Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hold to the Rod

Daily and sincere study of the scriptures gives us strength to meet today's challenges by providing inspiration and answers to problems.  We can also gain deeper understanding of eternal principles by studying the scriptures.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:  "Because we believe that scripture reading can help us receive revelation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures again and again.  By this means, we obtain access to what our Heavenly Father would have us know and do in our personal lives today.  That is one reason Latter-day Saints believe in daily scripture study" ("Scripture Reading and Revelation," Ensign, Jan. 1995, 8).

When we read the scriptures, it is as though we are hearing the Lord speak directly to us.  "For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them.
"Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words" (Doctrine and Covenants 18:35-36).

                    Lehi, an ancient American prophet, received a vision about the Tree of Life.  In his vision he saw a man "dressed in a white robe" who bade Lehi to follow him.  Lehi traveled through "a dark and dreary wilderness" for "many hours" and then prayed that the Lord would have mercy on him.  After his prayer he saw "a large and spacious field," and in this field he "beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy."  Lehi went forward and partook of the fruit of the tree and found that it was "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted."  He also saw that the fruit was white, "to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen."  As he partook of the fruit, it filled his soul "with exceedingly great joy," and he desired that his family would partake of the fruit also. 

Lehi looked around him in an effort to find his family; he saw his wife and his two younger sons and signaled for them to join him, which they did.  Lehi could not convince his two older sons to join him.  As Lehi continued looking around, he saw a river with a rod of iron extending along the bank of the river; this rod of iron led to the tree.  Lehi saw many people who caught hold of the rod of iron and held onto it until they reached the tree.  Lehi also saw "a mist of darkness" and "a spacious building," which "stood as it were in the air, high above the earth."  The building was filled with people dressed in "exceedingly fine" clothing who were "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers toward those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit."  Some of the people at the tree became ashamed and joined the people in the building.  Other people were wandering around the "large and spacious field" in the "mist of darkness" and couldn't find their way to the tree.  Some of those people fell into the river and were drowned.

In his vision, Lehi saw that the people who clung to the iron rod and did "press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree."  Lehi understood that the fruit of the tree was very desirable and wanted his family to partake.  (See Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 8.)

Nephi, the son of Lehi, wanted to see the vision shown to his father and believed that the Lord could show the vision to him also.  As Nephi pondered the information given by his father, he "was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain…."  After the Spirit asked Nephi if he believed the words of Lehi and Nephi confirmed that he did believe, he was shown the vision.  The Spirit gave Nephi a "tour" through the vision, asking questions and giving information as needed.  Nephi learned that the "tree" represented "the love of God" and the "fruit" represented Jesus Christ and His gospel, mission, and Atonement.  The "rod of iron" represented the "word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life."  The "spacious building" represented the "world and the wisdom thereof," "the pride of the world," and the "vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men."  The river represented filthiness "and the depths thereof are the depths of hell."  The "mists of darkness" were the "temptations of the devil."  (See Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 11-12.)

We are living in the "perilous times" described by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1).  There are "mists of darkness" in our world in which we can lose our way.  There are "rivers" of "filthiness" that are the very "depths of hell."  There are lots of people in "spacious building[s]" that mock Christians (including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and other good people.

President Harold B. Lee, the eleventh President of the Church, stated:  "If there is any one thing most needed in this time of tumult and frustration, when men and women and youth and young adults are desperately seeking for answers to the problems which afflict mankind, it is an `iron rod' as a safe guide along the straight path on the way to eternal life" (Stand Ye in Holy Places[1974], 351).

The rod that we should hold onto is the word of God as found in the Bible, Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.  I have daily feasted on the word of God found in the scriptures for more than twenty-five years, maybe even thirty years.   I have learned that when I hold to the truth as found in the scriptures I am strengthened against the temptations of Satan.   I have received personal revelation while studying the scriptures.  I have learned the truth of the words of Nephi when he explained the meaning of the word of God to his brothers:   

                    "And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 15:23-24).

                    We are fortunate in the fact that we live in a day when there are living prophets upon the earth through whom the Lord continues to instruct and counsel us.  The Lord holds us accountable for our obedience or disobedience to His word, whether He speaks to us directly or through his servants.

                    "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)

                     "These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
                    "For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
                    "Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words." (Doctrine and Covenants 18:34-36)

                    "And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
                    "And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." (Doctrine and Covenants 68:3-4)

                    Trying to go through life without the scriptures is like trying to walk a straight line blindfolded without the assistance of another person, a rope, or a "rod of iron."  The scriptures provide "spiritual food" that is just as necessary for our spirits as food is for our physical bodies.  This fact is demonstrated in the following anecdote given by President Spencer W. Kimball, twelfth President of the Church, about a group of Latter-day Saints who went to war:

                    "Some of our men were taken prisoner and kept in nearly total isolation.  Permitted no access to the scriptures, they later told how they hungered for the words of truth, more than for food, more than for freedom itself.  What they would have given for a mere fragment of the Bible or Book of Mormon that lay so idly on our shelves!  They learned by hard experience something of Nephi's feelings when he said:
                    "`For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
                    "`Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.'  (2 Nephi 4:15-16)" ("How Rare a Possession - the Scriptures!" Ensign, Sept. 1976, 4).

                    The spirits of the captured men were starving for the word of God as found in the scriptures.  They "hungered" for comfort from God.  I, like Nephi, "delight" in the scriptures.  I thoroughly enjoy the words of love, comfort, and peace found in the word of God, and my soul hungers for more nourishment. 

                    There are several reasons why we should study the scriptures regularly, among which are:  1) They testify of Christ; 2) God commands us to study the scriptures; 3) They teach us the gospel; 4) They can help us gain or increase our testimony; 5) They can help us find solutions to our problems; 6) Reading and studying the scriptures can help us receive personal revelation; 7) The scriptures contain counsel from the Lord that applies to us as well as to the people who first received and recorded that counsel.

                    Nephi taught us that we should "liken all scriptures" to ourselves as he taught his brothers with the scriptures:  "And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Nephi 19:23).

                    What does it mean to "liken all scriptures" unto ourselves?  It means that we must think about what we are reading and ponder how it applies to us.  Sometimes, it helps to put our own name in the scriptures, such as "And I, ______, did read many things unto them….."  Other times we could replace the adversity listed in the scriptures with the particular problems we are trying to solve in our lives.

                    Jessi Ramey was the only teenage girl in the tiny branch of the Church in Sand Point, Alaska.  She often felt alone and wondered if she really believed the gospel.  She said, "For a while, I'd read the Book of Mormon and never seemed to get anywhere.  Satan seemed to be doing all he could to keep me from gaining a testimony."
                    Then she had a particularly bad day at school.  She had forgotten her lunch, argued with a friend, and been hit by a hockey puck.  When she came home, she went to her room to cry.
                    She explained:  "As my tears ceased, I noticed I had left my triple combination on my desk.  As I walked over to put it away, it fell open to a page marked by a card.  The verses marked in ink caught my eye.  I read in Doctrine and Covenants 18:10-11:  `Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.'
                    "Suddenly I realized that Christ loved me and I wanted to know him better.  I had expected my testimony to be handed to me.  I assumed it would be easy.  I know now that I have to search, ponder, and pray….  If I have faith, my Savior will help me….
                    "That night I decided to start reading the Book of Mormon again.  This time, I was committed to finishing it" (Jessi Ramsey, "No Girl Is an Island," New Era, Mar. 1994, 9).

                    Jessi "likened [the] scriptures to her own situation and felt the love and acceptance of God.  The personal knowledge she gained about her worth in the eyes of God inspired her and strengthened her.  Jessi found her answer simply by opening her scriptures - but her scriptures opened to a scripture she had previously read and marked!  Answers to questions and solutions to problems usually come by praying, studying, and seeking out specific scriptures.  Study of the scriptures can be aided by the study aids found in the Latter-day Saint scriptures, such as footnotes, maps, the Topical Guide, and the Bible Dictionary.

                    I had an interesting experience with the scriptures a few years ago as I was taught by the scriptures in three different ways.  While I exercised I listened to CDs containing the words of the Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  I also spent some time each day reading a copy of the Book of Mormon to be given to a grandchild.  I feasted on the word of God each day while marking another copy of the Book of Mormon to be given to another grandchild.  I was fascinated on the different strengths of the Spirit experienced and the differing amounts of knowledge gained as I was fed by the scriptures in three different ways.

                    It is important that we study the scriptures every day and not wait for the need to find a specific answer or solution.  The Lord blesses us when we do as He commands, and He has commanded us to study His words.  Studying the scriptures strengthens us so that our needs do not become so great or so we have the strength to endure great trials.

                    I know that studying the scriptures can benefit us personally, as families, and as a nation.  I encourage you to study the scriptures daily and to turn to the scriptures for answers to personal questions or solutions to personal problems.  I am grateful for my knowledge and understanding that sincere scripture study gives us strength to meet today's challenges by providing inspiration and answers to problems.  I know that I gain deeper understanding of eternal principles by studying the scriptures.

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