Monday, June 5, 2017

Saguaro Blessings

You know that the stereotypical thing people think of when they hear the word cactus:

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Yeah that one! It's actually incredibly rare. Saguaros are only found in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. And unless people come through Arizona central and southern Arizona, they likely have never seen one of these in real life.

The first time I remember being in the Sonoran Desert was in the summer of 2015. I dropped down into the Valley and I was amazed at the Saguaros. I would look every single one, or at least I attempted to do so. If I could have taken picture after picture of Saguaros, I would have. They are just so cool to have around, especially if you aren't used to it!

This past summer, I drove from Northern Utah to Southern Arizona moving to graduate school. I stopped at the very first Saguaro I saw to take a picture, even though it had no arms, it was merely a stalk.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, cloud, outdoor and closeupI've now lived in the Sonoran Desert for almost 10 months. Sometimes, I catch myself not loving the Saguaros like I used to. I see them, and sometimes they seem as commonplace as a tree anywhere else. Other times, I just sit back and think of how awesome it is I'm living in the one place on earth with these majestic plants.

Now, I did not write this post simply to talk about the majesties of Saguaros. What do they mean for us? Like the Sonoran Desert, the restored Gospel and the church which espouses it is home to a relatively few number of people. People from outside the area know about bits and pieces of it, and may even enjoy trying to hold the belief, but these beliefs are only native to the Everlasting Gospel.

Without the Restoration, the following would not be restored: the necessity of baptism, Priesthood keys, Aaronic vs Melchizedek Priesthoods in roles and responsibilities, Patriarchal Blessings, the significance of the scattering and gathering of Israel, sealings, Temple Work for the Living and the Dead, Degrees of Glory, Premortality, the Plan of Redemption, the station of Mother Eve, our divine potential, the role of the Holy Ghost, the Nature of the Godhead, how to repent, The Book of Mormon, how to receive revelation, and many, many more. These blessings surround us so much, we sometimes forget how glorious they are. Like the saguaros, we can choose to constantly remain in awe or we will slide back into complacency. Let's remain in awe!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE TEMPLE! THE TEMPLE! THE TEMPLE!



Growing up in Texas, the Temple was never a really big part of my life. It was over an hour away driving, if there was good traffic, so I only went when the youth in my ward went. I knew the Temple was important. I knew it was a good thing. I knew I wanted to enter its holy walls, but day to day, it was never a big part of my life.

My freshman year of college was basically the same boat. Though I lived in sight of the Logan Temple, and it was on my mind, I only went once or twice because I was so used to only going two to four times a year. Then I went home to Texas before the start of my mission, and received my Endowment—a sacred ordinance where we learn of God's Plan for us to return to His presence, making promises to him—in the Dallas Temple May 19, 2012.

From that time on, the Temple became more and more a part of my life. When my mission was finished, and I was going to USU again, I was going to the Temple at least once a week as a patron. I worked in the Temple twice. I made friends because of the Temple. I invited people I'd met to just go to the Temple with me. I would make occasions to go walk around the Temple grounds.

I went with my buddy Joey his first time doing Baptisms for the Dead. I did Initatories on weeks I had no time to go. Through most of this time, I would just walk the half hour to 45 minutes to get to the House of the Lord. The power of the Temple flowed into me as I did work there. 

My senior year at USU, I met Erik. For once, I found someone who loved the Temple just as much as I did. If the two of us were hanging out, chances are you could find us one of three places: campus, Pizza Pie Cafe, or a Temple. For as long as I knew Erik, whenever he saw a Temple, he would yell out, "THE TEMPLE! THE TEMPLE! THE TEMPLE!" unless we were entering. We fed off of each others' excitement for the Temple.

I thought I would always choose to be in places very close to Temples so I could always just hop right over and not worry about time or distance or gas. But as I was applying to graduate school, I felt really drawn to the University of Arizona. While the Tucson Temple has been under construction for the past few years, it's still 75 days away from being dedicated.

I learned in this time what it means to sacrifice for the Temple. I know there's plenty of others who sacrifice much more than I do to go to the Temple just once. But I spend 2 hours driving to the Temple, 2 hours at the Temple, and 2 hours driving home from the Temple. It's not something I can use every day or even every week. It is a sweet experience attempting to find a friend who wants to go with me, and going, sometimes with someone and sometimes alone.

But in about two and a half months, I will once more be in the shadow of a Temple, and I CAN NOT WAIT!

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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Broken Heart

When the Savior was resurrected, He appeared among the peoples of the American Continent. During his preaching, he commanded the people "ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart". And since that day, the command has continued. A broken heart will establish Zion; a broken heart is one yielded unto God. But why?

When the world talks about a broken heart, it's always in a negative connotation: someone broke up with you and you feel shattered to pieces, and that can be true, but just because it is true in one sense, it does not mean it's a negative thing. Really, we all experience heart ache, we all, in one way or another experience broken hearts. Think back to the last time you had a feeling like your heart was broken. How did you feel?

Honestly, it sucks. You may feel down in the dumps for a few days. You may go deeper into depression. You may question if anything will ever go right again. You sit at a point where seemingly nobody could possibly understand. And while there are other meanings for having a broken heart as a sacrifice, this broken heart provides so much insight to one meaning the Savior could have.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior went "suffering pains and afflictions...of every kind...that his bowels may be filled with mercy" (Alma 7:11-12). Truly He is "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). But the next phrase in that verse probably brings more pain to our Savior than anything else he suffered in the atonement: "we hid as it were our faces from him" (Isaiah 53:3). Surely, us hiding from him is the last thing He wants of us. Surely He wants us to feel at home with Him.

In those days of our broken hearts, due to loss of friends, death, grief from disability, depression, mental health disorders, stress due to change, the Savior wants us to come to Him. He wants us to bring our broken heart, that He may heal us. In those times where darkness seems to surround us and demand that we surrender; in those moments when our world seems to be falling apart and our hearts torn to shreds; in those hours when the absolute last thing you want to do is make a sacrifice, that is precisely what the Lord wants you to do.

As we come to the altars with our broken hearts, and offer ourselves to Him in our moments of deepest agony, He heals us so we become far stronger than ever before. We become a little more like Him. Through bringing Him our broken hearts, we bind ourselves to Him. His servants who are already bound to Him, will bind to you to serve you, and thus we yield to God and establish Zion.

We sacrifice our broken hearts, because, in the end, when we have a broken heart, we are in our raw form. To sacrifice our broken heart, we sacrifice who we are, our very essence, and consecrate ourselves to doing what He does, living like He does, and being like He is.

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen?" -Isaiah 58:6

It's inevitable. Every month, as the first Sunday of the month rolls around, a countless barrage of memes comes pouring out of every Mormon memes page about how awful Fast Sunday is. I get it! We as humans like bonding and laughing over things that make us unique. I know this post is not going to be something trendy that goes viral, but this is rambling I need to get off my chest.

Fasting is not a thing on our checklist. It is not shared misery. It is not something we try to avoid by breaking the emblems of the sacrament slightly larger than normal. It is a sacrifice. It is a time to develop mastery over our natural appetites. It is a time to grow nearer to God. It is a time to seek revelation.

I just find it ironic that the very thing that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for with fasting: "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." The memes and comments about hunger pains and the jokes are the modern version of disfiguring our faces so people know we fast, and it's a collective issue that HAS TO STOP!

If youfeel like these memes describe you too perfectly, I recommend studying Isaiah 58. When you truly catch the vision of the fast, you come to know how it feels when this promise is fulfilled: "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward."

Is not this the fast you have chosen? If it is, wonderful! If it isn't, I exhort you to study the doctrine until fasting becomes a glorious, blissful experience for you.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"This Secret Combination...Among You" (Ether 8:24)

It's no secret to anyone who has read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ that secret combinations are incessantly discussed by the authors. While many have thought this means that a secret society is undermining the whole of society, while reading in 2 Nephi today, I had a thought of an alternative meaning to this warning.
Wherefore, for this cause, that my covenants may be fulfilled which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh, I must needs destroy the secret works of darkness, and of murders, and of abominations. Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.
These verses come in the midst of a longer discussion on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Thus, for the Atonement's covenants to be fulfilled, the Lord "must...destroy the secret works of darkness". While I do not doubt there is some very real connection to Gadianton robbers filling the judgement seats, we also know the Atonement of Jesus Christ is to work from the inside out.

What secret combinations have you established within yourself?

What secret oaths have you made with yourself? What secret signs have you made with yourself? In short, what are the things you do that keep you in the dark?

In the physical world, we understand light is more powerful than darkness. But in the spiritual world, we often bind ourselves down by false covenants to ourselves. We refuse to enter the light but sink further and further into the pits of darkness.

Obviously not every secret is an act of a secret combination. Throwing a surprise party is not going to cost you eternal salvation. But when the webs of deceit bind you from others. When you close yourself off from human interaction and become a slave to hell, you have in essence formed a secret combination. To get a false sense of "power and gain" from the secret is the issue; "when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination...among you" (Ether 8:23).

Anything done in the dark to get power or to get gain is guilty of a secret combination: Dishonesty to get gain or power; Pornography in all its devilish forms gets the gain of sexual gratification; Manipulating others by hiding  your true identity online and having them do whatever thing you desire.

I plead with all who do works in darkness, as Isaiah of old, "come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord" arm in arm to our salvation (Isaiah 2:5).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Zion

The last couple of weeks, I've been pondering the topic of Zion. References to the holy city and God's people who dwell there fill the scriptures. The Lord again and again commands us to build up Zion, to seek for Zion, to establish Zion, and to let Zion's glory rest upon us.

We call ourselves "the Stakes of Zion", and historically called Utah "Zion" (though some missionaries from Utah lift up themselves in pride on being from "Zion"). We sing, "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God", "Let Zion in her Beauty Rise!", "And Ephraim be crowned with his blessing in Zion". In short, the culture of the church focuses on Zion as an entity, but are we really focusing on becoming Zion? Are we focusing on preparing ourselves to receive Zion?

The "Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."1 And so great was the faith of this people that Enoch, the prophet, was endowed with the power of the Lamb to lead "the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him."2 This people was blessed with such great power, and great strength, because they sought to receive the character of Christ in word and deed, until they became purified and made holy, "for this is Zion—the pure in heart."3

In the latter days before the Savior's return, we must prepare the earth by establishing Zion, and preparing ourselves to receive Enoch's city. God himself taught what needs to happen for this preparation to be complete: "Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments."4 

The wisdom of man cannot accomplish this feat. Man's wisdom has tried to establish a utopia again and again and has failed again and again. There is no way to establish Zion while one relies on the arm of the flesh. "Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself."5 Without utilizing the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it is completely impossible to establish and maintain the cause of Zion. Without earnestly applying that atoning blood to change, grow, and take upon us the image of Christ in our countenances, we cannot create Zion, yet that is precisely what the Lord commands.

Until we have been prepared in all things to become Zion, we will fail to be ready to meet our God. Until we love one another as Christ loved, we will fail to be prepared to welcome back Enoch's city. Until we help our brothers and sisters overcome challenges, the earth will fail to be prepared to receive heaven.

Let us strive to bring about Zion with each other each day, by acting with a little more love, a little more kindness, and a little more tenderness.