These days few things seem to surprise us. With a Youtube society, we are used to seeing the outlandishly improbable happen. We can see cats dancing, watch sculpture art being created out of cheese blocks, and amazing trick shots from basketballs thrown off of waterfalls into a hoop 200 feet below.
However, a few months ago, I watched something that I had a hard time believing, even though I watched it live. My mind couldn’t quite process what was happening.
I watched some 6’1″ little hobbit look-a-like named Mac McClung, who had only played in 2 NBA games total, win the Slam dunk contest.
He competed against some of the worlds best athletes and won. It wasn’t even particularly close. He blew them out of the water. How was that even possible? The first time I saw him grab a ball, I thought it was a joke, or some sort of construed, elaborate ploy to get the attention of the judges by having the ball boy run towards the basket. Then the magic happened.
Judging by the reactions of the other participants, announcers, fans, and the other NBA players on the court, I wasn’t the only one that was shocked. They all looked at him like he had just walked out of a spaceship.
Not only did this little guy look just like Merriodoc Brandybuck from the Lord of the Rings movies (which could explain his abnormal abilities somewhat because of his consumption of the magic draughts of water he received from Treebeard the Ent, and his connection to Galadriel, the Queen of the Elves of Lothlorien) but he also apparently possesses the jumping ability of a human grasshopper. It was a lot of fun to watch.
He had become way bigger, he had become way more than what he was just the day before. To be honest, I don’t think anyone really knew who he even was. It was a miracle. What a fun story.
Maybe the funnest part of the story is how applicable it is to all of us. The same principle that powered his legs into video game super-springs can be used to treat any obstacle we face in our lives. Probably not in the same way this worked for Mac McClung, but in our own unique circumstances.
The idea and principle is this…
We can be much more than what we think we can be.
We can acomplish and achieve much more than we think we can accomplish and achieve….and,
We can overcome any and all obstacles and challenges.
We just need to tap into a special power that is offerred freely to all of us.
Just a few short weeks ago, our daughter Olivia left to serve a mission in Brazil. Before she left, she spoke in our sacrament meeting about this exact principle. It had significant meaning to her.
She shared that the Atonement of Jesus Christ not only has the power to save or redeem us from sin and physical death, but it also has the power to enable us to overcome any obstacle we face. The Atonement of Jesus Christ has both a redeeming power, and an enabling power. Elder Bednar spoke about this particular subject in 2002.
So what does this look like in real life? What does it mean for us to use the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
Alma taught the people of Gideon about the enabling power jointly with the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon…
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and aafflictions and btemptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will ctake upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him adeath, that he may bloose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to csuccor his people according to their infirmities.” -Alma 7:11, 12
Afflictions, temptations, pains, sicknesses, and infirmities are not sins. They are not relieved through the repentence process. These are directly addressed as conditions subject to relief and succor of the Savior of the world through his Atonement. He has already felt, experienced, and overcome all of these conditions along with all our sins, in order to be perfectly empathetic to our needs. He knows how to help us.
Moroni also shared what he was taught by the Lord directly about weaknesses.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their aweakness. I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.” -Ether 12:27
That sounds a lot like enabling power to me. And, Jesus actually gave us the recipe on how to access his enabling power. All we have to do to grow our own set of spirutual grasshopper legs to compete in the Dunk Contest is to humble ourselves, and have faith in him.
Olivia did a great job highlighting that principle in her talk, and sharing her experiences in the months leading up to her decision to go on a mission.
If anyone has ever evidenced the principle of the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it would be Olivia. Her story is as dramatic, as incredible, and as amazing as a Hobbit winning the Dunk contest. She is a quiet, reserved, and humble young woman who loves her chill time, family, and a good movie.
But, in just a few short weeks, she has already blossomed into someone even more incredible. She is now a person willing to leave everything that is comfortable, everything that is familiar and safe, to step out into the vast unknown of a mission experience. And, this experience will happen thousands of miles away.
In this process, she is managing to influence all of us, her Mom and Dad, her amazing younger sister, and brother, and even her older brother away in school.
She is now in week 3 in the missionary training center in São Paulo, Brazil, learning how to be a missionary. She’s learning Portuguese, learning a new culture, learning how to budget time, and spending 16 hours a day to reach those goals. At times it has been a struggle, and the struggle will likely remain. But, we have already seen how she has been stretched and grown to become much more than she was, even a few short weeks ago. She is tapping into the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and growing spitual grasshopper legs.
We are proud of her and her decision, we grateful for the example she is to all of us, and grateful that we get to share her expericence right along with her. She is now running towards the hoop and preparing for the 360 behind the back, double clutch reverse dunk that will blow our minds!
About a year ago, we upgraded the thermostats in our home from the simple little button kind to the fancy Google Home Nest version. They have no buttons, just a sheen face, and look really slick. Supposedly, these were the way to go because you could control every little thing from your phone. The app would allow you to change temperature, schedule the heat or cold during certain times of the day, and certain days of the week. I even got the impression that it could magically sense when you were home, or not, and adjust the temperature accordingly. I was excited.
Until I tried to set it up. I’m not a tech novice, but setting this thing up was not simple. I won’t even tell you how long it took. What’s worse, is that I had to refer to a youtube video to do it, and even then it took way too long. Eventually we got it sort of running.
Fast forward about 2 weeks and the thermostat in our main living area stopped working. No matter what we did, it gave an error message, which sent us to searching online message boards to discover it had no power source. Well, I had no idea how to fix that, so we went without, it wasnt too hot so we let it go.
Fast forward to yesterday, we had a maintenance check on the A/C units and I mentioned to the technician that we had been having this issue for several months, and to see if he could figure out what was wrong. Five minutes later, after running up to the attic, he informed me that a simple cord had been left unplugged, and that he plugged it in, and it should work like a charm.
Six months of summer struggle fixed in 30 seconds by plugging in a cord. Seems about right. I then spent the next 30 minutes re-learning how to program the system on YouTube and we are back to normal. Seems like a lot of extra complication to get back to the way it was before. Sometimes we complicate things that don’t necessarily need to be.
Life can also be complicated. Or, sometimes we can make it that way. Look at the title of this post, for example. There are likely 4,678 other titles that could better articulate my ideas in a much more concise, direct, and appealing way. But, instead, I went with the over-complicated, alliteration-attempting, tongue-twister version that no one can read through without getting a slight headache. I guess I should start listening to my own advise when picking post titles.
One of the most common ways we can overcomplicate our lives (besides upgrading to a Nest home thermostat) is in our quest to figure out exactly who we are. Our identity is inseparably connected to our purpose. And our purpose drives the decisions we make everyday. When we have a clear understanding of who we are, we have a clear purpose, and a clear path to our goals and destinations.
When we are fuzzy about who we are, our decisions, actions, and goals likewise can be complicated, ambiguous, and vague. We all want to fit in, and play our part in a meaningful life story. This aspiration is what drives us to determine who we really are, and where we really belong.
We all share this eagerness to belong. But, if we aren’t mindful, our uber-concentrated efforts to fit in somewhere, or anywhere, can fog our thought process, and overcomplicate our understanding of our most fundamental identity.
Dr Seuss’s Story about the Sneetches is a perfect example of this. When this overcomplication happens in our own lives, we may end up picking and choosing the fancy, or popular labels, identifyers, and metaphorical “stars” to stick on ourselves. These are often meant to help us feel like we belong, but can oftentimes overshadow and hide our true identity.
This leads us to the big question…
What is our purest, most fundamental identity?
What is the biggest “star”, or label we should be placing upon ourselves?
In our church, one of the first songs we learn as kids is a simple answer to this big question…
That is our truest identity. It is who we are underneath all the extra superficial fan-gear, hats, facepaint, stickers and labels. And, as a child of God, we have unlimited divine worth and potential. That is our shiniest star. That is who we are at our core.
When we understand and accept this identity, it informs and guides our actions. It gives us purpose, and an ultimate divine destination. Understanding and acting upon our true identity can help keep our lives simple, and help us focus on what is lasting and important.
Many of the secondary labels we affix to ourselves can be fun. I’ve labeled myself a Utah Ute, a Payson Lion, a wanna-be triathlete, and a Bosa buttermilk-donut-addict among many others. Most of the time, these “stars” we slap on ourselves are harmless. We get together with other similarly starred sneetches that look, think, and believe like us, and cheer for a team, enjoy a hobby, or stuff our faces with sugary scrumptiousness. But all these secondary labels are less important and should not be the determining factor on how we treat, or interact with other people in our families or society.
Not all labels are benign, however. Some Sneetch stars can be a problem. Whenever any label displaces or replaces our most important one, it weakens our clarity, understanding, and eventually the committment to our divine potential.
When these sneaky, popular and flashy stars start to drive our thoughts and actions, we begin to limit ourselves and our eternal growth. These ever-changing and morphing imposter stars supposedly meant to help us feel more included, instead become a hindrance, and a stumbling block in our development.
These labels or stars can overpower our persona. We can end up portraying ourselves as a wholesale representation of the label itself, instead of a person who enjoys that particular trait, hobby, or characteristic. We become the label, rather than the label representing just a small part of a larger, more complete, more comprehensive whole.
This is the Big Box Paradox. Our intent may be to gain acceptance and belonging into a largercommunity when we label ourselves a certain way. Instead, we end up further isolating ourselves and limiting ourselves into ever shrinking identity boxes. For example, when my primary label is “Yankees fan”, my prospects for making friends barricaded in the Red Sox box tend to get smaller. When my primary label is a “Militant Vegitarian”, it becomes a bit harder to hang out every weekend at the Brazilain Churrascaria with the “Meat Freaks”. It becomes even more intense and tenuous when these pre-packaged, and pre-labeled boxes become political, racial, or centered around many other hot-button cultural or societal issues.
Our society can be a true melting pot of these political, racial, cultural, and even spiritual identifiers, and still live together in mutual respect, love, and understanding. This becomes doable, only if we keep our identifying stars in the correct and proper order. It will work if we are committed to the things we have in common more than we are committed to our inevitable differences. That was the lesson the Sneetches had to learn!
These principles are not new or novel. They have been taught from the beginning.
King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon taught about the best Sneetch star thousands of years ago…
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and daughters…I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God…” -Mosiah 5:7,8
The Psalmist was also on board…
“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.“ -Psalms 82:6
“I am simply saying that no identifer should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations: child of God, child of the covenant, and disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Are we all there yet? Do we all avoid judging others or stereotyping others based on appearance, or perception? Maybe not. But, if we choose to take an honest new look at how we really perceive the world and the people who live in it, and try to see the value in others that lies underneath whatever stickers and labels they have on display, we can get a bit closer to that ideal.
Our goal should be to see others the same way God does. That is the standard. Nephi describes God’s inviting love for everyone, with all their different stars, in the Book of Mormon…
“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth nonethat come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” -2 Nephi 26:33
Let’s try to stop looking at society as if it were a chaotic frenzy of spilled skittles needing to be sorted, labeled, and boxed according to outward appearances, beliefs, activities, actions, skin color, social, or cultural differences. Let’s all try and simplify our lives and focus on our true identity, and let the divine nature inside each of us all shine brightest to steer our thoughts and actions- and be more loving and kind to all the other Sneetches in the process.
“Being a good listener” is not a trait we are born with. We have to actively think about it, and be aware of our tendencies to passively dismiss what we are hearing. It demands practice, and and active desire to develop this lifesaving trait.
Several years ago, there was a funny Youtube video that went viral. It was a clip of a little 3-year-old boy arguing with his mother. Apparently, in his understandable overexcitement to pursue the immediate, instant, and pure gratification that would undoubtedly come via grandma’s cupcakes, he ran into a Momma roadblock. He then tried to convince momma that there should be no roadblock to confectionary bliss.
Like most three year olds, he selectively un-heard (an actual inherited genetic trait common in males) his mother’s directions to not eat, or go after said cupcakes.
When caught, he spun an impressively articulated tale, well-steeped in lawyerly gobbledygook, lasting almost three minutes in a hopeless attempt to justify, argue, spin, deflect, and rewrite history. This was his attempt to prove to his mother that he, 3-year-old Matteo, somehow was right, and that he didn’t really have to listen.
Again, actively listening is not a trait we are born with, but one we have to develop.
One of my new favorite examples in the scriptures that perfectly illustrates what it means to really listen, and how our lives may depend on it, is in the new testament. This story is also one of the last discourses that the Savior would deliver before his crucifixion.
On this particular day, the Lord was with his disciples and they were all climbing the Mount of Olives that rises directly across from, and in perfect view of the majesty of the Temple Mount. King Herod’s imposing temple crowned that sacred space and stood magnificently above the city.
The disciples, looking back at this impressive view, commented on the beauty and grandeur of the city, its buildings, and its massive temple centerpiece.
“Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (Mark 13:1)
This comment spurred the following prophecy from the Savior…
“Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)
It is probably safe to say that this was not the comment that the disciples were expecting. There may have even been a few blank stares. After all, the temple had recently completed a 46 year rebuilding effort initiated by King Herod. It was adorned with special white stone that gleamed brightly in the ample sun. It was crested and decorated with gold donated from Jews throughout the land, and symbolized the wealth, power, and strength of the Jews.
The disciples then posed the obvious follow up question to Jesus…
“Tell us when shall these things be which thou hast said concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews;
Jesus’ recorded answers to this and other questions are now known as the Olivet discourse. We read it, or portions of it, in Mathew 24 (improved in clarity in JST-Mathew), Mark 13, Luke 21, and even more recently referred to by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants section 45.
Today, mostly because we have the benefit of hindsight and recorded history, I’d like to focus on the answer to this first question, and what lessons we can glean from it, specifically about developing our listening skills.
His answer to “when shall these things be?” was simple..
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (Luke 21:20)
And they [the Jews] shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
Mathew described Jesus’ answer a bit differently noting Jesus’ reference to an even earlier prophecy…
“When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, then you shall stand in the holy place…
Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains;
Let him who is on the housetop flee, and not return to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes;” (JST Mathew 1:12-15)
The Lord stated as plain as could be, what would happen to Jerusalem, and her people. AND, even more importantly what to do, and when to do it, to stay safe- When the armies come, head for the hills, and don’t look back.
I imagine that word spread. I’m sure in the A.D. 33 version of the Ensign, or LDSnewsroom, twitter, Instagram and Youtube, that the specifics of the prophecy spoken by the living Prophet, were taught, discussed, and written down.
So how did this prophecy play out? Was anyone listening? Did the early Saints heed the warnings of the prophet and prepare? Or did they argue like little Matteo that the cupcakes really weren’t off limits?
If we fast forward to a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the tension between the occupying Romans, and the citizens of Judea increased. Citizen rebels tried to fight back, and attacked two Romans fortresses. The Romans responded forcefully and released their soldiers on those in Caesarea and killed about 20,000 jewish citizens. It then quickly escalated into a full blown war.
After an abandoned earlier attempt at a siege of Jerusalem with a single legion, Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus returned the next spring with and entire army of 60,000 Roman soldiers. They took two and a half years methodically destroying their way back towards Jerusalem.
Once there, Titus surrounded the city and commenced another three-year siege of Jerusalem. It was horrible. Rampant starvation, death, and disease filled the streets. Dead bodies were left to fester piled upon each other in buildings, the smell of death and rot was unbreathable. No one within the city could escape. Those who tried were crucified outside the city walls for all to see.
On sept 26 AD 70 Titus breached the walls of Jerusalem destroying everything and everyone. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Josephus, an historian, recorded that 1.1 million jews, or 90% of the population, were killed. The remaining 10% were sold into slavery.
Titus then ordered that everything on the temple mount be completely leveled, so the jews would not be compelled to try and reclaim their holy place.
Thirty seven years after Jesus’ prophecy, it had all been fulfilled.
So, again the question is, did anyone make it out alive? Were any members of the primitive church able to escape and “flee into the mountains” as the prophecy dictated? Was anyone prepared? Had any group of members been watching, listening, and recognizing the signs, in order to act on the words of the prophets?
In AD 325 the early Christian historian Eusebius wrote
“The members of the Jerusalem church by means of an oracle [something spoken through revelation or inspiration] given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and settle in a town in peraea called pella” [Eusebius, Book III, 5:4]
A hundred years later, another historian recorded:
[There was an] exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of their advice they lived in Perea … (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29, 7, 7-8)
There was indeed a happy ending for those who had truly listened, followed through, and acted on the warnings of the Lord and his prophets.
As we contemplate the importance of becoming better listeners, let’s examine just the first 16 verses of the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Remember, this is the same section in which the Lord references this very same prophetic moment from the Mount of Olives he shared with his disciples 1800 years before…
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, to whom the kingdom has been given; hearken ye and give ear to him who laid the foundation of the earth…
And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you;…
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father…
Hearken, O ye people of my church, and ye elders listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today and harden not your hearts;…
Wherefore, hearken ye together and let me show unto you even my wisdom—…
Wherefore, hearken and I will reason with you, and I will speak unto you and prophesy, as unto men in days of old.
And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh… (Doctrine and Covenants 45:1-16)
Even those of us who suffer with the genetic impairment of selective hearing can pick up on those hints. I think we are being invited to listen. Remembering also, that…
“…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)
We need to be much better at listening to the Lord, his words, the words of his servants, and his Spirit. Through his prophets, the Lord will tell us what to do, where to be, how to be, and when to be there so that we can be safe.
Prophets instruct us, teach us, and inspire us to be prepared. This is the necessary action that is almost always associated with listening to prophetic warnings.
Our preparation, however, is not just stuffing away a year’s supply of whole wheat buckets, canned beets, powdered milk, and 50 pound sacks of beans. It is also referencing the necessary spiritual preparation.
Being spiritually prepared enables us to have the courage to “… not return to take anything out of [our] house;” as we, “flee into the mountains” (JST Mathew 1:12-15).
I imagine that if the Prophet made a special YouTube video asking us to drop everything we were doing, and head to Missouri for an emergency general conference with some “special guests”, most of us would head out immediately.
But, what if that same prophet said it was time to work on our daily scripture study? What if that same prophet asked us to be better at prayer, being thankful, or developing a better testimony? What if he asked us to be more spiritually self-reliant, teach the gospel to our families in our own homes, be better ministers, and to develop an increased capability to “hear him”? Would we be just as willing and committed to do those things?
These are the true tests of our listening skills. These are our opportunities to really prepare, and thus eliminate the fear of the unknown from our lives. Especially when we know there are “bumpy” times ahead.
Catie has often told our kids, from the time they were little that, “…If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30) and she is exactly right.
We may not have physical armies compassed about and threatening us, but we most certainly have the desolation of abomination that is gathering outside ourselves, our homes, and our communities. It is everywhere. It’s in our media, language, merchandise, fashion, and often taught in our schools. Increasing political unrest dominates the news cycle, along with a constant drumbeat of societal pressures to accept sinful behavior as normal. Economic strains, along with increasing health concerns from a world wide pandemic are prevalent throughout the whole world. Cumulative stresses brought about by all these things together may indeed make us feel like we are being compassed about by threatening armies.
We may not currently face impending physical threats posed by the invading armies of Titus, but, does it not feel like our families are under threat of a growing spiritual siege?
Just as the prophetic warnings from Jesus given way back in AD 33 prompted earlier saints, we can also “flee into the mountains” today. We simply need to listen to our Prophet and find safety in not only listening, but acting on his words. Once we divert our focus away from the chaos, instability and stress that flourish out in the world, and focus on the peaceful simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us that share our hope and faith, we feel different. But, this peace can only come through listening to, and living within the safety of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us all forget the worldly cupcakes and their fools gold promise of instant satiety, and improve our capacity to listen, to hear, and act. When we do so, we will enjoy the eternal fruits, and living water that come through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we look a bit more closely at the many topics in the last general conference, we can start to see themes. These are our prophets today, are we really listening to them? Are we actively trying to follow their direction and council? Are we listening with a purpose to change ourselves, our habits, and our character?
In 1898 during the construction of a railroad in Eastern Africa, two rogue lions terrorized the construction workers that had been imported to complete the project for several months. These lions weren’t hunting for wildebeest, antelope, or any of their normal prey. They were hunting humans. The large tent camps where the workers were sleeping were prime targets largely because they were so poorly defended. These man-eating lions upended the workers lives. They worked, and slept in constant fear.
According to the records kept by the construction foreman, over 100 men were taken in just a few months. In panicked desperation, the workers hastily constructed thorn bush barriers, lit fires, slept in trees, and did whatever they could to stay safe from the two lions. The lions would come at night under the cover of darkness and were rarely seen until it was too late. Every moment of the workers lives was spent in constant worry and fear of the two rouge predators. Because of their elusive nature, these terrorizing lions became known as The Ghost, and The Darkness.
If we flash forward 122 years to 2020, we are dealing with our own modern day unseen version of a rogue lion. Albeit much smaller. The COVID-19 virus is an unseen force that is wreaking havoc all around us. We can seemingly do very little to protect ourselves from it. Normal barriers, made out of what we typically have available to us, just like the thorn bush walls, are insufficient. The only real way to stay safe is to to stay away from wherever it is, or, have the appropriate protection that is effective against this particular assailant. It has changed our way of life, effected our work, our schools, our routines, and our priorities.
For many of us, it has truly brought some darkness, confusion, and fear. This virus appears as a Ghost, and often leaves Darkness in its wake. Governments, leaders, and people all over are scrambling to find solutions to fight something so small it’s almost inconceivable.
The whole world economy has been shaken, and come to a halt by an organism 100 times smaller than a single bacterium. For being only 250 microns, it seems to have had a massively and inconceivably disproportionate effect on the market demand for one of the most imperative survival items known to man….toilet paper. Who saw that coming? You know its bad when even Costco can’t keep it in stock.
The hardest thing about fighting off a virus, or apparently, a rogue man eating lion, is that you simply cannot see it coming. You don’t know exactly where it is, you don’t know exactly how or even if you’ll run into it, or from who, or where it’s been, or where it’s going. It can be everywhere, or no where. How do you know exactly when to wear a mask, or wash your hands? When should we wear goggles, or a full on hazmat suit? How do you know exactly when to sleep in a tree, or stay awake til 4:00 am with a gun pointed at the opening in the thorn bush wall? You simply have to be ready, protected and prepared all the time. You cannot take a break.
I guess we could ask the ten virgins about all of this.
Their story in Mathew Chapter 25 tells of a wedding feast, and ten virgins were tasked with the oil lamp welcoming group for the Bridegroom. In those days, the Bridegroom would come to pick up his bride whenever he was able to care for her on his own. It was not a specifically designated time at all. The virgins would have to be ready for his arrival at any time. The parable tells of five foolish virgins that took lamps without any oil, assuming they would have time to fill them. The remaining five wise virgins kept oil in their lamps full and ready for the appearance of the awaited Bridegroom.
“Five of Them Were Wise” by Walter Rane
When the time finally came at midnight, and there was a “cry made¹” announcing that the arrival of the Bridegroom was near, the five which had not brought oil in their lamps, were now desperate. They scrambled and asked to borrow oil from those who were prepared. The wise virgins, earning their name, refused, claiming there wouldn’t be enough for all if they gave up their oil.
The Bridegroom came, and entered into the wedding feast at the very moment the foolish virgins had gone to purchase oil for their empty lamps. They missed it. When they finally arrived and knocked on the door and petitioned entrance, they were denied. The Lord, opening the door said, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not².”
Being ready and being prepared is the only thing we can do. If we wait to prepare until the Bridegroom turns the corner it will be too late. We may find ourselves on the outside of the party holding an empty lamp.
We can wait to put on protection until everyone else around us is sick, but we may develop a cough and a fever in the meantime.
We can sleep on the ground until the guy next to us is missing a limb from a middle-of-the-night lion attack, but we may suddenly and rudely be awakened by that same lion as he runs off with our left leg for his dinner.
The important thing about viruses, or bridegrooms, and maybe even lions, is that you need to be ready for them yesterday, not scrambling around the moment they appear. We need to be prepared, and ready, at all times. Even when no one else is. Sometimes, doing what is right may make us look silly and seemingly out of place in todays world, but it’s the only way to be safe.
So, what exactly are we preparing for? or preparing against?
Today, in the gospel sense, we are preparing for the return of the Bridegroom. We are preparing ourselves to be invited into the wedding feast. And we are preparing against anything that would keep us out.
In today’s world there are plenty of things that would keep us out of the wedding feast, or cause us to miss the return of our Savior. Continuous distractions, procrastination, immorality, pride, apathy and hate are just a few.
Preparing ourselves to be ready is taking all the precautions against whatever hidden lions lay outside waiting to attack in the darkness. It’s completely avoiding, or donning the most protective equipment available against a new deadly virus, or putting on the whole armor of God. It’s becoming more like the Savior and trying to keep his commandments and living by the precepts of His Gospel.
When we treat the threat of losing our spot in the Bridegroom’s wedding feast with he same urgency as we do from contracting COVID-19, or losing our limbs or lives to the Ghost and the Darkness, we are doing it right.
The real eternal threat to us today isn’t two rogue lions, or even a microscopic virus that causes a terrible disease. The most devastating threat is missing our opportunity to be with the Savior when he comes again. Can we even begin to bear the thought of our Savior saying to us, “I know you not²“?
Let’s treat our preparation for that wonderful event with the urgency it deserves. Our eternal survival and happiness depend on it.
To the End Enduring
When all the worldly Lions pace, and creep, in darkness waiting,
How do we escape their bite and ravenous attacking?
How do we survive an unseen foe as it is spreading
And preventing joined humanity once felt through our connecting?
Or, how do we prepare ourselves for wedding feast approaching,
So we can enter in with Him, to live in joyous feasting?
We fill our lamps, prepare ourselves, and others who are searching,
To find the peace, that in Christ lay, because of His atoning.
Believe in Him, and follow Him, fulfill his words proclaiming
To love our God, and neighbor both, while to the end enduring.
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.
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.
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 feet. The 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 the 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 bound…to 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 will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces…”(Isaiah 25:6)
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.
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”
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.
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.
“…Jesus…said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” -Mathew 9:12,13
Back when I was a kid, I loved to watch baseball. I loved to watch the best players in the world throw 100 mph fastballs, or hit 100 mph fastballs, or crank out 4 home runs in one game. Every once in a while, we even got to see an all out brawl because of a well placed pitch right between the batters shoulder blades in retaliation for some perceived slight an inning or two earlier. …Ahhh, the good ‘ole days….
One of the most entertaining players to watch was a guy named Bo Jackson. Now, Bo only played a few seasons, but was one of the best athletes to ever play. He was an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals, way before the Royals were cool. Or even remotely good. He also starred as a running back for the Oakland Raiders. He bounced back and forth between professional sports like it was no big deal. He was iconic. And, maybe the best part of all, he had his own cross training shoes that, quite possibly, could be the best shoes ever created in the 90’s.
Bo was famous for his home runs….and his strikeouts. He looked a lot like Dwayne “the Roc” Johnson at the bat if you can imagine. Or like Disney’s Moana playing baseball. He was huge, ripped, shredded, swole, or buff as you might say. Even though he never lifted weights in his life.
He was a good hitter, but he did strike out more than average. He didn’t particularly like striking out, as you can imagine. It frustrated him. It tended to make him angry. We were able to deduce this fact because he would often, after striking out, break his bat over his knee, or his head, on his way back to the dugout. He had a little bit of a mean streak in him. But, his anger management issues, were fun to watch, because snapping a bat over your head, and making that piece of pine look more like a toothpick was totally awesome.
So what does Bo Jackson’s anger issues have anything to do with anything? Well, maybe nothing, but it came to mind this week as I read through a particular chapter in the Book of Mormon. Last Sunday, because of a new calling, I got to sit in a lesson in the Deacons quorum in my ward. The lesson was on the reality of all of us having real problems, and how we all have flaws, and we will make mistakes, and how we have to pick ourselves up and go to the Lord, and make ourselves better because of it. It was awesome.
The chapter that we talked about was 2 Nephi chapter 4. This is one of the best chapters ever. In this chapter, Nephi talks about how even he, Nephi got down on himself because of his sins. This is the same guy that never complained about anything, the same guy that made a homemade bow, probably out of sharp rocks, animal sinew, and leftover crow feathers while in the wilderness. Only to then have to fashion his own arrows, even when everyone else, including his prophet father, Lehi, was complaining directly to the Lord about thier sufferings. This was the same Nephi that was willing to make a boat to cross an unfamiliar ocean simply on faith. This same, seemingly flawless Nephi, admits he had struggles with temptations, and sin. He was a normal guy after all!
He explains his thoughts in verses 17-19,
“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities….I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…”
Don’t get me wrong, Nephi was one of the most faithful men to ever live on this earth. But it is nice to know that he, just like us, wasn’t perfect. He had struggled to overcome sin. He quickly though, reminds himself, and us by proxy, that there is no reason to dwell on the struggles. And, that remembering the greatness of God, and His ability to lift us out of sin, is our real key to happiness.
He says in verses 20 and 21…
“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh”
He continues in verse 26…
“O then, if I have seen so great things…why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow…?”
Then, and this is the new part that stood out to me yesterday for the first time, Nephi gives us this little glimpse into one of the things he may have struggled with. He explains in verse 27…
“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?”
and again in verse 29…
“Do not anger again because of mine enemies…”
I think we have to look at Nephi’s life as a whole, and wonder how in the world he did it. He continued to be faithful through thick and thin, trial after trial, living on the edge of life threatening situations every single day. He maintained his faithfullness even when his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, tried at every possible moment in time, to make his life completely miserable. They beat him, tied him up several times, mocked him, complained about him, demeaned him, and ultimately tried to kill him. Multiple times. Nephi and his family and others literally had to up and get out of dodge to avoid being murdered by his own brothers. If anyone had the right or reason to be “angry” it would have been Nephi.
So, do I think Nephi had anger management issues? No, I don’t. I don’t think he went all “Bo Jackson” and broke his nice steel bow over his knee after a missed shot at a giant 8
point buck somewhere in the wilderness. It just doesn’t fit. But, I do think he was subject to being a normal human, and having normal human responses to living continuously under the threat of being killed, beaten, mocked, and ridiculed. Some people, unfortunately in this world can relate to that.
And that is the beauty of the scriptures, and of the gospel. Its a real life thing. The stories and principles that we read about in the pages of the Book of Mormon apply to us. Even if the prophets in those stories have flaws and struggle. We all have flaws, and we all struggle. Thats kind of the point. If Nephi struggled with the temptation to be angry, given his circumstances, then its also ok if I struggle sometimes with the same thing.
We all have our things that we need to overcome. Nephi, in this same amazing chapter, finishes it off with his advise on how to recover from those sins, and temptations…
He teaches us in verse 34…
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh”
Then finishes in verse 35..
“Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I asknot amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.”
Nephi, no matter his temptations and sins, looked up to God, and trusted in him. Its as simple as that. Our struggles, our problems, are real. Its simply a part of life. And that’s ok. That is where the beauty of the gospel and the atonement of Christ takes over. Nephi showed us how he did it. He survived by handing everything over to the Lord.
We are all broken or “sick” in some way. Even those who may seem to have it all together, like Nephi. But, lucky for us, the Lord can fix anything. He can heal us no matter how sick we are. He is the great Physician. The more housecalls he makes in our behalf, the better we get to know him, love him, and really appreciate what he does to heal us. And when we allow ourselves to be healed by him, we are changed. And that is how the atonement really works. Maybe we can stop looking at our temptations and sins as weights, and see them more as oppurtunities to be healed by the Great Physician.
Everyday life is full of gospel lessons. They are everywhere. You just have to look for them. Who would have ever thought that even Saturday morning cartoons could teach us about the Savior and His power! Yes, even Donald Duck can teach us.
I want to share a certain scripture and then go on to explain how the lesson in this scripture can be shown in a Donald Duck cartoon, and then how it came to life in another powerful way in the late 1700’s. It will be a bit like Bill and Ted’s excellent gospel adventure. Hang on.
The scripture is in Luke. Chapter 8 verse 25. This is Jesus and his desciples speaking in a boat. Jesus had just calmed the angry seas during a sudden storm on their way across a certain lake, simply by commanding them to be still…
“And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! For he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him”?
This is the same story that inspired the Hymn “Master, the Tempest is Raging”. The lyrics are a perfect set up for the rest of this post. Especially the part about the late 1700’s. Here is the second verse, and the chorus…
Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul,
And I perish! I perish! dear Master.
Oh, hasten and take control!
The winds and the waves shall obey thy will:
Peace, be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, be still; peace, be still.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, peace, be still.
The cool part of the story and the hymn, is that we learn that the Savior has power over everything! Including the winds, water, weather, and all the elements. We learn the same lesson in the Book of Mormon when Lehi and Nephi are crossing the ocean, and Laman and Lemuel tie Nephi up so they can have their little dance party. Only by repenting, releasing Nephi, and a subsequent petition sent to the Master of earth and skies, does the storm cease! The weather is controlled by the Lord!
Now, back to Saturday morning cartoons. In this next little clip, Donald learns all about this same principle. Sometimes the weather does funny things. Things that don’t exactly make sense. It can be sunny one second, and rainy the next. Check this out…..
Donald Duck learns the hard way that weather can only be controlled by the Lord! Normal men cannot be blamed, nor take the credit for good, or bad weather! Its God’s little way of making sure that He alone is responsible for it. When He doesn’t want you to go golfing in sunny weather, you don’t go!
Now, lets rewind to the year 1776. General George Washington had picked a fight with the largest most powerful Army/Navy/Military in the world at the time. Great Britain. He’s got a bunch of volunteer farmers fighting for him, who aren’t exactly striking fear into the British. The odds are that the “war” will be over in about 10 minutes, it was like Mike Tyson vs Steve Urkel. The Rebel soldiers had no chance. They weren’t as well trained, well equipped, or as numerous. The one thing they did have on their side, however, was the Master of Ocean and Earth and Skies! This is how He played his part….
Example 1. The Battle of Dorchester heights. This little battle was just outside of Boston. The British had taken control of the port city, and Washington and his little army was just outside wondering what on earth they could possibly do to fight and not get blown away. One of Washington’s colonels, Henry Knox, had heard that way over in New Jersey the Americans had captured some Cannons and supplies, and that if he could go see if he could get them to Boston, They might have a chance. Washington sent him off, and a few months later, Henry Knox returned with 120,000 pounds of morters and cannon. But here is where the details of the story go right along with Donald Duck. After getting to Fort Ticonderoga where the Cannons had been taken, he built sleds to transport them back to Boston, although no snow was on the ground. That took faith. He then waited several days, until Christmas Day, when a blizzard hit, and the Hudson river froze over, allowing for easy crossing. By January 1776 his delivery was made. The customized weather allowed the quick transport all the way back to Boston. But, that wasn’t all. More heavenly weather would come!
The new cannon had to be sent to the top of the Hill to overlook and bomb Boston. The only problem was, if the British saw the Americans hauling cannons up the hill, they would have attacked with their huge numbers, and mopped the floor with them. So, of course, the Lord sent a heavenly haze to conceal their move up to Dorchester Heights above Boston, right in front of the British lines. Unseen. But, the Lord wasn’t done yet.
Washington now had his cannon on top of the hill, but was still way outnumbered by the British. General Howe, the British commander, then decided to send his War-boats to cross the harbor and attack Washington’s spot on the hill. But, as the British sent the boats off, the day, which had started abnormally warm and pleasant, changed by nightfall into a storm that Washington’s officers called the “hurrycane” of hail, snow, and sleet!
Two British boats were blown ashore. One American Leutenant said it was the worst storm he had ever seen. Talk about a bad day. Just to add salt to the wound, after these divine weather interventions, there happened to be a sudden outbreak of small pox in Boston where the British troops were stationed. They had seen enough, they were just like Donald Duck trying to golf, and soon thereafter said, “peace out” and left Boston!
The British were stunned. But if we look back and examine it through gospel lenses, we see a pattern that is forming. Consider this scripture in 2 Nephi. Its describing the wealthy, powerful, and worldly. See if it fits in this context…
“And the harp, and the aviol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.”
-2 Nephi 15:12
Example 2. Escape from Brooklyn Heights. Washington’s tactics in the war were often just a matter of not getting wiped of the face of the earth. More like a prevent defense, or not losing, rather than going for the knockout win. One of these grand escapes was in Brooklyn. This miracle happened after Washington’s troops were surrounded and cornered on 3 sides by British soldiers, and blocked off by the East river on the 4th side. The British Navy had hundreds of ships in New York Harbor and was sending ships up the river to completely surround Washington’s troops. He had already lost 25% of his army in the previous days of fighting. It was pretty hopeless. The war would be over in those next 10 minutes. Well, not exactly. Maybe just as soon as the rain stopped pounding the area, making it impossible to keep the powder dry, or even move in the mud. No knockout attacks were possible. Weird huh? Not really, if we know who sent the rain!
For some reason, Washington decided to wait for 3 days, then, on the 3rd night, attempt a daring overnight escape. All the troops will be silently sent across the East river on small boats. The same river that the British were coming up in order to surround them. It was supposed to be game over. The British only had one single problem. The Lord was on the American side. And, again, being all powerful, He controls the weather!
That night, an abnormal northeasterly wind picked up, preventing the British ships from being able to come up the river to cut off Washington’s escape. Then at 9 pm, the wind shifted and blew to the west to help Washington’s boats escape. When morning came, not all the troops were across yet, so, not a problem, the Lord sent a fog so thick that “no one could see a man even 6 yards away” but this fog was only on the long island side of the river, on the New York side, it was clear as a bell. As the last of the boats entered the water, the fog started to lift, and the British moved in, only to find an abandoned camp! The timing was so perfect, that the British even took a few shots at the last boats that were just out of range.
Washington’s 9000 men escaped! And just to make sure the British didn’t immediately follow and destroy them the next day, a fire broke out in the city just in time to take away the British soldiers attention.
What was it exactly that made the Americans different? Why did the Lord help them, and not the British?
Two simple reasons stand out. First, America is a covenant land. The Jaradites were lead here, the Mulekites were lead here, and the Nephites were lead here. To this land. For that reason alone, we know that “inasmuch as ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land”! The covenant stands even today. The covenant is for the land, not only the people on it.
The second reason was that Washington was not your everyday commander. He was a very religious man. He understood exactly who was ultimately in control of the outcome of the war. He knew that “Providence” was America’s only hope for victory. He demanded that his men lived virtuously. He demanded that they watched their language, that they had scripture study, and that they prayed to petition the help of the Master of ocean and earth and skies! He was just like Moroni, and Mormon. He knew that his soldiers needed to be worthy of the blessings of Heaven, or they had no chance. They were completely dependent on Him. Sound familiar? Sounds just like the people of Limhi, and the people of Ammon, and the People of Alma. History really does repeat itself.
That is why America won the war. She was led by a man who understood that God was in charge. During his inaugural address, Washington said this…
“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency”
Remember, the Lord needed a nation built on religious freedom in order to garner in His last dispensation of the gospel. The United States constitution was ratified and officially binding in 1788, only 17 years later, in 1805, Joseph Smith was born.
No matter how helpless the situation may seem, we can learn the lessons over and over both in the scriptures and out. Gods people will prevail. Our loyalty needs to be to Him. He will never forget them. Even when its raining! Let’s always try to be worthy to be called His People.
“And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve;”