Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pray Always That Ye May Endure It Well



I went to a rather large Catholic mass this past Easter, it was all in a foreign language and the congregation was very diverse, but there was a time when everyone repeated the Lord’s prayer in their respective languages. I have thought a lot about that experience since then, pondering the differences between that method of worship and the method in which we worship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve had a lot of experience with repeating prayers—that’s the only way the Ukrainian people pray also, if they pray at all. I believe the Lord answers all sincere prayers regardless of the method by which one prays, however, the problem with rote prayers is that repeating a “prayer” does not and cannot help us develop a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven any more than me reading and repeating this talk helps you and me become friends. “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, taught the Savior, “and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

How blessed are we to know the true meaning of prayer and the purposes prayer serves! Through prayer we do learn the thoughts in intents of God. “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” (BD-Prayer). By praying with real intent, having faith in Christ, we will come to know the truth of all things. As we focus more on our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ, our eternal perspective will become clearer. As we come unto Christ to be perfected in Him, as we take His yoke upon us to ease our burdens through His atonement, we come to know Him better. Prayer is the key to developing our relationship with God.

With that relationship comes the added strength to withstand the devil’s “mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind” (Helaman 5:12) and to deal with whatever the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon us in our quest to put off the natural man and be perfected in Him (see Mosiah 3:19).

I wish now to relate a story of the power of prayer in helping us adequately deal with trials in our lives as illustrated in the example of Alma the elder and his people.

The people of Alma lived in the city of Helam, a city built by their own hands after they fled their homes at the threat of death by the armies of their wicked king, King Noah. These people forsook their riches and “fun” lifestyle to risk their lives and follow Alma, and they endured much because of their newfound faith and renewed desire to follow Jesus Christ. In addition to beginning a completely new lifestyle, they lived in the wilderness and started a new civilization from scratch.

Then, as if that were not enough, Noah’s priests who had escaped punishment and death, kidnapped Lamanite girls, and then put in positions of leadership and power by the same Lamanites whose daughters they kidnapped, were given free reign over Alma and his people.

“And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.” (Mosiah 24:8).

Imagine what the people of Alma must’ve thought; they were in good standing with the Lord. They had prayed much and had developed personal relationships with their Father in Heaven and had already withstood many trials. They had a firm understanding of the plan of salvation and of the atonement of Jesus Christ. They forsook all they had to follow Christ, be baptized, and were striving to endure to the end. Why yet another trial? Why now?

How did the people of Alma react? They reacted in the best manner they knew how. They prayed. “And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God” (v. 10). They exercised their faith in the delivering power of Jesus Christ and His atonement once again. When Amulon heard their cries, “[he] commanded them that they should stop their cries; [putting] guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (v. 11).

But that did not stop Alma and his people, for they “did pour out their hearts to [God]” (v. 12). And the Lord “did know the thoughts of their hearts,” and spake unto them in the midst of their afflictions saying, “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage” (vv. 12-14).

The account continues, “and [Alma and his people] did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (v. 15). They prayed in faith, He answered, and although He did not straightway deliver them from their trials, they had the faith to be patient and endure their trials well, waiting on the Lord’s timing until He saw fit to deliver them.

“And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience” (v. 16) that the Lord did deliver them out of their trials and their afflictions and delivered them up to the land  of Zarahemla where “king Mosiah did also receive them with joy” (v. 25).

Then what did the people of Alma do? “They poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, . . . And they gave thanks to God, yea, . . . [they] lifted their voices in the praises of their God” (vv. 21-22).

Prayer, as best I understand, had a three-fold purpose in helping us not simply deal with trials, but deal with them in the best way that we come off conqueror and have “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23). First, prayer helps us develop our relationship with deity, that we more fully understand our divine heritage and know that this life is not the end, but a proving ground for much better things. The people of Alma had that eternal perspective, which led them to rely more fully on the Lord in the midst of their trials.

Second, prayer helps us know how to best deal with trials as we experience them. Prayer invites the Spirit of the Lord that we may be comforted and helps us know that our affliction in this life is but a small moment and, if we endure it well, God will exalt us on high (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). The people of Alma were comforted as they cried unto the Lord for help. They were blessed and their trials were lessened and eventually done away with.

And third, prayer is the manner in which we express our gratitude to the Lord for His help and love both during and after our trials. The people of Alma did not escape the bondage of the Lamanites and the wicked priest of King Noah and then forget what the Lord had done for them. They poured their souls out to him and “lifted their voices in praises of their God.”

In our day, no matter the trials we face, whether they are related to the stress of school, of choosing life’s path, dating, relationships, work, family, keeping the commandments, health, finances, prioritizing, etc., prayer is the key to helping us see His hand in our lives. We are able to better see the end from the beginning. Through prayer, our relationship with our Heavenly Father develops and then we trust Him as we pray in the midst of our trials. When our trials are over or we at least feel His influence in our lives, we naturally express our gratitude to Him for His help.

I know that our Heavenly Father answers our prayers. I know that He desires to talk to us and wants only for us to be happy. When we rely on Him and the saving, healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be successful in our journey through this life. We can conquer any trials and adversity that may come to us with His help.

Jeremy

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Converted to His Gospel through His Church

Quite some time has passed since I recommended an article of the week and it's a good thing I didn't name the series "weekly articles" or all two of you who read my blog would be disappointed. However, I'm back on the bandwagon and once again ready to share with you the words of the prophets that inspire me, that I hope the world hears, and that encourage me to stand a little taller and be a better disciple of Jesus Christ.

In our day as may have been the case in earlier times, I feel that a difference exists between the gospel of Jesus Christ and "church." Some believe in Christ yet don't feel that joining with a church is necessary; they may not see a need to worship outside the home, they may be critical of the weaknesses of those who run churches, they may not understand the difference between the multitude of different churches and cannot find one with which they feel a desire to unite, they may be simply wanting an excuse to do as they please on Sunday rather than attend a church, or a multitude of other reasons. Others attend church for traditional or social reasons or because attending church once or twice a year on holidays makes them feel better about themselves although they do not necessarily make decisions throughout the year to live the teachings of Him whom they worship on Christmas and Easter. Even some who attend church more regularly may not be living the gospel as taught by the Lord in their personal lives.

Whatever the reason people may be separating the gospel and church, the gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ are "exquisitely interconnected, and we need both." At the most recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom gave a talk entitled, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church," (Ensign, May 2012, 13). In his talk, Elder Hallstrom taught about the need for both the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church. Taught Elder Hallstrom:

"The gospel is the glorious plan of God in which we, as His children, are given the opportunity to receive all that the Father hath (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:38). This is called eternal life and is described as “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). A vital part of the plan is our earthly experience—a time to develop faith (see Moroni 7:26), to repent (see Mosiah 3:12), and to reconcile ourselves with God (see Jacob 4:11)."

The gospel of Jesus Christ, simply put, is His teachings and the associated blessings that are promised to all those who strive to follow His example. It is a way of life. Jesus Christ also established His Church as a means to help us live the gospel through fellowship of others and constant nourishment of the word of God. Simply believing in Jesus Christ or even reading the Bible from time to time are not enough. The gospel is active and requires work and effort on our part. Living the commandments, especially in our day, can be difficult and the Church offers support and guidance. More importantly, the Church is run by Jesus Christ through His chosen apostles and prophets, as in ancient days. "The purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel," continued Elder Hallstrom:

"The Church was established by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20). In this, “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18), the Lord restored what once was, specifically telling the Prophet Joseph Smith, “I will establish a church by your hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:7). Jesus Christ was and is the head of His Church, represented on earth by prophets holding apostolic authority."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's church established once again on the earth in our day. The apostolic authority--called the priesthood--enables us to make necessary covenants, or promises, with God through ordinances such as baptism (see John 3:5). Of keeping covenants, Elder Hallstrom said, "we need to establish the discipline to live faithful to our covenants, fully using the weekly gift of the sacrament." These covenants serve as additional strengths to withstand the adversary and, should we keep our covenants unto the end, qualify us for eternal life.

In the Church we also learn and deepen our understanding of Deity. "A sustained knowledge of and love for the three members of the Godhead are indispensable," taught Elder Hallstrom. As we come to know Them, we develop a greater understanding of our purpose on earth and of our divine heritage as sons and daughter of God.

Following Jesus Christ and striving to live His teachings through keeping His commandments and making and keeping covenants is the only way that we may have a fulness of happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. "The Lord wants the members of His Church to be fully converted to His gospel. This is the only sure way to have spiritual safety now and happiness forever."

The gospel of Jesus Christ truly is the plan of happiness given to us from a loving Father in Heaven. The gospel is taught in its fulness only in His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only in His Church is the authority of the priesthood to perform saving ordinances and make covenants found. I am so grateful for a Heavenly Father who loves me enough to provide me with a way to return to Him through the sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son.

Jeremy

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Temples and Churches: Easter at Notre Dame



This past Easter I had the awesome opportunity to go to Easter services at Notre Dame. The one in Paris, France. I know right, be jealous, it was really cool. What an experience! It’s one of those things that’s not even on a bucket list because who’d’ve thought right? I’ve been blessed with some really great experiences and I’m super grateful to those wonderful people in my life who enable me to have these experiences.
 
If you ever read my blog (shout out to all two of you: thanks Grandma and mom!) then perhaps you’ll remember that I went to Easter services at a Lutheran cathedral a few years ago. I also went to a Russian Orthodox temple on Easter one year on my mission. And next year plans are in the works to go to the Vatican…

Each of these experiences has caused me to think a lot about why I do what I do in relation to how I worship God. I see other people and how they worship, sometimes in ways similar to mine, and sometimes in ways much different.

I realize that Notre Dame on Easter is probably not the best example of a common Catholic mass, considering the vast majority of people present, myself included, were tourists visiting Notre Dame on Easter as a tourist-y thing to do rather than because we all just happened to be in Paris on Easter Sunday and Notre Dame happened to be the closest church in which we could fulfill our overwhelming desires to worship Jesus Christ and remember His atonement and resurrection. Please know, I do not make light of those present who had pure intentions. I imagine that for a lot of people, attending Easter mass in Notre Dame is special, an event more meaningful than simply a bucket list item waiting to be checked off.

I do wonder, however, if perhaps the priests or the cardinal are saddened by how much of a tourist attraction Easter mass in Notre Dame has become. As I stood in line waiting to get in, many people were crowding the front, cutting lines, and once the doors opened there was a surge to the gate with complete disregard for anyone or any sort of semblance of a line or respect for those who had been waiting the longest. As the previous mass ended, the priests and cardinal exited the building in apparent ceremony to walk with their staffs and incense around to a back door. They had to almost push through the throngs of people waiting outside and I wonder if that, in a way, undermines or lessens the sacredness of the event. Perhaps seeing that many people makes the clergy happy, perhaps they like it or at the very least they don’t care. But I wonder because to me, the whole thing felt like much more of a 5am black Friday BestBuy opening or a concert than a worship service in which everyone was coming together to show their love and gratitude to the Savior for His great atoning sacrifice.

As I stood outside Notre Dame waiting to get in, and after we got in and I stood there observing all the other people present, some with cameras despite the signs that asked for no cameras, I thought about the temples we have in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and about how the Lord does not allow just anyone to waltz in to the temple whenever. People sometimes get hung up on the fact that not everyone is allowed to go in to a Mormon temple. Unrelated to what I wish to discuss today, I think that mentality is funny because I feel a lot of people only care because they’re “not allowed” rather than because they have some genuine desire to know how Mormons worship. How many of those people have ever gone to a Mormon church? Those are open to whomever. And a lot easier to find. No, I think most people only care because they think they’re not allowed.

Anyways, seeing the throngs of people at Notre Dame, I thought a lot about the temple and why it is that the Lord regulates who enters His holy temples. The temple is not a tourist attraction. It is not open to the public nor is it even open to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That being said, all who truly desire to attend the temple are welcome. The Lord is no respecter of persons and calls all, yea, “every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

If you want to enter the temple, you must be prepared. The temple is “a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119). The temple is open to anyone who lives according to the standards the Lord has set. Want to go to the temple? Great. Follow the Lord’s prescribed steps and go. Nothing would make the Lord happier than to have all His children make and keep temple covenants; He simply wants us to be adequately prepared when we enter His house.

The temple is not a place for cameras, bucket-lists, idle curiosity, or social media. You don’t attend the temple simply to “go see.” Everything in the temple is deeply symbolic and requires repeated visits and a lifetime of learning. If you simply went to check it out, nothing would make sense and it would be a waste. The temple is not a place for “light speeches” and “light-mindedness” and God will not be mocked (Doctrine and Covenants 88:121).

The temple is a place where the saints of God go frequently to help in His work for the salvation of His children.1 In the temple we learn more about our divine heritage as sons and daughters of God, and we make additional sacred covenants with our Heavenly Father to assist us in our quest for eternal life. A covenant is a promise between you and God; baptism is a covenant, and in the temple we make more covenants, covenants of obedience, chastity, etc., and covenants to our spouse when we are married in the temple.2 These covenants are essential for salvation and exaltation.3 Breaking any promise is a strike against one’s character, but breaking a promise with God is most serious. Only those who are prepared and willing to live up to their covenants should go to the temple.4

Inscribed on each temple are the words:
Holiness to the Lord
The House of the Lord
Therefore, what goes on inside the temple is very serious yet very wonderful. Those who are properly prepared and attend the temple with the right attitude and proper motive receive an added measure of strength from the Lord to better deal with the daily stresses and trials of life. When I go to the temple, I love that I can leave all of my troubles and worldly cares at the door and enjoy a peace and serenity available only in a place where God’s Spirit can dwell unhindered by the noise of the world. When I leave the temple, my troubles and cares still exist but I feel more optimistic and better prepared to deal with everything. I love going to the temple.

Since temples are not secret places but sacred places, those who do not desire to make temple-related covenants with God may still tour the inside of newly-completed temples before they are dedicated by a prophet to the Lord. These events are called “open houses” and occur each time a temple is built or renovated. Of course these open houses are few and far between as temples themselves are few and far between, but if you ever get an opportunity to attend a temple open house, you should definitely go. The Kansas City temple open house just ended but a current list of open houses can be found here.

Once again, the temple is the house of God, it is not a place to go take pictures to be posted to facebook. (The outside of the temple and the grounds are; visit as often as you want and take all the pictures you want.) Nor is the temple the best place to go to find out about the Mormon Church.5 If you wish to know about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what we believe, and how we worship, visit a church building, and/or find a member of the Church. It is in church buildings where we worship on Sunday, partake of the sacrament, go to Sunday school, and hold other activities throughout the week. Go to a Mormon church, wear jeans, still please don’t take pictures, at least during worship service, but if it’s a Mormon meeting you want, go to a church building; the temple isn’t where any of that takes place anyways. Want to go to a Mormon service on Easter? The church is the place for that too; temples aren’t even open on Sundays.

And if you want a “big” Mormon meeting, one that only happens twice a year, sometimes even on Easter, one that you have to travel to, and one at which the living prophet and apostles are present, go to General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The first weekend in April and the first weekend in October each year, the Church holds General Conference—the biggest meeting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. General Conference takes place in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which seats 21,000 in the audience and all the prominent leaders of the Church are present. The event even comes complete with protesters, some of which dress up as Satan; it’s a party.

My little brother and his wife on their wedding day.
I conclude with the simple yet beautiful words of the children’s hymn, “I Love To See the Temple” by Janice Kapp Perry:

1. I love to see the temple.
I’m going there someday
To feel the Holy Spirit,
To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God,
A place of love and beauty.
I’ll prepare myself while I am young;
This is my sacred duty.

2. I love to see the temple.
I’ll go inside someday.
I’ll cov’nant with my Father;
I’ll promise to obey.
For the temple is a holy place
Where we are sealed together.
As a child of God, I’ve learned this truth:
A fam’ly is forever.

The temple truly is the house of God. I am grateful that my Father in Heaven loves me enough and cares about me enough to give me temples and allow me to make sacred covenants with Him within the walls of His holy houses. I know the covenants I have made and will make with the Lord in the temple will enable me to return to live with Him and with my family forever and that knowledge brings me great happiness. The temple is truly a place of love and beauty. Come and see for yourself.

Jeremy

Notes
  1. See Moses 1:39
  2. For more on what happens inside the temple, see "Inside the Temple" on the LDS.org website.
  3. To read more about salvation and exaltation, read Elder Russell M. Nelson’s “Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, May 2008.
  4. In addition to making our own covenants with the Lord, we attend the temple to make covenants vicariously for our ancestors who died without the opportunity to do so themselves. Of course, this in no way forces those who have deceased into the Mormon religion, but gives those who did not have a chance to learn about or make those saving covenants and ordinances a chance to accept if they so choose. If not, then the work we did here for them counts for nothing, but since God is just, all get an opportunity to accept His gospel, whether in this life or the next.
  5. Some temples have visitors’ centers which are open to the public and are wonderful places to find out about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a list of visitors’ centers across the globe, see the Church’s visitor’s centers website.

See also