A Doorkeeper in the House of God

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Many years ago two brothers lived in what is now part of Iraq. They lived near or in the city Babel. The word “Babel” means both the “gate of God” and “to confuse”. In Babel, or Babylon, was a false temple – a false gate to God. The Babylonians wanted to reach heaven but they built a false gate and worshipped false gods. Many in our day also worship false gods.

Are we building and worshiping in false temples like the Babylonians? Are we worshiping at unholy altars? Are we letting the good crowd out the best? Do we make sacrifices to gilded calves? What do we allow in our lives to take priority over the gospel and the things of God? Do we wander on side-roads when we should be traveling on God’s heavenly highway to the temple and eternal life? The prophet Isaiah wrote of God’s highway, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.”((Isaiah 35:8))

This highway leads through the deserts: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” ((Isaiah 40:3)); it leads to the exalted heights: “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.”((Isaiah 49:11)) If we travel on God’s exalted roads, we are in the path to peace; we are on a temple road, a road for the clean and holy. Those who wander on strange roads are on the way to false temples and false gods.

Our worshiping in false temples could range from shirking church responsibilities to spending too much time pursuing work or recreation (or even family) such that other necessary activities are left undone. Our worship of false gods could range from obsessively following the latest trends, technologies, or celebrities to dishonoring the Sabbath day. All that is good is not exalting and too much of a good thing might hinder our salvation. We don’t have to focus only on the gospel and family – we can and should spend time doing other things – but if our devotion to these activities becomes our religion we are like the Babylonians.

Elder Oaks taught the importance of prioritizing in our lives: “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all. Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best.”((Ensign, Nov. 2007))

Many things, people, and causes clamor for our attention. We can run around exhibiting a kind of attentional disorder trying to do everything (or conversely, doing too little or focusing on too narrow a thing) or we can wisely use and improve our time by choosing to spend the most effort on the best things. Our Savior Jesus Christ and our families come first. Anything that takes away from the centrality of God and a Christ-centered family is a false god.

So the Babylonians were building and worshiping their false temple – the great tower of Babel. Because of wickedness, this became a time of great confusion and war of words. Jared and his younger brother, their families, and friends left the confusion – they left the false gate to God – to find sanctuary elsewhere. The Lord led them to a new land of promise and covenant. To get to this new land, they first needed to cross an ocean. To cross the ocean they needed to build vessels. The Lord taught the Jaredites how to build the barges but the Jaredites quickly realized they would be in darkness for much of the crossing. Because the brother of Jared was the spokesman, he went and spoke with the Lord to ask about light during the journey. The Lord provided clear directions for the building of the vessels but when the question of light came up the interaction was different.

“And [the brother of Jared] cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness? And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire….And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” ((Ether 2:22-25))

I love this interaction. The Lord asked the brother of Jared: “What will ye that I should do?” I love the humility of our Savior. Think about it; the creator of the earth asked the brother of Jared, “What do you want me to do?” He was willing to do what the brother of Jared decided. To provide some guidance, He pointed out some of the challenges of lighting a storm-tossed vessel and sent the brother of Jared on his way to figure out a solution.

“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord.”((Ether 3:1))

The brother of Jared ascended the mountain to craft stones and then speak with the Lord high on the mountain top.

He prayed: “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear…. And…behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.”((Ether 3:4-6,13))

So great was the faith of the brother of Jared that the veil had no power to hide the Lord from him. The brother of Jared did not just converse with the Lord while separated by a veil, he was brought directly into the presence of the Lord. The brother of Jared worked to make the stones but the Lord filled them with light just as he filled the brother of Jared with light.

How can we apply this story to our lives? The scriptures are most useful when they result in a mighty change of heart. If we only read the words but don’t heed the words, we fall far short of what we can and should be. In the same chapter of James that Joseph Smith read before deciding to pray in a quiet grove of trees we read: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”((James 1:22))

Just like the brother of Jared, as we act and do good things Jesus Christ fills us with light. As we do good things our souls are filled with lighted stones and we become more like Jesus Christ. Each stone of light in our soul softens our stony heart and Jesus Christ blesses us with a new heart of flesh.

The prophet Ezekiel testified with the words of the Savior: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”((Ezekiel 36:25-28))

These are promises made to all who follow the Lord. We can be cleansed and blessed with a soft heart. This new soft heart comes as we are filled with the Spirit of God.

Let’s return to the brother of Jared. His [the brother of Jared’s] experience on the mountain was a temple experience. The brother of Jared entered into the Savior’s presence through the true gate of faith and diligence. That is what temples are for – helping the children of God – helping us – return to God’s presence.

Regularly performing temple work is important because it is the process whereby we and others can return to live with our Eternal Father. In temples we partake of saving ordinances without which we cannot return to live with God. Because of this, building and attending temples are among the most important things we can do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1834 the saints were building the Kirtland Temple but the temple was in serious trouble. The Saints soon needed to pay the mortgage loan on the temple lot but they did not have enough money to repay the loan. Faced with this problem, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other church leaders gathered in prayer and asked the Lord to send someone or some people who had money to save the temple. 200 miles from the birthplace of the Restoration lived the man who was the answer to prayer. John joined the Church in 1832. He was a wealthy and generous man. One night he had a dream that he was urgently needed in Kirtland, Ohio. Within two weeks, John sold his land, homes, hotel, and everything else he could and prepared to leave. On Christmas Day, John and his family left their mansion in New York in search of a mansion in heaven. John and his family headed west to the home of the saints. John arrived in January after 500 miles and a month of travel; he found the prophet (whom he had not previously met) and quickly discovered why he was needed in Kirtland. John loaned Joseph and the Church the money needed to pay the mortgage. Without John’s money, the loan would have defaulted and the temple land would have been repossessed. Without John Tanner’s consecration, the Kirtland Temple would not have been completed.((If John Tanner did not have the faith and money, the Lord would have provided someone else. I share this experience to encourage each of us to more faithfully act on inspiration.))

From the days of Adam, temples have always been important to the followers of God. In the ancient world, temples were often at the center of city life. This also is how some modern cities are designed, including Salt Lake City. Wherever the saints of God lived, they built temples. Adam built an altar upon which he offered sacrifices. This was the first temple. Many years later, the Lord commanded Moses to build a tabernacle – a portable temple. Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem that was alternately destroyed and rebuilt over the years. Shortly after Nephi and his family reached the Promised Land, they built a temple. Following the Restoration, the prophet Joseph was commanded to start building temples. The saints built one in Kirtland, Ohio. The saints fled Ohio because of persecutions – leaving behind the precious house of the Lord. They dedicated land in Missouri for a temple. That structure has not yet been built.

Once in Nauvoo, the Saints built a temple, finishing it with a trowel in one hand and a wagon in the other as they fled the country to head to the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young dedicated the Nauvoo Temple before it was fully completed so at least portion of the Saints could receive their temple blessings before they had to cross the plains. I’m sure those blessings gave courage and strength to many who faced the grueling journey ahead. The Prophet Joseph stressed the importance of temples: “The main object [of gathering the Jews, or the people of God, in any age of the world] was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”((as cited in R. Millet, The Power of the Word, p.218))

The prophet Isaiah saw in vision latter-day temples and the church members who attend them: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”((2 Ne. 12:2-3)) One of the first things President Brigham Young did upon entering the Salt Lake Valley was designate the land for the future Salt Lake Temple – the mountain of the Lord’s house that is built in the top of the mountains. Isaiah saw that temple in vision as he prophesied of the last days.

In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to go to the temple to hear the words of the Lord. This is what King Benjamin asked of his people: “And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father [King Benjamin] had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.”((Mosiah 1:18)) Mosiah called the people to come to the temple to hear the words of the prophet. We should also go to the temple and participate in the work of salvation.

This call to the temple is a call to learn the ways of God and to walk in the paths of the Lord. It is a call to one and all to visit the house of God as individuals and as families in order to receive the blessings of time and eternity. A temple is literally the House of the Lord. It is the place where ordinances necessary for exaltation are performed. Temple ordinances weld generation to generation, husband to wife, mother to daughter, and sister to brother.

We learn further of the importance of the temple in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.”((D&C 124:39-41))

What we learn from this scripture is that the temple is a place of revelation. Within those walls we can know things that have been hidden from “before the foundation of the world.”

The temple is a place of covenant – it is a house of holiness. To be holy means to be dedicated, set apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.”((Zechariah 14:20-21)) Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes would be consecrated for the work of the Lord.

Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means and lives to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord. John, whose money saved the Kirtland Temple, gave almost everything he owned to the Church without ever being repaid. Elder Maxwell taught, “Consecration is the only surrender which is also a victory. It brings release from the raucous, overpopulated cell block of selfishness and emancipation from the dark prison of pride.”((Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 66)) Consecration is holiness.

Just as the Lord inspired John Tanner to go and save the temple, we should emulate his example and go to the temple, not to save it but to be saved and help save others. The temple not only will bless our lives but also the lives of those around us – most importantly our family for generations to come. The temple is a holy place that has eternal significance and provides eternal blessings. Let us follow the admonition of Isaiah by gathering all who will be gathered and beckon unto them: “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.”

To paraphrase Boyd K. Packer: “What happens if we don’t [attend the temple]? Nothing happens. We miss everything. We live far below our privileges.”((Boyd K. Packer as quoted by Sander Larson and modified by me))

Moroni pleaded with us: “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.”((Ether 12:41)) I also urge you to seek Jesus. We more fully seek Jesus by attending the temple regularly.

In closing I echo the words of the Psalmist: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”((Psalms 84:10)) Serving in the temple is a greater honor than anything the world can give. That we might leave the tents of wickedness and enter the house of God is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

An LDS Perspective on Death

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Not very long ago, a family I know lost their young son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. There is a touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor), the father of the murderer confronts his neighbor, the father of the slain. During this difficult encounter the umfundisi admits to his neighbor “it was my son that killed your son.” After this revelation, both men talk for a brief time. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi’s church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen – years ago – his young son ride by the church.

“Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do…. I remember, umnumzana [said the umfundisi]. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.”

That last line in that touching encounter reminds me of Evan – there was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. Evan’s brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life – waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. This poem is the thoughts of a mother who lost a child. I will take the liberty of making minor edits so that it fits more with Evan’s death and all children who are lost so young.

“The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.

For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven’s hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.

[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother’s touch.”

As a parent of young children, I was especially touched by the experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family went through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. [This essay was originally written in 2009; since that time my family experienced the loss of a niece, a particularly difficult event, and I’ve lost other friends and acquaintances to death; most of them have been young, about my own age]. All deaths of friends or family members can be trying experiences. I’d like to share a few experiences with death I’ve had over the years and some of the knowledge and comfort I gained through those times. In all these experiences, other people suffered much more than I did; others had more poignant pains and more severe suffering but each of these experiences also affected me deeply.

When I was 15, the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending three weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent three weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable and homesick. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death; I was upset by it and sad but I didn’t cry much. I don’t know why, I’m normally emotional about such things (and more so the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I cannot say I was a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me) so we were around each other a lot. He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience and one of the most influential lesson’s I’ve ever had at church.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening; then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of the difficulty at the time. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born. In 2008, within one and one-half months of each other, my other three grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life – it happens to all – but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person’s life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Following the death of my granny but before her husband – my grandpa – died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That’s my purpose in posting this series about lessons I’ve learned from death – to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel. My aunts and uncles were there too – it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members – she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn’t stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner’s hand (he just appeared by her side – Tanner is my cousin who died in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering…. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior’s atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: “And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

The great prophet Enoch had a vision that spanned the ages of the earth. He saw many people in many times. He saw the great wickedness upon the face of the earth. He saw the flood in the time of Noah wipe out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Enoch’s response to this vision was similar to many of our responses to death. “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” (Moses 7:44-45). The blood of the Lamb that was slain sanctifies us, which sanctification is not just a purification of our sins but also a change in our very beings. Sorrow is replaced with exultation.

Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in the Liberty Jail pleaded, “O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?… Remember thy suffering saints, O our God: and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1,6). In reply the Lord comforted Joseph: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). What comfort comes from Him who descended below all and rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death! The prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma experienced the loss of multiple children. Surely their grief was intense as they buried their little children amid the turmoil of the Restoration. Joseph said, “The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on the earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-197).

Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt…. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome…. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: “The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” Our tears of sorrow will – sooner or later – turn to tears of joy. We don’t always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear – and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child – but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them – all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.” (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior’s original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That’s the great blessing of the gospel – we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is “the great work…done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (D&C 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances – they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord – but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: “I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). That’s a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope” (Source).

As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: “‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid…. Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.” (Source).

That’s another wondrous blessing of the gospel – we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly – some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord bear testimony of the comforts God provides to His children. As he was suffering in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need.” (Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).

Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are seen; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another’s death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

“For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).

The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That’s one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Note: This is a repost and slight update of an essay I previous posted in separate parts on my blog. Links to the original posts are found in this post I wrote in reflection on the death of my niece.

Hastening the Work of Salvation: High Council

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Members of the High Council have the responsibility to help strengthen and train leaders and members of the Elders quorum and High Priest group in the ward or branch in which they are assigned. Part of this responsibility lies in helping hasten the work of salvation by encouraging those who bear the priesthood to strengthen their brethren, particularly those who have left the gospel fold or become casual in their attendance and testimonies. The Church has a series of videos focused on how various church leaders play a role in hastening the work of salvation. Here is a brief video about the role that high councilors play.

Here’s the link to the video (I’d embed it but it kept auto-playing and until that is fixed, I’ll just link to the video).

The Church also has a short document describing the responsibilities high councilors over missionary work in a stake have regarding hastening the work of salvation. This is found here (as a PDF): http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/english/wwlt/hasten/hastening-the-work-high-councilor-eng.pdf?lang=eng

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

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One eternal principle is that nothing is free. “But wait!” you say, “What about 2 Nephi chapter 2 verse 4?”

“And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.” (2 Ne. 2:4).

You say, “There, it says that salvation is free! You’re wrong about no free lunches. In fact, we are specifically told about free lunches a few chapters later.”

“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).

“So fix the title of your post already Jared!”

Interesting, those are beautiful scriptures telling of the love of God and Jesus Christ. We can come and partake and be blessed with salvation. I will address both verses.

“The way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.” Who prepared the way? The way was prepared by our Father and then presented by Jehovah in the council in Heaven. Adam and Eve fell that humankind might be. They fell as part of the plan for us to return to live with God. But in order for them to fall, they had to choose to come to earth. We all had – and did! – to make the choice to come to earth. Those who did not make that choice in support of the Father were cursed with eternal damnation, they were stopped in their progression and cast out of Heaven, having rejected the Father and His Son. Thus, in order to receive this gift of salvation, which is termed “free”, we had to take sides in a war. Those who did not keep this first estate (Abraham 3:26) cannot receive this free gift. So while salvation is free, there was a price paid in a premortal world. More on this theme after an intermediary paragraph.

Salvation is free? For whom? Was salvation free for Christ? He paid a heavy price so that we might have salvation. Christ paid the ransom fee for us. We might not be able to pay that fee ourselves but just because Someone else paid it does not make it free.

In 2 Ne. 9:50 it says “Come…come to the waters…come buy and eat…come buy…without money and without price.” The blessings Christ offers do not require a price of money but they require our actions – we must come, buy, and eat. That requires our faith, devotion, diligence, and time. We must pay the price Christ requires, which is a broken heart and contrite spirit (see D&C 20:37). That is a price many people are not willing to pay (see D&C 121:34-35).

What all this means is that grace is not free. Christ paid with His life, death, and life so that we might have access to grace. While we might be undeserving of many of our blessings, the cost of those blessings is borne ultimately by God. In order to fully partake of grace and salvation, we must consecrate all we have. The first consecration came in our decision to come to earth. While here, those who reach the age of accountability, must make another consecration, one that is both weighty, lifting, and freeing.

Thus, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Note: This post was inspired by my 7 year old daughter. Yesterday we were talking about a Christmas tree our family had been given. She said, “Nothing really is free because you might have to drive somewhere [to pick up something] and you have to buy gas; you also have to pay taxes for the roads.”

The Wounded Christ

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This brief and beautiful message for today comes from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“The wounds in [Christ’s] hands, feet, and side are signs that in mortality painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect, signs that tribulation is not evidence that God does not love us. It is a significant and hopeful fact that it is the wounded Christ who comes to our rescue. He who bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love, the emblems of humility and forgiveness is the Captain of our Soul. That evidence of pain in mortality is undoubtedly intended to give courage to others who are also hurt and wounded by life, perhaps even in the house of their friends.” (Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, Deseret Book Company, 1997, p. 259)

Mormons and Baptisms for the Dead

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Much has been made recently in the news about how some names of Holocaust victims were submitted to the temple work system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church released a press release about the matter. In the release the Church stated,

“The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions, we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

In the 1990s the Church made it a rule that the names of Holocaust victims could not be submitted to the temple for proxy ordinances to be performed for them. This was in response to Jewish leaders who found the practice offensive. The only condition under which the names could be submitted is if a direct descendent submits them her or himself. So since the mid 1990s, it has been against church policy for church members to submit Holocaust victim names. The Church has safeguards in place and it takes”willful violation” and “a good deal of deception and manipulation” to get around those safeguards. The Church does not look kindly upon those breaking the rules in this matter.

I’m going to offer my perspective on the matter of proxy baptisms (and other ordinances) for those who have died. Some outside the Church find the work offensive, others do not care either way (without any statistical evidence I’d guess that most people do not care about baptisms for the dead). There are varying reasons for taking offense at the actions but I will only cover the doctrine of baptisms for the dead.

First, proxy ordinances for the deceased is not a new creation of the LDS Church. It is Biblical (“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” 1 Cor. 15:29) but the LDS Church does not rely completely on written scripture, we believe in modern day revelation with living prophets who speak God’s words, just as prophets did anciently. Living prophets have also taught of the importance of proxy work for the deceased (e.g., this talk by an apostle of Jesus Christ).

Why is this work important? We believe that in order for people to return to live with God again, they must receive certain necessary ordinances, including baptism and confirmation. Baptisms in the LDS Church occur when individuals are at least 8 years old, when they are old enough to choose for themselves (particularly choosing right from wrong) and start to understand the baptism. We believe that all people must receive this ordinance. So what happens to all those who died without the opportunity? Are they forever damned? No! God provides a way for them to have that work done on their behalf. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can attend LDS temples and do this work on behalf of those who have died. Proxy work is not a new concept – ancient Jews believed and practiced it (the law of Moses includes many proxy ordinances) and ancient Christians did as well. Jesus Christ offered the greatest of all proxy work – that of the Atonement for all humankind. He did what we could not do for ourselves – overcome sin and death. In a like manner but on a much lesser scale, we have the opportunity to help those who cannot  perform this work themselves – those who are dead.

To truly understand LDS baptisms for the dead, it is necessary to understand LDS theology regarding the purpose of life, what happens after we die, and our relationship to God. That’s more than I can cover in this post but suffice it to say that a portion of what people might find offensive about these baptisms for the dead is based upon misinformation about the purpose of the work. I’m not saying that people are only offended because they misunderstand, I’m saying that there is a lot of contextual doctrine that needs to be understood before the reason and goals of these proxy ordinances for the dead can be understood.

We believe that when people die, they enter a period of rest and learning and yes, even suffering. Some people will suffer for the wrongs they did, others will just have to learn more, and still others will be involved in teaching those who need more knowledge to continue to progress. What is important though is that agency – the ability to choose right from wrong – is never taken away. After we die, we are still the same people, just without physical bodies at the time and with a little more knowledge than we had while mortal on earth. Once a baptism is performed for someone who is dead, it does not make them Mormon or even Christian. If that person accepts the work then they can become part of God’s Kingdom but again, the choice is never made for him or her – it is an individual’s responsibility to accept or reject Christ.

So let’s say that Ms. Jane Brown died in 1854 at the age of 16. Her physical body was buried and her spirit went to the Spirit World (which is here on earth) to be with family members and friends. Jane was never baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ by one holding God’s Priesthood; she had been baptized as a child but it was not done with God’s authority (that does not mean it was meaningless, just not valid – that’s a big distinction). We believe that God’s priesthood – the authority and power to act in His name and perform the necessary ordinances and rituals – is found only within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Down the road, one of her relatives (let’s say a great-great-great niece) is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wants to offer her the same opportunities that she has; so, she performs work in an LDS Temple for and on behalf of Jane.

The work is done – baptism, confirmation, sealing to parents (assuming their work was done as well) – but it is up to Jane to accept it or not. Those who are deceased are never forced to accept the work performed on behalf of them. If they do accept the work, they will have done what is necessary – exercised faith in Jesus Christ and repented. This is not much different than how it works in this life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive, not exclusive. Christ beckons all to come unto Him. He does not want to save just those who lived in times or places where His gospel was taught, He wants to save all who accept that salvation. Baptism (in life or by proxy in death) by those with God’s authority is an essential step in returning to God again. This is why baptisms for the dead are performed – to offer all the opportunity to return to live with God again.

There are more reasons for baptism for the dead. There is a lot more I could write. I’m not trying to justify the practice to those who are offended, I’m simply offering theological background to the practice. We Mormons view it as a great act of love to perform this ordinance for others; it goes beyond that as well, we view it as something that has to be done. It is ideally done for our own ancestors but we are asked to help perform the work for others. When people submit names to the temple to have work performed for them, those submitted names should be those of their ancestors, generally not random people to whom they are unrelated. At some point in the future, baptisms will have to be performed for everyone who ever lived on earth but much of this work probably will not be done until the Millennium, a time when Christ has returned to earth to rule and reign.

A lot of the problems come from misinformation and misunderstandings by people on both sides of the issue (i.e., within the church and without the church). Both sides would do well to have increased communication and information about each other’s concerns and practices.

Ephesians 2

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Chapter 2 in Ephesians is full of powerful doctrine. There is more than I can cover without turning this post into a casserole of Utah proportions (this is simply a reference to the popularity of casseroles in Utah – they are usually simple to prepare and can feed a lot of people, so they are useful for church functions).

Paul (we assume Paul wrote this epistle) talks about Christ’s role as Reconciler. He redeems us from our fallen state: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off were made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13). When we are fallen or when we are not part of Christ’s covenant people (i.e., Gentiles), we are strangers. We are separated from the flock. Christ’s blood brings us near, it removes the title of stranger, adding the title of fellow citizen with the saints: “Now therefor ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19).

That is an important thing to keep in mind – that we (members of the Church) are of the household of God. Who are household members? They are family (this is one reason why in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we call each other “brother” and “sister” {we are also all spirit brothers and sisters}). So we, through the blood of Christ, become sons and daughters of God. We all are spiritually but through sin – none of us is perfect – we suffer spiritual death. Christ’s Atonement gives us life as we repent, which is how we accept His redemption. Repentance is more than just a verbal and spiritual acknowledgment, it involves real contrition; it also involves ordinances – baptism and confirmation and the sacrament. Through Christ’s Atonement we can be adopted back into God’s family. What does it mean to be a son or daughter? It means that we have the potential of the parent.

Now we get to another interesting verse. Those who are saved by Christ, who are now fellow citizens with the saints (meaning those who have joined Christ’s church)  “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:20-21). So those in Christ’s church (again, this is anyone who is redeemed – which is a process, it’s not a one-time event – by the blood of Christ) must be built upon a foundation of the apostles and prophets. Some might believe that Christ gave us the original apostles and they were enough, however, Judas Iscariot was replaced and Saul/Paul was later called as an apostle so clearly there was a pattern established to have new apostles called when needed. Paul also stated: “And he [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13). These are things that have not happened yet – a unity of the faith; knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man. We still have a lot of work to do until we reach those goals. What this means is that apostles, prophets, evangelists (called Patriarchs in the LDS Church), pastors (we in the LDS Church use the term “Bishop” but the role is the same), and teachers all should be part of Christ’s church. So our foundation as members of Christ’s household is upon prophets and apostles. We need them to guide us and to help perfect the saints and perform the work of the ministry. They are our sure foundation with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone. Christ is the chief prophet and apostle; He is more than prophet and apostle, of course, but those callings are His to bestow on others.

Thus, Christ’s church has to have prophets and apostles. His church is the “building fitly framed” in which the saints dwell (in this case Christ’s church is not restricted to an earthly institution, it includes His organization in Heaven. So when we as a church – when we as members of the church – are truly saved by Christ’s blood, we can become sanctified as a holy temple in the Lord. This sanctification is the process that truly lifts us to God as His sons and daughters. This process is only possible through Christ’s redeeming blood.

The Great Heresy

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One of the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that seems to offend the most people is one of the most amazing doctrines of the LDS Church. While there is plenty of Biblical support for the doctrine, it is most clear in the teachings of modern-day prophets. But first, let me tell a parable.

Many years ago there lived two kings. Both were goodly kings but both had differing styles of ruling. The first king had a large family and was growing old. Before he died he wanted to pass on his kingdom. His oldest son was a wise and just man who was ever faithful to the commands of his father. He was the obvious choice to inherit the kingdom. The king, however, loved all his children and wanted all to give them the same opportunities that the oldest son had. So the old king gathered his children together and proposed a plan. He told his children that if each of them could demonstrate their loyalty to him, like the oldest son had, then they each would inherit a kingdom. “I will give you everything that I have. I will even give unto you my title,” he told them. “We will expand the kingdom and give each of you a part equal to mine. There is plenty of space outside the bounds of my kingdom, enough space to support a kingdom for each of you. Because I love all of you, my sons and daughters, I want you to become like I am.” Some of the children made poor choices, lost their kingdoms, and were cast out; others were faithful and inherited their kingdoms. To this loving king, each child was precious and each could inherit what he had and become like him.

The second king was also a goodly man. He grew old and wanted to pass on his kingdom. However, he decreed that only the eldest child could inherit what he had. He gathered his children together and said, “I know I have called you my sons and daughters; I know that each of you is born in my image. However, only the eldest will inherit what I have. None of you will have what I have; you will be servants to me and to your elder brother. From henceforth you will no longer be sons and daughters; you will all be servants, at least those of you who are faithful to my decrees. Those who do not what I ask will be cast out.”

Is one of these kings more deserving of love? Is it really loving for the second king to keep his children as servants instead of heirs? Are they really their children if they cannot become like him? Now let’s suppose that the king is immortal but still wants to bless his children. The first will allow his children to become like him, the second will not. Which king then, is really good?

As a father I want my children to grow up and have all the opportunities that I had (and more!). Their growth and success will in no way diminish mine. My children are in my image (“my” being inclusive of my wife). They can grow up and become like I am.

If I plant an acorn and nurture it, I expect it to grow into an oak tree. A kitten will grow into a cat, it will not become an okapi or an emu. We are children of God and can grow up and become like Him. We don’t grow up into something else. Our glory will not be like God’s if we are unfaithful, but we at least will be co-eternal with Him. If we are faithful, we have been promised that we can become like Christ, and thus like our Heavenly Father.

This is a doctrine that receives a lot of animosity from many of those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why is this? Before I answer that, let’s look at the doctrine a little more closely as found in the scriptures.

There is no shortage of scripture verses both ancient and modern that establish that God is the Father of our spirits. I recognize that LDS doctrine differs from most other churches’ doctrines in the understanding of the nature of our spirits but  that’s only part of this broader doctrine. If God is the Father of our spirits, then we are His children. Father is not used metaphorically. Why would so many of the authors of the scriptures refer to God as our Father if they really did not mean it? I know that was an appeal to the majority fallacy (i.e., X number of people believe this so it must be true) but why, if we are not really God’s children, why is not He referred solely as Creator or Master or Potter or Shaper or Maker or something like that? Why is there the touching familial title of “Father”? Are we nothing more than God’s creations, made just to worship Him? Or, are we really His children with part of Him in us?

Now on to the scriptures.

Deuteronomy 14:1: “Ye are the children of the Lord your God”

Psalm 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

Hosea 1:10: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.”

Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Acts 17:29: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”

Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

I want to comment on the verse in Romans. Could it be any more clear? “We are the children of God.” What does this mean? “If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” This is a simple syllogism.

All humankind are children of God.

All children of God are His heirs.

Therefore, all humankind are heirs of God.

There is a condition set on being an heir, namely, faithfulness to God (“suffer with [Christ]”) but it doesn’t change the simple logic and truth. What is an heir? It is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person’s death” (Source). In the case of God, who cannot die, an heir is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another upon the bestowal of the property or rank at a set time.” As far as I can tell an heir has always meant that. Further, that particular verse of the New Testament is translated virtually identically across all major, reliable, Biblical translations; “heirs” is always used. There is no other word that describes what is meant. So right there we are told that we can inherit what Christ inherited. Christ is God’s Son and is God; if we can become like Christ, the logical implication is obvious. There is no usurping God’s power and authority, it is all divine investiture of His power and authority.

So, either the authors of the scriptures mean what they wrote, or they didn’t. If we actually are not God’s children, then why are we called His children? If we cannot inherit (notice – not usurp, just inherit; if you have infinity and give away infinity, you still have infinity), then why are we called heirs?

I know that some might argue that it’s not supposed to make sense because our ways are not God’s ways but that is the influence of Greek philosophy into the interpretation of Christian doctrine. We can know God, it was the Greeks who argued otherwise. This belief then crept into Christianity after the death of Christ’s original apostles. We can all know God, just as Christ pleaded in John 17.

So what is the great LDS heresy? We believe that we are spirit children of God and can become like Christ, and thus like our Father. We believe that through Christ’s Atonement we can be purified and then blessed with glory and power like unto Christ’s. We believe that it is God’s nature to bless His children so. For those who still balk at this, let me ask a question, “Does God not have the power to give us power and authority similar to His?” In other words, is God able to allow us to inherit what He has; does He have that power? If not, then is God not all powerful? Which God is more loving, one who makes creatures (us) to worship Him forever, or one who has children who can grow up through Christ’s Atonement and become like Him?

We are God’s children; he loves us and wants us to return to Him. He wants us to live worthily and partake of Christ’s Atonement and become joint heirs with Christ. Is this a great heresy? If it is, it’s one that prophets have taught from Biblical to modern times. Really the great heresy is not that LDS Church doctrine declares the theomorphic nature of humankind but that members of the LDS Church actually believe the doctrines contained in the scriptures.

Hugh Nibley on Law

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While reading Hugh Nibley’s Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, I came across this insightful quote (of course, almost everything he wrote was insightful):

Our word law comes from lag, the old Scandinavian, Norse word…. Well, the law is the guidance, and you have to have it to get there. It’s not the goal – it’s the way that gets you there. It’s like the iron rod; you cling to the iron rod. We love iron rods, and think is we have an iron rod we already have it made. We just keep the iron rod, and that’s our goal. The iron rod is just to get you to the temple. That is not supposed to be the temple. It’s not supposed to be the object. You don’t stick to the law all the time.

We have the Ten Commandments, the laws of Moses. Ah, yes, there is the law as far as this goes. But it is written for barbarians, as Paul tells us…. In chapter 2 [of Hebrews] here, it says the law is going to get your there. Now what are the Ten Commandments? Do you have to be told every day that you shouldn’t kill? That you shouldn’t lie? That you shouldn’t commit adultery? That you shouldn’t bear false witness? Do you have to be reminded of that? No, the time comes, the Lord says, when ‘the law is written in their hearts.’ Only a savage or a barbarian would have to be told over and over, ‘Now, you mustn’t kill anybody today.’ But we still have to be reminded. We think if we’ve kept the law, then we are saved – that’s all there is to it. But that’s not it at all. That’s where it begins. This is the least requirement. It starts out with the Word of Wisdom, for example. Do we have to tell people every day, ‘Well, don’t go out and get drunk’? We don’t have to be told that. Even with smoking now, people are warned; we don’t have to go to the Word of Wisdom for that. Most of you [BYU students] would never think of doing those things. It wouldn’t occur to you because, as it says when it is given to us in Doctrine and Covenants 89, this is adapted to the weakest of all Saints; this is the lowest requirement. This is the mere beginning – the least thing that can be expected of you. We start with the Word of Wisdom. It’s the same thing with tithing.” (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, Covenant Communications, 2004, p.208).

What Hugh Nibley said reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures: “For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:60). When we are baptized we keep the commandment. When we follow the commandments, when we keep the law, we are simply doing just that – keeping the commandments and the law. The laws are not saving – they are not the goal, they merely help us get to our goal, which is “the temple” as Hugh Nibley said; I would like add that it is really the temple in heaven that is our goal (see Isaiah 6:1 – “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”).

Even the Holy Ghost is not enough; yes, we are justified by His presence, we are absolved from guilt, but that is not enough. If keeping the commandments and feeling the Spirit are not enough for salvation, what is? The blood of the sacrificial Lamb; the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It is only through Him that we are saved. The law does not save us, it simply provides a path; Jesus is the Way. He is the only way to salvation and exaltation. The point Hugh Nibley made is that laws do not save us, Jesus does.

The Innocence of a Child – Part 1

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“Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy” (Moroni 8:19).

Anyone who gazes lovingly at an infant sees a spark of divinity. Not all realize what they see but most recognize the innocence and goodness of infants. Some, however, do not fully understand the power of the Atonement (not that any of us “fully” do or will in this life!) and so do not understand that little children are declared innocent through the blood of the Lamb. They are clean and pure before God and absolved as we are all of Adam’s transgression. Little children receive the pure mercies of God. For those of us who are older, we receive the conditional mercies of God. Some parts of the Lord’s grace and mercy are unconditional such as salvation from death. On the other hand, even that is conditional because we had to keep our first estates and choose to follow God’s plan of salvation and come here to earth. God’s mercy is also conditional because it is based on the goodness of the Savior’s life. In other words, the mercy of the atonement was conditional on the Savior offering himself as the unblemished sacrificial lamb.

There stands a great balance in heaven. When our lives are placed in the scale to each of us it is said, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). With that we are subject to the demands of justice. Each of us is weighed down with the chains of justice. Justice is not always negative; in fact, justice is what allows us eternal freedom and progression. However, none of us as imperfect humanity can satisfy the demands of justice. We all fall short. We all incur great debt, a debt that none of us can repay. We are all like the servant who owed his master the king 10,000 talents (Matt. 18:23-35). That is an enormous sum none of us can repay. As merciful as God is, He cannot deny justice. Justice is a law that cannot be broken. The debt must be repaid.

There is One who is willing to pay the price of our sins. He not only is willing but also able to pay the debt that hangs in the balance. He is able to pay the price for all of us; He can pay for all of our debts combined, and then some. In this way is the debt satisfied. He fulfills the law of mercy while paying the debt due justice. Jesus Christ was the only One who could pay the price of sin and death. He only could unlock the way to Heaven to let us in. Cecil Alexander wrote of Jesus’ sacrifice for us:

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do. (Source).