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.

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Sabbath Blessing

I had an experience recently about the need to keep the Sabbath Day Holy and the blessings associated with keeping that covenant.

Last Sunday I was anticipated a big week at work (leading a Staff Meeting, lesson observation, largest book scrutiny, twilight meeting) and had worked when I could to prepare on the days before. However, due to the demands of a young family and various other commitments I hadn’t managed to complete everything. As we settled for sacrament meeting it was on my mind, particularly preparing for my lesson, and I reasoned that for one week only it would be ok to do a little bit of work to catch up in the evening – perhaps when everyone in my family had gone to bed so it wouldn’t have impact on time with them.

However, when the meeting began I received a clear prompting – can’t remember whether it was through a talk, a hymn or a simple prompting – but it was clear, to keep the Sabbath holy even though it might be difficult. Then in Priesthood we had a lesson on Obedience based on the lesson found in the President Gordon B Hinckley manual. In this lesson we learnt about not putting anything before God and keeping the Sabbath Holy. I got the message by then.

As such, I did not complete the work required on the Lord’s holy day. However, as I had faith, I did manage to get it done early in the week much quicker than I expected. As well as this, the challenges and outcomes of the week occurred brilliantly and I was so pleased with the results. I have no doubt that the Lord blessed the results of the week and when we keep the Sabbath Day holy he magnifies our efforts.

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.

Temple/Sabbath Connection

The Sabbath Day is a wonderful thing. However, it is one of those aspects of living the Gospel of Christ that can be either be missed out on or bring great blessings. The concept of a holy day in religion is almost universal and clearly has importance to a number of groups of faith and again, is observed differently by various cultures.

The Sabbath Day

The law of the Sabbath has been in force since the time of Moses and probably even further before. We read in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath Day has been recognised since the creation of the Earth. This will be why many religions observe a ‘holy day’, whichever day that is for them.

Typically, the Sabbath is a day of devotion to spiritual matters. Often referred to as a day of rest (“Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest…” Exodus 23:12), we are encouraged to avoid our work in our career on the Sabbath – as much as possible, of course some jobs require working on the Sabbath. However, every possible effort should be made to avoid it. Also, the Sabbath is an opportunity to focus on the things of the Lord. The Lord told us that people would be blessed “that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it…” (Isaiah 56:2). Considering the imagery used of ‘keeping unspotted from the world’, this applies to focusing activities on the Saviour or with the family.

Recently I was shown this connection between the Sabbath and the Temple also. In D&C 109:13, we read this plea to the Lord in the Kirtland Dedicatory Prayer ” And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.” From this extract of this important revelation, we learn that the House of the Lord is sanctified. To ‘sanctify’ something means to set apart as or declare as holy. The Temple is a sacred, holy place where the Spirit of the Lord can be truly unrestrained. Worshipping in this sanctified place enables us to come a little bit closer to our Father in Heaven.

We can then link this right back to a verse from the Old Testament, right back to when the Sabbath was first ‘set apart’. In Genesis 2:1-3 we read “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The seventh day – the day of the Sabbath – was sanctified and set apart to represent and give thanks for the Lord and His mercy to create the Earth in which we live.

There is a link here between the Temple and the Sabbath. Both have been sanctified for our benefit. Both are set apart for worship and sacred ordinances (this is vital). Both are for us to align our lives and wills in line with the Lord’s life and will. As we strive to live the Sabbath Day more fully, with just as much focus as we do to be ready to enter the Temple, then we can find great strength and guidance from the Lord.

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.

 

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.

The Temple: The University

I have recently begun teaching a few lessons of the Temple Preparation Course for a couple of people preparing to enter the sacred Temple. It has been a great opportunity for a number of reasons: I have had the chance to reconsider my commitment to covenants made in the House of the Lord, I have been able to share my testimony of the important ordinances that we engage in at the Temple and discussing the scriptures and quotes from General Authorities linked to this holy place.

I was aware of this quote by Elder David A Bednar which says “There are pre-requisites in many forms of life. You cannot take advanced courses in chemistry until you have mastered the basics. And the same thing is true of the Lord’s university. You have to meet the pre-requisites. Anyone can come if they are willing to abide by those commitments.” As we were discussing the importance of the ordinances and covenants in the Temple, we were beginning to discuss how the Temple provides an opportunity for higher learning, further education and greater blessings. As we went down this train of thought, the understanding of the Temple being the Lord’s University rang ever more true to me.

In our educational lives as children we begin in settings where we are almost led by the hand in our learning. Yes, of course, we are encouraged to search certain things out for ourselves but we are given a lot of models for learning – for example, teachers model how to read, how to count, how to write and so on. We can compare this to when we take our first steps towards baptism and then those first few steps as a new convert.

As we progress in the educational world, we advance until we reach a higher level of schooling – secondary school in the UK, maybe middle and high school in the USA and other equivalents across the world. In these settings, we are still expected to attend. We are taught a curriculum. However, we are expected to progress ourselves and identify areas where we are to improve. The equivalent in a Gospel sense is when we progress through from being a new convert towards to the time when we are preparing to enter the Temple. We are still supported and led by caring leaders towards our next destination – the Temple but we are expected to take on more – such as home/visiting teaching, callings and other duties.

After this, in the education system, you then make the step to higher education – university. At this level of learning, you are given some input but suddenly you are expected to be even more self-sufficient. You could not turn up to lectures, do little study and still get some sort of result. However, the level of your achievement will likely correlate with the amount you put in whether you attend sessions, whether you engage in wider reading and so on. And so is the same with the Temple. Once you have received your endowments and other covenants from the Temple, you could make it through the rest of your life without ever attending again, not fully engaging in your covenants and do ok. However, if you attend the Temple more, live your promises fully and so on – we receive more light and inspiration. The Temple is the Lord’s university because, yes we receive great knowledge, but also it is down to us to engage and learn as much as we can.

I was grateful for this discussion – it helped me open my eyes more to the importance of the Temple and the blessings in store as we enter those holy doors more.