An Ensign unto the Remnant

The recent and on-going controversy over the Remnant Reunion in Mesa saddens me.  It is greatly ironic that, among a fledgling community that so passionately advocates building Zion, we are already divided over this activity.

I’ve also recently had a personal experience in which I felt conflicted toward a dear friend and brother, in whom I have much emotional and spiritual investment; to whom I have made a very strong commitment.  In trying to reconcile these experiences with my own image of Zion and how the interpersonal interactions will develop, evolve and sustain themselves, I have come to a conclusion:

If something can’t be said with love, kindness and at least a sincere attempt at understanding, it shouldn’t be said.

I suggest that this concept be raised as a spiritual ensign for all who would come to Zion.  In raising this standard, I am in no way declaring that I have always lived up to it, that I do always live up to it, or that I will always live up to it.  I am declaring, however, my intent to strive toward upholding that standard.

Unkind words are always (yes, I’m using the absolute “always”) the result of some form of jealousy and fear.  We cannot hope to dwell in the presence of the Savior if we harbor jealousies and fears.

And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.

 For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.

 Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind. (D&C 67:10-12)

The prophet Joseph suggested this standard in his eloquent and eternally powerful treatise on the sociality required of Zion in D&C 121:41-46

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Brethren and Sisters, the standard has been raised once again.  These principles have been stated in scripture over and over again by greater spirits than mine.  We must honor it, or our attempts to glorify our Savior by building His Zion will end up on the same scrap heap as so many other previous noble but doomed attempts.  If we are to build Zion, we must each make this standard our own.  We will struggle.  We will fall.  But this ensign, so simply stated, is one that must not fall.  It must be raised in our hearts, and it must be raised above Zion, wherever she shall rise.  I, for one, pledge before my Lord that I will never abandon it, in spite of my weakness and failures.  This Ensign points to Him, and I will come.

Lord, I will come!

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Testimony 3/1/15

Brethren and sisters,  I hope that everyone time I walk up here you think to yourselves, “There’s Brother Stover – he’s going to talk about love and the Savior”.  If you do think that, then I have done my job.  If not, well, I have more work to do.  Well, yes – I am going to talk about love and the Savior.  It is my opinion that this is pretty much the only thing we should be talking about from this pulpit.  Everything else we talk about is merely an extension of this.  Christ gave us the two great commandments and then said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Today, I want to share three things with you.  I hope you will always remember these three things when you think of me.

First – I love my wife so much!  She is the only person I’ve ever met who is completely without guile.  In that sense, she is very much like the Savior.  I’ve told her this for years, but recently, she heard it from the Lord Himself.  Now she believes it.  I don’t know why she took His word for it, but wouldn’t ever believe me, but…well, so it is.  The burdens we bear…

Second – I love you.  I’ve told you this many times before, but I really need for you to remember this.  You are so good, so precious to the Lord.  You work, you love, you serve, you sacrifice…you strive constantly to become one with him.  I admire and respect you so much!  I have always tried to love you, to serve you, the best way I knew how – sometimes with nothing more than a smile and a handshake – but I hope you will always remember that I love you all very much.

Third – I love my Savior.  The day will soon come when I will meet Him face to face.  It will happen in His time, by His choice.  I will touch his hands.  Perhaps I will wash His feet with my tears.  We will embrace, and I will feel of His consuming love.  It will be a sweet reunion, but a reunion it will be, because on that day I will not know any better than I do right now that He lives, that He is the Living Christ – my Lord and Savior, and that He has accepted me at His right hand.  He could be standing beside me right now, and my knowledge of Him would not be any more certain than it already is.

I pray that you will take these things into your heart, and always remember them, and I do so in His Holy Name.  Amen.


Piercing the Veil

The veilThe veil is not death.

No, the veil is expertly woven from unbelief  (belief in false doctrine – Mormon 9:20) and disbelief (our failure to truly believe).  It is coarsely laced with jealousies and fears (D&C 67:10), which in turn yield the jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires (D&C 101:6) that stand between us and the presence of the Lord.  Finally, it is all bound together with the pride or hubris that so insidiously influences our thoughts and motivates our actions.

These burdens are the fruits of the fall.

Only through the power of the Lord’s atonement can we hope to overcome them.  We must first, however, recognize that they are there.  We must humble ourselves before Him.  These are the very roots of the sin that the Lord cannot look upon with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:31).  As long as they are part of us, our actions mean very little.  We may “obey the commandments”, but we will be no better than Israelites in the desert, or the Sadducees and Pharisees of Christ’s day.  We draw near to Him with our lips:

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: (Isaiah 29:13)

but we can never know him (John 17:3) and can thus never have eternal life.

If our hearts are set on our riches even to the smallest degree; if we have not truly consecrated all that we have – our time, talents, and possessions – to Him and to His work; if we are waiting for the day when the prophet or the bishop says “bring it all to the storehouse”, then we are not prepared to be part of the building of Zion.

The veil stands between us and Zion.  Zion can only be built by pure hearts and willing hands, and the cooperation and devotion that will be required cannot tolerate these things of which the veil is woven.  This truth has been made clear to me as I have pondered what I personally need to do to prepare to be part of this great work.  Your personal veil must be rent because only those who can endure His presence will be able to reside in Zion.

This is the journey to Zion.  I beg each of you who have ears to hear – rid yourself of jealousies and fears and covetous desires.  Cast away any and all vestiges of pride, and humble yourselves before Him.  Tear these things from your hearts by the very roots through a process of rigorous prayer and self-exploration.  Commit yourself to give freely of all that you have.

Come on this journey with me.  It is arduous and difficult.  It requires great faith.  You will discover things about yourself that you were completely unaware of – perhaps painful things.  In doing so, however, you will find yourself drawn ever closer to Him.  The vessel will be cleansed from the inside out – the clay in the potter’s hands.  Eventually, you will receive that Second Comforter spoken of by Joseph while he was expounding upon John 14:16.  When you know this, you will know that you are prepared to endure His presence.  Then, you will know that you are called to build Zion.

I testify of my Savior, but the knowledge I have, the love and devotion I feel cannot be fully described with mere words.  I can best honor Him by my actions.  Most of the time, they are woefully inadequate.  I pray that I might live up to the standard He has given us.  It is out of love that I make the attempt.  It is out of love that He comes to me, even in my weakness.  Oh, the Glory of my God!


A Personal Standard of Righteousness and Truth

blue flagIt has flown for years in my spiritual vision, but its presence in my day-to-day consciousness is increasing rapidly.  The image becomes just a little more focused every time I honor it with my faith, trust and obedience.  Not long ago, it was nothing more than a vague perception high on a distant mountain top.  As the focus increases, it appears to be drawing closer and closer, and details that I never made out before are becoming clearer.  It flies bravely from the top of an iron pole that is straight, tall and shining white, with a beautiful gold ornament at the top.  It looks much like any other flag; about twice as long as it is wide; finely woven of a deep blue cloth – royal, honorable, true.

I speak today of my own personal standard of righteousness and truth.  To be sure, I feel it more than I see it, but it is no less real for me than the flag that flies over any state or national capitol.  As I said, it has probably always been there, but when I was shown it recently while I was praying, I was suddenly given to recognize how critical it is to my journey.  This standard calls me; it beckons me.  As I approach it, light seems to increase.  There’s a warmth and a fullness that grows inside me.  The sensation is familiar and comfortable, even safe – as if I’m coming home.

I know its call.  I know what it means, all that it represents.  The depth and details of its principles, laws, even commandments, as well as their application, are recalled from my eternal memory.  Having recalled them, they are no longer new to me.  It’s not like the ensign of Zion – a beacon unto all the world as mentioned in D&C 64:42 – although it was clearly woven on the same loom:

And she shall be an ensign unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven.

This standard is much more personal and much more accessible.  It’s mine.  I may envision a nation or a world of people gathered around a summit, with the ensign of Zion waving above them, but I never see the multitude attaining the summit.  On the contrary, I hope someday to spiritually wrap myself in the cloth of my standard.  This, my standard of righteousness and truth, is custom made to emphasize the things that I personally need to perfect, and its promise is that I will ultimately fulfill the measure of my creation.

It is a glorious standard, constructed and offered lovingly by the Lord Himself.  It is glorious in that it actually contains the seeds of godhood.  It is a standard of compassion, understanding, patience, and meekness.  It is a standard of courage, loyalty, and commitment.  It is a standard of honesty and integrity.  Above all, it is a standard of love.

I am learning to recognize, when I think, do, and become, whether I am in harmony with my standard.  More and more frequently, when I contradict it, I feel very ill-at-ease.  I am learning to repent more and more quickly.  Practice makes perfect, I guess.

Honoring my standard takes a considerable amount of faith.  Obviously, babylon would teach me to largely ignore it.  That is to be expected.  It is the nature and the evil of babylon.  I’m finding, however, that there are those, even within my church associations, who do not understand how I am being drawn towards it.  They seem to think that because my understanding of, and faith in, gospel truths is different than theirs, I must be deceived.  What they don’t seem to understand is:

  • My standard is just as customized for me as theirs is for them, so there will be differences, but…
  • Since all personal standards of righteousness and truth come from the same source, close adherence by both of us should reveal that we are ultimately in harmony
  • It is spiritually demeaning for all of us when we judge another person’s sincere effort at learning truth and living righteously to be misguided, misinformed, or somehow less than sincere simply because we don’t understand them. In my experience, such judgments are typically motivated by fear and, ironically, a lack of faith.

So, as predicted by the Savior Himself, persecution is likely to accompany me the closer I get to truly honoring my standard.

A beacon, a guide, a personal ensign, my noble blue standard is lovingly constructed, specifically for me, from the mind of God, by the mind of God – even the Holy Ghost.  As I enable myself through faith, trust, and obedience to shed the bonds of this world, it continues to come more sharply into focus, calling me home.  Where following it seemed at one time like a hazy dream, it is now a sharp reality.  I thank my Lord for His patience and persistence; for gently nudging me, over and over again, toward this standard of righteousness and truth.  I now understand even more fully that by following the principles that it represents, I can eventually become one with the mind of God and thus with my Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ.  In His holy name, Amen.

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Suffer the Little Children

child tearTwo of our grandchildren are sleeping on our couches this morning.  Mom had to be at work at 6:00 a.m.  Dad spends all his money on the home they live in and he has no place of his own, so when Mom needs help, they come here.  Divorce is so inconvenient.  Currently, in their lives, they may well find themselves spending the night in any one of 3 different places.  We try our best to make them feel welcome – to love them and tell them how priceless they are, but I don’t think our gestures are enough to overcome the roar of the fact that they don’t really have a home, an anchor, a bed, a room that they can count on sleeping in every night.  A night at grandma’s house should be a treat rather than a subtle reminder (tragically, far too subtle for them to understand, while far too persistent for them to be able to cast aside as unimportant) that they are more of a burden than a cherished treasure.

I saw Carrie Underwood’s video “Little Toy Guns” this morning.  It tells the story quite beautifully of how children are impacted by the conflicts between their parents.  Its message of hope and redemption is powerful.  It brought me to tears.  It is through those tears that I began writing this post.

Many of you know that I taught at the Salt Lake County Jail for 6 of the past 8 years.  It was powerfully impressed upon me during that experience that the men I was teaching, the rejects of society, were largely there because nobody truly loved them when they were children – and this probably because their parents didn’t know how to love them, in turn because they were never taught by their parents.  What a vicious cycle!crying child

My mother has told me more than once of the time when she observed a mother in the grocery store in Oklahoma City who responded to her toddler reaching from the grocery cart for items on the shelf by slapping her and exclaiming, “Stop it, you devil child”.

I wrote in a previous blog about the time I was talking to another of our grandchildren about her parents’ divorce, and she confided that she was afraid to grow up and get married because, “What if I get divorced?”

It is a great relief to me to know that my own biological daughter claims to not remember the days when I drank to the point of addiction.  I am so thankful that I rejected this behavior before it seriously impacted her life.  Nevertheless, I know she observed the conflict and tension between her mother and me, and I have no doubt that my divorcing her mother when she was 14 left scars that wouldn’t have been necessary had I been a more responsible adult.

I recently read a blog post in which a young mother described her personal battle overcoming the effects of years of sexual and ritual abuse at the hands of her parents.  I have been told personally, although not in detail, of a friend who was ritually abused by church leaders when he was young.  Such practices were exposed in the “Pace Memo” for the Strengthening the Members Committee.  I mention this not to point fingers at the church, but to point out that no segment of society is sad child 2safe from such unconscionable abuses.

Most of the readers of this blog live, like me, in a very protected world.  The circumstances I describe above reflect the experiences of my world, but they pale when compared to the plight of children throughout the world who suffer greatly, and who frequently fear for the lives, whether because of hunger, neglect, abuse, or the violence of war.

Sometimes I just feel so sorry for the children.

Suffer the Children

Matthew (Matthew 19:14), Mark (Mark 10:14), and Luke (Luke 18:16) each tell the story of Christ laying His hands on children who were brought before him, telling His overly-protective apostles:

…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

I testified in my recent post, “Oh, The Glory of My God” about how Christ laid His hands on each and every Nephite child who was brought before Him, and how He blessed them and prayed for them individually.  There were dozens, if not more, of these children, and He took the time for each of them.  This He did after delivering the defining sermon at bountiful, and after healing equally as many sick, lame, deaf and blind:

And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

And when he had done this he wept again; (3 Nephi 17:21-22)christ with children2

“…And when He had done this, he wept…again”.

A Holy Rebuke

In D&C section 93, after gracing Joseph with perhaps the greatest single treatise ever recorded on the nature of God, of Christ, and of their relationship with man and with each other, He said:

And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.

But verily I say unto you, my servant Frederick G. Williams, you have continued under this condemnation;

You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction. (D&C 93:39-42 – emphasis mine)

In order to teach our children light and truth, we must receive light and truth.  We cannot teach our children light and truth that we have not received.  Light and truth is reflected through acts of love, compassion, understanding, kindness.  Even in the case of children, the Lords words hold true:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42)

Hopechildren on trampoline 1

There are many in our world who truly cherish their children and their own role as parents.  Just this afternoon, I was walking with my grandson and we stopped at a neighbor’s gate and watched the children jumping on their trampoline.  They invited us to come in, and I spent about 20 minutes just watching children play.  Having already written most of this post today, it was an especially poignant coincidence for me – reminding me that there is much love and beauty children on trampoline 3to be recognized and enjoyed.

A Shining Example

My daughter, whom many of you know, has struggled mightily throughout her life.  At times, she has been absolutely smothered beneath the evils of babylon.  However, she has shown to me the most Christ-like example of parenting I have ever seen anywhere, in any experience of my life.  Her son, Gunnar, (the above-mentioned grandson) has Down Syndrome, so his care is more difficult than that of “normal” children.  She has learned to truly love him as Christ would love him – even as He loves each of us.  I am often in awe of the love that drives the sacrifices that she offers in the interest of his comfort and happiness.  She exhibits compassion and empathy that is far more than instructive to me, it is inspiring.  I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to observe first hand her emergence as the world’s greatest mom, and as such, as a great disciple of Christ. SAMSUNG

What Can We Do?

I am convinced that this is how all children should be loved.  Failure to love all children, as Christ would, will perhaps be our greatest failing when we stand to be judged according to our works.

Children are so dependent upon us.  For them, we are Saviors in Zion.  If we cannot love them – those who cannot possibly pose any threat or danger that would provoke jealousy or fear – if we cannot love them as Christ would love them, how can we ever possibly hope to become one with Him?  How can we ever hope to “…love thy neighbour as thyself”?  (Mark 12:31)   How can we ever possibly hope to enter into the Fellowship of the Suffering of Christ (Philip 3:10) if we cannot even love and sacrifice our all for our children?

As I said, it was through the tears prompted by the Little Toy Guns video that I began writing this.  The story of the video isLittle-Toy-Guns something that happens in thousands of homes every day.  These tragedies occur largely because we are so consumed with just surviving the challenges of this fallen world that we forget the power that we have as adults and parents.  I can’t help but think what our lives would be like if Christ, in all of His ongoing suffering, forgot the power that he wields in each of our lives – if he forgot to answer our prayers, or to love us, or to protect us, or to inspire us…or to atone for our sins.  We look to Him for so much.  He is the source of our hope, our vision, and our dreams.  We would collapse in a heap of hopelessness at His slightest rebuke – just as if we were His children.

christ with childrenMy heart breaks when I think of the suffering of children throughout the world.  If, as a result of this post, only one person begins looking at their children as Christ does; if only one child is spared the wounds inflicted by a selfish, frightened adult, it will be worthwhile.  We have the ability to open the heavens to their eyes by our teaching, our nurturing, and our love.  We likewise have the power to scar them to the point that they will never be able to recognize the beacon of light and truth that is our Savior.  Our work can lift and create, or it can destroy.  The Savior’s work is the work of creation.  We must choose each day to do His work…especially when it comes to our children.

Sometimes, I feel so sad for the children.


Oh, The Glory of My God!

Jesus_027_smallThis morning I prayed, as I’m sure most of you do, for the people I know who are struggling in their lives – all of them more than I by a great margin.  I prayed for beloved family members.  I prayed for forgiveness and patience.  I prayed a prayer of gratitude for the comforts I enjoy, acknowledging that the day may come very soon when many of those comforts – a warm bed, a soft pillow, my ever-so-sweetly snoring wife, have become distant memories. (You will NEVER become a distant memory, Sweetie)  This is not intended to be taken as a prophecy or anything of the sort – just my own way of preparing for changes that most assuredly will come in my life time.

Then, I prayed for something I’ve never prayed for at any other time.  The Lord has frequently granted me wisdom and understanding in answer to my inquiries about specific topics.  I have prayed about Joseph Smith, the Church and its leaders, the Holy Ghost, baptism, the priesthood, family members, “current affairs”, etc.  The list could go on. I have learned much, but more than anything I have been given an awareness of how little I know.  So, today, I just asked the Lord to teach me what He would have me learn, that I might serve Him better.  The answer I received was truly a beautiful thing.  It is very significant that this thing that he would have me learn – that which would help me serve him better – was not about any of the things I mentioned above.  It was simply about Him.

The Fall

I should make it clear that this teaching was really more like putting together the pieces of a puzzle; a puzzle whose pieces I had received over – well, I would say over the past 2-3 months.  For example, I have thought much recently about the concept of entropy, which is defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

a :  the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity

b :  a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disordergarden of eden

It had previously occurred to me that this, the tendency of all matter (D&C 131:7), unless acted upon by an outside binding force, to descend into disorder or chaos, could very well describe the fall.  Death, or decay unto death, was introduced with the fall.  Creation is the organization of matter by the power of the priesthood, or the power of love – God’s love, or His glory.  The fall, or the separation from God – the binding, organizing force of creation – allows entropy to reign supreme.  Creation is stable, as long as it continues to be influenced or acted upon by God’s creative power – His love and glory; but when separated from Him, it becomes subject to the forces of entropy and must therefore gradually decay.  This begs the question, “Decay into what?”  I suggest that it would decay into “an ultimate state of inert uniformity”, a state where opposition, therefore, has ceased to exist, and:

…all things must needs be a compound in one (inert uniformity); wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death…Wherefore it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

According to Lehi’s description, all matter would be reduced by decay to its lowest form…in other words, outer darkness.  This, again, is the effect of the fall, or separation from God.  It will be our doom, if we are not, through some force, reunited with God that we may be availed of His binding force.

What is the antidote to this inevitable decay into outer darkness?  That would be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It is through Him that the binding, organizing power of God comes to this fallen, telestial world.  It is through the power of the atonement that Christ overcomes the effects of the fall.  It is He who brought into this world the seed of God’s glory, which was bestowed upon Him grace for grace (D&C 93:12).  Reference, if you will, my previous post on Section 93.  More from that section:

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. (D&C 93:29-32 – emphasis mine)

And finally:

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.

Light and truth forsake that evil one.

Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.

And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

In other words, the glory of God – that which binds the universe (the elements) and overcomes entropy, (glory = intelligence = light and truth) is the force that redeems man from the fall.  By obedience to His will, even to His being, we take unto ourselves His glory, and we are redeemed from the fall, or from entropy – even death.  Through disobedience to God, we surrender light and truth, and we remain subject to the forces of entropy, or death.

The Antidote

The next piece of the puzzle has to do with the nature of His beingI speak now of Christ, whose glory, received from the father, is the binding force – the love and glory – that is available to us.  Christ is defined by His love.  I repeat.  Christ is defined by His love!  He is a being of light, of truth, of intelligence – a being of love.  The Christian world, I’m afraid, tends to think of Him as being defined by his actions; by the miracles, the healing, the sacrifice, the resurrection, the atonement; but those are only manifestations of His love.  I think that until we understand this, we do not know Him.  Such a concept is, for me, very difficult to describe in words, although I know it in my heart.  Nevertheless, consider the following extracts from 3 Nephi, chapter 17 (emphasis mine):christ-land-bountiful-174607-gallery

Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

…And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.

And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.

And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;

And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.

 …And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.

…And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

And when he had done this he wept again;

And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.

And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

Can you feel it?  Can you feel the love leaping from these scriptures?  Yes, He worked miracles of healing.  Yes, he caused the heavens to open, and caused angels to come down to minister unto the children, their glory appearing to the multitude as if it were fire.  But even more important, he groaned.  He wept – twice; and He blessed the little children – those precious, precious children – one by one,(how many – 200? 300? 500?) and prayed unto the Father for them; then he wept again.  These were not tears of sadness, these were tears of joy, for He declared, “…my joy is full”.  From whence did this overwhelming joy come?  It came as a result of the display of faith on behalf of each person – each man, woman, mother, father, brother, sister, and child in the multitude.  I would even speculate that His joy came because He was able to truly show Himself to them, and in doing so, show them the glory – even the defining love – of His Father!  How difficult, we might wonder, is it for Him when we fail to turn to Him and receive Him as they did?  How long has it been since He was able to experience such a release from the burden of being rejected.  Do we think He does not feel such a burden?  Then we do not yet understand Him.  He is truly defined by His love, and if He is unable to share it, He is unable to share Himself.  Should we not consider the possibility that the burden of these billions of rejections, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, are an even greater burden, requiring an even greater sacrifice, than when He wrought the atonement itself?  Perhaps not, but I think only such a comparison can help us truly begin to comprehend how horrible it must be for such a being – a being who is defined by love – to be rejected constantly by the very objects of that love.

man greeting Christ.How are We Defined

Now for the final piece of the puzzle…how are we (you and me) defined?  Are we defined by our love, or are we defined by our petty jealousies and fears (D&C 67:10).  Do we seek joy in our accomplishments, in the approval of men; in positions, degrees, and possessions?  Are we, therefore, defined by the fall, or are we defined by the glory that we receive from Him as a result of obedience, not even so much to His commandments, but to His being.  You see, it is when we have loved so much that we are defined by our love that we can truly become one with Him; that we can truly know Him:

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Believing on Him is to act as He would act, to love as He would love, to become love, as He became love – receiving grace for grace.  When we have become to the point that we are defined by our love, that people know us by what we are – love, or the light and truth given us from the Father through Him – rather than by what we do, then are we sanctified to him, even redeemed from the fall.  Then is when we will be able to pierce the veil, and lay hold of the promises of the temple endowment.  I would even say this is the message of the endowment; to live our lives in such a way that we are, just as He is, defined by our love.

My Heart is Full…

…as I ponder these glorious truths.  The light that shines before me grows brighter every day as He teaches and nurtures.  The thought of lightening His burden, even just a little, simply because I seek to receive him in this way is beautiful beyond measure.  The thought of Him experiencing just a portion of the joy that He experienced among the multitude at Bountiful fills me, in turn, with joy.  To be able to return even a tiny bit of the joy He has brought me is a validating blessing, indeed.  Yet, this blessing is available to each of us, simply by recognizing who and what He is.  He is our redeemer from the fall, our source of all light and truth.  If we will allow Him to truly show Himself to us; if we will receive Him as the being of light that He is; then might we actually become friends – even friends who bring each other joy, comfort, and peace.  Then might we become friends who are one, in that we are defined by our love and not by the bonds of this telestial existence.  Then will we be able to abide His presence, and He ours.

I am reminded as I close, that the lesson He chose to teach was simply about Him – about love, about obedience, about redemption.  It was about becoming one with my Savior.  My, how we do complicate things sometimes.  In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Lessons from the Jail # 7 – Repentance is Your Friend

Help_Thou_Mine_UnbeliefThis is the 7th  and last of a series of posts called “Lessons from the Jail”.  (Links to the other lessons are provided at the end)  Beginning in late 2006, I began an assignment for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which I ministered to men in the Salt Lake County jail.  In the summer of 2009, this service was interrupted in favor of a full-time senior couples’ mission.  Upon our return in January of 2011, I was re-assigned at the jail, and I served there until my release this past December.   I was ready to be released – it had frankly become a bit of a burden – but I also miss the assignment.  Each week brought conflicting emotions, but no endeavor in my life has consistently made me feel appreciated and valued as this one.  There were times when I would walk out of the jail as if I were walking a few inches off the ground, because I knew that I had truly made a difference to someone. No matter how I felt walking in, I always felt uplifted when I walked out.  Quite an interesting observation – that I would be continually uplifted by men who were incarcerated – who society views as outcasts or undesirables.  I was lifted because I knew I lifted them.  It never mattered to me that the things I taught might not be fully applied in this life.  It was enough to know that they felt better about themselves on that day; that on that day, they had hope.  I knew that someday, whether in this life or the next, these men would remember; they would hear some portion of the truth and think “Oh, yeah – I remember that teacher in the jail telling me that”.  It was also enough to simply treat them like men rather than as convicts.  They really appreciated that essential courtesy among men.

This final lesson is entitled “Repentance is your friend”.  It usually went something like this:

Gentlemen, repentance gets a bad rap.  Most of the time, when we hear the word “repentance”, we figure we’ve done something wrong, and we’re going to have to swallow our pride, confess to someone, admit we were wrong, and follow someone else’s direction on how to get “back on the path”.  Well, this is often part of repentance, but that’s the bad rap I was referring to. There’s actually so much more to it.  Repentance is actually a part of life.  I live my own life in a constant state of repentance.  I find myself repenting multiple times per day – it has become part of the way I think, the way I act, and especially the way I grow.  Let’s look at these commonly accepted steps in the repentance process:

  • Acknowledge the Sin
  • Feel Sorry (Godly Sorrow)
  • Confess the sin
  • Ask Forgiveness (of the person you wronged, of God, and especially of yourself)
  • Make amends (when possible)
  • Forsake the sin (resolve not to do it again)

Let’s discuss these individually and see if we can understand how this process is so beneficial for us:

Acknowledge the Sin

First, we have to admit that we did something wrong.  This may sound like a simple thing, but it’s really very, very important.  As a matter of fact, we’re going to spend the lion’s share of this lesson on this single step, because once we have done this, the battle is largely won.  Consider this – when we admit that we did something wrong, we acknowledge that we are subject to some sort of standard, and that we fell short.  What standard did we violate or fall short of?  There are many possibilities:

  • Man’s Law or Society’s Law
  • God’s Law
  • The rules of a society, club, or a game of some sort
  • Our own Standards ( The most important – I will talk more about this later)

We don’t really need to talk much about what happens when we violate man’s law, now do we?  You’ve all obviously experienced the result of that.  You’ve all even heard that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.  This is true of man’s law, because man, in his imperfect knowledge, must apply the law rigidly.  Otherwise, it would be very difficult to apply the law fairly.  Now, I know some of you feel like you’ve seen the law applied unfairly, and you probably have, but that just makes my point.  If it’s already applied unfairly, imagine how much worse it could be if it were applied even more “subjectively”, or without rigid rules and guidelines.intimidating judge

God’s law is just the opposite.  Let me quote you a scripture.  This is from the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 9:25-26:

Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.

For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.

I’ll bet that’s a surprise to you, isn’t it?  I’ll bet you didn’t know that, in God’s eyes, ignorance is very much an excuse!  Of course, you can’t lie to God, and I am sure that you all know the difference between right and wrong, so, while you may be able to claim ignorance of some things, what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong, and you pretty much know the difference.  Am I right?

Now, there’s another scripture that I want to share with you that sort of completes the puzzle.  It’s in the Doctrine and Covenants, 130:20-21:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

See, ignorance of God’s law may be enough to escape “punishment”, but we must learn of God’s law so that we can abide by it if we want to reap its blessings.

The most important standard of all, though, is your own personal standard.  We talked in the last lesson, I am a Child of God, about how important it is to live a life of integrity.  Well, repentance is the way you develop and enhance your personal integrity.  You see, first you must acknowledge your own standards. You have to understand what they are.  I remember the time when my step-daughter came to my wife and me and said that she didn’t believe in the church.  I just said, “Well, what DO you believe in”.  She said, “I don’t know”.  I said, “Well, then you’d better figure it out, and then you need to live by it”.  She just walked away, but I know she heard me and, knowing her as I do today, I have no doubt that she pondered what I said at length.  If you haven’t identified your standards – your own personal moral code – you have nothing upon which to base the decisions and choices that make you who you are.  Your life will be like chaff in the wind.  On the other hand, if you can identify your standards, and really take ownership for them, you have given yourself a base from which you can grow.  This is how repentance is your friend.  Repentance is the tool that helps you continually raise the bar of your own personal standards.  In other words, by repenting privately every time you violate your own standards – you are practicing integrity.  The more you practice, the better you get at keeping your standards – the more you maintain your integrity.  Once you get really good at maintaining a certain standard, your natural tendency is to start to raise the bar.  You’re now able to see over the horizon.  Then, once you’ve raised the bar, the whole process starts over again.  Do you see how this is the way you “become” – the way you become that “someone special” that you always wanted to be?

Ultimately, the result of this process is that your personal standards will become one with God’s Law.  The exercise of faith (see Lesson 6), which we will talk more about next week, unto repentance, will eventually lead us to where our personal law, our personal standard, is in line with God’s law.  This is the process of “sanctification”, and whole books could be, and have been, written on this topic.Divine-Mercy-Jesus (2)

Feel Godly Sorrow

If you don’t feel godly sorrow when you violate your own standards, then you don’t own them.  I don’t mean that you need to beat yourself up because, if you start doing that, then you’ll run away, and nobody wins.  The more you own – the more you “cherish” – those standards of yours; the more you prize our integrity; the more you’ll grieve when you trash them.  There’s a fine line, though.  Give yourself a break.  Don’t be afraid to admit that you blew it.  Then get back on the horse and try again.  How do you do that?  Repentance.  See – repentance truly is your friend.

Confess the Sin

Here’s the booger bear about repentance, right?  “What!  You mean I have to go sit before some dude in a suit act all humble and submissive and acknowledge his authority over me?”  No, most of the time that’s not what I mean – not at all.  Most of the time, the only person you’re confessing to is yourself, and, of course, God.  He’s really interested in your progression, too.  Of course, sometimes, if the sin is grave enough, and you’ve sinned against covenants that you made with God, then you probably should confess to your bishop or clergy.  They can help you through the repentance process – but it’s not about getting right with them.  They’re helping you get right with God.  It’s still between you and God. Hopefully that’s the exception.  Is this type of repentance easy?  Of course not!  You have to swallow your pride.  You have to admit that you were wrong and that you messed up.  My advice?  Try it sometime.  It’s really therapeutic.  Pride is a tough load to carry around all the time, and by my experience it just keeps getting heavier and heavier, because usually the only way to maintain it is to pile more on.  You guys know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?  Yeah, you know!

Ask Forgiveness

Ok, who do you ask forgiveness of?  God?  Yeah – sure.  If you sinned against God – again, if you have made covenants, even if they’re informal, personal covenants between you and God, and if you violate them, then you need to ask His forgiveness.  Will you receive it?  Of course you will.  What are the conditions?  They’re nothing more than your sincerity.  Now, who knows how sincere you are?  Yep, that’s right – only you and God.  Do you know the meaning of intimacy?  Isn’t that when you share something only between two people?  So, sincere repentance – confessing your sins before God and asking His forgiveness – is a pretty intimate thing, isn’t it? – Only between the two of you.  I kind of like that.

Now, what about others?   Well, the rule here is pretty simple.  You ask forgiveness from the person that you harmed.  It’s not your problem if they don’t forgive you – you just need to ask, and that, again, sincerely.

Ok – now the most difficult task of all.  Yes – that’s right – asking yourself for forgiveness.  That’s the hardest form of forgiveness to receive, isn’t it?  It’s hard to ask, and it’s hard to receive.  But the answer is simple – just do it.  It does no good to dwell on the past, except in that it helps you to refrain from doing the same thing in the future.  Another thing the past is useful for is in helping others.  Remembering our past helps us to have empathy for others who have made the same mistakes, or similar mistakes, that we did.  You don’t necessarily want to forget your own sins, but you must forgive yourself.  I know the Lord says, “…I remember them no more”, but for us, it helps to remember, if only so we can avoid them in the future.

Finally, the Lord has promised that He will forgive us.  If we fail to forgive ourselves, we are basically saying we don’t believe Him.  Asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness are critical to the power of repentance.

Make Amends

Sometimes, gentlemen, making amends – restoring that which was lost – is simply not possible.  There are some things that just can’t be undone.  I won’t go into detail, but you all know what I’m talking about.  However, if you can, it is necessary, as part of the repentance process, to pay it back.

Forsake the Sin

This aspect of the repentance process must be considered gingerly.  I say that because we really do need to resolve not to continue committing the same sin, but we will run into problems if we are so unsure of ourselves that we don’t even bother repenting.  Far too often we say to ourselves, “I’m just not in control.  I can’t guarantee that I’m going to be able to refrain, so I’m not even going to bother”.  This shuts off godly sorrow.  It is demeaning and dis-empowering.  Basically, it brings us down.  Remember what I said before – repentance is the way we “become”.  It may involve little steps at first.  We may stumble repeatedly, but I assure you the Lord understands.  He doesn’t really want you to be perfect – he wants you to be in the process of “becoming” perfect, and that process must be driven by you exercising the repentance process.

A Parable of Repentance

1977 yankees #1I’m sure most of you don’t know that I used to play third base for the New York Yankees.  Yep – this was back in the mid to late 70’s.  I knew Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson – they were my buds.  Anyway, it was in the 1977 World Series, game 7, bottom of the 9th, and we were up by one run.  There were 2 outs and runners were on 2nd and 3rd.  The batter hit a routine ground ball to third.  Hah!  Here it is!  We’re world champs!  I scooped up the ball, took a hop step toward first and let it fly…about 4 feet over Chris Chambliss’ head and into the dugout.  Both runners scored, and we lost the game – and of course the series – on my flub up.

Ok, what was all a personal fantasy, except in my real fantasy, the throw was right on target.  While the Yankees did play in the 1977 World Series, it only went 6 games, the Yankees won, and Graig Nettles was their regular 3rd baseman – and a pretty darn good one at that.  But that’s not the point.  Let’s run this through the repentance process:

  • In this parable, I violated two standards – the rules of the game, and the unspoken contract between the baseball world and the starting 3rd baseman for a world champion team that he should be able to make a routine throw to first base.
  • I acknowledged the sin, although it wasn’t really necessary. It was there for all the world to see in living color.  However, in the press conference after the game, I would have readily admitted that I cost us the series and took full responsibility.
  • Boy, did I ever feel godly sorrow!1977 yankees #2
  • Confession? See “acknowledgement” above.  I suppose I could have claimed the sun was in my eyes, but it was a night game, so that wouldn’t have gone over very well anyway.
  • Almost immediately, in the press conference, I humbly asked everyone in Yankee nation to forgive me.
  • While I couldn’t guarantee that I would never again make an errant throw to first base, I fielded thousands of ground balls, accompanied by thousands of throws to first base, during the off-season. In other words, I did everything humanly possible to forsake the sin.  As proof, I won a gold glove the next 5 years straight!

Of course, I went on to become a legend in my own mind, the greatest Yankee who never actually played a game!


Gentlemen, repentance is a cornerstone of almost every religion, especially Christianity.  However, religion aside – it is a cornerstone of life.  It is the way we become who we want to become.  By establishing our own standards, we define ourselves.  We place our stake in the ground and we establish our personal boundaries.  Then, we must measure ourselves against those standards.  When we measure up, we gain strength, and we experience peace.  When we don’t, we must have the courage to acknowledge that, the integrity to confess to ourselves and whomever we might have harmed, and the guts to do what it takes to fix it. This is how we “own” our personal standards.   Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.  It’s ok, as long as you don’t just start accepting it – as long as you don’t give up.  Frankly, if you stop repenting, you may as well go sit in a corner and die, because you’re done in this world.  Repentance is a source of power – the very fountain of hope that keeps us all going.  Having the opportunity and the courage to say, “I’ll do better next time” is what will eventually make us gods.  As I said at the beginning – repentance gets a bad rap.  Do you understand why I said that?  I hope so, because I promise you, repentance is your friend.

I testify that these things are true (well, all except the baseball story) in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Lesson 1 – I am a Child of God

Lesson 2 – Agency

Lesson 3 – The Good News

Lesson 4 – Cameron

Lesson 5 – Judgment or “How Much Can I Bless You?”

Lesson 6 – Faith – The Cycle of Becoming


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