Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ben On Agency

27 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; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 2)
What is the difference between liberty and freedom? Let's look at the Oxford dictionary definitions.  Liberty is defined as the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behaviour or political views.  Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.  So the way I understand this, liberty allows us to act free of limitation from our environment and freedom is the internal power to exercise our options.

No one can take away our freedom, or what we call agency, our capacity to choose.  Liberty on the other hand can be forfeited by the choices we make and sometimes by the choices of others.  When we keep the commandments we choose liberty. When we do not, we choose captivity. Captivity is oppression from "society."

Here is an example; you disobey a law, say, you steal from a store. There is a punishment associated with that law when violated. You do not lose your freedom, but you do lose your liberty. The consequence of stealing is imposed upon you. You may be charged a fine, be put in jail, or have to do community service. These consequences are a limitation on your liberty: your liberty to spend money as you wish, the liberty to go where you want to go, or the liberty to use your time as you wish. Freedom still exists because you have the capacity to accept the consequences or reject them (which will likely lead to further consequences.)

There are higher laws than man's laws, but the principle applies the same way.

17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 42)

When an eternal law is violated, we are no longer protected by the law, but are subject to punishment.

Here is the thing about eternal law though:

16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 42) 
5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 2)

The liberty we lose when we break an eternal law is much greater: it affects our entire reality. When we continually violate eternal laws, our capacity to recognize things as they really are becomes more and more skewed. We begin to lose faith. Why? Because faith is a hope for things which are not seen which are true. When we sin, we hope that those things unseen are not true.

Stephen Covey's 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' teaches that there is a moment between stimulus and response. That moment is when our self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will grant us the ability to consider our response. We develop habits when we react to the same stimulus the same way each time we experience it. To break a habit, we must change our responses, but that change has to come from within us. Self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will are all under your jurisdiction. Because you have freedom, you cannot be forced to do anything, especially not to change.

These principles allow us to make a fair comparison to sin.  There is a moment between temptation and sin. That moment is when our conscience (the light of Christ within us) or the Holy Ghost (which is an external force) warn us that the choice we are making, or are about to make, is incorrect. It is when we allow our imagination, self-awareness and independent will to take precedence over those warnings that we give into sin. We imagine that the satisfaction of sin will be greater than the punishment, instead of the reality that the punishment is much greater. Our self-awareness deceives us as we seek the temporal satisfaction of sin and leads us to believe that we are choosing happiness.  The word of the Lord can not be disputed, for in reality, "wickedness never was happiness," and it never will be.  Our independent will becomes infected by pride, for we think we know better than the will of God.

Every man who comes into the world has the light of Christ. If we do not give heed to it, it dims over time. When we follow those feelings we are led to truth. When the truth is found it is confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost. If continually followed it will lead that man to the waters of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Just as one might upgrade his or her anti-virus software as updates become available, we can upgrade our conscience to provide additional defense as new trials and temptations confront us daily, by receiving the Holy Ghost.

How do you receive a gift? Let's make a birthday analogy:

  • Birthday presents are received on your birthday, or at least close to it. The fact that it is your birthday makes you worthy of the gift.  In order to receive a spiritual gift, you must be worthy to receive it as well. Do we have to be perfect? No, but we should be striving for it. The nice thing is we can be worthy more than once a year.
  • Do you want to receive birthday gifts from others? Then you had better send out some invitations to your party. Your close friends may already know when your birthday is, but how will they know when and where to bring you your birthday gift?  We must invite the Father to send us that gift of the Holy Ghost. We work toward perfection, and we let Father know where we are at in this process of perfection. When we stay on track, He sends us the Holy Ghost. 
  • Just as we prepare for and expect our guests to arrive at our birthday party, we should prepare for and expect the Holy Ghost. If we are not prepared, if we are not listening for its promptings, we might miss it. 
  • What if after all that preparation, your guest attend your party bearing gifts but you never open them?  What good does that do you? You wont know what the gift contains and without that knowledge you can't use it. Revelation is like a little present that float down from heaven, but if we do not open them when they come, they will float away.  
  • Would your friends keep sending you gifts if you never opened them? What if you did but you never used them? Or what if you never expressed gratitude for those gifts?

The Holy Ghost will be even more present in our lives as we learn to recognize and give heed to it. It strengthens our conscience and allows us to be more firm in our decisions.  This will strengthen our faith.  Father helps us to preserve our liberty through the guidance from the Spirit.

How do we lose liberty? When we sin we become subject to the adversary.  He is able to oppress us if we disobey God's commandments.
13 Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 15)
6 And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 12)
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 12)
Some will find it interesting that the key to overcoming captivity is obtaining knowledge of God's commandments and submitting to them.  Although it may appear that laws oppress us, they actually liberate us.  The world does not understand how liberty comes from subjection to the law.  This concept is best understood by the Spirit as we put it into practice in our lives.  In fact, all concepts are best learned through the Spirit by revelation.  I am grateful that the Lord has granted me an understanding of these principles, though I recognize there is still much to be learned.

If you live every commandment you can be completely liberated.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jessica on Prophets

I recently read a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks that said,          "[The Savior] was confronted by a group who had hypocritically built monuments to the prophets their predecessors had murdered, while personally rejecting the living prophets God was sending them." Luke 11:47-49
Spencer W. Kimball taught, "Even in the Church, many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterdays prophets and mentally stone the living ones." 
This teaching still applies today, and I find it quite troubling.
I think it is crucial to be aware of The Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, which are: 

1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
4. The prophet will never lead the church astray.
5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
6. The prophet does not have to say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.
7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
10. The prophet may advise on civic matters.
11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
14. The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.
I love the story told by President Wilford Woodruff:
I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living prophets and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’
When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’
I find it interesting that a "leading man in the Church" was the one who said to confine ourselves solely to the standard works. I would assume this man thought he was preaching truth, however, we have continuing revelation, and the Lord will reveal truth as He sees fit. This story exemplifies the following principle:
...the Church does have a responsibility to point out what is the voice of the Church and what is not. This is especially necessary when some alternate voice, deliberately or inadvertently, communicates a message in a way that implies Church sponsorship or acquiescence.
Having a personal testimony of this is key. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4 says:
Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me
This is something I find to be quite significant. I have often heard my peers justifying acts saying, "Well, that is only in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. I'm a young single adult so that doesn't matter anymore." or "That isn't really doctrine, it is more like a guideline." We have been told, by a prophet, that all the words which the prophet speaks should be of the utmost importance to us and guidance should be followed and taken to heart.

I think if we have a true conviction of the prophet, this will be natural for us. His words can be written in our hearts as he speaks them because we are prepared to hear them. Ideally we will be living in such a way that the Holy Spirit is our constant companion, and therefore we will be prepared to receive the prophet's counsel.

President Benson also said:
Therefore the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each month in our Church Magazines.
We should make a habit of regularly reading church magazines and other church publications.

Popularity is never a contest of truth. -Ezra Taft Benson
I appreciate that throughout time, prophets have stood as witnesses of truth and righteousness. As written in Nephi Chapter 6, Verse 5:
Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.
We are those who are not of the world. Yes, we do live on this earth, but as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin penned:
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
As we strive to become the sons and daughters that God intends for us to be, the Prophet is essential as far as giving us guidance as to how we can live our lives right now.
Harold Hill, in the Music Man, said:
You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.
The lesson learned is seize the day! Act now. Do whatever is necessary to ensure you are 'living and acting each day as a candidate for the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom'.
I know that Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet and that he has been called of God to lead the Lord's church at this time. I know that if we are diligent to follow counsel and strive to keep the commandments, we will be blessed.
Elder Oaks said:
Seekers who have paid the price in perspiration have been magnified by inspiration.
 Let us pay the price so that we may be so magnified.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Alyssa Joy on Finding Faith in Christ.

I'd like to say that I am brave, but I have realized upon reflection that this is simply not the case. Throughout my childhood (well at least following one certain traumatic event), I was always scared of one thing or another from robbers in the basement to being abducted, I was always scared of the worst possible outcome. This continued throughout middle school. I hated staying home alone or being alone in general because I feared that anything could happen to me and no one could know. I'm not exaclty sure why or when, but one day my mom gave me counsel that has shaped my pattern of thought since that time. She told me that faith and fear cannot exist simulateously in the same heart. She then asked if I was yielding myself to faith or fear? I greatly taken back. I had always been the type of kid who tried to do the right thing. At that point, I was gaining a sure knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel. I was shocked to realize that as much as I was striving to live the gospel, I was really missing out on the blessings of the most basic and fundamental but also essential principle of faith.

I quickly realigned my pattern of thought. At first, I would just ignore my fears or strive to cope with them, but I began to really succeed in my efforts and gain greater faith as I would turn my fears to others in prayer. Prayers in moments of insecurity were continually met with a spirit of peace and comfort which I know to be the Holy Ghost. This is the same comfort and peace I felt when turning to prayer in many instances of trial throughout my life both great and small. I wish I could find words to convey the endless and unconditional love that spoke peace to my heart in those instances. I can vividly remember feeling lost, alone, despair, or afraid and then knowing the only thing that would help was prayer, I would kneel and all my anxiety would be gone. My trials did not disappear, but my doubt did.

Overtime, I have come to a greater understanding of these instances. I was going througb a period where I felt a great closeness to my Heavenly Father, but not to the Savior. I knew the atonement applied to my life because I am not perfect, but not having committed any major sins I didn't know what I could do to feel closer to him. I can recall praying to have a greater love and appreciation for the Savior. Since that prayer, I have learned repeatedly through witness of the spirit that those instances of comfort all bear witness to the atonement of my Savior, Jesus Christ. The comfort I felt was always exactly what I needed and this is because Jesus Christ suffered for not only my sins, but also my pains and sorrows. He knew exactly how I felt, and is the perfect comforter when we feel pain. In Alma 7:11-12 we read:

11 And 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.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind 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 csuccor his people according to their infirmities.
This scriptures helps us to glimpse a portion of the incredible infinite love that the Savior has for each of as individually. He loves us so much. The atonement is infinite yet intimate. He suffered for all mankind, but if you or I were the only one to ever need it, He would have done it anyway. Then on top of that, we see from this scripture that not only did He suffer for us, but He took on more than ours sins so that He could help us along the way. He took our lashings and then He lovingly, gently, and patiently guides us on a path of true happiness. When He already did so much and still stands willing to do so much more for us, how can I not love Him? How can I not do anything that He asks of me? How can I not obey this commandment to have faith:
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." -John 14:27
when I know that He is standing by my side? He is the ultimate example. He is love. He is charity. He is my rock. I found faith through Christ before I even realized that He was the source. He is my light, life, and salvation. I cannot deny what He has done for me. I will trust in Him. 

I live with many fears, so I am not brave.
Yet, I am courageous because I know who stands with me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ben On Conversion

34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught. (Book of Mormon, Mosiah, Chapter 2)
On my mission, I referred to this scripture consistently; it motivated me to work diligently.  In my mission, many of the missionaries adopted the use of the phrase: all for all.  'All for all' was essentially a call to arms, and it was significant to us on multiple levels.  Christ gave His all for us and so we should give our all to the work.  Another meaning, if we are obedient and do all we can to do good, God will grant us all blessings that are available.

As a returned missionary, I recognize this scripture still applies to my life.  Although I am no longer a full time missionary, I am still accountable to my Heavenly Father for all that I have and all that I am.  It makes sense when I realize all that I have has come from Him and without Him there would be no "I am."  I realize the indebtedness spoken of in this scripture is eternal, but that means that I should do all that I can each moment of my life, here and now.

Bruce C. Hafen gave a conference talk in April of 2004 called 'The Atonement:All for All.'  I believe this is the source of this phrase used in my mission.  He draws out some interesting points that I'd like to share. (emphasis added)

We require mortality’s discipline and refinement as the “next step in [our] development” toward becoming like our Father.  But growth means growing pains. It also means learning from our mistakes in a continual process made possible by the Savior’s grace, which He extends both during and “after all we can do.”  
If we desire “all that [the] Father hath,” God asks all that we have. To qualify for such exquisite treasure, in whatever way is ours, we must give the way Christ gave—every drop He had: “How exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.”   Paul said, “If so be that we suffer with him,” we are “joint-heirs with Christ.”  All of His heart, all of our hearts. 
If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings.  
The rich young man had given almost everything. When the Savior told him he must sell all his possessions, that wasn’t just a story about riches.  We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing else we want more.  
So we must willingly give everything, because God Himself can’t make us grow against our will and without our full participation. Yet even when we utterly spend ourselves, we lack the power to create the perfection only God can complete. Our all by itself is still only almost enough—until it is finished by the all of Him who is the “finisher of our faith.”  At that point, our imperfect but consecrated almost is enough.  
May we not shrink when we discover, paradoxically, how dear a price we must pay to receive what is, finally, a gift from Him. When the Savior’s all and our all come together, we will find not only forgiveness of sin, “we shall see him as he is,” and “we shall be like him. 
There are some powerful statements here.  It causes me to ask myself, is there anything that I want more than eternal life?  My answer is no, but I'm not sure if my choices always reflect that answer.  I hope that I can be truer to that desire in my life.  I'm so grateful for a Father who is perfectly loving and perfectly patient with me.  My hope is to understand how I can best render my talents to the Lord and be a blessing to those around me. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ben On Revelation

It's a comfort to know that the Lord still reveals His secrets unto His servants. It brings me such joy to know that through various means, God still communicates with His children. I especially liked what Jeffery R. Holland said in the recent CES fireside.

"As we think on these things, does it strike us that spiritual exerience, revelatory experience, sacred experience, can come to every one of us in all the man and varied stages and circumstances in our lives if we want it."

"When you have to, you can have sacred revelatory profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in... in the most miserable experiences of your life, in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and oppostions you have ever faced."

I am grateful for this knowledge. As we find ourselves in the latter days, when the trials and tribulations of the children of God will seem unbearable, we will find that the Lord is still there to lead and to guide us in all that we do. If we are humble, prayerful, clean, and true in all that we do, we will find the guidance of the Holy Ghost to be such an amazing blessing in our life. I know that the Lord knows all that we should do. He has given us commandments to follow that we may become like Him and an atonement to become perfect as He is.

It is my hope and prayer that those who seek inspiration and revelation may find it. I know that revelation still occurs today through a prophet of God. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed that, the church of Jesus Christ.