Growing Toward the Son

This morning I got to give a spiritual thought at the Activity Days Camp at church. This is the summer camp for 7-11 year old girls. Their theme was “Growing Toward the Son.”

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens in a lot of plants where they will actually change direction to grow toward the sun. This effect is called phototropism. In very young plants this effect can be observed plainly over a relatively short period of time as shown in this brief video. Notice how the plants react as they grow.

I love the plants in that video that are growing longer and longer and then suddenly topple over as they are straining to get to the light. They don’t ever give up. They don’t think that it’s over just because they’re in a darker place than their neighbors. They consistently push toward the light. Sometime they shake around a bit as if they are unsure, but their course is firmly toward the light — the source of their energy.

We should be like this in our relationship with Christ. We know that we are supposed to be steadfast in our facing toward and focusing on Christ. Christ invites us:

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” – D&C 6:36-37

How are we do do this? What does it mean to look unto him in every thought? We need to read our scriptures regularly. We need to say our prayers. We need to partake of the sacrament. We need to learn the principles of the gospel — faith and repentance. We need to love our families.

“We are to ponder and apply the Book of Mormon and the words of prophets. Pray always. Be believing. Serve the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. We are to pray with all the energy of our hearts for the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:47–48). And above all, we are to be consistent and persistent in following prophetic counsel.” (Henry B. Eyring, Fear Not to Do Good, October 2017)

I know that in doing these little, everyday, things that we can keep our lives focused on the savior. I know that as we do that, we will, eventually, feel the love of the savior. We may be like the plant that falters along the way, but don’t give up. Hold on the way and keep pushing toward the light. He is the light. He is real. He does love us.

 

 

Keeping our baptismal covenants

Today I taught a lesson to the deacon’s quorum at church. The topic of the lesson was “What covenants did I make at baptism?” I had been really busy this week and sadly didn’t get to preparing my lesson until Sunday morning. I was struggling to figure out what to talk about when I had an inspiration from the Holy Ghost to share a story about my ancestor Christian Hans Monson who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Norway in the 1800’s I have always loved this story and I wanted to share it with my deacons as an example of someone who kept his baptismal covenants. I thought it would be a good story to tell but I was completely unprepared for the way that I was touched as I shared this story to these young men today. As I was sharing the story, I was overcome by gratitude for what this man had done for me in choosing to join the church. The spirit filled the room as I recounted his story of conversion and of his courage in standing up for what he knew to be true. I admire and respect this great man and hope to live in such a way as to honor his name.

Christian Hans Monson 16 June 1837 – 23 September 1896
Christian Hans Monson
16 June 1837 – 23 September 1896

I wanted to share his story here for you to enjoy. This version actually originally appeared in The Friend magazine in 1976 and you can find the original here.

Christian fingered the key in his pocket as he walked toward the jail. It had taken months of study and prayer before he had finally decided to use that key for something more important than just opening the jail door so he could carry meals to those who were held there as prisoners.

Almost all the men in the jailhouse were Mormon missionaries. Many of them had sailed into the Port of Frederikstad in a pilot boat they had fitted up and named Sions Löve (Zion’s Lion) so that they could easily travel to coastal areas of the Scandinavian Mission, then including all of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

At first Christian hadn’t paid much attention to the missionaries, for he was busy learning the catechism so he could correctly answer any questions he might be asked by the priest at the confirmation service that was soon to be held for prospective young members of the Lutheran Church. He was not concerned about the fact that almost as soon as any Mormon missionaries arrived in Frederikstad they were arrested.

Lutheranism was the national religion of Norway and missionaries who taught other doctrines were promptly jailed, some for only a few weeks, others for many months. During this time they frequently were taken to court and almost forced to renounce their religion and declare allegiance to the national church of Norway. Refusing to do so, they were then returned to their quarters.

Christian worked for the warden of the jail who instructed him to heckle and be as unpleasant as possible to the prisoners when he carried meals to them. This seemed like fun until one day a young missionary said, “Why do you talk and act as you do? Remember that so persecuted they the Christ and His followers in Bible times.”

The startled boy asked him to explain what he meant, so two of the elders began talking about the gospel and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon.

Every night as Christian studied for his confirmation examination, he also studied the Book of Mormon, comparing it with his Bible and the Lutheran catechism. As the truthfulness of the restored gospel became more and more apparent to him, Christian prayed to know what he should do. Since no answer came before the confirmation date, he purposely failed the examination and then made application to take it again in six months.

Thinking back over his months of prayer and study, Christian knew what he must do. He finally decided to use his key to the prison to let the two missionaries out of jail long enough to go with him to a nearby fjord so he could be baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward the three walked back to the jailhouse where the elders returned to their room and Christian turned the key in the lock to their cell.

Because of the persecution toward members of the Church throughout Norway, and also because he knew how angry his father would be, Christian did not tell anyone of the thrilling event that had taken place on that cold winter night of 1852. He knew he would not be able to make his stern father understand what he had done. He tried to talk with his mother but she would not listen. When the next confirmation service was held, Christian honored his application and appeared for his examination with the other prospective young Lutherans.

“Do you believe in God?” was the first question asked by the priest.

“Oh, yes,” Christian answered quickly.

“Can you describe Him?” was the next question.

“I know He is a Being with body, parts, and passions,” Christian replied. “I also know He does not sit on the top of a topless throne. I know our Heavenly Father is good and kind, that He sees, hears, and answers prayers. I know we are made in His image as was His Son Jesus Christ.”

The priest was surprised by this description but continued with the examination, becoming more and more amazed with the answers Christian gave. As the boy glanced at his father he could see that he was very upset. Finally, the priest said angrily, “You answer as if you belonged to that sect known as Mormons.”

“I do,” Christian said, “and I’m proud of it!”

At this declaration, Christian’s father arose from his seat near the front of the Church and rushed up the aisle and out the door, striking his cane hard against the floor with every step he took. Confused and embarrassed, Christian’s mother followed her husband, and their son was abruptly dismissed.

Christian went home wanting to talk with his parents, but he was afraid of what they would say. Having carried his usual armful of wood into the house that night, Christian was piling it near the fireplace when his father came into the room. At the sight of his son who he felt had disgraced him, Christian’s father struck him with his cane and then began to beat him. At last, panting for breath, his father laid the merciless cane on the table.

“Oh, Father,” Christian said quietly, “it feels good to be whipped for the gospel’s sake.”

At these words, the father became even more furious. He picked up stick after stick of firewood and hurled them at Christian. When the wood was gone, he opened the door and shouted, “Get out of my house. I never want to see you again!”

Bruised and bleeding from the beating and the wood that had been thrown at him, Christian dragged himself out to the barn where he threw himself upon the hay. Late that night after her husband was asleep, Christian’s mother noiselessly tied a little food and a few of his belongings in a handkerchief and went out to the barn. Tearfully she treated her son’s injuries as well as she could.

“Why, oh why, did you do this thing, Christian?” she pleaded heartbrokenly.

“Because I had to, Mother,” Christian replied. “I have studied and prayed and I know this is the only true Church. I tried to tell you but you would not listen to me. I cannot deny what I know, Mother. If I did, it would be to deny Jesus Christ, our Savior, and I cannot do that.”

“If, as you say, you know this is right, my boy,” his mother told him, “then you must stand firm. But oh, how my heart aches.”

When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the sky, Christian’s mother crept back into the house. Christian picked up the little bundle she had brought to him and started walking down the road. As he passed his house he breathed a good-bye to his parents, for he knew he would never see them again.

Christian Hans Monson didn’t know where he would go or what he could do. “But I have a testimony,” the fourteen-year-old boy said to himself. “Whatever happens, I can never deny that. And I know that because of my testimony, all will be well.”

Good Thursday

As I was readying bible stories with my daughter tonight, I was pondering on how we as Christians often focus so much on Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that we forget what happened to Him the day before that all-important day. In some ways, perhaps, what happened on “Good Thursday” was even more important than what was to follow on Friday. Jesus Christ had two primary missions to accomplish on this earth that related to our eternal salvation: to overcome sin or spiritual death, and to overcome physical death. Through His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday, He overcame physical death and made it possible for all of God’s children, each of us, to return to the presence of God one day. However important and transcendent the resurrection of the Savior was, that miracle would have been incomplete without the miraculous atonement that He began on Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane and completed through His suffering and death on the cross.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane
Jesus praying in Gethsemane

In the garden on that all-important night, Jesus Christ, the Son of God willfully took upon Him the sins of all living persons.

“The Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.” (Alma 7:13)

lost-lamb-art-lds-425852-tabletThe Savior Himself described the experience this way:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:18-19)

 

In addition to taking upon Himself the sins and transgressions of all people, He also suffered the pain and afflictions of all men. Because Christ completed His atonement, He is perfectly able to succor each of us in our times of trial.

“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

I know that the atonement of Christ is real. I am far from a perfect person, but I have felt the effects of the atonement in my life when I have repented of my sins and tried to follow Christ’s teachings. I have also felt the power of the atonement helping me through some of the darkest and most trying times of my life. I am grateful that Christ completed His mission both on Thursday and on Friday so that our sins can be forgiven and so that we may return to live with God after this life is over.

Why do Mormons Revere Joseph Smith So Much?

Last year my wife and I spent a lot of our time with a real estate agent as we shopped for our first home. For a few months we went out with this agent and viewed home after home. Through this process we began to develop a friendship with this man. We learned that he was a God-fearing Christian who was active in his local Baptist congregation. I enjoyed asking him questions about how his church operated and what some of his beliefs were. We enjoyed a very open conversation during these house-shopping excursions, and I learned a lot. Through these conversations this good man learned that I was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons.) Discussions about the many similarities between our two faiths and church organizations became common between us. One day on our drive he asked me, “Why do Mormons revere Joseph Smith so much?”  I would like today to try to give my answer to that question.

Joseph Smith the Prophet
Joseph Smith the Prophet

To start you have to understand God’s pattern of calling prophets throughout the ages. Almost all of the scriptures we have recorded in the Bible are the writings of prophets. God uses prophets as a conduit to teach His children on earth what they should do and how they should act. He also uses prophets to warn and teach people about His doings. In fact, the prophet Amos teaches us that “surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). In other words, before God will do anything to or for His people, He will tell the prophets about it.

You might think that a single prophet would suffice to tell us all of God’s will. All prophets do teach the same basic principles of God’s gospel: faith, repentance, obedience, baptism, etc; however, each of them also has a specific mission given to them that is of particular importance to the people living at that time. This can be seen in the examples of many of the prophets in the Old Testament as well as with Christ’s Apostles in the New Testament. Take, for example, Jonah after he had already been eaten by the “big fish” and decided that he probably should to go Nineveh to fulfill the mission God had given him (Jonah 2). God specifically called Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that they needed to repent of the evil that they were doing or they would be destroyed. Jonah taught the principles of the gospel, specifically repentance, but also the imminent destruction of the people if they did not follow God’s commandments. If Jonah had been the only prophet that God ever called we might be confused as to what was really important from his message. Was the destruction part the most important or the repentance part? Obviously, some of Jonah’s teachings were general and some were very specific to the time and place to which Jonah was called.

Because situations have differed from place to place and from time to time throughout history, God has called prophets to teach the people in many places and times. God has called these prophets because He loves all of His children and wants all of them to be able to return to Him.  He has given prophets specific instructions about what to teach and often has given these prophets specific commandments that are particular to their time. People rely on prophets not only to teach them eternal principles of the gospel but also for help in understanding how to navigate the challenges and difficulties that are particular to a certain age of history.

I believe that God is an unchanging being. Historically, God has called prophets, and because He is perfect and unchanging, it follows that He must follow His pattern and continue to call prophets. This is where Joseph Smith comes in. I believe that, like the prophets in the Bible, Joseph Smith is a prophet. His being a prophet is completely consistent with the pattern that God has established through history of calling prophets and giving them missions to complete relative to the salvation of men in their times.

Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in upstate New York. By the time he was 14, he had moved with his family to the small town of Palmyra, New York. In Palmyra there was a huge excitement about religion. There were pastors from many different churches, each saying that their churches were true. Being confused about the conflicting views of these different churches, Joseph turned to the Bible for help. After searching and study he found a verse in James that said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph said that when he read this verse, it had a great influence on him. He decided to do as James directed and ask God which of all the churches was right and which one he should join. He went to a grove of trees early one spring morning to pray and ask God for an answer to this question. In that grove of trees that morning God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared as distinct Personages and answered Joseph’s prayer. He described the experience:

“I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Joseph Smith History)

“I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.”

Through this vision and subsequent visions and heavenly visitations, Joseph Smith was called as a modern-day prophet. Just like the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, he was given information and revelations from God on how to address the particular concerns of this modern age. Through Joseph Smith, God restored the pure form and authority of His Church as it originally existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the same organization and authority as the ancient Church did with prophets and apostles in historic times. Its belief and faith are centered on Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith.

Because of his pivotal role in restoring this Church and authority, Mormons revere Joseph Smith. We tend to speak of him more than ancient prophets because we believe that he is a prophet for our time. The basic principles of the gospel that were taught by ancient prophets were also taught by Joseph Smith and continue to be taught in the Church today by those who have been called of God as prophets in our modern times. Mormons revere the ancient prophets from the Bible and also from the Book of Mormon; however, we also believe that we should give particular heed to the prophets that are speaking the will of the Lord in our time.

I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know that he saw what he said he saw in that grove of trees. I know that the authority he received from God is the true authority of God. I know that by following the counsel of modern prophets we can avoid many of the calamities and difficulties that will confront us in these challenging times. I know that every person who asks God in faith can also have this witness through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

General Conference

Every April and October members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gather in locations around the world to be instructed by living prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ. Over the next two days, March 31 and April 1 2012, these inspired men of God will teach the world about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will likely teach us about the Atonement, the importance of the family, God’s plan for His children, the restoration of the gospel and priesthood authority in our day through Joseph Smith, and the role of the modern Church in the world today.

Come listen to living prophets

Throughout the history of the world, God has always called prophets to lead his children. Through prophets in the Old Testament times, God taught the commandments and led his people in their days of trial and their days of joy and rejoicing. He spoke with his prophets “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). God gave his prophets power to speak in the name of God for the benefit of the children of the earth. Unfortunately, people often take the words of the prophets to be hard. The things they say sometimes may have seemed antiquated or even insane; however, every person that followed those ancient prophets was saved from danger and protected from evil.

In our day, God has continued the pattern established in the Old and New Testaments of calling prophets and apostles. I testify that if we follow their counsel and direction that we will be protected and guided. Our following need not be “blind obedience.” We can know through the spirit of God that the direction we will receive from the prophets is true. I know that we will be told things in these coming days that may seem hard to us or may seem unreasonable; however, I pray that I, and all of us, will have the strength and courage to say, like Joshua of old, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

You can watch the proceedings of the conference online here.