22 April 2014

My Easter Talk

(This is the talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting on Easter Sunday. Caveat: I didn't take time to put in all the scripture references. Most of it comes from the books of Moses and Abraham, as well as the gospels in the New Testament, with a little bit of Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants thrown in too.)

Before we came to earth we lived with our Father in Heaven. We were taught and nurtured there by Heavenly parents who prepared us to come to this earth to live. Before this earth was created we met in a grand council. Heavenly Father presented his plan which involved creating an earth for us so we could be tested and prove our faithfulness to Him. He knew we would not be perfect and by sinning we would be cut off from His presence and unable to return. We would need a Savior to pay the debt of our sins so we could be clean and worthy to return to our Father. At the council He asked “Whom shall I send [to be the Savior]?” (Abraham 3:27) Lucifer spoke up “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.” (Moses 4:1) Jesus, whom the Father calls My Beloved Son, answered “Here am I, send me Father; thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (Abraham 3:27 and Moses 4:2) Heavenly Father chose His Beloved Son, Jesus, known as Christ, the Anointed One, to send to earth at the appointed time to be our Savior. Lucifer became known as Satan and was cast out of Father’s presence for rebellion.

The earth was created and Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. They were married by God, and given commandments, first, to be fruitful and multiply, and second, to not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. While in the garden they walked and talked with God, innocent as children. We do not know how long they were in this state. But we do know that they couldn’t progress any further. Satan came along with the idea that he could really mess things up. He didn’t realize that he was part of the plan. Our Father in Heaven cannot force anyone. He gives us the most precious gift of agency, the power to choose for ourselves. Heavenly Father knew we needed to come to earth and experience mortal life to be tested away from His presence. He allowed Satan to tempt our first parents, giving Adam and Eve the chance to choose for themselves whether or not they would be obedient. Eve, in a great act of courage and faith, partook of the forbidden fruit, so that Father’s plan could come to pass and we all would have the chance to be born into mortality.

Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden for transgressing the commandment and now were mortal, subject to death. Spiritual separation from God and physical death were the results of the fall.

Now, we are in a predicament from which we cannot remove ourselves. We are no longer with God in heaven, we are here on earth; subject to all sorts of horrible things like pain, hunger, disease, death, sorrow, evil, war. And what happens after death? Is that the end of our existence? If so, what is the meaning and point of all our suffering on earth? It is a bleak outlook.

After being cast out of the garden, Adam and Eve became farmers, the scriptures say “they began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat [their] bread by the sweat of [their] brow.” They began to have children, and their children grew up and paired off and began to multiply.

Adam and Eve continued faithful and prayed together, and in time heard the voice of the Lord from over by the garden, giving them commandments to worship the Lord their God, and offer the firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord. The scriptures record that Adam was obedient to the commandments of the Lord.

After some time, the scriptures say “many days”, an angel of the Lord appeared to Adam and asked “Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?” Adam said “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” Adam obeyed the commandments without fully understanding what they meant. The angel then explained, “This thing [meaning the sacrifice of the firstling of the flock] is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the son forevermore.”
The scriptures record that “. . . in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning; henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.”  Adam responded to this, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.” Eve said, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:10-11)

What is this joy of our redemption? It is what the Holy Ghost witnessed to them; the knowledge of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Those two titles, Savior and Redeemer, indicate what he has done for us. He saves us from our fallen state, separated from God and subject to physical death. He redeems us by paying the price for our sins that we can be in a state worthy to return to the presence of God, Our Heavenly Father.

Born of Mary in Bethlehem, Jesus lived a sinless life. He obeyed with exactness all that the father asked of him. He marked the path and showed the way for us to follow him to return to live with our Father in Heaven.

When he taught his disciples to pray he included the phrase “Thy will be done.” In every recorded prayer he repeats that phrase. He taught “I can of mine own self do nothing . . . because 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. . . . And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:38-29)  “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)

The Lord told Moses, “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Through Joseph Smith the Lord instructed, “This is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength. (D&C 11:20)

Remember the pre-mortal council? The Lord said, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell. And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” (Abraham 3:24-25)

Unfortunately, we are not always perfectly obedient. We are mortal, sinful creatures. We know what is right, but are weak and don’t always choose to do what is right. We need to be saved. We need a Savior. And in His infinite love and mercy, God, Our Heavenly Father, provided one for us.

I do not understand exactly how it works, but I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and has the power to cleanse and heal and succor us. Alma taught, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose 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 succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

I testify that this is real. At a time in my life when I felt betrayed and abandoned by those I loved, in pain with heartache and anger, He wrapped His arms around me and took away that anger and pain replacing it with comfort and peace. When I have felt far away from God because of sin, I have felt the cleansing power of the Atonement take away my sins and make me whole and clean.

The account in the Gospel of Luke tells of Jesus going to the Mount of Olives with his disciples. He withdrew from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me;” (I can imagine that he was nervous and afraid of what was to come), “nevertheless,” he continued, “not my will, but thine, be done.” And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)

Always obedient, always faithful to the Father’s will, to the very end of his life. I don’t think I can be grateful enough for what he has done for me.

But it was not over yet. The cruelty had just begun. He endured arrest, an illegal trial, mocking, scourging, a grueling march to the hill called Golgotha and then the horror of crucifixtion. At the very end, just before he gave his life for us, he said “Father, it is finished, thy will is done.” (Matthew 27:50, a) He was victorious. He had done the Father’s will, completely, to the end. How grateful we should be for our Savior.

Can you imagine the sorrow of those he left behind? We know what happened, but they were still in the present and didn’t know. Jesus had tried to prepare them, teaching them, but they didn’t quite understand.

Now it is the morning of the first day of the week and the women have brought spices which they had prepared. When they reached the tomb, they found the large stone rolled away from the opening. They went in but the body of Jesus wasn’t there. There were perplexed, and as they turned around, they found two men standing there in shining garments who said “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”  The women ran back to tell the Apostles the news. Simon Peter, the chief Apostle, along with John came to see, but all they found were the burial clothes. They left to tell the others. Mary Magdalene stood outside the sepulcher weeping.  When she turned around she saw Jesus standing there but didn’t recognize him. He said “Woman, why weepest thou?” She thought he was the gardener and asked him where the body had been taken. Jesus, in what I imagine to be the tenderest of voice, called her by name, “Mary.” She recognized that tone and responded Rabboni; which is to say Master, and reached out to embrace him. But he said “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.” Can there be any doubt of the value of women in the eyes of God? A woman was the first to see the resurrected Savior and Redeemer. She was the one to tell the apostles the good news! That HE LIVES! That death is not the end.

I add my witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He willingly lived and died for us. He makes it possible for us to return to our Father in Heaven, clean and worthy. He paid our debt so we can be free. This truly is good news! May we remember our Savior and live worthy to be called his sons and daughters.

In his sacred and holy name, Jesus Christ, Amen. 

10 April 2014

How to Study the Scriptures.


Oh, you wanted a longer answer? Okay, here are my suggestions.

Listen to them on tape or compact disc. CD’s are available from church distribution; tapes can sometimes be found at Deseret Industries or yard sales in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California. The benefit of listening is two-fold. First you hear all the words and names pronounced correctly (or at least consistently), and following along in your book while listening to the reader uses two senses and therefore is more memorable. Second, you can get through quickly enough to have a good overall sense of the story. This is particularly valuable with the Old Testament, and the Book of Mormon. The Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t follow a story line so listening isn’t quite as fun, although still valuable.

Listening is great with young children who don’t yet read, and for reinforcing the emerging abilities of beginning readers. I like the tapes better because it is easy to stop, back up and repeat. When we came across the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-baz in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 18:1), we listened to it four or five times because the children thought it was the coolest name they’d ever heard.

Study them in conjunction with the Sunday School lessons. Follow the reading assignments in the student booklet (including any chapters that are skipped, because reading more never is wasted) and come to class prepared with thoughts, impressions, questions and insights. The teacher will love you!

Study them topically. Choose a topic you want to know more about, look it up in the topical guide and read all the scriptures listed. As you read, look at what’s ahead of and after the verses so you get a sense of context and outcome. Follow the footnotes to find related verses. Write your impressions, thoughts and feelings in a notebook or journal as you gain understanding of the topic and how it fits in your life. (Maybe I should say see what changes in me are necessary to fit the scriptural standard.)

Study them for revelation. Begin at the beginning and read slowly for understanding and personal revelation to come to you. Ponder or meditate as you find something that touches your heart. Write in a journal or notebook to capture your revelation.

Study them as if on a quest. Right now I’m reading the Book of Mormon looking for examples of gratitude, thanksgiving and cheerfulness. I have an inexpensive copy and a yellow-green pencil to mark with, so as I find what I’m looking for I mark it. Without the distraction of my other markings I will be open to seeing new things within the stories and testimonies.

Study them chronologically. The Old Testament and New Testament were not put together in chronological order, rather they are ordered by type of “book”. History, law, prophecy, poetry, testimony, epistles, or whatever. Although it is a bit more work to do so, reading everything chronologically really helps understand what is happening and why things are said.  (This New Testament list shows chronology by when written rather than by when the events happened, but it's interesting nonetheless.) (Also, parts of the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price are before Genesis) (Oh, one more thing, Joseph Smith said that Song of Solomon wasn't inspired scripture, so you don't have to read that.)

So, there are six ways to study the scriptures. I’m sure there are more. The important thing to remember and do is to study or read daily: Gather the manna daily; try to save it and it won’t last, it has to be gathered every day. Drink deeply of the living water and eat your fill of the bread of life daily! 

08 April 2014

My thoughts (Which I hope are in line with His Thoughts)

My husband came home from General Priesthood Meeting relaxed and in a good mood; he shared with me some of the stories and themes from the talks they'd heard. He got on the computer while I rustled up some dessert for the men (they're all taller than me so I think of them as men now!). He has the ability to stay calm when reading things that make my blood boil. He found an article about the Ordain Women protesters and told me about an interview with a sixteen year old who said she wanted to be ordained because she had skills and talents that she wanted to be useful in the church. (Or something to that effect.)

Herewith are my thoughts about ordaining women to the priesthood.

First: In all of the scriptures I have read, Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, God is absolutely consistent in following the Great Plan of Happiness. At different times and in different places his covenant people have had more or less of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but never a different gospel. And in all of the scriptures The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God has been given to men and men only. This is one of those instances where God our Father in Heaven could say "Because I said so," without any other explanation, like good parents can and do, and we should obey without question. At the time we are mature enough and ready we will understand the why.
(I will state right here that I have never questioned and have always "just known" that this was the correct order of things.)

Second: I doubt very much that the sixteen year old girl is currently fully using her talents and skills to build the kingdom of God. Does she hold a calling such as Laurel President? Are all of the Laurels under her stewardship active, temple worthy girls? Is she sharing the gospel with others to the point that they come to church, are taking lessons with missionaries and preparing for baptism? How many generations of family history has she completed? Is her own personal history up to date? Does she reach out to serve others without being assigned or asked? Does she have all the skills and talents she will need to raise and teach children, keep a home, and prepare children to serve missions? Are her prayers effective? She can do all of this and much more without being ordained to the priesthood. When women are perfect in their own sphere, then it might be understandable for them to look at another's sphere, but not until then.

Third: What do those women want to do? Conduct meetings? All presidencies of all the organizations and auxiliaries conduct meetings. Go Home Teaching? What's wrong with Visiting Teaching? (I once thought about having MiaMaids and Laurels serve with visiting teachers, but realized that perhaps it would be inappropriate because of confidentiality issues to have young sisters assisting.) Give blessings? My mother's prayers were heard and answered, sometimes instantly. When she prayed for something it happened. I suppose it was because of her purity, her virtue, her exceeding great faith, whatever it was, it worked! My father's priesthood blessings were no more efficacious than my mother's prayers of faith. I think what the priesthood has done for my father was give him reason to be virtuous and pure so that his blessings would be effective. Mom was that way already. Do those women want to prepare, bless and pass the Sacrament? They remind me of immature children who can't be content seeing what another has until they've taken it away, and once gotten, find it's not so fun after all. Why can't the men and boys have something that civilizes and ennobles them without some female getting in a snit because she can't have it too? Do they want to "run" things? Being a leader is not telling others what to do, believe me, I've learned the hard way. We set an example, encourage, teach and love, but cannot force or punish anyone. 

Fourth: The roles and stewardships of men and women are different yet complementary, they complete each other. One cannot be exalted without the other because it takes the two different halves to make a whole. Perhaps men would be more effective and efficient in church callings if more wives were taking responsibility for their homes and allowing their husbands time to study the gospel and leadership principles, serve in callings and spend time fulfilling their duties without having to work to support the family and then come home and be responsible for fixing dinner, doing dishes, cleaning up after the children and taking care of the children "so the wife can have a break." From personal experience of the opposite I would gladly never have a break if my husband was out doing the work of the Lord. 

Fifth: This is the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. Through Joseph Smith the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored and re-established. Many radically different doctrines were revealed and put into practice. Don't you think that if women were to be ordained to the priesthood it would have been so from the beginning? That it has not must say something about the order of things as they are now. I know that this is the true church of God and His Son on the earth today. We are led by a prophet, Thomas S. Monson, with other prophets and apostles to assist him. The priesthood is God's power and authority to give to whom he chooses after the order set in heaven. One day when all is revealed we will fully understand His order and realize how truly perfect it is.