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.

Music Moment: Mark Geslison and Geoff Groberg

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I love music. I spend hours each day listening to music. This also means that I am always looking for new good music. This is one reason I love modern music tools – iTunes Store, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, and many other sites – they help me discover and love new music. While I appreciate music from most genres, I particularly enjoy classical (including modern classical music, meaning movie soundtracks), religious, acoustic (e.g., folk, bluegrass), and alternative/indie music.

Some sacred music that I’ve been enjoying is by Mark Geslison and Geoff Groberg. You can visit their website here. I just discovered their music within the past month on Spotify, a free (ad-supported) music service that started in Europe but is now available in the U.S. Three of Mark Geslison and Geoff Groberg’s albums are available on Spotify. You can also stream their music on their website (where there are links with purchase options on CDBaby and iTunes). Both Geslison and Groberg live in Utah (both are afilliated with BYU).

I’ve greatly enjoyed all their albums that I’ve listened to so far. Their arrangements of hymns are peaceful but not boring – that’s a difficult balance to achieve. While each arrangement is interesting, none comes across as flashy. That’s an approach to arranging that I appreciate with sacred music because it is easy to over-arrange hymns, making them something less than they were meant to be – songs to glorify God. While that can be done with flashy and showy music (e.g., many of Bach’s or Handel’s sacred works), there is something to be said for keeping hymn arrangements worshipful. Their music is perfect to turn on Sunday morning to help remind of the purpose of the Sabbath day. It’s also great to turn on whenever else you need a boost of calm (I’ve turned it on at work as background music too).

Most of the arrangements are played using piano, guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, bass, fiddle, or flute (or a combination of those instruments). A few have vocals.

My favorite album of theirs is Emma’s Hymns, a collection of some of the hymns Emma Smith included in the original 1835 hymnbook for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of the melodies are slightly different than how we sing them today (in such cases, they provide both melodies). On this album, my favorite song is Emma’s Lullaby (that link will play the song but please visit their site and purchase their music if you enjoy it and are able to afford it; I am not being paid to promote their work, nor have I been given their music – my site is non-commercial – I believe in supporting musicians, particularly LDS musicians, who make good music that I enjoy. This encourages them to make more beautiful music).

Kudos to Mark Geslison and Geoff Groberg for wonderfully arranging the hymns of the church.

It is well

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One of my new favorite hymns is “It is well with my soul.” This moving hymn was penned by Horatio Spafford with music by Philip Bliss. You can read all the lyrics on the Wikipedia page I linked to but there’s one part of the hymn that I find powerful:

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Christ took our sins upon Himself so that we might not have to bear them. He suffered in Gethsemane, He was nailed to the cross, He rose triumphant from the tomb so that we do not have to bear our own sins. We, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do not talk or focus on the cross as much as many other Christian religions do. There are reasons for this, which I won’t go into here but we’re certainly not opposed to the cross. Mainly I think we like to focus on Christ’s resurrection because we believe that we are part of His living church. The cross is important though because not only was the Savior born in the most humble of circumstances but also He was killed in one of the most horrific manners possible. Crucifixion was a fate given to the worst of the worst criminals. Christ was without His own sin but He took all our sins upon Himself. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Him.

The story behind this hymn is sad, which I think makes the hopefulness of the words more significant.

I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

“This hymn was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871 at the age of four, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.”

Amid all those trials Spafford wrote:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Is all well with your soul? Do you turn toward or away from God in your trials?

Here is my favorite recording of this hymn:

In Humility, Our Savior

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My current favorite hymn is In Humility, Our Savior. It is a song that resonates sincere worshipfulness of and reverence to the Lord. The melody used in the LDS Hymnal was written by Rowland Pritchard, a Welsh musician. The tune name is Hyfrydol (the Welsh “y” is roughly pronounced as an English “u”; the “f” is a “v”; the whole word sounds something like: huv’rudol), which means “cheerful”. This tune is used for a number of different hymns, one of the most famous is called Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

These lyrics provide the joyful hopefulness the Hyfrydol tune name implies. The text is by Charles Wesley.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.

Here is the Mormon Tabernacle performing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

However, I think the lyrics of In Humility, Our Savior have a special power when coupled with the melody Hyfrydol. Keep in mind that In Humility, Our Savior is written as a sacrament hymn – a hymn that helps us focus on Jesus and His Atonement as we prepare to partake of the Sacrament. The sacrament is an ordinance designed for us to show our devotion to God. With the sacrament we covenant with God. We covenant to strive for holiness so that the Lord may sanctify us and make us sacred (note that sacrament and sacred have the same root). The bread and water of the sacrament are blessed and made sacred, that is sanctified and set apart unto God, and in turn as we keep the covenants we make with God we are made sacred.

In Humility, Our Savior is a sacrament hymn. It is particularly worshipful of the Lord.

In humility, our Savior,
Grant thy Spirit here, we pray,
As we bless the bread and water
In thy name this holy day.
Let me not forget, O Savior,
Thou didst bleed and die for me
When thy heart was stilled and broken
On the cross at Calvary.

Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving;
Teach us tolerance and love.
Let our prayers find access to thee
In thy holy courts above.
Then, when we have proven worthy
Of thy sacrifice divine,
Lord, let us regain they presence;
Let thy glory round us shine.

I love the last words of the first verse: “Let me not forget, O Savior,/ Thou didst bleed and die for me/ When thy heart was stilled and broken/ On the cross at Calvary.” “Let me not forget, O Savior” we plead as we sing the song. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never, never forget!” The Book of Mormon prophet Helaman pleaded with his sons to always remember Christ:

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)

The next time you hear or sing In Humility, Our Savior, focus not only on the beautiful melody and moving harmonies but also on the words and meaning of the words. Let us never forget the Lord’s sacrifice for us and let us hope with faith for the day when we, having proved ourselves worthy, might regain the Lord’s presence and dwell forevermore with Him.

I Stand All Amazed

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“And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you; in an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended, and your souls not saved.
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.” (D&C; 45:2-5).

We all sit condemned before the judgment seat of the Eternal God, our Father. He sits there gazing upon His children, who all like sheep went astray. All? Nay, not all. One Lamb is without blemish. He who is without blemish or imperfection or sin sits before the judge – He is the court-appointed counsel for us. Then comes the voice of the Eternal Father, “Where is He who was born in the lowliest of circumstances, He who descended below so that He might comprehend and be in all? Where is the Sacrificial Lamb who took upon Himself the sins and sicknesses of the world? Where is He who died and rose the third day so that all humankind will no more suffer the shortcomings and pains of mortality? Where is He, my most Beloved Son?”

The Redeemer stands up to take on His role as Advocate. As He approaches the judgment seat, he turns to view each of us; we see His glory and feel His love. In an instant He views each of us and loves us, in spite of and sometimes because of our shortcomings. His entire aim in approaching the judgment seat is to sit next to it in the mercy seat and plead on behalf of us.

He says, “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C; 45:4-5).

In other words, “I suffered and died as the sinless, unblemished sacrifice. My sacrifice pleases Thee. Because of my blood, let those who believe have everlasting life.” Similarly to many prophets in the scriptures, the Lord reminds His Father of the covenant they made. Our Father did not and cannot forget the covenant; the Savior simply is stating the whole covenant: “Here is what I did, here is what you agreed to do.” It’s a formality between the covenant parties. Restating both sides of the covenant is something we can and should do in our prayers. For example, “Thou hast said that that if I keep Thy commandments, Thou wilt bless me with Thy Spirit. I am striving to live Thy commandments, wilt Thou please bless me with Thy Spirit.” Prophets and saints throughout the ages have given prayers like that.

I love the words the Savior says on behalf of us. He stands between us and justice; He is our Advocate, pleading on behalf of us. The Savior experienced all of our sins and sorrows. He understands us perfectly. Is there anyone else we would rather have as our Advocate? No one understands us better or with more love than Jesus Christ. He is not only our Savior and our Creator, He is our eldest brother. He suffered, “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 [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink – nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and [He] partook and finished [His] preparations unto the children of men” (D&C; 19:18-19).

I am eternally grateful for Jesus Christ for His Redeeming love, mercy, and Atonement that provides me the opportunity as I surrender my will to His, to stand with my head held high before the judgment seat of God. The words of the hymn I Stand All Amazed are fitting:

“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully He proffers me;
I tremble to know that for me He was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, He suffered, He bled and died.

“Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

“I marvel that He would descend from His throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine;
That He should extend His great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.

“Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

“I think of His hands, pierced and bleeding, to pay the debt,
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

“Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!”

Pure Thoughts, Part 3

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

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

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