Your Path Into the Light of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and References   [ + ]

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

Habits of Christ-centered Homes

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Jesus spent much of His ministry walking and talking with people. One day he was asked to come minister to a young girl who was ill. As He walked to bless the daughter of Jairus, who would die and be brought back to life, many people followed Him or pressed around Him to gawk. In this setting while Jesus traveled, we read in Mark about an experience of faith: “And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” (Mark 5:25-34)

One of my favorite works of art is a painting by James Christensen of this woman who needed healing. In the painting, she reaches out to touch the hem of Christ’s cloak. The pressing crowds, the background, and even the Savior other than part of His cloak are not in the painting because the focus is on the woman’s great faith as she reaches towards the Savior’s healing. A copy of this painting takes a prominent place in our home to serve as a reminder of the power of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we keep our thoughts and homes centered on the Savior our faith in Him will be strengthened and His Spirit will be with us.

After miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus sent his disciples away on a boat while He went to pray to and speak with His Father. He spent hours in communion with His Father. The following day in the hours before the rising of the sun, His disciples were on the boat in the midst of contrary winds and stormy seas. On the unsettled water “Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And [Jesus] said, Come.” (Matthew 14:25-29)

I can imagine Peter crying out to the Son of God, the Light of the world, as he stepped from the boat onto the waves:

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene–one step enough for me.” (John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light)

“When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33)

Some observations about this story. We know Peter had great faith – He walked on the water to the Lord! How many of us have the faith to take even one successful step? Peter’s faith was great – it was not until he took his eyes off the Savior, when Peter looked at the storm around him, that he became afraid, started to doubt, and began to sink beneath the waves. As Peter’s faith faltered and he cried out to the Lord, Jesus immediately reached out and caught Peter. Jesus responded to Peter’s plea for help immediately! King Benjamin spoke of these immediate blessings: “[The Lord] doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:24). We are forever indebted to the saving, grasping hands of the Savior.

The winds continued to blow around Peter and his Master. It was only after making it to the boat that the winds ceased and peace prevailed. Blessings come while we experience the storms of life; greater blessings and peace come after trials of our faith.

One of the most important lessons from this experience between Jesus and Peter is not the great faith Peter had, it is what happened when Peter looked away from the Savior. As soon as Peter looked away, he focused on the waves and wind; Peter focused on the storm and turmoil and became afraid. With that fear came sinking doubt. If we lose focus on the Savior, though the consequences might not seem as immediate to us as Peter’s were to him, we begin to lose faith and begin to sink.

In order to weather the stormy days we live in we must focus constantly on Christ. This focus needs to start in our hearts, minds, and homes. The moment we look away and become fearful of the storms, our faith can falter. Satan tells us lies about the things we fear the most – the waves are too large, the winds too strong, we are unloved, we have sinned too much to repent, we cannot overcome our genes or our biology, we are failures, there is no hope for the future. Satan tries to hit us and hurt us where we are weakest but through Christ all our weaknesses and fears can become strengths. Jesus Christ suffered that we might triumph in strength. He reaches down to pull us up.

The prophet Nephi exulted of the Savior: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26). Nephi strove to build a Christ-centered home. He set an example for us to follow so that we can fill our homes with the love of God. We can fill our homes with God’s love as we consistently keep His commandments. We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home, where God dwells.

During the final meeting with His apostles, a meeting paralleled many years later by Joseph Smith giving his last charge and saving ordinances to the latter-day apostles and others, Jesus gathered with His friends to celebrate Passover. He performed the ordinance of the washing of feet. Jesus broke bread and drank wine in sacrament with His disciples. He sent one off who would betray Him and then taught the apostles significant doctrines. Only after Judas departed did the real teaching and blessings begin. What the Savior taught during these late hours is covered in just over four chapters in the book of John – one fifth of a book covering three years of Jesus’s ministry. That so much of the book of John focuses on this time is one indication of the importance of what Jesus taught before His atoning suffering in Gethsemane and His death upon the cruel cross.

What did Jesus teach? One of the most powerful lessons in all scripture is found in John 17, what is commonly called the intercessory prayer – intercessory meaning praying or petitioning on behalf of another. Of this prayer John wrote: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:1-4)

The key verse here is “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Life eternal is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. As we strive for eternal life we must strive for a knowledge of God. Even more, we must not only have a knowledge of Him but also truly know Him. The better we know Him the more we love Him. How can we fully love something we do not understand? How can we truly love someone we do not know? The more familiar we are with someone, the more we understand and love that person.

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a light in the darkness of knowledge about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph had clear evidence that the Father and the Son are distinct beings. One of the implications of knowing that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are distinct Beings is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we 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.

This is 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, even though that potential would not be understood for years. We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just as we had with Him before we were born with physical bodies.

A simple recent experience reminded me of the nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears our prayers. Experiences like this can remind us of our heavenly home.

We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home and build them upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We can do this by establishing patterns of righteousness. Our righteousness can become habitual. The brain is made up of 87 billion neurons – the brain cells that allow us to breathe, think, walk, talk, pray, serve, and love. Each of these cells is connected to others with an estimated total of 100 trillion connections. That’s a staggeringly large number – the number 1 followed by 14 zeros! These connections are not set for life; they strengthen or weaken constantly based on what we do and learn. Even simple actions, such as clapping or raising our hands in sustaining of church leaders, changes blood flow within our brains for half a minute. Each thought we think, each action we do, changes our brains. As we learn and re-learn things, the connections between brain cells change. If we do things over and over they become habits; habits might be easy or difficult to develop but they are usually hard to lose. This is because habits are ingrained within deep recesses of our brains; they travel along major brain pathways automatically and at rapid speed. Each thought or action we have or do has the potential to become a habit if we repeat it. What habits are you forming? What connections are you making in your brain – positive, uplifting, faithful ones? Or are you strengthening connections that lead you away from Christ? The roads of the mind can elevate or debase. Do we seek and strengthen the paths that will lead us back home?

I’d like to share four habits we can develop that will help us focus our families on Christ. These are not meant to be prescriptive, rather they are shared as examples of the types of behaviors we can instill in our homes, whatever the size or state of our family.

Habit 1

In our home every week or two we pick a scripture to memorize. Each time there is a new scripture, it is printed out and placed on a door where everyone will see it regularly and be able to read it. All in our family are encouraged to memorize the verses. In the morning – during breakfast or in the car on the way to school – we take turns reciting a memorized verse (it does not have to be the one for the week) and talk about the scriptures. With this constancy and repetition, all of us (except our baby) have been able to memorize a number of verses. This process doesn’t take long but it requires consistency. Having scriptures memorized allows us to recall them when we need a spiritual boost. Even if some of the specific words of the verses slip from memory, the principles will be retained and will provide strength against storms.

Habit 2

The first habit was knowing the words of prophets of the past. The second habit is learning and knowing the names and teachings of the current prophets and apostles. Knowing who the Lord calls as His chosen servants is important for recognizing how His work is accomplished upon the earth. More important than knowing names and faces of the prophets and apostles is being familiar with their recent messages. Frequently for Family Home Evening we talk about one of the church leaders and discuss the most recent general conference address. We distill one of the main messages of the talks into a single simple phrase. We also pick out a scripture from the talk or find a related one to memorize and discuss. This past week our family discussed Elder Holland’s talk “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet” and learned 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” We all experience sin and death, just as Adam and Eve did, but through the merciful atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ we will overcome physical death and may overcome spiritual death. Understanding the need for the Savior and the centrality of Him needs to start in the home. As we listen to, read, and follow the words of the Lord’s living prophets, we follow Jesus Christ. As our homes are filled with the words of the prophets, we fill our homes with the light and spirit of Christ.

Habit 3

The third habit we seek to instill in our children is a set of simple habits: 1) weekly Family Home Evening, 2) regular journal writing, and 3) daily personal and family prayer. These are ways we show daily devotion to God. In Family Home Evening we have the opportunity to “preach…receive, [and] understand one another [that all will be] edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22). Each of us takes turns teaching a lesson, choosing a song, saying a prayer, arranging a treat, and sharing a scripture or short spiritual thought. When everyone participates, everyone feels some level of responsibility. This helps the children pay better attention and be more involved in the evening.

Journal writing is also an important habit that helps us reflect on the present and anchors us to the past. I was encouraged to write in my journal regularly as a child. We encourage our children to write regularly in their journals. While we sometimes hear protests, these journals will be appreciated later. Journals can become sacred texts to us and our families. Many of the books of scripture are journals of the prophets.

Much can be said about prayer. Personal prayer is, as I frequently tell my children, the most important thing we can do in the day. Prayer is an opportunity to for us to converse with our Father. He loves us and wants to speak with us. When we pray we have the opportunity to thank Him. We have the opportunity to tell Him about our thoughts, desires, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failings. He knows all these things but wants to hear from us. It is far too easy to become complacent in our prayers. It is easy to be like the brother of Jared of old and slip in our personal communications with God, something for which he was criticized severely (Ether 2:14-15). We must make time for God. Family prayer can also bring great blessings of unity and love.

Habit 4

The fourth habit is Sabbath day observance. The Sabbath is a holy day, a day sanctified for us. To be sanctified is to be set apart, holy, dedicated. Is that what our Sundays look like? Is it a day different from the other six of the week or is it just another day? Is it a day spent worshiping God and strengthening our family, or is it merely a “fun day”? I love hearing my children say, “This is Sunday music!” or “That’s not a Sunday movie!” and see them choose to stay in their Sunday clothes all day. Both are signs that they recognize that Sunday is a special day; it is a day to cast off our normal activities, to put off doing our pleasure, and dedicate ourselves more fully unto God. One of the greatest things we can do throughout the week and on Sunday before church is prepare for the sacrament. Partaking of the sacrament is an opportunity to partake of the grace of God. It is a sacred ordinance, central to our week and our lives. It is a time to worship the Lord and offer up our sacraments to God, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 59:9).

Pres. George Albert Smith, the president of the church from 1945 to 1951, said of the Sabbath: “It is not an insignificant thing to violate the Sabbath day. I want to say that you lose every time you violate the Sabbath day, you lose more than you can gain, no matter what you may think you are going to gain. To forget that it is the Lord ’s Day, as some of us appear to do, is ungrateful. He has set apart one day in seven, not to make it a burden, but to bring joy into our lives and cause that our homes may be the gathering place of the family, that parents and children may…increas[e]…love for one another…. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…and it will bring to you great joy and our Heavenly Father will bestow upon you the blessings that result from obedience to his advice and counsel.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 16)

Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a habit we can gain or maintain. There are few things we can do that will strengthen our own spirituality and our homes better than keeping the Sabbath Day holy. It is a sign to the Lord of our faith. He richly blesses those who honor his holy day.

One way to honor the Lord by honoring the Sabbath is attending church. Jesus Christ established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make individuals better and families stronger. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ. The responsibilities of baptized members of Christ’s church include:

• Bearing one another’s burdens
• Mourning with those who mourn
• Comforting those who need comfort
• Testifying of God in all things and times through their words and deeds

Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

The words of the hymn remind us of our duties at home and to those around us:
“Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now in the paths of sin
Some wand’rer whom I should seek.
O Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,
Tho dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet:
I’ll say what you want me to say.” (I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Mary Brown, Hymns #270)

There are loving words we need to speak in our homes and to all around us. We need to say what the Lord wants us to say and help others along the way. Ultimately God wants us to return home to Him. That does not mean we need to be perfect now but the Lord requires us to try to be better; the atonement of Jesus Christ will help us overcome our shortcomings and sins.

The four habits I mentioned – memorizing scriptures, knowing the words of the living prophets, personal and family daily devotion, and Sabbath day observance – will help us draw near to God. They will help us strengthen our homes, allowing them to be places of refuge and peace. Our homes can become sanctified houses dedicated with the spirit of holiness to the Lord. May we strengthen our homes by following the Savior! May our homes be sacred places where the Spirit of God dwells! May they be edifices where we feel comfortable inviting the Lord to dwell. May we build our homes into tabernacles where we might kneel and greet the Lord Jesus, the Great Redeemer!

Feast Upon The Word

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16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:

17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.

23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. (Luke 14:16-24).

We have all been invited to a feast, a daily feast upon the words of Christ.

“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3).

The call was made, will we respond? Will we make excuses not to partake because we are too busy – our car needs washing, a book needs reading, a movie needs watching? Will we ignore the feast and starve ourselves spiritually? It does not take long for a body to die without physical nourishment. How long does it take the spirit to waste away without spiritual nourishment? Daily scripture study and frequent feasting upon the word of God can provide spiritual sustenance necessary for spiritual life.

Do we respond to the Savior’s call to feast at His great supper, or do we make excuses and not partake?

Tools for Gospel Students and Teachers

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I hold the opinion that the most important tools for teachers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the scriptures and the Holy Ghost. Sensitivity to the Spirit and knowledge of the scriptures will allow a teacher to teach powerful lessons that help those being taught have a stronger desire to live the gospel. “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C; 50:21-22). Having the Spirit of the Lord is vital in gospel teaching.

There are other tools that can benefit gospel teaching and learning. The LDS Church recently released their Gospel Library iPhone app. While there were other LDS library apps out previously, none were official apps of the Church. I use this app on my iPod to both prepare lessons and to teach my lessons. In the app you can annotate the scriptures or lesson manuals by adding your own cross-references and notes. The other boon for my lessons is the fact that most of the Teachers in our quorum (okay, 2 out of the 3 active young men) have either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. This means that not only do they always have their scriptures with them, they also have the Aaronic Priesthood manual that we use for the lesson. This allows them to follow along with the lesson (at the portions of the lesson when I’m using the manual) and find the scriptures quickly. For the one youth who does not have an iPod or iPhone to use, the lack of the device has not been an issue because I never make it one.

If everyone had an iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad then I would make the app a little bit bigger portion of my lessons but for now I’m just glad that some of the Teachers can follow along with the lesson. This will help them remain a little more focused on the lesson, or at least the gospel if they are browsing through the app during the lesson.

One thing I like about having the LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod is having scriptures and lesson manuals and conference addresses with me at all times. If I have some down time I can read the scriptures or prepare a lesson or listen to General Conference whenever I want to and wherever I am (within reason, of course!). Many times I’ve been riding the bus to or from the campus where I attend school when I had a gospel insight – or rather, when one came to me through the Holy Ghost – that I jotted down in my iPod note app. Now I can also jot down these thoughts right in the LDS Library app near an appropriate scripture. Soon these notes or highlights or cross-references will sync with the new LDS Gospel Library website. Or, if I annotate my scriptures online, it will sync with my iPod app. I’m looking forward to these tools.

Most of my gospel study and reading is done on a computer (iPod included). This has been the case for nearly two years now. While I occasionally pick up my hard copy scriptures and read them (something that I miss but not enough to make it my primary method of study), I mainly use electronic forms of scriptures. I do this in part because this blog is a large part of my gospel study. Having tools that allow me to better consolidate and correlate my study is a step forward in adding consistency to my study. Being able to sync my mobile study with my at home (or school) study allows me to transfer information to this blog better. It also allows me to have all my notes for my Sunday lessons in multiple places but synchronized between those places. This will also allow the young men that I teach to highlight scriptures on their iPods or iPhones in class or in Seminary and have that information also available online.

One issue I can see is when they go on missions but I think it is a good idea to have a new set of scriptures just for a mission that get read and annotated and cross-referenced with things that are most meaningful to the missionary at the time. I have to admit that I have not added much in the way of notes or cross references in my scriptures since I returned home from my mission almost 9 years ago. I added some notes but I haven’t generally been able to devote hours per day to scripture study like I could as a full time missionary. I figure that between studying in the mornings before we went out, studying sometimes at lunch time, and studying and reading at night before bed or at other random times, I got in a good 2-3 hours of gospel studying every day. I did not have to learn a new language (something that is both fortunate and unfortunate) so I could devote much time to studying the gospel. I cannot often devote that much time to gospel study now due to family, school, and church responsibilities. However, what having this LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod does is allow me to make better use of my ‘downtime’ (such as when I ride the bus or walk across campus). As a related note, that is also why I enjoy having the General Conference podcast on my iPod – I can listen to talks as I walk across campus or ride the bus. On weekdays I typically get through at least two talks. They are great sources of knowledge and Spirit, especially because I often miss talks the first time around due to dealing with young children.

These are all tools the Lord is helping make available so gospel study and hearing and reading the words of His prophets are more accessible than ever. While we should never let technology overwhelm our lives (not that I’m one to preach much about that because I am almost never away from a computer or my iPod – due in part to what I do as a student but also due to my preferences for leisure time), technology is a part of our lives. It can be used for both good and evil. If we spend our time with the good we will not have time for the evil (not that that is sufficient reason to not do evil – “I’m only not sinning because I do not have time to” – rather, our reasons to not sin should be because we are sanctified and have no more disposition to do evil; however, crowding out the evil with the good is certainly a start). If you are going to spend the bulk of your time using technology (e.g., computers), at least make it productive and worthwhile and do good.

Whether we are teachers at church or home or simply studying for ourselves, there are new tools that allow for easier and more frequent gospel study. I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to have access to God’s words wherever I am.

On Scripture Study

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This post is partially in response to an interesting comment I received on my previous post. My post is in no way meant to be critical of the comment or commenter.

My previous post was not fleshed out to really get into the topic of understanding Isaiah. That wasn’t the purpose. It’s purpose was simply to present one perspective of the issue that I had not really thought much about before (an insight provided by Hugh Nibley). Between that post and one comment I received, I spent some time thinking about what it means to understand the scriptures. So here is my reply to the comment as well as my expansion on the theme.

Here is part of the comment to which I am referring: “So while your point is well taken, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. This point of view does not usually come by praying and studying Isaiah. It requires considerable historical background and immersion in tradition, ancient history, comparative mythology. That is, it requires a real investment in time and effort to understand. But I highly recommend it to you.”

That’s the other side of understanding Isaiah that I did not fully address. Historical context always helps elucidate the scriptures. Once you understand Isaiah’s symbolism, his prophecies become clearer. I’ve read a book about Isaiah that provided insight into the symbolism and historical and cultural context of Isaiah – it was very helpful – but I’ve found (this might just be true only for me) that my keenest insights that have direct and personal application to me (in other words, the most important lessons that I can learn from Isaiah) have come simply from reading and praying.

Gospel and scripture commentary books (or blogs or websites) are beneficial – I do keep posting quotes by Hugh Nibley and other gospel scholars (I certainly hope that I am considered one) – but the real power is in the scriptures themselves, especially when coupled with the power of the Holy Ghost. This is not to say, again, that we should not do in-depth studies of the context of the scriptures – it can be very helpful and informative; however, I do not believe that it will ever be as important and personally meaningful and converting as simply reading the scriptures and turning to the Lord for understanding. This is a balance I try to maintain. It is too easy to get caught up in the ‘intellectual’ side of the scriptures (e.g., history, culture, symbolism, linguistics) while negating the spiritual side (i.e., the side that leads to repentance and sanctification through the Spirit and the Atonement of the Savior). Studying about the gospel or the scriptures is not the same as studying the scriptures. So Isaiah can be difficult to understand but then again, it really is not as difficult as we often think.

Nephi provides the key to understanding Isaiah: “Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn” (2 Nephi 25:4; emphasis added). The spirit of prophecy comes to those who are filled with the Spirit of God and who ask to the spirit of prophecy. The spirit of prophecy is founded upon the testimony of Jesus Christ; in essence, a prophet is someone who testifies of Christ (note however, that a testimony does not give authority; one does not become an Elijah or a Joseph Smith or a Thomas S. Monson just because one has a testimony of Jesus Christ – that particular calling as a prophet comes only to those called by God by those who have the proper priesthood keys). To those filled with the spirit of prophecy (which comes by asking God for it and through righteousness and the Holy Ghost), the words of Isaiah will be plain.

We have been commanded to search the words of Isaiah (see 3 Nephi 23:1) and while it is important to try and “understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, [by being] taught after the manner of the things of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:5), I would hope that we as students of the scriptures will focus more on conversion than context. If context strengthens your conversion, then it is wonderful but we need to have balance in our studies of the scriptures. Pharisees and scribes became overly focused on the symbolism and the “nitty-grittiness” of the scriptures and laws that they lost sight of the spirit of them.

I am not disagreeing with toekneenose’s comment, I am merely offering my opinion in that I believe that we need to be moderate in our approach to the scriptures; moderate meaning that we should not let our study of context outweigh our study of the scriptures themselves (I’m not implying that toekneenose does that at all). We miss a lot of meaning in the scriptures if we do not understand the context and the language and whatever else – I think that increasing our knowledge that way is important; however, we miss the most important aspect of the scriptures if that is our main focus. Again, what is most important is what the scriptures mean to you at a particular moment in your life as you listen to the Spirit. Are the scriptures effecting change in your life, are you being converted, or are you simply becoming a knowledgeable Pharisee? Is your faith in Jesus Christ increasing, or is only the perceived circumference of your head increasing? Those are questions I ask myself and ponder upon with regularity. My personal belief is that, on average, I should be spending most of my ‘scripture study’ time reading and thinking about the scriptures and the basic doctrines of the gospel with only a smaller portion of my time spent on commentary or context.

The Story of this Blog

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While serving on my mission in Seattle, Washington, I had the desire to write a gospel-related book after I returned home. I had an unofficial goal to write a series of essays on various gospel topics and try to get them published by Deseret Book or one of its subsidiaries. Well, life ensued and I never wrote my book, not that it would necessarily get published anyway.

Then a few months ago I decided that I needed to change my gospel study habits. Since my mission I have always missed how much I was able to study the gospel as a missionary. We had about 2 hours of study in the morning plus at least an hour in the evening. I also tried to utilize lunch and breakfast times and any other time I had to study and read. I read the Book of Mormon a number of times as a missionary. I read substantial portions of the Old and New Testaments as well as Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. I read the books in the “missionary library” – Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Truth Restored, and Our Search for Happiness. After I finished those books I started into books borrowed from members or purchased at Deseret Book. Everything revolved around the gospel and I loved it. It wasn’t just the studying and learning that I loved but also the teaching.
I shared that simply to provide a picture of how immersed most missionaries are in the gospel (although, I do admit that I read more than all my companions did; but reading is my background – it’s just part of who I am and who my family are; we’re a family of readers). Then I came home. I continued to read the scriptures and study the gospel but over time I became busy with school, marriage, more school, work, kids, and more school. I found that I was no longer studying the gospel very intently; I felt like I was merely sipping from the fountain of living waters and nibbling upon the word. I found myself missing a few days or even a week of personal scripture reading. I had become careless in my scripture study.
So a few months ago, I don’t remember exactly when but I think it was in June, I decided I needed to make a change. I felt that my gospel knowledge wasn’t growing much; I also felt, to an extent, my personal spirituality was stagnant. I knew that I needed to be more intentional in my gospel study. Even simply reading the scriptures every day would not be enough. I decided to start a topical study of the gospel. I began to treat my scripture study as if I were preparing talks for Sacrament Meeting (or writing essays on gospel topics). I felt that, for the time being, I had a good linear (temporal) foundation of the Book of Mormon so I could stop reading it straight through and begin to study topic by topic.
I randomly pick topics – usually whatever comes into my mind first. Sometimes I pray and ask that I be led to my next topic and sometimes I just pick a topic. Next I look up and write down scriptures. Then, I start expanding on the scriptures and try to form my thoughts into mostly coherent essays, adding more scriptures as I find them or as they come to me. Recently, I’ve started adding in quotes from General Conferences, as appropriate.
This blog is my book. I still hope that I can turn many of these essays into a published book, or at least expand on one or two of them and turn that into a book, but this will suffice as my book for now. This blog allows me to share the gospel and my testimony with others, as few as they may be. I hope that these posts will brighten someone’s day, lighten someone’s load, or strengthen someone’s testimony, even if it is just my own.
My shift from nibbling upon the word to feasting (or, at least trying to) upon the word brought a noticeable – to me – change in my life. Studying the gospel intently will always have a positive effect on your life. It gives you greater power over the Adversary and greater peace about your path. The burden may not be lighter but you will be strengthened so that it becomes easier to bear.
That’s the story of the genesis of this blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do creating it.