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:”
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.”
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.”
“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!
“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
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.
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.”
“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”
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!
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.
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.
Jesus again visited the temple during his ministry. This time to turn over the tables of the money changers right outside its walls.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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:”
The name “Beth-el” translates into “The House of God”.
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.”
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.
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
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:
Prune: to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches or roots from, to rid or clear (of anything undesirable)
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
Nourish*: to sustain with food or nutriment, supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth. To strengthen, build up, or keep alive.
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:
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.
To increase the growth rate of seedlings – such a great sentence when we are trees and branches and seedlings.
To optimize cross-pollinations – what better reason to be hidden than to optimize the growth of the entire vineyard?
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Often, when we read the Book of Mormon or the scriptures in general, we may pass over certain words because they are common, or because of the surrounding context in which they are used. Let’s take the word substance for example; as it is used in several scriptures we understand substance to be goods, flocks, herds, food, money, or other temporal and welfare type of goods. This seems to be the case in Mosiah chapter 4 (verses 16,17,19, and 22) where substance is used repeatedly, which all seem to relate to sharing your ‘substance’ with the poor and the needy.
One of my very favorite scriptures, if not my absolute favorite, is Jacob 2:17 which reads “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” At first glance, this context seems to fit the paragraph above. Jacob is denouncing the people’s love of riches, and indicating that the antidote to pride is the sharing of one’s substance. There are other several other scriptures that support this idea, but I think we can learn quite a bit more if we think of this word substance in it’s modern day definition.
That of which a thing consists
The actual matter of a thing
The real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence.
Certainly you could argue that substance can mean material goods and flocks, but I would like us to think about why the word substance is used in Jacob 2:17 (and other verses), and how sharing our substance is much more than just sharing our temporal goods. I like to think of it as “the actual matter of a thing”. The charge to “be free with your substance” tells me that sharing what I am actually made of – the matter of a thing, or that of which a thing consists – is what is expected of me (and not just to give of my material blessings). I love that challenge. In part because it seems harder, in part because it helps us understand that what we are and what we are made of – the sum total of all our experience and trials and strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important and that is what we need to share it with everyone. We need to be free with our substance.
Another reason I think this, is because of the way substance is used in another verse – Alma 27:24. At this point in the Book of Mormon, the people of Ammon (the Anti-Nephi-Lehies) are traveling with Ammon to see if the people of Zarahemla will let them live with the Nephites (since the Lamanites keep destroying them). Of course, the Nephites say yes because they are good – and in verse 24, it indicates the condition for which the Nephites will give up the land of Jershon and provide their army for their protection: “we will guard them from their enemies without our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.”
So far, this reference can still be thrown into the temporal goods category, since it makes 100% sense that the Nephite army required these newcomers to provide food and supplies in return for their possession of the land of Jershon. But, there is always more…
There happens to be a footnote on the word ‘portion’ in verse 24 which takes us to Alma 43:13 where it says that “the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies”. I’ve read these verses, and all of the verses related to sharing substance several times, but only recently I’ve noticed the connection between Jacob 2:17 and these that I’ve listed. The ‘large portion’ of substance that the people of Ammon shared probably included temporal goods (food, supplies, etc.) but it was WAY more than that.
Let’s just do a quick review of exactly what it was – the actual matter of a thing – that the people of Ammon shared with the Nephites through the end of Alma.
This group of new converts comes into town, having made some new covenants, and they were “distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men”, and they were a “beloved people”. A people who were “compelled to behold their brethren (the Nephites) wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances”. This people was renowned among all the Nephites for their convictions, and their commitments to covenants that they had made. Do you think that substance – the actual matter of their being – was shared? I certainly think so. The sharing of their substance, was way more than just providing the Nephite army with granola bars and water jugs. It was a spiritual substance that changed the course of Nephite history, and culminated with 2,060 of their stripling youth volunteering themselves to go right into the heart of battle, leaving home, and placing themselves right in the middle of the Nephite army, an act which caused them to “rejoice exceedingly” and ultimately, an act of love that cannot be measured. Remember that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Even though the stripling warriors didn’t lay down their lives, they were willing to, and that is some serious substance.
I think that this people – the people of Ammon – were the epitome of sharing their substance, which is why I love the condition placed upon them in the very beginning when they come to town. The Nephites themselves probably didn’t even realize how amazing that condition was when they required it in the first place. I think that this condition to give the Nephites ‘a portion of their substance’ was paid in full many times over. When we think of the blessings that the Nephites received and the testimonies that were shared and strengthened from the people of Ammon – I am amazed at the simple phrases in the Book of Mormon that are so jam-packed with awesomeness. So, the challenge for all of us today, is the same as it was for the people of Ammon and the people in Jacob’s time; let us ‘be familiar with all, and free with our substance”.
It can get really hot in Arizona. Especially in the summertime. Not really news to anyone, just a basic fact, but somehow living in this desert gives you a better appreciation for how draining this hot can be. In the Arizona summer, as we open a door to go outside, it can literally become indistinguishable from opening up the oven to take a nice up-close look at baking cookies. No sane person would ever consider actually living in an oven, even with delicious cookies. So, for good reason, not a lot of outdoor activities are done here in the months of June-September. There is a reason why summer golf in Phoenix is so cheap.
Because of this temperature challenge, my stay-in-shape training has taken a back seat. I had been on a pretty good regimen while training to get ready for some simple triathlons over this last year. It was nice, almost perfect all throughout the winter, and up until my last race in St. George, Utah last May. After that, it got hot. Really hot. Arizona hot. I remember texting a picture of the dashboard temperature gauge to Riley one afternoon when it read 126℉. I nearly suffered 2nd degree burns just by putting my hands on the steering wheel that afternoon.
The problem with summers here, is that no matter what time of day or night, it feels like the inside of a toaster. “Why don’t you just swim in the pool during the summer?” you might ask. Well, that is a great idea right up until you jump in the pool, and instead of instant coolness, refreshment, and bliss, it feels like an overheated hot tub under a fast-food heat lamp. Instead of achieving solace from the scorching rays while floating through the water, it feels more like you are a piece of meat slow roasting in the crock pot. You don’t last too long swimming when the mist coming off the pool isn’t really mist, its more like steam arising from a pot of boiling water.
And that’s not all.
You may think, “Well, if you cant run or swim outside during the summer, maybe the bike would be better?”. “Maybe the wind blowing over you as you pick up speed would cool you down as you ride?” Yes, that would be a great idea, and, yes, there is a nice wind that is created, but it feels more like a industrial sized blowdryer set right at your face. So, needless to say doing any physical activity outside of scrambling from one air conditioned building to the next, is almost out of the question.
So, long story short, I took a bit of a break. The funny, not so funny part of that break, is that after the temperature “cooled” down to around 90℉ at 10:00 pm, and I started to try and train again, I noticed that because of my self-imposed break to wait out the summer fires of Hades, I had become out of shape. It was the consequence of inactivity.
Instead of running several miles and feeling great, I was lucky not to quit after just 1. It was almost like I had to start over. All the benefits of the months, and months of training had seemingly melted away just like an ice cube on Arizona asphalt. I felt like I had reverted all the way back to square one. I guess walking from Splash Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t adequate triathlon training.
This has been a painful reminder that our fitness or “in-shapeness” really is something that is constantly changing, for better or worse. It never really is static. Just when we get comfortable, content, and happy with where, or how we are, we relax. And this little relaxation is when we start to slip. It requires constant, consistent, and repeated work to maintain ourselves with where we want to be. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going backward. And that is exactly what had happened with me.
As I was further contemplating my physical regression after just a few weeks, I realized that I was living out a vocabulary word that I had recently rediscovered in a Sunday School class. The word was “Entropy”.
This word is a shortened idea of a more sophisticated physics law known as the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I wont even pretend to be a physics guru, or attempt to explain the intricate details of closed and open systems, energy, or its predecessor the 1st law of thermodynamics. But, it has a simple definition. The one that fits the best in this case is….
“a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder”.
That is just a fancy way of saying that everything is constantly wearing down. Its kind of like rusting. Everything is becoming less orderly, and unless we put energy into reversing that natural process, it will take its toll, and we will digress, regress, and lose all the progress and order that we have achieved.
So, my “in-shapeness” had degraded, devolved, and definitely trended towards disorder. In even simpler more personal terms…
Unless I keep training to stay in shape, I become more out of shape.
Unless I put energy into improving, I get worse.
Unless I continue learning, I forget what I had learned.
The process is universal, and applies to all sorts of things. This concept may even be the most valid in a spiritual sense. This degradation can happen to each of us in our lives. There are times when we are in great spiritual shape, and we have been “training” hard, working on getting better every single day. During these times, we continuously work to build up endurance, feel strong, and healthy. Then, inevitably, there are the other times when we take some time off to rest a bit, and then, before we know it, we are feeling like are running around with a plastic bag over our heads.
King Benjamin knew all about this concept of spiritual entropy. He simply described it using different words. He understood that each of us needed to work continuously to become more like our Father in Heaven. It was something that doesn’t just happen naturally. In fact, it was the “natural” part that we had to fight. It is human nature to oppose God. It is human nature to only think of ourselves, and to drift constantly away from God, his plan, and his laws. It is human nature to be selfish, greedy, and secular. King Benjamin described this condition perfectly in the Book of Mosiah…
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” -Mosiah 3:19
But, just as I needed to get back into shape by working constantly, continuously, and repeatedly, King Benjamin explains exactly how we can fight the natural man, or spiritual entropy and stay in spiritual shape. He specifically singled out several words or phrases that can act as our workout list.
First, he said we must “..yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” This is tough in todays world. We need to listen. Not just hear. My wife has been trying to teach me this concept for 18 years. I must be a very natural man, because she still has to constantly remind me of this. Yielding means to allow the Spirit to work in us, to allow someone else to drive, to let the spirit guide us rather than depend on our own supposed knowledge. We don’t always have to be in charge, or know everything because, “His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” -Isaiah 55:9
Second, King Benjamin teaches that we need to become a “Saint”. Becoming a Saint is to be associated with, and bear upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. This entails, or necessitates, using the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is only through his atonement that we can become something “unnatural” or improved. It is by utilizing his atonement that we become something better than we thought we could be. And, the only way that this is even possible, is to work on developing the character traits that King Benjamin lists in the same verse. These required traits are, “becoming as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient”, and being “full of love”. -Mosiah 3:19
These traits do not occur naturally. They must be developed. They need to be practiced. Just like running a marathon, or swimming 2 miles in the ocean, or riding a bike for 6 hours straight. We are not born with these traits. We cant just decide to be an ironman on Monday and race in the Kona World Championships on Sunday. They must be learned. They must be developed. We all have the potential to do these things, or become these things, but we need to work at them constantly and continuously. We need to practice, and we need the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Each of us needs to fight this entropy all day, everyday. There is a perfect phrase used in the Doctrine and Covenants that teaches us the best way to start, and keep going in our own spiritual exercise regimen.
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” -Doctrine and Covenants 58:27
As we try our best to be anxiously engaged to do good around us, to be happy, to be kind, to look at people in a more loving, forgiving way, to look at life through a gospel lens, we will slowly be changing our character. We will be slowly getting in better spiritual shape. We will be fighting the “natural man”, and spiritual entropy. If we combine these efforts with a steady dose of the cleansing and enabling power of the Atonement of the Savior, we can be who we want to be, and stand on the highest podium at the end of our mortal race.
Our hearts and minds continually,
Are pulled by nature’s entropy,
Unfocused, dimmed, erroneously,
To earth, and not to Heav’n.
But, if we struggle faithfully,
And look up, kneeling, pleadingly,
And seek forgiveness constantly,
Our flaws can be forgiv’n.
And if we then walk steadily,
And try to live more righteously-
More loving, and more honestly,
A spark of Faith begins-
In Him, who suffered willfully,
So we can look up hopefully,
To see his hands spread willingly,
to bring us home again.
For those of you like me, who weren’t blessed with the natural ability to be a morning person, you understand me when I say some mornings, I not only look like, but I act like, and feel like a zombie. The bags under my eyes are so big and heavy that Delta would charge extra for them If I was booking a flight. My early morning reflexes are in a different time zone and covered in molasses… all while there may be a little drool sneaking out the corner of my mouth. Yes, I think we all agree my wife is a lucky woman.
After a quick shower though, I’m usually “awake” and back in reality. I hop in the car as drive to work. There has been days though where on my commute there has been nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds blowing across my mind. Other days, I’ve already become “busy” and I’m analyzing or working on things mentally for work. Some day’s I’ll listen to music or an audio book. Yet other days I find myself in totally pointless debates like who would be a better stand up comedian between Chris Farley and Sponge Bob Squarepants.
My point with all this is: all too often on my morning commute or in everyday life I miss a perfect opportunity to relax my mind, clear my mind, quiet the noise of life, and focus on the Savior. Lately as I’ve been focusing more on makign that a priority, I’ve found myself circling back to the same simple thought and understanding:
It’s so easy, to be so busy, that we overlook how beautiful life is.
Does that mean our life has to be perfect to be beautiful? No. Does that mean our situation is what we’d like it to be? No. Does that mean we can’t work and be busy? No.
It simply means taking a moment to let the REAL reality sink in. It’s as simple as takign a moment to allow yourself to see the miracles all around you. To take a moment to see the beauty in others, and how blessed we all are. It’s taking a moment to feel God’s love for you. Suddenly it’s easy to “count your many blessings” and “name them one by one”.
I’ve also found it interesting how many lessons we can learn from the most common of God’s creations. For me, as funny as it sounds, i’ve found one the best examples on how to live life comes from somthing as simple and common as: A Tree.
The Little Seed
For God so Loved the World, that he gave His only Begotten Son,
In his infinite love for us, that’s not the extent of what he’s done.
He created our flesh and blood, gave us Temples to house our soul,
We’re each proof of his divinity, and testament to our Father’s role.
He allowed us the opportunity, to live and learn upon this earth,
To grow and strive and struggle, to prove our individual worth.
Yet all too often in this life, we forget just why we’re here,
We forget to stop or breathe it in, or prioritize what we should hold dear.
Yet life through Heaven’s eyes, suddenly makes everything so clear,
Heaven once so far away, for a moment feels so near.
Suddenly lessons appear around us, examples plain to see,
Of faith, and trust, and focus, shown by every single tree.
Each strong and mighty tree now standing, was once a tiny seed,
With nothing more than hope and faith, and determination to succeed.
Each seed starts life in different soils, locations and conditions,
Yet all so full of life and energy, drive, focus and ambition.
The seed first thrusts it roots down deep, to establish a firm foundation,
Only then can its small leaves reach for Heaven, it’s only desire in its creation.
Nourished by the sun and rain, the season forgiving and so kind,
The little seed grows stronger, taller and more defined.
The little seeds wants nothing more, than to be tall, mighty and strong!
Heaven knows this and has a plan, it’s been the plan all along.
Then unexpected by the little seed, the days continually grow colder,
The Sun seems to have hidden its light, the season away turns its shoulder.
The elements now combine their fury, against the little seed,
Howling winds, and snow preside, as the little seed gives plead.
Yet the sky seems dark and gives little aid, as snow now blankets the ground,
Comfort, warmth, and light seem gone, instead cold winds and storms abound.
Refusing to concede this fight, though it’s situation not ideal,
The little seed instead digs deeper! With all its might and zeal!
Its little roots grow stronger daily, all its energy focused on its foundation,
For the seed knows the Sun will come again, and that day will be jubilation!
Then one day the Sun appeared, from behind the clouds,
Only then the seed saw his shadow tall, he was now a sapling proud!
It was then the little seed realized, the Heavens are so wise!
The trials it had faced, were simply blessings in disguise!
Now years and years gone by, the wise and mighty tree has learned,
Not every day or even season easy, but eventually back they turned!
Just because the skies are dark, and snow freezes the ground us beside,
Doesn’t mean you are forsaken, or alone in the world you abide.
It’s in the bitter cold, and strongest winds you find,
They are what make you strong, it’s according to design,
For the tree can only grow as high, as its roots grow deep,
It’s foundation the most important thing, the main priority to keep.