Podcast!

So I have found it difficult to keep regular with posting on this blog, simply because I have been finding it difficult to study what I do and THEN find the time to type it up again so it can be published…

BUT

Recently I have found out about podcasts and fallen in love with them! So much so I have begun my own called LDS Study Session.
It’s not a professional, all-singing all-dancing podcast but a simple, bite-size, 10-15min clip each day (yes, each day and I’ve managed it for 82 consecutive days so far!) on things that I’ve been studying.
I draw heavily from Come Follow Me but there’s occasional looks at past General Conference talks, Book of Mormon sections or other topics that I’ve been studying.

Please join me daily on iTunes Podcasts, Spotify, Castbox, Stitcher and Google Podcasts!

Search LDS Study Session in any of the platforms above and you should find me.

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Elder and Sister Hafen Devotional

Well, my blog hasn’t been going that well recently but we recently did have the privilege of having Elder and Sister Hafen visit our Stake for a Devotional and they shared their presentation on ‘Faith is Not Blind’ and I was asked by another member who couldn’t attend to take notes. I did, and I figured I may as well share them here!

Elder Hafen

Concerned about use of the Internet and the way that answers are presented to people with bias and without context

  • Instead of letting surprises shake us, it is an opportunity for us to grow and strengthen our faith if we follow the Spirit This is a painting of Peter and John on the morning of the Resurrection
  • Women had visited the tomb of the Saviour and found it empty
  • They told the 11 remaining apostles – the scriptures state that they thought it was idle tales
  • John outruns Peter (in his account he seems to want to make sure we know this!) then waits for his senior companion to enter the tomb
  • The expression on their faces is similar to perhaps the father who took his son to be healed from the Saviour and exclaimed “…help thou mine unbelief”
  • Like Peter, John and the father of the ill son, there are reasons to seem perplexed today

Sister Hafen

Brother and Sister Hafen met in a class called ‘Your Religious Problems’

  • They would choose a religious issue (be it with Church History, Joseph Smith etc) and would discuss
  • Many, if not all the issues today, were around then but the major change is the Internet
    • A number of issues are portrayed and informed without context or wider circumstances
  • We, however, need to understand the ‘gap’ between the real and the ideal
  • When we are young, we often see things as black and white with no colour
    This ‘gap’ will be experienced in many of our lives

    • It may be when a parent/hero/leader has made a mistake
    • It may be when we feel a prayer has gone unanswered
    • It may be when we encounter questions about Church policy or history that are currently unanswerable for us

Example of their son’s mission

  • Many people believe that going on a mission places you in a situation where you are only experiencing the ideal
  • However, a mission is the battlefield of reality
  • Holiness does not remove us from reality

 

The ‘gap’ will stretch us – is this good or bad?

  • It can be good as it then allows us to grow and develop our understanding
  • It can be bad if we experience doubt and then don’t prayerfully seek for the answers
  • In society today we are led through a lot of uncertainty (link to Lehi’s dream and the mists of darkness)

 

Elder Hafen

He could not say in his farewell talk for his mission that he knew the Gospel was true

  • He experienced that gap and saw that there was understanding he didn’t have which kept him from the ideal
  • Over prayer and deep study this came over time

 

Stage 1 – Faith is innocent or untested

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity

[on] this side of complexity.

But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of

complexity.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

 

Stage 2 – Complexity – a testing period, whether it’s a faith-based question, concern or a trying period in our lives

 

On an assignment, Elder Hafen went to the Utah State Prison to meet with a branch of inmates having their sacrament meeting, which was a testimony meeting

  • One inmate stood and explained how when she was younger, she would be the kid who went up every month and bore her testimony with great excitement
  • Now, she has gone through great extremities (her Stage 2) and has come out on the other side and truly experienced spiritual understanding (her Stage 3)

 

Stage 3 – Simplicity beyond complexity – we have been tested, held to the truths we knew before and emerged with a deeper understanding

  • Some may try to ignore reality to get through – but this is potentially damaging and can easily be shaken when further questions arise
  • Some may try to ignore or dismiss the ideal but then we become sceptical and cynical, something which can be equally damaging

 

Experience when training a new missionary companion

  • In the first couple of days, they had gone on exchanges and he returned very excited saying that he had found someone who was going to be baptised
  • Elder Hafen was very sceptical and asked where this person lived – they had not got their name or exact address but they knew that the person lived on the top floor of a certain apartment block
  • Not wanting to quash his enthusiasm – Elder Hafen hiked up and down for 2-3 hours with his companion but after this time suggested that they move on
  • His new companion looked with tears and earnestly said that he had felt the Spirit telling him that this person needed to be taught, was he saying they wouldn’t find her?
  • Still cynical, Elder Hafen continued with his companion – and near the end they found her…
  • A few days before this Devotional, Elder and Sister Hafen met 2 of her granddaughters, 1 of whom was about to receive their mission call

 

Sister Hafen

Stage 3

  • It isn’t blind obedience, but trusting obedience
  • Experience-based, informed faith that recognises the ideal and the real and the complexity
    • Then, it moves forward, prayerfully searching, but giving the benefit of the doubt to begin with

 

Holly’s story

  • She grew up in a ‘Mormon’ community – was very strong in the Gospel, completed the Personal Progress very quickly and so on
  • However, around the age of 18 she learnt about women’s role in the Priesthood and decided women should be able to hold the authority of the Priesthood, ultimately, she had her name removed from the Church
  • At University, her roommate started meeting with the missionaries and was challenged to pray for an answer
  • Holly heard this and decided she too would take the challenge to pray
  • When she opened her heart to Heavenly Father, her heart began to soften
  • She returned to previous spiritual habits but this time was doing them differently
  • She had experienced ‘closeness’ with God which helped her trust Him implicitly, which then allowed her to move into Stage 3
  • She is often asked about her thoughts about women and the Priesthood, she still recognises her ‘gap’ but she trusts Heavenly Father now, that He knows what He is doing

 

Elder Hafen

Matthias’s story

  • He went on a mission to England, was sealed to his wife, became a Bishop
  • As a Bishop, he was asked faith-based questions about issues he said he had never heard of before – he was concerned that he had never been told about these things, that he had been ‘living in a bubble’
  • Interestingly, his brother said he had heard them
  • With the great expansion of the Church across the Earth, there hasn’t been much focus on an advanced curriculum, rather a focus on translating and publishing clear doctrines
  • The Church has published resources that help members move to Stage 3, prayerfully being able to seek answers and context
    • Encyclopaedia of Mormonism
    • Saints Volume 1 (soon Volume 2 will be fully published)
    • Gospel Topic Essays

 

Sister Hafen

Key Principles

I – Invite Faithful Questions

We need to have faithful questions, people who have questions about the Gospel should not be made to feel bad for that

  • Great quote by JRR Tolkien, those who wander are not lost
  • We should not be living in a bubble
  • We cannot be close-minded
  • It is a choice to be believing – remember what you know as you go forward

 

II – Be cautious about the Internet’s weaknesses

Bloggers at either extremes may not be trustable sources

  • All websites will reflect a certain bias
  • Church scholarship is the best that it has ever been
  • Also need to remember that some discreditors of the Church are seeking to justify past choices they have made – if you do not keep the commandments as you search answers you won’t develop the ‘closeness’ mentioned before

 

III – Focus on the Restoration’s hugely positive doctrinal content

Imagine a golf course in the peaks of the Alps and you are searching for golf balls lost in the rough

  • You would be missing the scenic view
  • The doctrine of the Restoration is beautiful and positive
  • Should we exert all our efforts on certain details when we see the evident good?
  • Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t search but it shouldn’t take precedent over enjoying the view

 

Elder Hafen

IV – Cultivate an attitude of meekness

On his mission, they met a German couple

  • They were accepting and moving towards baptism
  • Then, they received a letter from a disapproving family member about how black members of the Church could not receive the priesthood
  • There was a gloomy spirit in the home when they next visited, they demanded an answer to the question
  • They turned to Acts 10 and the example of Cornelius and the change of ancient Church policy about teaching to the Gentiles, they then left them and invited them to pray
  • The couple prayed and fasted – the light returned to their hearts
  • They recontacted the missionaries and were baptised – they didn’t let what they didn’t know yet discolour what they knew before
    • Example of Nephi in 1 Nephi 11:16-17 – I know that He loveth His children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things

 

Some get stuck in complexity – it may seem more ‘real’ but we shouldn’t stay there or we will lose the hope of the Gospel

 

Adam and Eve example

  • Stage 1 – Garden of Eden – innocent, untested faith
  • Stage 2 – the Fall, mortal trials and sins of their children (Cain and so on)
  • Stage 3 – the angel asked ‘why dost thou offer sacrifices?’ – Adam’s response shows that he didn’t know but he was giving the Lord the benefit of the doubt and showing trusting obedience

 

Arise and run to Christ as did Peter and John

  • We are surrounded by complexity but the joy of the Gospel can ring true

 

Search ‘Faith is not Blind’ Podcasts and Facebook Groups for further interviews and information

Look to the Book, Look to the Lord

I have been studying about  a topic which can help us come closer to the Saviour more than many other things and, at this Christmas season, it is an appropriate subject to consider. I will be share a couple of personal experiences. I share these experiences with you cautiously in the hope you will understand that personal revelations and experiences are not always the same for different people – the reason I say will become clear later on.

In the well-known verse in John 17 we read this statement from the Saviour himself:

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

If we are to receive eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God and indeed the very reason for our existence here on the earth, we are to come to know the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do. If we are indeed to try and find the Lord in our lives, we should be devoting our best efforts to this task.

At this Christmas season, we may wonder what the best gifts to give are. In thinking about coming to know the Lord more, or looking to Him, I am reminded of an experience on my mission. 8 years ago, around this time of the year…My companion and I were out knocking doors in the Leeds Mission, specifically Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. We came to one house and a lady opened the door. The house was all decorated for Christmas, there were lights illuminating the front garden and a star was actually hung, positioned above the doorway just inside the house. I thought to myself ‘Could this star be a guide to us, leading us to someone willing to let the restored Gospel of Christ into their life?’ As soon as we opened our mouths to share this wonderful news, my initial hope (like many other times) was sadly deflated. However, with star above her head and twinkling tree behind her, what she said has stuck with me even seven years later. She said “Oh no, no, no. I’m really sorry but I really just don’t have time for religion or God right now – but I hope you have a great Christmas,” and then promptly shut the door…

As my companion and I left yet another door with no room for the Saviour, I couldn’t help find the whole situation of what I saw amusing. Why of all the closed doors, and homes with Christmas decorations that refused the Saviour’s Gospel should this one be remembered by me to this very day? Really, I don’t know. But, there has been one message to me that has rung true – do we look to the Lord as we should? We may not have rejected his Gospel by being here today, but do we honestly always invite Him in – or are we sometimes too busy to consider the blessings He has enriched our lives with?

Indeed, the Saviour of the world came and we celebrate this at Christmas time. He is a precious Gift. However, we must remember Him and look to Him. How can we daily remember Him and look to Him? There are many answers but the one I want to focus on is something which itself is an impressive gift. It is a miracle, it is filled with the Holy Ghost, it has the power to literally change the lives of people by its very presence – it is the Book of Mormon.

The Power of the Book of Mormon

Elder Gary E Stevenson said:

“Within the book’s pages, you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God. As you strive to follow the teachings you find there, your joy will expand, your understanding will increase, and the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you. As you look to the book, you look to the Lord.”

We must look to the Book of Mormon. If we are struggling with an important decision, if we are going through a horrendous trial or if we are simply trying to know our Saviour more, as discussed earlier, then we have to look to the book. There is a power in that book that changes lives. I have witnessed it in my life and in many other people’s lives – there is no denying it!

President Joseph Fielding Smith asserted:

“No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.”

We cannot honestly stand before the Lord and say we know Him if we have not read the pages of this book. This brings us back to the verse in John read earlier…

The power of the Book of Mormon is real. I have seen it in my life as a witness of Christ. In my first area on my mission, about six months into my mission in Bradford, my companion and I received a media referral from a man asking for a Book of Mormon. What this meant is that someone had seen an advert on TV or gone onto lds.org and requested a Book of Mormon. If you think opening a carefully wrapped present that is a complete surprise to you on Christmas Day is exciting, you have no idea what it is like for missionaries to open a letter saying that someone has specifically requested you to come with a Book of Mormon. My companion and I were almost skipping down the road! We knocked enthusiastically on the door, and someone was living in that house! Our excitement heightened (because half the time there was no one living there for these media referrals). At first he seemed surprised to see two (very happy looking) young adults standing at his door holding a book in their hands. He had indeed requested a Book of Mormon but not necessarily a visit – nevertheless he welcomed us in and began to explain why he had requested the book…

…our hearts dropped. This man had indeed requested a Book of Mormon, but not for the purpose we had hoped for. He had gone out his way to request a copy of this sacred record for the intent purpose of proving how it was false, not of Christ. You can imagine our disappointment. What followed next was about 30-45mins of the worst moments on my mission. This man pulled out argument after argument, supposed evidence after supposed evidence of how the Book of Mormon was a fake, a sham and a convoluted work of a man who himself was a supposed criminal. What made things worse was our reaction. Maybe it was the way we had been caught off guard, maybe it was the fact I personally had never been put in a situation like this, but all my companion and I did was try to use biblical references and reasoning to defend our faith. We left, heads drooped and excitement long gone with the Spirit that had left us in that, what can only be described as a ‘bible-bash’. If I was to compare the level of my faith to something, it would be an ember – still there but with no power. What made our hearts sink lower was the fact that this man had clearly enjoyed this discussion and wanted to see us again. Not wanting to seem like we were ‘defeated’ and probably with some pride which we had to repent of, we set a return appointment the following week.

Now, I will pause this experience here for the moment. My faith was not gone but it was indeed shaken. Maybe we should have asked ourselves this question which Elder Stevenson posed:

“Can you see the Book of Mormon as your keystone, your spiritual center of strength?”

In a world where our faith will be questioned, sometimes with someone simply asking us about our faith or unfortunately sometimes with some contending it. This is a sign of our times – we were warned that the world would become more and more difficult to live our faith in, leading some, even the elect, to have a crisis of faith. This is why the Book of Mormon must have a key role in our personal lives and testimonies. Elder Stevenson went on to say:

“When you read the Book of Mormon and pray with a desire to know it is true, you too can receive the same impression in your heart… You may also find that as you stand and bear witness of the Book of Mormon, you will feel the same spirit of confirmation. The Holy Ghost will speak to your heart. You can also feel this same spirit of confirmation when you hear others share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.”

This sacred record was written for the building of your testimony. It wasn’t even written for the benefit of those who were living at the time. Remember, the Nephites never had the Book of Mormon in its entirety! Moroni saw you when he said in Mormon 8:35:

“….Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”

 So, the following days were difficult. Fortunately, the day we met the man was a Saturday so we had Church the very next day, and it was a Fast Sunday. Both my companion and I applied fasting and prayer to the Lord to strengthen us. We went to the fast and testimony meeting, still struggling, still an ember. As the testimony part of the meeting began, something miraculous began to happen. Testimony after testimony was borne, and slowly but surely, that ember of faith burnt brighter and brighter in my bosom. This ember sparked into a small flame and before long I was lifted out of my seat. As a missionary, I didn’t tend to bear my testimony from the pulpit on a fast Sunday (I enjoyed hearing the members’ testimonies) but today was different, I was commanded to get up. As I stood, I bore my testimony and as I did so I realised why my faith had not burnt out completely, why that life-saving ember was still present until it could be rekindled by my fellow Saints. It was the fact I had come onto my mission with my own testimony. I had read the Book of Mormon for myself and prayed to know of its truth…

…I was 15 at the time and the year was 2005. This was the year that President Gordon B Hinckley made a promise which I am eternally indebted to him and the Lord for making. He promised in the July of that year that if all members read the Book of Mormon from start to finish before the 31st December that year and prayed to know of its truth, their testimony would blossom, it would grow miraculously. I had never before read the Book of Mormon from start to finish all by myself so I took on the challenge. I will never forget the evening of the 24th December 2005. I finished reading the Book about a week early and prayed to know of its truth for myself. What happened next can only be described as a revelation – I felt the power of the Holy Ghost impact in my heart with such joy that I laughed and cried tears of joy. I received my testimony.

Now remember, not all will receive their testimonies in the same manner, some may receive their testimony slowly but surely without really realising it (Elder Bednar and Elder Stevenson to name a couple were people with such experience), but what we all must do is gain that witness for ourselves – it will prove vital in the coming days.

What happened in my experience? Well, on the day of our appointment, (the miracles keep coming) we both studied the same material in our personal study – the PMG Chapter entitled ‘Use the Book of Mormon to respond to objections’. In that chapter President Ezra Taft Benson is quoted as saying:

The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.”

We went to that appointment, listened to his objections, and bore our testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon stating its sacred nature and its witness of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, he did not set another return appointment but he did say he appreciated our faith and how we had listened and responded to his questions. We left that day and I’m sure he feels no different but hopefully, just maybe, there is an ember now in his heart which can one day be kindled to receive a testimony of Christ’s Restored Gospel…

Zion

Recently we were taught in a Stake Conference about the importance of ‘Zion’ and how we can see it realised in our lives around us. Leading on from my recent post on ‘Separation and Unification’ this led on very well and it inspired me to consider how to build Zion a little more around each of us.

Where did Zion come from?

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” (Psalms 50:2) We know that Zion is a unified body, who are perfected in Christ. The original Zion, who were led by the prophet Enoch and were taken up to be perfected and live with God, are found in the book of Moses. In there we read “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is Fled.” (Moses 7:69) These ancient inhabitants had achieved such a level of unity, peace and righteousness that the Lord removed them from the Earth, which itself was falling deeper and deeper into wickedness. What is interesting about this account is the origin of the city of Zion. We read in Moses 7:19 “And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.” Enoch worked to build this city. The level of perfection achieved in Zion was not accidental, coincidental or happened overnight. It took work. As unifying things does, it took effort.

The concept of Zion has come from ancient times, however it is an ideal that we are commanded to strive to build Zion where we live, in our Stake and Ward where we are.

Importance of the Temple in Zion

In D&C 97:10-18 we learn about the importance of having the Temple as the focus in Zion.
10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you.

11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people.

12 Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion—

13 For a place of thanksgiving for all saints, and for a place of instruction for all those who are called to the work of the ministry in all their several callings and offices;

14 That they may be perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, the keys of which kingdom have been conferred upon you.

15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;

16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.

17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.

18 And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.”

What inhibits the cause of Zion?

Anything could really. Pride, envy, jealousy or not being anxious in a good cause could all be things which inhibit the cause of Zion. Whenever we do not allow unification between ourselves, our families and those in our congregations, the cause of Zion is frustrated.

What are the Blessings of Zion?

Ultimately, we should desire to build Zion around where we live now. We read in 1 Nephi 13:37 “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.” Individually we will be given the greatest blessings that the Lord can bestow upon us. However, the blessings also come collectively. There are another group of people, apart from the original city of Zion, who were recorded in the scriptures as having reached this state of pure happiness. We find them in 4 Nephi 1:16-17 after having been visited by the Saviour Himself. This is part of their experience “And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” Now, I’m not sure whether we can be sure, but it seems to suggest in this verse that these people in the Americas after Christ’s visit were the happiest people that God had created – does that mean happier than the people of Zion that Enoch led? Possibly, but both were clearly in a Zion state. Something to aim for.

 

Fatherhood – An Eternal Calling

As we live in this ever-chaotic world, we see Satan working overtime to exert his influence over as many of God’s children as possible. As has been warned before, he has identified the fundamental unit of the family as a target for his strategy. This makes perfect sense. We are sent to Earth and the place where we gain our initial identity, security and direction is from those who we are brought into the earth from – our parents.

Elder L Tom Perry elaborated in his remarks: “During the past few decades, Satan has waged a vigorous campaign to belittle and demean this basic and most important of all organizations. His success is becoming increasingly evident—the grim facts are seen, reported, and heard about daily and involve the collapse of many family units. With the decay of the family, we see the terrible effects on our society—increased crime, behavior disorders, poverty, drug abuse, and the list continues to grow and grow.”

Whilst some circumstances make a complete family life impossible, the ideal stated in the Proclamation to the World is to have a father and mother, united and in love, to raise children into the world. Focusing in on fathers – there are two ways in which fathers are being lost in the family’s daily battle: physically not being in the family unit and also, the role of the father being belittled in today’s society.

A World with Diminishing Fathers

Looking at how there are less and less fathers in the world first – the statistics are worrying. We all know them. One click away and we can find the research. Here are a couple facts for you:

  • The most recent stats in 2015 by the Office for National Statistics shows that from 2005 to 2015 there has been an increase of 81,000 single parent families – now up to 2 million
  • Of all ‘families’ with dependent children, 25% are single-parent families (90% of those are without a father) – this is constantly increasing each year

It is clear that the erosion of the family is in full swing. Elder L Tom Perry further added: 

“Surely we have learned by now, from the experience over centuries, that the basic family provides the most stable and secure foundation for society and is fundamental to the preparation of young people for their future responsibilities. We should have learned by now that alternate styles of family formations have not worked and never will work.”

If we have not learnt from history then there are clear findings today. I will not go into details as to what these are for, once again, they can be found one Internet search away but it is eye-opening. One that I will mention which I would encourage all fathers to remember is this:

  • Among fathers living in urban areas, those who more frequently attended religious services were more likely to be engaged in activities with their children than peers who attended less frequently. Fathers who reduced the frequency of their religious attendance during the first year of their children’s lives became, on average, less engaged with their children compared to peers who maintained their level of religious attendance.

What does this teach us? As stated in Preach My Gospel “The restored gospel blesses and helps husbands and wives, parents and children as they strive to develop stronger relationships and spiritual strength in their families.”

A family based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and with a father and mother leading the way is more likely (according to doctrine and backed by scientific research) to succeed and achieve their potential than in any other way.

We see so many examples in the scriptures of fathers who, with their wives, led their family to peace and a knowledge of the Gospel:

 

Because these fathers were present – they were able to have an impact on their children. Notice that these stories all have a variety of outcomes. For Lehi, yes Nephi was valiant and true but not all Lehi’s children were. Two of Lehi’s children went on to create an ignorant, Godless nation, focusing on destroying their brother’s descendants – does that make Lehi a bad father? Alma the Younger was destroying the Church of God, leading others astray. Does that mean Alma wasn’t there for his son? Of course not. Whilst families with a father are more likely to succeed, it does not guarantee success. There are also a number of single-parent families without fathers who will also accomplish their goals and be able to be close to the Saviour. I was made aware this week of a young family with a heart-breaking story. After having cancer diagnosed and unsuccessful treatment (as well as torment on the Internet from insensitive commenters who mocked and branded the news a lie), a father of five children died at the age of 34. Does that mean this family will fail without their loving, caring father? I’m certain the Lord will bless them. It is simply more likely that with a father, a family is more likely to achieve their goals – why else would Satan be so focused on eroded the family unit itself?

A World of Diminishing Respect for Fathers

However, something that is far more concerning than losing fathers is losing the respect and the ideal of fatherhood. In a talk in the April 2015 Conference, Sister Linda K Burton said about the devaluing of the role of the father in today’s world: 

“On the other end of the scale is the degrading and mocking message that husbands and fathers are no longer needed. I plead with you not to listen to Satan’s 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”

In today’s media, the role of the father is being attacked. I had not considered this. I suppose it was the example set to me in my home growing up that helped me to avoid this view. My Mum and Dad raised, and continue to raise their children, with the clear view to involve each other, love each other and respect each other. My wife and I are striving for that ideal. However, here are some things which, a first may seem trivial, but really are painting an alarming picture: 

  • In most welfare offices, fathers are not invited to case planning meetings, and when a home visitor is greeted at the door by a man, she often asks to speak with the mother. Given these scenarios, fathers are likely to get the message that they are invisible or irrelevant to their children’s welfare, unless it involves financial support.
  • In a study of fatherhood in popular TV sitcoms, psychologists concluded that fathers are generally shown to be relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. In addition, the researchers found that fathers often served as the butt of family members’ jokes. All of these characterizations, while the intention may be humor, depicted fathers as being socially incompetent and objects of derision.
  • In a study of depictions of fathers in the best selling children’s picture books, a researcher concluded that of the 200 books analyzed, there were only 24 books where the father appears alone, and only 35 books where mother and father appear together. The author concludes, “because fathers are not present or prominent in a large number of these books, readers are given only a narrow set of images and ideas from which they can construct an understanding of the cultural expectations of fatherhood and what I means to be a father.”
  • Also in popular TV and movies, the ever-increasing ‘joke’ (to use the term ‘joke’ lightly) of children not knowing their fathers is ever increasing.

These, and many other more worrying direct degrading comments and views on fatherhood is having a major impact on how the world views fathers.

The Ultimate Father

We cannot take the role of the father lightly – to do so would degrade the role of the One Father we all share in common. Our Heavenly Father is the ultimate example. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught “…Fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution. The role of father is of divine origin, beginning with a Father in Heaven and, in this mortal sphere, with Father Adam.” 

If you are a father, you have a divine assignment. It is infinitely more vital to you and the building of the Kingdom of God than your calling and your career. It is to be the standing replacement of a Father in Heaven that your little one has only left recently in their eternal lives. Do we recognise this? We will not be perfect like Him in this life but we are expected to fill the role He would if He were here with that child. Even if your child has reached their adult years, your Father in Heaven has been their Father infinitely longer than you have been theirs…and yet He has trusted you to be their father now, in the most important period of their eternal lives!

The way we as a father act, influences the way that our child sees our Father in Heaven.

Let us remember those we call ‘Dad’ and if we do not one to call our own, let us all one day look forward to when we shall meet the one we call ‘Father’. 

Choices

The Choice to Choose

Every day when we wake up, we are instantly presented with choices. Some choices are more trivial, such as “What shall I eat for breakfast?” – we even have the choice whether to eat breakfast or not. Some choices are more important “Do I get on my knees and thank the Lord for the new day?” At the times in the morning I’m sure many of us arise at, this choice may not be as easy as we think. I know when I go to our children’s room where our 3 year old son is insisting it is morning (despite it being 6am in the morning at a weekend) it can be easy to make small choices which will affect us later on.

All our decisions will have an impact on our lives. As mentioned, some will have more influence on us. However, do we ever stop to consider how fortunate we are to choose? How blessed are we that we are able to choose. From before the beginning of this world, an important choice was made. We made the choice to choose.

The War in Heaven

President Thomas S Monson said When we left our premortal existence and entered mortality, we brought with us the gift of agency.” As spirit children of our Heavenly Father we were given an important opportunity. We had two choices: choose Satan and have no choice, or follow Father’s plan and have choice, but with that choice came accountability. Ironically, in order to accept Satan’s plan, we would have to use our agency to lose it – make that choice. We know that as we are on this Earth today, we, like all of the people who have lived and will ever live on this Earth made that choice to follow our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. There are, at least, two very important lessons we learn from this doctrine, this plain and precious truth:

  1. We recognised the value of our moral agency.
  2. Everyone else on this Earth…EVERYONE…once made the choice to follow Christ

Value of Moral Agency

When we, along with two thirds of Father’s children decided to accept the Plan of Salvation, the Plan of Agency, Satan and his hosts rebelled. In Revelation 12:7 we read:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels”

We do not the nature of this ‘war’ but we know that, ultimately, it was our agency, our ability to choose, that was at stake. Do we remember when we live our everyday lives just how blessed we are to choose? This agency has been fought over, retained and been given as a precious gift. This is why we veer away from the phrase ‘free agency’ because it really has never been free (the term free agency is also never mentioned once in the scriptures – moral agency is though). This phrase moral agency implies something much more accurate, yes we can choose but all our choices lead to a consequence which we do not decide.

Satan recognises the value of this moral agency and the potential it has to bless us, and that is why his tactics revolve, generally, around us giving up our agency to sin, the loss of free will because of the lack of blessings we receive. Lehi, in his great lesson to his son, Jacob, taught:

And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

Each and every day, that War in Heaven is continuing around us spiritually. Will we make the choice to continue to follow Father’s plan and retain the full blessings of agency or will we yield some of that ability to choose to him who would make us miserable? Of course, in the haze and mists of the day, it will not be so clear that all the choices we make are that important, but they are.

All have made the Choice to Choose

The other truth learnt from knowing about this choice to choose that we all made is that everyone on this earth once accepted the same choice we did. Isn’t that a great motivator for missionary work? Just think: our colleagues at work, our friends at school and our neighbours around us all stood on that ‘battlefield’ in the War in Heaven shoulder to shoulder with us and our Saviour. When asked “Who will be faithful?” – at that time, all of us said we would, and all of us were. That is why we live on this earth today. We made the choice to choose also. In the year 2000, Elder Jeffrey R Holland said to an audience of missionaries in the Provo MTC: “So the fact of the matter is investigators are not only hearing our testimony of Christ, but they are hearing echoes of other, earlier testimonies, including their own testimony of Him, for they were on the side of the faithful who kept their first estate and earned the privilege of a second estate. We must always remember that these investigators, every man, woman, and child, were among the valiant who once overcame Satan by the power of their testimony of Christ! So when they hear others bear that witness of Christ’s saving mission, it has a familiar feeling; it brings an echo of truth they themselves already know.”

There may well be times where we think that our friends just will not be interested. They are living lives they are perfectly happy with, why would they want to listen? We know how much this Gospel has blessed us and they once felt the same as us, they simply do not remember. As children of God that have the opportunity to have plain and precious truths in this life – we must invite others!

How can we invite others? Start with small steps – I once went away from a Stake Conference around 4-5 years ago with the invitation from our Stake Presidency to be a better member missionary. I had, what can only be explained by me as a rush of adrenaline, the decision that I would speak to every person on the early bus I used to take to placement about the marvellous news I had. I then quickly realised that for me personally, that probably wasn’t the best place to start. So instead, we invited the missionaries into our home more often, I went teaching with the missionaries more. A few months later my wife and I were asked if we could help teach an investigator in our home – we of course agreed. I have to say – that was the easiest missionary work I have ever taken part in. The investigator came to us, built a great friendship with us and our son and he was baptised. I felt prompted later on to call him as our Activities Coordinator in the Elders Quorum and we had some fantastic Quorum brotherhood building experiences.

The Europe Area Plan urges us become temporally and spiritually self-reliant, find an ancestor and bring a friend. Knowing that all our friends once made the choice to choose, we must choose today to begin a pattern to become more missionary minded. We might not feel confident to go to someone tomorrow and invite them to be baptised. But we can make the choice to invite the missionaries into our home as a start – they will jump at the chance. As a missionary myself I would love to meet with the members briefly during the day as seeing so much rejection when you know how amazing this news is that you are sharing. Sharing some time with members can strengthen missionaries and may lead to future missionary opportunities. Wherever we are on the missionary spectrum, try to move today.

Once we understand how much value has been placed on our agency from the pre-mortal existence and we have been blessed even further with a knowledge of the Gospel in this life, the small choices like getting on our knees in the morning or studying regularly from the Book of Mormon suddenly become privileges, not mundane decisions.

The Ball is in our Court

As a primary school teacher in a school where around 80% of the children speak English as an Additional Language, we often come across moments where there is a little confusion in language. For example, we were having a discussion which led to a question. One student wanted to decide something but was unsure which response to go with. I, having spoken the English Language for pretty much all my life, said “Well, you can’t sit on the fence,” meaning the student would have to decide. This was followed by a look of confusion from at least half the members of the class and one child raised their hand and asked ‘Sir, what fence?” These peculiar phrases, or idioms, shape a lot of our language and all of us use them in day to day language. The phrase “sitting on the fence” can apply here – we have been given the ability to choose. We cannot decide to sit on the fence. The ball is in our court. We have to be led away from Father or go the whole nine yards. If we are not making choices which will lead to spiritual blessings then we must turn over a new leaf and get the ball rolling.

In 2 Nephi 26:23-24 we are taught by Nephi: “For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness. He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.”

We will never be forced to make the right choice; that is not God’s plan. However, he has asked, invited, us all to come unto Him. No one is exempt from this invitation. What we decide today will in large part determine whether we will allow the full blessings of the Atonement to enter our lives our not. As President Monson has said ‘Decisions Determine Destiny.’

We Are Accountable

However, despite this fantastic news that we are truly blessed to be able to choose, there is a word of warning – and it refers back to the definition of moral agency. We choose our decision, but we do not choose the consequence. Yet, we are fully accountable for that choice. To prove this further, we read in the Doctrine and Covenants 101:78, we learn… “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.”

We, not anyone else, are ultimately responsible for our decisions. We have often heard and sung the phrase ‘Choose the Right’. In a world of swiftly decaying values and attitudes, choosing the right is becoming increasingly more difficult. We can never take the approach that we are safe, for the War of Heaven is continuing around us; it continues to claim souls. However, like a call from a watchtower, our prophet, President Thomas S Monson had these words to say in his address: “We know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life.”

We are constantly making decisions of eternal significance. We read in the scriptures that by small and simple things, great things are brought to pass. Unfortunately, this can apply to the opposite. If we don’t do the necessary small and simple things, make those small decisions of course-correction, then it will have larger consequences.

We have a Guide

All of this can be unnerving. However, we have an Anchor, a Rock, and Iron Rod which we can hold fast to, not just cling to half-heartedly. Our Saviour Jesus Christ has felt the pains, sorrows and therefore difficult decisions we have to make in life. He can help us. He will help us, if we will just invite Him. We read in Alma 7:11-12:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Because our Saviour knows how to support us, He knows what will give us the greatest opportunity to reach Heavenly Father. If decisions determine destiny, then Christ can support us in making the correct decisions to lead us back to Father.

Understanding Isaiah – 2 Nephi 20

Verse 1 – “Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;” This is clear when linked with Moroni 7:18 “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.” Those who judge others unjustly, will find that they will be. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of judging. Finding out about some event, or rumour, can be a tantalising subject to discuss and form opinions about. However, as with many times, this can lead to unnecessary upset, misunderstanding and fallouts. Not to mention that we will be judged the same when the time comes for our Judgement.

Verse 15 – “Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood!” This is a great analogy to pride. If we are blessed with success in our career or the service of the Lord, we cannot claim to be the main cause – the Lord is the one who can lead and guide us and His hand is in all things. Of course we can be pleased with our efforts and what we’ve worked on, but we must recognise all things come from Him.

Verse 18 – “And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.” Again, this verse has double meanings. Isaiah is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by Assyria (Babylon), however it can a number of meanings. Destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming (as mentioned in the LDS chapter heading), spiritual death of individuals  who fall to temptation and so on.

Verse 26 – “And the Lord of Hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and as his rod was upon the sea so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.” This verse will have been included by Nephi because it comes back to his original message – his intention of writing this record way back in 1 Nephi – “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:20) The Lord is mighty to save. He will deliver us from all adversity if we are faithful. We can liken this to our lives, bringing us hope when we may feel overwhelmed.

Verse 33 – “Behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down; and the haughty shall be humbled.” A powerful message again to the dangers of pride. For those who act in pride or are prideful of their abilities will be brought low. An example of this happening is found in Helaman 4:12 where the Nephites are caught in the grip of pride and are left without the strength of the Lord “And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—” We must be careful that we do not find ourselves in the same position.