn’t and didn’t. Take time to read those responses about the issue.

Love At Home

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One of the saddest things I’ve seen recently in a TV show or movie was during an episode of The Cosby Show. Two of the sisters have a disagreement and start fighting. I know many people watch that and laugh at the ridiculousness of it but it brought me to tears. There is nothing I find more disheartening than discord in homes. Seeing or hearing families fighting, arguing, or yelling at one another in anger is always profoudly disturbing to me.

I understand getting angry and annoyed but anger is almost always ugly. People have a difficult time thinking clearly when angry. Things are said or done that normally would not be said or done. Those less-than-thoughtful words and actions then exacerbate the problem, creating a feedback loop that can degenerate into something more hideous – a terrifying chimera of anger, distrust, and hate. Not all anger devolves into this, certainly, but our homes should be temples of peace and love and kindness rather than battlegrounds.

Our homes should be places of refuge and safety. Our homes should be full of kindness, service, and love. When we become angry and vent on family members, when we allow anger and fighting to enter our home, we drive away the Spirit of God and in essence desecrate the temple that should be our home. Anger and fighting have no place in our homes. The great prophet king Benjamin taught us to not:

“suffer that [our children] transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14-15).

I’ve been married for more than 10 years. Not once have my wife and I fought. We’ve only rarely disagreed about things. I cannot even recall (should I even want to) a time when I was annoyed with my dear wife. I try to not do things or say things that could annoy my wife. Marriage is a sacred relationship; temple marriage, in particular, is founded upon covenants of righteousness and consecration. What this means is that everything we do should strengthen our marriages. One of the key things we can strive for and have to strengthen our marriages is unity. There is little my wife and I value more than unity as a couple and family. This leaves no place for anger or fighting. We need to be kind and gentle in all that we do.

We have been commanded to “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:23). This leaves no place for arguing or fighting. If we want our children to be kind to one another we need to be good examples for them, which means we need to cease responding in anger to them. One of the best ways to reduce bad behavior is to encourage good. Jesus taught through the words of Isaiah that “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (3 Nephi 22:13). Peace in our homes and hearts comes when we are taught of the Lord. Peace comes through testimony and the Spirit as we strive to follow Jesus.

I started this post this morning and then after stake conference watched a new Mormon Channel music video that I feel is appropriate here.

“Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.”

Destructive Healing

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“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).

Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near (or was?) the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (paralysis, maybe with seizures as well) on a bed (stretcher) to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments frequently involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all also have rapidly dividing cells). Treating cancer frequently requires such systemic destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions of the dysfunctioning brain to stop the seizures. Sometimes drastic actions are required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered spiritual and physical healing.

C.S. Lewis wrote on this process of healing through destruction: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Healing might hurt us “abominably” but such hurts are necessary. Healing certainly hurt the Savior abominably. He suffered so that He might succor. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance.

Building a Habit of Charity

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The brain is made up of 87 billion neurons – the brain cells that allow us to breathe, think, walk, talk, pray, serve, and love. Each of these cells is connected to others with an estimated total of 100 trillion connections. That’s a staggeringly large number to contemplate. The number 1 followed by 14 zeros. These connections are not set for life; they strengthen or weaken constantly based on what we do and learn. Even simple actions, such as clapping or raising our hands in sustaining of church leaders, changes blood flow within our brains for half a minute. Each thought we think, each action we do, changes our brains. As we learn and re-learn things, the connections between brain cells change. If we do things over and over they become habits; habits might be easy or difficult to develop but they are usually hard to lose. This is because habits are ingrained within deep recesses of our brains; they travel along major brain pathways automatically and at rapid speed. Each thought or action we have or do has the potential to become a habit if we repeat it. What habits are you forming? What connections are you making in your brain – positive, uplifting, faithful ones, or are you strengthening connections that lead you away from Christ? The roads of the mind can elevate or debase. Do we seek and strengthen the paths that will lead us back home?

One way to elevate our minds is to strive for Christlike attributes. The greatest of these is charity. What is charity? Charity is the chief virtue. It is the “pure love of Christ, [that] 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 not helping others, it is not treating others well; charity is the 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.

Charity is a gift from God and is manifest in those who believe in Christ and are striving to be like Him. C. S. Lewis explained his belief in Christ; he said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?, 1945). The Savior testified of His Light, “I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness…” (John 8:12). Christ also said, “Ye are the light of the world…let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…” (Matt. 5:14,16). What is this light? Did Christ mean that He was a physical light, a form of electromagnetic radiation that simply brightens the world around us? It is true that the resurrected Christ shines with a radiance above the brightness of the sun, as Joseph Smith described, but this is not really what Christ meant when He said that He is the light of the world.

Jesus created the earth, the moon, and the heavens above. He caused the sun to shine upon the earth to give us life. Jesus lights the earth around us but He also does more than that – He lights our souls with His love. Christ is love. Love is energy, you can feel it – it radiates like the sun. When we are told to “let [our] light[s] so shine” the Savior is telling us to follow His example by lighting others’ lives by love; we are to warm the hearts and souls of those around us through the warm radiance of charity. When we follow our Lord by keeping His commandments, He lights our souls with His love. When we have His love, we can share it with others. This means that it is not possible to light someone else’s soul without a burning in our own. This is a light that is in all people’s souls. In some it burns with a dazzling brightness, in others it flickers like a dying candle. When we have charity, the light of Christ shines through us with great intensity. When we are filled with charity we see the eternal light in those around us – we know that all are sons and daughters of our Eternal Father in Heaven. We know that all have the potential to become as He is.

But becoming like God is a process. None of us is perfect; we are fallen, living in a fallen world. We are in an embryonic stage, trying to grow up and control these wonderful but mortal bodies the Lord blesses us with. Sometimes we sin, sometimes we turn away from God, sometimes we forget who we really are. All of us on this earth, in the grand council of heaven, subjected our spiritual bodies and wills to the will of the Father; that is why we are here in mortality – we said in shouts of joy, “I will follow God’s plan for me!” Now as mortals we are trying to subject our physical bodies to the will of the Father – truly a difficult task. Just as in the premortal world, again Christ was the consummate example. He subjected His will completely to His Father’s; this surrendering of His will culminated with His death on the cross and His triumphal resurrection from the tomb in the ultimate act of love. Jesus Christ gave us the perfect example of charity.

We are commanded to serve others. Opportunities to serve come with baptism, when we covenant to be comforters: “And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). A responsibility we have as Latter-day Saints is to help alleviate the suffering of others. We have been commanded to “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer” (D&C 38:35). As Latter-day Saints and Christians we have been commanded to, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

The miracle is that by mourning with those who mourn and helping other people bear their burdens, our own burdens and suffering are lifted. The Savior spent His life focused on others but His ultimate act of selflessness, His ultimate act of charity, was when He shed His precious blood for each and every one of us. In this act, His will was completely swallowed up in His Father’s. The Atonement is infinitely Other-focused – it was not done to benefit Jesus. In the premortal world, Christ answered the call to act as propitiation for the sins and sorrows of God’s wayward children. He performed the greatest selfless act the world ever knew or will know. As we follow Christ and turn our focus outward and serve others without seeking personal gain, we will find the cure for suffering. In doing good to others, we will overcome our sorrows and sufferings. We do not suffer while selflessly serving others. Just as the Savior did, we can serve to bring light and life to others.

We might serve others at first because it is a commandment – we might serve out of a sense of duty but the more we serve the more we will do so out of love. The Apostle Paul taught: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). This means that we are given commandments so that we might learn charity and serve with a pure heart, good conscience, and real faith. The end of commandments, or in other words the purpose of commandments, is that we might become Christ-like – full of God’s love, which is charity. While there are many good reasons to serve others, the highest and best reason is because we love others and are filled with charity. Charity is a measure of perfection.

While our motives to serve others might not always be out of pure charity, by serving we keep a commandment and work toward the day when we will be filled with God’s perfect love. Charity can be strengthened by action. Through repeated desires and actions we can make feelings and actions of charity more automatic; acts motivated by charity can become habits, written upon the tables of our hearts (see Prov. 7:3) and the pathways of our minds.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote recently: “A few days ago, I met in my office with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to discuss work on increasing the spirit and the power of the Sabbath to build faith in Jesus Christ. As I later pondered this conversation, I felt that faith in Jesus Christ is built more by acting than by listening, even when the teacher or speaker has the power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost testifies of our Heavenly Father and of the Savior with the purpose of moving us to repent and to keep commandments. Those are actions. It is the actions to pray, repent, and keep the commandments that build faith in the hearts of disciples of Jesus Christ.” Elder Henry B. Eyring, posted on Facebook on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015; https://www.facebook.com/lds.henry.b.eyring/posts/808659242514886)

As we act, we are blessed. If we want faith, if we want charity, we should act. Go and do. The call to action sometimes requires what I call a loving kick in the pants.

In October 2012, Elder Holland gave us such encouragement. He told of the apostles toiling after Christ’s death. The apostles were fishing without success when the Savior appeared on the seashore, although at first they did not recognize Him. It was not until He asked them to cast their nets again into the water that they recognized Him. By following His counsel, they caught many fish and came to shore to talk with their Savior. This is where the chastisement – the loving kick in the pants – started.

Jesus asked Peter three times – “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yea Lord, I do.” But the Savior needed to teach Peter a lesson – Peter had not fully grasped the nature of his calling as Apostle (and chief Apostle – the president of the church – at that!).

Now quoting Elder Holland:

“Jesus responded… perhaps saying something like: ‘Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.'”

Elder Holland continued with an admonition to all of us: “My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: ‘Did you love me?’ I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—’Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.’ And if at such a moment we can stammer out, ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,’ then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments,’ Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.” (Holland, The First Great Commandment, October 2012).

Will we be able to answer the Savior when we stand before Him to be judged that we really do love Him, that we loved Him enough that we put Him first in our lives? Did we love Him enough to really love other people? Do we really understand the weight of the responsibility we bear when we are baptized and are confirmed and make sacred covenants to follow the Savior? Do we feel like we can stand before the Savior today with clean hands and a pure heart having done all we can to follow His commandments? If not, what changes need to be made? Start making the changes today.

One of those changes we might need to make is to see others as our Father sees them. This vision requires charity. Charity isn’t just loving people for who they are it is loving people for who they might become. Charity is understanding the eternal potential and divine spark within all people. Charity is helping others draw near to God by seeing and edifying the good within. Do we love others enough to help them grow? Do we love others enough to help them return home giving them a loving kick in the pants when needed? Do we love and fill our lives with kindness?

Elder Wirthlin said, “The measure of our love is the measure of the greatness of our souls…. Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship…. Often, the greatest manifestations of love are the simple acts of kindness and caring we extend to those we meet along the path of life.” (Wirthlin, The Great Commandment, Oct. 2007)

Each simple act of kindness can be a manifestation of our love. Each hand we hold or tear we wipe, can share the love of God with His precious children. “Real love is best shown in the ‘how’.” (Holland, How do I love thee?, BYU Speeches, Feb 15, 2000). How do I love thee? Let me show you the ways.

One way to feel and show charity to others is when they are dealing with loss and grief for that is when love is needed the most.

With the strike of an automobile, some years ago tragedy struck our family. My 11 year old niece Allison was crossing a road on her bicycle with her father and younger sister when an automobile struck her, killing her instantly. It was a challenging time for my sister and her family. It was difficult for all the extended family. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with festering bitterness? Do we forgive wrongs or do we allow the cankering cancer of hate to grow inside ourselves? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The healing waters of Christ cannot wash away our hurt and grief if we keep them locked within the stony tables of our hearts. We must offer our hurt and grief to the Savior. Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow, suffering, and pain. Sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened. We can even find joy amidst the hardship as we turn towards Christ. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

Jesus offers hope and healing to all who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer; we learn of His great love for us. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

God shall wipe tears from our eyes – what a touching, beautiful, and miraculous experience that will be! What love our Father has for us! This is a miracle we can perform for others; this is a love we can share with others. Pres. Harold B. Lee said of this miracle – the miracle of healing those who sorrow and who suffer with spiritual sickness: “The greatest miracles I see today are not necessarily the healing of sick bodies, but the greatest miracles I see are the healing of sick souls, those who are sick in soul and spirit and are downhearted and distraught, on the verge of nervous breakdowns. We are reaching out to all such because they are precious in the sight of the Lord and we want no one to feel that they are forgotten.” (Lee, April 1973 General Conference). The Lord came to heal the sick – in body and spirit. We are commanded to follow Christ; we must to do as He did and reach out to and heal those who are dejected and sick in spirit.

Even in times of our own suffering we can help heal others. In the days before Allison’s funeral, my sister and her husband took time to visit and comfort the boy, a teenager, who was driving the car that hit her. Allison died and my family suffered because of his mistake but he was going to have to live with the weight of her death on his shoulders. My sister and her husband wanted to let the boy know that they forgave him for what happened. “There was hurt but no hate.” (Faust, April 2007 General Conference). They exemplified one of the greatest acts of love – the gift of forgiveness; it is the ultimate miracle, the ultimate gift of love. This is a gift given to us by Christ and one we can give to others. Those who Pres. Lee said are “sick in soul and spirit and downhearted and distraught” might be aching for one thing from us – the healing that starts when we offer a gift of forgiveness. What greater love is there than laying down hurt and hate and extending arms in love? What greater Christian attribute is there than that of forgiving those who might not deserve forgiveness and loving those who might not deserve love? This is charity, being filled with the pure love of Christ.

I pray that all our thoughts might be drawn out to God, that we might strive to be as He is, filled with a radiant, pure love. I pray that we might fill our hearts and strengthen the pathways of our minds with good and with love. This church is true. Jesus Christ lives and loves us!

Endurance

Endurance
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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. They spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea.

“Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.'” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost.

Do we face life with the same determination? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation.

Enduring means that we cannot take half measures in life. Choosing to follow half the commandments is like firefighters choosing to only put out half a fire or an airplane maker choosing to build half a plane. Half a plane won’t get anyone anywhere quickly. Sometimes enduring requires hard work, sometimes it simply requires patience. We read in James: “Take, my brethren [and sisters], the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11).

In the cramped, freezing, ironically named Liberty Jail, a place of suffering that became a temple of learning to the incarcerated prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord comforted with these words: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes…. And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).

Are we greater than Christ? He descended below the depths of our sufferings. Jesus provided the perfect example of endurance. Joseph Smith was an example of endurance. All things that we pass through shall give us experience and be for our good as we are faithful. Have patience, have hope. Be believing and carry on.

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 because 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 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 did what any reasonable person would do – we played in the quicksand. [The greatest danger with this patch of quicksand was maybe losing a shoe]. 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 wavered, 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. When we are called to pass through challenges and suffering it’s best to do just that – pass through them. Giving up part way through might at the time seem easier but then we’ll be stuck in the trial longer. 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 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. As we endure we are hardened – this is not the hardening of hearts, it is the strengthening that comes from choosing the right, which strengthening provides armor against the temptations of Satan that would lead us to misery and eternal separation from God. 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 and weekly willingness.

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.

“And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], after ye have gotten into [the] strait and narrow path [to Christ], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

If we don’t endure to the end we cannot endure the presence of God: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24) We are asked to endure hardships so that we might return with honor to God’s presence and endure His eternal love.

Pres. Monson stated recently: “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 must persevere, we must endure as Shackleton and strive to lose not one life spiritually – not our own and not those for whom we hold stewardship. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things become strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to return to God and enter His eternal embrace. “And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26).

Note: Image of the frozen in Endurance ship. Image in public domain.

Dropping the Rope of Addiction

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This post is for those who are struggling – personally or through friends or family – with the monster of addiction. This post is written from the perspective of a mental health professional (which I have training as) but does not constitute professional advice. I am not a therapist (I’ve chosen a career in research and teaching) but I have training as a therapist.

Individuals seeking help in overcoming substance abuse, pornography addiction, eating disorders, or any other addictive behavior often fall into three categories: the home run hitter, the negative and bitter, and the perpetual quitter. The home run hitters do just that – they quit without much struggle, hitting a home run, changing their behaviors right away. The negative and bitter don’t believe that they will overcome their addictions and they try to blame other people or external factors for their problems; they play the victim card, often without any hint of accepting personal responsibility. Those individuals are the hardest to work with because they see no need to change or have no desire to change. On the other hand, the perpetual quitter frequently tries to quit but never succeeds; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It is those who struggle over and over to try and overcome addiction that I want to address.

Erase Addiction

The following examples are fictional but are true to life; they are not atypical of people seeking treatment for addictions. These examples are based on people I’ve worked with during my professional training but I’ve changed specifics (e.g., names, ages) as well as taken the liberty to apply them to a church and gospel setting (e.g., made them members or investigators of the church).

Tobacco

Ralph is 53 years old with a 35 year history of smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes per day. He recently had a chest scan that revealed a spot on a lung. His doctor told him he needed to stop smoking. Ralph has wanted to quit for years to save money and to save his health but never could. He has a daughter he wants to help through college and as he nears retirement he not only wants to have more money for retirement but he also wants to live long enough to retire. Ralph has tried patches, pills, behavioral treatment, and going cold turkey. Each time he tried quitting Ralph slipped and started smoking again. He means well but Ralph has been unable to quit.

Part of the challenge is that Ralph believes that he can win the battle over smoking. Wait, isn’t that what he wants – to beat the addiction and stop smoking? Yes, but stopping doesn’t require fighting. Part of the problem is that deep down Ralph believes that he can slay the giant of addiction. He can’t. Few people have that strength and willpower and those who do usually develop the ability it through years of practice of self-control, something that years of addiction aren’t exactly evidence of – self-control.

Then Ralph meets the missionaries (or Ralph could be someone newly baptized). They teach him and give him blessings. He is excited and hopeful because he believes in the Savior’s Atonement and its power to heal. Yet, even as his faith grows, Ralph is not quite successful; he is not able to stop for a long enough period in which to be baptized (or, if he was baptized already, he slips back into the addictive behaviors). Ralph starts to despair and feel unworthy, his blossoming faith starts to waiver. What can be done?

Pornography

Matt is 19 years old and a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He developed a pornography addiction at age 18 and has struggled with quitting since he first approached his parents and bishop. There were some days when the urges of the addiction were so bad he spent the majority of those days viewing pornography, shutting out the rest of the world. Concurrent with the addiction he struggles with depression, which feeds his addiction and is fed by his addiction. He meets bimonthly with his bishop and weekly with a therapist. He prays, reads the scriptures, and attends church weekly. His addiction, however, remains. Matt tries to quit but the siren lure of pornography catches him back each time.

Tug-of-war

Both of these cases illustrate a few of the many challenges faced by those who struggle with addictions. Even with the power of the Atonement, behavioral, emotional, psychological, or physical issues might interfere with success in overcoming addictions. Just as not all medical conditions are cured through faith (the vast majority are not), not all addictions are cured by faith and “trying harder”. I’m not downplaying the role that the Atonement must play for many addictions constitute sinful behavior – addiction is not an excuse for sin – but faith and repentance are not panaceas in this life.

Below is a perspective on addiction that I’ve found helpful professionally. It is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that I feel has much to offer. Part of this approach is discovering true end goals of life and identifying how current behaviors, emotions, and/or cognitions are or are not detracting from those goals. Once overarching goals are recognized, manageable sub-goals can be established and any barriers to fulfillment identified. With these goals in mind, we can understand how some actions are counterproductive, even if they seem like the right actions to be doing (such as trying to beat the monster of addiction – again this post is focused on individuals who struggle to quit or change, not to those few who are the home run hitters).

Addiction is like playing tug-of-war with a monster on the other side of a gorge. You think that if you can just pull the monster in you will be free from your addiction; the problem is that it’s stronger than you are. You might even think that you can cross the chasm and fight it (maybe the other side looks greener too) but you will lose. The only way to conquer it is to let go of the rope and live your life on your side of the chasm. Then the monster will no longer be pulling back on you. In doing this you are not ignoring the monster – it’s there and real but you are simply choosing to stop fighting it so that you can move on to greater and more productive goals.

This concept of overcoming addiction can be quite successful because when you fight things, you dwell on them. If you play tug-of-war with the monster of addiction you focus all your energy on it. In doing so, you allow it to have power over your life. That’s the irony of fighting the monster – you might think that you are choosing to battle it but in reality you are giving up your freedom of choice. You might think that it is a fight on your chosen ground and at your chosen time, but the monster stands there, waiting for you to fight – it enjoys the contest. The monster only has something to do when someone fights with it. This is a fight few people can win.

So instead of playing tug-of-war, should you cross over the bridge to attack the enemy there? No. Once again, that places your focus on the monster; plus then you are in its territory. That’s like an alcoholic who tries to quit by going to a bar just so she can say that she’s there but not drinking – “look how strong I am!”. It’s not a good idea. That is not the way to win. Once again, by striving to do so you focus on the monster. It’s like me telling you to not think about purple bunnies. Whatever you do, do not think about purple bunnies – not the wiggling of their little noses, not the ridiculous purple hue of their fur, not their munching of juicy carrots. Of course, the first thing you just did was think about what I just asked you not to think about – purple bunnies. The more you try to suppress the thought, the worse it gets because you keep your focus on it. Addictions are the same way.

You need to drop the tug-of-war rope and walk away. Acknowledge the monster, accept the monster as part of your life – it’s real and it’s big and scary. When you drop the rope you are not ignoring the monster, you acknowledge it’s there and real, you just choose not to fight. Ignoring it does not solve your problems because then you are in denial and in the river of denial you usually end up eaten by crocodiles. So instead of just ignoring the monsters, say “I know you are there; I know that you are a terrible thing in my life; I know that you want to fight me and I want to fight you but I cannot win. I embrace you and let you go.” Instead of straining and putting all your efforts on fighting the bad in your life, acknowledge it and then fill your life with good. You embrace (or shake hands – whichever metaphorical action you prefer), let go, and move on. What you move on to is important though. You can’t beat addiction with a life full of nothing, addiction will always win over void! Addictions exist in part because of some internal void. So instead, fill your life with good.

The key to overcoming the monster of addiction is establishing positive goals and working towards those goals rather than fighting against the monster. The goals could be related to family, work, hobbies, service, church, or community. It is in striving towards good goals that the monster of addiction finally goes away.

For all the perpetual quitters out there – if you are trying to overcome addiction of any sort (and it could be anything physical or emotional) but find yourself constantly quitting with little success, it is time for a shift in tactics. That shift could be to acknowledge the monster, drop the rope, walk away, and work towards positive goals in your life. Instead of fighting the bad, do good. Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) rather than going about fighting evil all the time. In the same manner, addiction no longer has power over you when you stop fighting it and start working towards good goals. It doesn’t mean it’s gone for good – the monster will remain, lying in wait – but if you stop fighting you can start living. This is not an easy thing to do if there are years of addictions to overcome but it is a simple process and will provide success through diligence and over time.

What will give great power to the process and allow you to fully overcome is the Atonement of Christ. Jesus’s Atonement enables you to be free from the shackles of your sin. It enables you to overcome all, just as the Savior overcame all. Sincere repentance will allow you to “shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Nephi 4:31), no longer having a disposition to do evil (Mosiah 5:2). However, just as you must rely on medical treatment in addition to faith in Christ, there are many instances when you must rely on professional help for addictions. When you or the person you love fall, when you stumble along the path of freedom, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up! That is precisely the time when you need to double your determination and your prayers and keep clinging to the iron rod. God loves you and wants you to succeed. Don’t give up hope, keep walking towards your goals. Through faithfulness and honest striving towards Christ, whether in this life or in the next, you can be free. You shall overcome some day.

Rope image by Michael Heiss used under a Creative Commons license.

Honesty: The Worth of a Peso

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What is the worth of a peso? How much would one be worth to you? A peso is not worth much to most people but there is one in particular that is worth a lot to me.

When I was young my family and I visited an old Spanish mission in Arizona. There were a lot of coins in the fountain. Many of the coins were pennies, nickels, and dimes; all glittered and sparkled in the sunshine and through the water. But some of the coins were different, some were from Mexico, which was not unexpected because we no more than an hour from the Mexican border. I liked one of the pesos and took it. I remember looking at it in the car on the way home. Within the next couple days my parents discovered I had the coin and asked where I got it. I told them I had taken it from the fountain. I guess I knew what I had done was wrong because I remember hiding the coin from my parents but it also did not seem like a big deal. However, my father sat down with me and had me send the coin back to the director of the mission. Sometime later I received a letter from the director of the mission. In the letter he thanked me for my honesty in returning the coin. Within the envelope and in addition to the letter he included a few coins – including the one I returned – from around the world that had been tossed into that fountain. I was rewarded for my honesty (or at least the honesty of my parents). This was the start of my small collection of coins from around the world.

What is the worth of this coin to me? It is worth a lesson of the importance of honesty. It was a powerful lesson at the time and still is. The Lord blesses and loves those with honest hearts: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Psalm 32:2). Jesus was heartened (and still is) by those who were without guile and lies, in part because He faced so many who were full of deceit: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). This was a man to be trusted! This was a pure man. Jesus loves the pure in heart. Honesty is a building block of purity.

I love this description of the honest in heart: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The honest are like good gardeners who watch with patience until their efforts bring forth good fruit. Honest hearts are good hearts; honesty and integrity imply a lack of spiritual cardiac disease. For those who do suffer from spiritual cardiac disease, there is hope – the Lord promises a heart transplant to those who need it: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekial 36:26). Continued honesty and integrity bring the Spirit, which serves as anti-rejection medicine for this new heart.

The Lord expects His people to be honest and upright in their dealings with Him, others, and themselves. Of one group of righteous people in the Book of Mormon it is written: “And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). These were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, those whom were converted by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, rebellious and wicked youth turned righteous and powerful missionaries to the Lamanites. So righteous were these new church members that they were described as “perfectly honest…even unto the end.” They lived their lives in righteousness and holiness because they were perfectly honest.

We can similarly be perfectly honest in all we do and inspire honesty in others. Elder James E. Faust told the following story of the power of honesty:

“I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young men are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity.Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. ‘Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.’

The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and is now the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.” (Ensign, Nov. 1996).

What courage that man had to stand up to his classmates and demand their honesty! What integrity and honor! There were blessings because of this honesty – more medical students graduated in that class than previous classes had graduated. Without cheating, the students had to work harder, which meant they learned more and could do better. The world would be a much better place if more people were like that man. The pain and suffering caused by dishonesty in our world is great.

The summer after my mission I needed a summer job before I went back to BYU to resume school. I got a job as a car jockey at a dealership. I drove cars that people brought in for repairs from one lot to another and back. It was not hard work but I was out in the sweltering Arizona heat much of the day and it seemed like most of the cars needed air conditioning repairs. One car I got in was a 1980s minivan with a mattress on its side in the back, which meant I could not see out the back on the passenger side of the car. As I backed up I heard and felt a crunch. I thought, “Oh no! What did I hit?” as I pulled forward back into the parking space and got out of the car. There was a new gray Corvette with a gash in its front driver’s side wheel well. Corvettes (at least this 2001 one) have fiberglass bodies, which means the car body tore instead of denting. The minivan was not even scratched (not that it was really possible to tell anyway – it was old and a bit beat up). I thought of my options: I could go tell my boss or I could drive away and not tell anyone. The second choice was not an option so I went and found my boss. When I told him about the accident his first question was, “What color was [the Corvette]?” I said, “Gray, it wasn’t the yellow one [a fancy Z06 in for a tune-up].” “Oh, that’s good then. Thanks for letting me know.” And that was it. I went back to work driving cars around. Later that same boss went out of his way to find me as a driver for his wife’s car (a BMW) that was in for repairs because he trusted me. I am always glad I told the truth. It is always better to tell the truth, regardless of consequences.

There is an interesting scripture in the book of Moses. It reads, “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4: 3-4). The interesting thing is Satan is called “the father of all lies”; he could have been called many other things (and he can be called many things) but the Lord chose to call him the father of all lies. Satan’s self-proclaimed work is to deceive and blind men and lead them down to captivity, pawns to his will and whims. All lies come from Satan; he is their creator. Those who lie preach the devil’s gospel and spread his bad word. Those who are dishonest become Satan’s children. Is not it better to become sons and daughters of God?

Continuing on in Moses 4 we read the following (I will add some commentary in brackets):

“6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world. [Satan thought his lying to Eve would frustrate God’s plan when in fact it furthered God’s plan].
7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
8 And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
9 But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; [a lie].
11 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. [This is true].
12 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
13 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.
14 And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
15 And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?
16 And he said: I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
19 And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
20 And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;
21 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall [crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Moses 4:6-21).

Satan tried to lie to Eve. He tried to destroy God’s plan but he didn’t know that he was actually furthering God’s plan; what Satan did was without authority or permission but Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit was part of God’s plan – whether they eventually partook of it by themselves, or someone else gave it to them. In any case, when Satan realized that he was cursed for what he had done (he already was cursed but in this case he was upset he had not actually frustrated God’s plans but furthered them). Satan became very angry and has been ever since. He rages against God and all of us. He tries to cause the nations to rage furiously together, brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother, neighbor against neighbor, and people against people. I do not believe that Satan is so angry that He cannot think properly – to the contrary, he thinks very clearly – but he is angry because of what he lost and angry at us mortals on earth who have opportunities for progression he will never have. And so Satan lies and deceives and encourages dishonesty in others. He knows that when we are dishonest we are not godlike or godly. He knows the pain and suffering lies cause and so he encourages them and laughs at the suffering of others. He rejoices in our failures and sins and sorrows. God does not.

[The image at the top of the post is the coin I took from the fountain].

Concourses of Angels and a Pillar of Fire

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When we attend the temple we enter a sacred structure, literally a home for God. Temples are dedicated and consecrated unto God for the building up of His kingdom. They serve as beacons of His love unto His children. Temples are places where the eternal circle of heaven and the mortal circle of earth intersect.

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In the temple we can find great peace and solace. As we separate ourselves from the world, we have great opportunity to introspect and listen to the teachings of the Holy Ghost. As we serve others in the temple, providing necessary ordinances to those who have passed on, we are surrounded by concourses of angels and a pillar of fire. Have you felt or seen those angels? They surround us in the temple – observing, witnessing, recording, and teaching. Have you seen or felt that pillar of fire? It serves as a shield against darkness and sin. Just as it lit the way for the Israelites in the wilderness, the pillar of fire lights and protects us as we partake of the fruit of the tree of life. We are taught and testified by the burning of the Holy Ghost. In the holy temple, surrounded by angels and fire, we can return to the presence of God and be clasped in His holy embrace.

Angel Moroni image source