Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Power of Scripture


"Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high. They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ."

The above quote comes from an address given by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His address, entitled "The Power of Scripture," was given at the 181st semi-annual General Conference in October 2011.

Usually I share my thoughts and insights about the talk I feature each week. This week, however, I have nothing really to say. Elder Scott conveys his love for the scriptures so beautifully and completely that anything I say will just distract from his message.

Read this talk! In it you will find many wonderful teachings that will strengthen your testimony of the words of the Lord and broaden your understanding of the power of the scriptures. I love the scriptures and I add my testimony to the testimony of Elder Scott. Studying the word of the Lord through His prophets provides a foundation of support and truth that can be called on anytime, anywhere in a time of need.

Jeremy

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Have to v. Want to


This past week at practice I had a conversation with a teammate that went something like this:

“Oh, I thought that you would be going with them to do the circus.” (Some of my teammates are leaving for a four-month cirque tour which will be super cool for them.)

“Nah, not me, not this time.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’ve got other things I’m doing. And I really don’t like to work or jump on Sundays.”

“Oh, you’re not allowed?”

“No, I just don’t like to, I don’t want to.”

“Oh, I thought maybe you were Mormon or something.”

“I am. And...”

“Then you’re not allowed.”

“No. I can, I can do anything I want to, I have the ability to make my own decisions, I just don’t like to jump on Sundays and don’t want to; it’s not fun for me.”

This is a pretty cookie-cutter example of conversations I have had many times with many different people. Sometimes the conversations are regarding jumping on Sunday, sometimes they are regarding going to church, sometimes they are regarding reading the scriptures or praying or serving a mission or not drinking or a host of other things.

There are many things which I do or don’t do that many consider “out of the norm.” Always people ask if what I do is because I “have to,” or they just simply assume it’s because I “have to.” Quite the contrary. All the things I do that are church-related I do because I want to, because I feel and have learned through experience that they are important, and because I love to do them.

Keeping the Sabbath day holy

I don’t work on Sundays and I am getting better at not participating in other recreational activities on Sunday (aka jump rope). Jump rope is not a bad thing and spending that one extra day together with my jump rope friends on trips is nice, but not better than going to church and doing other things I enjoy on Sundays. Sundays are a day to set aside the things of the world and focus wholly on the things that matter most. A lot of the activities in which we participate throughout the week are not bad things. Indeed, school, work, play, and jump rope are necessary things not only to sustain life but to enhance it and help us lead fulfilling lives (yes, jump rope is necessary to life--ask any jumper you know.) But Sundays are different. The Lord commanded that we remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, and through His prophets defined what that means.


Quite honestly, I really enjoy having that one day each week to do nothing other than concentrate on the Savior and others’ needs. It’s relaxing, it’s freeing, it’s stress relieving, it shows the Lord that He is first in my priorities, and it strengthens me to hold true to what I believe for another week. I have never regretted not jumping on a Sunday.

Attending church

One part of keeping the Sabbath day holy is attending church. This past spring, I had the opportunity to attend church in Germany. The family I was staying with-the wonderful Zeisslers-agreed to take me to the nearby town where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met, for which I was super grateful. When we arrived, the church building was locked and empty due to a regional conference of which I was not aware. I was certainly disappointed and on the drive home, the father, Armin, was concerned that there might be some negative consequence because I did not attend my church that day. Appreciative of his concern, I explained that my not going to church that day wasn’t the end of the world; I wasn’t going to get in trouble and no one was going to check up on me to see if I went to church, I just really wanted to go because church is something I look forward to every week.

I go to church because I love going to church. I love the companionship and the relationships I have with the people at church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feels the same all over the world and I love that feeling. I love the feeling of church and I love learning. I treasure the opportunity to take the sacrament, and I feel great about the opportunities to serve.

Reading the scriptures daily

On another occasion, one of my friends commented how she noticed that I read my scriptures each night at jump rope camp. Apparently she observed me reading my scriptures every night before going to bed, often times after everyone else had gone to sleep since that was the only down time I had each day. She, too, phrased her comment using “have to” and I explained that I did not have to, but that I wanted to, that reading the scriptures is important to me. I explained that I strive to read my scriptures daily-even on tired jump rope days-because I love the things I learn. I love the insights that the Holy Ghost teaches me. And I need the strength I receive from reading the scriptures. I choose to live standards that do not line up with the world very well and maintaining those standards is can be difficult sometimes so I need all the help and strength I can get. I also strive to pray morning and night to thank the Lord for all the great blessings He has given me and to ask for the strength and the knowledge to accomplish what the day requires.

If ye love me…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a bunch of rules the regulations that leaders enforce or that you are punished for not following. Of course, the Lord has commandments that we are required to live if we wish to receive all the blessings He wishes to bestow upon us, and those same commandments protect us from unnecessary hardship and pain. Church leaders teach those commandments and stress the importance of obedience to the Lord’s command. They help us when we are struggling and when they see us faltering in any of the commandments because they love us and they love the Lord. They know as do I that those who keep the commandments, “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 never-ending happiness . . .” (Mosiah 2:41).

We are also required to live those commandments if we wish to partake of the blessings offered by baptism and the holy temple. However, if I teach at a jump rope workshop next Sunday or compete at the National competition on Sunday or don’t go to church or forget to read my scriptures, no one is going to get after me nor will I be banned from attending church or anything. The Lord has blessed us with the divine gift of agency that we may choose. The prophet Jacob taught:

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, according to the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27.)

Church leaders do take action if members break very serious commandments, especially if such actions affect other people. These more serious sins pertain to adultery, abuse, and embezzlement of Church funds and breaking other serious laws of the land. Consequences for such sins include loss of certain privileges and even potential loss of Church membership depending on what Church leaders feel is appropriate and what will help the individual the most.

Conclusion

I strive to live the teachings of the Savior for a few reasons. Firstly, I have seen how my life is better and more fulfilling when I regularly attend church, read my scriptures, keep the Sabbath day holy, and don’t drink or take other potentially harmful things into my body. Secondly, I have faith that the blessings and rewards of such a lifestyle will far outweigh the immediate gratification of not keeping the commandments. As much fun as the circus with my friends would be, I know staying true to what I believe is more rewarding. Thirdly and most importantly, I love Jesus Christ and I am grateful for everything that He has done for me. Jesus taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If for no other reason, we should desire to do as He asks because to show our love for Him and our gratitude for the great sacrifice He made in our behalf.

Remember the comforting, calling words of the Savior, “come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

And John taught that we learn of Him when we keep his commandments (see 1 John 2:3).

So no, I don’t do any of these things because I have to. I do each of them because I want to. I want to be an example of the believers, I want to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, and I want that comfort and rest promised by the Savior Himself to those who keep His commandments.

Jeremy

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stand in Holy Places--Words from a prophet


How blessed are we to have a living prophet on the earth today to lead us and to guide us through the storms of life! How blessed are we to hear from our prophet regularly, and to know God's will through him. President Thomas S. Monson (b. 1927) is the Lord's prophet. I love hearing his words and his stories; he sets a powerful example with his ability and willingness to receive and heed the promptings of the Spirit.

President Monson
In the October General Conference, President Monson spoke about the importance of prayer to our Father in Heaven and following inspiration from Him in an address entitled, "Stand in Holy Places." "Communication with our Father in Heaven--," taught President Monson, "including our prayers to Him and His inspiration to us--is necessary in order for us to weather the storms and trials of life."

President Monson spoke of the rapidly-evolving moral compass of society and about how, "behaviors which once were considered inappropriate and immoral are now not only tolerated but also viewed by ever so many as acceptable." He continued, "Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed they will not change."

The reason that we are not to conform to the teachings of society but cling to the teachings of Jesus Christ is so that we will be better equipped to deal with the storms of life, to learn from them, and to overcome them. By striving to have the gospel of Jesus Christ at our core and the love of the Savior in our hearts, we can effectively deal with all the challenges we face. The constancy of the Lord is, "something on which we can hold fast and be safe, lest we be swept away into uncharted waters." When we live in the world and not of the world, we stay clean and worthy of the influence of the Holy Spirit that we may receive strength from the Lord. "There is nothing which can bring more joy into our lives or more peace to our souls than the Spirit which can come to us as we follow the Savior and keep the commandments."

I know that the Lord hears and answers our prayers. I know from personal experience that only when I am striving to do what the Lord asks am I able to recognize and have the strength to heed His promptings. He is the way, the truth, and the light and the source of the greatest happiness and joy.

Jeremy

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teachings of Jesus


Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. Those who believe in Him are called Christians. All benefit from a deep and abiding faith in Him and in the power of His great atoning sacrifice. Jesus Christ taught many things about Himself. In order to understand who Jesus Christ is and how faith in Him will bless your life, you must read the scriptures, especially the words which He spoke of Himself.

In the October 2011 General Conference, the apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke concerning the "Teachings of Jesus." Using the words of Christ, Elder Oaks taught many truths concerning the Savior's works and mission. Jesus Christ:
  • is the Only Begotten Son
  • is the express image of God the Father's person
  • is the Creator
  • is the Great Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel
  • is the Life of the World
  • is the Light of the World
  • is the way to eternal life
  • was obedient and submissive to the will of His Father
  • is the great Exemplar
  • is the source of the priesthood power given to the apostles
  • guides us through the Holy Ghost
  • guides us by giving us commandments
  • challenges us to focus on Hum, and not on the teachings of the world
  • suffered and died for us, atoning for our sins and trials, enabling us to become clean through repentance and receive all that the Father hath.
So what think ye of Christ? Who is Jesus Christ to you? To me He is my Savior, the one through whom I can repent and become clean. He atoned for me and my sins and weaknesses and I am constantly grateful for the opportunity I have to repent and even more for how I feel throughout the repentance process. I love the words of the Savior Himself and through His prophets, living and dead. I love the temple and how I feel when I am in the house of the Lord. Do you get the idea? The feelings I have because of Jesus Christ make me truly happy, more so than any other feelings from any other source. He is the way, the truth, and the light. He is my friend.


Jeremy

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Polygamy



Let's talk polygamy.

In recent months on separate occasions people have brought up the subject of polygamy with me so I felt to sum up our conversations and hopefully help others who maybe do not understand about polygamy and the Church.

Overview

To begin, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not teach or support the practice of polygamy. “Mormons” who openly live polygamous lives are generally part of offshoots from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as the incidents all over the news a few years ago in Texas. Those people have their own modified version of the Church and are in no way affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) , fifteenth prophet and president of the Church in the latter days said:

“This Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church.... If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church.”

In the early days of the Church, the Lord did reveal to the prophet Joseph Smith that some of the members were to practice polygamy. This was not a blanket commandment but specific instruction given to select people. Then, in 1890, the Lord revealed to the current prophet and president of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898), that the members of the Church were to no longer practice polygamy (see Official Declaration 1). Some struggled with the apparent “retraction” of the commandment and split off to create their own churches in which they could continue to practice polygamy. These are the churches that you hear about today when polygamy is discussed.

As we discuss the history of polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a bit more in-depth, keep in mind that a certain degree of faith is required both to understand and to accept the reasons behind polygamy and why the Church no longer practices polygamy. Remember, our thoughts are not the Lord’s thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (see Isaiah 5:8-9). When God gives commandments or does things that perhaps we do not fully understand, we must trust in Him that it “shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7), for “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).

History

The first time the Lord commanded plural marriage was not in the 1800s. In the Bible we read of people including prophets such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others who had multiple wives (ex. Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2). And, likewise there were times that God commanded not to live the law of plural marriage.

One potential reason for polygamy in the early days of the Church could stem from the persecution of the early Saints. In the early days of the Church, persecution was very intense. Members of the Church were driven from place to place, their property was destroyed, they were denied rights and privileges that were rightfully theirs as US citizens, and they were even killed. Political leaders upheld the mobs that persecuted the early Saints and the governor of Illinois even signed an “extermination order” in which he decreed, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary.” (Greene, John P (1839), Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, from the State of Missouri, under the "Exterminating Order", Cincinnati, Ohio: R. P. Brooks, retrieved 2006-12-31.)

Throughout this persecution, many women were left widows and children left fatherless. One benefit of plural marriage was the better care for all of the women and children who didn’t have husbands and fathers to meet their needs. This certainly isn’t the reason, nor did Joseph Smith ever give this as a reason, but it may have been a partial motivation behind the commandment.

As persecution worsened, the Lord told the Saints to move west, to a place far away from persecution--the middle of the desert which is now known as the Salt Lake valley. There the Saints began to build a new civilization and enjoyed freedom from persecution because of their beliefs. Their joy was short-lived, however, as people in the east began to pressure President James Buchanan to raise an army to go west and fight the polygamists. As political pressure worsened, the US government under President Abraham Lincoln began to seize the property of the Church that the Saints worked so hard to build, threatening to take the sacred and beloved temples.

In 1890, the Lord revealed to President Woodruff that the members of the Church were to cease living the law of plural marriage and were, “to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land” (Official Declaration 1). Many members and leaders of the Church struggled with the retraction of this commandment (some leaving the Church and forming some of the various splinter groups discussed above), nevertheless the official stance of the Church from that day to now holds that polygamy is not a current commandment of God.

God’s command and the required faith

Earlier I said that in order to understand the reasons behind polygamy and it’s place in the history of the Church, a certain degree of faith is required. Many both inside the Church and outside have criticized that Church leaders caved and changed the commandment due to the extreme political pressure and outright persecution. This is false. The Lord Himself said, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; . . . whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). He gives commandments and teachings when He wants, on His own timetable, and for His own purposes. He is not threatened nor influenced by man. “As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it upstream, as to hinder the Almighty,” in His work and His efforts to bless His children (Doctrine and Covenants 121:33).

In order to understand or at least square with polygamy you must have faith that Joseph Smith (through whom the commandment was first given in our day) was a prophet of God and that God spoke to Him. You must also have faith that Wilford Woodruff (through whom the commandment was taken) was a prophet who also spoke with the Lord. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lead by Jesus Christ and He requires of us our faith and faithfulness in following Him. Plural marriage was not the first hard commandment to understand or follow, nor was it the first time laws and commandments have been taken from the earth. Indeed, it was Moses’ second time down the mountain when He brought with him the Ten Commandments; the first time he brought with him the higher law which he used to destroy the golden calf his brother Aaron helped fashion and the Lord deemed the people not ready or worthy of a higher law.

Some months ago I was discussing polygamy with a very good friend who is not a member of the Church and whom I respect very much. After discussing much of what we have discussed above, she brought up a very interesting point that is the most logical explanation I have ever heard concerning the history of polygamy and the Church. She said that in her research of the topic, she had come to the conclusion that the Church leaders used the law of polygamy for the very survival of the Church. In the early days, polygamy was needed to grow the Church from the inside. Then, with missionaries being sent to spread the gospel abroad and the imminent threat of loss of property and freedom at home, the Church leaders stopped the practice of polygamy in order to continue the growth of the Church.

The Book of Mormon reads, “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save that he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the things which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). My friend made a very good point. And I also really appreciated her open-mindedness about the whole situation and her willingness to try to find the benefits of and potential reasons for the Saints’ living the law of plural marriage. I did, however, make clear in our discussion and I wish to make clear now that the decision to stop the practice of plural marriage was the Lord’s decision and not man’s.

The Lord took the law of polygamy from the earth for His own reasons and for His own purposes. The Saints were doing all they could to live according to the commandments given them by God through His prophets. They endured heavy persecution from day one and would have continued to endure everything if the Lord willed it. The government could not and cannot stop the work of the Lord, no one can. If it was God’s will that His Saints continue to live the law of plural marriage, He would have grown the Rocky Mountains or placed eternal blizzards in the mountain passes or done whatever you can imagine to prevent the coming of armies and the fall of His people, His Church, and His temples. He parted the Red Sea, He placed a pillar of cloud before the children of Israel by day and a pillar of fire by night, He walked on water, and He calmed the storms. He could have done anything to make possible the Saints’ living His commandments.

Conclusion

But He did not. This time He chose to take the commandment from the earth. I do not understand everything related to the law of plural marriage. In fact, I understand very little about that law and it’s place in Church history. But I do know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know that each of his successors including Wilford Woodruff and Thomas S. Monson, who is the prophet today, were and are men of God who speak the mind and will of our Heavenly Father. Whether by the Lord’s voice or by the voice of His servants the prophets it is the same.

I echo the words of the prophet Alma and say that it, “may suffice if I only say,” that the commandments of God are given, “for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round” (Alma 37:12).

The Lord does what He needs to bless the lives of us, His children. His work and His glory is to bring to pass our eternal life (see Moses 1:39). He loves each one of us and hopes that each of us makes decisions to come unto Him through the atoning sacrifice of His Son and return to live with Them again. I am grateful for a Father in Heaven who loves me and cares about me enough to call prophets that I may know how to successfully navigate this world of changing and shifting values. I love the Lord and I know that He strengthens me in my efforts to keep his commandments.

Jeremy