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.
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.
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)
The 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.
When God held the grand council in the premortal realm, the central issue of contention between the spirits who supported our Heavenly Father’s plan and those that supported Lucifer’s was that of agency. In Moses 4:3 we read that “Because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him … by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down” (emphasis added). The ability of the children of God, us, to choose our own path was so important to God’s plan that He was willing to allow a third part of the host of heaven be cast out because they thought that Satan’s plan of coercion into righteousness was the best method.
I believe that we see this same contention over agency raging still today. Satan still very much wants to have his plan work. He tries very hard to get us to do things that abridge our own agency. He also makes it seem attractive to surrender our agency to others.
Whenever we choose to follow Satan by disregarding or rebelling against the commandments of God, we choose to surrender some of our agency. When we choose to disobey, we often are left in a situation where our power to choose future action is severely limited by the consequence of our actions. We learn this principle very clearly from the teachings of Jacob in the Book of Mormon.
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).
When we choose to transgress the commandments of God, we are choosing captivity and loss of agency.
I believe that in addition to trying to get us to commit individual sins, Satan tries to get us to loose our agency by surrendering it to other people. In ancient history, prophets warned about people subjecting themselves to wicked kings and thereby losing their agency when the kings coerced them to do wickedly (Mosiah 29:16-17). While governments can act rightfully to restrict agency for the protection of the life, liberty, and property of it’s citizens, we should be wary of government, educational, or social programs that seek to abridge our own agency or the agency of others. We need to ensure that we seek for leaders in our society that understand the importance of agency and understand that ultimate agency comes only to individuals and society when they follow the commandments of God.
Immanuel (or Emmanuel) means God with Us. The birth of Jesus Christ the son of God was prophesied centuries before He was born of Mary in Bethlehem. The prophecies of Him, fortold his virgin birth, His life and His atoning sacrifice. Christ, as a member of the Godhead and therefore as a God himself, literally fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that God would be with the people through Him.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14
This great video shows some of the story of Christ’s life. I testify that Christ is the son of God. I’m grateful for this Christmas season where I can focus better on remembering His life.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. — Matthew 1:18-23
Yesterday we took a trip to the San Antonio Texas Temple. We try to go about once a month, and we’ve gotten really used to taking the trip down there. Yesterday, as usual, we wanted to go to the 9:30am session so that we could get done in time to come back home and get our Saturday chores and activities done. It takes us about 2 hours to drive from our house to the temple, so we have to get up fairly early to make it on time and be ready for the session. Yesterday we got out of the house a bit late and were really in a hurry to get there on time. As we were rushing along the toll road headed to the temple, I started to notice signs saying that the new section of the toll road was open going to San Antonio! I knew that the speed limit on that new section was 85 mph and the thought crossed my mind that if we took that way we’d get to the temple faster. Faster speed must mean earlier arrival time, right?
I made a split second decision to take the new road. Not only was this way faster, but for this time it was free! How could it get better? We were driving faster and even had more beautiful scenery to look at than the crazy traffic and busy city that we usually saw on our normal route. As we drove along I admired the wide open sky and the green fields that seemed to stretch on forever. I watched the hawks and eagles soaring and marveled at the beauty of the earth that I was seeing.
As we got farther and farther along this new highway, however, my focus started to shift from the scenery and to the time. We were traveling very quickly, but I was realizing that I had no idea where this new highway connected to roads that I knew. The minutes were flying by much faster than I thought they would, and we weren’t seeing anything familiar. I really had no idea what roads to take now to get to the temple. The ultra-fast toll road that we had been on ended in a small town with much slower speed limits and I had to deal with bumpy back roads and stop lights. I had to make several guesses on what way to go. When we only had 5 minutes left until our session was due to start and we knew that we were going to be late, we still hadn’t found a main road that I could connect to the temple on. Finally, when we were already late, I found the highway loop that I recognized would take us to the temple. I was very discouraged. I had tried hard to make it in time and had thought that my decision earlier would help us be earlier, but instead it had put us very behind schedule.
We eventually did make it to the temple but weren’t able to attend our session. I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in other ordinances but was still disappointed that we had missed our original plan. We were able to enjoy the blessings of the temple but perhaps had missed out on an opportunity to feel the spirit and learn from our session.
After we had finished our activities in the temple and were on our way home, I couldn’t help but think about how my experience from that morning could be an example for our lives. In life, we have an ultimate goal and purpose to get to the Celestial Kingdom. Sometimes on our journey through life, however, we get distracted by other roads that look like they might be shortcuts. The road is new and the speed limit is high. We sometimes fly along these roads enjoying the scenery and the speed but are completely oblivious to the fact that our beautiful vistas and breathtaking speed are speeding us away from our goal. When we realize our mistake, it can be too late. We are already off course and have to make major adjustments to our direction to get back on course. We have lost precious time and opportunities.
In my trip to the temple, I knew the right way to go. I knew exactly where it lead, and I knew that it would likely get us to the temple on time. In our lives, much like my trip to the temple, we should remember that we do know the path we should take. We have the direction of the Spirit and of prophets and apostles to keep us on the straight and narrow road to the Celestial Kingdom. Let us heed their counsel and teachings and avoid the seemingly attractive detours that life will present to us.
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.
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)
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.