Populations in the Book of Mormon

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Foreward: This topic has been addressed by others (e.g., [1-3]). I only looked up and started skimming through the other essays or articles on this topic after writing most of this post. I’m not trying to offer anything new. This is merely my own non-specific commentary (meaning I’m not replying to anyone specifically) on Book of Mormon populations.

In the Book of Mormon we read of three groups of people: Nephites, Mulekites, and Jaredites. The Jaredites left what is now called the Middle East somewhere around 2000 BC (there’s uncertainty around that timing — they realistically could have left as late as 1000 BC but 2000 BC is likely closer to the truth). They travelled an unknown direction to what we now call the Americas. Where they landed and lived is unknown but the best speculation is in the Mesoamerican area. Wherever they were in the Americas, they would have lived with others who peopled the Americas. 

Side note: The first people who lived in the Americas started arriving about 20 thousand years ago (this date is controversial). There was recent evidence suggesting people might have arrived here 130,000 thousand years ago but it’s been heavily criticized (e.g., [4,5]). Dating the arrival of ancient people into other locations is challenging. There is considerable uncertainty when “modern humans” were first living outside Africa. A 2018 paper in Science provided evidence modern humans were living outside Africa about 180,000 years ago, which is much earlier than previously believed [6]. This uncertainty about dates doesn’t mean what we know is widely wrong, it just means there is a lot we do not know about early human history. There’s a lot we don’t know about modern human history, for that matter.

Eventually the Jaredite people collapsed as a civilization due to political in-fighting, wars, and natural events. It’s possible they were also at least partially culturally integrated into surrounding civilizations, thus ending as a people. There is some speculation by members of The Church of Latter-day Saints that the Jaredites were or were at least affiliated with what we call the Olmec people, in part because the dates of the civilization match the timeline of the Jaredites (starting circa 1600 BC [again, there are many unknowns about when ancient civilizations started] and collapsing around 400 BC) as well as the scope of the Jaredites (they were “a great nation”, Ether 1:43). Who they were or where they lived is less important than the spiritual lessons offered by their brief history we have (that was interpreted with editorial commentary by men who lived at least 1000 years later).

Remnants of the Jaredite civilization were found by the other main group of individuals recorded in the Book of Mormon — the Mulekites. The Mulekites left Jerusalem around the time of its seige in 589 BC and its destruction around 587/586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II. At least portions of the Mulekites merged with the Nephites and Lamanites years after they reached the Americas.

All of this leads to the purpose of this post. Lehi lived circa 645 – 575 BC (we don’t know how old he was when he left Jerusalem and don’t know how old he was when he died). While we don’t know how large his group was when they reached the Americas, we can estimate it was likely in the range of 25-50 people (Lehi’s family plus Ishmael’s family). For our purposes we’ll assume 30 people. From that group we read this account: “And now, behold, two hundred years had passed away, and the people of Nephi had waxed strong in the land…. And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites;… And it came to pass that they came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle…. And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich.” (Jarom 1:5-8). What little record we have about the early years of the Nephite people come from a record focused almost exclusively on prophesyings and revelations. (Words of Mormon 1:6) This makes estimating population sizes challenging.

Populations generally grow exponentially. This can account for rapid growth over generations. Limiting factors include food supply, land supply, water supply, disease, conflict, technological limitations, and natural disasters. As such, the carrying capacity of an area is generally larger than the current population in an area. This is because societal effects limit potential growth. The general upper limit of potential human population exponential growth is about 0.1 (that’s a gross 10% rate of change per year; [7]) That’s clearly not realistic with human populations but is an estimated upper limit. The reality of net population growth is discussed more below. Here’s an example of exponential growth before we get into data about growth rates.

An exponential growth formula looks like this: y = a(1 + r)x. With 30 people reaching the Americas, 200 years later with a 10% rate of change, there would be 5,697,158,294 Nephites and Lamanites. That’s obviously not feasible. In modern industrial times the population of the earth has had growth rates as high as 2-3% [8]. Rates that high during Nephite times with an ideal set of circumstances would be conceivable but unlikely. Our world currently has just over a 1% growth rate. This is largely because families are smaller than they were 60 years ago.

3% growth would be about 11,000 descendents of Lehi in 200 years, 2% growth would yield about 1600, and 1% would be about 220. In Jarom we read about the Nephites being “scattered upon much of the face of the land”. That doesn’t mean there were a lot of Nephites, it just means they had spread out. We don’t know how large an area is “much of the face of the land.” Assuming it means large geographic areas is reading more into the record than what it says. The Nephites continued to multiply (that’s exponential growth). There were, however, “exceedingly more [Lamanites] than…Nephites”. Let’s go over ancient population growth rates before cycling back to the Book of Mormon people.

Estimates put growth rates in ancient prehistoric Australia at 0.04% [9,10]. That rate would result in about 33 Nephites and Lamanites 200 years later. That’s not a likely number given the record in the Book of Mormon. In fact, while that is true as an average over thousands of years, growth accelerated starting about 5000 years ago, likely tied to climate changes [9]. In ancient prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, the growth rate has been estimated to be as high as 0.4% for short periods of time [11]. Again, the 0.04% rate is true over thousands of years. There will be considerable variation within shorter time epochs [11] and within localized regions and peoples. Applying large-scale population growth rates to an individual family (that becomes a small society) is invalid. I will, however, continue down this path as we work nearer the truth.

If we look at ancient Greece, we see rates around 0.25 to 0.45% during the centuries before Christ [12]. Similar rates around 0.4% are reported for ancient Palestine [13]. Using a 0.4% growth rate, we have 67 Nephites and Lamanites after 200 years. Even by the end of the Book of Mormon 1000 years later, there would only be about 1,600 Nephites and Lamanites. Again, that’s net population growth including loss to war, famine, political turmoil, and catastrophic events. That’s also applying population-level statistics to individual families and groups of people. It’s like assuming an individual’s (or family’s intelligence) based on the average. That person might have average intelligence but she might have superior or limited intelligence. Group level statistics do not tell us about individuals. This can be true for societies. In essence, the peak population can be drastically higher than predicted. All this being said, we see something supporting population level growth rates in the Book of Mormon — higher peak population but then after a societal collapse, essentially no Nephites. We could run the statistical model for the Nephites or the Jaredites and maybe get a result matching the 0.4% expected growth rate. However, some people dismiss the Book of Mormon as having unrealistic populations, in part because it doesn’t seem to match what they believe population growth rates should be. Therefore, they believe it’s not true. However, whatever we think about it, the Book of Mormon is true. Its veracity is independent from our beliefs about it; meaning, whether or not we have a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon, it is true regardless. It is our responsibility to receive a witness of its truth. This is something I’ve received from God. Given this, there are three explanations for Book of Mormon population growth: 1) the descendants of Lehi had higher population growth rates than the expected 0.4%, 2) there were other unnamed people (but hinted at) the Lamanites and Nephites merged with, or 3) a combination of those points.

I already mentioned applying population-level growth rates to individuals, families, and even cultures can be misleading or invalid. Here’s why. Lehi and Sariah had at least 8 children who lived to adulthood (Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, plus “sisters”). Add in potential others from Ishmael’s family who were not the daughters marrying Lehi’s sons, and we have the 30 people I used as an estimate. We know a number of Book of Mormon people over the years had multiple children (e.g., Mosiah). This is in part because they were descendents of Israel. They placed great value on children. Because of this, it’s highly likely this small group of people had a higher fertility rate than broader societies at the time. We see this within modern times. In the U.S. the average number of children per family with children is about 1.9 [14]. However, Utah, a state with a high percent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an outlier at 2.2 in the 2000 Census. If we look at Latter-day Saints, we see an average of 3.4 children per family [15]. That number is lower than it used to be. There were higher infant mortality rates in the past but it’s possible for families and societies to have high fertility rates for extended periods (“extended” being up to hundreds of years). What would the population of the U.S. be if its fertility and growth rates were as high as than among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Higher than it is now.

We don’t know how large the Nephite population was 200 years after Lehi left Jerusalem or really at any point in the Book of Mormon. We have some counts of groups (armies) but don’t know if those are exact numbers, estimates, or exaggerations. Nephite and Lamanite population likely wasn’t large after 200 years (e.g., 11,000 with a high 3% growth rate), at least according to a limited definition as direct descendents of Lehi and relative to populations today. Additionally, we know the terms Nephites and Lamanites were cultural, religious, and political terms (see 2 Nephi 5:9; Doctrine & Covenants 10:48) and thus often did not constitute genealogy (some discussion in [16]). Essentially anyone who wasn’t a Nephite was a Lamanite. People could become Nephites or Lamanites. Sometimes there was distinction (e.g., Anti-Nephi-Lehies) but it wasn’t always that clear. There are hints there were others (e.g., many more Lamanites than Nephites) but we also need to understand the purpose of the Book of Mormon.

It is a history of a people (with commentary about some other groups) but it’s primarily a sacred record that testifies of Jesus Christ. This is an unsatisfactory answer to many people but it’s the reality of the situation. This does not mean there is no utility of the Book of Mormon outside spiritual matters but we can’t get hung up on what we think should be in the Book of Mormon. We also shouldn’t get hung up on perceived discrepancies between what we know or think we know through current scientific methods and what we think we know about the Book of Mormon.

Again, the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to invite people to Christ. Discussions about population, such as this one, are not ultimately important (but can be interesting). What’s ultimately important are the covenants we make with our Heavenly Father, our faithfulness to those covenants, and the manifestations of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives.

So how do we explain Book of Mormon populations? This is a challenge because we never know populations in the Book of Mormon. However, what is most likely is high growth rate plus mixing with existing groups in the Americas.

References

  1. Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon
  2. Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?
  3. How Could So Many People Have Died at the Battle of Cumorah?
  4. Critics attack study that rewrote human arrival in Americas
  5. A New Study Says Humans Were in America 130,000 Years Ago
  6. Hershkovitz, I., Weber, G. W., Quam, R., Duval, M., Grün, R., Kinsley, L., … & Arsuaga, J. L. (2018). The earliest modern humans outside Africa. Science, 359(6374), 456-459.
  7. Stutz, A. J. (2014). Modeling the pre-industrial roots of modern super-exponential population growth. PloS one, 9(8).
  8. World Population Growth
  9. Johnson, C. N., & Brook, B. W. (2011). Reconstructing the dynamics of ancient human populations from radiocarbon dates: 10000 years of population growth in Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1725), 3748-3754
  10. Zahid, H. J., Robinson, E., & Kelly, R. L. (2016). Agriculture, population growth, and statistical analysis of the radiocarbon record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4), 931-935.
  11. Bettinger, R. L. (2016). Prehistoric hunter–gatherer population growth rates rival those of agriculturalists. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4), 812-814.
  12. Scheidel, W. (2003). The Greek Demographic Expansion: Models and Comparisons. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 123, 120-140. Retrieved March 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/3246263
  13. Pastor, Jack (2013). Land and Economy in Ancient Palestine. Routledge. p. 7
  14. Table ST-F1-2000. Average Number of Children Per Family and Per Family With Children, by State: 2000 Census
  15. Mormons more likely to marry, have more children than other U.S. religious groups
  16. Book of Mormon Peoples

Your Path Into the Light of Christ

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There is a lovely road that runs northeast from Mesa, Arizona into the mountains. These mountains are tree-covered and jagged, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs hundreds of miles into them, to a small mountain city called Payson; and from there you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Arizona. About you there are trees and rocks and you may hear the forlorn crying of the red-tailed hawk. Beneath your feet is the Mogollon Rim, a 200 mile wide cliff rising sharply from the desert valleys. It is upon this cliff you can look down from forests of pine onto the red and gray rocks that are softened by rich greens and browns. It is lovely beyond any telling of it. If you look off the rim before the dawn, you can look down at the darkened valleys. The sun first lights the mountain tops. The valleys are filled with darkness but the dawn’s light will come, just as it has for millions of years. The sun then reaches part of the valley, leaving part in darkness. The light will come there too, just as it has for millions of years. Eventually the light of the sun chases away all the darkness of night.1Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1

After rising out of the valley, you can contemplate the vastness of creation upon this wind-swept plateau. You can marvel at the beauty of the earth — mighty mountains, towering trees, and whispering wind. You can marvel at rising from dark desert valleys into the sunlit mountains. This elevation gain comes from traveling a twisting trail up away from dark valleys towards sunlit mountaintops. Without knowing the destination it is easy to doubt the journey. Why does this road turn here instead of going straight there? Wouldn’t it be faster and shorter to head straight up? What might seem fastest is not always safest. Engineers designed the road to provide safety while traveling. We too, can travel twisting roads in life. Prophets talk of strait and narrow roads. If we pay attention, most of the time the reference is to a strait — S – T – R – A – I – T — rather than straight — S – T – R – A – I – G – H – T — road. The first strait means narrow. The second straight means without turns. Our safest road through life to return to the Savior, who is the light of the world, might twist and turn; some of the turns might even appear to move us away from our destination.

This year [2020] we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s enlightening vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Pres. Nelson asked us to prepare for the upcoming General Conference by immersing ourselves in the light of the restored gospel of Christ. Pres. Nelson wrote: “The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital.”2 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng We are in the midst of a hinge point — an adjusting turn — in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is neither a course-correction nor an unplanned deviation. This turn is part of an exalting, covenant path. This hinge point will provide safety as it elevates us from darkened valleys into God’s everlasting light. The Lord doesn’t want us to wait in dark valleys until His light eventually reaches us, He wants us to rise into His light. We are to act and not wait to be acted upon. We are to seek additional light and knowledge and not just wait for it.

It is no coincidence that we study the illuminating Book of Mormon as a church this year [2020]. Alma the Younger was one of the great Book of Mormon prophets. He was a rebellious son of the prophet Alma, who previously served a wicked king but was converted to the Lord. Alma the Younger also was converted under miraculous circumstances through faith in Jesus Christ. All conversion, all repentance and forgiveness, is a miracle even if the circumstances seem less noteworthy than Alma’s. Alma repented and became a great church and political leader. He later gave up the accolades of the world to serve full-time as missionary and prophet. One mission brought him to people who had established an apostate church. The members of this church denied the coming of Christ. They set themselves up as lights to the world rather than basking in the light of Christ. They coveted riches and cast out the poor.

It was among these poor and cast-off that Alma and his missionary companions found people who were willing to listen. “They began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel…therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.”3Alma 32:2-3

These humble people gathered to hear the words of a prophet. They said to Alma, “[the priests] have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?”4Alma 32:5 When Alma heard this, he turned to them to teach them in their humility. Alma said, “I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye. Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?”5Alma 32:8-11

There is a lesson here as we continue to learn what worship means as part of a home-centered church. Worshiping God is not just once a week, two hours on Sundays; it can occur in our homes throughout the week. We can worship God when we live as disciples of Christ, ministering as He did. We worship Heavenly Father when we pray and when we study the words of ancient and modern prophets. As we always remember the Savior, we can always have His Spirit to be with us.6Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77 With our lives and homes built on a Christ-centered foundation, we then come to church to be strengthened together as we partake of the sacrament, participate in lessons, and serve one another. We then minister to others as the Savior would — caring for them, helping them feel the Spirit and the love of Christ, and inviting them to receive ordinances.

As we minister to others, we nourish their faith and our faith. As faith is nourished, it will grow into a tree of everlasting life, as Alma taught.7See Alma 32:28-43 This tree, as Lehi saw, is found at the end of a strait and narrow road.81 Nephi 8:20-21 It is at the tree we partake of God’s loving grace and worship Him. It is at and by that radiant tree that we are filled with an eternal light. Lehi saw in his vision one tree of life. Alma taught that each person needs to plant and nourish a seed of faith that will grow into a tree of life: “If ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”9Alma 32:40-41 Lehi saw an iron rod representing the word of God. Alma compared the word to a seed of faith. As we hold to that rod, as we plant and nourish that seed, we gain access to a tree of life and can partake of the fruit. We each need to plant and nourish our own tree of life. We plant and nourish the seed but God gives us the tree and fruit. He blesses us with His Spirit and His love.

We can nourish this seed of faith as we regularly pray in our fields, in the wildernesses of our lives, in our homes, our church buildings, our closets, and our hearts. As we do so, we will be filled with the Holy Ghost. Having the Spirit of God in our hearts and homes is necessary for us to arise from the dark valleys of life and bask in the Savior’s light. Pres. Eyring encouraged us to “never delay an impression to pray.”10 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng Prayer invites revelation. In prayer we can seek and receive a changed heart. A one-time change of heart is not enough. In prayer, as we plead daily for forgiveness of our sins, we will receive enduring change. King David was a man after the Lord’s heart but he made mistakes, sinned, and fell from the light of grace.11 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39 Salvation is not a single event; following the covenant path requires enduring faith, repentance, service, sacrifice, and prayer.

Another way to nourish the seed of faith and follow the strait and narrow road is regularly reading the scriptures. In 1 Nephi 1 we read of one of Lehi’s visions; he saw Jesus Christ and the twelve original apostles: “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.”12 1 Nephi 1:11-12 The first of these heavenly visitors gave Lehi a book to read. This book was filled with prophecy and revelation — it was scripture. When Lehi read the revelation-filled scriptures, something important happened — “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” When Lehi read the scriptures he not only felt the Spirit but also was filled with the Spirit. That’s the difference between being thirsty and having a few drops of water fall on you and being thirsty and drinking your fill of refreshing water. Feeling water doesn’t satisfy thirst like drinking and being filled does. That is one reason why it is important to read the scriptures regularly – so we can be filled with the Spirit each time we read. The scriptures are filled with prophecy and revelation. As we feast upon them, we will be filled with the Spirit of God, receiving personal prophecy and revelation.

I’ve met people who refused to read the Book of Mormon. I can understand the hesitancy. People are busy and reading a long religious book isn’t a high priority for many people. There are many reasons why people refuse but I wonder if some were worried what would happen if they read it. If they read and felt or were filled with the Spirit, that would require change. When people read the scriptures, they invite the Spirit to fill their hearts. When people see the scriptures, hear the words of prophets, and understand, they will be converted and healed. This healing is simple. Because it is simple, many people, like the ancient children of Israel, refuse to look and be healed. We should read and invite our families to read the scriptures. As we read the scriptures individually and as families, we will see, hear, and understand the words and be filled with the Spirit. We should invite those to whom we minister to read the scriptures. As we love, serve, and share scripture with others, they will be filled with and lightened by the Spirit. They will be healed. The Spirit will fill their hearts and start the softening process of conversion.

It is with the great love of Christ that I urge you to use this hinge point in our church to experience greater individual and family conversion. If you are not filled with the Spirit of God, make the necessary changes. Start by reading scripture and praying. As we read and study the teachings of ancient and modern prophets, we will invite the Spirit into our lives and homes. As we pray, we will receive revelation. As we minister to others, we and they will nourish our seeds of faith. The Spirit will provide the guidance needed to help us stay on the strait and exalting road, even if it twists and turns. As we actively strive to follow the living prophet, we will rise into the light. We will see the light of the Son chase away the darkness of night in our lives. Jesus Christ lives and loves us! He is the light of the world.

Notes and References   [ + ]

1. Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1
2. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng
3. Alma 32:2-3
4. Alma 32:5
5. Alma 32:8-11
6. Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77
7. See Alma 32:28-43
8. 1 Nephi 8:20-21
9. Alma 32:40-41
10. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng
11. 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39
12. 1 Nephi 1:11-12

The Tree of Life: The Love of God

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Nephi’s experience with the tree of life is interesting. He desired to see the things his father saw in vision. He pondered in his heart and was “caught away by the Spirit of the Lord…into an exceedingly high mountain, which [he] never had before seen, and upon which [he] never had before set…foot.” (1 Nephi 11:1)

Nephi was faithful, he desired, and he acted (pondered and prayed). Then he was taken to an elevated place. Mountains typically represent temples in the scriptures. In that place of holiness he conversed with the Spirit of the Lord.

Nephi wanted to see all that his father saw but the Spirit showed him the tree of life first (after asking a question about Nephi’s belief; asking about Nephi’s testimony) (1 Nephi 11:2-4,8). The Spirit told Nephi the schedule for his vision: after Nephi was to see the tree, he would also “behold a man descending out of heaven”. Nephi was charged with witnessing this man and then bearing record that he “is the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7).

Nephi was faithful, desirous, active (pondering), and in a temple. As a result he saw the tree of life and wanted to know the interpretation of its symbolism.

In response and without answering Nephi’s question, the Spirit showed Nephi another vision. In this vision he saw Mary and then Mary and the infant Christ (1 Nephi 11:13-20). After Nephi saw the Christ Child and Mary, the Spirit asked him if he knew the meaning of the tree. Nephi had received his own answer: “It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” (1 Nephi 11:22) The Spirit confirmed that response, adding additional insight: “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:23) Nephi, conversing with the Spirit of the Lord, was able to answer his own question about the meaning of the tree. The Spirit led him to the answer and provided additional information when needed but Nephi was able to receive his own answer.

It was only after seeing the tree and Jesus Christ that Nephi saw the rest of the symbols from Lehi’s vision. Before spending any time with those additional symbols, we need to understand what the love of God is. The love of God is manifest in Jesus Christ’s birth but there is more to it. It includes charity. What is charity? Charity is the chief virtue. It is the “pure love of Christ, [that] endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47) Charity is without end, it endures forever. Charity is not helping others, it is not treating others well; charity is the pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God. It is a pure fruit from an everlasting tree of beauty and purity with preciousness above all else. Charity is the love of God for all His children but this cannot be what the tree of life symbolizes because not everyone partakes of the fruit of the tree.

So what is the symbolism of the love of God expressed by the tree of life? Elder Nelson taught: “The Book of Mormon…describes how one is born of God and how one gains the power to love as He does. It identifies three core principles that bring the power of God’s love into our lives.” (Source) These three core principles are: 1) exercising faith in Christ and entering into a covenant with Him to keep His commandments; 2) the power to become more like Him comes through receiving the ordinances of the gospel; and 3) needing to “follow His example: ‘What manner of men ought ye to be?’ [Jesus] asks rhetorically. His answer: ‘Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Nephi 27:27). Truly, He wants us to become more like Him.” (Source)

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught: “What does this tree with its most precious fruit symbolize? It represents ‘the love of God’ and proclaims our Heavenly Father’s marvelous plan of redemption. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ This precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement. Not only will we live again following our mortality, but through our faith in Jesus Christ, our repentance, and our keeping the commandments, we can be forgiven of our sins and one day stand clean and pure before our Father and His Son. Partaking of the fruit of the tree also symbolizes that we embrace the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel—being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and entering the house of the Lord to be endowed with power from on high. Through the grace of Jesus Christ and by honoring our covenants, we receive the immeasurable promise of living with our righteous family throughout eternity.” (Source; emphasis added)

The tree of life represents the Savior and His Atonement. We unlock the power of the Atonement by making and keeping sacred covenants, receiving ordinances, and striving to be like the Savior. We do not partake of the fullness of God’s love without making certain qualifying steps.

Jesus taught this lesson:

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:9-14)

The Savior taught His disciples. He expressed His love for them and encouraged them to continue in His love. He then clarified the condition required to continue in His love: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.” Those who do this will have a fullness of joy. The Spirit taught this to Nephi during his vision when he said the tree — the love of God — is “most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:23) The Savior then expressed His great love for His friends. Friends of the Savior are those who “do whatsoever [He] command[s]”. For these faithful friends, the Savior expressed great love by laying down His life.

Abiding in the love of God is thus conditional on obedience. God loves all His children but we have to do certain things to abide in His love. While conditional, this is not exclusionary. To understand this, let’s turn to Alma 13. There we read Alma’s teachings about the priesthood and high priests. While this chapter is focused on high priests and the Melchizedek priesthood, it applies to women and men and offers insight into how we abide in God’s love.

“And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.” (Alma 13:3-4; emphasis added)

Blessings from heaven, covenants, priesthood authority and responsibilities/callings (which are offered to women and men), ordinances, and fruits of the Spirit are offered to all. Those who exercise faith and choose good obtain the privileges. They are those who abide in the love of God and partake of the fruit of the tree of life.

Greater Vision

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A couple months ago I stopped at a crosswalk to allow pedestrians to cross the street. People kept coming and crossing so I kept waiting. As the group of pedestrians finished crossing, an impatient driver a couple cars behind me honked his/her horn because I wasn’t moving. What that driver couldn’t see was one last pedestrian crossing the road from the other direction.

A couple days ago I waited to turn left onto a busy road. After two minutes (I kept track of the time), the driver of a car behind me (who was not been there the whole time) impatiently honked, wanting me to turn. What this driver couldn’t see because trees blocked her/his vision was a car coming from our left. This car would have hit me if I turned after the honk.

Are there times you or others become spiritually impatient? The Lord said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God has a plan for us. He sees things we don’t see. He gave us prophets and apostles to provide greater vision of His plan. If we are like these impatient drivers, who trusted more in what they could see than what the car in front of them could see, we can end up in spiritually dangerous situations.

This reminds me of an account in the Book of Mormon after people saw the sign of Christ’s birth: “And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.” (3 Nephi 1:24). Do we follow the living apostles or do we honk impatiently at them, wanting them to go or turn or stop or do something other than what they are doing?

Choosing to Believe

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“Ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ…. after that [Christ] came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God…. [Christ] spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you. Wherefore…have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing.” (Moroni 7:19,26-28).

Wait Training

Patience
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As a young deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, and Varsity scouts and leaders. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were like outcasts in a remote location in Arizona. This is an area near the Grand Canyon with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant we spent a lot of time walking through the river. We couldn’t carry enough water to last the extended hike but for two days we enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped or poured from the canyon walls.

Most of our hike kept us within the shelter of narrow canyon walls – walls at times less than 10 feet apart. Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from springs and shade. We hiked through sand, cacti, and heat. We couldn’t rely on spring water and had to purify water from the river. The hike that had been tiring but pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said encouragingly, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses after hiking some hours more, the young man finally blurted out in frustration, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!”

Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We couldn’t go up the walls or go back – our cars were at the end of the canyon – so we had to go through. This left us with two options – we could hike grudgingly and be miserable or we could endure with patience and enjoy our time. This is largely true of life. We can go through it grudgingly and be miserable or we can do all we can to make the most of whatever situations we are in – good or bad, happy or sad. We can choose to be strengthened and tutored patiently by the trials we endure or just suffer through them.

Patient endurance is a trait of the righteous. As part of the plan of salvation and gospel of Jesus Christ, enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. As we go through trials it is important to go all the way through them. Press forward until you are past the trial. Don’t give up just because something is hard. You can do hard things. You can even be happy in adversity.

This leads to the age-old question of why God allows us to suffer. If God is good and loves us, why are so many people miserable? Why is there so much sadness, even among the righteous? C. S. Lewis wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).

This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi 28: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin…and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8)

Many think God should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means He allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents prevent children from learning to walk because they might fall? Or how many parents see their children struggling through school or a sport or another activity and decide that any difficulty or anxiety or challenge is harmful and should be avoided. If we avoided everything that causes us discomfort, we wouldn’t learn or grow. Parents are pained when their children hurt or are upset but there is no growth without adversity. Growth comes from enduring adversity and learning from it.

In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up or avoiding the weights. Without following safety procedures and weight limits, however, serious injury can occur. The benefits also do not come from one session. Growth and strengthening take time and patience. Just as weight training can strengthen our muscles, wait – W A I T – training can strengthen our patience.

What is the longest you waited for something you really wanted? Hours? Days? Months? Years? Sometimes the more we want something, the longer it takes to get it. To hopeful children Christmas Eve feels like a year. But what blessings can come after the wait!

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can order enough furniture and other items to fill a house and get it all delivered within two days. We can instantly reach most people in the world through thin rectangular boxes in our pockets or purses. We can see events happen live around the world on those same devices. Sometimes we might feel impatient if a website doesn’t load instantly. Many people feel frustrated or even explosively angry by delays of a few seconds or minutes, especially when driving.

While it is a wonderful blessing to have instant access and near-instant gratification, much of life requires dedicated effort to reach goals. We need to learn how to wait if we want to make it successfully through life. In October, scientists announced a treatment that will cure many diseases and health challenges (Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA.2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854). Among the benefits of this treatment are lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol. This treatment also lowers the risk of many types of cancer; it improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep, and slows weight gain or reduces weight. There are many more benefits. What is this miracle treatment? Exercise.

Occasional exercise isn’t enough. We can’t run a few steps or lift a few weights and see the benefits. These health benefits take consistent and dedicated effort year after year. Those who consistently exercise can add up to seven years to their lives. That’s not just increased quantity but also increased quality. If we regularly exercise we will be healthier and happier than we are without exercise. While any amount of exercise helps, consistency is best.

Exercise has many benefits so why do most people get too little? One of the barriers is that it takes time. There are no instant health benefits; they require dedication and patience. Similar dedication and patience are required in the gospel and in life. Just as the full benefits of physical exercise take years of patient effort to receive, it takes years of dedicated spiritual effort and exercise to receive the full spiritual benefits. We receive many instant blessings from our Eternal Father but the ultimate blessings require faith and patience.

Jesus taught: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19). Joseph Smith read verses on patience as he contemplated the nature of God and which church he should join. In James 1:3-4 we read, as did Joseph: “The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The next verse was the key that inspired Joseph to pray and ask God. We often focus on the immediate answer to Joseph’s prayer but he spent years pondering, studying, and offering silent prayers before his miraculous vision (Source).

Many of us spend years seeking for answers to prayers. What do we do when answers don’t seem to come? Do we give up or do we continue trusting God? Do we only look for the answers that come how we expect or do we open our eyes and hearts to all the others answers God gives? Some of our prayers might be answered how and when we want or they might be answered how we want but not when we want. Some prayers might not be answered at all or maybe those ones are answered in ways we don’t expect.

President Uchtdorf said, “God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways…. I know for sure that the promises of the Lord, if perhaps not always swift, are always certain. Brigham Young taught that when something came up which he could not comprehend fully, he would pray to the Lord, ‘Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.’ And then Brigham would continue to pray until he could comprehend it. We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience. Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Source)

God loves us. Our Savior Jesus Christ loves us. They want us to be happy – not just happy here but happy in eternity. As we develop patience, we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understandings (Proverbs 3:5). As we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6). When we are tired and feel like our destination or an answer or blessing will never be around the next bend, we can patiently wait upon the Lord, doing the best we can. The blessings will come. The Lord “will go before our face. [He] will be on [our] right hand and on [our] left, and [His] Spirit shall be in [our] hearts, and [His] angels round about [us], to bear [us] up.” (D&C 84:88).

Image by airpix. Used under a CC by 2.0 license.

Reflection on the Past Two Years: Simplification

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Just over two years ago I was set apart as one of the 20,000+ bishops in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This has been the most challenging and one of the most rewarding callings I’ve had. If I was in charge, I’d choose to serve as a nursery leader or the ward organist. Primary pianist would be great too. I choose to serve where called even if it takes me out of my comfort zone.

These past two years have offered unique challenges. Two weeks after I was set apart, I had to deal with hurricane cleanup efforts. Last year I dealt with more. Thankfully damage was relatively minor within my ward boundaries but a lot of efforts were made coordinating cleanup within and without our boundaries.

There have been so many other experiences — many wonderful, some unpleasant. In order to protect confidences, I will not write about any of these without using broad generalities. There have been funerals, marriages, divorces, baptisms, ending of church membership, and the ministering of angels. The greatest joy comes from meeting with so many wonderful people who love Jesus Christ and who are striving with quiet faith to return to our Heavenly Father.

Shortly after President Monson died and President Nelson was sustained as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was talking with an elderly neighbor. He was impressed with our church having a new president who was more than 90 years old. He asked if there would be any big changes at church. I replied that it was always a possibility but we’d just have to wait and see. I thought there probably wouldn’t been many changes for at least some months. My neighbor’s question about changes stuck with me in light of all the changes we’ve seen in 2018.

It was an interesting experience to be serving as bishop during the time when the church (mostly) put all high priests into consolidated elder’s quorums. This simplified the organizational structure of the church and made the lives of bishops a little easier because it reduced the number vital of callings within the ward. This streamlining of church organization removed the imbalance between the Relief Society and the priesthood quorums. It also countered the general process within the world to add organizational complexity to support the growing numbers and complexities of modern society. At a time when most businesses expand and most governments expand, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simplified.

In concert with the streamlining of the elder’s quorum were policy changes to allow greater responsibilities for the Relief Society Presidency and Elder’s Quorum Presidency within each unit. Missionary work, temple and family history work, and many of the other adult-centric functions are now largely handled by the Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum. Bishops, of course, still have ultimate responsibility within the ward but these changes help bishops focus even more on the youth. This focus on the youth will be more realized as the church implements its simplified but more coordinated youth program in 2020. Cutting out the involvement with the Boy Scout organization simplifies ward organizations but also allows for greater parity between young women and young men and the U.S./Canada congregations and the rest of the world. There’s much we don’t yet know about those changes so I’ll leave that topic for now.

Yesterday at the Saturday morning session of conference additional changes were announced. Church was changing from a 3 hour block of meetings to a 2 hour block of meetings. This wasn’t a reduction in church services, just a reduction in formal church services. The hope is that families and individuals would use the additional time to study the gospel at home. Some people will not replace the extra hour with anything gospel-related but many will. It will be a great blessing to families and individuals. Church members will be given more opportunities to govern themselves after learning correct principles.

There will be additional streamlining. The hymnbook and primary songbook are being redone to remove some/many of the less frequently sung songs. The church also wants the same hymnbook and primary songbook in all languages. I do not know the timeframe for these changes but it follows the same process of simplifying. All this streamlining is done to increase faith in Jesus Christ and strengthen individuals and families.

Revelation: A Work in Progress

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The Book of Mormon prophet Jarom taught about revelation: “And there are many among us [the Nephites] who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.” (Jarom 1:4)

Communion is not a word we use much in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a term used by many other Christian churches for the sacrament. It has broader meaning than partaking of bread and wine. Communion comes from a Latin word meaning common, as in shared. Communion can thus mean sharing intimate thoughts and feelings. Repeating again from Jarom: “As many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit”. Faith and humility lead to close associations with the Holy Spirit and with our Heavenly Father. Communion is us sharing thoughts and feelings with Them but also having Their thoughts and feelings shared with us as revelation and inspiration. Communion is a conversation between individuals who know each other well. This is the process of revelation – conversation with Divinity.

Today I address the nature of revelation. Within broader Christianity, the major and in many instances, the only source of revelation is the Bible. As as result, many people view the scriptures as a fixed process and a fixed result. Thus spake Jehovah through His mouthpiece Moses or Elijah. Thus spoke Peter. This view results in scripture dictated by God as whole and complete. From “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:21) covers the complete, fixed scriptural canon. This is an incorrect, if understandable, view of scripture. At the time of Jospeh Smith it was the dominant view of scripture. Over time, maybe in part because of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this view of scripture and revelation as a fixed process has weakened but it is still prevalent.

We have the Book of Mormon and teachings of modern prophets to help us understand a different process of revelation. The Book of Mormon came to us in its current form through the work of many different people both ancient and modern. Much of the work anciently was done by a prophet named Mormon, hence the title we use for the book – The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Mormon served as abridger and editor of sacred and secular records that were kept by prophets and other individuals over the years. As inspired, he selected passages that told of the history of small groups of people in the Americas but more importantly, Mormon selected words of prophets that taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mormon compiled and edited the Book of Mormon while watching the end of his civilization – most of his people had either been killed in wars or had turned from following the statutes of God and joined with their enemies. Before he finished the record, Mormon was killed in battle, leaving his son Moroni as caretaker over the sacred records and the finisher of the Book of Mormon. Moroni was a faithful steward, burying the book in a stone box in what would later be upstate New York. The plates Moroni buried in the ground were made of gold, which does not easily corrode or corrupt. Mormon and others engraved words with great difficulty (see Jacob 4:1) so they chose words judiciously. Space was also limited so what Mormon included was what he thought most important. He chose teachings to help those who read the book draw nearer to Christ.

What we have as the current start of the Book of Mormon was not Mormon’s selected start of the book. 116 additional translated manuscript pages existed but they were lost when Martin Harris, who helped Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon, convinced Joseph to let him take the manuscript home so he could show his wife. Martin’s wife was was upset at the work Martin was doing with Joseph and wanted to see some evidence of its value. Even though part of the Book of Mormon manuscript disappeared, God, in foresight, inspired Mormon to include writings by Nephi and a few others that covered the same timeframe. The previously translated portion was not translated again. Mormon wrote why he included plates duplicating part of the Book of Mormon story:

“And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin…I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.” (Words of Mormon 1:3).

Mormon made all his abridgments and then discovered the “small plates of Nephi” that included some history but focused mainly on sacred things (particularly on Jesus Christ). Mormon didn’t know why he included them other than the Lord revealed to him they should be included.

As we now have the Book of Mormon, the first part of it was written by an ancient prophet Nephi and a few others, including Nephi’s brother Jacob. Mormon wrote the rest of the Book of Mormon with a few words written by his son Moroni (who buried the gold plates around the year 421 AD). Mormon quoted extensively from various prophets and later, quoted directly from the Savior when He visited the Americas after His resurrection; Mormon’s quoting and commentary are interwoven, often with little differentiation between commentary and quote, so it is sometimes difficult to know when he is quoting and when he is writing.

The book of Ether, which is near the end of the Book of Mormon but takes place before most of the events in the rest of the Book of Mormon, is a transcription of a translation done by Mosiah of records of a group of people called the Jaredites. They lived long before the Nephites, traveling to the Americas thousands of years BC. Their civilization lasted through many wars for over a thousand years until the last of the Jaredites was discovered by another group of people who left Jerusalem separately from Lehi’s family.

The Book of Mormon is called the Book of Mormon in honor of all the work Mormon did compiling, editing, and writing. By volume, Mormon, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are the four largest contributors. Mormon compiled a remarkable book that was not written for his family or his people – they were almost all dead – it was written for the purpose of coming forth 1400 years later to teach people of Jesus Christ. Mormon wrote the book to add a joint witness to the Bible of the truthfulness of Christ’s mission.

Why is knowing the authorship and creation of the Book of Mormon important and what does it have to do with understanding revelation? We learned writing the Book of Mormon was a process. The words and stories in it are those of many people. Each lived in different times, many of which were difficult. Mormon, who was a prophet and military leader, selected the stories and teachings to strengthen faith in and understanding of Jesus Christ. It was a lot of work. He edited and wrote between fighting battles and trying to survive. On the title page Mormon wrote: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”

Mormon admitted there might be faults in his book. Humans are not perfect, even prophets. If there are any faults, they do not mean God is somehow faulty, the faults occur because God relies on imperfect people to do much of His work – and that is glorious! God trusts people enough to allow them to do some of His work. We get to be part of God’s work! Faults do not lessen the truth of the Book of Mormon, just as they don’t lessen the importance of the Bible. The Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ. It serves to teach us about salvation through Jesus Christ. It serves to testify of and clarify truths found in the Bible.

Some question why a prophet might make errors, especially with something we consider inspired or revealed, such as the Book of Mormon or Bible. Prophets are human. Who on earth today is free from biases and cultural influences? No one. Those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators are human. They have callings and keys that open up rights to general revelation for the church but they do not receive such revelation all the time.

Elder Bruce McConkie, who was an apostle, wrote: “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.” (Mormon Doctrine, 547; as cited by Ben Spackman). Just because prophets and apostles are fallible does not diminish their holy callings or our responsibility to faithfully follow them. Even if the Lord’s chosen prophets and apostles are wrong about something, we are not wrong in following them. Not following the president of the church and the quorum of the twelve apostles when they represent the Savior Jesus Christ is sin.

Any time we sin we go against God. We, in our sins (I’m talking about willful sins, not sins of ignorance) place ourselves above God by thinking or feeling we know better than He does or than His prophets do. Even so, God is forgiving; we can repent of our pride and all our other sins. He understands the difficulties and confusions of mortality; He knows we all sin and will continue to sin — that’s why we have Christ’s Atonement — to bring us back in alignment with God and His laws. Christ’s Atonement also sanctifies us, if we allow it, so we will no longer have the desire to sin. Hopefully at some point in our lives we cease sinning very much. That is one of our main goals in life — to be at a point where we are more like our Father in Heaven through His grace. God’s hand is outstretched to us; as we repent we reach out to Him. Another main goal in life is to stop thinking we know better than God and turn our wills over to Him.

So although prophets are fallible, going against the teachings of the living prophets (and many teachings of dead ones too) even if we do not understand them crosses over the line of sin. This does not mean blind devotion but it means we trust God and those He chose to lead His church. At the April 2012 Priesthood Session of General Conference Pres. Monson taught: “At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.” (Monson, Priesthood Session, April 2012). May we always be right by always following the living prophet!

Prophets and apostles are above all, special witnesses of Jesus Christ. They testify of Jesus Christ and of His atonement. That is their primary role as apostles. They also have other responsibilities but they, like the full-time missionaries, are called to testify of Jesus Christ. Broadly, a prophet is anyone who testifies of Jesus Christ. That means many people have the spirit of prophecy but few are set apart as prophets.

This is a lesson taught in the Old Testament and more recent scripture. While the children of Israel followed Moses, sometimes grudgingly and rebelliously, in the wilderness, the administrative roles of managing tens of thousands of people became overwhelming for Moses. The host of Israel received manna daily but wanted more – they wanted meat. Now on top of all Moses did to protect and lead his people, he had to worry about how to get meat to prevent mass rebellion. He was burdened and getting burned out, and not by the divine fire he saw in the bush. He cried to the Lord: “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:14).

To help Moses, Jehovah revealed to him a path of shared stewardship: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17)

In addition, the Lord promised to send enough meat that it would “come out at [their] nostrils, and it be loathsome unto [them]”. (Numbers 11:20). The people would eat so much quail for a month that they would get sick of it. One lesson from this is be careful what you ask for because you might just get it.

In the meantime, Moses called seventy men to assist in the work. He set them apart. These seventy men would assist Moses with both administering and ministering. “And Moses went out…and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.” (Numbers 11:24-25). After being set apart and filled with the Spirit of God, these men prophesied.

The story continues: “But there remained two of the men in the camp…and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:26-29). “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” We learn lessons from Moses. He was not prideful; he wanted many people to share in the blessings he experienced. Also, even though he struggled with his calling, he stuck with it and the Lord blessed him for that.

John the Revelator wrote: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). If all the Lord’s people were prophets, all would be filled with the spirit of prophecy. All would have strong testimonies of the Atonement of Christ and share them with all around.

Of course, the Lord’s house is one of order. Through Joseph Smith we learn there is only one appointed – the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – who receives commandments and revelations for the church (see D&C 43:1-7). “The duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses.” (D&C 107:91). All members of the church are entitled, however, to receive revelation. This revelation comes through the Holy Ghost.

Revelation to any of us – from the President of the church to the newest baptized member – “is,” as one LDS writer explained, “always mediated to and through human knowledge, culture, and language. God accommodates his revelation to our state. It’s impossible for it to be otherwise, as its necessity is built-in to the system.” (Source)

In an essay released by the Church Newsroom the relationship between revelation, worldly knowledge, and the effort required to obtain revelation is explained, “All understanding, whether spiritual or rational, is worked out in constant questioning and discovery. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.’ Latter-day Saints do not expect God to simply hand down information. He expects us to wrestle with the complications of life through prayerful searching and sound thinking. ‘You must study it out in your mind,’ Mormon scripture teaches, and then answers will come. This pattern of inquiry opens Mormons to expanding spiritual possibilities.” (Source)

Revelation comes only by work. Sometimes the work is simple and short. Sometimes it takes years. When Joseph Smith was 11 or 12 he started thinking deeply about the nature of God, religion, and the universe. He attended different churches or church movements; he read the Bible frequently. He sought truth for years before he went into a grove of trees near his home in upstate New York and offered a humble prayer. God the Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ appeared in radiant majesty to a 14 year old Joseph Smith. They miraculously answered his prayer after he spent years seeking answers. God did not simply hand down information to Joseph Smith without Joseph first working for answers. Blessings come after trials of faith. Oh what blessings came to Joseph Smith! Oh what blessings come to us as we work diligently to receive revelation!

This first vision of Joseph Smith demonstrated the importance of continuing revelation. The teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians – the people needed Moses. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent His apostles out after His resurrection to do that, arming them with additional doctrines He did not teach while on the earth. We can therefore conclude that the Bible is not complete. We have a living prophet upon the earth. Christ’s prophets speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know. But even to them, the Lord does not reveal all things. Revelation comes to each of us line upon line. There is much the Lord will yet reveal to his servants, the prophets. There is much He will reveal to each of us.

“The Latter-day Saint belief in continuing revelation reinforces the process of learning and integration. The windows of heaven are not closed. According to…scripture, learning has lasting significance because ‘whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life’ will follow us in the hereafter. Indeed, Mormons believe that God ‘will yet reveal many great and important things’ to His children.” (Source)

If you want more revelation, if you want more truth and knowledge from God, how do you obtain it? By study and also by faith. Study without righteous living and the subsequent blessing of faith will not yield revelation. You will learn but you will not convert. You will grow but you will not be sanctified. To be learned is good if you hearken to God otherwise your knowledge will condemn you.

The great teacher Truman Madsen taught: “Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith], ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’? “Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.’” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).

As we gain more light and knowledge by revelation, we are held to a higher standard. Some might balk at this higher standard but it is God’s standard. Those who receive revelation and are true to it, will receive more and more. Those who reject revelation, will receive less and less.

I pray each of us will revel in the miraculous process of revelation. God blesses us with greater light and knowledge, line upon line, as we are spiritually and intellectually able. Revelation is a growing, expanding, and expansive process. It is not perfect because we are not perfect but it is necessary to have and to understand. May we all have communion with the Holy Spirit; may we all have revelation be a frequent occurrence as we converse with our Heavenly Father.

The Ministering of Mothers

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We learn about mothers and families in The Family: A Proclamation to the World offered by the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles: “THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan…. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children…. Fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” (The Family)

Our Heavenly Father extended the covenant of motherhood at the time He extended the covenant to men to receive the priesthood — in the pre-earth life. Pres. Benson taught this doctrine, “Before the world was created, in heavenly councils the pattern and role of women were prescribed. [Women] were elected by God to be wives and mothers in Zion” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p.104). Similarly, Sheri Dew, who is not married and is not a mother, told the women of the Church, “Our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood…. Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, p. 96). Motherhood is not an afterthought to Heavenly Father, it was not instated merely to give women something to do; it is essential for the salvation of Heavenly Father’s children, when coupled with the priesthood. When married in holy temples, women and men covenant to work together as equal partners in their complementary roles.

The way things could be is not always the way things are. I recognize Mother’s Day is difficult for many people. What does church doctrine about motherhood mean for women who are not married or women who are not mothers? Sis. Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency offers insight – I will quote her extensively because she provides perspective I do not have: “[Mother’s Day]—meant to honor and celebrate—is more often an emotional and spiritual minefield for almost everyone: Women who have no children, or who wanted more children, or maybe different children. Women who feel they are failing, or that someone failed them, or that failure is around the corner. Women who wished they were free to mother, or feel cut off from their mothers, or never had the mother they wanted, or can’t be the mother they want to be. Sometimes it seems like there is no way to win here.”

Sis. Eubank continues: “As a middle-aged woman with no kids, I have been by turns annoyed, amused, angry, breathless, and resigned on Mother’s Day. There have been Mother’s Days when I couldn’t bear to have everyone gauging my expression, so I skipped church. There are others when I’ve stood as requested—for ‘we are all mothers in Zion’—to receive a potted begonia or a chocolate bar. ‘No,’ I would think to myself. ‘We are not ALL mothers. Pretending we are doesn’t help.’

“In the mid 1970s, as the oldest of my parents’ seven children, I was raised to have serious mother skills. As part of that big family I did laundry, put together sprinkler pipe, harvested beans, packed for camping trips, ironed shirts, read chapter books aloud, made apricot leather, and learned the proper way to clean toilets…and distract cranky toddlers. I cooked spaghetti, rocked babies, [and] helped paint science projects…. But despite all that instruction and preparation, I did not become a mother.”

Sis. Eubank went on to discuss experiences she has had in life. She then expressed the perspective about motherhood she learned throughout her life so far: “My life has taught me three things that changed my mind about Mother’s Day:

1. My skills are never wasted.
2. My heart—not my present circumstances—determines my blessings.
3. I am a mother because I behave as a mother.

“To my younger self who was full of misery holding a potted flower and to all the women who are uncomfortable on Mother’s Day, I would say: ‘Don’t let sadness obscure the view. Your covenants have already paved your path. Keep going. You are doing better than you know.’ What might the Lord say to us? I think He would throw His arms around us and let us know we are worthy enough to keep going and our sacrifices have been acceptable before Him. He would tell us He is reserving for us all that is in our hearts, unspoken things that only He could know. He would say that He sees us and all we do behind the scenes, that we are not invisible to Him. He would ask of us the same thing He asked Peter: ‘Lovest thou me? … Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep’ (John 21:15–17).

“So take your flower or chocolate or begonia or whatever it is. Stand up with a smile whether or not you have borne children, whether or not your kids are doing fine at this exact moment, whether or not things happened the way you thought they would. It turns out we really are all mothers in Zion. We have a work to do. It stretches into eternity. And like the Master we follow, our love ‘never faileth’ (1 Corinthians 13:8; Moroni 7:46).” (Source)

Whether or not you are a mother, the Savior Jesus Christ provided a perfect example about how to be a faithful mother. Elder Ballard taught, “When God asked [in the premortal world] who would come to earth to prepare a way for all mankind to be saved…, it was Jesus who said, simply, ‘Here am I, send me’ (Abraham 3:27)” (When Thou Art Converted, p. 178). Speaking to women, Elder Ballard continued, “If you are wondering if you make a difference to the Lord, imagine the effect when you make commitments such as the following: ‘Father, if you need a woman to rear children in righteousness, here am I, send me. If you need a woman to make a house, a home filled with love, here am I, send me…. If you need a woman of faithful steadiness, here am I, send me” (p. 179). We need such willingness in today’s world more than ever!

Woman’s role as mother is under attack. Satan wages a war on families, on motherhood; he works tirelessly to tear families apart. He wants women to fail as mothers. He rejoices in sorrow and misery. Satan attacks motherhood by trying to paint it in such dreary colors that women feel drawn elsewhere. There is much that is gaudy and flashy in the great and spacious building, which can appear appealing, even beautiful; however, by lusting after Satan’s showy society, we devalue raising covenantal children and devalue eternal families. This leads to the destruction of the one potentially eternal and exalting component of society – the family. Women need to escape the “tugs and pulls of the world” (Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 2000, p. 35) by realizing, to paraphrase Pres. Harold B. Lee, that “the greatest of the Lord’s work…[sisters] will ever do as [mothers] will be within the walls of [their] own home[s]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 130). While there are many worthwhile things for women and men to do outside the home, none of those can take the place of being a faithful parent. I study the lives of many great women and men of history. Each are inspiring. Most led amazing lives and did amazing things. I am inspired by great women and men but find those most admirable who are or are also great parents. Putting family first doesn’t mean family is all you do; it means family is the focus and work and activities are chosen to strengthen family, not retreat from family.

Pres. David O. McKay said, “She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the admiration…of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family…deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God” (Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 453-54). On a similar note Elder Maxwell eloquently stated, “Some mothers in today’s world feel ‘cumbered’ by home duties and are thus attracted by other more ‘romantic’ challenges. Such women could make the same error of perspective that Martha made. The woman, for instance, who deserts the cradle in order to help defend civilization against the barbarians may well later meet, among the barbarians, her own neglected child” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p. 219). The titillation of the great and spacious building does not compare with the tranquility of a humble home.

When mothers are there for their children, fulfilling their stewardships by nurturing, they have great impact on the lives of their children and consequently on future generations. Who do you think my children turn to when they need something or need comfort? Their mother. They mostly just ignore me.

Mothers have played some of the most important roles in history, even though too many times those roles are not recorded or recognized. Some are. There is Mother Eve, who fearlessly stood by her husband’s side, facing a desolate world, and who was both the mother of the human race and the “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). It was she who reminded Adam of the necessity of the Fall, of becoming mortal in order to have children and fulfill the Lord’s first commandment to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (JST Gen 1:28). Eve knew her role as a mother.

There is the example of Rebekah, who was blessed to become the “mother of thousands of millions” (Gen. 24:60) as a result of her righteousness. This teaches us that motherhood does not end with death for those of the covenant – those who make covenants in the temple. We also have the great example of Hannah who had much anguish over being childless. She covenanted with the Lord that if He blessed her with a son, she would dedicate her son unto Him. Her son Samuel grew up to be one of the great prophets in Israel and a sign of his mother’s faith. Mary, the mother of the Savior, was a woman of great virtue and faith. She was highly favored and blessed because of her role as the mother of the Prince of Peace (see Luke 1:28). Mary remained near the Savior throughout His life and was even at the foot of the cross, watching her Son finish His mortal ministry. She was there for Him, from the cradle to the cross. King Benjamin gives in simplicity one of the greatest tributes in the scriptures: “and his mother shall be called Mary” (Mosiah 3:8). What more need he say? She was to be the mother of the son of God. Mary was chosen to raise God’s Son Jesus Christ. The scriptures are largely patriarchal and priesthood-focused so the references to great mothers of faith and covenant are sparse. When included, they are significant. We can learn much about the qualities of faithful motherhood from these illustrious women. It is thought-provoking to wonder about what would have happened had Eve, Hannah, or Mary not been good mothers?

A wise man once stated: “What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way to the coffin” (Henry Ward Beecher, Columbia Book of Quotations, 1996, no. 6395). Or, rephrased according to our belief: “What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way [through eternity].”

Being a mother is such an important part of who you as women are; motherhood has so many consequences that it can seem overwhelming at times, even impossible, to be the best mother you can be. Perfection is quite a lofty goal; but it is more than just a goal or an end—perfection is a process. As Elder Holland reminded last year – “Be ye therefore perfect, eventually” (2017). When you become a mother and have a child or two or three or ten, you have not reached a static state where you automatically know everything about being a mother. Being a mother does not end when your children leave home at age 18 or 21 or whenever; it is a role that keeps rolling, growing, and expanding. This is what it means, in part, to be an eternal family. The eternally expanding role as mother is a portion of the blessing of eternal lives (see D&C 132:24). So, just as perfection does not come in a day neither does the full realization of motherhood; the process is as important as the goal (or else Satan’s plan of salvation would have been just as good as the Father’s).

Years ago I talked with my mother about some of the best experiences she had in life. She talked mainly about being a mother. During our conversation I learned much about the great joy she had as a mother but also about the great times of struggle. She stated that the most rewarding and satisfying thing in her life was, in her own words: “The safe pregnancy and delivery of our children and then raising them. Having and raising seven lovely children has been wonderful. It was a lot of hard work but they all turned out okay. We did a lot of things together as a family, we worked hard, we survived hard times and ate cracked wheat. We went to church every week and spent the time together as a family. There were occasional problems but we survived them and overcame them.

“One time when we had 3 or 4 small children a friend was extolling the virtues of Sesame Street and said how her child could count to 10 and knew all the colors and all because the child watched Sesame Street on TV. I was appalled and wondered ‘What is a mother for?’ and why would anyone need TV to teach children what I thought was my ‘job description.’ So we read and played and counted everything and numbered everything and named colors and tied shoes and did all sorts of things. We learned to work and had jobs to learn responsibility.”

She also talked about the struggles of being a mother: “What has been difficult? How about seven babies! It was very difficult when we didn’t have any money and Dad was working two jobs and we were trying to make ends meet. We did not have much money at all, especially when the kids were small. We did not have much but we always survived. It just took a lot of hard work and some ingenuity.

“Another hard time was when we had four children under the age of five. This was a terrible emotional stress. The kids were sick all the time and we had no money. I was physically sick some too. Our washer broke during this time and so the children stomped the clothes in the bathtub to wash them – they thought it was fun; they thought they were like the pioneers. At least they had fun with it.
“These years were hard with a lot of difficult physical work. I was changing diapers on three babies. I also mopped the floors at night so they would stay clean at least the eight hours until morning. I also had to deal with potty training all the kids and cleaning up their messes. We also had a garden and had to plant it and keep it growing and harvest the food and can and store some as well. We had to work really hard to survive.”

My mother found church helped her cope with the stress of raising children: “I really loved going to church and relief society – that was my salvation once a week. Enrichment was lovely to put the kids in the nursery and be away for 1.5 hours. We had weekly meetings and so it was nice to have some time away from the kids. I could learn and grow and spend time with other ladies in the ward. Church was always a big boost for me and I looked forward to it each week.” My mother was and is a wonderful mother.

At this past General Conference [April 2018], Pres. Russell M. Nelson introduced a newer, holier way to care for other members of the church. He retired visiting and home teaching, replacing it with ministering. While ministering is not new – it’s always been an important attribute and practice of disciples of Jesus Christ – the new organizational practice of ministering places further emphasis on loving and serving others as Jesus did. We do this because we seek to follow the Savior. We minister because we covenanted with God to bear one another’s burdens.

Elder Gong, one of our apostles, taught the concept of ministering as part of our holy covenants: “There is divine harmony and resonance in covenant belonging, as we are strengthened in his love and as we strengthen each other in the Lord…. By divine covenant, we belong to God and to each other. Covenant belonging is a miracle. It is not possessive. It ‘suffereth long, and is kind.’ It envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Covenant belonging gives roots and wings. It liberates through commitment. It enlarges through love. In covenant belonging, we strengthen each other in His love, thereby coming more to love God and each other.” (as cited in Deseret News)

My mother was and is a minister to her children. She cared for us not only as a mother but also as a disciple of Christ. I’m grateful for her years of faithful example and sacrifice. I’m also grateful for the wonderful mother my dear wife is to our children. She ministers with kindness and love. A minister is a servant who attends to the needs of others, many times before self-needs are met. While no one is required to run faster than strength allows, the ministering of mothers to their children, families, and neighbors can strain the stoutest of hearts. I offer my simple testimony that God knows your struggles, hears your cries, and blesses you.

When the days seem tough and the nights even worse, mothers can find solace and encouragement in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland offered more than 20 years ago in what is one of his classic addresses:

“In speaking of mothers generally, I especially wish to praise and encourage young mothers. The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. The young years are often those when either husband or wife—or both—may still be in school or in those earliest and leanest stages of developing the husband’s breadwinning capacities. Finances fluctuate daily between low and nonexistent. The apartment is usually decorated in one of two smart designs—Deseret Industries provincial or early Mother Hubbard. The car, if there is one, runs on smooth tires and an empty tank. But with night feedings and night teethings, often the greatest challenge of all for a young mother is simply fatigue. Through these years, mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. It is not surprising when the shadows under their eyes sometimes vaguely resemble the state of Rhode Island.

“Yours is the grand tradition of Eve [and so many other wonderful mothers]…. We thank all of you…and tell you there is nothing more important in this world than participating so directly in the work and glory of God, in bringing to pass the mortality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those celestial realms on high” (Ensign, May 1997, p. 35).

In closing, I’d like to paraphrase the words of Elder Ballard: “We need [mothers] who can hear and will respond to the voice of the Lord, [mothers] who at all costs will defend and protect the family[,…but] above all, we need [mothers] who will stand up for truth and righteousness and decry evil at every turn, [mothers] who will simply say, ‘Lord, here am I, send me’” (When Thou Art Converted, p. 179).

The Arks That Might Save

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The prophet Noah lived many years ago. He was asked to do what all prophets of God are asked to do – teach people and call them to repentance. He and his children spent many years teaching the people. Few listened and wickedness increased. The Lord told Noah and his family to build an ark. The ark provided protection and salvation from the deluge.

The Hebrew word for ark is “tebah”, which literally means box or chest. Interestingly, Moses was also put in or on a “tebah” as a baby to escape the destruction of the Egyptians. Arks saved both Noah and Moses upon the waters. Noah’s ark was a sort of reverse Pandora’s box where instead of containing evil and chaos the ark contained good and order. God placed good into the ark to save it from catastrophe. Noah and his family entered into the ark and emerged in safety to a renewed covenant with God. The sign of that covenant was offered as a rainbow, which can represent the light and myriad shades of God’s love.

Some years later the children of Israel fled Egypt as refugees into the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. The Lord commanded them to build a portable temple. Within this tabernacle they placed the ark of the covenant. The Hebrew word for this ark is “aron”; even though the Hebrew word for the ark of the covenant is different than the one for Noah’s ark, it also means chest. This covenant ark held the stone tablets containing the 10 commandments. The ark served as a reminder of the covenants God made with His people. It also represented the presence of God. The lid of the ark was called the “Mercy Seat”. On top of the Mercy Seat were two cherubim — statues of angels — that covered the ark; they represented the glory and power of God. The ark of covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle. On the Day of Atonement (known as Yom Kippur), which occurred once per year, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled sacrificial blood upon the Mercy Seat. This ritual allowed for the atonement of the sins of the covenant children of Israel. Ultimately, the ark of covenant represented the Lord’s great atoning power. The power to cleanse the sins of Israel was in the Lord Jehovah and His future sacrifice. Until the coming of the Messiah, the ark of the covenant represented the power to cover, remove, justify, and cleanse the sins of the Lord’s people. All this was done (although not all understood the meaning) in similitude of the future sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat, was able to save the children of Israel. Just as Noah and Moses were saved by arks, from which they and the Lord brought forth new covenants, the children of Israel were saved by the ark of the covenant. This ark ultimately rested within the tabernacle — the temple — of God.

It is now to the temple we turn. In the ancient tabernacle, the high priest approached the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant to obtain forgiveness for the people’s collective and individual sins. In our day, although our temples do not contain the ark of the covenant, the entire building serves as an ark, within which we make covenants with God. Just as the ancient ark, through the power and authority of the priesthood and through the future atoning blood of the Savior, was able to save the children of Israel from their sins, our modern day temple arks provide similar salvation and even the path to exaltation.

Why is the temple so important? A temple is literally the House of the Lord, a place where Jesus Christ can dwell. It is the place where ordinances necessary for exaltation are performed. Temple ordinances weld generation to generation, husband to wife, mother to daughter, and sister to brother.

Within temples we receive ordinances, make covenants, and gain knowledge. The temple is a place of covenant – it is a house of holiness. To be holy means to be dedicated, set apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 14:20-21). Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes were consecrated for the work of the Lord. Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means and lives to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord. Consecration is covenant and holiness.

If you have not been to the temple, I invite you to begin preparations. Come talk with me and we’ll work together so you can attend. If you have been to the temple but do not have an active recommend, I also invite you to renew your recommend and attend. It will bring you great blessings and peace in your life. If you have an active recommend, please use it as often as you are able.

There is one more ark I’d like to talk about this morning. This is an ark — a box — many of us carry with us almost everywhere we go. Like the ark of the covenant it too can contain the commandments and covenants of the Lord. Unlike the ark of the covenant this modern ark allows us to review the covenants and commandments at any time. This modern ark is your smartphone or similar device. Do you fill it with the commandments and covenants of God or do you carry that which is unclean? Does your smartphone use uplift you and others or is it used for evil? Do you use it to spread kindness or hurtful and sinful words of gossip? Does your smartphone direct you to the temple or away from it?

Our smartphones can hold the words of God. We have easy access to the scriptures and to the words of living prophets. We have easy access to messages of beauty and peace. We have easy access to almost all current knowledge – good and bad – that which brings light or that which brings darkness. Again, does your smartphone and your use of it bring you closer to God or farther from Him? It might be some of each but I urge you to choose the light. Make sure your personal ark is one of covenant so it, like the arks of old, will provide safety amid the storms of life.

In addition to reading the words of the prophets on your smartphones, you can do many wonderful things with them. These amazing devices allow us to stay connected to one another more easily. They allow us to stay more organized in a complex and chaotic world. They allow us to always know our way home, should we ever get lost. Smartphones and other technologies allow us to be more efficient with our time, if we use them correctly, so we might have time for the most important things.

One night Wilford Woodruff had a vision of Joseph Smith and others in heaven. Joseph was at the door of the temple in heaven. He was in a hurry and could not stop to talk with Wilford. Many people were in a hurry. After a short time, Joseph passed by Wilford again. Wilford stopped him and asked why he and everyone were hurried. Joseph replied, “I will tell you Brother Woodruff. Every dispensation that has had the Priesthood on the earth and has gone into the Celestial Kingdom has had a certain amount of work to do to prepare to go to the earth with the Savior when He goes to reign on the earth. Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation and so much work has to be done [that] we need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it!” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-wilford-woodruff/chapter-3?lang=eng)

In other words, we do not have much time before the Second Coming. We must be anxiously engaged in the work of the Lord. We must not waste time! We have so much to do and so little time. Those who have already passed on are engaged in the work from the other side of the veil. They continue their work with all the energy they have.

After each General Conference I marvel at the wonderful technology that allows us to watch Conference as it happens, even though we might be across the globe. Video and audio recordings of the sessions are up within hours of each session. As soon as each session ends, we can watch it (again) via streaming video. Within three to four days the full text of the talks are posted.

The Church is constantly working on new ways to reach more people more quickly and with less effort. We can watch church videos on YouTube, we can listen to an LDS radio station online and over the air in some locations, we can read scriptures online or on our smartphones, we can send out emails or text messages to a whole ward or stake announcing activities, we can report home or visiting teaching via email or text message, we can share the gospel using Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or any other myriad platforms. The Lord blesses us with technological advances so we might have more time to devote to fulfilling His work. We need to take advantage of these advances and labor and time-saving inventions by making sure we fulfill our gospel responsibilities and our duties to God.

We have little time to do the Lord’s work; let’s not squander what time we have. Those like the Prophet Joseph or Pres. Nelson or many of our ancestors on the other side of the veil are working with all diligence to do the Lord’s work. They need willing and active hearts and hands from us to fulfill our duties. We need to remember the words of Amulek who said, “Behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). We have much work to accomplish in this life – there are things we can only do here. We have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. How are you spending your time? Do you use your smartphone as an ark of covenant that guides you to the home of the Lord – the ark that contains covenants opening the way back to an eternal home? If you are ever feeling in the dark and lost spiritually, set your destination as the temple. If you don’t know how to get there, I and other leaders can give you directions. In there, you and your families will be sheltered from the storm and rising tides of sin and destruction.

I encourage each of you to reflect on the ancient arks and ponder how you can participate in the great blessings of modern arks.