Walking With God

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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. The crew of the Endurance spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue but it was solid ground.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea. If they were not exactly obedient to their navigator, they would be lost.

Life is like that for all of us, even the smallest deviation from course will put us off the path back to God. Thankfully, we are provided with a way to get back on track through the Atonement of Christ.

Returning to the story of Shackleton’s expedition: “Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.’” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost. Just as Ernest Shackleton spent his all to save his men, I testify that leaders throughout the world of this church consecrate their all for the salvation of those around them. Our church leaders have deep love and concern for us, wearing themselves out as they serve us. How do they and we survive our journey of endurance through life? Just as the men of Shackleton survived for 18 months in extreme weather and harsh conditions – through obedience to their leaders. Shackleton encouraged obedience so that his men would live. Because they were obedient, they lived.

Do we face life with the same determination to endure in obedience? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation. As we are obedient we will live.

In Deuteronomy 30 we read the words of Moses as he called the Israelites to make the choice between life and death, blessing or cursing: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut. 30:19-20: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/deut/30.19-20?lang=eng#18).

The choice is clear – choose to live spiritually by cleaving unto God through obedience or choose a cursing and death through disobedience. The blessing is a life with God, the cursing is a life separated from God. Because the choice is clear does not mean it is always easy to do but our Father mercifully prepared a way to overcome our shortcomings and disobedience.

Sometimes people want to walk the line between obedience and disobedience – they want to live in the world and partake of some of its sins; these are those who Elder Neal Maxwell said want to maintain a summer cottage in Babylon while trying to partake of all the blessings of Zion (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], 47). There are also people who intentionally disobey many of the the commandments. They are not maintaining summer cottages in Babylon, they are living in Babylon and trying to maintain a summer cottage in Zion. That’s not how the gospel works. We do not get to live a telestial life in the celestial kingdom. We do not have a right to sin in God’s kingdom. A “right” is “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” According to God’s laws we have a legal entitlement to agency, which then can be used for works of righteousness or sin. In other words, agency is our right. We can use that agency to join with our Heavenly Father through obedience to Him or we can separate ourselves from Him and His grace through disobedience.

Obedience is not an accident. Elder Neil L. Andersen said: “[As a member of the Church you] no longer stand on neutral ground. Your faith will grow not by chance, but by choice. How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not’? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/faith-is-not-by-chance-but-by-choice?lang=eng)

We choose faith by choosing obedience. Pres. Monson also encourages obedience: “Great courage will be required as we remain faithful and true amid the ever-increasing pressures and insidious influences with which we are surrounded and which distort the truth, tear down the good and the decent, and attempt to substitute the man-made philosophies of the world. If the commandments had been written by man, then to change them by inclination or legislation or by any other means would be the prerogative of man. The commandments, however, were God-given. Using our agency, we can set them aside. We cannot, however, change them, just as we cannot change the consequences which come from disobeying and breaking them. May we realize that our greatest happiness in this life will come as we follow God’s commandments and obey His laws! I love the words found in Isaiah chapter 32, verse 17: ‘The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.’ Such peace, such assurance can come only through righteousness.” (Monson, October 2015).

I testify that wickedness never was happiness. Sin brings turmoil and sorrow. Obedience and righteousness bring joy and peace. I have seen this in my life; I have felt the turmoil of sin and the peace of forgiveness. There is no lasting peace without the Atonement of the Savior. Only He heals the wounds and sorrows we all experience.

Every Christmas season I reflect on words penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, he wrote the these 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.

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 written in midst of turmoil and war still resonate today, perhaps more now than then. People cry for peace but peace seems hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. The streets of cities filled with lights turn dark with blood. It is enough to make people despair – and many do. Many feel that hope is lost; that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The answer for all this despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. It is not found in worldly goods. It is found in the teachings of the Son of God, who was sent to earth to save it and all those on it who would be saved. Jesus Christ is our hope and salvation!

Our primary children sing,

“How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?
He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness.
How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go?
He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know.
How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death?
He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath.
What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?
Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.
What does he ask? Live like his Son.”

Our Father sent His Son to walk with us on earth. That is the essence of obedience – walking with God. Obedience is choosing God over ourselves. It is choosing the eternal over the temporal. Obedience is choosing life over death. It is choosing to walk with God. What greater comfort is there than following the footsteps of Christ? What greater safety is there than walking with God?

One of the commandments that will richly bless our lives as we follow it strictly is remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. The First Presidency and apostles have called for us to renew our devotion to God by better observance of the Sabbath. It is a day for us to rest from our labors of the week and focus on our relationships with our families and with God. This will come through worshiping at church, spending time with family, and serving others.

Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Honoring the Sabbath is a form of righteousness that will bless and strengthen families, connect us with our Creator, and increase happiness. The Sabbath can help separate us from that which is frivolous, inappropriate, or immoral. It allows us to be in the world but not of the world. In the last six months, a most remarkable change has occurred in the Church. This has been in the response of the members to renewed emphasis on the Sabbath by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and to President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge to make the Sabbath a delight. Many members understand that truly keeping the Sabbath day holy is a refuge from the storms of this life. It is also a sign of our devotion to our Father in Heaven and an increased understanding of the sacredness of sacrament meeting. Still, we have a long way to go, but we have a wonderful beginning. I challenge all of us to continue to embrace this counsel and improve our Sabbath worship.” (October 2015 General Conference).

A renewed commitment of obedience to God can start today.

I testify that God loves us. Because He wants us to be happy He gave us commandments that place us on the path to eternal happiness in the world to come. I testify that the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ provides peace, healing, and wholeness. When we stray we can be cleansed through Christ’s Atonement. Through the water of baptism, the blood of Jesus, and the Spirit of God we can be obedient, forgiven, and sanctified (see Moses 6:60). I testify that our Father wants us to enter into His presence as joint-heirs with Christ; the only way to do this is through obedience to God and through the grace of Christ. I testify that our Father wants us to live as eternal families in the life to come. When we stand as families before the gates of Heaven, will our Father look at us and say, “They’re all here. They’re all safe, not a life lost”? No matter how dark the way may be now, if we keep walking there will be many good things to come; if we have faith, it will all work out in the end. May we seek His Spirit always by choosing righteousness as we obediently and humbly walk the path of discipleship.

The Light of Truth – Part 2

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The prophet Joseph Smith taught us more on this topic of intelligence. I’m going to quote at length from Doctrine & Covenants 93 in order to provide some context. This will help us understand better what intelligence is and how it grows.

“He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple. The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C; 93:28-36).

God organized us and taught us the plan that would allow us to progress and gain intelligence like His. Regardless of our starting intelligence or ability, we are able to grow and progress in this life and in the eternities (more so in the next life) to become like our Father. Again, I will repeat this point because it is important: regardless of our starting intelligence we can progress and gain intelligence like God’s! That is quite the blessing.

We add to our intelligence by study. How much we know is a component of intelligence. As we study, especially by faith, we gain more light. This light will be spiritual; it will also be temporal. The power of faith rends through the inky shroud of ignorance. It helps truth resonate in our minds and our spirits. I believe that much of the truths we discover in this life are actually un-covered, or more accurately, re-membered – brought back again to our memories. That is why some truths and knowledge resonate with us – we knew it in our life before this life. There are great blessings promised to those who seek and gain more intelligence. Pay attention to the key words in this passage:

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C; 130:18-21; emphasis added).

The key words were diligence and obedience but the key word is obedience. We gain knowledge and intelligence through diligence and obedience – in fact we obtain all blessings from God by obedience. Knowledge and intelligence are blessings from God; He is the source of all Truth. As we are obedient to the principles and ordinances of the gospel we obtain more light and truth. As we are obedient to our pursuit of knowledge and intelligence, we will be blessed accordingly.

Link to part 1 of this essay.