Sunday, January 31, 2010

A lesson from Cain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel is well known; the lesson less so.

Sure, we all know the story—Cain and Abel were brothers who offered sacrifices to the Lord. Cain brought "fruit of the ground” and Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock.”

“And the Lord had respect unto Abel…but unto Cain he had not respect.”

Later “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” (see Gen. 4:3-8)

The entire story in the Bible is told in 16 verses. That is a lot of condensing.

From the book of Moses we learn a bit more about the story. Adam was commanded to “offer the firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord” in “similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.”

And “Adam and Eve made all things known unto their sons and daughters.”

That means Cain knew the proper sacrifice needed to be of the firstlings of the flocks. He also knew why...the sacrifices were to be a representation of the coming sacrifice of the Savior in the meridian of time.

When Cain brought the ‘fruit of the ground’ instead, it was because he chose to sacrifice on his terms, not the Lords.

Cain knew the commandments and chose not to keep them.

Oh, sure, we can see an easy parallel with Cain's decision in those who know the commandments but choose not to keep them. Or those who know the Lord has told them to keep the Sabbath Day holy and worship Him but they still don’t go to Church. Many such people honestly believe they are spiritually fine because they say they love or have accepted the Lord in their heart.

We can point invisible fingers at them and say they are offering the "fruit of the ground" to the Savior instead of the "firstlings of the flocks." We can say--and often do in our minds--that most of them could offer the Lord more if they wanted to.

Yet they will continue to offer Him the 'fruits' they choose and to live life according to their terms, not the Lords. Why? Because, ultimately, what they decide to lay on the Lord's altar is their choice.

But the lessons in the Bible are for us---not others. That means the lesson from Cain's experience is our lesson; and many of us are a bit Cainish even if we do go to church. We, too, know what He asks of us and yet we offer something different.

Recall that Cain did bring sacrifices to the Lord. He showed up at Church.

So often we show up at Church and make an effort to worship Him---but we do so on our terms. We come only willing to sacrifice what we think He should accept. We turn down callings or assignments because we don’t want to do them. We refuse to give a talk in Sacrament meeting because we don’t want to. We don’t go home or visiting teaching because we don’t want to. We don’t read the scriptures because we don’t want to.

And the list goes on and on.

Like Cain, our sacrifices come from the ground. With private justifications we try make it appear that our fruit offering is fine. We try to make the Gospel fit our lifestyle rather than make our lifestyle fit the Gospel. Like Cain we often think the Lord should accept what we offer Him, as if He is the one in need of our offerings. Then we get upset with the Lordwhen things don’t work out.

Maybe we need to remember that doing things his way caused Cain to be shut out from the Lord's presence. We can’t live a personal lifestyle and expect to share in His spiritual lifestyle. We must try harder to offer the firstlings of our flocks, the first and finest hours of our time, and the best offerings of our souls.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cut fingers, bandages and the Atonement

On Saturday I managed to cut three of my fingers in just a few minutes.

With a large family and a demanding job I like to freeze up to a month's worth of meals so I can grab something already made and throw it in the oven or crockpot. Over the years I’ve learned to make ten or more meals in just a couple of hours.

Saturday I was meal making. Using a sharp knife I found myself slicing some food when the Spirit whispered for me to change the angle on my knife. I ignored it. After all, I’ve been slicing, dicing and julienne-ing food for decades. I am careful and, with this particular stubborn item, I was cutting slowly to avoid injury. I didn’t need to pay attention to the prompting.

As always when I try to debate the Spirit, I lost. The knife hit a soft spot in the food, sliced through it and into two of my fingers in less than the beat of a heart.

Well, I quickly cleaned the cuts, applied bandages, and went back to work.

Not two minutes later I was sealing tinfoil around a completed meal when I sliced another finger on the edge of the tinfoil. I didn’t even know you could get cut by tinfoil! I discovered that it cuts as fast as paper cut but, because the foil is metal, it slices through skin like a razor blade. The very top of one of my fingers was almost entirely cut through.

Well, I cleaned that cut, applied a bigger bandage, and went back to work.

And, for the rest of the time, I kept wondering if something was wrong with me. Was I growing so old and senile that I could no longer handle a knife? Were the three injuries somehow my fault?

So I analyzed the situation.

My first two cuts were the result of my foolish decision to ignore the Spirit. I had been warned. Because I thought I knew better, I got hurt. The cuts inconvenienced me for a few days but, thanks to the miraculous gift of our bodies, are now mostly healed.

The other cut, which caught me completely by surprise, bled for 24 hours. I had to keep changing the gauze bandage and, in retrospect, probably should have had stitches (but those have always sounded like they hurt worse than the original injury). Now, even though the bleeding has stopped, I still have a bandage on that finger as it heals more slowly than the other wounds.

These two incidents caused me to reflect on the wounds we suffer in life that afflict our souls. Some of them are the results of our foolish decisions to ignore what we know or have been told is right. Thankfully, though, because of the Atonement, we can repent and our spirits can heal miraculously--just like our bodies.

Other wounds catch us completely by surprise and have little to do with our personal foolishness. I am thinking of those wounds that are caused by others who choose to ignore or break the Commandments. Some of these wounds may cause our souls to bleed for years. We may even wonder, as I did, if we somehow caused or deserved the wounds. We may think there is something wrong with us.

If I had been a better husband or wife…

If I had been a better mother or father…

If I…

Or we may grow angry and our thoughts may keep those wounds bleeding for years. President Hinckley said “There is no peace in reflecting on the pain of old wounds.” (See “Of You It Is Required to Forgive,” Ensign, June 1991)

President Hinckley clearly understood there is another part of the Atonement. Besides seeking healing through repentance, we can and must find spiritual healing through forgiving others.

And yet the Infinite Atonement does not even stop there!

We all know that not all human sorrow is connected to sin. Some pain and hurts just happen.

Stephen E. Robinson said, “He knows the loneliness of those who don’t fit in or who aren’t handsome or pretty. He knows what it’s like to choose up teams and be the last one chosen. He knows the anguish of parents whose children go wrong. He knows the private hell of the abused child or spouse. He knows all these things personally and intimately because he lived them in the Gethsemane experience.”

How I love the promise in Revelations 21:3-4. Throughout the scriptures the Lord says he shall send a Comforter to the righteous or He shall cause that they receive this blessing or that blessing; but in the end the promise is personal…one on one.

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

God will personally wipe away our tears. He will stand before us, hold our face lovingly in His hands, and personally heal us of all our hurts.

That is the power of the Infinite Atonement.

That is the true power of His Infinite love.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Polygamy and funny underwear...

This year I was called to teach early morning seminary to the youth in our small branch, our local congregation. Currently I have a grand total of two students: my son and one other. We meet at my house every school morning at 6:30 a.m. to study gospel principles and scriptures for an hour before school.

Fridays are game days. We play games related to the scriptures, try to memorize scriptures and have fun recalling things we have learned during the week. We also have breakfast on Fridays—a favorite bonus.

This morning, after they dished up their breakfast, my son said, “Mom, do you know what I would rather do than play a game this morning? I would rather find out how I should answer people when I get asked about polygamy.”

Apparently yesterday they had both been asked, by several people, about polygamy and “our funny underwear.”

Several, in one day? I thought. Hmmmm....

I smiled and put away the game.

“Find out what they believe first,” I suggested. “Find out if they believe in the Bible and, if they do, try to use the Bible to help them understand our beliefs.”

Many people do not realize we believe the Bible to be the word of God. We honor and use it as a strong, foundational part of our religion.

“If they do believe in the Bible, remind them that great Biblical prophets and other men and women of God were called by the Lord to practice polygamy,” I said.

We discussed a few of these men and women, and what made them so great in the eyes of the Lord. We also talked about how polygamy was not used in the Bible very often and only lived by a few chosen of God, but that He did require it at times to fulfill just and wise purposes. We then talked about some of the blessings we have in our lives because those men and women of God lived the law of polygamy in accordance to God’s will and at the right time.

We then discussed Peter, who was called and ordained by Christ to lead His church after the crucifixion. Peter prophesied to the Saints that in the last days, before the second coming of the Savior, there would be a restoration or restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). For that to be true the restoration or restitution of all things must include God’s divinely instituted law of polygamy, lived by men and women called of God.

They got excited. Suddenly polygamy wasn't a point of contention. It was history. It was prophecy. It was a call from the Lord for just and wise purposes.

Next, using the Bible, I helped them understand how they could also answer their friends comments about the “funny underwear.”

Opening to Genesis 3:21, I suggested they show their friends our garments are given to us in similitude of the coat of skins that our loving Heavenly Father placed on Adam and Eve to protect them from the harsh and difficult things of the world before they left the Garden.

And, since coats of skin can only come from an animal, life had to be sacrificed and blood shed for Adam and Eve to wear them…just as the Savior would have to sacrifice His life and shed His blood to clothe and protect all of us from the trials and temptations of this world. Garments, therefore, remind of us that God stands ever ready to protect and clothe us, even to the shedding of His own blood, from the sins and stains of this world.

After our discussion those two students went to school carrying a great spirit of peace with them. That is what seminary and the gospel are for.

This morning we didn’t get a game played--we accomplished something much more.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Truths found in Genesis

There are some very profound truths found in the very beginning of the Bible. They are put there, right at the start of the word of the Lord, for a very clear intent--yet many people overlook them.

Right there, in the very first chapter, we learn during the physical creation of the world that God also physically created His own image.

Truth: we are in the similitude of God. We are not perfected and glorious as He is but He truly did make us in His own image.

And God wasn’t done.

“…male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth…” And then God reviewed all He had made and proclaimed it good, “behold, it was very good.”

Then we get a little bit more information on the creation of Adam and Eve in chapter two but, once again, God brings the two together. We know this because Adam, beholding Eve, affirmed what he had learned from the Lord. “This is now flesh of my flesh…Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”

Then the final verse refers to the couple as man and wife.

Truth: The sacred union between a man and a woman was instituted in the very beginning. Furthermore, that union clearly established them as man and wife. In other words, they were married. (Do you honestly think God would have given them the command to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth without having them enter into the sacred covenant of marriage first? I don’t believe God ‘winked’ at co-habitation simply because they were in the Garden. His standards do not change.)

Now, here is another truth that most people miss. They were married by the Lord, united by Him in that union, before death even entered the picture! God ordained their union (and proclaimed it very good) even before they partook of the fruit! From the get-go marriage (which is very good) was created by the Lord to be eternal!

But the book of Genesis isn't done revealing things to us yet. Remember what Adam said about a man leaving his father and his mother and cleaving unto his wife? Are you aware of how that statement is packed with prophecy and doctrine?

Truth: The prophetic statement was that Adam would be leaving the presence of his Heavenly Father in the Garden and cleaving to his wife.

And the doctrine is this--Adam came from a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother! Else wise, how could he have known about the mother part of things? Why would he even have mentioned a mother? How could he have understood the title and role of motherhood if it had never before existed?

I testify that he did know! He knew and understood what God had already taught him about marriage and family! He even knew enough about the Plan of Salvation and the role of motherhood to call his wife Eve, and then prophecy that she would become “the mother of all living.”

So when Adam was faced with the decision of remaining in the Garden of Eden or staying with his wife, he knew what to choose. He knew his role and he knew hers. He would leave his Heavenly home, leave his Heavenly parents, and cleave to his wife.

Then he would learn to make his own family in the image and similitude of God's.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Have some Kleenax's ready...

Oh, how I love our country! How I loved our armed forces! I cried all the way through this video. I hope it never disappears from the internet.

That's what we do. We're Americans.

Just make sure you have some Kleenax's ready; and don't be surprised if you want to stand up and applaude our armed forces when it's done.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Father's blessing

I watched a father give a blessing to his baby today. It was very touching, in part, because three years ago the father was not a member; and he and his wife could not have children. He is now sealed to his wife in the temple and last month his wife gave birth to a healthy boy. The change I have seen in his life and the life of his family has been amazing and touching.

So today he--a special man in his own right--took that miracle infant in his arms and, as a new member and a new father, gave his precious son a name and a blessing.

In our church we do not baptize infants. We wait until they know the difference between right and wrong and can choose to follow the Savior. Usually young members choose to be baptized by immersion about the age of eight years old. However, when they are infants their full name is officially recorded and they are given a special a blessing in front of the congregation.

As this father, surrounded by family and close friends, held his infant in his arms and gave him a blessing I was also touched by this fact: We are the only church I know of that allows fathers the opportunity--and the eternal priesthood authority--to officiate in key spiritual ordinances during the life of their family members. What a wonderful, bonding blessing for the recipients and the givers. This opportunity and right falls to the fathers.

God does not expect or require paper diplomas, certificates or theological training to do His work. He doesn’t require status, wealth or education. Through the restoration of the priesthood God has given true authority to worthy fathers, worldwide, to bless the lives of their families. Why? Because He wants us, imperfect as we are, to experience a portion of the love for our children that He holds for us. He wants us to feel a small piece of what He feels. All things are in similitude of Him.

Therefore, in our church, fathers holding the priesthood are able to bless their infants. That sacred, special ordinance and bonding moment can belong to them. It is their privilege and their cherished memory forever. These special moments help unite the family forever and for right now.

If their children desire to be baptized unto the remission of sins and a new life following the Savior, again a family member holding the priesthood can take them down into the waters of baptism. How special!

The gift of the Holy Ghost can also be bestowed upon them by a family member. Blessings of comfort, guidance or healing can be given to them, all by those who love them and know them best.

It is the perfect way in an imperfect world. After all, who holds more right to preside over the lives of their family than a loving, righteous father?

Our Father in Heaven knows that perfectly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Those tough questions

Ever have a really tough question in life? Ever want to see the Big Picture or maybe know the future...not just the physical future but the more important spiritual future? Have you ever wanted to understand, truly understand, how all things fit together eternally?

Most importantly, does God answer those really tough, really deep questions?

Maybe that's why I loved last week's lesson in Gospel Doctrine.

Moses tells Satan to go away because he has more things he wants to "inquire" of the Lord. Satan, disobedient from the beginning, doesn't leave. Moses really has to work to get him out of his life. (Don't we all?)

Once Satan is finally gone, Moses goes to the Lord and asks Him two really deep questions...questions far beyond what's going to happen tomorrow. After beholding the entire earth and every soul thereon, Moses asks the Lord, "Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so and by what thou madest them?" (Moses 1:30)

Now here is the part that really jumped out at me...the Lord answers him!!!

Here are two of the deepest, more profound questions regarding the creation of the world and all of mankind--and the Lord clearly answers him! He withholds nothing. No beating around the bush, no cryptic response. Just direct and clear answers to Moses' questions.

How did you make them? "By the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth" (Moses 1:32).

And why did you make them? "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man"(Moses 1:39).

It struck me: the Lord really, truly stands ready to give us answers to our toughest, deepest questions. He is not a god of secrets or of leaving men in darkness. He is a God of light and intelligence who--as the scriptures proclaim--really wants to share all that He has with us. And that includes sharing His knowledge. All we need to do is be ready and worthy by truly getting Satan out of our lives and then humbly asking Him.

We truly can ask Him anything and He will answer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Prodigal Son is about pride...our pride

In recent years the tale of the prodigal son in the New Testament has become one of my favorite stories. I have fallen in love with it because of its layers of depth and meaning. Christ taught in parables for that very reason.

As a child I always thought the prodigal son was a story about the youngest son who wasted his inheritance. Later I discovered that the word prodigal means to waste or throw away; and that is certainly what the young son did with his money.

But the parable never uses the term prodigal. And it especially never identifies the young son the prodigal son. We do that. We hang the label and moral of the story on the youngest son.

Yet, what about the older son? As I’ve grown older I have discovered more deep, relative truths in the older son’s life than the younger son.

In truth, the older son is also a prodigal or wasteful son. In fact, he may be the prodigal son. He wastes something infinitely more precious and eternal than money. He stands ready to waste or throw away his relationship with his family.

Like the older son I have lived a relatively steady life. I have tried to do what is right throughout my life. So how do I feel when I see someone else, who has scoffed at the commandments of God, getting the fatted calves and best robes in life—not to mention all the symbolism that goes with getting a ring on their finger and shoes on their feet?

But the story is deeper than even that. The father is, so clearly, our Heavenly Father. He has welcomed into heaven one of his own children who has made the effort to return home. He does not care where the youngest son was. He cares where he is...and that is right where he should be, back in heaven.

Entrance in to Heaven is by choice…our choice. We have to want to be there. God stands watching and waiting, ready to embrace all who truly desire to come to Him. He will run to help us return home.

The young son chose to return and enter home. The elder son chose not to enter but stood outside sulking—nursing a grudge, grumbling over a perceived wrong, wasting time and damaging relationships with his grumblings and grudges, even when no one else was around to hear it.

Finally the father comes to the elder son and ‘intreated him’. That means he begged and implored the son to join them—to let go of those feelings and enter into the feast.

We never find out what the elder son did.

Maybe that is because the story isn’t about what the younger son did so much as the elder son is going to do. That answer cannot be given, for it is up to us to decide by searching our own personal thoughts and feelings. The story of the prodigal son is our story. We are supposed to write the ending.

So how will our story end? Are we nursing a grudge against someone? If we are, then we have placed ourselves outside of Heaven, unwilling to join the feast. That makes us the wasteful son. Relationships--and Heaven--should never be thrown away.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mouth of Babes

Thanks to a scene from Madagascar II my children were discussing abdominal muscles. They were talking about six-pack abs and eight-pack abs. My youngest son looked at me...a woman approaching 50 who has given birth to six children...and he innocently said, "Mommy has family-pack abs."

I laughed out loud! What a great name for it! I can honestly say I am proud to call them family-pack abs!

However, for the New Year I think I will start doing sit-ups again.

The worth of man

In Sunday Schools worldwide the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are going to be studying the Old Testament this year. A lot of people find the Old Testament difficult to study. I find it exciting and deep, like visiting with a wise old neighbor and hearing their view on life. It is timeless wisdom and refreshing in its wordage.

I also find it compelling that before we begin our study of the Old Testament we are to spend two weeks reviewing the life of Moses and the Lord’s plan for our salvation.

The Book of Moses, found in the Pearl of Great Price, contains “the words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, and he saw God face to face, and he talked with him and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.”

As I studied the lesson for the coming week I, as always, was impressed with the differences between God and Satan. God called Moses “my son” and told Moses he was “in the similitude of mine Only Begotten.”

Satan, on the other hand, degrades Moses and calls him a “son of man.”

Our Heavenly Father wants so much to lift and edify us, to tell us of our worth and potential.

Satan wants to make us feel that we have nothing divine within us, that we are fallen and only have an earthly heritage ahead of us.

God lovingly takes the time to show Moses a vision of “the world and the ends thereof.” After this grand vision “it came to pass that…(Moses) said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

So here is Moses, saying because of his vision he knows, absolutely knows that man is nothing. Hmmm. Isn’t that what Satan wants man to believe, that he is nothing and has no divine worth? What gives?

Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s court. The Pharaoh was considered god incarnate. Moses was a prince in Egypt, trained to inherit the throne. Moses had the entire world before him in terms of wealth, power and respect. He commanded palaces and armies yet God came to him and tenderly showed him things from His viewpoint. Moses gets, for the first time, the Big Picture; and it is then he realizes his earthly wealth and power and respect play no significant role in the eternities. He finally, truly, understands that no matter how much worldly glory he could achieve, it does not compare to God’s glory—the glory He has waiting to share with him and with us.

Later, when Satan appears to Moses and tries to twist his new understanding into something degrading by telling Moses he is a son of man, Moses is able to resist Satan by recalling his divine worth.

How important it is to know that we truly are sons and daughters of God, the King of Heaven. We are created in His image and we are of divine worth. Yes, we are imperfect—but that does not change our heritage. That just explains why He sent His son to the world atone for our sins. He wouldn’t make such a great sacrifice for something of little or no value.