Monday, December 7, 2009

'Tis the Season for Purple Tights

Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in Hiram, Ohio in 1832. This revelation was the first of a succession of “Exaltation Revelations”—sections 76, 84, 88, and 93. These revelations don’t just talk about receiving eternal life, but about reaching exaltation. The Lord reveals that gaining eternal life means gaining immortality and being “saved,” but exaltation is something more; it is the acquisition of the highest degree of glory within the Celestial kingdom.

The prophet described his mindset and curiosity before the reception of section 76: “It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one.” This statement leaves me incredibly impressed with the profundity of Joseph Smith’s thoughts, and his inspired curiosity. This is what I call scripture study! Joseph Smith was not merely a tool in the building up of God’s kingdom, but also an influencer, a leader, an inquirer. He used his rational abilities to assess the truths that were left, and draw out the discrepancies he saw. And then, instead of submitting to incomprehension, he ponders and asks questions.

In a speech entitled “By Study and Also by Faith,” former BYU president, Rex E. Lee, talks about two approaches to learning and acquiring knowledge—the rational and the extrarational. He speaks of the First Vision saying, “…in the space of just a few minutes, a boy of fourteen years learned more about the true nature of God than had come from centuries of the best rational effort of the world’s best minds. The process was extrarational. It did not depend on study, thought, or contemplative inquiry. It came through revelation, through direct contact between a mortal man and his Father in Heaven. Joseph Smith’s experience is the most outstanding example of extrarational learning that has occurred since the resurrection of the Savior….” I agree. The First Vision was truly a remarkable manifestation of the power of the Spirit. President Lee goes on to say, however, that we must not forget all the studying and pondering that preceded this vision. Joseph understood that this pattern needed to continue on in all his gospel study and revelation. President Lee explains the necessity of such study, saying “No matter how righteous you are, no matter how carefully you cultivate the companionship of the Holy Ghost, there are vast amounts of knowledge which you need to acquire and which you are not going to receive through revelation. The great plan of eternal progress anticipates our growth and development through use of our mental skills, the kind of progress that can come only through the strenuous application of our reasoning abilities.”

The saints’ reaction to section 76 was one of discussion, dissension, and debate. Brigham Young said he even had to put it on the shelf for a time because he realized it might drive him out of the church. President Lee gives further instruction for situations such as this, and I want to add my testimony to his that this is true: “…it is almost inevitable that there will be some instances in which the rational method will lead us to some conclusion—not many, but some—which is at odds with what we know to be true because it has been revealed from God…The answer is not to stop the rational struggle with the problem, but rather to recognized the fallible nature of the rational process, the infallible nature of the extrarational process, and the inescapable conclusion that where inconsistencies in results occur—until such time that they can be reconciled—it is the extrarational that must prevail.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Tis Sorta Like a Videogame

In Section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord refutes several beliefs of a religious group called the Shakers—the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. As the Lord corrects some of these traditions, we are able to gain some insight into the purpose of the earth and the nature of the creation.

The Shakers believed that a celibate life was considered higher than marriage. The Lord contradicts this belief in the revelation, saying, “whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.” He goes on to teach us that a man should have one wife, and “they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” This verse raises the question of what exactly IS the end of the earth’s creation. In other words, what is the purpose of this earth God created for us? How are we to use the earth, and what is our purpose here? From what I understand, I believe God was teaching us that marriage is a sacred thing, meant to bring man and woman together so that they could multiply. In the next verse, it says “And that it might be filled with the measure of man.” God wants us to replenish the earth. From the days of Adam and Eve, he commanded us to join together, male and female, and continue to bring spirits to this earth to gain bodies and experience joy.

The Shakers also believed that the eating of pork was specifically forbidden, and many of them did not even eat meat. The Lord refutes this belief as well, saying, “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” This part of the revelation again gives us insight into the purpose of the earth and its many creations. The Lord created animals for our use. He cautions that we use them wisely and sparingly, but ultimately, the earth and all its creations were made for the use of man.

It is interesting to see the earth cast in this light. It is very much viewed as a sort of ‘tool’ for us to use on our journey to exaltation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Jelly's in the Fridge

This past week in my Doctrine and Covenants class, I was able to hear a lecture from Rita Wright about the new exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art—“Types and Shadows.” During the next class period, we were able to actually go to the museum and discuss a few of the works in the exhibit.

I had an interesting experience, because I went to the exhibit on my own time the week before, and I formed my first impression about many of the works, but then I was able to go again and hear the perspectives of Rita and my classmates. There were a couple pieces that I completely discounted and disliked the first time I saw the exhibit. However, my second time through, I came away with different insights. I found the whole experience of pondering art very similar to what happens when I ponder the scriptures.

When I went on my own time, I saw Bennion’s painting called “Daily Bread.” It depicts a middle-aged looking woman wearing an apron and cradling bread in it. She looks very ordinary. She stands in stark contrast to the religious figures of the works surrounding her in the exhibit. At first, I hated the picture. I saw it, saw how illogical it seemed within the religious mindset I had come to the exhibit with, and I moved on without trying to interpret its meaning.

The second time I saw it, however, I knew it was in this exhibit for a reason, so I forced myself to draw out its religious meaning. To me, her apron is the most prominent feature of the painting. The apron can mean a lot of things; it can represent holy garments, earthly roles and purposes, caretaker duties, and more. The message I saw most clearly was that this woman, whoever she is, has a role, a purpose. I can see that she has responsibility for something—perhaps a family. The loaf of bread can communicate many messages as well. Perhaps this woman is a provider. She is the one responsible for feeding her children, her neighbors, her fellow man. But then, the bread could also cast the woman in a creator role. Like Eve, she could be a creator of children—a woman with stewardship over God’s people.

After coming to these realizations, and understanding the spiritual implications of the painting, the aspect of the painting that most perplexed me was the woman’s expression. It is not a happy one. She looks tired, weary, almost apathetic. She looks as if she’s put her best effort into that bread, but now she wants me to take it, and she never wants to think about that loaf of bread again. If I was right and this woman had such important provider and creator duties in her earthly life, why would the painter portray her with this kind of attitude? What sort of spiritual message does that teach us? My immediate thought was—aren’t we to do all things cheerfully? Aren’t we to have joy as we serve our Father in Heaven and accomplish our purposes on earth? But my next thought was that I don’t always do what I need to do with a smile on my face and a heart full of love and gratitude. Sometimes I grow weary. Sometimes I do things because yes, I have faith that in the end I will be rewarded, but in the moment I’m doing it, I’m just tired.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who's Worthy of a Brownie and a Pixie Stick?

In the Doctrine and Covenants we are able to read the Lord’s commands to the saints to move to Ohio. As we’ve gone through the several revelations and the historical context in class, the similarities between the Exodus in the Old Testament and the “exodus” of the LDS saints have become apparent.

New York—the “land of enemies”—represented Egypt for the Israelites. The latter-day saints were asked to leave New York and travel in the “wilderness,” eventually ending up in Ohio for a time. In Ohio, the saints received the “Law”—Section 42. Similarly, the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and Moses received the law at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19 & 20). Both of these movements of people eventually migrated to the land God designated for them—their own “promised land,” which was the Salt Lake valley for the latter-day saints.

Both of these journeys are a broader, spiritual metaphor of the journey we take through the plan of salvation. As a fallen race, we are vulnerable to the temptations and influence of Satan. We are among enemies—people and influences that want to thwart our progress towards the “promised land.” God commands us to leave these enemies behind, to perform a personal exodus from such situations and influences. The journeys through the wilderness are not unlike our mortal life on earth. We are to be tried and tested, guided and challenged, shaped and formed. However, we aren’t expected to do it all on our own mortal wisdom and guidelines. God has given us a “law.” The gospel and the scriptures are our guiding forces through this life on earth. If we abide by the commandments contained in them, God promises us the reward of a “promised land”—this can mean happiness, spiritual confidence in the sight of God, or other blessings that come from obeying the commandments. Finally, if we follow the right path, receive the law, try our best, and use the Atonement to make up for our failures, we are promised a great reward—a “promised land.” In other words, we will reap the blessings of the Celestial Kingdom and eternal life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inside Out > Outside In

Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants is designated “The Law,” and is a composite revelation that reveals many doctrines and organizational direction from the Lord. The Lord begins the section with “Hearken,” and proceeds to counsel the church on many matters. The first “law” (4-9) concerns missionary work, saying that we should “go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name.” The next issue is how we should go about gospel teaching (11-17). In this section of the revelation, the Lord instructs that we “teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel.” In the next few verses (18-29), the Lord lays out the “law” of ethics and values, addressing the commandments not to lie, steal, kill, commit adultery, etc. He ends with the claim “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.” Next, the Lord discusses the Law of Consecration (30-38), ending with the core principle of this concept, “For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.” In verses 40-42, the Lord discusses a law concerning cleanliness and labor, touching on modesty, plainness, pride, and idleness. Next is the law of sickness and death (43-52) where the Lord talks about the powers of the Priesthood in healing and the glory of the resurrection after death. In 56-61, we learn the law of scripture and our duty to proclaim the word of God to all the ends of the earth. I love verse 61, which tells us, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” The Lord even states that the scriptures, as a whole, should “be my law to govern my church.” In verses 79-87, we get the law concerning the laws of the land. Essentially, we are a church that obeys the laws of the land, and if there be any issues or discipline in the church, it must be dealt with by at least two witnesses. Lastly, the Lord speaks of the law of offense (88-93). The Lord counsels that if offense is given, we must as a church, deal very carefully with the people involved. These things should not be publicized and the person in error should be given chance to repent and confess.

I felt as if this section revealed a lot about the nature of our God and His son, and the way in which they want their kingdom to be conducted. I felt there was great emphasis on order and appropriateness, all complemented by a dose of mercy, understanding, and compassion. Things must be done in a just and upright way, but they must always be done in the context of the Atonement and the pure love of Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Piece of the Puzzle is the Best

Provo, Utah has something called the Crandall Printing Museum. I was able to take a tour through it last semester, and it was so interesting, I went through the 2-hour long tour and then stayed a long time after to talk to the staff. The museum has three main exhibits—three printing offices, each holding one of the following: the Gutenberg Press (a replica of the same press used to print the first Bible), the Benjamin Franklin Press (also known as the “free press”), and the Ramage Press (the first press used to print the Deseret News in Salt Lake Valley).

The entire experience was quite impressive, educational, and personally spiritual. The tour guides went through and explained the entire process of printing a page of text. The fact that Gutenberg spent the time to figure out this method of casting each and every letter, setting each letter in the correct order, and experimenting to find the right ink to print this text, is an enormous feat. His work had great repercussions throughout history and impacted the course of many religious lines. The change his work wrought on the accessibility of the Bible to the common man is something to be celebrated every time I pick up one of the many Bibles laying around my house, and any other book I use to further my education and awareness. This increase in the distribution of the Bible, and this expansion in the demographic who was able to access it led to much religious discussion, debate, and reformation. People could now see the doctrine for what it was, and interpret it using their own intellect and life experience.

As a side note, one of my favorite features about Bibles from this time period, which was also exhibited at the museum, is the decorative art that the monks added in by hand once the text was printed. I can’t get enough of the hand-painted art in old Bibles. I find it touching that these men spent such a great deal of time making the holy texts as beautiful as they could.

The scriptures are a great blessing that our Heavenly Father gave us through the work of many inspired and divinely motivated men. Gutenberg and others spent hours upon hours setting text to print the holy words; the monks of the time spent hours upon hours hand-painting a single page of the Bible to make the text as beautiful as it is holy. I often don’t take the time to pour over a passage of scripture as these men did. I left the museum shocked at the amount of time and effort that had to be put into reproducing the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith brought it forth during the restoration. I realized how blessed I am to have these inspired, hope-filled words of my Heavenly Father to guide me through the test of life. I left with a newfound resolution to value these texts with a greater devotion to their words than I have before. I know the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God, and I thank all those who came before me and ushered in a time where these words can be read by all of God’s children.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Lover of Seasons and Overcast

Section 37 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the first commandment issued from the Lord concerning a gathering. He commands the saints to gather in Ohio because of the persecution of the enemy, and so they can receive the law (Section 42).

The geographical gathering that occurred throughout church history has had a huge impact on where I am in life today. Many of my Brimhall ancestors were pioneers and participated in this gathering—all the way to Salt Lake City and then to Arizona. All my relatives remain in the western U.S., and if it wasn’t for this command to move early in the church, then my parents wouldn’t have grown up where they did, and I wouldn’t have been raised in the area I was. This situation is similar for many kids in the area I grew up in—Mesa, Arizona. There is an outrageous amount of members in my neighborhood, and I was blessed with in-school seminary and an amazing amount of wards and stakes in such a small distance. The many commands in early church history for the saints to continue moving west has profoundly impacted the path my family has gone down, and the influence of the gospel in my life.

Today the Lord continues to issue a command to “gather.” We are to gather in our wards and stakes, and to lift where we stand. I cannot express how powerful my home ward is. I was taught by Sunday school teachers and Young Women’s leaders that took a great interest in my life and my spiritual needs. I was prepared by an army of leaders who wanted to send our youth into the world, equipped and ready to face the tactics of Satan. There was constant gathering occurring in my ward as I grew up. Ward members were always reaching out to other ward members and neighbors of other faiths. We visited each other, we looked out for each other, we lifted each other in the gospel. It was a ward where the members tried to emulate Christ and give momentum to the Father’s plan through constant love and gospel teaching. I was spoiled as a youth. In my particular circumstances, the gathering impacted my growth in the gospel profoundly. I was surrounded by a strong body of saints who shaped me into who I am today, and despite the cultural disadvantages that can arise, I wouldn’t trade that kind power that comes with a gathering of saints for anything.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Forging An Acceptance Letter To Hogwarts

Doctrine and Covenants, section 25, was a revelation directed to Emma Smith in July of 1830. In my D&C class with Dr. Holzapfel, we literally dissected this revelation verse by verse and it opened my eyes to the several profound, underlying messages that the Lord conveys while speaking to Emma. This section has incredible historical, organizational, and doctrinal significance for the church.

During the 19th century, the role of women was quite limited, and her duties and responsibilities were confined to the home and the family. In this revelation, the Lord shatters this 19th century mold and calls Emma to duties that are traditionally masculine. He sets her up on the same level as Oliver Cowdery when he calls her to “be unto [Joseph] a scribe, while there is no one to be a scribe for him…”. She is also called to be “ordained under [Joseph’s] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church,” and is told “thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much….verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” Traditionally a woman would not have time to participate in such affairs, for her time would be dedicated to running the home and raising the family. But the Lord issues a call to Emma, loud and clear, that he wants her to do more. He wants her to be a significant participant in the restoration of the gospel. We see Emma follow the Lord’s will as she puts together the hymn book and is called to set up the church’s Relief Society in March of 1842.

One of my favorite insights in this revelation is the guidance the Lord gives concerning the nature of husband-wife relationships. This portion of the revelation still stands in the church today as an organizational principle regarding the make-up of the family. One of Emma’s most important callings is to “be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.” As I pondered this particular call, I discovered a newfound respect for Emma and the magnitude of her role in the restoration. Joseph’s journey was new and difficult and draining. Emma was the one called to follow him on that same journey and then still have the spiritual strength to give comfort, to soothe, to motivate. On the flipside, the Lord counsels Emma “thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church….” Thus, we see the partnership characteristic that is necessary in a husband-wife relationship. Emma has duties to fulfill as well, and so Joseph has the responsibility to sustain her. Celestial couples are synergistic couples.

One of the main messages from this revelation that we discussed in class was that we are actors in our lives. We choose; we have been blessed with the powerful gift of agency. The Lord addresses Emma in verse 2, saying, “if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life, and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion.” Dr. Holzapfel emphasized the word “if.” This word indicates that Emma is the actor in her life. She is not being acted upon. She chooses whether she will believe and support Joseph without seeing everything he sees. She chooses whether she will “delight in [her] husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.” She chooses whether she will “continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride.” She chose her life’s course, and so can I.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Dub Thee an Apostle in Shining Armor

Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants has been the most copied section of all the revelations, which reflects its great significance in the church and its history. The section, itself, is referred to as the “church articles and covenants,” and was given through Joseph Smith in Fayette in April 1830. Joseph Smith wrote of this revelation: “We obtained of him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once more here upon the earth.”

The section gives a short history of the church/restoration, as well as all the stipulations regarding the organization and governance of the church, from the order of the priesthood to the sacramental prayers. The revelation is so comprehensive that one would be able to replicate the church in any place with this document. The first segment is a historical overview, followed by a description of the articles of faith and doctrine of the church, and then a ‘handbook’ of instruction regarding the order and rituals of the church. The responsibilities of each level of priesthood are given. The conditions of baptism are given. The complete baptismal and sacramental prayers are written out, and the methods regarding voting in the church and giving baby blessings are delineated, along with much more.

Thus, in section 42—called “The Law”—it’s easy to see why the Lord includes section 20 in his “Law of Gospel Teaching.” D&C 42: 12-13 states, “And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel. And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be directed by the Spirit.” Missionaries in that day were required to take with them the Bible and Book of Mormon, and a copy of this 20th revelation in order to convey a full sense of the gospel and the Lord’s church in this day. What a statement—to put this section next to the greatest two works of the Lord. That is truly a testimony of its immense significance in the eyes of the Lord and in the lives of church members.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Championing a Game of Musical Chairs

“Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men” (D&C 4:1).

Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants was a revelation given through Joseph Smith to his father in February of 1829. When we look at the events that unfold immediately after this revelation, we get a sense of the magnificence of this “marvelous work” the Lord prophesied would come forth. On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist confers the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Later that month, Peter, James, and John confer the Melchizedek Priesthood on these two men near the Susquehanna River. In June of 1829, the translation of the Book of Mormon is completed and the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses are shown the gold plates. On March 26, 1830 the first printed copies of the Book of Mormon are available. On April 6, 1830 the Church is organized in Fayette Township, New York. In the following months and years, the first missionaries are called to preach to the Lamanites, the site for the city of Zion is revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Presidency of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are organized, the Doctrine and Covenants are published, temples are built, overseas missions are served, temple ordinances are revealed and instituted, and the “marvelous work”—in its broad sense—skyrockets.

Truly, when the Lord proclaimed, “the field is white already to harvest,” that was not just beautiful prose. The world, the saints, and the Lord were primed, and the work unfolded so quickly and surely. Of course, the persecution was great, but nevertheless, the work never ceased to unfold, no matter the obstacles.

In a more narrow sense, when the Lord mentions “a marvelous work,” it refers to the Book of Mormon. In a little over a year after this revelation, the Book of Mormon—the account of the Lord’s people in the Americas, and another testament of the divinity of Jesus Christ—is published. It is the book that ushers in the restoration of the gospel, and brings it to God’s children in its fullness. I can only imagine the excitement stirring in the heavens when these records were finally to be released to the world. As I read Section 4, I feel an attitude of optimism and all-encompassing love, and I can’t help but think that God is on the ‘edge of his seat’ as he gives this revelation to Joseph Smith and his father.

I have an immense love of the Book of Mormon and the doctrines contained within. As I’ve read the account of Jesus’ ministry in the Americas, and the principles taught by God’s Book of Mormon prophets, and applied what I’ve learned to my life, I have changed. It is a wonderful gospel. And how blessed we are in this dispensation to have it in it’s entirety. May the “marvelous work” continue to go forth.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Care Bears Trump the Boogeyman

I am taking a religion class from Dr. Holzapfel again, but this time the focus is on the Doctrine and Covenants. I’m excited to go through this class, because I feel like this canon of scriptures and church history in general are topics I’m not as familiar with. I have a tendency towards ancient things, but I realize that the modern revelation received in the early 1800’s by our beloved prophet, Joseph Smith, are the Lord’s words as well. And they have incredible power.

Recently, as we discussed the revelation Joseph received after losing the 116 manuscript pages, a couple verses in the third section of D&C stood out to me. “For behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble” (3:7-8)

The concept that made the greatest impression on me was that I should not fear man more than God. I should not succumb to the influences of the world and discount the counsels and commandments of my Holy Father in Heaven. I should not fear social discomfort more than reaching out to a child of God who may feel left out or disregarded. I should not seek prestige or academic recognition more than a rich, valuable education. I should not fear man more than God.

These verses remind me of the quote that has guided me through my high school years as well as my college career thus far. It’s had an immense impact on my life and several important decisions I’ve had to make. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat” (“Citizenship in a Republic”).

While Joseph during this time slipped up and allowed the influences of the world and worldly perspectives inhibit the progress of the coming forth of the gospel, I must not let the world and its persuasions inhibit my spiritual progress. I cannot allow myself to fear temporal consequences. My perspective must always be directed at the eternal goal and destination—to dwell with my Father and my Savior in Heaven once again. No matter how convincing man can be, I must not step to the side or make exceptions. But if I do, just as every man and prophet will make a mistake, the Lord leaves Joseph and the world with this assurance: “But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work…” (3:10).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hiding Eggs and Blowing Bubbles

This Easter I tried to reflect on what Christ's life, death, and resurrection truly mean to me. I went to the temple on Monday and afterwards I started thinking about a time in my life when I was pretty down. It then hit me what the big deal about Easter was. Christ gave us the indescribable gift of the Atonement. But it wasn't an easy gift to give. He suffered in the garden and on the cross to give us that gift, and he did it alone. When he was on the cross, he cried "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He knew that everyone else would forsake him, but even God, his father, did. He, the most perfect man to walk the earth, had to go through the most difficult trial, and he had no Heavenly Father, no Holy Spirit to comfort him. Truly, it was what had to be done, but truly, it was a representation of the greatest love known to mankind. I then realized that Christ suffered alone, so that I would never have to. I am never alone. When I face a trial, I always have God, Christ, and the Spirit with me. That's what his life means to me. That is why he died. What a sacrifice! What a glorious kind of love. And to think that he was resurrected, and he lives, and one day I'll be able to meet the person who loves me so much he would suffer and die for me. I'll never be able to thank him enough. I've always wished that I knew how to love like he does, so that I could reciprocate it. But I don't believe I have the capacity just yet. I suppose all I can do is try my best to show him the love and gratitude that I do have, and to spread his love and the knowledge of his divinity to the rest of God's children.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Dangerous Illusion

We're seeing terrible things in the news lately regarding the Middle East, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan. This weekend I was researching things a bit more in depth, because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just signed a law that "forces women to obey their husbands' sexual demands, keeps women from leaving the house--even for work or school--without a husband's permission, automatically grants child custody rights to fathers and grandfathers before mothers, and favors men in inheritance disputes and other legal matters." In Pakistan, in the Swat Valley, the Taliban has instituted Sharia law in some regions, burned down over 200 girls schools, and since January 15th, banned girls from getting an education. Al Qaeda is wreaking havoc in Swat Valley and Afghanistan. We all know that extreme Islamic militancy has had a negative impact on our world for quite some time.

I hesitated, however, to be someone who comes out and condemns everything the Taliban is doing and calls for the U.S. to drop as many bombs as possible to flush them out. I hesitated to counter their ideology with my own ideology, and tell them that the beliefs they are willing to die for are just down right stupid and incredibly wrong. They believe that they are guided by a divine command. This frustrated me, because according to my beliefs, their actions are incredibly and disgustingly evil.

I was furious this weekend. I once got down on my knees to say my evening prayers and asked Heavenly Father to soften the hearts of these men who were taking away the rights of their women. I begged to know why people would do such things. I wished I could understand how they could be so desensitized to the light of Christ. After reading several news articles and watching this documentary:, I became so frustrated with the entire situation that I grabbed my scriptures and read the next chapter in John. I happened to start with John 16:1-3--"These things I have spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me."

They believe that they do it in the service of God. But they do not truly know the Father, and they do not truly know Christ. I thank God for a true prophet today that leads and guides the church according to God's will, and not according to an illusion of God's will.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

His Stroller Was His Safe Haven

This weekend I volunteered at Friday Kids Respite again. This time, however, I got a little boy named Charlie. I read his binder and it turns out Charlie is autistic and has epilepsy, and after playing with him for a little while, I learned that he also has an incredibly short attention span. The moment his dad put him down, Charlie started running. He probably went from inside to the backyard to inside again about eight times within the first half hour.

About an hour into playing, however, Charlie had a seizure. His head suddenly jerked down in between his knees, his body tensed up, and his eyes rapidly flickered back and forth. The seizure only lasted about 25 seconds, but during that time, as I watched the nurse take care of him, I remember myself asking God, "Why did you give this beautiful little boy such a terrible disease?" Charlie didn't play for the rest of the night. The seizure had completely wiped him out. I have to say, I was confused why such things happen, why God afflicts innocent people with such ugly trials. Later, however, Charlie's mom came to pick him up, and it made me remember why. I could see that his mom loved him very, very much, and it reminded me of my own family, and the experiences we've had with my sister who is deaf. My sister has had to overcome some significant challenges recently due to her hearing loss, and I realized what a role her own trial has played in the lives of others, and in bringing my family together. We pray together for her, we fast together for her, and her life's trials have humbled our family like nothing else could. I truly believe my relationships with my family members would be radically different if not for the trials my sister faces, and the challenges they pose for the rest of us. I am truly thankful for the way she has touched our family, instilled more love in our hearts, and blessed the lives of anyone she encounters.

In John 11, there is the story of how Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. When Lazarus became sick, "his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby" (3-4). Jesus went on to perform a miracle--bringing Lazarus back from the dead, and strengthening the testimonies of those who were present.

I want to serve as a first-hand witness of the fact that God knows what He's doing when He gives people trials. I have seen how trials have been used "for the glory of God" and Christ. Charlie and my sister have touched my life. And I know that they have touched the lives of many others. They've made me a better person, and they've helped me understand, once again, that the purpose of this life is to grow and progress and return to our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Have 2 Lightsabers Under My Bed

All throughout the scriptures, we find references to light. We read about light in Genesis 1 when God declares that He made the lights in the heavens to "be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years..." (Genesis 1:14). This symbol pervades the Bible, all the way through the last chapter of Revelation, where we learn that during the Second Coming we will "need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light..." (Revelation 22:5). Why is light such a prevalent concept? Why have God and all the prophets emphasized the relationship between light and darkness? Why, in John 8, does Jesus declare, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life"?

To understand, I tried to imagine myself in a room filled with many different objects strewn across the floor. If I flipped the lightswitch off, and tried to cross the room, several things would happen. Because of the darnkess, I would not be able to see. Thus, as I try to cross this floor, I would not be aware of certain obstacles, I would not know where to step next in order make it across smoothly, and I might have to fumble and stumble around a bit to finally get across. Now, if I were to turn the lightswitch on and try again, my journey across the room would drastically change. I have an entirely different perspective now. Through the miracle of light, I can now look around the room and images and shapes will reflect back, allowing me to understand what it is that surrounds me. I can see those obstacles now for what they are, and I can determine how best to overcome them and reach the other side. Another significant difference is that I no longer must guess when I will hit the wall on the other side. Instead, I know where I'm going from the very beginning.

What a beautiful concept. I now better understand the profundity of the statement that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Surely, with his assistance, just as with the assistance of light, things become clearer, obstacles are better understood, the journey is smoother, and the end is in sight. What a simple metaphor, but what a glorious meaning! No man need stumble their way through life, for Christ is a savior to all.

"If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world" (John 11:9).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gushers and a Capri Sun

When Jesus sat with the Samaritan woman at the well, "Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:13-14)

This account reminded me of another story in John 6 where Jesus feeds five thousand people with merely five barley loaves and two small fishes. When Jesus asked for a means to feed the people that followed him, Andrew told him of a young boy who had the five loaves and two fishes, and said "but what are they among so many?" (6:9). This opportunity allowed Jesus to demonstrate, once again, the principle that with God, nothing is impossible. With God and the Atonement of Christ, how could we ever want for more?

The disciples could not have fed those five thousand people without the divine help of Christ, just as I can not go through life without His divine assistance. I can bear solid witness of the fact that Christ is my foundation, my support, and my advocate. I can remember specific time periods in my life when I've neglected to recognize His hand in my life, and His role in my salvation. I've noticed that during these times, I always seem to be wanting. I think the two metaphors of thirst and hunger that Jesus presents are a profound portrayal of the feeling I get when I fail to rely on Christ. When my first priority is my relationship with God and Christ, and I put forth sincere effort to strengthen that relationship, I can testify that all other aspects of my life fall into place.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Apples and Oranges

In Luke 15, Jesus gives the parable of the prodigal son. I find this parable quite interesting--I don't think you could stop drawing new insights from it no matter how many times you read it. In my New Testament class, we discussed how today we've given names to all the parables Jesus presents in the scriptures. Sometimes doing this causes us to limit the moral lessons we extract from each parable, since we've titled it according to the most popular main point. I think this is definitely the case for this particular parable. It's title brings our focus to the one son--the extravagant, wasteful, prodigal son.

I think we learn a whole lot from the prodigal son. He takes his inheritance, wastes it away in "riotous living," and ends up starving due to a famine, and stooping to work feeding swine. Because of his mistakes, he is brought very, very low. He learns from it, he humbles himself, and he returns to his father in supplication to be merely his servant. This is a story we hear very often. Someone sins, this leads them to failure, they are humbled, and they repent. We know how this goes. I'm sure most people know what it's like to take the hard way and learn the hard way.

However, I believe we can learn a lot, if not more, from the elder son. When the younger son returns and the father welcomes him home with open arms, a feast, music, and dancing, the elder son faces a mountain of trials as well. Can you imagine the feelings of resentment, jealousy, and anger he must have felt? He had served his father for many years, and never had he broken any commandment. He had not chosen to take the hard way and learn the hard way. Why should his brother deserve a feast and not he?

These are different kinds of trials Jesus presents to us. There is the situation of the younger brother, who openly breaks a commandment and must repent. There is the situation of the elder brother, who must overcome intense negative emotions and attempt to receive his brother as Christ would receive him. One might think that starving and feeding swine would be the harder trial. However, I think my life more parallels the path of the elder son, and to be honest, overcoming the urge to judge your fellow man, write them off with contempt and self-righteousness, and condemn them to a punishment you believe they deserve, is quite spiritually draining. Jesus knows that. That is why he tells this parable. He realizes that there will be those who follow the prodigal son in breaking God's commandments and having to come back from it. However, he also knows that there will be those who will face the struggle of not succumbing to the natural man, and instead taking the higher road to follow Christ.

These trials are like apples and oranges. They're very different. However, each of them are difficult, and each of them are given for the same purpose--to teach us and help us come unto Christ.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:25-29).

When the lawyer posed this question, Jesus responded with a parable. He told of a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, but was severely wounded and robbed by thieves on his way. They "stripped him," wounded him," and "departed, leaving him half dead." It just so happened, however, that a priest and a Levite passed by that very place--they could help him. But, for some reason, they didn't. Instead, they "passed by on the other side." Later, another man passed by that place as well--a Samaritan. The Samaritan came to where the man was, "had compassion on him," "bound up his wounds," "set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." On the next day, when he had to leave, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper two pence and "said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."

Why did the first two men pass on the other side? Why didn't they stop to help? Surely, if we were to see a man suffering so, we would not ignore him; we would not put our own obligations above the chance to help. I can look back at times in my life when I've seen people begging on the street, and I tried to offer what help I could, and to be honest, I think I can say that yes, I would stop to help that dying man. However, what about those people who aren't "half dead" on the side of the road? What about those people whose afflictions you can't even see?

I can tell you that I am guilty of passing by on the other side every single day. I'm extremely guilty of the tendency to set my own schedule, map out my own obligations, and follow through with them, so that I can accomplish what I need to in my own life. Unfortunately, as I've gotten busier and busier this semester, I've stopped praying for God to give me opportunities to help, and I've stopped actively seeking out those who are struggling. Maybe those two men had a meeting to get to, or a paper to write before midnight. I don't know. All I know is that when I read this parable tonight, I was appalled at their behavior. I could not believe their open neglect towards their fellow man. But then the Spirit whispered to me that I was guilty of the very same offense.

God needs us to be tools in helping His children. For all I know, I could be sitting at a table for lunch, and God has put me next to a person who severely needs someone to talk to. But because my perspective is zeroed in on my needs and my worries, I could potentially be passing by many suffering people who need the assistance of a Good Samaritan.

"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:36-37).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

No More Ragdolls

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27).

The angel told her that she was to bear a son. When we consider the circumstances, we realize that to accept this call was a profound act of faith and testimony on Mary's part. She had not known a man before this. When the spirit was to cause her to be pregnant, no one else experienced the visitation that she did, and no one else had the proof from God that this pregnancy was divine, and not a result of immorality. She consciously accepted the impending shame and doubt from her friends, family, and Joseph. But, instead of backing away, or asking the Lord to find a different way, "Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).

Mary is a hero of mine. Despite the fact that she's estimated to be only 11-13 years of age when this happens, she takes the challenge of the Lord and does it with a bold heart. No wonder the angel Gabriel calls her "highly favoured," and "blessed...among women." She, and her son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate examples of aligning your will with God's will. To us, who rely on logic and whatever we can conclude based on our current, limited perspective, believing that God's ways are the right ways is often a big leap of faith. God's way sometimes seems like downright nonsense. But we must remember that He is our Father. He knows best. And we will be blessed, and "highly favoured" if we follow him with an unfailing heart and steadfast faith.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

"And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:35-36).

In that time period, people did not address God as Father. Rather, titles such as Master of the Universe and King of the Cosmos were used. But here we see that Jesus comes before God Almighty and addresses him with the Hebrew and Aramaic title of Abba, Father. Jesus was born through the Virgin Mary and God Almighty by immaculate conception. He is the Son--the true Son of God. Thus, he rightly addresses the Ruler of the Universe as "Father." He falls down on the ground, prostrating himself, assuming the position of ultimate submission in Jewish prayer. Truly he is humbled, and "exceedingly sorrowful unto death" (14:34). He seeks comfort from his father, and reassurance that this is the right time and the right way.

In Galatians 4:4-6, it says "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father."

Christ is not only our Redeemer and Savior, but he is also the mediator through which we are brought unto God. Because of his sacrifice, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God, and thus, we may now rightfully address our almighty god as "Father." So, what does that mean? Why does it matter?

What it means is that now when I fall down on the ground, when I am "exceedingly sorrowful" and humbled by hardship, I too can turn to a divine Father in Heaven. When I seek comfort, when I seek reassurance, when I need to know whether it is the right time or the right way, I too can cry "Abba, Father."

Maybe for others that change in address isn't all that significant. But for me, during those times in my life when I've fallen to my knees in pure desperation, being able to access not only divine assistance, but fatherly assistance is something pretty darn significant. Because I am His daughter, He knows me by name. He knows my joys and my heartaches, my dreams and my deepest insecurities. Because He is my Father, He knows what is best for me.

And so, Abba, Father, you know what is best: not what I will, but what thou wilt.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


In chapter 14, Mark tells the story of the woman who breaks "an alabaster box of ointment," "very precious," and pours it on Jesus' head. Right away, there are some who have "indignation within themselves," and say "Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor." Jesus then tells them to leave her alone, "For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always."

On Friday after class, I sat down and read this passage. I had just finished an extremely busy week, and I wanted to just sit still and think for a while. The majority of my studies this week have been focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the tragic state of Gaza and the obstacles in providing humanitarian aid, and the desperate condition of the "failed state" of Haiti. I'm trying to learn about these things. I'm trying to figure out how I can help. For the majority of this semester I've made a conscious effort to be uplifting to everyone I encounter, I've tried to live righteously and in a way that God would want me to, I've tried to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. But, as I read Mark 14, I wondered if the many things I'm filling my life with were detracting from something higher, something better. This woman came to Jesus, broke this box of ointment, and poured the whole of its contents on his head. She gave him her all. Whether she knew it or not, she anointed him for his impending burial. When I read this woman's story, I felt as though I don't have enough moments in my life where I completely surrender my mind and heart to the spirit. I thought of an Orthodox Jewish community--a community where your life centers around prayer, praise, and fervent study of God's words. I wish my life more resembled theirs. I suppose I do praise God often in the sense that I try to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, I try to help my fellow man, I try to help God's children. But, is that the best way? Would I feel closer to God if my life centered around meditation and prayer? If I spent the entirety of my time reading scriptures and pondering?

In my New Testament class, we discussed the response of the other people to the woman's anointing. Surely they didn't have any evil intents in suggesting that she should have rather given the benefits of the ointment to the poor. However, we discussed that it is a tactic of Satan to distort things into either/or decisions, when instead, this story is raising the question of priority. In this gospel, you do what's right at the right time. I think I would feel that burning in my bosom more often if all my time were spent in praise and prayer and meditation, but to be honest, I don't think I would understand Christ and God as much if I lived a passive life of praise. Because of my efforts to be an active disciple, I've met people who have taught me to love, to worry, to agonize over their welfare and salvation. I've learned, on a small scale, what Christ experienced and how he feels about me.

They must be concurrent efforts. You must be actively engaged in a good cause. But, you must also take those moments to stop, sit quietly, and open your heart to the spirit, pour all your gratitude on the head of the Savior. There's a time for all things. There's a balance to all things.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jumbo-sized Legos

This past Friday night, I was able to volunteer with some friends at something called Friday Kids Respite. This program is for parents who have kids with severe disabilities. Every other Friday, the parents can bring their children to this center where volunteers play with them for 3-4 hours, and the parents can have a night for themselves.

To be honest, I can’t wait to go back—not only because they had an impressive selection of toys (My personal favorite: jumbo-sized Legos), but also because the kids at that center truly touched my life. I mean, they’re kids, they’re cute, they jump all over you, they’re easily coerced into building a masterpiece of infrastructure out of jumbo-sized Legos with you, so you can mask your juvenile tendencies. They made me happy, that’s for sure. But as I put my experience with them in the context of my life, my beliefs, and what I’ve learned in studying the New Testament this semester, I arrived at a deeper understanding of a certain doctrine Christ teaches in Mark.

In Mark 10, a discussion among the disciples arises about what it means, in the eyes of God, to be considered truly “great”. Christ then teaches them in verse 43-45, “whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For EVEN the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Even I, a person blessed with good health, the ability to get an education, the ability to learn and achieve whatever I want, was not sent here to be ministered unto. I was sent here with a fully capable mind and body so that I could minister to those who are in need. My blessings don’t belong to me, they came from God. My blessings aren’t for me, they’re for those who are lacking.

I also better understand another doctrine Christ taught: “many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (Mark 10:31). Those children at Friday Kids Respite, who may be considered the last in society, they are the ones who will come first. They are the ones who love immediately, who brighten your life despite their suffering, who teach you humility, and are the ultimate examples of faith. They are the ones who are truly great.