Showing posts with label Luke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Luke. Show all posts

God's Love IS Unconditional

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In my younger years, I attempted to excuse myself from fully buying into the notion that God truly intended me to love all people. Surely he didn't mean for me to love people I have good reason not to trust, those who show animosity towards me and would do me harm if they got the chance. And certainly there was no obligation for me to love the people who had already intentionally and maliciously hurt me. 

A God who truly cared about me wouldn't put me in that position... right?

This was part of a prolonged, circuitous effort to justify myself in refusing to forgive several of the most abusive people in my past. I could "forgive" them in a way that was effectively meaningless, as long as I didn't have to love them. It was a rationale that came from a deeply hurt and fearful place.

As I continued to heal and reached a place where I was ready to handle the answers to these questions, the truth slowly coalesced in my own mind through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said love everyone...

To love my neighbor is a commandment that Jesus Christ teaches consistently throughout the New Testament, through just about every imaginable lens.

And in one of my favorite sermons in all of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that I am to love my enemies.

So between loving my neighbor and my enemies... who is left?

There is no one else left. Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Parents who sent him, never intended to leave us any room to make exceptions. The love they intend to teach us is universal, meaning without limits or exceptions.

It's through this same logical progression that I want to discuss why I believe, with every inch of my soul, that divine love is truly unconditional. I will also discuss why I'm deeply mistrustful of anyone who presents any vision of divine love that isn't unconditional.

One of the scriptures that has been in my life the longest as a disciple is Romans 8:38-39. It's probably the one I've reached for more than any other in my seventeen years of church membership, including now:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don't have to be a Biblical literalist to understand that these verses are describing a love that is infinite and eternal in nature. It does not end. It never changes. The love of God transcends all human weakness to encompass the entire human race. And to someone who is determined to make this a description of universal love again, they just stop there.

Read it again.

When it says that nothing and no one, including "any other creature," can separate us from the love of God, that includes ourselves. The literal meaning of these words is that nothing we will ever do will remove the love of God from us. By the time God's love is universal in all the ways that the scriptures describe, it's impossible for that love not to also be unconditional.

And treat them kindly too.

Why is this important? Because it's impossible to fully appreciate the motivation of Jesus Christ during his atonement in Gethsemane without it.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

That's what Jesus Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the reason he bled from every pore. It wasn't to set some impossibly high standard of righteousness he knew no one else would ever be able live up to. It wasn't to position himself as a superior to the rest of the human race. It was to make sure that no mistake any person would ever make would prevent them from re-entering the presence of our Heavenly Parents. His sacrifice does not exist as the ultimate condemnation of sin. It's the unconditional love he showed to all of humanity, including to those who would never choose to believe in him. It was the ultimate act of unconditional love.

The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon taught that when Jesus Christ was making that sacrifice, he saw his seed. I've heard some go so far as to suggest that he saw each and every person individually for whom he was making that sacrifice. I'm inclined to agree with that interpretation. (See Mosiah 15:10)

Abinadi then goes on to define exactly who the seed of Jesus Christ is. And as it turns out, it's not those who obey the laws of God with exactness. It's not the whole who need no physician. It's those who look forward to a remission of their sins, who are fully aware they are imperfect human beings who require grace to be made whole. As always, it's the harlots and publicans, the strangers and outsiders who go into heaven before those who find themselves thinking, "the world would be a better place if everyone in it were more like me and approached God exactly like I do." (See Matthew 9:12-13, 12:42, and 21:28-31. See also Jacob 3:5 and Helaman 7:24)

As I recall, that was the sin that got Lucifer cast out of the presence of God. He attempted to put himself between us and our Heavenly Parents with a plan that never would've allowed us to experience that divine love ever again. He, not Jesus Christ, is the one who wanted to make divine love conditional upon his own standard, which he intended to implement by force. He sought to make himself, not God, the object of our worship, the receiver of our love. (See Moses 4:1-4)

Why am I mistrusting of anyone who rejects divine love as being unconditional? Because my soul has been rejecting that plan since the very beginning. I don't trust anyone who views it as their right to stand between our Heavenly Parents and their children, interrupting the loving exchange between us and them. My Savior died so that no one would ever be in a position to do that. I reject the idea that any other intermediary belongs there, deciding how much divine love anyone else is entitled to experience.

When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

Why would someone put themselves in that position? The same reason I did all those years ago, in my own very human way: to justify myself in withholding my love from someone I didn't want to acknowledge was deserving of it. I wanted to abandon the second great commandment to love my neighbor, when I already knew there was no way for me to do that without utterly breaking the first. That is, to love God.

If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. 1 John 4:20-21 says the same exact thing:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This is as true for God as it is for us. Our Heavenly Parents have set no standard for us that they are not equally bound to follow. They have taught us to have universal, unconditional love for each other because it's how they live. It's the only way we can truly become like them.

And while we (and they) are fully aware that we will stumble along the way, I believe they would rather watch us stumble along the path of loving unconditionally than being perfect at withholding our love from those who just don't deserve it. Especially if we're going to point to them as a justification.

"Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest."

The folks angry with me for condemning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for how they're handling the sexual abuse case in Arizona feel that way because they don't know me. They don't realize that even though we're members of the same church, we haven't had the same life experiences. They clearly weren't raised in an east coast Catholic family when the Globe Spotlight story on clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church came out, and it shows.

First of all, y'all would know that the Associated Press piece was written by Michael Rezendes, one of the reports who worked that story in Boston.

They'd also have a much healthier self-awareness of what not to be saying and doing right now. They'd know that the only right place to be is on the side of abuse victims, especially when those victims are children.

My family didn't avoid the conversation because it was uncomfortable.

They didn't pretend like nothing was happening, that it wasn't affecting them.

They never attacked anyone for bringing it up in conversation because it might make the Pope or the Catholic Church "look bad."

They talked to each other openly and honestly about the situation.

They checked in on each other, trying to unravel if anyone they knew or cared about was connected to any of the accusations.

And I cannot stress this enough: they were NOT nice, measured, or flowery in the language they used. They put every ounce of east coast piss and vinegar they had into those conversations. They didn't hold back.

So if you think I'm being unreasonable in my criticism of how the Church and their attorneys handle themselves when these situations come to light, I hate to tell you this. But I'm what the tactful, diplomatic version of this response looks like.

If you can't handle me, you'd vaporize in front of them.

Y'all want to be missionaries in cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, but you can't keep it together in a conversation on sexual abuse? 

Those people would eat you alive.

You can tell me the church is doing everything it can for victims when it publishes an accessible list of known abusers like the Archdiocese of Baltimore does.

So do better. Be better. Be strong enough to go into the valley of the shadow of death for your own when they're suffering. Stop being more concerned about your feelings, your reputation, or the Church's appearance than you are about real pain. 

If you're going to be a person of faith in a situation like this, you need to know and have internalized what it means to "not have feared man more than God," to have a functional idea of what that looks like.

On Devotion

One of the ironies of Christianity is the very real temptation to inflate our own importance because of our association with Christ, despite the effort he undertook during his lifetime to teach people never to do that. 

When you look at the interactions between the Savior and the Twelve Disciples, the most repeated lesson he teaches them is to lay aside the frail, human ways they measure themselves against others. That lesson is the defining feature of one of the last interactions they have with him before Judas Iscariot betrays him. The original twelve apostles were not better than anyone else because Christ was in their lives.

One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is of the woman with the alabaster box, who anointed the feet of Christ with her own hair while the men of her society looked on with judgment and hatred in their hearts towards her. He honored her when they would not.

And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.

And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.

And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Luke 7:37-46

Observing the laws and ordinances of the restored gospel gives us a leg up on absolutely no one. That was never the point. Part of why I worship Jesus Christ is because he taught that lesson over and over again, especially to the benefit of the downtrodden in society. The widow's mite. Mary Magdalene. The woman at the well. The woman with the issue of blood. At the same time Christ honors these women, he condemns the disrespectful attitudes shown to them by his own followers and critics alike.

What I find interesting here, and have never noticed before, is how often the criticism from the Savior's enemies and his own disciples for these women was practically identical. The apostles' association with Christ didn't make them any more likely to love as he did. Perhaps the call of an apostle has never gone to the ones most uniquely qualified to love and serve as Christ did. Maybe it goes to the ones in greatest need of that tutelage in treating all people with unconditional love and respect.

A necessary part of discipleship is deconstructing and abandoning all the cultural attitudes we've absorbed, no matter where we live, that teach us to value ourselves more or to value anyone else less. Racism. Sexism. Classism. The rejection of and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community. The abuse and neglect of those with disabilities. These are not inevitable fixtures of modern life. They are moral failures that disqualify us from living in God's presence.

The dismantling of superiority, in all forms, is one of the hardest lessons we ever learn. As Christians. As humans. It never goes away. It never has. It never will.

Lighting the Y on Rainbow Day

Let it be absolutely clear to everyone who is watching the fallout from the Rainbow Day Y Lighting last night.

Brigham Young University cares more about the non-existent harm to a letter in the dirt than the active discrimination of its own LGBTQ+ students.

When Christ taught about cleansing the inner vessel, whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones, and priests and Levites who leave people to die on the side of the road, this is what he was talking about. (Matt. 23:25-27, Luke 10:25-37)

If you can't see that, don't bother calling yourself a Christian.

You may think you know Christ, the man who ate with sinners and publicans before the whole who needed no physician, but make no mistake:

He does not know you. (Matt. 7:21-23, 9:10-13)

What you have done to the least of these, your LGBTQ+ brethren, you have done unto him.

We are not just commanded to love our neighbors, we are commanded to do so with "love unfeigned." (D&C 121:41)

This thing y'all keep doing where you say you love all people, but call police on them for being visible behind their backs? That doesn't make you a disciple. It makes you a liar.

"If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out"

My LGBTQ+ friends and church family: 

I'm sorry the institution that brought us together continues to reject you, willfully misunderstand you, and persecute you. I'm sorry for your pain. In whatever way it helps, I'm the Church too. There's always room next to me.

And I swear to God, if any of you conservative, follow-the-prophet-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff, don't-say-Mormon-it's-a-slur-now types have something to say about it, I will unhinge the underpinnings of your entire worldview until you're as broken and lost as you've made LGBTQ+ people feel.

My words are so feeble to express the anger in my heart for the people I love, and how sick to death I am of them being hurt by bullies in pews and suits. 

Beware of the evil behind smiling eyes and faces. That's what prophets taught me. 

That's what these policies of exclusion and punishment are.


Our Heavenly Parents are not defined or constrained by the smallness and frailty in us. No one can separate them from the love they have for their children. They will love and bless with arms outstretched, unceasingly. This changes nothing in the kind and heart of any God worth worshiping. 

This is what I know to be true. I have felt it testified to me in every interaction I've had with the LGBTQ+ community. 

This prejudice, this refusal to yield to affirmation and acceptance is not of God. This is human fear and failure, pure and simple.

I made covenants to serve God, not men. These policies are the words of men, and they will crumble to dust and be silenced forever when we finally arrived home in Their presence. 

That's the hope and faith I'm leaning on today: that God is great when we are not.

Mary and Martha of Bethany

Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha, Minerva Teichert

What if the reason Jesus told Martha to stop bossing her sister around wasn't just for Mary's benefit?

What if he was also fed up with Martha cooking and cleaning up after a bunch of men who clearly didn't help at all?

Think about it. 

What if Martha's real issue isn't just that she's trying to passive aggressively enlist her sister into helping her through someone else? 

What if Mary choosing "the better part" is because she refuses to enable learned helplessness in grown men?

Emmanuel: A Closer Look at the Birth of Christ

Studying the Christmas story is something I've never had much occasion to do in my life. Growing up, Christmas was more about time with family than any sort of real religious sentiment. Now that my husband and I live far away from both of our families, deciding how to celebrate Christmas is part of creating our new family identity.

Behold the Lamb of God by Walter Rane

In my effort to find a deeper meaning and purpose in Christmas, I began with a closer look at the birth of Christ. Although I've read the story a few times, I've never given it the close analysis that leads to revelation before. And even if I had, it's only now that I've been a newlywed for some time that certain details catch my attention.

The familiar story as told in the Gospels is one of a young woman named Mary. She is visited by an angel and told "thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." (Luke 1: 31) She responds in faith, submitting to the will of God, saying,"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Verse 38)

At this point in time, she was betrothed to a man named Joseph. He was a carpenter who, like Mary, was born in Bethlehem but was now living in Nazareth. Susan Easton Black goes into a great deal of detail of what their betrothal would have been like in her talk from BYU Education Week 2009. It's called The Road to Bethlehem. It sheds a lot of light onto what that phase of Mary and Joseph's life would have been like.

She describes how their betrothal would have begun with a formal engagement ceremony, after which Mary and Joseph would have been considered husband and wife. They would not have lived together, and it was during this time that Joseph would have built a house for them. Once that was finished, their engagement period would end and they would be formally married in front of the entire community. 

Until then, it was Mary's family's responsibility to protect her reputation. She would be veiled and escorted in public, and as far as every other young man around her was concerned she was already married.

Mary takes a trip to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant by a miracle with John the Baptist. They stay together for several months, and by the time Mary returns she is undeniably with child.

Joseph has a choice. He can "put Mary away," which means to end their engagement. (Matthew 1: 19) He has already decided this is what he will do. For him, it's only a question of whether to do it publicly or privately.

If he does it privately, it becomes nobody else's business but their own. He need not give an explanation to anyone, they simply break off their engagement. But if he puts her away publicly, he would essentially go to the elders in Nazareth and accuse her of being unfaithful. She would be accused, her family would be shamed. Because she would no doubt be convicted, they likely would have convicted her of adultery and would have grounds to execute her by stoning.

Putting away a woman publicly existed entirely for a man to save face. He could present himself to the community as one who cared about the law, and he would not have been questioned by anyone. But to condemn a woman to death requires a vindictive spirit which clearly Joseph does not have. He decides to put her away privately, no doubt sparing her life.

Joseph is a man of great faith, and has the spiritual gift of dreams and visions. He dreams he sees an angel, who delivers him a message: 

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.
Matthew 1: 20-21

Joseph decides to continue with their engagement, The story does not pick up again until Joseph is returning to Bethlehem to be taxed, and he brings Mary with him, "his espoused wife, being great with child." (Luke 2: 5)

Notice then that they still aren't married at the time Mary gives birth. She is also "great" with child, which has always troubled me. Why on earth did anyone think it was a good idea to make a woman that pregnant walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem? According to Google Maps, the walking distance is 136 kilometers (84.5 miles) and would take 36 hours of straight walking. At 4 miles a day, you'd make it there in 21 days.

When they arrive, they can't find anywhere to stay. Because it's tax season, there are likely many people who are visiting in the city. Depending on when they arrived, there may not have been any room for them in the homes and inns. But there's an element to this story that seems to have escaped people's attention today but certainly wouldn't have back then.

Mary and Joseph aren't married, yet Mary is pregnant. I don't know how "cohabitation" was looked upon in ancient Israel, but I doubt it would have been favorable. Did people turn them away because they didn't want a "fallen" woman giving birth in their house? Perhaps that's why Luke states specifically that "there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2: 7, emphasis added)

Because Christ was born at the Passover season in April, the shepherds would have been out in the fields with the sheep. The stables built for them in the sides of caves would have been empty. This is where the Good Shepherd was born, in a place meant to protect the flocks. No doubt it gave Mary and Joseph the privacy they would have desired for such a sacred event.

After Jesus is born, Mary had to go through a period of purification for seven days because she gave birth to a son. On the eighth day, her son would be circumcised. She would be ritually "unclean" for another 33 days. Then she would have to offer up a young lamb as a burnt offering and a dove as a sin offering. But in the case of one who was too poor to offer a lamb, another dove could be offered instead. (See Leviticus 12)

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
Luke 2: 21-24
Turtledoves are the offering of someone who is destitute. Because we know Joseph had a trade, and was well-respected enough in the community that he was permitted to marry, we know he must have been a person of a certain degree of means. I don't suggest he was wealthy, because we don't know that to be true. But beggars didn't marry, and no self-respecting family would give a daughter to someone who could not provide for her.

But Joseph and Mary, if they weren't beggars before, are certainly beggars now. The reality of their circumstances, although existing only between the lines, seem rather clear to me for the first time.

Both of their families appear to have disowned them, for at least some duration of time surrounding the birth of Jesus. They have not been permitted to marry, likely because of the suspicion in the community around Mary's pregnancy. The thought that someone would take it upon themselves to see justice was done against Mary would be consistent with the treatment we see Christ receiving in every other season of his life. I find it likely that Joseph weighed what danger was posed to Mary against what risks she faced in a long journey, and still thought it better to remove her from Nazareth.

Mary has no dowry to offer, because they have not yet been married. That she has nothing to offer to this trip makes me wonder, for the first time, if her parents knew who she really was. Did they disown her? Did she tell them she would give birth to the Son of God? Did they believe her? Or did they condemn her with everyone else in their village?

Luke 2 says that "when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth." We could interpret that to mean that they left within 2 months of arriving in Bethlehem. But we know this not to be the case because of the timing of the Wise Men coming to worship him, and the details added by the account in Matthew.

Matthew 2 begins by stating that "when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem." (Verse 1)

Bethlehem was where they headed, and Bethlehem was where they found Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. The star leading them there appeared on the night of his birth. Depending from whence in the east the Wise Men have come, the journey could cover several hundred miles and take several months. By the time they arrive, verse 11 informs us that Jesus is a "young child," and the family is now living in a "house."

They did not return to Nazareth right away. They left behind everything, at least for a season--all of their possessions, their families, their associations, everything that Joseph had been building for them. We might think that the first one to seek the life of Jesus was King Herod. But there is reason to believe that an untold number of people had already tried--and failed--to prevent the Son of God from coming into this world.

Matthew does not reveal whether Joseph and Mary returned with Jesus to Nazareth before going to Egypt. Because Luke tells us they did, we may think it might have been for a short time--possibly a visit. Matthew's timeline suggests that they left from Bethlehem to Egypt, and only returned to live in Nazareth after Herod's death.

What does all of this change about Christmas for me?

What I have disliked most about Christmas is how I see people use it as a reason to do once a year what they really should be doing all the time. People try to polish things up at this time of year to make them look nice for pictures, and let them go again immediately after it's over. It's a stressful build-up, a prolonged period of pretending, and an even more depressing let down. From start to finish, I have simply wanted no part of it.

Realizing that the Christmas story, when you really look at it, is a messy story about a family trying to find peace when they are up to their eyeballs in problems is very reassuring to me. Not because I like to see people with problems, but because I know it's honest and real when the struggle is present. And when you see the story for what it really is, it makes the way we celebrate Christmas seem ridiculous by comparison.

The Christmas story, when you really dig into it, is not a happy story. It is a story of two people who are trying to cope with a responsibility that is completely beyond them, while everything around them in life is falling apart. And exactly because of that incredible responsibility, that Life which has been entrusted to their care, they somehow manage to have hope in spite of all fear.

And it's not because of anything they are doing. They seem to be making things up as they go along. Their hope comes from Christ's very presence in their lives, even though he's a helpless baby. Knowing who he is, that God has kept his word to send the Messiah--this is the source of their peace.

Some people want Christmas without Christ. But they also want Christmas to be a time of peace. They want what never was, and never can be.

They see the disconnect between his perfection and their imperfection, and assume he can't know anything about their lives. If only they could see how wrong they are. Jesus Christ comprehends the needs of every person, exactly because his circumstances were awful.

He comprehends exactly how bad life can be, and how much we need someone on our side to make things right. Because he comprehends the cruelty in people, the unfairness in life, he doesn't want us to go through it alone. He wants to love us when we feel unloved, or even unlovable. He remembers us when we feel forgotten. He sees us when others pass us by. He hears our cries for help when no one else is listening.

There may have been no room for him and his family in the inns of Bethlehem. But at Christmas-time, may we always make room for him in our hearts. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


As I prepare to be sealed in the temple at the end of this month, I have given reflection to the topic of covenants--and discovered many things I do not know, and more still that I do not fully understand.

Two questions have been mine, which I have pondered in my heart, which I offer to you now.

The first question was to ask Why does God use covenants to grant us eternal life?

Mortality is a stewardship in which we are entrusted with many things which are not our own. A body, a family, all of these earthly possessions, even our very lives—these things do not belong to us. They have been entrusted to us by a living God, through an agreement which we made with him before we came to this life. It is an agreement we accepted here on earth with baptism, and it is the reason we have everything we treasure right now. They are gifts from God because He promised to care for us, and to provide us with an inheritance if we are faithful. If we honor our God and keep His commandments, if we are just and honorable stewards over those things which do not yet belong to us, all of these things we treasure will become ours.

In Luke 16, Jesus teaches:

10 “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust in much.
12 “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”

If we want to inherit eternal life, we must be faithful and build His kingdom with all we have been given in our mortal life. In all that we are, in all that we do, and in all we possess—we must build the kingdom of God. That is the promise we have made in all of our covenants. By doing so, we create the inheritance we shall receive. We shall have an eternal family because we have made an eternal family. We shall have the celestial kingdom because we built our own corner of the celestial kingdom.

 If we have built a lesser kingdom through our words and deeds, that is the gift we shall receive. I believe the phrase my mother would use here—one that expresses my point perfectly—is “You made your bed, and now you lie in it.”

My second question was one of comprehension. Oftentimes in recent conferences and talks in every imaginable setting, I have heard the phrase “Cleave to your covenants,” with the promise that they will provide protection from the temptations offered in this world. And I realized that I didn’t know what it means to cleave to my covenants. They aren’t physical, I can’t touch them, I can’t hold them—so how would I cleave to them?

To cleave to our covenants has two parts. First, it means to maintain our part of the agreement by keeping the commandments of God. It means to live up to who we are and what we've promised, no matter what the cost. Jesus taught:

“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
John 14: 23 (to Judas Isacariot)

I have found that every time I have disobeyed a commandment of God, it was because I simply didn’t love Him enough to do as He said. It was because I had forgotten the worth of His atoning blood in my life, and I had lost sight of His power to rescue me from anything and everything. There is no peace to be found in this world, or in our hearts, until we make peace with Christ. That’s why He always invites us:

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Revelation 3: 20

To cleave to our covenants is no different than to cleave to our Savior. There is no difference between them.

The second part of cleaving to our covenants is to trust God to keep His end of the agreement. We must believe in our hearts that God is our Father and that He loves us. We must have faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and have faith that He wants to forgive our sins and save us. We must trust in the future they have prepared for us, no matter what form that future may take. “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29: 11)

 Isaiah and Paul both testified:

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
1 Corinthians 2: 9

When I was in Brazil, there was a phrase I saw everywhere. It was painted on buildings, printed on store receipts, tagged on the backs of street signs, and was written in many of their hearts. The phrase was “Deus é Fiel.” God is faithful.

We have more reason than anyone else in the world to believe that God is faithful because we are members of His restored Church. We have made covenants with him through His restored priesthood authority. When we cleave to our covenants and keep God’s commandments, having faith in Christ, we can be assured that the future is as bright as our faith.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Called to Serve

Because I had such a great time making a temple prep playlist, I thought it only appropriate to make one for mission prep. However, I feel like such an undertaking needs to come with a disclaimer.

The temple is a beautiful representation of everything that is best in life, in eternity, in mankind, and in righteousness. It's beautiful in every imaginable way--serene, quiet, and approachable. That constant peace and calm, the comfort of the Spirit, is among the many reasons why the temple is such a pleasant place to be.

Missions are not like that.  

Going on a mission is a very different experience from going to the temple. That is why I find it so odd that even to this day, some members of the Church associate qualifying for a temple recommend with being mentally and emotionally prepared to serve a mission. The whole purpose of raising the bar for missionary service was to eliminate this assumption because a mission requires so much more than the spiritual bare minimum.

I've never heard anyone anywhere say that their mission was perfect--totally devoid of all problems, a season of perfect peace, enjoyment, and relaxation. If I ever heard a returned missionary say such a thing, I'd be strongly tempted to ask them if they were called to serve in a cardboard box.

What you do with the gospel in powerful, meaningful ways is infinitely more important than what you know about it. As such, these talks I've assembled are not meant to impart information in the same way my temple playlist did. This list is meant to inspire action--changes of habit, heart, and mind. They give meaningful, important suggestions for how we can become better missionaries--not just how to go on a mission.

Materials and Resources:


  • D&C 4
  • D&C 11
  • D&C 79 (The mission call of Jared Carter, who would bring John Tanner into the Church)
  • Luke 9: 59-62
  • Acts 1: 6-8
  • Acts 3: 11-15
  • Acts 9: 1-31
  • 1 Peter 3: 8-16
  • Alma 19: 16-18, 28-29
  • Alma 22: 13-18
  • Alma 26
  • Helaman 5
  • Judges 4 (It occurs to me that in the mindset of the Old Testament, missionary work and idolatry are both totally synonymous with military might and conquest. Therefore, reading about the armies and battles of Israel in the Old Testament is like reading about the great missionaries of the ancient world.)
  • Judges 7: 1-9 
  • Joshua 1: 9-11
(As always, feel free to leave your favorites and suggestions in the comments.)

This is only a cursory look at one of the most important responsibilities we have in the Church. Missionary work has such a rich history, with so many men and women working together at the battlefront. I have waited for many years to be able to join them, and in a few days time I will begin my own ministry in the Lord.

I've been reassigned to the Provo MTC until further notice, due to delays with my visa. If it comes before the end of my training, I will go straight to the Brazil CTM and finish my training there. I was disappointed about the change at first, but have since embraced the idea of returning to Utah to train with my comrades in arms there. I know that as long as I serve with willing men and women who desire to bring others to Christ, it doesn't matter where I train.

I know that the ministry I'm about to enter is for the true and living Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth today. His authority and power have been restored, and all who will seek those blessings can receive them if they will follow Jesus Christ and be baptized in His name. I know that the name of Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which we can saved, returning home to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

That desire to return home, having given all, is the defining expression of my faith--the greatest desire of my life. I am privileged to take my testimony to the world, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eternal Life

I gave the talk in my branch's Sacrament Meeting today. I was assigned to speak on family and family history work. This talk is the most difficult one I've ever had to prepare. I'm grateful to the Lord for the chance to prepare it, and the experience it has given me. Enjoy!

*   *   *

When we die, we begin the process of slowly being forgotten. At first, our memory burns brightly in the minds of everyone who is wounded by our passing. They grieve, trying to comprehend how our life glows—no matter how faintly—in one moment… and in the next, passes too quickly for them to see, too finally to comprehend, too powerfully to prevent, yet with a magnitude that sometimes shakes them so deeply, they are never the same again.

The spark of our divine essence—that portion of godliness which gave us meaning, beauty, purpose, and life—is no longer tangible. Our spirits have fled, and because we are unique in our position and creation, we leave behind an undeniable void which cannot be filled—only remembered, or forgotten.

Without intervention, we deteriorate and fade; bodies decomposing in a steel box in the ground, or bagged and folded neatly in an urn on someone else’s shelf. As a family historian, it never ceases to amaze me how divine lives become pathetically reduced to bits and pieces of paper—a census record here, a photograph there, which become fewer and fewer in number as the years pass.

Where is the glory, the life, in a handful of ashes and dust?

It’s easy for us not to care about the answer to that question, isn’t it? We’re young and invincible—entitled to at least another 50 years on this planet to do whatever we want, right?

But what happens when the one who slips away from this world is someone we never wanted to lose? What happens when we are the ones so deeply shaken by grief and pain that we are overtaken, our hearts are broken, there is no comfort, no peace, no life without the one we have lost? What happens when we must face death—and our peace of mind, our ability to continue functioning from day to day, relies on knowing whether or not we live again after we die?

I want to introduce my topic with a very important section from the Doctrine and Covenants. But for that section to have weight and substance like it should, we should understand the grief of the man who gave it to us.

Joseph F. Smith was the son of Hyrum Smith, who was murdered and martyred alongside his brother Joseph at Carthage Jail in 1844. Joseph F. Smith was only five when he lost his father and his uncle. At 13, his mother Mary Fielding Smith also dies. Throughout his life he buries a wife, Sarah, and 13 children. The first child he loses, Mercy Josephine, is only 3 when she dies. President Smith records these thoughts from that time in his journal:

“My heart is bruised and wrenched almost asunder. I am desolate, my home seems desolate. … I look in vain, I listen, no sound, I wander through the rooms, all are vacant, lonely, desolate, deserted. … No beaming little black eyes sparkling with love for papa; … but a vacant little chair. … and only the one desolate thought forcing its crushing leaden weight upon my heart—she is not here, she is gone!”

Near the end of his life, President Smith loses a son. This loving father has not hardened against what death can do so easily, and writes:

“My soul is rent asunder. My heart is broken, and flutters for life! O my sweet son, my joy, my hope! … O God, help me!”

But death does not cease from him. That same year, he loses a daughter-in-law to a deadly scourge, the flu pandemic which has already killed millions of people by the time she dies from it. One historian comments on this sickness, that “Nothing else—no infection, no war, no famine—has ever killed so many in as short a period.” Because of the overlap between this flu and World War I, the worldwide death toll reaches 50 million people between 1917 and 1918. Devastation and death, missing sons and daughters, and forgotten generations become a way of life. (see "I Saw the Hosts of the Dead," Ensign)

This period of suffering forever changes the world. It’s in this modern age that faith begins to die in ways it never really has before—a spiritual death from which many nations have never fully recovered.

When Joseph F. Smith loses his precious daughter-in-law to the flu pandemic, the anguish of millions became his pain. These circumstances, and the wisdom of the Lord, inspired the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, also known as the vision of the dead.

President Smith had been pondering the first epistle of Peter in his room, when the Lord gives him a vision. He sees Christ in the three days of His death, establishing His ministry among the dead.

…the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
12 And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality;
16 They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
17 Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
23 And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell.

Joseph F. Smith sees the Lord preparing his valiant spirits to preach the gospel to the dead. Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaiah, and many others were organized, and:

33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.

These spirits were taught and prepared to be missionaries by the very same gospel principles we are supposed to teach. Every time the Savior organizes His ministry, it’s based on the same unchanging principles, which lead us to eternal life.

This organization among the dead is the foundation for the temple work in our day. That’s why this section also teaches:

47 The Prophet Elijah was to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to their fathers,
48 Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.

So they see the foreshadowing of a new and glorious day—the restoration of this gospel under the hands of Elijah. This was one of the very first things that Moroni taught to Joseph Smith when he appeared to him—that Joseph would receive the authority and ministry of Elijah. From D&C 138, we learn that the work of Elijah is the ministry for the salvation of the dead.

This has everything to do with us, and we are mentioned in this section as well:

53 The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work,
54 Including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead, were also in the spirit world.
55 I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.
56 Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men. (emphasis added)

Brothers and sisters… you have been told you are noble and great ones by prophets and servants of the Lord, who know you better than you know yourselves. Some of you have been told this all of your lives. But do you understand what makes you a noble and great one? Do you realize what this means you have already done and seen? Do you understand what requires you to do now, and to become?

What makes us noble and great ones is the work of the temple—participating in the work which provides salvation for the dead. If we are not engaged in this work, we are not standing in the position the Lord has assigned to us, as members of His Church in this dispensation. When our efforts at gospel living do not lead us to the temple and to our families, we frustrate the purposes of the Holy Priesthood, we thwart the progression of our ancestors and our posterity, and we rob ourselves of the preparation which allows us to receive and appreciate eternal life.

Many of us want to be received into the Celestial Kingdom, but we have not yet understood that if we want eternal life, it will not be given to us just because we asked for it. It won’t be given just because someone else in our family did all the work, and we came after them to reap the blessings.

Eternal life means living forever with our families. If we have not personally invested ourselves into our family relationships, we won’t receive eternal life. We want the great inheritance, but what have we done to bring salvation to our dead so we have an inheritance? What efforts have we made to know our history, to prepare to teach it to our children? What efforts have we made to protect and preserve that history so it isn’t lost or destroyed—not just spiritually by having sealings performed, but preserving the actual records which remain of our kindred dead? What are we doing to continue the records of our family? What are we saving and preserving of our own lives, to leave to the generations who will come after us?

Because we are single, we look at eternal life and we instantly think of marriage. We think our biggest impediment to receiving the glory of God, aside from our own imperfections, is the fact that we are not yet married. I challenge us this afternoon to change this perception. We must open our eyes to the great gift of eternal life, and realize that everyone, everyone belongs there—but the place we prepare for ourselves will determine the inheritance we receive.

There are four essential relationships which make up the divine inheritance of eternal life. The parents who gave us life, our ancestors who gave us a heritage, our spouses who will give us a promise, and our children who give us a legacy; in heaven, these become our greatest treasures. Those four relationships are crucial—without any one of them, we have not received the fullness of God’s joy, and our eternal life is not secure.

So in the time I have remaining, I want to give us questions to ponder. I pray that the Spirit will use these questions to help us recognize our challenges in our family relationships. By doing so we can counsel more directly with our Savior for the guidance and support we need to overcome our challenges. I promise that as we make efforts to counsel with the Savior to improve these relationships, we will see and feel the promises of Elijah come to fruition in our lives. Our hearts will turn to our fathers, and their hearts will turn to us, and we will be willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve those relationships forever.

Why is our relationship with our parents essential to obtaining eternal life? How can family history work improve my relationship with my parents?

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles has taught:

“…the final responsibility to prepare for salvation and exaltation rests upon each person, accountable for individual agency, acting in one’s own family, bearing… sacred title[s] of mother, father, daughter, son, grandmother, or grandfather.”
“In Church callings we are subject to release. But we cannot be released as parents.”

Our parents will always be our parents, and we will always be their sons and daughters. No amount frustration, personal injury, or strife can or ought to break the bonds between parents and their children. I learned this lesson after years of trying to push my parents away from me.

My parents had many challenges in their lives, which affected their parenting in significant ways. I was deeply hurt by many of my parents’ choices, and it was easy for me to believe my problems outnumbered my blessings. But as I grew older and became more familiar with the lives my ancestors, I saw how the story of addiction, abuse, and divorce had repeated so many times in my family. Suddenly my parents’ struggles were symptoms of a much larger problem.

Generations of my family had been powerless to face the hell of their experiences, living without faith and hope in Jesus Christ, without redemption, without the healing inherent in the Savior’s forgiveness. They needed the gospel, and the empathy and compassion the gospel inspires. Nothing but the truth would ever set them free.

And in order to reach the generations Heavenly Father had given to me, I had to begin with my parents. At the time, there was nothing more impossible to me. I viewed myself as being wholly incapable of what the Lord was asking me to do. But my discipleship, my covenant, and my honor rested on my ability to love, forgive, and sustain my parents in their calling—to seek for their healing and their blessing.

And I stand before you today to bear you my witness that Jesus Christ does change our hearts. He does not set us up to fail—He sets us up to become joint-heirs with Him. He sets us up to become sons and daughters, gods and goddesses, the most beautiful creations in the reaches of this universe. The only way to conceive the enormity of the Lord’s intentions for us is to understand that He sacrificed Himself so nothing would be impossible to us. That includes overcoming problems with our parents.

When everything is at stake, He does not fail.

I would not have that witness to bear to you today if it hadn’t been for family history work. Family history work saved my life.

What does my life mean to my ancestors? What should their lives mean to me? How can I develop a relationship with my ancestors who have passed through the veil?

President Henry B. Eyring gave a talk called “Hearts Bound Together,” in which he makes some profound statements:

“After you find the first few generations, the road will become more difficult. The price will become greater. As you go back in time, the records become less complete. As others of your family search out ancestors, you will discover that the ancestor you find has already been offered the full blessings of the temple. Then you will have a difficult and important choice to make. You will be tempted to stop and leave the hard work of finding to others who are more expert or to another time in your life. But you will also feel a tug on your heart to go on in the work, hard as it will be.

As you decide, remember that the names which will be so difficult to find are of real people to whom you owe your existence in this world and whom you will meet again in the spirit world. When you were baptized, your ancestors looked down on you with hope. Perhaps after centuries, they rejoiced to see one of their descendants make a covenant to find them and to offer them freedom. In your reunion, you will see in their eyes either gratitude or terrible disappointment. Their hearts are bound to you. Their hope is in your hands. You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor on to find them.”

President Eyring’s promise is real. Great power, resources, and inspiration come into our lives when we dedicate ourselves to gathering our kindred dead. We find great use for our talents, and discover in ourselves talents and abilities we never knew existed. How paradoxical it is that seeking for our own increase, our own divinity, is the surest way never to find it. That is why President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:

“In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our happiness, but the number of prayers we answer may be of even greater importance.”

Our ancestors are pleading to be found. Whether or not we give ourselves to answering their prayers is a true measure for how ready we are receive eternal life, and function in the trusts which make up the Celestial Kingdom.

How will doing family history work help me to find my spouse, and live up to the promises which I desire to make with him/her? Why is that promise so important?

Family history work prepares us for marriage in three essential ways. It requires us to put someone else’s needs before our own. It leads us to the temple. And it teaches us to search for someone until we’ve found them—and I would add, to verify our results with both inspiration and common sense.

Jesus taught us how to search when He gave the parable of the lost coin:

…what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Luke 15: 8-9)

Finding someone, after you’ve spent years searching for them, is an amazing feeling. It’s true when you find a relative, and it’s especially true when you find your spouse. Life feels more complete when they are with us, and the joy they bring us brings out the giver in us. We suddenly need to know what the very best thing in the whole world is, so we can give it to them. Why? Because they’ve made us so happy, we just have to find the very best way to express the love and gratitude we feel for them.

That very best thing, the deepest expression of love that any soul has to offer, is a promise—a covenant. It is a very deep profession of love and trust to offer another person a sealing to you and to your family. We extend to them the very same tie, the same expression of love, we have given to God Himself. For God to expect us to make covenants with each other… that is incredible.

The Lord trusts us to invest in these covenants the best we have to offer. To do so is to recognize the divinity in ourselves—to “know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 2)

That is the purpose of every covenant we make. If we aren’t recognizing that goodness in ourselves, we need to repent and remember that we are children of God. Doing family history work is an excellent way to get that perspective, and never let it go.

How will doing my family history improve my relationship with my children?

It may seem odd to talk about improving relationships with children we don’t have yet. But President Julie B. Beck made some observations in this month’s Ensign that bear repeating:

“Evidence is all around us that the family is becoming less important… Many times a career gains importance over the family…
Many of our youth are losing confidence in the institution of families. They’re placing more and more value on education and less and less importance on forming an eternal family. Many don’t see forming families as a faith-based work. For them, it’s a selection process much like shopping. Many also distrust their own moral strength and the moral strength of their peers. Because temptations are so fierce, many are not sure they can be successful in keeping covenants…
Youth are being desensitized about the need to form eternal families.”

I’d like to add some of my own observations to hers.

Nothing in our experience outside of the Church encourages us to have children. We’re taught to view children as expenses and liabilities instead of the joy and the blessing they are. In fact, one of the most dangerous messages Satan sends to us today is that children are a nuisance—that they do nothing but need, nag, and annoy us to death. Satan would have us believe that getting married and having children ruins our lives. And if he can’t get us to believe we’ll ruin our lives, he tells us we’ll ruin our children’s lives with our inexperience or lack of resources.

How do we combat these lies and deceptions? How do we keep our minds and hearts open to starting families and having children?

For me, that answer came from doing family history work.

You can’t stand by the Savior in His temple, watching Him bless and reunite families, and not be changed by it. When you feel someone else’s pain because of their separation from their family, and then you step in and end it… when you feel the relief that you just brought to that soul, and you realize they only wanted to go on living because they wanted to see their children again… you walk away from that experience with the truth.

Children are everything. They are worth the sacrifices we make to have them. Mother Eve herself has said:

“Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5: 11)

Eve has said what we should never forget—that bearing and raising children is why we came to earth. No amount of education, no career, no amount of wealth or entertainment can replace the joy that comes only when we love our children and raise them in righteousness—knowing they are sealed to us forever. God has said that His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children—why would the work we do for our children, or the families of the dead, be any less important?

President Beck also cautioned in her Ensign message that “This generation will be called upon to defend the doctrine of the family as never before. If they don’t know the doctrine, they can’t defend it.”

Part of that defense, that stand we must take, is to be married and to have children. A major part of it is also to increase our offering in the temple. I challenge you all to begin your work in your families today. Let us commit now to always be temple worthy, so we stand prepared to bless our dead. They need us. They love us. Their ability to receive eternal life is tied to our performance in this life. If we compromise ourselves, we compromise them.

“Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.” (D&C 87: 7)

That day is coming. But the Lord does not want us to be afraid. He says:

41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
43 And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
44 Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
45 And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
46 Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready. Even so. Amen. (D&C 50)

We can trust Jesus Christ with our sins. We can trust Him with our weaknesses, our desires, our hearts, and our lives. If we stand by Him, we will be able to face the evil and deceptions of our day. I know His promises are true, and I know this Church is true. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and it was translated by Joseph Smith. I know Joseph Smith is the prophet of this restoration. If we stand by Joseph Smith, we stand by Jesus Christ. I bear you that witness with all the certainty of my soul, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Gems of Heaven

--originally posted on Waters of Mormon on August 30, 2007--

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23: 34

This scripture has been the source of my strength this week because I've been dealing with people and disappointment in excess lately.

Being the book-oriented person that I am, I took to the scriptures very easily, and I love them because they are so timeless. For just about every struggle you could possibly have, there's a scripture that gives succinct pieces of advice and comfort for that struggle.

The first time I experienced this phenomenon was before I was baptized. I was looking for a scripture that I wasn't certain I had ever even read before. I knew that my Baptist youth leader had one from Jeremiah that she liked a lot, and I thought that hers was the one I was searching for. But when I read it, I knew that scripture wasn't the one I needed. I was thumbing though the Bible that her husband had given me, and I prayed to find whatever it was I was looking for.

I opened to Psalms and began to read. Eventually I came to Psalms 27:10, and I was floored. That scripture is proof that God knew there would be teenagers, and He loves them very much. That spiritual experience was by no means the strongest of my life, but it was the first that led me on my quest for gems of knowledge; the scriptures that touch your heart the second you read them.

I consider myself a treasure hunter when I read my scriptures. My gems of knowledge are color coded based on how they've touched me. If they're from/about the Savior they're yellow. When they relate to women, Zion, YW or RS (light blue); my patriarchal blessing (dark blue); the temple (green); scripture mastery, warnings, or references to Satan (brown); war and fighting, agency, or contrast (orange); and references to the offices or functions of the priesthood are in red.

It sounds really compulsive, but it works for me. Each gem has a reason why it's precious, and each color reflects a different gem. I have a treasure trove of sapphires and rubies, emeralds and amethysts, garnets, amber, and topaz, and its a special kind of treasure that I will never lose because they're written in my heart. (3 Nephi 13: 20-1)

I have always believed that you can tell a lot about someone from their favorite scriptures. When I go to another person's home, one of my favorite things to do is to search for refridgerator magnets, pictures, wall hangings, trinkets, or any other kind of knick-knacks that might have scriptures on them. Going past churches in my daily travels is fun too because their roadside signs sometimes have a scripture that I rehearse immediately in order to look up later.

To me, seeing a scripture at times like that is never a coincidence; I believe that Heavenly Father talks to us through these scriptures that are all around us, if we would just look them up and ponder them in our hearts. I had that happen with a scripture in a actor's playbill bio once.

And since I've comitted to reading the Book of Mormon cover to cover, my treasure chest is overflowing. I invite any of you who lack such treasure to begin your quest anew; to become as a child and remember all of the times you played pirates, and the buried treasure was just an adventure away. Our Father in Heaven not only believes in such adventures, He encourages you to seek them out.

To my more seasoned explorers (and even the not-so-seasoned,) what are some of your favorite scriptures? Why are they your favorites? What quests have you had that have led you to the prescious gems of Heaven? And if you have not begun your quest yet, how can we help you find what you're looking for?

Zion: It starts with Me

Good morning roommate... no really! I don't mind if you wake me up! I would actually find it more offensive if you had any doubt whatsoever if it's OK to wake me up for church.

MMM. Homemade apple sauce for breakfast. I love when I can eat the things I cook. :)

Wow. Is this what being early to Church looks like at BYU? We're only 15 minutes early and the room is empty. Even the bishopric isn't here yet. Gotta love Mormon Standard Time.

I don't LIKE being released from callings! I never know whether to raise my own hand for the vote of thanks when I'm the only one being released!

Sacrament Hymn 185: Reverently and Meekly Now

I have ransomed even thee... 

I never thought of myself as being kidnapped, but in a real sense that's very true. I am as trapped by mortality as I feel sometimes... but my Lord paid the price to set me free. And not in some esoteric future either. Right here. Right now.

I am free.

Oh wow... what is this feeling?

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

At last, heavy tears gather on my lashes. They fall slowly, clinging to my face the whole way down before landing softly in my lap.

I wipe them away as I take my piece of bread, the largest I can see, and wonder with a faint smile if that's how I get myself into these situations.

Drip. Drop. Drip.

I have needed these tears. I could do nothing to give my grief to them--Lord knows I've tried--and I could not bring myself to drink the gall of my own struggle. I simply watched the cup fill to brim, then overflowing... 

When, at last, my soul is touched.

And as I looked again, the weight of waiting appeared as a tiny plastic cup before my eyes! How I rejoiced, just as silently as I had suffered! 

Dear God, I thank thee! I thank thee...

Subject for talks: Testimony

"No one has a testimony so strong that if they stopped working on it, it would continue to grow." Speaker

"Life is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience," Speaker likening Elder Holland's statement on missionary work to cultivating a testimony.

Bishop then tells us we're combining for Sunday school and Relief Society and asks us not to leave. They have a special message for us.

Joshua 1: 9. Isn't that the Mutual Theme?.... YUP! Oh boy, I called it! High five roommate! Yeah!

Bishop didn't know that was the Mutual Theme? That's funny.

Bishopric takes turn addressing us. They're basically giving us step by step instructions on how to build Zion, but they Just. Aren't. Saying. That!

I raise my hand and point out the reference to the promised land in the chapter heading.

Bishop asks "And what is the promised land?" Someone say Zion!  "Eternal life." Well, that answer is so good I'm not going to argue with it. They'll figure it out eventually.

For now, I can be content knowing that I see what's coming. I am Zion, and my contribution to Zion begins with me. I should do more reading on the subject. I suspect that the timing of the Savior's coming is unknown because the time has not been set; rather, it depends on how long it will take us all to build Zion so we can present the Church of the Lamb to the Lamb. But that's just my working theory for now.

Until then, Zion starts with me, and I start here:
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." Luke 6: 38

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