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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why Follow the God's Prophets? Downfalls of Rejecting their Counsel and Benefits of Following it.

*Edit*: Some links have been added after this article was published.  There is also a 2016 afterthought at the end that I believe is crucial to the spirit of this article.

One of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon is in Mosiah chapter 2 where King Benjamin spends 5 verses going over the consequences of sin but then ends the chapter by emphasizing the importance of focusing more on the good effects of obedience to God, with faith in Christ and acting on that.

He was such a fantastic example of how to teach the gospel effectively, so that is the approach I will take on this post.  First, the warnings and consequences of sin.

I'll start with the examples we see in the world today of those who live unchaste lives.  I think it's safe to say that everyone in the modern world have, at some point, either participated in, been directly or indirectly exposed to or felt the effects of immoral thinking, habits and behavior.  God has revealed, through ancient and modern prophets that sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage between a man and woman, including with ourselves, is sinful.  Tons of studies, like these, these, this and these, and real life examples and testimonies, such as this, this, this and this, are undeniably clear examples of the damaging effects of sexual impurity.

As The Family: A Proclamation to the World, a statement made by modern prophets and apostles, says, "WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

Look at examples of that in emotional trauma here and here, oppresions of free thought, child abuse here and here, unjust religious persecution here, here, here and here, and domestic abuse, and that's not even the tip of the iceberg.  I could post 100 examples or more of each of those in just the last few years!  This all could have been avoided if people had been following prophetic counsel given over 4000 years ago!!

Another thing worth mentioning is what is quickly becoming an epidemic of murder.  Yes, as sensitive as this subject is for many people, abortion needs to be mentioned.  No matter how you slice it, taking a life, whether that life is unborn and 1 day old or 100 years old, taking it is killing.  This and this are just two of many examples of the damage murder does to the victim and anyone who condones it.  Yet another thing warned against over 4000 years ago!!

I understand there can be exceptions to decisions like this based on individual circumstance and decisions are sometimes made to save lives when both mother and baby are in jeopardy. However, those circumstances are so few and far between, unique and are properly made after so much fasting and prayer and consulting with priesthood leadership that I'm not going to give attention to those situations in this entry.  The bottom line is don't kill "nor do anything like unto it."

Next I'll address the Word of Wisdom, a code of health that the Lord revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith over 180 years ago!  This was at a time when the true dangers of alcohol consumption, drug abuse, coffee and tea, and a plethora of other substance addictions was, likely, universally almost unknown or misunderstood by mankind as a whole.  The Lord knew what problems would come up, He revealed them through a prophet, and the world took too longer to figure out the truth of that beautiful revelation and now, for literally BILLIONS around the world, it's too late.  They are already ensnared in or are having their lives torn down from these things we were warned against, over 180 years ago!

Now we have rampant problems of emotionally and socially destructive addictions to caffeine to energy drinks, alcohol, and tobacco and problems like these regarding tattoos, which is another sign of disrespect to our bodies, and honestly, a just plain bad idea (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and modern prophets counsel).

Also, I know the growing controversy vaccines have become and we have even received prophetic counsel regarding that.  God has told us, through prophets, to immunize/vaccinate ourselves and our children against diseases.  This counsel was reemphasized recently.  It saddens me to think that this would even be an issue among active members of the Lord's church.  To be perfectly honest and candid, it's absolutely sickening!  Look what's happening because of rejection of this counsel, whether by members of the Lord's church or otherwise.

Okay. Now, on to other issues.  Money.  Many have said that money is the root of all evil, but it's not.  Even the love of money is not the root of evil.  The love of money over and/or instead of the important things in life is evil.  Our loving God, our Father in Heaven has also counselled us through prophets to "not to run into debt", "[b]uild up savings", "get out of debt" if we must take some on and then "stay out of debt", that "...debt is a form of bondage. It is a financial termite. When we make purchases on credit, they give us only an illusion of prosperity. We think we own things, but the reality is, our things own us."

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "Some debt—such as for a modest home, expenses for education, perhaps for a needed first car—may be necessary. But never should we enter into financial bondage through consumer debt without carefully weighing the costs", and I'll emphasize, as well, interest.  President J. Reuben Clark said "Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation. … Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you."  Still think debt and credit cards are no big deal?  Just take a look at this; and all this loving advice from God was given to us through His servants well over 100 years go!  Are you seeing a pattern here?

Another thing the Lord asks of us, is to learn the value of sacrifice through our tithes and fast offerings.  Granted, this one may take a bit more than mortal reasoning and some faith is necessary to truly get the full benefit of this principle.  I know, however, from experiences of my own and of others, that this principle is inspired of God.  He truly does give us more than we need as we obey this principle of sacrifice.  Remember that the Lord doesn't need money to run His church or bless His children.  It's us who need to learn the true value of self sacrifice for the good of others, especially in areas where it may be hardest.  My wife and I have been blessed by God with so many good friends who have given us things we would otherwise never be able to afford, and it's been because of our obedience to that law.

Oh, and gambling.  It's stupid, it's pointless, it's too risky, and you can read any of these - link1, link2, link3, link4 - to see non religious evidences and this for religious reasons to completely stay away from it.

As you can tell, I've already provided links to MANY evidences of the downfalls of rejecting God's loving guidance, as our Father, through His servants the prophets, but I have more; and honestly, it took me hardly any time at all to find each source.  That's kind of an obvious sign, in and of itself, that these heavenly warnings need to be heeded.  The next topic I want to address is so extremely, overwhelmingly poignant that it's nearly impossible to ignore.

Emergency Preparedness

Here is a general overview of climate and disaster patterns in the last 62 years.  I'll throw in a few sources, here and here, for an indication that disasters are, generally speaking, becoming and will continue to become more and more frequent.  I'm not just talking about just natural disasters either, but political, economic and others as well.  God knows the future, He is not bound by time and, therefore, reveals to His prophets how to make sure all our needs are met, temporally and spirituallybefore, during and after disasters of any kind.  It is common sense that any time there is wide spread threats or damage in any way to society, a state of complete anarchy is likely to accompany it somewhere.  We need to be ready for either and both.  All other warnings I have mentioned so far, if heeded, will help us stay prepared.

Whether it be spiritual, emotional, physical, financial, academic or social preparedness, the evidence of the need of it is reasonably undisputable. Just Google "Ferguson, Missouri" or "The Great Depression".  Heck, you could even Google something as broad as "panic before storm" and come up with story after story of the panic and, many times, complete anarchy that happens right before, during or after catastrophes of any kind.  When people are not prepared they panic and often resort to some pretty stupid and destructive behavior in a last ditch attempt to survive.  We MUST be prepared, in all ways possible, for this eventual certainty.  The world isn't getting any less wicked.

The last warning I will mention actually ties into the benefits and blessings of following the Savior as outlined by prophets.  Contention.  The Redeemer of us all, said, in no uncertain terms "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another."

No matter how you slice it, anger and contention is a choice, period.  As Elder Lynn G. Robbins said, "“He made me mad.” This is another phrase we hear, also implying lack of control or agency. This is a myth that must be debunked. No one makes us mad. Others don’t make us angry. There is no force involved. Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!"  I didn't see any "unless someone hurts you really bad" or "except in situations where the pain is too much to bear" or "unless someone bullies me or directs a malicious personal attack at me."  Please don't misunderstand, though.  Obviously, I'm not perfect.  None of us are, but when we blame others for our own choices regarding what feelings we entertain, we are swimming in dangerous waters.

_______________________________________________________________________________

As for the bright side of this, refer to what the Savior said about peacemakers in the sermon on the mount.  Being an example of kindness and peace is how the Savior spent His whole life and it's still the way He is now.  As Nephi said "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world."

Here are some other habits that will ultimately bring us lasting peace, happiness, and eternity in the presence of God with our families.  I will mention subjects that have the most meaning to me. Feel free to read which ever of these you want to.

1. Scripture Study
2. Prayer
3. Preserving life (this one I have likened to a beautiful example of faith in the face of terrifying cirumstances).
4. Temples and the home
5. Tithing
6. Forgiveness
7. Faith in Christ and His Atonement
8. Faith in God
9. Chastity
10. Righteous Priesthood Leadership
11. Honesty
12. Church Attendance
13. Education
14. Service
15. Repentance
16. Family Home Evening

*EDIT* (Jan 2016) I know there are tons of major issues for good and bad that have happened since this entry was published and there are a few things that I needed to add to this before I shared it again this month.

ISIS, the Oregon Armed Occupation, Syrian Refugees, the excommunication of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, SCOTUS' decision about gay marriage, or any other issue where the God's prophets have responded to public issues have always shown a consistent pattern in how God's prophets and members of His church react. I have noticed that every time a issues like these come up, there is a good chunk of church members, however big or small, that passionately takes a stance in opposition to the one the first presidency releases via Mormon Newsroom.  I love how they handle it every time.  They are never influenced by popular views of church members who are outspoken on social media.  They promote peace, denounce contention and violence and adamantly but respectfully reaffirm the Lord's standards, encouraging the saints to follow suit, even and especially when large groups are passionately in opposition to such.

If you have read to this point, whether or not you have opinions, voiced or not, that disagree with  from God's prophets, I offer this encouragement.  As illogical and confusing as counsel and encouragement they give may seem to many, please remember this, from The Infinite Atonement: "The Lord's soul-cry, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' [] Was not a rhetorical question.  It was the earnest pleading of a divine being, who, under intense pain, sought answers and comfort in his hour of need.  There comes a time in each man's life, regardless of his intellectual acumen, when he must rely on faith and faith alone.  Abraham experienced it as he drew his knife from the sheath on Mr. Moriah; Moses felt it as he marched toward the Red Sea.  In each case there was no apparent solution at hand other than to simply obey; all the options of mortal reasoning had been exhausted.  There was only faith to cling to, faith in its purest form."

Sometimes we will not agree with or understand what prophets say, but regardless of human logic, the Lord's way given through them is always the best way.  So my invitation to all is to pray and strive in faith for your views and your heart to align with the counsel of our prophets and, thus, the Lord.
*end EDIT*

Prophets relay to us what God and His Son have asked us to do to make use of the Atonement of Christ.  When we obey, we are blessed for Christ's sake and the blessings will ALWAYS outweigh the costs.  When we do not, there is absolutely NO guarantee.  I know which way I face.  Will you join me?

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Power of One

In the gospel of Luke it mentions "mens hearts failing them..." (Luke 21:26)

This happens all the time today, all over the world.  Climate changes are getting more and more frequent and severe.  Social and political strife abounds all around the globe.  Economic and emotional hardship are greater in our time than they ever were before.  For many, these are huge contributing factors to familial struggle and self-esteem.  Many people feel so overcome with the troubles of their circumstances that their sense of self worth is heavily diminished and injured to the point of total abandonment of hope.

Although these types of problems are probably more prevalent today than at any other time in world history, the purpose of this post is to illustrate the truth to the world of the capability of the souls of all men, to show to the reader, as the title says "The Power of One."

I think it appropriate to start with the words of the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. "All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not."  The adversary is hard at work.  He has not been temporarily kept from his memory of the eternities past and he knows us, our individual purposes, our hopes and dreams and our weaknesses.  However, as Joseph Smith mentioned, we have power over him.  He is not capable of dragging us down to his level unless we let him.  God put in each of us the ability to overcome evil with the power of choice, to improve, to learn, to do good, to grow and be infinitely happy as we follow the example of Christ.

Another thing to consider are the words of a young woman who once told Sherri Dew "I’ll bet when you get up every morning the devil says to himself, ‘Oh no! She’s awake again!’."  I can guarantee you that every time we reach out for help from God, every time we serve, study the scriptures, pray, attend the temple, be a peace maker in the home, give selfless service, invite others to come unto Christ, encourage obedience, pay our tithing, exercise faith and probably a million other things like that, we gain more control over ourselves.  Our spirits, which is the real us, gains more control over our bodies and his control becomes less and less until it is snuffed out completely.

This is not just an ideal that can be reached by a select few.  ANYONE can reach that level of faith, power and freedom.  It's inherent in us.  God is already there and since we are His children, and, as President Uchtdorf put it, it "is not a distinction you earned or you will ever lose", we have inherent potential in each of us to crush the adversary's head and change our circumstances and our perception of them for the better no matter what they are.  Seeking to become like Christ makes this much easier than by any other means.  For more on this matter, read this.

I'll point out a few examples of the true Power of One.

One of them is the author of the Christmas hymn Silent Night, Joseph Mohr.  He had been assigned in 1818 as the new assistant priest in Obendorf, a small village in Austria.  He was truly a christian man who had no problem accepting some shifting ideas and values about what worship should be, which ideas and values opposed corrupted traditions of the time.  The head priest of the village, Father Nöstler had sharply reprimanded him for not sticking to the current traditions of the time and Mohr faced severe disciplinary actions when he sought to include outcasts in the church choir.  On Christmas Eve, he had to make a decision to either accept defeat of his efforts or embrace the true Spirit of Christmas and put together the choir, singing in German instead of Latin.

He spreads word throughout the town that there will be a Christmas Eve midnight mass.  He planned to have the choir accompany him as he played guitar and he and the organist sung Silent Night, putting it together with the help of the church organist and invited Father Nöstler.  It ended up being such a spiritually edifying experience that the fame of "Silent Night", as it is today, is sung in more than 140 languages all around the world.  Mohr passed away in 1848 as a poor country priest, unaware of the world wide success and impact of that beautiful Christmas Hymn.

This is another example from a talk by President Faust.

"Many years ago an elder who served a mission in the British Isles said at the end of his labors, “I think my mission has been a failure. I have labored all my days as a missionary here and I have only baptized one dirty little Irish kid. That is all I baptized.”

Years later, after his return to his home in Montana, he had a visitor come to his home who asked, “Are you the elder who served a mission in the British Isles in 1873?”

“Yes.”

Then the man went on, “And do you remember having said that you thought your mission was a failure because you had only baptized one dirty little Irish kid?”

He said, “Yes.”

The visitor put out his hand and said, “I would like to shake hands with you. My name is Charles A. Callis, of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am that dirty little Irish kid that you baptized on your mission.”"

There are too many other examples to list them all here, but feel the need to list at least two more.  One of them is Abinadi in the Book of Mormon.

For those who don't know the story, Abinadi was a prophet who was sent to call a very wicked kingdom to repentance.  They were, as the scriptures say, so far gone with willful mockery of the Lord that they were ripe for destruction unless they repented.  He was, of course, taken, bound and put before King Noah and his wicked priests as they tried to question him and manipulate him to say something that they could use to convict him and put him to death.  He withstood their questions with the power of God.  When they got so angry with him that they tried to put him away in the middle of his message, He was filled with power of God and glowed with a heavenly light that caused them to shrink back in fear.  Although he did finish his message, they accused him for testifying that "God himself should come down among the children of men."  He would not deny his word and was put to death.

One of those priests, Alma, believed the words of Abinadi, repented of his evil ways, wrote down everything that Abinadi had said and preached his words in secret.  Alma ended up becoming a powerful force for good as well as the leader of the Nephite people both religiously and politically.  He was an incredible influence for good, leading the church and the people as a whole in love.  He also was given charge of the record of their civilization and the scriptures and made sure they continued to be passed down through the generations until Moroni sealed up the record that Joseph Smith found and translated into the Book of Mormon.  So, in all truth, if it wasn't for Abinadi's efforts, we likely would not even have this sacred, powerful, indispensable witness of Christ and His loving guidance and counsel to us in the latter-days.

Of course, the most supreme example is, obviously, our loving Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  This is made especially significant in this statement by the prophet Howard W. Hunter, "We should take strength for this battle from the fact that Christ was victorious not as a God but as a man."  Christ came to earth, as a God, experienced life as we do and overcame the same temptations, weaknesses, hurt, and was victorious over them from our standpoint.  How else could He have perfect mercy on us if He hadn't?  Because he understands all of our weaknesses, sins and pains first hand, because of His perfect example, because of His loving, willing, infinite, pure, all encompassing sacrifice for us, He can be our eternal judge and save us from both physical and spiritual death.  He was one Man, but His life, mission and obedience to His and our Father means, salvation, and, therefore, eternal life and happiness to all who follow and cling to Him with all their heart, might, mind and strength.

Think you aren't worth much?  Think you can't do anything worthwhile?  Think that you are just someone of little to no consequence in the world?

Think again.  You may not know the all the little minute details of all the lives you have influenced for good, even in the smallest and seemingly most fleeting ways, but trust me.  Even one missing thread on a tapestry makes the whole thing incomplete.  Every last one of us has infinite value and infinite potential simply because of what we have inherited from divine parents.

Never underestimate the power of one, especially yourself.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jesus Christ = Charity

I did think for a while about making this last in my series of five entries about the Savior centered on mercy, but the topic I chose, as well as the entry on rescue, includes both mercy and justice. So for this final entry in the series

Jesus Christ = Charity.

This subject is, to quote Jack R. Christiansen put it, "so vast, so wonderful, so great, so deep, so glorious, so far beyond me..." that I am going to need help addressing it, so I will be going about this in the most prayerful manner I can.  Charity - by scriptural definition, the pure love of Christ - is a subject so all-encompassing, infinite, powerful and, in it fullness, beyond our comprehension that it's no wonder Moses said "mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him."

Christ possess, as the scriptures define Charity, "The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love..."  It is infinite in capacity, power, purity and, therefore, the phrase "love makes the world go 'round" is, in every sense of the word, completely true.  The reason the elements of the universe obey God and His Only Begotten Son is because of the love they possess for everything they create, including and especially us.  Nephi brilliantly illustrates this with the following testimony of Christ, "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation."

His love for us is even manifest in our trials and difficulties.  My dad once put it this way to me.  He told me that God trust us with our trials.  Yes, in our weakened, fallen, impossibly helpless condition as mortals, He trusts us with our trials.  Why?  Well, considering that God's comprehension and understanding of each of us and our lives is perfect, I believe that He actually tailors our trials to match our personalities, circumstances, talents and even our weaknesses and character flaws.  How else could everything He does be "for the benefit of the world"?

I love the scene in Evan Almighty where "God" says to Evan's wife "If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?  If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous?  If someone prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"  The answer to each of these, I think, is obvious.  He gives us chances, as many as we need, to change and become more like His Son, our perfect, loving example.

In an earlier entry, I don't remember which, I outlined how essential agency is, how important it is that our choices be completely and totally our own, with just the right amount of influence from all sides of any choice we have to make.  I'm glad that Heavenly Father and His Son have the love, understanding and foresight to engineer our lives so that we have the opportunity to make the choice to either follow the Savior's example or not.  Because of Christ, it is the choice to follow Him and come to know Him, if made purely by our own free will, that will change us to become like Him and, therefore, result in eternal life with our Father and a fullness of joy in this life and the next.

This is yet another way that Christ shows His love for us, by respecting us enough to allow us to make our own choices, even if those choices hurt us or others.  That's why He suffered for our sins, our hurt, our heartache, our weaknesses and all other negative factors of mortality, yet another sign of His love for us.

Of course, I might just be able to go on forever talking about the ways Christ shows His and God's love for us.  Everything from modern prophets, scriptures, priesthood, and the Holy Ghost, to missionaries, temples, revelation, sacrament, families, and the Atonement of Christ.

I was at a dentist appointment this afternoon and the hygienist and I got into a short conversation about music and piano.  I mentioned that any other instrument is easier to learn after learning piano than it would be otherwise because the theory of piano is inclusive of the general theory of every other instrument.  I make this observation because it relates to a quote by President Monson in April of 2014, "...love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love."

Charity, the pure love of Christ, encompasses every other virtue, gospel principle and truth in all of life and eternity, including rescue, power, potential and victory.  No wonder Moroni said "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." Paul echoes Moroni's message with his own, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

To finalize why I chose charity, and to emphasize as much as possible what Jesus Christ means to me in this last of five entries in this series, I suggest to the reader the motto below, especially the third part of it.

Obedience is the price,
Faith is the power,
Love is the motive,
The Spirit is the key,
Christ is the reason.

This entry emphasizes the third line in that, that in order to feel the Christ's love, see His hand, understand His gospel, know Him, and become like him, "[w]e need to choose to change our desires to be the same as His".

So if there's one thing that Jesus Christ means to me that really does encompass everything else that He is to me, it's Charity, His pure, celestial, total, flawless, perfect, complete, just, merciful, intimate, constant, unfailing, personal, profuse, unlimited, unhesitant, untainted, all-powerful, eternal, parental, Godly love (I'm sure there are other adjectives I missed there).  God's plan for us, centered on Jesus Christ, works because of love, because of this charity.  I know that is the way He feels about us.  He always has and He always will.

I bear my witness of this, charging the angels of God in Heaven to bear record that all who read this may have it indisputably clear in their minds that I bore witness to them of these truths and I do it in the name of Jesus Christ amen.