Lessons from Life – Part 3 – Rappelling

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As I was growing up, my family went rappelling fairly often. My father had spent a lot of time climbing when younger and had developed a great love of rappelling. It was not long after I first tried it that I loved it. I remember the first time I went rappelling. I was about 8 years old. The rock we went down was not large – maybe 20 feet tall – but to an eight year old, it was daunting. I was able to make it down under the reassurances of my father and family. It wasn’t long before I went down without hesitation. There is something thrilling about bouncing down a cliff at a high speed. There were times that I would jump down 20-30 feet in a single bound, relying on the friction between the rope, my hand (when I planned on going down that quickly I wore a leather glove), and the figure-8 (a metal device that the rope slides around) to keep me from falling to quickly. I even tried going down head-first, which is not recommended if you have a serious fear of heights. [Image by Rescue Dog].

Rappelling is a dangerous activity. Yet, if proper safety measures are taken, it can be quite safe. When we went rappelling, my father made sure we were safe. Whenever possible, he would tie the rope(s) to two anchor points so that if one failed, there would be backup. We used to tie our own harnesses using nylon straps but we preferred to use manufactured harnesses. All harnesses were checked and re-checked to make sure they were on properly. We would use two carabiners to connect to the figure-8 (that the rope went around). These carabiners were set so the gates were on opposite sides. Whenever possible we would use at least one carabiner with a locking gate. As an added measure of safety, we would have someone at the bottom of the cliff who belayed. Belaying is a climbing term to describe the controlling of a rope. If someone were to slip down the cliff out of control, the person belaying at the bottom could pull the rope out away from the cliff and stop the person on the rope. They can also help guide the person rappelling down the cliff. Rappelling is safest when there is a person at the top guiding the person on their journey down the rope as well as someone belaying at the bottom.

Over time rappelling ropes wear thin. The tough outer layer of the rope can weaken with the friction of the people going down the rope as well as when it rubs against the rocks. Rappelling ropes are incredibly strong – they can hold thousands of pounds of weight and force. However, they become unsafe if their integrity is compromised.

As is rappelling, so is life. Life can be and is very dangerous but it can be a lot of fun. However, to survive – physically and spiritually – we need to establish safety guidelines and procedures. We need to establish them early and follow them. Others can guide us and help us remain safe as well. We have parents and prophets who can teach us correct principles. We can have safety in our personal lives, our homes, and within the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can find safety within Zion, the spiritual place where the pure in heart dwell and the physical city where the saints of God will eventually live.

“And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.” (D&C; 45: 66-68).

As we anchor ourselves to the rock of Christ and follow the prophets and scriptures as our safety guides, we will be safe even as we experience some of the harrowing heights and even the thrills of life.

The Witness of the Book of Mormon, Part 1

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There are three recent General Conference talks that relate to this essay. All have to do with the Bible and Latter-day Saint beliefs about scripture. This is an important doctrine because unlike most other Christian religions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in modern and ongoing revelation to prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In April 2008 Elder Holland gave a talk, “My Words…Never Cease” about ongoing revelation. In it he also gave a brief history of the Bible. In October 2007 Elder Nelson spoke on Scriptural Witnesses. In April 2007 Elder Ballard spoke about The Miracle of the Holy Bible.

I’ll start with a quote from Elder Holland.

For centuries after John produced his writing [Revelation], the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after A.D. 1000.2

The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be,3 then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease.”4

The Bible did not generally exist in the form it has today until over a thousand years after the Savior’s life (although there are very rare copies of the Bible from the 4th century that are similar to what we have today; the Codex Sinaiticus is one example). “The Hebrew Bible-the Old Testament-as Jesus knew it, consisted of from twelve to twenty such scrolls of different sizes. They were never united into what we could call one ‘book’ until the invention of printing made that possible, in the fifteenth century” (Edgar Goodspeed, How Came the Bible?, p.10 as cited by Robert Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet, p.5). Committees of scholars and Church leaders decided on what they believed to be the most authoritative and authentic books to include in the Bible. However, the books of the New Testament that are accepted into the modern canon were generally denoted as canonical by about 400 AD (Millet, Selected Writings, p.9).

Lessons from Death, Part 9

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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).

Link to part 8 of this essay.

Lessons from David – Part 2

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Solomon was a great prophet and king, one of the greatest. He was wise and just. The Lord appeared to him multiple times (e.g., 1 Kings 9:2). Solomon was wealthy and well-respected by all. However, Solomon “loved many strange [non-covenant] women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had many wives and concubines. In his old age “his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, and it became as the heart of David his father” (JST 1 Kings 11:3-4). David’s heart was not perfect either but he was repentant, or at least came across as repentant in the scriptures. Solomon worshiped false gods and forsook the Lord. The Lord then took away Solomon’s blessings but retained some for his children (and so on) because of “David thy father’s sake” (1 Kings 11:12). That’s why, even though David did evil in the sight of the Lord, I believe his heart was more repentant than Solomon’s was.

David’s words comprise some of the most beautiful passages in the scriptures. His psalms contain beautiful words and beautiful themes. His words also focus heavily on the role of the Lord as Redeemer, largely because David is seeking forgiveness. Here are a few of his words: “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28). “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). David also wrote some prophecies that told of events and teachings from the Savior’s life: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring [the Lord as Lion is not an infrequent metaphor for the Savior]…. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pieced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me [foretelling the Savior on His way to Golgotha and upon the cross]. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalm 22:1,16-18). David’s Psalms contain many more prophecies of the Savior, referring to Judas’ betrayal (Psalm 41:9), cleansing the temple (Psalm 69:9), the suffering of the Savior in Gethsemane (Psalm 69:20), and how He was offered vinegar while on the cross (Psalm 69:21).

One of my favorite scriptures is found in the 84th psalm. “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. For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:10-11; emphasis added). David made mistakes. He made very grievous mistakes but he tried to do good. He is one character I admire and respect for many reasons, in spite of his faults.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 5

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Quoting Elder Holland again from the October 2008 General Conference:

“In the course of life all of us spend time in ‘dark and dreary’ places, wildernesses, circumstances of sorrow or fear or discouragement. Our present day is filled with global distress over financial crises, energy problems, terrorist attacks, and natural calamities. These translate into individual and family concerns not only about homes in which to live and food available to eat but also about the ultimate safety and well-being of our children and the latter-day prophecies about our planet. More serious than these—and sometimes related to them—are matters of ethical, moral, and spiritual decay seen in populations large and small, at home and abroad. But I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets, and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself. Matthew records in his gospel that after Satan had tempted Christ in the wilderness ‘angels came and ministered unto him’ (Matt. 4:11). Even the Son of God, a God Himself, had need for heavenly comfort during His sojourn in mortality. And so such ministrations will be to the righteous until the end of time.”

We should remember that the Savior suffered more than any other person. As the Lord told Joseph Smith in his great sufferings: “The Son of Man hath descended below them [your sufferings] all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C; 122:8). Also, “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth” (D&C; 88:6). We can take strength in knowing that the Savior suffered the things we suffer – He suffered more than we will ever suffer – and knows and understands each of us. He comforts us in our trials. He cries with us when we are sad or hurt or afraid. As we wander in wildernesses, often in darkness, the Lord is there for us. We need but exercise faith to find Him who will guide us to the Promised Land. In the words of the poet:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
(Minnie Louise Haskins. From “The Gate of the Year,” in James Dalton Morrison, ed., Masterpieces of Religious Verse (1948), 92.)

I pray that we may follow the Lord so we can return home and not forever wander in strange lands. He is there for us always, especially in times when we seem to be strangers in a strange land – tired, lonely, and lost in the wilderness. The Lord will lift us and guide us home.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 4

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For those feeling lost, who are struggling and sorrowed, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated at the October 2008 General Conference:

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. I love the scriptures because they show examples of great and noble men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Enoch, Moses, Joseph, Emma, and Brigham. Each of them experienced adversity and sorrow that tried, fortified, and refined their characters.
Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others. Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others. Remember the sublime words of the Savior to the Prophet Joseph Smith when he suffered with his companions in the smothering darkness of Liberty Jail: ‘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; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.’ (D&C; 121:7-8).
With that eternal perspective, Joseph took comfort from these words, and so can we. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome.

It is important to remember that when the Lord requires us to wander in strange lands, He will deliver us: “The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it” (Acts 13:17). Not only are we blessed after our wanderings, we are blessed throughout them. Like He supported Nephi, the Lord lifts us through our afflictions in the wildernesses of our lives. He preserves us when the great swells of the oceans seem about to overwhelm us and bring us down to the depths of despair (see 2 Ne. 4:20). We may feel, whether we have sinned or not, that we “are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they” (Mormon 5:18). But the Lord will be our Captain if we allow Him to be.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 3

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The Lord told Abraham, “I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice” (Abr. 2:6). Abraham spent his days as a stranger and a wanderer: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). Moses too was a stranger in a strange land: “He called [his son’s] name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Ex. 2:22). Those who wander are usually looking for a promised land, just as the tribes of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert before they entered their promised land. The Psalmist called himself a “stranger in the earth” (Psalm 119:19); indicating that all of us are strangers here on earth; it is not our original home. Those who are faithful, like the prophets, will receive the blessings of eternal life in the celestial realms – the ultimate Promised Land: “These [the first Patriarchs – Adam through Jacob] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly [one]” (Heb. 11:13-14,16). The prophets all had faith that they would receive a better country, a heavenly home.

Alma also taught on this theme: “And they [glad tidings of great joy] are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard” (Alma 13:23). Ammon likewise talked about wandering in strange lands: “Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land” (Alma 26:36). Even in the Promised Land, a land of bounty and blessing, the Nephites were strangers because they were broken off from the rest of the house of Israel.

Isaiah stated: “For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers [foreigners] shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob” (2 Ne. 24:1). The Lord said that those who wander in strange lands, who spend time in wild parts of the vineyard, will return to their own land with the added strength of the wild branches (see Jacob 5). Even the people of Enoch first went through a period of wandering before they established Zion: “they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; But obtained a promise that they should find it [Zion] and see it in their flesh” (D&C; 45:13). That is what all the righteous have been promised – a city of refuge, a city of holiness, a place for the pure in heart, even Zion. Faith requires trial; promised blessings only come after our faith is tried. How hard our trials may be!

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 2

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Entering the wilderness is not usually easy, even for the righteous who know of and believe in the promised blessings. Even Sariah complained for a time to Lehi: “Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 5:2). Such grumblings and murmurings are common among those who do not recognize the Lord’s hand in their lives. It is difficult to keep an eternal perspective when you are suffering. Sariah had forgotten (or never really yet believed) that it was not Lehi who told them to leave Jerusalem, it was the Lord. Lehi merely acted as spokesperson. She quickly repented of her murmurings though. When Nephi’s bow broke, his family started to murmur against the Lord because of their afflictions and because of the sufferings they had experienced in the wilderness (see 1 Ne. 16:20). However, Nephi went before the Lord, prayed, and made a new bow. He had faith through his afflictions and trusted in the Lord.

Some in Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families murmured when Ishmael died: “Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger” (1 Ne. 16:35). They forgot all the times the Lord had blessed them with food, just like the Israelites were blessed with manna, quail, and fresh water by the Lord in their need. We too are often quick to forget the blessings of the Lord when we wander in strange lands, in deserts of despair or forests of darkness.

What is a strange land? A strange land at the most basic level is somewhere that is not your home. A strange land can also mean somewhere new, not the land in which you or your ancestors grew up. Even though you may be in a promised land, rich in resources, you can still be in a strange land. A strange land could also mean a land of wickedness or a land of non-covenant people.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 1

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“Time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26).

Many times throughout history the covenant people of the Lord have suffered as they wandered. They have wandered physically, emotionally, or spiritually in strange lands. Their sojourns in these wildernesses have been hard, harsh, and heavy. Oftentimes these people had to leave their homes behind to enter unfamiliar places. Some, like Jacob, felt that all their days were spent in mourning. Why are the righteous so often asked to do hard things and suffer?

We made the choice in the pre-earth life to come to earth. We knew that we would face suffering, sickness, limitations, and sorrow. We also knew that we could experience great joy and progression. We agreed to enter this ofttimes dark and dreary world because we knew of the blessings that would result if we were faithful. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about some of the thorns and darkness of life during the October 2008 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “When Adam and Eve willingly stepped into mortality, they knew this telestial world would contain thorns and thistles and troubles of every kind. Perhaps their most challenging realization, however, was not the hardship and danger they would endure but the fact that they would now be distanced from God, separated from Him with whom they had walked and talked, who had given them face-to-face counsel. After this conscious choice, as the record of creation says, ‘they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence’ (Moses 5:4). Amidst all else that must have troubled them, surely this must have troubled them the most.”

Come Buy Wine and Milk Without Money and Without Price, Part 3

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Mercy is such an important principle that it is one of the main messages of the Book of Mormon. At the end of 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 continue to 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 a civilization that destroys itself – there is always the underlying message of hope and mercy that things will work out in the end. There is repentance and forgiveness. There is mercy to be found. There is a Balm in Gilead. The Lord will “bind up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He will] comfort all that mourn; [and] appoint unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give 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, the he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer. He pours forth mercy unto those in need and 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). This is a promise given to those who return to live with God again.