Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole

Several weeks ago, in Sacrament Meeting, a man spoke about how special the Sacrament is. He had suddenly developed some problem with his ear. I can't remember now whether it was pain or hearing loss or both. But acting on either an impulse or inspiration, he put a little bit of Sacramental water in his ear, and shortly thereafter, his ear was healed. Something I wanted to say, and wish someone had said, was that it wasn't the Sacrament that healed him. The healing could have been natural, but personally, I think he was healed because of his faith.

There is at least one other person who, through their interaction with an ordinary object, received an extraordinary healing blessing. The New Testament tells of a woman who had an issue of blood, who touched the hem of Jesus' robe and was healed. I am certain that it wasn't Jesus' magic healing robe that cured her. I'm sure that His clothes had nothing special about them at all. In fact, just after the healing took place, Jesus identified the power behind the healing when He told the healed woman "Thy faith hath made thee whole."

The Sacrament doesn't have any magical healing powers. There is nothing special about that bread and water except symbolism. The bread and water itself remains regular bread and water. The special power behind the man's healing wasn't the blessed Sacramental water, but his faith. Just as with the woman with the issue of blood, he had the faith that he would be healed, and he was healed.

When Moses created the brazen serpent that healed at least some of the children of Israel from their snake bites, it wasn't that he had created a magical anti-venom staff. It was that those who were healed had had at least enough faith to look. I might even go so far as to say that even consecrated oil doesn't any inherently magical healing qualities. When people are healed by Priesthood Blessings, I don't think it's the oil that's doing the healing, but their faith.

My opinion is that the oil, the water, the robe, and the brazen serpent are and were similar to placebos. The healings happened because those that were healed believed they would happen, not because of the objects or substances themselves. Faith is powerful, especially when it is strong enough to persuade someone to act, even if the action is as simple as touching some cloth or putting some water in your ear. It is a test of faith, to see if a person's faith is strong enough to follow their prompting, even if they suspect that the action itself won't heal them. If their faith is strong enough to convince them to perform the action, then the action itself won't have to heal them; their faith will. In the case of every healing I know of, it wasn't the special objects or substances that healed them. It was their faith, and their acting on their faith, that made them whole.

True Conviction

I've been thinking a lot about faith lately, thinking about how the shield of faith wards against temptations and deception, about how faith can bring blessings, including the blessing of forgiveness, and how faith requires more than just belief; it requires conviction.

In Bonnie L. Oscrason's talk, Do I Believe?, she shares the story of a mother whose two-year-old son had a nearly fatal case of pneumonia. While the child's life still hung in the balance, the mother thought of the temple and of the promise that families can be together forever, even if they are temporarily separated by death. She had grown up knowing and teaching that truth all her life, but at this moment, she discovered that she didn't just know it; she also believed it. With true faith, she thanked God for the knowledge that she could be with her son for eternity, and she put her present fears and pain to rest, knowing that her son's life was in good hands and that, even if he died, they would be together again.

I need faith like that. I want faith that goes beyond mere knowledge or belief to actually influence my attitude and behavior. I want to believe in the reality of God and heaven and hell to such an extent that I act as though every choice I make affects my eternal destiny. I want to constantly remember the truths I've been taught and have my conviction of those truths to be one of my defining characteristics. I don't want to just believe that these things are true. I want to have enough faith to act on those beliefs.

Faith is not meant to be a passive belief, but an active force that shapes the decisions we choose to make. If we act in faith, we will make choices that won't make sense to the secular world, but that will show God that we truly believe and trust Him. Our faith can even affect our attitudes and emotions, even about the death of a loved one, if it is strong enough. I want my faith to be that strong. I want my faith to be strong enough for me to know that I can be with my family forever and for me to have enough conviction to make the decisions I'll have to make to qualify to live with them forever. For our faith to be strong enough to carry us through the tests and trials of life, we have to have more than just a passive belief. We need to have a true conviction of the truths that we've been taught.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blessings for Everyone

Today, I have been involved in more Priesthood blessings than I have on any other day in my life. This morning, I stood in a circle of Priesthood holders as we gave a blessing to my youngest nephew, and this evening, I corrected my mistake of not getting a blessing at the start of the school year. My brothers gave me a blessing, my brothers and I gave our mom a blessing, and one of my brothers and I gave a blessing to another of my brothers. It was a day filled with blessings.

I am grateful for the Priesthood in my life. I'm grateful that my family members are always there for me and that I can be there for them. It is such a blessing to have family members who are willing and able to give me Priesthood blessings when I need them, and it's a privilege to be able to offer Priesthood blessings to them.

I know that not all people can give Priesthood blessings, and that is unfortunate, but I find it comforting that anyone can get a Priesthood blessing if they want one. Those who don't have family members who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood can turn to their home teachers or to their Bishop for a blessing. Those who aren't yet members of this church can turn to their local missionaries if they want a blessing. There are fortunately few people who are beyond the physical reach of Priesthood blessings. And for those few, I'm sure that God is willing to grant them equivalent blessings, if they are faithful.

I'm grateful for God's willingness to bless us and for the opportunity we have as Priesthood holders to have a hand in blessing others. Through the Priesthood, everyone on earth can and will receive great blessings. I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of that.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Don't Hide the Footnotes

The other day, my institute teacher asked the class to count the 'F's in 1 Nephi 1:1. It was a trick question, and it was especially tricky for us. There are many 'F's in that verse, but there may or may not be one more 'F' in it, depending on whether or not you count the small, italicised 'F' that marks the 6th footnote in the verse. Most of the class, including myself, looked up the verse in our smartphones, where it's possible, for convenience’s sake, to hide the footnotes. Doing so will remove the many links that you might accidentally tap as you scroll down the page, which would take you away from the verse you were reading and offer you other verses on similar topics. Leaving the footnotes in can lead to frustrating moments when you accidentally touch the wrong part of the screen the wrong way, but hiding them can be much worse in a very different way.

Yes, the linked footnotes can be annoying, but they can also be very helpful. If a particular verse of scripture stands out to you, you can use the footnotes to quickly and easily find other verses that shed more light on the same subject. The footnotes can help you study the scriptures topic-by-topic and uncover insights you might have otherwise have overlooked, but only if you can see them. Because these links can be tapped by accident, some people choose to hide the footnotes. For the sake of convenience, they restrict themselves from the opportunity of even knowing that those footnotes are there. Those people are missing out.

Hiding the footnotes in the Gospel Library app can make it easier to scroll through the chapter of scripture you're reading, but scrolling through it might be the only thing you do. Keeping the footnotes in gives you a way to explore the scriptures in a way that people never could before. With easy-to-follow links built into almost every verse, cross-referencing scriptures has never been easier. In fact, linking from one scripture to another is so easy now that it's possible to do it by accident, but I think that the accidental tapping of links is a small price to pay for the ability those links give us to study the scriptures more thoroughly more quickly. I've made sure that these helpful footnotes aren't hidden from me as I study the scriptures. I hope you do the same.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Losing my Sunglasses Was a Win

A few weeks ago, I lost a pair of sunglasses at a church building I rarely visit. I don't expect to ever get those sunglasses back, but that's not a huge loss. In fact, as I told a friend earlier today, that was actually a win.

You see, I know that somebody, someday, is going to find my sunglasses. When they do, either they'll keep the sunglasses, and thus get a free pair of sunglasses, which I count as a win, or they'll put the sunglasses into the lost and found. No one will claim the sunglasses from the lost and found, because they all know that they're not the ones that lost it. Thus, a little part of me will be a part of that church building for a very long time, which I also count as a win. So, really, losing my sunglasses at that church building was a win for me, no matter what happens to the glasses. Plus, the sunglasses proved to be cheap to replace, so, again, it wasn't a huge loss anyway.

My friend said something about this scenario only being a "win" for me because I had a winning attitude, but I'll accept that as a win as well. Having a good attitude and being able to see the bright side of things has helped me to get through some rough times. Notably, once when I found an instructor (understandably) somewhat difficult to work with, I remarked to myself that, if this instructor had been one of the other instructors I had learned from in past semesters, they might have been more willing to work with me. This meant that I knew kind people who knew me to be a good person, which is definitely a win. So, even though things weren't going well for me with this particular person, I was comforted in knowing that there were many other instructors at that campus that I could consider friends.

When bad things happen, it can be hard to look for the good in it. Of course, there are much greater tragedies in the world than losing sunglasses and knowing people who are (with good reason) inflexible. With the greater tragedies of life, it can be harder to see the silver lining, but I believe that there always is one. There is some good in everything, we just have to look for it. And if we can find the good in the bad things that happen, if we have that winning attitude, we can turn any loss into a win.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Great Faith is an Effective Defense

The next talk, the opening talk of the Sunday Morning Session of the April 2016 General Conference, was also given by President Thomas S. Monson. In that talk, he encouraged us to develop strong faith to help us make good choices:
May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right.
 The thought of faith being a defense reminds me of the Shield of Faith in the Armor of God. However, even perfect faith won't protect us from everything. There have been countless people in the scriptures and in modern Mormon history who had great faith, but also great trials. Our faith will not defend us from afflictions. But, then, what will faith defend us against?

President Monson said that "powerful faith . . . will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary." Then, what are "the designs of the adversary"? What Satan wants most of all is for us to be miserable and to foil our Heavenly Father's plan. To that end, he wants to keep us out of heaven at all costs.

However, the choice of whether or not we end up in the Celestial Kingdom lies entirely with us. We can choose to keep the commandments and qualify for the Celestial Kingdom, no matter what Satan does to try to stop us. So if he wants to prevent us from achieving exaltation, his only hope is to convince us to choose not to.

One of the tools Satan uses to try to convince us not to choose exaltation is to present us with other choices. We could choose the right, but Satan tries to make it seem easier and more desirable not to. We could maintain high standards, or we could be accepted and popular and have fun. Satan uses deception to try to trick us into giving up Eternal Life.

Strong faith defends us from Satan's tactics by reminding us of the truth. We have faith in the promptings of the Holy Spirit, which warn us of deception and encourage us to choose the right. We have faith that the rewards of eternity are worth making painful, temporal sacrifices. Our faith in the truths of the gospel and in the guidance of the Spirit can help defend us from the temptations of the devil. We may still feel the temptations, but they won't be as strong. Like fiery darts hitting a shield, the devil's temptations may still have an impact that we may be perceptive enough to feel, but they won't be able to pierce us, and they won't burn us either.

Having faith in the Savior, in the Holy Ghost, and in our Heavenly Father's plan won't make our lives painless or easy. We will still have plenty of trials and afflictions, and the choices we'll have to make will still be difficult, but a strong faith can help us by taking the edge off of Satan's temptations and by bolstering our desire to choose the right. Faith won't shield us from afflictions or tough decisions, but great faith is an effective defense against the temptations of the devil.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can the Priesthood Do That?

In the concluding talk of the Priesthood Session of last General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson shared a story of a friend of his who was serving in the South Pacific during World War II. The man's plane was shot down, but he and a few others managed to parachute safely down to the ocean, inflate their life rafts, and survive. Several days passed. Finally, the survivors spotted a rescue vessel in the area, but it seemed not to notice them. As it sailed away, President Monson's friend felt impressed to use his  Priesthood authority to command the rescue vessel to return and pick them up. He did, and it did, and I wonder, can the Priesthood really do that?

Most of what members of the church do with the Priesthood falls into the realm of spiritual things. We give blessings of comfort and counsel. We perform sacred ordinances. We ordain people to Priesthood offices and set people apart for church callings. Very rarely does a Priesthood holder use their Priesthood to do anything physical.

But they can.

The Priesthood is the power and authority to act in God's name. It is the power by which God created the universe. When God gathered the waters together and divided the light from the darkness, He did so with the Priesthood. And God is not the only one who performed physical miracles with the Priesthood. Arguably, all of the miracle Jesus performed were wrought by the power of the Priesthood, including the turning of water into wine, the multiplication of bread and fish, and the countless healings. And on the subject of healings, modern Priesthood holders also perform miraculous healings through the power of the Priesthood. In some cases, the Priesthood physically removes tumors or disease. Much of the work done by mortal Priesthood holders is spiritual, but the Priesthood has power in the physical world as well.

In fact, the Priesthood has all power. The Priesthood is God's power, and God is omnipotent. There is nothing that God, through the Priesthood, cannot do. So, perhaps I shouldn't be terribly surprised to hear that someone once used the Priesthood to turn a boat around. It's not a typical use of the Priesthood, but it's certainly within the realm of God's capabilities, which means that it's a power that God has and can grant to others. If God can do it, then the Priesthood could do it, so if the question is "Can the Priesthood do that?", the answer will almost certainly be "Yes."