Our Father By Whose Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all what was so revolutionary about what was re-taught in bright clarity to the world when Joseph Smith, a young man of 14, saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It upended not only the world’s misconceptions of the nature of God but also of the world’s misconceptions of the divine potential of men and women, even though that potential would not be understood for years.

There is a trick of the vision called afterimage where when looking away from an object (usually a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of our eyes. This image “burn in” is caused by using up too much of the pigment chemicals in the eyes, which then regenerate slowly. To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds and then look away. Afterimages occur when you focus intently on an object with high contrast or brightness. This process often results in a negative afterimage (like camera film negatives) but bright lights can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the light appears to still be there when you look away. In other words, when staring at bright lights, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away. These afterimages last just for seconds but are reminders of the light that was before us.

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

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

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.”

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

I love the hymns of the church. Many truths can be taught through music. The text of the hymn “Our Father by Whose Name” teaches truths of the Godhead, the presiding quorum of an eternal family. The first verse teaches of God the Father:

“Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known,
Who dost in love proclaim each family thine own,
Bless thou all parents, guarding well,
With constant love as sentinel,
The homes in which thy people dwell.”

We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just like the one we had with Him before we were born on earth. A simple experience I had last year reminds me of the personal nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears and answers our prayers. Sometimes that answer is “no” but God knows what we need.

God the Father wants His love to fill our homes. As we fill our homes with His light and love they are fortified against the wickedness of the world. Our Father’s love stands as sentinel against evil that strives to destroy homes and families. God’s commands are gentle, His precepts are kind. Our cares, our burdens, our anxieties find sweet refreshment at His throne (see Hymn #125, How Gentle God’s Commands).

Remembering that God is our Father helps us to know that all He does for us is to help us grow. All He does is out of love and concern for us. He is perfectly loving and kind so His children’s sins, transgressions, hate, anger, and pain all hurt Him abominably.

As God is gentle and kind, so should we be gentle and kind! As we strive to return home to our Father may we retain in our minds the words of the hymn “Oh My Father”: “When I lay this mortal by…may I meet you in your royal courts in high? Then, at length, when I’ve competed all you sent me forth to do, with your mutual approbation let me come and dwell with you.” May we emulate our Father’s love and righteousness so we may return and dwell with Him.

The second verse of “Our Father, by Whose Name” teaches of Jesus Christ who acts in perfect unity with the Father:

“As thou thy Child didst fill with wisdom, love, and might,
To know and do thy will and teach thy ways aright,
Our children bless, in ev’ry place,
That they may all behold thy face,
And, knowing thee, may grow in grace.”

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

Of all the roles of the Savior, one of the greatest is that of healer. He healed in Galilee, He healed from the garden, He healed from the cross, and He healed from the tomb. Jesus offers hope and healing to all – to those who stray, to those who don’t, and to those who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer; we learn of His great love for us. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus once of humble birth, a meek and lowly lamb who groaned in blood and tears, forsaken, left alone descended below all so that He might understand and rise above all. He will return to earth to rule and reign (see Jesus once of humble birth, Hymns #196), having overcome the world. What a time that will be. I am grateful for living prophets who speak His words and who act under His direction.

Verse three of “Our Father, By Whose Name” teaches us about the Holy Ghost, the final member of the Godhead:

“May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev’ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.”

Through the witness of the Holy Ghost our testimonies of the Savior are strengthened. The Spirit of God burns like fire to teach us right and bind our hearts to God. In this church we have the precious gift of the Holy Ghost – the promise and blessing that He can be with us always as we do what is right. I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

I love the words of the hymn “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” (Hymns #143):

“Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let him teach us what is true.
He will testify of Christ,
Light our minds with heaven’s view.

Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home
If we listen to his voice.

Let the Spirit heal our hearts
Thru his quiet, gentle pow’r.
May we purify our lives
To receive him hour by hour.”

I know that God lives! He loves us and wants us to return to live with Him. I know that Jesus lived, died, and lived again so that each of us might be healed. This testimony has been given to me by the Holy Ghost who teaches truth and illuminates the path back home.

The Fourth Article of Faith

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We have a series of statements about our core beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the Articles of Faith. The fourth of these states: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

One evening as a missionary, my companion and I received a call from the hermanas, who asked if we could go give a blessing to a baby who hadn’t slept more than minutes at a time for a couple days and hadn’t stopped crying for hours. The baby was exhausted, her mother was exhausted and didn’t know what to do other than ask God for help. I think we’ve all been or will be there – in a situation where we are overwhelmed, exhausted, beaten down, looking for relief. Maybe we are like this mother or like the infant – in either case we need the Lord.

My companion and I prepared for the blessing and went over to the apartment, meeting the hermanas there. As soon as my companion took the infant in his arms, she stopped crying. We blessed her that she would be comforted and be able to sleep. During the short blessing the baby fell asleep. Her mother was greatly relieved and grateful to God. I was touched at the faith of the mother and baby. Infants have innate goodness and faith in Christ. I knew that it was because of their great faith that the prayers of the mother were answered.

Such can be the power of faith in our lives every day! Some of us might have the pure, but small, faith of a child. Though your beginning fire of faith might be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. Others might have more mature, tested faith. This is the more abundant faith we receive over time as we are tested and strive to remain true to the faith. At any stage of development, faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other principles and ordinances build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

Just as faith is a shield to us we should shield our faith. Elder Neil L. Andersen said “There is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (Andersen, Oct 2015 General Conference). Faith in Jesus Christ should lead to repentance.

Most years when I was growing up my family would drive out to the desert near our home in Arizona and pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus plant is covered with large and small spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we picked them using 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 we were picking fruit when 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 ground, only becoming visible with close inspection. What appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a serpent that would be dangerous if approached. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.

What is a spiritual application of this story? Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who are not looking carefully. Sin, like venomous snakes, is increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize it, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get to it because eventually you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns. All of us sin, we all fall short. When we sin it is important to exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance might bring suffering but it’s necessary to be cleansed from sin to live with our Father again.

Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, “Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing” (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. 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 that we all had a way to be resurrected and be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to fully learn the impact of our sins and in turn the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering – it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead that soothes souls.

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 might 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 was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all have rapidly dividing cells and are why chemotherapy usually suppresses the immune system, causes hair loss, and digestive difficulties). To kill the bad cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions 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.

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

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

Not long after returning home from my mission I had an opportunity to hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Arizona – Humphrey’s Peak. Much of the northern part of Arizona is a region called the Colorado plateau. This area is mostly high altitude desert but there are areas with luscious vegetation – towering pine trees, quaking aspens, and brilliant wildflowers. Rising above this plateau is Humphrey’s Peak, peaking over 12,600 feet above sea level. The parking lot of the main trail up to the peak sits at almost 9000 feet, leaving three quarters of a mile elevation to ascend along a 4.5 mile trail. The path winds up the mountain with loose jagged rocks underfoot. At the start of the trail there is thick vegetation but as you approach the tree line – the point above which trees no longer grow – the towering trees turn into bristlecone pines, sturdy trees hardened and twisted by strong winds and frost. Above the tree line the only plants left are hardy shrubs that can withstand the tundra climate. During the summer the air is often warm but snows can come during any month and weather changes rapidly. At the peak on clear days it is possible to see for over a hundred miles. In the distance you might see the mile deep gash of the Grand Canyon.

My parents, a neighbor, and I hiked Humphrey’s Peak. My mother did not want to hike the whole way so shortly after starting she told us to go on ahead. Soon, I wanted to ascend faster so I left my father and neighbor to follow up after me. When I hit 12,000 feet with about a mile to go I started feeling the altitude but I improved approaching the summit. Up at the peak, there was time for resting and enjoying the view. Parts of the landscape were blocked by clouds lower than the summit. I marveled at the winds that whipped clouds by me. It was serene being high on a mountain top. Mountains always remind me of the majesty of God. After a rest, it was time to descend the mountain. One thing I love more than hiking up mountains is running down them. This trail was challenging – a misplaced foot, a loose rock could result in serious injury – but running down a mountain is exhilarating. My muscles, bones, and joints ached for hours after the descent and my legs were sore for days but I enjoyed the run at the time.

What happened to my father and our neighbor? They eventually made it up and down but had to go slowly because my neighbor had altitude sickness due to the thin air.

What is a principle from this story? Climbing the mountain is like getting baptized. Baptism is the gate opening the path that we travel to try and return to our exalted home. But baptism is not the end. Those of us who are baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all covenanted with God – a covenant is a two way promise – that we would keep His commandments and always remember Him. If we want to reach the summit we cannot stop by the gate, we need to press forward with our eyes fixed upon the Savior. We work but none of us works our way to heaven. We are required to participate in priesthood ordinances like baptism but Jesus strengthens our lungs and legs. He lifts us up when we fall and strengthens us in spiritual and physical sickness. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that ultimately lifts us home but baptism puts us on the upward path, a spiritual one that we never need descend from.

Just as hiking does, baptism requires preparation. In Moroni we read of the requirements for and duties of those who are baptized: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:3-4).

Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and his varsity scouts – a 21 mile hike in the Grand Canyon when I was 11 and a 40 mile one through the Paria Canyon when I was 12. We could only carry enough water to last a day so on both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. Water from the springs is pure; we could drink right from living streams. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification or it could have made us sick. If we did not have water, we would not have survived our desert hikes.

Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Drinkable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. “Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh” (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.

The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet.

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms. Jesus walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.

Water is cleansing. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Through it we make a covenant – a two-way promise – with our Father. Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.

But just as the Mosaic Law was incomplete without Christ, so is baptism without confirmation and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half – that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p.314).

By baptism we keep the commandment but through the Holy Ghost we are absolved of blame and purified. The blood of Christ sanctifies us (see Moses 6:60).

I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

These are a foundation for us. If you have not been baptized, I encourage you to take that step. It is one you will not regret. If you have been baptized, continue on the path of faith, repentance, covenant, and spirit. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior. He loves you and me.

Concourses of Angels and a Pillar of Fire

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

Earth_Heaven_Temple_Venn

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

Angel Moroni image source

Four Glorious Gifts From God

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The prophet Moroni wrote to encourage us to “Deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8).

We receive four glorious gifts from God.

1. Faith

The first glorious gift is faith.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Let me say that again with words that clarify the meaning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Faith isn’t just hoping something is true; it isn’t just believing in God – faith is much more and much more powerful. Faith is evidence; faith in God is proof of Him and His love for you. Walking by faith isn’t blindly following Christ, it is following Him because you have proof that what you are doing is right. Faith is a gift from God. Moroni wrote: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. If you want stronger faith, pray for it and keep the commandments. God will bless you with more and more faith as you follow Him.

Faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

With great faith, great works can be accomplished.

“In New Zealand, President Kimball was stricken with…the flu, suffering around the clock with either fever and perspiration or with chills. Three thousand young people were waiting at a local stadium to hear him speak, but were told, ‘Tonight you will hear from President [N. Eldon] Tanner, because President Kimball is ill.’ Thirty minutes before the meeting was to start, President Kimball, still limp, spoke to his physician, Russel M. Nelson, who was waiting with him, and said, ‘Tell [my wife] we’re going.’ They had to practically carry him to the car. At the stadium, a young man giving the opening prayer said, ‘We are three thousand New Zealand youth. We are assembled here, having prepared for six months to sing and to dance for thy prophet. Wilt thou heal him and deliver him here?’ As he said ‘Amen,’ the car drove into the stadium. Three thousand voices cheered that the prophet had come. He stood, strengthened even in his illness, and bore his witness to them.” (Madsen, T. G. (2004). The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings. Deseret Book. p. 350-351).

Such was the power of the faith of the New Zealand youth and the faith of the prophet. Such can be the power of faith in our lives!

2. Peace

The second glorious gift is peace.

One morning my mission companion and I spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle, Washington. The spring day was lovely with white, pink, and red apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the trees like snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope, peace, and restoration but no one was listening. People were generally kind to us but no one was interested. I was struck by the contrast of the rejection of our beautiful message on such a beautiful day. My companion and I felt more dejected the more we were rejected. Then adding a bit of injury to insult, at one house a dog ran up and bit me on the leg as my companion and I started walking up the driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a tear in them. We kept tracting for almost an hour to finish off the area then walked home so I could get cleaned up. I felt discouraged by the unsuccessful morning capped off with an unfriendly dog.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine for a couple minutes how my life could be worse, then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of difficulties at the time. So I spent part of the walk back to the apartment wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse.

Our mail was there when we got home. Missionaries opening mail are like children on Christmas morning so normally receiving mail is a joyful experience. There was a letter from my parents! I opened the letter to learn that Eric, a friend from high school and one of my roommates at BYU, had been in a taxi with his companion when a truck hit their vehicle, killing Eric. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. However, during this time of acute grief all I could think about was how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched the persecutions, suffering, and death of His beloved Son. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after a few minutes, the pain was gone. My grief was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no longer any pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. Amid grief and loss and pain, the Lord provides peace. The Lord’s peace heals our pain. Brothers and sisters, that is the nature of the Atonement. It removes the sting of death and sin – miraculously – and replaces it with peace.

Many of you and many throughout the world have felt this peace. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words resonate strongly in our tumultuous world today. People cry for peace but peace can be hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to cause people’s hearts to fail and fear. Many feel that hope is lost, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” The answer for despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. The answer is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in radiant starlight.

In the most humble of births the King of Heaven and Earth, the Prince of Peace, came to earth. He came with no great earthly fanfare; angels witnessed to those with ears to hear and the star witnessed to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important 33 years in the history of the world – a life like no other. Jesus Christ was a gift from God to bring peace and salvation to earth.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas season, I pray that we all might remember Who Christmas really is about.

Christmas should not be about getting, although we are given so much by God, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life – His whole life – for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, “For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure” (Monson, April 1993 General Conference). [Commentary: after looking back at that talk, I realized how similar my talk/essay was to his in structure. The similarity was unintentional. I collected that quote years ago and included it without referencing the talk specifically].

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We can rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We can do the things that the Savior would do – help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even of our lack of abundance) with those around us. Most of all, we can give the gift of peace by our peaceful actions towards others. We can give peace to the hurt, the suffering, the lonely. We can spread peace in our home and in our hearts by focusing on the Savior. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus taught. Blessed are those who are filled with peace and help others have peace.

3. Holy Ghost

The third glorious gift is the Holy Ghost

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

4. Atonement & forgiveness

The final glorious gift is the gift of forgiveness through the Atonement of the Messiah.

This Christmas season, whether we can afford to purchase gifts or not, we can all afford one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did unto us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote,

“As we gather in [our] heavenly home, we will be surrounded by those who have been forgiven of all sin and who have forgiven each other. We can taste some of that joy now, especially as we remember and celebrate the Savior’s gifts to us…. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14–15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received. When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this Christmastime you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness. The feeling of happiness that will come will be a glimpse of what we can feel at home together in the eternal home for which we yearn.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Forgiveness is precisely what Christmas is about. That tiny baby born in a manger was the Son of God. Jesus lived so that we might have the promise of eternal life. He did this because He loves us. By His love and power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and of each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C 64:7).

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

There is a story about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to “be an enemy to any living soul” (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, “George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have [got upset but what did he do?] He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him. We can emulate Pres. Smith’s example and forgive others.

In the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament we sing:

“As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.
With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament.”

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Like peace, forgiveness is another gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

As we move along the path of life, may we remember these four glorious gifts from God – faith, peace, the Holy Ghost, and forgiveness. May we share our faith with others through the actions of our lives, may we be peacemakers, may we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and teach others how to feel, recognize, and receive that Spirit, and may we forgive others! The Church and the gospel are true. We are led by a prophet of God who reveals God’s will. As we follow the prophet we will be blessed with gifts from God.

Image by Andy Noren. Used under a CC license (summary: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).

3 Nephi 11

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The focal point (or, global maximum, if you will) of the Book of Mormon starts in 3 Nephi 11 when Christ appears to some of the survivors of the destruction that occurred after His death. I was struck by what Christ told those who were there. Here He was coming to some of His chosen people after His resurrection; He could tell them anything so what He first taught the people must be supremely important. So what did Christ teach? What did Christ do?

  1. He testified of Himself and His mission and that many prophets testified of Him (see verses 10-11). With this He not only stated the importance of His mission but also the missions of all the prophets before (and after) Him.
  2. He testified of the Father and that all Christ did was His Father’s will (see verse 11). This is His humility in reiterating the supremacy of the Father.
  3. Christ commanded those present to feel the wounds in His hands, feet, and side so that they would have a solid witness of His reality (see verses 14-17).
  4. The Savior then gave unto Nephi power to baptize (see verse 21). Nephi possibly already had this priesthood authority but at this time he was called as an apostle of the Lord (and made chief apostle). Jesus then called others as apostles, giving them authority to baptize (see verse 22).
  5. Jesus condemned disputations among the people, particularly about doctrine or ordinances (see verse 22). He also taught other important doctrines – repentance (and implied faith; see verse 23).
  6. Implicit in Christ’s call to the apostles was their role as missionaries (see verse 23).
  7. Christ then gives the words of the baptismal prayer, one of the few set ordinance prayers we have in the LDS Church (although the modern baptismal prayer is slightly altered). He also makes it clear that baptism is by immersion. Once again, with this the Savior reinforces the importance of baptism for salvation but also the importance of strict adherence to the ordinance of baptism (see verses 23-26).
  8. In the context of baptism and the baptismal prayer (performing the ordinance in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), the Savior teaches of the oneness of the Godhead (see verse 27).
  9. After this, the Lord Jesus Christ once again condemns disputations and contentions, particularly over doctrines and ordinances of the gospel (see verses 28-30). The Savior spends what amounts to three verses about the evils of contentions. He will shortly teach the people that peacemakers are blessed. Now, I do not believe the Savior was calling for pacifism at all costs but He wanted to make sure that people did not argue and fight one with another. How can a Zion society exist if people fight one with another? The Savior’s stressing of the evils of contention is one of the reasons there was many years of peace following Christ’s visit and brief ministry among the Nephites.
  10. Christ then moves into summarizing His doctrine (verses 31-40).
    1. The spirit of prophecy and testimony (verse 32), particularly how the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost testate of and for one another.
    2. Have faith in Christ (verse 32).
    3. Be baptized in the name of Christ (verse 32).
    4. Faith and baptism and repentance are necessary for salvation and for returning to dwell with the Father (verses 33, 37, & 38).
    5. There are consequences for willfully not believing in Christ and following Him (verse 34).
    6. Those who have faith in Christ will be blessed with the Holy Ghost (verse 35).
    7. It is important to have your foundation upon the doctrine of Christ. Any who seek to go beyond His doctrine to add or take away from it are cursed (verses 39-40).
  11. Missionary work is essential (verse 41).

I want to interject that anything after verse 18 was directed to Nephi and the apostles, Christ spent little time directly teaching the people at this point. He spent individual time with them but then left the bulk of the teaching to His anointed servants. This is an important point. Of the recorded words and actions we have of the Savior’s first hours in visiting with the Nephites, He taught the people little before calling His apostles and making sure they knew that they had primary responsibilities for teaching His doctrine and performing His ordinances. This mirrors what Christ did during His mortal ministry – He first called His apostles and then started teaching. The foundation of prophets and apostles is key.

While there are more lessons to be gleaned from this chapter, I thought it an interesting exercise to focus on what Christ and did in the first few hours of His visit. I want to re-stress the fact that Christ took time at the start of His visit to visit with each individual. The Savior is focused on people, on individuals. He knows all our names and knows each of us individually. Our task is to know and follow Him.

Afterimages of God

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There is a visual phenomenon called afterimage where when looking away from an object (typically a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of the eyes. This image “burn in” is typically caused by an over-depletion of chemicals in the rods and cones of the eye (rhodopsin and color pigments, respectively). Normally, we compensate for this chemical depletion by rapidly and subtly moving the eyes around, changing where the fovea is focusing. Doing this gives the time for the pigments to replenish, allowing the rods and cones of the eye (warning: there is a video that auto-plays so turn down your speakers if needed) to work efficiently again.

To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds (not the sun – that will damage your eyes) or  stare at some of the images here (note: that Wikipedia post about afterimages is lacking but the images are useful). Afterimages work essentially because when you consciously stare at an object with high contrast (luminosity or color), the rhodopsin and color pigments do not replenish quickly enough to allow all your retinal photoreceptors to fire effectively. This usually results in a negative afterimage (red becomes cyan, white becomes black, and so forth) but lightbulbs, for example, can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the filaments is still bright when you look away. In other words, when staring at such brightness, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We basked in His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith said that this brightness and God’s glory were above that of the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). [As an aside, this is why the typical conceptualization of Hell as a hot place of “fire and brimstone” is misleading; yes, in the Book of Mormon we read of fire and brimstone (“And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.” {Jacob 6:10}) but that is because the punishment being meted for willful sin against God is God’s eternal punishment and His way to cleanse impurities is through fire (“For the day cometh that the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them who dwelleth thereon, by whom it is dressed, who now receiveth blessings from God, shall be cleansed with fire” {JST Hebrews 6:7}); those who are clean through the atoning blood of Christ and are sanctified therein can stand the fire of God’s glory, those who are not, will have to bear the cleansing of a scourge by fire but miss out on the sanctification that comes through the Atonement. Hell is really the separation from God, which means Hell is cold and dark and lonely.]

So, after that detour, we return to the track of this post. We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. I think the poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

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

We are not left “utter[ly] naked.” We have the afterimage of our life before in the light of Christ given to all humankind and in the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point but many do not recognize or are not willing to accept. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives.

Filled With the Spirit Through Reading the Scriptures

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“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: 11-12).

What’s the context of these verses? Lehi had a vision; he saw God, Jesus Christ, and the twelve original apostles of the Savior. One of them – Peter – gave Lehi a book to read. This book was a book of prophecy and revelation; in essence, it was scripture. When Lehi read the book, when he read the scriptures, something important happened: “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”

When Lehi read the scriptures he felt the Spirit. But even more, Lehi was filled with the Spirit. That is one reason why it is so important to read the scriptures – so we can be filled with the Spirit. This is a principle that missionaries use – let people read the scriptures for themselves so that they might feel the Spirit. There, I revealed one of the tricks that missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use – have people read the scriptures themselves. It’s so tricky because then the missionaries don’t have to do any convincing, they just let the Spirit of the Lord do it for them – they let God convince those reading the scriptures of the truthfulness of what they read. It’s much easier on the conscience to reject people than it is to reject God.

What is important though is that however we feel, if we feel lost and alone, if we feel discouraged or distraught, if we feel burdened down by cares and concerns, we can find solace in the scriptures. The solace comes from the words of the prophets but more importantly from the Spirit of the Lord that accompanies the reading of the scriptures.

The example of a 7-year-old

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With the start of a new year, the year in which my daughter turns eight and is eligible to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my wife and I talked about how we could help her prepare for this wonderful ordinance. My wife thought it would be great for our daughter to read the Book of Mormon before she turns eight. We both felt this was a good goal but did not say anything to her because we wanted her to set her own goal, whatever it might be.

Then out of the blue a couple Sundays ago our daughter was sitting in church when she told my wife that she thought she should read the Book of Mormon this year before she turns eight! My wife acknowledged to our daughter that that was a prompting from the Holy Ghost. We were both pleased to see our daughter listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Because of my daughter’s example, I decided that I should re-read the Book of Mormon this year as well. A number of years ago I had switched from serial readings of the scriptures to topical readings (in part to have posts for this website). It’s been a while since I’ve read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover; I’ve read it in its entirety countless times in the past, including 10+ times as a missionary but I’ve become so ensconced in my topical studies that I have neglected the larger picture that comes from reading the whole book with consistency.

My daughter is already in 2 Nephi; I’m not quite that far along yet. I’m always struck by 1 Nephi. It’s a remarkable book; Nephi was a remarkable individual. I have a post or two I want to write about what struck me this time through 1 Nephi so look for those in the coming days.

I’m grateful to my daughter for serving as a good example to me and inspiring me to return to serial reading of the scriptures in addition to topical reading of them.

Are All the Answers in the Scriptures?

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While listening to a talk in church this morning something a speaker said reminded me of something I had been taught in my youth. This is something I was taught in church or seminary that is not true. The speaker today did not teach this but something she said reminded me of this false teaching. What is this great falsehood? All answers to our questions are found in the scriptures. Sometimes this was softened with a “most answers” instead of “all answers” but while the sentiment is good, there is a lurking untruth at the core of this teaching. Occasionally I had teachers who got it right though – they said that the answers might not be in the scriptures, the scriptures will tell us how to find the answers. That is the truth, not that the answers are all in the scriptures.

We have living prophets and the gift of the Holy Ghost precisely because all the answers are not in the scriptures. Joseph Smith read the Bible but had a question that could not be answered by the scriptures – “which of all the churches was right?” What he did find in the scriptures is how he could get an answer – ask God in prayer. The scriptures guided Joseph to his answer but God provided the answer. That is how it should be in our own lives – we seek knowledge from the scriptures but guidance best comes from the living prophets and the Holy Ghost.

Knowing that the scriptures do not, in fact, have all the answer does not diminish the importance of them; to the contrary, it raises their importance as a source of direction but the scriptures are given greater power by the prophets and by the Spirit. The scriptures were never meant to be a closed canon of the summation of God’s teachings for us. Personal revelation and ongoing revelation is vital in our lives.

Cloven Tongues of Fire

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There is a phrase in the book of Acts – “cloven tongues of fire” – that describes an experience of great power. The context of the phrase is day of Pentecost. During this great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, many great sights were seen, many great sounds were heard, and many great feelings were felt. We read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4).

I started thinking about the term “cloven tongues of fire”. What does that phrase mean? How it is phrased in Acts makes it seem like those present saw flames around them. This might be the case but we get clarification of what this phrase means in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We read: “Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 109:36).

Cloven means split. Cloven tongues are like the tongues of snakes. But in this instance, the cloven tongues refer to speaking in tongues. This is a gift from the Holy Ghost. There are at least two ways of looking at these cloven tongues of fire.

  1. On the day of Pentecost, some people spoke in tongues – plural. They said something in one language but other people heard it in another. We know this is the case: “The multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8). Thus, these cloven tongues are really just that – speaking in tongues (multiple) at the same time.
  2. Another interpretation (pun intended) is that tongues are cloven because there is the message of the spoken words and the message of the Holy Ghost. These two things are not always the same thing. What is said and what the Spirit teaches us can be different. Both interpretations are correct.

What’s important to keep in mind is that speaking in tongues is only effective if there is someone who can understand it or interpret it. Generally, it is not the case that the Holy Ghost will bless someone with the gift of tongues in order for them to speak some unknown language without an interpreter. That’s why people speaking gibberish purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are not really given the gift of tongues. This is not to say that people cannot speak in an unknown language – such as Adam’s “pure and undefiled” language (see Moses 6:5-6:46) – but again, when this occurs there will almost always be someone who is able to understand and/or translate it by the same power of the Holy Ghost.

The gift of tongues – even cloven tongues of fire – is evident in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today as are the other miraculous events of the day of Pentecost. We have missionaries who learn languages quickly, who teach the gospel filled with the fire of God. There have been cases where missionaries or  apostles have said things they didn’t know how to say in another language or that those listening understood what was being said even though they did not understand the words.

What about someone like myself who served as a missionary in the United States, speaking my native English? The cloven tongues of fire is only one gift of many from the Holy Ghost. Still, there were many times when I spoke and the tongue of the Spirit spoke too – it was a fire that burned brightly within others and myself. Additionally, because of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, my command of English improved. This is not usually how we think of the gift of tongues but it can, and often is, the case that your own language skills will improve so that you can improve teaching the gospel.

“Cloven tongues of fire” is a phrase that provides powerful imagery. The most important implication of it is that it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. When the power of God rests upon us we can know, feel, and do great things. This is a power that touches many but was largely lost from the earth until the Priesthood and ordinances of God were restored to Joseph Smith. The gift (not just influence) of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest and most important components of the Restoration.

In closing, Pres. Packer gave a great talk on this topic in the April 2000 General Conference. Pres. Packer said:

“In every language, the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—guides, or can guide, every member of the Church. Everyone is invited to come and repent and be baptized and receive of this sacred gift. Despite opposition, the Church will flourish; and despite persecution, it will grow. Joseph Smith was asked, ‘How does your religion differ from other religions?’ He replied, ‘All other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.'”

The power of the Holy Ghost is real. When with us, we can receive great blessings so that we are better able to share the gospel with others and bless the lives of others. The flaming fire of the Spirit is a call to responsibility; it is a call to be lights on hills to others who are lost in the darkness of disbelief. It is a call to speak with the power of God so that others might bask in His light and love.