Fasting With a Purpose

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Today we had Fast Sunday instead of the first Sunday of April because of General Conference. While I always fast with a purpose and with prayer, today I had a special reason for fasting. While I am always hungry while fasting, I only occasionally feel acutely hungry. Each time I had a hunger pang and pain, I took that opportunity to consecrate my sacrifice unto the Lord on behalf of the individual for whom I was fasting. That was something new for me – instead of just looking at the aggregate of the fast, I used the acute difficulties of fasting as reminders of the reason for which I was fasting and as reminders to say a prayer.

I have fasted with intensity, desire, and dedication before but this was the first time I really latched onto each pang as purposeful. I know I’m probably just slow in my realization but I felt this was a more meaningful method of consecration of my sacrifice. That is what fasting is all about – fasting is not about starvation, it is about consecration. We consecrate ourselves and some of our means to God. I always feel closer to the Spirit when I fast, today was particularly meaningful because of the circumstances.

Investing in the Church

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Why do some within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not become fully invested in the Church? I believe it’s for the same reason some who are not members of the Church do not give the Church an honest look.

In the early days after the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church members passed through a lot of adversity and persecution. I’ve watched the Church’s film Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration, which is included on the new Doctrine and Covenants Visual Resource DVDs (as an aside: these are a fabulous resource, especially for only $4.50 US. Disc 3 includes 5 movies: the Joseph Smith one and others, including Treasure in Heaven, which is about my 4th great grandfather). Anyway, in watching this film now a few times, it’s remarkable how much the early church members passed through. There’s always something about seeing events dramatized that lends extra power to them. All of the events in the film should be reasonably familiar to church members who have at least a passing exposure to early church history but again, their dramatization helps make the experiences more real. In the film you see an endless stream of adversity that Joseph Smith had to swim through. At one point he comments to his wife Emma that maybe he was just made for adversity and that it is better to swim in deep waters than in shallow waters. For the faithful (and there have been few as faithful as Joseph Smith), adversity is a refiner’s fire that leads to purity.

In another of the films included on that DVD set, John R. Moyle suffers what most would consider severe adversity but is faithful unto the Lord. His story has been told in General Conference a number of times. One of my favorite tellings was by Elder Holland during the April 2000 General Conference. His talk was called As Doves to our Windows. I’ll quote his story directly:

“John R. Moyle lived in Alpine, Utah, about 22 miles as the crow flies to the Salt Lake Temple, where he was the chief superintendent of masonry during its construction. To make certain he was always at work by 8 o’clock, Brother Moyle would start walking about 2 A.M. on Monday mornings. He would finish his work week at 5 P.M. on Friday and then start the walk home, arriving there shortly before midnight. Each week he would repeat that schedule for the entire time he served on the construction of the temple.

“Once when he was home on the weekend, one of his cows bolted during milking and kicked Brother Moyle in the leg, shattering the bone just below the knee. With no better medical help than they had in such rural circumstances, his family and friends took a door off the hinges and strapped him onto that makeshift operating table. They then took the bucksaw they had been using to cut branches from a nearby tree and amputated his leg just a few inches below the knee. When against all medical likelihood the leg finally started to heal, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved an artificial leg. First he walked in the house. Then he walked around the yard. Finally he ventured out about his property. When he felt he could stand the pain, he strapped on his leg, walked the 22 miles to the Salt Lake Temple, climbed the scaffolding, and with a chisel in his hand hammered out the declaration ‘Holiness to the Lord.'”

In the film version of John R. Moyle’s story, John tells his wife when she balks at him going to work on the temple after his accident saying in effect, “You’re only a stonecutter, surely there are other people who can do the work.” He replied (again, I’m paraphrasing), “We knew that this would require sacrifice; I don’t recall ever being released from my calling to go work on the temple.” What great faith! John R. Moyle understood the commitment the work of the Lord requires.

So now to answer my question about why some people do not become fully invested in the Church (or do not honestly investigate it). It’s because of fear; fear of what the work entails; fear of what conversion means. Yes, church members do attend a lot of church. That is precisely what some people are not willing to commit to. That is their fear – that they will have to give up so much time or give up so many “freedoms” to be church members. It’s as if living the gospel is so inconvenient that it takes away all of the “me time” of church members. Yes, there are some callings that require a lot of extra effort but we are so involved because we have faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored Church. We love God and others and want to serve them. People fear responsibility and being asked to do things that they are not comfortable doing. Most of all I think some people are just afraid of the Truth. Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church, being a member of it requires commitment and consecration. It does mean giving up some things but with the promise of greater things in return. When we invest in the Lord’s church we have eternal returns.

Meetings and Covenants of Consecration

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In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we meet together in what are called wards (local congregations) every week on Sunday. We attend Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School (called Nursery and Primary for the kids 1.5 to 3 and 3 to 12, respectively), and Priesthood, Relief Society or Young Women’s meetings. In all we have 3 hours of church each Sunday. In the meetings we partake of the Sacrament (bread and water), listen to talks given by members of the congregation (or occasionally, the local church leadership), sing songs, and pray and worship together. During the rest of church we attend classes and are taught (or teach). Some leaders in the ward attend meetings before and/or after church to coordinate efforts and discuss the needs of LDS Church members in the area. There are other meetings held regularly too.

Twice a year our normal Sunday meetings are canceled as we listen to and watch General Conference, an event that occurs on the first Saturday and Sunday in April and in October. Men and boys 12 years old and older have five sessions of Conference to attend, each session is 2 hours long and is broadcast from Salt Lake City. Women in the Church who are 18 years and older attend a Relief Society (women’s) broadcast the last Saturday in September each year. Young Women (12-18) attend a broadcast the last Saturday in March each year.

Additionally, twice per year in lieu of regular church meetings, we attend Stake Conference. Stakes are the superordinate group of wards in an area. There are typically 6-10 wards in a Stake. Stake Conference is conducted by the Stake President – a man called to watch over and organize the efforts of the wards in the stake. For Stake Conference there is usually an adult session (for 18+) on Saturday night and a general session (for all ages) on Sunday. Also on Saturday there is usually a Priesthood Leadership meeting for those men who are called into leadership positions within the wards and stake. Each of these meetings last 2 hours. Stake General Priesthood Meetings are also held twice per year (often on a Saturday or Sunday night) as are various meetings for the Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and Primary.

The Young Men and Women (ages 12-18) have weekly night time meetings (to work on Scouting or service or education or just to have fun). I could go on but one thing we usually are in the LDS Church is busy. Much of this busy-ness comes because we do not have a paid clergy – all the local administration and ministration in the Church is done on a volunteer basis (technically we are called by the Lord {through church leaders} to serve in various capacities within the church. If we accept these callings – most do – then we fulfill that job in the ward or stake (or broader church) until we are ‘released’ from the calling or until we move to a different geographic location). For example, I currently serve as the 1st Councilor in the Young Men’s Presidency in our ward; this means that I directly with the 14 and 15 year old young men in the ward (and indirectly with all those 12-18). I teach them every Sunday as well as attend meetings on Wednesday nights (and others as scheduled). I also play the organ in church – in Sacrament Meeting – as well as sing in the ward choir (although I’ve not been consistent in singing in the choir in the past few years).

Yesterday (Saturday) I was sitting in the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference (held from 3-5 PM). Our Stake President asked the question of all in attendance: “Why are you here on this Saturday afternoon?” We could have been home with our families, we could have been working on our house, paining a picture, napping, playing, reading, working, or whatever else we might do. Some in attendance gave various answers as to why they were there: duty, responsibility, knowledge, and so forth. My thought on the matter was similar to the duty answer.

I thought that I was there because I had made a covenant of consecration to the Lord, to the building up of His Kingdom. I’ve covenanted that I will consecrate my time and everything else I can to serve Him. This means that if there is a meeting on a Saturday afternoon, I will be there. Now, there might be circumstances when I cannot be there – that is understandable – but it is important to be true to the covenants we make.

Our Stake President then brought up the reason he hoped we were there – because of love: love for God, love of the gospel, and love of those for whom we hold responsibility. Our service and sacrifices are a way to show and grow our love. A William James quote came to mind: “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.” If we want to love others more, we should act like we love them and eventually we will love them. If we want to love others we need to serve them and sacrifice for them. Jesus loves us more than any other person who lived on the earth and He provided the greatest act of selflessness and sacrifice and love ever performed. He atoned for our sins and sorrows because He loves us. It is this love of Christ’s that we should seek. This charity is Christ’s pure love; it should be our motivation for all we do in His service. If it isn’t then by our righteous actions of service we can gain this love. We gain if by faith, sacrifice, righteousness, and prayer. Charity is a gift from God.

We can keep very busy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are meetings and more meetings; there are programs upon programs but what is most important is not the programs but rather the people. The organization of the Church has been established by God to provide the means of bringing His children back to His presence. We covenant to serve God and to consecrate our whole lives unto Him. We show this consecration and love by our actions towards and for others.

The Mountain of the Lord’s House – An LDS Perspective on Temples, part 2

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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).

In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to learn the ways of God and to walk in the paths the Lord has marked. 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. Why is the temple so important? A temple is 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. A 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 to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord.

Justification and Sanctification, Part 3

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Here is the conclusion (for now) of my justification and sanctification essay.

The precious blood of the Savior was shed for each of us. He suffered so that we need not suffer if we repent. His blood purifies us; it sanctifies us and allows us to return to dwell with God. Sanctification makes us holy, or consecrated. Just as the temple is holy, a place of holiness to the Lord, a sanctuary from the world, when we are sanctified, we become holy and protected from the world. Through temple service and worship we can become sanctified.

The Lord described those who are sanctified with these words: “But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations” (D&C; 105:31). In preparation for the Second Coming the Lord’s people were commanded, “Wherefore, prepare ye, prepare ye, O my people; sanctify yourselves…. Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (D&C; 133:4-5).

Sanctification is the process and the state of exaltation. Those who are sanctified become one with the Savior: “Ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.” (3 Ne. 28:10). Those who are “sanctified in holiness before the Lord [will] dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever.” (D&C; 133:35). The sanctifying presence of the Lord is “as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil.” (D&C; 133:41). This fire cleanses and purifies. It allows us to become more like the Savior and allows us to return to live with Him.

Justification and Sanctification, Part 2

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Here continues part 2 of my justification and sanctification essay.

Sanctification goes beyond becoming blameless or re-aligned with God. It means being purified, becoming spotless before the Lord. “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.” (Alma 13:12). Those who are sanctified cannot stand even the appearance of sin, and like Nephi prayed, “shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Ne. 4:31). The sanctified are not just cleansed from sin – they have no desire to sin. The sanctified do not just do no wrong; they are not just free from wrong, they, like the Savior, “[go] about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The sanctified receive the attributes of the Savior upon themselves; they become like Him.

Sanctification comes through the blood of Christ: “But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever…. And [the Lord] 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…. And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Ne. 9:18,21,23). The suffering of Christ was great, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” (D&C; 19:16-18).

Justification and Sanctification, Part 1

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This is the first of a few posts about justification and sanctification. I decided to break my essays up into multiple posts in order to make them more digestible in one sitting.

“For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:60). The process of sanctification is long but straightforward. First, we must exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent. In order to keep all the commandments we must receive the ordinance of baptism. After baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which justifies, or makes us guiltless. Once we have entered into the way we must continue in it: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). Lastly, through the blood of Christ, through the grace of God, the Atonement, we are sanctified.
What does sanctification mean? In order to understand sanctification, I think we need to understand justification first. Justification is becoming guiltless, or blameless before God. We use the word justify often. Sometimes when we feel attacked or defensive, we try to justify our actions or words. When we are asked to justify an answer on a test, for example, we back the answer up with supporting material or in math, we show all the steps to solving the problem. We justify things when we are building; we bring materials into alignment. In typesetting, text can be justified (or, aligned) in different ways. That’s the essence of what justification is – bringing things into alignment. When we are justified by the Spirit, we are brought back into alignment with God. The presence of the Spirit makes us right with the Lord, it helps us remain aligned and focused on the path that leads to eternal life. The Spirit allows the needle of our spiritual compasses to point back north. It allows our Liahonas to work and point the way to the Promised Land.