Walking With God

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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. The crew of the Endurance spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue but it was solid ground.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea. If they were not exactly obedient to their navigator, they would be lost.

Life is like that for all of us, even the smallest deviation from course will put us off the path back to God. Thankfully, we are provided with a way to get back on track through the Atonement of Christ.

Returning to the story of Shackleton’s expedition: “Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.’” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost. Just as Ernest Shackleton spent his all to save his men, I testify that leaders throughout the world of this church consecrate their all for the salvation of those around them. Our church leaders have deep love and concern for us, wearing themselves out as they serve us. How do they and we survive our journey of endurance through life? Just as the men of Shackleton survived for 18 months in extreme weather and harsh conditions – through obedience to their leaders. Shackleton encouraged obedience so that his men would live. Because they were obedient, they lived.

Do we face life with the same determination to endure in obedience? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation. As we are obedient we will live.

In Deuteronomy 30 we read the words of Moses as he called the Israelites to make the choice between life and death, blessing or cursing: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut. 30:19-20: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/deut/30.19-20?lang=eng#18).

The choice is clear – choose to live spiritually by cleaving unto God through obedience or choose a cursing and death through disobedience. The blessing is a life with God, the cursing is a life separated from God. Because the choice is clear does not mean it is always easy to do but our Father mercifully prepared a way to overcome our shortcomings and disobedience.

Sometimes people want to walk the line between obedience and disobedience – they want to live in the world and partake of some of its sins; these are those who Elder Neal Maxwell said want to maintain a summer cottage in Babylon while trying to partake of all the blessings of Zion (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], 47). There are also people who intentionally disobey many of the the commandments. They are not maintaining summer cottages in Babylon, they are living in Babylon and trying to maintain a summer cottage in Zion. That’s not how the gospel works. We do not get to live a telestial life in the celestial kingdom. We do not have a right to sin in God’s kingdom. A “right” is “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” According to God’s laws we have a legal entitlement to agency, which then can be used for works of righteousness or sin. In other words, agency is our right. We can use that agency to join with our Heavenly Father through obedience to Him or we can separate ourselves from Him and His grace through disobedience.

Obedience is not an accident. Elder Neil L. Andersen said: “[As a member of the Church you] no longer stand on neutral ground. Your faith will grow not by chance, but by choice. How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not’? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/faith-is-not-by-chance-but-by-choice?lang=eng)

We choose faith by choosing obedience. Pres. Monson also encourages obedience: “Great courage will be required as we remain faithful and true amid the ever-increasing pressures and insidious influences with which we are surrounded and which distort the truth, tear down the good and the decent, and attempt to substitute the man-made philosophies of the world. If the commandments had been written by man, then to change them by inclination or legislation or by any other means would be the prerogative of man. The commandments, however, were God-given. Using our agency, we can set them aside. We cannot, however, change them, just as we cannot change the consequences which come from disobeying and breaking them. May we realize that our greatest happiness in this life will come as we follow God’s commandments and obey His laws! I love the words found in Isaiah chapter 32, verse 17: ‘The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.’ Such peace, such assurance can come only through righteousness.” (Monson, October 2015).

I testify that wickedness never was happiness. Sin brings turmoil and sorrow. Obedience and righteousness bring joy and peace. I have seen this in my life; I have felt the turmoil of sin and the peace of forgiveness. There is no lasting peace without the Atonement of the Savior. Only He heals the wounds and sorrows we all experience.

Every Christmas season I reflect on words penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, he wrote the these words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words written in midst of turmoil and war still resonate today, perhaps more now than then. People cry for peace but peace seems hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. The streets of cities filled with lights turn dark with blood. It is enough to make people despair – and many do. Many feel that hope is lost; that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The answer for all this despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. It is not found in worldly goods. It is found in the teachings of the Son of God, who was sent to earth to save it and all those on it who would be saved. Jesus Christ is our hope and salvation!

Our primary children sing,

“How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?
He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness.
How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go?
He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know.
How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death?
He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath.
What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?
Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.
What does he ask? Live like his Son.”

Our Father sent His Son to walk with us on earth. That is the essence of obedience – walking with God. Obedience is choosing God over ourselves. It is choosing the eternal over the temporal. Obedience is choosing life over death. It is choosing to walk with God. What greater comfort is there than following the footsteps of Christ? What greater safety is there than walking with God?

One of the commandments that will richly bless our lives as we follow it strictly is remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. The First Presidency and apostles have called for us to renew our devotion to God by better observance of the Sabbath. It is a day for us to rest from our labors of the week and focus on our relationships with our families and with God. This will come through worshiping at church, spending time with family, and serving others.

Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Honoring the Sabbath is a form of righteousness that will bless and strengthen families, connect us with our Creator, and increase happiness. The Sabbath can help separate us from that which is frivolous, inappropriate, or immoral. It allows us to be in the world but not of the world. In the last six months, a most remarkable change has occurred in the Church. This has been in the response of the members to renewed emphasis on the Sabbath by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and to President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge to make the Sabbath a delight. Many members understand that truly keeping the Sabbath day holy is a refuge from the storms of this life. It is also a sign of our devotion to our Father in Heaven and an increased understanding of the sacredness of sacrament meeting. Still, we have a long way to go, but we have a wonderful beginning. I challenge all of us to continue to embrace this counsel and improve our Sabbath worship.” (October 2015 General Conference).

A renewed commitment of obedience to God can start today.

I testify that God loves us. Because He wants us to be happy He gave us commandments that place us on the path to eternal happiness in the world to come. I testify that the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ provides peace, healing, and wholeness. When we stray we can be cleansed through Christ’s Atonement. Through the water of baptism, the blood of Jesus, and the Spirit of God we can be obedient, forgiven, and sanctified (see Moses 6:60). I testify that our Father wants us to enter into His presence as joint-heirs with Christ; the only way to do this is through obedience to God and through the grace of Christ. I testify that our Father wants us to live as eternal families in the life to come. When we stand as families before the gates of Heaven, will our Father look at us and say, “They’re all here. They’re all safe, not a life lost”? No matter how dark the way may be now, if we keep walking there will be many good things to come; if we have faith, it will all work out in the end. May we seek His Spirit always by choosing righteousness as we obediently and humbly walk the path of discipleship.

These Things Shall Give Thee Experience

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I spend much of my time working with people who are dealing with end of life issues. While not generally in the acute stages of end-of-life,many of the people I interact with are struggling with major medical challenges, neurodegenerative diseases, and loss of independent function. These are challenges for them and challenges for their family and friends. At times there is unspoken grief and pain. At other times the grief flows freely. I see fear and fatigue and failure. But I also see joy, gladness, love, resolve, and faith. Some people face the future with considerable fear. They see the unknown of a dementia or other irreversible process and are afraid. Others face the same challenges with a resolve of strength. They want to celebrate what time they have left and be grateful for what they have.

Facing an unknown future or heavy trials with such strength reminds me of the verse in Alma where Alma expresses many great desires of his heart but then takes a moment to temper his grand desires: “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). Do we face the trials in our lives with contentment and with gratitude towards God for the blessings He has given us? Or do we face our trials with fear and loathing; do we curse God and die?

There can be goodness, help, hope, and happiness in the midst of the severest trials. We are promised that as we bear our trials we will be blessed – in this life and in the next. “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou…that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).

Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that all our sufferings will be for our good? How can chronic pain or debilitating disease or psychological suffering be for our good? It depends on how we define good and if we understand God’s plans for us. Those who can find meaning in suffering can bear any suffering. Those who know that God will eventually bless us for our sufferings in this life, have caught a glimpse of God’s plan and goodness. None of this minimizes the intensity of trials and suffering to those in the midst of it but each tear of sorrow and heartache and pain we shed in this life can be matched with many tears of joy in the life to come.

It is well

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One of my new favorite hymns is “It is well with my soul.” This moving hymn was penned by Horatio Spafford with music by Philip Bliss. You can read all the lyrics on the Wikipedia page I linked to but there’s one part of the hymn that I find powerful:

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Christ took our sins upon Himself so that we might not have to bear them. He suffered in Gethsemane, He was nailed to the cross, He rose triumphant from the tomb so that we do not have to bear our own sins. We, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do not talk or focus on the cross as much as many other Christian religions do. There are reasons for this, which I won’t go into here but we’re certainly not opposed to the cross. Mainly I think we like to focus on Christ’s resurrection because we believe that we are part of His living church. The cross is important though because not only was the Savior born in the most humble of circumstances but also He was killed in one of the most horrific manners possible. Crucifixion was a fate given to the worst of the worst criminals. Christ was without His own sin but He took all our sins upon Himself. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Him.

The story behind this hymn is sad, which I think makes the hopefulness of the words more significant.

I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

“This hymn was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871 at the age of four, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.”

Amid all those trials Spafford wrote:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Is all well with your soul? Do you turn toward or away from God in your trials?

Here is my favorite recording of this hymn:

Lessons from the Brother of Jared

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“16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.
  17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
  18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
  19 And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
  20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
  21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.” (Ether 2:16-21)

Jared, his brother, and their families left the area near Babel to travel to a promised land. After a long journey over land and water, they camped on a beach. After staying there for a few years, the Lord commanded them to travel across the ocean. The brother of Jared asked how he should make the boats. The Lord told him to make them small and light and “tight like unto a dish”. These boats may or may not have had some sort of sail. They might have been rowed. They might have simply followed the currents of the ocean. In any case, the boats were built well and did not leak. I imagine they were something like a submarine, except they were designed to mainly float on top of the water. There were times, however, when they would be buried in the ocean before bobbing back up to the surface. Because they were water-tight, they were also air-tight. Air holes were constructed in the top and bottom (as the Lord instructed) so that if the boats were covered in water or upside-down, there were at least two holes to try and open to let in air. The hole on the bottom, if opened, would not let water in due to the internal air pressure of the boat. The hole on the top could let in fresh air.

The times would come when the Jaredites would be buried in the darkness of the depths of the sea. They would be without light and seemingly without help. It was of these dark times that the brother of Jared pondered when he approached the Lord in prayer and asked “What shall we do for light when we are buried in the depths of the sea?” The Lord asked the brother of Jared what he thought the solution was. After some thinking and problem solving the brother of Jared came back to the Lord with a solution. I’ll summarize and paraphrase the dialogue. “Here are some stones I created out of molten material. If Thou would but touch them, they could shine forth with Thy light.” The Lord then touched the stones with His finger and they lighted. The brother of Jared saw the finger of the Lord and was surprised by the Lord’s appearance. Once the Lord taught the brother of Jared about the nature of His spirit body, the brother of Jared asked to see all of the Savior – for the Lord Jehovah is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Then the Savior appeared to him (see Ether 3).

There are some important lessons for us in these stories of the Jaredites. Like the Jaredites, there will be times in our lives when we will be buried in the depths of the seas, so to speak. We will feel lost, alone, scared, and in the dark. At such times, we can remember the story of the Jaredites and how the brother of Jared was blessed by God with a solution. The brother of Jared was able to come up with his own solution to the light problem but the solution still required to miraculous power of the Lord. God provides us with power to overcome the darkness in our lives.

One other lesson we can learn from this story is that the brother of Jared first had to see the hand (finger) of the Lord in His life in order to receive a greater manifestation of the Savior’s power and presence. Once the brother of Jared saw and comprehended the hand of the Lord in his life, he was blessed with greater light and knowledge from the Lord. He was blessed with one of the greatest of all blessings – to stand in the presence of the Lord and be taught by Him. Once we recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives, we can be blessed with greater knowledge of the Lord; maybe we will not actually see Him, but we will be able to feel of His power and love. As we are caught up in the depths, over our heads in life, if we see and recognize and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives, we will be blessed by the Lord and protected through the stormy seas and darkness of life.

Gospel Weekend Warriors – Part 2

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The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from the Latin indurare, meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress or trials or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a relatively weak or actually weak product. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him; He was hated and persecuted. Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured.

The gift given unto those who endure is great, even the greatest gift possible. Jesus said, “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C; 14:7). He also promised, “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C; 121:8). Again, suffering is implicit to endurance but those who endure are strengthened against and through suffering. But what is important are the promised blessings that come unto those who endure. “If thou endure it [adversities and afflictions] well, God shall exalt thee on high.” What a beautiful promise! Endurance leads to exaltation.

There is a beautiful passage in Hebrews illustrating God’s love for us through His chastening of us. Some may question how God’s chastening of us is an expression of His love. How can His causing our suffering be loving? This passage from Hebrews explains: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:7-9). How can a parent say he or she loves his or her children and not discipline them? Children are inherently good but children are not always good. They do not always act with kindness unto others; they do not spring out as perfect and wise beings who know all right from all wrong or the good from the better from the best. Of course, it is possible for parents to be overbearing in their chastening and discipline but children need discipline and chastening. However, God is perfect – He does not make mistakes in His chastening of His children. God does not allow us to be tempted more than we are able to bear (see 1 Cor. 10:13), surely He will not chasten us more than we are willing to bear. The more we feeling we are being chastened by God – the more we may deserve it but also the more we can know that God knows that we can handle it as we trust in Him.

A Sure Foundation, Part 3

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Before the vicissitudes and storms of life come upon you, it is important to be built upon a sure foundation. The Savior taught, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:48). When the rains and storms come, it is too late to build your house upon the rock; it needs to be done before the storms hit. When the rains and floods came in Noah’s day, it was too late for the people to start building their own arks. When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed.

I’ll return to a scripture I quoted earlier. “And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation” (Jacob 4:15). Jacob continues, setting up his next great lesson, which is found in Jacob 5: “But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build. And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?” (Jacob 4:16-17).

Before I provide Jacob’s answer to that question I want to mention a couple things. The stone that Jacob writes about is the great, the last, and the only sure foundation that the Jews and that any of us can build upon. We live in a tumultuous time. Not only is marriage under attack by high divorce rates, cohabitation, and children born out of wedlock, but now it is under attack by those who would seek to redefine what constitutes a marriage. Friends strive against friends – there is hatred all around. People talk of justice, rights, fairness, and acceptance yet ignore and fight morality, religion, and God. The cacophony of clamoring voices is great; this “progressive” symphony of dissonance and din is full of nothing but tinkling cymbals and sounding brass (see 1 Cor. 13:1). Through the tumult, the confusion, and the strife, there is a single clarion call – a call to the one sure way, one sure foundation, and one sure stone! This stone is like a light bursting through the darkness, like the stones made by the brother of Jared that shone with the light of the Lord. This stone is the light of the First Vision, rending through the darkness of the ages, anchoring humankind to their sure foundation. We must never let go of this stone – our True Anchor – even though mobs may assemble and calumny may defame (see History of the Church, 4:540).

Link to part 2 of this essay.

There is no man more beloved than Joseph Bitner Wirthlin

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Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin passed away late last night (December 1, 2008). Although I did not know him personally, he always came across as one of the most soft-spoken and gentle people. I never really appreciated his talks until Pres. Merrill Bateman (it could have been Pres. Samuelson, I’m not positive), president of Brigham Young University, stated that once the conference issue of the Ensign was released, he and his wife always read Elder Wirthlin’s talk first. After this I started paying more attention to his talks. They are always amazing and full of charity. His talks are also powerful, which his soft manner and voice belie.

Here are a few recent quotes of his that brought strength and comfort to me.
On adversity:

“But whenever my steps led through seasons of sadness and sorrow, my mother’s words often came back to me: ‘Come what may, and love it.’ How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.” (Source).

On sorrow and trials:

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With all the pressures and demands on our time and the stress we face each day, it’s little wonder we get tired. Many feel discouraged because they have not measured up to their potential. Others simply feel too weak to contribute. And so, as the flock moves on, gradually, almost imperceptibly, some fall behind. Everyone has felt tired and weary at one time or another. I seem to feel more so now than I did when I was younger. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, even Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be tired. I do not wish to underestimate the weight that members of the Church bear upon their shoulders, nor do I minimize the emotional and spiritual trials they face. These can be heavy and often difficult to bear. I do, however, have a testimony of the renewing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the Lord ‘giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.'” (Source).

On debt:

“This is simple counsel but a powerful secret for financial happiness. All too often a family’s spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress. Those who live safely within their means know how much money comes in each month, and even though it is difficult, they discipline themselves to spend less than that amount. Credit is so easy to obtain. In fact, it is almost thrust upon us. Those who use credit cards to overspend unwisely should consider eliminating them. It is much better that a plastic credit card should perish than a family dwindle and perish in debt.” (Source).

On kindness:

“Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes.” (Source).

On judging others:

“Each one of us will travel a different road during this life. Each progresses at a different rate. Temptations that trouble your brother may not challenge you at all. Strengths that you possess may seem impossible to another. Never look down on those who are less perfect than you. Don’t be upset because someone can’t sew as well as you, can’t throw as well as you, can’t row or hoe as well as you. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Source).

I hope that we will all take the time to reread some of Elder Wirthlin’s words and live by his teachings. He was a man who exuded kindness and charity. As Elder Holland stated at the October 2008 General Conference, “Within the ranks of the general authorities of the church, there is no man more beloved than Joseph Bitner Wirthlin. We praise him for living the sermons he preaches.” Elder Wirthlin’s words, stories, and love will be missed. I am happy though that he is now reunited with his dear wife.