The Story of Our Salvation

In this life, each of us has a role to fulfill. We were sent here on Earth to gain a physical body, be tested, and eventually return to live with our Heavenly Father, with our families, through reliance upon the Savior Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Our individual roles all play a part in God’s eternal plan, the Plan of Salvation.

These roles in our lives are a lot like characters’ roles in a story. Let’s take one of my favorite movies as an example, Lady in the Water. This movie is about a handyman at an apartment complex, Cleveland, who finds a water nymph, Story, in the courtyard pool. Story came from the “blue world” to deliver a message to a writer in the apartments. After she completes her mission, she needs to return home, back to the blue world. In order for this to happen, there need to be certain people present, each with a specific role. Cleveland does his best to find the people to fulfill the roles, all of which live within the apartment building.

Coming here to Earth, we each have duties to perform. There are tasks that only you can do, and people that only you can affect. Thankfully, God did not send us here blind. Through His love, he has given us prophets and apostles and His word through the scriptures. In this way, we can learn who we are and what our role is in life.

In the end of the movie, the roles are fulfilled and Story is able to return home. When we fulfill our roles, we are helping each other to return home to God.

We are here for a reason! To learn more about where you came from, why you’re here, and where you’re going, click on the link in the first paragraph.

Into the Ocean: Making A Difference

One morning, a man was taking a stroll down the beach. As he walked, he could see something in the distance among the sand. Getting closer, the man realized what it was. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of starfish were scattered across the beach, withering in the heat of the sun. He got to work immediately and, one by one, began to gather up the starfish and throw them back into the sea.

Another man that was walking down the beach behind this man eventually caught up to him. Upon seeing the man, he stops. “Pardon me, but… what exactly are you doing?” he asks.

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea,” the first replies, turning to face him. “They’ll die if they don’t get back to the ocean.”

“Are you kidding?” the second asks increduously. “There are hundreds of starfish on this beach! Probably even thousands! Do you honestly think you can make a difference? You can’t.”

The first man smiles, picks up another starfish, and throws it to the ocean. “Made a difference to that one,” he says as he reaches for another. “And that one,” as he throws the next into the water.

 

Many of us have heard or read this parable before. There’s no ultimate way of telling it, as far as I know, so I just wrote it how it played out in my mind. The moral of the parable is simple: everyone can make a difference. No matter how big the task is, no matter how small our forces are, a difference can always be made. It always begins with one person, and all it takes is one starfish. So go find a starfish and throw it back into the ocean!

Is Jazz in your house? Throw him out!

There are a lot of things in our lives that keep us from being who we really can be. Sometimes they’re friends. Sometimes they’re bad habits or the places we go. Whatever they are, we all have them. Our potential is great. We can all accomplish so much, but a lot of things stand in our way. So what do we do about them?

We throw them out, like Philip Banks throwing Jazz out of his house. If you’ve ever watched The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, you’ll understand the reference I just made. If you’ve never watched it, you really should. But to be brief, the show is about a Philadelphia boy, Will Smith, who goes to live with his aunty and uncle in Bel Air, Vivian and Philip Banks. Will’s friend Jazz is always a nuisance to Philip. A running gag throughout the series was that Philip would always throw Jazz out of the house.

The Savior commanded to remove the elements of our lives that can interfere with our salvation,

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

Nothing against Jazz, he just makes a helpful analogy. But if anything enteres into our lives that isn’t in harmony with what Jesus Christ taught, we need to toss it back out onto the street. Uncle Phil had no tolerance for Jazz’s antics. We can’t afford to have any tolerance for sin and evil.

Squares In A Masterpiece

Life is a masterpiece, a work of art, built by the hands of God. But sometimes it’s difficult to see this masterpiece. Unlike God, our perspective is limited. We can only see sections and slivers of this grand work. I’ll use Chuck Close as an example. He’s a pretty famous artist, well-known for his really huge portraits. He’s confined to a wheelchair, so he puts a grid on his canvas and paints one square at a time. If you look at each square individually, it’s just a bunch of really colorful boxes. But when you step back, you can see what the painting really is.

A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma gives some pretty straight forward counsel on this. He said,

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in 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. (Alma 37:6)

Our lives usually aren’t full of spectacular events. The hand of God is more often seen in the smaller things. The things we sometimes overlook. The things that require slowing down and having patience to see.

I know that God and Jesus Christ are in our lives, and that through the small and simple things God works His miracles. The greatest miracle, I believe, is life itself. What are some of the colorful boxes in our lives? Family and friends. A rejuvinating sunrise or a peaceful sunset. The sound of birds chirping. A family dinner. An afternoon hike. The sound of rain falling. A good song on the radio. These are just a few things that come to my mind. We all have our own.

All we need to do is take a step back and see how the squares, the simple things in life, come together to form the masterpiece.

Stand In Holy Places

Driving along a road with the branch president, or bishop, of our congregation (essentially the equivalent of the pastor), we came across a good sized snake along the road. It was belly up… dead, and our bishop commented that it was probably a bullsnake.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a bullsnake is, I’ll give you a quick rundown. They’re large snakes that are pretty common in the United States. You can find them anywhere between Idaho and Wisconsin, as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico. They’re not venemous, but they can be fairly aggressive. What tends to get them in some trouble is the fact that they look a lot like rattlesnakes, specifically diamondbacks. They have a similar pattern, and they also hiss and beat their tails on the ground to imitate rattlesnakes. Many unsuspecting hikers have come across them and killed them because they mistake them for a rattlesnake.

So what’s the point of this? Well, I’ll tell you, and it’s about what our bishop said as we continued down the road.

“Someone probably thought it was a rattler and killed it,” he said. “They often hang around them.” Then, with a chuckle, “I guess you gotta be careful about who’s company you share.”

The same can be applied to us. What kinds of people do we hang around with? They may not have venomous glands in their mouths, but perhaps they have their own kind of poison. Satan and his evil influences are all around us. Alcohol, drugs, pornography and immorality, etc. When we share their company, we can often find ourselves imitating their behavior. We may not end up dead on the side of the road (hopefully not, at least), but we will easily find ourselves spiritually dead if we break the commandments of God.

But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. (Doctrine and Covenants 45:32)

We are commanded to stand in holy places. Keep good company and do not move from it. By doing this, we shall live and can have eternal life.

Pop, You’re “Poifect!”

The 20th of June is my birthday… right around Father’s Day. I always felt kinda bad about that, feeling like it kinda… you know… took the focus away from Father’s Day. But this year is different! I’m some forty miles away from the Canadian border. That’s definitely too far away to have a family dinner and some cake. Dad, you’re welcome! This year, it’s all you, baby!

But seriously, fathers are awesome. Just like a mother, a father has a special place within the family. That place cannot be filled by another. Traditionally, the father is the head of the household. He is the provider, the bread maker if you will, and the protector. He is the patriarch. In a typical LDS family, the father holds the priesthood and presides over them. He uses his priesthood to guide his family and administer to them through priesthood blessings and obeying what the Lord wants him to do for them.

Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said,

There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher priesthood, than that of the father. The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is then a particular reason why men, women, and children should understand this order and this authority in the households of the people of God, and seek to make it what God intended it to be, a qualification and preparation for the highest exaltation of His children. In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount.

I am grateful for my dad, and the blessing of having a father who holds the priesthood authority of God. He has been an incredible example of strength to me, and his love for me and the rest of my family is astounding. He has sacrificed much so my siblings and I could have the blessings we enjoy right now. And he’s got a great sense of humor too. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

If you no longer have a father here on the earth to celebrate Father’s Day with, remember that you still and will always have your Father in Heaven. He is the greatest Father there is, and He is certainly worth celebrating on Father’s Day as well, and every day.

Dads are awesome, and I’ve got the best one.

Living Scripture

I gotta be honest here. Something that kind of annoys me is when people think Mormons don’t respect the Bible, or that we don’t hold it in any significant regard, or something along those lines. Let me put it simply. We love the Bible. Yes, we believe it is holy scripture. We read it and treasure its teachings, especially those that come from the Savior Himself. We do not think the Book of Mormon is better than the Bible.

But if someone truly wants to understand how we view scripture, they need to understand that we believe in living prophets and apostles.

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:20)

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has called prophets since the beginning of the world, so why would He stop? If you want to understand us, understand this, that we believe in modern-day prophets and apostles.

So what is the Bible? Words of the prophets and apostles, right? Their word is scripture. Whether it is from the mouth of the Lord or the mouth of His prophet, it is the same. It is scripture. The prophet today is Thomas S. Monson. When he speaks to the Church twice a year in General Conference or at any other time, it is scripture. We believe in modern-day revelation from prophets and apostles. Therefore, scripture has not ceased. The words of the prophets are scripture. Each time they speak, it is scripture. Yes, the Bible is scripture, but there is more. The Book of Mormon is more scripture, but still there is more.

I testify to you that God’s words have not ceased. He still speaks to us through prophets and apostles, just like He did anciently. Their words are His words; they are living scripture.

Hollow vs. Hallow

Life isn’t always clear. Walking uncertain paths is a common metaphor to describe the hardships of life, and many times we find ourselves on these uncertain paths, unhappy and unsure. If we allow them to, the feelings of emptiness can tear us from the inside out and leave us hollow inside.

A Hollow is a creature in a Japanese cartoon show called BLEACH. In this show, a group of spirits called shinigami, or Soul Reapers, assist in the flow of spirits departing this life and entering the next. Sometimes a spirit is lost and unhappy. They refuse to cooperate and instead remain in their misery until it consumes them. When this happens, they turn into a monster called a Hollow. When a Hollow appears, the Soul Reapers are called in to destroy it and free the spirit so it can continue on.

There are monsters in our own lives. Sin and Hell are monsters. When we sin and refuse to repent, we can be a monster to ourselves, harrowed up in misery and guilt. In our anger we may forget or not know where to turn or who to turn to.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi’s brother, Jacob, talks about a monster that awaits us and the One who can save us from it,

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. (2 Nephi 9:19, 21)

Just as the Soul Reapers save the Hollows from their misery, our Savior Jesus Christ can deliver us from the chains of Hell. Through His atonement, He suffered the pains of us all. He took the pain of our sins so that we may repent and not take the pain ourselves. Jesus Christ is One who can save us from the awful monster of death and Hell. If you feel yourself becoming a Hollow, angry, confused, or depressed, turn to Jesus Christ. We all must repent and turn to Him and use His atoning sacrifice. Only through Him can we be saved from sin and Hell.

Not This Way

After Jesus Christ had fasted forty days, Satan came to tempt Him. Being half-mortal, He was suspectible to mortal weaknesses, such as hunger and thirst. He was also susceptible to temptation, or rather, He was able to be tempted. And so, the devil came to tempt Him.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matthew 4:5-7)

If you really are the Son of God, Satan said, then throw yourself off of this spire. God said He would send angels to protect you. Surely, if you are the Son of God, He would not let you die. Jump off and see.

Quoting scripture, Jesus did not yield to the temptation. But how easy would it have been if He had done so. Something so spectacular as a man jumping off the temple and then being saved by angels would not go unnoticed. How many people, seeing this, do you think would believe in Him? Personally, I think a lot of people. No doubt Jesus was aware of this. He knew what His mission was, and He knew it would be easier said than done. Such a drastic move, however, would definitely be the easy way.

But it wouldn’t be the right way. Not this way.

We’re always faced with decisions that have at least a couple options. Often, one is the easy way and one is the right way. The easy way is tempting because… well… it’s easy! But it never equals the same results as the right way. Experience, growth, and strength do not come with the easy way, and those things are necessary. If we expect to get anything out of this life, we cannot constantly be walking the easy path.

The right way is usually never easy, but it’s always worth it.

Hi-De-Ho there, Neighbor!

“Hi-De-Ho there, Neighbor!” was a phrase I commonly heard during my childhood. Watching the sitcom Home Improvement was something I did a lot. If, by chance, you’re unfamiliar with this show, let me break it down for you. The plotline basically follows the life of macho man Tim Taylor, his wife Jill, and their three boys Brad, Randy, and Mark. Tim co-hosts a local tv show called Tool Time with his buddy Al. Tim is a masculine guy, a man’s man. He loves tools, wood, cars, and power.

Tim’s antics throughout the show tend to land him in trouble of one kind or another. Whether it’s with work or his wife, he always seems to have another problem to solve and a new lesson to learn each episode. The Taylor’s neighbor, Wilson, is probably the wisest, nicest guy anyone could ever meet. He’s a true friend to the Taylors, especially Tim. Whenever Tim gets into a bind, it always ends up with him calling over the fence to Wilson for some sage advice on his most recent troubles.

In our own lives, our thickheaded behaviors can often land us in difficult situations. Like Tim, we may find ourselves scratching our heads, wondering what to do about ourselves and why no seems to want to understand. And also like Tim, the problem is most often with ourselves and not others around us. So what can we do? Who can we turn to?

If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

We must turn to God. Like Wilson, He’s always out in the yard. Or I suppose it would be more like… out in… the universe. Either way, He’s there. All we need to do is be humble enough to approach Him. In the show, a lot of times Tim would try to solve the problem himself, relying on his own wisdom. Eventually though, and sometimes quickly, he would realize that he needed the help of someone wiser.

We may only be able to catch glimpses of Him in our lives (maybe only the top part of his face!), or we may not see Him at all. But He is there. He’s just on the other side of the fence.

A Faith Is Dead Without the Deed

You say you’re good, then let me see
A faith is dead without the deed.
How can we fail if we believe?
Let’s be who we were meant to be.

Inside Our Skin ~ Emery

Faith is the foundation of all we do. It is the driving force behind our actions, and therefore… it is an action. Faith is not about just saying that we believe in Christ. Faith is making that fact known through what we do.  As James says in the New Testament,

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (James 1:22)

Of course, you can’t work your way into Heaven. You could do all the good in the world, but without Jesus Christ’s Atonement, and having faith in and using that Atonement, there would be no hope of returning to live in God’s presence. But having faith alone is also not enough. Does God reward laziness? Doubt it. Christ’s Atonement is not a freebie. It’s open to all, but through repentance and good works we must use it.

Here’s the way I look at it. You can agree or disagree, but at least ponder it. We are saved by grace, but we are judged according to our works. Makes sense, right? Well, at the very least it makes sense to me. Here’s something else to think about…

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)

They were/are/will be judged according to works. Again, works don’t get us to Heaven. But certainly they play an important role. ‘Cause life is a test, right? So we can imagine that after this life each of us are graded. Let’s say we can get between an A+ and an F. Receving a D- is pretty bad, but it’s still technically passing. But doesn’t it seem unfair that the one with the A+ should get the same reward as the person with the D-? Of course it’s unfair! It wouldn’t make any sense! They both had faith in Jesus Christ, but the A+ showed his or her faith through their works.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (James 2:20-22)

James gives Abraham as an example, and explains that faith worked with his works, and that by Abraham’s works was his faith strengthened. Faith is dead without works, and works is dead without faith.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 24, 26)

You say you’re good, then let me see.

That Day and Hour

So… looks like that whole end of the world/judgment day thing never happened. A lot of predictions have been made concerning this event, and it’s not surprising that all of them have been wrong. Perhaps we should turn to the scriptures for some guidance on this issue…

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)

No man knows. No angel is aware. Not even the Son of God Himself possesses the knowledge of His own Second Coming. Only God the Father knows the day and hour. How arrogant to think that mankind could figure out this equation. Jesus gives us some advice in the next verse,

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.

Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, said,

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. (Alma 34:32)

All we can do is simply be prepared, because it will come “as a thief in the night.” When we’re getting too cozy, when our guard is down, that is when it will happen. Therefore, we need to pray. We need to read God’s word in the scriptures. We need to obey His commandments and be ready.

No more boats. No more fish.

The Apostles had given up everything to follow Christ. They forsook their families, possessions, and professions. Fishing was a shared livelihood among most of them. After Christ was crucified, the Apostles probably weren’t exactly sure what to do next. Peter decides he’s going to go back to what he knows: fishing. Many of the other disciples think it’s a pretty good idea and tag along.

Their fishing doesn’t go too well. They don’t catch anything. Thankfully, Jesus appears on the shore and directs them to a good spot. Not knowing who He really is, they cast in their net and catch so many fish that they can’t pull it all in. At this point, Peter realizes that the man is Jesus and, in his usual nature, puts on his coat and jumps overboard to swim to Him. Jesus, being the awesome guy that He is, cooks them a bit of breakfast from the fish.

As they’re sitting, Christ asks Peter, “lovest thou me more than these?” Peter answers Him, saying that of course he loves Him. Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs.” He then asks Peter a second time, “lovest thou me?” Peter answers again, “Thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus tells him to feed His sheep.

Jesus then decides to get stern. Perhaps His voice carried a rebuking tone.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)

As Peter denied Him thrice, Christ allows His disciple, three times, to accept Him. But more importantly, Jesus is trying to get something through to Peter. He asked Peter the first time if he loved Him “more than these.” More than the fish. More than the boats and the sea. More than the job and the money.

“Do you love me more than your own life, Peter?” That is essentially what Christ asked him.

Peter answered, “Of course, Lord, You know that I love You.”

“Then why were you out on your boat, Peter? Get to work. Feed my sheep.”

Christ didn’t call His disciples for a season. He didn’t call them until He would eventually die. He called them for forever. When He said “follow me”, He meant forever. No more boats. No more fish.

The same goes for the followers of Christ of all kinds. Whether you’re an apostle or the guy down the street, it doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ has told us, “come follow me.” He doesn’t mean for a few days, or a few months, or a few years. He doesn’t mean until things get rough. He doesn’t mean until we get bored or when we have nothing better to do. He means forever. No more boats. No more fish.

“Feed my sheep” is what He has told us. When one becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, there is no turning back the old life and the old ways. It is an eternal calling, an eternal duty, and one that I am happy to have placed on my shoulders. I’m not perfect, that’s for certain. We all have things that are difficult to let go or put aside for a better time. Thankfully, Christ will not leave us. He has told us to feed His sheep, but He will always be alongside us to aid us in that task.

From the words of Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet,

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7)