Endurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea.

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

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

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

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

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost.

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

Enduring means that we cannot take half measures in life. Choosing to follow half the commandments is like firefighters choosing to only put out half a fire or an airplane maker choosing to build half a plane. Half a plane won’t get anyone anywhere quickly. Sometimes enduring requires hard work, sometimes it simply requires patience. We read in James: “Take, my brethren [and sisters], the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11).

In the cramped, freezing, ironically named Liberty Jail, a place of suffering that became a temple of learning to the incarcerated prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord comforted with these words: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes…. 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, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).

Are we greater than Christ? He descended below the depths of our sufferings. Jesus provided the perfect example of endurance. Joseph Smith was an example of endurance. All things that we pass through shall give us experience and be for our good as we are faithful. Have patience, have hope. Be believing and carry on.

When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river because the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts we did what any reasonable person would do – we played in the quicksand. [The greatest danger with this patch of quicksand was maybe losing a shoe]. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith wavered, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. When we are called to pass through challenges and suffering it’s best to do just that – pass through them. Giving up part way through might at the time seem easier but then we’ll be stuck in the trial longer. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. As we endure we are hardened – this is not the hardening of hearts, it is the strengthening that comes from choosing the right, which strengthening provides armor against the temptations of Satan that would lead us to misery and eternal separation from God. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence and weekly willingness.

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

“And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], after ye have gotten into [the] strait and narrow path [to Christ], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

If we don’t endure to the end we cannot endure the presence of God: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24) We are asked to endure hardships so that we might return with honor to God’s presence and endure His eternal love.

Pres. Monson stated recently: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel ‘weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We must persevere, we must endure as Shackleton and strive to lose not one life spiritually – not our own and not those for whom we hold stewardship. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things become strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to return to God and enter His eternal embrace. “And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26).

Note: Image of the frozen in Endurance ship. Image in public domain.

Dropping the Rope of Addiction

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This post is for those who are struggling – personally or through friends or family – with the monster of addiction. This post is written from the perspective of a mental health professional (which I have training as) but does not constitute professional advice. I am not a therapist (I’ve chosen a career in research and teaching) but I have training as a therapist.

Individuals seeking help in overcoming substance abuse, pornography addiction, eating disorders, or any other addictive behavior often fall into three categories: the home run hitter, the negative and bitter, and the perpetual quitter. The home run hitters do just that – they quit without much struggle, hitting a home run, changing their behaviors right away. The negative and bitter don’t believe that they will overcome their addictions and they try to blame other people or external factors for their problems; they play the victim card, often without any hint of accepting personal responsibility. Those individuals are the hardest to work with because they see no need to change or have no desire to change. On the other hand, the perpetual quitter frequently tries to quit but never succeeds; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It is those who struggle over and over to try and overcome addiction that I want to address.

Erase Addiction

The following examples are fictional but are true to life; they are not atypical of people seeking treatment for addictions. These examples are based on people I’ve worked with during my professional training but I’ve changed specifics (e.g., names, ages) as well as taken the liberty to apply them to a church and gospel setting (e.g., made them members or investigators of the church).

Tobacco

Ralph is 53 years old with a 35 year history of smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes per day. He recently had a chest scan that revealed a spot on a lung. His doctor told him he needed to stop smoking. Ralph has wanted to quit for years to save money and to save his health but never could. He has a daughter he wants to help through college and as he nears retirement he not only wants to have more money for retirement but he also wants to live long enough to retire. Ralph has tried patches, pills, behavioral treatment, and going cold turkey. Each time he tried quitting Ralph slipped and started smoking again. He means well but Ralph has been unable to quit.

Part of the challenge is that Ralph believes that he can win the battle over smoking. Wait, isn’t that what he wants – to beat the addiction and stop smoking? Yes, but stopping doesn’t require fighting. Part of the problem is that deep down Ralph believes that he can slay the giant of addiction. He can’t. Few people have that strength and willpower and those who do usually develop the ability it through years of practice of self-control, something that years of addiction aren’t exactly evidence of – self-control.

Then Ralph meets the missionaries (or Ralph could be someone newly baptized). They teach him and give him blessings. He is excited and hopeful because he believes in the Savior’s Atonement and its power to heal. Yet, even as his faith grows, Ralph is not quite successful; he is not able to stop for a long enough period in which to be baptized (or, if he was baptized already, he slips back into the addictive behaviors). Ralph starts to despair and feel unworthy, his blossoming faith starts to waiver. What can be done?

Pornography

Matt is 19 years old and a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He developed a pornography addiction at age 18 and has struggled with quitting since he first approached his parents and bishop. There were some days when the urges of the addiction were so bad he spent the majority of those days viewing pornography, shutting out the rest of the world. Concurrent with the addiction he struggles with depression, which feeds his addiction and is fed by his addiction. He meets bimonthly with his bishop and weekly with a therapist. He prays, reads the scriptures, and attends church weekly. His addiction, however, remains. Matt tries to quit but the siren lure of pornography catches him back each time.

Tug-of-war

Both of these cases illustrate a few of the many challenges faced by those who struggle with addictions. Even with the power of the Atonement, behavioral, emotional, psychological, or physical issues might interfere with success in overcoming addictions. Just as not all medical conditions are cured through faith (the vast majority are not), not all addictions are cured by faith and “trying harder”. I’m not downplaying the role that the Atonement must play for many addictions constitute sinful behavior – addiction is not an excuse for sin – but faith and repentance are not panaceas in this life.

Below is a perspective on addiction that I’ve found helpful professionally. It is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that I feel has much to offer. Part of this approach is discovering true end goals of life and identifying how current behaviors, emotions, and/or cognitions are or are not detracting from those goals. Once overarching goals are recognized, manageable sub-goals can be established and any barriers to fulfillment identified. With these goals in mind, we can understand how some actions are counterproductive, even if they seem like the right actions to be doing (such as trying to beat the monster of addiction – again this post is focused on individuals who struggle to quit or change, not to those few who are the home run hitters).

Addiction is like playing tug-of-war with a monster on the other side of a gorge. You think that if you can just pull the monster in you will be free from your addiction; the problem is that it’s stronger than you are. You might even think that you can cross the chasm and fight it (maybe the other side looks greener too) but you will lose. The only way to conquer it is to let go of the rope and live your life on your side of the chasm. Then the monster will no longer be pulling back on you. In doing this you are not ignoring the monster – it’s there and real but you are simply choosing to stop fighting it so that you can move on to greater and more productive goals.

This concept of overcoming addiction can be quite successful because when you fight things, you dwell on them. If you play tug-of-war with the monster of addiction you focus all your energy on it. In doing so, you allow it to have power over your life. That’s the irony of fighting the monster – you might think that you are choosing to battle it but in reality you are giving up your freedom of choice. You might think that it is a fight on your chosen ground and at your chosen time, but the monster stands there, waiting for you to fight – it enjoys the contest. The monster only has something to do when someone fights with it. This is a fight few people can win.

So instead of playing tug-of-war, should you cross over the bridge to attack the enemy there? No. Once again, that places your focus on the monster; plus then you are in its territory. That’s like an alcoholic who tries to quit by going to a bar just so she can say that she’s there but not drinking – “look how strong I am!”. It’s not a good idea. That is not the way to win. Once again, by striving to do so you focus on the monster. It’s like me telling you to not think about purple bunnies. Whatever you do, do not think about purple bunnies – not the wiggling of their little noses, not the ridiculous purple hue of their fur, not their munching of juicy carrots. Of course, the first thing you just did was think about what I just asked you not to think about – purple bunnies. The more you try to suppress the thought, the worse it gets because you keep your focus on it. Addictions are the same way.

You need to drop the tug-of-war rope and walk away. Acknowledge the monster, accept the monster as part of your life – it’s real and it’s big and scary. When you drop the rope you are not ignoring the monster, you acknowledge it’s there and real, you just choose not to fight. Ignoring it does not solve your problems because then you are in denial and in the river of denial you usually end up eaten by crocodiles. So instead of just ignoring the monsters, say “I know you are there; I know that you are a terrible thing in my life; I know that you want to fight me and I want to fight you but I cannot win. I embrace you and let you go.” Instead of straining and putting all your efforts on fighting the bad in your life, acknowledge it and then fill your life with good. You embrace (or shake hands – whichever metaphorical action you prefer), let go, and move on. What you move on to is important though. You can’t beat addiction with a life full of nothing, addiction will always win over void! Addictions exist in part because of some internal void. So instead, fill your life with good.

The key to overcoming the monster of addiction is establishing positive goals and working towards those goals rather than fighting against the monster. The goals could be related to family, work, hobbies, service, church, or community. It is in striving towards good goals that the monster of addiction finally goes away.

For all the perpetual quitters out there – if you are trying to overcome addiction of any sort (and it could be anything physical or emotional) but find yourself constantly quitting with little success, it is time for a shift in tactics. That shift could be to acknowledge the monster, drop the rope, walk away, and work towards positive goals in your life. Instead of fighting the bad, do good. Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) rather than going about fighting evil all the time. In the same manner, addiction no longer has power over you when you stop fighting it and start working towards good goals. It doesn’t mean it’s gone for good – the monster will remain, lying in wait – but if you stop fighting you can start living. This is not an easy thing to do if there are years of addictions to overcome but it is a simple process and will provide success through diligence and over time.

What will give great power to the process and allow you to fully overcome is the Atonement of Christ. Jesus’s Atonement enables you to be free from the shackles of your sin. It enables you to overcome all, just as the Savior overcame all. Sincere repentance will allow you to “shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Nephi 4:31), no longer having a disposition to do evil (Mosiah 5:2). However, just as you must rely on medical treatment in addition to faith in Christ, there are many instances when you must rely on professional help for addictions. When you or the person you love fall, when you stumble along the path of freedom, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up! That is precisely the time when you need to double your determination and your prayers and keep clinging to the iron rod. God loves you and wants you to succeed. Don’t give up hope, keep walking towards your goals. Through faithfulness and honest striving towards Christ, whether in this life or in the next, you can be free. You shall overcome some day.

Rope image by Michael Heiss used under a Creative Commons license.

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/).

Weak and Simple

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The gospel is spread by the weak and simple of the earth but we are not to remain such. We are to improve and grow, becoming powerful and strong. We are to become educated, knowledgable, and faithful. What is undeniably frustrating to the Lord and to church leaders are individuals who do not live up to their potential. How pathetic are the simple minded who revel in their simple-mindedness and never seek to improve themselves! How pathetic are those who are highly intelligent and knowledgable who do not improve themselves or who waste what they have been given on things of no or little worth. The parable of the talents is of great relevance to us today. There are also those who have immense abilities, talents, and potential who are slothful or even antipathetic towards the work of the Lord. What a tragic waste! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for the perfecting of the saints, not for perfect saints. But what of those who will not be perfected? Many refuse great blessings because of short-sightedness, selfishness, or sin. Perfection doesn’t come in a day, perfection doesn’t come in a lifetime, but to the faithful through the grace of Christ, perfection will come. Working on improving some weakness each day goes a very long way.

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.

An LDS Perspective on Death

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Not very long ago, a family I know lost their young son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. There is a touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor), the father of the murderer confronts his neighbor, the father of the slain. During this difficult encounter the umfundisi admits to his neighbor “it was my son that killed your son.” After this revelation, both men talk for a brief time. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi’s church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen – years ago – his young son ride by the church.

“Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do…. I remember, umnumzana [said the umfundisi]. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.”

That last line in that touching encounter reminds me of Evan – there was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. Evan’s brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life – waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. This poem is the thoughts of a mother who lost a child. I will take the liberty of making minor edits so that it fits more with Evan’s death and all children who are lost so young.

“The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.

For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven’s hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.

[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother’s touch.”

As a parent of young children, I was especially touched by the experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family went through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. [This essay was originally written in 2009; since that time my family experienced the loss of a niece, a particularly difficult event, and I’ve lost other friends and acquaintances to death; most of them have been young, about my own age]. All deaths of friends or family members can be trying experiences. I’d like to share a few experiences with death I’ve had over the years and some of the knowledge and comfort I gained through those times. In all these experiences, other people suffered much more than I did; others had more poignant pains and more severe suffering but each of these experiences also affected me deeply.

When I was 15, the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending three weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent three weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable and homesick. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death; I was upset by it and sad but I didn’t cry much. I don’t know why, I’m normally emotional about such things (and more so the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I cannot say I was a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me) so we were around each other a lot. He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience and one of the most influential lesson’s I’ve ever had at church.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light 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 and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening; then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of the difficulty at the time. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born. In 2008, within one and one-half months of each other, my other three grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life – it happens to all – but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person’s life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Following the death of my granny but before her husband – my grandpa – died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That’s my purpose in posting this series about lessons I’ve learned from death – to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel. My aunts and uncles were there too – it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members – she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn’t stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner’s hand (he just appeared by her side – Tanner is my cousin who died in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering…. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior’s atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: “And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

The great prophet Enoch had a vision that spanned the ages of the earth. He saw many people in many times. He saw the great wickedness upon the face of the earth. He saw the flood in the time of Noah wipe out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Enoch’s response to this vision was similar to many of our responses to death. “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” (Moses 7:44-45). The blood of the Lamb that was slain sanctifies us, which sanctification is not just a purification of our sins but also a change in our very beings. Sorrow is replaced with exultation.

Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in the Liberty Jail pleaded, “O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?… Remember thy suffering saints, O our God: and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1,6). In reply the Lord comforted Joseph: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). What comfort comes from Him who descended below all and rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death! The prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma experienced the loss of multiple children. Surely their grief was intense as they buried their little children amid the turmoil of the Restoration. Joseph said, “The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on the earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-197).

Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt…. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome…. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: “The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” Our tears of sorrow will – sooner or later – turn to tears of joy. We don’t always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear – and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child – but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them – all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.” (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior’s original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That’s the great blessing of the gospel – we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is “the great work…done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (D&C 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances – they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord – but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: “I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). That’s a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope” (Source).

As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: “‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid…. Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.” (Source).

That’s another wondrous blessing of the gospel – we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly – some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord bear testimony of the comforts God provides to His children. As he was suffering in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need.” (Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).

Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are seen; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another’s death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

“For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).

The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That’s one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Note: This is a repost and slight update of an essay I previous posted in separate parts on my blog. Links to the original posts are found in this post I wrote in reflection on the death of my niece.

Give Heed Unto the Words of the Prophet and Apostles

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After a number of lengthy recent posts, I thought something brief would be welcome. The Savior said, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of [the] twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants” (3 Ne. 12:1).

We are blessed when we give heed to the words of the prophet and the twelve apostles. They serve us by dedicating their lives unto the Lord and spending all their time and efforts engaged in spreading His word. We should be wary of any who openly or in secret oppose the prophet and apostles for those who oppose them stand in opposition to the Savior.

Being Chosen People

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In our egalitarian society in the United States we tend to shy away from things that hint of inequality. As a nation fighting for independence from England, we fought for freedom from aristocracy. The United States was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal [by God].” However, “equal” did not necessarily mean the same thing as how many use it today – it was mainly commentary against the idea that the “common man” is entitled by God to have the same right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that aristocracy or royalty have. Unlike during the French Revolution, the idea of equality was not one where the weak debase the strong, it was the idea that the weak (i.e., common) can become strong.

Because of our general aversion to aristocracy many people have difficulty with the concept of “chosenness” or being a chosen people or nation. That sounds too much like royalty and surely leads to oppression. How can people be equal if some people are chosen? The seeming contradiction lies in misunderstanding of both equality (which I will not discuss further) and chosenness (which I will discuss).

The Apostle Paul gave a discourse to Jews in Rome about what being a chosen people really means.

“Behold, thou art called a Jew [God’s Chosen People], and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” (Romans 2:17-20).

The Jews were and are the Chosen People of God. They were given His law by covenant and as such are really Covenant People. Being chosen by God comes in the form of covenants with God. Covenants are two-way agreements, meaning that great responsibility rests upon those with whom God has covenanted to uphold their covenants. Paul continues with his sermon to those who are “guide[s] of the blind” and “light[s] [to] them…in darkness”.

“Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:21-29).

Being circumcised, being one of God’s covenant people, does not mean anything if the laws and covenants are not kept. Hypocrisy is much worse than ignorance.

The Apostle Paul then continues on in a beautiful exposition on the necessity of the grace of Christ that at first almost seems to contradict the idea that works (our actions) are important, but such a reading of Paul’s words is errant and ignores much of what Paul had just finished teaching and goes on to teach. Without deviating more from the topic of this post, I’ll come back to the topic.

“And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11-12).

Abraham first had faith and then received circumcision – a sign of the covenant he and the Lord made with each other. The children of Israel, of which the Jews were a part, were the children of this covenant and circumcision was a sign of this covenant. However, just because the Jews were covenant – chosen – people did not make them part of an exclusive club. Abraham can be a father to all who have faith [in Christ] and “walk in the steps of [the] faith of our father Abraham.” All who are willing to exhibit that faith in Christ can become chosen, they can partake in God’s covenants.

Simply being chosen is not enough. Being chosen does not make you better than another or more blessed than another if you do not also keep the laws of God. Further, all who desire to walk in the light of Christ can become chosen. Chosenness is a call to covenant, service, and responsibility. Equality comes from raising up, not tearing down.

The Father and the Son

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One of the logical implications of knowing that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are distinct Beings is that humankind has a special relationship to God and have an opportunity to become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent. In essence, understanding God and Christ as separate individuals with the Father hierarchically superior to the Son in authority leads to the belief in the theomorphic nature of humankind.

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

If Christ is a Son of God – He is – and we are children of God – we are – then we really can be joint-heirs with Christ of all that our Father has! That is quite a promise. This pleading for oneness with the Father is thus not just metaphorical. Christ pled that His Father would bless His apostles and all those who believe and follow Christ’s teachings with the same oneness that He and the Father share. This does not diminish the power or authority of God or Christ for their power and authority are endless and eternal. Rather, it shows our true relationship to God; we are His children and He loves us not just as a perfect God loves but as a perfect Father loves.

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

Note: This post was directly influenced by Elder Christoffel Golden, Jr.’s talk at the April 2013 General Conference.

Path to the Temple

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At the start of His ministry, Jesus went out to the desert to fast. He spent 40 days fasting. After He finished His fast “he…hungered” (Luke 4:2). I would have been hungry before the end of the 40 day fasting period, but that’s just me. After His fast, the Savior had an interesting experience with Satan. It’s interesting not so much because of Satan’s intrusions but rather because of what Jesus experienced in spite of Satan.

At the end of His fast, while Jesus was still in the desert, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread. He who created the earth, turned water to wine, and walked upon water could have turned stone to bread. Doing so would not have been a sin. What He did not do – what would have been a sin – is follow Satan’s command. After the desert, Jesus went up to a high mountain. There He was again assailed by Satan, who this time wanted Jesus to worship him. Lastly, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem. There Satan tried again to tempt Him, this time quoting scripture. Jesus again cast Satan aside.

The progression of these three experiences and locations is interesting. In the first, Jesus wandered in the desert, much like the children of Israel being led by Moses out of Egypt. They searched for the promised land, a land where they could grow and prosper and build a temple. The children of Israel wandered for 40 years in similitude of the Savior’s 40 days.

In the second experience, Jesus went on top of a high mountain, as Moses did to speak with the Lord. There, like the Savior, Moses was confronted by Satan (see Moses 1:12-16) who commanded him to worship him. Moses cast Satan away, just as Jesus did.

Then in the third experience, Jesus traveled to the pinnacle of the temple, an elevated place upon that elevating building. After His visit to the temple Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region roundabout.” (Luke 4:14). Jesus was endowed from on high and began His ministry in earnest and with great power that others now saw and recognized (see Luke 4:15). It is not coincidence that the Savior visited the temple before He started His ministry.

This progression of wandering in the desert, communing with God on the mountain, and gaining great power at the temple is the path we must all take – it is the path from natural man or woman to sanctified man or woman. This path also can be viewed as a priesthood path (I’m not saying this is what Jesus experienced it just mirrors the progression of and through the priesthood). Prior to these experiences, Christ was baptized (Luke 3); then He wandered in the desert like the children of Israel (Aaronic/Levitical priesthood); next He went to the mountain top like many of the prophets of old (Melchizedek priesthood); and lastly, He went to the temple (endowment). Satan, of course, tried to stop Him in this process, but was unsuccessful. Do we respond like the Savior and cast Satan aside when he tries to tempt us to leave to path of salvation? Do we get turned aside by baubles or false idols, or do we follow the Savior to the temple?