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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Seeing Above the Trials

I thought I'd list a smattering of quotes that have had a deep impact on my life, particularly during difficult times.  I imagine others probably experience trials as well, so I hope something here will bring some sort of comfort or perspective to endure, persist, and triumph.  Trials are specifically calculated for our individual exaltation.  God is profoundly aware of you and me, His children.  He loves us infinitely and will bless us tremendously as we are faithful to Him.  I testify and witness (have personal knowledge of, give a firsthand account of something experienced) that this is true.  Enjoy!

"The cavity which suffering carves into our souls will one day also be the receptacle of joy." 

- Neal A. Maxwell

“As [you] endure rejection, loneliness, self-doubt, homesickness, exhaustion, and temptation, the refiner’s fire will purify [your] soul. [You] will increase in wisdom and grow up in the Lord, and, as [you] stay faithful, [your] confidence will wax strong in the presence of God.”

- Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"We prepare in the way the Lord has directed. We hold ourselves in readiness to act on the Lord's timing. He will tell us when the time is right to take the next step. For now, we simply concentrate on our own assignments and on what we have been asked to do today. In this we are also mindful of the Lord's assurance: 'I will hasten my work in its time' (D&C 88:73)."

 - Dallin H. Oaks

"Some of us neglect to develop multiple forces of satisfaction. When one of the wells upon which we draw dries up through death, loss or status, disaffection, or physical ailment, we then find ourselves very thirsty because, instead of having multiple sources of satisfaction in our lives, we have become too dependent upon this or upon that."

- Neal A. Maxwell

The odyssey to happiness lies in the dimension of the heart. Such a journey is made on stepping-stones of selflessness, wisdom, contentment, and faith. The enemies of progress and fulfillment are such things as self-doubt, a poor self-image, self-pity, bitterness, and despair. By substituting simple faith and humility for these enemies, we can move rapidly in our search for happiness."

- James E. Faust

“First of all, it is incumbent upon us as students, as Latter-day Saints, and as children of God to see the divine potential in ourselves, to believe in ourselves, to know that with God’s help there is quite literally nothing in righteousness that we cannot become.... We of all people should not be guilty of living under our moral capacity, or, as Brigham Young regularly phrased it, ‘living beneath our privilege.’
If you lack confidence or always sound apologetic or feel you have an inferiority complex, get over it. We all start humbly, we all start with feelings of inadequacy, we all think the fellow seated on our right and the woman seated on our left are more talented, more gifted, had wealthier beginnings than we do, and are going to do better in life than we will. Well, they aren’t and they don’t and they won’t! They are just like you.
I say shame on you if you do not see the wonderful blessings you have had…. no one should ever apologize for lack of opportunity, lack of possibility, lack of divine love to guide us, or lack of dreams to make us better than we ever thought we could be – because all those gifts are ours for the taking if we want them.
Take your dreams, your education, the love of a whole Church full of people, and go make something of yourself.” 

 -Jeffrey R. Holland

"We are in perilous times, but I do not feel the pangs of that terror. It is not upon me. I propose to live so that it will not rest upon me. I propose to live so that I shall be immune from the perils of the world. [I shall] live by obedience to the commandments of God and to his laws revealed for my guidance. No matter what may come to me, if I am in fellowship with God, if I am worthy of the fellowship of my brethren, if I can stand spotless before the world, what does it matter to me what may happen to me? I am always ready, if I am in this frame of understanding, mind and conduct. It does not matter at all. Therefore, I feel no pangs of fear."

-Joseph F. Smith

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tribe of Levi

Of all the tribes of Israel, why is Levi singled out as those assigned as priests in the temple?  Did they receive a land inheritance with the other tribes?  What are we to make of the sons of Levi offering up an offering in righteousness?

Levi and Simeon - two of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel) - were rather impertinent individuals.  They were "instruments of cruelty," quick to anger, and murderers (Gen. 49:5-6).  As a result, they would be cursed and scattered within Israel.  Simeon received a land inheritance, but it was surrounded by Judah and eventually assimilated, never to be recognized individually again (Deut. 33).  In the great census of Moses (reason for the name of his book of Numbers), Levi is specifically excluded from the rest of the tribes (Num. 1:47-49).  The tribe of Levi was not given a land inheritance like the rest of the tribes, but was scattered throughout the area (Josh. 13:33).

Stratford pointing out parts of the Negev, portions of which were given to Simeon

During and after the Exodus, Aaron and his sons were chosen to minister in the priest's office (Num. 3:1-3).  However, Aaron's first two sons "died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children" (Num. 3:4).  Aaron had two other sons that ministered, but they required additional assistance.  The Lord told Moses to "bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.  And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. ... And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel" (Num. 3:6-9).

When the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, a sort of compensation was exacted: "For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself" (Num. 8:17).  As replacements, the Levites were given to Aaron as a gift "to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary" (Num. 8:19).

As a result of Aaron's presidency over the priesthood conferred here and of the Levite incorporation, this lesser priesthood is often referred to as the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood.  While the names are used pretty much interchangeably, differences did exist in the offices held (evident in later references to priests and Levites - John 1:19, 1 Kings 8:4).  Levites held the priesthood, but only sons of Aaron could hold the office of priest.  "The priests could offer sacrifices for the people, burn incense on the altar, and teach the law, whereas the other Levites were employed in more menial tasks, such as the housekeeping of the tabernacle, keepig oil in the lamps ... and related tasks in assisting the priests" (BD - Aaronic Priesthood).

Temple at Tel Arad, in the Negev

In the last days, the Levites must make an offering to the Lord in righteousness (Mal. 3:3, D&C 13).  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that sacrifice has always been connected to the duties of the priesthood, and that when the Temple of the Lord is built, the sons of Levi will be purified and help restore all things, including sacrifice.  This doesn't include restoring all the rites and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, but does include things existing before Moses' time, particularly sacrifice (Teachings, pp. 172-73).  President Joseph Fielding Smith further commented about our dispensation of the fullness of times where all things are to be gathered and restored: "It will be necessary, therefore, for the sons of Levi, who offered the blood sacrifices anciently in Israel, to offer such a sacrifice again to round out and complete this ordinance in this dispensation.  Sacrifice by the shedding of blood was instituted in the days of Adam and of necessity will have to be restored.  The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fullness of the restoration in this dispensation.  Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character" (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:94).

So what does this have to do with me right now?  Good question...  I think we relate to the tribe of Levi in many ways.  They, like us, were compelled to leave the society of God, and as a result of their sins, they would be cursed and scattered forever.  However, the Lord had great mercy on them, and brought them back into His chosen people as they lived up to His requirements.  The Levites were not born into their callings initially, but were adopted in.  We are also adopted into the Lord's society, and as we make righteous offerings unto the Lord (specifically temple and missionary work), we will be given the Lord's power (including priesthood power and blessings) and fully accepted as heirs of God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Relationships With Deity

One of the consummate truths restored by Joseph Smith is the individuality of the Godhead.  In his great theophany that spring morning of 1820, Joseph saw with his mortal - yet transfigured - eyes two separate Personages "whose brightness and glory defy all description" (JSH 1:17).  God, the Eternal Father - the Man of Holiness - and His Only Begotten in  the flesh, Jesus Christ, showed themselves to this young boy of 14.  In those few moments, Joseph learned more about God than had been known for centuries previous.

Jesus, Himself, taught that eternal life - the greatest of all the gifts of God (D&C 14:7) - is coming to know who God is: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent" (John 17:3).  Joseph Smith taught that "correct ideas of the character of God are necessary in order to the exercise of faith in him unto life and salvation; and that without correct ideas of his character the minds of men could not have sufficient power with God to the exercise of faith necessary to the enjoyment of eternal life" (Lectures on Faith, p.45).

I'd like to suggest three relationships with deity that will help us come to know the Godhead and better connect with them in ways befitting their respective links.

Heavenly Father - A Paternal Relationship

Heavenly Father is just that - our Father.  Jesus told his close friend, Mary Magdalene, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17).  While on the cross, experiencing "all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane" again, Jesus called out to His Father (Bruce R. McConkie, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane).  "In that most burdensome moment of all human history with blood appearing at every pore and an anguished cry upon His lips, Christ sought Him whom He had always sought - His Father.  'Abba,' He cried, 'Papa,' or from the lips of a younger child, 'Daddy.'  This is such a personal moment it almost seems a sacrilege to cite it.  A Son in unrelieved pain, a Father His only true source of strength, both of them staying the course, making it through the night - together" (Jeffrey R. Holland, None Were With Him).

That same Father that the Savior - the most powerful One to walk the earth - turned to in His most difficult time is also the same Father we can turn to.  He literally is the Great Parent of the Universe, the Father of our spirits.  He knows His children perfectly, and His entire purpose is to help those children progress and grow up to become like Him.  His is the ultimate power to exalt and glorify.

Our relationship with Him is cultivated through direct communication; we speak with Him.  We worship Him through two-way communication: prayer (Alma 33:3).  "As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instictive on our part (Matt. 7:7-11).  Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.  Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other" (BD, Prayer).

Jesus Christ - A Redemptive Relationship

We do not have the same relationship with Jesus Christ as we do with our Heavenly Father.  They are distinct Beings and have distinct roles in our lives.  Jesus Christ is our Redeemer.  He, our Elder Brother, has purchased us with His blood and our salvation comes through Him. 

Orson F. Whitney penned a majestic view of Christ's role in our lives:

"Go forth, thou Chosen of the Gods, 
Whose strength shall in thee dwell!
Go down betime and rescue earth,
Dethroning death and hell. 
On thee alone man's fate depends,
The fate of beings all.
Thou shalt not fail, though thou art free-
Free, but too great to fall.

"By arm divine, both mine and thine,
The lost thou shalt restore,
And man, redeemed, with God shall be,
As God forevermore.
Return, and to the parent fold
This wandering planet bring,
And earth shall hail thee Conqueror,
And heaven proclaim thee King."

Jesus reveals His identity to us over and over again in the scriptures: "I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ.... In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name" (Ether 3:14).  We have so much information about the Savior, and ours is the responsibility to learn of Him and His example.  We come to know more about the characteristics and qualities of both Heavenly Father and His Son through studying the life of Jesus.

We do not worship Christ the same way we do the Father.  Bruce R. McConkie states that the scriptures referring to worship of Christ are speaking in "the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us" (Our Relationship with the Lord).  We do not pray to Christ, but rather approach our Father in His name.  Our relationship with Christ grows as we study about Him, obey His commandments, and recognize His importance in our lives.  He bought back our souls from destruction, and is our Lord, God, and King.

The Holy Ghost - A Revelatory Relationship

The Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, is an unembodied God.  He is a Revelator, Sanctifier, and Comforter.  His crowning role is to testify and bear record of the Father and the Son.  Through Him are spiritual gifts dispensed to the faithful.  While He is only in one place at a time, His power and influence may be manifest everywhere.  Nephi taught that angels work through this medium to assist in our lives (2 Ne. 32:3).  "Every person who knows or has ever known that Jesus is the Christ has received that witness from the Holy Ghost" (Marion G. Romney, The Holy Ghost).  

The Holy Ghost reveals to us the divinity of the Father and Son and also of gospel truths.  "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16).  "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Mor. 10:5).  We pray frequently and partake of the Sacrament weekly for His companionship.

The Spirit of God is a master Teacher.  He will teach us what we should do & say, give us revelation, and uncover the mysteries of all things (Luke 12:11-12, John 14:16,26).  He is omniscient like the Father and Son, and has a knowledge of things past, present, and future (D&C 93:24).  He has been doing His job for a very long time and is expert at what He does.  There is no problem He hasn't dealt with, no struggle He hasn't seen, no answer he does not have, and no heartache He cannot soothe.  

All three members of the Godhead are closely interconnected with one another and make up one God or Godhead.  We pray to our Heavenly Father (paternal relation) in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ (redemptive relation), by the power of the Holy Ghost (revelatory relation).  Understanding and fostering our relationship with each member of the Godhead will allow us to realize our deepest desire - eternal life.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Small and Simple

We are all familiar with the scripture in Alma 37:6, where Alma points out to his son, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass."  What is Alma even talking about when he says this?  Study the scriptures?  Pray often?  No, these may be excellent applications for us, but they are not what Alma was referring to originally.  I think the background of this statement brings illumination to why this principle is so powerful and the absolute essentiality of the "mundane" gospel requirements.

The great father figure Alma is having a little personal interview with each of his sons.  This was probably after a nice family home evening and before the next day when Helaman and his brothers would head out on missions to preach the gospel (Alma 43).  After delivering a beautifully prepared commentary on his conversion story (considering the precise parallel structure and chiasmus of Alma 36 compared to the original account in Mosiah 27, Alma obviously has great regard for this experience), Alma begins talking about his firstborn's responsibilities regarding the sacred records.

It would be quite an experience to be entrusted with the most valuable historical records of the United States (the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, etc.) and then add to them under your own name.  In a sense, Helaman was given just that, but this set of records, at the time, had a history almost three times as long as the oldest U.S. documents and is the only copy to survive to modernity that we know of.  Cool heirloom.

Alma commands Helaman to continue authoring the record like he has done (Dad was a skilled, prolific writer and that alone would be a daunting assignment), explains the spiritual and historical importance of the records, and then gives an interesting imperative: "If [these records] are kept they must retain their brightness" (Alma 37:5).  The plates were made out of brass and other metals.  To survive, they had to be polished and kept nice or they would rust, become unreadable, and be utterly useless.  Alma doesn't even ask Helaman to remember to polish the plates.  He merely says, "they must retain their brightness."  And if Helaman didn't get it yet, he repeats himself a little more emphatically, "and they will retain their brightness" (Have your parents ever told you, "You will be back by midnight, and the car will be clean"?  It's not a question.  It will be done or else they lop your head right off the next morning).

Now we don't get to see Helaman's reactions in this exchange, but I imagine - like any young son given what seem like bizarre rules - he gave a little smirk or rolled his eyes.  He may have interrupted, "Oh Dad, do I really have to polish these every day?  They're still readable even if they're not bright.  Do I actually have to see my face in them?"  We know he had some sort of response like this because immediately his father says, "Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me."  And then that legendary maxim, "But behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).

Nephi and his family went to great lengths to retrieve the brass plates from Jerusalem

I bet Helaman polished those plates so he could see his face in their brightness every day of his life.  I hope we can value the scriptures so highly that we begin to see our own faces within the light of the pages.  Helaman may have never seen a need to polish the plates.  After all, they were always kept bright and never tarnished.  But he understood the seriousness of this task and performed it faithfully.  He knew that disobedience is a slippery slope, and missing one day's duties easily leads to another.  This assignment was of particular import, as the ramifications would last for millennia.

Polishing plates isn't fun (imagine vigorously buffing each page of your Book of Mormon).  It's mundane, intense, repetitive, and you don't really see results/benefits of doing it - the plates are still just bright.  However, because Helaman (and subsequent authors) obeyed the seemingly small commands of his Dad (the prophet), millions of others can read and enjoy the profound messages of the Book of Mormon.  The gospel requirements may seem to be mundane, intense, or repetitive, but as we follow zealously the counsel of the prophets - ancient and modern - we will richly bless many lives (including our own) and save them from complete disaster.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sacramental Symbols

I've been contemplating the sacrament lately and wanted to write a few thoughts I've been reflecting on.  I know I can increase the significance of the sacrament in my life, particularly when I think of Elder Oak's comment, "The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the church" (Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament, Oct. 2008).  A deeper understanding of the sacrament may give us a greater appreciation for it.


Basic symbols include the clean white cloth covering the body and blood of Christ (like the linen covering His body in the tomb), the whole bread being torn and broken for us (as His body was), the wine/water we drink and make a part of us (the blood He shed in Gethsemane and the water that came from His side on the Cross [John 19:34]), and the sacrifices that this ordinance replaced (an unblemished, first-born, male lamb brought to the priest to be killed in your behalf).

Paul showed the vital impact of the sacrament by illustrating the "baptism" of the children of Israel (immersed through the Red Sea and subsequently watched over by God's Spirit in the cloud) and how they were fed by the meat and drink from the Lord afterwards (1 Cor. 10:1-4).  Their literal survival depended upon partaking of the flesh and water that were provided for them by Jehovah.

Isaiah understood the necessity of the Savior's cleansing power, and uses imagery surprisingly similar to our modern-day ordinance.  After declaring his distress at being unclean, he describes a seraph (angelic minister) coming to him with a live coal that he had taken from off the altar.  Isaiah received the coal in his mouth and was told, "thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (Isaiah 6:5-7).

A triclinium, the probable arrangement in the Upper Room

The sacrament is an ordinance where we renew, or revitalize, all the covenants we have made with God.  Elder Delbert L. Stapley said, "Another important purpose of the sacrament is to renew and keep in force the covenants and obligations which we have entered into with our God" (The Sacrament, 8 May 1956).  President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that we attend sacrament meeting to "renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. ... Each ordinance and requirement given to man for the purpose of bringing to pass his salvation and exaltation is a covenant" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:345-6).

The sacrament prayers themselves demonstrate this.  The prayer over the bread includes the wording, "that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son," while the prayer over the water assumes the partaker is willing and is actually doing so.  David A. Bednar taught that we show our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ at baptism, but that we fully take upon ourselves His name in the temple (Honorably Hold a Name and Standing, April 2009).  Thus, both prayers encapsulate our covenant making experiences here on earth, including those made in the temple and when receiving the priesthood.

One may ask, "Why does the water come after the bread?"  It's not just so we can wash it down...  As aforementioned, the two prayers are different and the discrepancies are meaningfully intended.  The prayer over the water reads, "that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them" (Mor. 5:2).  The "them" is referring back to the first prayer, to those who are His people, keeping His commandments as demonstrated by their partaking of the bread.  The willingness to take upon the name of Christ and keep His commandments is not repeated because that is now already expected and assumed if the participant is to gain access to the cleansing and enabling power of the blood of Christ.

The Garden Tomb

Perhaps my favorite symbolism of the sacrament is our ability to participate in the Lord's work and glory every week.  The bread is a symbol of Christ's body, which was resurrected, a reminder that all of us will obtain immortality.  The water is a symbol of the blood of the Lamb, His mercy and grace which redeems and perfects us so we may obtain eternal life.  "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).  Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch in the second century, called the broken bread, "the medicine of immortality" (To the Church at Ephesus, 20:2).  Moroni, two centuries later, declared that we are "sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot" (Mor. 10:33).

Bread = Resurrection = Immortality
Water = Blood of Christ = Eternal Life

The Lord's whole purpose for us is to obtain immortality and eternal life.  As we eat and drink the symbols of our Master (a custom Jews followed - eating with their teacher as a symbol of acceptance and digestion of their teachings), we will become more like Him.  Every week, as we partake of the sacrament worthily, we will make Him more a part of us.  The sacrament truly is the sacred culmination of church meetings and I hope we'll more seriously consider its importance as we personally engage in the work and glory of God.