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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Spiritual Whirlwinds

                I recently taught a lesson in Relief Society – an organization for women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – about spiritual whirlwinds.  The lesson was based on a General Conference talk by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Most of this post will quote or refer to his talk.

                A whirlwind is a tornado, and tornadoes come in several sizes.  I believe “dust devils” are miniature tornadoes but understand they are not strong enough to receive a classification.  Tornadoes cannot be classified as they are happening because there is no way to measure the actual wind speed inside tornadoes.  They are measured and categorized after their impact and according to the damage they cause.  The classifications start with EF-0 for a wind speed of 65 miles per hour and go to EF-5 for wind speeds over 200 miles per hour.

                I have never experienced a tornado, but I have seen the damage caused by them and recognize that some are far stronger than others.  I was driving south with my daughter towards her home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and saw a bunch of black clouds ahead of us.  She indicated that the clouds looked like a tornado close to her home.  A short time later her husband called to say that a storm had gone through their yard.  When we arrived we learned that the trampoline – which had been secured – had crossed two fences and a swimming pool to land in the neighbor’s yard two homes away.  It had not hit any buildings or vehicles.  It was damaged but could be repaired.  The wooden play equipment  - which had been secured – had been toppled and was leaning against the fence.  It took more work to repair.  This damage was a blow to them but not even close to being like the damage to the Joplin, Missouri, or Moore, Oklahoma, areas.

                In his talk, Elder Andersen explained that he was visiting with family in Florida when a tornado touched down fairly close to where he was.  “One woman living in a mobile home went into her bathroom for safety.  The mobile home began to shake.  A few moments passed. Then she heard her neighbor’s voice:  `I am here in the front room.’  Coming out of the bathroom, to her great astonishment, she discovered that the tornado had lifted and carried her mobile home through the air, landing it perfectly upright on the top of her neighbor’s mobile home.”

                We live in turbulent times.  We know this.  We also know that this information was prophesied more than 180 years ago.  Doctrine and Covenants 88 is a prophecy received through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, in December 1833.  This section was designated by the Prophet as the “olive leaf” … plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us.”
                “For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
                “And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
                “And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:89-91).

                 Elder Andersen quoted part of this scripture and then stated:  “… the world will not glide calmly toward the Second Coming of the Savior.”  He then quoted the following statement by President Brigham Young:  “It was revealed to me in the commencement of this Church, that the Church would spread, prosper, grow and extend, and that in proportion to the spread of the Gospel among the nations of the earth, so would the power of Satan arise” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 72).

                Elder Andersen stated that even though the prophesied earthquakes and wars concern us, we should be more concerned about the “spiritual earthquakes that can uproot [us] from [our] spiritual foundations and land [our] spirit in places [we] never imagined possible, sometimes with your barely noticing that you have been moved.”      

                Elder Andersen then explained what he considered to be spiritual whirlwinds.  “The worst whirlwinds are the temptations of the adversary.  Sin has always been part of the world, but it has never been so accessible, insatiable, and acceptable.  There is, of course, a powerful force that will subdue the whirlwinds of sin.  It is called repentance.
                “Not all the whirlwinds in life are of your own making.  Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.”

                Whirlwinds will come into all of our lives.  Some of them will be small, and others will be very powerful.  All of them can damage us spiritually if we allow them it.  How many of you experienced spiritual whirlwinds during the past week or two?

                Most of us understand that the more serious the sin, the greater the damage will be – but all sins will spin us around and cause damage. 
As to wrong choices made by other people, God allows all of us to use our agency to the fullest extent possible even though we sometimes hurt other people.  He does this in order that His judgment of us will be fair.  It is a fact of life that people are hurt by the wrong choices of other people; however, we are promised that all pains, sicknesses, heartaches, etc. are covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Everything we suffer can be healed through the power of the Atonement.

                Then there are the problems of mortality.  Things happen to us such as bad health or the loss of loved ones simply because we are mortal.  It is part of our experience on earth.  Elder Andersen gave three examples of this type of spiritual whirlwind:  President Boyd K. Packer (polio), Elder Dallin H. Oaks (his father’s death when he was 7 years old), and Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women general presidency (her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager).

                So the question is, how do we prepare for spiritual whirlwinds?  Before listing several ways we can prepare, Elder Andersen described the process of how trees prepare for strong winds.  “In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger.  As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things.  First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther.  Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind.  These stronger roots and branches protect the tree form winds that are sure to return.”

                Then Elder Andersen assured his listeners, “You are infinitely more precious to God than a tree.  You are His son or His daughter.  He made your spirit strong and capable of being resilient to the whirlwinds of life.  The whirlwinds in your youth, like the wind against a young tree, can increase your spiritual strength, preparing you for the years ahead.”

                Some of us are further from our youth than others, but all of us can learn from Elder Andersen’s six bits of counsel.  His first idea is to build our lives on a firm foundation as suggested in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Helaman 5:12:  “Remember … it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, … his shafts in the whirlwind, … when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power … to drag you down … because of the rock upon which ye are built.”

                Elder Andersen’s second bit of counsel is to follow the prophet.  This was a major theme of our recent General Conference and the theme of President Newman’s talk at Stake Conference last Sunday.  Elder Andersen quoted President Thomas S. Monson said, “Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider” (“Priesthood Power,” Ensign, May 2011, 66).

                Elder Andersen referenced a letter from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles last spring to leaders of the Church across the world.  Part of that letter states:  “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established.  God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society.  His law of chastity is clear:  sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We urge you to review … the doctrine contained in `The Family:  A Proclamation to the World’” (First Presidency letter, March 6, 2014).

                Elder Andersen’s third bit of counsel is to beware of self-righteousness.  “As the world slips away from the Lord’s law of chastity, we do not.  President Monson said:  `The Savior of mankind described Himself as being in the world but not of the world.  We also can be in the world but not of the world as we reject false concepts and false teachings and remain true to that which God has commanded.’
                “While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not….

                “Of special concern to us should be those who struggle with same-sex attraction.  It is a whirlwind of enormous velocity.  I want to express my love and admiration for those who courageously confront this trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God!  But everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration.
                “The Savior taught us to love not only our friends but also those who disagree with us – and even those who repudiate us….”

                When the Supreme Court chose to not hear any of the same-sex marriage cases, the Church responded with this statement: 
                “The succession of federal court decisions in recent months, culminating in today’s announcement by the Supreme Court, will have no effect on the doctrinal position or practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is that only marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God.  In prizing freedom of conscience and Constitutional guarantees of the free exercise of religion, we will continue to teach that standard and uphold it in our religious practices.
                “Nevertheless, respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values.  As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.  Church leaders will continue to encourage our people to be persons of good will toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, and differences in sexual orientation” (Church news room, October 6, 2014).

                Elder Andersen’s fourth bit of counsel was to read the Book of Mormon because it is a powerful protection from the whirlwinds of life.  “When President Henry B. Eyring was a teenager, his family moved to a new city.  He initially found the move unpleasant and made few friends.  He felt like he didn’t fit in with the students in his high school.  The whirlwinds were swirling.  What did he do?  He threw his energy into the Book of Mormon, reading it many times.  Years later, President Eyring testified:  “I [love to] go back to the Book of Mormon and drink deeply and often”  “[It] is the most powerful written testimony we have that Jesus is the Christ.”

                The fifth bit of counsel given by Elder Andersen is to “stand … in holy places, and be not moved” (Doctrine and Covenants 87:8; see also Doctrine and Covenants 45:32).  “The Lord has given you another way to stand firm, a spiritual gift more powerful than the whirlwinds of the adversary!  He said, `Stand … in holy places, and be not moved.’ …

                “Have you ever stood in the temple, dressed in white ….?  How did you feel?  There is a tangible feeling of holiness in the temple.  The peace of the Savior subdues the swirling whirlwinds of the world.
                “The way you feel in the temple is a pattern for how you want to feel in your life.”

                Our homes and meetinghouses should also be considered to be “holy places.”

                The last bit of counsel given by Elder Andersen is this beautiful statement:  “My brothers and sisters, how we love you, admire you, and pray for you.  Don’t let the whirlwinds drag you down.  These are your days – to stand strong as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

                “Build more firmly your foundation upon the rock of your Redeemer.
                “Treasure more completely His incomparable life and teachings.
                “Follow more diligently His example and His commandments.
                “Embrace more deeply His love, His mercy and grace, and the powerful gifts of His Atonement.”

                Elder Andersen concluded his remarks with this statement:  “As you do [stand strong as disciples of Christ], I promise you that you will see the whirlwinds for what they are – tests, temptations, distractions, or challenges to help you grow.  And as you live righteously year after year, I assure you that your experiences will confirm to you again and again that Jesus is the Christ.  The spiritual rock under your feel will be solid and secure.  You will rejoice that God has placed you here to be a part of the final preparations for Christ’s glorious return.
                “The Savior said, `I will not leave you comfortless:  I will come to you’ (John 14:18).  This is His promise to you.  I know this promise is real.  I know that He lives….”

                There are spiritual whirlwind swirling around each of us.  They can destroy us if we let them; however, if we follow the counsel given by an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can survive and even become stronger as we move toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  I know this is true because I have survived some powered spiritual whirlwinds and am stronger because of the experiences.

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