Recently the question was posed to me, “If you could say anything to your past self, what would it be?” So, I thought about it. And, I struggled to come up with anything. Because in all honesty, I don’t see the point in doing it. If given the chance, I don’t think I would go back and try to mess with my past self. I’m not sure it would make a difference.

But, after some more thought, what I realized was, that more than it really mattering IF I actually would go back and say anything to my past self; considering what I might say to my past self actually had a great deal of value for my present self. Why? Because trying to look back and think what I might say is an exercise in remembrance, in reflecting on my life.

Click here to listen to the podcast: The Stuff I Would Say to My Past Self!

Immediately questions arise like:

  • Would I change anything about my past?
  • What advice and help did I receive in the past that brought me to this point I’m at now? Will it help me going forward?
  • What growing experiences did I have because I had to live by faith without frequent peeks at my future or a phone call from the future?
  • Do I see the hand of God in the path my life has taken?
  • If everything had gone the way I had planned or expected, would I be the same person?
  • What truths did I cling to then? Are they the same ones I cling to now? Are they the same ones I should cling to in the future?

It turns out, there is an incredible benefit to remembering our past and reflecting on the course our life has taken, if we do it properly.

Remember, Remember…

In the scriptures, prophets repeatedly encourage people to reflect back on their lives and remember (and acknowledge) the ways in which God has blessed and preserved them, as well as their forbears. This remembrance of our lives is an exercise in gratitude.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the members of Ephesus to remember what they were like before the grace of God touched their lives. He encourages them to remember when they were without Christ and how their life and hope has changed since becoming converted to Christianity. This remembrance is not only an exercise in gratitude, but it’s a chance for the Holy Spirit to reaffirm our testimony.

Joseph Smith recorded that after reading James 1:5 that the message of the verse hit him so hard that he reflected on it again and again (JS-H 1:12). Many of us, like Joseph, have heard quotes, read scriptures, heard sermons, or recited prayers that have entered our hearts with such force that we find ourselves coming back to those messages again and again and again…often being taught even deeper truths each time we reflect on them. This type of remembrance is not only the reaffirmation of our testimony of a truth we’ve been taught, it’s a reflection that invites the Holy Spirit to teach us more about a truth we are willing to learn more about. It’s in invitation to be taught.

Pillar of Salt

Conversely, in the scriptures we also have accounts of people reflecting back on the past in a manner that breeds personal destruction. Lot’s wife, when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom (where her home was) turned into a pillar of salt. Or, in more blunt words, she was burned up by the destruction. She didn’t simply look back, she ran back toward the city and to her own death. Lot tried to lead her out of it to a life of righteousness, and she didn’t truly want that, so even though the city was going to be destroyed, she had rather run back and get burned up with it. Her reflection led her to run head first into self-destruction.

Often, when many of us reflect back on the past we do so with longing for things that aren’t beneficial to our present. We create sentimental trophies out of old romances, past friendships, once promising athletic careers, and other such childhood and teenage fodder. We glorify these images so much in our minds that it builds regret for our present location in life. We begin to resent and discredit all that we have built in our current lives by running full-force back to the imaginary happiness we truly believe we missed out on. We, like Lot’s wife, run head first into self-destruction.

Others, when they reflect back or dwell on their past mistakes they lean so hard into shaming and mentally destroying themselves, that they can’t press forward successfully in the present. As they look back at their lives and think what they might say to their past selves they use the opportunity instead to punish themselves more. To beat themselves up more. But, they aren’t beating up their past self. They are beating up their present self, creating self-destruction in the present.

God Wants Us to Reflect to Propel Us Forward

So, now I put the question to you. What would you go back and tell your past self, if you could? That past self could be the self of yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, five years ago, or even twenty years ago. Would you tell all these selves the same thing? Why, or why not?

Now, here’s another question. Now that several things have crossed your mind about what you would tell your past self. How do these words of wisdom help you in the present? What would you tell your future self?

It turns out God has a primary purpose for self-reflection and remembrance. But, they are illustrated most powerfully in the man called Alma-the-younger.

Interestingly, Alma-the-younger (Jr.)’s father had been a Christian rebel when he was a young man. But, then he got himself straightened out. So, what happens? Well, his son, Alma Jr., decides to rebel also and run around trying to destroy Christianity (the church). Alma Jr. and his friends (the sons of the king, named Mosiah) describe themselves as the vilest of sinners (Mosiah 28:4). During their wicked streak an angel appears to them and tells them to repent or be destroyed.

These words hold particular hold upon Alma Jr.’s heart. He falls to the ground and is tormented with what he describes as “the pains of hell” for up to a day or two. The things causing his hellish pain? Well, they are his reflections on his wicked past.

And then, amidst Alma Jr.’s reflections he remembers hearing his father (Alma Sr.) preaching about Jesus Christ who atones for the sins for the world. That there is forgiveness. This reflection leads him to repent. He calls out in his anguish to Christ and asks to be saved. He is then suddenly filled with peace even greater than the hellish pain that he was being tormented with. He says, “And now, behold…I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:13,19).

Notice, he doesn’t say that he can’t remember his sins. He can. But what he can no longer remember is the hellish-pain, guilt, misery, and suffering that he was under because of his recognition of his sins.

Alma Jr.’s reflection back on his past had the potential to propel him forward. First he reflected on his sins and was nearly overwhelmed by his vivid understanding of just how rotten he’d been. But, then, so very important, is that second, he reflected on what he’d been taught about Christ and in faith he sought Christ. What happened then? He found peace in the grace of Christ and was able to be free from the pain of his sins. Certainly he could still remember them, but they didn’t torment him anymore. Now, he was free to use those memories to press forward…to become better.

A Challenge

Out of this topic, I have come to the conclusion that the best way for us to reflect upon the past is to do so with God’s help. If we are to look back and reflect in a way that has the greatest potential to propel us forward, then we should look back with the help of a being that can see our past as clearly as He can see our present and our future.

Consider questions like:

  • God, is there anything in my past that I still need to deal with and resolve?
  • God, is there a time in my past where you were with me but I didn’t realize it back then? Show me so I can find peace now.
  • God, can you help me to remember the times your grace carried me through, or your Holy Spirit taught me truth so that my current testimony can be re-affirmed?
  • God, is there anything more you would teach me about this truth that I already love so much?
  • God, are there any truths I’m overlooking in my past that I need to understand so I can receive the future you have in store for me?

I’m Finally Going to Answer the Question

I have to be honest. I don’t think I would go back and tell my past self much of anything. But, if I did, it would sound something like this:

Don’t waste any mental or emotional effort on the fact that it simply isn’t your nature to care about being popular or fitting in. You never do seek out those things, but you will try to waste a lot of effort on whether or not it’s important. So, don’t.

Next, God has given all of us bodies. Mortal genetics play their part. Be grateful for the body you have been given. Don’t waste another second beating yourself up because you weren’t born four-to-six inches shorter, four-to-six inches narrower, or 40-60 lbs lighter. Your body is the power God has given you to do His work. Take glory in the fact that you can accomplish it with the body you’ve got.

You were right. You’ll keep being right. You’ll keep trusting in God. You’re going to make it.

BT

What is power?

Power is the ability to progress…to truly move forward in our lives. Progression implies the ability to change for the better.

Listen to the podcast “The Stuff that Gives Us Power” with more thoughts and ideas about this topic!

What things give us power?

That which gives us the greatest power to progress, to change fundamentally and eternally is—integrity.

Integrity is honesty with self. It’s facing the truth about ourselves. It’s being honest with God.

In Alma 31:5 we learn that the word of God has a more powerful effect on the minds of wicked people than the sword or anything else. And Alma thinks it is critical that they try the VIRTUE of the word of God against their enemies rather than going to war against them. So, why would the word of God have more power than the threat of death? Because the word of God is truth.

The scriptures describe truth as “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24). Real truth has virtue, or in other words, power. Christ’s power is virtue. In the New Testament, when the woman with the issue of blood touches Him, He says, “I perceive that virtue [or power] is gone out of me” (Luke 8:46).

Christ is the truth, the way, and the light. Meaning, Christ’s power is in truth. The more truth about ourselves we embrace, the more power (through Him) we have to progress.

A lot of people feel that truth is relative. That simply isn’t true. Real truth isn’t susceptible to public, or even personal, opinion. Truth is established by God. So, our integrity fundamentally rests upon our willingness to accept God’s truths about ourselves and about Him.

What things take away our power?

If power is the ability to progress, and progression is dependent upon us being willing and able to face the truths about ourselves and to accept and embrace God’s truths, then it would follow that our power is drained or rendered temporary when we embrace partial truths, false truths, or if we purposefully rebel against truth that we know.

Elder David A. Bednar (2011) in his book Increase in Learning defines knowledge as our understanding of a truth, but intelligence is actually acting on the truth that we know (pp. 63-75). So, a person can be knowledgeable but that does not presuppose intelligence. If we know truth but do not act on it we are not very intelligent. In Doctrine & Covenants 130:18 we read, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life [meaning the level of truth we choose to act upon],  it will rise with us” in the next life. This, according to Elder Bednar, is also why God identifies Himself as “more intelligent than all” (Abraham 3:19) because He acts perfectly on all truth.

In this context, not acting upon truth removes power to progress toward our best selves. And one of my favorite scriptures in Alma 12 teaches us that when we don’t act on truth we actually lose our current knowledge and deep understanding of it. We literally become duller, both spiritually and mentally. We lose the ability to comprehend the truth we once knew because we have not, or no longer act on it. We don’t simply stop progressing, we actually regress.

Listen to these words, “And they who will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing…Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).

God always makes very clear that we have complete control over our progression. If we learn truth and then act upon it, we gain access to more truth and thereby more power, until we know all that God knows…which means that if we act on all the truth we know (that God also knows), then it really is possible to become like Him.

Evaluate your power: What do you need power to do?

Whenever we are struggling to progress, to get out of a rut, it is usually because there is a truth that we lack.

In most cases the power we need is to progress, or to get out of our rut, is to find the truth that we lack. Finding truth (i.e. knowledge) creates a possibility of progression—if we act on it.

Or, if we know our issues, our power may be falling flat because we expect our knowledge of a truth to simply fix our problem without any research, planning, preparation, or practice on our part.

Visualizing, researching, seeking, counseling, planning, preparing, practicing

One of the things I’m currently excited about it some books and a Netflix show I tried one day about Tidying with Marie Kondo. Evidently this has been going on a while, but I just discovered her! Her process is all about helping people find the power to tidy. Two of the main things she has her clients do is to visualize their ideal life—in detail. Because, there is no power to tidy up if you don’t know what you hope to accomplish with it. What’s the point of keeping a tidy house if it doesn’t contribute to your ideal life? The second thing she teaches her clients is how to understand those things that spark joy for them. She teaches them how to show gratitude for things that no longer spark joy for them and how to part with things that they don’t see in the ideal life they’ve imagined.

The most powerful parts of her process are her clients learning to know what they want out of life—a critical and important truth—and learning to identify the objects they possess that spark joy for them—a tool of learning to feel truth. Identifying truth and feeling truth.

So, when it comes to using integrity to pull ourselves out of a rut in our lives, or to progress, it begins with looking for the truths we ignore, avoid, don’t have, and those which we are ready and willing to face. Anytime we embrace God’s truth for us we will immediately begin again to progress. That’s power.

Change. We always see others somehow figuring out how to do it. Some person out there figures out how to change and lose a ton of weight. Some other person out there learns how to conquer a health problem. Some married couple out there figures out how to change and save their marriage, making it strong than ever. Some people manage to change the entire course of their lives with complete career and education changes. Some people manage to change their finances, radically, and create wealth. Some people manage to find joy after struggling with years of mental illness. Some people learn how to let go of past offenses and renew their capacity for love. Some people manage to sincerely repent of sins and make drastic strides toward becoming a more Christ-centered person.

To change is to become different. It is the act of becoming different.

But, the power, the actual miraculous fundamental change that some people manage to take on…how does that happen? What is the secret? How do we invite such change to happen to us?

From Water to Wine

This week while studying the Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families my family and I discussed Jesus’s first miracle of turning water into wine for His mother. Our discussion was simply lovely. And, while there were many facet’s to this miracle of “change,” the formula is not complex.

  1. The miracle of change was preceded by a request from Mary, Jesus’s mother. She said quite clearly, “We are out of wine. Help.”
  2. Then, as my eldest sister pointed out in our discussion, the water was changed to wine only by the servants doing exactly what Christ said. It mattered little that His instructions in this instance were simple. What mattered most was that “whatever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), and they did. Water was changed to the best wine ever drunk.

Christ demonstrates in this first miracle (and teaches all of us) that the power to change comes from and through Him. First, we must desire to change and ask for His help. Then, we must do exactly what He asks us to do in order for the miracle to come.

For Ourselves and For Others

Many years ago, while struggling to avoid divorce and save my first marriage, I read a book called Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. It’s an excellent book, but what stuck out to me was his repeated caveat that his advice and commentary were only effective on someone who was a good Christian man or woman who reasonably wanted to be good. Over and over he pointed out that extreme cases would not likely be effected by much of the suggestions in the book. Why? Because if a person is not willing to follow Christ and invite His power into their lives there is no power to change (at least not fundamentally). Cursory change, temporary change, most of us can accomplish that. Fundamental change? That requires godly power. It requires us to reasonably desire to be good.

Changing Ourselves

Though this section is about changing ourselves, it should be noted that if we desire to change others, such cannot be accomplished unless we are first willing to change ourselves. We can’t say, “Well, I’ll be nice when he/she learns to be nice. I wouldn’t have any trouble if he/she would simply…” (Matthew 5:46-47). If our desire to change is fueled only by our wish that others would change, then our change will never be permanent. Blame also only stunts personal growth and puts accountability on others instead of ourselves. If we think ourselves so powerless that our own personal change is dependent upon the actions of others, then the minute the other person jumps off the change bandwagon, we will too. And we will both remain—unchanged.

Our change is entirely independent of the change we desire in others. We have to decide who we want to be independent of others. That way, when we invite the power of Christ and He helps us to change in a deep, lasting, and fundamental way; what others do or don’t do won’t affect us so much. We can attain peace and joy independent of them.

When we desire to change ourselves in any way, all we need to do in order to gain the power we need is to invite Christ into our lives. We come to Him with our metaphorical empty pitcher of X-characteristic/need and ask Him to take what we have and help us change it into a full pitcher of X-characteristic/need. Then we pray, sincerely, and continually, “Whatever though sayest, I will do it.”

The scriptures are replete with God’s commandments to us. It may seem too simple. But, the quickest and easiest way to gain the power to change and become something different (in any way) is by acting to become something different. Choose any Christlike characteristic and practice becoming more Christlike. Practice temperance, patience, forgiveness, mercy, charity, long-suffering, selflessness, service, kindness, etc.

As we invite Christ’s power into our lives in any way He will reciprocate with gifts of power. As we become more forgiving and patient our minds will be open to revelation on how to achieve the change we desire in another area of our lives. It doesn’t matter whether it’s losing weight, saving your marriage, or pursuing a new career path. The more Christlike attributes we practice and assimilate into our fundamental nature, the more power, light, and truth we can receive. All three of these things give us not only the motivation, but that actual capacity to become better, different—to change.

Changing Others

We can’t. Period.

We should never attempt to manipulate, guilt, persecute, abuse, or coerce other people into changing. Change brought about by fear is damaging and unChristlike. It may create temporary change, but eventually the victim will rebel or retaliate. Such change is not lasting. And, those who attempt to bring about such change are sinning against others and against God. Thus, their power to change and become better decreases because of their unrighteous dominion (Doctrine & Covenants 121:37).

But, we can influence others powerfully. As we change ourselves (see above), the power of Christ that enters our lives and homes will naturally impact and influence others…if they have a reasonable desire to be good, they will over time (maybe a very, very long time, who knows) be influenced by our example.

How much power is there in love? If you know the answer to that, then you know the only answer to influencing others to change is Christlike love. Ask God, “How can I show love to <name> as You would?” Then, go and do it.

Now, remember, those who don’t reasonably desire to be good may not respond to all the loving and Christlike influence in the world. It is not okay or reasonable for us to submit to the unrighteous dominion of others. In such cases, the best way to show love and to influence another to change is by understanding and properly issuing spiritual ultimatums. God uses them. We can too, if we seek His guidance.

Conclusion

Change is always within our grasp. Whatever the change is that we desire, we can have it, if we are sincere. If we take our request to God and submit to the conditions He sets for us to succeed in that change we seek, He will guide us and teach us what to do. All we need to do then is to go and do it. The power to change will be there.

If Christ can change water to wine, He can change us if we seek it sincerely. We can begin to invite the power to change ourselves and others into our lives immediately as we keep the commandments God gives us, and seek to practice Christlike characteristics and become Christlike ourselves. Christ is the only one with power that can change us permanently, fundamentally, and eternally. No other supposed power, no other motivation will last sufficiently long to change us. Only Christ can change us.

Invite Him into your lives and change becomes possible.

BT List Accent

It happens. That day when you eat yourself sick. You feel terrible, and quite frankly, you know you are not anywhere near healthy. And so you tell yourself, “Next week I’m going to start eating better and begin a consistent workout.” Monday always seems to be that magic day we set for starting new. Or, you lose your temper, yet again, and you feel sick emotionally. And so you tell yourself, “Tomorrow I’m going to be more patient. Tomorrow I’m going to start learning to control my temper.” Tomorrow is also a magic moment (we tell ourselves).

We have a natural propensity for visualizing ourselves being better (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) in the future. Next week, Monday, next month, when I conquer X, next year, tomorrow…they all share one thing in common: they are not now.

Turns out, the number of things we really desire and want to do are often blocked by the fact that we are currently not in motion. We are not in any state of progression on a negative behavior or characteristic. We are in a rut, per say. We may have exercised our mental or emotional capacities toward visualizing a future of motion, or progression. We imagine what it will be like to be more healthy, in better health, better at studying our scriptures, better at being kind, better at serving, and more patient and forgiving. And this is most certainly a good thing. But, it is not yet “motion.” We haven’t done anything yet.

Motion, itself, turns out to be the hardest thing. Progression is difficult. Why? Because we want to succeed instantly. We want to have what we want and visualize, right now. We want minimal effort to be required and success to be guaranteed. Thus, we tend to procrastinate progression, or an action of motion, until there’s no other choice. Or, until we feel we have sufficient impetus to make ourselves succeed. We seek for “the perfect starting conditions” as the catalyst to get the ball rolling. We don’t procrastinate because we don’t want to progress. It’s not that at all. It’s that we want progression to be easy and to work and for us never to botch this behavior/characteristic again.

We don’t want to fail and have to try again…to get the ball rolling again, right? We don’t want to waste energy on a failure because the conditions weren’t perfect for us to succeed.

Small and Simple Principle

In Alma 37:6-7 we read:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness is me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

So, let’s put this in modern language:

You might think this is ridiculous; but I’m telling you that by one small thing, one small action, one small effort, great things result; and small things like this often surprise and shock people who claim greater wisdom (than God).

God works by such simple things to bring about His great and eternal purposes (goals); and by very small things (actions, efforts) God surprises and shocks people who claim to be wise with His ability to bring people to salvation.

These verses teach a clear truth: it doesn’t take much to progress.

However, it doesn’t say anything about succeeding perfectly at any time or that we’ll never fail (temporarily) and this, more than anything keeps most of us in our rut, determining to wait until we are guaranteed to conquer. However, if you read it closely, it does imply that: if you get in a rut again, it only takes a small act to get going again. And this is the key. Whether we succeed fabulously and only lapse once in a while, or whether we lapse most of the time and succeed only rarely; the eternal principle here is that we simply have to keep doing something, even something small, to keep progressing. It will only ever (and always) take something small to progress and to get ourselves moving in the direction we desire—again.

Just Do Something

In my later years, I have come to discover that I still frequently have those, “Ug, I need to do something about this,” moments just as much as I did when I was a bit younger. But, I’m learning not to say, “Okay, Monday I’m going to…” or “Tomorrow, I’m going to…” I’ve learned to say, “What can I do right now? What small, tiny effort/action can I take to get the ball rolling on this spiritual/physical progression I need to make?”

Oh, the impact this tiny change has had in my life! I can’t even begin to expound how it has changed me!

If I’ve had a bad three hours as a mother. It’s tempting to think, “OK, tomorrow I’ll be better.” But instead, against all my current feelings of impatience, anger, even momentary despair, I bow my head, say a little prayer, then grit my teeth and figure out where I need to say sorry, and what I need to do to change the circumstances between me and my sweet kiddo right then. And wow!

If I’ve had a rough week (or month…) eating and not exercising very much. When it hits me, instead of writing out a beautiful exercise routine that I need to begin on Monday of the following week, I get up and go for a walk, immediately. Or, I do a few crunches and planks while watching a cartoon with my little girl. Or, I run to the store and plan a healthier meal for dinner, right then.

If I’ve failed to have family night or study the new Come Follow Me. I stop right then, pull it up, and find one thing I can talk about with my husband or sweet little girl. I do something small, right then.

The Result

The result of this, “What can I do right this moment to make an immediate change? What small thing can I do to get the ball rolling?” has been that the ball starts rolling. It’s amazing! There is an immediate change in my heart and mind. There is a noticeable change in the way I feel spiritually, physically, emotionally. And it only improves as I continue to act right there, in the moment. Not waiting for some future idealized time where I’m more prepared or magically more ready.

There is a removal of suspense of, “Will I actually remember to contact the people I minister to tomorrow?” because even though all I sent was a tiny text today, I feel better because I’ve done something today. And it nearly always leads to something I can do tomorrow.

This new Come Follow Me curriculum could fall under this same category. We could say, “Oops, I missed this Sunday, I guess we’ll start next Sunday.” We could say, “Well, I didn’t read through it at all and prepare anything, so I guess we’ll start next Sunday. Or, I didn’t read the scripture passages first, so I guess I can’t do the activity here. Or, any other number of fails…

Or, we could trust in the small and simple principle. Open the ap/manual and find one small thing. Just do something small. Read one paragraph, one verse. Pick out one phrase that we see as we skim through.

Our temper could continue to plague us with no forward progression at all. Or, we could stop right that moment and ask, “What can I do right now, God, to start in the smallest way to work on my temper?” Maybe it’s an apology. Maybe it’s reading a couple verses of scripture. Maybe it’s pondering for only two minutes why you react the way you do to the most recent fail situation.

Our health could continue to plague us because we keep waiting until we find the perfect moment. It could continue causing us trouble because we keep lapsing back into old habits and we think that means that doing something small won’t matter. Or, anytime we feel the need to improve or change we can ask, “God, what can I do right now to start in the smallest way to work on this?”

Just do something. Because God cannot lie, which means even the smallest, tiniest effort will make a change. And that small change will give us the momentum we need to make incremental progression on all the things we are trying to do that are good. The small and simple principle…it works.

BT

When I was in high school I was very good at basketball. But, a few things jammed up my path to playing in college. But, the primary jam was that I didn’t play my Junior year of high school, at all. That year staying home changed my whole course in life. I learned to function differently without basketball being part of every moment of my life. I grew spiritually. I grew closer to my parents. My ideals about basketball and playing in college changed so much that when I played basketball my senior year I declined recruiting opportunities and had given up that dream altogether.

The few variables that made me skip my Junior year were at the time uncomfortable. But, I often look back and wonder what would have happened if my life, and my schedule, and my day-to-day functioning hadn’t been upset and shaken up. There’s no way to know. I only know that I’m glad they were.

From Two to Twenty

I credit my mom and my husband, Luke, for this blog post. Because they took something I thought I understood and made it even more mind-blowing, more relevant, and more powerful.

When two-hour church was announced I was immediately excited

(for those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our Prophet has changed our Sunday schedules from a three-hour event to a two-hour event and we are supposed to replace that third hour with all-week study and instruction in our homes…more or less).

We already have frequent gospel discussions in our home naturally, and so I was excited to have the impetus to “beef” them up and make them more special. I also thought that this added another facet to ministering, as I’d be able to discuss the same material with those who minister to me and with those to whom I minister. I was excited, in general, for yet another change, another alteration in the application of doctrine to shake things up and make people rethink things.

I also guiltily admit that I would generally much rather discuss “the lesson” at home than sit through an extra hour of church. But, I happily admit that I never saw two hours of church as less work. I knew it was more devotion and time the moment they explained it and I was excited to take it on.

Seeing the Parable of the Ten Virgins Anew

Then, this past Sunday, my husband, Luke, taught gospel doctrine…the last one in the old format. He said a few things that impacted me immediately.

  1. If the oil we get from church is all the oil we get, it is insufficient for deep conversion and a deep relationship with God, and Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:12, John 17:3). The five foolish virgins were active members of God’s church and they loved Christ (the bridegroom), but they had insufficient oil reserves to endure the wait for His second coming. Those oil reserves were insufficient because all the oil they had came from passive reception of gospel teaching through the efforts of others. They didn’t know Christ as they could have because they hadn’t put forth the diligent effort. Therefore, their relationship with him was not sufficient to be “recognized” for entry to the feast.
  2. The oil reserves of the five wise virgins had sufficient reserves because their relationship and knowledge of God came from active seeking, diligent study, and intelligent action. They knew Christ (the bridegroom) and their relationship with Him was sufficient to be “recognized.”
  3. Home-centered, Church-supported means that the church cannot support us if there is nothing to support. If there was no church support at all, what would our gospel knowledge, conversion, and relationship with God look like? The home is the primary center for gospel learning and instruction and if we do not cultivate something to be supported, no amount of church attendance will provide what we need.

My mouth didn’t drop open, but my mind and heart was opened to the full magnitude of what the Prophet was asking of us. He’s asking us to get real. He’s asking us to stop depending on others to provide the study, instruction, and application. He’s asking us to consider our priorities, not only on Sundays, but throughout the week. We are trading an hour of church for multiple hours during the week. We are changing out one hour a week for a life re-centered and re-focused on God, His plan, and His work.

Tearing Apart the Roof to Get to Jesus

In the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and even during the early days of the Restored Church, tradition has often stifled personal and church growth. For the Israelites tradition was an old testament burden and it became a new testament handicap to their ability to “get to Jesus,” to “recognize Jesus,” and to become converted to Christ.

The Nephites in the Book of Mormon always succumbed to the famously titled “pride cycle,” because when life got good and they established traditional frameworks and got comfortable, without fail their children always struggled to become converted to Christianity and dissenters and persecutors increased rapidly. Getting in a rut of tradition has always been the downfall of God’s people, past and present.

I was chatting with my mom on the phone just a day or so ago about her take on this new unifying curriculum and the two-hour church block. And, this is what she shared with me:

In Mark 2:1-12 we see Christ in Capernaum and He’s in one house. That house is packed to the hilt. Other people are in the way. And, the only way they can bring the man sick with the palsy into Christ’s presence to be healed is to tear up the roof. Then, after breaking up the roof, they lower the man with palsy down into Christ’s presence.

After reading this my mind kept being drawn back to the word roof. And I knew there was something about that word that needed to be discovered. After pondering over Christ as the “chief cornerstone” and Apostles and Prophets as the “foundation” of God’s church, I began to see other pieces of the gospel doctrines, principles, ordinances, covenants, and commandments take shape.

It was then I thought, “What is the roof?” In the account, the people had to tear up the roof to get the man to Christ to be healed, and it hit me, all this change, and other changes, being made are not to doctrine, or organization, or commandments, etc. The changes are all being made to the ways in which we apply these critical aspects of the gospel and integrate them into our lives. The roof then symbolized to me the applications, the traditions. Many times throughout the scriptures God makes changes that “tear up” or “break apart the roof,” or the traditions and applications we get so comfortable with so that we can see Him again! So we can get to Him again.

Thinking I had already been enlightened on this topic through my husband’s lesson, I was impressed yet again with the many things I was hearing. Elder David A. Bednar’s “gathering all things together in one in Christ” entered my mind. Things are changing because as a people we are getting too comfortable! We have ceased to see Christ and to seek Him (and to be LIKE Him). We have been fixated on traditional expectations and lines and have forgotten to look far beyond where the line has been set, to where crossing over those lines should lead us. We may even be getting in each others’ ways! It’s time to tear up the roof that we might again focus on the Savior and refocus our entire lives to come to know Him and to prepare the world for His second coming.

Giving Up What I Thought I Loved

The tradition of my life, as a teenager, of playing basketball and focusing on that goal got shaken up and torn away to reveal the Savior, and His path for me, in a few different ways. I made a hard decision to give up what I thought I loved for a year only to find that though I loved it, I didn’t love it as much as the path God put down for me. I have never regretted and forever been grateful for the things that happened to shake up my life and make me choose to not play basketball my Junior year. And, God has repeated that pattern in my life in various ways. When I get “set in my ways,” He always finds ways to “tear up the roof,” the comfortable traditions and focused ideas I get that take me down a path that is not as close to Him as I think it is.

The Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, under the direction of Jesus Christ is “tearing up the roof.” He’s upsetting our comfortable schedules. He’s shaking up our focus and getting us to look up and pay attention. He’s providing the impetus for us to re-evaluate, better prioritize, more easily identify the good-better-best in our lives, and take a major personal/family step in ensuring we have sufficient oil (a deeper understanding of the doctrines of the gospel and a firmer relationship with God) to help us withstand these latter-days and to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming.

So, get out your lamps, begin acquiring that extra oil, and embrace tearing up your schedules, your plans, and those traditions that get in the way of you recognizing, seeing, and seeking Christ—and taking the path He has set, not the one you’ve laid out.

BT

I still remember when Elder David A. Bednar gave his talk on the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It was later quoted and focused on by Carol J. Rasmus.

Here is a direct quote from Bednar’s address:

I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning [the] enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

The belief that through our own “sheer grit, willpower, and discipline” we can manage just about anything seems to be widespread these days. This simply is not true…

Before I continue my own commentary on this topic, let me place before you a couple parable-like metaphors.

  • A three-year-old young girl wants to play basketball, but the 10-foot-tall hoop is simply beyond her capacity. So, she grits and practices and throws, but no matter what she does, after weeks of total devotion, all she manages to do is to hit the rim—once. And not with the proper technique needed to grow up and become an accomplished player. Her father offers to alter the hoop, to lower it, to a realistic height for her to develop the proper skills and techniques. But, offended by the offer of assistance (since she thinks she can do everything for herself), the four-year-old rejects it and decides she simply won’t try to play basketball anymore. It’s too hard, and the years it will take to “grow up” seem too far away.
  • A middle-aged man, an inventor, has always been brilliant beyond his years. But, no matter what he invents, he can’t seem to get it from invention to market. He gets several offers for help on the business side from what appears to him to be fairly qualified people, but he simply doesn’t have faith in their ability to understand him or his inventions the way he does. He’s worried his inventions will lose integrity if he lets anyone else assist him. He also doesn’t want to share any of the glory of the invention simply to get it to market. So, refusing assistance, he remains unable to move forward and find success.

Stop for a moment. What do you think the commonality is (the shared ideal/belief) between the three-year-old girl and the middle-aged inventor that prevents them from accomplishing something they desire?

Enabling Power

The word enable means:

To make (someone or something) able to do or be something: to make (something) possible, practical…: to cause (a feature or capability) to be active or available for use: to make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to; to authorize…

God has taught us through the scriptures that the atonement of Jesus Christ gives us grace. That grace cleanses our sin—when we repent—and ENABLES us to learn and grow from our experience. The cleansing is ENABLED when we sincerely repent. That grace AUTHORIZES/ENABLES us to be physically resurrected at some future day. But, above and beyond these very accepted aspects of the atonement of Jesus Christ; that grace ENABLES us to practice being godly on a severely adjusted hoop, so that over time we learn the proper godly principles, doctrines, and skills in the proper way. Grace ENABLES us to become godly by giving us assistance for our mortal handicaps.

Lowering the hoop for the three-year-old ENABLES her to practice her skills correctly. The hoop can be raised, little-by-little, as she grows in capability and skill. At some point, she won’t need the adjustments. But by lowering it initially, she can practice correctly.

Taking on a partner with a different kind of brilliance does not lessen an inventor’s invention. It ENABLES him to accomplish his design by leaning on the knowledge and help of another who has the skills he does not. Does it make the invention belong to both? Yes. But without help it would have only ever been an idea. Trusting in another makes it possible for hopes to become reality, just as trusting in God makes our ideals possible, even if we have to give Him most of the credit.

God ENABLES us Physically and Spiritually

Several years back, when I was teaching early morning seminary, I began to have severe nerve pain in my back right heel. The nerve pain was right next to my Achilles tendon, and because of that, I immediately thought I had strained or even injured that vital muscle. It has always been a fear of mine to injure my Achilles. So, when this nerve began acting up, I immediately began all the necessary home treatment. I took ibruprofen. I iced it. I rested it. I stayed off of it. I tried to walk carefully and stretch it when possible. But, after a few weeks, so petrified I was going to rip the muscle, I borrowed crutches. The crutches ENABLED me to continue to get around. It ENABLED me to teach seminary (when I just as easily could have let another sub for me).

It was so difficult to trust in those crutches. I was so angry that all my diligent treatment hadn’t saved me from needing so much help. I was in despair that I couldn’t help my parents or my family as I normally did. I was completely “benched” from most of my life, but those crutches ENABLED me to accomplish, minimally, the mission the Lord had for me at the time.

It took a priesthood blessing, another ENABLING gift, to learn that God would heal me. It took a visit to a foot doctor (something I’d spurned up until that point), another ENABLING gift, to learn that my muscles were fine, that it was a nerve that was the problem. It took anti-inflammatory medicine and orthotics—two more ENABLING gifts—to rehabilitate that nerve and get it to quiet down.

Ultimately, it is the atonement of Jesus Christ that will completely ENABLE a full healing in our souls: emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. But, until that day comes, God has provided ENABLING help: friends and family, psychologists, medical methods and apparatuses, and repentance, priesthood power, blessings, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to ENABLE us to learn and grow and become like Him (and to serve Him).

If it’s a lowered basketball hoop, a business partner, a walker or wheelchair, a translator, a piece of workout equipment, a friend, a medication, or one (or many) of several other things; ALL of it is part of God’s ENABLING power made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. There is no aspect of this life that He hasn’t designed to ENABLE us to become like Him. We should never give up because our own grit and hard work isn’t sufficient. It is because of the ENABLING power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that any of our efforts gain any power or validity.

Learn to See

For many of us, it’s hard to admit that our own efforts aren’t enough. It’s hard to admit that not only do we make mistakes but that our best efforts need an extra push. But, learning that all that we do requires grace can lead us in two different directions. Either we can throw up our hands and decide that we don’t have to make any effort at all—which is, counterproductive. Because that means all that godly power has very little to enable and so we make very little progress. OR, we can realize that all that we have ever accomplished has been with help and that we can accomplish even more the more we trust in and rely on God—and His many ENABLING gifts and blessings. That’s when the enabling power gains momentum in our lives and we make real progress.

We sort of have to alter the way we see ourselves. We have to learn to see that we’ve had a “lowered hoop” since day 1; and that realizing that in addition to that lowered hoop we need to add on metaphorical knee pads, tape up a few ankles, and get a lighter basketball shouldn’t daunt us, but allow us to press forward faster, better than we did before. Accepting the gifts of the ENABLING power of the atonement in our lives, accepting that we need them, seeing ourselves in the proper light, allows us to progress faster, not slower. The more we trust in and accept God’s grace (in whatever forms it manifests itself), the faster we learn, grow, progress, and become the person that God designs for us to become.

I spurned those crutches. I spurned having to ice and put my foot up nearly all day every day. I hated not being able to do what I wanted to do. But those little things ENABLED me to press on until I was willing to get real help. Then, even that real help didn’t make me independent (which is what I was going for). It gave me power, it ENABLED me, to understand my weakness and learn to use other ENABLING gifts to walk again and serve the Lord and function in my life. It made me more dependent on God, not less.

I still have to make special adjustments to my shoes to keep that nerve from acting up. I am now limited to the kinds of shoes I can wear. And, I have to spend a lot more on the shoes I can wear because my feet require a lot of ENABLING help. But, the knowledge I have gained has ENABLED me to learn how to continue to progress in my life. It has ENABLED me to keep walking (even it if it is with a little help). It has helped me to recognize other nerve problems that have surfaced. The entire experience with that nerve has ENABLED me in other ways.

Life has taught me that grit and willpower are powerful because of the enabling power of God’s grace, NOT that I can get by without grace because of my grit and willpower. At this Christmas season, I hope each of us will see ourselves as we really are: being with all sorts of handicaps already depending on many ENABLING gifts and blessings. I hope we will see that Christ came to ENABLE us, to save us from depending solely on ourselves. He came so that our efforts have both meaning and power, because of His grace.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BT

So, you’re standing at the starting line for a half marathon. The shot is about to sound. Do you have faith that you can finish this race? Here are 4 possible answers to this question.

  1. If you’ve been training for years and have run a half marathon before, you will feel confident, assured, and certain that you will finish. The only question may be your timing. Will you improve upon the last race? Will you run a personal best? Doubt about finishing? Not at all. You only wonder how and when you will finish and what level of success you will attain.
  2. If you’ve been training for the half marathon for months (though you’ve never run one before), you will likely feel that you can finish. After all, you’ve run shorter races. You have an assurance that your efforts to train and prepare your body for this exertion will enable to you at least, minimally, finish. Even more, you may hope that beyond finishing that you finish in a respectable time. And beyond that you may even hope to succeed in running well enough to secure an achievement. Again, it is most the how and when that is unknown.
  3. If you haven’t been training for a long enough time and have not run many races in your life, you may feel a sense of doubt, fear, or dread. You may be apprehensive and lack confidence in your ability to make it three miles let alone 13.1. You may be nervous that injury or exhaustion will take you down before you can reach the end. Thus, your faith in your ability to finish lacks assurance and lacks confidence.
  4. If you haven’t trained at all, it’s almost certain you aren’t even trying to run the half marathon. You may merely be on the sidelines prepared to cheer the others on. Your faith in your own ability to run a half marathon is dormant, because you have no desire to run a half marathon and therefore no need to exercise your feelings toward such a feat. The race itself has little meaning except perhaps that you may wish you had the courage to try to do such a thing. But it is a feat that seems somewhat abstract. Or, you may simply admire the worth it has to others you care about who are participating and you are happy to cheer them on.

Faith in Christ

Similar to this metaphor of a half marathon, faith in Christ is a lot more than believing He exists. It’s more than being on the sidelines watching His life and admiring His teachings. It’s more than doing a few of the commandments that you like, but leaving many of the others un-attempted. It’s a lot more than simply confessing His name.

Our ability to approach God and take advantage of His grace is directly related to our efforts to serve Him and keep His commandments. Our desire to be like Him—completely—and to follow Him—completely—affects our actions and therefore our assurance in the blessings He offers and the things of the gospel that are unseen, but are true. Our belief and trust in what God offers, shown by our faithful actions, is what translates to assurance that blessings (things we can’t yet see perfectly and don’t know how and when God will fulfill them) will come. That we’ll make it!

When we approach God in prayer asking for guidance, help, miracles, blessings, and understanding; the assurance we have of His response is directly related to the amount of desire we have to obey Him and how we have exercised that desire in our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

In Hebrews 11:1, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 we learn that

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge (meaning that we have seen the future and know it precisely and exactly without any need to hope for it). It is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen, which are true.

In Lectures on Faith (lecture first, paragraph 9) we learn that:

Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.

What is meant by “principle of action”? We learn further (lecture third, paragraphs 2-5) that:

…three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [he/she] is pursuing, is according to [God’s] will

Faith is a principle of action because our assurance of God’s blessings gives us the motivation we need to act as He has commanded us to act. We act out of an assurance (not a perfect knowledge) that God’s blessings and words will be fulfilled, though we may not know how or when.

So, if God has said that He will bless us if we keep His commandments. And, because we feel that this is true, and we determine to keep His commandments the best we can, then we have a feeling of assurance that blessings will come. This assurance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to our hearts and minds that our lives are “according to God’s will” and such a feeling gives us confidence when we approach Him in prayer and seek for things that we need. The very act of praying is an act of faith and hope because we have an assurance that we ask not amiss (2 Nephi 4:35) because we are trying to do His will.

Faith begins with a desire. Such desire leads to a hope that we can receive, or accomplish, something good that God has asked us to do. That hope and faith leads us to act in ways that increase our hope and faith. Then, when we approach God (or our figurative half marathon) we have a response that resembles numbers 1 and 2 above. Our actions, made in faith and hope, give us assurance that we will finish. It is only the how and the when that is unknown.

Female eye with long eyelashes close-up

Eye of Faith

Living our lives with an eye of faith is living a life of trust and assurance in God. But, such assurance, such substance, such evidence of things unseen (which are true) comes from experimenting upon God’s word/commandments (John 7:17, Alma 32:27-43) and acting in hope and faith. As we do so, we will slowly, little by little, increase our power to do good—or in other words, our faith. The more times we test God’s plan for us and find it to be good, and to be right, and to give us what God promises, the greater our power to do more. Why? Because our assurance and confidence in God increases proportionate to the heed and diligence we give to His requests of us.

In Alma 12:9-11 we read:

…It is given unto many to now the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed an diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser potion of the world; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden the hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.

In other words, the more we spiritually train (heed God’s commands and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him, or press forward to make more covenants) the greater our capacity to receive, and do, more. Just as an athlete starts with small goals, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc., spiritually, we start by desiring to do good and acting on that desire and on a hope for God’s promised blessings. When the blessings come, our belief and trust and assurance in God’s promises increases until there is nothing we can’t achieve—that is according to His will.

Which is True

You’ll note the caveat in the scripture, that our faith must be exercised toward something which is true. Truth is things as they really are and as they always will be (Jacob 4:13). There are many things we may choose to believe that are untrue. And, no amount of action in the pursuit of those false beliefs can produce a positive result—or a result that increases our faith, hope, and salvation. Thus, finding truth is critical to achieving the peace, assurance, evidence, and substance of things unseen.

Conclusion

Faith, and acting on our faith, has nothing to do with earning our salvation. We can’t earn it, and that’s not what God’s commandments and covenants are for. Faith, and living with an eye of faith, has everything to do with our intention to become truly Christian, like Christ. It’s a schooling process to keep commandments and receive and keep ordinances and covenants. His grace makes it possible for us to become just such people through such godly schooling. Repentance is His admonition to partake of His grace by accepting this process. Our righteous action—made in faith that we can become like God—is what we do to actively accept that grace.

Living with an eye of faith is hard. And, it gets ever more difficult in these modern days where our technology makes us believe that God doesn’t exist, that His plan is unfair, biased, prejudiced, or that we can find happiness without Him. But all who pursue such false truths will eventually come to learn that such things are not true. We all have our struggles and differences, but we can never fully separate ourselves from our eternal identity as children of God (Romans 8:35, 39).

The busier, faster, and more self-focused, and more distracted and occupied this world becomes with technology, communication, and self-invented progression, the more I feel compelled to slow down, focus more on home and family, trust in God’s simple truths, and to develop my talents to bless my family rather than to gain recognition from a lot of people I don’t know or to mold my life to make them approve. And, I feel strongly that those who live “with an eye of faith” will also feel inspired to do the same; to detach from the world and to follow the path that God presents for them; a path that is fuller, richer, and full of true progression.

BT

Baptism for the dead is a short way of saying: baptism for those who died without the opportunity to be baptized. So, the first question most people have is, “Why do baptisms for the dead?

Paul himself said (1 Corinthians 15:29):

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?

Isn’t this a great question? It’s rhetorical and pointed toward Paul’s audience who was struggling with the doctrine of the resurrection. Yes, so the fundamental, underlying reason for baptism (whether alive or dead) relates directly to the Resurrection. In effect, Paul was saying, “Why do we do baptisms for the dead, then? Why have you done baptisms for the dead if the dead don’t rise?” Because Christ’s church, which He instated with Peter as chief apostle and revelator (Matthew 16:16-19) had the ordinance baptisms for the dead “for those who died without the opportunity to be baptized.”

The physical rite and spiritual ordinance and covenant of baptism is that important. It’s so important that God has made is possible for any who have died without the opportunity, and who are willing to “live according to God in the spirit” but lack the ordinances to “be judged according to men in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:6, Doctrine & Covenants 138:11-34) to receive this ordinance prior to their resurrection. This is what baptism for the dead is for and that is why we do them.

But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the scriptural context around this verse (in 1 Corinthians 15:29), Paul is talking about the atonement of Jesus Christ, which while we often focus on its grace for forgiving sin also includes the resurrection (the reuniting of the body with the spirit in perfect form after one has died). What Paul is alluding to in 1 Corinthians 15 is that all of us will rise again, just as Christ rose and was reunited with His physical body in perfect, immortal form, so also will we (1 Corinthians 15:12-24). The Resurrection (as this reuniting is termed) takes place before the final judgment, or the time when God will judge each of us “according to our works, according to the desires of our hearts” (Doctrine & Covenants 137:9) and then portion to each of us our eternal glory and kingdom (Doctrine & Covenants 88:15-24,27-41).

Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial

Why do we do baptisms for the dead? Why do we do baptisms? Why do we partake of the sacrament? Why do we receive temple ordinances? Why do we make covenants with God? Why do we try to keep the commandments and emulate Christ at all?

Answer: because the ordinances we receive and the covenants we make and keep determine the type of resurrection (the type of resurrected body) we will receive (Doctrine & Covenants 76:71-119, see also Doctrine & Covenants 88:15-24,27-41).

Answer: because the ordinances we receive and the covenants we make and keep determine the level of grace Christ is able to offer us. (ibid)

Answer: because the ordinances we receive and the covenants we make and keep determine the type of person we become through God’s grace (celestial, terrestrial, or telestial).

Christ taught Nicodemus (John 3:5):

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The celestial kingdom of God has three heavens or degrees. In order to enter the lowest, we must have received the ordinance of baptism and kept the covenants appertaining thereto. In order to obtain the highest, we must receive the ordinance and covenant of eternal marriage (also referred to scripturally as the New and Everlasting Covenant) and keep that covenant (Doctrine & Covenants 131:1-4).

The highest degree of the celestial kingdom is for those that aspire to be like God (Doctrine & Covenants 132:1-24). It is for those who desire eternal increase (eternal family), and to attain to a perfection of godly attributes. Remember, the ability to have and raise children is rampant in mortality, but after this life only bodies resurrected to the highest degree of the celestial glory will have such powers (Doctrine & Covenants 132:14-17).

If the celestial kingdom (at any level) is not our aspiration—though it is the station God wishes us to obtain and which He exerts all His efforts to invite us and entice us to seek (Moses 1:39)—then God, in His wisdom and love, has provided lesser kingdoms of glory to accommodate our eternal desires and comfort (Doctrine & Covenants 88:15-24,27-41).

The Terrestrial kingdom is more or less for those that believe in God but do not desire to faithfully emulate Him or to keep His commandments. They are of the belief that selective obedience is satisfactory. These are those that are not faithful to their testimony of Jesus Christ. Remember, the abilities of a terrestrial body will be lesser than those of a celestial body. There will be no eternal family, nor the ability (despite the immortal state of the bodies) to procreate or create families.

The Telestial kingdom is more or less for those who are completely unrepentant and who persist in lying, stealing, killing, committing sexual sins, and perpetuating selfishness and anger and die (unrepentant) in those sins.

God is Both Just and Merciful

In short, the whole purpose of baptism for the dead is that God may be just and merciful to ALL of His children. As each of us are born in different times of the world, there is no guarantee that during those lifetimes we will all have the chance to hear God’s plan of salvation preached to, nor to receive the ordinances that are necessary and attached thereto. Thus, God, in His infinite wisdom has established an interim state between death and the resurrection (and final judgment).

Joseph F. Smith said (Doctrine & Covenants 138:29-34):

And as I wondered (regarding 1 Peter 4:6), my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient [dead] who had rejected the truth, to teach them (during the 3 days while his body lie in the grave); But behold, from among the righteous [dead], he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.

These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

Now, it’s easy to think that when people die and realize there is an afterlife and that God is likely real, that they will simply reform themselves. But, it’s not so easy. It turns out, all the choices we make and the person we become through those choices is still who we are when we pass from this life into the spirit world (Alma 34:34). C.S. Lewis taught this eloquently when he said that every decision we make is slowing turning us into something, into a heavenly creature or a hellish one (Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 4, Law of Obedience, Paragraph 8).

Baptism for the Dead is NOT About Compulsion

Agency is one of God’s most sacred laws. People often get mad at members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for performing baptism for the dead. They think we do it to force people to join our church. But, such is not our doctrine. We do such baptisms out of love for God and for His children. And, as agency is paramount for all of God’s children, we perform such baptisms “that the dead who have not had the opportunity to receive baptism may choose to accept it, of their own free will“. It’s like depositing money into a spiritual bank account vicariously, for-and-in-behalf-of a deceased person. IF, in the spirit world they choose to repent and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ—to any degree of glory—and desire the ordinance of baptism, they can receive it vicariously IF it has been performed for them by a living person. They can go retrieve their ordinance which has been performed from them from the spiritual bank. That’s a loose metaphor, but it will hopefully help with understanding.

Baptism for the dead is one of the ordinances performed only in temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world. Based upon the same principle of agency, we also perform ordinances of higher covenants and blessings, vicariously, in the temples as well, including: the New and Everlasting covenant of marriage, for couples and families who were not able to be sealed together during their mortal lives.

Conclusion

Baptism for the dead is about helping those who have died; without the opportunity to learn of Jesus Christ, without the opportunity to learn about God’s plan of salvation, and to live by its ordinances, covenants, and precepts; to have access to such things vicariously. It is about being “saviors on mount zion” (Obadiah 1:21). It is about feeding God’s lambs (John 21:15). It’s about selflessness and love for our ancestors and for all those of our spiritual brothers and sisters who never had the gospel “because they knew not where to find it” (Doctrine & Covenants 123:12).

If you want to learn more about baptism, see my previous blog Why Baptism? Baptism 101.

BT

I remember my baptism with mixed clarity. Some details are vibrant and mark the day, even ingrain it in my mind with both a combination of anxiety and peace. Other details I cannot recall with more than a flicker, perhaps a blur of faces and flashes of sentiment. But, while I remember a smattering of details, there are only a few which I find now to be of consequence.

Firstly, I know that I was baptized. I know that two men stood at either side of the baptismal font in a room that was lined with brown, scratchy, woven fabric walls and was covered in dark brown moldings and brown, tightly woven commercial carpet. They stood there to witness that when immersed, all of me went under—down to the last stray strand of nearly coal black hair. My baptism was by immersion.

Secondly, one of my joys of the day was knowing that it would be my dad, my wonderful father, who was then bishop of our little ward, who would baptize me. Having authority because of the Melchizedek Priesthood which he held, he raised his right arm up to what is often referred to as “the square” because the upper arm is supposed to be at a right angle from the forearm. He said a very specific prayer, and baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

My anxiety of the day was my baptismal attire. Somehow or other a past family had forgotten to return some of the baptism dresses that were kept at our modest meetinghouse in Moberly, Missouri. My mother was an excellent seamstress and would certainly have put something together in advance had she known. But the day came, we arrived, and the closet storing those dresses held only attire that was either unsuitable or too large. What then was I baptized in? Well, the tradition is to wear white, and so I was relegated to wear the white blouse I had come in along with the white slip under my skirt. Proving therefore, that a person can be baptized in any respectable type of clothing.

I remember being all too conscious that the boy’s my age would see my underclothes through my wet slip. But, my third memory of the day was that once completely immersed and brought back up out of the water, I hardly worried. Such a concern lost importance in the large scheme of what I was doing. I was whisked off to a private bathroom. Dried and dressed by my mother, and ushered out into that same brown-dominated room to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, again by my father and a couple other priesthood holders. He placed his hands upon my head and commanded me, in the name of Jesus Christ, to receive the Holy Ghost.

As happy as an eight-year-old could be, I was. And while I was not old enough to understand everything, I knew, and felt, that I had made the right choice to be baptized. There was never any question in my mind as to if I should not. And, while I don’t remember any of the talks given that day, who gave them, or what they said, I understood at a very shallow level that I was embarking on a path to do God’s will with my life.

One of my final joys of the day was receiving a two-dollar bill from my CTR teacher, Brother Reeves. All of the kids in my Primary class anxiously awaited getting baptized, because we all knew Brother Reeves would give us a crisp, two-dollar bill. We understood, somehow, that $2 bills were unique, uncommon, and special. And, now, thirty-two years later, I understand that he was trying to teach us that choosing to follow Christ at such an age is even more rare, more uncommon, and more special.

What Baptism is Not

There has been a lot of controversy, since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, as to what baptism is, who should be baptized, who can perform baptisms, and how a person should be baptized. But, this is not a New Testament-only controversy. Baptism is an eternal ordinance and it was had by Adam and by all thereafter who desired to do God’s will with their lives (Moses 6:51-60; 3 Nephi 11:22-28). Adam, himself, asked after the purpose of baptism, and in the Book of Mormon we read that many were confused as to how it should be done.

Currently, in our modern society, baptism is seen much more casually and is held akin to joining a club. It’s a rite of passage, no more, and thus, it is thought, it can be performed in any numerous ways, by any number of people, and in some religions it is thought to be no more important than in confessing Christ with one’s lips. Many Christian religions encourage baptism, but not all now believe it necessary to salvation.

Baptism is so ancient that it is often taken for granted. And it’s so simple an ordinance that it is easily altered to meet our own desires, expectations, fears, and misunderstandings. Baptism, however, is not a human invention. It is God’s.

Baptism is NOT:

What Baptism Is

Baptism IS:

  • a ritual, a memorial event commanded by God to be performed physically, as an outward sign of an inner desire to follow Christ and give one’s life over to God
  • the gate to enter God’s celestial kingdom (John 3:4-5)
  • of eternal effect when performed by someone with true priesthood authority
  • necessary for the basic salvation of all those who are capable of being accountable
  • for those who have a true desire to follow Christ and live their live by God’s will
  • for those who wish to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost (baptism of fire) and be sanctified over the course of their life by the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and the receipt of higher ordinances and covenants
  • a choice that takes us off neutral ground and puts us on God’s side (Faith is Not by Chance, but By Choice, Elder Neil L. Andersen, October 2015)

Needless Controversy About Baptism

A lot of people get upset when Church policy (based upon the command of God to His prophet) restricts baptism to some until they reach a certain age. The children of polygamist families and now same-sex marriage families must wait until they are 18 to be receive the ordinance of baptism. Such policies create anger and resentment. Publicly, many decry this as an unkindness, a discriminatory policy, and an unfair one and use it to condemn the prophet, or “the brethren” as uninspired and old-fashioned, even oppressive.

However, for those that understand the incredible sanctity and privilege of such an ordinance as well as God’s mercy, they should have no such qualms nor take such offense. What is God saying by restricting baptism to such individuals?

He is indicating the following:

  1. They are not fully accountable before Him (because of their family situations) until they reach 18! Certainly, they are accountable in many ways, and such a measure does not condone the willful committing of sin, but should such die before the age of 18 and not have a chance to be baptized, they would still be eligible for salvation and exaltation. Much of their accountability regarding the impact of sin made so acceptable in their nurturing home environment is taken into account by God. This is a great comfort and one that has long been preached in Moroni 8:5,10-15,20,22,25.
  2. That the ordinance of baptism and the covenants attached are so sacred as to not be entered into lightly or without a conviction that a person wishes to follow Christ and live by the will of God. Children born into families where a natural softening toward sin (polygamy against the will of God, same-sex marriage against the will of God) need more time—which God knows—to sort out their feelings and decide what they believe. Baptism is sacred. God does not wish any to enter into such a covenant without first having a pure desire to enter His kingdom.
  3. That baptism is more than a gate; it is a journey toward a far greater destiny—the privilege of becoming like God (Doctrine & Covenants 14:7; John 17:3). This is not a spiritual educational path to embark upon lightly. Baptism is not just about “getting in” God’s church. It is about accepting a covenant and ordinance with our eyes looking forward to the future that God deeply desires and intends for us.

Why Baptism?

Christ was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” He didn’t need baptism to remit His sins but He did need to be baptized to continue to “do the will of Him that sent me.” He needed baptism to remain perfect, to remain faithful, to remain capable of being our Savior. For Him, to accept baptism was to accept, yet again, His role as our Savior, Mediator, and Redeemer.

His baptism was also an example to us. He went to a man who held authority from God to baptize. He was baptized by immersion. He received the presence of the Holy Ghost and gave His apostles the power and authority to confer the gift of it on others. For His baptism, which He was restoring/re-dispensing was a higher baptism. Unlike the baptism of John which was only unto repentance, Christ’s baptism was of fire (the Holy Ghost) and unto sanctification. And by Christ’s (and thus God-the-Father’s) decree, we need both (baptism unto repentance and the baptism of the Holy Ghost) to enter into the gate to the celestial kingdom of God.

So, unlike Christ, we do need baptism (and a the weekly ordinance/offering of the Sacrament) to continually remit our sins and renew our baptismal covenants. It is yet another outward ritual that helps us to remember our covenants and stay on the covenant path.

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Baptism is a physical marker. Thus, because it takes place externally, and is not merely an internal confession of faith, but a physical sign of our faith, it gives it meaning, memorability, and accountability to our actions of the day and thereafter. Such a physical mark gives us power to keep the covenants we make along with the physical ritual. There were witnesses! People know we made a promise to follow God. It adds to our internal desire a pressure to be true to our outward action

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God is a god of sacrifice, of memorials and rites (such as baptism), and of remembrance. Outward ordinances, such as baptism, are for our benefit. They make it nearly impossible to forget the covenants and promises we have made to God.

Conclusion

I can’t think of a better conclusion to the topic of baptism than this scripture, Mosiah 18:8-10:

…Behold, here are the waters of [baptism]…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that he have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

The priesthood authority to baptize by water and by fire is within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I invite all to renew their baptismal covenants or to seek out such living works as can now be found again on the earth

BT

When it comes to talking about a yoke (let alone being equally yoked), most of us (though not all) being of modern origin don’t comprehend the full meaning of being equally yoked. We may know what a yoke is, we may have seen it in pictures, in some random barn, or ornamentally used in a historical reproduction of an event, etc., but we haven’t had to toil in order to yoke two animals that must pull a very significant and heavy burden. We haven’t had to make use of a yoke for the survival of our families and homes.

A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and is also attached to the plow or cart (or burden) that they are to pull. It is also fastened to and controlled by the reigns held by a master who guides them as they pull.

Vintage Draft Animal wood Harness Yoke isolated on white backgro

To be able to merely walk side-by-side, the two animals yoked need to be of similar size, strength, and build. But that isn’t enough. When there is a burden to pull, these animals must also be able to coordinate their movements and share the burden so that it can be pulled successfully. That coordination is guided by the master who holds the reigns.

Note the characteristics needed to be equally yoked:

  • Similar size
  • Similar strength
  • Similar build
  • Willing and able to coordinate with their yoked partner
  • Willing to follow the commands of the master

Now, if we take this literal explanation and begin to apply it to relationships in our lives, primarily marriage relationships, we begin to see something interesting.

First, let’s take the physical and translate it into something spiritual. In a marriage relationship, for it to work, to allow us to pull our burdens, we must be equally yoked as spouses. Spiritually we need to have:

  • a similar spiritual size (testimony or witness of truth)
  • a similar spiritual strength (faith in Christ)
  • a similar spiritual build (foundation of faith built through righteous living)
  • a willingness to work with and coordinate the burdens of life with our spouse
  • a willingness to follow the guidance and commands of the master

Though differing personality strengths and weaknesses between spouses can be beneficial that we may learn and support one another; spiritual things must be far more compatible for a relationship yoke to work. Remember, a couple is not merely walking side-by-side. They must be able to coordinate successfully to pull a burden—many burdens. And, they must both be willing to obey the same commands from the master. Otherwise, progression is brought to a standstill.

Be Ye Not Unequally Yoked

Sometimes, when we read the scriptures, we can get confused about what it means to be equally yoked. We may feel that our marriage is unequally yoked in many ways. We may wonder if it will ever grow to become something as wonderful as we dream, or see in a few cute old couples.

Many marriages have a sufficient imbalance between spouses of spiritual size, strength, and build. Some marriages even have a sufficient imbalance between themselves of which commands they will respond to from the Master. But there is a big difference between a struggling marriage that has two people who are trying and who have varying levels of faith in Christ than a marriage where one person has completely checked out spiritually…they simply have no faith in Christ.

When one marriage partner denies their testimony (either verbally or by deliberate action), discounts or denies their faith in Christ (either verbally or by deliberate action), dismantles their foundation of faith (by deliberate actions), and refuses to work with their spouse or respond to the commands of the Master (Jesus Christ), then there is a serious issue. Such a marriage is not equally yoked.

Faith in Christ is revealed simply by a willingness to repent, to rebuild a spiritual foundation (if it has weakened or been dismantled), and to coordinate with their spouse and to respond to the commands of the Master.

All marriages are replete with error on the part of both. And, who can count how many hurts one has caused the other, perceived or real? But, the moment one party decides they don’t have to change, or that they won’t change, an incredible chasm is created in the marriage. One partner has completely stopped pulling, participating, and refuses to be guided forward. They no longer believe in Christ’s ability to forgive them, aid them (or their spouse), help them (or their spouse), improve them (or their spouse), reform them (or their spouse), and save the marriage. The marriage is now unequally yoked.

When one spouse completely checks out and quits trying to coordinate and quits trying to pull, the burdens are sufficient that the other spouse will also be brought up short. There is no progression, no forward movement for either party. The spouse who has lost their faith in Christ is not only damning his/her own progression, they are dead weight to the other.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 we read:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?

What concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

There’s a comes a point in some relationships where the believer (the spouse with faith in Christ) can no longer progress because he/she is unequally yoked with an unbeliever (a past believer who no longer believes in or has faith in Christ, as witnessed by their unwillingness to repent, or a person who has been introduced to Christ and refuses to accept Him). Forward progression will be hampered until the believer unyokes themselves from the unbeliever and gives themselves over to God.

We see this pattern with God and the Israelites. It was a covenant relationship, often figuratively compared to the imagery of a bridegroom and his bride (a figurative marriage relationship). Israel frequently would exhibit faith and then would turn away from their faith. God, unable to “move forward” with them as dead weight would always issue spiritual ultimatums (click on this link to learn more about spiritual ultimatums and how God uses them). God’s frequent ultimatum was immediate consequences for sin, and then a call to repentance, which, if it went unheeded resulted in Him un-yoking Israel from Himself and going to find a “faithful people.”

The Unbelieving Spouse is Sanctified by the Believing Spouse

Being equally yoked is again, not the same as we encounter here in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:

…If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath and husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband… But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace

For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

This advice from Paul (which is merely his opinion and not direct counsel from God) has to do with people joining the church and their spouse remaining Jewish (or of a different religion). Paul was worried about circumcision, a mark of the old covenant persisting in families when Christ had done away with it. He didn’t want people to cast off their “unbelieving” spouses, however, especially if the marriage was otherwise good.

There are many marriages where the spouses have differing levels of faith in Christ, but again, it still moves forward toward God, whether faster or slower. Being unequally yoked is when the marriage is at a standstill. One party still firmly has faith in Christ. The other does not. One is willing to keep their covenants with God and the other is not. At a standstill no progression can take place for either party.

When Divorce is a Good Thing

Sometimes, for the spouse that’s faithful to their covenants and who has faith in Christ, it can seem to them that unyoking themselves from the marriage would be wrong. However, if the marriage with the spouse is hampering their spiritual progression and the spouse is unwilling to repent, then in order to continue to progress, the only way forward is to issue spiritual ultimatums and with personal revelation from God determine if He (God) would have them unyoke themselves from the unbelieving spouse.

So, how do we know when to un-yoke ourselves from a faithless spouse? How do we know our if our spouse is faithless? How do we know if they won’t change sometime in the future and we should simply hang in there?

Having been through this myself, let me suggest the following:

  1. Pray for help and clear, personal revelation throughout this process
  2. Issue spiritual ultimatums in the appropriate way
  3. If spiritual ultimatums are not met, immediately enact the promised consequences
  4. Set a specific and rigid grace period after the consequences are enacted and stick to it
  5. Make plans to un-yoke yourself in preparation (make it real and don’t delay!)
  6. Make your decision firmly (to stay yoked or to un-yoke) and take it to God for confirmation
  7. Follow-through with the personal revelation you receive

I have seen marriage relationships get clear to #6 before the faithless spouse began to come around, but the marriage ended up beautifully thereafter. I have seen marriage relationships bounce back immediately after step #2. I have seen marriage relationships make several trips to #4 but always survive. I have seen marriage relationships make it to #5, improve for several months, and then eventually end in divorce. I have seen some go through the whole process and end for the best for both sides (which did not necessarily mean both sides ended with faith in Christ or without faith in Christ, but for certain the believer was able to progress at last).

The reality is, our spouse may change when issued a spiritual ultimatum. But, they may not. They may change in the future, but that change may not come about “with us” and we shouldn’t hold out simply in vain hope. They may not even be fazed when we issue a spiritual ultimatum. Sometimes, no matter how we began as a couple (married in the temple or otherwise), we are better off and God would have us un-yoke ourselves so that He might bless us and we can progress as He desires. Otherwise, we will remain at a standstill until we shrug off the dead spiritual weight. As well, the unbelieving spouse will also be prevented from progressing if we refuse to let go. Sometimes, we need to let people hit rock bottom before they can progress back up…even if it’s not by our side.

Being Equally Yoked Under Christ’s Yoke

Christ Himself has said (Matthew 11:29):

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

When both spouses have faith in Christ, Christ is the driver of the marriage. It is His yoke that we have allowed Him to put upon us. Perhaps we may see this verse as Christ in the yoke with us, but I see it more as Him as the driver and we submit to His yoke that He may guide our lives and our marriages. We not only give Him the reigns and allow Him to guide us, He leads us in the best ways to carry our burdens and find ultimate rest. When one marriage partner (that began under His yoke) comes to a complete standstill, or tries to walk backward or escape His guidance, or refuses to change despite the cracks of the whip, God may inspire us to allow Him to un-yoke that person from our lives. By so doing, it allows God to continue to be the master of our spiritual and eternal progression. It means He can pick up the slack and move us forward again toward our eternal blessings.

I don’t think anyone should ever enter a marriage relationship with the idea that they can easily toss it away in divorce. I think marriage should be fought for, worked at, and committed to with integrity. Even tough marriages should be held on to, covenants kept, because God will bless such faith. However, as no person is a guarantee, if the time should come that our spouse abandons their faith in Christ and refuses to repent despite spiritual ultimatums, then in such cases divorce may be a good thing to pursue for those that seek eternal relationships.

For the rest of us, we need to keep pulling, keep making efforts to live by our faith in Christ together. We must both choose to submit to His yoke, His commands, and His guidance as we carry our burdens. If we’re a bit awkward or slow, no worries. We need only maintain our faith and we will progress. We will move forward. Our relationship will improve. God will guide us. We will eventually find the rest we seek.

BT