Building Zion

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Sir Cecil Spring-Rice wrote a poem about his country (England) and a spiritual country. Both countries are deserving of devotion. The words are beautiful. Here are the words:

“I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

The speaker in the poem gives an oath to serve and protect his country. If that calling is war, he goes to war. Joseph Smith wrote in his letter to John Wentworth, an editor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper, these words: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Wherever we live, we should honor and obey the laws. Yet, there is another country that requires greater commitment and devotion. This country is spiritual. It’s ruler is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is its King. It is not protected by walls of stone but by faithfulness and love. It is a country of peace.

A number of English poets wrote of spiritual countries and themes. Another of my favorites is by William Blake. His poem Jerusalem was set to music and is the national hymn of England. In the poem Blake questions if the Savior’s golden feet ever walked upon England’s green mountains and pleasant pastures.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

These words are stirring and powerful. Did Jesus ever walk upon England’s ground? He might have. We read in 3 Nephi: “And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them. But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them” (3 Nephi 16:1-3).

Jesus said that He was going to show Himself to others who were not in the land of Jerusalem or in the Americas. I believe some of those others He visited were from the lost tribes of Israel who were scattered into the north countries and across the face of the whole earth (see Ether 13:11). Many within the lost tribes (and some who were not “lost”) ended up in England. To them the Savior may have come. His divine countenance may have shone forth upon the clouded hills of England.

Blake also calls for the building of Jerusalem upon England’s hills. This is similar to the early Latter-day Saints who sought to establish Zion, a New Jerusalem. It was to be built in Missouri (but was not due to persecution) and someday shall be built in Missouri. We can build Zion wherever we live by building our lives upon righteousness. As we strive for and are blessed with purity of heart we will discover that Zion is no longer fled (see Moses 7:69) but stands on the rock upon which we build (see Matt. 7:24 and 3 Ne. 14:24). Yes, someday a literal Zion shall be built in the Americas and the city of Enoch will return from whence it was taken, but in the meantime, Zion is wherever the Saints of God, especially the pure in heart, dwell (see D&C; 97:21).

A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 6 – Temples

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In this episode I present a talk I gave about temples. Temples have played a central role to the saints of God from the days of Adam. Temples are places where sacred ordinances are performed that link generation to generation. The text for this podcast is available clicking on the following links (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6).

If you’ve subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it’s never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer 6 – Temples.

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

Let me know what you think!

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

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

A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 5 – Personal Purity

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In this episode I present a talk I originally gave in 2004. It is about personal purity – purity in thoughts, words, and deeds. We need to fill our lives with pure things; things that lead us to Christ and fill us with light. The text for this podcast is available clicking on this link (that link is a tag search of my blog for the tag: purity; it includes a little more than just the text for this podcast, but it’s the easiest way to see all the parts of the essay on one page).

If you’ve subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it’s never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 5 – Personal Purity

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

Let me know what you think!

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

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

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 1

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

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

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

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

Pure Thoughts, Part 8

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The lack of purity in thought and heart is what keeps the Church and its members from being as Enoch’s Zion. Robert Millet explains this,

“There is [a] matter that prevents many of us from enjoying the Spirit of the Lord in our lives as we might: the tendency to live on the edge, to play percentages with God, to tempt fate and to place ourselves in circumstances that can contribute to our spiritual undoing. There are those who want to see how far they can go without going all the way; those who want to drive the vehicle as close to the edge of the cliff as possible with no intention whatever of falling; those who cunningly creep up on the flame with no intention of ever being burned; those who want to enjoy all the privileges of Babylon but at the same time keep their citizenship in Zion intact. I promise you that there is no lasting happiness in such approaches to life, but rather a type of moral or spiritual schizophrenia” (Robert L. Millet, Selected writings of Robert L. Millet, p.351).

As we purify our thoughts and hearts, we will become a Zion society like that described by the LDS hymn:

This earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

We read that Enoch walked with God,
Above the pow’r of mammon,
While Zion spread herself abroad,
And Saints and angels sang aloud,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Her land was good and greatly blest,
Beyond all Israel’s Canaan,
Her fame was known from east to west,
Her peace was great, and pure the rest
Of Adam-ondi-Ahman. (Hymns, #49)

We must be pure of mind and heart so we can as a church become a Zion society. We must build Zion within each of our homes and within each of ourselves. As we hike through life, we need to partake of pure water, whether it is gathered in purity from springs or taken from other sources and filtered and cleansed. As we purify our minds, we are sanctified by the Spirit of the Lord and are blessed individually and as families.

Pure Thoughts, Part 7

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The Savior explained in the Sermon on the Mount a blessing that comes from purity: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). But what does having a pure heart have to do with having purity of mind? There are many references in the scriptures to thoughts residing in the heart. For example, “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart” (Job 17:11) and “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Our thoughts and our desires are inseparable. We can thus take the words “thoughts” and “heart” as nearly synonymous. This belief is why the ancient Egyptians considered the heart to be where the soul and mind resided. In their mummification process they thus removed and discarded the brain and preserved the heart. So if we replace “heart” with “mind”, the beatitude will read “Blessed are the pure in mind: for they will see God!”

There are other blessings that stem from being pure in heart. This state brings citizenship in the Lord’s society. Elder Cullimore said:

“Zion is defined by the Lord as the ‘pure in heart.’ The Lord said, ‘… let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.’ (D&C; 97:21).

“Since Zion is defined as the ‘pure in heart,’ those who make up Zion must be free from worldly practices and indulgences.

“President Lee said to us…that ‘The rule by which the people of God must live in order to be worthy of acceptance in the sight of God’ is indicated in this scripture: ‘For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.’ (D&C; 82:14.) (“Strengthen the Stakes of Zion,” Harold B. Lee, Ensign, July 1973, p.3.)

“President McKay referred to Zion as the pure in heart and said: ‘… the strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members, then the testimony of Jesus abides in the soul, and strength comes to each individual to withstand the evils of the world.’ (Conference Report, October 1911, p. 58.)” (James A. Cullimore, “To Be in the World but Not of the World,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 119).

President McKay’s statement is profound: “The strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members.” That places a large responsibility upon each of us. We just learned what Enoch and his people accomplished! They were all pure in thought and thus one with each other and the Lord. Because of this they were taken into Heaven. If we are pure in thought and heart, we may be received, sooner or later, into Heaven.

Pure Thoughts, Part 6

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Impure thoughts deaden our spirits but why else must we watch our thoughts? The Savior enlightens us through His intercessory prayer: “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth…. Neither I pray for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me though their word; That they all may be one…even as we are one” (John 17:14-22). Thoughts that are in conflict with God’s cannot lead to unity with Him. Impure thoughts cement our separation from the Savior and the Father because they are not sanctifying. Isaiah taught: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isa. 55:7-8; emphasis added).

This is not to say that our thoughts cannot be like the Lord’s; His thoughts are just not like the natural man’s. If we forsake and remove our unrighteous thoughts, we can approach the Lord, just as Moses removed his shoes to approach the burning bush (see Ex. 3:5). So we need to have purity of thought in order to be one with the Father. This is also what the Lord revealed in Doctrine and Covenants section 88: “Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you” (v.68-69). From these verses we learn that idle thoughts, which are not necessarily evil, but might fall under the category of superfluous, also need casting away. Impurity of mind is not only the commission of impure thoughts but also the omission of pure ones. Pure thoughts are those of the truth, which includes the word of God. Whether we covertly think impure thoughts, or merely let our minds idle away, we are not pure in thought.

Pure Thoughts, Part 5

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While profanity is offensive to the Spirit, pornography is the paragon of impurity. It is the most base distortion of something that is the most holy. It drags the sacred into the sordid sludge of sensuality. Pornography is not only the exploitation of its purveyors but also that of its partakers. Those who read, view, or explore pornography quickly are caught in the silky threads of its tantalizing web; these threads are not easily broken, especially as the web – the addiction – continues to grow in strength. Pornography however, easily leads to broken hearts and homes. It deadens the senses, weakens the mind, depresses the heart, and desensitizes the spirit. Those who partake of pornography often get stuck in a cesspool of further sin. The images and words of pornography can replay endlessly in the mind, shutting out more noble thoughts.

Elder Scott states:

“One of the most damning influences on earth, one that has caused uncountable grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages is the onslaught of pornography in all of its vicious, corroding, destructive forms. Whether it be through the printed page, movies, television, obscene lyrics, the telephone, or on a flickering personal computer screen, pornography is overpoweringly addictive and severely damaging. This potent tool of Lucifer degrades the mind, heart, and the soul of any who use it…. The tragic pattern [of addiction] is so familiar. It begins with a curiosity that is fueled by its stimulation and is justified by the false premise that when done privately, it does no harm to anyone else. Lulled by this lie, the experimentation goes deeper, with more powerful stimulations, until the web closes and a terribly immoral, addictive habit is formed.

“How can a man, particularly a priesthood bearer, not think of the damage emotionally and spiritually caused to women, especially to a wife, from such abhorrent activity? The participation in pornography in any of its lurid forms is a manifestation of unbridled selfishness” (Scott, Ensign, May 2000, p.36).

It is best to never approach this idol of Babylon; but for those who have worshiped at the dark altar of pornography, there is, mercifully, a light given to those afflicted by and addicted to it—the atonement of the Savior provides a way to leave the pit and wash clean of the filth. Repentance will lift the spirit and purify the mind. We should always have on our breastplates of righteousness and have our “loins girt about with truth” (see Eph. 6:14).

Pure Thoughts, Part 4

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Some of the impurities that can enter our minds include: profanity, vulgarity, and pornography. I’ll first focus briefly on profanity. We learn the meaning of profanity from John S. Tanner: “Profanity…means literally, outside (pro) the temple or shrine (fanum). Profane language drags sacred words out of the sanctuary and into the marketplace, making a mockery of holy things. It uses in a thoughtless, sacrilegious, or impious way terms usually graced with sacred significance, thus violating the Lord’s injunction: ‘That which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care.’ (D&C; 63:64). Profanity, a close cousin to blasphemy, describes the kind of speech that is often called ‘swearing'” (Ensign, Feb. 1991, p.30). So, profanity is treating the sacred as if it were secular; it is being light-minded in contrast to pure-minded. We must do as King Benjamin taught, we must watch our thoughts and not take or treat spiritual things lightly.

Joseph F. Smith condemned profanity among the members of the Church when he said,

“We should stamp out profanity, and vulgarity, and everything of that character that exists among us; for all such things are incompatible with the gospel and inconsistent with the people of God. Language, like thought, makes its impression and is recalled by the memory in a way that may be unpleasant if not harmful to those who have been compelled to listen to unseemly words. Thoughts that in themselves are not proper may be exalted or debased by the language used to express them. If inelegant expressions should be eschewed, what shall be said of profanity?

“The habit … which some young people fall into, of using vulgarity and profanity … is not only offensive to all well-bred persons, but it is a gross sin in the sight of God, and should not exist among the children of the Latter-day Saints.

“I say to the fathers and mothers of Israel, and to the boys who have been born in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: I say it to men and boys throughout the world, as far as my words may go—I plead with you, I implore you not to offend the Lord, nor to offend honorable men and women, by the use of profanity” (Teachings, Joseph F. Smith, p.374).

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.