The Hand of the Lord

In my studies recently I have been acting on an invitation from President Russell M Nelson to the Young Adults of the Church to go through the whole Standard Works and highlight things that Christ has DONE and SAID in those inspired works. This was given as an assignment from a prophet of the Lord. He said:

“I have an invitation for you that will help—it’s an assignment, actually—if you choose to accept it. Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation.”

I am up to about Genesis 44 (not quite as far as I would like to be) but already I have spotted some interesting patterns. As I have read the great accounts of the ancient prophets – Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and others – I have noticed that as these righteous covenant makers stayed true to the gospel they were taught, they were blessed. The impact of these blessings did not always come instantly. Examples were Joseph and being sold by his brothers to Egypt, Abraham and his struggles with family and being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac and also Jacob and his worry about his brother Esau seemingly advancing to exact vengeance.

The opposite is true of those who were not valiant in their testimonies or in their obedience to God’s commandments. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was such an example. He took his family and pitched their tents towards Sodom and Gomorrah despite being warned. As a result they were forced to flee their residence (out of interest, which was now in Sodom itself so they had obviously accepted living within it’s boundaries later on) and lived in misery after losing loved ones.

The lesson? The hand of the Lord is evident in the lives of those who follow the Saviour. Of course, this does not guarantee that life will be perfect. We know the rain will fall on the just and the unjust. But, the Lord will bless those in relation with the obedience they have shown. As I continue with this assignment I know I will see more examples of this. President Nelson continued:

“This may seem like a large assignment, but I encourage you to accept it. If you proceed to learn all you can about Jesus Christ, I promise you that your love for Him, and for God’s laws, will grow beyond what you currently imagine. I promise you also that your ability to turn away from sin will increase. Your desire to keep the commandments will soar. You will find yourself better able to walk away from the entertainment and entanglements of those who mock the followers of Jesus Christ….”

I encourage you to take on this challenge, there will be great blessings from it.

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In Praise of Those Who Save

This entry is based on a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf with the title of ‘In Praise of Those Who Save’.

Families in Crisis

As we come to learn about our Saviour Jesus Christ and His Gospel, the more we start to recognise that the family is central to God’s eternal plan. We have been taught so powerfully about the family at many General Conferences and it is clear that this topic is paramount in their thoughts.

Families play such a key role in the Gospel and the Church that when an investigator first begins learning about the Gospel, generally the second principle that is taught (after God being our Heavenly Father) is that the Gospel Blesses Families. In the very first chapter of Preach my Gospel, it is the second focus in that introductory chapter which deals with a missionary’s purpose. It says:

“On earth, family associations can be the source of some of our greatest joy. Satan is attacking the family on many fronts, and too many families are being destroyed by his efforts. The message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ makes it possible for families to be united now and in eternity. By living the principles of the gospel, families can experience peace, joy, and a sense of belonging and identity in this life. Through the light of the gospel, families can resolve misunderstandings, contentions, and challenges. Families torn by discord can be healed through repentance, forgiveness, and faith in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

The sacred institution of the family has been in force since Adam and Eve and will last into the eternities. Have you ever stopped to wonder why after thousands and thousands of years mankind still (as a general rule) structure themselves in this, almost instinctive, family setting? Of course, we know that the exact identity of marriages and families is debated widely from worldly views on sacred matters, but that general understanding still exists today.

If families are so important, then why are they in danger today? We live in a world where we have a culture of disposables. President Uchtdorf stated: “As soon as something starts to break down or wear out—or even when we simply grow tired of it—we throw it out and replace it with an upgrade, something newer or shinier. We do this with cell phones, clothes, cars—and, tragically, even with relationships.” 

When we see the world we live in today, this is certainly true! Just this month, I was due an upgrade on my mobile phone. I was aware of the date that I would be entitled to a free upgrade. Barely a day has passed and I was at the phone shop looking to get my free upgrade! I was eager to see what new sleek models were on offer, what new tariffs were available to me and what new high-tech specifications I could hold in the palm of my hand! It was only upon reflection that something occurred to me…there was nothing wrong with my current phone. Now, a perfectly functional and good quality mobile phone is sat in my bedside drawer gathering dust, simply because I had grown tired of its use and the time had come for a better model. It will either continue sitting in my drawer as a back-up or be sold on for a fraction of its original value.

We cannot allow this to happen to our families.

Saving Marriages

To begin looking at how to save families, we must first look at marriages. I have been married to my wonderful wife, Chrissie, for 6 years and we have been ‘together’ for 9  1/2 years (she waited for me on my mission). As the weeks and months have slowly formed into years, one thing (among many other things) has always been clear: marriage is not easy. How do we explain the most recent statistic (2013) that in the UK, 42% of marriages today will end in divorce? Something easy cannot end in so many terminations. There is something truly tragic that happens to those who decide that they cannot continue that eternal journey they started so promisingly together. President Uchtdorf added:

“I have never met anyone who, as they looked at each other across the altar, thought they would end up divorced or heartbroken. Unfortunately, some do.

Somehow, as the days multiply and the color of romantic love changes, there are some who slowly stop thinking of each other’s happiness and start noticing the little faults. In such an environment, some are enticed by the tragic conclusion that their spouse isn’t smart enough, fun enough, or young enough. And somehow they get the idea that this gives them justification to start looking elsewhere.”

Of course, President Uchtdorf is referring to temple marriages. It is difficult to hear that in the world some people abuse this sacred rite of marriage with the knowledge they can fall back on cancelling this expression of love.

Looking at temple marriages, we know that both individuals prepare extensively, ensuring they are right for each other, praying for guidance from on high and change their lives so they can enter the Temple. Something like that requires the individual to be certain they are happy with the decision before going through with it. I do think that is one reason why marriage in the Temple is (generally) more successful.

However, there is another, far more precious reason why temple marriages are more successful in lasting (evidence for this – as opposed to the average 42%, LDS members in a study reported 16% divorce rate). In D&C 132:19 we read:

“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—…and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”

Put simply Brethren and Sisters, we shall receive all the blessings we can receive in our eternal lives, or to quote Sister Linda K Burton in a marvellous talk she gave – we shall ascend together. We recognise that in order for both husband and wife to achieve their full potential, they must work together in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is far too important an opportunity to lose – and that is why we are more inclined to endure. Those who save marriages recognise the need to push on, despite the chaotic storms pulverising their marriage. Even if it is seemingly held by a thread currently, that thread is a thread of hope. Christ always brings Hope.

Of course, despite all these thoughts on the need to keep marriages together, we have to be aware of three potential circumstances that must be addressed:

  1. I am not married and I don’t think I will be now: To those valiant members the opportunity will come whenever it is the Lord’s will. He will bless you for your efforts.
  2. It is far too late, our marriage cannot be saved, it is advancing to the brink: To those valiant members, my marriage is not perfect. Speak to one of those seemingly perfect couples, because they will tell you of hardships. Yet, they will also tell you the blessings of pulling through together. President Uchtdorf stated: “…no matter how flat your relationship may be at the present, if you keep adding pebbles of kindness, compassion, listening, sacrifice, understanding, and selflessness, eventually a mighty pyramid will begin to grow.”
  3. It is too late, I have been through a divorce: To those valiant members, never lose that trust in the Lord that has brought you here today. You will be blessed, either in this life or in the eternities, with the rewards of your faith and obedience to the Lord. Never lose faith in Him and His Infinite Atonement.

A word to new couples also. This is the most critical time in your marriage. Research states that, of couples who stick together in the first ten years of marriage that mentioned 42% figure drops to around 20% over as you go up to 20 years of marriage. The time for building that eternal relationship should have started already; it is your goal, your responsibility, your duty to improve your relationship each and every day. Do not let a day go by where you do not express your love for your eternal companion, they are too precious. This is where a temple marriage becomes an eternal marriage. A temple marriage is simply defined as a joining of two souls in matrimony which has taken place in the Temple, with the potential to last beyond the grave. Having a temple marriage does not guarantee eternal life with our family. We must have an eternal marriage. An eternal marriage is defined as being a temple marriage which is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, a marriage full of love, devotion and pure charity, where both individuals have submitted their will to the Saviour and are ready to enter His presence. How do we achieve this? It comes down, largely, to those small, everyday choices. President Uchtdorf elaborated If we look for imperfections in our spouse or irritations in our marriage, we will certainly find them, because everyone has some. On the other hand, if we look for the good, we will surely find it, because everyone has many good qualities too. Those who save marriages pull out the weeds and water the flowers. They celebrate the small acts of grace that spark tender feelings of charity. Those who save marriages save future generations.”

As President Uchtdorf said in his talk – if we really wanted a perfect companion, would they really have been interested in us? Not one of us is perfect. However, we are here in our marriages to help each other along that path toward perfection. If you don’t think you are anywhere near, yourself or in your marriage, then don’t despair. Start today.

Saving Families 

I have a small amount of time remaining but I do want to mention the need to save families in general. This can now be our relationship with our children, our parents, our siblings – whoever! No family is perfect. There are times where we will fall out, sometimes it can shatter our lives!

We find the formula for success in 4 Nephi 1:15-16. At this stage, the Nephites were living in a prosperous, peaceful state and this is how they did it:

 “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”

The love of God dwelled in their hearts. We cannot delay in having this love in our homes with the ones we will spend eternity with. I have often heard the phrase that we can choose our friends but we can’t choose our family. Well, let me tell you that we have chosen our family; we decided before we came to Earth who we would arrive to, the parents that would raise us – it was then down to them to fulfil that role of ‘parent’ the best they could. 

Let me leave you with a few questions and pieces of prophetic advice by President Uchtdorf: “What legacy do you want to leave your posterity? One of harshness, vengeance, anger, fear, or isolation? Or one of love, humility, forgiveness, compassion, spiritual growth, and unity?  Sincerely apologizing to your children, your wife, your family, or your friends is not a sign of weakness but of strength. Is being right more important than fostering an environment of nurturing, healing, and love? Set aside pride. Build bridges; don’t destroy them! Even when you are not at fault—perhaps especially when you are not at fault—let love conquer pride.”

Whether we have our own family, marriage or neither, we can save families. Be one of those who saves!

Fatherhood – An Eternal Calling

As we live in this ever-chaotic world, we see Satan working overtime to exert his influence over as many of God’s children as possible. As has been warned before, he has identified the fundamental unit of the family as a target for his strategy. This makes perfect sense. We are sent to Earth and the place where we gain our initial identity, security and direction is from those who we are brought into the earth from – our parents.

Elder L Tom Perry elaborated in his remarks: “During the past few decades, Satan has waged a vigorous campaign to belittle and demean this basic and most important of all organizations. His success is becoming increasingly evident—the grim facts are seen, reported, and heard about daily and involve the collapse of many family units. With the decay of the family, we see the terrible effects on our society—increased crime, behavior disorders, poverty, drug abuse, and the list continues to grow and grow.”

Whilst some circumstances make a complete family life impossible, the ideal stated in the Proclamation to the World is to have a father and mother, united and in love, to raise children into the world. Focusing in on fathers – there are two ways in which fathers are being lost in the family’s daily battle: physically not being in the family unit and also, the role of the father being belittled in today’s society.

A World with Diminishing Fathers

Looking at how there are less and less fathers in the world first – the statistics are worrying. We all know them. One click away and we can find the research. Here are a couple facts for you:

  • The most recent stats in 2015 by the Office for National Statistics shows that from 2005 to 2015 there has been an increase of 81,000 single parent families – now up to 2 million
  • Of all ‘families’ with dependent children, 25% are single-parent families (90% of those are without a father) – this is constantly increasing each year

It is clear that the erosion of the family is in full swing. Elder L Tom Perry further added: 

“Surely we have learned by now, from the experience over centuries, that the basic family provides the most stable and secure foundation for society and is fundamental to the preparation of young people for their future responsibilities. We should have learned by now that alternate styles of family formations have not worked and never will work.”

If we have not learnt from history then there are clear findings today. I will not go into details as to what these are for, once again, they can be found one Internet search away but it is eye-opening. One that I will mention which I would encourage all fathers to remember is this:

  • Among fathers living in urban areas, those who more frequently attended religious services were more likely to be engaged in activities with their children than peers who attended less frequently. Fathers who reduced the frequency of their religious attendance during the first year of their children’s lives became, on average, less engaged with their children compared to peers who maintained their level of religious attendance.

What does this teach us? As stated in Preach My Gospel “The restored gospel blesses and helps husbands and wives, parents and children as they strive to develop stronger relationships and spiritual strength in their families.”

A family based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and with a father and mother leading the way is more likely (according to doctrine and backed by scientific research) to succeed and achieve their potential than in any other way.

We see so many examples in the scriptures of fathers who, with their wives, led their family to peace and a knowledge of the Gospel:

 

Because these fathers were present – they were able to have an impact on their children. Notice that these stories all have a variety of outcomes. For Lehi, yes Nephi was valiant and true but not all Lehi’s children were. Two of Lehi’s children went on to create an ignorant, Godless nation, focusing on destroying their brother’s descendants – does that make Lehi a bad father? Alma the Younger was destroying the Church of God, leading others astray. Does that mean Alma wasn’t there for his son? Of course not. Whilst families with a father are more likely to succeed, it does not guarantee success. There are also a number of single-parent families without fathers who will also accomplish their goals and be able to be close to the Saviour. I was made aware this week of a young family with a heart-breaking story. After having cancer diagnosed and unsuccessful treatment (as well as torment on the Internet from insensitive commenters who mocked and branded the news a lie), a father of five children died at the age of 34. Does that mean this family will fail without their loving, caring father? I’m certain the Lord will bless them. It is simply more likely that with a father, a family is more likely to achieve their goals – why else would Satan be so focused on eroded the family unit itself?

A World of Diminishing Respect for Fathers

However, something that is far more concerning than losing fathers is losing the respect and the ideal of fatherhood. In a talk in the April 2015 Conference, Sister Linda K Burton said about the devaluing of the role of the father in today’s world: 

“On the other end of the scale is the degrading and mocking message that husbands and fathers are no longer needed. I plead with you not to listen to Satan’s lies! He has forfeited that sacred privilege of ever becoming a husband or father. Because he is jealous of those who have the sacred roles he will never fill, he is intent on making “all men … miserable like unto himself”

In today’s media, the role of the father is being attacked. I had not considered this. I suppose it was the example set to me in my home growing up that helped me to avoid this view. My Mum and Dad raised, and continue to raise their children, with the clear view to involve each other, love each other and respect each other. My wife and I are striving for that ideal. However, here are some things which, a first may seem trivial, but really are painting an alarming picture: 

  • In most welfare offices, fathers are not invited to case planning meetings, and when a home visitor is greeted at the door by a man, she often asks to speak with the mother. Given these scenarios, fathers are likely to get the message that they are invisible or irrelevant to their children’s welfare, unless it involves financial support.
  • In a study of fatherhood in popular TV sitcoms, psychologists concluded that fathers are generally shown to be relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. In addition, the researchers found that fathers often served as the butt of family members’ jokes. All of these characterizations, while the intention may be humor, depicted fathers as being socially incompetent and objects of derision.
  • In a study of depictions of fathers in the best selling children’s picture books, a researcher concluded that of the 200 books analyzed, there were only 24 books where the father appears alone, and only 35 books where mother and father appear together. The author concludes, “because fathers are not present or prominent in a large number of these books, readers are given only a narrow set of images and ideas from which they can construct an understanding of the cultural expectations of fatherhood and what I means to be a father.”
  • Also in popular TV and movies, the ever-increasing ‘joke’ (to use the term ‘joke’ lightly) of children not knowing their fathers is ever increasing.

These, and many other more worrying direct degrading comments and views on fatherhood is having a major impact on how the world views fathers.

The Ultimate Father

We cannot take the role of the father lightly – to do so would degrade the role of the One Father we all share in common. Our Heavenly Father is the ultimate example. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught “…Fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution. The role of father is of divine origin, beginning with a Father in Heaven and, in this mortal sphere, with Father Adam.” 

If you are a father, you have a divine assignment. It is infinitely more vital to you and the building of the Kingdom of God than your calling and your career. It is to be the standing replacement of a Father in Heaven that your little one has only left recently in their eternal lives. Do we recognise this? We will not be perfect like Him in this life but we are expected to fill the role He would if He were here with that child. Even if your child has reached their adult years, your Father in Heaven has been their Father infinitely longer than you have been theirs…and yet He has trusted you to be their father now, in the most important period of their eternal lives!

The way we as a father act, influences the way that our child sees our Father in Heaven.

Let us remember those we call ‘Dad’ and if we do not one to call our own, let us all one day look forward to when we shall meet the one we call ‘Father’. 

I Love to See the Temple

In 2017 we have been invited by our Stake Presidency to make the Temple the central focus of our year. We are promised in scripture if we do this then we will be immensely blessed. We read in D&C 109:17-19, 22 “That all the incomings of thy people, into this house, may be in the name of the Lord; That all their outgoings from this house may be in the name of the Lord; And that all their salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with holy hands, uplifted to the Most High…And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;” These guidelines and promised blessings are given at the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple and apply to all saints who worship at the temple. We know that as individuals and families come closer together around the temple they will be brought closer together.

As a family we have set a goal to gather at the temple once each month. Obviously myself and my wife will be striving to visit on a regular basis to enter the temple and worship there. However, we felt it was important to involve our 4yo and 2yo children somehow. This is due to a scripture in Moses 7:18 “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” We want to have the blessings and peace of the temple reach the heart of all our little family, not just us as parents.

So once a month, all of us get together quickly after a busy day at school and work, hop in the car, grab a McDonalds (or in the case of our strangely healthy 4yo boy, a healthy dinner bag from Dunelm Mill Coffee Shop!) and drive up to the Temple. On the way we talk about our day, how things are going at school and why we’re looking forward to going to the Temple. The kids love it. We love it except the rush hour traffic but when we come off the exit off the M61 at Chorley and see the welcoming site of the Temple on the hill it makes all the jostling through vehicles worthwhile.

Usually our daughter falls asleep on the way and so she wakes up when we arrive. Each time she’s woken and seen the Temple, she always lights up and says “Oh, Temple!” We get out and hold hands and enjoy a walk around the Temple and grounds. Our son talks about Jesus being there, our daughter points out Moroni and we talk about the precious nature of the Temple and the blessings it has brought and will bring to our family.

At the end of each visit we all put our hands on the Temple and promise that we will return. This has seen our children become excited about the Temple, but I don’t think it’s just the fact it is a sacred place – whilst that is important. What is also happening is the memories we are building, the peaceful sacred time together. We love to see the Temple and will continue to do so in 2017!