Step by Step

I have been thinking a little bit recently about how the Lord guides our lives and paths step by step. He has a plan for us and He can guide us to fulfil this plan. An example of this was the Star of Bethlehem. It is unlikely that the Lord made a star appear out of nowhere. Our Heavenly Father has a perfect plan. As such, He was able to orchestrate the movements of the stars and planets in such a way that they aligned or manifested themselves in such a way that signalled the birth of our Saviour.

In our personal lives, we are given the opportunity to receive Patriarchal Blessings. These blessings provide an opportunity for us to be guided step by step. We are told on lds.org that “Those who follow the counsel in their patriarchal blessing will be less likely to go astray or be misled. Only by following the counsel in a patriarchal blessing can one receive the blessings contained therein.” We will only be able to be led step-by-step if we follow the guidance and instructions in those blessings.

I have also been studying Our Heritage, which catalogues the History of the Church. It explains what happened in the early life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. After it details the event of his operation, it makes one small mention of a significantly important detail. It says in Our Heritage “After Joseph’s operation, the Smith family moved to Norwich, Vermont, where they suffered three successive years of crop failure, and then moved to Palmyra, New York.” This is again another example of the Lord guiding His work. The Smith family moved to Norwich, Vermont – however this was not where the Lord needed them to be for Joseph to carry out his work to which he was going to be called. As such, a destination adjustment was needed and then the Smith’s moved. People may say it is simply a coincidence, however all the coincidences in the world can’t explain how Heavenly Father’s plan has worked to perfection thus far. He guides up step-by-step.

Temple/Prodigal Son Analogy

Recently I’ve been able to consider my feelings about the Temple and how important it has been in my life. It really is a place where the Spirit of the Lord can feel so close and where peace can be found.

One thing that has been highlighted to me once more is the importance of symbolism. The Temple is a wonderful place to learn but a lot of the lessons taught are symbolic and require guidance from the Spirit to support our understanding. I explored a little into Parables – these are great examples of the way that the Lord teaches through examples, symbols and analogies.

We know the parable of the prodigal son begins with children who are due an inheritance from a wealthy father. The prodigal son asks for his inheritance early and then goes and spends it all on material, temporary possessions. I want to focus in on this part of the parable as an example of the Temple and how it can play a comforting and integral role in our lives. In Luke 15:17-19 we read:

“17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”

We often may feel like this. I was asked to prepare a talk about being worthy to enter the Temple. Of course it was important to cover the necessary conditions that are required to enter the Temple. The Lord’s House is set apart, sanctified, to enable it to be such a spiritual place for a reason. However, I was also keenly aware of the need to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that we cannot be good enough. I think this is sometimes more of an issue. I have met so many people who feel that they are not good enough to enter the Temple but often it is because they are comparing themselves to the Lord’s perfect standard. We are not required to be perfect yet. We need to be living our covenants and striving to keep the Lord’s standard but, if we can answer the questions the Lord has set as the yardstick to enter the Temple, then we are good enough.

We must make the decision to enter as soon as we can. The words of the parable continue (Luke 15:20-21):

“20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”

Once we have the faith to act, we go before the Lord’s appointed servants and the Lord Himself and aim to go to our Father’s House. We return back home. We see the Father’s (and I imagine our Father’s) reaction in the following verses (Luke 15:22-24):

“22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”

I can imagine this. Our Heavenly Father seeing His children gathering at His home and welcoming them all. We feel of this ‘best robe’ when we enter the welcoming, warm entrance to the Temple. It is almost as if He wraps us in His arms of comfort when we enter for those blissful hours we worship in that Holy place. The prodigal child returns – as we enter back into His presence to make the decisions and covenants we make in the Temple.

I Am A Child of God

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

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

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

“And, behold, thou art my son;”

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

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

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

The Glorious Truth

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

Often Understated, Can Never Be Overstated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eternal Implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we need to do?

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

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

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

Separation and Unification

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

What is Separation?

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

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

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

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

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

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

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

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

Is Separation Necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

How is Separation Overcome?

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

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

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

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

What is Unification?

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

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

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

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

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

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

When is Unification Dangerous?

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

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

We’ll Ascend Together

This entry is based remarks on the talk given by Sister Linda K Burton in the recent General Conference ‘We’ll Ascend Together”. In her talk she speaks of the importance of the family, in particular the relationship between the husband and wife. I would like to focus on this relationship but also include the children within this family setting and their role in helping the whole family ascend together.

The world as we know it is in disarray. Countless concourses of people are tossed to and fro in chaos, looking for a sense of purpose and comfort in their lives. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we are in a very fortunate position. We have a great amount of knowledge about such deep and spiritual things that I think sometimes we forget just how fortunate we are. We know what we need to do to have peace and happiness in our lives.

On the other hand, we also know that Satan, the adversary of peace and happiness, does all he can to make all mankind suffer and become lost. Have we ever stopped to wonder why? After all, this Satan was once like we were, in that he was a spirit child of our Heavenly Father. We know that he decided that he required more though, in his own way and time. In rebelling against our Father in Heaven, Satan lost the opportunity to experience mortality. As a result he works ceaselessly to degrade us and our families. He has planted the lie that family, and the fundamental organisation of the family, are not necessary, that we can find happiness without family. In the last General Conference, Sister Linda K. Burton stated I plead with you not to listen to Satans lies! He has forfeited that sacred privilege of ever becoming a husband or father. Because he is jealous of those who have the sacred roles he will never fill, he is intent on making all men miserable like unto himself!

Is it any wonder that in today’s ever-changing world, the family is being attacked on all sides? Whether it’s the family as a concept or own individual families, Satan is mobilising all his efforts to rip the family apart. The list that could be given of active threats to the family is too long and disheartening to state at this moment but we are fully aware of them. As parents in Zion, it is vital for us to not only teach our children the principles of the Gospel but create a nurturing home which can be a place of refuge in the spiritual storm. As children in Zion, it is very important that we accept our role in making the home truly a heaven on Earth. Parents and children have a partnership and if they work together they can resist the oncoming march of Satan and his lies.

Parents

As I researched for this talk I came across a great list of quotes about family given by well-known people; people like CS Lewis, Walt Disney, Princess Diana and more. What was fantastic to see was that within this list there was a quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley – wife of recent Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley – she said “Home is where you are loved the most and act the worst.” The sad thing about this thought is that I instantly felt bad – you know the feeling. Parents, do we act as polite and respectful of others at home as we do maybe in the workplace, or in public? As husbands or wives do we remember to apply the Proverb “A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1). We all have arguments with our family members and I’m no exception. There have been a number of times I’ve looked back over a discussion we’ve had and I wonder ‘Why didn’t I just let it go?’ – did me being right really matter that much? I’m sure we’ve all had those moments too! Couples who have been blessed with a temple marriage should be working towards a Celestial Marriage – and there is no contention in the Celestial Kingdom. Will we therefore agree completely in the eternities? Maybe not, but we will not contend with each other. Let’s get into that habit now.

As a people who have made life-changing covenants with Heavenly Father it is our duty to remember Christ and try to live a life that He would in all times, things and places – this includes, and probably applies most to, our own home. As I think of the role of parents in the home my mind refers straight back to my favourite passage in the Bible Dictionary under the entry for the Temple – it describes the Temple as “A place where the Lord may come, it is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth. Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”

This thought surprised me when I first read it – can our homes REALLY compare to the Temple in sacredness? Can my home with Cheerios scattered across the living room floor from snack time, my home with books constantly finding their way on the floor, my home with little flecks of Playdoh all around the dining room table really compare to the Temple in holiness? Before deciding that goal was a little unrealistic for our young family I paused and thought about the significance of those items. All of these things (and more) show that our home is a place for nurturing, learning, playing and growing together. However messy until the children go to sleep (and then the same again the following day), it is indeed a special place and yes, a place where the Spirit of the Lord can be unrestrained, if we invite it to be there.

In the scriptures, we read of parents who taught their children well so that when they grew up they did not depart from the way they had been taught. From the very start of the Book of Mormon we learn the principle of righteous parenting – ‘I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents’ is often referred to as the most read line in the entire Book of Mormon. But it is a good line. It shows that Nephi was taught and that his parents were good. They must have taught their children well because Nephi did not just accept what his parents said but also went to find out for himself – in 1 Nephi 2:16 we read “…having great desires to know the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord and behold…he did soften my heart that I did believe the words which had been spoken by my father.”

I don’t know if you have noticed but did you spot the word ‘soften’. I had always, for some reason, pictured Nephi as this unquestioning, strictly obedient son to Lehi. Yet, here Nephi specifically says that his heart was softened, suggesting it was in a state that it needed to be softened. Yet, Lehi and Sariah must have taught their children how to receive an answer for themselves, otherwise why would Nephi know to pray to the Father? We would do well as parents or prospective parents to follow the example of Lehi and teach our children in a ‘goodly’ way, or, teach them the Gospel and how to find truth for themselves.

Does this mean that if our children decide to depart we have not taught them well? Of course not – look at Lehi’s other sons…

Children

At this stage I want to look now at a child’s role in make the home as sacred as the Temple. Parents do have a large responsibility to ensure that the home provides for temporal and spiritual needs, including regular FHE, prayer and scripture study. However, children play a vital role too.

At this stage it seems appropriate to share a thought I found by the great author Mark Twain about children in the home and how things are from their perspective – he said “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

If you are the child of a parent (which is all of us) I’m sure you have probably felt this or will encounter these feelings. But whether we are a child at home with our parents or moved away from our parents, we are and will forever be the children of our earthly parents (according to the great Plan of Redemption). This, surely, is why when Moses received the 10 great laws that would govern the Lord’s chosen people one of those ten was to ‘Honour thy father and thy mother…’. We will all need to uphold this law into the eternities…

However, children playing their part in the home extends to more than simply respecting their parents and doing what they ask, they can offer so much more. Our son Joshua, when he had just turned three years old, developed a habit of asking us the same question a lot – the question was “You happy?”. Every day, in the Roberts home, we are asked this very deep question “You happy?” Now, that question is adorable enough, but when you recognise that this question was not just restricted to his family at home to make the home a cheerier place it just gets even cuter. Random people who passed our family on the streets would be psychoanalysed by this 3 year old – “You happy?”. When out shopping decided which cereal to get – “You happy?”. The most surreal time has to be when we went swimming and I was with Josh in the changing rooms and one of the lifeguards was mopping the water from the floor nearby “…you happy?” Unfortunately this lifeguard didn’t look too happy but he had headphones in so he didn’t hear this invitation to reflect. Whilst I put this question across as a funny story, this question had a marvellous effect on us and the people who were asked – if we weren’t or the people we met didn’t seem happy…you can’t look into the bright green eyes of a cheerful three year old and say you’re not happy! Our three year old son, even though he probably didn’t recognise it at the time, was trying to make our home a happy place to be – we can truly learn from our children!

Children, currently at home or simply children by relation, can brighten up the home, or their older parents’ days, by your choices. Do we decide to shut ourselves away from our family or do we actively decide to spend time with them, ask how they are and build those eternal relationships? All of us, as children (again referring to all of us) are placed in a perfect position to make the home a heaven on earth; decide today to make the home a happy place.

The Storm will Continue

So, if we, as parents and children, decide together to work on protecting our home will we be completely weather proof from Satan’s storm. We do have to accept it will not be easy, but we can do it!

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Today there is chaos in the world. There are governments failing, despair, suffering, neglect. Equally as tragic is what is happening in homes around the world. More and more single-parent families, divorces, abuse, teenage pregnancies…Are these developments completely isolated? There is a wider lack of family values in the home and this is having an impact on societies and civilisations around the world. As a result, the First Presidency in 1995 published ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’.

It states “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents…” (The Family) – this already highlights an important fact – our first family experience is not here on Earth. We lived in a family before this life, we are all spirit brothers and sisters in the express image of our Father in Heaven. President Joseph F Smith once said “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body.” The family ideal is something that is innate to us, else why would the whole human family still focus around the basic structure of the family? God is our loving Heavenly Father and as such “…shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” (Hebrews 12:9) As a good father cares for and knows what can help their children, our perfect Heavenly Father knows truly what is best for us – hence why we need to listen to his commandments, including His words on the family.

The Proclamation later says “Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” What a great blessing is this  – our family relationships can last beyond the grave. A husband and wife can have the assurance, not just a wish, that they and their children will be sealed together forever as they keep their covenants. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say…” (D&C 82:10) God has to give us the blessings if we are obedient to His commandments. What a great comfort it is to know that God will always be faithful to keep His promises as long as we are faithful to strive to keep our promises.

The Proclamation then begins to talk about the elements of the law of chastity that needs to be followed in order to obtain the previously mentioned blessings. It first says “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” A couple of things can be drawn from this. First, between man and woman. It talks about this in the scriptures, including Romans 1:27. There is a reason for this – we have been commanded to replenish the earth, hence why we are commanded to not impede the Lord’s plan to create eternal families and this cannot be done unless man and woman are together.

Also, the proclamation specifically says a husband and a wife. This goes beyond a certificate – this is much deeper and abiding. When a man and a woman take vows to be loyal, they promise to each other that they will honour and cherish one another until the day they die, and beyond in an eternal marriage. The power behind that is incredible – when each person in this mutual agreement has the same goal in mind, great things can happen “…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:11)

It goes on to say “We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.” (Family Proclamation) The sacred power is to be used only within the boundaries the Lord has set. Temptation is strong to disregard the commandments of God in this area. However the Lord has promised help through difficult challenges. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.(1 Corinthians 10:13) There are many who suffer the same temptations but the Lord will provide a way if you will lean on him.

“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.” (Family Proclamation) People who truly love one another and understand God’s eternal plan will not sacrifice their eternal happiness and safety for immediate pleasure now. They will put all their efforts into building that eternal marriage and strengthening one another.

We are also to love our children, it says “…mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” (Family Proclamation) There are a couple of ways people can neglect their parental responsibilities. One is to neglect spending time with their children and developing eternal relationships and instead focus on other, less important things. “All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83:4) and “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) These verses relate to the physical and spiritual maintenance of our children. It is the duty of the parents to provide for these needs – “But if any provide not for his own, and specifically for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith…” (1 Timothy 5:8).

It then talks about how children deserve to be raised by parents “…who honour marital vows with complete fidelity.” (Family Proclamation) Each child has this right. When this principle is attained – love, trust and commitment in family relations will develop which will inevitably lead to more happiness and unity in families, spreading to the community.

Also “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” (Family Proclamation) Life’s greatest joys are to be found in the home, however this feeling of unity cannot be reached with no effort – a strong relationship takes effort, such as doing and implementing the guidance in the Family Proclamation. However, as we do those things, that brings great happiness now and forever. We can achieve that. Through activities such as family home evenings, we can achieve security and unity in the home.

As with all commandments, there being positive consequences if we follow them, there are also negative consequences if they are not followed.  We will hurt those around us if we do not fulfil our duties “Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.” (Jacob 2:35)

We are called upon to strengthen the family and be examples of purity, in fact we are to “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God…” (D&C 121:45) – we will be able to stand before the Lord and say with confidence that we have lived the best life we can. We will then receive the Holy Spirit’s guidance, strength, comfort and protection as we follow this guidance.

‘Moses, My Son’

The Pearl of Great Price is a remarkable piece of scripture, as all scripture is! It begins with Moses 1, in which we learn a lot of precious truths which had previously been lost.

One is the fact that we are the literal children of God. He repeatedly reveals this to Moses, in saying “…thou art my son…” (Moses 1:4), “…Moses, my son…” (Moses 1:6), “…Moses, my son…” (Moses 1:7) – there is no coincidence about this. God our Heavenly Father, speaking through the premortal Jehovah, was telling Moses and us that he and we are literally His children. For one who understands the great importance of this eternal truth – we now know that we have the great potential to become like Him. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:17) – what great power this truth can give us! In fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said “Consider the power of the idea taught in our beloved song ‘I Am a Child of God’ … Here is the answer to one of life’s great questions, ‘Who am I?’ I am a child of God with a spirit lineage to heavenly parents. That parentage defines our eternal potential. That powerful idea is a potent antidepressant. It can strengthen each of us to make righteous choices and to seek the best that is within us. Establish in the mind of a … person the powerful idea that he or she is a child of God and you have given self-respect and motivation to move against the problems of life.” We as God’s children have monumental potential – if we would only do the things necessary to reach such potential.

After showing Moses His creations and His glory – Moses was left to himself for a while, and he collapsed. We read of similar instances when, after hugely spiritual experiences others have felt this exhaustion. For example, Joseph Smith. The day after seeing the angel Moroni in the night, he says “I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.” (JSH 1:48). This also happened after the First Vision – “When the light had departed, I had no strength…” (JSH 1:20). I have even felt this in my own life – I will not mention the experiences in detail but moments of deep heartfelt prayer and worshipping in the Temple have brought these feelings that have been referred to in the examples.

Moses then exclaimed, after coming back to his senses “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed.” (Moses 1:10) This is very true – however, it should not be concluded that Elder Oak’s statement is incorrect. Man truly does have great power and potential (only with the support and strength of God of course) – but when compared to the glory and majesty of our Heavenly King, as Moses experienced, then we are truly miniscule compared to that.

Moses then has another informative experience. “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.” (Moses 1:12) Here, Satan’s plan is two pronged. First, he is obviously trying to get Moses to worship him. However, he is also trying to get Moses to doubt the invaluable truth he has just learned by using the term ‘son of man’ meaning that Moses is not a son of God and therefore lacks the great potential of being like him. If Moses was to lose sight of that important fact – as many people have in the world today – then why not give in to the enticements of Satan? We would have no potential to fulfil, but we know we do! Moses knew this and acted accordingly. He said to Satan “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of His Only Begotten; and where is thy glory that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13) He re-emphasises the fact he is a son of God and Satan has no power – hence why worship him?! He then calls upon God, in the name of Jesus Christ, and banishes Satan from his presence. Alone, Satan would have overcome Moses, but he had the power of God with him and thus, Satan was gone. This experience once again highlights the fact that once we realise that we are literally the children of God – we know we have great power on our side.

After this, God’s presence returned to Moses and “Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God. And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore.” (Moses 1:27-28) Understandably, Moses saw all of these things and wondered for what purpose had all this come to pass – why was the earth created and all inhabitants possessing it – for what reason was Satan present and what was the end goal? After posing this question to the Lord, He says to Moses “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) This is perhaps the most simple and clear phrase to describe what this is all for – to help us become like Him. There is an important distinction in what the Lord says too – note how he says eternal life. President James E. Faust said “There is a distinction between immortality, or eternal existence, and eternal life, which is to have a place in the presence of God. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, immortality comes to all … , just or unjust, righteous or wicked. However, eternal life is ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God’ (D&C 14:7). We obtain this great gift, according to the Lord, ‘if you keep my commandments and endure to the end.’ If we so endure, the promise is, ‘you shall have eternal life’ (D&C 14:7).” Because of this sacred book of scripture, we know that God truly does love His children, He is aware of all their circumstances and His whole purpose is for them to achieve their greatest potential possible.

How marvellous is that for us – even when we slip up, our loving Heavenly Father never turns away from us and cares for each one of us. No matter how many creations He has, He says “…all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:35) Because of this great scripture we know we are literally sons and daughters of God and this truth can be life-changing, life-saving and life-giving.