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.

Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice

This post focus on a talk given by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entitled ‘Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice’. 

I will not spend a long amount of time defining faith, but I will let the great Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, do this for me when he said:

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21) – I will also add then when referring to faith we usually mean having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His enabling power to bring us salvation and exaltation.

One of Elder Andersen’s concluding comments, which I feel sets up my thoughts well, was:

My dear friends, your faith did not begin at birth, and it will not end at death. Faith is a choice. Strengthen your faith, and live to be deserving of the Savior’s approving words: “Great is thy faith.”

We are the children of our Heavenly Father. We existed before our current situation here on Earth. We began the important process of developing our faith way before we came to Earth to have it tested, otherwise we would have no faith TO be tested. This life-long practice of developing our faith will not end with death either. However, whilst here on Earth, away from our Father in Heaven and those beyond the veil who we love, this will be a vital time to strengthen our faith. It is, and will always be, a daily battle.

The Daily Battle

Ponder the following question – Is my faith getting stronger or getting weaker? It is important we ask ourselves this question, because it is only one of these two events that are occurring. Our faith in Christ is either being strengthened or it is diminishing. Have you ever stopped to ponder how significant this is? In our day to day lives, whatever we are doing has the influence to bring our faith closer to the Saviour or lead us further away. Elder Andersen put it forward clearly when he said:

“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” 

There is one who seeks to drag us all away from our loyal Mediator that we will be as miserable as he is. Satan is real. He is fighting maybe more valiantly than we sometimes do, to pull us away from the Lord, the influence of His Spirit and, in the process, diminish our faith.

Despite this powerful adversary, we can still find ways in our day to day life to strengthen our faith. These methods are not unfamiliar to us. We partake of the sacrament, we learn more by the power of the Holy Ghost (who can teach us the truth of all things). This is a good place to start. It’s easy to feel our faith building in a sanctuary provided for us at Church each week – but how well are we developing our faith in the other 165 hours we are given in the week outside of our Sunday worship? Again, the list of things we can do to develop our faith is too long to discuss in this setting but it should be something we are constantly aware of. To help us, Moroni including an edifying sermon from his father Mormon in the scriptures, where he was recorded saying:

“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

If we are striving to strengthen our faith, our choices should be made clear to us, by the Spirit, what we can do. But one thing is definitely true, our faith will not develop by chance. It is our choices that will define how strong our faith is, and therefore, how well we will endure trials and tribulations. No matter how weak we think our faith may be now, the only way our faith will go will be stronger (if we support it by doing the right things). Elder Neil L. Andersen taught:

“Although your beginning fire of faith may be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. The difficulties of mortality blow against you, and evil forces lurk in the darkness, hoping to extinguish your faith. But as you continue to make good choices, trust in God, and follow His Son, the Lord sends increased light and knowledge, and your faith becomes settled and unwavering. President Thomas S. Monson said: “Fear not. … The future is as bright as your faith.””

This is not an easy task. Life will throw challenges before us. However – in our Heavenly Father’s grand plan, the very influence that seeks to overthrow us by sending us trials is actually strengthening us…trials, if tackled with the faith we currently have, can help our faith grow even stronger. We just need to tackle them with full reliance on the Lord and a vision that we will get through – and our faith will help us do that.

The Eye of Faith

In Ether 12 we are taught about spiritual giants in the scriptures who had immovable faith, who truly saw miracles because of the faith they had developed – from Alma and Amulek who saw themselves miraculously delivered from bondage because of their faith to the Brother of Jared who’s literal vision could not be kept from the veil because of his faith – he saw the premortal Son of God.

In Ether 12:19-20 we read:

“And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith.”

This phrase ‘eye of faith’ appears previously in Alma 5:15 where we are asked by Alma: Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality…? As we develop our faith, it is recorded that we can look forward with an eye of faith, in (to paraphrase Alma) hope of things not seen which are true. We can receive a vision from our Father in Heaven to guide and direct our next steps. Now, when we say a ‘vision’, I am not suggesting that when we strive to see with an eye of faith, or pray with strengthened faith for guidance, that we will see an angel. Neither am I saying that we will be asked to go and uncover some sacred discovery that will be a testament to the world of our Saviour, but what I am saying is that we can receive direct, personal guidance for ourselves, our family and for the stewardship we have in the Church.

You can receive a vision. As a newly called Elders Quorum President three years ago, I was encouraged by our Stake President to pray and seek revelation, a vision even, on how to lead the Melchizedek Priesthood in my area of stewardship. As I did so, with an eye of faith (faith that I would receive an answer), promptings and direction began to flow. I will never forget that moment.

A more practical example occurred on my mission. I was in my third area and I was training a new missionary. We were very excited to serve; we were white-washing a new area (opening an area that had previously been closed to missionaries) and we wanted to see miracles. However, after a few weeks we had been teaching a number of investigators but nothing ‘miraculous’ (in our eyes) had happened. The following Sunday was a Fast Sunday and we were studying together this very principle (which had been taught by our Mission President), to receive a vision, find our own Sacred Grove, and try to see with an eye of faith. As a companionship we put our full trust in the Lord, admitted our faults and pleaded that we would see our faith bear fruit.

As we sat in our Ward Council meeting that morning, we noticed out of the corner of our eye an unfamiliar person walk into the entrance area of the chapel. My companion and I looked at each other, and without a word to each other, left the meeting to go to talk to this man. He was baptised three weeks later and invited a number of his friends to hear the Gospel.

I share this example with the full knowledge that stories like these might instill faith in the principle being considered, but events do not always happen that ‘perfectly’ – for that one investigator we had, there were probably dozens if not hundreds of situations where things did not happen quite as we would have liked. However, if we seek for a vision, as we look with an eye of faith, to have the Lord direct us and then we do all within our power to realise these goals, then the Lord will make up the rest in His own way and time.

As an Apostle of the Lord has stated, “Your faith is either growing stronger or becoming weaker.” Do not let it fail.

Facing the Future with Faith

Very often, we look back to the past and brood over it for too long. We can reminisce about the old days and wish that those days were still now, or these moments bring back bad memories or can make us feel disappointed and disheartened at opportunities missed. We need to look forward with faith for a brighter tomorrow.

The Saviour, in speaking about the day of His Second Coming, spoke of how people should not return to their home to retrieve things, or possessions, left behind. He then gives a very ambiguous but meaningful phrase – “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32) Who exactly was Lot’s wife? What did she do that we have to remember, as we have been counselled by Christ to do?

Lot and his family were living in Sodom and Gomorrah at the time in which the Lord declared it time for it to be destroyed. However, Lot and his family were slow to leave. Although they were clearly obedient and righteous to some degree (else why would the Lord wish to preserve them?) they felt ‘at home’ in that wicked place. This reluctance indicates a problem that we sometimes may have. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained “As Elder Neal A. Maxwell…said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.” In Lot’s account we continue “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand…the Lord being merciful unto them…and set him without the city.” (Genesis 19:16) – the men being angels of God – led them out. The Lord told them to “…look not behind thee,” (Genesis 19:17) and to continue to flee. However, “…his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (of Genesis 19:26) She disobeyed, and looked back to her past. This may not have just been a physical ‘looking back’ but also a mental wishing to be back. Elder Holland says “…she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future. That, apparently, was at least part of her sin.” Hence, why she was punished for it.

Applying this to our own lives – we need to look forward “…with an eye of faith,” (Ether 12:19) toward our future, knowing that we are in the safe hands of our Father in Heaven. “To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances…and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife,” continued Elder Holland. Paul had the right idea in writing to the Philippians. Paul, previously known as Saul, had a very high-ranking, privileged life (in worldly terms) and so, could have easily looked back longingly to the ease of his previous years. But he wasn’t like Lot’s wife, in fact he wrote “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul forgot about his past and looked forward to the future. Just like a burnt fire, we can use the glowing embers of experience, but we shouldn’t try to reclaim the ashes.

Now, of course, something that often occurs when dwelling in the past is that past wrongs and embarrassments of others are reclaimed. We should always remember the counsel from the Lord, which says “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42). We have also been told by the Lord “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10). Therefore, we should not bring back old problems to tease or hurt someone. Elder Holland puts it perfectly when he said “If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, “Hey! Do you remember this?” Splat! Well, guess what? That is probably going to result in some ugly morsel being dug up out of your landfill with the reply, “Yeah, I remember it. Do you remember this?” Splat.” – basically, it will end up very dirty and very contentious and “…the spirit of contention…is of the devil…” (3 Nephi 11:29) as Christ taught to the Nephites.

As we put the past behind us, remembering the glowing good times and character-building experiences we endured, our future will be our focus and it will become better. As Mormon wrote to his son, Moroni, to remember Christ and let “the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever…” (Moroni 9:25) and as we do this, the best is truly yet to be!

The Armour of God

Many are aware of the ‘armour of God’ that can be found in Ephesians and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Here is the summary:

  • Loins girt about with truth
  • Breastplate of righteousness
  • Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace
  • Shield of faith
  • Helmet of salvation
  • Sword of God’s Spirit and His word through revelation

All of these items are vital – if any were missing in our defence, we would fall very quickly as weaknesses would be exposed. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin warned that Satan “seeks to find any chink in the armor of each person. He knows our weaknesses and knows how to exploit them if we allow him to do so. We can defend ourselves against his attacks and deceptions only by understanding the commandments and by fortifying ourselves each day through praying, studying the scriptures, and following the counsel of the Lord’s anointed.”

There are a variety of ways that we can protect ourselves and put on this armour of God. It is interesting, that in the Ephesians account of this analogy, it says in Ephesians 6:16 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” This passage seems to indicate the necessity of this particular protection – whether the most important or one of the most important – in order for us to overcome the wiles of Satan. It does make sense as faith is a principle of power. It seems ineffective having a knowledge of the gospel or understanding truth if we do not work on developing our faith.

Is it, therefore, any wonder that all the things we do to put on the armour of God are things that increase of faith? Acts such as reading the scriptures, praying, going to Church, partaking the sacrament and worshipping in the Temple. There are key areas where Satan tries to pinpoint his attacks which affect the majority of the human family, God’s children, that without the armour of God would be vulnerable areas.

One is chastity. The Law of Chastity is a simple law and one which, when one considers the consequences when not followed, makes sense – to those who understand the Lord and His love for His children. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught “One of the most pervasive deceptions in recent years is the notion that immorality is normal and acceptable and has no negative consequences. In truth, immorality is the underlying cause of much suffering and many other problems that are prevalent today, including rampant disease, abortion, broken families, families without fathers, and mothers who themselves are children.” It does seem to be one of the most accepted transgressions of the Lord’s commandments in the world today when in actual fact, for example, the sin of adultery is the sin ‘next to murder’. God delights in chastity. What better thing for Satan to try and pull us away with.

Not only this, but there are a variety of ways in which we can be ensnared. One of these tactics is pornography. President Gordon B. Hinckley warned “You must not fool around with the Internet to find pornographic material. You must not dial a long-distance telephone number to listen to filth. You must not rent videos with pornography of any kind. This salacious stuff simply is not for you. Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.” If we submit to this vile tool of Satan, we are literally stripping off our armour and our virtue and putting ourselves under Satan’s power. Stop now! For anyone who is under this seemingly unstoppable habit, it is never too late. Even if it has begun, it can be halted. We need to continually put on the armour of God and to do so we need to keep clean and call upon the Atonement of Christ to cleanse us further.

The second possible weak spot is honesty. President James E. Faust taught “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” Honesty includes a complete change in our way of doing things – to become more honest. When we are not honest, then it becomes more and more difficult to tell the truth.

Of course it is one of the commandments to be honest. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16) The principle of being honest is, again, very simple. However, it is one that many can find difficult to keep fully for one reason or another. As members of Christ’s church, even as any human being,  we should strive to be honest. If we can become more honest, we will find strength to overcome more challenges.

The final example of possible weakness is our use of language. There are a few elements of our language we need to be careful with. We should not take the name of the Lord in vain. We shouldn’t use foul language. Of course, as with chastity and honesty, language is something that Satan has been working on up to today where, to use this kind of language, is something deemed as perfectly acceptable. President Hinckley said “Don’t swear. Don’t profane. Avoid so-called dirty jokes. Stay away from conversation that is sprinkled with foul and filthy words. You will be happier if you do so, and your example will give strength to others.” It is incredible how, when someone shows the example and doesn’t use foul language, it is really noticed by people around them. I’ve personally had a number of instances where people have mentioned they have noticed I don’t swear and appreciate it, or when they mishear me and think I have sworn and are shocked – when many other people around them use the same words freely.

Of course, when we use bad language it drives the Spirit away. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:8-9) This verse points out the irony that the mouth that we use to say our prayers to God and even partake of the sacrament with – we sometimes allow it to issue forth things we shouldn’t. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve stated “Profanity and vulgarity…are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defences by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us.” Foul language can draw the presence of the Spirit away and easily offend others – just what the adversary would want.

As we use the armour of God to protect ourselves and win the war against the fiery darts of the adversary, we will protect our weaknesses and receive more power by our Heavenly Father. Here is another interesting thought to add to that by President Harold B. Lee:
“[The] armoured man hold[s] in his hand a shield and in his other hand a sword…That shield was the shield of faith and the sword was the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. I can’t think of any more powerful weapons than faith and a knowledge of the scriptures in…which are contained the Word of God. One so armoured and one so prepared with those weapons is prepared to go out against the enemy.” The armour of God includes offensive as well as defensive preparations. The sword of God’s spirit – meaning the Word of God – can give us power to actively combat the falsehoods of Satan. We can use the scriptures against his lies and therefore, the armour of God becomes, not just a defensive tool that we have to shield us but is also a weapon to vanquish Satan and come off conqueror in our daily, spiritual battle.