Our Father By Whose Name

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During the final meeting with His apostles – His friends and followers – Jesus gathered to celebrate Passover. He performed the ordinance of the washing of feet. Jesus broke bread and drank wine in sacrament with His disciples. He sent one off who would betray Him and then taught the apostles significant doctrines. Only after Judas departed did the real teaching and blessings begin. What the Savior taught during these late hours is covered in just over four chapters in the book of John – one fifth of a book covering three years of Jesus’s ministry. That so much of the book of John focuses on this time is one indication of the importance of what Jesus taught before His atoning suffering in Gethsemane and His death upon the cruel cross.

What did Jesus teach? One of the most powerful lessons in all scripture is found in John 17, what is commonly called the intercessory prayer, intercessory meaning praying or petitioning on behalf of another. Of this prayer John wrote: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:1-4)

The key verse here is “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). Life eternal is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. As we strive for eternal life we must strive for a knowledge of God. We must not only know of Him but also truly know Him. The better we know Him the more we love Him. How can we fully love something we do not understand? How can we truly love someone we do not know? The more familiar we are with someone, the more we understand and love that person.

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a light in the darkness of knowledge about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph had clear evidence that the Father and the Son are distinct beings. One of the implications of this knowledge is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we can, through the grace of Christ, become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent.

Most of Christianity, at least in formal theology, believes that Jesus Christ is not a separate Being from the Father – a distinct manifestation but not a separate physical Being. If our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are separate individuals – They are! – and if Christ is the Son of God – He is! – then all children of our Father have the potential to become more like Christ. The Savior prayed to His Father in the last hours of His mortal ministry: “Neither pray I for these [His Apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22).

Christ is the Son of God; we are children of God. Because we are God’s children we can be, as ancient and modern prophets and apostles teach, joint-heirs with Christ of all that our Father has! To the Romans Paul taught: “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.” (Romans 8:17). That is quite a promise! Christ pled that His Father would bless His apostles and all those who believe and follow Christ’s teachings with the same oneness that He and the Father share. This does not diminish the power or authority of God or Christ – for their power and authority are endless and eternal. Rather, it shows our true relationship to God; we are His children and He loves us not just as a perfect God but as a perfect Father.

This is all what was so revolutionary about what was re-taught in bright clarity to the world when Joseph Smith, a young man of 14, saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It upended not only the world’s misconceptions of the nature of God but also of the world’s misconceptions of the divine potential of men and women, even though that potential would not be understood for years.

There is a trick of the vision called afterimage where when looking away from an object (usually a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of our eyes. This image “burn in” is caused by using up too much of the pigment chemicals in the eyes, which then regenerate slowly. To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds and then look away. Afterimages occur when you focus intently on an object with high contrast or brightness. This process often results in a negative afterimage (like camera film negatives) but bright lights can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the light appears to still be there when you look away. In other words, when staring at bright lights, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away. These afterimages last just for seconds but are reminders of the light that was before us.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We saw His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light; it was continually before our eyes. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith described the brightness of God’s glory as being greater than the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). God’s glory is light and a purifying fire.

We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. The poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.”

We are not left utterly naked when we come to earth. We have the afterimage of our pre-earth life given to us by light of Christ. We have remembrances of old light and the giving of new light unto us through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point. The test is whether or not we accept and act upon those burnings. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives, becoming the light of common day, and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives by constantly looking to God.

I love the hymns of the church. Many truths can be taught through music. The text of the hymn “Our Father by Whose Name” teaches truths of the Godhead, the presiding quorum of an eternal family. The first verse teaches of God the Father:

“Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known,
Who dost in love proclaim each family thine own,
Bless thou all parents, guarding well,
With constant love as sentinel,
The homes in which thy people dwell.”

We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just like the one we had with Him before we were born on earth. A simple experience I had last year reminds me of the personal nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears and answers our prayers. Sometimes that answer is “no” but God knows what we need.

God the Father wants His love to fill our homes. As we fill our homes with His light and love they are fortified against the wickedness of the world. Our Father’s love stands as sentinel against evil that strives to destroy homes and families. God’s commands are gentle, His precepts are kind. Our cares, our burdens, our anxieties find sweet refreshment at His throne (see Hymn #125, How Gentle God’s Commands).

Remembering that God is our Father helps us to know that all He does for us is to help us grow. All He does is out of love and concern for us. He is perfectly loving and kind so His children’s sins, transgressions, hate, anger, and pain all hurt Him abominably.

As God is gentle and kind, so should we be gentle and kind! As we strive to return home to our Father may we retain in our minds the words of the hymn “Oh My Father”: “When I lay this mortal by…may I meet you in your royal courts in high? Then, at length, when I’ve competed all you sent me forth to do, with your mutual approbation let me come and dwell with you.” May we emulate our Father’s love and righteousness so we may return and dwell with Him.

The second verse of “Our Father, by Whose Name” teaches of Jesus Christ who acts in perfect unity with the Father:

“As thou thy Child didst fill with wisdom, love, and might,
To know and do thy will and teach thy ways aright,
Our children bless, in ev’ry place,
That they may all behold thy face,
And, knowing thee, may grow in grace.”

Jesus is the source of wisdom, love, might, and grace. He is our Exemplar on how to become more like God. Becoming like God is a process. None of us is perfect; we are fallen, living in a fallen world. We are in an embryonic stage, trying to grow up and control these wonderful but mortal bodies. Sometimes we sin, sometimes we turn away from God, sometimes we forget who we really are. All of us, in the grand council of heaven, subjected our spiritual bodies and wills to the will of the Father; that is why we are here in mortality – we said in shouts of joy, “I will follow God’s plan for me!” Now as mortals we are trying to subject our physical bodies to the will of the Father – truly a difficult task. Just as in the premortal world, the mortal Christ was the consummate example. He subjected His will completely to His Father’s; this surrendering of His will culminated with His death on the cross and His triumphal resurrection from the tomb in the ultimate act of love.

Of all the roles of the Savior, one of the greatest is that of healer. He healed in Galilee, He healed from the garden, He healed from the cross, and He healed from the tomb. Jesus offers hope and healing to all – to those who stray, to those who don’t, and to those who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer; we learn of His great love for us. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus once of humble birth, a meek and lowly lamb who groaned in blood and tears, forsaken, left alone descended below all so that He might understand and rise above all. He will return to earth to rule and reign (see Jesus once of humble birth, Hymns #196), having overcome the world. What a time that will be. I am grateful for living prophets who speak His words and who act under His direction.

Verse three of “Our Father, By Whose Name” teaches us about the Holy Ghost, the final member of the Godhead:

“May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev’ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.”

Through the witness of the Holy Ghost our testimonies of the Savior are strengthened. The Spirit of God burns like fire to teach us right and bind our hearts to God. In this church we have the precious gift of the Holy Ghost – the promise and blessing that He can be with us always as we do what is right. I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

I love the words of the hymn “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” (Hymns #143):

“Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let him teach us what is true.
He will testify of Christ,
Light our minds with heaven’s view.

Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home
If we listen to his voice.

Let the Spirit heal our hearts
Thru his quiet, gentle pow’r.
May we purify our lives
To receive him hour by hour.”

I know that God lives! He loves us and wants us to return to live with Him. I know that Jesus lived, died, and lived again so that each of us might be healed. This testimony has been given to me by the Holy Ghost who teaches truth and illuminates the path back home.

Effort Without Eloquence

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Today a man participated in blessing the sacrament. He struggled to read the words of the prayer and his enunciation was not flawless but the sheer effort it was for him to say the prayer made it more meaningful for me. I’ve heard many bright young men fly through the sacrament prayer as if they are participating in a verbal sprint. That always comes across as disrespectful, even if it’s unintentionally so. Contrast that with the effort it took this man to say the prayer, with the struggle he had to say the words, and I’ll take his prayer any day over a flawless brisk reading.

This reminds me of a testimony shared recently by an older brother who had difficulty standing and whose primary language was not English. His effortful and simple testimony was powerful, one of the most powerful I’ve heard in a while. This experience reminds me of Brigham Young’s conversion. He said, “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, ‘I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true.” (Brigham Young discourse, June 13, 1852, JD 1:90; as cited by Larry Porter).

The Spirit, not eloquence, makes a powerful talk or testimony. Sometimes those who struggle the most teach the best.

The Reality of Evil

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While I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my missionary companion and I were out knocking on doors in a suburb of Seattle on a Thursday morning in June. At one home a man talked with us through a kitchen window, which was right by the pathway to the front door. We talked with him for a few minutes. He told us that he had seen Christ in a vision and that he had had a badly burned hand completely healed through that vision. During our conversation in which he was trying to tell us of the error of our ways, I kept getting a progressively worse feeling inside. It is difficult to explain what it was like other than it was a really bad feeling (cue the Star Wars quote: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”). I had never talked with anyone who had such a evil spirit about him; it was almost terrifying. The feeling went way beyond creepiness. At one point, I felt that my legs were almost held in place as he talked with us. I was just thankful that we were separated by a sturdy house wall instead of talking with him without a barrier. He was not interested in what we had to say so we quickly left, thanking him for his time, and went on knocking on other doors. As we left his presence, the evil feeling went away. I hoped and prayed that one day he would understand and accept the truth of the gospel.

On a Monday just a few weeks later, my companion and I were out looking for a family who had just moved into our ward boundaries (their membership records had been moved into the ward but they had not shown up at church). As we were looking for their address we passed a house a few times. Inside that house there was a man who just stood inside and stared out at us. We found the address we were searching for but no one was home so I decided to go talk with the man who had been staring at us. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and we approached his home. He saw us coming (he was still staring at us) and opened the door saying, “Hello Elders!” I asked if he was a member of the Church. He replied, “If I was born a member and never not became one, I guess you could say that I was.” He invited us in and we talked for a few minutes. He had stopped going to church when he was 14. He started telling us many of the standard anti-Mormon lines and some not-so-common lines (e.g., The LDS Church owned Pepsi-Cola [but was hypocritical because they prohibited church members from drinking Pepsi]; it had been discovered that Moroni was the name of one of the Devil’s main messengers, etc.). The only thing I could do, because he was not really interested in talking with us, he just wanted to talk at us, was bear my testimony to him. My companion and I both had a creeping, hollow, bad feeling growing inside while in his presence. It was a really bad feeling, similar to what I had felt a few weeks previously. He quickly became very angry with us (mainly with me because I was the one responding to him) because I would not try to argue with him about the claims he was making against the LDS Church. He asked us to leave, which we gladly did, thanking him for his time as we went on our merry way. Like the previous man, I hope and prayed that he would be able to accept the truth some day.

Those are two of the most memorable times that I have been in the presence of people who have exuded such feelings of emptiness and evil that being in their presence was nearly unbearable for me. Those two different men were both witnesses to me of the reality of evil. The experiences might seem minor in light of all the evil that goes on in the world but the evil spirit is the same. There are people in whom the Spirit of the Lord resides, there are people in whom the Spirit does not reside, and there are some people in whom an evil spirit resides. These two men were filled with an evil spirit. I have not met any people like those two since that time.

Filled With the Spirit Through Reading the Scriptures

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“And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1: 11-12).

What’s the context of these verses? Lehi had a vision; he saw God, Jesus Christ, and the twelve original apostles of the Savior. One of them – Peter – gave Lehi a book to read. This book was a book of prophecy and revelation; in essence, it was scripture. When Lehi read the book, when he read the scriptures, something important happened: “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”

When Lehi read the scriptures he felt the Spirit. But even more, Lehi was filled with the Spirit. That is one reason why it is so important to read the scriptures – so we can be filled with the Spirit. This is a principle that missionaries use – let people read the scriptures for themselves so that they might feel the Spirit. There, I revealed one of the tricks that missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use – have people read the scriptures themselves. It’s so tricky because then the missionaries don’t have to do any convincing, they just let the Spirit of the Lord do it for them – they let God convince those reading the scriptures of the truthfulness of what they read. It’s much easier on the conscience to reject people than it is to reject God.

What is important though is that however we feel, if we feel lost and alone, if we feel discouraged or distraught, if we feel burdened down by cares and concerns, we can find solace in the scriptures. The solace comes from the words of the prophets but more importantly from the Spirit of the Lord that accompanies the reading of the scriptures.

Cloven Tongues of Fire

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There is a phrase in the book of Acts – “cloven tongues of fire” – that describes an experience of great power. The context of the phrase is day of Pentecost. During this great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, many great sights were seen, many great sounds were heard, and many great feelings were felt. We read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4).

I started thinking about the term “cloven tongues of fire”. What does that phrase mean? How it is phrased in Acts makes it seem like those present saw flames around them. This might be the case but we get clarification of what this phrase means in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We read: “Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 109:36).

Cloven means split. Cloven tongues are like the tongues of snakes. But in this instance, the cloven tongues refer to speaking in tongues. This is a gift from the Holy Ghost. There are at least two ways of looking at these cloven tongues of fire.

  1. On the day of Pentecost, some people spoke in tongues – plural. They said something in one language but other people heard it in another. We know this is the case: “The multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8). Thus, these cloven tongues are really just that – speaking in tongues (multiple) at the same time.
  2. Another interpretation (pun intended) is that tongues are cloven because there is the message of the spoken words and the message of the Holy Ghost. These two things are not always the same thing. What is said and what the Spirit teaches us can be different. Both interpretations are correct.

What’s important to keep in mind is that speaking in tongues is only effective if there is someone who can understand it or interpret it. Generally, it is not the case that the Holy Ghost will bless someone with the gift of tongues in order for them to speak some unknown language without an interpreter. That’s why people speaking gibberish purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are not really given the gift of tongues. This is not to say that people cannot speak in an unknown language – such as Adam’s “pure and undefiled” language (see Moses 6:5-6:46) – but again, when this occurs there will almost always be someone who is able to understand and/or translate it by the same power of the Holy Ghost.

The gift of tongues – even cloven tongues of fire – is evident in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today as are the other miraculous events of the day of Pentecost. We have missionaries who learn languages quickly, who teach the gospel filled with the fire of God. There have been cases where missionaries or  apostles have said things they didn’t know how to say in another language or that those listening understood what was being said even though they did not understand the words.

What about someone like myself who served as a missionary in the United States, speaking my native English? The cloven tongues of fire is only one gift of many from the Holy Ghost. Still, there were many times when I spoke and the tongue of the Spirit spoke too – it was a fire that burned brightly within others and myself. Additionally, because of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, my command of English improved. This is not usually how we think of the gift of tongues but it can, and often is, the case that your own language skills will improve so that you can improve teaching the gospel.

“Cloven tongues of fire” is a phrase that provides powerful imagery. The most important implication of it is that it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. When the power of God rests upon us we can know, feel, and do great things. This is a power that touches many but was largely lost from the earth until the Priesthood and ordinances of God were restored to Joseph Smith. The gift (not just influence) of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest and most important components of the Restoration.

In closing, Pres. Packer gave a great talk on this topic in the April 2000 General Conference. Pres. Packer said:

“In every language, the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—guides, or can guide, every member of the Church. Everyone is invited to come and repent and be baptized and receive of this sacred gift. Despite opposition, the Church will flourish; and despite persecution, it will grow. Joseph Smith was asked, ‘How does your religion differ from other religions?’ He replied, ‘All other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.'”

The power of the Holy Ghost is real. When with us, we can receive great blessings so that we are better able to share the gospel with others and bless the lives of others. The flaming fire of the Spirit is a call to responsibility; it is a call to be lights on hills to others who are lost in the darkness of disbelief. It is a call to speak with the power of God so that others might bask in His light and love.

Lessons from Life: Cockroaches – Part 2

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We can and must fight the encroaching evils that try to enter our lives. Killing one cockroach is much easier than trying to root out a nest of them if they become established. There is an oft quoted poetic verse by Alexander Pope that explains why we must root out sin in its infancy:

Sin is a vice of such frightful mean
That to be hated has but to be seen
But seen too often, and familiar with the face
We first abhor, and then endure, and then embrace (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man {1732}, epistle 2, lines 217–20, in The Complete Poetical Works of Pope, ed. Henry W. Boynton {1931}, 144.).

This may sound like a slippery slope fallacy but that pattern is demonstrable repeatedly throughout history. It does not take much reading of the Book of Mormon to see people have a cyclical relationship with good and evil. We see this also in the Bible – righteous Adam and Eve who then have descendants quickly turn to evil. Similarly, in secular history we see countless civilizations rising, waxing, waning, and dying only to have other civilizations fill the void. I am sure that if we had a clear understanding of history we would see that the destruction of civilizations would in many cases be tied to the wickedness of the people. That might be a gross generalization and we know that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people and with nations, sometimes the destruction of a civilization is due to the wickedness or ineptitude of the leaders and not necessarily the wickedness of the people; however, I am sure that if we correctly understood history (like we will in the next life) we will see how the wickedness of civilizations usually led to their destruction. What I think we will see is that every wicked civilization was or will be destroyed but not all destroyed civilizations were necessarily wicked.

The light of Christ is given to all that they might know good from evil. The light of Christ provides inspiration – both spiritual and secular. When people en masse reject this light, their righteous progress as civilizations and individuals slows, stops, and even reverses. Knowledge can be lost. The ancient American civilizations knew much about astronomy and math and science – things that their more modern descendants had lost. The same goes for the ancient Egyptians – they understood much about architecture and mathematics that future generations lost. Fortunately in our day we have better record-keeping and access to knowledge so knowledge is less likely to be lost but it still can be lost. The overwhelming amount of information and knowledge to which we have access can be a problem, however. Things that are most important and useful can be lost in the shuffle of what is most flashy and trendy.

I’ll close by quoting the prophet Jeremiah. He said that the wars and evils that came upon the Israelites was “because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, whom they knew not, neither they, ye, nor your fathers” (Jeremiah 44:3). When we worship and serve other gods (which will be the topic of an essay to follow) and let sin come crawling into our lives like cockroaches, we are speedily heading toward destruction – whether in this life or in the next.

Lessons from Life – Part 1 – Spiritual Sewage

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Originally uploaded by Billy V

I’m starting a series of articles in which I will turn various circumstances and objects of life into spiritual lessons. Most will be brief; hopefully all will be informative and helpful. This first in the series is about spiritual sewage.

Last week the group of townhomes we live in had a sewer blockage that caused sewage to start to come back up out of our downstairs toilet. While we did not have much come out of the toilet, thankfully, I thought about the symbolism of the event. What kind of spiritual sewage are we letting into our homes and lives? Is our spiritual plumbing blocked? If sewage is getting into our homes, how is it getting there?

Unlike the external sewer line blockage that caused the sewage to trickle out of our toilet, having functional spiritual plumbing starts with the individual and within the home. The Book of Mormon king Benjamin cautioned against letting our homes overflow with spiritual sewage: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

King Benjamin prescribed the way to prevent a spiritual plumbing blockage – remember and observe the commandments of God. Further, we must have and continue in our faith in Christ. It is not enough to flush out a sewage system once, we need to prevent blockages from occurring. However, when we do have spiritual sewage seep or pour into our homes, we can have it cleaned out. We can call a spiritual plumber and get our system cleaned. We can remove the filthiness and be clean. “Though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

I ask again, “What sewage are you letting into your home?” Do you have or watch inappropriate movies? Do you have or listen to inappropriate music? Are your thoughts impure? Are you letting in sewage inadvertently? Are you allowing your neighbors’ (friends, family) actions overwhelm your spiritual plumbing?

Let us watch ourselves – our thoughts, words, and deeds – and keep our lives and homes free from gushing or seeping spiritual sewage.

Solace from the Storm – Part 4

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We are responsible to be open to the spirit. Nephi reprimanded his wicked brethren and taught them about the communication from the Lord: “He hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Ne. 17:45). If we are past feeling, the Lord might need to speak unto us with the voice of thunder and destruction. If I get to choose (which I – and we all – do) I’ll take the still small voice over a thundering voice. I enjoy thunder but not when it’s directed at me!

It is also through this still small voice that we can know the truth of all things – whether it is the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the reality of the Atonement, or anything else sacred or secular: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3-5).

It is through the power and influence of the Holy Ghost that we have solace through the storms in our lives. The Holy Ghost teaches us truth. Truth is an anchor to our souls. If we are founded upon truth and righteousness and holiness, all which come through prayer and the influence of the Holy Ghost, we will withstand any storms that come our way. Again, it is truth and more specifically, eternal truth, that binds us to the Rock of our Redeemer, even our Savior and Atoner, Jesus Christ.

Alma desired to let all know of the necessity of repentance: “Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:2). When we are pure in heart and repentant, we will be protected from that “voice of thunder” that calls all to repentance. This does not mean that we will not need repentance but to those who are already repentant, the voice of the Spirit will come more as a still, small voice than as a voice of thunder and lightning. Even when it does come as a voice of thunder, the righteous will hear the piercing small voice amidst all the tumult.

As we are built upon the foundation of Christ we will withstand the destroying east winds. We will find solace amidst the dust storms and driving winds of mortality. “Yea, when all [Satan’s] hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).

Solace from the Storm – Part 3

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The Redeemer is our Rock of defense from the storms. As we build upon His gospel, we are strengthened and blessed. I think a story from Elijah’s life will be illustrative of one way the Lord protects us from the storms. Elijah was hiding in a cave in the wilderness because the wicked Jezebel desired his life. As he bemoaned his sufferings and the wickedness of the people, the Lord asked him to go stand out on a mountainside: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Elijah was asked to stand out on the mountain by the Lord; he experienced a great and strong wind that broke up the rocks, he experienced an earthquake, and he experienced a fire. The Lord was not in any of those but the Lord came as a still small voice. The whisperings of the Holy Ghost were there to comfort Elijah but also to tell him to continue on in his calling as a prophet. As we face storms in our lives, the Holy Ghost will be there to provide comfort if we are listening. It can be difficult to hear that still small voice if we are surrounded by a cacophony of commotion. As piercing as the still small voice is, it can be easy to miss. The more our lives are founded upon righteousness, the better able we are to hear the voice of the Lord.

If the voice of the Spirit does not come (usually) with the voice of thunder, wind, earthquakes, and fire, what does His voice sound like? The Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The Savior’s sheep know His voice. They recognize it and follow it. We know the Lord’s voice because we knew Him in our pre-earth life. He is no stranger to us just as we are not strangers to Him. However, learning to recognize His voice can take effort. We also need to listen carefully and closely.

Bishop H. Burke Peterson said: “Listening is an essential part of praying. Answers from the Lord come quietly—ever so quietly. In fact, few hear his answers audibly with their ears. We must be listening so carefully or we will never recognize them. Most answers from the Lord are felt in our heart as a warm comfortable expression, or they may come as thoughts to our mind. They come to those who are prepared and who are patient” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 13; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 19).

The Armor of God and Spiritual Clothing, Part 3

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“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). A sword is not armor but Paul included it because without an offensive weapon, even the most heavily armored person can fall. It is difficult to withstand attacks without being able to deliver your own, whether in offense or defense. The sword represents the Spirit and the word of God. The Lord stated in the latter-days, “Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words” (D&C; 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; 14:2). A key addendum to this verse is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Open ye your ears and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, whose word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (D&C; 33:1; emphasis added). Thus, the sword of the Spirit helps us discern the thoughts and intents of others. There are numerous examples of this in the Book of Mormon. One such example is Alma and Amulek. They understood and confounded Zeezrom with the Spirit and the word of God. The Savior always understood what the Pharisees and scribes were thinking; He knew their intents. This is why the Spirit is a weapon; through the Spirit we can reveal falsehoods in others and defend our testimonies against their attacks. We can expose their intents and confound them with the word of God. The truth pierces the soul and severs lies. The Spirit acts as a powerful testifying force, cutting to the heart of those with ears to hear.

Throughout the scriptures we find other “spiritual clothing.” Isaiah mentioned a couple articles of clothing in chapter 61: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10; emphasis added). We should wear garments of salvation, clothing that is pure, clean, and worthy of and representative of the covenants we make with God. Latter-day accounts of Heavenly visitors often include descriptions of the visitors wearing bright white robes (e.g., JS-H 1:31). As Isaiah stated, the robes represent and reflect righteousness. Isaiah also stated that our scarlet sins can be white as snow (Isa. 1:18) through repentance and through the redeeming blood of Christ. The whiteness of the robes represents purity, holiness, and righteousness. The great Book of Mormon teacher Jacob taught about the Final Judgment: “We shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Ne. 9:14).

Now returning to the Isaiah verse quoted before, I think it is significant that Isaiah compared putting on the robe to a bridegroom and bride preparing themselves for marriage. All the ornamentation that we need, all that is truly precious, is a robe of righteousness. This is especially true in context of the numerous scriptures in the Book of Mormon where the wicked were known for wearing and being so enthralled with “fine-twined linens” (see 1 Ne. 13:7-8; Alma 4:6). What is it about clothing and wickedness? It’s not the clothing per se, it’s the pride that people have in wearing nicer clothes than others. It’s possible to be righteous and wear beautiful clothing (see Alma 1:29) just like it’s possible to be righteous and wealthy. However, pride and selfishness so readily follow such blessings. It’s like Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof who sings “If I were a rich man.” While meant to be somewhat humorous, he wants to be rich so he wouldn’t have to work hard, could see his wife strutting around like a peacock putting on airs, and have others see him spend so much time with the Rabbi and other learned men. There is a difference between the humble followers of Christ putting on their robes of righteousness and garments of salvation and the worldly wicked in the great and spacious building arraying themselves as peacocks in their gaudy garments of wickedness.

I pray that we will decide to wear spiritual clothing worthy of who we are as children of God. We should protect ourselves with the armor of God and join the fight against sin.

Link to part 2 of this essay.