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.

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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?

Subtlety vs Simplicity

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

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

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

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

Fully Benefitting From the Sacrament

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

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

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

  1. Rev’rently and meekly now,

Let thy head most humbly bow.

Think of me, thou ransomed one;

Think what I for thee have done.

With my blood that dripped like rain,

Sweat in agony of pain,

With my body on the tree

I have ransomed even thee.

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

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

How can we fully benefit? Reverence…

  1. In this bread now blest for thee,

Emblem of my body see;

In this water or this wine,

Emblem of my blood divine.

Oh, remember what was done

That the sinner might be won.

On the cross of Calvary

I have suffered death for thee.

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

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

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

  1. Bid thine heart all strife to cease;

With thy brethren be at peace.

Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be

E’en forgiven now by me.

In the solemn faith of prayer

Cast upon me all thy care,

And my Spirit’s grace shall be

Like a fountain unto thee.

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

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

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

  1. At the throne I intercede;

For thee ever do I plead.

I have loved thee as thy friend,

With a love that cannot end.

Be obedient, I implore,

Prayerful, watchful evermore,

And be constant unto me,

That thy Savior I may be.

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

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

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

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

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