Lord, How Is It Done?

Standard

The Book of Mormon is a collection of writings and commentary by an ancient American prophet named Mormon, who lived around the year 400 AD. It tells histories and teachings of a few different groups of people who were independently guided from the Middle East to the Americas. The main group lived near Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached against the sins of God’s covenant people. He taught it was not enough to be covenant people, salvation only comes through following the commandments of the Lord. Who we are is not as important as what we do and who we become.

The people in Jerusalem rejected Jeremiah’s teachings and continued to sin. Sinning against greater light brings greater condemnation. The Israelites in the time of Jeremiah rejected the Lord in the same way most people rejected the Lord and the teachings of Noah before the flood. Instead of receiving safety from an ark of covenant, the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day were swept away by a flood from the east. A flood came to Jerusalem and the house of Israel in the form of the Babylonians. Babylon was a major kingdom within ancient Mesopotamia. It was in what is currently Iraq. Many Israelites were taken captives of the Babylonians and carried away from their homes. Many never returned home to their promised land.

One family who lived near Jerusalem just a decade or so before the destruction of Jerusalem was the family of Lehi. Lehi had a remarkable vision where he saw God and was called as a prophet.

Lehi’s son Nephi wrote of the experience: “[Lehi] saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:8-12)

Lehi saw God. He saw Jesus Christ and His first twelve apostles. Then Lehi read words out of the book of God. The Spirit of God filled Lehi when he read. As we read the words of God we too are filled with the Spirit.

Lehi also saw Jerusalem would be destroyed in not many years. After the vision, Lehi preached to the people, warning them of impending danger. He was faithful to his calling. Lehi prophesied of the future coming of the Messiah and of the necessity of repentance. Lehi did what prophets since the time of Adam have done – he testified of Jesus Christ. Many of these prophecies of the Messiah are lost or obscured in the Bible but the Book of Mormon teaches them with great clarity. Lehi pleaded with those around him to repent and be saved. Those in Jerusalem did not believe him; they laughed at him and some tried to kill him.

Nephi wrote of this: “And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:19-20).

Lehi testified of the coming of the Messiah – the Anointed One who would redeem Israel and the world. This Messiah would shortly deliver Lehi and his family from destruction through His tender mercies. Jesus Christ watches over us, offering His tender mercies to each of us. He delivers us from destruction as we exercise faith in Him and sometimes even when we don’t.

To save Lehi’s life and for other grand purposes, the Lord sent another vision to Lehi. In that vision the Lord told Lehi to leave his home and depart into the wilderness. Lehi and his family promptly left their home, land, gold, silver, and other precious possessions. The Lord asked them to sacrifice all they had — they did. The Lord offered to save them but in return they had to give up everything. In a faithful and difficult act of consecration, Lehi and his family left the comforts of home as refugees, fleeing for their lives. Thousands of years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would flee Illinois as refugees. They were led out into the wilderness, the high deserts of Utah. The Mormon pioneers, like Lehi, followed the Lord in faith.

At first Lehi and his family did not travel far (that was again mirrored by the initial Mormon pioneers, who wintered not too far from Illinois in what is now a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska — a place we call Winter Quarters). The reason Lehi did not travel far soon became apparent. The Lord asked his family to return to Jerusalem and obtain a copy of the scriptures. These scriptures also contained Lehi’s family history. Laban was the keeper of this copy of the scriptures. Lehi’s sons went to obtain the plates from Laban. They were eventually successful because the youngest son – Nephi – boldly declared his faith and trust in God: “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7).

Getting the scriptures from Laban was not easy. Lehi’s sons had their gold and silver stolen by Laban when they tried to buy the scriptures from him. Laban sent servants to kill the boys but they escaped. It was then Nephi demonstrated his remarkable faith in God when he went back to try again. Would you have been persistent like Nephi and go back into the lion’s den, as it were? The third time was a success for Nephi because of his faith in God and faithfulness in doing the hard things asked of him.

The boys returned successful to their parents in the wilderness. They sacrificed much to obtain a copy of the scriptures and their family history. How much effort do we put in obtaining and reading the scriptures? Do we give our all like Nephi or do we casually read a verse or two when we remember? Do we similarly work hard to obtain our family history? We have a gospel responsibility to seek out our deceased ancestors and perform sacred ordinances for them in sacred places. How many of us are fulfilling this responsibility?

The Lord knew Lehi and his descendants needed both the scriptures and their family history. Those items and teachings provided a way to bind them together culturally, religiously, linguistically, and spiritually. The scriptures obtained from Laban would serve them in the way scriptures serve us today; they strengthen, provide counsel, provide insight into God’s plan for His children, and they teach us how to be better people. The scriptures teach of Jesus Christ.

After one more trip into Jerusalem to convince a family to join them in escape from impending destruction — this family conveniently had a number of unmarried daughters — Lehi and his tribe traveled south and then east across the Arabian peninsula, a trip that took them years. This band of refugees then set up camp in a beautiful oasis near the Indian Ocean. This was not their promised land. That would come after more hard work and faith.

The Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, something he had never done before. Again he was faithful and fulfilled the commandments of God, building a remarkable ship not patterned after other ships of the day. THe Lord gave Nephi revelation about how to build it. We similarly can receive revelation concerning our jobs, our callings, and our responsibilities. The Lord can show us new ways to do new things, particularly when our efforts align with His eternal purpose. God’s purpose — God’s work — is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). He provides the means necessary to accomplish His plan.

During this time on the beach while starting to build the ship Nephi taught his brothers of the power of God. He reminded them of Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He chastised his brothers Laman and Lemuel for being slow to repent: “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God…. he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45). Nephi also testified of his great faith in God: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them.” (1 Nephi 17:50). What great faith! Is our faith as strong as Nephi’s? If the Lord commanded us to do all things, could we do them? If our faith isn’t that strong, that gives us something to work towards. We can be perfect, eventually.

Lehi and his family prepared and then got on the ship to sail the thousands of miles to the promised land. Through faith in God they made it to the Americas where they built new homes. Nephi and those of his family who would go left his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Once again Nephi fled as a refugee, this time to escape his oldest brothers who had murderous intent.

This was the start of the Nephite people. Nephi acted as ruler and prophet. He and his people built a temple. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob became a powerful teacher. Together they taught their people the Law of Moses and the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. They taught of the necessity of baptism and repentance. They taught their people they must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now…this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 31:20-21).

Nephi clearly taught salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. This is something prophets in our day also boldly declare. As we press forward in faith, diligently studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and endure in keeping the commandments to the end of our lives, we can be saved through the grace of Christ. I also add my witness that it is only through the Savior Jesus Christ we can be saved.

Nephi eventually became old and transferred the duty of keeper of the records and scriptures to his brother Jacob. Then Nephi died. Jacob became old and turned the record keeping to his son Enos. Then Jacob died.

Enos shared a powerful experience with prayer and repentance he had as he pondered the teachings of his father.

Enos wrote: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” (Enos 1:2,4).

After his much praying and supplications Enos heard a voice say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:5).

Enos was a man of faith. He testified he knew God could not lie so his guilt was swept away. Then Enos asked one of the most important questions in the scriptures: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7).

How were Enos’s sins forgiven? They were forgiven by his faith in Jesus Christ. They were forgiven through the Atonement of Christ.

When we repent, how are our sins forgiven? In same way they were for Enos — through faith in Jesus Christ and through His atonement. When we repent, do we trust God and believe our sins are forgiven? When we repent do we forgive ourselves? How does forgiveness happen this? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

A prophet who lived hundreds of years after Nephi, Jacob, and Enos testified of the power of Jesus Christ. Benjamin taught his people of the many miracles Jesus Christ would perform. For each one we might ask as did Enos: “Lord, how is it done?” Benjamin said:

“The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:5-6).

Next King Benjamin taught how Jesus would accomplish the many miracles.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:7-10).

How did Jesus cast out devils? How did He heal the sick, bless the weary, and raise the dead? How did He rise from the dead? He did all those things through His faith and through His divine power. He did them because He is the Son of God. He is divine. Although we are not holy as Christ is holy, we too can perform miracles through faith in Christ and through the Spirit of God.

Benjamin also taught another miracle that comes through Christ: “Even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” (Mosiah 3:16).

This verse contains important doctrines. We learn little children cannot sin but they too need salvation. We learn little children are saved through the atonement of Christ. Another important doctrine is tied to the salvation of little children. Jesus Christ’s Atonement overcomes the effects of Adam’s fall. It was because of this clarification in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith wrote: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (AofF 1:2). How is it done? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ; through the great mercy of God.

It is because of Christ’s wonderful Atonement we can overcome sin and death. It offers hope to the hurt and solace to the sorrowful.

Seven years ago my sister’s family experienced a shocking loss when their daughter Allison, my 11 year old niece, was hit and killed by a car as she rode her bike. At the time I wrote: “Yesterday as the lights [went] out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights. [Her] death…brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn [her] passing but [Allison’s] life brought love and joy to those around [her].”

My sister, brother in law, and their family at the time had to start putting the pieces of their shattered lives back together. They started by spending time in prayer and in the temple.

The loss of a child under such 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, Allison can be forever part of her family. All who lose family members to death have a promise of eternal reunion when families are sealed together in the temple. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. At a time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

Again, we ask with Enos, “Lord, how is it done?” How are these hurts and pains and great sorrows healed? How do we have hope after such loss? It is only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify of His eternal love. Through Him we can overcome sin and will overcome death. Through Jesus Christ we can return to our Eternal Father in Heaven as we consistently and persistently do what is right.

That Endless Night of Darkness: Repentance, Redemption, and Resurrection

Standard

Repentance

Most years when I was young my family drove out to the desert near our home in Arizona to pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus is covered with many spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we pulled them off with tongs and dropped them in buckets. Usually within an hour we would have enough fruit for a large batch of jelly. One year when I was about 14, as we picked fruit my sister called saying, “There’s a rattlesnake over there under the cactus!” I looked, asking “Where?” She stood by me, pointing right to it and said, “Right there under that cactus [about 10 feet away].” I looked but did not see the snake. I looked again in the same location and finally it became clear. The snake blended in perfectly with the speckled ground, only becoming visible with careful inspection. What first appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a venomous serpent, dangerous if approached but not threatening at a distance. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.

Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who do not look carefully. Temptation and sin, like venomous snakes, are increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize sin, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get because you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns all of us; we all fall short. All we are asked to do in return is look to God and live; looking to God involves the covenant process of repentance. When we sin we must exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance is a process to heal suffering. It involves recognition, regret, confession, and restitution.

The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so we could overcome sin and death. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to learn the impact of our sins and in turn experience the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve learned to understand the bitter so they could appreciate the sweet. Through repentance we can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find the soul soothing Balm in Gilead.

A story of the Savior teaches the healing process of repentance.

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

Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near or even have been the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (in other words – paralysis – the man might have had seizures as well) on a stretcher to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus stood or sat while preaching. The men were so desperate for healing, they destroyed a roof to reach the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process attacking cancer cells but also bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system. Killing cancer cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe, sometimes requires cutting out parts of the brain causing the seizures. To heal, drastic actions and destruction can be required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered healing – not just the physical that was sought but also spiritual.

Healing might hurt us abominably but such pains are necessary. To heal us, the Savior hurt abominably. He suffered so He might succor us. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance.

Redemption

Repentance through faith in Christ brings about redemption by Christ. Jesus Christ purchases (redeems) our sins from us through His Atonement. Each bitter drink, each precious drop, redeems so we can overcome sin. Alma, the great Book of Mormon prophet, shared his experience in overcoming his sins through the Redeemer:

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities…I saw that I had rebelled against my God…And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13,16-20).

The Lord will forgive us as we repent. Light and joy from Christ replaced darkness and sorrow. Alma did terrible things but he repented and the Redeemer purchased Alma’s sins from him.

Elder Holland said, “Whoever you are and whatever you have done, you can be forgiven. Every one of you…can leave behind any transgression with which you may struggle. It is the miracle of forgiveness; it is the miracle of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Holland, Oct. 2011 General Conference). I testify this is true. I’ve been blessed with the miracle of forgiveness in my life; I’ve seen this miracle work wonders in the lives of others. One of Satan’s most insidious lies is that we are not good enough to repent; that we could never be forgiven. We are good enough and we can be forgiven. The miracle of forgiveness is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy.

In what is one of the most moving descriptions of the Lord’s mercy through redemption, the prophet Micah described the Lord’s feelings for the House of Israel – for all of us. Micah expressed his hope for redemption; he said: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9; emphasis added). The Savior pleads our cause. He is our court-appointed defense; what better defense can we have than someone who truly, completely, and perfectly understands and loves us? Christ can bring us out of darkness into the light. Or as Alma said, “If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness” (Alma 41:6-7).

Have you ever been somewhere truly dark? Where the blackness is almost palpable? Where it’s so dark your brain wants something to look at so it starts creating hints of objects around you? As a teenager my family and I went to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. One on guided tour we sat in a room deep underground and turned off all lights. There was no light anywhere. We couldn’t see anything and anything we thought we saw was imagined. After 30 seconds, we started turning our lights back on. For those unnerved by the deepest darkness, the lights brought great relief. Can you imagine a similar relief that comes by the redemptive power of Christ? He pulls us from an endless night of darkness into a radiant new life.

The Savior’s life was filled with many acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind; He cured all manner of infirmities; He cast out devils; He took time to bless children when He was tired and hungry; He brought the dead to life. However, His greatest act of mercy was the Atonement. “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” (2 Ne. 9:21). This single act made it possible for all to receive forgiveness of sins as they repent and have faith in the Lord. The way is prepared. “Come…every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The Savior’s mercy, His forgiveness, is offered freely to us as we repent. Redemption comes as we repent but it is important to remember that this life is the time to prepare to meet God. We need to repent and be redeemed in this life or risk eternal separation from God.

Redemption covers more than just sins; it is available for all ills – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional.

A few years ago I stood in a hospital room watching a geriatrician examine a silver haired older woman. This lovely woman was a widow, had dementia, and was cared for by a daughter; the woman was frustrated by a world she struggled to understand and the daughter was frustrated by the physical and emotional drain of caregiving. We could see the anxiety and strain both were under. That day we had a lighter patient load than normal so we had more time to spend with this woman. She kept asking if the physician or one of us in the room would sing a specific song (none of us knew it – it was a particular Christmas song we hadn’t heard of). As he examined her, the geriatrician asked if she knew the lyrics or tune. The woman, memory weakened by a terrible disease, couldn’t say or sing any of the song for us so no song was sung. At the end of the visit the physician wanted to fulfill her request for a song – to help her be calm and happy; to let her know he cared for her. He asked what song she wanted. This time she asked if he could sing Amazing Grace. The physician reached out, gently held her hand, looked her in the eyes as he sat before her, and sang to her.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

This woman, lost in a labyrinth of disease, for a moment was found. That day my blind eyes opened to the healing power of a kind touch and simple song from a good Samaritan. I felt heaven draw near. I saw what it might be like to sit before the Savior and receive His redemptive, loving grasp as He sings us a song of redeeming love.

Resurrection

At some point death comes to all. It might be early or late but it will come. We are comforted by the knowledge that death is not the end. All who die will rise again, resurrected through the power of God. Death brings great sorrow but we can find solace in our knowledge of the Plan of Happiness. We were there in the pre-earth life when our Father presented His plan for us. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a mortal body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity, even though we knew there would be hard things and many sorrows, including death. We can go on knowing Christ descended below all in order to lift us all. When we know the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness we 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. 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. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning to us. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Death is not an end; death is a new beginning – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died so we will all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

Jacob, brother of Nephi, taught of the resurrection: “Our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God…. For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection….” (2 Nephi 9:4,6). The Book of Mormon prophet Samuel taught too of the resurrection: “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. When those we love die, we can find comfort in the Savior. The poet wrote:

Death shall not destroy my comfort,

Christ shall guide me thro’ the gloom;

Down he’ll send some heav’nly convoy,

To escort my spirit home.

 

Jordan’s stream shall not o’erflow me,

While my Savior’s by my side;

Canaan, Canaan lies before me!

Soon I’ll cross the swelling tide.

 

See the happy spirits waiting,

On the banks beyond the stream!

Sweet responses still repeating,

“Jesus! Jesus!” is their theme.

 

Oh, hallelujah! How I Love my Savior,

Oh, hallelujah! That I Do.

Oh, Hallelujah! How I love my Savior!

Mourners, you may love him too.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again, to overcome that endless night of darkness of spiritual and physical death. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. 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, a spouse, 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.

May we find joy in repentance, redemption, and resurrection. May we all be a little more kind and loving today. May we find someone to lift up – help someone who is sad feel glad. May we recognize the supernal blessings we all are given from our Father and from the Savior; may we recognize then receive and not reject what has been given and then render up our thanks unto God for those blessings.

Sorrow in the Plan of Happiness

Standard

Church leaders have implemented a set of goals and objectives within North America to strengthen church members. The four goals are: 1) live the gospel of Jesus Christ, 2) gather Israel through missionary work, 3) care for the poor and needy, and 4) enable the salvation of the dead. To meet each of these four goals we have specific objectives set to reach those goals. For each objective we have specific stake and ward plans of action. One of our objectives is to strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by regularly studying the Book of Mormon. As a ward [in Gainesville, Florida] we are tracking Book of Mormon story reading by putting leaves on a tree. Our tree is getting greener and greener. At this past General Conference Pres. Monson did not talk for long but he emphatically exhorted us to read the Book of Mormon every day. There is little else we can do that will bring greater strength to our lives than regularly immersing ourselves in the Book of Mormon.

With this in mind, I will use the Book of Mormon as a foundation upon which we can build our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation. Or, as Alma the Younger called it, the plan of happiness (see Alma 42:8). God has a plan of happiness for us so why is there so much sorrow in the world and in our own lives?

Last year I walked through the Public Garden in the heart of Boston. It’s a peaceful place – at least in wintertime – surrounded by flowing arteries of traffic and people. There is a 40 foot tall statue on the northwest corner of the Public Garden. On top of the statue is a doctor, sculpted to represent the good Samaritan. He sits, supporting an injured man over his left knee. The doctor holds cloth in his left hand, having just applied the anesthetic medication ether. Inscribed on the base of the monument are the words: “To commemorate that the inhaling of ether causes insensibility to pain. First proved to the world…in Boston, October…[1846]”. The monument also includes a quote from Revelation 21:4: “Neither shall there be any more pain.” The pillar of stone is called the Ether Monument; it stands as testament to the medical advancement of anesthetic medication, which has benefited billions of people. Can you imagine surgery before anesthetics? Terrible, sharp, cutting pain inflicted to hopefully relieve other pain.

After viewing this monument, I reflected on the roles pain and suffering play in our lives. Some people ask why God doesn’t prevent suffering. Why didn’t he stop an injury or a death or an attack? Why didn’t He stop a plane crash? Why didn’t He stop hundreds of thousands of people from perishing in a horrific tsunami? Why doesn’t God take away my depression or cancer or financial stress or any number of afflictions? While such questions often come from the honesty of intense pain and suffering, I think they are not the questions we should really ask. What can we ask instead? We can ask “why does God allow suffering?” Or maybe: “Why does God require suffering?” To start an answer we must first turn to the example of the Savior. If our Heavenly Father didn’t prevent suffering in the life of His perfect Son Jesus Christ, how can He prevent it in our lives? Are we better than the Son of God? We have been encouraged many times to be good Samaritans – to bind up the wounds of others but the good Samaritan really is a type – a metaphor – of Christ. He binds wounds and cleanses with oil; He holds and houses. He saves lives and succors needs. If the Savior is the Good Samaritan, we are the beaten and robbed man on the road. He heals our wounds through wounds of His own. We suffer but Jesus Christ suffered above all.

The ancient Book of Mormon prophet Nephi wrote: “For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels…. And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” (1 Nephi 19:7-9; emphasis added). Our Savior suffered terribly because He loves us. He is kind, He is loving, He is long-suffering. Through His suffering we can be healed. Now of course, the Savior experienced much joy and happiness, but He was persecuted, afflicted, and acquainted with grief. He suffered so we might be saved. While the Messiah’s sufferings can sancity us, our own sufferings can also be sanctifying. Suffering is vital to our lives. This does not mean we seek it but we can seek for meaning and understand the blessings of suffering.

Lehi, speaking to his son Jacob, said “Thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” (2 Ne. 2:2). “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery [note the interesting and important juxtaposition of those two], neither good nor bad.” (2 Ne. 2:11). Why are misery and holiness placed in opposition? Holiness is consecration; it is purity and sanctification. Does that mean that there is no sadness for one who is holy? No, but I’d encourage you to spend time reflecting on the relationship between holiness and misery. The contrast is important. “Wickedness never was happiness” as Alma said (Alma 41:10), and sin will always bring misery but there can be misery and sorrow for the holy too. The length of misery and sorrow can differ for the holy because the natural state of holiness is joyful.

When Pilate killed a group of Galilaeans, some wondered if they deserved their fate. The Savior taught on the relationship between suffering and sin, “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay” (Luke 13:2-3). He continued by telling the listeners, “But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3). Those who suffer do not necessarily sin but those who sin and don’t repent, will suffer. What is unfortunate is when people suffer as a result of their own sins. It’s unfortunate because suffering caused by sin is preventable. None of us is or is expected to be perfect – we all sin but we are also free to make better choices than we sometimes do.

Our lives are full of opposition. This opposition is necessary. It can bring sorrow but it can also bring joy. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi said, “It must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Ne. 2:15). If Adam and Eve did not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge “they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin” (2 Ne. 2:23). We must know bitter to know sweet. We must know misery to know joy.

While we don’t seek suffering we also don’t shy away from it when we understand the meaning and purpose of suffering. Suffering can be sanctifying but some suffering is not. Much suffering in this world results from sin – our own or others. We cannot control the behaviors of other people. What we can control when we suffer as a result of the sins of others is how we bear the suffering and what we will learn from it. Suffering caused by sin can even be positive when it leads to repentance. This was taught in the book of Alma: “For many of [the Lamanites], after having suffered much loss and so many afflictions, began to be stirred up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached to them in their land; therefore they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus there were many of them converted in the wilderness” (Alma 25:6).

Jesus told a parable of a young man who wanted to see the world and experience life. He felt tired and bored by a provincial life – the young man wanted fun and adventure. He went to his father for money and then left to experience his own coming of age story. This young man then spent all his money pursuing pleasure. Money and pleasure were his gods – he wasted his strength worshiping them. When the son spent all his money, he looked around for more. Finding none, he thought he might get a job; however, he had few employable skills. He spent all of his money “living it up” and no longer had any for the necessities of life. He was miserable and suffering. He felt ashamed of what he had done. At first he was too ashamed to return home. The man became so destitute he begged for food; he even ate scraps of food pigs rejected. Finding no solace, no sustenance, he finally ceased his pride, accepted responsibility for his actions, and started the journey home in humility. He thought his father might accept him as a servant, for he felt unworthy to be called son. When the prodigal approached, his father saw him and ran to him. In a moving show of joy and forgiveness, the father embraced his son and wept upon his shoulder. The son expected to be a servant but his father welcomed him back as an heir.

We are all prodigal sons and daughters in our own way. Prodigal means imprudent or wastefully extravagant. How misguided or foolish are we? How much do we waste our inheritance from God? How careless are we with commandments and talents? How far do we stray from the Light?

One moral of the parable of the prodigal son is sin and selfishness produce sorrow and suffering. The prodigal son was not happy in his pursuit of pleasure. He experienced moments of happiness but quickly began to suffer for his sins. As he expressed contrition and penitence, the prodigal son found joy in his return home; he found forgiveness and love. He once again partook of a meal in covenant with his father.

Not all suffering, of course, is caused by sin. When Joseph Smith was a boy he caught typhoid fever. After some days of suffering and treatment by physicians, the infection spread, becoming osteomyelitis, a bone bacterial infection. Joseph’s mother recalled the pain “shot like lightening (using his own terms) down his side into the marrow of the bone of his leg, and soon became very severe. My poor boy, at this was almost in total despair, and he cried out ‘Oh father! the pain is so severe, how can I bear it!’ His leg immediately began to swell and he continued in the most excruciating pain for 2 weeks.” ([34] Proctor and Proctor, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 72–73., as cited in https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-10-number-3-2009/joseph-smith-s-childhood-illness). Joseph Smith would have died without treatment. Various doctors visited the Smith family, including Dr. Nathan Smith [no relation], a renowned physician and founder of Dartmouth Medical College. The Smith family did not want Joseph’s leg to be amputated – the common treatment for similar infections – so Dr. Smith agreed to try an experimental procedure he developed. Dr. Smith was one of the only – if not the only – surgeons who had the skills to stop the infection and save Joseph’s leg. During the operation – without pain medication or anesthetics – the surgeons dug into Joseph’s leg and removed infected bone. This surgery wouldn’t become standard medical procedure until more than 100 years later. Through a miraculous set of circumstances and a painful cutting edge surgery, Joseph survived with a whole leg and only a slight limp. Joseph was able to later walk, run, ride, and go where the Lord asked him to go as the prophet of God because of the surgery.

Just as it was for Joseph Smith, suffering is a part of all our lives. Once we understand this we no longer need to be upset when we suffer; rather, we can seek to find the meaning in our suffering. We can choose our attitude toward suffering; we can choose how we will bear our crosses when they invariably come. The Savior, who lived a perfect life, suffered more than any other person. Through His suffering He brought salvation to humankind: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). Christ provided the way to overcome suffering. Christ learned obedience through His suffering; through His suffering He became the Way to eternal life and salvation. In and through Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering in this life. John the Revelator told of the comfort the Lord gives unto those who follow Him and endure unto the end: “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17). In this life and the next, the Lord is there to mourn with us when we mourn and to wipe away our tears.

Even though pain might be intense, through faith in Christ we can have joy during our suffering. We can have joy when we have an eternal perspective. That does not mean we enjoy our suffering; rather, we rejoice when we understand suffering and make it a sanctifying process. The apostle Peter taught: “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13). We are blessed by the Savior’s sufferings; we will be blessed by our sufferings. When we are righteous, the Lord promised we will “reap eternal joy for all our sufferings” (D&C 109:76).

Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering. As we read the Book of Mormon every day, we will better understand why there is sorrow in the Plan of Happiness. Some day suffering will end; there will be an end to pain through the anesthetic of the Atonement. That end is reached by following the Savior as He beckons unto us and then carries us Home.

Cultivated Forests

Standard

Charles C. Mann wrote an article called 1491 for The Atlantic in 2002. He followed that article with a book, titled 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. A summary of the book is as follows: “Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.”

The book is a terrific read that I highly recommend. If you want a taste of it, first read the linked article in The Atlantic.

Now what does this have to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Not much directly. First, evidence continues to build of a highly populated North and South America with many sophisticated societies. The peoples actively managed the environment – regularly burning large areas of land, planting trees, and improving the soil. The view of Native American peoples living in small groups ‘harmonious’ with nature around them is outdated.

“In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. ‘I basically think it’s all human-created,’ Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. ‘Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,’ he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, ‘lots’ of botanists believe that ‘what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.’ The phrase ‘built environment,’ Erickson says, ‘applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.'” (Mann, 1491, The Atlantic).

How does this fit with the Book of Mormon?

5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east [possibly within a small region of modern day southern Mexico/northern Guatemala].

9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:5-11)

So we have American inhabitants destroying large swaths of forest, cultivating new forests, building cities, and so forth. Now back to the article by Charles Mann:

Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. (Mann, 1491; emphasis added).

None of this proves the ancient historicity of the Book of Mormon, nor should belief in the Book of Mormon be tied to science. The truth of the Book of Mormon is independent from outside scientific evidence; truth is established by God and manifest by the Holy Ghost. That being said, articles and books like these written by Charles Mann are interesting.

Five Chapters Per Day

Standard

Just over a month ago I thought that I needed to start reading more of the Book of Mormon each day. Reading quickly (or in my case, listening and reading) isn’t studying the scriptures but I believe there is a benefit to such immersion. Going through quickly can lead to insights about major themes and characters that are not as obvious when going through as a slower pace.

As a full-time missionary I read the Book of Mormon 11.5 times (because of transfers timings I served for 23 months). I also read the other books of scripture and a number of gospel-related books and articles. Depending on what mission a missionary is in (i.e., learning a new language or what a particular expected schedule is), there is a minimum of one hour to study and read. I typically averaged 2-3 hours per day. This is shared only as an example of how much time full-time missionaries have to read and study the scriptures. Currently, I don’t have as much time available to read and study but I knew I could spend more time than I was spending.

So over a month ago I decided to get through five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day. Why five? It was arbitrary. It worked out, however, to be a good number of chapters to listen to during my commutes to work each weekday. I can get through five chapters listening at 1.5 speed within the span on my commute (sometimes including time while walking from the parking lot to my office). When there are shorter chapters (such as the first chapters of Moroni) I listen to or read more but I always try to get through at least five chapters (there were a couple days when I read fewer than five chapters but I made sure I caught up to the 15 chapters by the end of the third day).

How long does it take to read or listen to five chapters in the scriptures per day? Since I typically listen to the chapters at 1.5 speed, I usually get through five chapters in 20-35 minutes. At a slower pace five chapters would take 30-53 minutes of time per day (these are rough estimates based on my  recent experience with the Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon has 239 chapters. At five chapters per day, it take 48 days to finish the book (47.8 days to be precise). At this rate, one can go through the Book of Mormon seven times completely and be 63% through it for the 8th time.

What if someone wanted to read through all the LDS Standard Works? Based on the current English versions of the texts that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use, there are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, 260 chapters in the New Testament, 239 chapters in the Book of Mormon, 140 ‘chapters’ in the Doctrine and Covenants (including the two official declarations), and 19 chapters in the Pearl of Great Price. This is a total of 1587 chapters. At 5 chapters per day, one will finish the entire standard works in 318 (317.4) days.

Additionally, there have been an average of 36.75 talks given per General Conference over the past four General Conferences. We’ll round that up to 74 Conference talks per year (this includes the General Women’s Session and the General Priesthood Session). Reading or listening to two General Conference talks per day would allow someone to finish the standard works and all conference talks in just under one year.

The problem with reading and listening at this rate is that it does not count as in-depth study so other time could be spent reading topically or more slowly. I’ll certainly modify my reading pattern over time but five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day has been a wonderful experience.

The Lord’s Pattern of Leadership

Standard

In 2010 in a forum intended for individuals who work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Bednar spoke on leadership: “Just think about any responsibility you’ve ever had as a leader in the Church. Were you well prepared before you were called? No. Did you know what you were doing when you were called? No. So the Lord, by inspiration through those who are in authority, calls us to do things that we’ve never done, that we’re not prepared to do, and that we struggle with on the front end especially, learning what we’re to do.

“Well, my phrasing for that is what happens as soon as you begin to have any idea of what you’re doing and gain any measure of confidence, you’re released and you’re clueless again in some new responsibility.

“And there’s a reason for that. As long as we’re clueless we’re dependent upon heaven. As soon as we think we know what we’re doing then we tend to rely more on the arm of the flesh. In the Church every single one of us has been in the position where heaven took a chance on us. We didn’t know what to do, we certainly were not experienced, we were worthy and willing, but heaven took a chance.

“Truthfully, when we then are the one in the chair to receive inspiration for someone else, aren’t we less willing to take a chance on other people? We want folks who have the requisite skill and capacity, and we want everything to run smooth and so we use the same 10 people who at some point in time were given an opportunity, developed the skill and the capacity and the confidence, and we want to look good so we just keep moving them around in the different auxiliaries. The great enjoyment comes when someone who’s really clueless gains confidence in capacity. Thats fun….

“Not too long ago I was visiting with President Packer, and he made just a very interesting observation. He said, ‘David, serving in this responsibility, the longer you serve, the less able you feel.’ If you think about a person who would serve as a stake president, for example, nine years, the first three years you’re pretty much totally clueless, so you’re safe because you’re dependent on heaven.

“The second three years you might begin to see repeating kinds of challenges and cases and you’re still clueless, but you’re not totally clueless so you feel reasonably comfortable. The danger comes in the last three years that you might ever begin to think ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I would suggest ‘Yeah, I know what I’m doing’ is an absence of humility. Because even though this is the 93rd time you’ve seen a case like this, you have no idea what you’re gonna do. As long as that’s your approach. New person, new circumstance, and yes you benefited from the previous 93, but this is a soul where they deserve your very best, and you can’t just apply everything from the past to this particular one.

“So the great danger comes after we have gained experience that we might begin to think we really know what we’re doing.” (A Conversation on Leadership¹; emphasis added).

So if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and feel like you’re in over your head, that’s exactly where you need to be!

Notes

1. While the document is hosted and accessible freely online by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its use is “intended for use only by the Church workforce”, which is why I did not provide a direct link. Interested parties can perform a web search for the document and find a PDF of it. I’ve seen the PDF go on and off line over the years so it might be removed from general accessibility at some point

A Doorkeeper in the House of God

Standard

Many years ago two brothers lived in what is now part of Iraq. They lived near or in the city Babel. The word “Babel” means both the “gate of God” and “to confuse”. In Babel, or Babylon, was a false temple – a false gate to God. The Babylonians wanted to reach heaven but they built a false gate and worshipped false gods. Many in our day also worship false gods.

Are we building and worshiping in false temples like the Babylonians? Are we worshiping at unholy altars? Are we letting the good crowd out the best? Do we make sacrifices to gilded calves? What do we allow in our lives to take priority over the gospel and the things of God? Do we wander on side-roads when we should be traveling on God’s heavenly highway to the temple and eternal life? The prophet Isaiah wrote of God’s highway, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.”((Isaiah 35:8))

This highway leads through the deserts: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” ((Isaiah 40:3)); it leads to the exalted heights: “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.”((Isaiah 49:11)) If we travel on God’s exalted roads, we are in the path to peace; we are on a temple road, a road for the clean and holy. Those who wander on strange roads are on the way to false temples and false gods.

Our worshiping in false temples could range from shirking church responsibilities to spending too much time pursuing work or recreation (or even family) such that other necessary activities are left undone. Our worship of false gods could range from obsessively following the latest trends, technologies, or celebrities to dishonoring the Sabbath day. All that is good is not exalting and too much of a good thing might hinder our salvation. We don’t have to focus only on the gospel and family – we can and should spend time doing other things – but if our devotion to these activities becomes our religion we are like the Babylonians.

Elder Oaks taught the importance of prioritizing in our lives: “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all. Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best.”((Ensign, Nov. 2007))

Many things, people, and causes clamor for our attention. We can run around exhibiting a kind of attentional disorder trying to do everything (or conversely, doing too little or focusing on too narrow a thing) or we can wisely use and improve our time by choosing to spend the most effort on the best things. Our Savior Jesus Christ and our families come first. Anything that takes away from the centrality of God and a Christ-centered family is a false god.

So the Babylonians were building and worshiping their false temple – the great tower of Babel. Because of wickedness, this became a time of great confusion and war of words. Jared and his younger brother, their families, and friends left the confusion – they left the false gate to God – to find sanctuary elsewhere. The Lord led them to a new land of promise and covenant. To get to this new land, they first needed to cross an ocean. To cross the ocean they needed to build vessels. The Lord taught the Jaredites how to build the barges but the Jaredites quickly realized they would be in darkness for much of the crossing. Because the brother of Jared was the spokesman, he went and spoke with the Lord to ask about light during the journey. The Lord provided clear directions for the building of the vessels but when the question of light came up the interaction was different.

“And [the brother of Jared] cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness? And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire….And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” ((Ether 2:22-25))

I love this interaction. The Lord asked the brother of Jared: “What will ye that I should do?” I love the humility of our Savior. Think about it; the creator of the earth asked the brother of Jared, “What do you want me to do?” He was willing to do what the brother of Jared decided. To provide some guidance, He pointed out some of the challenges of lighting a storm-tossed vessel and sent the brother of Jared on his way to figure out a solution.

“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord.”((Ether 3:1))

The brother of Jared ascended the mountain to craft stones and then speak with the Lord high on the mountain top.

He prayed: “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear…. And…behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.”((Ether 3:4-6,13))

So great was the faith of the brother of Jared that the veil had no power to hide the Lord from him. The brother of Jared did not just converse with the Lord while separated by a veil, he was brought directly into the presence of the Lord. The brother of Jared worked to make the stones but the Lord filled them with light just as he filled the brother of Jared with light.

How can we apply this story to our lives? The scriptures are most useful when they result in a mighty change of heart. If we only read the words but don’t heed the words, we fall far short of what we can and should be. In the same chapter of James that Joseph Smith read before deciding to pray in a quiet grove of trees we read: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”((James 1:22))

Just like the brother of Jared, as we act and do good things Jesus Christ fills us with light. As we do good things our souls are filled with lighted stones and we become more like Jesus Christ. Each stone of light in our soul softens our stony heart and Jesus Christ blesses us with a new heart of flesh.

The prophet Ezekiel testified with the words of the Savior: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”((Ezekiel 36:25-28))

These are promises made to all who follow the Lord. We can be cleansed and blessed with a soft heart. This new soft heart comes as we are filled with the Spirit of God.

Let’s return to the brother of Jared. His [the brother of Jared’s] experience on the mountain was a temple experience. The brother of Jared entered into the Savior’s presence through the true gate of faith and diligence. That is what temples are for – helping the children of God – helping us – return to God’s presence.

Regularly performing temple work is important because it is the process whereby we and others can return to live with our Eternal Father. In temples we partake of saving ordinances without which we cannot return to live with God. Because of this, building and attending temples are among the most important things we can do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1834 the saints were building the Kirtland Temple but the temple was in serious trouble. The Saints soon needed to pay the mortgage loan on the temple lot but they did not have enough money to repay the loan. Faced with this problem, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other church leaders gathered in prayer and asked the Lord to send someone or some people who had money to save the temple. 200 miles from the birthplace of the Restoration lived the man who was the answer to prayer. John joined the Church in 1832. He was a wealthy and generous man. One night he had a dream that he was urgently needed in Kirtland, Ohio. Within two weeks, John sold his land, homes, hotel, and everything else he could and prepared to leave. On Christmas Day, John and his family left their mansion in New York in search of a mansion in heaven. John and his family headed west to the home of the saints. John arrived in January after 500 miles and a month of travel; he found the prophet (whom he had not previously met) and quickly discovered why he was needed in Kirtland. John loaned Joseph and the Church the money needed to pay the mortgage. Without John’s money, the loan would have defaulted and the temple land would have been repossessed. Without John Tanner’s consecration, the Kirtland Temple would not have been completed.((If John Tanner did not have the faith and money, the Lord would have provided someone else. I share this experience to encourage each of us to more faithfully act on inspiration.))

From the days of Adam, temples have always been important to the followers of God. In the ancient world, temples were often at the center of city life. This also is how some modern cities are designed, including Salt Lake City. Wherever the saints of God lived, they built temples. Adam built an altar upon which he offered sacrifices. This was the first temple. Many years later, the Lord commanded Moses to build a tabernacle – a portable temple. Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem that was alternately destroyed and rebuilt over the years. Shortly after Nephi and his family reached the Promised Land, they built a temple. Following the Restoration, the prophet Joseph was commanded to start building temples. The saints built one in Kirtland, Ohio. The saints fled Ohio because of persecutions – leaving behind the precious house of the Lord. They dedicated land in Missouri for a temple. That structure has not yet been built.

Once in Nauvoo, the Saints built a temple, finishing it with a trowel in one hand and a wagon in the other as they fled the country to head to the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young dedicated the Nauvoo Temple before it was fully completed so at least portion of the Saints could receive their temple blessings before they had to cross the plains. I’m sure those blessings gave courage and strength to many who faced the grueling journey ahead. The Prophet Joseph stressed the importance of temples: “The main object [of gathering the Jews, or the people of God, in any age of the world] was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”((as cited in R. Millet, The Power of the Word, p.218))

The prophet Isaiah saw in vision latter-day temples and the church members who attend them: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”((2 Ne. 12:2-3)) One of the first things President Brigham Young did upon entering the Salt Lake Valley was designate the land for the future Salt Lake Temple – the mountain of the Lord’s house that is built in the top of the mountains. Isaiah saw that temple in vision as he prophesied of the last days.

In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to go to the temple to hear the words of the Lord. This is what King Benjamin asked of his people: “And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father [King Benjamin] had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.”((Mosiah 1:18)) Mosiah called the people to come to the temple to hear the words of the prophet. We should also go to the temple and participate in the work of salvation.

This call to the temple is a call to learn the ways of God and to walk in the paths of the Lord. It is a call to one and all to visit the house of God as individuals and as families in order to receive the blessings of time and eternity. A temple is literally the House of the Lord. It is the place where ordinances necessary for exaltation are performed. Temple ordinances weld generation to generation, husband to wife, mother to daughter, and sister to brother.

We learn further of the importance of the temple in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.”((D&C 124:39-41))

What we learn from this scripture is that the temple is a place of revelation. Within those walls we can know things that have been hidden from “before the foundation of the world.”

The temple is a place of covenant – it is a house of holiness. To be holy means to be dedicated, set apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.”((Zechariah 14:20-21)) Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes would be consecrated for the work of the Lord.

Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means and lives to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord. John, whose money saved the Kirtland Temple, gave almost everything he owned to the Church without ever being repaid. Elder Maxwell taught, “Consecration is the only surrender which is also a victory. It brings release from the raucous, overpopulated cell block of selfishness and emancipation from the dark prison of pride.”((Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 66)) Consecration is holiness.

Just as the Lord inspired John Tanner to go and save the temple, we should emulate his example and go to the temple, not to save it but to be saved and help save others. The temple not only will bless our lives but also the lives of those around us – most importantly our family for generations to come. The temple is a holy place that has eternal significance and provides eternal blessings. Let us follow the admonition of Isaiah by gathering all who will be gathered and beckon unto them: “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.”

To paraphrase Boyd K. Packer: “What happens if we don’t [attend the temple]? Nothing happens. We miss everything. We live far below our privileges.”((Boyd K. Packer as quoted by Sander Larson and modified by me))

Moroni pleaded with us: “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.”((Ether 12:41)) I also urge you to seek Jesus. We more fully seek Jesus by attending the temple regularly.

In closing I echo the words of the Psalmist: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”((Psalms 84:10)) Serving in the temple is a greater honor than anything the world can give. That we might leave the tents of wickedness and enter the house of God is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Share Goodness: Part 3

Standard

In part 1 and part 2 of this series on what’s good in the world, I shared shows, songs, and books I find positive and uplifting. Here is part 3.

Movie

The Book of Life, directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez. The movie is beautifully animated and has a number of positive messages. It is a colorful presentation of aspects of Mexican culture. I appreciated the presentation of the eternal importance of family. Some of the images in this movie are potentially frightening. There are also challenging thematic materials and violence.

The movie is available to purchase in a number of formats. The soundtrack is also pretty great.

Music

Stand by Me – lyrics by Charles Albert Tindley. I love Seth Avett’s simple version of the gospel song.

Hang On by Guster. Many people struggle with mental illness – some mild, some severe. This song by Guster is about clinging to hope when all around is dark. If you feel like you can’t go on, hang on and seek appropriate medical or psychiatric care. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a website dedicated to dealing with mental health issues (mostly from a spiritual standpoint).

Lullaby by Peter Breinholt. The version sung with the One Voice Children’s Choir was recorded to raise awareness and money to help support Operation Underground Railroad, an organization dedicated to helping rescue enslaved children.

Books

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful novels ever written. The setting is South Africa during Apartheid but the overarching theme is sin and redemption.

Here are a few quotes from the book I enjoy (to save myself time, all were taken from Goodreads):

“Pain and suffering, they are a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering…. I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, umfundisi. 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 Judge does not make the law. It is people that make the law. Therefore if a law is unjust, and if the Judge judges according to the law, that is justice, even if it is not just.”

“I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good for their country, come together to work for it.
I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they [white men] are turned to loving, they will find we [black men] are turned to hating.”

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.”

Share Goodness: Part 2

Standard

In part 1 of this series on finding and sharing what’s good in the world, I shared shows, songs, and a book I find positive and uplifting. I share more in this post.

Shows

Cinderella (2015). This live action retelling of the classic Disney animated film is beautifully written, filmed, and acted. I love this movie. One of my favorite lines is a repeated theme throughout the movie: “I have to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer. Have courage and be kind.” That I will be kind and that my children will be kind is a recurring petition I make in prayer.

Music

It’s Good to Be Alive by Regan Rindlisbacher. The delightful song is catchy and uplifting. It’s one of my family’s favorites. Her song is “about having a positive outlook on life, looking for the beauty in the world, and cherishing relationships with those we love.”

Handel’s Eternal Source Of Light Divine (officially known as Ode for the birthday of Queen Anne). There are a number of lovely recordings of the song; here is one I enjoy. The lyrics are a prayer for birthday peace.

Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone performed by BYU’s Noteworthy. This is a cover of Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace (Noteworthy’s cover is the better version, in my opinion). I love the purity of the presentation and the power of the music.

Books

The books I’m posting fall in the self-help category. That’s one of my least favorite book categories, which is why these books are notable (I actually like them).

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen. Clayton M. Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He’s currently one of the most influential thinkers in the business world. The book has application to just about anyone of any age but will not be particularly interesting to anyone younger than 16. The book is “full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.”

Bonds that Make Us Free: Healing our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves by C. Terry Warner. This is not an easy read and won’t be of much interest to many people younger than 18 (and probably isn’t of much interest to most people 18 and older). If you want the shorter, more digestible version read Leadership and Self-deception: Getting Out of the Box, released by the Abridger Institute. Bonds that Make Us Free is the better book but is quite technical. The book provides guidance on “how we betray ourselves by failing to act toward others as we know we should — and how we can interrupt the unproductive cycle and restore the sweetness in our relationships.”

Share Goodness: Part 1

Standard

I’m starting a new occasional feature on this site that I’m calling “Share Goodness”. This is taken from a social media campaign encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Another inspiration is one of the slogans of BYUtv: “See the good“. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we accept truth and goodness from any source: “Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” (Joseph Smith)

Rather than protesting what is bad, I believe in supporting what is good. After all, the Savior went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Instead of hearing, seeing, and saying no evil we can hear, see, and say good things. I hope to share some good things to see, hear, and read.

For the first part of this series I want to share a handful of uplifting songs, books, and visual media I’ve enjoyed recently. All are appropriate for families (at least my family), although some might be best for preteen and older. I won’t really provide reviews, I’ll just list things my family and/or I have enjoyed.

Shows

There are three I’d like to recommend with this first installment.

My family and I loved watching Random Acts on BYUtv. The show is described as: “Whimsical and heartwarming, BYUtv’s original hidden-camera show highlights the good in humanity through surprise service projects and pranks with a purpose.” If you haven’t watched it, watch it today.

The second recommendation is the show Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. The show is targeted to 8-13 year olds but is enjoyable for the whole family. I like it as much as my kids (maybe more). This is produced by Amazon and is available to view with an Amazon Prime subscription. It is also available to purchase. We haven’t watched all 3 seasons yet but really enjoyed the first.

The third recommendation is Just Add Magic, also produced by Amazon. The show is geared towards 8-13 year olds but has something for the whole family. It is available for purchase or is included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Music

I could list hundreds of songs but I’ll start with two.

“The Ground, Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria too” by Ola Gjeilo. Here’s the link on Spotify. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed it as part of Music and the Spoken Word on January 11, 2015.

Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin. Here is the Spotify link. A lovely cover by two musicians I enjoy (Peter Hollens and Malukah) is on YouTube (and is available to stream and purchase). The lyrics for the song Baba Yetu are the Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Books

I could list many good books I’ve enjoyed (although not all are appropriate for this site). I’ll start with The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling and her sister Brooke S. Passey. It’s an uplifting book full of positive messages. This one probably isn’t appropriate for (“interesting to” is probably a better term) kids younger than 10-12 but I strongly recommend the book for an interesting and unique perspective on the entertainment industry. Lindsey deals with some serious materials (her struggle with an eating disorder, for example), which is why I think it’s probably best for teenage and older individuals. I will, however, strongly encourage my children to read it (or listen to it, I have a copy of the audiobook) once they are teenagers.

Note: I did one post like this three years ago but it was focused just on sacred music. My hope is to continue posts like this where I share good (uplifting) books, songs, and visual media (movies/shows) I’ve enjoyed for years or just started enjoying. I won’t rate or rank anything I post. Most will be randomly selected and thus not posted in any particular order.