Sunday, December 27, 2009

Old Testament Lesson #1 "This Is My Work and My Glory"

(Moses 1)

OVERVIEW OF MOSES 1

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly..."  (Article of Faith 8)


"To say that the Bible is the word of God does not make its meaning any clearer or solve any of its problems; it simply guarantees that the meaning is worth every effort to find and that every problem is supremely worth solving"  (Alex Motyer, The Story of the Old Testament, p. 21).

One of these "problems" is authorship of Genesis.  Many Bible scholars are divided on how we got this book.  Did Moses write it?  Did he compile it?  Was it just a bunch of oral traditions written down?  Was it a collection of pagan myths transfered to Christian beliefs? 

The reason for the question is that the first chapter of Genesis, which explains the authorship, is missing from the Bible.  This problem was solved in June of 1830 when the Lord gave that chapter back to us as Joseph Smith began work on his Bible translation.  It now can be found in the Pearl of Great Price as Moses chapter 1. 

But why would it have been missing in the first place?  Moses 1:23 gives us the answer:  "And now of this thing Moses bore record; but because of wickedness it is not had among the children of men."  The devil had chapter one removed from the Bible.

Why?

Why did people go to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?  It's a no-brainer: because they knew nothing about the enemy.  There has continued to be difficulty in fighting the attackers because of a lack of knowledge of their tactics, or of even of where they are.

Satan wanted the first chapter of the Bible removed because it is the book of instructions for fighting him and winning.

Moses 1 teaches us the Battle Plan:
1) Who our Leader is and what his characteristics are
2) What the battle objective is
3) Who we are and how we fit in
4) Who the Enemy is, and what his main tactic is
5) That he is less powerful than God
6) How he can be defeated
7) How extensive the Lord's commitment is, and how great His help will be

The Book of Moses is an amazing tool to help us overcome any of the snares of the devil.  One specific battle tactic the devil is increasingly employing today is pornography.  The following notes are from a talk I was asked to give to the Young Women of our ward to help them avoid Internet pornography.  Moses 1 is one of the greatest scriptural tools for combating this great evil. 

MOSES 1 TEACHES US HOW TO DEAL WITH PORNOGRAPHY

v. 6  "I have a work for thee, Moses, my son."  Heavenly Father has a great work for you and the devil knows it.  He'd love to derail it, just as he wishes to stop Moses from being worthy for his great calling.

v. 12  "But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me."  Moses was still standing on holy ground, where he had had such a wonderful vision, when the devil came looking for him.  Moses did not go into a sleazy bar, or to a drug party, or to any questionable place at all.  The same thing happened to Joseph Smith, didn't it, in the Sacred Grove?  Now listen carefully:  There are some people that Satan knows will never go out and get in trouble, so he tries to bring trouble to them.  You, just like Moses, may be standing in a holy place (your own home, where you read your scriptures, where you say your prayers) minding your own business.  You may be on the Internet looking up scriptures for all I know, and suddenly there it is on your screen, as Moses said:  "the bitterness of hell" (v. 20). When this happens to you (not "if"), you need to know what to do. Moses is an excellent example of a person who beat the devil.  So let's see what he did.

v. 12 Heavenly Father called Moses his son, a son of God.  What did the devil call him?  "Son of man."  The devil would say, "You're only human...It's only natural to be curious."  But we know the natural man is an enemy to God.  We are to rise above that to our true potential.

v. 13 "And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten."  So your response would be like Moses':  "I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father who loves me and I love him" (from the Young Women Theme).

v. 13-15 "Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?  Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God."  Moses had never met the devil, I don't believe, but he confidently said, "I can judge between thee and God."  In other words, "I can plainly see that you are not someone worthy of worship."  A former bishop told me that every person who has come into his office to seek help because they were over their head in sin has said, "I knew it was wrong when I started, but..."  Every person has the Light of Christ, or what we call a conscience--even people who know nothing about Christ.  Moses did.  You do.  Even if you had never, ever heard of pornography, as soon as you saw it, you would know immediately that it was wrong.  When you encounter something that you instantly feel is wrong, just get out.

v. 15 "God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve."  This leads straight to another point that you need to know: You cannot live a dual life.  You may think that you can view a little pornography once in a while, and still go to church and do everything else right and that it will be okay.  But it will not work.  The Spirit will leave you.  You may still be doing all the right things, and on the outside you may appear okay, but on the inside you will be rotting spiritually, gradually destroying yourself.

v. 16  "Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten."  Moses said God told him he was made to be like Jesus Christ.  You were, too.  You can say to the devil, "I have taken upon me the name of Christ, and I will not be sidetracked from my goal of becoming like Him."  This is maintaining a holiness inside and out.  Only then can you truly be like Christ and experience the great joy that comes with living a Christian life.

v. 18 Moses said, "I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him."  You also will need answers to prayers to guide you throughout the rest of your life.  To receive those answers, you need to have the Spirit.  At times, you will need it desperately.  Imagine all the difficult decisions in the future.  Imagine all the trials you may encounter.  Don't you think you are going to want to call on God for His help?  Don't you think you are going to want Priesthood blessings, inspiration in how to solve problems, the comfort of the Holy Spirit to bless and calm you?  No matter whether any other ill effects ever should come of viewing pornography, the loss of the Spirit would be so disastrous to your entire life that that reason alone should make you want to stay as far away from it as possible.  Elder Wirthlin says that an ounce of pornography takes away a pound of spirituality (New Era, May 1988).

v. 19   "And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me." The devil will try the same tactic with you that he tried with Moses.  After Moses made it clear that Jesus Christ was the most important thing in his life, he said, "I am the Only Begotten, worship me."  He will try to find out what is important to you, and then he'll say,, "So you want eternal happiness?  Well, that's me!  That's what I'm all about!  These physical thrills are what happiness is all about!"  Or "So you want love?  Well, I can give you love!  Just watch it, right here on the Internet!"  But remember, this tactic only works for people who know nothing about the gospel, and who ignore the Spirit of Christ within them.  Moses knew very well that the devil was not Christ, because why?  Because he already knew Christ!  If you study the truth, you recognize lies.  If you know the gospel, you will not be fooled.  Make sure you spend enough time studying the gospel at Church and at home.

v. 20-22  "And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.  And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not."  It was very difficult for Moses to get rid of the devil.  He prayed repeatedly and received strength, but it took four tries altogether to force the devil away.  In the end, he had to command the devil to leave in the name of Christ.  The devil's stellar characteristic is tenacity--stubbornness.  He never gives up.  You have to be more tenacious than he is--the scriptures call it being "steadfast and immovable."  You may find, like Moses, that you need Priesthood help if you are embroiled in a fight with the devil.  It may be beyond what you can do, but it is never beyond Christ.  Who is his representative in your ward?  Your bishop.

v. 24-25 "And it came to pass that when Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, that Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and the Son;  And calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God."  When Moses won the battle, he once again was filled with the Spirit "and calling upon God, he beheld his glory again."  And then he was given an even greater vision than the first.  And he was able to carry forth his great work in life, that of freeing the children of Israel from bondage.  You also, will receive greater spirituality as you shun the temptations of the devil, and you will carry forth the great work you are destined for.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Measure of Our Faith




WANTING TO BELIEVE

Just a couple of days before Christmas, as I was driving my two 9-year-olds to Grandma’s, Marisha said, “I’m going to stay up all night Christmas Eve and find out if Santa is really real.” But Ammon said, “Not me. I don’t want to know. I want to believe.”

Elder Michael T. Ringwood, in this past General Conference, said he had been drawn repeatedly over the past several months to a statement in the scriptures, Helaman 6:36: “And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.” This is an amazing scripture. These were the Lamanites, who had been led in the opposite direction for centuries by their fathers.

Elder Ringwood puzzled over the question, “What happened to cause a people full of hatred and disbelief to have an easiness and willingness to believe in the word of God?” 8,000 of them had listened to the voices of Nephi and Lehi as they taught by the Spirit, and had been converted. 300 more were converted through the miracle of hearing a voice as they went forth to harm Nephi and Lehi. And many more were converted through the testimony of those 300. As they were converted, they immediately began living the gospel. They cast down their weapons and habits of war, they studied the word of God, and they obeyed the commandments. They had great faith which enabled them to endure to the end at the peril of their lives (Helaman 15:5-9).

Samuel the Lamanite explained that “because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe…because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity,” speaking not just of this individual group, but also of the entire Lamanite nation (Helaman 15:10).

At the same period of time, the Nephites, who had a heritage of belief and obedience, became “hardened, impenitent, and grossly wicked” (Helaman 6:2) and their civilization was eventually cut off from the face of the earth.

Our lives sometimes go through stages of an easiness to believe, and sometimes a hardness of heart. Elder Ringwood suggests that times of significant change, times of intense service, times of trial, times of learning new principles, and times in our youth and childhood are often times when it is easier to believe. We are commanded to create more of these times in our lives, by becoming as little children, that we may inherit eternal life (3 Nephi 11:38). He says that as we reflect upon these times, we “will find what really brought an easiness and willingness to believe were not the circumstances but the commitment to live the gospel during these periods of life.” He says, “Daily living of the gospel brings a softness of heart needed to have an easiness and willingness to believe the word of God.”

A BELIEVER FROM THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS

We are all very familiar with Martin Harris, the third witness of and financier of the Book of Mormon, who at many times of his life had a difficult time believing. This disbelief led to the loss of the Book of Lehi, and it led to many years of estrangement from the Church. Very few of us are familiar with his older brother, Emer. But we should be!

Because Emer had an easiness and willingness to believe. Hearing of the golden Bible, Emer had walked 25 miles to learn more about it from his brother, Martin. When the book was published, Martin picked up the first bound copy off the press and handed it to Emer.

Emer joined the church early in 1831. He was a scribe for Joseph for a short time. He was called to serve a mission with Simeon Carter (D&C 75:30), but switched companions and served with his brother Martin. They baptized 82 people in one place, 100 at another, and organized a branch of 70 in Pennsylvania.

Emer was a skilled carpenter who built the window sash in the Kirtland Temple. Later, he used the same tools to build the winding stairway in the Nauvoo Temple.

He and his family arrived in Missouri just in time to be thrown out by the extermination order. Among the meager possessions he carried with him at the exodus was a chest in which he had fitted a false bottom for the safe transport of copies of the Book of Mormon. The mob did search his belongings, including the chest, but his preparation saved the books.

Emer was 69 when the Saints moved west, and he moved with them. His patriarchal blessing stated, “Thou has[t] not fainted in times of disease and persecution when every evil thing has [been] spoken against the church of the Living God. Thou hast endured in faith. The Lord is well pleased with thee because of the integrity of thy heart.” After he arrived in Utah, he also became a patriarch and was known as a great healer. He died at the age of 88 and is buried in the Logan Cemetery. (You can see a photo of his headstone here.)

JOHN THE BELOVED

And now, let’s examine a great believer from the Bible, John the Beloved. Have you ever wondered where the name “John the Beloved,” came from? Was he loved more than the other disciples? Did Jesus name him that? No. Jesus gave him the title “Son of Thunder.” In the heading of the Book of Revelation, he is referred to as “St. John the Divine,” meaning one who sees the future. He is often called “John the Revelator” because of his visions.

So who came up with “John the Beloved?” Well, you don’t find that particular title in the Bible, but you find the origin of it: Five times in his gospel, John referred to himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” It was not that Jesus loved him more than others; it was John’s own acceptance, appreciation, and emulation of that love that made him into “John the Beloved.”

His perception of this great love led him to desire to labor in the Lord’s kingdom for the salvation of His children until Christ should come again. He’s already been doing that for 2,000 years.

If we were to follow the example of John, we would be looking for evidences of the Lord’s love in our lives every day, and we would be thinking of ourselves in terms of God’s love for us. If we were to do this, we would lose all need for self-confidence or that elusive mirage, self-esteem. Both would be replaced by faith in God. We would also let go of our need to compare, our need to compete, and our compulsion to view our inadequacies in a depressing light that shuts out the Spirit and prevents us from loving others. Imagine thinking of yourself as “[insert your name here] the Beloved.” It would change your life. As John himself wrote, “We love him, because he first loved us.” If we comprehended how much God loved us, we would then want to love Him, and that would make all the difference in our lives, as it did in John’s.

LOVE IS THE MEASURE OF OUR FAITH

President Uchtdorf recently told us, “God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.” He is echoing the words of Elder Maxwell 13 years before: “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.”

Ultimately, for the Lamanite converts, for Emer Harris, and for John the Beloved, it was the love of God and the love FOR God that created the condition of a softened heart which allowed them to believe and to endure to the point of martyrdom in the case of the Lamanites; to the age of 88 in the case of Emer; and indefinitely in the case of John the Beloved.

President Utchdorf said, “Since ‘God is love,’ the closer we approach Him, the more profoundly we experience love.” He said, “God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.” Can we do that?

I love this quote from Sue Monk Kidd: “That’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life—not just to love, but to persist in love.”

President Uchtdorf stated, “The divine love of God turns ordinary acts into extraordinary service…Love is the guiding light that illuminates the disciple’s path and fills our daily walk with life, meaning, and wonder. Love is the measure of our faith, the inspiration for our obedience, and the true altitude of our discipleship.” That’s why we must “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart [to] be filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48).

We need to become like John the Beloved and see the love of God in our everyday lives, that we may also live the love of God. Let’s follow the counsel of President Utchdorf: “In your daily interactions with others, in the words of a hymn, in the laughter of a child, listen for His voice. If you listen for the voice of the Father, He will lead you on a course that will allow you to experience the pure love of Christ.” And this promise brings our lesson full circle: “As we draw near to Heavenly Father, we become more holy. And as we become more holy, we will overcome disbelief and our souls will be filled with His blessed light.”

LIVE IN THE CHILD’S NATIVITY


(You may want to bring a nativity set and ask a young child to arrange it for you before class as an illustration of the paragraph below.)

As children will always arrange a nativity set with Jesus in the middle and everyone else facing him in a tight circle, we must so live our lives. “Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood” (Elder Uchtdorf). We must put Christ at the center of our circle. (See previous post.)

“My dear brothers and sisters, don’t get discouraged if you stumble at times. Don’t feel downcast or despair if you don’t feel worthy to be a disciple of Christ at all times. The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe.” We must “choose to listen.” We must “try and keep on trying” (Elder Uchtdorf).  We must "educate our desires" (Elder Maxwell).  Ammon said he didn’t want to know about Santa, because he wanted to believe in him. With a testimony of Christ, it is the opposite: We first believe so that we may later know.

“An easiness to believe will come when the word of God is etched into our hearts” (Elder Ringwood). In our homes and families, we need to create an environment and live traditions that "educate our desires," and make it easy for us and our children to believe.


(Sources: Michael T. Ringwood, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2009; Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants; Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees; Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1996)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Christmas Messages

THE STAR
By Ruth Dinkins Rowan

The day of the Christmas presentation finally arrived. My young daughter, Jana, was so excited about her part that I supposed she was to be one of the main characters, though she had not told me what she was to do. The parents were all there and one by one the children took their places. I could see the shepherds fidgeting in the corner of the stage meant to represent the fields for the sheep. Mary and Joseph stood solemnly behind the manger. In the back, three young wise men waited impatiently. But still Jana sat quietly and confidently.

Then the teacher began: “A long time ago, Mary…had a baby and…named Him Jesus,” she said. “And when Jesus was born, a bright star appeared over the stable.”

At that cue, Jana got up from her chair, picked up a large tinfoil star, walked behind Mary and Joseph and held the star up high for everyone to see.

When the teacher told about the shepherds coming to see the baby, the three young shepherds came forward and Jana jiggled the star up and down excitedly to show them where to come. When the wise men responded to their cue, she went forward a little to meet them and to lead the way, her face as alight as the real star might have been.

The playlet ended. We had refreshments. On the way home Jana said, with great satisfaction, “I had the main part.”

“You did?” I questioned, wondering why she thought that.

“Yes,” she said, “’cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus.”

How true! To show others how to find Jesus, to be the light for their paths, that is the finest role we can play in life.

THE CHILD'S NATIVITY

By Nancy Jensen

Have you ever watched a small child arrange the Christmas nativity set? If so, you know how children universally do it: Baby Jesus in the center, and all of the people and animals in a tight circle looking at him. Children understand that all the figures are there to look at Jesus, not to be seen of themselves.





The point of Christmas is the birth of Christ, the Wonderful Gift. Do our fun and exciting holiday traditions act as the child’s nativity figures, all directed at Baby Jesus? Or do they try to stand alone, as if they are there to be enjoyed of themselves?

Since school, community, and television programs usually will not focus on Christ, in our homes we must be sure to counterbalance their non-religious, we-don’t-want-to-offend-anybody programs. We need to be sure our families understand that our Christmas traditions are symbols of our relationship with Christ. We must be sure the shopping and partying and interior decorating contribute to our spiritual closeness to the Savior, rather than overshadow it. In our homes at Christmas, we need to be standing in that tight circle around the manger, gazing in wonder at the Baby Jesus.


(Nativity set arranged by Jacob Cutler, age 11.  When his mom, my friend Ann Marie Cutler, saw it, she took a photo and sent it to me to illustrate this blog.  Perfect, huh?  Thanks, Ann!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Addition to D&C Lesson #39 The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

Be sure to check out the December 2009 Ensign, which has a wonderful article by BYU professor George S. Tate on President Joseph F. Smith, his intimate acquaintance with death, the catastrophic loss of life in World War I and the Spanish Influenza, and the great vision of the redemption of the dead.  It is a wonderful complement to the very first entry in this blog, with additional details on the family deaths, and some beautifully poetic journal entries President Smith wrote in his loss.  It also tells us that just before the pandemic mysteriously waned in January of 1919 and then disappeared (with just a brief resurgence the following spring), the Church leaders had designated December 22 as a day of fasting "for the arrest and speedy suppression by Divine Power of the desolating scourge that is passing over the earth."

George S. Tate, "I Saw the Hosts of the Dead," Ensign, December 2009, p. 54-59

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #46 Zion: The Pure in Heart

(D&C 57:1-3; 64:33-43; 97:8-28; 105:1-12; Moses 7:12-19,61-63,68-69; Article of Faith 10; OH p. 37-38,145-146)

"If ye are not one, ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27).

One thing I have struggled with over my life, as you probably have as well, is being one with others.  It's a common, almost universal, problem among anyone over the age of six.  The natural man wants to be an enemy, to compare himself to others, to criticize others if they are different, to be intimidated by others if they seem better than him, to be annoyed by others if they don't meet his specifications, to put others down in an effort to build himself up.  We all do this.  But it doesn't solve any problems or make any situation better.  It creates feelings of enmity, however small the act or thought.  It turns us away from Zion.

As I have battled this tendency of the natural man, and tried to be one with others, I have noticed a wonderful side effect:  Life is a lot more fun when you genuinely like other people! 

Imagine going to a party where all the guests are your best friends.  You know it's going to be a fun time, you are going to feel relaxed and happy, and the time is going to fly.  Now imagine going to a party where all the guests are people you can't stand.  It's miserable and you can't wait to get out of there.  But the irony is that we choose what kind of party our life is.  We choose whether we consider people friends or foes by our reactions to them.  It's entirely up to us.

Most of us reserve some particular neighbors, relatives, ward members, or a whole category of people as our irritants.  Criticizing others feels satisfying; it can even become a hobby.  It's hard to give it up.  Comparing ourselves to others feels gratifyiing if we put them down to build ourselves up.  Noticing a fault in someone that they seem clueless about makes us feel smarter than them.  Sometimes it seems like it would be completely impossible to not be annoyed by some other person--we rationalize that anyone would be annoyed by such behavior. These various attitudes of enmity create a feeling of superiority and it kind of feels good.  But it is a lie, because we are not superior.

Comparing ourselves to others feels noble, if it results in our putting ourselves down.  But this is not humility.  It's just enmity again, with ourselves as the focus this time.  Comparison usually leads to depression, to despair.  And "despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moroni 10:22).  It is another lie, because we are not inferior.

Despite the immediately gratifying feelings enmity brings, it never feels as good as genuinely liking others, despite their faults, their virtues, or their personal quirks.  "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:43), and neither should we be.  Every single person ever born on this earth is a child of God, equal to you and me, even our relatives and coworkers.  There is no way we can ever understand what made each person the way he is, so there is no possibility of fair judgment on our part.  But giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they have a good reason for how they are, being confident that they are doing the best with what they have, and celebrating their uniqueness can bring us great joy in our unlimited friendships.  We can be confident in any social situation if we bring love to the table.  Every encounter is more enjoyable when love is the dominant factor in our attitude, even if the other person has a different attitude.  Considering ourselves on the same team with every other child of God, partly responsible for their salvation and their earthly welfare, doubles our joys and divides our sorrows.  And besides that, it's the truth.

We need to pay close attention to our reactions to others; they will guide us as to how we can achieve more unity.  We can tell if we feel a "wall" go up between ourselves and another person.  We feel an instant hardness inside.  It's a physical sensation.  That's a warning that our attitude is one of enmity.  We need to let love soften and dissolve that wall so that we can be kinsmen, countrymen and "fellowcitizens with the saints."  That is the way to find enjoyment in every relationship.  That is the way to find peace in life.  That is the way to find Zion.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #45 The Family is Ordained of God

(The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children...Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations." (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)


Of course, this responsibility, to teach our children to joyfully live the gospel, is more easily said than done. Each one of our children is different than any other child who has ever lived. The circumstances of every person's life is different than every other person's life. The variety of situations we can come across in raising a single child is staggering. There is no parenting manual that can cover every contingency, so how do we get it right? There is only one way: We must be in constant touch with the Spirit of the Lord. The Lord knows our children, and can tell us exactly how to deal with every situation.

"And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive." (D&C 11:12-13)

To be able to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, we must have faith (1 Nephi 10:17), and hope (Romans 15:13), and charity (Mosiah 3:19). In turn, as we heed the Holy Ghost, he will give us more of these three qualities (Mosiah 3:19). Faith, hope, and charity and the guidance of the Holy Ghost will lead us and our families to Eternal Life (Ether 12:28; Moroni 10:21-21).

THE PROBLEM WITH PERFECTIONISM

During his mortal ministry, Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) After his resurrection, he said, "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect." (3 Nephi 12:48) Of course, the implication here is huge. Even Jesus, who committed no sin, was not perfected in this earthly life.

Why is it important to know this? Because giving up the illusion that perfection is possible in earthly life allows us to be patient, and that attribute is absolutely necessary for the exercise of faith, hope, and charity, and for our eventual perfection. "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:4)

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM BUILDS OUR FAITH

If everything in life went as we expected, as we thought was fair, we would never have need to exercise faith. Conversely, understanding the truth that this life is not going to be perfect, fair, or logical (to our minds), means we won't react with shock and disappointment when something unpleasant happens. Instead we can remember that this unwanted circumstance is an opportunity to trust in the Lord. "We can grow in faith only if we are willing to wait patiently for God's purposes and patterns to unfold in our lives, on His timetable." (Elder Robert C. Oaks, "The Power of Patience," October 2006 General Conference)

In our family, this principle was most powerfully taught to us as we tried to adopt a child from Russia. The short version is that after my husband had spent several years working on a joint U.S./Russian project, we felt powerfully guided by the Lord to go to Russia and look for a four-year-old girl to join our family. The first adoption we attempted became "stuck" as, before the paperwork went through, the child's birthmother decided to try to come back to her daughter after she was released from prison. We were bewildered as we felt the Lord had guided our steps, and now we were at a stalemate. As we continued to ask the Lord what to do, and as the opportunity to adopt other children became available, the answer to our prayers for a year and a half was always the same: "Just continue in the same direction." Then our facilitator emigrated to America, leaving us high and dry without any connection in Krasnodar. This was a great trial to our faith.

But suddenly, a different path opened up: Through an on-line adoption support group, I found a new facilitator in Krasnodar, who immediately took up our case, looked into the situation, and then sadly told us it was hopeless. "But," he wrote in an e-mail, "it is my experience that when this happens, it means God has another child for you." These words went straight to our hearts as truth, and we knew it was finally time to let the first child go. A few days later, we received an e-mail with five photographs of a beautiful little four-year-old girl, with a melancholy expression, who was available for immediate adoption. The first photograph made my heart skip a beat. I felt it was the Spirit telling me, "This is your child." Our facilitator had chosen this child because she looked like the first one. The Department of Education let us easily adopt her despite their opposition to our large family, because the previous administration had already approved us. They believed we were sincere, because we had waited two years without giving up. They were impressed that we were able to speak some Russian, which the two-year wait had allowed us to learn. In addition, the long delay allowed me to study and learn a great deal about foreign and older child adoption and attachment, which was immensely helpful in our daughter's successful integration into American family life. She even fit every article of clothing I had purchased or made for the first child two years before. And there is also the possibility, although we will probably never know, that our persistence in trying to adopt the first child may have actually cleaned up her birthmother's life and reunited the two of them.

A situation that was hugely imperfect (in our eyes) allowed us to learn to trust in the Lord, and that trust led to the perfect resolution. "Now faith is the [assurance] of things hoped for, the [proof] of things not seen." (Hebrews 11: 1, using Greek alternate words) The assurance that past problems were resolved successfully proves that other "catastrophies" will work out well, under the Lord's supervision.

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM INCREASES OUR HOPE

"...Neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moroni 10:21-22). Hope is so important a principle that failing to exercise it is "iniquity!" When we expect perfection, it is easy to give in to despair, because somewhere along the way things will go wrong, at least according to our plan. Then we find ourselves breaking the Savior's commandment to "be of good cheer" and that iniquity brings us to despair (D&C 78:18). But we can "inherit the promises" when we exercise the "full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11-12). "Hope we have as an achor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 6:20). Inasmuch as Jesus was made perfect beyond the veil in the next life, his Atonement makes it possible to hope that our families may also be perfected there.

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM ALLOWS US TO FREELY LOVE

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering [elements of patience], by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness [elements of charity], and pure knowledge [the guidance of the Holy Spirit], which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile...Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God..." (D&C 121:41, 45 italics added)

It is necessary for us to patient with others, to love them deeply, and to be guided by the Spirit in order to lead them. We are commanded to exercise this kind of patience and love towards all of our family members, not just to those who are presently following the gospel plan (the household of faith). Love is not just the method that ought to be employed in order to influence others; it is the only way we can influence others.

As we look around us, we can see evidence that God loves each person, regardless of where they stand in life and in gospel understanding, and he extends his tender mercies to them. Despite being perfect himself, he is infinitely patient with his imperfect children, and will keep the way open for them to come closer to him. Every step, however small, that a person makes toward God will be rewarded by him, and another step will be encouraged. Though our progress may be slow, he continues his offer to lead us along, to the last day of our lives on this earth. "The scriptures warn us, 'Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.' But, in this life, it is never too late to repent." (Elder Neil L. Anderson, "Repent...That I May Heal You," October 2009 General Conference)

IMPERFECTION BLESSES US

It is an ironic gospel truth that the perfect condition for this mortal existence is imperfection. The fallen state of this earth and its inhabitants allows us the perfect opportunity to grow in faith, hope and charity, and to rely upon the influence of the Holy Ghost. As we do so, we will be lead with our families safely to exaltation if we "continue in patience until [we] are perfected." (D&C 67:13) For "God...will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" (Romans 2:5-7)

The first photo we saw of our daughter

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #44 "Being Good Citizens"

(D&C 58:21-22,26-28; 98:4-10; 134; Article of Faith 12; OH p. 133-134)

It would be hard to find a better example of good citizens than Pat and Clyde Braegger.  Pat and Clyde lived one block from my home in Providence, Utah when I was growing up.  During the time when Providence City changed from being a small agricultural town to becoming a bedroom community for employees of large corporations, a lot of conflict developed between the different factions.  Subdivisions were cropping up with no zoning guidelines.  The city officials came under attack of a grand jury.  (Later the charges were dropped.)  Nasty letters were written to the newspaper and to the city government.

At this time, my neighbor, Clyde, was approached and asked to run for mayor.  Nothing had been further from his mind.  He had never been to a city council meeting.  His wife, Pat, quipped that she would divorce him if he did.  Both were very opposed to getting involved in the hotbed of conflict in the community.  But the question was posed to Clyde, "Providence has been good to you.  What have you ever done for Providence?"

So Clyde decided to run.  He won, and he did a great job as mayor.  People got angry at him.  He got anonymous letters.  But he worked well with the various factions, he was honest and upfront, and he was smart.  He felt effective enough that he ran for a second term and got it.  Many of the issues were resolved.  Providence experienced a 63% growth in population fairly graciously.  A new city office and two city parks were built using grants and donations.  One of them, Zollinger Park, was furnished with 125 trees purchased and planted together by families of the community.  The Braeggers formed close friendships with the other mayoring couples of the valley and enjoyed a lot of the aspects of their tenure.

Years later, after Clyde died, Pat ran as mayor, and served for several years.

It adds a little to the story to know that Pat and Clyde were both polio victims.  Clyde was paralyzed from the waist down as an infant and had never walked in his life.  He had a wheelchair, a rollerskate he sat on to get around the house and yard, and a modified car.  Pat was paralyzed at the age of 16 from the neck down, but with some use of one arm.  She was confined to a motorized wheelchair, needed a lift to get in and out of bed, and had frequent lung problems.  She could not even comb her own hair; her neighbor across the street did it for her every morning.  Most people with such physical challenges would not expect to become public servants, but to be served by the public.  Such was not the case with Pat and Clyde, however.  They  necessarily received much service from others, but they always gave back more.

D&C 58:27 "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."


Sources:  Personal knowledge; Pat Johnson Braegger, Clyde, pp. 91-99; Pat Braegger and Marie Olson, "They Said It Couldn't Be Done," Ensign, January 1984.