Monday, April 30, 2012

Excerpts from The Book of 1000 and 1 Testimonies

Dear Family,

So, this is the reason behind there being no blog post.  Instead I decided to type up and e-mail you all spiritual thoughts I wrote down in my little thought book.  This is supposed to take the place of this week's blog.  I hope you (and everyone else that reads it enjoys it).  I'm not sure how often I will do this in the future.  I hope you enjoy it.

Excerpts from the Book of 1000 and 1 Testimonies

The missionary effort is a wonderful one.  It is filled with trials to overcome and progress, sacrifices to be restored ten-fold, and tears one hundred-fold, lessons to be learned, good habits to develop, principles to practice, messages to share, faith to find, testimonies to give, and two years of life to live.  The work is always bountiful, although the results not always so.  Endless opportunities open to obtain better hope, closer kindness, caring charity, or introduce the Lord's saving grace to a spiritual sibling in need.  Any member, missionary or non, may strive as we bring people unto repentance, unto prayer, unto the waters of baptism, unto the congregation of our local ward or branch, unto great understanding and exceeding joy, unto endless love, and unto Christ and eternal life; the greatest of all the gifts of God.

One part of the Sacrament that I fear is often neglected is what the bread and water represent.  His body (the bread) was given and resurrected so that we too can overcome the first death; the physical grave.  His blood (the water) was shed as an endless, infinite atonement to open all the doors of Heaven and redeem us from the second death; the spiritual hell.  In the weekly Sacramental Prayers we covenant to always remember "and witness” of these things.  Jesus Christ is real.  He is the LORD and through him we can be saved.

"I cannot go beyond the Word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." (Numbers 22:18).  While the previous words were said by Balaam who was later punished, cursed, called a soothsayer, and killed, the words are still so true.  Since the beginnings of mankind, the Lord has spoken to his children, to us.  He has revealed thousands of miracles and commandments that have been recorded and thousands that have not.  The greatest and most famous of these are known as the scriptures.  In these holy texts are written all manner of commandments concerning what we should or should not do.  Each of us, having learned of the Lord's basic doctrines and having embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, has a knowledge of what the Lord our Savior has commanded and requires at our hands.  We know of their importance and that we should "do no less", lest we should disappoint our Heavenly Father with our lack of diligence or obedience, and stand guilty before him at the last day.  At the same time, "we cannot do more" than the Lord has commanded.  One thing that has often amazed me is the exceeding inclusiveness of the gospel.  The latter-day prophet Brigham Young described the phenomenon by saying that the Church embraces any truth, where ever it is found.  When truths and light are found, whether it be from prophets, members, or other outside organizations, the gospel includes it and the Church lays claim to it.  "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."  With such a clear, yet deep gospel, is it any wonder that we would be unable to go beyond the words of God, doing anything less or more?

There is a saying used in olden times, especially in The Pearl of Great Price and in the Old Testament that has stood out to me and that recently I have come to love:  "Here am I".  It may appear strange at first that this is most often used in response to a question.  When the LORD calls out from the burning bush saying, "Moses, Moses", the ancient prophet answers, "Here am I".  Likewise, Samuel gives the same response while living in the Tabernacle.  Even our beloved Savior in the premortal existence when asked "Who shall I send?" replied "Here am I.  Send me."  My favorite recording of that short phrase is one of the very first times we read it, in Genesis 22.  While climbing to the place where Isaac would soon be sacrificed he calls out, "My Father" to which Abraham answers "Here am I, my son".  On this occasion there is a footnote to offer an alternate, more clarifying interpretation.  It reads, "Yes, my son".  Think about that.  The duality of "Here am I" announcing our presence, whether physical or mental, accompanied by "Yes" verifying our understanding and willingness.  Each of us, along with anyone else who has ever drawn breath, has had dozens, to hundreds, to thousands of questions posed to them on quite the regular basis.  Among the most important of these are those related to a more eternal nature.  Be it a question in a Sunday School Lesson, a question from a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a family member about the Book of Mormon, where we came from, or what happens after death.  One of the most important questions is the one that prophets, the scriptures, and most significant of all, our Heavenly Father asks us each day: “Will you keep and live the commandments?"  When asked any of these questions, are you there?  Do you stop any temporary distractions, give them your undivided attention, and reply "Here am I"?  Do you give them a giant "Yes!" as you respond with pure, unrestrained testimony answering with all the energy of your soul and the penetrating power of the Holy Ghost?  I would challenge all of you to decide within yourselves and to make the resolve to hold this answer in your heart the next time a situation or question arises.  I would ask you to awake, arise, and respond as our Savior by saying "Here am I."

"Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the law which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them."  This verse, written within the Book of Mosiah describes the Nephites' feelings of joy towards their judges and liberty.  Comparable to the laws and society of the Nephites, we have many similar freedoms both temporal and spiritual in which we can and should rejoice.      We do not have the same government and system of judges of the ancient Americans; however we are equally blessed in our leaders.  Regarding civil and political society, we, like the Nephites, vote and elect our leader, the President, by common consent.  Within the governments of the Church, we have various presidencies, bishops, stake presidents, general authorities, and apostles who have been elected by God to be our leaders.  What a blessing that is, that our leaders are not chosen by "the height of their statures", but instead by the Lord, who "seeth not as man seeth, but looketh on the heart."  Ultimately the greatest and most important judgement we will face will be that final judgement after the resurrection, of which God Himself will be the judge.  Who could be better?  Or who could we be more blessed as having for our judge?  Just as this verse in the Book of Mormon relates to the rich blessings of our judges, it also connects to the grand gifts of freedom and liberty which we have received.  Today our land is praised for the various forms and wide degrees of freedom it provides and that laws that exist ever protecting that freedom; freedom to vote, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and one I'm sure we all appreciate, freedom of religion.  It was this freedom that allowed the Church to be restored and come forth in divine glory nearly two centuries ago.  It is this freedom that continues to allow it to grow.  Likewise, as we experience all manner of physical freedom, we are blessed with spiritual liberty as well.  The supreme Atonement of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, makes it possible for us to repent and saves us from spiritual death and sets us free from the bonds of sin.  We are given commandments to protect us from the wily traps and snares of the devil.  Yet, we don't have a Law of Moses restricting how many steps we may take or how we must sacrifice.  Even salvation, which we know can only be obtained by and through Jesus Christ and baptism in his name, still allows us great degrees of freedom, as we can keep his commandments by loving one another, offering forgiveness to our trespassers, caring for someone in need, or sharing and teaching those around us.  We have so much liberty to be thankful for.  We have blessings in judges and freedom, like the Nephites, to rejoice in.  Let us then rejoice in the gifts and in the divine giver of the gifts, our loving Heavenly Father.

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