Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Easiness and Willingness to Believe


Often in the scriptures, prophets use the metaphor of soft and hard hearts to describe the easiness and willingness of the people to believe and act upon the word of God. If our hearts are soft, we believe more readily, our testimonies grow, and we strive to do that which the Lord asks of us because we love Him and understand that obedience and repentance brings lasting happiness to our lives. If our hearts are hard, we reject the words of the prophets, think that we know better than they, live "how we want to live and do what we want to do," thus our wills are not in line with God, and we end up with very unhappy and unfulfilled lives.

The article of the week this week is entitled, "An Easiness and Willingness to Believe," a talk given by Elder Michael T. Ringwood of the Quorum of the Seventy in the most recent General Conference. This article builds off last week's article about preserving the heart's mighty change and keeping the heart from becoming hardened. Elder Ringwood addresses those things that we can and should do in order to retain soft hearts and willing attitudes to do those things that bring eternal and lasting happiness.

Although many of the principles discussed in this article are simple and easy to understand, sometimes we choose not to apply them in our lives. I have noticed in my own life that when I consistently study my scriptures and pray, when I go to Church with a desire to learn and grow, when I look for opportunities to serve others, and when I otherwise apply the teachings of the Savior in my life, I find that the Spirit is more prevalent in my life and that I am more willing and able to believe the words of the prophets, both ancient and living.

Jeremy

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baptism

This is Zachary again, it has been a couple months but this week’s post is part three of my five part post on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will repent. Part of the cleansing that comes of repentance is being baptized by immersion, and by proper authority, receiving remission of sins.

It is a commandment to be baptized by proper priesthood authority if we are to enter the kingdom of God. In John 3:5, Jesus Christ teaches Nicodemus that “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Baptism by immersion is the sign of a repentant soul. When we are baptized by priesthood authority, we make sacred covenants with God. Why do we need to make covenants with Heavenly Father? Covenant making and keeping brings spiritual power. In a recent address given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of Jesus Christ, he speaks of the early saints receiving spiritual power from the covenants they made:

It was [the knowledge that their course in life conformed to the will of God] that enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take . . . not only the spoiling of their goods, and the wasting of their substance, joyfully, but also to suffer death in its most horrid forms; knowing (not merely believing) that when this earthly house of their tabernacle was dissolved, they had a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. ("The Power of Covenants", Ensign, May 2009, 19–23)

Our covenants remind us to repent every day of our lives. Baptism, one of these covenants, cleanses us from sin. There was a woman I taught in North Carolina named Latricia. It was a miracle the Lord even led us to her in the first place. She lived in a little house way out in the countryside where we never went. She had the faith to be baptized, and she was willing to repent to receive that great covenant, so the Lord sent us to her. When we found her, she was into alcohol and even drugs. Yet she knew that she wanted to be baptized by authority, she knew that was the only way for her to be cleansed from sin. She never gave up. It was a long hard road, but she kept the faith, sometimes stumbling, but repenting over again. When she was finally ready, she asked me to baptize her. I shall never forget what the Lord solidified in my heart and in my mind that day. The Holy Ghost filled the room when I brought her up out of the water. For the first time in over 30 years, Latricia was as clean and pure as a little child. She had been cleansed from sin. The Holy Ghost witnessed to me that was how the Lord intended things to be for all His children.

We will continue to make mistakes once we are baptized, but the Savior has given us a way to continue to repent and be cleansed if we have the faith to endure. While visiting the Nephites in the Americas after His Resurrection, the Savior instituted the Sacrament. He taught them the importance of renewing their baptismal covenants. After the people had partaken of the sacrament, Jesus told them “Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.” (see 3 Nephi 18:1-12) The sacrament, administered by the priesthood, is blessed and passed each Sunday at our weekly Sabbath day meetings.

After baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is one of the greatest gifts God can grant us in mortality. A modern day apostle of Jesus Christ, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, spoke of this in an address given in 2008:

How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices so that we will remain “unspotted from the world” and on the safe path through mortality? We need to qualify for the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We do this by keeping His commandment to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and in that wonderful weekly meeting partake of the emblems of the sacrament and make the covenants that qualify us for the precious promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. ("Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament", Ensign, Nov 2008, 17-20)

We can always have His Spirit to be with us. But it is only through baptism that we do so. Baptism is essential to our eternal salvation. I know the Lord loves us and that’s why he gives us commandments. He knows we can keep his commandments, and He will help us. We become more like our Heavenly Father as we are obedient to His will.

Zachary

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change

In the October 2009 General Conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund gave a talk entitled, "Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change." This talk deals with the lifelong process of conversion and the steps we must take and habits we must form in order not to forfeit eternal salvation and exaltation.

Eternal life is not attained with a word, statement, realization, event, or ordinance. Of course, ordinances such as baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost are essential in attaining eternal life and are necessary steps in the conversion process, but no one moment assures one of the promise of eternal life. Elder Renlund explains the process of conversion and the things we must do in order to put off the natural man and ensure that we are not straying from the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life (see Mosiah 3:19; 2 Nephi 31:18).

For a more in-depth discussion about being born-again or faith v. works, click on this link to an earlier post on my blog. As for this post, read the words of Elder Renlund which are the word of God, for "whether by [the Lord's] own voice or by the voice of [the Lord's] servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38). When we do the small, simple things such as studying the scriptures and praying daily, we become stronger and more resilient to the fiery darts of the adversary. There is strength in living the commandments of God.

Jeremy

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"If Thou Canst Believe, All Things are Possible to Him that Believeth"

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak in church last Sunday. Below is the full version of my talk.

“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."

In the Gospel of Mark we learn of a father who brought his son possessed with a dumb spirit to Jesus Christ to be healed. The apostles had thus far failed to cast the evil spirit out of the boy and the father pleaded with the Master Healer for His help. The father desperately explained that the spirit, “cast [his son] into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him,” and pleaded, “but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” The Master Healer, who is also the Master Teacher, used this opportunity to teach all present about faith saying, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

The father, having exhausted all other imagined means to help his son, “cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe.” The Savior did not immediately respond, instead He paused for the father to think about the significance of the statement, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible.” Elder James E. Talmage explained, “The man’s understanding was enlightened; up to that moment he had thought that all depended upon Jesus; he now saw that the issue rested largely with himself. . . . the father added penitently, ‘help thou my unbelief’” (Jesus the Christ, Deseret Book Company 1983, 383).

The faith of the father was sufficient and the Savior in His infinite compassion cast out the evil spirit. (See Mark 9:14-29.)

What was the counsel given by the Master Healer? “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” We can learn a number of eternal principles from this story, a few of which we will discuss today.

Think of the magnitude of the statement, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” That leaves nothing impossible, nothing at all. With enough faith—if we can believe—and with the right authority, we can move mountains, part seas, build ships, destroy city walls, build temples, receive visits from angels, slay giants, survive fiery furnaces, be healed, even see God and Jesus Christ. If we can believe, we can survive finals—even do well; we can find the right job, make next month’s rent, finish school, find that right someone, fulfill our callings, and have fun. All at the same time; men are that they might have joy remember? If we can believe, we can live in the world and not of the world, we can help those of our family and friends who have strayed, we can hold our marriage and family together in this world of shifting and changing values, and we can endure all our trials and hardships well. If we can believe, we can make the sacrifices right now for the things that matter most, for the things of eternal significance and importance.

How, then, do we develop the faith to believe these things and thus create or be worthy of our own miracles? The prophet Alma taught, “if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon [the words of Christ], and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that you can give place for a portion of [the words of Christ].” What does he say? “Awake and arouse your faculties, even unto an experiment?” If we want to develop a greater faith in Jesus Christ and His power, we need to act, we must act.

I offer four suggestions how we can develop the faith necessary to make all things possible for us.

I. Prayer and Fasting

When His disciples asked Him why they were not able to cast out the evil spirit from the child, Jesus answered them, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:28-29). Their faith needed to be strengthened by prayer and fasting in order to bring about the miracle of casting out the evil spirit.

Prayer helps us increase in faith in numerous ways. The Lord both hears and answers prayers; when we pray, we receive answers and thus our faith that miracles can occur if we pray and ask for them increases. As our faith increases, we pray more, believing even more that we will receive; the process is a wonderful upward spiral. Indeed, the Lord has said numerous times, “ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” In addition, prayer is made more effective when we engage in meaningful fasting. As we fast, we allow our spirit strength over our physical appetites and passions and are therefore more receptive of the guidance of the Lord.

Now, miracles do not occur merely by us praying for them. Prayer is active and prayer is a form of work. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that, “asking in faith requires honesty, effort, commitment, and persistence” (“Ask in Faith,” Ensign, May 2008, 95). We must pray and then we must do many good things of our own free will and bring to pass much righteousness. We cannot expect all things to be made possible if we merely ask for them and do nothing else. If we need a job, we must do all in our power to make ourselves qualified for the desired job and we must actively seek employment. If we need to do well in school, we must study hard, sacrificing fun activities once in a while to do all in our power to get the grades we seek. If we wish for our family or friends to return to activity in the church or to gain testimonies of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, we must do all we can to live worthy of the blessings of the gospel that they may see from our example that the gospel does, indeed, bless lives. If we need help dealing with the death of a loved one or some other trial, we must seek the Lord and do those things He commands us that we may be worthy of the Comforter. We must pray as if everything depends on the Lord and then work as if everything depends on us.

II. Scripture Study

The second way in which we can develop the faith necessary to make all things possible for us is through diligent study of the scriptures. The Spirit makes God’s will known unto us as we read His word as given through His holy prophets. We have been commanded to search the scriptures and the promises are made clear. The scriptures contain the words of eternal life. They are fundamental in gaining a testimony of our Heavenly Father, of Jesus Christ and His Atonement, of the restored gospel, and of the possibility of miracles. The pages of the scriptures are filled with stories of miracles, of all things being made possible to those who believed.

I personally want to testify of the power that comes from studying the scriptures. As I was going through school, there were many days when I would wake up wondering if there was any possible way to get everything done that needed to be done. On top of that, I was training hard for upcoming jump rope competitions and I was working so I could pay rent. Scheduling was a nightmare and I was quite often overwhelmed. Scheduled, consistent scripture study became the key to making everything work. I knew that scripture study was a daily necessity and not just reading my scriptures but actually studying them, but I found that if I waited until everything else was accomplished I wouldn’t get a very effective scripture study at the end of the day, if any at all. I began to get up earlier in order to get my hour scripture study before any classes started and before I started homework or other projects. I would get up to practice, come home and study, and then get ready and do everything that school and work required of me. My days went and continue to go so much better when do my scripture study in the morning before everything else starts. Life doesn’t get easier because trying situations help us to stretch and to grow, but life does get better and less stressful when we search the words of the prophets early and consistently. And I promise that revelation comes easier in the morning because that’s when ideas come clearly (see Boyd K. Packer and L. Tom Perry, “Principles of Teaching and Learning,” Ensign, Jun 2007, 84).

III. Repentance

The third means by which we can develop the faith to make all things possible is repentance. Repentance enables us to take part in perhaps the greatest miracle ever to occur on the earth—the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Each time we repent and change our lives for the better, we are allowing the Spirit to change us from the natural man into children of our Heavenly Father. Repentance is a miracle. The fact that we can rid ourselves of old habits and constantly strive to do better, receiving forgiveness and having the Savior vicariously suffer for our sins is a miracle, a wonderful miracle for which we should thank the Lord every day.

Because of the miracle of forgiveness, repentance enables us to be worthy of other miracles. Mormon taught in 3 Nephi, “and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity—” (3 Ne 8:1). If all things are made possible to him that believeth, he must be cleansed every whit from his iniquity. We must be continually striving to do better and to become better through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. It is always given when righteousness is present, and the greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws the greater will be the endowment of faith” (Mormon Doctrine, Boocraft 1966, 264). All things are possible to him that is righteous.

IV. Service

Repentance requires us to do more and to replace our bad habits with good ones. The fourth way to develop the faith necessary to make all things possible is through service. Remember that God will grant us according to our desires when we do as He asks. Our love for our Heavenly Father should be reflected in our actions and when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are in the service of our God (see Mosiah 2:17). “Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:18). If we want miracles, we need to be willing to be miracles in others’ lives.

Preparation

Now, I say a few words concerning preparation. Sometimes we know when we will require miracles. As one of the many examples from my life I know that when I was in school, many days I woke up knowing that I would need a miracle just to get through the day and accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished with classes, projects, and other activities. However, often we know not when we will need miracles and when our life will require miracles. Therefore, we must prepare now that we may be worthy of miracles that will be required in future days.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn of the faith that Nephi had and the miracles he was able to accomplish by his faith. The account in Helaman 11 tells us of a time when the Gadianton robbers were at war with the people and that wickedness prevailed. President Henry B. Eyring recounts, “the people did not repent. So Nephi asked God to change the seasons. He asked for a miracle to help the people choose to repent because of famine. The famine came. The people repented, and then they begged Nephi to have God send rain. He did ask God, and God honored his unshakable faith.

“That faith did not come in the moment when Nephi needed it, nor did God’s trust in Nephi. He earned that great faith and God’s confidence by courageous and sustained labor in the Lord’s service. You young men are building that faith now for the days ahead when you will need it” (“Be Ready,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 60).

Conclusion

Sincere, heartfelt prayer helps us prepare spiritually against the fiery darts of the adversary. Prayer, together with diligent, consistent study of the scriptures, helps us develop the faith we need to move mountains or part seas. As our faith increases, so will our desire to repent and strive to become better through the Atonement and grace of our Savior. Our personal righteousness will qualify us for the miracles and blessings that the Lord wishes to bestow upon us. And we show our gratitude to the Lord by living a life of selfless service. By living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we develop faith in him and all things become possible for us.

I echo the words of our prophet President Thomas S. Monson, “My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith” (“Be of Good Cheer,” Ensign, May 2009, 92).

Jeremy

Monday, January 18, 2010

Agency and Control

Life is full of choices. Many don't have much eternal significance such as what to eat and what to wear. Some have immense eternal significance, more than we often realize. The world offers many opinions and much advice on how to live your life and how to make your decisions. The adversary would have you believe that you should live the way you want with no regard to God and His teachings, or "eat, drink, and be merry." However, in order to be truly happy, we must live according to the teachings of God, for the commandments and teachings of God help us know how to live in order to have true, lasting happiness both in this life and for eternity.

Our obedience and our utilization of our agency to choose God's path is hard because sometimes, if not oftentimes, we do not understand the reason for certain commandments and teachings. Satan's counter to obedience to God's commandments is to label such obedience as "blind obedience" thus challenging our intelligence simply because we do not know the mind and will of God. Following the teachings of our loving Heavenly Father despite the level of our understanding is not foolish and does not show lack of intelligence on our part. On the contrary, following the teachings and commandments of an omniscient being, even God the Father, shows our intelligence that we don't know everything and our trust that He knows better than we do and that all will be well.

The article this week,"Agency and Control," is a talk given by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1983 and addresses the principles of obedience, self-control, and freedom.

I know that doing as the Lord commands requires faith and trust, neither of which comes naturally to us. We must work at developing faith in Jesus Christ and God the Father. However, that faith will only come with obedience to their teachings. We will never know the truthfulness of the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ until we live the doctrines of the Gospel. Living according to the teachings of God is the only way to achieve eternal life, which is life together forever with our families and with our Father in Heaven.

2 Nephi 2:26-29
John 14:15, 21

Jeremy

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Have I Done for Someone Today?

The (late) article this week is entitled, "What Have I Done for Someone Today?," a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson in the most recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Monson is the Lord's prophet in the earth today just as Moses, Noah, and Peter in their respective days.

In this talk, President Monson taught about the love of God which leads to charity which leads to service. Charity is the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:47). If we love God, we keep His commandments (see John 14:15). He has commanded us to love Him and love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matt 22:36-39). In order to do this, we must serve our fellow men. We must be constantly looking for ways to love, uplift, help, support, and comfort those around us. In this manner we show our love to God and we experience greater happiness, joy, and fulfillment in our lives.

President Monson said, "The Savior taught His disciples, 'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.' (See Luke 9:24).

"I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives."

King Benjamin, a Book of Mormon prophet taught that, "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17).

Again from President Monson, "My brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us."

The message from the prophet of God is that we are all in the service of the Lord. Our loving Father in Heaven desires our help to bless the lives of His children. We need His help to be truly happy and to attain eternal life. Read this article. Think about what you have done for someone today. Think about what you can do for someone today. Pray to be able to see those opportunities whether they be large or small. Joy comes from losing yourself in the service and work of the Lord.

Jeremy

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

As I was fixing breakfast on the very first day of this wonderful New Year, a talk by President James E. Faust, apostle and counselor to the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, shuffled through on my computer entitled, "The Healing Power of Forgiveness." This talk, given in the April 2007 General Conference, was President Faust's last talk before he passed away.

President Faust began his talk with a story of a horrendous murder in an Amish community and told of the extreme forgiving reaction of the Amish community toward the family of the murderer. As President Faust continued, he related a few more stories that illustrate Christlike forgiveness in extreme situations, teaching that we can and must forgive in all cases, large and small.

Forgiveness can be a difficult process, especially in situations where hurt was intended. But whether the hurt was or was not purposeful, "of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10). In relation to our argument that "it's not fair" he said:

"All of us suffer some injuries from experiences that seem to have no rhyme or reason. We cannot understand or explain them. We may never know why some things happen in this life. The reason for some of our suffering is known only to the Lord. But because it happens, it must be endured. President Howard W. Hunter said that 'God knows what we do not know and sees what we do not see.'1

"President Brigham Young offered this profound insight that at least some of our suffering has a purpose when he said: 'Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. … Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.'2"

Forgiveness is so key in our pursuit of happiness in this life. With the knowledge that all things will work together for good to them who love God (see Romans 8:28), we can let our hearts be comforted and forgive the imperfect people who hurt us. Indeed, the Lord commanded that we forgive always when he counseled Peter to forgive his brother not seven times but "until seventy times seven." Remember the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God (see Mosiah 2:41). The Savior then follows His counsel to Peter with a parable of a king collecting on the debts of his servants as recorded in Matthew 18:

24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be
sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him
an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very
sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that
debt, because thou desiredst me:
33
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts
forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

The principle taught by the Savior and then reiterated by His servant President Faust is that the Lord in His infinite mercy forgives us of so much more than we will ever be required to forgive another person in this life. Forgiveness liberates us from additional pain and suffering by allowing the Spirit to enter our lives and be the Comforter and the peace the Savior promised us (John 14:26-27).Therefore we must let go of the grudges, the prejudices, the animosity, and anything else that we harbor inside of us and forgive all men. Moreover, if we wish to receive forgiveness, we too must be willing to forgive.

The healing power of the Atonement is for all who wish to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. Part of that perfection process involves learning to forgive. Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to send His Only Begotten Son to atone for our sins and shortcomings and thus allow for forgiveness in His great plan.

Jeremy

1. “The Opening and Closing of Doors,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 60.
2. Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1954), 345.