Orlando and Religion

Like most of the country, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Orlando today. I don’t understand the senseless violence that persists in this world. I recognize that my lack of understanding of such violence is a great luxury.

I’ve been blessed to live a peaceful life – one where I can pursue the desires of my heart. I don’t have to hunt or beg for food. I’m a woman, and for the most part, I don’t have to worry about social customs that might oppress or hurt me. I don’t have to worry about acid being poured on my face, I’ve been blessed with education. I can go for a walk or run on the street – just for fun. I don’t see armed guards. I don’t worry about war lords.

I live such an amazingly blessed life.

This world is messy and it always has been. I have the luxury of hearing about acts of violence and then scratching my head and wondering, “Why?”

Many of us do.

When things like this happen, we have other aftershocks or other consequential occurrences. People hold vigils. People set aside differences and pray for, serve, and support one another. So many people, when these times of tragedy come up, find ways to bear one another’s burdens. Whether we change our facebook profile to honor that person or group or we donate money, or make a quilt – so many people seem to care.

Another aftershock I’ve also noticed is reckless blame. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t blame the person or people who commit such acts of violence. I’m simply saying we shouldn’t be reckless about it.

Right now, people are blaming all Muslims for this man’s decision. Some people are even blaming all of religion for the ills of the world. This is crazy!

So – a metaphor.

If a wolf, dressed in sheep’s clothing, sneaks into a pasture and starts to kill sheep – how do we react?

Are we confused? Do we start a diatribe against all sheep? Do we say, “Okay! That’s it! Every sheep in every flock everywhere needs to be eliminated because they are violent!” ???

Do we say, “These sheep have been the most dangerous group of animals in the history of the world! Every war, every bad thing, every atrocity – caused by sheep!” ???

Or are we going to be discerning? Are we going to take a look and notice that it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing – then go after the real problem?

Let’s call the evil act done yesterday what it is – evil. Let’s remember that most people – who go to church, who believe, who have faith are good. Let’s not be tricked by the wolf into doing exactly what the wolf is doing. Let’s not destroy one another.

Let’s have wisdom. Let’s love one another. Let’s destroy the thing that is actually destroying us – evil.

Faith and the “Reality Distortion Field”

Something pretty for this post...Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all. :)

Something pretty for this post…Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all.

In the most recent General Conference, President Monson stated the following:

“May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary – a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. Without such faith, we go nowhere. With it, we can accomplish our goals.”

As you probably know (if you read this blog often), I could write an essay of at least 3,000 words on this subject. But I’m striving for brevity. So, here are a few thoughts on the faith we need to help inform our choices and empower us to accomplish our goals.

In our society, it may be tempting to think of faith as some kind of quaint virtue, or perhaps something even worse.

Faith is the first principle of the gospel. It is a subject we hear about time and time again.

Faith is a virtue, but it isn’t relegated to moral interests. Faith is real power. (By the way, virtue is power – not just something for boring, prudish people! You can read more about virtue here.)

Without faith that a seed will sprout, we won’t keep watering it, fertilizing it, and nourishing it. Therefore, without the vision, or faith, of what a seed will be, though that vision is so different than the seed itself, the seed will never become a plant.

Because faith is a true principle and power, we see can faith at work – not only in a religious sense, but in any case.

Let’s take Steve Jobs, for example. It was often said that he had a “reality distortion field.” The “reality distortion field” or “RDF” is described as follows:

“RDF was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. (Reality Distortion Field, Wikipedia)

There is plenty of criticism regarding Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” but the fact also remains: he believed a personal computer could be created. And it was created. He believed that they could figure out a way to put all of your songs in your pocket, and with the iPod, they did.

Later, now that we have been able to enjoy the success of Jobs’ ability to “distort” reality, we celebrate him as a visionary. We say this as if Jobs possessed some kind of magical ability. I don’t think that gives him enough credit. It really isn’t easy to “distort reality.”

I believe that this “reality distortion field” could be renamed to faith. Faith seems to “distort” our present knowledge and lead us to believe that with God, anything is possible.

Of course, faith is not a distortion. Alma teaches,

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” – Alma 32:21, emphasis added

Notice the last phrase – which are true. We learn more about truth in Doctrine and Covenants:

“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” – Doctrine and Covenants 93:24

Though faith doesn’t often seem to coincide with our current notion of reality, faith is a belief in that which is true – past, present, or future. And the truth is, we don’t know everything right now. There is so much we can’t see, so much we can’t sense. Relying only on what we currently know and experience is an actual and incredibly detrimental distortion of reality. A distortion of true reality – past, present, or future – will result in our impotence.

So, how do we develop the faith that empowers? How do we choose to distort what we think we know now and believe in something that is yet to happen?

We can simply put our faith in God. He is our Father. He knows all. He created all. He does have all of the information. He will enable us to sense and see what we need to know in our lives – even if what He reveals to us isn’t aligned with our current sense of “reality.”

When we exercise our faith, we may be misunderstood. Some may say that our “reality” seems “distorted,” but with faith in God, reality is never distorted. God isn’t bound by time – past, present, or future. He sees and knows all now. Through the Holy Ghost, and according to His will, our Heavenly Father can impart with us the knowledge we must know in order to achieve our goals. In other words, with faith, we can also become “visionaries.”

I don’t know…when I think about faith this way, it just seems so powerful. Why wouldn’t we want to develop it?!?!

Book of Mormon for Teens – Timeline and Authors

This is the next installment of my Illustrated Book of Mormon Commentary for Teenagers. You can see the first one here.

Before I really get into the Book of Mormon, itself, I wanted to have a few pages showing the timelines and authors of the Book of Mormon. As I wrote in Tiger’s Book:

“Sometimes when you are reading the Book of Mormon, it can be a little confusing to keep track of what you are reading. There are accounts of things as they happen, flashbacks, and the changing of hands with the records.

Hopefully, this timeline and author chart will help you keep the events and authors of the Book of Mormon straight!”

image-41

The timeline – there is a lot to fit onto one page!!!

Several years ago, I did my own “story of the Book of Mormon” project. (You can read about it here.) As a part of this project, I created my own Book of Mormon timeline. I highly suggest this type of project. It really helped me to understand the Book of Mormon.

In any case, here is a copy of the timeline that I created: BoM Timeline (available as a PDF Download).

I also felt like Tiger should understand the authors of the Book of Mormon and the way that the plates were handed down. I found a very handy flowchart of the Book of Mormon Authors online here.

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Authors of the Book of Mormon

These two pages are chock-full of information. I didn’t have much space to make anything “cute!” No worries, though. I really think that this information will be helpful.

Finally, I included a quote that I really love about the Book of Mormon:

“Would you like to have emblazoned on your soul an undeniable witness that the Savior descended beneath your sins and that there is no sin, no mortal plight outside the merciful reach of His Atonement – that for each of your struggles He has a remedy of superior healing power? Then read the Book of Mormon.” – Tad R. Callister (emphasis added)

Thanks for letting me share this project with you. I am so excited to actually get into the Book of Mormon now. I’m excited to be able to share my testimony with my daughter in a way that I hope she will be receptive to.  I’ll share more with you later!

A Clue to Understanding Jacob 5

I was in Sunday School recently, and we were studying Jacob 5. The conversation began with how intimidating Jacob 5 – the Allegory of the Olive Tree/Vineyard – can be.

Olive Tree

Obviously, I’ve been there, too. I’m not going to pretend like I got it right away. Jacob 5 is a story. A long story. Perhaps the most intimidating part of it is that the chapter is 77 verses long. Maybe we’d be less frightened if Jacob 5 was 15 verses.

No matter the reason, it seems like a lot of people feel a bit of anxiety when reading this chapter. What is it about? Why does Jacob include this chapter – this gigantic chapter – in his record? We know that it was difficult for them to etch into the plates, so why did Jacob make the effort to include this in his record? Why is it so important for us to know this allegory? What is an allegory?!

The questions are endless.

Today, I was reading in 1 Nephi 15 when I noticed some familiar complaints and a big clue…

And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?

And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.

Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?

Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.

Behold, I say unto you, that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive tree, by the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father; and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?” – 1 Nephi 15:7-12

The Context

Here, in 1 Nephi 15, Nephi returned to the tent (after having a vision that taught the meaning of his fathers dream) of his father where his brothers were all disputing one with another.

Nephi was feeling weighed down and overcome by what he had seen in vision. And then, he goes to his father’s tent – most likely for some kind of support, and there his brothers are arguing.

Nephi asks them what’s up, and they say that they can’t understand what their father meant when he spoke about the olive tree. (See 1 Nephi 10:2-15, especially 14.)

Hmmm….an olive tree.

We know that Lehi had been studying the Brass Plates ever since Nephi and his brothers had obtained them and brought them to Lehi. I’m guessing that this study must have influenced what he spoke to his children about the House of Israel being compared to an Olive tree.

The Confusion of Nephi’s Brothers

So, Nephi’s brothers are confused and debating because they say that they can’t understand their father’s words: “concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.”

In other words, they don’t understand. They don’t get this analogy, this metaphor. And what does it matter?

This kind of sounds familiar. I’ve heard, and maybe have even been guilty of skipping Jacob 5. I’m not familiar with olive trees or olive groves. I don’t know how to dung or prune or graft new branches in a tree. I haven’t really disputed with others concerning Jacob 5, but I’ve been tempted to skip over it, and I know that I’m not the only one.

It seems so hard to understand.

The Clues to Understanding – Nephi’s Response to His Brothers (and Maybe to Us, too)

Clue One – Inquire of the Lord In response to his brother’s complaint, Nephi asks, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”

Good question. And maybe we ought to ask ourselves that, when we say that Jacob 5 (or Isaiah, or anything spoken by the prophets anciently or currently) is “hard to understand,” – have we inquired of the Lord? Instead of complaining about it, are we opening our minds and hearts to understand by asking the Lord for guidance and help?

The brethren of Nephi answer that they haven’t asked because the Lord won’t tell them.

(This is crazy to me! How did they know what the Lord would or wouldn’t tell them? They haven’t even asked!!!!)

(And yet – as crazy as it sounds, I think that sometimes we might be guilty of this, too. We don’t ask, and then we still put the blame on God – because He hasn’t told us…Silly. But good to recognize.)

Clue Two – Be humble, Have a Soft Heart!
After hearing his brothers’ excuse on why they haven’t inquired of the Lord, Nephi asks a question that seems to be rhetorical in nature, but is worth considering:

“How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” – 1 Nephi 15:10

Now, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone, but these are good questions to ask, especially when we might be saying that some concept being taught by a prophet is “hard to understand,” and when we have followed this thought up with the admission that we haven’t prayed to understand it.

Having a soft heart is crucial to understanding. A soft heart is the fertile ground needed for a seed of faith. As we soften our hearts, then we will be able to understand. Nephi had this experience himself:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” – 1 Nephi 2:16

When we allow our hearts to be softened, then we are able to believe the words of the prophets. This is what enables us to understand. (For more insight on this idea, see Mosiah 2:9.)

We need to have a soft heart. And why not? Really, what’s the risk? We run a much bigger risk when we have hard hearts? As Nephi asks, Why perish because of the hardness of our hearts? Again, it’s kind of silly. Just have a soft heart. Be believing. Ask the Lord. And perish not.

Clue Three – Ask in Faith
As you can see, these three clues are very closely related. We need to ask; we need to be humble enough to ask; and we need to ask!

Nephi reminds himself of the pattern that the Lord so often beckons each of us to follow:

  1. Harden not Your Hearts
  2. Ask God in Faith
  3. Believe that Ye Shall Receive
  4. Diligently Keep the Commandments

…then…

  • Surely these things will be made known unto you.

Had Nephi’s brothers followed this pattern, then they wouldn’t have been disputing in their father’s tent. They would have had peace and understanding. They would have known what was important for them to know. They would have been able to be taught by the Spirit.

The Meaning of The Olive Tree Comparison

In 1 Nephi 15:12-20 Nephi briefly explains the comparison between the Olive Tree and the House of Israel. I actually won’t get into it here because you can read it yourself.

The important things to note are:

  1. Nephi understood this comparison
  2. We can also understand this comparison.

Jacob 5 doesn’t have to be “hard” to understand. None of the scriptures have to be “hard” to understand. Sure, we may not understand everything inside and out, but when we follow the clues that Nephi teaches here, we will understand exactly what we need to know. We will be filled with peace. We won’t be tempted to dispute with others or complain in Sunday School about how long or difficult a passage seems. We won’t be tempted to gloss them over. Instead, we will be able to have a positive experience with the scriptures, with God’s Spirit, and with a way to apply these things in our lives.

***
What helps you to understand the scriptures, especially “difficult” ones like Jacob 5 or Isaiah?

We are Children of God

I was assigned to give a talk today in church. I feel like it went well enough. In my opinion, we always learn more from the process of preparing a talk than anyone who hears it. However, if you are interested in what I said in church today, read on…

As you can guess, I received a call from the Bishop, and he asked me to speak in church. When I informed my family of my assignment, they inquired, “What are you supposed to speak on?”

I answered, “Just my thoughts or something inspired from the talks in General Conference. I’m not sure what I’ll speak on yet.”

My seven-year old daughter leapt up and said, “I know!” She got a piece of paper and went to the table. About ten minutes later, she produced this:

Isn't the cutest thing? She actually wrote a talk for me!

Isn’t the cutest thing? She actually wrote a talk for me!

I felt that my daughter made a good thesis that I will expand on:

We will live with our Father in Heaven again.

From this statement, which could have been written by any of the seven year old, the following points are implied:

    1. We have a Father in Heaven
    2. Our lives have an eternal potential
      • Which Heavenly Father has made possible for each of us.

We Have a Father in Heaven; We Are Children of God

In the book of Moses, we have a detailed account of Mosess’ experience speaking with God face-to-face on a high mountain.

We read:

“And he saw God face to face, and talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.” – Moses 1:2

So – Moses was on a high mountain, speaking to God – a being so glorious and powerful that Moses wasn’t able to endure God’s presence without holy intervention. God had to bestow some of His glory on Moses for Moses to handle His presence!

The Lord then made a declaration about Himself – that He is the Lord, God Almighty – and then asked Moses a question:

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” – Moses 1:3

An interesting question. And let’s think about it for a second.

Some people come to this earth and have very short lives. My brother was born on October 28, 1992, and only 18 years later, he passed away on June 11, 2011. Like every inhabitant on this earth, his days were numbered.

Others live long lives. My grandmother was born on October 27, 1929 and she passed away on October 9, 2015. She lived a good 85, nearly 86 years, but this is, by no means endless. Like all who lived before her or after, her days had a beginning and an end.

Moses, who lived in anciently was acquainted with this pattern we all know – people are born, they live, and then they die. And yet he was speaking face to face with a glorious being that was also endless.

Immediately after asking this question, as Moses is bathed in God’s glory just to be able to endure His presence, the Lord then says to Moses:

“And, behold, thou art my son; …” – Moses 1:4

Now imagine Moses – who had not been raised by his own parents, but had been raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter knowing that he was not her biological child. We know that Moses’s mother was able to help nurse him as a small child, but I don’t know that Moses had any relationship afterward with his biological parents. He was raised as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.

By the time Moses had this experience with God, he was in the desert – having been banished by the people who had raised him; having been rejected by the ones who might have been closest to resembling a father and a mother.

And then, there, face-to-face, transfigured by the power of God to endure His presence, Moses learned of his divine identity. He is a son of God.

***

One summer night, when I was about 12 years old, I was sleeping outside, in the yard, in a tent. I’m not sure if it was the darkness of night or for some other reason, but I was feeling lonely. I was at my dad’s house. Now, I’m the only child of my dad’s that’s not biologically his. Sometimes this fact troubled me. That night, I lay there in the tent, under my “California Raisin” sleeping bag, and I couldn’t fall asleep. Confused and sad, trying to understand my identity and place in my family, I looked up to the sky, and then I saw lightning.

I am a classic fraidey-cat, and when I was 12, I was especially scared of dark, ominous situations like these. I saw the lightning, and counted for thunder. It never came. However, I kept thinking, “I need to get up and get in the house.” The yard was dark and scary, and my sleeping bag was safe-ish and warm. I was too scared to move, let alone leave the tent.

The thought came to say a prayer.

I said a prayer, and I was overwhelmed with love. The threat of a storm wasn’t in my mind. In fact, the prayer that was answered had less to do with my fear of the lightning, and more about how I was feeling before-hand. In that moment, I felt God’s love, and I knew that I was a Daughter of God. Though I couldn’t pinpoint my biological identity, it didn’t matter because at that moment, I knew that I was a daughter of God.

I wish I could impart the comfort this knowledge gave me. I can’t adequately describe the deep peace that such a witness gives. All I can say is that I know I’m a daughter of God. I know He loves me, and that He knows me, personally.

It doesn’t end with Moses nor does it end with me. We are all children of God.

Imagine if we all really understood this simple truth.

In his conference talk, Elder Hallstrom stated:

“In today’s world, no matter where we live and no matter what our circumstances are, it is essential that our preeminent identity is as a child of God. Knowing that will allow our faith to flourish, will motivate our continual repentance, and will provide the strength to be steadfast and immovable throughout our mortal journey.” – Elder Donald A. Hallstrom

Our Lives Have an Eternal Potential

When we come to realize that we are children of God, then we then start to glimpse other truths: our lives didn’t begin the day we were born, but we had a spiritual existence with God before coming to Earth. Additionally, after we die, our spirits will live on.

Heavenly Father, speaking face-to-face with Moses taught:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39

It is important to understand that God’s work is not only a spiritual work. His work is that both our bodies and spirits will be immortal. His glory is that we will be able to live with Him again.

We often hear about the promise of Elijah as recorded in Malachi – that Elijah “shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,…” (Malachi 4:6). I have always thought of this within the context of our earthly families – both immediate and extended. I’ve thought of my heart being turned to my ancestors and their hearts turned to me. I’ve thought of my heart being turned toward my children and posterity, and their hearts turned back to me.

I hate to admit that I’ve never considered that this promise applies also to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father’s heart is continually turned toward each of us. In fact, it is turned towards each of us so much so that His entire purpose: His work – and His glory is our immortality and eternal life. For Him, it is all about us.

Eternal Life is Possible Through Christ

After telling Moses His work and His Glory, the Lord taught Moses about the creation and the fall of Adam.

If you think about it, this line of teaching is kind of puzzling. Our Heavenly Father’s work and glory is our immortality and eternal life, so He works for our eternal life. To expand on this teaching, the Lord tells Moses that He created a world. He created our first parents. He placed them in the Garden of Eden, and then He allowed them to be…tempted?…And they fell?…They became susceptible to death?…They were cut off from God? How is death – both spiritual and physical – a fulfillment of God’s work and glory?

Lehi explains:

“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.”

“And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.”

“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” – 2 Nephi 2:22-25

The fall was a necessary part of our immortality and eternal life. Without the fall, we wouldn’t be here right now. When the Lord allowed Adam and Eve to fall, His heart was turned toward them and us. It most likely pained our Father to have his crowning creations, His son and daughter, cut off from Him. But His heart was turned toward Adam and Eve – even as they were banished from the Garden of Eden and His presence.

Heavenly Father, with His heart turned toward Adam, Eve, and all of us, knew that we, because of the fall, were susceptible to death and hell – the antithesis of immortality and eternal life. So, He prepared a solution.

Lehi continues:

“And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall…” – 2 Nephi 2:26

Likewise, we learn in the gospel of John:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

We are children of God and capable of living with God eternally through the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul teaches:

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:”

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;…” – Romans 8:16-17

What a heritage and what a future! This knowledge – that we are children of God and capable of eternal life – empowers us.

We can look back again to Moses’s experience. The account of the Lord speaking to Moses face-to-face in Moses 1 happened on the mountain of the Lord, before Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. I can’t imagine Moses having the strength or faith to complete His divine mission without such knowledge.

He had to lead a people that were his by blood but not necessarily by experience. He had to go back to the Pharaoh, where he had been raised, and fight for those whom his adoptive people had oppressed for so long. Then he had to lead the children of Israel away from a powerful Egyptian force, and through a sea! Oh – all of this while Moses had a speaking problem!

If you look at Moses’s story without a spiritual perspective, all of the odds are against Him. Yet he was enabled to complete his work because of one simple fact taught to Him by God. As Moses himself stated:

“For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten;” – Moses 1:13

This knowledge helped Moses fend off the temptations of the Devil, it helped Moses as he bargained with the Pharaoh, it helped him deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt, it helped him cross the Red Sea on dry ground, and more.

When we know our spiritual identity – that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, we, like Moses, are empowered and enabled to do great work in our lives. This knowledge can give us identity, peace, and purpose. It will strengthen us during our own trials. It will propel us to do what we were sent here to do.

If we all had the simple knowledge that we are beloved children of God – well, it would change the world.

We are children of God with the potential to live an eternal life through the love of God and the eternal sacrifice of His Son. Our little primary children know this. And we can know this. We can internalize this truth, and we can experience the power that comes from knowing He is our Father and that He loves us.

How have you come to know that you are a child of God and that He loves you? How might you strengthen your relationship with God and your knowledge that you are one of his beloved children?

Three Points on Baptism as Taught by Alma (Alma 4:4)

Lately, I’ve been studying a bit about baptism. I came across the following verse, and am astounded by how much we can learn about the ordinance of baptism from one little verse.

“And they began to establish the achurch more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God; yea, they were baptized by the hand of Alma, who had been consecrated the high priest over the people of the church, by the hand of his father Alma.” – Alma 4:4

Not me - just a generic picture of baptism. :)

Not me – just a generic picture of baptism.:)

Three Points on Baptism

  1. Baptism by Immersion – In this verse, we learn that many people were baptized in the waters of Sidon. Alma baptized these people according to the pattern which had been set by his father. He “buried” the people in the water. (See Mosiah 18:14-15.) The person being baptized is fully immersed in the water. This symbolizes the burial of the natural man and the birth of the disciple of Christ. Baptism is a token of our commitment to the Savior as we strive to put off the natural man.

  2. Baptism is connected to the establishment of the Church and our Official Membership of it – In some ways “organized religion” doesn’t seem super cool these days. But, we know that God’s house is a “house of order.” If we believe in Him, then we quickly learn that His religion has always been organized. Throughout the scriptures, we read about a book of life. In fact, the Bible Dictionary has a great, succinct explanation:
    “Spoken of in Philip. 4:4; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 21:27; 22:19; see also Dan. 12:1–4; Luke 10:20. In one sense the book of life is the sum total of one’s thoughts and actions—the record of his life. However, the scriptures indicate that a heavenly record is kept of the faithful, whose names are recorded, as well as an account of their righteous deeds (D&C 88:2; 128:7)." – Bible Dictionary: Book of Life

    In order to have our names written in His book of life, in order to “enter into the Gate” that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be baptized. We are then counted as members of His church, and we enjoy both the blessings and responsibilities of such membership.

  3. Baptism Must Be Performed by One with Authority – Again, God’s house is a house of order. Alma the younger is the one who baptized the people. He was the high priest, and, according to this verse, he was consecrated to be the high priest by the hand of his father – who was the high priest before him. Alma the elder received authority directly from God. (See Mosiah 18.)

Overall, what impresses me about baptism is the reminder that it is truly an ordinance. It is a token of our commitment and covenant. It isn’t just a “nice thing” that we do. It isn’t a thoughtless ritual. It isn’t a cultural custom. The Savior was baptized. The Nephites, anciently, were baptized. And we have been commanded to be baptized.

The Savior taught:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot denter into the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3-5

Nephi poignantly teaches:

“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” – 2 Nephi 31:5

We need baptism. We aren’t holy. Baptism is a gift.

I was eight years old when I was baptized, and I still remember the events of the day. I had a brand new, white dress. My grandma was there. I was baptized by a family friend – Elton Cribbs. And afterward, I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by Gordon Rose. I felt so much purity and joy that day. I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to continue to feel the simple joy of the gospel.

It has been nearly 30 years since my baptism, and it still means so much to me. I’m grateful for the covenant I made when I was a child. Though my knowledge has matured, my faith is still very similar as the faith I had when I was a young child. I knew then that I was a daughter of God. I know I am a daughter of God. I knew then that the Savior gave us an example – to be baptized. I know now that the Savior gave us an example – to be baptized. I knew then that in order to grow in the Spirit, I needed to be baptized. And I know now that in order to continue to grow spiritually, I need to continually renew and review the covenant I made when I was eight.

Have you been baptized? If not, what do you suppose is holding you back from making this covenant and receiving such a blessing in your life? If you have been baptized, how has it shaped and blessed your life?

Easter Scripture Study

I thought that I’d share this again. Check out my Easter Scripture Study guide, and have a great Easter season!

That Good Part

I can’t believe that it is already March…and that Easter is upon us.

I love this time of year. The weather is perfect, soon the Orange trees will be blossoming. Best of all, I love thinking about the Savior – His life and His atonement.

Easter Scripture Study Easter Scripture Study

So…to help you get in the spirit of Easter, I’ve created an Easter Scripture Study Series. (This is the same scripture study series I created last year, with some corrections).

You can download it here – Easter Scripture Study Series

This Easter Scripture Study Series follows some of the key events (though not exactly in chronological order) of the Jesus Christ’s final week in His mortal ministry, then His death, and Resurrection.

There are 10 assignments that will probably take you anywhere between 10-20 days to complete. The assignments include:

  • The Anointing at Bethany
  • The Triumphal Entry
  • The Cleansing of the Temple/Cursing…

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Illustrated Book of Mormon Commentary for a Teenager (Part One)

When my oldest daughter turned 12, I made her a special book. (You can read about it here .) – She will be turning 16 in a little over a year, and I’ve decided to start making another book for her. This time, it will be about the Book of Mormon. (In case you’re wondering, I made a book for her when she was 14. I’ll probably post it on here soon).

The Title Page

The Title Page

So, I just started this. I’m using one of my favorite – sketchbooks (although the one I’m using is hardbound rather than wirebound).

Why am I doing this? Is it because I’m crazy? No. I’ve thought a lot about how to teach my children the gospel. I’ve thought about lecturing them – and lectures weren’t particularly helpful in my life. I mean I honestly don’t remember if my parents lectured me. I know that they said stuff to me, but I zoned out very easily as a teenager.

I don’t particularly like lecturing my teens right now, either. It feels boring and pointless. But how do we teach our kids the gospel? How do I teach them the things that I know and understand and what them to know and understand?

In this quest, I’ve been inspired by the words of Nephi:

“And we talk of Christ we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” – 2 Nephi 25:26, emphasis added.

I feel like writing what I want to teach my children is an effective way (for me) to preach to them without seeming preachy! I can write lectures, make them cute and heartfelt, and instead of zoning out – my kids will treasure these lectures. That’s the idea, anyway. It’s not sneaky. I’m just being as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.:)

So – this is a Book about the Book of Mormon. I’ve divided it as follows:

  • Title Page
  • Timeline of the Book of Mormon
  • Explanation of the Small and Large Plates and their Authors
  • 1 Nephi
  • 2 Nephi
  • Jacob
  • Enos
  • Jarom
  • Omni
  • Words of Mormon
  • Mosiah
  • Alma
  • Helaman
  • 3 Nephi
  • 4 Nephi
  • Mormon
  • Ether
  • Moroni
  • So – pretty straight forward.

    Title Page

    On this page, I just wrote that the Book of Mormon is another Testament of Jesus Christ. I wrote my hope for her – that she will continue to read the Book of Mormon in her life. I also told her about this book that I’m making for her:

    “This book is a gift to you from me. It’s kind of a “commentary” on the Book of Mormon. I’ve been inspired by Nephi’s words, ‘And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.’ (2 Nephi 25:26).

    I want you to know – not only do I want you to know the Book of Mormon for yourself, but I also want you to know my testimony of it.

    I hope that this book will be a blessing to you now and for years to come. Love, Mom.

    ***
    So – that’s the beginning of this fun ride. I anticipate that it will take me a little over a year to finish this book. It will require a lot of work and effort, but I’m sure that it will be worth it. Maybe you have a child who could use something like this? Try writing your testimonies and lessons you have learned in the Book of Mormon. I’d love to see what you come up with if you do it, too.

Meeting an Apostle

This post has been swirling in my head for several weeks now. For the first time in my life, I met an apostle.

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I’ll tell you about it.

I was not at a conference. I was not at a meeting. I was not at the temple or at any place where you would expect to see an apostle. I was in a neighborhood visiting someone, and he was outside – shoveling his driveway.

So, my family and I went and visited with him. I’m not sure what I expected. This is an apostle I have loved ever since I heard him speak when he was first called as an apostle. His talks and speeches are straight-forward and doctrine laced. His words have been a support to me through several times in my life.

So, I stood there, in the snow, and in a way I guess I was star-struck, which sounds stupid.

I’m not quite sure what I expected. Did I think that the Heavens would part, there would be a choir of angels singing, and I’d have some kind of earth-shattering sign? Not really. Even though it has been several weeks, I still don’t know what I expected, but I do know that I was surprised by the meeting.

First of all, I have to say that he was really nice. He was done shoveling. I doubt that he really wanted to stay outside to talk to us. I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure he had other things to do. But he kindly spoke with us. He talked to each of our kids. He spoke kindly to Homey and to me.

Meeting him really impressed upon me the demands of his calling. He is rarely home. Here we are – a bunch of strangers – walking up to him, talking to him. How often does this happen? Can he even get his own groceries?

As I thought about these demands, I said, “It must be hard to travel so much. You were just in out of the country.”
Without hesitating he said, “It’s not hard. Doing the Lord’s work is not hard.” He didn’t say this with an air of false humility. He truly means what he said. It isn’t hard for him. Demanding – yes, but NOT hard.

After a cordial conversation and goodbyes, we left this apostle alone – each of us going about our days.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the apostles and my relationship with them through this encounter. I hope that I can express this in a way that makes sense.

Apostles are Normal People
Faithful – yes. Dedicated – yes. Disciplined – yes. Apostles are these things, for sure. They are doing their best to live the gospel. But that’s just the thing they are doing their best. They are imperfect, they are normal. Sometimes they even wear jeans and shovel snow.

This reminds me of something that Elder Ballard taught in the most recent General Conference:

“Too many people think Church leaders and members should be perfect or nearly perfect. They forget that the Lord’s grace is sufficient to accomplish His work through mortals.” – Elder M. Russell Ballard

I have to admit. I’ve been guilty of this. And maybe I was even guilty of this when I met an apostle. There have been times when I’ve been frustrated with people in my wards, leaders, and others – who are voluntarily serving God. I’ve forgotten that they, like me, are imperfect. They forget things, they have bad days, they get tired, or maybe they simply have different personalities and sensitivities than I do. While this is an obvious oversight, the real problem is that there are times when I’ve forgotten that God’s grace is sufficient. He can accomplish His work through us – even though we’re flawed!

When it came to my meeting an apostle, I had this stark realization that he is a normal guy. He is striving, trying. He is praying. He is working. He isn’t any more special than I am. He has a different calling, that’s for sure. But he’s a normal guy. It isn’t fair to assume that the apostles are just better people than we are. That diminishes their own agency, their own discipleship.

In meeting an apostle, I came to realize that the apostles are inspiring because they are normal and because they are proof that the gospel works. God’s grace IS sufficient.

The Real Testimony Comes to Me through The Spirit
Now, I want to emphasize that prophets and apostles are very important. The Lord has a pattern to revelation. I will probably talk about that in a later post. It is through the apostles and the prophets that I even know anything about God or the Spirit.

Elder Ballard taught:

“And make no mistake about it: the Lord directs His Church through living prophets and apostles. This s the way He has always done His work. Indeed, the Savior taught, ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me.’ We cannot separate Christ from His servants.” – Elder Ballard

We need the witness that has been given to us by the apostles and prophets. That doesn’t mean, though, that the only way for us to access a testimony is through some kind of magical meeting with an apostle.

We gain a testimony as we draw nearer to the Lord – through prayer, scripture study, and keeping our covenants.

I’m grateful that the heavens didn’t part when I met an apostle. While I felt grateful for his service and for the teachings he has given throughout his tenure as an apostle, I didn’t feel some kind of “amazing” spiritual experience that was different than anything I’d experienced before. I felt the witness that he is an apostle, but nothing more than that. The experience was not some kind of earth-shattering moment in my life. And I’m grateful. It means that the Lord has revealed the truth of the gospel to me in the appointed way – through my own study of the scriptures and yes – through the words of the prophets when they are speaking in an apostolic way (i.e. general conference, firesides, etc.)

It meant that the gospel works, the Gift of the Holy Ghost will guide us and teach us. We don’t need to go shake the hand of an apostle to gain a testimony. We simply need to do as we’ve been taught: seek, knock, ask.

As I’ve sought the Lord, knocked at his proverbial door, and as I’ve asked Him the deep questions of my heart, He has guided me to the scriptures and to the words of modern apostles and prophets. An apostle can deliver a single message at one meeting, and it can touch the hearts of millions – in a million individual ways. This isn’t because the apostle is some kind of demi-god. It isn’t magic.

It’s because:

  1. Apostles are set apart to teach us the things we need to know. Elder Ballard teaches,
    “The Lord’s Apostles are duty bound to watch, warn, and reach out to help those seeking answers to life’s questions.” – Elder M. Russell Ballard

  2. Apostles speak with the power of the Holy Ghost
  3. When we have the Spirit with us, we can receive the message of the prophets and apostles with the power of the Holy Ghost. This is when it works! This is when we learn the specific things that we need to know. This is how a single talk can touch millions of people in specific, individual ways.
  4. ***

    It’s interesting – how we in Mormon culture view our Apostles and Prophet. I think that I understand it better now. I still wish that in the moment I met an apostle, that I would have simply thanked him. They do dedicate their lives. Do we realize that? Do we realize that they serve, day and night, for the rest of their days – for years without release? Do we realize that this means they travel all throughout the world, most likely spending more time away from home than at home? Do we realize that this means that we watch every single thing they do. (Did you see how he helped his wife with her coat? What kind of car does he drive? Does he keep his yard neat?) Do we realize the effort they put, day in and day out – even though there are so many who reject the witness that they were called to bear? Do we realize that they are normal people – that they have had their struggles, adversities, quirks, idiosyncrasies – and that they most likely STILL have these foibles of mortality, yet must fulfill such a demanding calling?

    “It has always been a challenge for the world to accept living prophets and apostles, but it is so essential to do so in order to fully understand the Atonement and the teachings of Jesus Christ and to receive a fulness of the blessings of the priesthood that are given to those He has called.” – Elder M. Russell Ballard

    ***
    I want to bear my testimony that the Apostles and Prophets are called of God and qualified by God. I know that being led by Apostles and a Prophet is a great blessing. We aren’t expected to navigate the waters of the Latter-days alone. We have people, normal people, who have been called and who are blessed with God’s grace, to lead us in these rough waters.

    I know this because as I have studied and put the words of the apostles to the test, I have been able to come closer to the Lord, I have been lifted up, and I’ve been blessed. These apostles don’t know me. They don’t need to. The Lord does.

    Though men are serving in the Lord’s work – it isn’t their work. They aren’t magic. They aren’t demi-gods. They are normal people, humbly submitting to the Lord, and being magnified by His grace. Through their efforts and God’s Spirit, they are able to guide, warn, and protect each of us in specific ways.

    ***
    What has helped you to gain a testimony in God’s appointed servants, the Prophet and Apostles? How has this testimony helped your overall strength in the Lord?

The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ

Book of Mormon Tad R. Callister

This quote comes from, “The Book of Mormon – A Book from God,” by Tad R. Callister from the October 2011 General Conference.

I love this testimony and truth about the Book of Mormon. Look at the language Elder Callister uses:

  • emblazoned
  • undeniable
  • merciful
  • remedy
  • superior healing power

Truly, the Book of Mormon is powerful.

The Book of Mormon teaches us principles that will give us “book knowledge” about the gospel. But there is more. When we read the Book of Mormon every day, we are inspired to live what we have learned. It is when our reading and our daily commitment to live what we have learned combine that we gain experiential knowledge of the Savior.

We will then have a witness of Him emblazoned on our souls. And what does that mean – that we are really close to a really “neat” guy – that we are super knowledgeable about someone who was a “great rabbi”?

No!

It means that we are empowered by the Atonement. It means that we are healed from our sins. It means that we are comforted caused by the pain of others. It means that we are made whole from the infirmities we face in mortal life. It means that we are empowered to overcome our weakness.

Having Christ emblazoned on our souls means that we know of Him through study and that we know Him through intimate experience.

I know that this is true. The Book of Mormon has been a beacon in my life. It has brought me close to the Savior. It has worked with the Bible to help me understand 1) Why I need a Savior, and 2) How the Savior truly is a manifestation of God’s love.

Do you have a witness of Christ emblazoned on your soul? How has the Book of Mormon helped you to gain this witness?

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