Questions about the Church

I was listening to another Mormon Messages extract recently, this time an interview with a man who works for the Church History Department. I found this fascinating and gave me some food for thought. It was focused on what to do when shown events in Church History that haven’t been experienced before.

Firstly, I want to make something clear. There is a reason I have given this post the specific title it’s been given. When we come up against questions of faith in the Church it is very often for this reason: the Church. It is rarely (although it does happen) questions about the Gospel. The Church and the Gospel are two completely different entities. One is the eternal plan devised by a loving Heavenly Father, whose goal and focus is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The other is the earthly institution, instigated by Jesus Christ Himself, which officiates in and makes available the ordinances and support structure for Heavenly Father’s children to live the Gospel easier. You cannot have the Church without the Gospel, but our faith is sometimes built upon the ‘Church’ rather than the ‘Gospel’. Whilst it is important to have a living testimony of the Church (which involves the passing on of priesthood keys and living prophets and apostles), it is more important to have a testimony of the Gospel (which involves our Saviour Jesus Christ and the plan that has been prepared for us). In this post when I refer to struggles of faith, I am referring to the unfortunate cases where a member doubts the truth of the Gospel because of questions they have about the Church and in particular, events where they are unsure why certain things happened in Church History.

The Doubt

I think it would be naive to think that no adult member of this Church has ever come across some of the challenges to faith that could occur when it comes to Church History. Questions about polygamy, Joseph Smith, the Priesthood and other such topics are often discussed in modern popular culture, never mind some individuals who actively go about and seek to undermine the Church and its teachings. However, every now and again there will be stories or rumours about certain events that will shake us. We have a doubt, and that leads us to question.

However, this is a very important stage and it’s important for the individual to recognise that this is completely normal. The brother in the Mormon Messages segment was very clear on this. There seems to be a cultural anomaly that has developed within the Church – that to question things is wrong. If we have a question we had better forget about the question and just keep doing what we’re meant to. However, as he wisely pointed out, that culture isn’t doctrinal. In fact, to say we shouldn’t question goes against doctrine. We read throughout every part of the Standard Works that we should ask the Lord about anything we so feel:

Askand it shall be given you; seekand ye shall find; knockand it shall be opened unto you:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

And when ye shall receive these things, would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not trueand if ye shall ask with sincere heartwith real intenthaving faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

Oliver Cowderyverily, verily, say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive knowledge concerning the engravings of old recordswhich are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.

Yea, behold, will tell you in your mind and in your heartby the Holy Ghostwhich shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. (D&C 8:1-2)

Asking questions is strongly recommended in developing and maintaining a testimony of Jesus Christ, not frowned upon (looking at the doctrine). The important thing is that we are honest seekers of truth, that we want to find out the answer and act on it.

Foundations of Faith

In considering all of this, this brother reminded the listener of something else. Whatever it is that someone has questions about regarding Church History, what is important to remember is that we are looking back and making judgments without full knowledge of the context. We also need to remember the foundations that we have already placed our faith on.

He likened it to the analogy of Santa Claus. When he was growing up, he learnt that certain details about Santa Claus weren’t completely the truth. That the reality was not exactly what had been painted for him whilst he was learning about Christmas and the traditions surrounding it. However, he had a choice. He could find out more and continue sticking with the things he knew to be good about the Christmas season – the gifts, the traditions and so on – or he could cut all ties with everything to do with what he had learnt about Santa Claus, including Christmas itself.

The point he was trying to make was that if we come across events from Church History that make us question, the important thing to consider is that you have developed faith on principles of truth. There are certain things that you have testified about that you have experience in finding out to be good and trustworthy. When faced with doubt, it is important to remember that. You can then search out answers through study, prayer and so on. Sometimes there may not even be an answer to the question you seek (yet), however we can be assured that there are answers to things we can find out about.

Verily, verily, say unto you, if you desire further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22-23)

We can always turn to the Lord for guidance and reassurance – but we must develop a relationship in times when things seem straightforward for those times when faith seems difficult to find.

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Prayer: The Father and Son Chat

Today I was listening to a Mormon Messages soundbite on preparing ourselves spiritually each day and the main focus moved onto prayer.

I am pretty diligent in my scripture study, even if it’s only a few verses a day, I attend my regular Church meetings and renew my covenants and I try to fulfill my callings to the best of my ability whilst balancing family life. However, the one practice that I never seem to get right or do consistently is my personal prayers. We say family prayers everyday and you would think as a return missionary I would be better at this. I have seen miracles, felt clear promptings as a direct result and witnessed changes in my own nature as a result of heartfelt prayer. So why do I struggle with it on a regular basis. I seem to leave Church each Sunday with the commitment to improve my personal prayers and then fall short! Why do I not call on my Heavenly Father? 

All these thoughts began to buzz around my mind as I listened closely to the audio clip. Later, they shared a passage of scripture from the Bible Dictionary. Some of it I remembered and have used in my own opportunities to teach such as a talk, or when I have ministered. However, there was a section they read which I was sure was from some other source and I even rewound the recording to listen to where they found it again, but it was indeed from the very same place: the Bible Dictionary. It says this:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.”

For some reason, despite knowing that God is my Heavenly Father, this struck a chord in me. I love speaking to my Dad – I know that he loves me and is pleased to see me when we meet. How much more then is my Heavenly Father eager to see me when I ‘meet’ Him in prayer. No disrespect to my earthly father, but my Heavenly Father is so much more able, willing to love and has given me more guidance and help in my life than my earthly father (although, I owe my life to him also). So why shouldn’t I be anxious to get on my knees and communicate with Him!? 

The answer is right there at the end of the Bible Dictionary passage – we forget about how intimate the relationship with our Heavenly Father is. In fact, the unfortunate paradox is that we probably understand this intimate relationship the best when we are already praying fervently and often…not before we begin the process. So how can we always remember this relationship with Heavenly Father so we are consistent in our prayers?

There will be many answers, each more useful or unique to different people. However, I think the main answer is one which relates to the wonderful teaching by Alma in Alma 32:28 where he says:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

In other words, we just need to cast aside our apathy, our easiness to drift into relative contentment, and just get on our knees and do it! Then the next day, have some reminder ready and do it again! Try the word and see what happens. Only then can our hearts truly BEGIN to change. The word BEGIN is important there. It is a lifelong process which is why we are taught so often the basics – because we aren’t getting them all right yet.

Tonight – I will just do it!

Belief, Faith and Knowledge

The three terms belief, faith and even knowledge are often interchanged as though they are synonyms – all with the same meaning. However, there is a definite difference between them all.

In the Oxford Dictionary – her are the three definitions:
Belief: “something believed (accept as true)”
Faith: “reliance or trust; belief in religious doctrine”

Knowledge: “the facts etc that someone knows; knowing a fact or about a subject”

The easiest one to separate is knowledge, which will be discussed later, but belief and faith do seem to be similar – however a closer look differentiates the two.

Belief “may consist in a merely intellectual assent,” says Elder James E Talmage (Articles of Faith pg 96) whereas “faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.” (Articles of Faith pg 97). From this, it emerges that someone might believe something to be true – however, they do not act on that feeling. Faith, on the other hand, leads to action – it is a trust or reliance on a subject and acting accordingly. Faith is what is necessary for us to receive salvation and exaltation – not merely believing that to be the case. Another interesting thought is that one can have a belief – or even better, knowledge of a fact – and not have faith whereas you can’t have faith and not believe.

For example, it says in James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Further, a man possessed by devils was causing havoc “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:6-7). These devils believed Jesus to be the Christ, in fact, more than that – they knew Him to be the Christ. These spirits, unlike us, do not have a veil over their memory and so they remember perfectly the Grand Council in Heaven and the fact Christ was ordained as our Leader and Saviour. However, despite having this perfect knowledge, it doesn’t help them – they do not have the trust in Him as their Saviour (i.e. faith) because they have enlisted to follow the other ‘leader’.

Now, compare this with Peter’s statement to Christ. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Peter has belief that Christ was the Son of God, maybe even a knowledge but it couldn’t have been much more knowledge than the devils had (after all they knew perfectly he was the Christ from their unveiled experience) – so what was different between Peter’s attitude and the evil spirits? Faith! Peter not only believed THAT Jesus was the Christ but also believed IN Him as the Christ and what He would do.

To illustrate the point that mere knowledge doesn’t save, Elder Talmage uses an example of a scientific man who discovered, through scientific tests and observations, that the supply of water in a great city was tainted and was causing outbreaks of cholera, which was killing many people. He proclaimed this and the people, never having seen the physical tests to prove it, acted on faith and would drink sterilised water. The scientific man, despite his perfect knowledge, one day forgot and drank unsterilised water and died. His sure knowledge didn’t save him, but the people’s faith did save them. The man wasn’t wise and didn’t apply the knowledge he had received to his own life – thus it is with one who has belief but no faith. “Faith in Christ leads to action.” (Preach My Gospel pg 61) and is key as the very first principle of the Gospel.

I Am A Child of God

The Debilitating Lie
In the Pearl of Great Price, we begin with reading about Moses and a glorious experience he has with the Father. Moses was carried away in the Spirit into a vision and he witnesses the glory of God – we read in Moses 1:3

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?”

What an amazing experience. Here is Moses, a mortal man, witnessing before him the very existence of a God and that He is all-powerful and endless. If you were in that moment, how would you feel? A little intimidated? Nervous? Even a little scared? Or, if you know the truth that Moses was to learn immediately after, maybe you would feel something else. God goes on to say in verse 4:

“And, behold, thou art my son;”

Why would the Lord, after proclaiming his never-ending nature, decide to proclaim his never-ending relationship with Moses? Why teach him so early on this profound truth? We find the answer very soon after this marvellous vision. Satan, the father of lies, deception and falsehoods, comes to Moses immediately after this life-changing experience. This cunning architect of doubt knew exactly what his best stratagem was after Moses had such a revealing vision of God. In verse 12 we read:

“And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

Here is the great, debilitating lie that Satan often uses with us today to seemingly demean our value, and it is what he tried with Moses. Moses had just witnessed a perfect Being, a glorified Man – one who Moses might have found difficult to relate to, had he not learnt the simple, glorious truth mentioned before. Was he not indeed insignificant, did he not tremble before the presence of this almighty God and see he, himself, was inadequate? In saying ‘Moses, son of man’ Satan is deliberately trying to cause feelings of doubt and unworthiness in Moses, implying that Moses is worth nothing to God, this Mighty, Immortal Being.

The Glorious Truth

But, we know different. Moses knew different. He had been taught the simple, profound truth – the truth that would enable him to overcome all Satan could throw at him, to overcome all feelings of doubt and inadequacy – and yet, Primary children in our Church at the age of three (even younger) sing this life-saving truth in an innocent, heartfelt song – ‘I am a Child of God’. Because this doctrine is learnt at such a young age in the Church I feel I have often overlooked its significance. Moses did indeed overcome Satan’s advances in this experience, we can do the same.

Often Understated, Can Never Be Overstated

These thoughts are based on a talk given by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy in a recent General Conference. He stated:

“This doctrine is so basic, so oft stated, and so instinctively simple that it can seem to be ordinary, when in reality it is among the most extraordinary knowledge we can obtain. A correct understanding of our heavenly heritage is essential to exaltation.”

It is indeed understated just how important this tremendous truth is. The reality is, it can never be overstated. Just imagine if you did not know there was a God? Would there be any purpose to our mortal lives? Would we be motivated if we did not have an ultimate, eternal goal to strive for? Now, imagine how you would feel if you felt there was a God, but you had no meaningful, loving connection with Him? Would this be any more comforting that not knowing there was a God at all? That there was some all-powerful Being observing our every action, with little care or unconditional love for us?

If we look in the Bible Dictionary under ‘God’ we read:

“Although God created all things and is the ruler of the universe, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (through His Spirit), mankind has a special relationship to Him that differentiates man from all other created things: man is literally God’s offspring, made in His image, whereas all other things are but the work of His hands.”

As mentioned, this special relationship can be a great support and comforting for us to know as we journey through this mortal life. It means a lot. Once we understand this eternal truth, we can know that God is indeed there, but not only that, that He loves us as a perfect Father does, He is guiding us, He knows what is best for us and He desires nothing more for us to return again to Him for eternity.

Eternal Implications

Such a monumental truth has a number of implications, things which we need to take into account. I will only mention a couple but there are many.

The first, as mentioned, is the way we view trials. Elder Hallstrom went on to say in his message:

“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are—that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”

The truth of ‘I am a child of God’ can have a profound impact on how we react to trials in our lives. Trials change from being irritable barriers which impede our progress to spiritual hurdles which, whilst challenging, will ultimately support our growth and progress.

The second thing we change is our view of each other. How much easier does it become to love those around us when we recognise and understand that, as we are all the children of God, we are all spiritually connected and related? In the weeks leading up to serving my Mission in the England Leeds Mission, I was having a personal struggle. Not one of desire to actually go on my mission – but one of concern with my level of charity. It’s not that I didn’t care for other people…it’s that I just didn’t like talking to people, much less people I had no connection with (and even less those from Yorkshire!) Joking aside, a couple of weeks before I was to leave, I begin to have a quiet concern – how could I begin to proclaim the Gospel if I didn’t have a love for the people I would be serving. I had a love of the Saviour and His Atonement – but I do not think I yet had a sufficient understanding that we are all children of God (despite, again, having sung that fact over a thousand times). Elder Hallstrom commented on this saying:

This beloved hymn is one of the most often sung in this Church. But the critical question is, do we really know it? Do we know it in our mind and in our heart and in our soul? Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?

I thought I did – but maybe I was wrong. As it was, this concern was eating away at me as I was sat on a bus travelling to a destination. It grew and grew in my mind until I couldn’t bear it. I looked around at all the unfamiliar people from my seat at the back of the bus (remember, I was on a public transport, so they were very unfamiliar) and I just couldn’t imagine myself ever having the confidence and the strength to talk to them. As the worry grew, I felt a profound feeling that I needed to pray…looking back this now reminds me of a scripture in Moroni 7:45 which says: 

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God;”

As I prayed, certainly trying as much as I could in my heart, something significant stirred within me. It can only be described as a prompting from the greatest teacher we have access to, the Holy Ghost. As I lifted my eyes from being bowed in prayer, something incredible happened. There was no heavenly music, no mystical voice heard in my ear – but there was a significant change in my heart. For that moment, I understood. I looked around again, at each individual on that bus, and I saw a glimpse of something that I hadn’t even yet seen in myself – potential. Every single soul on that bus had (and still have today) the potential to become as God is, their Heavenly Father. No matter who they were, where they were from, what life they had lived up until that point, they could become like Him. The only thing stopping them was not having the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and I had it!! The young, 18-year-old man at the back of that bus was sitting there with eternal truths that would bless their eternal lives forever…so why was he just sat there!? Unfortunately I cannot say that I jumped up and proclaimed restored truth to my first converts then, but I knew what was needed. Not for me to be perfect at teaching, or even be the most confident at talking to people. I needed to recognise that EVERYONE I spoke to had divine potential, they were offspring of God.

What do we need to do?

Now, in a world that is constantly pulling us in seemingly never-ending directions, the truth of ‘I Am a Child of God’ can take a backseat. It really can be a truth which, whilst it is glorious in principle, it can be ordinary in day-to-day living. Elder Hallstrom warned us of this, saying: 

“The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God.”

Elder Hallstrom said it is a truth which is vital to our exaltation. Whatever methods we take to internalise this truth and understand it more (and yes it is the usual, seemingly ‘ordinary and mundane’ answers of reading scriptures, engaging in consistent meaningful prayer, partaking the sacrament religiously and renewing our covenants made with the Father and so on), they simply cannot be glossed over. A 30 second prayer which we repeat every evening will not open our natural eyes to the glorious feeling that we have divine potential – we must WANT to find this truth.

Separation and Unification

Recently I was led to study the principle of unification and separation within the Gospel of Christ. This was something taught in recent Ward Conferences in my Stake but I have looked into this more and will try and explain my ramblings in some sort of sensible order!

What is Separation?

Separation is defined as “the action or state of moving or being moved apart” or, even better “the division of something into constituent or distinct elements”. Separation means that things, or objects that were previously together are broken into different, unique parts of the previous whole.
Separation takes a number of forms and happens in a variety of ways in the world we live in. Examples of separation include, but are not limited to:

  • National separations
  • Separation within countries of language
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Generations

In most of these circumstances, separation can be seen as a hurdle or a barrier between quality relationships. For example, the people of Mosiah were taught by King Benjamin about Christ and they had all covenanted to live a Gospel life – however this standard was not upheld by all of the rising generation (another example of separation between generations). We read “And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 26:4) The people began to be separated in their faith. As such they had more contention and problems which led to Alma leaving his judgement seat he was voted to in Alma 1 to go out and preach the word of the Lord.

However, there is more to separation and it’s opposite, unification.

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

Separation plays a key role in Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. From the very beginning we were with Heavenly Father but we decided to become separated for a future goal, which will be brought forward later. This physical separation from our Heavenly Father was important. We now live on this Earth with a physical body which houses our spirit (unified together).

As we go through life, we will eventually experience the opposite, death. Death is defined in the Bible Dictionary as this:
Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit; “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness—to be alienated from the things of God (Alma 12:16, 32; 40:26).

We had to leave the presence of the Father in order to progress. In the same pattern, Adam and Eve had to fall (become separated) from the Garden of Eden in order for mankind to live and have joy. Also, once we reach the end of our mortal probation, it is true that we all will die physically, which involves a number of separations: body and spirit, family members and separation from the Earth are just some examples. Separation plays vital parts in Heavenly Father’s plan.

Is Separation Necessary?

The short answer – yes. There are a number of times, linked with the Plan of Happiness but also for other reason, when separation is needed.

In Alma 3:14 we read of the example of the Lamanites and Nephites. These two great nations were constantly at odds with one another. From the inception of the two separate groups, there was always a clear reason why this separation had to happen. This is what we read “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.” In this case, this very literal and physical separation was to protect the Lord’s covenant people. There is some issue raised about ‘the mark’ that the Lord placed upon the Lamanites and what this means about race. Whilst others will have their view and continue to voice that, I take this as simply an example of pragmatic guidance from the Lord. Simply – see those people that look different to your people, avoid them because they hate your people and also their traditions would lead you away from the Gospel path. Here – the separation protected the Nephites physically but also spiritually.

In Alma 5:57 we read of a much more figurative, or spiritual, application to the necessity of some separation. Alma teaches “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;” The people taught by Alma were not only encouraged to separate from the wicked but told to be separate and touch not their unclean things. Now of course, it would be difficult for the believers to physically gather away from all non-believers – perhaps this refers more to the state that we are expected to live in today, being in the world but not of the world. However this guidance was implied, it is another example of where separation is needed.

The above applied also when the Saviour came to visit the Americas. He said to them “But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” (3 Nephi 15:19) This is similar to the other two examples but another example of when separation is used in the Lord’s ministering with His children of the covenant.

Perhaps the most drastic example of separating covenant people from the wicked is the people of Enoch who were literally taken from the Earth to dwell in the presence of the Lord. We read of this in D&C 45:12 “Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself—a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come—a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;” This and the other examples show that separation does not always mean a negative thing completely. However, in every example found in the scriptures, separation was only used to protect the righteous from the wicked. On a personal level, separation is not good news.  

How is Separation Overcome?

We need to avoid separation between nations. Separation can lead to weakening of the whole. We see an example of this in Alma 31:2 when Alma was sorrowful with the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. We read “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” Alma was sorrowful because of this separation. He knew that it would have a negative impact on the Nephites (probably due to the degenerating spirituality of the Zoramites and the danger of them joining the Lamanites) and the negative impact on the individual Zoramites themselves. Separation can be a danger to both sides.

We need to avoid separation between neighbourhoods. We need to avoid separation between families. However, more importantly, we have to avoid separation within ourselves. One important way we have to avoid separation is between our thoughts and where we are at now, where our body is if you will. For example, if we are at a sacrament meeting and renewing our covenants, our sacred promises with the Lord where we can receive great spiritual promptings, but our mind is elsewhere then we miss out on a great experience.

However, the most dangerous separation we have to overcome is that of the separation of body and spirit. We know from D&C 93:34 that “And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” Of course, fortunately we do not have to overcome this separation ourselves. Our merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that we will have our spirit and body unite again.

However, what can we do to unite our mind and body, our families and those around us? We have to work at it. The interesting thing about separation and unification is that one of them happens naturally, and it is not unification. Unification takes effort, separation can happen naturally in a degenerative manner. So work at unifying your family, your friends – because unification brings power and strength. 

What is Unification?

The power of unification is potent. Mosiah 18:21 describes how people who take upon themselves sacred covenants can unify together. Alma taught “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” This is the template for congregations in the Church. We often debate how wards can be stronger in love and service. This is it. Of course, seeing it in practice is much more difficult but this is the target. The covenant of baptism is a call to unite “And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.” (Alma 4:5) We can keep the commandments, study the scriptures, worship at the temple all we can. However, if we do not unite, support and love one another in these activities we are missing out on great blessings.

As I was studying the Topical Guide for the word ‘Unification’, I came across this reference in Helaman 1:6 which says “And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.” This intrigued me. I wondered how this reference could shed any more light on unity. As I pondered over this I realised that this shows an example of how unity can bring peace. In the experience we find this reference, the Nephites are at a crossroads. The great war between the Nephites and Lamanites had passed and the chief judge that had led the way, Pahoran, had passed away. They needed a new chief judge and three of Pahoran’s sons vied for the position. When the victor, Pahoran (Jnr), was voted by the voice of the people, Pacumeni decided to unite with the voice of the people. He chose unity. Had his action been reciprocated by the other forerunner then the Nephites may have lived a very different lifestyle in the years to come. However, Paanchi did not, he chose separation. He called upon Kishkumen, an assassin presumably, and killed Pahoran. As the account continues, this Kishkumen becomes the original leader and initiator of – the Gadianton robbers. We will come back to this band at the end.

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

As with separation however, I wanted to look at how unity or unification is used in the great plan of happiness. Recently in my studies and worshipping at the Temple I was thinking about this and the examples of unification are rife within the Plan of Salvation – more so than separation. In Genesis and the book of Moses we read the Creation account and the account of the Fall. I list just a few examples of unification here in these processes:

  • “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2) We also know the Earth itself was created out of matter, not just out of thin air, and this matter had to be organised, or united together
  • “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9-10) Unifying of waters and land
  • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind…” (Genesis 1:21) Unifying of creatures on the Earth to gather together, each after their kind
  • “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24) This was a very interesting one. Again, I do not fully understand how man and woman were formed. Was it literally a rib from the side of man? I don’t profess to understand yet. However, there is this we can gather – there was a separation and then unification. Separation of ‘rib’ from man and then unification of man and woman – this unification is important for us each individually for eternal marriage and families are part of God’s plan

I could go on with this example but I have picked out a few that stood out. The Creation and the Fall make up two pillars of this Plan of Salvation. The third and final intergral part is the great unification, the grand reconciliation. In fact, the Plan of Salvation itself is an example of “Unification -> Separation -> Unification” for after the adverse effects of the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible to be brought together in the end. In Alma 11:45 we read “Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” This is why we worship our Saviour, our Redeemer. He makes unification between us and God, us and our families and us and our bodies possible. Without His great sacrifice then separation would become permanent and whilst separation is sometimes necessary in God’s plan, it is ultimately a state we wish to avoid.

When is Unification Dangerous?

Of course, as unification is so powerful, it is something that the adversary, along with every other useful and good thing that he can, uses to try and shake us from our faith. In 3 Nephi 6:27-28 we read of an occasion (and this is not the only example in the history of the Earth and mankind) where a unification happened that caused danger for everyone else involved. We read “Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law. And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.” This unification caused monumental issues for the people of the Americas. In fact it caused the Nephite government and civilisation to crumble and separate into tribes rather than one united people.

If we are not careful, then we can allow the adversary and his followers to unite against us and separate us from our Saviour. However, we can use the principle of unification to combat against this foe. We find this just a couple of years later in the same people mentioned before who had Christ visit them. “And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.” (3 Nephi 27:1) As we unite as disciples of Christ and strive to live a life patterned after Him, then we can find the strength to resist the wiles of Satan and overcome the world – but unifying will be vital for this to happen, not becoming separate.

Getting from A to C via B

Just a quick post this week.

Over a year ago in October 2015, my wife and I find out that we needed to move our little family out of the home we had been staying in for nearly a year and really enjoyed. This was not pleasant news for us. Nevertheless, we began looking for a place to within 6 weeks. It was not the easiest time but through our prayers we felt that the Lord would direct us. Most importantly we wanted to feel confident and sure in the decision we would make.

As we looked around we found a place that was a possibility. It was a similar price to what we were already paying, was a well cared for house and had a little garden. The problems were that it wasn’t in the most pleasant of areas, it was not a large home and we would have to move wards from the ward we love right now. It also had an excellent school fairly close by but also some troubling ones closer to it. We decided to go have a look round as we were quite undecided. We jumped into the car and drove the short drive. As we looked around we checked every detail. We were aware of the issues mentioned earlier. The house was pleasant and we were anxious about the little amount of time we had to find a new home for our little family. So, on the drive back, we pulled over and prayed about the decision, involving our children in the prayer. What happened next surprised us. We received a clear answer. Our three year old son also said he felt the same. The answer was not the answer we wanted and not the answer we were expecting. We felt that we should go for the home we had just viewed, despite it not being the home we maybe would have wanted. This was a clear and distinct impression, one that we could not deny.

So we set the process into motion. If this experience followed most you hear about listening to the Spirit, we would have moved into the home and lived happily ever after. But this did not happen.

Once we had begun the process and it became more serious, we suddenly felt differently. Both my wife and myself felt this uncertainty around our decision on the very same day and were unsure how to express this to each other that evening until we realised we both felt the same. And so, after more prayer and discussion, we decided to pull out of renting that home.

The next day, we went about our daily activities, confused why we had been allowed to go through this process if ultimately that was not the right destination for our family. But then, the very next day after pulling out of the original house, another appeared. One that was larger. One that was cheaper than the one we were living in AND the one we nearly moved to. One that would keep us in the Ward we wanted to stay in. One that had good and excellent schools and nurseries around it to choose from. This was our answer, this was our blessing for obedience to the promptings of the still, small voice.

For a long while, I thought that this experience was simply a test of faith. If we could listen to the promptings and follow them, even though it may not have originally been what we wanted, then we would be blessed further. However, my wife recently came across this video from Elder Jeffrey R Holland who speaks superbly about sometimes being led by the Lord down a certain path before being corrected by Him to go on another – to show us that the right path is absolutely the right one. He explains it much better than I could, so I will just drop the link here and urge you to watch it.

Be Thou Humble

The Three Relationships

I was recently in a discussion about the crisis of faith that can enter into every member’s lives. Those that attend the Lord’s house do so because of their faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ. However, those foundations of faith have been, are now being and will continuously be tested by turbulent trials and tribulations. Horrific events shake the world most weeks – the news never seems to cease. As we discussed how each of us could more safely navigate through these troubled times, our discussion become focused on three key relationships that, if we work on these, then we will become much more able to stay stable in our faith.

Having reflected on this, it became clear that we need to put all of our efforts into maintaining and strengthening these key relationships. One key attribute we need to do this is humility. I have studied the talk given by Elder Steven E Snow of the Seventy in the last General Conference in relation to this. We have a great deal of influence over the relationships we have in our lives – and these relationships could ultimately save our eternal lives in future times.

Fellowcitizens

The first key relationship we should develop is our relationship with fellow members of Christ’s Church. We read in Moroni 6:4-5:

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

When we are baptised into his Church, our Leader, our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, asks us to support one another. When members gather together, Christ is in their midst. As we develop a stronger relationship – a friendship – with those we share the same beliefs with, we have a wider network we can rely on when times become difficult. Not only this, but we can be sources of strength for others also.

As we develop our friendship with those around us in the covenant of Christ, we can remember the words of joy found in D&C 18:16:

“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”

You do not know the beneficial impact you can have on the faith of those around you. I have learnt great lessons of faith from many other people. Lessons of love, care, concern, humility and faith. I’m sure you can think of many lessons you have learnt from others too. On the other hand…we can have negative experiences in this type of relationship.

Careless words, thoughtless actions and unintended misunderstandings can have devastating consequences in our relationship with fellow Saints. We know how these negative experiences can have a direct impact on someone’s faith (whether or not this is the main reason for a lack in faith). Most of you will have heard the experience of Thomas B Marsh. If not here it is in brief:

Thomas B Marsh was the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the latter days, at 35 years of age. Therefore, he would (if the same general rule of ordination followed as today) have become the next President of the Church after the Prophet Joseph Smith. He lived faithfully, serving missions and caring for members of the fledgling Church. However, in 1837, relationships among the Twelve had deteriorated. This actually highlights another need for humility – the main causes were inexperience and disagreements about their role and purpose within the Twelve. We find Christ chastising the original Twelve Apostles in the New Testament when He said in Mark 10:44 – “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”

Despite being successful in improving the humility of His brethren in the Twelve, Marsh fell victim to the spirit of pride, with an incident involving Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris. According to George A. Smith, the women had agreed to exchange milk from their cows for making cheese. But counter to their agreement, Elizabeth allegedly kept the cream strippings—the richer part of the milk that rises to the top—before sending the rest of the milk to Lucinda. According to Smith, the matter went before the teachers quorum, then the bishop, and then the high council, all of whom found Elizabeth to be at fault. Marsh, not satisfied, appealed to the First Presidency, who agreed with the earlier decisions. Further offended by this chain of events, the already frustrated Marsh was said to have declared “that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.”

Sometime in the fall of 1838, Marsh left Far West with his family and began actively opposing the Saints. He swore out in October 1838 that detailed his concerns about acts of violence and destruction he believed were being planned or carried out by members of the Church against their neighbors in Caldwell and Daviess counties, as well as stating his fear that “all the Mormons who refused to take up arms, if necessary in difficulties with the citizens, should be shot or otherwise put to death,” and that “no Mormon dissenter should leave Caldwell county alive.”

Following his excommunication in 1839, Brigham Young become the next President of the Quroum of the Twelve…and the rest is history.

Pride amongst fellowcitizens and Saints can be faith-shattering. Remember humility and love.

Family

The second relationship we cannot allow pride to enter is with our family. Elder Snow is very clear on this matter:

“Humility is essential to gain the blessings of the gospel. Humility enables us to have broken hearts when we sin or make mistakes and makes it possible for us to repent. Humility enables us to be better parents, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends.

On the other hand, unnecessary pride can dissolve family relationships, break up marriages, and destroy friendships. It is especially important to remember humility when you feel contention rising in your home. Think of all the heartache you can avoid by humbling yourself to say, “I’m sorry”; “That was inconsiderate of me”; “What would you like to do?”; “I just wasn’t thinking”; or “I’m very proud of you.””

Have you ever had an argument with your spouse, parent or child and thought afterwards that it was the best thing to do? Was it ever better being right instead of recognising each have differing opinions and showing an increase of love?

Having said all this, we are human. Often, the original focus of our pride-filled ‘debate’ will be forgotten and at the end, the initial trigger of the argument will have been forgotten. At that moment we see 3 Nephi 11:29 fulilled:

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

I am certainly not perfect when it comes to having humility in my relationship with my family. We may be tempted to say that this shortcoming is only human, that it is something we can work on but will always be a problem. To that, President Dieter F Uchtdorf stated:

“Pride may be a common human failing. But it is not part of our spiritual heritage, and it has no place among holders of the priesthood of God. Life is short, brethren. Regrets can last a long time—some will have repercussions that echo through eternity. The way you treat your wife or children or parents or siblings may influence generations to come. What legacy do you want to leave your posterity?”

We are better than this. We can overcome pride in the home. It is not easy. However, if we desire to return to live with our Heavenly Father, we need our families. We must teach with love and humility. Parents must demonstrate humility to each other in front of their children. The way they see your interactions will have an impact on the spouse and parent they are in the future – affecting generations of your family line! Your pattern of humility (or pride) will echo into the eternities, for you and for them. And this will affect our faith…

God

The final relationship we must have the utmost humility in (and probably the most important) is with our Heavenly Father. We cannot develop a secure enough relationship with God if we are not humble. As mentioned, we are seeing many events in the world, as well as our personal lives, where we may be tempted to throw our hands up and question ‘Why?” Elder Snow said:

“Accident and illness, the death of loved ones, problems in relationships, even financial reversals can bring us to our knees. Whether these difficult experiences come through no fault of our own or through bad decisions and poor judgment, these trials are all humbling. If we choose to be spiritually attuned and remain humble and teachable, our prayers become more earnest and faith and testimony will grow as we overcome the tribulations of mortal existence.”

This is a scripture which I feel, for me personally, begins to convey to me to intense deep love our Father has for us. In Moses 7 we read:

“…Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth. And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Wo, wo be unto the inhabitants of the earth. And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever…and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…”

However, what will be an even greater cause of sorrow to our loving Father, is that when these horrifying events occur, there will be some that turn away from Him because they have lost that relationship with Him – their faith is gone.

One such person that could have easily lost their faith was Job. Job had been blessed with great riches and a large family. However Satan felt that Job was still faithful as he lived in comfort. So, Satan set out to tear away all from Job – natural causes of death and destruction literally tore Job’s life apart. He ultimately ended up alone without a penny, with only his ‘friends’ left, who accused him of sin – because how else would those bad things have happened? However, Job had built a strong relationship with His God. As such, despite this great loss, he testified:

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:”

Invitation

I share with you today an invitation that could affect your life. I urge you today to reflect on these three key relationships: with members, your family and your God. In each of these relationships, I invite you to think of how you can strengthen each one of them, remembering humility will be vital.