Subtlety vs Simplicity

In Jacob 4:14, we learn of an issue that was found amongst the Jews at the time of Christ but is also found in the world today. It says “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness…” In a world of instant information and complex media, we often expect to find the answers to questions instantly. With information being easier to access, it can sometimes be easy to want to find answers to complex or meaningless questions. These questions will not help us in life but sometimes we can be tempted to want to find out answers to them. They can distract us from the things that matter most.

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that His Gospel is clear. It is something which children can be taught to understand. Elder Chistoffel Golden Jnr taught “In its essentials, the gospel is simple and easy to understand and adapted to the capacity of the weakest.” If it were not so, would God be fair? If the Gospel were something to be only understood by an intellectual few then would it be fair for any of us who didn’t understand? We are not required to know the subtle mysteries of God. Yes, we are required to study out the principles of the Gospel as deeply as we can. However, we do not have to look beyond what the Saviour and his messengers teach in the scriptures or through revelation.

On the other hand, and there is always another hand, Satan employs different tactics in order for us to use our agency unwisely. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 we read “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Satan is the opposite to the Saviour. Instead of being open, clear and honest about what he offers, Satan encourages us to disregard the commandments of God by presenting temptation as an enticing and alluring prospect at that moment in time. It is very rare that we make huge mistakes instantly.  Elder Robert C Gay further emphasised “Today it is so easy to get caught up in the noise of the world-despite our good intentions. The world presses us to [look] beyond the mark.” From a scriptural perspective we read in 2 Nephi 28:21 “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” As we make our day to day decisions we will need to remember to avoid looking beyond the mark.

The ways to avoid falling for the subtlety of Satan and keeping to the simplicity of the Saviour will, ironically, be the small and simple things that we often mention: prayer, study, regular partaking of the sacrament and so on. However, these vital acts will help us remember the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and avoid the subtle snares of the adversary.

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The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Today there is chaos in the world. There are governments failing, despair, suffering, neglect. Equally as tragic is what is happening in homes around the world. More and more single-parent families, divorces, abuse, teenage pregnancies…Are these developments completely isolated? There is a wider lack of family values in the home and this is having an impact on societies and civilisations around the world. As a result, the First Presidency in 1995 published ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’.

It states “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents…” (The Family) – this already highlights an important fact – our first family experience is not here on Earth. We lived in a family before this life, we are all spirit brothers and sisters in the express image of our Father in Heaven. President Joseph F Smith once said “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body.” The family ideal is something that is innate to us, else why would the whole human family still focus around the basic structure of the family? God is our loving Heavenly Father and as such “…shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” (Hebrews 12:9) As a good father cares for and knows what can help their children, our perfect Heavenly Father knows truly what is best for us – hence why we need to listen to his commandments, including His words on the family.

The Proclamation later says “Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” What a great blessing is this  – our family relationships can last beyond the grave. A husband and wife can have the assurance, not just a wish, that they and their children will be sealed together forever as they keep their covenants. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say…” (D&C 82:10) God has to give us the blessings if we are obedient to His commandments. What a great comfort it is to know that God will always be faithful to keep His promises as long as we are faithful to strive to keep our promises.

The Proclamation then begins to talk about the elements of the law of chastity that needs to be followed in order to obtain the previously mentioned blessings. It first says “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” A couple of things can be drawn from this. First, between man and woman. It talks about this in the scriptures, including Romans 1:27. There is a reason for this – we have been commanded to replenish the earth, hence why we are commanded to not impede the Lord’s plan to create eternal families and this cannot be done unless man and woman are together.

Also, the proclamation specifically says a husband and a wife. This goes beyond a certificate – this is much deeper and abiding. When a man and a woman take vows to be loyal, they promise to each other that they will honour and cherish one another until the day they die, and beyond in an eternal marriage. The power behind that is incredible – when each person in this mutual agreement has the same goal in mind, great things can happen “…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:11)

It goes on to say “We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.” (Family Proclamation) The sacred power is to be used only within the boundaries the Lord has set. Temptation is strong to disregard the commandments of God in this area. However the Lord has promised help through difficult challenges. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.(1 Corinthians 10:13) There are many who suffer the same temptations but the Lord will provide a way if you will lean on him.

“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.” (Family Proclamation) People who truly love one another and understand God’s eternal plan will not sacrifice their eternal happiness and safety for immediate pleasure now. They will put all their efforts into building that eternal marriage and strengthening one another.

We are also to love our children, it says “…mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” (Family Proclamation) There are a couple of ways people can neglect their parental responsibilities. One is to neglect spending time with their children and developing eternal relationships and instead focus on other, less important things. “All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83:4) and “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) These verses relate to the physical and spiritual maintenance of our children. It is the duty of the parents to provide for these needs – “But if any provide not for his own, and specifically for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith…” (1 Timothy 5:8).

It then talks about how children deserve to be raised by parents “…who honour marital vows with complete fidelity.” (Family Proclamation) Each child has this right. When this principle is attained – love, trust and commitment in family relations will develop which will inevitably lead to more happiness and unity in families, spreading to the community.

Also “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” (Family Proclamation) Life’s greatest joys are to be found in the home, however this feeling of unity cannot be reached with no effort – a strong relationship takes effort, such as doing and implementing the guidance in the Family Proclamation. However, as we do those things, that brings great happiness now and forever. We can achieve that. Through activities such as family home evenings, we can achieve security and unity in the home.

As with all commandments, there being positive consequences if we follow them, there are also negative consequences if they are not followed.  We will hurt those around us if we do not fulfil our duties “Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.” (Jacob 2:35)

We are called upon to strengthen the family and be examples of purity, in fact we are to “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God…” (D&C 121:45) – we will be able to stand before the Lord and say with confidence that we have lived the best life we can. We will then receive the Holy Spirit’s guidance, strength, comfort and protection as we follow this guidance.

Making Mountains of Us

This entry is based on an article given in the January 2010 Ensign about a mountaineering guide who explains how, in order to appreciate the top of the mountain, you need to experience the valley first.

When he gets visitors to the park, Richard Chen finds that most, if not all, the visitors are there to ascend up the Jade Mountain. The article says “Visiting the peak, with it’s manmade trails and wonderful view, is a great experience, but Richard tries to explain that there is much to learn and much hidden beauty to find in the more difficult-to-access river gorges and canyons below.” However, there are some visitors who don’t care about that and they are positive they only wish to reach the top via the easiest route.

There are so any lessons that can be learnt from this spiritually. Christ, as ‘the way’ (John 14:6) and the only True Guide, wishes us to return back – with as much experience in this mortal life as possible. Elder Neal A Maxwell said “One’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free…Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’…Real faith … is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process.” How can we expect to receive what the Father has if we do not pass through the way prepared by Him?! “…thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment…if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…” (D&C 121:7-8) said the Lord to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail.

This idea is similar to the mountain Richard Chen takes his visitors up – they have ‘grown’ higher and higher over thousands of years through the heat and pressure of the two tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust colliding together. This causes the mountain ranges to rise up and up. This can also be likened to our lives as we face bigger challenges and pressures, like a refiner’s fire – we become stronger and stronger.

Fully Benefitting From the Sacrament

If you were to stop anyone on the street and ask them what the MOST important regular event of their week was, what might they say? Some may highlight a sporting event as that special time; some may quite justifiably say a particular evening they spend with friends or family (whether that be in the home, pub or other place). Some may say the weekend is their highlight of the week and some may not be able to answer this question at all. Now, what time to you in the week is most important?

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there should be one clear answer in our minds. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated – “In my judgment the sacrament meeting is the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church. When I reflect upon the gathering of the Savior and his apostles on that memorable night when he introduced the sacrament; when I think of that solemn occasion my heart is filled with wonderment and my feelings are touched. I consider that gathering one of the most solemn and wonderful since the beginning of time.” Since the beginning of time – do we recognise the importance of that? Should our sacrament meetings not emulate that moment, just as we try to emulate the Saviour through this life-saving ordinance? I use the term ‘life-saving’ because, even though it is not an ordinance in which we MAKE covenants, it is an ordinance in which we RENEW covenants – covenants which, at some point, we ALL break due to our mortal nature.

In order to investigate how we can benefit more fully from the sacrament I want to do this using one of my favourite hymns in our Hymnbook – one of the most beautiful pieces – #185 Reverently and Meekly Now. The reason why I love this hymn is obviously it is deep and meaningful being a hymn that is sung as the holy ordinance of the sacrament is being prepared in front of the congregation. Another, more moving, reason I admire this hymn is the way in which the author of the lyrics has written them as if the Saviour is addressing us, the individual approaching Him through the sacrament. The language is loving, expressive and helps us begin to understand how our Saviour loved us so much that He made this plan possible.Each verse highlights a key principle in how we can make the sacrament a more holy experience:

  1. Rev’rently and meekly now,

Let thy head most humbly bow.

Think of me, thou ransomed one;

Think what I for thee have done.

With my blood that dripped like rain,

Sweat in agony of pain,

With my body on the tree

I have ransomed even thee.

The sacrament should be one of the most spiritual experiences of our week because it is one of the times when we are closest to the Saviour in an average week – we literally touch the emblems of His Atonement. In Luke 22:19 we read And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” It is ‘meant’ to be the time in the week where we reflect on the Saviour and His Atoning sacrifice. In order to receive the full blessings of the Atonement the sacrament is vital! How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Reverence – treat it with the reverence and sense of worship that this holy ordinance demands.

Of course, it may be difficult for some – particularly those with…energetic children (trust me, I know) – however, it is possible as we prepare ourselves for the sacrament effectively. President Joseph Fielding Smith recounted: “I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings. I have seen two members of the Church sitting together [in sacrament meeting], enter into a conversation, stop long enough for the blessing to be asked on the water or on the bread, then start again on their conversation. … That is shocking to me, and I am sure it is to the Lord.”

How can we fully benefit? Reverence…

  1. In this bread now blest for thee,

Emblem of my body see;

In this water or this wine,

Emblem of my blood divine.

Oh, remember what was done

That the sinner might be won.

On the cross of Calvary

I have suffered death for thee.

The principle of the sacrament, as well as being a literal renewal of ALL our covenants, is based on the principle of remembrance. Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the General Primary Presidency said this:As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance. This means that we will constantly look to the Savior’s example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts.” Further, 3 Nephi 18:7 says “And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Remember. Remember during the ordinance. Remember during the week. Remember every day of our lives – for that is what we promise ‘that we will always remember him’!

How can we fully benefit? Reverence, Remember at all times…

  1. Bid thine heart all strife to cease;

With thy brethren be at peace.

Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be

E’en forgiven now by me.

In the solemn faith of prayer

Cast upon me all thy care,

And my Spirit’s grace shall be

Like a fountain unto thee.

Another principle is found in a well-known scripture. We read in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our Saviour, through His Atonement and therefore the sacrament ordinance, to cast upon Him all our care. As we do this his grace will flow to us. This is shown in 3 Nephi 18:9 “And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.” This filling spoken of is the power of the Atonement of Christ relieving us and helping us find personal peace as spoken by Elder David A Bednar in his recent publication ‘Power to Become’.

How do we fully benefit from the sacrament? Relieve – relieve yourself from your cares through the sacrament ordinance – this is one principle that for me personally is a life-saver!

Reverence, Remember, Relieve all our cares to the Lord, and His grace will make up the rest…

  1. At the throne I intercede;

For thee ever do I plead.

I have loved thee as thy friend,

With a love that cannot end.

Be obedient, I implore,

Prayerful, watchful evermore,

And be constant unto me,

That thy Savior I may be.

We have looked at the doctrine and principles behind the sacrament, so how are we to physically act to fully benefit from the sacrament?

As it says in the sacrament prayer – ‘and keep his commandments’ – as we renew our covenants through the sacrament – we should leave the meeting with a renewed desire to live a life of a disciple of Christ, one who is willing to take upon them the name of Christ.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Renew – not just our covenants but renew ourselves in mind, word and deed.

These four things – Reverence, Remember, Relieve and Renew WILL help us benefit from the sacrament!