Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Profound Power of Gratitude

As this Christmas season concludes, the stores are filled with people returning gifts. Regardless of whether the gifts we received fit us and our desires, we all have reason to be grateful. We have need to be grateful to the givers of the gifts, especially those gifts that were given at much sacrifice or with much thought and love. We have need to be grateful for our friends and family that surrounded us during all of our Christmas festivities, that we have warm places to be and food to eat. We have need to be grateful to all those who influence our lives for good, co-workers, teachers, kids, parents and relatives, good friends. We have need to be grateful to our Heavenly Father for the gift of His Only Begotten Son and His atoning sacrifice. Indeed, there is much for which we can express gratitude and many to whom our gratitude can and should be directed.

This week's article comes from the September 2005 issue of the Ensign. The article, entitled "The Profound Power of Gratitude," was written by President Thomas S. Monson, the current prophet and president of the Church while he was serving as counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley, then prophet and president of the Church.

In this article, President Monson explained about the importance of gratitude as pertaining to various aspects of our lives. Of the simple phrase "thank you" he said, “'thank you' frequently expressed will cheer your spirit, broaden your friendships, and lift your lives to a higher pathway as you journey toward perfection. There is a simplicity—even a sincerity—when 'thank you' is spoken." He continued, "I believe a sincere 'thank you' could lift a heavy heart, inspire a good deed, and bring heaven’s blessings closer to the challenges of our day."

Of course, gratitude is more than simply saying thank you, gratitude is reflected in our actions and attitudes. On a later occasion President Monson said, "We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. . . . Send that note to the friend you’ve been neglecting; give your child a hug; give your parents a hug; say 'I love you' more; always express your thanks" (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 86).

We can all work on being more grateful and considering the time of year, we shouldn't have a hard time finding those to whom we can express our gratitude. Identify one way in which you can show gratitude better, a way that will lift a heavy heart and cheer someone's spirit. Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I am grateful that God loves us enough to call prophets in our day who lead and guide us as in days of old.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Three Degrees of Christmas

Christmastime is an exciting and wonderful time. Christmas is perhaps the only holiday with an entire season, an entire month (or two or three) devoted to it. Most look forward to the Christmas season and miss it when it’s over. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, a season of happiness and joy, of fun and excitement and wonder, a season when people seem to come together, when our hearts are filled with compassion, when we feel more of a desire to help those who may be less fortunate than ourselves, and when we see more opportunities to do good and serve our fellow man. Christmas is a season of traditions, of family, and of worship even for those who are not actively religious. Christmas is a season of hope and love.

Of course, with Christmas come the Scrooges and the people who complain about the music and the commercialization and the cold weather. And, unfortunately, there are those who perhaps have good reason to dislike the Christmas season, people who have lost loved ones or have experienced other hardships during previous Christmas years and all of the Christmas extravaganza only serve as a harsh reminder of the past.

I’ve heard it said that there are three degrees of Christmas: Santa Claus, Silent Night, and the Adult Christ. Each degree has some sort of influence and significance in our lives, whatever the degree of importance may be.

1- Santa Claus

The Santa Claus degree is the commercialized Christmas, Xmas, and what is implied with Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. Santa Claus Christmas is fun, full of bright lights and elaborate decorations, snow about which people don’t complain, candy canes, Rudolph, cards, presents, Christmas trees and ornaments, and the smells and tastes of all the Christmas candies and treats. Santa Claus Christmas is perhaps best described in the lyrics to the popular Christmas song, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas:”


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

The greetings Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings are heard more frequently in an attempt to include all holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and perhaps even New Years so that Christians and those with other beliefs alike may all celebrate the season together.

Santa Claus Christmas is the Christmas that the Scrooges hate. They hate the songs and the busy stores and the lack of parking and slipping on the ice and whatever else they can complain about. I say bah humbug to them; Santa Claus Christmas is fun.

2- Silent Night

The Silent Night degree of Christmas is the true Christmas story; the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, the original reason people began celebrating Christmas. The Silent Night Christmas is the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, no room in the inns, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, wise men from the east; it is, in the words of a heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Silent Night Christmas is the reason we give gifts to each other, although the feeling and meaning may be lost in the Santa Claus Christmas. It is the source of our feelings of goodwill toward men. The Silent Night Christmas gets its name from the sacred hymn “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber:

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

The Silent Night Christmas is so wonderful because on that silent night over two thousand years ago, Christ, the Savior, was born. Families and communities around the world dress up and re-enact the holy scene each year, using the second chapter of Luke as their script. I believe that most people try at least to some degree to remember the Silent Night Christmas each season as they go about their Santa Claus Christmas excitement. The Silent Night Christmas is sacred and holy because the Savior and Redeemer was born on Christmas day.

3- Adult Christ

The Adult Christ degree of Christmas is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a time of hope, peace, and love and in this third degree of Christmas, the Adult Christ Christmas, our hope of peace and love becomes real.

The Holy Infant so tender and mild “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) and as He did so, He went about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:49). The modern prophets said of the Adult Christ:

“Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.

“He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice. He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.

“His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.”

Indeed, the Adult Christ is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. The real and lasting peace that we truly seek and that we wish upon others especially at Christmastime comes from and through the Savior. “Peace I leave with you,” He taught, “my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). He continued, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Jesus Christ did overcome the world. We gain a peace and hope of eternal life as we learn more about the Atonement. Those who have experienced hardships during the Christmas season and no longer enjoy the jollies of the Santa Claus Christmas because of undesired memories can take hope in and eventually have joy because of the Adult Christ degree of Christmas, because of His Atonement. All that is unfair in life is made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement takes a more full effect in our lives as we strive to emulate our Savior’s life of righteousness, service, and compassion. He taught, “this is my Gospel; . . . for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21). As we love and serve our fellow men just as He selflessly did during His mortal ministry, we fulfill His great commandments to love the Lord God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mark 12:30-31).

This is the true meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Lord loves each of His children individually and equally and desires our happiness. “Men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

May we all more fully understand and act upon the true meaning of Christmas. I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and hope that the peace, hope, and joy of this Christmas season lasts throughout the whole year.

Jeremy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas stories- Article of the Week

Christmastime is filled with heart-warming stories of selfless acts of service and kindness that reflect the meaning of Christmas. The video is a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson, the living prophet on the earth today, at a Christmas devotional this month. The text of this talk has not been formally published so this week you get to watch the video rather than read the article.

Remember that all the warm, fuzzy stories we hear this season do nothing for anyone unless we act upon those feelings we experience while listening to them. We must go out of our way to create more selfless Christmas stories.

We must remember that this season is not Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. The main holiday that we hope is happy for all is Christmas, the commemoration of the birth of our Savior. The greetings we send to beloved family and friends is not in celebration of the season; certainly all of you who complain about the weather all winter are not celebrating the cold and the snow. Indeed, the root of the happiness and celebration this season and each year is Christmas. I understand the "politically correct" reasons in the name of tolerance and inclusion for coining other phrases that replace Merry Christmas. However, that cannot in any way deter or take away from remembering the true meaning of Christmas. The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the hope it brings is the reason we can be so happy and that we can rejoice and the reason we celebrate the birth of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. The love He showed us and the love that our Father in Heaven shows us should reflect through us to the blessing of all God's children.

We must emulate the work of the Master in this season and throughout the entire year. Find someone to serve. It will bless you more than them.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Maybe Christmas Doesn't Come From A Store"

This week's article is a few days late, and I apologize. However, the next few weeks' articles need to be very specific to the Christmas season and I have been searching for a long time for the perfect articles to post.

The article I chose this week is written by Jeffrey R. Holland entitled, '“Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store”,' from the December 1977 Ensign. In this article, Holland focuses on the significance of the original Christmas story and on the things that we can learn from the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.

I won't say more about this article or about remembering the real purpose and meaning of Christmas; I am writing a Christmas post that will hopefully be up by the end of the week in which I will share my thoughts and feelings about the season. I will, however, add my short testimony to that of Elder Holland's. Jesus Christ is our Savior. His birth in this mortal world was heralded by angels and wondrous signs because His life, which did not begin in Bethlehem, would not end on Calvary's cross. He lives. He is our Savior and His life, death, resurrection, and Atonement provides hope and the means to all of us that we may also receive eternal life which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’ ”

Jeremy

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Good, Better, Best

Our lives are filled with many choices and, as part of His plan for us, Our Heavenly Father has given us agency that we may choose do many things of our own free will and bring to pass much righteousness (see D&C 58:27). In order to bring to pass much righteousness and live a full, rewarding, and happy life, we must make choices between good and bad decisions. However, not all our choices that effect our lives are decisions between good and bad; some decisions that affect our eternal potential and happiness concern only good choices. Many good situations, people, and activities compete for our time, leaving us needing to prioritize in order to accomplish all that we wish to accomplish and reach our eternal potential.

In his General Conference talk in October 2007, the apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled, "Good, Better, Best," concerning the decisions we make in this life. In his talk, he explained that we do not have enough time in this life to do all of the good things there are to do. He counseled:

"As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all."

He continued:

"We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families."

Keeping the commandments and striving to do that which the Lord expects is hard and we absolutely have to give up some good things in order to be anxiously engaged in the better and best things.

Some of the good-better-best decisions in our lives are similar to the ones described in this talk. Listen to Elder Oaks' counsel and let the Spirit help you know how you can best apply these principles in your own lives. Some of the good-better-best decisions in our lives are not described in his talk. Think about some of the things you do in your life that are good such as striving to be honest, making a living for yourself and your family, and believing in God. Make the distinction between good things and not-bad things. I believe one mentality that many of us posess is that as long as we don't do bad things, we're fine. Of course not breaking the law or not taking advantage of our neighbor is good. But we must also do good, better, and best things. We can't just not do bad things, we must be anxiously engaged in a good cause, we must go to church, we must act on our faith in God, we must strive to better our situations and look for opportunities to serve those around us. Just because you aren't doing bad things or making bad decisions does not mean you can coast through life and still qualify for the greatest of all the gifts of God, even eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Seek out the better and best things, they aren't hard to find although they may be hard to do, at least initially. But the promised blessings are so incredibly worth everything we forego.

As we follow the counsel in this talk and the counsel of other apostles and prophets modern and ancient, we will know how to decide which choices are better and best for us. As we pray for direction, guidance, and strength, we will be able to sacrifice some of the good choices so that we may make better and best choices. Power in making correct decisions comes from keeping an eternal perspective.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Don't you think that our happiness is a result of our spirituality?"

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend with whom I had not spoken in months. We’re in different places doing different things but I texted her about a band and our discussion eventually turned to life and happiness. I asked her if she was happy, a question that wasn’t necessarily fishing for a deep answer yet I was willing to listen to whatever answer I received. She began to talk about her spiritual life and about how although she’s going to church and doing the right things, she feels as though she’s in a rut as far as spiritual matters are concerned. She asked, “don’t you think our happiness is a result of our spirituality? The happiest moments of my life were when I was spiritually strong.” Absolutely! With that statement, she nailed the problem right on the head. When you’re unhappy—and I’m talking about the prolonged, not-situational-and-temporary sort of unhappy—take a step back and look at the actions in your life. Once you sift through all of the good things that you are doing, you may notice the lack of better or best things in your life. Often, good things crowd our schedules and our lives and we don’t realize that better things and best things exist that would make us happier. For instance, going to church is a good thing, but going to church and trying to find people to serve is better. Avoiding sin is good, but filling our lives with meaningful activities that bring us closer to God is better. Reading the scriptures is good, but truly studying the scriptures and seeking revelation through the Holy Ghost is better.

I confided in her that I felt somewhat the same way and shared with her some of the reasons why I thought I was not feeling at a spiritual high. We spoke about things that we could do and things we have done in order to stay on top and maintain a high level of spirituality, among these things were studying the scriptures and praying earnestly and sincerely.

Scripture Study and Prayer

Praying and studying the scriptures are not new suggestions, nor are they unique to her or my situation. Anyone and everyone can and should, indeed are commanded to read and study the scriptures and converse with God though thoughtful prayer (see Matt 6:6; 7:7-8; 3 Nephi 18:19-21; Alma 37:37 to start). I heard it once said that scriptures that are falling apart are being used by someone who isn’t. Indeed, if we are consistently studying the word of God through His chosen prophets and apostles, we are more receptive to the Holy Ghost and we are more spiritually prepared to face the trials and temptations of the adversary.

Prayer keeps us close to our Father in Heaven and helps us know that whatever may happen to us in this life, short-term or long-term, we have a loving Heavenly Father who will stand by us and has everything under control. The prophet, President Thomas S. Monson said that prayer is the provider of spiritual strength and the passport for peace.1

Understanding and Recognizing the Power of the Atonement

As the conversation progressed and we discussed these truths that we both knew to be true but of which we sometimes need to be reminded, deeper concerns began to surface. She referred to things in her past about which I already knew but did not know were still bothering her, things that required the Atonement to fix. These previous actions from her past made her feel unworthy to ask the Lord about unrelated concerns she was having in present time although she had fully repented and moved on long ago. She compared herself to one of our friends who is experiencing some of the present trials she is and who is also not necessarily receiving answers to his prayers either. She made the argument that if he, who hadn’t made the same mistakes she did, wasn’t getting answers, then why should she?

The Savior taught, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42; see also Hebrews 10:17). This promise should give us hope and encouragement that when we have truly repented of our sins and have allowed the Spirit to make “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), we are clean and we can continue onward and upward. The Lord does not dwell on “repented-of sins” and neither should we.

Once you have truly repented, you are just as worthy as one who never committed the sin. In relation to the comparison my friend made to another, seemingly better friend I say this: we cannot compare ourselves to those who we think have not made mistakes as severe as ours and thus judge our worthiness against theirs. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, ”Remember: the heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways to get back in the light of gospel truth.”2

President Harold B. Lee said, “When you have done all within your power to overcome your mistakes, and have determined in your heart that you will never repeat them again, then … peace of conscience [can come to you] by which you will know that your sins have been forgiven.”3 Do not forget the peace of conscience you received as you fully repented and turned your heart completely to God. Do not allow the master of deceit and the father of lies to convince you that you are still unworthy and therefore do not qualify for the blessings which your Heavenly Father wishes to bestow upon you.

Applying Truth

One aspect that may be frustrating to many of us is that these are truths we know and ones we understand yet we still find ourselves not acting on them. "A knowledge of truth is of little value unless we apply it in making correct decisions."4 None of the things that my friend and I discussed was new to her, she knows and understands the gospel of Jesus Christ, she just needed to hear it again and be reminded of that, which she already knew and realize that the entire gospel applies to her.

The key is always striving to do what is right and do what will bring us lasting happiness. President Uchtdorf said, “My dear brothers and sisters, don’t get discouraged if you stumble at times. Don’t feel downcast or despair if you don’t feel worthy to be a disciple of Christ at all times. The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe. Try to learn of God: read the scriptures; study the words of His latter-day prophets; choose to listen to the Father, and do the things He asks of us. Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible—and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you.”5

There is the key to success and happiness in this life and the life to come. Do not allow the adversary, the one who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27) throw you off course and distract you from your righteous goals and eternal potential. If you feel as though you are in a spiritual rut, take the time to evaluate your life and figure out what better and best things you could be doing that would pull you up and set you back on the right course. Pray more sincerely, study the scriptures more diligently, do those things that you know to be true and correct. If you feel that you are doing the things you should be doing, figure out how to do those things better, for none of us is perfect and we can always improve. Then, as you continually strive to increase in righteousness, do not become distracted and allow feelings of inadequacy, imperfection, guilt, discouragement, despair, and disappointment cloud your eternal perspective. Do not allow the devil to plant doubting thoughts in your mind. Remember that God is the author of love, peace, and happiness; Satan is the source of doubt, despair, inadequacy, and misery. Remember that God wants us to feel godly sorrow and remorse unto repentance. Satan wants us to continue to feel guilt and unworthiness after repentance. Always remember that you are a child of God and that He loves you. Taught John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

I know that God lives and that He loves us. He hears and answers our prayers. I am grateful for the restored truth in our day through the prophet Joseph Smith, and the continued revelation and guidance through the Lord’s living prophet President Thomas S. Monson. The Atonement is real and is available to all of God’s children.

Jeremy

Notes:

1. See Thomas S. Monson, “Be Your Best Self,” Ensign, May 2009, 67–70; focus on the three suggestions in the middle of the talk.
2. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Ensign, May 2008, 57–60.
3. See “Law of Chastity Vital, Girls Told,” Church News, Sept. 2, 1972, 7.
4. Richard G. Scott, “Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 90–92.
5. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 23.

Other Related articles:

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Point of Safe Return,” Ensign, May 2007, 99–101
Anthony D. Perkins, “The Great and Wonderful Love,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 76-78

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great and Wonderful Love

In our day, many things press us for our time and attention. Temptations of every kind constantly bombard us from every direction. The world would have us believe that we need to be prettier, smarter, more powerful, and richer. Amidst these distractions, the real purpose of life and those things that are of real importance that bring true satisfaction and happiness can become lost.

This week's article helps us to understand what is most important and helps us focus on the love that God has for each of us. The article is entitled “The Great and Wonderful Love,” and is a talk given by Elder Anthony D. Perkins of the quorum of the seventy in the October 2006 General Conference.

Satan wants us to feel inadequate, exaggeratedly imperfect, and guilty for things of which we have fully repented, each of which are contrary to that which the Atonement teaches and are not feelings from a loving Heavenly Father. In response to these unheavenly feelings, Elder Perkins offers—"in addition to consistent prayers, scripture study, and Church and temple attendance—five changes to your thoughts and heart to more fully feel the tender love of God." The principles taught in this article are from God. Apply them in your life.

Since life is enough of a challege even with His help, we need not make our lives even harder by prescribing to the way Satan would have us feel and forgetting God's love. Our Heavenly Father loves every one of us since He created us. He is our Father in Heaven and He looks out for us.

Jeremy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions

"Since truth is the only meaningful foundation upon which we can make wise decisions, how then can one establish what is really true? Increasingly more people are finding that making wise decisions is becoming more and more difficult because of the ultra-interconnected world in which we live. Constantly forced into our consciousness is an incessant barrage of counsel, advice, and promotions. It is done by a bewildering array of media, Internet, and other means. On a given subject we can receive multiple strongly delivered, carefully crafted messages with solutions. But often two of the solutions can be diametrically opposed. No wonder some are confused and are not sure how to make the right decisions.

"To further complicate matters, others try to persuade us that our decisions must be socially acceptable and politically correct. Some pondering of that approach will reveal how wrong it is. Since social and political structures differ widely over the world and can dramatically change with time, the folly of using that method to make choices is apparent."

The above quote comes from this week's article by apostle Elder Richard G. Scott. In the October 2007 General Conference, Elder Scott gave a talk entitled, "Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions" in which he spoke about truth, why seeking truth is important, and the ways we can and should seek truth.

In our day and age, truth is often defined by science and popular views. In regard to spiritual matters, "truth" is often defined by the individual, who argues that only he or she can decide what is right or wrong for them individually often interpreting the eternal truths as set apart by the Creator in His Holy Scriptures to best fit his or her own lifestlye. Frequently, especially as a missionary when I talked with people about truth all day, I heard and hear people justify their actions and beliefs by saying that they do what's right for them. This answer and mentality is lazy and serves only as justification so that people can get on with their lives without much of a guilty conscience for things they should not be doing but are and for things they should be doing but aren't.

Truth is black and white. Examples of truth are that God the Father lives and that He loves us. He created a plan that we may attain happiness not only in this life but in the life to come, also called eternity. His Son, Jesus Christ, taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come. God reqiures certain things of us that we must do in order to reach our potential and obtain eternal life which is living with Him and our families forever. These things, these actions are not defined by us, but by God. Either we do them or we do not. Either we attain a fulness of joy and happiness in this life or we do not. God gives us commandments that we may know how to be happy. This is truth. Either we live as He directs and be happy and attain eternal life; or we live as we direct, contrary to His will and obtain something lesser.

King Benjamin, a Book of Mormon prophet taught:

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of neverending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Mosiah 2:41)

Now, I am not talking about living life in blind obedience. We are all endowed with the ability to search out truth and choose for ourselves our actions (see 2 Nephi 2:27.) However, we must search. Elder Scott said, "The process of identifying truth sometimes necessitates enormous effort coupled with profound faith in our Father and His glorified Son." Because Truth has become generally unpopular, faith and trust are required as we accept the Savior's Atonement and live His teachings.

In conclusion, I highlight one final phrase from this talk. "A knowledge of truth is of little value unless we apply it in making correct decisions." When we find truth, we must put off the natural man and humble ourselves (Mosiah 3:19) and apply the truths we found or all of the searching is in vain. Faith, without works, is dead (see James 2:17-18.)

I have a knowledge of the truths that have here been addressed through my own searching, prayer, and living the principles of the gospel (see John 7:17.) Indeed, these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

Jeremy

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Safety for the Soul

In the last session of the most recent General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the quorum of the twelve apostles gave a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon. His talk, entitled "Safety for the Soul," is a strong witness and personal testimony from an apostle of Jesus Christ that the Book of Mormon is true and is key in helping us overcome the troubles and trials we experience in these latter days. I encourage each of you to listen to Elder Holland give this talk; it is found toward the bottom of the page in the Sunday Afternoon session.

As not to detract from the words of Elder Holland I wish to share only one sentence from this article. Elder Holland says:

I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies.

I add my testimony of the truthfulness of both the Book of Mormon and the words of the apostle Elder Holland. The Book of Mormon is absolutely true and not just that, it contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and therefore one who reads and applies the teachings will find the fullest measure of peace and comfort. I have tried and tested it's teachings and the spirit I feel when I study it's pages and there is not a doubt in my mind that the Book of Mormon is the word of God as spoken by His prophets. The challenge is open to everyone to read the Book of Mormon, ponder the teachings contained therein, and ask God Himself if the Book of Mormon is true (see Moroni 10:3-5.)

Jeremy

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moral Discipline

The article two weeks ago discussed how God loves us and therefore He gives us commandments that we may know how to become truly happy. This week's article discusses our need to be obedient to those commandments in spite of the world of changing and shifting values that surrounds us.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, apostle of Jesus Christ, gave a talk entitled, "Moral Discipline," in the most recent General Conference. He said:

Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard. It rejects the self-absorbed life in favor of developing character worthy of respect and true greatness through Christlike service (see Mark 10:42–45).

What is right is defined by God, not by us or by anybody else. Often the teachings today are about choosing for yourself, letting the individual decide what is wrong and what is right for his or herself because truth is relative to the individual person. As Elder Oaks taught in last week's article, the commandments of God apply to all and we cannot pick and choose which commandments we like and which ones we do not. Sin is sin, no matter what one wishes to believe because truth is defined by God, not us.

In his talk, Elder Christofferson also addresses the responsibility and importance of parents teaching their children right and wrong. He said:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.

Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

People put their children in sports or music with coaches and instructors who push them to achieve their potential without waiting for the child to say, "yes, this is what I want to do." Then, in the future, when the child is old enough they may decide that they don't like the sport or instrument and drop out or they decide they do and now they are a lot better at what they do because of the years of earlier preparation that they would not have otherwise had if the parents had waited for their child to choose for themselves.

Think of any child who has ever said, "oh, I love school, and homework, and I never want summer break or holidays because school is just so great." Right... Yet we don't allow the children to start their education when they are ready and when they feel that school is important. Instead we have laws that force children to go to school until they are a certain age. These laws exist because older, more mature people understand the importance of education and understand that a love of learning and education needs to be instilled in the child before they get too old and have started down damaging paths. Hundreds of thousands of people go to college voluntarily and are prepared to learn and be tested because of the education they received when they hated school and didn't want to go. They even pay to go because they now understand the importance of education and what it can do for them.

With this in mind, why would we think that teaching our children gospel principles and teaching them that they have a Father in Heaven who loves them is not totally and completely necessary and vital?

Elder Christofferson taught that many of our societal problems stem from the lack of moral discipline. Our choices affect more than just ourselves or those immediately around us. Truth is truth, it doesn't change from day to day, from era to era, or from society to society. We need to have the strength to do what is right despite what others think or do. Only this way can we be truly happy, only this way will we, as Elder Christofferson said, "have an influence for good and inspire others to pursue the same course. We may thereby have an impact on future trends and events. At a minimum, moral discipline will be of immense help to us as we deal with whatever stresses and challenges may come in a disintegrating society."

God is our Father in Heaven. He is the source of truth and light. He desires our eternal salvation and happiness. I love Him.

Jeremy

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Repentance

A few weeks ago I posted a blog on Faith in Jesus Christ. This week’s post on repentance is part two of my five part post. The faith that we have in Jesus Christ, if it be true faith, will lead us to sincerely repent of our sins.

On my mission in North Carolina, I saw many people who repented wholly and sincerely. I also saw those who repented, but went right back into their old habits. What was the difference? True repentance is instantly turning from darkness and sin and returning to Jesus Christ. It means having a change of heart. A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma spoke of the change of heart that came to his father: “. . . according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart . . . he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves, and put their trust in the true and living God.” (see Alma 5:12-13) Repentance takes humility.

One example of true repentance from my mission is a young man named Stuart. He was attending a university and had a friend there who was a member. She introduced him to the missionaries, but his heart and mind were closed, and he rejected what they taught, going as far as hating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and really anything that had to do with religion. He liked his way of life and wasn’t about to change. Then some things happened in his life which caused him to be humble. He opened his heart and decided to change. One of the commandments of God is the Word of Wisdom. Stuart loved sweet tea, and sweet tea is against the Word of Wisdom. In order to be fully repentant he had to give up drinking sweet tea for good. That’s a hard thing to do, especially for someone who grew up in the South. He decided to give it up, and he hasn’t had any since. That’s repentance. Turning from something you know is wrong and turning with full heart to the Lord. It wasn’t easy for Stuart, though he eventually did join the Church of Jesus Christ. He continues to turn his life to Heavenly Father each day.

The Savior commanded us to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (see Matthew 5:48) That doesn’t happen overnight. Repentance takes recognizing sin, feeling godly sorrow for that sin, confessing to the Lord, stopping the sin completely, and the lifelong process of keeping the commandments of God. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the quorum of the twelve apostles once said:

You may ask, Why doesn’t this mighty change happen more quickly with me? You should remember that the remarkable examples of King Benjamin’s people, Alma, and some others in scripture are just that—remarkable and not typical. For most of us, the changes are more gradual and occur over time. Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event. And engaging in that process is the central purpose of mortality. (Born Again, Ensign, May 2008, 76–79)

The only way to feel the full power of the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is to repent of our sins.

Forgiveness

Elder Richard G. Scott once said, ”Repentance is a process of cleansing. It is difficult, but it has an end, a glorious end with peace and refreshing forgiveness and the miracle of a new beginning.” (To Be Free of Heavy Burdens, Ensign, Nov 2002, 86) We can be forgiven of our sins and feel like Alma when he said “. . . oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy . . .” (see Alma 36:17-21) But can we really expect the Lord to forgive us of our many sins if we are not willing to forgive those around us? I was blessed with knowing a wonderful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints named Christine. About six years before I met her, she had quit going to church. Some of the members had said some things to her that really bothered her, so she was offended and stopped attending. When I met her I could tell that there was something missing, the Holy Ghost was not in her home. We taught her about forgiving others, about the Savior. Over time she came back, she brought her family, and the blessings of the gospel were once again hers. She had been forgiven of her sins because she had forgiven those that may have wronged her.

Repentance is possible, it requires faith and hard work, but I know the Lord will forgive us if we let Him change our heart. Repentance is essential for us if we want to return and live with our Father in Heaven. “Behold he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord, remember them no more.” (see D&C 58:42-43)

Zachary

Sunday, November 1, 2009

But If Not...

In shuffling through some conference talks from before my mission, I came across a talk about which I had forgotten and feel the need to share with you this week. This talk was given by Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the seventy in the April 2004 General Conference and is entitled "But If Not...."

Elder Simmons tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego being thrown into a fiery furnace at King Nebuchadnezzar's command. They responded that they had faith to be saved, but if it saving them was not the Lord's will, they would still not do as the king commanded and worship his idols. We know that the Lord did deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego according to His will and their faith. In his talk, Elder Simmons focuses on the phrase from the account, "but if not."

Elder Simmons said:

"The Lord has given us agency, the right and the responsibility to decide (see 2 Ne. 2:27; Hel. 14:30; D&C 101:78.) He tests us by allowing us to be challenged. He assures us that He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand (see 1 Cor. 10:13; Alma 13:28.) But we must understand that great challenges make great men. We don’t seek tribulation, but if we respond in faith, the Lord strengthens us. The but if nots can become remarkable blessings."

Events take place in our lives beyond our control. Sometimes we feel that the particular trial that we are experiencing is not fair, that our faith should somehow have saved us from grief, sorrow, and heartache. Elder Simmons taught that we need to trust in the Lord regardless of the outcome. Faith precedes and is the source of many mighty miracles (see Hebrews 11 and Ether 12.) However, the Lord does not always deliver us from our trials in order to test our faith so that we may prove that we will be faithful in good times and bad.

Elder Simmons concluded with these words: "Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.

"Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has" (see D&C 84:35–38.)

Note that the very last phrase does end with the caveat, "but if not...." Trials of our faith last only as long as this life. All that is unfair about this life can be made right through the Atonement.1 Eternal life is promised to all who are faithful.

President James E. Faust said: "Through faith and righteousness all of the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be fully recompensed in the eternities. Through complete repentance of our sins we can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. Thus our suffering in this life can be as the refining fire, purifying us for a higher purpose. Heartaches can be healed, and we can come to know a soul-satisfying joy and happiness beyond our dreams and expectations."2

I conclude with a story from the Book of Mormon about a people who were highly favored of the Lord. These people followed the prophet, served each other, and otherwise honored their baptismal commitment. The 23rd chapter of Mosiah states that the people did prosper exceedingly in the land. Mormon continues:

21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.

22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.

Our personal righteousness and faith do not shield us from life. But they do help us deal with life and help us return to live with our Father in Heaven. Eternal life with our Father in Heaven and our families is the goal and purpose of this life.

Jeremy

1Elder David S. Baxter Of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 2006, 124
2 James E. Faust, “‘Woman, Why Weepest Thou?’,” Ensign, Nov 1996, 52

Friday, October 30, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Love and Law

Last night I was reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis and I came across this quote which directly correlates with this week's article, "Love and Law."

C. S. Lewis explained trying to find happiness without keeping the commandments this way:

God made us; invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other,. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion (and I add commandments.) God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Mere Christianity, 1980, 50.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Love and Law

The article this week is called "Love and Law" -- a talk given by the apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the most recent General Conference.

In his talk, Elder Oaks very clearly outlined the the relationship between God's love and His commandments. From Elder Oaks:

There is no greater evidence of the infinite power and perfection of God’s love than is declared by the Apostle John: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Another Apostle wrote that God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Think how it must have grieved our Heavenly Father to send His Son to endure incomprehensible suffering for our sins. That is the greatest evidence of His love for each of us!

Indeed, God is our loving Heavenly Father. His is a perfect love for us and because He loves us, He gives us direction that we may know how to be eternally happy. That direction most often comes in the form of commandments which are more than just guidelines yet should not be looked upon as restrictions on our freedom and agency. He knows what's best for us, of course, and He lets us know through His apostles and prophets.

God gives us commandments and the freedom to choose for ourselves; hence the pain, sorrow, suffering, and fear in the world, which stem from wrong choices. However, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all that is wrong can be made right.

Elder Oaks carefully and clearly explains the line between God's love and natural consequences for our actions. While we do have our agency and God does love us, He will not support us in our actions that are contrary to His teachings. He said:

Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children. Mercy cannot rob justice, and those who obtain mercy are “they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment” (D&C 54:6).

I offer my own testimony that living the commandments of God does bring the greatest happiness. Of course acting contrary to God's commands may bring temporary satisfaction and pleasure, but lasting happiness can only be obtained by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. God gives us commandments because He loves us, not for any other reason. And we show our love for Him by striving to live according to those commandments.

Jeremy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do Mormons Drink Coke?

I jump rope. A lot. And when I do, I try to stay away from carbonation and other things that may slow me down (I even heard recently that milk and orange juice aren’t the best before competition.) I’ve heard arguments both ways that pop cuts your wind or that it doesn’t; I think it probably does but I have a number of friends who are very good jumpers and they drink pop all the time. Either way, I need all the help I can get so I try to stay away from carbonated beverages when I jump rope which, with as much as I jump, means I pretty much just always stay away from carbonation.

Staying away from pop creates an interesting situation for me. Since most jumpers I’m around know I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, when I get lemonade or something non-carbonated at a restaurant or at the fountain, sometimes I get comments such as, “oh yeah, you’re Mormon,” or, “that’s right, I forgot you can’t drink pop.” Many people assume since I don’t drink soda, Latter-day Saints in general are not allowed to drink any kind of soda. This simply is not true; you should go to a Mormon wedding reception—all the Sprite-spiked punch you could ever ask for!

The Word of Wisdom
However, while this is a misconception, it is not completely unfounded. In 1833, the Lord revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith a law of health that later became known as the Word of Wisdom. In this “principle with a promise,” the Lord outlines which foods are good for us to eat and which substances are not good for our bodies. Most people who know a Latter-day Saint know that we do not drink or smoke. They may know that we do not drink coffee or some teas. While certain substances and foods are spelled out in the Word of Wisdom, not everything is clearly defined and set apart. The apostle President Boyd K. Packer said this:

"It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it. It has not been spelled out in more detail. Rather, we teach the principle together with the promised blessings. There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation.

"Everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance—certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, “is a slothful and not a wise servant” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26)." (“The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996, 17)

Avoiding addiction is one such way that we can protect our bodies and our agency and thus live the Word of Wisdom. When we are addicted to a substance, we are no longer in complete control of our bodies. We give up a portion of our agency, and we do not show our Father in Heaven that we are grateful for and respect the great gift of a physical body. The apostle President James E. Faust spoke of addiction and agency:

"Some addictions can control us to the point where they take away our God-given agency. One of Satan’s great tools is to find ways to control us. Consequently, we should abstain from anything that would keep us from fulfilling the Lord’s purposes for us, whereby the blessings of eternity may hang in jeopardy. We are in this life for the spirit to gain control over the body rather than the other way around.

"Any kind of addiction inflicts a terrible price in pain and suffering, and it can even affect us spiritually. However, there is hope because most addictions can over time be overcome. We can change, but it will be difficult." (“The Power to Change,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 122–24)

Agents unto ourselves
The Lord expects us to “do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in [us], wherein [we] are agents unto [ourselves]. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28.)

Another doctrine, one taught by the apostle Paul, is that our bodies are temples (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20.) Thus, in doing many things of our own free will and bringing to pass much righteousness that we are not commanded in all things, we must recognize and protect ourselves against those things that would harm or defile our bodies such as addictive substances.

Coke and some other soft drinks contain caffeine which is an addictive chemical. I have a really good friend who is addicted to Coke. He told me one time that if he doesn’t have a Coke by nine in the morning he has a headache. That is an addiction; his body cannot function properly without Coke. I’m sure you can think of people with similar addictions to Diet, chocolate, or something else. Although an addiction to chocolate is obviously less serious than an addiction to narcotics, alcohol, or tobacco, an addiction is an addiction. Those people are bound to the substance and do not have 100%, full control over their bodies.

Do Mormons drink Coke?
In regard to the question, “do Mormons drink Coke?” the answer is yes. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are not specifically commanded to abstain from Coke or any other carbonated and/or caffeinated soft drink.

However, President Faust says that any kind of addiction inflicts a terrible price in pain and suffering and it can affect us spiritually. Therefore, some Saints choose to stay away from caffeinated beverages such as Coke altogether in order to avoid the possibility of becoming addicted. At Brigham Young University and other facilities owned by the Church where soft drinks are distributed, often the fountains sell caffeine-free Coca-cola. Coca-cola’s root-beer brand Barq’s is the only root beer to my knowledge that contains caffeine, yet is distributed in Utah without caffeine.

I personally don’t drink Coke very often not because I’m afraid to develop a dependency, but simply because I think it tastes terrible (gasp, no! You don't like Coke???). On the other hand, I love Dr. Pepper which is caffeinated but I’ve never been worried about forming an addiction because I don’t drink carbonated beverages very often and Dr. Pepper even less.

Promised blessings
As with all commandments, the Lord promises blessings to those who live the Word of Wisdom and a clean, healthy lifestyle. They shall, “receive health in their navel and marrow in their bones,” and shall, “run and not be weary and walk and not faint.” And, since to the Lord all things are spiritual, “and not at any time have I given you a law which was temporal,” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34) He also promises that those who live according to the Word of Wisdom and other commandments shall, “find Wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” The Lord ends the revelation of the Word of Wisdom with these words: “And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, and the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen” (see Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-21.)

I am grateful to have a loving Father in Heaven who teaches me the doctrines and principles of eternal happiness and then allows me to choose for myself and do many things of my own free will. I have lived the Word of Wisdom my entire life and have seen the blessings that come from living a healthy lifestyle. There is a truth behind living commandments and receiving blessings.

Jeremy

More information including talks by apostles and other Church leaders about the Word of Wisdom.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"take up his cross, and follow me..."

A while back a friend showed me this cartoon strip which I thought was interesting:











Trials help shape and mold us into what the Lord wants us to become. Remember the words of the Lord in Isaiah, "Behold, I have refined thee, . . . I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10). Many are called but few are chosen (Matt 22:14). The Lord wants to bless us and wants to help us prepare to weather the trials that will come upon us. If we are always looking for the easy way out, we may get something that won't help us progress: an answer for a easier trial. He calls us to pass through tribulation and chooses those who endure it well.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (see Philippians 4:13) and we will not be tempted or tried above that which we are able to handle with the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). Those are two of the most powerful promises which we can use as comforts as we expeience the trials of this mortal life.

God is always with us. He always hears our prayers.
Jeremy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Love of God

Last General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a talk entitled, "The Way of the Disciple," which was featured as an article of the week in April. In that talk, President Uchtdorf explains how we may become better disciples of Christ and what blessings active discipleship brings. In this most recent conference, President Uchtdorf gave a talk called, "The Love of God," which, in essence, is part two of "The Way of the Disciple."

President Uchtdorf teaches that "Love is the defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ." He goes on to say that, "Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood."

This talk so beautifully illustrates the motivation behind everything our Father in Heaven does for us and teaches us why we, as disciples of Christ, should seek the same love to fill our own lives.

Again from President Uchtdorf, "Our Father in Heaven has given us, His children, much more than any mortal mind can comprehend. Under His direction the Great Jehovah created this wondrous world we live in. God the Father watches over us, fills our hearts with breathtaking joy, brightens our darkest hours with blessed peace, distills upon our minds precious truths, shepherds us through times of distress, rejoices when we rejoice, and answers our righteous petitions.

"He offers to His children the promise of a glorious and infinite existence and has provided a way for us to progress in knowledge and glory until we receive a fulness of joy. He has promised us all that He has."

Love is the greatest commandment because it brings the greatest happiness and peace. Our Father in Heaven desires our happiness and our success because He loves us. His love is unconditional as should ours be for His children.

The counsel and teachings found in this article are true--they came from the Lord through one of His apostles.

Jeremy

As a side note, I want to highlight this phrase from President Uchtdorf's talk, "And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of 'good ideas.'" Read that sentence in context and think about what he means.

See also Matt 22:36-40 Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-37 (parable of the good Samaratin); 1 John 4

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faith in Jesus Christ

My name is Zachary Lindstrom, I'm Jeremy's brother, and I will be contributing to this blog also. Recently I returned from serving as a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North Carolina. I was gone from home for two years, teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the wonderful people there and helping them live the teachings of our Savior. I saw miracles in peoples’ lives when they chose to live the gospel. I know that living these teachings every day of our lives can bring us happiness in this life and eternal life in the life to come.

I will be making this a five part post on some things I learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ while in North Carolina, the first post being about faith.

What exactly is faith? Faith is trusting in the Lord and accepting His will in all things. Proverbs 3:5-6 catches this truth so well, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” The moment we “lean unto our own understanding” is the moment we fall. We cannot always see the path in front of us, but He will always give us just enough light to take a step into the dark.

I was blessed with the opportunity of teaching a woman named Tammy on my full time mission. She was a great example of someone with great faith in Jesus Christ. We began teaching her in the Summer of 2007. She was working, attending school, and striving to make ends meet. She had been living with a man for nine years. She grew up as a Christian, attending church and believing in God. One day, a member of our church (and her co-worker) gave her a copy of The Book of Mormon and asked her if she'd be willing to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the full time missionaries. I'll never forget what I felt the first time we taught her about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew that she felt the same Holy Ghost teaching her the truth. She was moved upon by the Spirit to follow the Lord's commandments.

With that kind of faith, Tammy knew that she must act. The Savior taught us in John 14:12: “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also.” It’s not enough to merely believe, we must do. Living Christ's gospel is not easy. We have been commanded by Him to be baptized by immersion and do so under proper authority. After several lessons, we invited her to follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized. Not knowing exactly how the Lord would work things out, she chose to be baptized. She showed great faith, not knowing how everything would work, but knowing that it would according to the Lord's plan.

Things didn’t get easy for her once she decided to live the standards in The Church of Jesus Christ. She had smoked for almost 25 years, and she had to give that up in order to be baptized. Nevertheless, she knew she had to quit in order to have the blessings from living and following the example of Jesus Christ. She had been living with a man for nine years. She had to move out before she could be baptized. Tammy really had nowhere to go, and most of the money she made went to paying for medical bills, so she couldn't afford a place on her own. She trusted in the Lord and moved out anyway, for she knew it was the right thing to do. She ended up living with a brother. I was transferred to a new area and didn’t hear much from her for about a year. One morning I received a phone call. It was Tammy, telling me she was getting baptized later that day.

Moroni, a Book of Mormon prophet, teaches us how God works by power, according to our faith: “I would exhort you that you would deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men.” (Moroni 10:7) In order to access the blessings that come from such faith in Christ, our faith must lead us to action. We will not see miracles until after we show our faith. That same Moroni teaches us that “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12:6) Tammy’s faith was tried, she trusted in her God, and now she is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. She enjoys many rich blessings, including the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and many friends who share her same faith in our Savior. She truly saw miracles because of her faith.

I know that faith in Jesus Christ is possible, it only takes a small desire to believe. (Alma 32) I have been to the edge of my faith, and I have seen the hand of God because of it. I know that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and because of that simple truth, we can make righteous decisions and increase our faith, no matter where we are in life. I know that through the Atonement of Christ, we have the power to live His glorious gospel and partake of His eternal blessings of peace and joy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration

This past General Conference was incredible. After each conference, I hear people say that it was the best conference so far. And I agree with them. General Conference gets better and better each time. I mean, how could it not; the prophet and apostles are speaking to us about what the Lord wants us to hear right now. How wonderful is modern revelation!

The talk from General Conference that I would like to highlight this week is one by Elder Tad Callister entitled, "Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration," given during the Saturday afternoon session. On Saturday one of my good friends and teammate came over and watched most of the Saturday afternoon session with me. The night before, we were talking about religion and he stated that learning about other religions is intriguing, he just didn't really know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the "Mormon church." Saturday, after Elder Callister concluded his remarks, I turned to my buddy and said something to the effect of, "well, if you ever wondered what the Church was all about, there you go."

Elder Callister captures in a twelve-minute talk the essence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He explains why the Church exists, emphasizes key doctrines, and testifies of truth.

I add my testimony to the testimony of Elder Callister and the testimonies of all the living prophets and apostles that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church upon the face of the earth today. Only here will you find the fulness of Christ's teachings. Only here will you find the authority and power to perform saving ordinances and otherwise act in Christ's name for the salvation of God's children. Only here will you learn how to gain eternal happiness. This I know.

Jeremy

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

“And no man taketh this honour unto himself…”


I had the opportunity this year of attending Easter services in a Lutheran cathedral in the small German town of Nordlingen. The town itself is really kind of neat; it’s one of the few towns in Germany with a city wall still surrounding the entire town. If you’ve ever seen the old Willy Wonka movie, the town over which Charlie, Wonka, and the grandfather fly in the glass elevator at the end of the movie is actually Nordlingen. The chapel in this town is a huge stone building, probably four or five stories tall before the spire yet it’s all one floor it completely redefines the term “vaulted ceiling.” And the chapel is older than any building in America. The Easter services were, of course, carried out completely in German so I didn’t understand a single thing since my German vocabulary consists of the numbers one through ten, “pineapple,” and a few things that I hear repeated at jump rope such as “again,” or “drink break,” but it was a good experience all the same. We sang hymns—they have a very impressive pipe organ, the preacher or priest taught, and he administered the sacrament or communion.

He that is called of God
Throughout the entire hour and a half service, the words from the fifth chapter of Hebrews, fourth verse kept running through my head. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” I’m sure the priest or preacher or whatever his position is in that chapel has good intentions. I’m sure that his sermon that Easter morn was all about Christ and His resurrection and how it applies to us. And I’m sure that the people in the congregation learned something or thought that the service was worthwhile and will return again. However, no matter his intentions or desires to help the church-goers in Nordlingen, he does not have the authority or power from God to officiate in ordinances such as the sacrament. The papers, classes, certificates, or diplomas the preacher may have also do not matter; God calls His prophets, priests, and teachers independent of any seminary or institute established by man.

Recall the words of Isaiah, “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee” (Isaiah 50:4; see also 2 Nephi 7:4). The Lord qualifies whom He calls. The only accreditation a man needs to be apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist, priest, or deacon is the accreditation that God gives.

The prophet does not have to pass a class or graduate from a seminary that gives him a certificate approving his knowledge and study of ancient scripture. He does not need a degree or a knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. Indeed, he does not need the approval or nomination of any earthy tribunal created by man. The prophet is called of God, as was Aaron. He has the priesthood through the laying on of hands, as did Aaron. He has the authority to exercise all the keys of the holy priesthood because God gave him the authority, not man.

Moses was called of God despite his weakness for public speaking. The Lord comforted Moses, “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Moses never underwent any formal schooling or training to be a prophet, instead God blessed Moses and gave Moses a brother who could speak well in order to help him fulfill his calling (see Exodus 4:10-16).

The original twelve apostles all came from varied backgrounds, and none were rabbis or priests or had religious professions. For example, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen (see Matt 4:18-22) and Matthew was a tax collector (see Matt 9:9). The Lord looketh not upon the outward appearance, but on the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:7). The Lord often times calls the humble and the unlearned because they are teachable and will not take honour unto themselves.

How God chooses His prophets, apostles, and other leaders
The process of choosing apostles, teachers, and other church leaders is described in the first chapter of Acts. When Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ, he obviously lost his calling as an apostle. The remaining eleven apostles gathered together to find out the will of the Lord concerning who should become the newest member of the quorum of the twelve. They knew that “one must be ordained to be a witness with [them] of [Christ’s] resurrection,” (v. 22) and so they sought the will of the Lord concerning whom they should choose. The scriptural account continues:

23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
The apostles found a few saints that they thought would be good candidates and they inquired of the Lord to know His will concerning the future of the twelve. Through revelation, the eleven apostles knew that Matthias was to be the twelfth apostle.

The same process works for us in our lives. When we seek revelation concerning a decision in our lives, we must do the research and the work to find what we believe to be the best decision or decisions. Then we go to the Lord and ask to know His will, since our thoughts are not His thoughts. When we are prepared and have done all that we can do, we receive the revelation and can then move forward with faith.

A need for the restoration of the priesthood
As people persecuted and killed the apostles and other church leaders after Christ’s death, Christ ceased calling new apostles and prophets to lead His Church. The priesthood keys to officiate in ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament, give blessings, and otherwise act in the name of God were lost to the earth leading to a widespread apostasy. No one had the authority to pass on the priesthood or ordain others to priesthood offices.

When God the Father and Jesus Christ restored the gospel and organized their church in our day, ending the long night of apostasy, They called Joseph Smith to be a prophet and through him restored the keys of the priesthood to the earth. They called twelve apostles who received the priesthood keys. And They, through the living apostles and prophets, continue to call new apostles and prophets each time an apostle or prophet dies. Each new apostle receives priesthood keys from the remaining apostles and prophet. The same process is true for other general authorities and church leaders. When someone is released from a calling as a teacher or bishop or seventy or any other calling, the Lord reveals to His leaders who should fill the position.

The priesthood is given to every worthy male member of the Church and when he is called to a position that requires the use of priesthood keys, a higher authority ordains him and authorizes him to use those keys in his calling. The priesthood holders officiate in ordinances such as baptism, bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the sacrament. Families are sealed together and gain the ability to live together forever through priesthood ordinances in the temple.

Implications for Us
Ordinances of the gospel require the authorization of the Lord and that authorization comes through the priesthood. If one does not hold the priesthood, then the ordinances are not ordinances but merely words and a ceremony with no eternal consequences. Those who were in attendance at the Easter services in Nordlingen partook of the bread and wine but that’s all they did was partake of bread and wine, the same as the bread in their cupboards and the wine in their cellars at home.

As I stated before, I’m sure the people and the preacher in Nordlingen have good intentions. I have met religious and non-religious people all over the world who are good people with only the best intentions and desires to be good and do good unto their fellowmen. That’s one of the reasons I love the sport of jump rope so much; jump rope attracts great people and I am who I am today in part because of their influence on me. However, even the best of intentions can only get us so far. The Savior atoned for the sins of all who would ever live upon the earth and He asks us to do certain things in return. He asks us to live His Gospel: to exercise faith in Him and His Atonement through repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then enduring to the end by striving to live by the covenants we made through baptism (see Mosiah 18:8-10). And as we discussed, the making and renewing of these commitments requires the power and authority from God—the priesthood.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and desires that we return home to live with Him and our families forever. He has designed a plan that enables us to attain this goal. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to this plan. In order for us to fully take advantage of this plan, Heavenly Father has given us His power and authority to perform saving ordinances such as baptism the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the sacrament, and those found in the temple. God calls prophets in our day and gives them priesthood authority that we may know to what source to look for a remission of our sins (see 2 Ne 25:26.) I am grateful for the Atonement and that Christ is merciful enough to allow us to come unto Him, be forgiven as we do the things He asks, and feel His Spirit. I am grateful the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and restored the priesthood and authority to perform saving ordinances in our day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that contains the fullness of the gospel and the authority to perform priesthood ordinances. This is my testimony.

Jeremy

For further reading:

Henry B. Eyring, “The True and Living Church,” Ensign, May 2008, 20–24