A Voice of Thunder – Part 1

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Joseph Smith provided this description of the Savior: “We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C; 110:2-4).

In this instance Jesus’ voice is described “as the sound of the rushing of great waters.” A personal experience might elucidate this analogy.

When I was 11 I went on a 3 day backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon. We started on the north rim of the canyon, which has an elevation of over 7000 feet above sea level. On top of the canyon the temperature is pleasant and cool. Down at the bottom of the canyon (over 4000 feet lower in elevation) it is hot with temperatures often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. The hike is regarded as one of the most strenuous in the Grand Canyon. Water is only plentiful (with purification) at the bottom of the canyon at Thunder River itself. All other water has to be carried in. As you hike down the canyon you follow a switchback trail down the cliff. Your legs and knees start to ache from the jolts of walking down and down, sometimes going 2000 feet down in a mere 2.5 miles. As you near the bottom you are hot and tired. If you are not prepared you could end up out of water, lost, and delirious (like a small group of people we came across on our hike). But as we hiked along the prickly pear cactus-lined trail we started to hear something. There was a rumbling in the distance that slowly grew louder. The voice of the spring was a voice of thunder. What was quiet at first became the “sound of the rushing of great waters.” Then suddenly we turned a corner and saw the waterfall. It was big, loud, and beautiful. 21 million gallons of water flow from the spring every day. It is an oasis in the desert, a refuge from the heat and dryness.

Now I do not know if the Savior’s voice actually sounded like the rushing of great waters but Joseph Smith had to try to condense into the English language the experience of hearing the Lord Jesus Christ. Words cannot do justice to the experience of His voice or to Jesus’ appearance but Joseph Smith used simile and metaphor to try to paint a picture for us. Eyes of fire, white hair, and a countenance brighter than the sun. Mortals have to be changed to enter into the fiery presence of the Lord. This fact is implied by the following description of the three Nephites who were promised that they would not die until Jesus’ Second Coming: “And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God” (3 Ne. 28:15). Their bodies were changed “like a transfiguration [so that] they could behold the things of God.” We need to be changed, to be renewed and cleansed, to see the things of God.

That we need to be changed is more explicit in the book of Moses. “But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him” (Moses 1:11). Being in the presence of God is like being surrounded by fire, a fire of cleansing and purification. Without transfiguration, we cannot abide God’s presence. We cannot withstand the intensity and heat. Joseph Smith said of his First Vision that the trees and plants surrounding him looked as if they were on fire. Like the burning bush Moses saw, the trees were not consumed because they had been changed to be able to withstand God’s presence. Moses was commanded to remove his shoes in part as symbolism of the need to leave his old self behind – at least temporarily – in order that he might withstand the Lord’s Shekhinah (the presence or dwelling or glory of the Lord): “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

A House of Prayer Podcast – Episode 3

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In this third podcast episode I briefly discuss the topics of cleanliness and overcoming the world. I also touch briefly on manhood and the priesthood. While it’s not directly about fathers or even directly about manhood, it is given in honor of Father’s Day and my own father, who taught me by word and example what it means to be a man, especially a man of God. The original essay (Arise from the Dust and Be Men) can be read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

I’m not thrilled with the quality of the audio yet; I’m still learning how to process the audio to improve it’s quality. 🙂 I will likely be upgrading my recording hardware soon, which should fix some of the recording issues.

If you’ve subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it’s never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer Episode 3

You can also subscribe directly from the iTunes Store by clicking on this link: A House of Prayer podcast (notice: requires and opens iTunes).

Let me know what you think!

Credit: The short music clip I use as an entrance and exit to the show is an arrangement of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from the album Reflections of Christ. Visit that link to find out how you can purchase the music (I’m not associated with the artists or music in any way; I just enjoy it).

The podcast album art is an image by Irwin-Scott. Check out his photo stream on Flickr. I thought his photo of the Salt Lake Temple would be a fitting image as a house of prayer. His night-time photo of the illuminated temple surrounded by darkness has a lovely symbolic meaning of the temple as a light on a hill, an ensign to the nations, a lighthouse shining forth in the darkness.

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 1

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There is a myth about a bird that lives hundreds of years. When this bird approaches the end of its lengthy life it builds a nest, then sits upon the nest. This bird then erupts into flame, leaving an egg – surrounded by ashes – in its place. This egg then quickly hatches and the bird is reborn. The new bird is not a child of the old bird – it is the same bird. The bird is known as a firebird, or, more commonly, a phoenix. Its plumage is usually described as gold or purple or other royal colors. It’s a bird of beauty and purity. The phoenix is not only known for its miraculous rebirth cycle but also for its ability to heal others with its tears. When it dies, this bird arises, reborn, out of the ashes. It awakens to a new life.

The great Book of Mormon prophet and teacher, Jacob, pleaded with his brethren. “O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” (Jacob 3:11). Many times throughout the scriptures we are commanded to awaken, to stop mindlessly sinning. We need to get up, rub the sleep from our eyes, cleanse ourselves, and get ready for the dawn of a new day of righteousness. We should arise and be ready to greet Him who is the Son of God, the light of the world.

The prophet Isaiah also preached using this theme. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion” (2 Ne. 8:24-25; see also Isaiah 52:1-2). Nephi, in his beautiful psalm, similarly pleaded, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Ne. 4:28). Lehi pleaded with his wayward sons: “Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men” (2 Ne. 1:21).

Again Lehi pleaded with his sons, “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:23). Not only did he command his sons (and all of us) to awaken, but also to array themselves in battle armor. We need to remove the bonds of sins and step into the light. We need to shake the dust off ourselves and be “clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C; 133:5; see also Isaiah 52:11). All of us, who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost or the priesthood or any responsibility within the Lord’s kingdom, need to be worthy of the vessels, the responsibility, we bear.

Pure Thoughts, Part 3

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There are many ways to keep our minds away from satanic influences and thoughts; most of us learned as children to hum our favorite hymns should bad thoughts enter our minds. I have to add that humming your favorite hymn may actually be counter-productive. If you hum a hymn to get rid of bad thoughts, the hymn becomes associated with the bad thoughts and serves as a trigger for the thoughts. This means that the next time the hymn is sung or heard, you might think the inappropriate thoughts. I recommend this tactic be used sparingly with frequent changing of the hymn. Additionally, it is best if the hymn is sung (it can be silently to yourself) because singing the words will help push out bad thoughts more readily than simply humming the melody will. Many of us learned this scripture in seminary about the importance of keeping our thoughts pure: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

There are many “how to” guides for keeping our thoughts clean and our minds pure, but knowing the “how” without the “why” is like participating in rituals at church without conversion. For example, it is important for a child to learn that partaking of the sacrament is essential; however, as she grows older she should also learn why we partake of the sacrament and not just that we do. Without a conversion to the “why” of doing something, life-long endurance is nearly impossible.

So why are we commanded to keep our minds pure? Why should we shun vulgarity and pornography? At a basic cognitive level, it is because when we think unclean thoughts, we cannot and are not thinking of spiritual things, since we cannot have two thoughts at once. But that is hardly a sufficient explanation or reason for conversion or salvation. Purity is a mental and spiritual state. It is keeping unholy thoughts out but it is also more than that; the word also implies being free of superfluous substance, just as 24 carat gold is free from other elements. So purity is not just freedom from contaminating objects, but also freedom from all additives, even if they might be good, or at least neutral, things. That is why we cannot be too focused on good things if we leave the weightier matters undone (see Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ talk on this topic). Purity is a process; it is becoming cleansed of all imperfections; thus, that which was impure can become pure.

Pure Thoughts, Part 2

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Bishop H. Burke Petersen further explained: “When we were born in the earth, our minds and thoughts were clean and sweet and pure—unpolluted by the harmful impurities that are around us that become a part of the experiences of this life. In our infancy our minds are free from unrighteous and unwholesome thoughts. We are innocent and untouched by most of the harmful effects and influences of Satan.

“Our mind, which is like a tremendous reservoir itself, is capable of taking in whatever it may be fed—good and bad, trash and garbage, as well as righteous thoughts and experiences. As we go through life, we may be exposed to stories, pictures, books, jokes, and language that are filthy and vulgar, or to television shows and movies that are not right for us to see or hear. Our mind will take it all in. It has a capacity to store whatever we will give it. Unfortunately, what our mind takes in, it keeps—sometimes forever. It’s a long, long process to cleanse a mind that has been polluted by unclean thoughts.” (H. Burke Peterson, “Purify Our Minds and Spirits,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 37)

The brain is immensely efficient, able to process large amounts of information in a short time. While the brain has only a limited capacity for conscious processing, the brain receives a lot more information than we are aware. This is why we need to surround ourselves with only those things that uplift. However, the brain cannot actively process very much at once. In other words, we can only really think of one thing at a time, even if we can jump back and forth between ideas rapidly. This may be one reason why we are told to pray always–so we don’t have time to let our minds wander to places they shouldn’t go.

Elder Maxwell taught, “The human mind is remarkably retentive. We must be careful of what we allow in our mind, for it will be there for a long time, reasserting itself at those very times when we may be most vulnerable. Just as harmful chemicals heedlessly dumped in a vacant lot can later prove lethal, so toxic thoughts and the mulching of the wrong memories in the vacant corner of the mind also take their toll” (Elder Maxwell, The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p.346).

Pure Thoughts, Part 1

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When I was young I went on two long backpacking trips with my father and some varsity scouts. On both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to get through the hike. When there were no springs we had to purify our water, by filtering, boiling, or by using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification due to the various microorganisms in it, especially giardia, which is a bacteria that attaches itself onto the inside of intestines and stays there for an extended time. If we had not purified our water, the results would have been drastic and long-lasting.

We preferred the spring water because it did not take as much effort to process as did filtering or boiling water, nor did it have the taste of iodine. When we were able to get water from springs we did, because this water was naturally purified by the ground. It was water that we did not work hard to procure but still reaped its benefits and blessings – we were like the Savior’s disciples who were told: “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor” (John 4:38). Even though the spring water was naturally pure, we still tried to fill our bottles as close to the source as possible, to avoid the impurities that enter once the water leaves its subterranean origin. As water is to our body, so are thoughts to our spirits. Without filtration and purification of our thoughts, our spirits will sicken and languish. Like spring water, there is a pure source for thoughts; the scriptures and the prophets teach in purity and the Spirit helps us keep our thoughts pure. However, since much of that around us is not from a pure source, we must filter and cleanse our thoughts.

Parallels in Purifications

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As I took a shower this morning in preparation to go to the temple with the youth of my ward, I thought of the symbolism of the shower. As I cleaned myself physically to get myself ready to enter the temple, I pondered whether I was spiritually clean and ready to enter the temple. I thought over my recent actions or inactions as I prepared. As I washed myself from head to toe, I thought how that paralleled baptism and repentance. While I was not fully immersed in a pool of water, which occurs at baptism, the water of the shower washed away dirt and other uncleanness. The heat of the water reminded me of the purifying burning of the Holy Ghost. The scrubbing with soap is like the spiritual scrubbing that comes in the process of repentance – it requires effort; without the cleansing of soap, the purification process is incomplete. Without repentance and effort on our part, even the cleansing of baptism is insufficient, for repentance is a condition of baptism.