Trim Your Lamp

This is just the first in my planned weekly entry on one thing I have learnt in the Come Follow Me programme (although I didn’t post this last week due to things I needed to do with my calling).

In the first week we had a look at the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virginswhich took their lampsand went forth to meet the bridegroom.

And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. (Matthew 25:1-2)

As a side note – I wondered if there was significance in the numbers, five wise and five foolish? We know that the kingdom of heaven on Earth is referring to the Lord’s Church. Does this indicate the proportion of the Lord’s kingdom who will be prepared for the Second Coming of the Lord? Maybe, maybe not – but it did cause me to consider about my standing if I would be ready.

Anyway – the main thing that caught my eye was found in this verses:

And at midnight there was cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to
meet him.

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps(Matthew 25:6-7)

I’ve skimmed over these verses in the past and just presumed it referred to ensuring we are ready for the Saviour. However, the phrase ‘trimmed their lamps’ did make me wonder what this actually meant and what could we learn from the analogy.

So, a Google Search was in order. From the search I gathered this information:
This care involved trimming the wick, which drew the oil up from the storage reservoir, so that the flame would be clean and bright. Lamp trimmers also refilled the reservoirs, which held enough oil for several hours of burning, but not enough to start a major fire if the lamp were to be knocked down or damaged somehow.
A poorly trimmed wick creates a flame which is dim and smoky. A properly trimmed wick should come to a rounded point, or should be wedge shaped. When lit, the wick should burn cleanly all the way up to the highest flame it can make. (Wikipedia:

This explanation was illuminating! We know that there are reasons for why the Master Teacher would use certain analogies and whilst the Parable of the Ten Virgins is a lesson in preparing for the Second Coming, there is reference here to light and tending to that light in our own souls..

We tend to our own ‘lights’ by:

  1. Trimming our lamps – in order to have the clearest light in our testimonies, we would need to work at ‘trimming’ our lamps. One way we do this may be ensuring we live worthy to have the presence of the Spirit in our hearts. We must ensure we are ready to receive the good things which light the candle of testimony in our hearts.
  2. Pouring oil into the lamp – when we are ready to receive the fuel, we then study, pray, partake of the sacrament to fuel the flame of testimony in our hearts.

As I studied this analogy, I couldn’t help marveling at the layers that were there within it. We can then link this in with Christ being the Light of the World – but that can be one for a future post. I can’t wait to continue studying the New Testament this year in the Come Follow Me programme.

Walking with the Saviour

In a sacrament meeting talk recently I was drawn again to the story of the Saviour walking on the water toward His disciples. In this experience, a number of lessons were highlighted and things that can be likened to our experience when out in this voyage called mortality.

The disciples had been sent on by the Saviour whilst He went alone to pray. I imagine that the Saviour in order to fulfill His ministry required close communion with His Father in Heaven. Meanwhile, the disciples were running into a little trouble:
“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was
contrary.” (Matthew 14:24)

Straightaway we see a parallel with our lives today. Often, we will feel in the midst of the sea in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes we drift peacefully along with the swells and current, moving towards our destination. At others, we will wash up at the end of the day and wonder what on earth happened in the past 15 hours or more! Sometimes the wind is pleasant, at others it can certainly be contrary!

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a
spirit; and they cried out for fear.” (Matthew 14:25-26)

In the past I have been surprised that the disciples’ reaction was one of fear. However, it makes sense when you understand that ‘the fourth watch of the night’ is between 3am-6am. It is the dead of night, they are battling against contrary winds and suddenly they see a figure approaching them on the water they are fighting so hard to steer through. Their fear is understandable, but the Saviour soon puts them at ease.

“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheerit is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the
water.” (Matthew 14:27-28)

Peter’s reaction is very interesting. For many people, they may be in that scenario and invite the Saviour to enter the boat with them. They may call out to their friend and ask Him to join them. However, Peter calls out to the Saviour and asks if he can join Him on the tempestuous waters. I find this fascinating. There could be two possible reasons. The first is that he wanted to perform the same miracle that the Saviour was manifesting. I doubt this but it is a possibility. The other reason (and the more likely one in my opinion) is that he wanted to be where the Saviour was and walk with Him. Imagine wanting to leave the safety of the boat and wanting to step out into the murky unknown. However again we can see the similarities in our life. We often will need to take leaps of faith towards the Saviour but He always is there to invite us. 

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the
water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraidand beginning to sink, he cried,
saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O
thou of little faithwherefore didst thou doubt(Matthew 14:29-31)

Our Saviour is always there. As soon as we begin to doubt or we fall short, His hand will always be there as a constant support to us if we will reach back and accept His help. The parallels are clear in this instance.

This experience has so many lessons contained in it that we can learn a lot. As we move into 2019 and focus on the stories of the Saviour’s life, I look forward to looking more deeply into these stories and accounts to learn more.

Authority in the Ministry

The entry is based on the activity found in Preach My Gospel page 5.

It first refers to John 15, which is an account of Christ ordaining His twelve Apostles to the great ministry they have prepared for them. Christ says “I am the true vine” (John 15:1) – He is the source of power of any administration or use of the priesthood authority in His Church. Without Him this Church wouldn’t be restored in it’s original form as His Church. As we have faith in Him – we are endowed with the power to do all His will.

In this scriptural passage, Christ is talking directly to his Apostles. However, we many take this event and apply it to ourselves, liken the scriptures to ourselves. We, when we officiate in His Priesthood, are a direct link to the Saviour – we are His branches. As Christ said “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). As we connect to the Vine in our responsibilities and if we invite His Hand to move this sacred work His power will emanate. In being set apart to the work, we become part of this overall ‘plant’ – a branch of the true Vine – messengers of Christ.

Here is a great promise by the Lord – “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7). Whatsoever thing we ask for in righteousness to our Heavenly Father in His service, it will be given. There is great power in knowing and applying this to the work.

We are all called as ministers. And interestingly this does not just apply to priesthood holders. Brethren and sisters are all called to the sacred ministry. All are called as ministering brethren and ministering sisters. We are required to be connected to the true Vine so we can invite power in His service. We are conduits for the power of the Spirit to flow. Whilst the conduit is important, it can only be useful and fulfill its purpose if it doesn’t impede the flow of our Saviour’s power and influence.

A Creator

Many people believe that this Earth which we live on was a random chance which occurred many years ago with which they can explain the origin of life itself.

Elder James E Talmage gave his thoughts on this perspective. “…man’s ingenuity has invented theories to illustrate…a possible sequence of events by which the earth has been brought from a state of chaos to it’s present habitable condition; but by these hypotheses this globe was once a barren sphere, on which none of the innumerable forms of life that now tenant it could have existed. The theorist therefore must admit a beginning to life on the earth, and such a beginning is explicable only on the assumption of some creative fact…” (articles of Fatith pgs 34-35).

The theories developed by man are indeed logical in many cases – however, to say that a monumental, cataclysmic event from nothing (as was once explained to me) is illogical to me. Elder Talmage also mentioned this – “we conclude that something must have existed always, for had there been a time of no existence, a period of nothingness, existence could never had begun, for from nothing, nothing can be derived.” (Articles of Faith, pg 34).

Many scientists do actually concede that there must be a greater power out in the universe and they are trying to explain how this Power caused these things to occur so perfectly. Said Alma to Korihor “…all things denote there is a God; yea even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and it’s motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44).

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1) – the Earth began with it’s creation and it was the Old Testament Jehovah, under the direction of the Father, that undertook this task. There was, and is, a Maker, an Organiser, a God. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1). Often, the problem is that we need to have the Spirit of the Lord with us to begin to build a testimony of God and His influence. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18) Because many shut their eyes from the Spirit, they cannot feel it’s light.

We do have a Heavenly Father and He, through His Son Jesus Christ, created this Earth for us to come and dwell. We can all receive this witness but we have to be ready to listen to the quiet promptings of the Spirit. We read “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:4) – one needs a broken heart and a contrite spirit to know these things, and God will provide an answer.

One by One – John 3:1-13

The next entry shared by Elder Bednar is found in John 1:1-13 where Christ meets with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. What is interesting is that this time the one is not a future Apostle but a man from a group that reviled the Saviour.

1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

In this instance, the one came to be ministered unto. What is interesting here is that Nicodemus does not actually ask a question or state his desires. He approaches the Saviour but does not say what his question is. Does this mean he doesn’t know what his query is? Maybe he did know but he didn’t want to say? Or perhaps he was going to but he did not have the chance? Whatever the reason is, Christ speaks to him next…

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Christ spoke to this one and addressed his concerns. As we minister to the one we need to know them as the Saviour knows His Father’s children. Of course we will not be able to reach this level of knowing those whom we minister to in this life but we can aim to try and know them well. As we do this, the Spirit will be able to support us to know what it may be that they need, as the Saviour knew with Nicodemus.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

What is interesting about the Saviour’s response here is that he listens to Nicodemus’s question and tries to answer it in a way where Nicodemus has to listen to the Spirit to be taught the answer. One thing that I am often suspect to is solving everyone’s problems. If I meet with someone and they have a concern, I feel like I want to solve it with them. However, once again, the Saviour’s way of ministering to the one is insightful. What is sometimes required is for us to enable to one being ministered to search the answer for themselves. We talk of self-reliance and this applies to spiritual matters and concerns as well as physical trials to overcome. The Saviour is leading Nicodemus to search the answer for himself.

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

At this stage in the ministering to Nicodemus, it is clear that he is still not understanding the Master’s guiding questions. We can draw presumptions from the context – perhaps Nicodemus is struggling to follow the guidance from the Saviour as he (along with most of the leading members of the Jewish religion at the time) are more focused on letter of the law than the Spirit and is therefore not able to comprehend the Saviour’s meaning. There could be other reasons. However, the Saviour knows our Father’s children and he provides the response that He knows Nicodemus will best respond to.

10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

Here the Saviour seems to reprimand Nicodemus about his apparent lack of understanding. To some this may seem like a harsh response. However, there is an important principle to learn again about ministering to the one. It is important that we get to know those we minister to so that we know what they best respond to. Once we do this we can truly minister effectively to the one and assist our Heavenly Father in His work.

The question may arise: how do we know that this answer was appropriate for Nicodemus? How do we know that he didn’t leave this experience bitter and became part of the large amount of religious leaders intent on causing the downfall of this self-proclaimed Saviour? The answer is that we find him in two later events of the same Gospel.

In John 7:50-52 we find him defending Jesus when others are discussing their opinions of Him:

50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)

51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?

52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

He clearly has been affected by this one-to-one experience with our Redeemer. He is trying to talk for the Lord amongst others of the Pharisees who would have him removed. Remember, this Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees so he must have been impressed by the Saviour to at least defend him. However, does this mean that he was convinced of the Saviour’s divine mission? We read of more in John 19:38-40:

38 And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.

40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

Nicodemus – a man of the Pharisees – was not only defending the Saviour but after His death, he was part of a group that secretly sought to take the crucified Lord’s body and give Him a custom burial of His people when others of their culture would not allow it. Not only this, he provided the means for this to happen with expensive spices (one of the same gifts that were brought at the time of his birth by wise men who heralded his birth as a foretold King – a coincidence?). Clearly the Saviour had ministered to this one the way that had the biggest impact. We can learn a lot from the Saviour and his personalised ministering to Nicodemus – to this one.

One by One Pattern – John 1:45-51

I have just begun to study Elder Bednar’s new book – ‘One by One’. I have only got through the first chapter so far but am finding it a great read!

Elder Bednar discusses a number of experiences that he and others have had where the Lord has directed their paths to meet with and share an edifying moment with one single individual, often when they were going about the Lord’s business to many other groups of ones. He speaks of an experience, for example, when he was repairing the roof of his home and he needed to go to the local DIY store to pick up supplies. Whilst there, he met with a man who recognised him and was able to share a great experience of talking with him for 15 minutes where they both were edified.

My plan is to discuss each scriptural section that Elder Bednar then shares in Chapter 2 which lists numerous examples from Christ’s life where he carries out His Father’s work to each individual, one by one. These were real eye-openers for me! With each of these Elder Bednar specifically doesn’t provide a commentary but allows the reader to consider the message of the verses for themselves.

The first is found in John 1:45-51 – Jesus Reveals Things to Nathanael

45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

To begin with, in verse 45 we read that Philip goes to find Nathanael after having been ministered to by the Saviour. This is the pattern from the first verse. Philip was a one and then he was invited to go and minister to other ones. Nathanael was one who needed to hear of the Lord. What was interesting here is that the phrase ‘Philip findeth Nathanael,’ seems to suggest that Nathanael was sought for purposefully. We do not know why Philip felt impressed to speak to this Israelite specifically but we can take a message from this. When we are taught by the Spirit, we must share this experience with others. However, we cannot just expect the Lord to do all the work for us, or for people to miraculously appear in front of us to share the Gospel with. We need to do our part – we have to seek and find those we can minister to as Philip did. We need to look for the one.

46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

Again, more principles of ministering to the one. Philip does not expect Nathanael to believe just in his word or testimony. He invites him to come and see. In this sense, he is inviting Nathanael to experience what he has experienced for himself.  Each one has to experience the Lord and His Gospel. It will not do to have one experience it and others to just accept it from their words. Each one must go into the baptismal waters, meet at the sacrament table, make (and keep) sacred covenants in the Temple one by one. Come and see.

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

I can see this becoming a familiar theme when the Lord Himself ministers to those in His mortal ministry. Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and knew Him. He knew His name and His character. Now, there is a level here that I haven’t considered before. In order for this observation to be made by Christ and it to be recorded at least one other must have been present to hear Him comment. This one or maybe these other ones would have been taught a valuable principle from the Saviour speaking these words. The Lord did not need to verbalise them. However, for those around Him, they learnt that He knows God’s children and who they are.

48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

And again, the Lord demonstrates His omniscient power. To any observer who knew not the Lord’s origin or motives they may be tempted to assume Christ is demonstrating His ability in order to impress. However, there is a reason why Christ felt it necessary to show His ability in this moment. He is ministering to a one. Perhaps Nathanael had a little faith or curiosity that was then fuelled by this miracle or sign that He was able to recite to Nathanael where He had been.

49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Lord then concludes this meeting with this one by testifying to him that he will see more miracles through his fledgling faith. This soon-to-be Apostle needed to be refined and taught in a relatively short space of time and the Lord was able to minister to Him as a one in a manner that enabled him to develop and grow.

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.

The Hand of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reflections on #LighttheWorld

So as many of you will be aware, the Church recently had their initiative for Christmas in 2016. I certainly enjoyed it. You can follow this link for the actual material: #LighttheWorld. Any search on Twitter and for #LighttheWorld and you will find a long list of positive messages and inspiring comments all around the Saviour and the Spirit of Christmas.

My family and I have particularly enjoyed the advent calendar list of activities that were offered. Every day there was a short video and a list of activities. Doing these has brought us closer to the Saviour over this Christmas season, which is why I hope to continue lighting the world through as many ways possible.

Today, I was visiting our YSA Ward in my capacity as a High Councillor and was asked to speak. Before my talk, a sister missionary gave a wonderful talk. She spoke about the light of Christ and how all of us this New Year can bring Christ to people by the very we act and they kind of person we are. She shared the experience of a Church building being built in a country with no proselyting allowed – the BYU building in Israel. They agreed to allow the building as long as the members did not proselyte in the area. A senior official in Israel, who knew and had dealings with the Church, made a statement. He said it was fine stopping the members from actively proselyting, but what were they going to do about the light that shone from the eyes of the members in the streets. He appreciated that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have something special about them.

We find references to this Light of Christ in the scriptures. We read in Moroni 7:18-19 “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” The Light of Christ is something we all have access to as children of God – members of the Church or not. It enables every one of God’s children to feel of His influence before baptism and confirmation. Otherwise, how could we be baptised  with faith in the Saviour before receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost? In Preach My Gospel we are taught “It is important for a … missionary … to know that the Holy Ghost can work through the Light of Christ. A teacher of gospel truths is not planting something foreign or even new into an adult or a child. Rather, the missionary or teacher is making contact with the Spirit of Christ already there. The gospel will have a familiar ‘ring’ to them.” When we teach the Gospel, even when we act as our Saviour would, this light is recognised by others and they feel of the Light of Christ. This is why when we live our covenants and live a life as close to Christ as we can, people recognise and warm towards that.

As we enter 2017, I’ve started to recognise something very important. We should not just aim to #LighttheWorld around Christmas time, although it is a very good time of the year to do so. With our example, with the Light of Christ, we can quite literally in a spiritual sense light the world every day of the year. Isn’t this what we covenanted when we were baptised – in the baptismal covenant we promise to “…witness unto…O God, the Eternal Father, that [we] are willing to take upon them the name of [His] Son,” (Moroni 4:3)

What changes will you make to #LighttheWorld in 2017? How will you draw others closer to the Saviour by your example of light?