Showing posts with label John. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John. Show all posts

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

Holy Week: The Tomb

Image of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Biblical record tells of what happened to the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. The most relevant details from that night come from Matthew 27.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

The disciples of Jesus sought to make the burial of Jesus as dignified as possible. Joseph of Arimathea donated his own tomb, newly dug, to hold the body. From John 19:39, we learn that Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes for the preparation of Jesus's body. His body was hurriedly wrapped and laid to rest because the Sabbath was nigh. The full Jewish customs for burial gave way to their haste, as indicated by the fact that the women closest to him would later try to bring additional spices for anointing the body. By then, they were unable to enter the tomb because it was sealed. To break a Roman seal was against the law, the punishment for which was death. These women, in their grief, devotion, and courage, disregarded that threat.

The Gospels don't reveal where the spirit of Christ would've been in this moment, what he was doing, or who he was with. Peter spoke to these questions in 1 Peter 3:18-120 and 4:6, but not in the kind of detail that we now possess. For Latter-day Saints, these questions were answered more fully on the 4th of October, 1918. This was the date when President Joseph F. Smith revealed section 138 of the  Doctrine and Covenants for the first time. 

25 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his ministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to teach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

26 And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were but few who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

27 But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.

29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;

30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

We didn't have the details of how Jesus Christ organized the spirits in Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison to teach/be taught the gospel so their souls could be redeemed until section 138 was revealed. The whole mechanism of performing vicarious ordinances on behalf of the dead in temples relies on the work Jesus Christ did in the Spirit World in the brief space of time between his death and resurrection.

It's here that we learn that those who assist Jesus with this work among the dead are called "the noble and great ones." Those who are redeemed go on to redeem others, including our own family members who receive their vicarious ordinances in the temple. They are also among the noble and great ones.

This is what it means for Jesus to have conquered death. It's not just because he possessed to power to bring himself and others back from the dead. It's because he organized the ability to minister to the dead and to reclaim their souls from hell. They may have died without receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that doesn't automatically damn their souls to hell. Those with the power to redeem the dead, granted by Jesus Christ, can give those spirits another chance to accept his gospel.

Why do Latter-day Saints have temples? What are they for? For redeeming the dead with vicarious ordinances we perform for those in our own families who have died. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And our ability to do that was put into place when Jesus was in the tomb. His body was there, but his spirit was not. And thanks to him, the world is forever changed because of it.

The Good Shepherd

Let's talk about sheep.

Jesus taught that we are his flock of sheep. And the likes of Greg Olsen have made that sentiment way more endearing than I think it was intended to be. When you actually know something about animal husbandry, his meaning changes from the way we typically understand it.

If you had to describe sheep, here are several words and phrases you could use:
  • helpless 
  • vulnerable 
  • fragile 
  • able to be injured or killed remarkably easily, especially by accident
I'm learning animal husbandry for my certification as a veterinary nurse. Sheep scare the shit out of me. Handle them wrong and you can literally snap their necks. Their skeletons are fragile. They can't regulate their body temperatures much beyond 50°F. If you handle them roughly, you can break their back legs. You can't grab them by the fleece because you can permanently ruin their skin. They can't jump especially well. They have no natural defenses of any kind. If you remove a baby from its mother before she can bond with it, even to save its life, she will abandon it entirely. Touch them wrong and you could do irreparable harm to them.
There's no such thing as a little "oops" with sheep. Every sheep has to be treated like the slightest injury is a big deal. There's no such thing as being too sensitive or too careful with sheep. Their feelings matter because they are incapable of withstanding any kind of violence. There is no place for violence in a sheep herd. 
The shepherd's biggest worry for the sheep isn't just that a predator could come and wipe them all out. It's also that he could literally kill them by accident through bad husbandry.  
If you fancy yourself any kind of shepherd like Jesus Christ was, in any kind of ministering capacity, you need to recognize that one of the greatest threats to its survival isn't wolves. 
It's you. 
Specifically, you assuming you know what you're doing whenever do not. Because in that scenario, it's not a question of if you will do irreparable harm to some of the sheep in your care. It's when and how.
To be a good shepherd is to love sheep in all of their "I'm allergic to tap water" glory. To care enough to know how to handle them with love, meeting all their needs, no matter what they are.
When we talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, that's what that means.

Xenophobia, Nationalism, Propaganda, and the Death of Jesus Christ

After a conversation with my husband in which the root of some of my current religious struggles took shape, I was reading in John 11. I found some interesting material I've never noticed before.

Source: Lazaro, Ven Fuero, Jorge Cocco Santangelo

In that chapter, Lazarus gets sick and dies. Jesus gets to Bethany after Lazarus has been dead for four days. Because Bethany was so close to Jerusalem, it wasn't safe for Jesus to come any sooner. As it was, the apostles thought they would all die there. 

Lazarus being restored to life is such a beautiful story, I've never paid attention to this subtext of personal danger on the Savior's part. But in our current political climate, it's hard not to see it above all else. In my mind, the rational for why the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus was a power struggle born of jealousy. But the scriptures we have clarify that it goes much deeper than that.

48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation...

52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

Their response to power they could neither understand nor control was not just jealousy. It was the irrational, but deeply-held belief that they would lose their nation and identity as Jews to Rome. They were afraid that Jesus would reunify the lost tribes of Israel, reunifying the kingdom and thereby challenging their power and superiority.

It was an anti-immigrant, nationalistic stance born of fear, hatred, and ignorance.

How did the Pharisees and their supporters justify the decision to kill Jesus, through which they would break any law, enter into any conspiracy, and shed innocent blood?

Nationalism. A rotten fruit of the human spirit, from which no good has ever come.

If the Pharisees were alive today, they'd be wearing red hats that say "Make Jerusalem Great Again." They followed Caiaphas, who couldn't be a better parallel for many of the leaders on the world stage today. Caiaphas was willing to justify murder for the sake of his nation, because "it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

Jesus was arrested illegally, given an unjust trial, sentenced against the law of his people, and killed because of a vocal minority's fear mongering and manufactured narratives. No one understands nationalism and the injustice that comes from it better than he does.

Like the rest of us, Jesus was a man of many good intentions living in an unjust world. Nothing he could do in mortality could ever make life just. He suffered and died because he tried to make life just a little more fair for the disadvantaged and the outcast. He believed in equality. He believed, and hoped against hope, that he could make a difference. It was exhausting to him. The more he gave to the poorest in his society, the more some people hated him. And even he couldn't change that.

We all will experience that same ugliness of spirit, because evil is timeless & has a habit of repeating itself. But we can't give up, the same way Jesus never did. We can't make things fair. But we can make things better than they would be if we did nothing at all.

Now that Jesus is no longer mortal, has risen from the dead, and sits in judgment over the entire human race, he has the power to right all wrongs. He has the power to achieve justice and fairness. We will have our day in court. We will all have justice.

The injustice and unfairness that surround us are not God's doing. But with his help, we can travel on the same long, arduous road where he walked to create change. It won't be easy, but nothing worth the time ever really is.

A More Intelligent Modesty

Modesty can be a pretty divisive issue in the Church, and a lot of that has to do with the quality of the conversation. I see a lot of people using statistics and correlation arguments, as if we can prove that modesty is better. Those who are immodest are more likely to be attacked and bear children out of wedlock. Those who dress immodestly are more likely to break the law of chastity or other commandments. 

These arguments are not only bogus, they have no power to convert others to Christ because they have no connection to Him or His doctrine whatsoever.

At the same time, there are two arguments I have seen to defend greater lenience on immodesty: that standards of modesty are modern teachings set forth by current prophets, but are not to be found in the scriptures. I've even seen it said that standards of modesty were never taught by Jesus himself. These are only two of some ridiculous claims I've heard, and these are the types of false doctrine that inspired me to write this post.

I'm going to write the talk on modesty that I wish someone would have given me when I was in Young Women--a more intelligent discourse on modesty. If we're going to help teenagers resist against all that is immodest around them today, the true doctrine of modesty is something they're going to need to understand.

What is modesty?

The best guide on modesty is the For Strength of Youth pamphlet--which now has a website. If you have any doubt of what God expects of you on any issue, more likely than not the answer is here.

Modesty is a very important, personal decision to dress according to the high moral standards of the Savior. It is one of the important decisions of discipleship that applies to all of us--old and young, male and female.

Much of what we understand of modesty only encompasses a few scriptures, usually in relation to the modesty of women. But throughout the scriptures, the standards for dignified clothing and appearance applied to men and women alike. While Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2: 9-10 are indispensable to the conversation on modest dress and demeanor, the doctrine of modesty is all encompassing throughout the scriptures.

Modesty, however, can be a very loose term. It applies as much to clothing and appearance as it does to a simple and refined character. I want to talk intelligently about the dress standards of the Church, and I've chose to define these modesty standards in two ways: the Lord’s teachings on clothing, and His teachings on nakedness.

Clothing and nakedness have both a literal and symbolic place in scripture. Before we can understand the doctrine of modesty, we need to be familiar with the teachings of ancient prophets, as well as Christ himself, on the significance of clothing and nakedness.

What can we learn from ancient scripture on God’s standards for clothing? How does this relate to our standards of modesty today?

Clothing has always been a literal representation of piety. To receive clothing, or standards for clothing from God is a symbol of our covenant with him. To be covered by this clothing means to be covered and protected by him and His law. And on one of the most fundamental Christian levels, to give clothing to the naked consistently represents the highest form of charity.

Beginning with the coats of skin that God made with Adam and Eve, there is a robust history on God's dealings with the clothing of his people. The Hebrew word used for Atonement is כפרת, or Kaparah, which also means "to cover." While the language suggests a loving God covering us with his protection against all sin and destruction, it also suggests the coverings He has provided for His children since the beginning of their mortal probation.

The high priest's attire set Aaron and the Levites apart as the priestly classes. Under the Law of Moses, strict laws relating to clothing were put into place which set the entire Jewish population apart. One perfect example of these many customs, traditions, and laws is the robe without seam: a long white robe which would be woven without seam, and was not to be made of mixed fibers (see Leviticus 19: 19.) We can safely assume that Lehi and his family carried these same Jewish traditions with them over to the new world, because we see them talking about cleansing their garments of blood/sin, and rending their garments to show humility and repentance.

We must also keep in mind that their standards of clothing were stricter than ours. To keep the private, sacred parts of their bodies covered simply went without saying to the culture of Ancient Israel. The fact that weaves, fabrics, ornaments, and other aspects of fashion dominate the Old Testament conversation on clothing doesn't mean that God didn't care about hemlines and cleavage back then. It simply reflects that it was a matter that didn't need to be explained to them in obvious detail.

Christ abides by these very same teachings and standards, showing their validity as sacred law. His seamless robe demonstrates that these were not just traditions invented by priests out of chauvinism; the symbolic nature of clothing was so important to the Lord that prophecies of Christ’s death include his seamless robe being torn (John 19:23.) 

And who could forget the beautiful story of Christ healing the woman who reached out to touch his garment? (Matt5: 28-30) While our Catholic and Orthodox neighbors attribute the power of this miracle to the garment itself, we know to attribute the power of Christ to Christ himself--not to his possessions.

It was because of his virtue, his modesty, his total moral perfection before God that even touching the raiment of Christ allowed someone to be healed. Christ may never have addressed modesty by name in his teachings. But in this account we see the power of modesty, chastity, and virtue modeled perfectly by the master teacher. 

Clothing is also consistently associated with the language of salvation. (see Isaiah 61: 10, Revelations 3: 5) If our clothing is truly unimportant to God, why is it inseparable to His covenants throughout history, and finally inseparable from exaltation itself? Why does Christ himself abide by those principles if they are simply false traditions taught by men?

Here I address the accusation that Jesus never cared about modesty because He never addressed it by name. We have no proof that he never addressed it, we only assume this to be the case because such an account is not included in our scriptures. But why should we expect Christ to command us in all things before we are willing to follow His example? It should simply be enough to live as he lived without the expectation for compulsion.

As we can see, the Lord has always used clothing to express His love to His children, to signify His covenant with them, to set them apart from all that was immoral and iniquitous in the world. As we follow that same example, we receive His divine protection.

Today, our standards of modesty are different. In fact, we enjoy some of the greatest freedoms in terms of what to wear that the world has ever known. It is true that knee length skirts, one piece bathing suits, covered backs and chests, and sleeves on everything from t-shirts to wedding dresses can present challenges to us. But we enjoy freedoms for styles, fabrics, weaves, colors, and designs that reflect our cultures from all over the world. For that we must be truly grateful, and rejoice in our diversity.

Modesty has been a part of man’s relationship with God since the beginning. And just as Christ said that Solomon in all his wealth was never arrayed so finely as simple lily, we must be willing to receive reality checks on our clothing choices when they come. Otherwise, we miss the lessons of loveliness from the Creator of all that is truly and timelessly beautiful.

What can we learn from ancient scripture about nakedness? What are the teachings of Christ on it specifically? How does this knowledge relate to standards of modesty in our day?

Nakedness has three connotations in the scriptures: poverty, sin and rebellion. In the teachings of Christ, we see references to all three. In the same way that clothing had both temporal and spiritual significance, so too does nakedness.

In Matthew 25: 35-40, we see Jesus speaking in relation to the nakedness of poverty. The Lord and His prophets alike hardly refer to the poor without expressing it in such plain terms of “clothing the naked.” His mandate is to clothe nakedness wherever we find it, for to do so is to love Him. To fail in this duty is no different to God than if we were to leave Him naked and destitute. He leaves no room for argument or interpretation. (See also James 2: 16; Jacob 2: 19; Mosiah 18: 28.)

But in Matthew 22: 11-12, we see Christ speaking against a spiritual nakedness, a rebellion which in this parable hearkens back to Satan himself. To be without the wedding garment means to be a stranger to the Bridegroom, in this case to God himself. As God has offered his covering, His Atonement, freely to all--some will yet return to His presence in their mortal nakedness. They have stubbornly remained attached the world in all its trends and sensual pleasures. They are the natural men, enemies to God. In verse 13, we read about what He intends to do in this situation.

In the language of the scriptures, Satan is naked (Job 26: 6.) He has been since the beginning of the world because he did not receive a body, nor the coats of skin Adam and Eve received to clothe their bodies. This clothing demonstrates how Satan was cast out, and is not covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

That image of being naked and separated from God repeats throughout the Book of Mormon. After the Lamanites separate from the Nephites, Nephi records that they began wearing very little clothing, hunting wild beasts in the forest, and living in ever growing depravity (Alma 3: 5; 43: 20; 44: 18.) The Book of Mormon testifies repeatedly that nakedness is a representation of apostasy.

Much of the feeling the Lord communicates in regards to immodesty is written in very symbolic language. Isaiah by far provides the most vivid descriptions—but any member who habitually skips over the Isaiah in their scripture reading will be unfamiliar with it.

Isaiah 3 details the depraved state of Zion during his day—the poverty and social breakdown which surround them on all sides. All that is praiseworthy in their society, including the worship of God Himself, has been abandoned and consumed in sin. Isaiah records that, “the shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.”

But when you read the chapter in full, much of the description of their sin is expressed in the imagery of clothing. In fact, he spends nearly half of the chapter comparing Zion to a harlot, dressed in the clothing which has become typical to their time period (see verses 16-24.) Their immodesty has become synonymous with their immorality and their rejection of the Lord.

Isaiah states that “Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.”

Immodesty is a provocation to the Lord. It is offensive to Him. And when we interpret Isaiah to be speaking of his own time and experience, that interpretation is not accurate. In addition to speaking prophetically of/to his contemporaries, he is also speaking of/to us about the days in which we live.

Nephi had the same opportunity to see our day, and he remarked in 1 Nephi 13: 7, “I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.”

How would Nephi know a harlot in our day if he saw one? The same way we recognize one. It’s not from the clothing they’re wearing, it’s from the clothing… well, that they aren’t wearing. To be immodest is to be wearing the trademark of a harlot. But what harm does that really do? Does a tank top and booty shorts really make that much of a difference in someone's salvation?

Verse 9 in the same chapter with Nephi is where we find our answer.

“And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.”

We bring too much of our own wisdom and rationalizing into the teaching and discussion of modesty. Immodesty is not wrong because it could cause others to view us sensually, although that does happen. It's not because it somehow diminishes our worth in the eyes of God. It isn't because immodesty leads us to break other commandments, or the law of chastity itself. It isn't because in one fell swooping neckline, all society is led to moral ruin.

The question of hemlines and necklines, the sleeves, skin-tight and see-through, backs, breasts and bathing suit--all stem from one reality; one issue that leaves all justification speechless before it.

Revealing ourselves and our nakedness is offensive to God.

To be most effective, the reasoning should end HERE. We need not make up secular or logical reasons to convince people of virtue's virtue. No one will be converted or persuaded by anything less than true principle, and the desire to do God's will anyway.

The question then, becomes one of desire. Those who disobey the standards of modesty seek to be sensual, which our culture can no longer distinguish from being desirable. But to be sensual is a sin well laid out in the scriptures. To be sensual is to be carnal--and to be carnal and sensual is to be devilish. It is to trade the Spirit of God, which attends us when we are meek and submissive, for the spirit of rebellion.

This is the sin of immodesty. It is not a sin of secular, statistical, or logical indiscretion. It is a sin of rebellion. And it is that spirit of rebellion, not the behavior of any sin in and of itself, which destroys individuals, families, and nations.

The Consequences of Immodesty

To add some additional observation from personal experience, I have known several women who refuse to enter the temple and make covenants with our Father in Heaven. Their reasoning? Because they know their manner of dress will not cover the garments they receive as part of those covenants.

Rather than repent, they seek to cover their sin by saying they aren't ready to lose their youth (one may only presume they mean their sexuality) to the garment. When I think of their husbands and children, whose prayers to be sealed together are thwarted because of a wife/mother’s vanity—I admit, it makes me angry. And I wouldn't be bringing this up if it wasn't something I have seen over and over again in various places I have lived.

In the choice between all God has to offer you—your family, your eternal progression, your divine inheritance, the ability to live in God’s presence, the fullest expression of Christ’s love for you—and a mini-skirt… there are women out there who would still choose the mini-skirt.

That may be the most expensive mini-skirt they ever own—because it could end up costing them everything that matters to them. All I can say is, I hope it was worth it.

Those who forfeit their relationship with God long enough because of immodesty soon find themselves in a spirit of mocking that which is sacred. They criticize others for living or promoting high standards of modesty. In their guilt, they resist against all correction. In their pride, they view themselves as being morally superior because anyone who attempts to correct them must be doing so sanctimoniously. It soon becomes impossible for God to reach them in their hardened state. They find fault in God’s laws, then in his people, in their leaders, and at last with the Church itself.

"...and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit." 1 Nephi 8: 27

But the most tragic part of that situation is, no matter how much they lash out against God or His people, they’ll never leave a mark. The only person they are truly hurting is themselves.

Modest clothing is not a burden. It is an expectation of the Lord, one that shows the Lord how much we respect ourselves and Him. It is a respect we cannot show in any other way. It is what the Lord has asked for and taught continually--the standard he has set throughout the history of the world. In short, modesty is a simple standard with eternal consequences.

When we seek after God with all of our hearts, one of the standards we will inevitably run into, regardless of our religion, is modesty. When we allow that standard to mold us and shape us into a fit reflection of God’s grace, we become holy as He is holy.

I know that God is our loving Father in Heaven. I know that Jesus is the Christ. Our Savior gave all He had in order to pay the price for our sins. In exchange for our salvation, He has asked for our obedience. I know that when we offer that which He has asked of us, nothing will ever be found wanting in our lives. No sin we leave behind will ever bring the sweetness of joy, which only following Christ can bring us. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly is Christ's church restored to the earth. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith was a prophet, and we have living prophets and apostles on the earth today.

I leave my witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Sealing Power: "On earth as it is in Heaven"

[This is the talk I gave in Church last week. I've been slow in getting it up, but I got the time today to get it done. Enjoy!]

What is the sealing power?
The sealing power is the power given to the prophets of God which allows them to perform miracles on the earth. It was a power extended to the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Elijah sealed the heavens for 3 1/2 years so that it would not rain. In the Book of Mormon, one of the prophets named Nephi also received the sealing power, and in Helaman 10 we can see a clear definition of what the sealing power is:

Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
Helaman 10: 7-10

Nephi was trusted with this power because, as it says in verse 5: “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.”

Jesus Christ also possessed this power, and exercised it throughout His ministry. All power in heaven and earth was given to Christ while he was here on earth (Matt 28: 18) He extended that power to his servants beginning with the apostle Peter, saying:

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Matt 16: 18-19

The Prophet Joseph Smith received the keys to use this power from the prophet Elijah in 1836. (See D&C 110) Joseph Smith sealed those keys and powers upon his successors, to our current prophet today, Thomas S. Monson. President Monson is the only person on the earth who possesses the sealing power as given to Elijah and the prophets and apostles of old. While he may delegate those powers to other men throughout the world to make them accessible to us, all those who have received the sealing power can trace their authority back to the prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How is the sealing power used today?

The primary purpose of the sealing power in our lives today is to be sealed together for time and all eternity in our families. By entering into one of the many temples throughout the world with our families, we are able to stand before a man with this authority, and he declares that our family will be together forever. God honors this declaration on two conditions—that the sealing was offered by someone who possesses the proper authority, and that we honor the promises which we will make with God at that time. They are no different than the covenant we make at baptism—therefore, if we will continue to obey our baptismal covenants, we will always be worthy to be sealed in the temple.

So, what is an eternal family?

In the strictest sense, an eternal family is a husband and wife who have made covenants in the temple to be together for time and all eternity. The children who are born to them after their sealing are born in the covenant, and will automatically be sealed to them if the children accept the gospel for themselves. Children may also be sealed to their parents and choose to become part of an eternal family after their birth.

The Book of Mormon teaches about eternal families in Moroni 8:

10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.

Being sealed to our families provides us with the blessings we most desire in the Church. Because they are so important, problems and misunderstandings with regards to being sealed can be some of the more painful experiences we have in the Church. I want to address some of these today through questions I know many of us have. I pray that as I address these sensitive subjects that I will be able to provide you with helpful suggestions, peace of mind and heart, needed healing, and a more determined resolution to serve the Lord in his great work of Salvation.

How can the blessings and promises of the sealing power bring me closer to my spouse?

Adam and Eve provide the example which every couple desires to follow.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Genesis 2: 23-24

Christ echoed this same teaching in the New Testament when He taught:

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Matt 19: 4-6

When Christ was teaching this doctrine, he was not referring to marriage. He was referring to something far more permanent. It operates under the assumption that the relationship does not exist until death do you part, but continues after death.

The entire purpose of being sealed is to become united in love and trust with your spouse. It is the opportunity to create an unbreakable bond with someone in a spirit of openness and honesty, sharing yourself with someone you can trust to love and appreciate you for who you are. It is an equal relationship of acceptance and kindness, where any injury felt by one person is felt by the other.

This unity is not necessarily accomplished by becoming the same person. It means to be a complement to each other—to depend on each other, and to be each other’s strength. You may be very different from your spouse, as I have come to recognize that I am a near polar opposite from mine. But in this recognition, I see how very much I need him, and how incomplete my life would be without him. And in many ways, I’m coming to recognize how much he needs me. As it says in 1 Corinthians 11:11:

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

Our minds may be different, but when we agree we are unstoppable. I rely so much on his wisdom and quiet example, and he relies on my affection and determination. For us, being sealed together has provided so much opportunity for growth, and our love for each other is deeper now than it was before we got married. The only hope we have of receiving eternal life is with each other, because together we have so much more to offer the Lord. Being sealed to my husband has put my choices and my future into a very different perspective

What happens if I am not sealed to my family? Will I still be able to be with them after I die?

When we are sealed, we receive a promise to come forth in the first resurrection. In D&C 132: 19, we can read this promise. It’s a very long verse, so I will only read a section of it:

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection…

We will all live again after we die because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because He was resurrected, we all shall be resurrected. We will become immortal, never to die again. This will happen regardless of who we are or what we do—it is a free gift to help us overcome death.

However, this does not mean that we will continue together with our families—this blessing is only given to those who decide to be sealed, and who enter the Celestial Kingdom together. When we are sealed, we are promised that we will come forth as a family in the 1st resurrection—but it depends on each family member keeping their part of the promise. We all will be judged, and the fact that we are sealed will not override the decision of our judgment. If we do not keep our promises to the Lord, we have broken our agreement with Him and He is no longer bound to keep up His end of the agreement. (D&C 82:10) We have no guarantee that we will live with Him again, but fortunately He is the only one who will decide our fate. But that is why He makes His expectations exceedingly clear throughout the scriptures, including in John 14: 21:

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

If someone does not want to live in God’s presence according to His laws and commandments, He will not force anyone to do so. In order to achieve an eternal family, all family members must decide together that this is what they want. Alma taught this to his son Corianton when he said:

Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
Alma 42: 27

No one will ever be prevented from coming to God who wants to be in His presence. But the condition will always be that we keep His commandments. (D&C 76: 50-53) If we want no one to be left behind, we have to decide that individually for ourselves, and together as a family. When each family member feels responsible for their part of an eternal family, this is when a family can truly progress together.

What if my family members have chosen not to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and are not sealed to me?

With time and patience, every good person who deserves to live in the presence of God will make it back to His presence. I believe this because I have seen it powerfully enough in my own family.

I was promised that my father would accept the gospel if I would pray for Him and forgive Him for all that has happened between us. This was the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do. My father and I have been estranged for nearly 10 years, and we did not reconcile before his death in 2009. I still struggle to be at peace with him—but that is because of my own weakness. He has since accepted the gospel, has become a priesthood holder, and I trust that he praises God every day for giving Him a second chance. If my father can be baptized, anybody can. If my father has a hope to be sealed to his family, to become a member of an eternal family, every person on this earth can receive that blessing. My father’s life is a testimony that everyone can be saved by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

My mother is not interested in the Church, and at times I wonder if she will ever accept the gospel. But then I remember that she has an entire wonderful family on the other side of the veil waiting for her.

There is a promise in Malachi that reads:

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Malachi 4: 5-6

Joseph Smith expounded on this promise in D&C 128: 18 when he said of our ancestors:

For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.

My mother is the perfect example of someone who cannot be saved without her family. She loves her family more than anything in this world—it’s the closest thing she has to understand what believing in God is really like. She would change her entire life to be with her family forever. And they love her dearly. They reach out to her continually. The times she is most receptive to the gospel are when we are discussing her family history. She loves to talk about it, and to be touched by the lives of her ancestors. She craves that association. When my mother truly understands the doctrine of eternal families, she will be baptized. Because I know her, I can also say with confidence that she will probably refuse to be baptized for any other reason.

In the meantime, I need to continue providing the ordinances of the temple to her family members—linking them to her so that she might receive this blessing. So much depends on us doing our genealogy and family history work. And I know that if the veil could be parted for just a moment, for us to see our kindred dead who have passed on, we would see them all around us—helping their descendants who need to receive the gospel. I love my ancestors, and I know that because of the ordinances of the temple, we will be an eternal family someday.

If there is still a lot of work to do in your family, don’t lose hope. Keep trying. Good things will happen if you are patient and persistent.

What if my family members are sealed to me, but they choose to leave the Church and choose not to live according to the Lord’s standards anymore? Will they still be sealed to me forever?

There is a temptation to think sometimes that as soon as someone decides to leave the Church, or break a commandment—that’s it for them. Especially if they went through the temple—they are punished even more severely for falling short of the glory of God. They don’t qualify for any more help, they get no more blessings, and God is so offended with them that He literally turns His back on them. The justification that comes along with this belief is that we don’t need to do anything to help them because they made their choice. If they want to come back, they’ll come back—and they are only worth our time if they decide to stay.

But the scriptures are full of examples of God doing the exact opposite. God understands that when we push Him away is when we need Him the most. We may wonder if He has forgotten us, or our family members who have strayed, but He NEVER stops trying to save His children. He would never give up on His children because they are precious to Him!

Many times, the help He extends to those who have wandered comes exactly because they ARE sealed to Him and to their families. He has every right to decide to uphold His end of the agreement, even when they have not. I saw Him do this often as a missionary. He wants you all to know that He is still doing this today—here, now—for every family in this ward.

Once when the Lord’s people were so full of iniquity that God could have cast them off forever, He still chose to be patient:

Nevertheless, for my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.
1 Nephi 20: 9

It is not up to us to decide who God should try to save, and who has wandered too far for too long. There is NO SUCH THING as too far, or for too long. God doesn’t believe in it, and neither should we. He loves all of His children, and if we could fathom that love enough, we would not be sitting here—content, and sometimes even bored. We would be on our feet, saving souls. And if we are the soul who needs saving, we will be wise and ask for help.

I promise you that if you will approach Our Father in Heaven in prayer, and ask Him what your family needs most in order to become an eternal family, He will answer your prayers. He will instruct you through the Spirit what changes you most need to make to come closer to that goal. If you implement that instruction, I cannot tell you what will happen. But our God is a God of miracles, and I know that at the very least, it will be exactly what you needed all along.

I know that this Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ here on the earth. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet; that he was endowed from on high with the sealing power. I know President Monson holds that sealing power today. If we will make the necessary sacrifices, we all can be sealed to our families forever. I leave my witness with you that Jesus is the Christ. Every good thing that comes into our lives is a blessing from His Atonement.

May we love Him more fervently and with more devotion is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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