The Book of Mormon Provides Clarity

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There is minor disagreement among scholars as to the identity of the “beloved” disciple of Christ. Read this Wikipedia entry for a summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciple_whom_Jesus_loved. It is postulated that the beloved disciple is John, Lazarus, Mary Magdelene, or someone else. While there is weak to no evidence for the beloved disciple to be anyone other than John, discussion still continues (even though it should never have started).

In the Book of Mormon we have a record of Jesus speaking to three of His Nephite disciples who desired to remain and preach the gospel until Christ’s return: “And he [Jesus] said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.” (3 Ne. 28:6).

Instant clarity. End of discussion.

I use this as an example of the role of the Book of Mormon. It clarifies much of what appears controversial or unclear in the Bible. The Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Jesus Christ and of the Bible. It establishes the truth of the Bible so that we may more fully believe it and believe Christ.

Improving Gospel Teaching

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When I was young my parents would ask after church something like this: “What was your Sunday School lesson on today?” or “What did you learn about in primary/priesthood?” Many times my response was non-existent (if I wasn’t feeling particularly chatty) or as insightful as “I don’t know [remember].” There were numerous times I honestly could not remember what my lessons were about.

Fast forward many years. Just over a year ago I was teaching Nursery (one of my favorite callings ever). The Nursery manual is built around repetition, which is the only way we really learn anything. Key concepts from the lessons are reinforced over and over in the brief span of lesson time and 1 – 3 year old attentions. There is a lesson, there are songs, and there are coloring activities. I’d also try to show video clips whenever relevant. This is a form of multi-modal teaching – different ways to teach the same point with each child hopefully responding to one or more of the methods. If a child doesn’t like singing, maybe she will like the video clip or coloring. What this type of teaching does is improve the possibility that learning will occur. To supplement this, I would also ask at random throughout the time after the lesson what the lesson was about. This allows the children to try to recall the information at random times and variable spans of time, which increases learning. This is a type of variable interval reinforcement.

Yesterday I substituted teaching my daughter’s primary class. We had a nice Sacrament Meeting with the mission president and his wife speaking along with our stake president. The topic was – no surprise – missionary work. When I asked the children in class (right after Sacrament Meeting) what the talks were about, the children could not remember. This was expected because one of the children had slept through part of Sacrament Meeting and others were busy doing what little children do – coloring or playing with small toys. I wanted them to remember or learn something from Sacrament Meeting so we took 10-15 minutes to do a reinforcement activity – the ever popular (and not politically correct) Hang Man. It took a while for the kids to guess the words because of their ages but the activity was worth it because after that they remembered that Sacrament Meeting was about missionary work. I asked them a few more times after that in order to boost their memory (because they would have to retrieve the memory after a variable interval). We also sang a couple songs (or at least I did), watched a couple video clips, looked at pictures, colored pictures, and talked. Again, this is multi-modal learning and really benefits learning as long as all activities are directly related in theme. Stories also help a lot, particularly if they come from class members.

As for our lesson in class, I had them boil the lesson down to one word – love. Pulling out a key concept is important to help memory. For little children it needs to be short – love or missionary work or happiness or family. Older children, teenagers, and adults might be able to remember more but consolidation of lesson material into 3-7 words as a summary benefits memory. This means that if you have a lesson on kings of Israel or Abraham or Alma, whatever you as teacher want the class to remember about the lesson should be able to be stated in 3-7 words (and probably less than 5 realistically). So, for example: “Abrahamic Covenant” or “Wickedness never was unhappiness” or “The righteous still suffer” and so forth. This could be written on the board or on a handout and stated repeatedly (but at random intervals). Teachers can also ask the class members to summarize what the lesson is about in their own words with the encouragement that it be under 7 words. This requires thought and consolidation.

I’ll have more to write about gospel teaching and learning, particularly as the church moves forward in redoing more lesson manuals (to follow the pattern of the relatively new pattern of instructing the youth, “Come, Follow Me.”). For now, I think we could boost retention of lesson materials (particularly with children) by making sure we consolidate what our lessons are about into no more than a few words.

Evidence of Truth

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There is a quote from the prolific author Isaac Asimov that reads: “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.” (Asimov, The Roving Mind, 1983, p. 43; as cited by http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov)

Asimov was an atheist and obviously skeptical of things that fall outside scientific observation and explanation. While this is not the forum for a discussion of the potential problems of the scientific method as that branches into the philosophy of science (start here for an introduction of dualism, which is the foundational philosophy of our scientific method), there are many people (here’s one example) who question the assumptions at the philosophical foundation of modern science. I bring this up because Asimov stated, “I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers.” That is precisely the scientific method but that method has its limitations.

So why write about this on a website devoted to basic doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I’ve written previously on belief and evidence. I will summarize that post and apply it to this current one. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God, we just have to be willing to accept that evidence and the methods by which we acquire it. This means that we have to be willing to try a different method of knowledge other than the scientific method. In other words, when one states that the only way to know something is through “observation, measurement, and reasoning, [with] confirmation by independent observers” (in other words, the scientific method), then that individual is making the assumption that the scientific method is the only way to understand truth. That’s a big assumption. This is not an attack on the scientific method but rather a recognition that it just might not be the only way to discover truth (and I argue that it isn’t).

Even with this, I agree broadly with what Isaac Asimov said. I too believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, with the confirmation of independent observers. I believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ because I’ve made observations and measurements of the effects of following the teachings of Jesus in my life and in the lives of others around me. I have had many experiences with the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, that confirm the truths of the gospel. These experiences have been verified by independent observers – others who have similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings at the same time as me or in different circumstances. I believe the Bible in part because the teachings in it are testified and clarified by the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, which both serve as additional, independent “observers” (witnesses) of truth. I have the teachings and experiences of prophets, teachers, leaders, parents, siblings, and friends who all confirm my own experiences.

Now, I know that many people do not accept those experiences, they do not accept such evidence as valid. However, this is because they make assumptions that because they cannot use the scientific method to gather these evidences (although you can use methods similar to the scientific method), then such evidence is invalid. Many people are unwilling to even try to find out for themselves if God exists, if Jesus is the Christ, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church, and then act surprised when they don’t have any evidence – as if evidence comes without searching. We have to be willing to discover the truth using God’s method rather than the scientific method. Doing this yields real results, real evidence. What’s beautiful is that anyone can know for themselves, in fact you have to know for yourself, you just have to be willing to accept evidence that might fall outside the scientific method.

Religious Liberty, Personal Liberty

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A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing intolerance and persecution from government and church leaders in England because of their beliefs, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. After struggling to earn livings in Holland they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America, as yet a largely unknown land with only a few permanent settlements. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Through the Compact, the Pilgrims recognized the great blessings that God gives to His children. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travelers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur.

When the Puritans came to America they brought with them and further developed their ideas of liberty. They typically viewed liberty in four different ways. The main form of liberty of which they spoke and wrote was a collective or “publick liberty” (p.200; Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.). This was a liberty of the community and colony and not necessarily individual liberty. It “was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals” (Fischer, p.200). It was through individual restraints that the entire community had liberty. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is not possible to have liberty for the collective without restraining the individual, which is one reason why anarchy does not work. Without restraint, entropy takes over, leaving only chaos.

The second idea of liberty that the Puritans talked of was liberty for individuals, although they usually referred to these as liberties (i.e., a plurality of liberty). In this case, “these plural liberties were understood as specific exemptions from a condition of prior restraint” (Fischer, p.201), which liberties they found in a new land.

The third Puritan view of liberty was the sense of “soul” or “Christian” liberty – the “freedom to serve God in the world. It was freedom to order one’s own acts in a godly way – but not in any other. It made Christian freedom into a form of obligation” (Fischer, p.202). This type of liberty was also referred to as liberty of conscience. While this idea of liberty was restrictive in practice because they only accepted belief in their Puritan faith, the idea that people should be free to serve God was an important founding philosophy for the future United States.

The fourth view of liberty for the Puritans was an individual liberty, a liberty or freedom from tyranny. This freedom included “freedom from want in the most fundamental sense” and “freedom from fear” (Fischer, p.205). This was similar to how many Americans view liberty today. This Puritan belief was another important belief that would influence many of the future Founding Fathers.

The Puritans believed in the freedom in order and not the freedom from order (i.e., collective liberty was more important than personal liberty). They believed that individual restraints were vital to the welfare of society – an idea that sometimes seems largely lost in our world today. This does not mean that more laws or more restrictions increase freedom but it also does not mean that fewer laws and fewer restrictions necessarily increase liberty.

Liberty and freedom are God’s desires for us. He endowed us with “certain unalienable Rights,” which rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is a gift from God! We should always remember and serve Him, who gives us our freedom. May we be like the great Book of Mormon military leader Moroni who “did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). Satan seeks “to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries” (Ether 8:25), whereas God desires freedom and joy for us.

God told His people: “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:8-10). As we remember and return to that God who gives us life and liberty, we will be blessed individually, as a nation, and as a world.

The early years of America were a struggle for individual and religious liberties. There were extremes in beliefs and actions; there were allowances for diversity of religious beliefs and there were severe constraints on free expression of belief. It took years for a national identity to form. In the end, the identity that formed allowed for the separation of church from state and state from church. Our identity recognized the great value of religion – the necessity of it for a civil society – but also recognized that belief and faith should not be coerced. People should be free to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Near the end of 1776, the American colonies were entrenched in a war against Great Britain. This was part of the war for independence. The war at that time was not going well for the Americans who were seeking freedom. They had lost a number of battles, forts, and cities, including Fort Washington and New York City. While he watched the battle of Fort Washington, General George Washington was dismayed at the loss of life. At the end of the battle he wept openly. It was a hard loss. The entire Revolutionary war was a series of defeats for the Americans. That year of so much adversity might have seemed bleak and hopeless. Indeed it was for a number of people but many Americans found new resolve in their adversity. They strengthened their desires for freedom from what they saw as an oppressive government. In the midst of this adversity Dr. Benjamin Rush said, “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to posses most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” (Source: David Hackett Fischer. Washington’s crossing. (2006). Oxford University Press, USA). “It was a time when many Americans resolved to act in a way that made a difference in the world.” (ibid.). The revival in the resolve and hearts of those fighting the war of independence came from their defeats, not their victories. It was in the Americans’ responses to calamity and tragedy that their greatness grew. We don’t show our strength and character in times of ease, we demonstrate it by how we respond when all the world seems to be falling down around us. This struggle for liberty was not easy. In our lives today it might appear that we are losing battles, we might lose battles, but if we remain faithful, God will turn all things to our benefit.

How do you cope with severe opposition? Do you give in to despair? Do you end up shattered upon the jagged rocks of adversity? Or do you fight? Do you face the adversity and move forward? Fighting is not always the solution – there are some fights that are beyond us – but when faced with adversity we should strive to address it as best as we can. Sometimes that might be by running away, like Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. For Joseph, his running from adversity led him into greater adversity – being cast into prison. How did he deal with this potential tragedy? He remained true to who he was and became the most powerful and respected prisoner. Through his righteousness and faith he faced adversity and overcame it, eventually rising to the second most powerful man in Egypt. We can say that Joseph was successful because of his adversity, not in spite of it. His liberty only came through his adversity.

I’ll share an example from the Revolutionary War that is representative of the challenges faced by the Americans who struggled through severe adversity to establish a new nation of freedom.

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

The American colonists struggled and eventually overcame, giving birth to a new nation founded on principles of individual liberty. The general sentiments of early citizens of the United States regarding the government and the interplay of religion and religious beliefs are echoed in Doctrine and Covenants 134.

“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:1-4)

“Belief in God is central to the country’s experience, yet…faith is a matter of choice, not coercion” (Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, location 73 of 6656 Kindle eBook). This was a novel, revolutionary principle upon which to establish a nation. Tying church and state together as had been done for much of history allowed for the distortion of doctrine and gross abuses of ecclesiastical and political power. Roger Williams, an early advocate of religious liberty, observed that “the gardens of Christ’s churches turned into the wilderness of national religion, and the world (under Constantine’s dominion) to the most un-Christian Christendom.” (Meacham, location 677 of 6656 Kindle eBook). The Great Apostasy held sway over the hearts, religions, and governments of humankind. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom, shattered the bonds between religion and government so that true liberty might exist and true religion flourish as they unknowingly laid the foundation for the restoration of Christ’s church.

Removing the bonds between organized churches and government does not mean religion and politics should remain separate. Pres. Washington stated in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (Washington, Farewell Address: http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/milestones/farewell_address_read3.html)

In the early days of the Revolutionary War one of the American generals, Nathanael Greene, wrote of the necessity of religious belief for the nation. He said: “America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of Truth, Freedom, and Religion, encouraged by the smiles of Justice and defended by her own patriotic sons…. Permit me then to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country’s cause, a Declaration of Independence, and call upon the world and the great God who governs it to witness the necessity, propriety and rectitude thereof.” (as cited by D. McCullough in 1776, Simon & Schuster, 2005; emphasis added).

Those who attack religion attack the foundation of morality and the foundation of liberty. Leaders who seek to oppress and gain tyrannical power seek to constrain religious liberty. Liberty triumphed because the Founding Fathers believed that God granted unto His children inherent rights that governments should have no power to limit. One of these rights was that of freedom of religious worship. By infusing our nation with the idea of God-given rights rather than government-given rights, America became a place of inclusion rather than exclusion; America became a place of freedom and liberties rather than oppression, although oppression and bondage remained for many. Early leaders of the United States and of the restored church rejoiced in this liberty.

Brigham Young stated: “How can a republican [freely elected] government stand? There is only one way for it to stand. It can endure; but how? It can endure, as the government of heaven endures, upon the eternal rock of truth and virtue; and that is the only basis upon which any government can endure” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

Our government was founded under the inspiration of God. It will only endure, as Brigham Young said, when those who govern and those who are governed enact and support truthful and virtuous laws with truthfulness and virtue in their personal lives. The Book of Mormon prophet and king Mosiah taught that nations only prosper and endure when righteousness prevails:

“Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord. Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land” (Mosiah 29:25-27).

Pres. Young said: “If a nation transgresses wholesome laws and oppresses any of its citizens or another nation, until the cup of iniquity is full, through acts that are perfectly under its own control, God will hurl those who are in authority from their power, and they will be forgotten; and he will take another people, though poor and despised, a hiss and a by-word among the popular nations, and instill into them power and wisdom; and they will increase and prosper, until they in turn become a great nation on the earth.” Brigham Young also said, “No matter how good a government is, unless it is administered by righteous men, an evil government will be made of it.” He taught that the influence of righteous citizens can save a nation: “Government in the hands of a wicked people must terminate in woe to that people, but in the hands of the righteous it is everlasting, while its power reaches to heaven.” Lastly, Brigham Young taught about the type of leaders we should seek: “We want men to rule the nation who care more for and love better the nation’s welfare than gold and silver, fame, or popularity” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

I am grateful for the great nation The United States of America and for the freedoms we enjoy. I am grateful to live in a land where we can choose to live in righteousness. We must strive to elect good men and women. It is never too late to choose righteousness and to encourage righteousness in others!

This foundation of righteousness was built by the first leaders of the nation who acted in accord with the will of God.

Pres. Wilford Woodruff stated in general conference: “I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.” (April 1898, Conference Report). He further said that they “laid the foundation of the government [we] now enjoy, and…never apostatized from it, but…remained true to it and were faithful to God.” (Read for more: http://www.josephsmithacademy.org/wiki/eminent-spirits-appear-to-wilford-woodruff/)

The Founding Fathers were true to their cause and by and large expressed great faith in God. An example of this faith comes from Thomas Jefferson.

As Thomas Jefferson was dying he began “moving in his mind between past and present, [and] gave his grandson instructions about his funeral arrangements. Struggling to be reassuring, a member of the family said that everyone hoped it would be a long time before those orders would have to be executed. With a smile, Jefferson replied, ‘Do you imagine I fear to die?’ He had long contemplated what he was to face on the other side of the grave, and he found the prospect bright. Once we left ‘our sorrows and suffering bodies,’ Jefferson had once told John Adams, then they would ‘ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.'” (Meacham, American Gospel, location 134 of 6656 Kindle eBook).

It was such faith that sustained Jefferson and others through their struggles. It was such faith that they hoped without coercion that all Americans would have. It was for freedom of expression, for freedom of faith and religion, and for individual liberty that the Founding Fathers sacrificed.

George Washington stated in a famous letter to a Jewish congregation: “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart.” (From George Washington to the Members of the New Jerusalem Church of Baltimore, 27 January 1793: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-12-02-0027).

That reminds of the language found in Doctrine and Covenants 134 that I mentioned previously and the 11th Article of Faith. The 11th Article of Faith reads: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Thus, one of the core tenets of our religion matches closely to the ideas that inspired the founding of our great nation [the United States]. It was through their faithfulness to the idea of liberty that America became a land where the root of religious liberty could take hold and spread, resulting in the great flowering tree of life of the restored gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. Without the blessing of religious liberty, the Restoration would not have taken place. Even so, the Church barely survived its first 80 years, its members having to flee the United States and go to Mexico in order to survive persecution; but survive and thrive it did and does.

In the 11th Article of Faith we express our conviction that we should be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience and will allow all people to worship “how, where, or what they may.” The Articles of Faith do not only prescribe belief and doctrine, they also encourage behavior and action. They are more than professions of belief – they describe how we interact individually, with others, and in society. This is clear in the 12th Article of Faith, which goes hand in hand with the 11th: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” By obedience to laws are we free; true liberty comes from obedience to God’s laws and to the just laws of men.

Pres. Joseph F. Smith stated: “There is no liberty like the liberty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For I can tell you no man is free when he is under bondage of sin and of transgression, neither is any man free when he is under the bondage of ignorance in relation to the plan of life and salvation.” (Chapter 32: Liberty through Obedience: http://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-32?lang=eng)

Liberty is inextricably tied with agency. We are well aware of the importance of agency in our lives. Our Father declared it so important that a war was fought in heaven when individuals wanted to limit agency and coerce righteousness. Forcing righteousness, however, cannot result in exaltation. In order for us to become more like our Father we must have agency. This liberty of choice, if you will, is constrained only by unrighteousness. Sinful behavior – acting in opposition to God’s laws – brings constraints on agency. We give up liberty when we sin; we shackle ourselves in chains that can only be broken through the Atonement of Christ. Jesus sets the captives free, He releases us from the bondage of our sins and assuages our pain. We must be mindful of sins and temptations that would bind us, limiting our liberty and happiness.

As we should seek liberty in our personal lives by striving to remain free from sin, we should uphold liberty in our country and encourage liberty in others. God loves us. He wants us to be free and happy, both in this life and in the life to come.

An LDS Perspective on Death

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Not very long ago, a family I know lost their young son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. There is a touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor), the father of the murderer confronts his neighbor, the father of the slain. During this difficult encounter the umfundisi admits to his neighbor “it was my son that killed your son.” After this revelation, both men talk for a brief time. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi’s church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen – years ago – his young son ride by the church.

“Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do…. I remember, umnumzana [said the umfundisi]. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.”

That last line in that touching encounter reminds me of Evan – there was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. Evan’s brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life – waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. This poem is the thoughts of a mother who lost a child. I will take the liberty of making minor edits so that it fits more with Evan’s death and all children who are lost so young.

“The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.

For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven’s hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.

[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother’s touch.”

As a parent of young children, I was especially touched by the experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family went through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. [This essay was originally written in 2009; since that time my family experienced the loss of a niece, a particularly difficult event, and I've lost other friends and acquaintances to death; most of them have been young, about my own age]. All deaths of friends or family members can be trying experiences. I’d like to share a few experiences with death I’ve had over the years and some of the knowledge and comfort I gained through those times. In all these experiences, other people suffered much more than I did; others had more poignant pains and more severe suffering but each of these experiences also affected me deeply.

When I was 15, the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending three weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent three weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable and homesick. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death; I was upset by it and sad but I didn’t cry much. I don’t know why, I’m normally emotional about such things (and more so the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I cannot say I was a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me) so we were around each other a lot. He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience and one of the most influential lesson’s I’ve ever had at church.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening; then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of the difficulty at the time. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born. In 2008, within one and one-half months of each other, my other three grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life – it happens to all – but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person’s life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Following the death of my granny but before her husband – my grandpa – died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That’s my purpose in posting this series about lessons I’ve learned from death – to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel. My aunts and uncles were there too – it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members – she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn’t stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner’s hand (he just appeared by her side – Tanner is my cousin who died in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering…. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior’s atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: “And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

The great prophet Enoch had a vision that spanned the ages of the earth. He saw many people in many times. He saw the great wickedness upon the face of the earth. He saw the flood in the time of Noah wipe out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Enoch’s response to this vision was similar to many of our responses to death. “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” (Moses 7:44-45). The blood of the Lamb that was slain sanctifies us, which sanctification is not just a purification of our sins but also a change in our very beings. Sorrow is replaced with exultation.

Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in the Liberty Jail pleaded, “O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?… Remember thy suffering saints, O our God: and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1,6). In reply the Lord comforted Joseph: “My son, 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” (D&C 121:7-8). What comfort comes from Him who descended below all and rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death! The prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma experienced the loss of multiple children. Surely their grief was intense as they buried their little children amid the turmoil of the Restoration. Joseph said, “The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on the earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-197).

Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt…. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome…. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: “The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” Our tears of sorrow will – sooner or later – turn to tears of joy. We don’t always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear – and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child – but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them – all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.” (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior’s original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That’s the great blessing of the gospel – we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is “the great work…done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (D&C 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances – they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord – but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: “I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). That’s a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope” (Source).

As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: “‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid…. Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.” (Source).

That’s another wondrous blessing of the gospel – we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly – some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord bear testimony of the comforts God provides to His children. As he was suffering in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need.” (Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).

Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are seen; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another’s death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

“For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).

The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That’s one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Note: This is a repost and slight update of an essay I previous posted in separate parts on my blog. Links to the original posts are found in this post I wrote in reflection on the death of my niece.

Give Heed Unto the Words of the Prophet and Apostles

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After a number of lengthy recent posts, I thought something brief would be welcome. The Savior said, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of [the] twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants” (3 Ne. 12:1).

We are blessed when we give heed to the words of the prophet and the twelve apostles. They serve us by dedicating their lives unto the Lord and spending all their time and efforts engaged in spreading His word. We should be wary of any who openly or in secret oppose the prophet and apostles for those who oppose them stand in opposition to the Savior.

Excommunication and Ordain Women

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I wrote on the topic previously but now that formal action has been taken, I wanted to share more thoughts.

The group Ordain Women posted the letter sent to Kate Kelly (the founder of Ordain Women) by her previous bishop in Virginia. This came from her previous bishop and not her bishop in Provo, UT where she currently resides because it is church policy in formal disciplinary cases to hold those councils in the area where the offense occurred and where people know the individual (although, this is left up to the former and current bishops to discuss). To use a TV cliché, it’s similar to a “Don’t leave town” statement in criminal investigations. Of course, that is not at all accurate but the policy is that those who know the individual the best should be the ones (most of the time) involved in the disciplinary council, in this case it was her bishopric in Virginia and not her new one in Utah.

I am only addressing Kate Kelly’s excommunication because all this information is public; she quickly approached the media and sat for interviews [wearing a modest, but sleeveless dress, which is an intentional statement] after she was notified of her excommunication. Ordain Women has been continuing their goal “to put [themselves] in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.” (Mission Statement, ordain women.org). Because they are making things public, these matters that should be private are open to public discussion – for better or for worse.

As a result of my current calling, I am involved in some local cases of church discipline. Disciplinary councils are the one thing I like least (and most) about my responsibilities. I love being there to watch the Atonement in action but I do not like seeing the effects of significant transgression. The councils can be tragic events, yet they are also hopeful, loving, and cleansing. The Spirit of the Lord flows unrestrained at such councils and the room, for a time, becomes hallowed ground. Depending on the person and circumstance, they can truly be beautiful, uplifting experiences. These formal disciplinary councils must be convened for specific cases of transgression but most of the time, church discipline is informal. According to the letter from Kate Kelly’s (former) bishop, she met with local church leaders at least two times in person and had communication (it’s not clear if it was in-person or not) two other times regarding her continued actions with Ordain Women. She was counseled to cease her leadership of Ordain Women. This does not mean she had to cease her beliefs regarding women and the priesthood but she had to stop her public defiance of church leaders.

That is the issue at heart – it is not beliefs or questioning, it is willful disregard of council from church leaders – local and general. Further, with the website, protests, “6 discussions”, vigils, and other actions, Kate was and still is actively encouraging others to disobey church leaders. Her actions went beyond that of discussing with others the questions they have, she encouraged others to protest against Church leadership. That is why the charge of apostasy was given.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defines apostasy worthy of church discipline (pertinent to the current discussion) as 1) acting repeatedly in open opposition to the Church or its leaders; or 2) persistence in teaching information as doctrine when an individual has been corrected by local or general church leaders and asked to stop. Both of those occurred. This is why Kate’s “defense against the charge of ‘apostasy’” that she posted on the Ordain Women website is wrong; her definition of apostasy is not in accord with the Church’s and the Lord’s.

In lieu of attending the disciplinary council in person, by phone, or by secure video chat, she submitted a letter on her behalf (along with some other supporting information – most of it not directly relevant to the case including “over 1,000″ letters of support from various individuals. This is a case of volume over validity, which is sometimes the practice of lawyers – if the judge and jury won’t be swayed by the facts, maybe they’ll be overwhelmed by sheer volume). In this letter, Kate covers her life as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She states that from an early age she’s asked difficult questions: “Asking questions is one of my most core parts. I couldn’t stop asking them then, and I can’t stop asking them now.” Asking questions is great – that’s not the reason for the disciplinary council. It is not the questioning but the public defiance of church leaders that led, unfortunately, to her excommunication.

She goes on to point out perceived instances of “gender inequality” in the church that she observed from a young age (read my previous post that delineates some of the issues with seeking for equality). While these might or might not be valid, they also are not central to the issue at hand – that of her repeated, public opposition to church leaders. She states she loves BYU, went on a mission, and married in the temple. Those are all wonderful but again, tangential to the issue. What Kate demonstrates repeatedly in her letter is her love of red herrings (not the fish kind). Yes, her background in the Church is relevant but not the core issue. She repeatedly throws things out there to distract from the issue of her opposition to church leaders.

Kate states, “Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.”

This is an externalization of fault; in fact, her whole letter is an example of externalization of actions, particularly regarding fault, and lack of remorse. Of course she was devastated by the excommunication – most people who experience it are – but her whole defense of her actions revolves around saying, in essence, “I’m not at fault and if you say I am and punish me, you are hurting so many other people just like me.” No, that is not what’s happening. There is no punishment for asking questions, punishment (to use her word) can come from openly opposing council from church leaders, but to suggest that her excommunication damages others is self-aggrandizement (it does potentially harm her family though). The only “damage” done to others was in convincing them that protesting against the leadership of the Church was a valid path. There is a strait and narrow path but inviting others to wander on another path is not the way. Elder Oaks even responded indirectly to Kate Kelly with his most recent General Conference address; church public affairs has made repeated comments regarding Ordain Women (and there are a number of other statements available online). The excommunication of Kate Kelly is not the suppression of questioning, regardless of what some people inside and outside the Church might state, it is the natural consequence of her apostasy.

So here is the crux of Kate Kelly’s position and why her bishop, through direct revelation from the Lord, excommunicated her: “I want to communicate with perfect candor, as I have always done. As I made clear to President Wheatley [her stake president] when we met on May 5th, I will continue to lead Ordain Women, the group I founded. I will not take down the website ordainwomen.org. I will not stop speaking out publicly on the issue of gender inequality in the church. These things President Wheatley instructed me to do, I cannot do in good conscience. I cannot repent of telling the truth, speaking what is in my heart and asking questions that burn in my soul.”

In that statement there is no hint of conciliatory posturing; there is no apparent contrition and certainly no sorrow for sin. Kate Kelly, in the face of formal discipline (and already under informal discipline) stood in proud opposition to church leaders. Some will certainly cheer her courage – and it does take courage to stand up for what you believe in opposition to prevailing beliefs and practices – but her actions put her squarely in defiance to the Church and church leaders. Further, she states she “cannot repent of telling the truth”. If she is espousing truth but it contradicts the truth taught by the prophet and apostles, I’d suggest a re-examination of her truth is in order. Even if women will be ordained to priesthood offices some day, it is not proper church protocol to publicly protest and lobby for such changes to be made. We are a top-down church with Christ at the head. Changes do happen in the Church; we believe in ongoing revelation but general church-wide revelation goes to the prophet and not to individual church members. Individuals can ask the questions and meet with church leaders but to publicly oppose the prophet is not the Lord’s way. The Lord’s house is a house of order. Kate Kelly has been bringing disorder to the house.

Kate Kelly stands up for her beliefs so as not to believe herself a hypocrite. She believes something strongly and acts according to those beliefs. That is usually commendable but not always. What is not commendable and what is hypocritical on her part is her disregard for the order of the Church. She desires to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in full fellowship, yet is is not willing to sustain her church leaders. She is not willing to be true to the covenants she made at baptism, in the temple, and during the sacrament. It does not appear that she is following the counsel of the Savior: “And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.” (3 Nephi 12:19). I too walk imperfectly and am not seeking to judge my neighbor, for Kate is my neighbor (not physically but in the sense of the Good Samaritan). I too act with hypocrisy for any time I sin, I am a hypocrite. But what is so beautiful about the gospel is that Christ is willing to forgive us; he even forgives hypocrites. We can be cleansed of our sins, whether they be small or great.

I’m saddened by the outcome of this because Kate Kelly sounds like an intelligent woman who has strong beliefs and is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs. That tenacity is much needed in the church. However, such strength of will is deleterious when used in opposition of church leaders. It’s not opposition to the leaders that is ultimately the problem. Church leaders represent the Savior. They are not perfect but they are given keys to act officially for the Savior, who has chosen not to act in propria persona at this time. That time will come. When anyone chooses to oppose church leaders, he or she oppose the Savior. That sounds harsh; it is. Firm lines are drawn on specific matters – the support of the prophet, apostles, and the Church is one of those firm lines. The Lord is the Final Judge but He has given authority through priesthood keys for individuals to act as judges in the kingdom here on earth.

I really hope Kate returns to the Church. Sometimes fierce antagonists can become strong protagonists. I find the closing statement from her bishop to be touching: “Above all else, please know of my love and respect for you and my earnest desire that you return to good standing in the Church. I urge you to continue to attend church, read the scriptures and pray daily. I invite you to strive to come back to fulI fellowship. This is an opportunity for you to begin anew, to take full advantage of the great gift of the Atonement, to again qualify for the blessings of the temple, and to enjoy again all of the blessings of the restored gospel. It is my sincere prayer and desire that you will do so.”

The Lord wants all to return to Him. It is tragic that Kate removed herself from the Church by her past actions. I hope that her future actions return her to the Church.

The Breaking and Restoration of the Everlasting Covenant

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As a boy, I had the opportunity with my family to frequently go rappelling – descending a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall, offering the opportunity to learn without inducing much vertigo. As skills progressed, the cliffs we descended became taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, bounce, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is a relatively safe activity with the greatest risk being scrapes or increased anxiety caused by a fear of heights. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. In order for rappelling to be safe one must be securely anchored. My father, always conscious of safety, would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor – a strong tree for example – in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face should the person rappelling slip. The belayer can stop the person on the rope should she need to regain her footing. One other safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once climbing ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes, harnesses, ascenders, carabiners, slings, gloves, and descenders to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment is always cheaper than a person’s life.

Safety while rappelling has three main principles:

  1. Proper preparation
  2. Having secure anchors and strong equipment
  3. Having someone act as belayer and guide

These same principles can be applied to the gospel. I’d like to talk about one important principle that provides safety for us in this adventure of life – the making and keeping of covenants, which covenants were restored unto the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith.

These restored covenants were first given to Adam and Eve and then given down the generations. Abram made the covenant with The Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).

Abraham truly is the father of many nations. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all are tied to Abraham. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the blessing of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.

Part of this covenant Abraham made is found in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)

Through the covenant, Abraham and his posterity, promise to keep the commandments of the Lord. In return, the Lord promises to be “a God unto [him] and [his posterity].” This is a promise that we can be part of God’s family; we are His children but through the Abrahamic Covenant we can become worthy to inherit all the He has. By doing the simple task of keeping the commandments – the covenants – of the Lord, He promises us everything. We give the Lord a seed, He gives us a mighty tree. We give Him our stony hearts of flint, He replaces them with fleshy hearts of charity. We consecrate unto Him our lives through covenant, He blesses us with Eternal Lives. God truly is our Father and desires to bless us as much as we are willing to receive.

We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ, prominently through Abraham and Moses. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law [of Moses] was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first [or old] covenant…. Now [Moses is] not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)

The new covenant given by Christ, the mediator of life, was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. His apostles were killed and the purity of the gospel polluted by philosophies of men. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered about in mists of darkness with varying degrees of light. This old world apostasy was paralleled, although off-set by a few hundred years, by an apostasy in the new world among the descendants of Lehi. During the time of apostasy many were true to the light and knowledge they had and sought to follow Christ but the covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.

After the falling away – the great apostasy – to the young Joseph Smith, the Lord re-introduced covenants given in days of old. These covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas. The covenants in Book of Mormon also apply to the children of Israel in our day, particularly those who are descended from Lehi. Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon specifically for our day. It is a compilation of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon compiled and edited the book, passing it on to his son Moroni, who finished the editing and writing. Moroni then buried the plates, sealing them up unto the Lord, so that they might come forth by the power of God at an appointed date. That appointed time was in the early 1800s through the work and righteousness of the prophet Joseph Smith. God called Joseph Smith to bring new light to the world; through Joseph, the Lord reestablished the sacred covenants that had been taken from the earth because of wickedness.

Over the years, the Lord gave numerous prophesies concerning the breaking of the covenants and the falling away in apostasy that would occur before the final redemption and the second coming of the Savior.

Isaiah prophesied: “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.” (Isaiah 24:4-6)

Around the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied of the apostasy and subsequent restoration of the gospel: “In [the last] days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual [in other words - eternal or everlasting] covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jeremiah 50:4-6)

The wandering sheep, led astray by unfaithful shepherds, would turn and seek the Lord, their Good Shepherd. After a time of wandering there would be a time of restoration.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of apostasy before and after the restoration of the gospel: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16; emphasis added).

After the falling away came the restoration, starting with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ visiting Joseph Smith in 1820. This great restoration is still occurring, as Pres. Uchtdorf eloquently taught during the Priesthood Session of this past General Conference. We have a description in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 of why the gospel was restored.

“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. (D&C 1:17-23; emphasis added).

Let me repeat verse 22; the gospel was restored: “That mine [the Lord’s] everlasting covenant might be established.”

Later in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9) Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would rally around a standard.

We read in the Book of Mormon concerning the restoration of this everlasting covenant. Mormon wrote: “And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth. And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them. And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands, from whence they have been dispersed; yea, as the Lord liveth so shall it be.” (3 Nephi 5:24-26)

This restored covenant prepares the way before the coming of the Lord. This covenant allows us to know our Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through this covenant, we are prepared and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth to the stakes of Zion. Malachi prophesied, speaking for the Lord: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)

Christ is the messenger of the covenant. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the giver and maker of this everlasting covenant. We can understand what the everlasting covenant pertains to from the writings of Ezekiel: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28; emphasis added)

The everlasting covenant is a covenant of peace. To fulfill it, the Lord sets His sanctuary in the midst of His people. The Lord’s sanctuary is His temple. In addition to be gathered in to the stakes of Zion, we are gathered in to holy places of consecration and covenant, even the temples of the Most High God. Isn’t it wonderful to see these prophecies of Ezekiel and Malachi fulfilled around us? Temples are beginning to dot the earth. Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live within relatively easy access to a temple. In the temple, we make sacred covenants that prepare us to return to live with God and become His eternal children. In order to access those temples, we need to first make covenants through baptism and confirmation, which covenants come from faith.

This principle is taught in simplicity in the manual Preach My Gospel. “Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance prepare us for the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. An ordinance is a sacred ceremony or rite that shows that we have entered into a covenant with God.

“God has always required His children to make covenants. A covenant is a binding and solemn agreement between God and man. God promises to bless us, and we promise to obey Him. God sets the terms of gospel covenants, which we either accept or reject. Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.

“Covenants place us under a strong obligation to honor our commitments to God. To keep our covenants, we must give up activities or interests that prevent us from honoring those covenants…. We should desire to receive worthily the covenants that God offers us and then strive to keep them. Our covenants remind us to repent every day of our lives. By keeping the commandments and serving others we receive and retain a remission of our sins.

“Covenants are usually made by means of sacred ordinances, such as baptism. These ordinances are administered by priesthood authority. Through the ordinance of baptism…we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. As we keep our part of the covenant, God promises the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, a remission of our sins, and being born again.” (Preach My Gospel, Lesson 3).

We receive the priesthood of the Lord and the ordinances of the gospel so that we might make these sacred covenants with God.

What is a covenant? It is, as defined in Preach My Gospel, “a binding and solemn agreement between God and [His children].” There is a lovely example of a covenant in the book of Ruth. Ruth’s pleading to Naomi expresses a covenant: “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The restoration of the gospel restored the covenants of The Lord. The covenants bind us to God and us to our fathers, mothers, and children. In this manner is the restored gospel about welding families together and to God. This welding occurs in the temple.

Sis. Wixom stated at this past General Women’s Meeting in March, “We are covenant-making [men and] women of all ages walking the path of mortality back to His presence. Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us, and empowers us…. Each week as we partake of the emblems of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenant. Elder David A. Bednar said: ‘As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple.'” (Keeping Covenants Protects Us, Prepares Us, and Empowers Us; Sis. Wixom, March 2014)

All that we do in the church should help us look to the temple – not just look but prepare and enter for therein is found the New and Everlasting Covenant of God. The temple provides the sealing of families. The sealing of families is the culmination of covenants; it is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and the creation of eternal family units.

In order to keep these covenants, we should work towards making our homes into sanctuaries of consecration and covenant. Are our homes sacred places like the temples? Do our actions invite the Spirit of God into our homes or do we drive it away. Are our homes places that foster conversion to the Lord? Do we follow the example of the people of King Benjamin, who after hearing his powerful sermon rejoiced by covenanting to keep the commandments of God? They said: “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.” King Benjamin heard their covenant and was pleased: “[King Benjamin] said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.” (Mosiah 5:5-8)

The covenants we make through the ordinances of the gospel ultimately tie us directly to Christ. They bind us together as eternal families and bind us to Christ. Ironically, it is through these bonds that we are made free. We “become His sons and His daughters.” We are blessed both with root and branch eternally. These sacred covenants require obedience on our part but in return we can be sealed to the Savior, we become eternally His. Covenanting gives us access to His blessings.

Three and one half years ago my extended family experienced a tragedy. One of my nieces was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly. Allison was just 11 years old. Since then, our feelings have been tender; at the time our hearts were broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family were trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cried with the poet:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.

There is a change on all things made.

The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood – through the covenants of the temple – Allison will be forever part of her family. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).

There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.

My family shall see Allison again. All those who have lost loved ones will see them again! Through the sealing power of the Priesthood and through the eternal covenants of the Lord, families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with our loved ones and our Father in Heaven.

And now another story illustrative of the blessings of covenant making.

My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.

Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.

Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source)

1) Proper preparation; 2) having secure anchors and strong equipment; and 3) having someone act as belayer and guide provide safety while rappelling. We can find safety in life by preparing for sacred covenants, especially those made in the temple, by expressing and building faith in Christ. We can find safety by securely anchoring ourselves to Christ through covenants. We can find safety by binding ourselves to our families and following the guidance of the prophet. Covenants bring us safety and great blessings – both here in this life and in the life to come.

Life-changing Prayers

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In my opinion, one of the most impactful of all the talks at the April 2014 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Pres. Henry B. Eyring’s talk given during the priesthood session: “The Priesthood Man.”

In particular there is one paragraph that I believe to be life-changing:

“We all pray, but the priesthood holder you want to be prays often and with real intent. In the evening you will get on your knees and thank God for the blessings of the day. You will thank Him for parents, for teachers, and for great examples to follow. You will describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day. That will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought. It will surprise you and change you.” (Eyring, Henry B. (2014). The Priesthood Man).

Ever since I re-read this talk, I’ve taken his counsel to heart. Specifically, I “describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day.” This requires me to be more mindful throughout the day of how and who does something for me. The blessings can be as little as a smile or holding an elevator door or helping me with a task. The blessings can be a hug from a child or a spouse or a kind word said. Modifying my prayers to include this level of specificity helps me be more mindful of small and large acts of service around me and particularly ones done for me. Trying to mention names has also been beneficial. I’ve never been particularly good at remembering names (I once even introduced myself by the wrong name but that’s a story for a different time) so this counsel from Pres. Eyring provides encouragement for me to go out of my way to try and learn, remember, and later recall someone’s name.

The end result is that I get to express gratitude for specific acts of kindness or service. To do so requires me to be more grateful and watchful throughout the day. Our Father notices falling sparrows so we can certainly notice a held door or a warm smile. Searching and expressing gratitude for acts of kindness and service encourages me to go out of my way to do kind things for others. I’m grateful for the teachings of living prophets that help me become a better man.

The Mission and Spirit of Elijah

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The mission of Elijah is so important, his conferral of priesthood keys so vital to our salvation and to the work of the church in the latter days that I will reiterate many of the things that [our stake patriarch] spoke about so we can both serve as witnesses to the truth of the prophecy of Malachi and of Elijah’s mission. Elder Cook spoke on this topic this past General Conference and a number of others also addressed it.

The last two verses of the Old Testament contain prophecies about restoration:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Those verses refer to Elijah (whose name is a testimony of God), his return to the earth, and the subsequent conversion of hearts. The Savior quoted these verses when He visited the Nephites after His resurrection (3 Nephi 25:5-6). Moroni quoted them the first time he appeared unto Joseph Smith.

Moroni gave the scripture with minor differences; this rendition is found in Doctrine and Covenants 2: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1-3). Instead of turning hearts of fathers to children, the children will have the promises made unto the fathers planted in their hearts. These are promises, or covenants, made by The Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they are promises made to other prophets; they are promises made to our ancestors. This has direct applications to the restoration of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ for the Restoration is a restoration of covenants given in days long past.

The restoration of covenants came through visitations of holy messengers. One of those visitors was Elijah, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the day when Jews around the world had a place set for him in expectant welcome at their tables during the Passover. Joseph Smith recalled the experience:

“Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.” (D&C 110:14-16).

Since that time – since the keys of the sealing of families together forever were restored – we’ve had an exponential increase in the yearnings of fathers and mothers to daughters and sons, an increase in the spirit of Elijah that bears witness of the divine nature of the family (see Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).

In Deuteronomy we are commanded to learn about history, specifically our family history: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

At this past General Conference Elder Anderson counseled: “Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you. Take their names to the temple with you. As you learn about your ancestors, you will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness; and occasionally patterns that you will want to avoid.” (Spiritual Whirlwinds, Elder Anderson, April 2014). As we study the lives of those who came before, we can be inspired by them or be warned by their poor choices. We can strive to emulate their faithfulness and seek to improve shortcomings they and we might have.

I’d like to share three stories from my family that illustrate faith and devotion to God. The are illustrative of the spirit of Elijah and the sealing keys restored through him.

A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing persecution from government and church leaders in England, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. They struggled to earn a living in Holland so they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travellers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur and where Elijah could come to restore keys of sealing. I’m grateful for the sacrifices made, courage shown, and dedication to God by the Pilgrims.

I’d like to jump ahead more than 200 years to the year 1854 and travel 350 miles to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of my great-grandfathers – Samuel Linton – was on a quest to discover religious truth. He told of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, which occurred shortly after his father unexpectedly died: “I made up my mind to go and hear every sect and party that professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [to discover which I thought was true]. I saw [an] advertisement of the Latter-day Saints which read like this: ‘Elder Samuel Harrison of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would preach at ten o’clock on Sunday at 7th and Callow Hill, and he would show that neither Protestant nor Catholic had the true gospel preached to them.’ This took my attention. I thought they were the most presumptuous people I had heard of, to style themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I thought I must go and hear them first. I was there on time. The people began to gather in. I thought they were the most sociable, happy people I had ever seen. The Elder came in and went up on the stand and gave out a hymn. I thought it, and the prayer, was the most sensible I had ever heard. He preached from the New Testament, and quoted passages of scripture that I had committed to memory in Methodist Sabbath School, but he applied them in such a different light that it bothered me to understand it…. When meeting was over I was in no hurry to go. There was a man by the name of Luts, a perfect stranger to me. He asked what I thought of the preaching. I told him I had no fault to find. I asked him a great many questions. He answered me satisfactorily. He told me if I would come back in the afternoon, he would lend me a book, which, if I would read, I could learn a great deal about the Gospel. I read it, I was convinced that the Lord had restored the Gospel and the authority to administer the Ordinances thereof, I applied for baptism. They asked me if I had considered the consequences. He asked me if I was ready to have my friends turn against me and have my name cast out as evil, and suffer persecution, and perhaps lay down my life. I considered a moment, and I thought the former-day Saints had to take all these chances, so I told him I was prepared for all this. He said on these conditions you may be baptized. They were about three weeks before they were ready to go. There were quite a few baptized. There was plenty of ice to be moved, so we had a cold bath. We were all right. We took no harm. This was the first of January, 1854.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 1 of 3).

Samuel joined and remained firm in the faith even though it caused conflict with some of his family. He emigrated to Utah, living near Salt Lake for a while until he was called to what was referred to as the “Muddy Mission” – colonizing St. George, Utah. Samuel went without question. All of Samuel’s life he exhibited great faith; his daughter spoke of his faith: “We never had to call a doctor if father administered to us, we got well immediately, no matter what ailed us.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

From Utah, through letters, Samuel tried to teach his mother and family who were living in Philadelphia. He took two trips back east to teach his family. I’ll quote from a history about him: “[Samuel] was very anxious to have his folks join the church. His father died a year after they came to Philadelphia and [Samuel] later left to gather with the Saints. After 20 years he got a letter from his mother through the dead letter office. [Samuel] began writing trying to convert [his mother and siblings]. Later he made two trips to visit them, but they were too full of prejudice to talk to him or listen so no more joined the church, but he has had their work done in the Temple which we hope they have learned to accept and appreciate.”  (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

Samuel, in being baptized, had his family turn against him but he knew the gospel was true. He believed in the ordinances of the temple and made sure those ordinances were performed for his family so they could, if they accepted the work, be part of the great chain of generations welded to each other and ultimately to our Eternal Father.

In Doctrine and Covenants 128 Joseph Smith quotes 1st Corinthians 15:29 referencing baptism for the dead and then explains what it means. In Joseph’s explanation, he quotes Malachi.

“16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:29: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse…. The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:16-18).

The prophecy and promise of Malachi foretold of the role of Elijah in helping restore the keys necessary to save families by welding generation to generation.

I will relate one more story, this time jumping ahead 150 years from the time when my ancestor Samuel joined the church. This is an experience I particularly felt prompted to share this morning [in Sacrament Meeting].

My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.

Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.

Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source: http://www.hopewessman.net/2009/05/hopes-story-her-miraculous-life.html)

We read in the scriptures: “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.” (2 Nephi 2:8-9). The atonement of Jesus Christ brings hope! Even those passing through the darkest abyss can feel peace. Those who have departed are merely that – parted from us but not forever lost.

Because of the atonement of Christ, because of the sealing power of the priesthood that was restored unto Joseph Smith by the prophet Elijah, families can be together forever! We know that tears of sorrow and that separation are only for a small moment. Even though hearts rend in suffering, Christ repairs the breach; He binds up the broken-hearted. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of fathers and mothers, which might be broken, turn to their children. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of children turn to their mothers and fathers. As temple ordinances are performed, families are welded together for eternity.

My cousin and his wife had three other children born without complications after Hope. Then, in 2012 they found out that the baby they were expecting – Amelia Grace – had the same genetic condition as Hope. The same shock and sorrow hit them but they knew that they had coped with the death of Hope and they could cope with Amelia’s. They again found strength in the atonement and in the blessings of the temple. Amelia died during the birthing process but through the sealing power of the holy priesthood, Amelia and Hope can be Mike and Marinda’s eternally!

My cousin shared his testimony after the death of Amelia: “The loss of one’s child is not a pleasant experience. While I do not know why Marinda and I have this experience, I testify that we are strengthened through Christ, knowing that we can be reunited with our…daughter(s) again one day. For this is part of God’s plan for each of his children who seek to follow him.” (Source: http://www.ameliawessman.net/p/a-fathers-thoughts.html)

I testify that those who have experienced such great loss can find healing through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that this what the mission of Elijah is ultimately about – allowing for families to be sealed together for eternity. I pray that we all remember the words of Malachi and turn our hearts to our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and participate in the sacred work of the temple.