Sunday, December 28, 2008

Worthy of Our Parentage

We are who we are in a very large part because of our ancestors. Their choices have shaped our opportunities and our circumstances, for better or for worse. Thankfully, I am descended from a long line of noble ancestry. And I owe everything to them.
I am the product of hundreds of years of searching for Eternal Truth. My ancestors, without exception (at least that I know of), came to the United States of America seeking religious freedom. On my mother's side, many of my ancestors were Puritans and Pilgrims. In fact, one of my great-grandfathers, Richard Warren, was on the Mayflower and was part of the scouting party that eventually chose Plymouth as a place of settlement.
The rest of my ancestors on my mother's side came to America to establish Zion. They were from the British Isles and the Netherlands. Mormon missionaries came to their countries and taught them in their homes, streets, and churches. My ancestors recognized that the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of them was named Mary Soar Taylor. Mary lived in Nottingham, England and was widowed when she was still a young woman, leaving her alone to care for her two sons, Jesse and William. Missionaries came and taught her that the True Church of Jesus Christ had been restored, and she accepted their message with all her heart.
She and her children wanted to join the Saints in Utah, but they were poor and had to wait several years until the opportunity came for them to come to Zion. In 1856, they left England and arrived in the Midwest where they would continue their trek. They couldn’t afford a wagon, let alone a team of oxen, so they pulled their belongings and supplies in a handcart in the Martin Handcart Company. But they left for Utah late in the summer, and an early snow storm caught their company on the high plains of Wyoming.

They were stranded.
Providentially, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had found them before the snow storm as he was returning from a mission in Europe. He had a fast team of horses and a carriage and made it to Salt Lake City on October 4 to report that there were still two companies on the plains.

Even though Brigham Young immediately sent help, Mary, her children, and their company didn’t arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until late November. Many died, and those who didn’t lost toes, feet, fingers, and legs. William eventually died from the effects of the experience. (For more information about the Martin Handcart Company, see James E. Faust, "Go Bring Them Home from the Plains," Liahona, Nov. 1997, 3; James E. Faust, "A Priceless Heritage," Ensign, July 2002, 2; "Remembering the Rescue," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38; Paul H. Peterson, "They Came by Handcart," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 30.

Of all people, I think the members of the Martin Handcart Company were justified in complaining and criticizing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church. But they didn’t; other members of the Church did. The following is an account of one survivor of the Martin Handcart Company as he responded to criticism:

Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

In substance [he] said, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …

"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it."

He continued: "I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company." (James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).

I know that Mary, Jesse, and William felt the same way.
In fact, Mary wrote a brief history of her life and closed it with her testimony. She said:
I have written this sketch of my life as stated for the benefit of my grandchildren and others and I also add my testimony of the divinity of this work. I know that it is the work of God and hope and trust that any of my posterity that may come in possession of this may be strengthened in their faith by it, and be worthy of such parentage for truly we suffered much for the truth's sake, but the reward of the faithful is sure.
It's hard to hold back the tears when I read my grandmother's words. She gave everything because she knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the restored Church of Jesus Christ, containing the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I strive to be "worthy of such parentage." I will be faithful to the end to this Gospel and to this Church. It is the least I can do for Mary and for Jesse and my other ancestors on my mother's side who gave everything to come to Zion.
And I am equally beholden to my father's ancestors. They were Mennonites. The Mennonites were part of the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation. During the Reformation, several men in Switzerland decided their infant baptisms were invalid because they did not have the option to choose for themselves. They were rebaptised, and thus the Anabaptist movement was born.

Among all the sects which emerged in Reformation Europe, the Anabaptists were the most radical. They sought to Restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ. They actively proselytized their neighbors, and many rejected the authority of their secular leaders. As a result, the Anabaptists suffered severe persecution. Among the most radical of the Anabaptists were those living in the city of Munster, Germany. There, one Anabaptist leader claimed to be the prophet Enoch and Munster the city of Zion. They drove all non-believers from the city, but their neighbors retaliated and slaughtered the Munster Anabaptists.

After Munster, the Anabaptist movement needed leadership when a former Catholic priest, Menno Simons took the lead of the largest group of Anabaptists. He preached the need for the separation of Church and State, the importance of Faith and Works to gain salvation, and pacifism. The were known as the Mennonites.
The Mennonites gathered in communities and supported one another physically and spiritually. And because they were pacifists, they were driven from place to place. Finally, they were allowed to live in Prussia in the early Seventeenth Century. After one hundred years and prosperity in Prussia, the Prussian government demanded that the Mennonites give their sons to serve in the military.
Cathrine the Great of Russia, hearing of the Mennoites' prosperity in Prussia, invited them to come to the Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia had just acquired in the Crimean War. She promised that they would never have to serve in the military. But in 1871, Czar Alexander II of Russia ordered all men within the boundaries of his empire to submit themselves to military service. However, he opened a ten-year window of emigration for anyone opposed. The decree outraged the nearly forty-five thousand Mennonites, and after several failed attempts to dissuade the Russian government, the only solution was emigration.
And my ancestors ended up in the Midwest states of Kansas, Missouri, and the Dakotas. Their search for Truth and their desire to live according to the Truth they had received brought them here. Little did they know that the ancient Anabaptist desire to restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ had been fulfilled through Joseph Smith. And little did they know that one of their descendants, my father, would find the fulness of the Gospel.
Dad was in high school working in a grocery store in Moses Lake, Washington. There were Mormons working in the store with him. And he had felt that there was something missing in his life. He approached the Mormons and asked if they had anything about their Church that he could read. They did better by bringing him to the missionaries and giving him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Dad knew the Book of Mormon was truly Another Testament of Jesus Christ before he even finished reading it. He joined the Church and later served a mission in the Netherlands. While there, he had a mission companion named Jan. Jan's mother had just passed away, and his little sister, Diane, had to leave BYU to take care of her siblings.
Dad and Diane started writing each other. They were later married and had eleven children.
As you can see, I am who I am because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I feel an immense responsibility, more of a privilege than a responsibility, to share this Gospel with all the world. It is the Gospel that my Mennonite ancestors strove to restore, and it is the Gospel the prompted the ancestors on my mother's side to leave everything to come to Zion.
May I be worthy of such Parentage!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas

The angels had good reason to sing that first Christmas night. In a vision explaining his father’s dream of the tree of life, Nephi saw the “most beautiful and fair [of] all virgins” holding the Son of God. (1 Nephi 11:15-22.) Instantly, Nephi recognized that the tree of life symbolized Christ and knew that the baby born in Bethlehem was the embodiment of God’s love for His children. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)

And God’s love abounded as Jesus walked among men. As Jesus healed and served, He testified that He merely did the works of the Father. (John 14:10.) That is, if Heavenly Father had been in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, He would have healed the sick, raised the dead, caused the blind to see, and lifted the sinner. For it was “God’s love [Jesus was] showing [us].” (Jeffery R. Holland, “The Grandeur of God,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 72.) The same sorrow which filled Jesus as He lamented over Jerusalem filled Heavenly Father, as did the same compassion which Jesus showed to sinners, even to a woman caught in adultery. How can we imagine a stern and unforgiving God when He refused to condemn one guilty of the heinous sin of adultery? (See John 8:1-11.) True, God cannot “look upon sin with the least degree of tolerance,” and “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” But He wants us to repent of our sins, and when we do, immediately, He will extend the blessings of the plan of redemption to us until “He takes us on His shoulders and casts our sins behind His back.” (Alma 34:31; Holland, The Grandeur of God, 73.)
Thus the greatest manifestation of God’s love for us was the offering of His Son as the “great and last sacrifice” for sin. (Alma 34:10,13-14.) None of us compared to Christ premortally. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that many years will pass after our deaths and resurrection before any of us attain perfection. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 348.) Yet Jesus continued “from grace to grace” (D&C 93:14) until He attained Godhood many billions of years ago, enabling Him to create all things. (Moses 1:32-33.) Despite His premortal perfection, Jesus yielded Himself as a willing sacrifice to the will of the Father. No one deserved greater praise, glory, and honor. Yet no one suffered more. (D&C 19:15-18.) Still, to glorify the Father and to exalt us, Jesus “descended below all things.” (D&C 122:8).
Yes, the angels sang that first Christmas night because over Christ’s manger bed loomed the shadows of Gethsemane’s trees and of Golgotha’s cross. And the silence of that night portended the silence of the empty Garden Tomb.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”(Luke 2:14.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Something to get you into the Christmas Spirit

Did you know that the inhabitants of the American continent also knew of the birth of Jesus Christ? I wrote this story about the signs that let them know about the birth of the Savior.

-Craig
P.S. There are endnotes which give translations of the Quichua words used in the text.
To learn more about the account of the first Christmas on the American continent read 3 Nephi 1:4-21.


To read prophesies about the birth of Jesus Christ by prophets who lived on the American continent anciently, go to 1 Nephi 11:13-23, Mosiah 3:2-8, Alma 7:7-13, and Helaman 14:1-8.
On the Morrow
Mashcag inhaled deeply. He loved the scent of the soil just after the rains ended. It mixed with the smell of harvested choclo1 and reminded him that the festivities to celebrate the harvest would soon begin. His stomach growled, anticipating the feast that Mama2 would prepare. Perhaps she would make Mashcag his own roasted cuy.3 He was practically a man: thirteen harvests had passed since his birth, and he could work a full day with his older brothers and Taita.4 Harvesting choclo made Mashcag very hungry, and the hind legs of a cuy would not be enough this year.

Clouds of tiny flies buzzed around Mashcag’s head, and some landed to feed. They couldn’t get through his thick, black hair and started biting his face, chest, and arms. His ears itched, but scratching them didn’t help. A larger fly landed on one of his knuckles bit. Mashcag slapped it, leaving a bloody smudge on his hand. He hated the bugs in the choclo. He wondered why all bugs couldn’t be like fireflies. They didn’t bite; instead, they scattered darkness. Mashcag was just a boy when he first saw them. He remembered reaching out to catch them. Each glowed just enough to light up a small, pale-green circle on his dark skin. He had asked Taita what they were:

"Mashcag," he had said, "every night, all year long, the stars look down on us from the heavens. They see us eating choclo and squash, and after the harvest, when we eat cuy, they get jealous and come down to feast with us."

"They want cuy, Taita?" Mashcag had asked. "Then why don’t they come down for weddings? We eat cuy then, too."

Taita had smiled and said, "Yes, Mashcag, but the stars are very high in the heavens, and it takes a long time to come down. The choclo harvest lasts many weeks, but a wedding is only for a day. It’s the harvesting that lets them know they need to come down."

Mashcag still remembered the twinkle in Taita’s eyes and his sly smile when he told him, but as a six-year-old, he believed everything that his father said. And he was crushed when his oldest brother, Weyana, said that the stars didn’t come down from heaven to eat cuy: the lights were only bugs. But when Mashcag went crying to Taita, his dad smiled again and said, "Of course they’re bugs. Didn’t you know why bugs have wings? To go home to heaven after they’ve eaten cuy!"
The fireflies had come and gone several times after that night, and it was time for them to come again. The harvest would be over tonight, and the feasts would begin tomorrow. Mashcag would wait for them after he finished his work.

Even though a cool breeze blew from the west, the sun’s rays were oppressive. Sweat dripped from Mashcag’s nose and stung his eyes. He wanted to wipe his face, but his hands were dirty. Examining his bare arms and chest, he decided that his right forearm was the cleanest. Leaning forward, he drew it across his eyes.

"Get back to work, Mashcag, or we’ll never finish by tonight," Taita said as he bent and cut a choclo stalk. He handed it to Mama, who was trailing him. She quickly plucked the dried ears from the plant, placed them in a woven, reed basket, and handed the bare stalk to Sumag, Mashcag’s eight-year-old sister. Sumag’s arms were full of choclo stalks, so she carried them to Cusi who piled them into a hut-shaped stack. They had been working all morning, and Sumag was exhausted. Her brown eyes drooped, and her cheeks were limp. Usually, she danced and laughed until Taita, Mama, or one of her brothers would beg her to stop, but the long hours in the field had been too much for her. Her hair, which glistened like obsidian in the sun, had come undone from the cloth which Mama had used to wrap it into a pony tail, and it spread across Sumag’s back.

"Taita’s right. You’re already falling behind, and I don’t want to wait for you again," Weyana said. He had already cut six stalks and laid them on the ground for Mashcag to strip, bundle, and carry to Cusi. Weyana was scowling, and Mashcag knew he had better listen.
It was difficult to match Weyana’s pace, and as Mashcag worked, he watched the smooth strokes his brother used to harvest. When Weyana used his obsidian-toothed sickle to cut the choclo stalks, the muscles and veins in his forearm bulged. Mashcag looked at his own undeveloped arms and wondered if his muscles would ever be like Weyana’s.

Moments later, Mashcag had enough plants to bring to Cusi. Gathering them, he tried to flex his forearm and sighed. Not even a ripple. Mashcag jogged to Cusi, handed him the stalks, and sprinted back to keep Weyana happy.

"Go put the choclo in the hut, and I’ll start on the next row." Weyana said after Mashcag got to him.

Mashcag nodded and lifted the basket. It was heavy, perfect for building muscles. As he walked to their home, he curled his wrists up and down until his forearms burned.

The hut was comfortable. Mashcag had helped Taita pack mud between the horizontal, wooden poles that framed its walls. The roof was thatched with a mixture of weeds and choclo stalks. Inside, three more wooden poles ran across the ceiling. Taita had built a platform where Weyana, Cusi, and Mashcag slept. About a dozen pairs of choclo ears tied together by their husks hung on the uncovered parts of the poles. Mashcag was relieved to see that most of the floor was covered with choclo. He hadn’t realized how close they had been to running out. There were two rooms on ground level, one for eating and Sumag to sleep in, the other was Taita and Mama’s bedroom. The shade in the home was cool, and Mashcag wanted to curl up on the pounded-dirt floor to sleep.

Suddenly, Cusi screamed for help. Mashcag dumped the choclo in the middle of the main room and ran to Cusi, but both Taita and Weyana were there before him.

Cusi looked more silly than hurt: lying flat on his stomach, choclo stalks buried him to his waist; his face was covered with dirt. Weyana and Taita stood over him and smiled. Taita bent as if to pull Cusi from under the pile. Instead, he plucked a slender-stemmed weed and put it between his teeth.
"Chewry,5 do you know what happened?," Taita said, trying not to laugh. "You were trying to make it look perfect, but you forgot to make it stable. First make it sure, then make it pretty." He bit off the end of the weed and spat it out before he put the stem back in his mouth.
"Taita, please get this choclo off me," Cusi said. "I was just trying to please you and build the stack like you and Weyana can." Cusi’s voice trembled and cracked as he blinked back tears.
"Wowkeygo,6 now you want our help?" Weyana said. "‘I can do it myself,’ you said. You sure did." Laughing, he turned to Mashcag, "Did you see Cusi’s face when the stack fell on him? He looked like a cuy about to be roasted." Mashcag chuckled as Weyana screamed in horror, turned to run, and fell beneath the weight of an imaginary choclo stack.
Cusi couldn’t hold back the tears now.
Taita looked at Weyana and shook his head. Throwing his weed to the ground, he grabbed one of Cusi’s arms. Weyana, a little embarrassed, helped to pull Cusi from under the choclo stalks, making the plants’ dried leaves rustle. Mama brought water, and Cusi washed his face.
Taita, Weyana, and Mashcag started gathering stalks to rebuild the choclo stack, but before they could start the base, Cusi said, "Get back to work. I’ll fix the stack. It fell because of me, and if you three don’t finish harvesting, then we’ll have to come back tomorrow." He took Mashcag’s bundle of stalks and began rebuilding.
"But Chewrygo,7 it’ll take all night to . . . ," Taita began.
"Then it’ll take all night, but I’ll get it done," Cusi interrupted. His face tensed, and he yanked his dad’s bunch from him.
"Alright, let us know if you need our help," Taita said. Cusi nodded but didn’t look at him.
"Taita, are we done yet?" Sumag asked. Her eyelids sagged, and her arms hung at her sides. Taita walked to her and picked her up.
He hugged her and said, "No, but I think you are. Would you like to go lie down?" Sumag nodded, and Taita started for the house. "Take a break, and we’ll get back to work after I get back."
Sumag was asleep before Taita and she left the field.

*****
Taita returned, and the harvesting continued. Hours passed, and Mashcag dropped the field’s last bundle of stalks next to where Cusi was working. Taita and Weyana had finished cutting at the same time and were taking turns drinking from a bowl of water. Taita walked to Cusi and said, "That’s a good looking stack, chewry. Let me help you finish it," he said.
"Taita, I told you I’d fix it, and I will," Cusi growled.
Taita shrugged his shoulders and said, "Whatever."
Mashcag filled the water bowl and drank it. He filled it again and poured it on his head. The sun had descended a little and its rays weren’t as oppressive. Its golden light accentuated the green, rectangular fields which covered the valley floor and climbed the ridge of mountains surrounding them.
Mashcag’s people had wandered here from the north long ago. It was one of his favorite stories: famine had driven his ancestors from their homes. They had traveled from valley to valley, but either other people lived in them, or their soil was unfruitful. One morning, after many years of traveling, the sun cast its first light on the peak of a green mountain in the west and gradually forced the night’s shadows to retreat to the east toward another mountain. As the sun melted the shadows and light climbed the slopes of the eastern mountainside, a heart-shaped crater appeared. Mashcag’s ancestors said that it was a sign from the Great Spirit. They began planting their fields and building their homes that same day. To honor the mountains surrounding the valley, they named them. They called the western mountain Mama Cotacachi because she gave birth to their hope, and they called the eastern mountain Taita Imbabura to honor the great Father who led them to their new home and saved them from starvation.
Almost four hundred harvests from that morning, Mashcag stood on the bench of Taita Imbabura, directly beneath its heart. Below him, Hatune Cocha sparkled. Mashcag could see several dozen people bathing and swimming along its eastern shore. He envied them. Hatune Cocha’s water was cold and would feel perfect after a long day in the fields. A stream wound from the lake’s western shore northward like a silver serpent until it fell into a canyon and became the sacred falls of Peguche.
"Cusi, are you thirsty?" Mashcag asked. He had already filled the bowl. Cusi kept working. He had nearly rebuilt the stack that fell on him. It wasn’t as neat as his first attempt— several choclo stalks jutted out from its edge—but it was steady. Cusi sat on top of the stack, as he worked to taper it to a point.
"Thanks. I’m almost done with this one. Could you hand me another bundle of stalks, Mashcag? I don’t want to jump down just to climb back up," Cusi said.
Taita and Weyana had gone home.
Mashcag grabbed an armful of stalks and gave them to Cusi. After finishing the stack, Cusi jumped down, and Mashcag handed him the water.
"Let’s go home. I think that Mama should have supper ready by now," Mashcag said.
"What makes you think that I’m done? Look at what I still have to do," Cusi said pointing to the pile of choclo stalks which had been gathered while he was repairing the first stack. Maschag looked at the canes and sighed. There was enough for another full-sized stack.
"That’ll take you all night. Leave it for tomorrow, and let’s go eat," Mashcag said.
"No. I’d rather get it done. Besides, I told Taita that I would finish tonight, and I will!" Cusi said and emptied the bowl. Giving it back to Mashcag, he turned and started stacking stalks.
Mashcag rolled his eyes. "What if I helped you? Instead of being out here all night, we’ll be done in half the time," Mashcag said, even though he was tired. "Anyway, I wanted to watch the fireflies tonight. I might as well be doing something productive at the same time."
"But you don’t know how to stack choclo. You’d just slow me down. And I couldn’t let you help me after I refused both Taita’s and Weyana’s help," Cusi said.
Mashcag shook his head and sighed. Mashcag’s muscles ached. His stomach was growling, and he wanted to go home. But Cusi kept plodding along, even though he was sweating and struggling against the weight of his arms, and Mashcag wasn’t willing to leave him without help.
Mashcag thought for a moment and said, "Teach me then. I wouldn’t be helping you; you’d be helping me." Cusi stopped working and looked at Mashcag. Their eyes met, and Cusi nodded.

"Thanks, wowkeygo. I’d love to teach you," Cusi said and smiled.
Mashcag and Cusi worked together for an hour. As they worked, they talked. At first, Cusi explained the proper technique of stack building, but after Mashcag learned it, their conversation shifted to the festivals and to the girls who would dance in them. They laughed often, and Cusi seemed to have forgotten about his accident. He was smiling. Realizing how grateful his brother was for the help, Mashcag felt new energy. He was surprised by how quickly they were building the choclo stack.
"You two didn’t come to eat when I called you." Mama stood behind them holding two large bowls, one in each hand. Neither Mashcag nor Cusi had heard her coming: they had been debating which of the village girls was the prettiest. They stopped talking, and Mashcag blushed. Setting the bowls down, Mama pulled a towel from her anacoo8 and motioned them to come to her. "I know you want to get your job done, but there is always time to eat. Now, wash up." She dipped the water bowl, and Mashcag held out his hands. Mama let the water trickle from the bowl as Mashcag scrubbed. "It was nice to stay and help your brother, Mashcag," Mama said.


Mashcag took the towel which Mama was holding and dried his hands while Cusi washed his hands and face.
"I’m not helping him, Mama. He’s teaching me. I figured that it might be my turn to stack next harvest," Mashcag said.
"And he’s a quick learner. Besides, it’s nice to have someone to talk to," Cusi said.
"Either way, it’s time to eat," Mama said, uncovering the two bowls which were filled with small, red potatoes and toasted choclo kernels. Mashcag could smell ground ewchews,9 and his mouth watered. Sitting between the two stacks of choclo, he began eating.
"Thanks, Mama. I couldn’t have gone much longer without eating, and Cusi won’t go home before we’re finished," Mashcag said.
"That’s right, and I’ll stay here until the job’s done," Cusi said while Mama handed him his bowl.

"Thank you, Mama," he said and sat beside Mashcag.
"So, you’re still determined to work through the night. . . . Taita and I are worried that you two will work yourselves to death. We don’t want you to get sick," Mama said. "Please come in if you’re too tired."

"I’m fine now that I’ve got food. Will you be alright, Mashcag? You still want to watch the fireflies, don’t you?" Cusi said in between bites.
"I can go on for a few more hours, at least, and I have been waiting for the fireflies to come. They’re late, and I can feel that they’ll be here tonight," Mashcag said after he had swallowed a mouthful of potato.
"You and fireflies! Mashcag, I don’t understand why you like them so much," Mama said, "but they are pretty." She smiled and pinched a piece of potato skin from Mashcag’s cheek. "Well, how often do the stars come to earth?" Mashcag asked.
The sun was sinking behind the skirts of Mama Cotacachi. Taita Imbabura had visited her during last night’s storm, and snow lingered on her rocky, saddle-shaped peak. Shadows stretched across the valley as the sun’s last rays deepened the countryside’s colors to golden greens and deep browns. The sun sank until only a sliver of light remained and its golden hues dimmed to red and turned the clouds purple.
"Do you still believe that the fireflies are the stars?" Mama asked. "They should be here soon, Mashcag. I hope that they’re as wonderful as you remember them, and I hope they don’t eat your cuy." She breathed in the dusk air and looked at the sunset.
The day’s last beams of light danced on Mama’s face and made her black hair shine. Wrapping her arms around herself, she said, "You can keep your fireflies and their starlight, Mashcag. I prefer sunsets. Each is different, and you don’t have to wait a whole year to see one."
The sunset’s rose-colored light faded to a pale blue-gray. But as it did, Mashcag noticed that Mama Cotacachi’s shadow—rather than melting into a darkened valley—grew increasingly defined and shorter. Slowly, the sky brightened. But the light didn’t come from the west or the east, and the sun stayed behind the mountains. The light, it seemed, came directly from heaven until the valley glowed as if it were midday. All darkness fled: the clouds, trees, and mountains cast no shadows.
Mashcag’s weariness disappeared with the shadows, and he wondered if he were asleep. The beauty of that moment was too beautiful to be real, and he decided that he was dreaming.
"Mama, is something wrong with my eyes? I saw the sun go down, but it isn’t dark." Mashcag heard Cusi say and realized that he wasn’t asleep. Any wonder he had been feeling was gone as quickly as the light appeared. His stomach felt upset, and his heart began pounding. He felt uncovered in the light and wanted to run for the hut. But he was too afraid to run, let alone stand.
"I see it, too," said Mama.
"What’s happening? What evil is doing this?" Cusi asked.
Mashcag swallowed and waited for Mama to answer.
"Not evil, Cusi, not evil," Mama said and took both of her sons by the hand. "Look!" she said, pointing to the sky with her puckered lips. The sky’s brilliance had prevented all of the stars from shining except one.
"That is one big bug," Cusi said.
Mashcag ignored him and said, "But that can’t be giving off all this light. It’s too small."
"No, but this must be a sign from . . . ," Mama said and paused. "Do you hear that?" Tears welled up in her eyes. "I’ve never heard anything more beautiful. It’s as if—as if the mountains, valley, lake, and river were singing." Mashcag strained to hear what his mother was hearing.
And in an instant, his ears were opened.
"I hear it, too, Mama; I hear it, too," Mashcag said, and Cusi nodded. "I hear voices singing, but what are they saying?" All three began sobbing, and Mashcag sensed something he had never felt.
"Peace. They’re saying, ‘peace,’" Mama said.
The singing of the unseen voices granted them peace and filled them with love for each other.
They sat together for several minutes watching and listening. Mashcag’s hunger was gone, although he had only finished half of the potatoes and choclo. Anyway, eating would distract him, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with the vision. He placed his bowl behind him, and pulled his knees to his chest.
Wondering about his father, Weyana, and Sumag, Mashcag looked toward the hut and saw them. Taita carried Sumag in his left arm, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. Weyana put his arm around Taita’s waist, and Taita’s arm rested on Weyana’s shoulder.
When Taita saw Mashcag, he smiled and said, "Lovely, isn’t it?" Mashcag could only nod and return the smile. Weyana sat beside his brothers, and Sumag reached out for Mama to take her. After letting Sumag down, Taita sat next to his wife and held her. The six of them, illuminated by celestial light and music, didn’t want to move.
"What does this all mean?" Cusi asked. "Do any of the village elders’ stories explain it, Taita?"
"No, Chewry, none," Taita said.
"Then do you know what’s happening?" Weyana asked.
"No, I’ve never seen anything like this," Taita said. "But I feel that we needn’t be afraid. A few minutes ago, while Mama brought Mashcag and Cusi their dinner, I went to the cuy pen with some of the stalks we harvested today. I stopped for a moment to enjoy the sunset, and as the sky grew lighter instead of darker, I collapsed in fear. I thought that we had offended some ayah10 and that our valley was being consumed in flames," Taita paused. Sighing, he continued,
"As I trembled on the ground, I heard someone singing ‘peace.’ "
"We heard it too, Taita," said Mashcag.
"I hear it right now," Sumag said.
"Yes, my beauty," Taita said taking her little hand in his. "I think we all do." Taita’s voice cracked, and he began crying. Mashcag was amazed because Taita never cried.
The valley glowed brighter, and the singing grew louder and more beautiful. Mashcag had listened to many birds singing and the rushing of the river. He had heard the wind blow through the mountain passes. All of them had awed him, but none could compare to the heavenly song which he was hearing. But he couldn’t understand anything but "peace": the other words seemed muffled and confused. But still, they were beautiful, and there was something familiar about them.
The golden light from heaven brightened to vivid white. All of the colors of the mountains and plants blended with it and glowed. Mashcag looked at his family; even they shimmered, but it seemed that they were not merely reflecting the light.
And in the midst of the light a man dressed in a robe whiter than snow-capped mountains appeared. He had piercing blue eyes. When Mashcag first saw the man in white, he was startled, and chills ran up his back.
"Fear not; for I have been sent to teach you of these signs and wonders," the man in white said and smiled. His smile filled Mashcag with such love that any fear that he had felt disappeared. "On the morrow, in a far away land shall be born the Hatune Keyshpeecheeg Apoonchy, or Savior."
"A Savior, a Savior from what?" Taita asked.
"A Savior from sorrow, pain, death, and sin," the man in white said.
"Who is this Savior," asked Mama.
"He is the Son of Taita Howapachamanta,11 even the Son of God, the Creator of the heavens and of the Earth. His name is Keyshpeecheeg Apoonchy Utahshcah,12 but He shall not come to this land in mortality for He is called to another nation." The man in white closed his eyes, and for a moment, his countenance saddened. "And after He has done all that He was called to do and has ministered to His brethren, they shall mock, torture, and slay Him, and this land will be as dark as it is now light. Fires shall not be kindled, nor shall the sun shine." The man’s face softened as his smile returned. "But the Savior shall rise triumphant over death and hell, and He will come to visit you and your kindred."
"Why must He suffer?" asked Taita.
"He shall endure these things so that you don't have to. With his blood, He will purchase your souls, and He will give you everlasting life and joy if you follow Him," the man in white said.
"What must we do to follow Him?" Taita asked.

"All will be revealed to you in time, but I have told you all that I have been commanded, and I must return to He who sent me," the man in white said.
"Please stay. You have said many things that we cannot understand. Please, teach us of our Savior," Taita said, kneeling in front of the man. Mama was weeping.
But the man in white just smiled and said, "Be patient and glorify Taita Howapachamanta." The light which surrounded him gathered until it formed a pillar reaching heaven, and he disappeared.
The westerly breeze rustled several bushes that bordered the choclo field. Bathed in the heavenly light, their bright orange blossoms shone brilliantly against their dark green leaves. Mashcag gasped as the once muffled words of the heavenly song became clear, and looking heavenward, he saw thousands of men and women dressed like the man in white singing in the sky. Their chorus echoed throughout the valley, "Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men."
Had he tried, Mashcag couldn’t have described what he was seeing and hearing. He simply let it wash over him. And as suddenly as the host had appeared, their glory faded into the light, and the singing stopped.
But peace remained.
Mashcag and his family sat together, and no one dared move. But after Mashcag was sure the visions had ended, he stood and gathered a bundle of choclo stalks. Silently, he laid the stalks down and continued building. Taita, Cusi, and Weyana joined him. No one spoke; they didn’t need to.
Turning to look at the heart-shaped crater on Taita Imbabura, Mashcag paused. The heavenly light revealed the heart’s center, and it glowed as if it were on fire.
"Who needs fireflies?" Mashcag said.

Endnotes

1. Corn. In order to maintain the phonetic quality of the words in Quichua, I have anglicized those that would lose their pronunciation if their correct spelling were maintained.

2. Mom

3. Guinea pig

4. Dad

5. Son

6. Little brother

7. Little son, used as a term of endearment

8. Cloth which women wrap around their waists as a skirt

9. Peppers similar to jalepenos

10. Spirit

11. Heavenly Father

12. Anointed Savior or Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Goodbye Old Friend, Till We Meet Again.

Last night, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passed away. We will miss him.
To read more about Elder Wirthlin and his passing, click here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Everyone knows about the recent $700,000,000,000 economic bailout, and I think all would agree that we could use a little of it. Suppose, then, that I use my computer skills to draft a check for myself. After all, I'm a citizen of the United States of America. And I'm not asking for much; $70,000 would be just enough to get me out of debt. But we all know that if I tried to cash that check, instead of giving me the money, the government would give me a new set of clothes: a bright-orange jumpsuit. Why? Because I do not have the authority to act in the name of the United States of America. The power to write checks and spend money belongs to the United States Treasury and other duly commissioned officers.
The same principle applies to the acts which men purport to do in the name of God. God will not honor the acts of man as His own unless He first authorized them.

The authority that God has given to man to act in His name is called the Priesthood. And to the presiding bearer of the Priesthood, God gives the Keys of the Kingdom, or in other words, the Keys of the Priesthood. The presiding bearer of the Priesthood is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Adam was the first man, prophet, and President of the Church of Jesus Christ. God taught him that through Jesus Christ all mankind may be saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. God also gave Adam the priesthood or authority to act in God's name. Adam received commandments from God, such as the law of sacrifice, for Adam, Eve, and their children to obey. Adam and Eve accepted these teachings, obeyed the commandments, and taught their children to do the same. Some of their children, like Abel, listened and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. But others, like Cain, rejected Adam and Eve's teachings.
Those who rejected Adam and Eve's teachings cut themselves off from the Priesthood and its Keys and fell into what is called apostasy. Apostasy is when we are separated from the truth and light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But because God loves His children, even those who do not listen to Him, He called another prophet, Enoch, to teach them of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation. Enoch also received the Priesthood and its keys. When God calls a prophet, gives him the Priesthood and its Keys, and sends him to teach the Gospel to a people who are in apostasy, this is called a restoration. Enoch succeeded in bringing many to the knowledge of God's Plan of Happiness. He established the city of Zion, and they obtained heaven.
After Enoch, the world again fell into apostasy, but God called another prophet, Noah, who restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who survived the flood.
The process of apostasy and restoration continued for thousands of years. God would call prophets who held the Priesthood and its Keys such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph of Egypt, Elijah, Elias, and so forth, and those prophets and their teachings would be rejected.

When Jesus Christ was born, the world was again in apostasy. Jesus was a prophet, but He was also more than a prophet. He was the Son of God. Through Him, God restored the truths of the Plan of Salvation. Jesus established His Church, paid the price of sin, and was resurrected.

But as you know, the world eventually rejected Jesus and His apostles, and it fell into apostasy. That is, no one held the authority to act in the name of God. No one held the Priesthood or its Keys.

So what would God do? The same thing He did whenever His children fell into apostasy anciently. God called a prophet to restore the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Priesthood.

In the early nineteenth century, a young boy in upstate New York wondered which church to join. His name was Joseph Smith. The many churches in his area said that it didn't matter which church you joined, as long as you accepted Jesus. But Joseph recognized that the several churches' good-will disappeared once people joined separate churches. The different churches fought over the meaning of the Bible and how to be saved.

Joseph was so confused that he turned to the Bible himself. One day, Joseph read James 1:5 which says if anyone lacks wisdom, he can ask God, and God will give him the wisdom he seeks. Joseph decided that if anyone lacked wisdom, it was him and decided that he would ask God which church to join.

On the morning of a spring day in 1820, Joseph, then fourteen years-old, went to a grove of trees and knelt to pray. As he prayed, he felt Satan attack him. He could not speak and feared that he would be destroyed. Joseph called out to God, and in the moment that he thought Satan would overcome him, Joseph saw a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun. And the light descended upon him. In the light, Joseph saw two Men standing above him in the air. One of them spoke, calling Joseph by name and pointing to the other, "This is my Beloved Son, hear Him!"

In response to Joseph's prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him!
Among other things, Jesus taught Joseph that no church on the earth had the fulness of His Gospel, and through Joseph, Jesus would establish the fulness of His Gospel and His Church on the Earth again.

Joseph was called to be a prophet. Later, he would translate the Book of Mormon from ancient plates written by prophets who lived on the American continent. Joseph also received the Priesthood and its Keys through the angelic visitations of John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. Because Joseph was a prophet and held the Priesthood and its Keys, he had the authority to act in the name of God. He taught of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation. He also restored the Church of Jesus Christ as it had existed anciently.

What God did through Joseph Smith was the same thing He had done whenever His children had fallen into apostasy: He restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Plan of Salvation, and the Priesthood and its Keys through a prophet.

To read Joseph Smith's own account of what happened click here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Daily

When life gets hard, it’s natural, and understandable, to complain. Heaven knows I’ve done more than my fair share. But I’ve never finished a gripe session without feeling worse than I did before I started. Unlike me, there are others, who despite their trials, thank God for the many blessings they receive from Him.

In 1856, my great-great-great grandfather Jesse Soar Taylor, just a boy at the time, his brother William, and their mother Mary Soar Taylor emigrated from England to come to Zion in Utah’s mountain valleys. They were poor and couldn’t afford a wagon, let alone a team of oxen, so they pulled their belongings and supplies in a handcart in the Martin Handcart Company. But they left for Utah late in the summer, and by late September, an early snow storm caught their company on the high plains of Wyoming.
They were stranded.
Providentially, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had found them before the snow storm as he was returning from a mission in Europe. He had a fast team of horses and a carriage and made it to Salt Lake City on October 4 to report that there were still two companies on the plains.
Even though Brigham Young immediately sent help, my ancestors and their company didn’t arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until late November. Many died, and those who didn’t lost toes, feet, fingers, and legs. William eventually died from the effects of the experience. (For more information about the Martin Handcart Company, see James E. Faust, "Go Bring Them Home from the Plains," Liahona, Nov. 1997, 3; James E. Faust, "A Priceless Heritage," Ensign, July 2002, 2; "Remembering the Rescue," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38; Paul H. Peterson, "They Came by Handcart," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 30.
Of all people, I think the members of the Martin Handcart Company were justified in complaining and criticizing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church. But they didn’t; other members of the Church did. The following is an account of one survivor of the Martin Handcart Company as he responded to criticism:

Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting anycompany of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

In substance [he] said, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes.

But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …

"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it."

He continued: "I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company." (James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).



I know that Mary, Jesse, and William felt the same way.
Now, I’m not going to say be grateful because so many people have had it worse. Rather, be grateful because there are others who went through hard times, refused to become embittered, and thanked God that they were counted worthy to pass through the refiner’s fire. For after they passed through the fire, they knew God.
There is a price for everything worth having.
Gratitude will also help us through trials. My first quarter of law school was difficult, and I was one discussion with my wife from quitting. But she wouldn’t let me give up. I realized that I could keep being negative and complaining about how hard life was, or I could change my focus.
I found that being grateful for the things that were going well in my life eclipsed the negative feelings I had about law school. But it took time. Still, as I felt overwhelmed or angry, thinking about my wife, my daughter (and now my son), my relationship with God, His love for us, the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the blessings of the Restoration brought things into perspective.
And I couldn’t help but feel thankful.
So often, we look past our blessings to what we don’t have. Maybe that’s why stores tend to skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas advertisements.
The Book of Mormon tells of a poor group of people who were mocked by their neighbors and kept from worshiping in the synagogue they had helped build. When missionaries came to teach them of Jesus Christ, they asked, "What shall [we] do, for [we] are despised of all men because of [our] poverty?" (Alma 32:2-5).
To answer their question, among other things, the missionaries taught, "[L]ive in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which [the Lord] doth bestow upon you" (Alma 34:38).
Although trials may rage, like they did for those impoverished people, we can find peace as we reflect on what God has done for us. And if we can’t see anything, then today we can "come unto [Christ] . . . and find rest unto [our] souls." (Matthew 11:28-30).

During this season of Thanksgiving, may we reflect on the great blessings we have received. And let us refuse to complain when things get hard.
Let us live in thanksgiving daily.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Morality, Legislation, and Same-sex Marriage

Normally, I try to stay away from politics on my blog. This has been a way of explaining my faith and a means of trying to lift others. But sometimes politics bleed into matters of faith. Such was the case when the far right attacked members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency. And now such is the case as the far left attack members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for our support of California's constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Some of you, when you read this post, will be angry with me. I expect a backlash. If you think I'm a bigot or a hater, you're entitled to your opinion. I will not respond in kind. And to avoid contention, I am not allowing comments on this post, and attempts to comment on it on other parts of my blog will be deleted. If you need to respond, write it on your own blog.
But I need to speak up.
There's a tired one-liner that comes up when controversial laws pass: "You can't legislate morality." If what people who repeat it mean is that you can't force people to be good, they're right. But they usually don't. What they usually mean is that the government has no business telling them what conduct is acceptable and what is not. Thus, their meaning reveals the flaw in their argument.
Consider the following definitions from Webster's Dictionary:

Morality . . . 2 a: a doctrine or system of moral conduct b plural: particular moral principles or rules of conduct 3: conformity to ideals of right human conduct 4: moral conduct : virtue.

Moral 1 a: of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior

So morality is a system which defines the difference between right and wrong.

And if the government has no business defining what conduct is right and wrong, there's no reason to have a government. If the government is not allowed to legislate morality, then we can't punish murderers or thieves or rapists or child molesters or child abusers or spouse abusers. We couldn't punish corporations like Enron. We couldn't prohibit tortious conduct. And Congress and State legislatures could do nothing to answer the current outcry for greater regulation on greedy CEOs and businesses.
The fact is that legislation is society's expression of its morality.
And our current system based on the ideals of popular sovereignty, democracy, and representative government grants the majority, with a few exceptions expressly outlined in State and Federal Constitutions, the right to establish the morality of society. It is a line that has been shifting throughout the last two centuries. What was wrongful conduct two-hundred years ago may no longer be prohibited, and what was once acceptable two-hundred years ago may no longer be acceptable.
State constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage are nothing more than an exercise of the majority's inherent right to outline what it feels is right and wrong.
Let me be clear, however, that I do not believe homosexuals are inferior to or not equal with heterosexuals. They are children of a loving Heavenly Father. As such, they have intrinsic and divine worth. They are entitled to all the blessings God desires to give them if they are willing to keep his commandments. And they should not be treated differently regarding hospitalization, health care, probate, employment, and receiving the protection of law enforcement and other government agencies.
But same-sex marriage is not and never will be equal to marriage between a man and a woman. Biologically, two men can't have sex with each other and produce offspring. Neither can two women. Further, God has only blessed marriage between men and women, and He has prohibited homosexual relationships because they are an abomination in His sight. Genesis 13:13; 18:16-33; 19:1-38; Lev. 18: 22; Lev. 20: 13; Deut. 23: 17; Isa. 3: 9; 2 Ne. 13: 9; Rom. 1: 27; 1 Cor. 6: 9; 1 Tim. 1: 10; Jude 1: 7; 2 Ne. 13: 9; see also Isa. 3: 9; Ezek. 16: 50; 2 Tim. 3: 3; 2 Pet. 2: 10; 2 Ne. 9: 40.
Society has the right to accept God's prohibition on same-sex marriage or reject it. The majority will decide. That's what happened in California and other States amending their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage.
I am compelled by the covenants that I have made with God to defend His commandments and add my warning to that of modern Prophets:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World. And if necessary, I will defend God's definition of marriage until my last breath.
So help me God.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Purpose of Life

The Pre-mortal Existence

We are our Heavenly Father’s spirit sons and daughters and lived with Him before we came to Earth. And more than anything else, our Heavenly Father wants us to come home to Him
While we lived with our Heavenly Father, life was similar to what we experience here: We had friendships; we learned; we progressed, and, although we cannot remember, we developed a very personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. In fact, President Ezra Taft Benson said, "Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us" (Ensign, Dec. 1988).

Our proximity to our Heavenly Father also taught us that we were not like Him. He possessed a perfect, immortal, physical body (D&C 130:22), but we were spirits. He had a fulness of joy and glory that we did not. And He was perfect in every way, unlike us.
But as our children have the capacity to become like us, Heavenly Father knew that we had the capacity to become like Him: perfect. (Consider Psalm 82:1,6; Matthew 5:48; Romans 8: 16–17; Doctrine and Covenants 84:36–38). And He wanted us to receive the fulness of joy that He had. So Father called a council and outlined a Plan, the Plan of Salvation, through which we could become like Him. We would come to Earth for a body and to be given agency—the power to choose (see 2 Nephi 2:27; Helaman 14:30)—whereby we would be tested if we would choose to follow God (see Abraham 3:24-26).
The power to choose for ourselves was central to this Plan. We could not become like God at once. We would need to learn from our choices to be obedient (Hebrews 5:8). Only by obeying could we progress until we became who our Father knew we could be. Without agency, no growth or progress would be possible.
Heavenly Father also told us of obstacles that would impede our progress. Although He would create a paradisiacal Earth free of sickness, suffering, sin, and death, He taught that its first inhabitants would be given a choice to either remain in paradise or pass through mortality, and if they chose mortality, mankind would be lost unless He sent a Savior, "[His] Beloved and Chosen from the beginning" (Moses 4:2), Jehovah, who would be known in the flesh as Jesus Christ. Furthermore, because we would have the power to choose, at times we would choose to sin. Our sins would also cut us off forever from the presence of our Heavenly Father. And without Jesus, we had no hope to overcome them.
Our Heavenly Father’s Plan hinged on the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ which would overcome death and sin. Father testified that "there [would] be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation [could] come unto [us], only in and through the name of Christ, . . ." (see Mosiah 3:17).
Heavenly Father gave each of us the choice to accept His plan for us. And to accept the Plan of Salvation required faith in our Father’s promises and in the ability of Jehovah, Jesus Christ, to effect the Atonement.
Lucifer, one of our spirit brothers who was in authority among the hosts of heaven (D&C 76:25), offered a variation to the Plan: He would take away our agency to prevent us from sinning so that none of us would be cut off. But he wasn’t interested in helping us to progress until we became like God with a fulness of joy. In fact, the only one he cared about was himself (see Moses 4:1-3). Lucifer’s plan enticed some to follow him even though it would not allow us to become like our Heavenly Father.
And war erupted, polarizing the hosts of heaven (Revelation 12:7-12).
The war that ensued wasn’t fought with sword and shield but with words. And even though Heavenly Father had gathered us together in the Great Pre-mortal Council to present the Plan of Salvation, I do not believe that it was first time that we had heard it; nor do I believe that it was a surprise that He presented His Firstborn, Jehovah, to be our Savior. I am certain that there were those among us who were already exercising great faith in Jesus Christ and who took every opportunity to learn the exalting doctrines of the Plan of Salvation, among whom were you and I. And when we heard Lucifer attack God’s plan and His Anointed, we stood and testified that Jehovah would do the Father’s will as He had promised. We were victorious, and Revelation 12:10-11 teaches that "[we] overcame [Lucifer and his legions] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of [our] testimony [of the Atonement of Jesus Christ]. . . ."
Many feel that those who chose to follow Lucifer did so because they doubted their ability to follow the Plan to become like our Heavenly Father. Certainly, Lucifer must have cited our weakness to discourage us, but I do not believe that it was his most potent weapon. We need to remember that without the Atonement, the "corruption [of mortality brought on by the future fall] could not put on incorruption . . . [and our] flesh must [lie] down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. . . . And we [would] become devils, . . . to be shut out from the presence of our God, . . . in misery, . . ." (2 Nephi 9:7-9).
If the Savior failed, all would be lost, and Lucifer did everything he could to destroy faith in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, those who had faith in Christ followed God’s Plan, and those who did not were cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:7-10).
I know that we lived with our Father in Heaven before we came to Earth, and I know that we accepted His Plan for us, including the appointment of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our Life on Earth
Because all of us accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we are here on the Earth. This life is a probationary state, a time to be tested (Abraham 3:24–26). It is also the time for us to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32).

To help us return home to Him, Heavenly Father has called prophets, apostles, and even His Son to teach us what we must do to live with Him some day. They have taught us that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the mission He was sent to do on the Earth. He has paid for our sins, but our ability to receive the benefit of His sacrifice depends on whether we do all He has asked us to do.
First, we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we must repent of our sins. Third, we must be baptized by one who possesses the authority of the Priesthood, which was restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Baptism is a covenant, a two-way promise, in which we promise to keep the commandments and God promises to give us eternal life. Fourth, we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Articles of Faith 1:4). These first principles and ordinances of the gospel place us on the straight and narrow path which leads to our Heavenly Home, but they are not our final destination (2 Nephi 31:19). To make it Home, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ," keeping the commandments of God contained in the scriptures and delivered to us by modern prophets and apostles (2 Nephi 31:20).
None of these works pay for our sins. Jesus did, and it is only by His grace that we are saved. Good works are the means by which we submit our wills to the will of the Father until we are ultimately born again by the grace of Jesus Christ and are worthy to return Home.
Additionally, to become like our Heavenly Father, He has commanded that we make more covenants within Temples. And if we are true and faithful to these covenants, God has promised to give us all He has (Revelation 21:7; D&C 84:36–38).
During our lives on Earth, we are free to choose whether we will follow God’s plan for us or not (2 Nephi 2:27). And we are also free to believe what we want to believe. But we will be held accountable for all our actions (Mosiah 4:30).
The Spirit World
When we die, we will be judged according to what we did with the light and knowledge which we received on the Earth. If we were righteous, we will go to Paradise (Alma 40:11–12). If we were not, we will go to Spirit Prison (1 Peter 3:19). These assignments are temporary and last only until our bodies and spirits reunite in the resurrection. Additionally, spirits assigned to Spirit Prison will have the opportunity to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ; if they receive it, then they will be released from Prison and enter Paradise (D&C 138:26–35).

Moreover, through modern prophets and apostles, the Lord has revealed that baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and temple ordinances are available to those who did not have the opportunity to receive them while they lived on the Earth. Those of us who are still living can receive these blessings on their behalf within temples as we perform vicarious work for the dead.
Final Judgement
After we are resurrected, we will all stand before the throne of God to be judged (2 Nephi 2:15–22; Helaman 14:17–18). As is common among many religions, there are many Latter-day Saints who feel that God is looking for any excuse to thrust them to Hell. But the opposite is true. Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want to give us everything They possibly can for our final rewards. J. Reuben Clark, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and member of the First Presidency said:

You know, I believe that the Lord will help us. I believe if we go to him, he will give us wisdom, if we are living righteously. I believe he will answer our prayers. I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of his children. I do not think he intends to shut any of us off because of some slight transgression, some slight failure to observe some rule or regulation. There are the great elementals that we must observe, but he is not going to be captious about the lesser things.
I believe that his juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.
I often think that one of the most beautiful things in the Christ’s life was his words on the cross, when, suffering under the agony of a death that is said to have been the most painful that the ancients could devise, death on the cross, after he had been unjustly, illegally, contrary to all the rules of mercy, condemned and then crucified, when he had been nailed to the cross and was about to give up his life, he said to his Father in heaven, as those who were within hearing testify: ‘… Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
(Quoted by Thomas S. Monson, "Mercy—The Divine Gift," Ensign, May 1995).
The Degrees of Glory
Once we are judged, Jesus will assign us to one of three degrees of glory: The Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, or the Telestial Kingdom. (Consider 1 Corinthians 15:40–41; 2 Corinthians 2:12). And all of them are Heaven, the glory and beauty of each excelling that of the Earth. But there is a fourth option: Outer Darkness, or Hell.

The knowledge of these kingdoms was restored in our day to the prophet Joseph Smith. In 1832, while studying and clarifying certain passages of the Bible, Joseph and his companions read John 5:29. The power of the Holy Ghost descended upon them, and a vision opened before Joseph and his scribe, Sidney Rigdon. The other men in the room did not see the vision but felt the power of God filling the room. Occasionally, Joseph would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Sidney would then reply, "I see it, too." Occasionally, Sidney would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Joseph would then reply, "I see it, too."

After the vision closed, Joseph and Sidney wrote down the vision as best they could, and we have it today as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76:50–70).
The Celestial Kingdom is the highest degree of glory and the habitation of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. All those who attain this kingdom receive all that Heavenly Father promised He would give us. If we are worthy of the Celestial Kingdom, we will become like our Heavenly Father: perfect, possessing a fulness of joy. And by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, our families during our lives on Earth will be with us eternally; husbands, wives, and children will be united forever!

Those who attain this Kingdom will also experience eternal progression. That is, they will have no end as they participate in the salvation of souls for all eternity.
To attain this Kingdom, we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, have faith in Him, repent of our sins, be baptized by one having the proper authority of the Priesthood, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and keep the commandments so that Jesus Christ can save us from our sins (see Alma 42:13; Helaman 5:11). Mercifully, those who did not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ while living on the Earth but who would have received it with all their hearts had they had the opportunity will also be saved in the Celestial Kingdom. For this purpose, Latter-day Saints build temples and perform ordinances for those who have passed away who did not receive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
And all those who were not accountable for their actions—children who died before they reached the age of accountability and those who are like children—will also receive a place in the Celestial Kingdom (Mosiah 3:16). But because they were never accountable for their sins, they do not need to receive the ordinance of baptism (Moroni 8:10–12).
Terrestrial Kingdom (D&C 76:71–80)
The Terrestrial Kingdom is the second highest Kingdom of Heaven. Those who attain this Kingdom will not live in the presence of Heavenly Father, but Jesus Christ and other who attain the Celestial Kingdom will administer to them throughout eternity. This glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Celestial Kingdom as the glory of the moon differs from the glory of the sun.

Those who attain this Kingdom are the just men and women of the Earth who would not receive the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because all religions contain Truth, all those who lived according to the Truth they received will not be thrust down to Hell. Thus, men and women who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not suffer eternal damnation. Rather, they will rejoice with their Savior through all eternity if they live according to their religions while upon the Earth.
The Telestial Kingdom (D&C 76:81–86)
The lowest Kingdom of Heaven is the Telestial Kingdom. Those who attain this Kingdom will be blessed with the visitation of the Holy Ghost. The glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Terrestrial Kingdom as glory of the stars differs from the glory of the moon. This Kingdom’s beauty, although the lowest Kingdom of Heaven, far exceeds the beauty of the Earth. It is a place of rest and peace.
This Kingdom, unlike the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms, is reserved for those who must pay for their own sins because they would not let Jesus pay for them. These are robbers, murderers, thieves, rapists, kidnappers, and all the wicked men and women who lived upon the face of the Earth. Because of their wickedness, they are thrust to Hell (Outer Darkness) prior to being resurrected. While in Hell, they must suffer even as Jesus suffered (D&C 19:4–20). But after their debt is paid, they will be resurrected and will inherit salvation in the Telestial Kingdom.
Outer Darkness/Hell (D&C 76:30–49)
Outer Darkness is the Mormon term for Hell. The torment of those in Hell is "as a lake of fire and brimstone whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. . . ." (Mosiah 3:27). These are they who are cut off from the presence of God. But not all those who go to Hell will remain there forever. Once their debt is paid, they will be released.
But there are those whose debt can never be repaid. These are the devil and his angels and the sons of perdition. To become a son of perdition, a man must first be exceptionally good then turn against Christ "[h]aving denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame" (D&C 76:35). Although there may be more, the scriptures identify only two sons of perdition: Cain and Judas Iscariot.
But even though their debt cannot be repaid, even the sons of perdition will be resurrected. Thus, is the mercy of our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Thoughts for the Upcoming Election

As citizens of the United States of America and our respective States, we have the privilege and duty to vote this Tuesday. I'm not going to campaign for a particular candidate or tell you how to vote. But I feel increasingly that our Constitution is in danger. I pray that we will choose leaders who do not believe that the Constitution is outmoded or that we should escape its restraints, but I fear we will not.
I would also suggest that you read these two talks by Ezra Taft Benson, Thirteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Secretary of the Department of Agriculture under President Eisenhower, "The Constitution---A Glorious Standard" and "Our Divine Constitution". Excerpts from both have been copied below.
May God preserve the Constituion of the United States of America and may He preserve our nation!
Here are the quotes:

And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.


Doctrine and Covenants 98:4-10 (emphasis added).

According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-94 (emphasis added).

And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.

Alma 10:27.

I repeat, righteousness is an indispensable ingredient to liberty. Virtuous people elect wise and good representatives. Good representatives make good laws and then wisely administer them. This tends to preserve righteousness. An unvirtuous citizenry tend to elect representatives who will pander to their covetous lustings. The burden of self-government is a great responsibility. It calls for restraint, righteousness, responsibility, and reliance upon God. It is a truism from the Lord that “when the wicked rule the people mourn.” (D&C 98:9.)

As presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington appealed to the delegates in these words: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” Wise and honorable men raised that glorious standard for this nation. It will also take wise and honorable men to perpetuate what was so nobly established.

A citizen of this republic cannot do his duty and be an idle spectator. How appropriate and vital it is at the time of our nation’s 200th birthday to remember this counsel from the Lord:

“Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold.” (D&C 98:10.)

Goodness, wisdom, and honesty are the three qualities of statesmanship, qualities this country needs more than ever before. May we be wise—prayerfully wise—in the electing of those who would lead us. May we select only those who understand and will adhere to Constitutional principles.

Ezra Taft Benson, "The Constitution---A Glorious Standard," Ensign, May 1976 (emphasis added).

How then can we best befriend the Constitution in this critical hour and secure the blessings of liberty and ensure the protection and guidance of our Father in Heaven?

First and foremost, we must be righteous.

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (The Works of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams, Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1851, 4:31). If the Constitution is to have continuance, this American nation, and especially the Latter-day Saints, must be virtuous.

The Book of Mormon warns us relative to our living in this free land: “Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever” (2 Ne. 1:7).

“And now,” warned Moroni, “we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity” (Ether2:9).

Two great American Christian civilizations—the Jaredites and the Nephites—were swept off this land because they did not “serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether2:12). What will become of our civilization?

Second, we must learn the principles of the Constitution in the tradition of the Founding Fathers.

Have we read The Federalist papers? Are we reading the Constitution and pondering it? Are we aware of its principles? Are we abiding by these principles and teaching them to others? Could we defend the Constitution? Can we recognize when a law is constitutionally unsound? Do we know what the prophets have said about the Constitution and the threats to it?

As Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be” (Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey, 6 Jan. 1816).

Third, we must become involved in civic affairs to see that we are properly represented.

The Lord said that “he holds men accountable for their acts in relation” to governments “both in making laws and administering them” (D&C 134:1). We must follow this counsel from the Lord: “Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C
98:10
).

Note the qualities that the Lord demands of those who are to represent us. They must be good, wise, and honest.

Fourth, we must make our influence felt by our vote, our letters, our teaching, and our advice.

We must become accurately informed and then let others know how we feel. The Prophet Joseph
Smith said: “It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. ‘Tis right, politically, for a man who has influence to use it. … From henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get” (History of the Church, 5:286).

I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. It will be saved by the righteous citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—among others—men and women who understand and abide the principles of the Constitution.

I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval upon it. I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has now sent other choice spirits to help preserve it.

We, the blessed beneficiaries of the Constitution, face difficult days in America, “a land which is choice above all other lands” (Ether2:10).

May God give us the faith and the courage exhibited by those patriots who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Ezra Taft Benson, "Our Divine Constitution," Ensign, November 1987.