Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Can We Come to Know the Truth

(Observations taken from Luke 17:11-19) 

What Happened?

  1. They recognized their need to be healed
  2. They recognized the Lord, who He was and what He could do for them
  3. They pleaded the mercy of the Lord .
  4. Christ commanded them to show themselves unto the priests
  5. They went as Jesus commanded
  6. As they went they were healed
  7. One saw that he was cleansed
  8. He turned back
  9. He glorified God/ Gave Him thanks
  10. And Jesus said “Arise, go thy way"

  1. We must recognize our need for the truth (D & C  123:12)
  2. We must accept that we cannot do it without Christ.  (2 Nephi 31:21)
  3. We must understand that we are infinitely loved by an eternal being (Psalms 8:4-5)
  4. What we want will not be handed to us. We must act.  (2 Nephi 25:23)
  5. The way is marked before us. We must seek out that way and follow it. (Matthew 7:14)
  6. In the process we will often obtain our answers and see the miracles. (D & C 123:17)
  7. We must recognize the answers when they come (D & C 8:4)
  8. We must always return again and again to He who has healed us. (Mosiah 4:9)
  9. We should always praise Him and give for the answers we have received. (D & C 59:21)
  10. Once we have our answer, we should “go our way” be an example, and endure to the end. (2 Nephi 31:20)

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Mission, My Zion

As many of you may or may not know I just returned from serving an 18 month mission to Panama. As a post to kind of jump start my blog I thought I would share the talk which relates some of my mission experiences. Enjoy! More blog posts to come in the future. Its good to be back.
The word in Spanish for mission is ‘mision’. When split in two one ends up with two words ‘mi’ and ‘sion’. Translated into English this literally means: my Zion. As missionaries we invite others to come unto Christ. To come to know their Redeemer through the learning and applying of His restored Gospel. We then invite them to follow His example, just as He extended the invitation over two thousand years ago “Follow thou me.” I spent the past eighteen months in Panama, with the hope of bringing but “one soul unto Christ” When I left I did not know what to expect. But as I helped others come to know their Savior, their Redeemer and their Older Brother… as they came to find their Zion… it was in their journey that my mission became my Zion and what I learned from each and every one of them I wish to share with you today. With their examples of today and scriptural examples of yesterday I hope my message will encourage each of us to be better, to walk straighter; to keep our eyes always focused on those things of eternity.  May the Holy Ghost aid and guide me as I speak with all of you this morning.

We read in the scriptures often of the importance of persevering. In 2 Nephi 31:20 we learn “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” The Apostle Peter for me has always been this great example of perseverance. We see his love and devotion to our Lord and Savior numerous times during His earthly ministry. But perhaps the greatest was first the agony of his denial, followed soon after by his acceptance to lead the Lords primitive church after His ascension into heaven. We are all familiar with the story. The night before the Lord’s crucifixion He prophesied that before the cock crowed, Peter would deny Him three times. It is my personal belief that in this moment Peter felt assured that such a thing would never occur. But just as the Lamb of God predicted, before the cock crowed, Peter denied Him three times. In Luke’s moving account of this experience, we read that Peter when the Lord looked upon Him “remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept.”

I personally think it could have been very easy for Peter to leave and never return. Shame, embarrassment, or guilt could have motivated him to separate himself. But he was the one who had known who Christ was. He was the one who had stepped out of the boat, and walked onto the water to the Master. Later, he was the one to whom the Lord directed His admonition to “feed my sheep.”  He never gave up, and no matter what we have done, neither should we. Moments of discouragement, hardship and frustration may come. But we must never let these things overtake us. If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We must keep going, keep persevering until the end. Like the first convert of my mission. 

When my companion and I met Jesus Martin he was on the street selling empanadas. We had wandered around all afternoon searching for an investigator, following an address that seemed to have never existed. A problem all too common unfortunately. When we found Jesus he asked if we had a book. We gave to him and explained briefly the Book of Mormon. We would not see him for another month. We did finally make it to his home, following a prompting of the spirit; it was not long before he expressed the sincere desire to be baptized. Yet he related to us that he had done far too many things. He struggled with problems of the word of wisdom and the law of chastity. But we looked at him and asked him if he truly desired to be baptized, to be clean. His words, reminded me all too well of the words of Peter as Christ washed His apostles feet. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head” (John 13:9) and I saw that in Jesus’ eyes as he begged us to help him become clean. Up until the day of his baptism he struggled. But he was cleansed, through baptism by water and the spirit. Jesus has already left this life, but the Sunday before he died, he blessed the sacrament, exercising the priesthood keys that he held. His was a life of perseverance, and though he never held any high position in the church. He offered his whole soul as an offering unto God (Omni 1:26)

Just as we must persevere through our struggles, a great source of strength can be found in prayer. The admonition to “pray always” or pray without ceasing is found at least 50 times in the Bible alone.  The church, as we know was restored once again upon the earth because a fourteen year old boy entered a grove of trees and asked our Heavenly Father in prayer a simple question. God has always encouraged communication with him. On my mission I had many opportunities to see answers to prayers; but perhaps the greatest, was when a twenty one year old boy named Michael, just like the first prophet of this dispensation, asked to know the truth.

I had just been transferred to my second area. Michael lived with his grandma, mother, and younger brother behind our apartment building. This particular evening we had taught him about the Word of Wisdom and invited him to be baptized. The simplest way to put it, he was a wreck. He shed tears as he admitted that he was a man of little faith, that he did not know if the church was true and he was not sure how he could ever know. As we taught him an all too familiar scripture came to mind “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”  So we invited Michael to give the closing prayer in that moment. We all got down on our knees and Michael began to pray. With all the fervency of a lost soul looking for the way to go he pleaded to our God and our Father. He asked him, in much the same way I am sure Joseph did almost two hundred years ago, to know what he should do. Then he asked God to send him a sign, to show him, somehow, if he should be baptized into this church.  And the scriptures read concerning signs: “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe. Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God. (Doctrine and Covenants 63: 9-10). I knew that Michael believed. I begged God, in my heart in that moment, that He would reach forth His hand and work a miracle.

All too soon, the prayer ended. But no one moved. All that could be heard was Michael sobbing and all that could be felt was the Spirit, so strong physical warmth enveloped the room and all present. We asked Michael what had happened, what he had felt but he continued to cry. His grandmother also began to implore and he finally spoke. He told us that when he had asked God to know what to do he had felt a man beside him. When he had pleaded to know if he should be baptized on the date we had challenged him and had asked for a side, the unseen man had reached out and touched his arm.

I do not know what happened to Michael. I believe that if he has not already he will one day be baptized. Michael was an example to me about the power of faith and prayer. God knows what we need before we ask it, but He implores that we ask, that we might build our faith. We must pray always. We cannot miss even one morning or one night if we do not want the adversary to treat us like “waves upon the sea, driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6) Pray always. I you have been lacking start today. I can testify that it is strength, a necessity, like water in an arid desert; it is water to our souls, in this arid and fallen world.

Seeing God answers prayers throughout my mission taught me that God is merciful. The story of Paul, once Saul which we find in the New Testament also bear testimony to my heart of the love and compassion of our Father and His Son. Many of you are familiar with the conversion of Saul to Paul. He was a Pharisee who “made havoc for the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison (Acts 8:3). Saul was bent on destroying the church, even as he travels on the infamous road to Damascus we read that he is “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) and then we know, that as Saul journeys on this road, the Savior appears to him beseeching “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” And thus Saul was converted to Paul and became one of the greatest missionaries of the primitive church. “And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God (Mosiah 27:26)

Thirty five year old Jaime was Saul. Jaime persecuted members of the church whenever they had the misfortune to cross his path.  Leaders came to his home to do family home evenings with his wife and kids who were faithful active members. They desired to learn. He desired to argue. He had a book of our doctrine, with biblical scriptures that disproved every single point. With that as his weapon, he went around destroying the spiritual morale of his family. He kept them from going to the temple. They wept, he was glad. This modern day Saul continued, until he began his own journey down his own personal road to Damascus.  First, he decided to go to church with his wife. But he felt nothing. He was moved by a lesson on the Book of Mormon, but still he felt no inclination to change. Then, one night, after years... seven to be exact, of praying to know what he should do, he had a dream.

“In my dream” he told us, “I was a spectator as I watched a couple walking through a deserted city. They looked for something, what I did not know. They passed abandon streets, the wife, always leading, the husband, complaining that they would never get there because she did not know where they were going. They came to a park, the center of the city. An old woman stood there. She explained ‘there are many roads, which you can take to get where you are going; there are roads upon which you can take a car, a bus. There is beautiful road to your left and the most dangerous road to your right” The husband insisted that they take one of the more comfortable roads. One that they knew would be free of danger. But the wife disagreed. She assured her husband that they must take the most dangerous road. It was the only way to get where THEY wanted to go. With complaints from the husband every step, they went. They passed ferocious animals and crossed broken bridges. Through darkness and fog and all kinds of dangers they walked. The husband complained, the wife, pressed on. Then they reached the end of the road and the crest of a hill. A man gardened not too far away. The husband insisted they ask. The wife began to walk up the hill. The husband cried in anger ‘you don’t know if that’s the way, you don’t know… we must ask!’ and he turned to ask the gardener. In that moment I cried out” Jaime told us, “and said to the man, ‘follow your wife, she knows the way, she has always known the way, follow your wife!’ and then “Jaime said “I woke up, confused, I was not sure what it all meant, but I got down on my knees as if to pray. Before I could open my mouth the words came to me ‘Follow your wife, she has always known the way, follow your wife’ and I knew” Jaime said” that I needed to be baptized.”

We met Jaime on May 2nd, and on May 10th he was baptized. He went from attacking the doctrines of the church, to testifying of their truthfulness. He had said never and God had only said, not yet. Now, we may not have dreams. We may not feel or see or hear angels. But God tells us that it is never too late. When Jesus taught the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep and the lost silver he ended each by saying “I say unto you likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repent, then over the just that need no repentance…”  (Luke 15) No matter what you have done no matter how far down the wrong road you think you have gone, the drops of blood that stained the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross of Calvary are a witness to each of us that all is not lost. They cry out to us to come back. Christ himself beckons “Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.  (D &C 6:37). Jaime taught me, that it is never too late for anyone, no, not even for you.

My last example is the Book of Mormon’s own Saul. We all know him, as Alma the Younger. He is described as being a “very wicked and idolatrous man… he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities… giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.” (Mosiah 27).  Like Alma the Younger who wandered around reaping havoc where ever he went there was once a young man named Gerald.

One day we found a key in the street. It was a part of our area that we had never been in, so we decided to knock on the nearest door. A woman named Diosalina answered and let us in. She told us about her family. About her seventeen year old son, who was rather rebellious but loved to learn English because he wants to go the States someday. We wrote down the address and went to find Gerald. When we found him there was nothing exciting about him. In fact he did not even seem interested. We left him a pamphlet about the Restoration and invited him to English classes and that was the end of the conversation. We did not even ask for his number, but we left him ours. He came to English class and lingered afterwards. He asked if he could walk with us part of the way home so that he could see where the church was. He expressed the desire to come to that Sunday’s services.  As we walked he told me that he had never been baptized. We invited him to be baptized three weeks from that day, the Saturday before I would come home. He accepted, we left him with a Book of Mormon and prayed that he would attend. He came. He stood and bore his testimony. Everyone was shocked. The following day we taught our first lesson about Joseph Smith. He told us he knew it was true. The following day we taught him about the Book of Mormon. He expressed the desire that it be shared with the world. He told us that he had burned every worldly book, movie, or CD that he’d had. He began to read the Book of Mormon, reading as much as twenty chapters in one day. That next Sunday he came to church dressed just like a missionary. He only needed the nametag. He started going out to visit people with us. Then he told us why he had changed so completely, so quickly.

He told us that he’d had a dream. In that dream he was walking from one end of town to the other. He said everything was bright and beautiful. He told us that up ahead of him he saw two girls that looked like they were preaching. Then beside him, he saw our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In his dream Christ called him by name and said “you are going to meet two girls, and these two girls are going to turn on a light in your life. If you are to progress and reach your full potential... if you desire all the blessings I have planned for you, you must accept this light into your life and you must never turn back.” Two days after this dream, we knocked on his door. He knew the moment we entered his home, that we were those girls from his dream. He told us that he knew his sins were forgiven because as he prayed he felt such joy. Like Alma the Younger who said “and oh what joy, and what marvelous light, I did behold, yea my soul was filled with joy…” (Alma 36:20). Gerald was baptized on the date that he accepted. This past week, thanks to technology, Gerald called me. He told me that for the second time he has blessed the sacrament and that he would be meeting with the branch president to discuss his desire to serve a mission. He is preparing to serve a mission and a year from now will accept a call to fulfill the deepest desire of his heart, to tell the world about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  

Alma asked the faithful saints of  Zarahemla,  “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? (Alma 5:26) Have you felt this change of heart? If you have not, do you what you have to in order to be completely converted. Gerald showed me what it means to truly be converted. To change everything about yourself so that it is in harmony with God. A true conversion is not limited to age, Gerald is only seventeen. It does not matter how much money you make or how well you are educated. What really matters is where your heart is. What do you love most? God does not care so much what you want Him to give you, but what you are willing to give Him. King Benjamin taught “unless ye become as a little child ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 3:19). As followers of the Savior, we must become as little children and then become like Him, or we will never enter into the “many mansions” that he has prepared for us. Brothers and sisters, do what you have to. Start today. And never look back.

At this moment I feel as Ammon did, when he spoke of his brothers of his experiences… they consecrated 14 years of their lives to our Lord. And while the time cannot compare my heart bursts with the words of Ammon as he recounted. “We have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all of this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some. Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many… yea and my joy is carried away, even unto the boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on His name… now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever…” (Alma 26) Seeing these people change, changed me. Their journeys strengthened my testimony. Their struggles increased my faith. I can testify that the greatest convert, is none of the people that talked of today…. But the one who humbly stands before you now. I thought I knew of the love of my Savior. But I did not truly know it until I watched each of these come to know their Savior. As they found their Zion… they guided me to mine.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Kept From the Truth Because They Know Not Where To Find It..." (D&C 123:12)

The following post is a response to a comment a received not along ago regarding truth.

Dear Anonymous Bradley

To begin, I apologize for not replying last night when I initially read your comment. I felt the need to sleep on it and approach it with a clear head. That being said I also apologize for the length of this reply, I have spent some time thinking about what you have said and naturally, as I do with all my blog posts, I try to see it from every angle.

Thank you for your comment. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you read and enjoy my blog. It means a lot to hear from readers like you. It especially means a lot because the opinion you expressed is not one that I am used to hearing. I have come to appreciate very much, those that think and don’t take what they are told at face value. I believe that’s how our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is. He always wanted people thinking outside of their comfort zones.

Honestly I agree with you on many things. Though I would not go as far to say that Joseph Smith preached false doctrine (I would be really interested in discussing civilly what facets of teachings you label as such). I personally think that at times he may have preached his opinion as opposed to the inspired word of the Lord. Because, not in spite, of my personal study, I believe that he was a prophet of God who was called to restore the Church with all the truth people are seeking, to the earth. With that out of the way I also believe as you, that he was human and that some of the things he said proved that. I think when we, as latter day saints hear things like that our knee jerk reaction is to deny it and yell “no your wrong.” I had a New Testament professor proclaim in class that Jesus was an impoverished peasant from Galilee and people automatically denied it. But it’s true. Historically speaking, that’s what he was.

Now to address your comment on truth. I think a lot of Latter Day Saints feel if they have an opinion opposite to what some general authority has said it is a sin and they must take it to their grave, never to be uttered in the light of day. This way of thinking is very ludicrous to me .For example, on occasion I wear a beautiful, dainty silver cross around my neck. Now there have been some general authorities that have suggested we focus more on the Resurrection as opposed to His death but to me this cross that I wear symbolizes both. It also reminds of all that my Lord and Savior has done with me and if anyone were to call me on it I would simply explain that. I like to think that the Savior himself would have worn one merely to make people re-evaluate their perceptions of weather it’s okay to wear or not.

I think a lot of people do “run from the truth” as you put it because they feel like doubting their faith at some point or another is a sin. I have had a few good wake up calls as I’ve personally studied work of non-LDS New Testament scholars. What is important to remember is that sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes some things that you’ve grown up being told your whole life are wrong. Granted I have not stumbled across anything that has challenged a core doctrine of my faith that has caused me to question my membership in this church. However, I have been led to define my faith. What exactly do I believe in? Am I going to let this get under my skin or am I going to check multiple sources to develop my own opinion? The great thing about our Father is that He never asked us to follow blindly. We are always admonished in the scriptures to seek learning “by study and also by faith”

This vaguely reminds me of the Bread of Life sermon that is found in the New Testament Book of John. The writer of the Gospel of John loved to portray Jesus as the religious revolutionary that caused great divisions in the crowds that he taught and encountered. One of his main points was that those who Jesus taught could not understand what He was teaching because Jesus was a being of light, of the world above and they were beings of the world below, blinded by darkness. This is very evident in the Bread of Life sermon. To paraphrase, some of the crowd understands that He is not talking about literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood. However, most interpret His words literally and think He is referring to cannibalism. As those who used to follow Him so devoutly leave He turns to His disciples and asks if they will leave Him too. Peter’s response is perhaps one of my favorite in all of scripture “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of Eternal life” (John 6:68).

At times we will come across things that shake our faith. It is healthy. It strengthens our faith and our loyalty to the master if we can accept what we have discovered. Even if it’s merely accepting that there is a difference in opinion. Again I am so grateful for you comment and apologize for the length of mine. May God bless you now and always, until you read again.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

"All Little Children are Alive in Christ..." Moroni 8:22

I intended to do this post some time ago but felt I needed to take time to ponder the subject and really figure out how I was going to present to the readers of my blog. The shooting in Connecticut was tragic indeed. It is one of those moments in our history where we realize just how wicked the world is becoming and how badly people need God in their lives. As has been anticipated, there has been political back lash regarding gun control from the left and the right side of the aisle. However, I am not going to discuss the politics from a Latter Day Saint perspective. Rather I am going to talk about an aspect of my religion that gives me hope regarding the children that were killed that day.

First, recall in the New Testament when Christ is teaching His disciples in Matthew 18:3 we read "except ye be converted and become a little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." and continued in verse 4 "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." I invite you to ponder for a moment on the humility of the little children in your life. How sweet and innocent they are. Indeed I often feel that in interacting with small children we come to know the ways of our Savior just a little bit better for they are fresh from His presence.

Another instance of the importance of little children in the plan of salvation is seen in the Book of Mormon. In the crowning even of this other testament of Jesus Christ the Master Himself visits that people of the Americas in the flesh. As he teaches among the people he commands them to bring their little ones forward. We read "And it came to pass that when they had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded that multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground... and he took their little children one by one and blessed them and prayed unto the Father for them.. and angels did minister unto them" (see 3 Nephi 17). Perhaps the sweetest aspect of this account is the fact that the Savior took them "one by one" on an individual basis and blessed them and prayed for them. We even read that He wept over them. I am certain that the day of the shooting the Savior wept as the little children were killed. Yet the Book of Mormon also teaches us that "the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory, and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgement which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them at the last day." (Alma 14:11) Essentially, God allows bad things to happen to good people that He might judge the wicked with justice and we know that the little children dwell with Him in the paradise of God.

The final doctrine that brings me such great hope as we grieve the loss of those sweet spirits from this world. In D&C 137 we read of the qualifications and blessings of the Celestial Kingdom which, from previous posts, we know to be the highest degree of glory where the righteous will go to dwell with a loving and all powerful Heavenly Father. In this chapter we read "All children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the Celestial kingdom of heaven" Thus these children who lost their lives are now dwelling with God in his Eternal glory. I hope that this post has brought you some peace. That it has helped you see the peace that the Gospel can bring to your lives. I pray that God comforts you as go throughout this New Year. May He bless you this year and all the rest of your lives my dear readers. Until you read again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"For I Desired Mercy and Not Sacrifice..." (Hosea 6:6)

Recently in my study of the New Testament I have noticed that Jesus refers to this passage quiet a few times when telling the Pharisees how their outward acts will not be enough for the kingdom that He is establishing. Jesus draws on this prophecy specifically and it is from this prophecy that I would like to found a discussion on the idea that the kingdom that Christ established, the kingdom of God, is a kingdom of the purging of the hearts. In many instances we are asked ourselves to examine our motives behind our actions. Do we do it for the glory of men or to please God? Is our heart focused on the things of the eternities? How do we view others? How do we view God?

In 1 Samuel 16:7 the Lord tells Samuel that he doesn't look on the outward appearance but rather "on the heart". Over and over again in His ministry Jesus reminds us that it is why we do things, not how much we do that really matters. This concept comes up numerous times in His ministry as He teaches His disciples to avoid "the leaven of the Pharisess" for they have corrupted the law with their oral traditions.

Jesus uses Hosea's prophecy to rebuke the Phariesees when they attempt to dispute whether Jesus' disciples break the Sabbath when they eat from the corn of a field that they are walking through. (See Matthew 12). In my study of Matthew I have found that Jesus often does things like this so that the Phariesees will call Him out on it and He has an opportunity to teach the correct principle. In this case He declares himself Lord over the Sabbath. I invite you, my dear reader, to consider that perhaps we should reevaluate the attitude of our heart. The Lord said. "Where treasure is, there is your heart also" (Matt. 6:21). Allow me to give an example of my own.

Every Sunday two men go to church. One of them goes so his neighbors know that he is a good person because he goes to church and spends a few hours listening to a sermon about God. He dresses in his finest apparel and everyone that sees him knows that he is off to church to worship the Lord. Many people admire him for the pristine way in which he takes his seat and listens to the sermon, his back erect, his head upright. To them, it is as if he is proud to be in the presence of God. Yet as he sits there and, to others, appears to listen to the sermon his mind wanders to the football game he will watch after church or the fact that he needs to wash his car. Instead of learning about how he can minister to others, he is thinking of what his wife will make for dinner that night.

Man number two. This man has come on hard times. He only has one worn out suit with many patches meant to cover up the holes of the jacket. He walks to church every Sunday no matter the whether and takes his seat at the back of the church. He doesn't want to be noticed. He is simply there so that God can patch up his broken soul and contrite heart. He wears a look of serenity and peace as the sermon begins and no one notices the man's tears as he silently thanks God for the preachers words. It was exactly what he needed to hear that day.

The soul searching question I invite each of you to consider is: what man am I? What do we think about as we sit in church? Why do we even go to church? God should not be someone that we simply think about one day a week and then forget about the rest of the time. There is a great example of the contrast between these two types of individuals in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma has come across the Zoramites which had built synagogues and there they did gather one day out of the week to worship and if any man desired to worship he must stand atop a tower of sorts. There they would offer the same prayer as everyone else. We read "Whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice" (Alma 31:14). In contrast Alma then preaches to the humble who have been cast out of the synagogue. "I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye." (Alma 32:8)

Who are you? Where is your heart? My hope for each of you is that you strive to be of humble heart, especially this time of year as we give thanks to others and to God for all that we have been given and all that He has blessed us with. Turn to the Lord, in this admonishment I echo the explanation of Peter when Jesus asked His disciples if they would turn from Him. Where else would we go? May God watch you over in this holiday season, until you read again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How Beautiful Are They To The Eyes Of Them Who There Came To The Knowledge Of Their Redeemer..."(Mosiah 18:30)

Thus closes the story of the people that Alma converted after being converted himself by the prophet Abinadi. For many Latter Day Saints, the focus of this chapter is the actual experience of the people when they were baptized and the covenant they made with God. However, the other day I was reading this chapter and I got to thinking about the above verse. I started to ponder on why the forest of Mormon and the waters of Mormon were so beautiful to the people. The verse tells us they came to know their Redeemer but what was involved in the experience of coming to know and developing that relationship? Is there a way for us to apply this process to our own lives that we may draw closer to Christ and like the people of this chapter, “come to know [our] Redeemer?”

Perhaps the best place to start is a brief summary of what occurred leading up to this chapter. Essentially, like many prophets of old, the Lord commanded Abinadi to go preach among a people that was ruled by an evil king named Noah. After one failed attempt he returns many years later and once he is discovered he is arrested and brought before the king. Abinadi preaches the truth, claiming that if the king and the priests do not repent they shall suffer the same death that they will cause him to suffer. He preaches of faith and repentance, declares that they do not teach the Law of Moses, and above all that “redemption cometh through Christ the Lord…” (Mosiah 16:15). After Abinadi does this he is executed by fire; prophesying as he dies that the day will come when King Noah’s life will also be consumed in fire, which does in fact occur.

Just like many missionaries Abinadi did not witness the fruit of his efforts. Yet there was one man among the priests, named Alma, who was moved by the spirit and fled from the presence of the king. While in hiding he came to know God, in a sense he experienced his own “Waters of Mormon Moment”. He then preached to the people in private, all that would hear. After some time he lead them to the Waters of Mormon where he baptized them, having received authority from God to do so. Here most Latter Days Saints focus on what we will refer to as the “requirements of baptism” but in this post we are going to look at five points that brought about these peoples’ “Waters of Mormon Moment” in which they came to know God.

I. Demonstrated a Desire to Follow God Regardless of Consequences
 Growing up I was always reminded that it is easy to stand for God in a crowd. It is when we must stand alone that our faith is tested and our testimonies refined. The people that gathered at the Waters of Mormon knew perfectly well that the soldiers of King Noah were hunting down anyone who claimed to believe in the words of the now deceased Abinadi. They knew that it was possible that they would be martyred just like him for what they were choosing to do. It is something to be admired and emulated. President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Thomas S. Monson has counseled Church members “an individual testimony is necessary to be strong enough to withstand all the forces pulling us in the wrong direction or all the voices encouraging us to take the wrong path." In order to be like the people of Mormon and have our own “Waters of Mormon Moment” we must develop our own testimonies strong enough to stand up for what we believe. As Alma teaches the people we must stand for God “at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in, even until death,” (Mosiah 18:9). I think the question to ask ourselves is “am I willing to stand for God not matter the cost to me?” Recall what Christ said: “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25). Seek ye first the things of the Eternities my dear readers that when Christ returns to claim His people we shall know Him for we will be like Him.

II. Experienced a “Spiritual Rebirth”
It was Jesus who stated “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” it is through this rebirth both of water of the Holy Ghost that we are transformed from natural man to saint. King Benjamin taught “For the natural man is an enemy to God…” (Mosiah 3:19) Yet the rebirth that I am speaking of is neither of these. It is a rebirth that comes with our everyday choices, the kind of rebirth that occurs each time we pray or choose to study our scriptures. It helps us put off the desire for the things of the world and enables us to focus on the eternal. We no longer yearn for the temporal, pride causing, and materialistic whims of the flesh. Christ said “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23)

I would like to draw your attention to another example of a “Waters of Mormon Moment “in the scriptures; specifically, the conversion experience of King Lamoni’s father. Upon first meeting Ammon and his son Lamoni, the father of Lamoni declares “I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom” (Alma 20:23). However later on after Aaron (Ammon’s brother) teaches Lamoni’s father of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Lamoni’s father prays to the Lord “I will give away all my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:18). This change is a product of the “spiritual rebirth” of turning one’s heart to God and through that transformation of the heart and coming to know Him in a way that one has not previously. It is like walking out of a dark room into the bright light of day. Everything becomes more beautiful, more enriching, and further understood. My dear reader, choose the things of God, choose to follow Him, and one day you will look back and wonder how you ever lived any differently. Elder David A. Bednar has declared “Through faith in Christ, we can be spiritually prepared and cleansed from sin, immersed in and saturated with His gospel, and purified and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.” Such is the spiritual rebirth that each of us can experience, I invite each of you to partake of His redemption and live.

III. Personified Their Faith By Their Actions
I have done quite a few posts on the need for works not to secure our salvation but to validate it. Our actions coupled with our faith act as a testament before God that our heart is truly turned to him. So I will not argue the necessity but rather the blessings of righteous works. For the people at the Waters of Mormon they sealed their faith with a full immersion baptism, just as Christ was baptized in the New Testament. (See Matthew 3) Think of many of the parables Christ gave including the ten virgins, the good Samaritan, the sheep and the goats, and even the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in which he “seeing the multitudes… went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him” (Matt. 5:1). Christ readies Himself and then the people come unto Him. He didn’t idly sit at the base of the mountain and teach. He wanted only those willing to navigate the slope to hear His words; only those which were prepared to work for it. Coming unto Him implies that we must do something. We as children of God plead for Christ to come unto us, I cannot recall a time that He has not answered my desperate appeal. Is it not only fair that we return the favor?

In personifying their faith by their actions the people at the Waters of Mormon came to know God because they strove to DO what He wanted them to DO. Recall the verse in James 2:2 that says “faith without works is dead” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said “we are truly spirit children of God and therefore should act accordingly.” The word I would like to draw your attention to is the word act. It does not say “speak” or “think” or even “believe” it says act. To me that implies the need for more from us. As the hymn “More Holiness Give Me” pleads “more holiness give me; more strivings within; more faith, gratitude, and purity; more fit for the kingdom; more purpose in prayer; and more trust in the Lord” (Hymn #131). These things cannot be obtained without action, without evidence of our devotion to God found in all that we do, not just what we say in front of a congregation at Church or upon our knees before God. He asks us to pick up our crosses and follow after Him, do it.

IV. Took Steps Forward on the Path of Discipleship
Though this concept somewhat ties into the previous in many ways, it deserves a brief discussion of its own. The people that gathered at the Waters of Mormon and that were then baptized by Alma took numerous steps on the path of discipleship before reaching this climactic moment. They believed on his words, they listened with open hearts, they learned with a desire to know. Every little thing that we do that brings us closer to Christ propels us forward on the path of discipleship. Every day we make decisions that can cause us to move forward, backwards, and some decisions even result in a brief detour to enticing worldly pleasures. In another General Conference address President Dieter F. Uchtdorf assured us “the first step on the path of discipleship begins in the exact place where we stand! We do not have to prequalify to take that first step.” The step does not have to be huge either. It can simple be a conscious choice. A choice to pray every morning before you leave the house, a choice to read a little bit from the scriptures every night before bed, a choice to be kinder, more patient, or more humble.

 Many of the steps we take will not be acknowledged or noticed by others. I submit to you that the most monumental (at least for me) have been the steps I have taken that only God has known. Praying for the desire to serve others more selflessly, to love God more deeply, and to find greater joy in my journey are just as a few. The smallest righteous act can be the first step you will take on the road to your eternity with a loving Heavenly Father who waits. So what are you waiting for? The only person holding you back, is you.

V. Aligned Their Will With God’s
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in my opinion is to understand the will of our Heavenly Father and then to faithfully trust in it. A well-known scripture reads: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Yet it is difficult to do. Many people find it testing to trust in something when it causes them to take a few steps into the dark. Yet that is what the people at the Waters of Mormon did and in order to have a similar experience as them we must do the same. They did not know if their actions would cost them their lives. That at same point it would bring them into bondage to wicked people who roamed the land. Yet they faithfully trusted, knowing that what they were doing was right before God, heeding not to the worries of what man could do. Christ taught “fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28).

This life is not meant to be easy because it was not easy for Him. If we are to be disciples of the Lamb of God who was scourged and bruised for the sins of the world we take a slight sip from the bitter cup that He had to drink for our sakes. As I have previously mentioned remember Christ promised “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39). One’s life has not been fully lived until that life is lost in a love for the Savior and for His fellow men. The will of God will not make us miserable. Though at times, when we must sacrifice, when we must walk away from what we deem is the “best” for us, it may seem that way. Yet God’s job is not to make His children agonize over lost opportunities. He loves us too much to do that. His goal is to “ bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Seek God’s will, whatever it might be, in prayer, in fasting, in study, and in faith. Life as you know it will end, for yours will become a life for God, there can be no greater cause then this. Reach for it, it is there, you just have to know where to look.

A Personal Experience and a Challenge
So as not to take away too much from He who is to be the center of this post I will keep many of the personal details as private as I can while still making my point. There was a time not long ago when I desperately wanted something. I prayed earnestly for this desire of my heart. It was a righteous desire as far as I could tell (yet who am I to know the ways of God?) Up to that point God had not dissuaded me from my efforts to obtain what I longed for. In fact, at times, it felt like He strengthened me and gave me patience to do what I needed to obtain it. Then, one night, with a few harsh words, all that I had hoped and prayed for was ripped from me. I walked in the dark for a time and I suffered the growing pains of my affliction. I begged God for understanding, for mercy, and above all, for relief. Yet it didn’t come in the way I thought it would. No angel came from heaven to tell me why or to assure me that the light would shine again. No angels from heaven anyway. Rather, God sent them in the form of friends. People were there to help me realize that beyond this deep rooted desire there was life. That I was not the product of an individual’s words or insults but clay in the hands of God, being molded and refined into something beautiful. Though at the time I did not realize it I now know that the darkness that I wandered in was for me, a Waters of Mormon moment. In the midst of that trial I came to know my Redeemer and how precious are those moments of tearful prayers and sob-wracked pleas. How beautiful are the lessons I learned and the understanding I gained. My challenge to you, my dear readers, is to come to recognize these “Waters of Mormon Moments” as they come. Recognize your trials as a furnace to fire you into a beautiful instrument for God’s use. I leave you now with the same words that Mormon left with his son ““Be faithful in Christ … [and] may [He] lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death … and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever. And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever” (Moroni 9:25-26) and as always, may God never cease to bless you until you read again.

(you can also view this post on scripturenews.com)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1)

I have taken a great interest in the New Testament lately as I've studied it both on my own and in my formal schooling. I thought my readers would enjoy a dissection of some of the chapters I have been studying and as always I would like to take both a logical and a devotional viewpoint. The above verse opens the Book of Matthew (let it be noted that scholars aren't actually sure that it was written by Matthew but it is attributed to him as far as we can tell). I would like to begin with a little history on this Book before I delve into its first chapter. The Book was written in about 70 A.D.-80 A.D. It is believed that Matthew was writing specifically to the Jewish Christians and out of all the synoptic (coming from the Greek word which means "to view in the same way") Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which are called such because they look at the life of Christ is similar sense (though there are distinct differences), Matthew is the book most interested with the "kingdom of God". John we will put in a realm all its own for it takes its own path in describing the ways of Christ

My focus on this verse (with more to follow) is to explain why Matthew wrote the way he did, evidences that He wrote specifically to the Jews/Christians of that time and some interesting insights into his writings. It must first be noted that this time in history Christians (recently converted Jews), were not to eager to allow Gentiles into the Church. They claimed that if they wanted to become Christian they must, essentially, first become Jewish. It could be argued that Matthew is definitely the most harsh of the four Gospels and I hope that this post will transform your study of the Book of Matthew from a casual reading into a rediscovery of both the literary and spiritual grace that is the Book of Matthew. 

Let's talk about the very first verse (which is the title of this post). In this verse, right off the bat, Matthew puts forth three very bold claims. 

I. That Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. 

I think to often people apply the word Christ as the last name of Jesus. This is a mistake that invite everyone to correct. The name Christ comes from the Greek word "Christos" which means anointed and that is similar to the Hebrew word "Mashiah" which also means anointed To understand why this would be significant to the Jews we must go way back into the Old Testament. The first significant act of anointing occurred in Exodus 40. After Israel's miraculous departure from Egypt, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, an elaborate tented structure designed to be the center of worship for the nation. After its completion, God told Moses, "And thou shalt take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is therein, and shalt hallow it, and all the vessels thereof: and it shall be holy” (Exodus 40:9). So the purpose of the oil was to make a place (in this case the tabernacle) holy. To make holy, or sanctify, in Hebrew comes from the word "kodesh" and the root "kadash" which means to sanctify but it also means to separate. Fundamentally, the purpose of anointing was to sanctify, or separate some thing or some one from the rest of the world. 

So what is significant about Christ being the Lord's anointed? Well think of how Christ lived his life: His entire life was set apart for God's holy use. He testified many times "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). So Christ acting as the anointed one of the Lord consecrated Himself and His life for God. I think it is safe to say from the sparse accounts we have from his life that He did just that. 

II. A Davidic King/ Of Davidic Monarchy

Since Matthew was writing to the Jews, who had extensive knowledge of the Torah, he asserted as His second claim that Christ came from a Davidic line. There are a plethora of prophecies by ancient prophets declaring that the Messiah that would deliver Israel would be a "Son of David". The Lord tells David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This prophecy assured King David that the Messianic line would continue through His descendants, thus the Christ, the Messiah, had to be a descendant and in turn apart of the Davidic monarchy, making it more fitting that at times he was called "king of the Jews" than we realize. 

III. Son of Abraham

In Genesis 12:2-3 the Lord promised Abram "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” This established the requirement that the Messiah would come through the lineage of Abraham. Within this claim of Abrahamic seed Matthew also asserts the important that "all the [nations] of the earth would be blessed". Matthew was declaring indirectly that God is no respecter of persons, that the Messiah had come to redeem all people, Jew and Gentile alike, the bottom line was that Gentiles should not be excluded from joining the Church. 

To come will be discussion of the lineage presented in the first chapter of Matthew, mainly why Matthew presents us with the lineage of Joseph when Joseph wasn't Christ's actual Father. I pray my dear readers that as you study all these things for yourself that you do so with the intention of drawing closer to Christ, of experiencing the joy of His influence in your life, and share that influence with those around. I testify that Christ was and is the Savior that the Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophets testified of, he redeemed from our sins and He has the power to save you from yourself. In the sacred name of that Redeemer I ask that God bless you until you read again.