Help Those in Haiti

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Today the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement:

“Our hearts are filled with sadness as we have watched the suffering in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. We turn to the example of Jesus Christ who reached out to ‘lift up the hands which hang down’ and ‘strengthen the feeble knees.’  We are keenly aware that many in America are dealing with economic challenges caused by the recession. However, we are appealing to members to donate to Church Humanitarian Services as their means allow in order to help our Haitian brothers and sisters.  Many have already contributed and others are anxious to do so.
“Money is not the only need in Haiti. People are frightened, bewildered, and wholly uncertain about their future. In addition to what people can do in helping with food, water and shelter, there needs to be a calming influence over that troubled nation. We invite our people everywhere to supplicate God for a spirit of calm and peace among the people as urgent aid and reconstruction efforts continue.” (Link).

Please consider donating – even a small amount – to the LDS Humanitarian Services. 100% of donated funds go to those in need. All administrative costs are covered by other organizations or by tithing funds. All funds will go directly to those in need. The LDS Church is already helping people in Haiti and will continue to do so until the needs they can meet are met.

A Voice of Thunder – Part 2

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Now I will return to D&C; 110: “[We heard] the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” Jesus said that He is the first and last; He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. What all these titles mean is that Jesus is the power behind the plan of salvation. He created the earth and all life upon it. Because of Jesus Christ are we able to return to God again. Abinadi taught that Jehovah Himself would come down and atone for our sins: “For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things? Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth? Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted?” (Mosiah 13:33-35).

It is clear from these verses that Jesus is Jehovah – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the Creator. He is God. This does not mean that He is the same entity as His Father but Jesus is one with Heavenly Father in power and in glory. They are exactly alike in personality and power. Jesus is God because the Father declared Him so and gave Jesus the power and authority to act in His name. It is important to note that we worship God, usually in the name of Christ. We pray to Heavenly Father, not Jesus Christ. However, if we were in Christ’s presence like the Nephites were when Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection, it would not be inappropriate to pray to Jesus Christ. In 3 Nephi we read:

“15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them.
  16 And it came to pass that he spake unto the multitude, and commanded them that they should kneel down again upon the earth, and also that his disciples should kneel down upon the earth.
  17 And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray.
  18 And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.
  19 And it came to pass that Jesus departed out of the midst of them, and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said:
  20 Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world.
  21 Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.
  22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.
  23 And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.” (3 Nephi 19:15-23).

The Nephites prayed to Jesus because He was there with them. While they did so, Jesus went and prayed to the Father for them, thanking Him for their faith. Jesus took no glory upon Himself in this case, He prayed to God and explained that the people praying to Him (Jesus) was a manifestation of their faith in Him. In any case, this is an exception. We are commanded to pray to God in the name of His son Jesus Christ. We do not pray to Jesus (but should He ever be here with us, it would not be wrong to do so).

I do not think any of us can really imagine what it would be like to see and hear the Savior. We can get tastes of the experience in the temple or whenever we feel the Spirit strongly but to actually be in Christ’s physical presence – what an experience that would be! We all lived with Him before this life so I think – assuming we are cleansed from sin – that it would be comfortable; it’s something we’ve experienced before, even if we do not remember it, and so experiencing His presence again could be comfortable but overwhelming, at least initially. I think of the Nephites who met and talked with the Savior after His resurrection – what a powerful experience! It was so powerful that generations of people passed away before wickedness took hold of the people. Oh, to stand in the presence of Jesus Christ!

To close I’ll quote from parts of an old English hymn with words by John Cennick that were modified by Charles Wesley. Its verbiage is not strictly in line with traditional LDS wording but I love the hopeful, expectant pleading of the hymn:

“Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

“Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see….

“The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

“Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!” (Source).

Some day all will hear the powerful voice of the Son of God. Some day all will hear the voice of the Father. We will return to their presence, either to stay or to be sent somewhere else. To stand in the presence of the Lord and to hear His voice and see His face is something that can give hope to us as we hike through the dusty canyons of our lives to reach the fountain of living waters.

A Voice of Thunder – Part 1

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Joseph Smith provided this description of the Savior: “We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C; 110:2-4).

In this instance Jesus’ voice is described “as the sound of the rushing of great waters.” A personal experience might elucidate this analogy.

When I was 11 I went on a 3 day backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon. We started on the north rim of the canyon, which has an elevation of over 7000 feet above sea level. On top of the canyon the temperature is pleasant and cool. Down at the bottom of the canyon (over 4000 feet lower in elevation) it is hot with temperatures often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. The hike is regarded as one of the most strenuous in the Grand Canyon. Water is only plentiful (with purification) at the bottom of the canyon at Thunder River itself. All other water has to be carried in. As you hike down the canyon you follow a switchback trail down the cliff. Your legs and knees start to ache from the jolts of walking down and down, sometimes going 2000 feet down in a mere 2.5 miles. As you near the bottom you are hot and tired. If you are not prepared you could end up out of water, lost, and delirious (like a small group of people we came across on our hike). But as we hiked along the prickly pear cactus-lined trail we started to hear something. There was a rumbling in the distance that slowly grew louder. The voice of the spring was a voice of thunder. What was quiet at first became the “sound of the rushing of great waters.” Then suddenly we turned a corner and saw the waterfall. It was big, loud, and beautiful. 21 million gallons of water flow from the spring every day. It is an oasis in the desert, a refuge from the heat and dryness.

Now I do not know if the Savior’s voice actually sounded like the rushing of great waters but Joseph Smith had to try to condense into the English language the experience of hearing the Lord Jesus Christ. Words cannot do justice to the experience of His voice or to Jesus’ appearance but Joseph Smith used simile and metaphor to try to paint a picture for us. Eyes of fire, white hair, and a countenance brighter than the sun. Mortals have to be changed to enter into the fiery presence of the Lord. This fact is implied by the following description of the three Nephites who were promised that they would not die until Jesus’ Second Coming: “And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God” (3 Ne. 28:15). Their bodies were changed “like a transfiguration [so that] they could behold the things of God.” We need to be changed, to be renewed and cleansed, to see the things of God.

That we need to be changed is more explicit in the book of Moses. “But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him” (Moses 1:11). Being in the presence of God is like being surrounded by fire, a fire of cleansing and purification. Without transfiguration, we cannot abide God’s presence. We cannot withstand the intensity and heat. Joseph Smith said of his First Vision that the trees and plants surrounding him looked as if they were on fire. Like the burning bush Moses saw, the trees were not consumed because they had been changed to be able to withstand God’s presence. Moses was commanded to remove his shoes in part as symbolism of the need to leave his old self behind – at least temporarily – in order that he might withstand the Lord’s Shekhinah (the presence or dwelling or glory of the Lord): “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

Come Ye, and Let Us Go Up to the Mountain of the Lord

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I posted a version of this talk previously (link goes to first of six parts) but I’ve edited since then.

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

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

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

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

In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to go to the temple to hear the words of the Lord. This is what King Benjamin asked of his people: “And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father [King Benjamin] had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.” (Mosiah 1:18). Mosiah called the people to come to the temple to hear the words of the prophet. In our day, temples are being brought to us – new temples are built every year. Pres. Hinckley started the veritable explosion in temple growth; it continues with a fast pace. As temples are being brought to us we should make sure we are bringing ourselves to the temple.

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

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

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

To be holy means to be dedicated, set apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 14:20-21). Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes would be consecrated for the work of the Lord. Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or
in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means and lives to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord. John, whose money saved the Kirtland Temple, gave almost everything he owned to the Church without ever being repaid. Elder Maxwell taught, “Consecration is the only surrender which is also a victory. It brings release from the raucous, overpopulated cell block of selfishness and emancipation from the dark prison of pride” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 66). Consecration is holiness.

Being holy also requires us to be clean. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of the cleansing that comes in the temple and through temple service: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The Lord promised a new heart, a heart softened by the Spirit, to those who receive saving ordinances and keep His statutes. This new yielding heart allows us to be better people: better saints, better citizens, better mothers, fathers, and friends. It is a rejuvenated heart that beats warmly within our chests, filling us with love and charity for our friends, neighbors, and the entire world. The temple is a place where we learn to live as better people in this world while striving to remain spotless from the sins of the world; Elder Maxwell stated, “Temple work is not an escape from the world but a reinforcing of our need to better the world while preparing ourselves for another and far better world. Thus, being in the Lord’s house can help us to be different from the world in order to make more difference in the world” (N.A.M. Quote Book, p. 339). Inner change is not enough, we need to take that inward change and turn it outward by seeking to bless the lives of others. The temple is a place that should inspire us to improve the world. The temple should inspire us to be more like Jesus Christ.

The Savior likened the gospel and the kingdom of heaven unto a pearl of great price; this pearl had such great worth that a man sold all that he had so that he might obtain it (see Matt. 13:45-46). The kingdom of heaven is something for which we need to be willing to give up everything. Hopefully, none of us view the gospel as a pearl of great pride instead of a pearl of great price. A pearl of great pride is something we hide away and don’t share; we may have worked hard to obtain it and we want the world to know that. We might use that prideful pearl to bolster up our own feelings of superiority over others – to look down on them in the condescension of conceit. A pearl of great price, on the other hand, is something that we give our all for and then share it with others so they too can experience the beauty and blessings of that pearl. We have this great treasure, a great blessing, and we want the entire world to also have that treasure. With this attitude there is no superiority or pride, there is only love and selflessness. That’s what Elder Maxwell said about the temple – it’s not a place that removes us from the world; it’s a place that moves us to improve the world. The temple is not an exclusive club that keeps out the rabble (it’s not a pearl of pride), it’s an education center that gives us the opportunity to, as the BYU motto states, “Enter to learn, [and] go forth to serve;” the temple is a pearl of great price – something we should be willing to give our all for; it’s not just a one-time purchase but something that requires our whole lives. The price – the responsibility – of the temple is a life of willing sacrifice and service and of obedience and repentance.

The Savior used the pearl analogy again when he stated that we should not cast our pearls before swine – meaning that holy things are to remain sacred and pure. We need to keep the ordinances and teachings of the temple sacred. The same goes for our lives, if we are to be holy. Once we receive temple blessings we need to remain worthy of them and not drag them through the mud. However, we all sin and fall short of our covenants. When we become physically dirty or muddy we can wash ourselves and be clean. Similarly, when we become spiritually dirty or muddy, when we sin and are become as lost sheep, then there is a way prepared for us to become clean again. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53: 6) but the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one who has wandered and who seeks forgiveness. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who watches over the flocks of Israel but He is also the Lamb of God. His sacrificial blood atones for our sins as we repent. Through Christ’s Atonement, our scarlet sins can be made white as snow (see Isa. 1:18). The light of repentance disperses the darkness of sin.

The Lord promises great blessings to those who return unto him. During the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith pleaded: “And when thy people transgress, any of them, they may speedily repent and return unto thee, and find favor in thy sight, and be restored to the blessings which thou hast ordained to be poured out upon those who shall reverence thee in thy house. And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them; And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfill that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days.” (D&C; 109: 21-23; emphasis added).

If we have transgressed, if we have strayed, we need to repent; when we repent, the blessings of heaven shall be poured out upon us. These blessings not only help wash away our imperfections and uncleanliness but also fill us with goodness and joy. Let me repeat some of the blessings promised unto us by the Lord as we remain faithful to temple covenants: we shall be armed with power – power to do the Lord’s work and power to resist temptation; we shall have God’s name upon us; the glory of the Lord will be round about us – His image will shine in our countenances and He shall be as a pillar of cloud and of fire unto us; and angels will have charge over us, providing strength and comfort. All are powerful blessings. When we receive these blessings I think it is important to remember the words of the Prophet Joseph; he prayed that the saints would go forth from the temple unto the ends of the earth bearing great and glorious tidings. Again, the call is to welcome all people to become worthy to enter the temple. We have a responsibility to share our precious pearl and call to others, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.”

That is a call I’d like to extend to the youth of our ward. The temple is a place of beauty and blessing. You Young Women and Young Men are able to go perform baptisms for the dead. Performing baptisms for the dead was always a special experience for me as a youth. I remember the peace I felt sitting in the waiting room. I remember the spirit I felt as I was baptized on behalf of others; I hoped that they accepted the work I was doing for them. I strived to remain worthy to enter the temple of the Lord. Living the gospel – keeping the commandments and remaining true to your baptismal (and priesthood, for you young men) covenants can be difficult at times. Pres. Monson stated at a recent General Conference, “[You] youth…in particular, face temptations we can scarcely comprehend. The adversary and his hosts seem to be working nonstop to cause [your] downfall. We are waging a war with sin…but
we need not despair. It is a war we can and will win” (Ensign, May 2008, p. 90).

You youth are in the midst of a war for your souls. On one side are Satan and his followers; on the other are the Lord and His followers. You choose for which side you will fight. Do you fight for the Lord? There will be casualties along the way but we know which side wins in the end. Just as Helaman’s army suffered no losses, with faith and righteousness you can survive the battles and not be counted among the spiritually dead. You might be wounded and suffer greatly, but those are wounds that can be cleansed and healed at the fountain of living waters. Jesus is the source of those living waters and provides healing; He is the Great Physician. Satan will try his utmost to keep you from attending the temple. He will try all sorts of feints and tactics. He will try to get you to lower your guard and remove your armor but you must remain strong and ready. You have inspired parents, leaders, and friends who can help you remain strong and faithful and who can help prepare you to enter the temple and receive its blessings. Temple blessings are shield and armor against Satan.

One of the defining moments in my life was when I was able to attend the temple and receive my own endowment. That’s a day I will never forget – it has eternal significance for me and for my family. I urge you youth to ponder about the importance of the temple and prepare yourselves to enter its doors. Strive with all your energy to keep the Spirit with you in all you do. It will provide the strength and peace needed to face and overcome the temptations of the adversary.

The small and simple actions of prayer and reading the scriptures provide great strength. “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37: 6). Reading your scriptures and praying regularly will help you fight temptations and stand victorious. You are very busy now but life only becomes more hectic as you get older; if these things are not priorities in your lives now it can be hard to make them priorities later.

A couple years ago my family experienced a number of events that brought to our minds the importance of temples and of the sealing of families together for eternity. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. That event was followed by ones of great joy. The day after the funeral my brother was sealed for time and all eternity in the house of the Lord. Two lives were joined as one by the priesthood of God in the holy temple. A few days later my sister had a baby who came from God and “trailing clouds of glory” (W. Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality), to join a family who had been sealed together in the temple. Shortly later, my family had the funeral for my grandmother Maxine, who passed away at the end of May. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Her husband – my grandfather – then passed away only 11 days later.

Within the space of just one and a half months, my family experienced a death, a marriage, a birth, a death, and another death. It’s as if the Plan of Salvation was compressed into one month for my family.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and joy. Three of those events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. While there is sorrow on our part, there is also joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. We are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families. The other two family events brought joy unto us; they signaled the start of new life and lives. I’m grateful for the knowledge and blessings of eternal families – this is the greatest blessing of the temple.

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

Gospel Principles: The Nature of God

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Joseph Smith said, “We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and that he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently, and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings center for life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Second).

As someone who saw God the Father and God’s Son Jesus Christ, Joseph was qualified in a way relatively few others were to talk about the nature of God. It is important to understand God’s nature so that our faith in Him is what it can and should be. Traditionally in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we refer to God as Heavenly Father, focusing on His Fatherhood, for we are His actual spirit children. Again, understanding the nature of God is important to our faith in Him.

Joseph Smith taught, “Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third).

Joseph Smith went on to write of the character of God: He was before the world was created, He is merciful and gracious, He changes not, He is truthful and cannot lie, He is no respecter of persons (meaning that “in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of Him”; this means that He is “not a respecter of persons” insofar as those persons are righteous), and God is love.

Of the attributes of God the Prophet Joseph said that God has knowledge, faith (or power), justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. All study of the nature of God should increase our faith in Him.

On one bright spring morning in 1820 Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy, went into a grove of trees near his home. As he knelt down in prayer he was attacked by the devil, who tried to stop Joseph’s prayer and end Joseph’s life. Suddenly a light appeared from heaven, dispelling the darkness and Satan. In the midst of this light appeared two beings, first one then shortly afterward, another. The first called Joseph by name and pointed to the other saying, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him!” We do not know how long the visit lasted – it could have been a minute or many. In that short time Joseph learned more about the nature of God than had been known on earth for more than a thousand years. Joseph knew God the Father and Jesus Christ were two separate beings. He witnessed their glory and heard their voices. He viewed their countenances and knew that they knew him as an individual. They knew Joseph’s name. They cared for him and loved him as they do each of us. Of all the things that the Prophet Joseph did (and “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”; D&C; 135:3), one of the greatest things he did was reveal unto the world the true nature of God.

Much of God’s nature is found in the Bible but over the years creeds and discussions and contentions led to distortions of people’s conceptions of God. We know that we are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) but the added knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon (read, for example, about the experience the brother of Jared had when he saw the Lord on a mountain top: Ether 3:6-16), the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C; 76), and the Pearl of Great Price (see Abraham 4:26-27, for example). Countless prophetic declarations since Joseph Smith’s day have further witnessed of what Joseph taught.

God created the universe. We know He did this through the power of His priesthood but beyond that we do not know how He did it. Was it created in the manner that science teaches? Maybe. Was it created in six 24 hour days? No (read in the book of Abraham for clarification: “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time.”; Abraham 4:18-19). God has all power yet He is not distant or disinterested in us. He knows us individually.

As we better understand God we will know of His love for us (see John 3:16), which love is manifest most strongly through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ (who is just like His Father; see John 14:6-9). As we feel God’s love we can continue to grow in faith and knowledge of Him. We can grow and progress to be like Him. He is our Father in Heaven and wants us to become like Him and to return to live with Him again.

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas – Part 3

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This story of forgiveness reminds me of a story Truman Madsen told about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to “be an enemy to any living soul” (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, “George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, ‘What kind of city are you running? I’ll have your head if you don’t get that blanket back.’ Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, ‘Are you blind?’ What did he do? He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket also, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.'” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! The situation was not as drastic as the one the Amish faced but Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him.

Forgiveness is such an important principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. That seems like a pretty good condition for forgiveness. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others!

I have been writing about the need we have for forgiveness and to forgive others. To help me transition back to a Christmas theme, I will quote some of the lyrics from the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament.

“As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.

With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament.”

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas – Part 2

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Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. By this love and His power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and to each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C; 64:7). [As an aside, I think that were Joseph not a prophet {and not honest} he would not have included this statement. After all, who likes to tell the world that they sinned?].

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C; 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not me that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins. It also does not mean that we do not seek retribution – legally or one-on-one – but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

I’m going to quote at length from a talk Pres. James E. Faust gave in the April 2007 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This talk was one of his most moving and powerful talks. It was the last conference talk he gave.

“My dear brothers and sisters and friends, I come before you humbly and prayerfully. I wish to speak on the healing power of forgiveness.

“In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.

“A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. Last October he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.

“This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, ‘We will forgive you.’1 Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.

“One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, ‘We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.’2 It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.’3

“The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public:

“’To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

“‘Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

“‘Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.’4

“How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.

“Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.

“Forgiveness is not always instantaneous as it was with the Amish. When innocent children have been molested or killed, most of us do not think first about forgiveness. Our natural response is anger. We may even feel justified in wanting to ‘get even’ with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family.

“Dr. Sidney Simon, a recognized authority on values realization, has provided an excellent definition of forgiveness as it applies to human relationships:

“‘Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.’5

“Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. We
can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness.

“Some hold grudges for a lifetime, unaware that courageously forgiving those who have wronged us is wholesome and therapeutic.

“Forgiveness comes more readily when, like the Amish, we have faith in God and trust in His word. Such faith ‘enables people to withstand the worst of humanity. It also enables people to look beyond themselves. More importantly, it enables them to forgive.’6

This is a powerful example of people living the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ. They were able to forgive the man who caused such great pain and tragedy. How many of us would feel those feelings of forgiveness in a similar circumstance? What if it were your little girl who had been shot and killed? Would you forgive? As the father of two beautiful girls, who are bright lights and joys in my life, I do not know how I would react. I’d like to believe I would be forgiving – I know I would but it might take a while; maybe not though. I hope I’m never in a similar circumstance.

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas – Part 1

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As Christmas day approaches some of us might be worried about getting presents and gifts planned, organized, completed, purchased, packed, wrapped, and shipped. Many might wonder how they are going to pay for presents. Others simply use credit and do not worry about paying for Christmas until their bills come due later (in fact, approximately 25% of Americans, according to one survey, take one year or more to pay off their Christmas debt {source}). Whether we can afford expensive gifts or no gifts, we can all afford one gift at Christmas – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did unto us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote,

“Many of us have lost loved ones to death. We may be surrounded by individuals who seek to destroy our faith in the gospel and the Lord’s promises of eternal life. Some of us are troubled with illness and with poverty. Others may have contention in the family or no family at all. Yet we can invite the Light of Christ to shine on us and let us see and feel some of the promised joys that lie before us.

“For instance, as we gather in that heavenly home, we will be surrounded by those who have been forgiven of all sin and who have forgiven each other. We can taste some of that joy now, especially as we remember and celebrate the Savior’s gifts to us. He came into the world to be the Lamb of God, to pay the price of all of the sins of His Father’s children in mortality so that all might be forgiven. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14–15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received.

“When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this Christmastime you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness. The feeling of happiness that will come will be a glimpse of what we can feel at home together in the eternal home for which we yearn.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Forgiveness is precisely what Christmas is about. 2000 years ago a baby was born in humble circumstances. His birth came without much earthly adulation but the heavens were resplendent with signs and wonders for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Angels appeared to shepherds, wise men followed a gleaming star, and the righteous and wicked alike went without night in the New World. That tiny baby was the Son of God, God Himself – the creator and Lord of heaven and earth. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Moses, Nephi, Alma, and everyone else. He who showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared now had a body of flesh. Christ the Conquering King was yet the Babe in Bethlehem. There is little we know about His early life; we do know Jesus grew up in Nazareth – Bethlehem was merely the city of His birth. He was visited by wise men some time in his first few years of life. He grew up learning from Joseph and Mary. At age 12 He spent time teaching the priests in the temple – they marveled at His knowledge. How did a 12 year old boy know so much? At age 30 Jesus started His ministry full-time. Over the next three years He lived without a home, spending most of His time walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. He called men to be apostles. He taught, healed, and performed other miracles – the greatest were in forgiving sin. Jesus then instituted the sacrament, atoned for all the sins, sicknesses, and pain of humankind, stood trial, and died upon the cross. But that was not the end! On the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead, bringing everlasting life to all people. He rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death and hell.

Another Testament of Christ – A Video Slideshow

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In our busy lives we often find the Christmas season the most busy. There are parties and gatherings to attend. There is shopping to complete, food to make, and jobs to do. We might spend time decorating our homes with garlands, wreathes, and trees of green. We might put up colored lights and nativity scenes. We might have snow covered grounds or bright and warm sunshine.

I hope that during this time of year we take time to focus on the Savior, who is the focus of the season. Is He the focus of yours? Should you find yourself frazzled from a frenetic schedule, take time to break from your busy-ness and ponder the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Take time to read the scriptures, view art of the Savior, listen to music about Him. Here is a beautiful video with photos and video depicting the Savior’s life.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0F5QmFUgec]

Answering Prayers

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A couple weeks ago we had an ultrasound. The baby was beautiful; we were excited to see him. However, the ultrasound technician saw something about which she was concerned. A second, more detailed ultrasound was scheduled for this past Friday in order to see if there really was something to be concerned about. We spent these past two weeks trying not to worry, a difficult task when a child is concerned. The potential problem area was within the skull and I, studying neuropsychology, am particularly sensitive to potential brain problems.

We spent the past two weeks praying specifically that everything would be well with the baby and pregnancy (that’s not different from what we had already been praying for but because there was a potential concern, our prayers were more intense). Family and friends were also praying that all would be well with the baby. With our prayers, however, we were not seeking to change the will of the Lord but we were pleading with Him like He has asked us to do.

We went to the second ultrasound appointment and everything looked okay. The potential problem was within the normal range (I’m keeping everything non-technical and vague on purpose); there were no visible problems on the ultrasound. We were relieved; we felt our prayers had been answered.

Someone might ask, “Had your prayers really been answered?” Yes. We asked that everything would be okay with our baby’s brain and it looks like it is. Now, did our prayers actually result in the Lord healing the problem? We do not know if there really was a problem in the first place so we do not know. But that does not matter; it does not matter whether or not a miracle occurred – our prayers were answered regardless of what happened.

Many times people pray that all will go well with something or that someone will get better or that a sibling can get a job or whatever else. The skeptic might state that all those things would have happened regardless of the prayer; that God did not really answer the prayers. Believing that He did is just deluding oneself. That is the difference between believers and unbelievers; to the unbeliever faith seems like self-delusion. To the believer it is recognizing God’s hand in one’s life.

That’s one of the tests of life – to see if we will exhibit faith in God and His Son. This is what Alma taught Korihor, “Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44; emphasis added).

God is involved in our lives. He cares for us and more importantly, He loves us. That is why He answers our prayers, even if the answer is “No.” Would we have been bitter if there had been a problem with the baby? No. Would we have felt that our prayers had not been answered? No, because we always pray that God’s will be done. We have our wants and desires but God knows our true needs. He has a plan for each of us; we should seek to understand His will. If we put God first, all other things fall into line, even if the line is painful or twisted. God lives, seek Him.