Throwback Thursday: Elder Holland on Faith

I’ve been listening to a number of talks from Apostle Jeffrey Holland lately. His most recent General Conference talk on depression and mental illness was excellent, which you can find here. The other day, however, I randomly listened to two of his talks given ten years apart and found a repeating theme:

From this talk in April 2003 on teaching children:

In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart…

And from this talk in April 2013 on the importance of faith:

Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!

To be clear, he doesn’t say one should not have doubts, or not ask honest questions. Asking questions is paramount to discovering answers and receiving revelation. But his ultimate message is: don’t forfeit the faith you’ve already developed, even if it seems small. And don’t forget how often Jesus urged his followers to simply “believe.”

After all, in the eyes of God, Thomas’ doubts were not deemed superior to others’ choice to believe. Perhaps that’s the lesson Elder Holland is trying to teach us.

What did Jesus Suffer and Why

As I’ve written about here, the idea behind posts categorized as A Mormon’s Book of Mormon is to provide some insight into the verses and phrases you’d typically find marked in a Latter-day Saint’s Book of Mormon. If you know about the Book of Mormon but don’t know much of what it says, well, wait no more!

For me, few other passages in scripture are as comforting, clear, and powerful as Alma 7:11-13 is in its explanation of Jesus’ mission and power. Here in Alma chapter 7, which takes place in about 83 B.C., the prophet Alma explains to a group of people that the Son of God will come to earth and go forth, “suffering”:

1.    pains, afflictions, & temptations of every kind

And that he will “take upon himself”:

2.    death,
3.    the infirmities of his people, and
4.    the sins of his people.

Then Alma briefly explains the reasoning behind each type of suffering:

1.    [Pains, afflictions and temptations]: “and this that the word might be fulfilled.” In other words, to fulfill a prophecy, presumably the one in Isaiah 53:3-5, which says that the Messiah will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people.

2.   [death]: “that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people.” Thus, the intent is to overcome death, or in other words, bring about a resurrection from the dead.

3.    [infirmities]: “that his bowels may be filled will mercy, according to the flesh. And that he may know, according to the flesh, how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” According to the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, to succor means, “to run to…to help or relieve when in distress”.Here we see a Being who desires empathy and seeks to be filled with mercy for each human being in every mortal condition.

4.    [sins]: “that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.” From this we learn that Christ has a delivering power that enables him to somehow “blot out” individual sins and transgressions. This is hope-filled consolation for anyone who has ever felt the pangs of a guilty conscience.

Therefore, if it is possible to take a very high-level summary of these verses, we might say that Jesus came to:

  1. Fulfill prophecy.
  2. Bring about the resurrection from the dead.
  3. Develop authentic mortal empathy and the means to help & heal.
  4. Forgive or blot out individual sin, according to the power of his deliverance.

These verses from the Book of Mormon increase my love and appreciation for Jesus Christ. They help me better understand his divine mission, why he came, and why it’s important. And, as Alma taught earlier in this sermon, although there are many events to come in the future, there is one thing more important than them all: that Jesus Christ came to save and help humankind as the Redeemer of the world.

Alma 7 Atonement

Why I Became A Mormon: Brittany’s Story

Before last year, I had never known anyone who was Mormon; not by choice, there just weren’t many Mormons around for me to know. Growing up, I went to a few different churches. I was baptized in one faith, confirmed in another, and attended church in a few more. All the while, I never quite understood why I was there or what made a particular church different from any other. I mostly just went to church because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, but I thought maybe if I continued to go, I would be able to figure it out.

After a period of time without any church attendance, I moved to Minnesota and became interested again in learning about my own faith. As I was attending a class at another church, I was given the opportunity to learn about the LDS Church from a friend in school. At first I learned by reading things about the Church, good and bad, that I found on the Internet. After a few months of reading, I started meeting members, going to church, and talking with the missionaries, and to my surprise, I LOVED IT.

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

The wonderful missionaries who spent so much time helping me learn what I needed to make the decision to be baptized

I had never been to a church where I was so instantly welcomed and accepted. Men and women who were so incredibly busy with their own personal and professional lives took the time to get to know me and opened their hearts and homes to me in a way that I had never before experienced from total strangers.

Friends for Life

Friends for Life

I quickly came to love spending time with my new “Mormon friends” and it was pretty obvious why: they were honestly and truly living their faith and teaching me how to do the same. Through their example and the things I was learning, I began to understand who God is, His plan is for us, who Jesus Christ is, what He did, and most importantly, why this all matters. For the first time, I felt like I could ask questions and think critically about my faith. It seemed as though the puzzle pieces were beginning to come together.

Another friend for eternity

Another friend for eternity

Despite how it sounds so far, this experience was neither perfect nor easy. I spent six months learning about the Church before making the decision to become a member. I needed to be as informed as I could if I was going to make this decision. Even though I had learned so much, and there was very clearly a change taking place within me, I still struggled. In my mind, it didn’t add up: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, prophets. I wondered, why would God appear to a 14-year-old boy and later ask him to translate the Book of Mormon?

In addition to my own internal struggle, I experienced external opposition as well. The LDS Church is very misunderstood, and people around me didn’t know much about the Church other than stereotypes. They feared I would be forced to give up who I was if I was going to become a Mormon. I realized verbal assurances would only do so much, so instead of solving this problem before moving forward, I concluded that the stereotypes could only be dispelled through time and my own example.

My bishop (local church leader) and I had a very important conversation around the time I finally decided to be baptized. He reminded me to keep an eternal perspective. He shared a very personal and powerful story about his own mother’s decision to join the Church and the effect it had on her posterity. After this conversation, I realized that this was the best decision I could make not only for myself but for the family I come from, and the family I hope to have some day.

Regarding the things that just didn’t make sense, I prayed. And prayed. Over time, I received spiritual confirmations that testified to me of their truth. At first, it felt as though I was surrounded by the darkness of night. As I did things to find my way, like read scriptures, pray, visit with the missionaries, talk with members, I slowly felt as if the dark was giving way to light, and I could see the steps ahead more clearly. (See this). Soon I thought, “how could something that brought so much good, not be true?”

Shortly before I made the decision to be baptized I received an email from a friend who had no knowledge of my investigation of the Church. She wrote, “I just want you to know that I love seeing you this [academic] year because you are sort of glowing and seem so happy and just like you’re on the right track.” This sweet friend was able to put into words what I was feeling and didn’t completely realize in that moment. I was not only visibly but also internally joyful. I soon came to know that the Spirit was bringing me feelings of peace and joy to testify of truth.

The weekend I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church was wonderful. Despite the fact that it was wedged between two law school finals, it couldn’t have been better. After being confirmed, I felt an incredible flood of relief because I had finally found what I had been searching for and wanting for so long: faith in God and Jesus Christ and a church that is just so amazing to be a part of. The evening after I was confirmed, I wrote in my journal, “I cannot go to sleep because I am just SO happy, so excited, and so filled with joy….”

Baptism Program

Baptism Program

John 10:10: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” My decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has brought so much abundance to my life: an abundance of beauty, joy, love, and so much more.

I am so very grateful for the family I have that has loved me unconditionally and helped me get to where I am today. My heart is overflowing with love for them and the countless others who have helped me along the way. I know that I don’t have all the answers right now. I never will, but I have faith in Jesus Christ, and that makes all the difference going forward.

This past weekend as I was driving westward across Minnesota, I noticed the leaves. I noticed how their colors were significantly different from the weekend before. Two weeks ago, they were beautiful shades of green, yellow, and red. This week, I noticed browns, golds, and oranges in their place. As I contemplated the beauty of it all, I wondered if I would have noticed and appreciated all this beauty even one year ago.DSCN7230 As I continued to drive and think, I concluded that no, I would not have. That tiny realization reminded me, once again, how lucky I am to have been able to make the decision to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I love this church, and I love being a member of it. It inspires me to see the good and the beauty in everything and everyone. I have never felt more inspired to do good, to serve better, and to love deeper.

What is faith? Profound Truth from a 16-Year-Old

On Sundays, I have the great honor of co-teaching a group of teenagers, guys and girls, in a little place we like to call Sunday School. Each week I get to experience profound truth coming from the mouths of these ordinary teenagers. Here’s just one example of this type of profound truth, which explains why this Sunday School class is, well, awesome.

The lesson was, “How did the Savior compare gospel truths to familiar objects and experiences?” So we talked about the parables of Jesus and then I divided the class into two and had one group read Luke 15 and the other Matthew 20 – both of which contain pretty familiar parables. Then, after a brief discussion, I had the kids come up with parables of their own. Each group needed to come up with a familiar object or experience to complete the phrases:

A. “The scriptures are like __________.”

B. “Faith is like __________”

For A, the kids came up with: a Map, a Torch in a Dark Cave, and Batteries. All with great, simple explanations why.

For B, the kids came up with: an App. “How is faith like an App?” I asked. And here was the profound truth spoken by a 16-year-old girl from Northeast Minneapolis:

Because you use it and it helps you accomplish stuff, and because it needs to be updated regularly.

There you have it, the profound truth. Faith is like an App.

And here was the spontaneous takeaway from our lesson. All of us need a little update to our faith every once and awhile. So if you haven’t updated yours lately, give it a go. Taking some personal time to consult a good Map usually does the trick.

Does God Speak to People? Part II

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, which I have previously written about here, and which was the topic of a recent guest post here. Those two posts deal mostly with God’s communication through his prophets – both ancient and modern – and discuss the restoration of Christ’s gospel beginning in the 1820s.

But more personally, does God speak to ordinary individuals directly? Does he communicate with normal, everyday kind of folk to help us in our affairs? The Book of Mormon teaches that “God is mindful of every people” and that he “give[s] unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”

Many times in life I have felt God gently communicating with me to help direct my path. Sometimes that communication has come as tender and loving feelings that bring me peace, specific knowledge, and insight. Other times, the communication has come in the form of distinct phrases, like dictated words into my mind. In fact, a couple of months ago in my personal prayers I asked a specific question and then made a note in my phone about what I had asked. Several weeks later, having forgotten about my prayer and the note, I suddenly had a phrase come very clearly into my mind. I wrote it down somewhere else in my phone and went on with what I was doing. A day or two later, I was reviewing all the notes in my phone and discovered that what I had sensed the day or two before was a direct answer to my recorded prayer several months earlier. 

Although it can burst upon us unexpectedly, revelation from God typically responds to direct questions that we ask him. Consider the following from Spencer W. Kimball:

Spencer_W._Kimball3When man begins to hunger, when arms begin to reach, when knees begin to bend and voices begin to articulate, then, and not until then, does the Lord make himself known. He pushes back the horizons, he breaks the curtain above us, and he makes it possible for us to come out of dim, uncertain stumbling into the sureness of the eternal light.

On another occasion, Spencer Kimball taught the importance of having pure motives and sincere desire:

…Do you want guidance? Have you prayed to the Lord for inspiration? Do you want to do right or do you want to do what you want to do whether or not it is right? Do you want to do what is best for you in the long run or what seems more desirable for the moment? Have you prayed? How much have you prayed? How did you pray? Have you prayed as did the Savior of the world in Gethsemane or did you ask for what you want regardless of its being proper? Do you say in your prayers: “Thy will be done”? Did you say, “Heavenly Father, if you will inspire and impress me with the right, I will do that right”? Or, did you pray, “Give me what I want or I will take it anyway”? Did you say: “Father in Heaven, I love you, I believe in you, I know you are omniscient. I am honest. I am sincerely desirous of doing right. I know you can see the end from the beginning. You can see the future. Tell me, please, loved Heavenly Father, and I promise to do what you tell me to do.” Have you prayed that way? Don’t you think it might be wise? Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer?

The key then, seems to be desire and asking the right question. Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, described one of her experiences with the divine this way. Once, when feeling a strong desire to be alone with God, she prayed earnestly, and

sarah edwardsin the moments that followed, ‘the presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their

inconceivable loveliness and mildness, and gentleness, and their great immutable love to me…The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible.’¹

My conviction is that God does speak to people and He is mindful of us and our needs. And the great news is that each of us can learn this for ourselves, for as the Lord said:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

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¹ Givens, T. & Givens, F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak (2012). 21.
For another account, check out this blog post.