26 January 2012

Follow the Prophet, He Knows the Way

Earlier this month I read something on the Mormon Mommy Blog that caused my heart to ache. Women were asked to submit questions they would ask President Julie B. Beck if they could ask her anything. All of the questions I read seemed to be questioning the doctrines of The Family - A Proclamation to the World. I was saddened by the direction of the questions. It seems to me that many of the young (and older) women of the church have listened too long to the philosophies of men, and too long sought the approval and acclamation of the world.

We read a statement of President Harold B. Lee today in Seminary that brought this subject to my mind.

"You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory.' (D&C 21:6)" (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152-53).

I think too many sisters in the church today find that the things Sister Beck says contradict their views about the role of a woman; and interfere with their desires for career and social life. But if we listen to what she says as if it was the Lord himself is talking to us (and when she speaks in General Conference it is as if the Lord is speaking to us) than we can feel called to repentance and change ourselves to better fit the pattern of a covenant woman, rather than expending energy to try to change the commandments and covenants to fit our "natural [wo]man" selves.

We can know how closely we fit the pattern of a covenant saint by how comfortable we feel as we listen to the general conference addresses. When I feel uncomfortable and wish that the general authority speaker would talk about something else, and begin to let my mind wander and be distracted, I know that I need to change my life. I can feel the call to repentance. When I have tears of joy and a burning in my bosom I know that I am in compliance with whatever is being preached. I had this experience when Sister Beck gave her talk "Mothers Who Know." I remember feeling that I had made the right choices and done the right things raising our children. Inside I was cheering and exulting, on the outside I was crying! Tears of joy and gratitude!

In preparation for teaching a Sunday School lesson to a group of sixteen and seventeen year olds in Mount Vernon, Washington, in 1994, I wrote this:

  • One of the greatest stumbling blocks for us members of the church is that we like to think of ourselves as exceptions to the rule. We rationalize and maneuver to fit the standards and commandments to us, when we should be using our energy to fit ourselves to the standards and commandments. We will never be let into the Celestial Kingdom as an exception. We will be let in only when we fully conform to the standards set for admittance by our Father in Heaven.
"For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31)

"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 this father." (Mosiah 3:19)

"And they shall overcome all things." (Doctrine and Covenants 76:60)

24 January 2012

Scripture Power

We are reading the Pearl of Great Price as a family right now. We are almost done with it (it's pretty short) and I have to say again that it is a favorite of mine. Monday night for FHE we were reading to make up for some missed mornings and it fell to me to read Joseph Smith--History 1:25-26. The whole Joseph Smith History is precious to me because of experiences when I was a missionary. The discussions I learned included much of this section verbatim. We memorized the words and every time I taught them I could feel the power of Joseph's testimony. I get teary eyed even now after more than thirty years.

So it was with me.
I had actually seen a light,
and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages,
and they did in reality speak to me;
and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision,
 yet it was true;
and while they were persecuting me, reviling me,
and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying,
I was led to say in my heart:
Why persecute me for telling the truth?
I have actually seen a vision;
and who am I that I can withstand God,
or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen?
For I had seen a vision;
I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, 
and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; 
at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God,
and come under condemnation.

My love and gratitude for Joseph Smith knows no bounds. I'm so grateful for his faith, his obedience and his endurance to the end. His example is one worthy of following.

I'm so thankful for the scriptures--they have the power to change us, bring us closer to Our Father and His Son, our Savior. Gathering the manna daily has brought so many blessings to me and my family, I highly recommend it! 

22 January 2012

Two Churches Only

Our Sunday School lesson included Nephi's visions recorded in chapters 12 and 13 of First Nephi. We talked briefly about the Great and Abominable Church of the Devil.

Verse 26 of Chapter 13 refers to the time after the testimonies of the Apostles of the Lamb go forth that there was a formation of "that great and abominable church" which took "away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away." Could this refer to what was begun at the Council of Nicaea? The council was called by the Emperor Constantine to resolve differences and standardize the church teachings.  No priesthood authority, just political authority involved; which I find interesting because Elder H. Verlan Andersen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy from 1986 to 1991, wrote a book titled The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil, in which he posits that this church is not a church in the way we think of a church (worshipping Jesus Christ or other deity) but a system of government that enslaves its people in an attempt to make sure that "one soul shall not be lost." (Moses 4:1) To have a religious council called by an Emperor with no spiritual authority seems just wrong. To have so much in-fighting among the leaders of the church is definitely wrong. It is obvious that they were in apostasy and wandering lost without the priesthood. This governmental interference with religious affairs continues to the present.

Nephi is told that "there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil;" (1 Nephi 14:10) Now where this gets interesting to me is verse 14: "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, [two separate groups] who were scattered upon all the face of the earth;"

One day as I was reading this I recognized the mention of two groups of people: the saints of the church of the Lamb, which could refer to all those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ and live honorable lives within the limits of their knowledge; and the second are those with greater knowledge, temple blessings and priesthood authority, in other words "covenant people of the Lord".

This passage is significant to me because while we were homeschooling our children we associated with many Christian families, good people, virtuous and righteous, living the commandments to the best of the knowledge, and I often wondered if they would be counted in the Church of the Lamb in the last days. According to this passage it appears to me that they will be.

The revelation to Nephi continues with prophecy about the wrath of God being poured out and wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth, which obviously describes the latter days.

We are coming to a crucial time in the history of the world where we will have to declare our allegiance to either the Church of the Lamb, or the Church of the Devil. There are only two teams in this competition. The great thing is we know who will win! I'm wearing the jersey of the winning team! No matter how difficult the final moments of the game are, I am on the correct team and victory is assured.

15 January 2012

Use Words

Talk given 15 January 2012
Atlantic Branch, Iowa

When our missionary son was a toddler he used the point and grunt method of communication. I encouraged him to use words and helped him learn the words he wanted to use. One particularly tiring day when I said “PW, use words,” the spirit said to me “This is why I want you to pray. I know what you need before you even ask; but I want you to use words to ask me.” (Matthew 6:8)

I gained a great insight into the why of prayer that day. In fact being a parent has helped me understand that Heavenly Father sends us to earth into families and commands us to have children ourselves so we can learn about him and learn to be like him.

We had many tender, and sometimes humorous, experiences as we taught our children to pray. Missionaries have similar experiences teaching their contacts how to pray. I have had solemn and sacred experiences while being taught to pray in the temples.

Every week the Young Women stand and repeat the words “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us,” We should understand who we are praying to. Our Father in Heaven, the Father of our Spirits, God the Eternal Father. From Moses (6:57) we learn that “Man of Holiness is his name,” He is infinite, eternal, and real.  Joseph Smith taught us that “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s;” (D&C 130:22). It is to him that we address our prayers. We begin a prayer by saying something like Our Father in Heaven or Heavenly Father.
I find it helps to picture in my mind the person I’m addressing. I think of him as wise, loving, inviting, warm, caring, ready to listen to me, undistracted by anything else. Without being irreverent I think of him as my Dad, knowing me intimately, better than I know myself, because he has known me longer.

After addressing him reverently, we begin to express gratitude for our blessings. We thank thee for, we are grateful for, naming some of the most important things pertaining to the group or situation we are in. Naming specific blessings focuses our minds on the many things our Father does for us and gives us each day. Many things we take for granted are actually wonderful miracles: electric lights, hot and cold running water, telephones and computers; washers and dryers; homes, cars, fresh food, health and life itself.

After expressing sufficient gratitude we may ask for specific blessings using phrases such as we ask thee, wilt thou bless us with, please bless this or that, as needed.

It was when I was a missionary that I realized the importance of asking for specifics rather than generalities. Joseph Smith asked specific questions, never receiving a revelation except in answer to a question. Think of a child—does he ask for a toy? Or for a specific one? There are instances when generalities are appropriate, and others when specifics are called for.

We end our prayers in the way the Savior taught. To the Nephites he said “And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”  (3 Ne. 18:20)

After the Savior departed from the Nephites, his twelve apostles continued to teach the people that they “should pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus.” (3 Ne. 19:6) So we end our prayer using language such as In the name of Jesus Christ, or In the name of thy son Jesus Christ.

We address our prayers to God the Father, and end them in the name of His son Jesus Christ, because as the Apostle John taught “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)

The four steps of prayer are simple and straightforward.
We address our Father in Heaven, we thank him for all he has given us, we ask him for specific blessings, we conclude in the name of Jesus Christ.

We use special pronouns in prayer, thee, thy, thine, thou. Often these are referred to as formal language. I know only two languages, English and some Spanish, so I can’t speak authoritatively for any other languages, but in Spanish the equivalents to thee, thy, thou, and thine are not the formal pronouns one would use with a superior or someone with whom you are not familiar, but they are the intimate pronouns one would use with close family or friends. This fits with the feeling we should have of reverence and closeness to our Father in Heaven. He is not far away, impersonal and cold. I picture him sitting on my bed, me kneeling at his feet, telling him about my day, pouring out my heart in gratitude for the tender mercies he has given me, pleading for some special need I have. He is very near and I use intimate language with him.

It doesn’t take very long to be able to correctly use the special pronouns in prayer. It does take practice. Reading the scriptures and listening carefully to prayers will help you become familiar with this special language.

Jesus’ teachings to his followers recorded as the Sermon on the Mount include important instructions about prayer. One thing he said was to “use not vain repetitions.” What does this mean?

I will share a personal example from a recent experience. I was asked to give the opening prayer at my sister’s funeral. I thought long and hard about what to say. I didn’t want to say “We’re so thankful to be here and bless those who aren’t here this time that they may be here next time.”  I pondered all that we in the family were feeling and got up to pray still not exactly sure what to say. The Lord taught Joseph Smith “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour, yea in the very moment, what ye shall say.” (D&C 84:85 & 100:6). As I began the prayer the words came and the spirit of comfort and healing was very strong.

When called on to be voice for a group prayer think about who is in the group, the circumstances of the meeting, the needs of those in attendance, the blessings the group has received; then let the spirit guide you in what to say.

Prayer is not something to hurry up and get over with so we can get on to better things. It is direct communication with our Father in Heaven. We can speak slowly and thoughtfully. Enos prayed all night long! He didn’t hurry through a memorized prayer so he could get on with hunting. That was probably a once in a lifetime prayer, but I still think it is instructive that when we begin a meeting or class, or when we have family or personal prayer we don’t need to hurry through it.

For you young people who are in charge of classes or quorums, remember that prayer is not a punishment to inflict on others, but rather a privilege to be voice for a group of saints calling upon our Father.

We can liken prayer to a phone call. Do we call our family or friend, race through a checklist of items and then hang up? No. We tell and listen, ask and listen. We whine, exclaim, complain, explain, question, recommend, converse, laugh, and listen.

Granted prayer isn’t exactly like a phone call, but as we mature in prayer we can have more of the two way communication as we listen for the promptings and impressions that come to our mind as we pray patiently and allow time for answers.

We are commanded (at least a dozen times in the Doctrine and Covenants alone) to pray always and we are commanded to pray over everything. Amulek said to the people he was teaching

 “Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Yea, cry unto him for mercy for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. (In other words, when you are at work.) Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.

President Spencer W. Kimball said: “When should we pray? The answer: pray always. But to be more specific, the Church urges that there be family prayer every night and every morning. It is a kneeling prayer with all or as many members of the family present as possible. Many have found the most effective time is at the breakfast and at the dinner table. Then it is least difficult to get the family members together. These prayers need not be long, especially if little children are on their knees. All of the members of the family, including the little ones, should have opportunity to be mouth in the prayer, in turn.” (New Era, March 1978)

Back to Amulek:
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields that they may increase. (What we do for a living again.)

But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:17-27)

I like Tevye, the father in Fiddler on the Roof. He has a habit of looking up and talking to God, almost as if he were the next door neighbor. He talked to God about everything!  We should too. Parents can model for children the right kind of relationship with our Father in Heaven. If we are concerned about our children how much more is He concerned about them and us? We all, are first and last His children; He cares about us and wants us to return home to Him.

Sometimes it is wonderful to pray a prayer of gratitude only, without asking for anything else. We have learned in our family that this is useful for remembering how much we already have, and how much God loves us. We have knelt in a circle and beginning with the oldest have each prayed in turn expressing only gratitude with the youngest ending the prayer. Those have been sacred occasions, long remembered.

Sometimes we say prayers that are simply pleadings for help. I can testify that our Father in Heaven is interested in even the most mundane things in our lives. Once while making a shirt I couldn’t get the collar to go on straight. After ruining several I was ready to give up in frustration. The thought came into my mind to pray about it. I did. I asked for help in seeing what I was doing wrong and to have my hands guided in doing it right. After finishing the prayer I cut out a new collar and proceeded to sew it onto the shirt. My hands were guided and it was perfect.

He cares! He has helped me remember things, find things, and face fears. He has blessed me with strength to endure trials, press forward when hurt, and overcome offenses.

In all our praying, all our communing with God we must remember to submit to His will.  Jesus modeled for us a life of bending to His Father’s will.

He taught us by example “Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30) “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38) “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)

At times it will seem as if our prayers are not being answered; or perhaps answered differently than we want. A no answer might be in our best interest. A “not now, or not yet” answer could be the right answer. We must be patient, not always easy or fun—ask any child if waiting is. But we must trust our Heavenly Parent that He knows best because he not only knows the end from the beginning, but he knows us better than we know ourselves and He has plan for us.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

By asking for God’s will to be done we acknowledge our dependence on Him and His superior knowledge of what is best for us. I have learned that His plan is always better than mine.

What a blessing it is to have a way to communicate with our Father in Heaven.

I testify that he is real; that he hears and answers our prayers. He loves us, with a love greater than we can comprehend. And has shown his love by sending his beloved son, Jesus Christ to earth to live and die for us that we can repent and follow the Savior back home to Him, Our Eternal Heavenly Father.

I testify that we are led by a living Prophet, who has asked us to pray that the countries of the world where the gospel is not now present will open their doors to the missionaries that the Kingdom of God can go forth and fill the entire world.

I testify that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration who opened this dispensation by offering a prayer to know which church to join.

I know this is the true church of Jesus Christ. I’m so thankful to be a part of it.

In the name of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.

13 January 2012

How Do You Know That?

That is the question my husband asked me once when we were having one of our rare discussions about the gospel. I didn't even know how to answer him, except that I knew. 

Now I have a better answer. I was born into a family with a father who studies the scriptures and used them to teach his children. We rarely had a "normal" family home evening with lessons and such, at least I don't remember those. What I do remember is reading the scriptures as a family once a week for an hour. We read the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the New Testament, and in lieu of the Old Testament we read Cleon Skousen's books The First Two Thousand Years, The Third Thousand Years, and The Fourth Thousand Years. They were easier reading for children and teens than the real thing. 

As a teen I loved Seminary and took second place in our Stake Scripture Chase, this when there were 40 scripture mastery verses (today there are only 25 per year). I studied diligently and read the church magazines voraciously. I loved learning the gospel, still do.

When I was a missionary in the MTC (Missionary Training Center) I would smile to myself every time I heard an Elder say "I wish I'd paid more attention in Seminary and studied harder." 

In 2000 I had a burning desire to read the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi for myself so on January 1 I began and I managed to finish on schedule December 31. The Sunday School course for 2001 was the Old Testament and I was prepared to make significant contributions to the class discussions. 

Part of our homeschool education for our children was reading the scriptures, learning the Articles of Faith and establishing the habits of righteousness (prayer, scripture study, Family Home Evening, and attending church). When they were very young we read the Scripture Story books and The Friend. In 2005 when they ranged in age from 16 down to 7 we answered the call of President Hinckley to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I knew that a straight reading would take longer than that so I decided to have us listen to the book on tape, following along in our books. I thought it was a great success. We had some good discussions about what we were reading and the children got a good overview of the message of the book. Plus we were obedient to the prophet. We finished early enough that I was able to read the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price before the end of the year. It was a great year for reading scriptures!

I'm getting to the point here, be patient.

Our stake president here in Iowa asked us to read the Book of Mormon in the six months between conferences (September to March) so we looked for a way we could accomplish this. We decided that we would read right after breakfast each day before the guys left for school. We got up a few minutes earlier and faithfully read. We finished and felt a great sense of accomplishment. 

I didn't want to let the habit die so I suggested to TopDad that we continue the habit and read the New Testament, which was the subject of the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class. We completed that in December and after a couple weeks off during the holidays we began our next book which is The Pearl of Great Price on January 2. 

Now here is point. While reading the Pearl of Great Price I realized (or remembered) how I know certain things. The revelations of Moses and the writings of Abraham are where we learn profound truths. My father advised us to read the Pearl in preparation for going to the temple for the first time. I advise it too, and advise reading it from time to time to refresh our minds with the truths therein. It is RICH!

Daily scripture reading has been an important habit to add to our lives. Reading after breakfast, followed by family prayer is such a good way to start the day. I highly recommend it.