Friday, December 26, 2008

Reverence Invites Revelation

“The world grows increasingly noisy...This trend to more noise, more excitement, more contention, less restraint, less dignity, less formality is not coincidental nor innocent nor harmless.

“The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of those he intends to conquer.

“Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit...

“...Reverence invites revelation.”

(Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 27–28)

I've realized lately that I've been letting my communication lines get jammed. I've been feeling like the heavens are silent, but really, it's just that I've been being too noisy to hear its gentle invitations. It isn't that God hasn't been speaking, or that I haven't been wanting to hear Him, but that I've been letting other things get in the way. I've been making other priorities, and neglecting my relationship with my Creator.

In the words of Joseph Smith, "In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature" (Joseph Smith-History 1:28). I guess it's just that I've felt the Spirit's presence so strongly and constantly in times past, and so the lessening of its influence concerns me so much. I am reminded of the words of President Kimball:

“I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 135).

I need the strength and closeness to God that comes from constant communion with His Spirit. I need the love for others that comes from reverence for God and His creations. I need time for quiet meditation and peaceful reflection. If I am to be able to hear the gentle whisperings of a loving God, I need to spend time away from the noise that fills the world, time with the One who made the world. I think there is a reason He said, simply, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

They That Have Not Seen

This month we celebrate the birth of a child in a place where the cattle fed, in an ancient world far removed from our own. But that child’s birth would not be an occasion for such universal rejoicing were it not for that child’s miraculous gift to all God’s children. So at Christmas, we are really celebrating the Atonement and Resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely His birth. We celebrate His life, His mission, His example, and His victory over sin and death. I bear testimony that He lived and died and lives today, that He stands as King of kings and Lord of lords, and that one day He will again return to rule and reign, that “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,” (Isaiah 40:5) that He will “stand to judge the world,” (3 Ne. 27:16) that we “shall see him as he is,” (D&C 130:1).

The scriptures testify of the premortal role, mortal mission, and eternal Godhood of Jesus Christ. From the beginning He was “the Only Begotten of the Father, [and] by him, and through him, and of him the worlds are and were created” (D&C 76:23-24). John testified that He is the light that “shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth [or overcometh] it not… He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:3-5, 11). They teach that when Christ comes again it will be in His glory, “and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). “For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver” (D&C 45:59).

The scriptures continually urge us to be joyful and to praise the Lord for His goodness and mercy. Joseph Smith, writing from Nauvoo, proclaimed:
“Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel… Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever!” (D&C 128:22-23).

The Lord’s mission was a mission of healing and joy. It was a mission worthy of our greatest praise. As we celebrate His birth, His life, and His victory over death, I echo the words of Ammon: “Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever” (Alma 26:8).

The Lord, while in mortality, walked the dusty roads of Galilee. He ministered to a captive people, healing their sick and bidding them to come unto Him. He taught his people the higher law, the way to return to their heavenly home. He taught them to love one another, to be merciful and pure in heart, to be peacemakers, and to be filled with--and show forth--His light. He beckoned to those who were burdened with sorrow, care, and sin, saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my toke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

We live two millennia after the Lord was “lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Ne. 11:33). I have not seen Jesus Christ, and yet I proclaim His name and call myself His disciple. I have covenanted to stand as a witness of Him to a world in need of the light of Christ and “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” (Mosiah 18:9, Phillipians 4:7) I count myself among those of whom Christ prophesied when He told His disciple, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

In doing so, I echo the words of President Hinckley:
“I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Living God. None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His Beloved Son who reached out long ago and said to each of us, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’”
(“The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2)

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Crossing the Raging Deep

Faced with scattering because of the wickedness of their people, the ancient Jaredites were led by the hand of the Lord "into that quarter [of the land] where there never had man been" (Ether 2:5). They built barges and crossed to another land, "being directed continually by the hand of the Lord" (Ether 2:6). But when they got to that land, the Lord still wasn't done leading them, for "the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people" (v. 7). Much like the Lehites, reaching the land Bountiful after traveling for many years in the wilderness wasn't good enough for the Lord, for almost immediately, Nephi records, "the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship...that I may carry thy people across these great waters" (1 Nephi 17:8). The Lord intended both the Jaredites and the Lehites to reach their promised land, and He wouldn't be satisfied with helping them reach an "acceptable land," or even a "good land," for the land He had prepared for them was "the best lands," even a " land of promise...choice above all other lands."

In order to reach that land, the Lord instructed the brother of Jared to build barges in which to carry his people. Faced with the daunting challenge of crossing a great ocean without modern technology, the brother of Jared asked the Lord for assistance. His greatest challenge was providing light in the barges, which were sealed with pitch and would be just as black. Fire wasn't an option, and windows would be shattered under the stormy conditions they would face. The brother of Jared prayed about his dillemma, asking, "O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?" (Ether 2:22). He later pleaded with the Lord, saying, "O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness" (Ether 3:3).

The Lord then touched the sixteen small stones that the brother of Jared had brought, and they shone brightly, filled with the light of the Lord. The brother of Jared placed at stone at each end of each barge, and, equipped with food and provisions, "they got aboard...their vessels...and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God" (Ether 6:4). Immediately after they had prayed, "the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land: and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind" (v. 5).

So immediately after they had been obedient and exercised faith in the Lord unto prayer, life got rough. The seas were choppy. The storms raged. The winds blew. But through it all, "there was no water that could hurt them...and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water" (Ether 6:7,10). Their voyage was not smooth sailing, for "the wind did never cease to clow towards the promise land...and thus they were driven forth before the wind" (Ether 6:8). But they had light, and air, and the eye of the Lord was upon them, and His hand was steering them toward the promised land, "and they did sing prases unto the Lord...all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord" (Ether 6:9). After almost a year aboard the barges, a long time to be perpetually seasick, "they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land...and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because the multitude of his tender mercies over them" (Ether 6:12).

The Lord intends to bring us to our own promised land, to bring us back into His presence to dwell with Him forever. His work and glory is to bring us to live with Him and to live like Him (see Moses 1:39). He doesn't intend us to be mediocre for eternity. The mission of His Son was not to condemn the world for its sins, but to save all who would repent of their sins (see John 3:17). In order to reach our promised land, sometimes we have to be driven by fierce winds. Sometimes we'll be swallowed up in the sea. But when we dedicate our lives to the Lord, His eye will always be on us, and He will lead us, as He promised Nephi, "I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you...and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led" (1 Nephi 17:13). The winds that are so frightening are what will drive us toward our promised land, if we exercise faith in God.

The Lord may require us to pass through trials to get to the promised land, but we will not pass through our trials alone. We must cross the raging deep, but He will not suffer us to cross it in darkness, for He will be our light. And when we enter His presence, we will bow ourselves down and shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of His tender mercies over us. We will know that it is by the Lord that we are led.

I bear witness of the light and peace that comes only from the hand of the Lord. I bear witness of His tender mercy and love. I know that He will guide us through our raging deep, no matter how dark or long. "And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God...may be and abide in you forever. Amen" (Ether 12:41).

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Funeral Potatoes and Turkey

Perhaps it seems strange to write about funerals on Thanksgiving. But since Thanksgiving always reminds me of loved ones who died around that time, I suppose it's understandable. Especially at this time, I miss them.

Death is hard on me. Not in the abstract--after all, I believe in the eternal existence of the soul, and in a universal resurrection. I understand that death isn't the end of existence. I'm not afraid to die, to be done living, or to meet my God. I know that death is a part of life, that people live on after they die, and that, after my death, I will be reunited with those I loved in life. I know that the answer to Job's question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14) is a resounding "Yes!"

But despite these noble platitudes, death is hard to handle. The pain caused by the physical absence of a loved one is sharp, especially during times of celebration--times when they should be there--times when their presence is sorely missed. We mark milestones for the departed--the day our son would have graduated high school, the party we would have held for Grandpa's 60th birthday, the wedding reception that Mom would have danced at.

Encounters with death affect us deeply. They remind us of our own mortality. They connect us to each other and to the Divine. We come through the experience changed beings, capable of new feeling, filled with new understanding. But the understanding we gain comes at a high price, and the peace that can fill our hearts often comes only after much despair. Even with our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, such encounters are often unbearably painful.

At religious funerals, we tend to give short shrift to the physical body in order to emphasize the eternity of the soul, saying, in effect, "Do not be sad, for what lies here in the casket is just his body, just his shell. His spirit is still very much alive." But, as a dear teacher reminded me, "Yes, that is true. But we loved the body, too." The body is what we held close to us, it was what interacted with us. The body had the eyes that lit up with excitement, the voice that sang with us, the hands that held ours. It had the arms that carried firewood and cleared brush, the feet that grew calloused and sore, the stomach that always seemed to be hungry. We know that the spirit lives on, but we loved the body, too. And in closing the casket and covering it with earth, we are bidding farewell to a large part of a person we love.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my loved ones, both here and on the other side of the veil. I am especially thankful for those I can no longer see--for a brother with a passion for life and a genuine concern for all those he "bumped elbows" with, and for a grandmother who, even in dying, taught her family how to live in unity and love. In joining their voices with those of angelic choirs, they have taught me to raise my own voice in praise to God.

Most especially, I am thankful for my Savior Jesus Christ, whose atoning death will make it possible for me to see them again, and whose resurrection from the grave will bring to pass their resurrection, and thus allow me to hold them close to me again.

"He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:8).

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fighting on the Wrong Side

"It has been declared in the solemn word of revelation, that the spirit and the body constitute the soul of man; and, therefore, we should look upon this body as something that shall endure in the resurrected state, beyond the grave, something to be kept pure and holy. Be not afraid of soiling its hands; be not afraid of scars that may come to it if won in earnest effort, or [won] in honest fight, but beware of scars that disfigure, that have come to you in places where you ought not have gone, that have befallen you in unworthy undertakings [pursued where you ought not have been]; beware of the wounds of battles in which you have been fighting on the wrong side."

James E. Talmage, CR, October 1913, p. 117, quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland in Souls, Symbols and Sacraments, BYU Devotional 12 January 1988.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Allahu Akbar--God Is Most Great

In Arabic, there is a common saying: Allahu Akbar! It has gotten a bad rap lately as the battle cry of Muslim terrorists, but it's really an expression of faith, not of war--God is most great, or God is greater.

This week marks the anniversary of a very pivotal change in my life, the first in a series of events that were, at the time, unbearably painful, but have also given me great understanding, peace, and even joy.

In all areas of life, the Lord tests us and tries us. He gives us experiences and people who will change us. At times, He allows us to be deeply hurt. But He feels our heartaches and offers us His peace. He knows the storms that rage about us, and, as He did two millennia ago, He still has the power to command the waves, "Peace, be still."

I am reminded of Enos's experience with gaining forgiveness and peace. After praying all day and night, a voice came to him, saying, "Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away."

Think of what Enos must have felt! What great joy and peace must have filled his soul!

His words have come to me often, and touched me. After feeling this great peace, Enos says, "Lord, how is it done?"

I have felt like Enos. I have tasted the beautiful peace and wholeness that comes from Christ's Atonement. When I felt that same "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Phillipians 4:7), I have been led to say with Enos, "Lord, how is it done? How is it possible that I could feel this wonderful, this complete, this joyous? How can You take pain away so completely and replace it with such exquisite joy?" And the answer, as was the Lord's answer to Enos, is simply, "Because of thy faith in Christ... wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

The power of the Atonement is real. It is the power to overcome all things. It is the power to be free, to be at peace, to rejoice. This I know from personal experience, for when I have cried out to the Lord in the depths of my sorrow, “Oh God, where art thou?” I have heard the Lord’s gentle answer, “My daughter, peace be unto thy soul” (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:1,7). I have come to know that the Lord’s promise through the prophet Isaiah will always be fulfilled: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer…For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isaiah 54:7-10).

Life can be hard, and our trials, at times, seem too great to bear. But I know that no matter how great our trials, Allahu Akbar!--God is greater.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Divine Permissiveness and Christlike Love

"Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

In Christendom, much is made of our loving God. At times, we even make the mistake of contrasting the love and mercy of the "God of the New Testament" with what we suppose to be the condemnation and judgment of the "God of the Old Testament," forgetting, it seems, that the Lord "is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever,
and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him" (1 Nephi 10:18). The Lord was as loving when He created the earth as He was when He redeemed it, as merciful when He gave the law as when He fulfilled it.

We rejoice in the great love of the Lord. But let us never equate Christlike love with Divine permissiveness. The Lord desires to bless us, and He is bound to bless us when we keep His commandments, but has made it clear that "when when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise" (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10). Our love for God and reception of His love for us are, as the scriptures continually testify, tied to our obedience to His commandments. He commanded the ancient children of Israel "to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). When we do so, he promises to bless us, "if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul...I will give you the rain of your land in his due season...And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full" (Deutronomy 11:13-15). Conversely, the Lord promised judgment and speedy destruction as the consequence for the people's rebellion: "Cursed shall be the land...unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16).

The Lord has never commanded that we look on with amused indifference or "tolerance" at wickedness. He has commanded us to forgive and love the sinner (for He does), but never to excuse sin. And the way we demonstrate our love for God's children is by keeping the commandments ourselves, as John says: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2-3). Mormon's love for his rebellious people was demonstrated not by his acceptance of their behavior, but by his prayers for their repentance: "I loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them...because of the hardness of their hearts" (Mormon 3:12).

There is an increasingly-prevalent attitude that assumes that God's love, in order to be perfect, must be unconditional, that his approbation and blessings must be extended to all without qualification. C.S. Lewis, writing of this attitude, remarked, "By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness--the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?' We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven--a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'" (The Problem of Pain).

The God we worship is a being of perfect love. Because of His love, He has given us commandments, and expects us to keep them, since they will make us truly happy. He has given us the gift of prayer, the opportunity to speak to Him and to hear His voice. His love is beyond my comprehension. It is manifest in His Atonement, which gives us the power to repent, to change, and to become like Him. His love encourages us to come unto Him and become like him, as Mormon exhorted his people, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure" (Moroni 7:48).

How glad I am that, instead of a doting Grandfather in Heaven, we have a glorious Father in Heaven who cares enough about our eternal happiness to give us commandments that will help us to become like Him and enter into His rest, "having [our] garments the kingdom of heaven to go no more out" (Alma 7:25).

"And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God"(Moroni 7:25-26).

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Day I Have Chosen

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereinafter "the Church") has taken a rare political position in this upcoming election: its prophets have declared their support for California's Proposition 8, which provides that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The proposition has gained ground in California, largely due to the Church's efforts. The Church has asked members in California "that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman." I wholeheartedly support the proposition, both on moral and on religious grounds. It is not my purpose to debate the merits and demerits of traditional and same-sex marriage here. For that, I recommend to you the Church's official website on the issue.

My purpose here is to discuss the importance of following the living prophet. As members of the Church, we believe that there are "prophets in the land again" today. We sustain the fifteen men who lead the Church as "prophets, seers, and revelators." We believe that these men are called of God and speak for Him just as literally as did Moses in ancient days. We believe that their united word is as good as the word of the Lord. "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38, emphasis added).

What a marvelous blessing it is to be guided by a prophet who speaks for the Lord! But how often we discount that great blessing! Elder Holland's words seem particularly relevant as we confront the issues facing Church members this election:

"Some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don't know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times...I say with all the fervor of my soul that never... have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth...It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world" (Prophets in the Land Again, Ensign Nov 2006, emphasis added).

I do not desire to condemn anyone for their position on this issue. As a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune reported, "Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, said L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy. 'We love them and bear them no ill will' " ("Prop 8: California gay marriage fight divides LDS faithful," Peggy Fletcher Stack, 10/26/2008). But I do know that those who ignore the word of the living prophet do so at their own peril. The prophets' involvement and strong position on this issue have been condemned as "over-zealous" and "divisive." They certainly are divisive--they divide those who follow the prophet from those who will not, whatever their personal beliefs may be. Personal belief is not the issue here. Obedience is the issue.

When Moses commanded the Israelites to paint their lintels with the blood of a slain lamb, their personal taste in decorating was irrelevant. The sight of blood may have been abhorrent to some families. Others may have resented the prophet's reaching into their personal lives. Others undoubtedly questioned the merits of his command, or found the issue of such little consequence as to not be worth their attention. In the end, all such objections were irrelevant. Those who were obedient were spared from the destroying angel. Those who ignored the prophet's command were not so lucky.

Part of believing that we have prophets in the land today is believing that their words are the words of the Lord. Part of sustaining the prophet is believing that he is "appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church...for he receiveth them even as Moses" (Doctrine & Covenants 28:2). If we have prophets, but do not sustain them, we might as well not have them.

My father is an excellent example of this attitude. A convert to the Church in his teenage years, he joined the Church and never looked back. If I had to use one word to describe my father, that word would be "valiant." I have never had occasion to doubt his testimony, his loyalty, or his dedication to the Lord and to my mother. In my father's mind, when the prophet speaks, the Lord's living oracle has spoken, and the discussion is over. To him, if the prophet says, "Jump!", the only acceptable answer is "Yes, sir! How high, sir?" We could all stand to learn from his attitude, myself included.

Some will lambaste me for encouraging this attitude of submission. Some will call it blind obedience. I prefer to regard it as making my decisions in advance.

Consider Elijah's words to the Israelites as he confronted the priests of Ba'al. "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him' (1 Kings 18:21). Or Joshua's words to the Israelites upon entering the promised land: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15, see also Moses 6:33).

I have made sacred covenants to follow the Lord. In doing so, I have crossed a line in the sand. I have chosen sides. I have succumbed to a divisive force. I have chosen between two opinions. I have chosen to serve the Lord. I have chosen to obey the voice of His prophets. My obedience then becomes an expression of my faith, and expression of my decision to serve the Lord, not a reflection of an inability to think for myself.

The prophet Isaiah said, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow" (Isaiah 50:10-11). I have come to understand that this is true.

I have learned that following the prophet brings joy and protection, and that following any counsel that opposes the prophet's counsel, however convincing, well-supported, or well-intentioned, brings sorrow and great spiritual danger. Many sincere people have tried to convince me that I can be just as happy, sucessful, and fulfilled by disobeying the counsel of the prophet as I will be by obeying it. I have taken flak from others when I have insisted that this is a lie. Their intentions may not be malicious, but their counsel is not true. In this issue, and in every other, no matter my personal desires, I will not halt between two opinions. I will not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. I will not be ashamed to follow His prophets. For this day, I have chosen. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

"If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead." (quoted by Neal A. Maxwell, “‘I Will Arise and Go to My Father’,” Ensign, Sep 1993, 65)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Should Not I Spare Nineveh?

The Lord commanded the ancient prophet Jonah to preach to the wicked people in the city of Nineveh, part of the Assyrian Empire, the enemy of the people of Israel. Deciding instead to flee from the Lord, Jonah boarded a ship to Tarshish, the furthest city from Nineveh by sea. Angered, the Lord sent a storm to stop him. Jonah, at his own request, was thrown overboard, where he was swallowed by a whale or "great fish." He remained underwater for three days, following which " the fish...vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:10).

And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord." (Jonah 3:1-3).

Jonah preached to the Ninevites, who repented in fasting and sackcloth, led by their king. But instead of rejoicing for the Ninevites return to righteousness, " it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry" (Jonah 4:1). Upset, Jonah left the city and constructed a shelter to sit in, to wait for God to destroy the city as He had promised. A vine grew there, giving him shade as he waited for the Lord's judgments. Wishing to teach Jonah a lesson, the Lord caused the vine (KJV: gourd) to be destroyed, which only irritated Jonah more.

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the [vine]? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death [that is, I am so angry I could die] Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the [vine], for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons?" (Jonah 4:9-11).

The message of the book of Jonah is expressed in its last verse: Should not I spare Nineveh? That is the Lord's question to Jonah, and that is the Lord's question to each of us. We never learn what Jonah's response was, nor what happened to him after hearing the Lord's question. We get to write the story's ending on our own, in our own lives. We get to decide, like spectators at a gladiator match, whether the foe lives or dies. And as we consider that weighty matter, we are struck with the overwhelming burden that judgment always carries--the knowledge that we are unworthy to judge even the most rebellious sinners, that because the Lord has shown us mercy in our rebellion, as He did for Jonah, so we must show mercy to all, even to our enemies.

I remember a conversation I once had with a friend that changed my perspective on judgment and mercy. Deeply angered at those who produce products that enslave others for personal profit, and filled with what I had labeled "righteous indignation," I asked my friend if we would get to stand at the judgment bar and testify against those whose shear wickedness and greed had destroyed the lives of those we loved, because, by golly, I was looking forward to it. He thought for a minute, and then replied, "No, Amy, I don't think we will. I think that if we are people who belong in heaven, we will be filled with so much love for all of God's children that it will pain us to know that some people, because of their actions, won't be able to join us and be truly happy."

That let all the air out of my "righteous indignation" balloon, and made me feel about two inches tall. My desire to see offenders brought to justice was much like Jonah's desire to see the city destroyed. And with the heavy burden of judgment staring me in the face, I am driven to consider the Lord's question: "Should not I spare Nineveh?"

The Lord has been merciful to us. He has spared us and upheld us and rescued us, even in our rebellion. Should He not also spare Nineveh?

Picture from

Monday, October 6, 2008

"But If Not"

Anyone who has been in the Church for any length of time has heard their share of inspiring stories and faith-promoting rumors. We hear of destitute families who paid their tithing in faith, not knowing how they would buy food, and the next day got a check in the mail or an unexpected donation from a kind neighbor or random stranger, of families who faced a terrible drought with prayer and fasting and were rewarded with rain, of quiet promptings to slow down that kept a father from becoming a victim of a car accident when an oncoming car ran a red light, and of priesthood blessings given to sick children who were miraculously healed with no lasting effects from their previously-devastating illnesses.

I have witnessed some of these miracles in the lives of those around me, and I, like Helaman, "do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power" (Alma 57:26). I know that "it is by faith that miracles are wrought" (Moroni 7:37), and that the power of faith, prayer, fasting, obedience, and the priesthood are real and great. I believe in miracles.

But I've noticed that sometimes we generalize miraculous occurrences and pretend that they represent the general rule. We expect that the Lord will work out all of our material needs and wants for us if we keep the commandments. While the formula "If you're good, the Lord will bless you" may work for children's books, we have to be careful not to expect our lives to be smooth sailing just because we're being obedient. We can't treat God as the Giant Vending Machine in the Sky--insert the right change, press the right buttons, and blessings will immediately be vended.

Now this isn't to say that the Lord won't bless us for keeping the commandments--He surely will. After all, "when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doctrine & Covenants 130:21). But His blessings are not always of the monetary or healing variety. I've come to realize, through experiences in my own life and through my recent reading of the Old Testament, that the Lord's thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, and His ways than our ways (see Isaiah 55:9), that even when our life doesn't fit the cookie-cutter mold of obedience leading to blessings, we still have to have faith in the Lord's purposes and plans.

Sometimes we pay our tithing and have no food for a while. Sometimes we pray and fast and our child still dies. Sometimes we're living right and listening to the Spirit and we still are paralyzed in a car crash. Sometimes the drought continues despite our earnest pleadings. Bad things happen even to good people, and sometimes especially to good people. But God still loves His children, and we still have to have faith in His purposes and His plan.

The Lord told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, that even "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" (Doctrine & Covenants 123:7). We know that good will come out of even the most terrible pain, that if we "search dilligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted" (Doctrine & Covenants 90:24).

I have long been inspired by the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar's idol. Threatened with death, they responded with one of the most powerful refrains ever uttered:

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful [that is, worried] to answer thee in this matter.
"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
"But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:16-18, emphasis added).

In other words, they were saying, simply, "we don't mind telling you, King, that we believe our God will deliver us from your fire. But if not, but if He chooses to let us burn, still we will not worship this idol, for we will trust the Lord."

There is so much power in these three words: "But if not". There is power in the affirmation that we will choose to trust the Lord's purposes, even when we don't understand them, even when the heavens seem to gather blackness, even when we are left alone. They represent a personal affirmation of enduring faith that isn't dependent on signs or miracles.

I believe that the Lord has the power to send the rain. But if He doesn't, and the heavens remain closed, even if I lose my job and my crops die and my children starve, still I will believe in Him, still I will follow Him.
I believe that the Lord has the power to heal my child. But if He doesn't, even if I fast and pray and still watch my child die of cancer, still I will believe in Him, still I will give Him my heart.
I believe that the Lord has the power to keep me and my family safe from harm. But if He doesn't, if my husband is crippled in a car accident while driving to church on Sunday, still I will not curse God, because I know He loves me, and still I will serve Him.
I believe that the Lord has the power to provide for me. But if He doesn't, if I pay my tithing and keep the commandments and still don't have money to pay my rent, if I get evicted from my home, if I'm broke and peniless, still I will praise the name of God.

Thomas Paine, writing of the American Revolution, echoed a similar sentiment. He wrote:
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value" (The Crisis, December 23, 1776). Paine understood that even when we're trying to do what is right, tragedy and hardship are involved in obtaining anything that is precious.

Job, similarly, when confronted with the loss of his family, his health, and all his earthly possessions, "arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20-21). Job knew that the Lord had power to prevent the plagues that had come upon him, and chose not to, even though Job was "a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil" (Job 1:8). Job knew that the Lord had power to restore him to health and wealth, but if not, he still proclaimed his devotion to the Lord.

May we also proclaim our devotion to a God who is a God of miracles and also a God of hard times, who has power to move heaven and earth for His faithful children, but if not, we will still follow and love Him.

Picture from

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Molech and Mammon--Idol Worship Today

The Lord, in giving the law to Moses on Sinai, began the Decalogue by prohibiting idol worship: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5). He then stated the consequences of keeping or breaking this important commandment: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

The word “jealous” is from the Hebrew “qanna,” meaning, “jealous, an adjective or title used exclusively of God, focusing on his desire for exclusive relationships” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). Worship of false gods offends the Lord’s qanna, His desire for His covenant people to be His alone, much as adultery offends a husband’s desire for an exclusive covenant relationship with his wife.

Worship of false gods in our day is often less easily identifiable. We don’t usually see people passing their children through the fire to Molech, or erecting altars to Ba’al or Asherah. But idol worship, in the sense of offenses against the Lord’s qanna, is no less prevalent—and no less condemned. In this dispensation, the Lord spoke of His anger at the rebellion of His 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” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:15-16, emphasis added). The Lord said that those who walk in their own way, instead of seeking the Lord, are, in effect, worshipping idols.

Whenever we put anything between us and the Lord, or let anything interfere with keeping the covenants we have made, we are letting something take the place of God, and thus worshipping false gods. For some, their idol is money. Jacob condemned the love of money that interferes with the love of God: “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also” (2 Nephi 9:30). Christ taught, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Jacob also condemned those who valued learning above the wisdom of God. “When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish” (2 Nephi 9:28). The prophet Isaiah spoke of a day when “the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted…And the idols he shall utterly abolish…In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats” (Isaiah 2:17-18,20). The common denominator in each condemnation of idols is that all idols will ultimately perish. The problem, then, lies in worshipping that which is not eternal, that which will end with all other worldly things.

The Lord and His gospel, by contrast, are described as eternal, imperishable, and everlasting. The Lord, speaking of His prophecies, proclaimed, “though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38). We also know that the Lord, in contrast to the idols He prohibits, “is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:17).

The defining characteristic of an idol is that it is temporary, mortal, and perishable. An idol cannot save us. In contrast, the defining characteristic of God is that He is infinite and eternal, that He will never change or perish. Only God can offer true salvation. Though our idols may not be of the golden calf or mother goddess variety, all modern idols have the same defining characteristic—they are fleeting, transitory, and not of eternal worth—they cannot save.

Whenever we are more interested in something perishable than we are in things of eternal worth, we are worshipping idols. When we spend all weekend reading the newest Twilight book and neglect our scripture study, when we watch finale of the aptly-named American Idol and forget our home teaching, and even when we focus more energy on our calculus test than on our Sunday School lesson that week, we have our priorities confused and we are putting the transitory things of this world above the things of eternity. The Savior said that the things of eternity and the things of the world can be mutually exclusive, for “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). When we seek to serve mammon (wealth or the popularity of the world, which is ultimately of no worth) rather than God, we are guilty of worshipping false gods today.

“Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy…come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted” (2 Nephi 9:51).

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Luckiest Failure

I don't get many things right the first time
In fact, I am told that a lot
Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls
Brought me here.

These words accompany the opening strains of Ben Folds's "The Luckiest," one of my favorite love songs (mostly because I think it's so sincere). I've been thinking about them lately as I've realized how far I've come these past few years, and how far I still have to go. I don't get many things right the first time--and some things I get spectacularly wrong. But somehow the wrong turns and colossal failures have taught me important and beautiful lessons, and have prepared me to get a few things right, for a change. Which I fully intend to do. And if I hadn't failed, I wouldn't know how wonderful it feels to succeed.

That's right, you guessed it, I plan to be perfect from now on!
And, as the Yiddish proverb says, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Manner of Man is This?

When Christ, with His disciples, took a boat across the sea of Galilee to escape the multitude, the weather quickly turned foul. His disciples, frightened by the great tempest that threatened to capsize their little vessel, woke the Master, who had fallen asleep on a pillow. Likely yelling to make themselves heard above the storm, they berated Christ for His thoughtlessness, saying, in effect, "Don't you care that we're all going to die?" During a storm, all hands were needed, and so the disciples woke Christ and demanded that he help them steer the ship to safety. Instead, with a rebuke of His own for their lack of faith, Christ, "arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm" (Matt. 8:26).

The disciples were shocked. Some of them had made their living in the sea, and they understood well the perils that had been so miraculously and suddenly removed. Then "the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!" (Matt. 8:27). What manner of man, indeed!

What manner of man is Christ? Put simply, He is a perfect man. He created this earth, redeemed its inhabitants, and continues to govern it. He who rebuked the winds and calmed the storm on a small vessel in an ancient Palestinian sea has the power to “rebuke the devourer for [our] sakes” (Malachi 3:11). He still has the power to command any storm afflicting any ship or any heart, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). When we come to Him in faith in the midst of our storm, He can offer far more than another helping hand to steady the mainsail through the next gust of wind. His hands, upon which He has engraven us (Isaiah 49:16) will heal us completely, lift us up tenderly, and guide us gently. They will hold storms at abeyance and mold us like clay. They bring us into fellowship, remind us of our debt of gratitude, and enfold us in their welcoming protection. How grateful I am for the majestic power of those humble hands, which I have seen working in my life in ways I cannot deny. I testify of the Lord’s power, which transcends all powers of earth and hell, and of its efficacy in our lives even when we, like the disciples of old, are among those called “ye of little faith.”

“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine & Covenants 6:36).

Photo from Reuters

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Belonging to the One True Family

I consider myself fairly close to my family. We have our modes of interaction, our traditions, our ways of doing things, and for the most part, I enjoy them. Wassail and the Carpenter's Christmas album around a live Christmas tree covered with an array of mismatched ornaments tells me that I'm home for the holidays. When my Dad and I tease each other, we're showing how much we love each other. I'm more likely to find my mother with a power tool than with a feather duster. Our furniture doesn't always match, the Christmas stockings are still up in July, and our bookshelves are covered with pictures. And I love all the quirky things about my house and my family that tell me I'm home.

My mother, who is a very wise woman, taught me to love our family and our traditions. She also taught me not to believe that the way our family did things was the only right way. "Amy," she said, "remember that you don't come from the One True Family." Other people, she said, would do things differently, and I wasn't to insist on my own way with my roommates or my husband just because my family had always done things in their own way.

It was a funny way of putting it, but "the One True Family" is an expression I have come to appreciate as I've lived with a variety of roommates and known people from many walks of life. I've learned that their variety is what gives life its richness and depth, even though it requires some flexibility to adjust to the quirkiness in others that I so appreciate in my own family.

But I've also come to realize what a blessing it us that we all can belong to the real One True Family--that is, to the family of God. When I look at others with spiritual eyes and understand that they are all my brothers and sisters, no matter how they behave, where they come from, or what I think of them, it becomes so much harder to dislike them or to judge them. It becomes so much easier to love them. Paul wrote about this blessing in one of my favorite passages of scripture:

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17).

What a rich, varied, and beautiful family we have! What a blessing it is to belong to the family of God, to have Him as our Father, to be able to become joint-heirs with Christ! How grateful I am to know that while my earthly family is not perfect, we can be an eternal family by keeping our covenants, and so can be members of the One True Family, and members of the household of God.
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s Not You, It’s Me

With the rise of no-fault divorce laws came a new set of acceptable grounds for divorce. Previously, one partner would have to demonstrate that the other had been unfaithful, abusive, or downright awful. Now they just have to allege "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage."

It's a convenient phrase that stops us from feeling guilty about our failure to succeed at making the marriage work.

"There is something deceptive about [the phrase 'irretrievable breakdown']. The passive, impersonal structure, the dry legalities of the language, conceal a lie. It suggests that a marriage has an independent organic existence. It exonerates us by portraying us as merely the clinicians pronouncing the body dead. But at what precise point does the breakdown of a marriage become irretrievable? The moment we declare it so, and no sooner. And the marriage doesn't just break down. We disconnect the life support. While it requires will to make a marriage work, it also requires a quite horrifying act of will to bring one to an end." (Taylor, John. "The Death of a Marriage." Sunday Telegraph (Australia), 30 May 1999, 13; as cited by Hafen, Bruce C., "Covenant Hearts," Deseret Book 2005, p. 236)


I think it's awfully sad to see marriages and relationships break up over petty things. But it's even sadder to see the parties refuse to take responsibility for their choices. I yearn for the days when, among the Nephites, "every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins" (Mosiah 29:38).

I submit that there is only one major reason for a marital breakdown (or any relationship breakdown, for that matter), and that is this: one or both parties decides that they do not want the relationship enough, or that they do not want the other person enough, to do what it would take to make the relationship work. Very few people will say this. They will say, "oh, we did not get along," or "we fell out of love," or "we weren't compatible." But in each case, what they mean is, "One or both of us decided that the costs of this relationship were greater than its benefits, and thus we were not willing to pay those costs."

And although I posit this as a catch-all reason for divorce, I won't go so far as to universally condemn it. The wife of an abusive man may decide that the costs (e.g. the pain caused by her husband's constant battering) are greater than the benefits of her marriage (e.g. the chance to have a father for her children, or her husband's income or position), just as the cuckolded husband may decide that the costs (e.g. the pain caused by his wife's constant infidelity) are greater than the benefits of his marriage (e.g. the meals she makes or the company she provides), and perhaps rightly so.

But barring such extreme circumstances, alleging irretrievable breakdown seems like a pretty cheap cop-out. If a marriage broke down, it’s because someone chose to do things that would destroy it, or neglected to do something that would have preserved it. As prophets have warned, “individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

May we, as the Relief Society Declaration proclaims, “seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost,” and having done so, more fully “dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes,” that we may be a force for good and truly come to “rejoice in the blessings of the temple,” which bind our families together forever, if we remain faithful.

Picture from

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sacrament--The Keys of Death and Hell

Just before His Atonement, betrayal, trial, and death, Jesus ate a final meal in an upper room with His disciples. Tradition states that this was a Passover meal. At the end of the meal, Christ took the "afikomen"--the "bread of redemption," and blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, commanding them "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26). He then blessed a cup of wine, and passed it to His disciples, saying, "Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28).

When Christ appeared to the people of the Americas, He gave the same command, and instituted the sacrament among them, in remembrance of His Atonement. Many churches, my own included, still observe this ordinance weekly, in remembrance of Christ.

Reading and thinking about the sacrament prayers last week made me realize something. I had always assumed that the bread of the sacrament was a token of Christ's mortal body, which He laid down as a sacrifice for us. So where the sacrament prayer says "that they may eat [the bread] in remembrance of the body of thy Son," I always just tacked on "which died for them," to parallel the other prayer's structure, "that they may do it [drink the water/wine] in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them" (see Moroni 4-5).

But Christ's command to the Nephites threw a different light on the whole subject. After instructing them to observe the ordinance of the sacrament, Christ said, in perfect parallel of the sacramental prayer, but inserting the missing phrase, "And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you" (3 Nephi 18:7).

So the body symbolized by the bread of the sacrament is not Christ's mortal body, but the body He showed to the Nephites--that is, His resurrected body. So the parallel structure in the prayer is not "that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, which died for them," but rather, "that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, which was resurrected for them."

Thus the sacrament becomes a two-fold emblem of Christ's mission of deliverance from death. The water/wine represents His atoning blood, which was shed for us in Gethsemane as He performed the Atonement, and which cleanses us from sin, or spiritual death. And the bread represents His resurrected body, which left an empty tomb and enabled each of us to overcome mortality, or physical death. By taking the sacrament, we recognize that the Savior whose Atonement we commemorate by partaking of the emblems of His flesh and blood holds the keys to both death and hell, that He has "ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6).