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, September 1, 2012

The Greatest Commandment

                    Of all God's commandments, which one do you consider to be the greatest?  Jesus Christ taught the Pharisees about this great commandment by asking them some questions in answer to one of their questions.

                    One of the Pharisees, a lawyer tried to trick the Savior by asking, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
                    "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
                    "This is the first and great commandment.
                    "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
                    "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:39).

                    The two greatest things we can do in time or eternity are:  1) Love the Lord and 2) Love our neighbor.   Why would the Lord consider these two laws as the greatest commandments?  All the commandments of God can be summarized into these two commandments!  If we love the Lord and love our neighbor, then every other commandment becomes easier to obey.

                    Why is it important for us to love our neighbor in order to truly love the Lord?  The Apostle John answered our question with these words:  "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:  for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
                    "And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21). 

                    In this scripture John explained that in order to truly love the Father, we must also love His children.  I learned this lesson in past years after a dear friend died, leaving four children.  Her husband eventually married again, but his second marriage ended in divorce.  It seems that his second wife did not understand:  In order to truly love the father, she must also love his children.

                    Other spiritual leaders have taught the importance of loving each other.  After explaining the characteristics of charity, Mormon, an ancient American prophet, wrote:  "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail -
                    "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Moroni 7:46-47).

                    According to Mormon, charity is far more than simply giving handouts to needy people.  It is more than giving used clothing to the Salvation Army.  It is more than working in soup kitchens.  Mormon said that "charity is the pure love of Christ."  When we stand before God to be judged, He will want some evidence that we loved as He does!  The most important task for us in this life is to develop charity.  How do we complete this task?

                    There are three answers to this puzzle, and these answers are found in the scriptures.  The following scriptures teach us that we can develop charity by following the example of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus visited the inhabitants of the Americas following his resurrection, He blessed them.  "Have ye any that are sick among you?  Bring them hither.  Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner?  Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
                    "For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.
                    "And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him" (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 17:7-9).

                    When the Savior had finished healing all those with afflictions, He called for the little children to be brought to Him.  The little children were brought forward and "set down upon the ground round about him."  Jesus asked the multitude to kneel and then prayed to the Father.  His prayer was described as follows:  "The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
                    "And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father" (3 Nephi 17:16-17).
                    Joy filled the souls of the people present:  "so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.
                    "And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.
                    "And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them:  Blessed are ye because of your faith.  And now behold, my joy is full.
                    "And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bear record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them."

                    After the Savior had ceased praying for the little children, angels descended from heaven, encircled the little ones, and ministered to them.  Their glory was so bright that it looked to the people like their little children were "encircled with fire" (3 Nephi 17:18-24).

                    The New Testament also contains accounts of the Savior blessing the people.  The Savior sent the Twelve Apostles out to teach His gospel and to minister to the people.  When the Apostles returned, the Savior wanted them to rest and regain their strength.  "And they departed into a desert place by ship privately" (Mark 6:32).  The people followed them, and Christ "was moved with compassion toward them" (Mark 6:34).  

                    Christ's disciples wanted Him to send the people away so they could buy some bread, but the Savior told them to feed the people.  The disciples wondered if they should go into a nearby village and buy bread for the multitude.
                    "He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye?  Go and see.   And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
                    "And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.
                    "And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties.
                    "And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.
                    "And they did all eat, and were filled.
                    "And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.
                    "And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men" (Mark 7:30-44).

                    Another example in the New Testament of Christ's compassion is found in John 19:25-27:  "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
                    "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold they son!
                    "Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!  And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

                    We can follow the example of Jesus Christ and show compassion, kindness, and mercy to other people.  We may not have the power to work miracles as Jesus did, but we can become instruments in His hands in order for Him to bless others.

                    We can develop charity by giving service to others.  When the Savior was teaching the commandment to love our neighbor, a man asked Him, "Who is my neighbour?"  The Savior answered his question by telling a parable or a story intended to teach a lesson. 

                    "And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
                    "And by chance there came down a certain priest that way:  and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
                    "And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
                    "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was:  and when he saw him he had compassion on him,
                    "And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
                    "And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
                    "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
                    "And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:30-37).

                    Since all people are our "neighbors", we should be willing to be merciful, compassionate, and kind to all people.  By following the example of the Savior in giving service to others, we can develop charity.  The following story illustrates how we can apply the Savior's teachings in our day.

                    "Snow fell lightly on the cold, bitter Canadian landscape.  Overhead a dome of gray, lifeless clouds blended with the bare aspens on the ground, painting a gloomy picture.  I gazed listlessly out the window of our [pickup truck].  The scene outside matched my own downcast spirits.  My companion, Elder Hancock, was humming `Joy to the World' to himself, half smiling and lightly tapping his fingers on the rim of the steering wheel.  Christmas, my first one away from home, was in three days.  I'd always enjoyed the same sort of traditional Christmas each year at home.  But that was behind me now and far away like my family.  I wanted this Christmas to be the same but knew inside that it wouldn't be….

                    "… Our apartment was bare of any sign of Christmas.  We didn't even have time to put up a tree.  At first we had agreed to spend the entire Christmas day in active missionary work, but Elder Hancock soon sensed my lack of enthusiasm and arranged for us to have dinner with some members that night.

                    "`Elder,' he said as we drove into town, `what you need more than a turkey dinner is a little TPLOC in your life.'  He grinned to himself as if he'd just made a very witty remark.  I stared out the window, pretending to ignore him.  I always wondered how he stayed so cheerful.  Trying to teach me the discussions, along with keeping track of the area we'd opened up, must have been hard on him; yet I never heard him complain or get despondent.  Oh well, I did enough of that for both of us.  I wondered what he meant by TPLOC.   Probably some new missionary term no one had bothered to tell me about."

                    "We pulled off onto a wide street in the older part of town, parked our truck, and began tracting.  The boardwalks raised above the frozen earth snapped in protest as we stepped on them.  Houses on this street were rundown, unpainted, and inanimate.  … Several houses were empty.  At the first corner we encountered a small shack that, in comparison, made the other houses on the street look good.

                    "The house hid all signs of ever having been painted.  There were no power outlets attached; here we would find no electricity.  My companion knocked on the door…..  Small timid footsteps started at the back of the house and worked forward toward the door.  It creaked open, and I beheld a living museum piece.

                    "The woman stood four-and-a-half feet tall.  Her face was full of wrinkles, so much so that it was only with effort I could make out two piercing, coal-black eyes peeking out of the crevasses.  She invited us in.  As I suspected, her home was also threadbare on the inside, yet it was spotless.

                    "Her name was Mrs. Ivar, and she was a 98-year-old immigrant from Poland.  We tried to teach a discussion, but it was hard - she was so lonely.  She had just learned that none of her children would be home for Christmas, and so she would be alone.  I felt sorry for the lady, but we had work to do.  We talked a little longer and then left.

                    "The next day we finished our preparations for Christmas.  We had asked the Relief Society to bake us some cakes to take out to investigators.  They responded in numbers, and soon our small apartment was lined with assorted cakes.  One sister brought us three.  She said she wanted to bake one for us, but reasoned that if she baked two we'd give them both away, so she had baked three.  I smiled at that but couldn't help thinking how bare our place looked without a tree.

                    "Christmas came swiftly, on a bright clear day.  My stomach tied itself in knots at the thought of barging into investigators' homes on Christmas day.  If Elder Hancock was nervous, he hid it well.  It took us most of the day to deliver our cakes.  People were glad to see us, all of them, even one man who had thrown us out earlier.  By dusk we had only one cake left, the cake that was ours, and our dinner was in half an hour.  As we climbed in the truck I had visions of hot turkey and stuffing drenched in cranberries.  Elder Hancock paused to look at something as he slid in.  I looked and saw nothing - except that old row of houses we had tracted out earlier.  They were leaning at crazy angles, Mrs. Ivar's being the worst.

                    "`That's whose house he's looking at,' I thought to myself.  I knew my companion too well.  `He wants us to miss our dinner appointment and give our last cake to that old lady.'  He turned and saw me eyeing the house, too.  His eyes met mine, and he waited; he knew me pretty well also.  This would be my decision.

                    "I thought of the member's home where we were expected - warm, inviting, full of life.  It wasn't our fault that none of the old woman's kids could make it back home.  She wasn't even good for a discussion, so why bother?

                    "I shifted my weight and thought of home.  My sister would be back from school, and my brother would be there with his family.  But what if, for some reason, none of us could make it?  What if that were my mother all alone on Christmas?  A lump as large as a grapefruit grew in my throat.

                    "I glanced at Elder Hancock and said, `I never did go for cake much.'
                    "He grinned.  We stopped to phone our excuses to the member family and then sped over to spend the rest of the day in the company of a great lady.  She told us stories of her homeland and her Christmases as a girl….  Before we left, Mrs. Ivar had a new pile of wood for her stove and a half-eaten cake for her pantry.

                    "On the way back to our apartment I tried to tell Elder Hancock how I felt, but the words just wouldn't come.  The phone was ringing as we stepped in, Elder Hancock answered it while I put on some hot chocolate.
                    "`Guess what?' he announced, after a brief discussion.  `I've been transferred.'

                    "I didn't know what to say, there was so much.  Finally I blurted, `Well, before you go there's one thing I want to know.  What does TPLOC stand for?'
                    "`It stands for what you caught a feeling of today, Elder Johnson.  TPLOC stands for "The Pure Love of Christ."  And it tastes much better than a turkey dinner.'  With that he began to pack." (See Kelly Johnson, "The Secret of TPLOC," New Era, Aug. 1979, 40-42.)

                    Elder Johnson learned a very important lesson, a lesson that applies to all of us.  This lesson is:  As we help other people, our love for them grows.  We develop charity or the true love of Christ by serving others.

                    The prophet Mormon wrote about another way to develop charity.  He wrote, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.  Amen" (Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:48).

                    Prayer is important to our efforts to develop charity because we need Heavenly Father's help in order to have this kind of love.  If we sincerely ask for His blessing and try hard to follow the example of the Savior, the Father will fill us with charity.

                    I am grateful to know of the love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for me and for all mankind.  I know that we can feel true joy when we have charity for others.  I know that we can develop love for our neighbors by following Jesus Christ's example, giving service, and praying to be filled with "the pure love of Christ" (Moroni 7:47).


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