The Much Anticipated, Long Awaited, Death of Death

In the movie, Back to the Future II, the bully extraordinaire, Biff, received a gift from his time-traveling future self. This Future Biff gave Past Biff a sports almanac that spanned 50 years. This future sports almanac would eventually help Past Biff place huge wagers on every sports game for the next several years and amass a huge fortune. All because he knew the future.

He had cheated. He had all the information. He had the power of knowledge. All he had to do, was wager on the events because he knew the outcomes beforehand.

remember this scene?

biff-back-to-the-future

Wouldn’t that be nice? How would it be to know the outcome of future events?

In some ways it would spoil the fun of competition. But, what if the outcomes we knew were more meaningful than trivial sporting contests? What if we knew the results of the bigger world events? What if we already knew of the triggering events, or the outcomes of wars, or when an earthquake would hit, or a volcanic eruption, or other cataclysmic events? What if we knew the outcomes of our own difficult life decisions, or challenges? What if we knew the outcome of every scenario including the battle of life and death?

In a way, we do.

And, we don’t need a crazy future uncle Biff or his space-time-continuum-altering almanac. We can know the outcome of Good vs Evil, and Life vs. Death.

This week I was listening to a book by Tad Callister called The Infinite Atonement. It is excellent by the way. As I was listening, I was impressed by a poem that he quotes while describing Christ’s victory over death as a portion of his Atonement. It was written in the 1600’s by an English poet named John Donne.

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John Donne (1572–1631)

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

I loved the last phrase, “Death, thou shalt die.” I have never really thought of death in this way. Who would have imagined the irony that death was alive? Who would have imagined that death could die?  I had thought of death more as an event. I imagined it as something that we all will experience, something necessary, something that is inevitable, with no inherent goodness or badness.

The way it is phrased in this poem, however, explores Death almost as if it were a person, or an idea, or something that is actively trying to claim us. It is portrayed as if it is waging a battle against what would then be its alter ego, its competitor, it’s more wholesome nemesis…Life.

These days, we seem to love stories of superheroes. Maybe we could look at this proverbial battle between Life and Death as the next best superhero story.  “Death” would be like Lex Luthor, the Joker, Thanos, or the big Green Goblin Guy that steals all the super tech from Ironman, etc. “Life” would then be the Superhero that goes largely unnoticed, fights for the little guy, and restores peace and prosperity. Through a series of drastic events, Life would engage in an epic battle with Death, and eventually overcome and heroically bring the world back to normalcy. Life would be the conquering superhero that saves the world from utter chaos, pain and despair.

What if we took that superhero storyline and rephrased it just a little? We could even say that Life would be the hero that saves us from the “pains of Death“. Wow, where have I heard that before? Maybe if we added to the storyline one more time, the Superhero we are calling “Life” could have an introductory line, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6)

I guess that in a way, we are living in a world that has a real Superhero. We are all participants in the battle of Good and Evil, and of Life and Death. We also know how it will end.

Like Biff, we have a place where we can read about the battle and the eventual winner. Lets read a few words from the Divine Almanac of Human Events both past and future…the scriptures. This is our cheat sheet where we have access to inside information, and can read about the outcome of this continual war between the two titans- Life and Death.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feetThe last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
(
1 Corinthians 15:22-26)

How have I missed this for so long? Just as the idea in Donne’s poem infers, Death is an enemy, it will be destroyed. It dies. Life will win.

Hosea also leaves little doubt as to the outcome of this epic battle…

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction…” (Hosea 13:14)

We already know the outcome of the battle and the war. So what does it mean for us? What good does this information bring? Just as it benefitted Biff, we can use this knowledge to benefit us. Because of this, we can have complete and total confidence and faith that we all will live again. We all will. We can have complete and full confidence in being able to see, be with, and enjoy the company of all those who have passed on. Death will die, and Life will live.

Over the last few years in our community, and across the country, we have been too familiar with Death and its plague of painful devastation. It rears its ugly head way too early sometimes. When it happens to come abruptly, or unsuspectingly, it shakes us and our belief. How could it not? It is a surprise attack, an ambush. Death is something that we all think will happen after a full and complete and fulfilling life. When it comes early, it causes us to reexamine all the things we believe, or have believed, or been taught about that happens after we die. We are left with nothing but faith. Death quickly morphs from a future eventuality and screams forward and slams us with its sudden present reality.

As I thought more about this, I began to realize why death is such a difficult enemy to deal with. Although we will all pass through that door, Death is powerful and painful because of the sorrow caused by its separation. We love to be, and long to be with those we love. When we are apart from them, it hurts. Even more so when it comes unexpectedly and abruptly.

This is true with both physical and spiritual death. It hurts. We are separated from either where we want to be, with whom we want to be, or even how we want to be. Does it not also hurt when we ourselves, or a loved one make choices that can bring about spiritual death, or separation from the Spirit?

But, there is good news. We know who wins. We have the Almanac. It is abundantly clear. Death dies. Life lives. Both in physical and spiritual senses.

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

In our Divine Almanac, we can also read about how some amazing people have stared directly into Death’s eyes, and overcome. It can inspire us to exercise patience in developing the faith necessary to do so in our own lives.

In order to face the end of your own life with peace and calm requires a sure understanding and a rock-solid faith. It requires a testimony hardened and engrained so permanently that it is impossible to extract even when Death unsheathes fear as his weapon of choice.

The sons of Helaman had it…

Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” (Alma 56:47)

Joseph Smith also faced his fate with faithful confidence…

I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of an offense toward God and toward all men…” (from the Diary of Willard Richards)

In the Book of Mormon, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis laid prostrate down on the ground in prayer before an advancing vicious Lamanite army and willingly gave up their lives so as to not break a covenant they had made with God to never spill another’s blood again. Imagine the unshakable faith it would have taken to conquer the fear of that moment.

When we are trying our best, yet still suffer through difficulties and tragedies in our lives, we need to understand that we are in good company. We aren’t alone. This battle of life and death has touched almost all of us. We can be assured that our experiences with these events are acknowledged and recorded in the heavens above, and that our “labor is not in vain”.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 15:55-58

The sting of death is calmed by Savior. He won. Life wins. Death dies. His Atonement eliminates the eternal sorrow of separation. He, the Savior, is the one who gives us peace.

“…He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are boundto comfort all that mourn…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“He[Christ] will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces…”(Isaiah 25:6)

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Because of our Ultimate Superhero, our Savior, we are able to overcome physical, and spiritual death. He won. He overcame. Life wins. Death dies. And he invites us to share in his victory with him by and through our obedience to his commandments, and following the precepts of his Gospel.

Because the Savior overcame all, we will all live forever.

Where we live forever, and with whom we live forever, is up to us.

The Gift of Choice

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We have never, since the beginning of time, been compelled to do or be good. We have always been invited to do, or become good. This holds true going all the way back to our the pre-earth life. The essential principle that guides our relationship with God and our progression to be more like him is Agency. It is a divine gift. We will never be compelled to action by God. He invites, inspires, petitions, prompts, nudges, beckons, teaches and leads.

In the Book of Moses we learn more about what happened in the preexistence when this gift that God had already given us, was threatened. Lucifer wanted to force or compel obedience, at the expense of agency, in order to guarantee that, “one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1). We also learn what became of him, at least in part, because of his desire to take away this essential gift.

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Stained glass window in St Mary, Hitchin, England

“Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him …. I caused that he should be cast down;”
(Moses 4:3)

So, why is Agency so crucial?

Agency, or our freedom to choose, allows for the growth and development of Godly characteristics. No one is compelling God to be God. His character is who He is. He is pure. He is authentic. He is love, He is charity. He is perfect. Because He is pure and perfect, in order for us to become like him, we must develop his attributes. This simply cannot be forced or compelled.

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; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure…” (Moroni 7:48)

It’s like when I was a kid, my brothers and I would be caught fighting and smashing each other’s faces in the carpet. When this happened, my mom, following the mom code, broke up the fight, and subsequently compelled us to hug each other and say two good things about the other, inevitably “you’re good”, and “you’re nice”.  During those moments, I didn’t really feel sorry. I didn’t really feel that my sibling opponent of the moment was actually good or was actually nice. It wasn’t real. Unfortunately, it was not yet in my character to feel it, or even say it. It wasn’t who I really was to give that hug, and say those things. We were a perfect live example of…

…for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. [if] he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift…If he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.” (Moroni 7:6-9)

It was, however, teaching us how we should be.

We gain greater power, or growth when we freely choose faith, and when we freely choose to believe in and follow God and his plan of happiness. This progression and spiritual growth is stunted and inhibited or even reversed when we are compelled to action. Elder Tad Callister wrote, ”There exists an eternal principle—the greater the agency, the greater the opportunity for growth.” (The Blueprint of Christ’s Church)

This growth begins as a result of a desire or yearning to be with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. To be with them, however, requires us to be more like them. This seedling desire then can steer our daily decisions and influence our actions. Our personal desires to emulate our Savior and His character can effect how we view and treat ourselves, our spouses, our own families, and everyone else around us.

We all know the Book of Mormon story of Nephi and the brass plates. Nephi had exhausted all his options to fulfill the Lord’s commandments to obtain the brass plates from their wicked owner, Laban. One night, while following the promptings of the Spirit, Nephi was led to a drunk Laban lying alone in the street. In that moment, he was prompted to slay Laban. He was faced with an enormously difficult situation. The choice before him was to follow the directive of the spirit and slay Laban, or shrink, and disobey. This Laban also happened to be the same man that had stolen his family’s property, threatened them, and even attempted to have Nephi and his brothers killed in their previous attempts to obtain the brass plates.

I imagine the natural man in Nephi had some strong feelings about Laban at that moment. I imagine he might have struggled to know if the promptings he had felt to kill Laban were actually from the Spirit, or if they might have been his own. Nephi had to decide —to obey the voice of the Spirit, or disobey. He would either slay Laban and obtain the plates, or question, doubt, and shrink. I imagine it would have been enormously difficult to trust the feelings and promptings in his heart.

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He took eight full verses to explain these feelings and the honest and difficult conversation he had with the Spirit. Ultimately, he made his choice.  He stated, “I did obey the voice of the Spirit” (1 Nephi 4:18)

I imagine this experience with the whisperings of the spirit taught Nephi a great deal bout how to recognize these intimate promptings of the Spirit. I imagine he learned to trust in God more fully. I imagine this experience effected and guided Nephi with his future choices.

If we fast forward just a few more pages in the Book of Mormon, we learn about the time that Nephi broke his bow while his family was traveling in the wilderness. This fine steel bow had been the only means by which his entire family could obtain food. No bow, no hunt, no food. The family dinner situation had just taken a very bad turn. Even his father Lehi, the Prophet, was complaining. So in this terrible situation, how did Nephi’s past experiences guide his decisions?

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“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?” (1 Nephi 16:23)

His previous experience had taught him to trust in God. It had helped him build the faith and character that could now trust God enough to fashion a handmade wooden bow, and a single arrow, not a quiver of arrows, but a single arrow, and faithfully and confidently head into the wilderness for food. That is complete trust. Nephi level faith and trust is not built in a day, or built upon desperation or compelled humility. It is built upon consistent righteous choices and experiences over time.

Just like Nephi, our own righteous choices today build the character we need to influence our choices and actions tomorrow.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of agency and its practical influence in our lives, is when we attempt to honor it as parents when raising our children. At what point do we step back and allow our kids to exercise their gift? When are we teaching, inviting, or beckoning, and when are we mandating, compelling, and forcing?

I won’t attempt an answer here, as I am still working on this one. Im also not sure where the mom code section about making fighting kids hug each other fits either.  I do know, however, that our Father in Heaven lost 1/3 of his children before they even came to earth. He, a perfect Father, still would not compel his children to obey, even at the expense of losing their opportunity to gain a physical body, partake in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and have a chance at Eternal life.

When we look for an example of a perfect parent, we should look to Him, even when we see our kids choose something other than what we would have them choose. We have to remember that real growth only happens when it is preceded by a free choice.

When we freely choose the right, it means that we have aligned our desire and will to God’s desire and will.

Our choices become a way to test or trigger our own spiritual development.
Our choices become consequences of the character we have developed
Our choices become an outward expression of who we really are, and act as stepping stones in our attempts to develop Godly attributes.

In Hymn number 240 “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free” the lyrics describe this concept perfectly.

 

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom love and light
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

During the earthly ministry of the Savior, he continued to honor the principle of Agency. He never mandated compliance with his Gospel. He taught and lead by perfect example. He loved, taught, then invited

“Wherefore, Hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people…”
(Doctrine and Covenants 38:22)

To the rich young man he beckoned, “…If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
(Mathew 19:21)

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“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24)

If we choose to follow the Savior, his Gospel, and his law, He will receive us, heal us, and bless us.

He demonstrated this with the 5,000 who would eventually experience the miracle of the bread and fishes…

“And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.” (Luke 9:11)

In this same way, and still honoring the gift of agency, we are all invited to follow the Savior even today through the teachings of living prophets and apostles. Living Prophets have encouraged the people to exercise their divine gifts of agency and make the choice to follow God from the very beginning…

The Prophet Enoch was instructed to tell the people …

Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.” (Moses 6:33)

Joshua famously encouraged, “…Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Today we are experiencing an extension of this same timeless invitation. We have been encouraged to Come unto Christ and come to know him primarily in the safety and security of our own homes. Through his prophet the Lord is inviting us, once again, to…

Come unto Him, to “Learn of [Him] and listen to [his] words, to walk in the meekness of [His] Spirit,… [that we] shall have peace in [Him].” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23)

The name of the program we now have to study is perfectly named. Our Savior still, as he did in days long ago, opens his arms and invites all of us to “Come, and Follow Me” (Mathew 19:21) and it now becomes our choice, our decision to either follow, or not.

I hope that we all, as individuals, make the choice to accept the Savior’s invitation to follow Him, to learn of Him, and find the peace that only He can bring. As our own testimonies grow, our responsibility is then to strengthen our own families and our own homes. We can make them sanctuaries of peace in an ever more chaotic world. As we ourselves, and as families, choose to be more committed and converted to Jesus Christ and His gospel, we then have the responsibility to invite, encourage, beckon, and lead others along their path towards Him.

Freely choosing to follow and be with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ, and to ultimately become like them is the goal.

I hope that we all choose this day to accept the invitation, and follow Him.

 

Tales of the Two Ocean Walkers

Julius Sergius von Klever Tutt'Art@ (36)

It has been a minute since we last contributed on here, or shared a story…..Well, its been a little over 164,000 minutes, but here we go.

Over the last few years, I have written several times about how I’m terrible at swimming. I’ve written about my first experience trying to swim laps and how I barely made it 25 meters before nearly dying of exhaustion, and suffocation. It was a literal near death experience.

Subsequently, I wrote about how I made small improvements, and, over time, was able to refine my technique into something that resembled a stroke that could support my life in the water for a longer period of time. I even survived a couple of half Iron Man events (I owe a lot of that survival to a buoyant wet suit). I thought it was as good as it could get with me, given that I don’t have a ton of time to practice or refine the way I swim. I thought I was capped out.

But, now, I bring you the next step in my journey in the water. The story you’ve both been waiting on for hundreds of thousands of minutes, and also the principle it taught me on the way home this evening after spending an hour in the water.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a random guy on an instagram post. His name was Adam Walker. His instagram account is @adamoceanwalker. More on that name to come. His story is that he was a competitive swimmer before a shoulder injury stopped him from competition. He had to have surgery to repair it, but he never really healed in a way that would allow him to swim in the same way, so he invented/tweaked his stroke to support his now limited range of motion in his arms.

I won’t bore anyone too much with the details, but it has taken off. His ideas are simple, and efficient, and they have made a difference for people like me, in our quest to not die in the water.

I was intrigued, so I splurged, and spent the 20 bucks on his instructional video that looked like he had filmed it on a flip phone propped up on his kitchen counter. But, it has made all the difference in the world for me. It took me about 2 weeks to really relearn how to swim using his techniques. But, ever since I’ve switched and improved the way I do things, I can go so much longer, and even have energy to spare at the end, which is a full-blown miracle.

As I look back at the first time I attempted to swim up and back in the lap pool, and being ready to succumb to an early death after merely 45 seconds. It baffles my mind that tonight I was able to swim 2,500 meters without stopping, without even getting winded. It makes no sense to me. I was doing everything just a little bit wrong. I had the basic principles down, but there was a way that was just a little bit better, a way that made just a bit more sense, a way that fit just perfectly for what I wanted to do. It has taken the anxiety of swimming 1.2 miles, or 2.4 miles during iron man events off of my shoulders. Now I can simply worry about sharks eating me,  the ocean swells, and being flogged with flailing feet and hands.

So, what was the principle I learned, you might ask?

As I thought on the way home about how this made such a difference to me, I was struck by the name he chose to use for his account. Adam Ocean Walker. I’m sure it was intended to reference the way in which simplifying and easing the strain makes it so that you expend the least amount of energy in the water and trying to simulate a nice brisk walk. But, it reminded me of the original ocean, or sea walker, Jesus Christ, and of the time He taught a flailing Peter his “technique”.

I thought also about how many people in this world know of Jesus Christ, and of his miracles, and of his stories of walking on water, healing the sick, etc. Yet, they don’t have all the knowledge, or techniques completely right. They are somewhat like I was, they know the basics, but there are some key elements that are missing, or being done “almost right”. I thought of how the true techniques can be learned by following the original One who walks on water.

There are many, many people in this world who believe in Jesus Christ. They love him. They try their best to follow his teachings, treat others as he did, and do as he taught us to do. These people are amazing, and are doing everything they can to improve themselves and be worthy followers of Christ. In many ways, I want to be just like them in my pursuit to follow Jesus Christ. But there is always room for improvement.

We all can improve the way we live, and follow Christ. We are blessed, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, to have the “techniques” available to us to maximize our potential!

We have a living Prophet receiving revelations to customize the gospel message to us for our specific needs.

We have the Book of Mormon that testifies of this same Jesus who walked on water in the old world, and who visited the people here in America, and taught his Gospel.

We have living Apostles who teach us about the true nature of God.

A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we read a quote from Thomas S. Monsen from the Ensign in 1990. I loved it. It perfectly described our busy days, our flailing about trying to swim the wrong way, and the ways in which we seek Jesus. We should look to him to help us improve our “techniques” in life. We should look to him to calm our fears. We should look to him to take away our pain or grief. We should look to him when we are sinking in the busy ocean waves of life.

Here is a link…

“Before we can successfully undertake a personal search for Jesus, we must first prepare time for him in our lives and room for him in our hearts. In these busy days there are many who have time for golf, time for shopping, time for work, time for play—but no time for Christ.

Lovely homes dot the land and provide rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, playrooms, sewing rooms, television rooms, but no room for Christ.

Do we get a pang of conscience as we recall his own words: “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20.) Or do we flush with embarrassment when we remember, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7.) No room. No room. No room. Ever has it been.

As we undertake our personal search for Jesus, aided and guided by the principle of prayer, it is fundamental that we have a clear concept of him whom we seek. The shepherds of old sought Jesus the child. But we seek Jesus the Christ, our Older Brother, our Mediator with the Father, our Redeemer, the Author of our salvation; he who was in the beginning with the Father; he who took upon himself the sins of the world and so willingly died that we might forever live.

This is the Jesus whom we seek.”

I look at what we enjoy and have access to in The Church of Jesus Christ, in much the same way I see the knowledge of a better way to swim. We can always improve, we can always do just a bit better. But, in order to do it, just as in swimming, we need to truly seek out and learn from the One who walks on water.

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Green Eggs and the Great I Am

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Every six months during general conference we take a couple days and listen to our Prophets and Apostles and other leaders speak and teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over all, it consists of about 10 hours of gospel instruction over a two day period. Throughout that 10 hour instruction period, we cant really expect ourselves to remember each and every phrase, idea, instruction, and encouragement, but the ideas and feelings we get can last forever. Sometimes a certain phrase, or sentence really resonates with us and it triggers a train of thought that inspires us, or helps us to want to learn more about that topic or principle.

Last week I had one of those moments. It wasn’t necessarily an awe inspiring, life changing, burning bush moment, but a fun idea that Im looking forward to. 

It was during Elder Bednar’s talk Saturday morning entitled, “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ”. The part that triggered my idea in his talk was when he quoted the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians…

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  

-Ephesians 1:10

I loved that. I had the thought that we can look for and find signs of Christ, and his gospel principles all around us here on earth. We can find the gospel in everything. That we find the things of Christ in Heaven, and in Heavenly places is obvious. But, the fun part is in the second half of the phrase about finding the things of Christ “on the earth”. Those things are a little less obvious. But, If we look close enough, we can find these lessons in the most unlikely of places.

So, because I can only look on things here on earth, I thought I should start looking around to see what I could find.  Also, because I’m sure all 3 of our readers are tired of reading about how swimming is hard, lets mix it up a bit. So, the obvious first place to expand our search for gospel lessons, is…..?

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss. 

This literary masterpiece is a story of a seemingly annoyingly persistent little character named Sam, who, for some undisclosed reason, finds it necessary to try and convince the main character that green eggs and ham are delicious. He tries to offer them in a wide variety of places, situations, and with several differing scenarios. All in an effort to get the main character to try green eggs and ham. 

The main character stubbornly refuses to even try them based on the obvious outward appearance of the green eggs and ham, and maybe in part by the relentless optimism and cheery disposition of Sam himself. Eventually, and mostly to get Sam to leave him alone, the main character actually tries green eggs and ham, and, to his surprise, he actually likes them. He then thanks Sam for introducing him to green eggs and ham and everyone lives happily ever after. 

So, where is the gospel lesson in this story? To start, lets refer back to one of my favorite scriptures on how to gain a testimony. It comes from the New Testament in the book of John. 

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.                                                                                       -John 7:17                                                  

And, what about this famous one in Malachi, that invites us to try the Lord with regards to tithing?

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

-Malachi 3:10

And, of course, one of the most famous scriptures we know in the church, the scripture that in essence, triggered the restoration of the gospel.

”If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”                                                            -James 1:5

These scriptrues all have one thing in common, they are invitations to act, or to try. When we try, we gain a sure knowledge. We know for ourselves whether we like green eggs and ham. We know for ourselves because we live the gospel, whether its true or not. We know when we pay tithing, whether the Lord blesses us by opening the windows of Heaven. We know when we ask for wisdom in faith from God, that he provides answers. 

But we need to jump in, we need to try green eggs and ham. We need to ask God and live the gospel as it is meant to be lived in order to gain a real knowledge of its truthfullness. It cannot happen in any other way. We can’t live hoping green eggs and ham are good because they have amazing reviews on yelp, or that our friends, or parents say they are.

We need to try them for ourselves. When we do, we know for ourselves. 

From the book….

“You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may I say.”

“Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”

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“Say! I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat! And I would eat them with a goat. And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good, so good you see!.

I do so like green eggs and ham! 
Thank you!
Thank you, 
Sam-

I-am.”

Hearken and listen to the voice of him who is from all eternity to all eternity, the Great I Am, even Jesus Christ—“                                                                                               -D&C 39:1

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Hidden in a manner that the people did find them

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In Luke chapter 24, it chronicles the events that take place shortly after the resurrection of the Savior.  Starting in verse 13 we have the story of two of his apostles walking “to a village called Emmaus”. Let’s remember that they are apparently making this journey almost immediately (“that same day”) after hearing the news that the Savior was no longer in the tomb.  During this journey, these two disciples “talked together of all these things which had happened”, and while they did that Jesus himself “drew near, and went with them”. Now, we know that their eyes were “holden” during this journey, and through the night while the Lord speaks with them, expounds the scriptures to them, until finally as “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” their eyes were opened, “and they knew him”.

In John chapter 20, we read that Mary is “weeping” at the empty sepulchre, only to see with her own eyes the Lord himself and hear him ask “Woman, why weepest thou”?  We learn that Mary, in her grief or in her pain or in her state of distress “saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” and was “supposing him to be the gardener”.  Then, only after the Lord calls her by name, she “turned herself” and recognized him.

The story (hymn 29) of the poor wayfaring man of grief details six entire verses of good works that the narrator was anxiously engaged in.  He loves this stranger, shares his meal with him, he quenches his thirst, he clothed him and provided rest to him, he nurses him back to health and revives his spirit, and finally honors him amid scorn from others before stating that “in a moment to my view the stranger started from disguise” allowing him to recognize the Savior.  

The point of these three stories, and certainly my point in highlighting them in this way is that the Lord does indeed come to us, but he often comes in disguise.  

Nevermind that the two apostles on the road to Emmaus, Mary at the tomb, and the unnamed man in the hymn were not only pondering the events that were happening around them, but they were thinking of the Lord, and expressing sincere gratitude at their blessings, trying to piece together the reality of what was happening and what it meant to them, and they were acting and serving in faith while.  Each of them were doing the very things that we are encouraged to do to invite the Lord into our lives – and he did come – yet he still appeared to them in disguise.

Even further, 3 Ne. 9:20 teaches us that there were people who – because of their faith (which is a principle of action, likely indicating that they were acting in way very similar to these individuals listed above) were “baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”  All these examples help me to understand that not only that it is possible to experience something spiritually wonderful, or incredibly important and not even know it, but also that it is pretty common, and for most of us, we feel like we are giving 100% effort in doing the right things, yet have a difficult time recognizing the Lord and hearing his voice clearly.    

Why is it this way?  Why doesn’t he just make himself and his hand totally and unmistakably obvious to everyone?  Why do things have to be hidden or disguised at all? What purpose does that serve?

There are likely several reasons, but remember that the Lord taught in parables, which means he still does teach in parables.  And that a parable conveys to the hearer religious truth exactly in proportion to his faith and intelligence; to the dull and uninspired it is a mere story, “seeing they see not,” while to the instructed and spiritual it reveals the mysteries or secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is that only he who seeks finds.

I like to think that the examples above were used because in each case, the people involved had the mystery revealed and they received a wonderful treasure and the end of their wrestle.  The apostles had their eyes opened “and they knew him”. Mary and the hymn writer were able to recognize, speak with and have an experience with Him because of their good works. Joseph Smith wrote that “the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.” (History of the Church 3:295-96).  But he didn’t say we’d find them out immediately.

Now, before we get too far down the road in thinking that everything is disguised or hidden so well that we cannot find it.  Let’s remember that it’s only hidden in proportion to our faith and intelligence, and that if we seek we will find, and the more faith and intelligence we gain, the more we will find.    

When I was 16 or 17 and a senior in High School, I thought it was incredibly important to have chewing gum on my person at almost all times.  This meant that I bought gum with my own money, and since I didn’t want my younger siblings tasting the fruits of my labor, or dipping into my secret stash of gum I kept it from them by hiding it.  And, because I really wanted it to be safe, I put the unopened gum, and any partially opened packs of gum in my underwear drawer – and not just in my underwear, like underneath and all around my actual underwear.  In other words, I hid it so that it would not be found.  This shouldn’t be a hard concept for us to understand since really anytime we hide something, I think it’s assumed that it is not meant to be found (except maybe by us) right?  After all, the very meaning of hidden is “to conceal from sight, or to prevent from being seen, or to keep secret”.  

But the Lord hides things differently than we do.  As odd as it may seem. He hides things so that they will be found.

Take the plates of Ether for example. The Lord knew how important the record of the Jaredites would be not only to the Nephites, but to all of us, so after Ether finished recording their history, he “hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them” (Ether 15:33).  How many of us think to hide things in a manner that they will be found? Probably none of us, but I think this phrase indicates exactly how and why the Lord hides things. Both the Lord and Ether desperately wanted the record to be found, so he “hides” it so that the looker will know that they should search and the finder will know that they actually found something.  I’m sure the people of Limhi left plenty of stuff untouched when they found the Jaredite civilization, but they somehow knew what to find.  This idea could be used for the Gold plates as well. 

The Lord has prepared a wonderland of lessons for us all to learn here on earth. People, places, things, and especially our own experiences as we struggle through the mundane provide the Lord with the hiding places, and he inserts hidden and disguised treasures in a manner that we will find them.

Run, and Not be Weary

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I ran my third Marathon today. I ran another one this year after a great experience a year ago at the same event. A year ago, I was as well prepared as I could have been, and even ended up finishinig with a little gas left in my tank. My legs were tired to be sure, but I had enough left to accelerate through the finish line, and finish well ahead of where I expected to be. What a difference a year makes.

This year, I was well prepared-ish. I had run plenty, but hadn’t been able to get the long training runs in like I had in past years. The longest training run that I did complete was just 14 miles. I am learning, the hard way, that this might not cut it.

As much as I omitted the longer training sessions, and hadn’t really prepared my legs for 26.2 miles, that wasnt the main problem. The biggest, most obvious, most glaring mistake I made this year was in the nutrition department. I thought I had prepared well enough. I thought I had a good plan, but I didn’t. I thought that rather than going with the tried and true plans presented by experts, experienced runners, and people who understand exercise physiology, I would go with the Colby plan instead.

My brilliant plan consisted of nutrition powder mixes that I had been using on my not so long training runs. My foolproof plan consisted of said powder mixes of which I had neglected to even read the ingredients on the label. My innovative plan was a disaster. Lets just say we could probably rename it the “original marathon nutrition plan”. It would probably be the most accurate considering that the dude that supposedly ran the original marathon died after he “finished”.

After feeling great for about 18, or 19 miles, I suddenly realized upon gazing at my internal energy gas tank, that it was completely empty. Not like almost empty, or dinging that little warning light that reminds us to refuel soon empty, but sputtering, and spattering, and metal grinding, and engine stopping empty. I was toast.

That was no bueno. I was 7 or 8 miles short of the finish line, with only a few more water stations between where I was, and the promised land. I was in trouble. I was hoping for one of those stations to have some of those sugary goo things, or chews, or pizza, or even cooked vegetables, I was that empty. But, as luck would have it, none of the next few did. It was water, gatorade, or some tasty advil.

I was in survival mode. My legs felt more like the rusty hinges on the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz than something that would carry me the next several miles. The reason? I really was out of gas. The powder mixes that were my main source of energy had exactly 0 calories each. Even though I had mixed 3 of them over the race, if you do the math, that’s 0 calories in, and about 3500 calories out during that almost 4 hour run. No wonder I felt so awesome.

With only about 2 and half miles left, I did run past some people handing out little honey sticks, that I promptly grabbed, and voraciously tried to suck out the 4 drops of honey. I think I may have aspirated some in my lungs I was in such a hurry. I also stole a piece of banana bread from one of the volunteer tables that was off limits. But, at that point, I was more like gollum devouring a raw fish after 7 days without food, than an actual runner.

Even with the honey, and the bread, my tank was beyond empty, it was on negative empty, if there is such a thing. It would take more than some honey drops and a stolen piece of bread to get me back to normal. The last 8 miles had been the definition of enduring to the end.

But, apparently, this is just the way that I learn best. The hard way. I had learned that nutrition was important, I had even worried about it, and planned it out meticulously in the past, but not today. I had taken it for granted. I had relied upon my own planning, and didn’t give enough thought or attention to it. In my prideful mind, I had thought, “Ive done this before, no big deal” even though, before, I had taken much better care in being really prepared by being well nourished.

As with all of the things I learn, there are parallels, and types, and comparisons that cover all aspects of my life. Truth is truth, and principles are principles. Being well nourished during a race is essential to helping me endure for the entire duration. This is as true for my physical body as it is for my spiritual side.

In the Book of Mormon we learn about the real race we are all running, and how we need help finishing. This real race consists of all of us winding our way back home to God. This race begins with our committment to run! That comittment to run is our baptism. What follows that committment is a life full of hills, long stretches without water, and others seemingly more expert at running than we are. But, the instructions on how to finish this more important race, are right at our fingertips….

“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.”
-Moroni 6:4

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
-2 Nephi 31:20

No matter our race, we need nutrition and nourishment. Whether it be enduring a marathon, or in real life. In a physical race, we need food, or energy to keep us going. In our spiritual races, we need spiritual energy that comes from beign nourished by the word of God, and feasting upon them.

We can’t always wait until our tank is empty before we even start to think about refilling it. The effect of neglecting physical or spiritual nutrition is the same. We run out of gas. We simply cannot expect to finish the way we want to, in either race, unless we stop thinking that our own plan is best. We have to give up thinking that our own plan is foolproof, or that any success we have had in the past was because of our own strength. The simple truth of the matter is that we will always finish best when we rely solely on the One true Expert- the “Author and Finisher of our faith”

When the Wheels Fall Off

One year ago, I attempted my first triathlon. I had a great time, and didn’t die, so I figured I would give it another try this year. While I have been training, its been hard to avoid learning a lot. My lessons haven’t been just about how to swim and not drown, or bike up hills, or run more efficiently, but Ive learned a lot about everyday life.  I guess you have a lot of time to think and ponder life’s meaning while your head is under water. Exhalation bubbles can be very therapeutic.

This last Saturday, I learned another valuable lesson. This particular learning opportunity happened about 3 minutes into the bike route. I had just exited the transition and had turned and was heading up a big hill climb. I was pedaling my little heart out, but because of the grade, wasn’t going very fast. The only issue I was having had to do with my race bib. I had in the modesty position on a belt in the front, and It was crinkling and crackling each time I would pedal and was driving me crazy. So, I sat up just a little bit, and leaned over to twist my belt so the bib would be on my backside.

That little shift in weight was all it took. My back wheel came completely off the frame. As it came off,  the bike seized up, and the wheels skidded to a halt. I instantly went from full speed to no speed, and was going down. My catlike speed and reflexes were apparently taking a cat nap, and so I was only able to unclip one foot, my left one- which was largely unhelpful of course, because the bike tipped over to the right-The side of my still clipped in foot.

I went down. I was a mass of legs, arms, hands, and bike. I was going so slow, it took what seemed like a full minute to actually hit the ground. Of course my first instinct was to look around and see just how many witnesses there were to my pathetic dismount. I could deal with broken bones, but my pride was also at risk. There weren’t any. This, of course, proved that sometimes amid our most trying times, small miracles do happen.

So, I spent the next 5 minutes, untangling myself, smacking wheels back into alignment, flipping the bike upside down, re-attaching the wheel, and tightening, then retightening it to prevent any repeats of my not-so-finest hour.

After hopping back on and resuming my ride, It only took another 10 seconds and I was over the top of the hill. Another 5 seconds, and I was screaming down the other side at over 30 miles an hour. Quite a different scenario. After another moment, I found myself praying and thanking my lucky stars that my wheel had fallen off when it did. Had the timing been different, this story might have been written with me in a body cast writing through a straw like Stephen Hawking. Timing is everything.

All that day I thought about what had happened, and how it relates to all of us. This is the lesson I was meant to learn that day. We sometimes look at the times in our life that are really hard as if we are being picked on. As if God is withholding his protective blessings from us even though we are trying as hard as we can to do what is right. We feel we deserve some downhill time. We cannot possibly take another problem, another pitfall, another trial, another difficulty. We feel that all too often when we are struggling the most, our wheels fall off, and we tip over, alone, on the side of the road.

The hard moments in our lives give us a choice. We can choose to be angry with God because he allowed our wheel to fly off right in the most difficult climbs, or we can try and see things as He does. We can accept that He loves us unconditionally and that He is aware of every little pain, feeling, insecurity, disappointment, and struggle that we deal with. Or, we can ignore it. We can choose to believe that He loves us, and will be watching out for us every step of the way, every climb, every spill, every failure, or we can choose to pretend we are on our own.

When we choose to accept our lives as something our Heavenly Father has orchestrated for our benefit, and that He is intimitely aware of what we need, and when we need it, we can feel peace. We can feel peace in the tough times as well as in the good times. He understands timing perfectly. I learned that lesson even more last Saturday, as I was the beneficiary of some extraordinarily good timing. Even though that “timing” meant my wheels had to fall off.

“God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways. … The promises of the Lord, if perhaps not always swift, are always certain.”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

When the Wheels Fall off

Many times I find myself amid an earthly race,
Furiously peddling just to finish in last place.
I think and hope that life should have some easy times as well,
And not just be survival- grinding, winding up a hill.

Like, shouldn’t there be downhills too? And not just uphill climbs?
A time to stop my pedaling- to rest, and clear my mind?
Its only fair that someone else would get that bitter pill,
And why would God then pick on me who’s struggling up a hill?

And then, just at the top, when I can see relief ahead,
The climb is ending, and at last, I’ll cruise downhill instead.
All the work, and all the struggle going up will soon pay off
Its then, exactly then sometimes, when all the wheels fall off.

To add insult to injury, my graceless fall ensues,
My arms and legs, and body parts go up, and down, then through
A windmill somersault, that leaves me staring at the sky
And on my back, I can’t help wonder why I even try.

It seems no matter what I do, I fall just short again,
disheartened, and convinced that I will never, ever win.
But now, somehow I get back up, untangle one more time,
tighten up the wheel that slipped and stopped my uphill climb.

I somehow manage to replace the wheel onto the frame,
and tighten, then re-tighten, and hop back into the game.
I shake my head and wonder why I didn’t check before
I won’t be making that mistake for race prep anymore.

But something happens in my heart and mind when I think back,
And realize the timing of the wheel-slip off the track.
Although untimely- to eat dust, and fall back in the race,
My turtle-pace of uphill speed had surely saved my face!

For now, just seconds after I enjoyed my awkward spill,
I find myself, now flying fast, at full speed down the hill.
I also think, through whistling winds, and blurry lines that pass,
“Oh, man! I’ll lose my skin if I go down right now and crash!”

I might have been the winner on a “Race Fails” YouTube clip,
Or slid a mile and scraped three feet of skin clean off my hip
I see the scary, and unpleasant fate that I escaped,
had just been traded for an unseen, tiny, little scrape.

I then thank God for waiting until just the perfect time,
To pick on me, kick off my wheel, right then- back on my climb.
My graceless, awkward, low speed fall, that barely marked my shirt
Had been a blessing in disguise! My crash had helped, not hurt.

And through this new perspective I look back, and I can see,
That timing, isn’t always what we think initially
We have a Heavenly Father who is watchful and aware
Who sometimes kicks the wheels off of your bike- because he cares!

Nearer, My God, To Thee

A few weeks ago, I learned something I thought already knew.

It reminded me of those pictures that have hidden images within the artwork. The art is nice, but if we spend a little more time looking, we can discover all the secrets that are hiding there. These images have always been there, we just didn’t look closely enough at first glance.

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I learned all over again, that the temple ordinances really are the pinnacle of our gospel goals, and should be the focus of our own individual spiritual development, and the best way that each of us can really be connected with Heaven.

I knew that temples had always been and important part of our religion. But, I didn’t quite realize how prevalent the ordinances, endowments, blessings, and promises were throughout the scriptures.

The temple has always been taught in scripture. If we look specifically for the word “temple” we can find several obvious instances in the Bible where it is mentioned. When Jesus went missing at the young age of 12, Mary and Joseph found him teaching the elders in front of it.

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Jesus again visited the temple during his ministry. This time to turn over the tables of the money changers right outside its walls.

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There are many, many other references to the temple, or its ordinances that are in the scriptures. To find them, we just have to look, and listen a little more carefully to see more clearly.

Even if we are familiar with the existence of these ancient Temples, we sometimes don’t seem to associate them with our modern temples. Especially when we think about our own ordinances. We don’t think Solomon’s temple has much to do with the one we drive by on the way to Costco.

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We seem to think that what takes place today inside these beautiful buildings is somehow vastly different than what took place anciently. But, while there may be some differences in the implementation of the temple ordinances, I think there are many more similarities than we really understand. After all, we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored, not created anew.

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The importance of the temple has always been taught. Whether by word, or by actions. The Lord’s Prophets have always gathered The Lord’s people to the temple. Why? It is the perfect place to gather for anyone looking to be closer to God.

Here are just a couple examples…

“Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord.”
-Jacob 1:17

“And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.”
-Mosiah 1:18

And of course, the most famous chapter in all of the Book of Mormon. This section describes where the people were in the very moments right before Jesus Christ appeared….

“And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; …..”
-3 Nephi 11:1

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We also know that the Lord himself taught the Apostles about the temple and the power it endows us with…

“And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them…And [they] were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”
-Luke 24:49-53

So the question becomes, what is it specifically that makes the temple so significant to God’s people? What is it that draws the most sincere followers of Christ to its doors? What is it that happens there that makes such a difference? Why do we go? Why should we go?

I think the answer is really plain and simple.

We go for the ordinances.
We go for the covenant blessings we receive.
We go for the endowment of power.
We go for the feeling we get when we enter the Lord’s house.
We go for the assurances we feel when we participate in those ordinances.
We go to be instructed.
We go to become elevated.
We go to be lifted up, and
we go to connect with Heaven.

The covenants we make there literally connect us with Heaven. When we covenant with God, we are connecting ourselves with Him. What closer connection could there be with God, than a covenant connection?

This has always been the case. This is not something that originated in 1836 when Joseph Smith dedicated the Kirtland temple. This has happened since the beginning.

Lets look at a few scripture stories and instead of skimming the surface, and seeing them for what is sitting out in the open, lets look a little closer, and see if anything pops out to us as we read the words. Lets examine these verses through lenses that filter everything into a temple context. Not just the idea of the temple, but specifically the ordinances, blessings, and connections that all happen inside. Lets see if we can pick out any similarities to what we experience today.

We can start at the very beginning. Before any of us are allowed to enter into the temple, we have an interview. In this interview we have the opportunity to really consider ourselves and evaluate our worthiness to enter into the Lord’s House, and participate in the ordinances. During this interview we are asked simple questions regarding our faith, and our relationships with God, and others.

Lets apply the context now. Do we suppose that a similar process to our modern interviews may have taken place 3,000 years ago when someone wished to enter into an ancient Temple?

Lets read Psalm 15 to get a little glimpse…

“Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?
Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”
-Psalm 15

Or, again in Psalm 24……

“…Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or
Who shall stand in his holy place?

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
-Psalm 24

One of the most descriptive scriptural passages that highlights the blessings and promises from God in a “temple” sense is the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. It describes a vision/dream that Jacob has on a journey from Canaan to seek for a wife from his own people. In that context, let’s read the highlights of the chapter and imagine ourselves preparing for our own temple marriages, and the blessings/ordinances we received in the temple beforehand…

“…And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, … And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place;… this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el:”
-Genesis 28:10-19

The name “Beth-el” translates into “The House of God”.

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So, after Jacob has this amazing experience, he promptly calls the place where this took place, the “House of God”, and the “Gate of Heaven”, and builds an altar, and consecrates it with oil. Then, just a few chapters later in Genesis 32, as Jacob returns towards Caanan, he again meets God, face to face, and receives a new name…

Marion G. Romney lays it out nice and plain for us…

“Pondering upon the subject of temples and the means therein provided to enable us to ascend into heaven brings to mind the lesson of Jacob’s dream. You will recall that in the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis there is an account of his return to the land of his father to seek a wife from among his own people. When Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, he had a dream in which he saw himself on the earth at the foot of a ladder that reached to heaven where the Lord stood above it. He beheld angels ascending and descending thereon, and Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord.”

Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob. Even more, they are also the gates to heaven for all of our unendowed kindred dead. We should all do our duty in bringing our loved ones through them.”
-Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, March 1971, p. 16

The Brother of Jared had a similar experience when he went high on a mountain to converse with the Lord, and inquire about how to light his barges that he had constructed to cross the ocean. During this visit, he heard the voice of the Lord, and saw his finger. Because of his faith, the Lord allowed the Brother of Jared to see him as he was. Listen to the specific words the Lord uses during that exchange…

“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.”
-Ether 3:13

Ether

Isn’t this what we all want? To be brought back into His presence? The temple does this both literally and symbolically. It tethers us to God. We become his. We commit to Him and He, in turn, empowers us, or endows us with unbelieveable blessings and promises.

The scriptures are rich with these plain and simple truths that are right in front of us, if we just scratch under the surface and look a little deeper. They teach us of the importance of the temple. Not just to redeem the dead, or help us feel the Spirit, but to literally connect us to Heaven. This is our purpose here on earth. And we can be more clear in emphasizing its importance! We are here to learn, and to become what we are meant to be. And the Temple is the earthly place that teaches us how to do just that, and connects us to our Heavenly home.

We all know the famous hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. But, what we may not know, is that it is a hymn about the vision of Jacob’s Ladder from Genesis. In its 3rd verse, it describes in simple words the steps we can take towards heaven, and that all along the way, we will have angels to beckon us upwards along this temple ladder that leads to God.

There, let the way appear, Steps unto Heav’n
All that thou sendest me, In Mercy giv’n
Angels to beckon me, Nearer, My God, To Thee
Nearer, My God, To Thee
Nearer To Thee.

 

The nethermost part of the vineyard

grafted

In the plant world (horticulture), grafting is a technique whereby tissues of different plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. This process involves two parts, the scion (the upper part) and the rootstock (the base or roots).  For interest, some of the reasons why grafting would be used include the following:

  • Repair damaged plants
  • Increase the growth rate of seedlings
  • Optimize cross-pollinations
  • Take advantage of particular rootstocks or root systems

It just so happens that this same word – grafting – is used in the medical field as well.  Similar to the plant world, this process refers to a surgical procedure to move tissue from one site to another, to replace diseased or injured tissue in order to spur or increase growth.

That was all a brief background and context for Jacob 5 – the infamous allegory of the olive tree in the Book of Mormon.  There have been many commentaries on that chapter, and detailed descriptions of its various fulfillments as they relate to the house of Israel but I am going to talk about us as everyday members of the church, and what Jacob 5 can mean today.  As a quick reminder or summary; Jacob 5 is the story about the Lord, his vineyard, and a few of the methods that he uses to take care of it and help it grow.

The first thing we need to remember is that it is not just a story about a vineyard, it is a story about his vineyard.

The next thing we need to remember is that beyond the grafting that I described above, there are various methods that the Lord uses to care for his trees (we happen to be the trees in the vineyard, but at times we are the branches as well, so stay on your feet).  We read in verses 3-4 that the three ways in which the Lord of the vineyard works are 1) pruning, 2) digging about, and 3) nourishing.

Just so we are crystal clear on what the Lord does to all of the trees his vineyard (us), the words repeatedly used in Jacob 5 are as follows:

  1. Prune: to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches or roots from, to rid or clear (of anything undesirable)
  2. Dig about: to break up, turn over, or remove earth as with a shovel, spade, bulldozer, or claw, to unearth, obtain, or remove by digging
  3. Nourish*: to sustain with food or nutriment, supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth. To strengthen, build up, or keep alive.
  4. Graft: to insert a portion of a plant (tissue) into the stem or stock of another plant in which it continues to grow. To transplant, or to attach.

It is interesting when you look at this list of gardening terms, that 3 of the 4 tactics appear to be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for the trees in the vineyard.  Aside from number 3 (nourish), I don’t think I would be looking forward to being pruned (cut down), dug about (ruffled up and turned inside out), or grafted (ripped apart, moved, and/or completely transplanted) – yet that is exactly what the Lord does to encourage growth and ultimately produce fruit from the trees in his vineyard.  That is without mentioning the the actual pain that is involved in the grafting process: cutting, inserting, flaring, etc. It’s worth remembering.

Early on in the story, the Lord recognizes some of his trees have begun to decay, and are in need a bit of help, so he starts rearranging things and mixing it up.  He proceeds to ‘pluck’ (to pull with sudden force) some young and tender branches and graft them in to other locations within his vineyard.  Here, the Lord makes an amazing statement (in verse 13) about these young freshly plucked branches which reads “these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard”.  The word nethermost is awesome, and if you can ever work that into a normal conversation you should do it, but the actual definition of nethermost happens to be the lowest, or farthest down.  If that’s not bad enough, verse 14 teaches us that he hid the branches there.  He didn’t just graft them into the lowest or furthest tree, he actually hid them there – on purpose.1

Let’s take a time out and relate the vineyard to our lives and wards for a second.  We as individuals and families are all trees within the vineyard or branches within the tree and often times we have callings within that vineyard.  Sometimes it feels like we are part of the tame tree at the entrance to the vineyard that is nice and visible, but other times we feel like we are the wild tree a hundred rows back.  Even more than that, sometimes we feel like we are the young and tender branch plucked right from the tame tree and grafted into or hid in the nethermost part of the vineyard 3 years or 13 years ago.  What the Lord is telling us is that sometimes he plucks the YW President or the bishop or the Stake president off the tame tree and grafts them into the nethermost parts of the primary never to interact with anyone over the age of 5 ever again.  It could even be that after we’ve been transplanted, we feel like the Lord hid us so well that he and his other servants can’t even remember where we are at all.  We soon lose hope of ever being found or put back into the visible tame tree up front where we came from.

If we find ourselves with this mindset, we need to just keep reading Jacob 5, because it will help us understand what the Lord’s purpose is in grafting (hiding) the branches, and it helps us understand his timeline.  In the very next verse after he grafts these young and tender branches into the nethermost part of the vineyard it reads that “a long time passed away”.  A long time.

I know that many of us after several months or even years feel like we should be done hiding and start being found, but we learn here that the Lord is perfectly content to let ‘a long time’ pass away while we are hidden.  Maybe this even means 20 years.  Perhaps this is to let the graft take effect, after all, isn’t the point of a graft to allow tissue (actual nutrients and substance) to be shared between the scion and the rootstock?  Yes.  True grafting is not a quick process.  Let’s also try to remember the next time we are feeling hidden that the reasons for a graft included:

  1. To repair damaged plants – often times the tree in the nethermost part of the vineyard is damaged, and we are grafted there to help with the repairs.
  2. To increase the growth rate of seedlings – such a great sentence when we are trees and branches and seedlings.
  3. To optimize cross-pollinations – what better reason to be hidden than to optimize the growth of the entire vineyard?
  4. Take advantage of particular rootstocks (root systems) – 100% of the time that a person is grafted into a tree (given a new calling), they can learn from and have their testimony strengthened by the root system they are trying to help grow. 100% of the time.

For those of us who find, or who have found ourselves in what we think is the nethermost part of the vineyard – just read verses 20-23 for the amazing promises that are in store for those who are strengthening the tree (as grafted in or hidden branches).  Nursery, primary, scouts, the library, activity days, the bulletin board person, or any other seemingly unimportant or low profile callings are exactly what the Lord of the vineyard needs.  What about that ‘seasoned’ member of the Elders Quorum who feels like he’s been forgotten and should have been made a high priest by now? He may even start to attend the high priest class because he thinks he’s ready and relates more to the members there.  And what about my job, or where I live in the world, can’t we relate that to the vineyard?  What if I feel like I am being severely under utilized in the kingdom or in the workplace and that I have so much to offer but never seem to get the call?  What happens when my entire life is spent in the nethermost part of the vineyard?

Even when we’ve been there for what seems like ‘a very long time’ – the lord may decide to leave us there (as it states in verse 27) a little longer.  This statement comes after the ‘very long time’ already mentioned.  This additional time is for some extra love as it states the Lord will ‘prune it, and dig about it, and nourish the tree a little longer that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit’.  That’s ‘a very long time’ plus ‘a little longer’ to get the desired results.  The nethermost part of the vineyard appears to require branches that are fine with being plucked and then hidden for long periods of time – which also means that the branches that he chooses to place there have plenty of substance to share.  Substance that will repair damaged tissue, increase the growth rate of seedlings, optimize cross-pollination, and branches that have the spiritual maturity to recognize and take advantage and blessings of the rootstocks to which they’ve been grafted.  That last one is code for ‘learn to love the nethermost part of the vineyard, share your substance, and become one plant together’.

The Lord knows exactly what he is doing.  He is a master of the vineyard.  Let’s not think we can counsel him.

In closing, there is one more phrase of this awesome chapter that I would like to point out.  It’s in verse 59.  At this point, there have been multiple rounds of grafting, pruning, digging, and nourishing the branches and the trees all in an effort to produce fruit from. Here the Lord of the vineyard the indicates that part of the reason (if not the biggest part) that the grafting is successful in rejuvenating the tree is ‘because of the change of the branches’.

This highlights the importance of item number 4 above (in the reasons for grafting) – which is to take advantage of particular rootstocks.  If we aren’t careful, while we are considering ourselves healthy, young, and tender branches (perhaps focusing too much on being so awesome or when it is we can return to our mother tree) we may start to see only the damaged parts of the tree that we are grafted into and the slow progress their damaged parts are being repaired.  We could then miss a valuable opportunity to grow.  It very well may be the case that we are the damaged branch grafted into a healthy tree and we are the ones in need of repair of growth, and the very reason we haven’t been moved out of our current position is because we haven’t allowed the tissue to be shared (or received) and the Lord is actively ‘watching the tree’ (v 12) and waiting for the desired effect.  Ultimately, this verse and this phrase teach us that the Lord expects the branches to change as much as he expects the roots to change, and that it is good (for the overall health of the tree and the branch and the vineyard) that things ‘change’ a bit and learn to work as one by sharing all that they have and all that they are – and that it was for this reason there is a never ending process of evaluating, grafting, pruning, digging about, and nourishing that takes place in all the vineyard so that all of the roots and all of the branches and all of the trees ‘may take strength’ and ‘that the good may overcome the evil’.

 

 

 

Notes

1 – See 1 Ne. 21:2 for some additional reading on being ‘hid’ and how the Lord uses that word.  I think ‘prepare’ might be a good synonym for hid in these two cases.   Also, even though it’s been fun to highlight the word ‘hid’ as used by the Lord of the vineyard – he obviously never forgets where he made the grafts, and he doesn’t ignore the grafts once they are made – as it states in verse 12 of this chapter, and despite what we may think,  he reminds us several times that he is actively watching, and he nourishes all his trees, and he is grieved at the thought of losing any of them.

* – Editor’s note (added after the initial post):  As Colby commented, the Lord also uses the verb ‘dunged’ in his descriptions of what he does to nurture the trees in verses 47, 64, and 76.  In the case of verse 47 and 76 it is used in addition to the word nourish, but in verse 64 it appears to be a synonym to nourish.  Either way, dunging is essentially fertilizing, which means to supply a plant with nutrients to aid in growth, or to make fertile, which happens to be very similar to nourishing.  The interesting part about this verb as it’s used in Jacob 5, is our perception of being dunged as plants in the vineyard.  I mentioned above that 3 of the 4 methods were uncomfortable, and if we consider being dunged the same as being nourished, there is a case to be made that all 4 methods are less then awesome.  Often times as trees in the vineyard we see the Lord or his servants digging about us, only to then dump wheelbarrows of dung all around us and we think that life is pretty rotten – not understanding that nourishment comes from being ‘dunged’.  The idea is the same that when the Lord appears to dump a pile of turkey poo on us, he is only doing it because he wants us to be nourished.

 

 

 

 

 

Dust thou shalt eat

bowl of dust

In Moses, we have the account of the earth’s creation, the story of Adam and Eve, their partaking of the fruit, and their subsequent fall and removal from the garden of Eden, followed by the explanation of the role that the Savior will play as redeemer for all of us.  As part of this account we are able to read the dialogue between God, Adam, Eve, and Lucifer (referred to or symbolized as ‘the serpent’) as these events unfolded, but I would like to pay particular attention to verse 20 in chapter 4 .

At this stage, Adam and Eve have already partaken of the fruit, and are in a discussion with God about what happened, and what will happen next.   After a confession of the fruit eating incident, God tells each of the parties (Adam, Eve, and the serpent) some of the consequences that they will enjoy because of their choices.  But for today, we’ll highlight his words to the serpent.  God tells him:

“Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” …

I don’t think I’d ever wondered specifically about why the Lord would say this to the serpent, or what this consequence really means.  Out of all the punishments and curses that he could give – God said that “dust shalt thou eat.”   It seems like he could have said “nothing but old soggy asparagus shalt thou eat all the days of thy life”, and we would have known just how seriously bad that curse is.

When I was growing up, my dad used to use a related term all the time.  “Eat my dust”.  I always thought it meant if I ran faster than you, you would ‘eat my dust’.  I assumed this meant that because I was running (or riding a bike or driving I guess) so quickly, and since my feet (or tires) were generating such power and force upon the road, it would somehow kick up dust in your face as you trailed me and you would ‘eat it’.  Pretty simple imagery right?  Perhaps this is what he meant for the serpent – that he would always be trailing Adam and his posterity, always chasing them, attempting to get ahead or even with them, and never quite catching up – eating their dust all the days of his life.  Maybe that’s part of it, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

I have learned that dust or earth carried and should still carry the symbolic connotation of things temporal, wordly, or fleeting.  This could mean that the serpent ‘eating’ dust is symbolic of him looking for and/or destroying or convincing those who are earthly minded or who have placed their trust in the things of this world.  I don’t think God was necessarily cursing the serpent to a physical diet at all (he doesn’t have a body, so a physical diet curse would make little sense), I think this is a spiritual curse, and one that drives him absolutely crazy.  One writer asked “is it the earth that we tread underfoot that the devil eats?  No, it is the people who are earthly minded, sensual and proud, who love the earth and place all their hopes in it.  They labor entirely for carnal advantages,… and think little or nothing of the salvation of their souls.  People like these, then, the devil seeks.”1   And, in turn, that is what he is cursed to eat – all the days of his life.  Sounds a whole lot like soggy asparagus to me….

If this is the case, it makes sense that part of this curse (eating dust) is the fact that he will then be relegated to spend eternity with this dust – like minded souls who love and look to ‘dust’ as the great goal of existence.  We have all heard that you are what you eat, and If we think of people as food there is real food; food like fruits and vegetables and those that are ‘good’ and give life.  The kind that is nutritious and fills you up and make you satisfied, and then we are left to review the opposite of good food (bad food), which we can call ‘dust’.  Food that turns out contain no nutritional value at all, and just teases you with the promise of nutrition.  This curse may essentially indicate that the serpent gets to spend all of eternity searching for and wishing he had fruit, but only eating dust.  The ironic part of this is that the serpent is the one who makes promises to all of the dusty people that he has stores full of delicious fruits, but at the end of the day, all he ever has and all he ever gets is ‘dust’.

This makes me think of a guy sitting down at the table to enjoy a nice bowl of delicious marshmallow mateys or maybe Reese’s Puffs (we know how exciting this moment is), except when he pours the cereal into the bowl – dirt comes out.  It looked just like regular cereal on the way out, but as soon as it leaves the bag or box it turns to dirt.  He lowers his head, consigned to the fact that despite all his hopes and dreams and goals, and the awesome picture on the box, his bowl is just full of dust – again and again and again and again and again.  Dry, dirty, cough inducing dust.  Then he pours what he wishes was milk onto his cereal and is humiliated again that it’s just more dust.  Not even water to make mud.  Just more dust.

In the end, the serpent was cursed by God to receive the exact same reward that he offers to all of his followers.  Dust – and broken dreams.

 

 

 

 

Notes

1 – The ideas in this paragraph are found in Alonzo Gaskill’s book The Savior and the Serpent, Doctrines of the fall, pg. 205-208.