Destructive Healing

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“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).

Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near (or was?) the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (paralysis, maybe with seizures as well) on a bed (stretcher) to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments frequently involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all also have rapidly dividing cells). Treating cancer frequently requires such systemic destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions of the dysfunctioning brain to stop the seizures. Sometimes drastic actions are required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered spiritual and physical healing.

C.S. Lewis wrote on this process of healing through destruction: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Healing might hurt us “abominably” but such hurts are necessary. Healing certainly hurt the Savior abominably. He suffered so that He might succor. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance.

Four Glorious Gifts From God

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The prophet Moroni wrote to encourage us to “Deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8).

We receive four glorious gifts from God.

1. Faith

The first glorious gift is faith.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Let me say that again with words that clarify the meaning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Faith isn’t just hoping something is true; it isn’t just believing in God – faith is much more and much more powerful. Faith is evidence; faith in God is proof of Him and His love for you. Walking by faith isn’t blindly following Christ, it is following Him because you have proof that what you are doing is right. Faith is a gift from God. Moroni wrote: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. If you want stronger faith, pray for it and keep the commandments. God will bless you with more and more faith as you follow Him.

Faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

With great faith, great works can be accomplished.

“In New Zealand, President Kimball was stricken with…the flu, suffering around the clock with either fever and perspiration or with chills. Three thousand young people were waiting at a local stadium to hear him speak, but were told, ‘Tonight you will hear from President [N. Eldon] Tanner, because President Kimball is ill.’ Thirty minutes before the meeting was to start, President Kimball, still limp, spoke to his physician, Russel M. Nelson, who was waiting with him, and said, ‘Tell [my wife] we’re going.’ They had to practically carry him to the car. At the stadium, a young man giving the opening prayer said, ‘We are three thousand New Zealand youth. We are assembled here, having prepared for six months to sing and to dance for thy prophet. Wilt thou heal him and deliver him here?’ As he said ‘Amen,’ the car drove into the stadium. Three thousand voices cheered that the prophet had come. He stood, strengthened even in his illness, and bore his witness to them.” (Madsen, T. G. (2004). The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings. Deseret Book. p. 350-351).

Such was the power of the faith of the New Zealand youth and the faith of the prophet. Such can be the power of faith in our lives!

2. Peace

The second glorious gift is peace.

One morning my mission companion and I spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle, Washington. The spring day was lovely with white, pink, and red apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the trees like snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope, peace, and restoration but no one was listening. People were generally kind to us but no one was interested. I was struck by the contrast of the rejection of our beautiful message on such a beautiful day. My companion and I felt more dejected the more we were rejected. Then adding a bit of injury to insult, at one house a dog ran up and bit me on the leg as my companion and I started walking up the driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a tear in them. We kept tracting for almost an hour to finish off the area then walked home so I could get cleaned up. I felt discouraged by the unsuccessful morning capped off with an unfriendly dog.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine for a couple minutes how my life could be worse, then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of difficulties at the time. So I spent part of the walk back to the apartment wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse.

Our mail was there when we got home. Missionaries opening mail are like children on Christmas morning so normally receiving mail is a joyful experience. There was a letter from my parents! I opened the letter to learn that Eric, a friend from high school and one of my roommates at BYU, had been in a taxi with his companion when a truck hit their vehicle, killing Eric. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. However, during this time of acute grief all I could think about was how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched the persecutions, suffering, and death of His beloved Son. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after a few minutes, the pain was gone. My grief was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no longer any pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. Amid grief and loss and pain, the Lord provides peace. The Lord’s peace heals our pain. Brothers and sisters, that is the nature of the Atonement. It removes the sting of death and sin – miraculously – and replaces it with peace.

Many of you and many throughout the world have felt this peace. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

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

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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

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

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

These words resonate strongly in our tumultuous world today. People cry for peace but peace can be hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to cause people’s hearts to fail and fear. Many feel that hope is lost, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” The answer for despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. The answer is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in radiant starlight.

In the most humble of births the King of Heaven and Earth, the Prince of Peace, came to earth. He came with no great earthly fanfare; angels witnessed to those with ears to hear and the star witnessed to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important 33 years in the history of the world – a life like no other. Jesus Christ was a gift from God to bring peace and salvation to earth.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas season, I pray that we all might remember Who Christmas really is about.

Christmas should not be about getting, although we are given so much by God, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life – His whole life – for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, “For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure” (Monson, April 1993 General Conference). [Commentary: after looking back at that talk, I realized how similar my talk/essay was to his in structure. The similarity was unintentional. I collected that quote years ago and included it without referencing the talk specifically].

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We can rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We can do the things that the Savior would do – help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even of our lack of abundance) with those around us. Most of all, we can give the gift of peace by our peaceful actions towards others. We can give peace to the hurt, the suffering, the lonely. We can spread peace in our home and in our hearts by focusing on the Savior. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus taught. Blessed are those who are filled with peace and help others have peace.

3. Holy Ghost

The third glorious gift is the Holy Ghost

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

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

4. Atonement & forgiveness

The final glorious gift is the gift of forgiveness through the Atonement of the Messiah.

This Christmas season, whether we can afford to purchase gifts or not, we can all afford one gift – 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,

“As we gather in [our] 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…. 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. That tiny baby born in a manger was the Son of God. Jesus lived so that we might have the promise of eternal life. He did this because He loves us. By His love and 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 of 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).

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 mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

There is a story 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 [got upset but what did he do?] He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him. We can emulate Pres. Smith’s example and forgive others.

In the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament we sing:

“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. Like peace, forgiveness is another 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.

As we move along the path of life, may we remember these four glorious gifts from God – faith, peace, the Holy Ghost, and forgiveness. May we share our faith with others through the actions of our lives, may we be peacemakers, may we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and teach others how to feel, recognize, and receive that Spirit, and may we forgive others! The Church and the gospel are true. We are led by a prophet of God who reveals God’s will. As we follow the prophet we will be blessed with gifts from God.

Image by Andy Noren. Used under a CC license (summary: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).

A Voice in the Wilderness, A Voice from the Dust

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Three hundred years before the death of Adam, the people of God lived in a land of righteousness, separated from those who chose to worship Mammon rather than God. Among this people a baby was born who would later cause mountains to flee and rivers to change course (Moses 6:34). This baby was to be a teacher and great prophet. He would save his people. This baby was Enoch, whose name means “teacher”; he bacame a powerful teacher. Enoch was a descendant of the righteous patriarch Seth, the son of Adam, and the great-grandfather of Noah, who was protected from the floods in his ark of covenant, in his tabernacle of wood. Noah weathered the elements within his sanctuary of faith; his great-grandfather Enoch also had great faith, commanding the elements to protect his people. As an approaching army threatened to destroy the people of God, Enoch turned in faith and humility to God, supplicating for rescue.

“And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God…; he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course…and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.” (Moses 7:13).

Awed by such power, the enemies of his people fled. Enoch saved his people physically, he would save them spiritually.

The Lord, troubled by the wickedness of the people on the earth, came to Enoch, commanding him to call the people to repentance (Moses 6:26-30). Enoch, like so many who would follow, felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of his call. He felt inadequate, stating that he was “just a lad” and “slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). In reply, the Lord commanded him to be faithful, open his mouth, and be filled with the words of God (Moses 6:32). Faith overcame fear as Enoch fulfilled the commands of the Lord. He told the people that they must “choose…this day, to serve the Lord God who made [them]” (Moses 6:33).

Enoch made the choice to serve God. When callings come to us, whether they appear great or small, whether they be as relief society president, family history consultant, bishop, or nursery worker, we can follow the faithful example of Enoch and choose to serve the Lord our God. God will prepare a way for us to fulfill our callings.

At age 25 Enoch received the Priesthood from Adam (D&C 107:48). Enoch became a great prophet and seer, wandering in the wilderness, calling to the people to repent. He fearlessly taught and fearlessly prophesied.

“And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him. And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying…we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.” (Moses 6:37-38). Enoch was seen as a wild man, a voice in the wilderness who prophesied hard things unto the people. The wicked were offended and became defensive. We see this happen repeatedly in our day – some protest against what the prophets teach, finding it offensive or parochial, words for an uninformed people, a distant past. There will always be many who mock in derision from their great and spacious false temple.

In Isaiah we read of the wicked complaining against the truth. Isaiah prophesied: “this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the [Lord] to cease from before us.” (Isaiah 30:9-11)

Truly the wicked take the truth to be hard! Prophets do not always speak smooth things. Yes, the doctrine they teach can be comforting but much is sharp to the wicked or hard-hearted. Enoch taught with such great power that although the people were offended, they were enthralled by the power of his words. As Enoch spoke “the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence” (Moses 6:47). There is great power in the word of faith.

What did Enoch teach the people? Enoch taught of the fall of Adam, death, sin, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, redemption through Christ, and resurrection. Enoch taught the words of Christ spoken to Adam on behalf of the Father: “By reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; Therefore it is given to abide in you” (Moses 6:59-61).

We are born of water, spirit, and blood and must be obedient, repentant, and reborn through the water of baptism; we must be justified and cleansed from sin by the Holy Spirit; and we must be sanctified, becoming holy, though the atoning blood of Christ. All those symbols are part of the sacrament – bread to represent the body and burial of Christ, the Spirit to witness unto us and cleanse our sins, and the water to represent the sanctifying and covenant blood of Christ. Enoch taught the people the manner by which they could return to the presence of God.

Many people believed Enoch and repented. Because of their righteousness, the Lord blessed them with His glory. He also “blessed [their] land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish. And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:17-18). That same promise and blessing is available to us as we follow the Lord. Elsewhere great wickedness and apostasy flourished. Eventually the city of Zion and its people were taken from the earth: “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is Fled.” (Moses 7:69).

After that apostasy reigned – the missionary efforts of Noah and others having little success. The heavens wept and a flood cleansed the earth. This weeping and cleansing foreshadowed the tears and blood of the weeping Christ as He atoned for the sins and sorrows of us all. After Christ’s resurrection, the early Christian church flourished, led by the apostles. Many rejected them and their teachings, eventually killing them. After the deaths of the apostles, the priesthood keys and priesthood authority were removed from the earth. Hundreds of years passed in global apostasy. Degrees of light and truth remained but God’s authority was not on the earth. Then in 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy. The Lord called Joseph as a prophet. In May 1829 John the Baptist visited Joseph Smith and bestowed upon him the Aaronic Priesthood, preparatory to him receiving the Melchizedek priesthood and eventually all priesthood keys – all authorization to perform the work of the Lord, the work of salvation, which teaches the way and opens the doors for our return home to our Father in Heaven.

Throughout the ages and in our day, all prophets have testified of Christ and taught His doctrine. The prophets call as voices of clarity amid the wilderness of sin. They call unto us with the “voice of [Him] who dwells on high, whose eyes are upon all men [and women]” (D&C 1:1). The voice of the Lord is unto all; it is a voice of warning unto all men and women. This voice comes through the prophets, who are “given [power] to seal both on earth and in heaven” (D&C 1:8).

All are invited to hear the word of the Lord through His spokesmen, the prophets. Do we heed the call? Do we invite our friends and neighbors to hear the word? There is nothing more important in life than hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord and hearing and heeding the voice of His servants, the prophets. At times the prophets share the Lord’s voice of warning – warning against wickedness and warning against calamities to come.

“The anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth. And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:13-16).

We live in a time when people stray from the ordinances of the Lord, when they break the everlasting covenant. There are many who create their own gods and then seek to follow them. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated in this past April General Conference:

“Sadly enough…it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of ‘comfortable’ God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like ‘comfortable’ doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?” (Holland, April 2014 General Conference).

Prophets serve as a voice of warning. They do so in order to protect us. God gives us prophets so that we might be prepared and might know the path that returns home, in which home we might have a fulness of joy and a fullness of love.

Jesus said: “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all [the words of the prophets] might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets…that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.” (D&C 1:17-23)

Joseph Smith was prepared and called by God so that faith might increase, that the everlasting covenant – that which binds families together and to God eternally – might be restored, and that the fulness of the gospel might reach the ends of the earth. One of the most important things Joseph accomplished was in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, a voice from the dust whispering words from voices in wildernesses that call unto all to repent and return to God.

The prophet Moroni pleaded with those who would read the Book of Mormon: “And I exhort you to remember these things; for…the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man [Moroni], like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust? I declare these things unto the fulfilling of the prophecies. And behold, they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God; and his word shall hiss forth from generation to generation. And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.” (Moroni 10:27-29)

It is true, brothers and sisters. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It has changed my life, it has changed many of yours and will continue to change all our lives as we accept it. It was written for us so that we might come to know Christ, the Holy Messiah. The Book of Mormon is one of the greatest gifts given to us. Do we reject it, ignore it, or embrace it? Do we hide it under a bushel or do we proclaim its truth from the housetops? The Book of Mormon contains the words of those who spoke in the wilderness as voices of warning. It is imperative that we know and believe the truths contained within.

While much of what the Lord proclaims is a voice of warning, not always the “smooth things” people want to hear, there is also great comfort in the doctrines of Christ. Isaiah prophesied of the Atonement of Christ, of the comfort and pardoning it would bring: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her…that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The prophets in our day also teach of this comfort.

Elder Holland taught: “It is crucial to remember that we are living—and chose to live—in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again. Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/like-a-broken-vessel?lang=eng)

One of the messages of the restored gospel is that of hope. We can have hope through the calamities foretold; we can have hope through our suffering. Christ showed us how to bear suffering – with poise amid provocation, with fearlessness and faith, with gratitude and grace. We will not be free from suffering – the blameless Christ suffered more than all – but we can have strength through our trials. There are many here who have suffered and do suffer greatly. There are some who feel the encroaching darkness of despair. There are some who suffer because of sin, illness, or heartache. Hold on! Strive on! Trust in God and be believing. At times all feel lost, alone, and afraid. We might feel like we are left in darkness – wandering in a wilderness – but if we stop to look up, we will see the majesty and mercies of the Lord as the stars in the sky. In our darkest moments the light of Christ will appear brightest. God is near if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Christ suffered for our sins, He suffered for our infirmities; He suffered for our sorrows, our sickness, and our shortcomings. We are enabled and exalted in Him.

Though we walk through the valley of deepest darkness, though we traverse along a crooked trail of tears, though we stumble and fear like Peter a sinking, Jesus Christ takes our hands, lifts us up, dries our tears, and lights our way. He is our song in the night, our pillar of fire, and our shadow by day. He binds our wounds and repairs the breeches in our hearts.

What the Lord told the prophet Joseph, applies to us: “All [our trials] shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.” (D&C 122:7). Hope on! Trust on!

Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet for us, just like Enoch was for his people. The words of the prophets – words of warning and consolation – are unto all as voices from the wilderness. One such voice pleaded: “Awake, and arise from the dust…and put on thy beautiful garments, O [sons and daughters] of Zion;…strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.” (Moroni 10:31). May we so heed the words of the prophets and strengthen the stakes of Zion. May we remember the covenants of God and be true to them.

Evidence of Truth

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There is a quote from the prolific author Isaac Asimov that reads: “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.” (Asimov, The Roving Mind, 1983, p. 43; as cited by http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov)

Asimov was an atheist and obviously skeptical of things that fall outside scientific observation and explanation. While this is not the forum for a discussion of the potential problems of the scientific method as that branches into the philosophy of science (start here for an introduction of dualism, which is the foundational philosophy of our scientific method), there are many people (here’s one example) who question the assumptions at the philosophical foundation of modern science. I bring this up because Asimov stated, “I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers.” That is precisely the scientific method but that method has its limitations.

So why write about this on a website devoted to basic doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I’ve written previously on belief and evidence. I will summarize that post and apply it to this current one. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God, we just have to be willing to accept that evidence and the methods by which we acquire it. This means that we have to be willing to try a different method of knowledge other than the scientific method. In other words, when one states that the only way to know something is through “observation, measurement, and reasoning, [with] confirmation by independent observers” (in other words, the scientific method), then that individual is making the assumption that the scientific method is the only way to understand truth. That’s a big assumption. This is not an attack on the scientific method but rather a recognition that it just might not be the only way to discover truth (and I argue that it isn’t).

Even with this, I agree broadly with what Isaac Asimov said. I too believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, with the confirmation of independent observers. I believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ because I’ve made observations and measurements of the effects of following the teachings of Jesus in my life and in the lives of others around me. I have had many experiences with the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, that confirm the truths of the gospel. These experiences have been verified by independent observers – others who have similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings at the same time as me or in different circumstances. I believe the Bible in part because the teachings in it are testified and clarified by the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, which both serve as additional, independent “observers” (witnesses) of truth. I have the teachings and experiences of prophets, teachers, leaders, parents, siblings, and friends who all confirm my own experiences.

Now, I know that many people do not accept those experiences, they do not accept such evidence as valid. However, this is because they make assumptions that because they cannot use the scientific method to gather these evidences (although you can use methods similar to the scientific method), then such evidence is invalid. Many people are unwilling to even try to find out for themselves if God exists, if Jesus is the Christ, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church, and then act surprised when they don’t have any evidence – as if evidence comes without searching. We have to be willing to discover the truth using God’s method rather than the scientific method. Doing this yields real results, real evidence. What’s beautiful is that anyone can know for themselves, in fact you have to know for yourself, you just have to be willing to accept evidence that might fall outside the scientific method.

The Covenant Path of Testimony

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In order to participate in President Monson’s call to hasten the work of salvation and rescue those who are lost, we must develop and maintain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. It is to declare our knowledge of truth. The word testimony comes from a Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that the witness stands as a third or third-person (and therefore independent) witness. We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book. All of God’s word is established by multiple witnesses (Deut. 19:15Matt. 18:16D&C 6:28). The Godhead, though one in witness, purpose, and glory, constitute multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove to bear witness to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

When Alma and Amulek started preaching to the people in the land of Ammonihah, people were astonished that two people bore witness unto them: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason LDS missionaries go out two by two – they act as multiple witnesses of the truths of the gospel. Their witnesses are further fortified by the witness of the Holy Ghost, who carries the words of testament directly into the hearts of those present who are willing to hear.

A testimony is belief or knowledge of truth and is most effectively shared by multiple witnesses. In order to share a testimony, it must first be gained. Testimonies are gained by seeking to know the truth through humble and honest prayer while diligently seeking to obtain knowledge from God. Testimonies are strengthened by living the principles of the gospel. Elder Richard G. Scott stated: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, that is the surest way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles for which you strive to gain a testimony. If you want a testimony, act as if as though you have it and that action will help create the reality of it. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, keep His commandments. If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it, pray about it, and live the doctrines contained within. That is one reason we are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth. We rarely receive a witness when we seek not; testimonies are gained and strengthened through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel Elder Scott offers His apostolic counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting…. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Thus, testimonies effect changes in our lives. A testimony is a foundation of faith upon which we anchor our actions and as such becomes the foundation for our life of covenant service to God.

The prophet Joseph Smith saw in vision people who had received testimonies of Jesus Christ but who were not valiant in their testimonies. They were good people but people who did not live up to or partake in all the covenants required for exaltation. They received testimonies but did not take the additional steps required as disciples of Christ. These individuals, in Joseph’s vision, were unable to return to live with God again (see D&C 76:79).

Being valiant with our testimonies includes sharing them with others. Such declarations are recorded in heaven: “Ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 62:3).

I know of a group of youth who recently held their own testimony meeting using social media. They shared their testimonies with friends and strangers alike. In a world full of much filth and negativity, it was beautiful to see young men and women freely bearing their witnesses of Jesus Christ and the restored church. As they shared their testimonies, many of the youth were touched by the Spirit. In sharing their testimonies freely, they were following apostolic admonitions to share the gospel using the internet, social media, and whatever other means are available (see M. Russell Ballard, July 2008 Ensign).

An important part of developing and strengthening testimonies is to develop and strengthen faith. Faith and testimony are intertwined – we cannot have one without the other. The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust, belief, or confidence. Understanding faith to be simply belief or trust does not encapsulate the real meaning of faith.

The apostle Paul said: “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Alma gave this definition of faith: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271). “Faith is a gift of God.” We give the gift of our belief, hope, and trust to God. What He gives us in return is faith. Faith is a gift from God that is granted unto us in return for our belief and righteousness.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is the evidence or proof of our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent. Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

If we are seeking a testimony of the gospel, if we are seeking or want to strengthen faith in God, we can plant what Alma called a seed in our hearts. This seed is the word of God, it is also the seed of faith. We do not create this seed – it is a gift from God – but our responsibility is to plant the seed and not cast out it out by our unbelief. We believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (namely, faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit. Faith is not believing without evidence, faith is the evidence supporting our belief.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” or “in blind faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. However, faith is the proof we are looking for. Faith is a gift from God. Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. Faith and testimony are core components of disciples of Christ.

The apostle Peter provided a blueprint of a strait and narrow road, a path whereon disciples of Christ travel and become more like the Savior. “And beside [giving up sinful ways], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

First, we act with diligence. We cease our sinning, we repent, and we follow the teachings and commandments of Christ. This takes tenacity and perseverance. As we start to follow the teachings of Christ and His prophets, we are blessed with faith.

Faith is just a start. We next add virtue to our faith. Virtue is goodness, it is chastity. It is being morally clean in all the meanings of the word moral. Once we are filled with virtue we can gain knowledge. So first faith, then virtue, then knowledge. Why is this order important? Nephi provides an answer: “O that cunning plan of the evil one [notice that Satan has a plan for us just as Heavenly Father has one]! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28). Without a foundation of faith and virtue (goodness or valor in living truth), knowledge has a way of fostering pride and sin; without a foundation of faith and virtue, knowledge profits nothing. Knowledge can be powerful and without a virtuous foundation, knowledge can be misused.

Along this path to Christ – to diligence, faith, virtue, and knowledge we add temperance. Temperance is control, it is restraint. It is power over our appetites, passions, and desires. We learn and grow and understand the value and power of self-mastery. Part of learning temperance is learning self-restraint. Within the LDS Church we have Fast Sundays where part of our practice is to gain control over our appetites. We also are taught and given other reminders to be temperate in our physical appetites and passions.

To temperance we add patience. We can be patient in the midst of afflictions; we can be patient towards others; we can be patient by living in the hope of Christ’s promised blessings. Life flows more smoothly when we have an abundance of patience.

Next, we add to patience godliness. Godliness means having the characteristics and qualities of God – particularly holiness. Holiness means that we consecrate all we have to God and to His work. It means that we separate ourselves from and rise above the sins of the world living sanctified lives. It means, for Latter-day Saints, attending the temple and remaining true to the covenants we make there.

Now, all these Christian characteristics so far have been primarily focused on the self. That’s only part of what the gospel is about; being a disciple of Christ affects our interactions with others. To be truly like Christ we serve others. In order to serve others as Christ did, we develop brotherly kindness. We recognize that each individual is a child of God. We are all children of God and are asked to treat one another as such. If we are godly, we can then develop a true brotherly kindness and strive to do good to all others, even those who do evil to us.

Lastly, we add charity. The chief virtue is charity. This is the “pure love of Christ, and it 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 much more than helping others, it is more than treating others well, it is a 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.

The path to Christ and our Father in Heaven is clear but strait and narrow. The foundation of this path is built on faith, our testimony, repentance, keeping God’s commandments, and receiving necessary ordinances. As we are diligent, we can become more like the Savior, becoming filled with the pure love of Christ. We will be able to bless the lives of those around us and have a desire to bless the whole world. As we walk the path of faith, starting with a simple testimony and persevering on, we will feel the pull to share God’s love with those around us.

This path of testimony is a covenant path. It leads from baptism through the temple unto life eternal. What begins as a simple witness turns into a life of consecration. We consecrate all we have to building the kingdom of God and serving God’s children. Recently, Pres. Monson has called for a renewed focus on hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

When asked the similar question of: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with a parable:

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.

The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he stopped and helped. He might have been on his way to a business meeting or to a family gathering; maybe his fields needed sowing. Surely he was not less busy than those who did not stop. He took care of a man on the edge of death just as the Continental Army sergeant did for John Greenwood. It is our covenant duty we have as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate in Pres. Monson’s prophetic priorities by participating in hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost by sharing our testimonies with those in need.

When criticized by the Pharisees for spending time with sinners, Jesus said,

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7)

May we develop and strengthen our testimonies and move onward and upward in supporting the work of the Lord by strengthening those in need. I bear my testimony that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. I bear witness of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ. I bear witness that Pres. Monson is a prophet of God. In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

Faith is Proof

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The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust or belief: “You just have to have faith.” That is the “official” definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Belief, trust, confidence”. Other uses and definitions of the word faith exist but faith as belief, trust, or confidence are the predominant uses of the word. Uses such as those, however, do not do justice to the real meaning of faith.

Let’s turn to the writings of the apostle Paul. “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).

We’ll accept the premise that there are things that are not seen but that exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed. There are things that exist that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” Wait, isn’t faith a gift we give to God? We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him? That’s belief and hope and trust. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is thus given as proof for our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent.

Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

We have desires to believe. Do we plant that desire of belief in our hearts? Not really. What we plant is the seed of faith (really, the word but I’ll incorporate faith into the word for now). We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed is planted and not cast out by our unbelief. We have to belief and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith (e.g., “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls.” Alma 32:34). However, faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe and trust and hope and experiment upon the word but miss the results of that experiment (faith)? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the sign we’ve been seeking. Faith is a gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

Faith is part of a positive feedback loop. This means that with increased faith comes increased hope and belief and trust. Those in turn can increase faith. However, at its core, faith is a manifestation of God’s spirit and power. It is a gift from Him given to us to bless our lives and help us know of His love for us.

To read more that is related to this topic, read this previous post of mine: Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God. We need to realize that our assumptions of what constitutes as evidence do not necessarily equate with the evidence given to us by God.

The Necessity of Priesthood Authority

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As Paul – a tentmaker turned persecutor of Christians turned disciple of Christ – traveled and taught on his way from Greece to Jerusalem, he stopped in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was part of Greece at the time and was located near present-day Selçuk, Turkey. He spent two years in this area teaching the people about Jesus and performing miracles.

During this time there was a chief priest among the Jews in Ephesus named Sceva. Seven sons of his worked as exorcists, trying to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m sure they tried casting out spirits in whatever way they could think of but they knew the success Paul and other believers had so they thought they would try to cast out spirits in the name of Christ. It’s also possible that they were charging for their priestcrafts. With that context, here’s the short story of the sons of Sceva.

“Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts 19:13-17; emphasis added).

Not that priestcraft or violence are humorous but the story is almost funny. One man injures seven who were trying to cure him and they end up fleeing from him naked and hurt. Ignoring the possible motives of the sons of Sceva (they were likely “curing” people through trickery to try and make money and now had a new, popular, and actually effective method to try – doing so in the name of Christ), what this story shows is the importance of authority.

Many of the evil spirits that were cast out of individuals in the scriptures were not necessarily spirits; they were, rather, unknown medical conditions at the time. However, there are clearly instances when individuals were possessed by evil spirits and had the spirits cast out through the power of God. Some of these are relevant here because the evil spirits or those possessed by them testified of Christ and His power (see Matthew 8:28-33; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11-12). Jesus always commanded those possessed to remain silent because what good comes from the testimony of an evil spirit?

The sons of Sceva were faced by a similar testimony but one that ridiculed their ineffectiveness. The spirit said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” These men did not perform the act with real faith in Christ; they also lacked authority (i.e., priesthood). Now if they had been acting in good faith (but still without authority) and honest faith in Christ, they might have been successful or at least commended for their efforts by Paul as another was under similar circumstances by the Savior (see Luke 9:49-50). However, the sons of Sceva were not only ineffectual without faith and priesthood authority, they were humiliated. Much good did come from their actions though. Many saw the power and authority Paul had in contrast with these sons of Sceva and believed his teachings: “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.” (Acts 19:18).

Thus, authority is important. This authority to cast out devils in the name of Christ is called the priesthood. It is conferred by the laying on of hands by those in authority, those who have been given authority to do so by Christ. Jesus had this authority, He gave it to His apostles. They gave it to certain other men, Paul included (Paul was called as one of the apostles). This authority was no longer found on the earth after the death of the apostles due to general apostasy throughout the church. This authority and power was restored to the earth to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see for example, Joseph Smith – History 1:66-75) and is directed today by the Prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

Intelligence

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“If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal. And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.” (Abraham 3:18-19).

Intelligence is an interesting concept. We have tests that measure what we call intelligence but such tests are limited and culture-centric (not that that is necessarily a negative thing). However, for the sake of discussion I will operationally define aptitude (i.e., intelligence) as Intelligence Quotient so as to have a standard metric as foundation for this post.

I spend time assessing people’s memory and thinking abilities. I almost always try to get some measure of baseline aptitude either by estimating it (e.g., years of education, vocabulary knowledge, word reading ability) or by formally measuring via an intelligence test. Granted, this has limitations but it allows me to estimate how well an individual’s brain should function across multiple domains of thinking (e.g., problem-solving, reasoning, memory, language, and so forth). In other words, the higher a person’s general aptitude (abilities), the better he generally will do across most cognitive domains barring brain insult. This is certainly not a rule codified in stone and in triplicate but it serves as a rubric to follow.

Intelligence as measured by IQ is generally quite stable across the lifespan but can improve modestly with  diligence in informal or formal education. Intelligence as denoted by IQ can also decrease modestly if people are intellectually inactive, although such declines are slight. What can happen though is as brains age or if damaged by a pathological process or an injury, components of IQ can decrease. My primary clinical and research focus is in understanding how brains and cognition change in old age – both naturally and in the presence of neurological (brain) insult. Remarkably, the measures we use for intelligence tend to be rather insensitive to aging and even neurological insult, at least some of the components of intelligence are generally insensitive to brain insult. However, this leads to one area where our conceptualization of intelligence as IQ starts to break down.

As they age, the brains of people almost universally slow down. Wear and tear on the brain over decades of life affects how well and quickly we can think. Blood, which is essential for life and for the functioning of the brain, happens to be toxic to brain cells. Sometimes the protections in the brain that keep blood far enough from brain cells (neurons) to protect them but near enough to feed and maintain brain cells start to break down over time. This can injure the brain and start to reduce how well the brain works, even lowering IQ. Now, does that mean that a person’s intelligence decreases? If IQ = intelligence, then yes, it does. Contrary to how I operationalized intelligence earlier, intelligence is not synonymous with IQ. IQ can be a useful concept but it is far from perfect, particularly if by using it one argues that someone is less intelligent simply because his head was injured in an accident or because she developed dementia or suffered a stroke.

One of the beauties of the gospel is that aptitude does not matter – performance matters. We are blessed not for what we are given but for what we do with what we have. Jesus taught a parable demonstrating this principle:

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:14-30).

Five, two, and one talents were given. He who had five gained five. He who had two gained two. Both were blessed. He who had one hid it away, giving it to the Lord. Instead of being pleased, the Lord was angry because instead of hiding the talent the servant could at least gained interest on it. He could have done something with it instead of nothing. It was because he did nothing that he was punished. Blessings come to those who use their talents wisely; punishment comes to those who do not try to improve their potential.

Clinically, I work with people of myriad levels of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests. All of us are surrounded by individuals of varying levels of intelligence. 50% of individuals have average intelligence by definition. About 15% have below average intelligence and 15% above average. 10% have borderline impaired or impaired intelligence and 10% have superior intelligence. Again, this is intelligence as understood by psychologists and cognitive scientists and not as understood by God. What we know though is it does not matter what our aptitude is, what matters is what our performance is.

What I find is a beautiful doctrine is that whatever limitations someone might have in intelligence in this life can be removed in the next life. So someone with impaired intelligence in this life can be free of those limitations and understand everything as God understands them. In this life, both limited aptitude and superior aptitude can present challenges to overcome. I believe that those who have been given more are expected to do more to serve others and increase their talents. If they do not, they will find themselves limited in ways that those who had more mortal intellectual limitations will not be.

I’ve worked with, been friends with, and been acquainted with people who have developmental (intellectual) delays. They have all been child-like and beautiful people. All will be blessed because of their challenges. All will be freed from limitations of mortality.

The LDS Church recently produced a video sharing a message from a girl about her older brother Hyrum, who has autism. I was touched by the love portrayed in the video. We do not always know why things happen or why people are the way they are but with faith in Christ all can be freed from shackles that occur in mortality.

In Which I Choose a Career

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Forgive me for a personal post but this is one dear to my heart and to the overall theme of this website, namely education. As I near the end of my schooling (finally!) and continuing to figure out what my career goals lie on I’ve reflected on what what led me to this point in life. Below is part of the story of this journey. I share this because it is a story of the importance of trusting God.

I was not the most socially adept individual growing up. I got along fine with nearly everyone but talking to people was never a strength. As a freshman at BYU I made progress; I continued that progress as a missionary. However, even now, many years later, I’m still only partially broken out of that shell – a place I’m content to be. What I find surprising given my past is that I happen to have a degree (nearly) that seems to be at odds with my personality and background. This is the story that explains that process.

When I was young I did not have a strong idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The earliest educational or career goal I remember is wanting to earn at least a Master’s degree (a goal I reached a number of years ago and then continued on with more school). I had some of the common childhoods desires – to be an astronaut or a pilot. I thought briefly of being a professional musician but accurately realized I didn’t really have the skill or drive to become one. I also thought about being a theoretical physicist but never seriously pursued that. I moved into a stage where I wanted to be an engineer, which was driven in part by brothers-in-law who were or were studying to be engineers. Then in high school I settled on a career in the Air Force as a pilot. I stuck with this, applying for and receiving an ROTC scholarship for college. As part of receiving the scholarship I had to pick a major before college; there was a limited list of approved majors but I settled on electrical engineering because I loved electronics, math, science, and computers. I also chose electrical engineering in part because there were other engineers in the family (brothers-in-law) but no electrical yet.

As a freshman at BYU I jumped into Air Force ROTC and my engineering classes. I loved my ROTC experiences but was not enjoying engineering much. Part of the problem was my own difficulties managing my time well (somewhat ironically, I currently teach people time management skills).

After my first semester, when I had struggled in a couple classes, I took the Christmas break to re-evaluate my career choices, including one in the Air Force. One of my engineering class grades was such that my scholarship with the Air Force was in jeopardy but separately from that I had come to the realization that I was not on the right career path. This realization came as spiritual insight as I thought and prayed. I did not know what I wanted to do instead but I started thinking of going to medical school but I wasn’t settled on anything. I went back for the next semester, resolved to give ROTC a week or two, but I did not feel right continuing with it so I gave it up. Ending my involvement in ROTC was a difficult decision because I loved it so much. Giving it up meant giving up the possibility of being a jet fighter pilot and getting to fly through the air at supersonic speeds, strapped onto a huge jet engine. I’m not a thrill-seeker but that would be really cool. stuck with electrical engineering for the rest of the semester but still did not really enjoy it. I remember thinking one night as I was in the engineering lab trying to get my homework in before the midnight deadline that I really didn’t want my entire career to revolve around computers, having limited social interaction – a perhaps somewhat unfair assessment of the work electrical engineers do. It was a surprising conclusion I came to, given my own social weaknesses.

So I ended my freshman year of college having no idea what I wanted to be. Thankfully, I had 2 years as a missionary to think more about it. Over those two years some of the edges of my social ineptitude started to rub off. When talking with and teaching people is much of what you do for 2 years, you are bound to gain a little skill at it (and in my case that skill was very little). I gained a love of teaching people during those two years. Reflecting back, I always had a love of teaching. I used to enjoy helping other students in elementary school finish their classwork after I had finished mine. Knowledge is only really good when it is shared with other people. Knowledge hoarded selfishly like shiny baubles is worthless. The good of knowledge comes by sharing it with others and hoping that they take it to new places you’ve never dreamed about.

It was during this period that I started to become interested in psychology, in understanding people and behavior. I was interested in part because I felt I was fairly clueless about people and behavior so it would be interesting to learn. I also thought about going into economics with the goal of setting up micro-loans for people around the world, to help them improve their situations. The more I thought, I realized I kept hovering around psychology and wanting to understand the brain so I registered for an introduction to psychology at BYU for after my mission.

One week into that class I knew that I wanted to study psychology. I changed my major from engineering to psychology and never looked back. What really drew me in was the brain, something that had been fascinating to me for years. I did not really know what I wanted to do with psychology but the one thing I knew I did not want to do was go into clinical psychology, to help people struggling with depression or personality disorders or other difficulties. That was the last thing I wanted to do. So naturally what do I (nearly) have a PhD in now? Clinical Psychology.

This path came about by talking with a teacher’s assistant in one of my courses. He was in BYU’s clinical psychology program, focusing specifically on neuropsychology. This meant that his specialty was going to be studying the brain and brain-behavior relationships. I realized that what I really liked in psychology had to do with understanding the brain more, particularly as it dysfunctions such as in dementias or Parkinson’s disease. While there were non-clinical paths I could have taken to do research in those areas, I liked the applied clinical side; it has direct implications and benefits in people’s lives.

So I decided on clinical neuropsychology, still really not wanting to deal with people’s depression and other psychological and psychiatric issues. This decision turned into a long path of schooling, one finally nearing its close in about 2 months. Even though I was so opposed to clinical psychology initially part of my decision to study clinical psychology was because I thought I would finally learn a bit about people and social behavior, something that has proven to be true. I knew what I would learn in clinical psychology were areas of weakness for me, which made it important to work on them. Our weaknesses cannot become strengths without effort.

Never when I was younger would I ever thought I would be where I am now with the degree that I (almost) have. I would have found the idea ridiculous. I, who was at times painfully shy and at best socially apathetic, spend nearly every day talking and working with people. Yes, I also provide psychotherapy, helping people cope with depression and anxiety and other issues, although that’s not really where my interests lie.

I share all this because this process serves a testimony of the truth of the Lord’s words to the prophet Moroni: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27; emphasis added).

Through many years of effort and excellent training, what were before chasms of weaknesses are at least smoothed out. Valleys of weaknesses have been elevated. The fact that I am doing something I never even imagined doing is evidence of God’s guidance and grace. There is still much to learn and many weaknesses to work on but the Lord has promised that our weaknesses can become our strengths, which I find encouraging.

One additional thing I’ve learned is that I’m not particularly good at knowing what is best for my life. Thankfully, I have a loving Father in Heaven who knows more and better than I do and who is willing to be patient with me when I’ve tried to walk on paths that did not lead to where I needed to go. I’m also grateful for Him letting me walk on those paths long enough to discover that for myself.

These Things Shall Give Thee Experience

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

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

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

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