That Thy Joy May Be Full

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When Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites He first reassured them; like many when confronted with a heavenly being, those gathered at the temple were afraid when the Savior appeared. I’m not sure why fear is the typical response; maybe people reflect on their sins and unworthiness in the presence of angels and fear destruction. Maybe it’s just the shock of someone appearing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, Jesus first told the people to calm their fears. He visited as the merciful Savior to calm, teach, and heal. Jesus next invited all to come feel the marks of His crucifixion as a physical witness His triumph over sin and death. Third, He called and set apart twelve disciples, giving them the priesthood. After He established the core church organization He taught the basic doctrines of the church – mirroring the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus first gave the pattern of prayer then spoke of fasting, “Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (3 Nephi 13:16-18)

Fasting is of such importance that it was one of the first truths Jesus taught. Do we similarly make fasting a central part of our lives? Just as Jesus taught the pattern of prayer and then fasting, is fasting yoked with prayer in our lives? Fasting without focused prayer is just going hungry. It might have physical health benefits but fasting without prayer has limited spiritual health benefits. God will acknowledge our sacrifice without prayer but prayer combined with fasting is an opportunity for us to show our dedication to Heavenly Father. He in turn will bless us.

The first Sunday of every month is designated a day of fasting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members who are able are asked to fast for at least two meals. They are also asked to donate to the church the money they would have spent on the meals; more generous donations are encouraged. This is not a commandment, no church member is required to either fast or pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the immediate ward or branch and then more broadly from there if there is excess. All overhead for these fast offerings (and that overhead is very small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.

Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

As we fast, our bonds of sin, our heavy burdens can be broken. We should also fast to help others. I’ll add that if we are not helping others, we are not fasting as fully as we might. We also need to fast in the right spirit. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate.” (Isa. 58:4) In other words, those who fast for the wrong reasons often are irritable and short-tempered, what some call being “hangry”. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves with little benefit. When we fast for the wrong reasons, we are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), as Isaiah said; in other words, we make sure others know we are suffering and take it out on them. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount (and to the Nephites after His resurrection). Jesus said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:16-18).

There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it’s interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through fasting in faithfulness.

Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast – to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God’s commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.

To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weakened, what was fastened together might slip apart. The bond might break. We must always be mindful of our fastening to God and keep it strong. This bond to God makes us free. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and “fastened it upon the end of a pole” (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni’s call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.

When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.

Fasting is an opportunity for us to faithfully sacrifice eating and drinking and pray for special needs for us or others. Fasting is an opportunity for God to bless us and others. Those blessings might not always be what we want.

Forgive me for sharing a personal experience. I share this because I think it will resonate with some of you; it might even be encouraging.

I set a goal when I was younger to get a specific job when I was all done with school. After years of graduate school, almost 15 years after setting that goal, I was finally in a place where I could apply for that desired job. I prayed and fasted for months that I could get the job. My parents, siblings and their families, and some friends prayed and fasted for me. With all those prayers and all that faith offered on my behalf, what happened? I didn’t get the job. I didn’t reach the goal set nearly 15 years before. Why weren’t my prayers and fasts answered? Why weren’t the prayers and fasting of others on my behalf answered?

First, they were answered but the answer was “No” or maybe “Not right now.” Second, I probably wasn’t asking for the right thing. My goal was good but it turns out that it wasn’t the job I was meant to have. I’ve found that I’m not always very good at wanting what Heavenly Father wants for me. Isn’t that one of the main tests of life? Learning to give up what we want when it isn’t what our Father wants for us? Our ultimate sacrifice – that’s what fasting is about is sacrifice; the law of the fast is part of the law of sacrifice. So our ultimate sacrifice is submitting our wills to the Father’s. We can, just as Jesus did, ask for another way but ultimately we need to submit our wills to the will of our Father. He knows what will bring us greatest happiness. He knows where we need to be and what we need to do.

So what do we do when we work towards something only to have the goal frustrated? We trust in God and accept His will. My parents have always encouraged my siblings and me to be the best we could wherever we were. A favorite saying was (and still is): “Bloom where you are planted.” I urge you to do the same.

I don’t have an answer yet about what job Heavenly Father wants me to have but opportunities are in sight; they just might be better than what I didn’t get. This is one of the messages I felt strongly that at least one of you needed to hear today. When we don’t receive what we want, when it seems as if our prayers and fasts have not been answered, it is important to keep trusting God. He has something better in store for you. The words of C. S. Lewis are appropriate here:

“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.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 176)

You might want a cottage, God wants to give you a castle. You might want to be an angel, God wants you to be something more…someone more. Fasting is one of the methods by which our Father in Heaven helps us become who we are meant to become. One of the things God wants us to become is radiantly joyful. It might be a difficult path to that joy.

One such difficult path was shared on the Church’s Instagram feed on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Some of you might have seen what was shared about a young woman named Katia:

“In the last few years, the following occurred: a tumbling accident left me in a wheelchair for more than half a year; my dad almost died from a brain hemorrhage (and lost his job a couple of times); my mother underwent a complicated surgery; I had to have a tumor removed; and my brother had to return home early from his mission because of health problems. It was a lot for our family to deal with. In the midst of all of this, my younger sister was struggling through an intense battle with depression that was scary and confusing for all of us. There was one point when I kind of just broke down. My parents taught me to never question why you are going through something, and instead to remember that God has a plan. But I guess it was the timing that got to me. I was just afraid of how much longer it would be like this. I can remember kneeling on the floor crying one evening in our living room. At one point, I looked up and I saw a picture of Christ on the wall. And I just felt at peace at that moment. I just had this feeling that I was meant to go through all of these difficulties. I knew it wasn’t going to be over soon, but I also knew there was a purpose in it all. I felt that God was preparing me to help others in the future—that I could be a light and example through my experiences. I knew I was going to be able to help somebody else at some point.” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9M_R7DyBT/?taken-by=ldschurch)

We can continue to have faith through trials. Fasting, even if it doesn’t result in what we ask for, will build faith. Eventually we will receive all that our Father can give as we press forward in faith, relying on the grace of Christ. Though fasting might be a trial now, ultimately, as we learn from restored scripture, fasting is about joy. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “And on this day [Sunday] thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:13; emphasis added). When our fasting is perfect, our joy is full. Fasting is a means to bring joy to our lives. We make a small sacrifice of hunger. God in turn satiates our hunger and fills our emptiness with more than we gave.

Fasting in accordance with the law of sacrifice allows us to show love and devotion to God. God in turn showers forth love and blessings upon us.

Another part of the law of sacrifice is the law of tithing.

I remember being a full time missionary teaching the commandment of tithing. It was always challenging for me to testify of the blessings I had seen in my life from paying tithing. I grew up with the example of my parents who always paid tithing. Paying tithing was never a challenge for me but at 19 and 20 years old I was not in the same place in life as most of those I taught. I taught mostly middle age individuals who were working and supporting a family. That’s one reason I loved having members there to help teach the law of tithing. They could usually give more examples of the blessings they saw from paying tithing. An investigator or new convert being asked to donate 10% of their income was usually a significant challenge – that can be true for many of us, recent convert or not. On the surface tithing seems like a 10% pay cut. A convert joins the church and suddenly gets to live on 10% less income from before. I know some of you struggle with this. If you’re in school, funds can vary between slim and nonexistent. If you’re working full-time or part-time or not at all, funds can also vary between slim and nonexistent. God loves us and does not enjoy watching us struggle. So why does He require us to pay tithing?

There is not a single answer to that question and I’m not going to answer it. Instead, I want to share some blessings…I’ve seen in my life as I’ve paid tithing – most of these became clear after years of paying tithing. Isn’t that how the gospel usually works? We have to put forth the faith first, sometimes for years, before we are blessed.

[Two stories were removed to protect confidence in this setting].

I’ve seen tremendous blessings from paying tithing. Providing for a growing family on a graduate student income was a great lesson in budgeting and faith. Even though funds were severely restricted, we never ran out of money. We never had to do without the necessities of life. Another blessing was discovered when my wife and I looked back and realized we had very few medical costs for years. We worked on remaining healthy but we saw that the Lord blessed our family with good health. That is a blessing we both know was partially due to paying tithing and fast offerings. After all, the Lord promised us through Isaiah that if we fast (and, I might add pay tithing): “[our] health shall spring forth speedily” (Isaiah 58:8).

Being generous with tithing and offerings has other benefits.

Arthur C. Brooks ran a study looking at the relationship between charitable behaviors and  prosperity. He explained his findings at a BYU Forum address: “when people get richer, they tend to give more money away. But I also came up with the following counterintuitive finding: When people give more money away, they tend to prosper.

“Specifically, here’s what I found. If you have two families that are exactly identical—in other words, same religion, same race, same number of kids, same town, same level of education, and everything’s the same—except that one family gives a hundred dollars more to charity than the second family, then the giving family will earn on average $375 more in income than the nongiving family—and that’s statistically attributable to the gift…. [Other studies have found that] givers are healthier, happier, and richer in this country—and probably around the world. It gives us stronger communities; indeed, it gives us a more prosperous nation.”

Arthur Brooks went on: “As Christian people we are taught that giving is important to help others. I’m telling you that the data say giving helps you, so if you want to help others, don’t just give to them—think about what you can do today to help somebody else to give. The main beneficiary of a charitable gift is the giver.”

As we give we receive. I’m not encouraging paying tithing or giving fast offerings for selfish reasons but it is important to recognize and thank our Eternal Father for the blessings he gives us for paying tithing and other offerings. In Malachi we read: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10). When God pours out those blessings on us – and those with eyes to see will recognize the blessings – we need to thank Him for them.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord gave us the law of sacrifice, of which tithing and fasting are a part, to help us be better. They are opportunities for us to be more Christ-like and serve others. They are opportunities for God to richly bless us as we faithfully offer up our sacrifices to Him. May God bless each of you through your tithes, fasts, and offerings!

Fasting With a Purpose

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

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

Arising from darkness – the miracle of forgiveness

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This is the talk (with very slight modifications) I gave in Sacrament Meeting today. Much of it is found in other posts on this blog but I edited, arranged, and added the material. It was an almost 30 minute talk (I’m grateful I had prepared enough material, although I had plenty of backup prepared as well that I did not have the use).

With the strike of an automobile, one year ago tragedy struck our family. As I have shared a number of times on this site, my 11 year old niece Allison was riding her bicycle when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. It has been a challenging year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? Do we forgive or do we allow the cankering cancer of hate to grow inside ourselves? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The healing waters of Christ cannot wash away our hurt and grief if we keep them locked up within the stony tables of our hearts instead of offering them up to Him. Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow, suffering, and pain. Sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in our lives. We can even find joy amidst the hardship as we turn towards Christ. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

Jesus offers hope and healing to all 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. 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).

God shall wipe tears from our eyes – what a touching, beautiful, and miraculous experience that will be! This is a miracle we can perform for others. Pres. Harold B. Lee said of this miracle – the miracle of healing those who sorrow and who suffer with spiritual sickness: “The greatest miracles I see today are not necessarily the healing of sick bodies, but the greatest miracles I see are the healing of sick souls, those who are sick in soul and spirit and are downhearted and distraught, on the verge of nervous breakdowns. We are reaching out to all such because they are precious in the sight of the Lord and we want no one to feel that they are forgotten.” (Lee, April 1973 General Conference). The Lord came to heal the sick – in body and spirit. We are commanded to follow Christ; we must to do as He did and reach out to and heal those who are dejected and sick in spirit.

Even in times of our own suffering we can help heal others. In the days before Allison’s funeral, my sister and her husband took time to visit and comfort the boy who was driving the car. Allison died because of his mistake but he was going to have to live with her death. They wanted to let him know that they forgave him for what happened. “There was hurt but no hate.” (Faust, April 2007 General Conference). They exemplified one of the greatest miracles in life – the gift of forgiveness. This is a gift given to us by Christ and one we can give to others. Those who Pres. Lee said are “sick in soul and spirit and downhearted and distraught” might be aching for one thing from us – the healing that comes from us offering the gift of forgiveness.

We are approaching the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth. As Christmas day nears some of us might be worried about getting presents planned, organized, finished, purchased, packed, wrapped, and shipped. We might wonder how we are going to pay for presents. In this bustle it can be easy to feel overwhelmed; it can be easy to forget that the greatest gifts are gifts of ourselves. Whether we can afford to buy and give expensive presents or not, we can all afford to give one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did to us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring said of forgiveness,

“Many of us have lost loved ones to death. We may be surrounded by individuals who seek to destroy our faith in the gospel and the Lord’s promises of eternal life. Some of us are troubled with illness and with poverty. Others may have contention in the family or no family at all. Yet we can invite the Light of Christ to shine on us and let us see and feel some of the promised joys that lie before us…. [Christ] came into the world to be the Lamb of God, to pay the price of all of the sins of His Father’s children in mortality so that all might be forgiven. 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 [time] you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Some people are quick to forgive others. There is a story of told of George Albert Smith, who was president of the church from 1945 to 1951. 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 called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, ‘What kind of city are you running? [I want] that blanket back.’ Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, ‘Are you blind?’ [Instead], 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.’” (Madsen, Presidents of the Church, p.224).

Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, especially those who wronged him. We are commanded to forgive one another in part because the Lord is so willing to forgive us; we need to follow His example. “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). My sister and her family were able to forgive the young man who struck Allison. 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. It also does not mean that we cannot seek appropriate recompense when necessary, but we should always forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving heart. When we refuse to forgive others, we give them control over us; we let others determine our happiness. In our unforgiving, we do more harm to ourselves than to those whom we do not forgive. While we need to forgive others, sometimes that forgiveness needs to be directed inwardly.

Elder Holland stated: “There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life—either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist….”

“When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal….”

“Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the ‘high priest of good things to come.’” (Remember Lot’s Wife)

Forgiveness is such an central principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others! It is a simple condition for forgiveness – forgive others to have our sins forgiven. There can be more to being forgiven, but forgiving others is a necessary step.

Others might wrong us but sometimes we are the ones who have wronged others. In these instances we must ask for forgiveness and repent. There is a story of a man who snapped in anger at his children. They started to cry. Realizing his error, he went to their room and asked for forgiveness. They quickly jumped into his arms and kissed him, forgiving him for any wrong. This man stated:

“I learned a lot of lessons from that. But the one that sticks with me the most, because I’m a father, is that it’s a father’s job to repent first. That’s what is means to me to be a father – to be the first one to repent and heal the relationship. My children were anxious and willing to forgive and be friends with me. But I had to start it. It seems to me that that’s the way relationships are healed. It’s no more complicated than that. It may take longer in some cases, but there isn’t much more to it than simply yielding your heart to what you know is the truth and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’” (Warner, Bonds that make us free, p. 261).

I’ve made my share of mistakes in parenting. Parenting is hard work; it takes effort and patience. But it also takes more than that; it takes love and selflessness. As a parent it is especially important to be the first one to repent and ask for forgiveness. Repentance is often a necessary step to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is precisely what Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection were about. 2000 years ago a baby was born in humble circumstances. His birth came without much earthly adulation but the heavens were resplendent with signs and wonders for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Angels appeared to shepherds, wise men followed a gleaming star, and the righteous and wicked alike went without night in the New World. That tiny baby was the Son of God – the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He who showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared now had a body of flesh. He who will return as Christ the Conquering King came first as a lowly Babe in Bethlehem. There is little we know about His early life; we do know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, dwelt in Egypt, and grew up in Nazareth. He was visited by wise men some time in his first few years of life. He grew up learning from Joseph and Mary. At age 12 He spent time teaching the priests in the temple – they marveled at His knowledge: How does the son of a carpenter, a 12 year old boy know so much about the scriptures?! At age 30 Jesus started His ministry full-time. Over the next three years He lived without a home, spending most of His days walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. He called men to be apostles. He taught, healed, and performed many miracles. The greatest miracles He performed were forgiving sin. Jesus then instituted the sacrament, atoned for all the sins, sicknesses, and pain of humankind, stood trial, and died upon the cross. But that was not the end! On the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead, bringing everlasting life to all people. He rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death and hell.

Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. Because of this love and His 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 to 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).

We can be forgiven but sometimes before we repent the darkness of sin can be overwhelming. We might cry out with the fearful sailor:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.

There is a change on all things made.

The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

Sin leads to a hellish darkness of separation from God – poignant and painful – a pain that feels endless. This separation from God is spiritual death. However, there is help available there is a way that we can be born anew, free from this type of death. This help comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and through repentance. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds that burn away the dreary mists of life. Through Christ’s suffering, we are provided solace for sin. Jesus is our song in the darkness of night. He is our pillar of fire. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas of sin. This is the true miracle of forgiveness – that the turmoil of our suffering can turn to peace.

Alma, the great Book of Mormon prophet, shared his experience in overcoming his sins. He rebelled in his youth; he led people away from the church and from God. His family prayed and fasted for him and through a great miracle, he was able to repent of his sins. He described his repentance to his son:

“13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities…I saw that I had rebelled against my God…

16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13,16-20).

This light and joy from Christ can replace the darkness and sorrow. The Lord is willing to forgive us as we repent. Alma did some terrible things but he was able to repent.

Elder Holland said recently, “Whoever you are and whatever you have done, you can be forgiven. Every one of you…can leave behind any transgression with which you may struggle. It is the miracle of forgiveness; it is the miracle of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. But you cannot do it without an active commitment to the gospel, and you cannot do it without repentance where it is needed.” (Holland, Oct. 2011 General Conference). I testify that this is true. I’ve been blessed with the miracle of forgiveness in my life; I’ve seen this miracle work wonders in the lives of others. One of Satan’s most insidious lies is that we are not good enough to repent; that we could never be forgiven. We are good enough and we can be forgiven. The miracle of forgiveness is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy.

In what is one of the most moving descriptions of the Lord’s mercy, the prophet Micah described the Lord’s feelings for the House of Israel – for all of us. Micah expressed his hope for redemption; he said: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9). The Savior pleads our cause. He is our court-appointed defense; what better defense can we have than someone who truly, completely, and perfectly understands and loves us? Christ can bring us out of darkness into the light. Micah later continues with another moving and loving description of the Lord: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19). The Lord executes justice but he delights in mercy and is compassionate. He loves each of us dearly.

The Savior’s life was filled with many acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind; He cured all manners of infirmities; He cast out devils; He took time to bless children even when He was tired and hungry; He brought the dead to life. However, His greatest act of mercy was the Atonement. “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne. 9:21-22). This single act made it possible for all to live again and for all to receive forgiveness of sins as they repent and have faith in the Lord. The way is prepared. “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The Savior’s mercy, His forgiveness, is offered freely to us as we repent.

As we repent, the Lord’s Spirit cleanses us and the Savior’s Atonement sanctifies us. The great prophet Enoch was taught these truths: “Ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:59-60).

This is a three part path to sanctification. First, when we sin, we need to repent. An important part of that process is baptism. Second, through confirmation and the re-confirmation that comes when the Holy Ghost burns in our hearts, we can have our sins forgiven; we are absolved of guilt and brought back into alignment – we are justified – with Christ. Lastly comes the greatest miracle – through the blood of Christ we can be sanctified. This means we are not only forgiven, it means that our very nature is changed so that we no longer have desires to do wrong. It means that we become holy as God is holy.

I have been speaking about our need to forgive others as well as our need for forgiveness. In a hymn we learn more about forgiveness.

“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.” (As Now We Take the Sacrament)

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to others. No matter who we are or what we own, forgiveness is the greatest gift we can receive. None of us can return to or Father without the Savior’s mercy.

Mercy is a major component of forgiveness. In order to receive mercy, we must be merciful. We are commanded to be merciful: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Mercy is a beautiful doctrine but one eternal principle seems at odds with mercy – justice. Justice and mercy are usually mentioned together even though many times they seem like they are mutually exclusive of each other. On the surface, it does not seem possible for someone to be both just and merciful.

In the book of Alma we find one of the clearest descriptions of the interplay between justice and mercy. We learn that justice must be served – it is an eternal law that cannot be broken: “Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God…. Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:13,25). However, we know that God is both just and merciful. Justice must be fulfilled but God provided a way for justice and mercy to be served: “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15). The Great Lawgiver, even the Lord Jesus Christ, offered himself as a merciful sacrifice so that justice would be fulfilled. The great Book of Mormon teacher, Jacob, younger brother to Nephi, called the Plan of Salvation the “merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Ne. 9:6). The Plan of Salvation is a Plan of Mercy.

Mercy is such an important principle that it is one of the main messages of the Book of Mormon. In the first chapter of the first book in the Book of Mormon Nephi writes, “Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20). Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. Lehi had had a vision and started preaching the impending destruction of Jerusalem. It was not a popular message. However, the Lord was mindful of Lehi and his family. Lehi had a special calling to leave Jerusalem and work his way to a promised land. That is the Lord’s mercy; He delivered Lehi’s family from destruction. Their path was not easy but the Lord was merciful. Nephi explained how to obtain mercy – simply have faith in the Lord. The Lord has merciful feelings for all people. However, He can only be as merciful as people allow Him to be: “Thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him” (Mosiah 29:20). He cannot fully bless us with His mercy if we do not have faith in Him and if we do not pull all our trust in Him. To receive a fullness of mercy we must repent of our sins.

We can trace the Lord’s mercy throughout the Book of Mormon as people are freed from bondage – physical and spiritual. Even though much of the tone of the Book of Mormon is negative – it is after all, a chronicle of civilizations that destroyed themselves – there is always the underlying message of hope and mercy that things will work out in the end. This is the message for our lives – there is repentance and forgiveness. There is mercy to be found. This is a promise given to those who return to live with God again. This is one of the great miracles in life – that we can be forgiven of our sins and be able to return to live with God. Heavenly Father is willing to forgive us because He loves us. As we repent, we can have the pain and hurt of sin washed from our wounded hearts. We can be made whole and pure.

Forgiveness is a precious gift we must give others and one that we can receive ourselves. It can be a gift of peace to others and a blessing of joy to ourselves.

Paul on Sacrifice

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“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).

Paul recognizes the ephemerality of worldly possessions. He sacrificed all that he had in order to share the gospel of Christ. It was part of his calling as apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul states: “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” We need to be willing to sacrifice all we have in order to “win Christ.” We have to make sacrifices.

I like Paul’s term – “dung” or, translated differently, “refuse”. Our worldly possessions really, in the long run, do not matter much. What matters is our faith in Christ and our righteousness. Paul counted his possessions as dung – not worth anything. He suffered the loss of all things and was glad to do it for Christ.

However, why I think that the translation of the Greek as “dung” is appropriate is because of how this applies to our worldly possessions. Are they just a big pile of dung, stinking up our lives, making us spiritually ill? Or, do we spread the dung around as fertilizer to help things grow? Dung can help produce new life by helping other things grow. Or, dung can just pile up as a cesspool of filth.

The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught: “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18-19). Riches need to be used to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to liberate the captive, and to administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. If they are not, riches become a cesspool of filth to us, they are as a pile of dung, piling up in our homes and our lives. Instead, we need to take this dung (all worldly possessions really are refuse) and fertilize those around us – help them to receive nourishment. As we sacrifice for others, dedicating those sacrifices to Christ, we, with Paul, might “win Christ.”

The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.

Mormon Identity Podcast Notes – Women in the Scriptures

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From the latest Mormon Identity podcast entitled Women in the Scriptures (part 1) with Robert Millet and Camile Fronk Olson.

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.” (Moses 4:13; emphasis added).

I’ll quote Camille Olson’s insight:

“I suddenly saw that where they had no recognized that they were unclothed before, they now saw a need to be covered. And knowing in Hebrew the word for covering or to cover is kaphar that is also sometimes translated as atonement. Suddenly this had a new meaning to me because they realized they have need of a covering that only Christ can provide. You notice that in that same verse they start looking at fig trees to try to make them a covering and it doesn’t work…. So what happens? The Lord finds a covering for them. He gives them the covering…from an animal skin. You think what does it cost the animal to provide that covering? And it is his life. And suddenly you can see a lamb that has given its skin, its covering to cover Adam and Eve and as they leave the Garden. And suddenly you get the imagery of the way the Lord protects us, the way He covers our sins through repentance, the way He covers our debts when we come to Him in a whole variety of ways that He covers us and that there is no other covering that will do that.”

Robert Millet and Camille Olson go on to talk about how the faithful are clothed with power from on high or clothed in the robes of righteousness. What I think was the key insight in what Sis. Olson said was her comment about how Adam and Eve saw that they had been naked and that they now needed covering. They had transgressed the law of God and so were no longer completely pure. Their covering of fig leaves was not sufficient; they had need of garments of animal skin that not only covered more of their bodies but also were symbolic of the covering of sins (atonement) the Lord provides. In other words, the sacrifice required by the animal(s) to make the coverings of skin was in similitude of Christ’s sacrifice.

Now on to Rebekah, wife of Isaac. [All words are (mostly) Camille Olson’s]:

“I think an important piece to remember is what takes place two chapters before [the issue of the birthright], before those boys are even born. Isaac and Rebekah have been married 20 years and not had any children. Isaac prays on behalf of his wife that she can conceive a child and she does. But Rebekah is the one who feels something seems very unusual inside of her as she is carrying what – she doesn’t know at the time – will be twins. And interestingly, it’s clear in chapter 25 of Genesis she prays to the Lord and the Lord answers her directly…. It was between Rebekah and God, and God reveals to her that she is carrying two children and more than that it will be the younger one who will be the leader. And there is nothing that says she ever told anyone that or if she was given permission to tell anyone. All we know know is they [Jacob and Esau] get older; the assumption is that the elder one will receive the birthright, Esau will receive the birthright. Isaac and Esau seem to have a camaraderie, they relate to each other, it seems to be his favorite one. Rebekah feels an affinity towards Jacob and you wonder if that didn’t start even before they were born because of this revelation.

“But Isaac is old, he can’t see really clearly and he is ready to give the birthright blessing. Rebekah knows what’s going to happen; Isaac has sent out Esau to get him something to eat and Rebekah springs to action to make sure that the one that the Lord wants to receive the blessing actually does…. I think there is a tremendous responsibility [about if we receive a revelation that we do all we can to make it come to pass]. We love the Epistle of James. Faith without works is dead. And we think faith and works is praying but as I read that epistle it is faith is praying with true faith but then the works are that we are willing to act on what we receive and it takes great faith in what we received by way of an answer and Rebekah does it!… Revelation from the Lord automatically assumes action [on our part]…. Well Rebekah is ready to act and so while Esau is away she puts her plan into motion. Jacob is a little concerned thinking, ‘I’ll look like I’m a deceiver.’ And Rebekah is willing to take all the responsibility. So she sends Jacob to get – the wording in Genesis chapter 27 is – ‘the goodly raiment’ that belongs to Esau. And along with this is a description of Esau being very hairy and Jacob not being hairy and Rebekah having goat’s hair put on Jacob’s hands and neck.

“I’m telling you; I’m reading this and I’m thinking as hairy as some men I know I don’t know anyone that’s more like a werewolf; I mean this is hairy! But I found something. Once in a while in Rabbinic literature you come across some things that really seem to resonate with what we know from revelation in modern day. [In other words,] legends of the Jews. And here’s one that that goodly raiment was the same covering that Adam and Eve had been given as they left the Garden and it had been handed down from generation to generation, now given to Abraham, then to Isaac and Isaac now giving it to the birthright son who will be the priesthood leader to govern in the affairs as Adam was originally called to do that. [It is sometimes called the garment of light]. And if it is what we’re seeing from the Garden it is an animal skin. Well no wonder it would feel like a goat or a lamb! And he is covered with that. Isaac, not seeing puts his hands on Jacob or this son or this son that he knows is to receive the birthright. I love Hebrews chapter 11 where it says “by faith Isaac blessed Jacob” with that birthright blessing. I think the idea that he [Isaac] is not doing this because this is the son he would like to give it [the birthright] to but he is being led by the Spirit to do it…. Isaac [still] gives Esau a wonderful blessing, he could have retracted [Jacob’s] blessing but he reiterates it.”

I like how Sis. Olson points out that Rebekah was only being “tricky” because she was fulfilling revelation. Jacob was the chosen one and was to receive the birthright. Isaac recognized this finally and Jacob’s birthright stuck. Esau was not someone who held his birthright as very dear and was unfaithful to it by selling it. Jacob was faithful. Even more, Rebekah was faithful to the revelations of God. The other specific part I enjoyed of the previous quote was the discussion of the animal skin that was either that given to Adam or made after its fashion (and with the same symbolism and power). This is a teaching Sis. Olson and Bro. Millet revisit.

“Joseph gets the birthright [from Jacob] and incidentally, the covering, the robe [the coat of many colors], which we don’t know what that means, what exactly that is describing but it seems to be the same covering or at least the same symbolic covering that has been so desired in previous generations. [Bro Millet now: ‘Two clarifications here. We’re talking here about not necessarily about the same garment being conveyed {from Adam} but we’re talking about a symbol, a message, a doctrinal message that’s being conveyed that the Lord is passing through the generations the rights of priesthood governance and supervision and oversight of a family to worthy people…. Personal righteousness actually supersedes birth order {in obtaining the birthright and priesthood blessings}’]. The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers in heaven…. A lot of people got confused with the symbolism of an animal skin and the actual power. Later in Zechariah chapter 13 verse 4 we read about evil men who wore a rough garment with the intent to deceive. Now if you think about Elijah the prophet who wore an animal skin garment and that’s very similar to what John the Baptist wore. The Savior said of John the Baptist [paraphrasing], ‘What did you expect to see? A man in royal raiment? They’re in the palaces but here is a prophet.’ In the Sermon on the Mount the Savior gave a warning that false prophets were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some could get caught up with the symbol being the source of power rather than Christ and the Atonement truly being the source of power; thinking you could just put on an animal skin [and] you would have that power.”

This is similar to themes Hugh Nibley wrote about in his great book Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol 12 : Ancient History). I really like the connection Camille Olson makes between the garments given to Adam and Eve, the hairy clothing that Jacob wore at his mother’s encouragement, the special clothing Joseph was given, the garments of Elijah and John, and the Savior’s cautions about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Throughout the scriptures, the Old Testament (and Book of Mormon) in particular, certain articles of clothing have often held special and symbolic meaning. The doctrines, rites, ordinances, and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a continuation of this. These garments are symbolic of priesthood power; they are symbolic of covenants; they are symbolic of the covering that Christ’s Atonement provides for us and our sins.

I enjoy all these Mormon Identity podcasts but this one had a few parts that really jumped out at me.

Memorial Day

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In honor of those who gave the last full measure of devotion – those who believed that “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet…the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” (Thomas Paine, The Crisis) – and in honor of Memorial Day, I want to share this video from Rob Gardner’s The Price of Freedom. Many fought and still fight to preserve the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America and around much of the world. On this Memorial Day take some time to ponder on the sacrifices so many made in order to preserve our freedoms.

Norman Borlaug: A Life of Service and Good Fruits

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The year 1914 was significant. The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, which event led to the start of World War I, a devastating conflict between many nations that left millions dead. 1914 was also the year the Panama Canal opened, providing quick access by boat from hemisphere to hemisphere. It was also the year that Sir Earnest Shackleton left for his expedition across Antarctica. In the U.S., 50% of the people who were born in the early 1900s could expect to live to age 60 (less than 80% would have been expected to live to age 20). In contrast, 50% of people born in 2004 can expect to live to about age 83 (source). Thus, since around 1914 we have added about 30 years to the average human lifespan. Most of this has come from reductions in infant mortality. Around the world, similar improvements in life expectancy have been made.

The world was in upheaval in 1914 but in an obscure rural town in Iowa a baby was born who would change the world. However this person largely remains unknown, at least within the United States. His name was Norman Borlaug. He died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95. He grew up and received a PhD in plant pathology. He helped create hardier grain plants that increased food production by enormous amounts throughout the world.

“In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug’s concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands “at the lowest level in human history,” despite the global population having trebled in a single century.” (Source).

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work. He is one of the main reasons for a large increase in life expectancy worldwide. He spent much of his life living in the countries he was trying to help. His family went along too. In his own way, Borlaug was like Mother Teresa but on a much broader and macro level. His helping the poor and hungry was not ostensibly religious – it was based on science and plant genetics – but he had great devotion to helping and teaching those who needed help. Norman Borlaug was a man who was blessed with much and gave much. He never sought for fame and fame, for the most part, did not seek him.

None of us will likely ever have as great an impact on this world as Norman Borlaug did but we have all been given talents – spiritual gifts – that require us to use them for the good of ourselves and others.

“Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are…. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C; 46:8-12; emphasis added).

All on the earth are given at least one spiritual gift by God. Many are given many. They should be used and expanded for the profit of all. In the New Testament we read the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-29). In this parable are three servants who are given talents (money) by their master as He leaves on a journey. The servant given five talents turned around and through wisdom and good sense turned the talents into ten. The servant given two talents turned those into four. The master was pleased with both servants. They were given talents and had increased them wisely. The third servant was given one talent. He, fearing his master, and not wanting to lose his talent, buried it; upon his master’s return the servant gave unto him his single talent. The master was not pleased. He stated that this servant should at the least have put the money in the bank, so to speak, where it might have earned some interest. Because this third servant had not been wise with his talent, it was taken from him and given to the servant with ten talents.

The moral of this parable is not based on how many talents the servants had originally; it is based on what the servants did with the talents allotted unto them. Both the servant with five and two talents had doubled their talents. They expended effort and did not hide or neglect their talents. The servant given one talent would have acted similarly had he been given ten talents instead of one. Again, it does not matter how much we have been given as it matters what we do with what we have received. That last statement is not strictly true in the broader sense (i.e., outside this parable), I believe, because those who have received more talents have a greater responsibility to wisely use and grow them. Jesus said unto Joseph Smith, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C; 82:3). The more we receive, the greater our responsibility.

To me it seems that Norman Borlaug was given much. He had the intelligence, training, creativity, and support that enabled him to help others have the food they needed to survive. He was not selfish with his knowledge. He spent the time himself training others so that they might in turn be able to train others. Borlaug helped start what is known as the Green Revolution, a revolution not of swords and guns but one of plows and tractors. It helped modernize the agricultural techniques of many areas of the world. Before where famine and starvation were rampant, Borlaug’s work helped pave the way for surplus and plenty. He is a man who was given much and gave much in return. I do not know what he was like as a person but his fruits were good.

A Sure Foundation, Part 4

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Now back to Jacob. He asks, “How is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may be the head of their corner?” (Jacob 4:17). Jacob then begins what is one of the most important, far-reaching, and deep sermons in all of scripture. He answers his question by sharing an extended allegory (originally given by a prophet named Zenos) about a grove of olive trees.

In this allegory, the most touching message is about the care of the Lord of the vineyard. When the Lord of the vineyard found out that all the fruit had become corrupt and all the olive trees wild, “It came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?” (Jacob 5:41). The Lord wept. Jesus wept. He has such great compassion and love for the vineyard – the House of Israel (and everyone else) – that He personally works in the vineyard. The Lord has servants helping him but he is out there working too. He toils and labors and sweats and cries. In the allegory the Lord of the vineyard gave His all, but the trees grew wild and the fruit had corrupted. It didn’t grow corrupt from a lack of caring. Jacob 5 is one of the most beautiful chapters in all scripture. In it we learn just how involved our chief corner stone is in our lives; how tenderly he cares for us and how anguished he feels about the corruption in the vineyard. He is not lifeless and cold and hard as other stones, He is a living stone, a warm but immovable foundation. Just as the Lord caused waters to flow from the rock for Moses and the house of Israel, a fountain of living waters flows from the living rock, which is Christ.

The Lord promises great and beautiful things to the faithful: “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones…thou shalt be far form oppression for thou shalt not fear, and from terror for it shall not come near thee” (3 Ne. 22:11-12,14). What beautiful promises from Him who is our one sure foundation!

If the Savior is our anchor and our foundation, can we move, do we have a goal? Do we attach ourselves to that anchor and sit and stagnate? Do we act like we are stuck in the tar pit of life, never moving, never going anywhere? No! We build upon the corner stone and the foundation of prophets and apostles. The earthly and spiritual house we build upon them reaches heavenward. We reach heavenward towards our eternal home. We move, we progress, we grow. The foundation the Savior provides allows us to return back into the presence of the Father. That is our goal, that is our purpose here on earth – to try to live so that we, through the grace of Christ, are able to return to live with our Father in Heaven.

Link to part 3 of this essay.

The Rich Young Man

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One scripture character I like is the rich young man who approached the Savior to learn what he could do to gain eternal life. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He [the young man] saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 19:16-19). The Savior taught two important lessons. First, that He was distinct from His Father. Second, the way to eternal life is to keep the commandments (this does not minimize the atonement of the Savior).

Here’s the young man’s reply to the Savior: “All these thing have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” He honestly answered the Savior; he was a good person. Jesus knew the young man’s heart: “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matt. 19:20-22). In Mark it reads, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest…” (Mark 10:21). The Savior saw the young man’s heart and honesty. This is someone who truly was a good person. However, he had one main problem, he loved his riches. Why is a love of riches contrary to eternal life?

Loving riches is a sign of pride. Loving riches is having a god before the One True God. It is worshiping at the haughty altars of Mammon instead of with the humble followers of Christ. If someone loves their riches, they are unable to consecrate their all to the Lord. This consecration is necessary to enter into the kingdom.

I like to believe that this young man later repented and followed the Savior. He may not have – there are many good people who are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices that are required by the Savior – but I like to be optimistic. He was a good person who let his trust in money overpower his trust in the gospel and in the Savior. I like this story because it helps me keep worldly goods in perspective. Those who love money – whether they have it or not – have a hard time fully living the gospel and making the sacrifices required of them.