Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Power of our Sacred Hymns:

All Creatures of Our God and King

The beloved hymn, All Creatures of our God and King was adapted by a poem written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1225. Understanding the man and story that inspired the text can help add depth and power to the song as we sing it.

Francis of Assisi had a privileged childhood and a was a rebellious young adult. But when God came to him in a dream and told him he was in the wrong, Francis forsook everything and turned his life over to God.

In his quest to find God, Francis was visiting a church when he heard Christ speak to him saying, “Francis, repair my church.”

Francis thought he was speaking of the church he was praying in, so he used his father’s supplies to help restore the building. When his father found out, he saw it as theft and brought Francis before the Bishop, demanding he pay the money back.

Francis did, but at that meeting, stripped himself of the clothes his father had given him and denounced his inheritance.

Wearing nothing but second-hand rags, Francis walked into the cold woods alone and –singing. Later, when robbers attacked him, took his clothes and beat him, he climbed out of the hole they left him in and continued on his way, singing.

Francis devoted his life to God and spent his days living among the poor and homeless. He found joy in serving others and considered all people his brothers and sisters. It was his belief that all God’s creations were his brothers and sisters, including Brother Wind, Sister Water, Sister Moon and Brother Fire.

He loved the animals and the elements and he was known to speak to them as he walked among them. According to stories, they obeyed him because they loved him too.

One story says that hundreds of birds stood still as Francis taught them to be thankful to God for their beautiful clothing, for their freedom, and for God’s loving care. It was said that the birds stood still until Francis said they could leave, and then happily flew away.

Another story of Francis is about a carnivorous wolf who was eating townspeople. The town wanted to kill the wolf, but before they could, Francis stepped in and spoke to the wolf, and persuaded him to never kill again. The wolf then became a beloved pet to the people, who made sure that he never went hungry.

Another story, and the most compelling, came near the end of his life when poverty and homelessness was causing illness. The pope ordered an operation for Francis’ eyes when he started to lose his sight.
This required his face to be cauterized with a scalding hot iron. Francis spoke to his “Brother Fire” and made a request of him, “Brother Fire, the Most High has made you strong and beautiful and useful. Be courteous to me now in this hour, for I have always loved you, and temper your heat so that I can endure it.” After his surgery, Francis said that his Brother Fire had been kind to him and that he felt nothing at all throughout the procedure.

Sr. Francis Assisi was a man like few others. 

Here is what we can learn from his life and his song.

1. We have dominion over all things. Adam was given dominion over all things in the Garden of Eden. We are Adam’s direct descendents, and heirs to all his blessings. We need to believe that we can command the elements and they will obey us. The Savior Himself told us we had this power. The elements obeyed the Savior, elements both on land and the sea, both within the body, and without. To His disciples Christ said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works which I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go now unto my Father.” (–John 14:12) Not only do we have the ability to walk on water and raise the dead, but the Lord said we would do greater things than were witnessed of Him because He had to descend to heaven.

2. All God’s creations have intelligence, and they obey his voice. In Doctrine and Covenants 93:36, we are told, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” According to lds.org regarding the Light of Christ it states, “The light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives light to all things.” Doctrine and Covenants 88:13 says, Christ is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed.” This means that the light of Christ is truly in all things and that it gives light to all things. If we are true children of light, then we will embrace all intelligence that God has placed on this Earth, “For intelligence cleaveth to intelligence.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:40). Francis recognized the intelligence in all God’s creations and they obeyed him.

3. Love is how we make things happen. Francis loved “Brother Fire” and he told him so. He did not command the fire to temper its heat, he simply asked and expressed his love, and according to the stories, “Brother Fire” did what Francis asked because his love was returned. The Light of Christ is the law by which all things are governed and love is the fulfillment of that law. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) Francis understood that his neighbor included all those living things around him and, as he told “Brother Fire”, he always loved them. If we desire to command the elements, we must first learn to love them.

4. All God’s creations know how to sing praises to their creator. Francis knew God’s creations intimately. He spoke to them and they listened. His song is a call to all of God’s creations to sing together in one glorious song of praise. Doctrine and Covenants 128:23 says, “Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” We are all commanded to sing praises together.

5. Singing praises together will unite us and eventually help to bring about our exaltation. Psalms 148 is very similar to the above verse in the Doctrine and Covenants. The chapter heading states, “Let all things praise the Lord: men and angels, the heavenly bodies, the elements and the earth, and all things thereon.” This chapter, however, adds why we should all sing together. Verse 14 says, “He exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints”. As we sing these praises, we are being exalted by the Lord. Sacred music is light and as we sing together, we are flowing light into the world. The more voices who join the song, the greater the amount of light in the world. The greater the light, the less the influence of darkness. Through singing, we lift ourselves to a spiritual plain where darkness cannot abide.

6. Music gives us the power to overcome hard things. Francis was able to endure both ridicule and torture through singing praises to God. It was even said that this song of praise was sung while he was on his death bed. In the original poem, Francis even spoke of “Sister Death” and wrote the lines about her just hours before he passed away. Music was comforting to him and he sang as he walked. In the First Presidency Preface to the Hymns, it states, “Hymns can help us withstand the temptations of the adversary.” It was Francis’ singing that allowed him to overcome all that was given him.

All Creatures of our God and King is a beautiful tribute from Francis Assisi to the God he loved. It wonderfully expresses the joy that flows from all intelligences as we join together in song. It comes as the result of a lifetime of love and service to God and His creations. Francis spent his life singing praises to the Lord, and as we sing this sacred hymn, it is an invitation for all God’s creations to join him.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Messages From Heaven

I have always loved the ocean and everything that comes with it. 

From the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, to the lighthouses setting atop the shore. The ocean, to me, is a place of peace.

As a child, one of the unique things that I loved about the ocean is the idea of messages in a bottle. I dreamed that one day, I would visit the beach and find my very own message in a bottle. But finding a message in a bottle is about as common as being stranded on a desert island and sending one. I expect that in my lifetime, neither one of those things is actually going to happen.

I think that sometimes in our lives, we think that messages from heaven are like these messages in a bottle; few and far between, and never really meant for us. 

I would like to persuade my readers differently. Because although I have never found a message in a bottle, my life has been filled with messages from heaven.

As a kid, I talked to God often. Although it probably looked to others as if I was talking to myself, I knew  God was listening. God knew I was talking to Him, so it didn't really matter what other people thought and if they asked me, I would tell them, "I'm just talking to Heavenly Father." Most people would look at me funny and move on, but sometimes, I would get this question, "Well, is God talking to you?"

My answer as a child was always no, but I still knew God was listening. It wasn't until I became an adult that I realized God absolutely is talking to me. He is leading me and giving me direction every minute of every day. The question should not be, "Is God talking to you," but, "Are you listening to what God is trying to say?"

If we take the time to be still and listen, we can hear and feel that gentle voice of our Father in Heaven giving us the comfort and direction we need. 

So many times, we fail to recognize that voice because it comes more as a feeling or a thought, rather than the voice of our Father. Often, it's in our own voice and we disregard it, believing it was not a message from heaven, but rather something created by our own mind.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband said, "My experience has been that the Spirit most often communicates as a feeling. You feel it in words that are familiar to you, that make sense to you, that prompt you... Sometimes we rationalize: we wonder if we are feeling a spiritual impression or if it is just our own thoughts. When we begin to second-guess, even third-guess, our feelings -and we all have- we are dismissing the Spirit: we are questioning divine counsel. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that if you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten."

If we truly understood how messages from heaven distilled upon us, we would realize that anything that provides goodness to our life, or the life of another, is a message from heaven. 

These messages are given directly to you and I to help us share God's light with the world. Every thought, every action, every idea that leads you to do good was given to you from God to bless your life and the lives of His children.

We must be confident in those thoughts we receive that lead us to do good, for they truly are messages from heaven. They come to us as often as we are willing to listen and act on them.

Next time you have an impression to do something good, do it, and consider it a message from Heaven.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The War in Heaven and How we Fight it on Earth

Before we came to earth, we fought a war in heaven between good and evil and it still rages on today.

If you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) then this may sound unfamiliar to you, so let me explain.

We believe that we all lived in Heaven before we were born with our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. God wanted us to learn and grow, so He created a plan that would allow us to come to Earth, gain a body, and learn from experience. Agency was a vital part of God's plan for His children. Satan opposed God's plan of agency. Instead, he wanted to compel all men to do what was right so that they would all return home after their mortal probation. He promised that not one soul would be lost and desired that all the glory of this plan should go to him.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, understood the importance of agency. He knew that if people were compelled to do what's right, their heart would never truly be in it. He told Father that He would help to fulfill God's plan by becoming a Savior for God's children. He vowed that He would take upon Him the sins and sorrows of the world, so that man could repent of their poor choices, become cleansed through the atonement, and thereby be allowed to once again enter into God's presence. This way, all God's children who wanted to return home, had a way prepared for them to do so. Repentance is the key and Christ's atonement is the way.

Satan became angry that his plan was not accepted and led a third of the hosts of heaven in a battle against those who followed Father. Satan lost the war in heaven and was cast down to the earth where he has been allowed to tempt man ever since.

The war in heaven continues today. Satan knows he cannot win, so his tactic is to try to lead away as many of God's children that will follow him before Christ comes again and Satan is bound for a thousand years during the Millenium.

It is important we understand this, so that we can know exactly how to fight the Devil. 

Before any war is won, we first must know our enemy.

Satan has been around for thousands of years, and he knows that we are nearing the time when he will be bound, so he has called an all out war on God's children. As God's children, we must learn how to fight our enemy.

One of the greatest maneuvers we can do is begin each day by sending the Devil away. This is exactly what Jesus did when Satan came tempting Him. 

If we don't send Satan away, he hangs out with us throughout the day, filling our minds with negative, unclean, and unkind thoughts about ourselves or those we are supposed to love. He causes us to have harsh judgements on strangers or lash out on social media. He whispers to us doubts and fears. He does all he can to steer us away from God's light and plunge us into the darkness.

When I explain this to my children, I use the illustration of shoulder angels and shoulder devils. It is true that Satan stays with us until we tell him to leave. His plan was and still is a plan of force. and he will stay as long as we let him. His greatest strength is his anonymity. If we pretend he isn't there, he can truly hangout and create havoc in our lives. 

Before I learned this concept, I thought I was doing great. I read my scriptures regularly, went to church every week, had daily family and personal prayer, paid tithing and served faithfully in my calling. Yet, I still struggled with negative thoughts, with depression, with the the belief that I was not doing enough, that I was not good enough, and that there was no way I would make it to heaven despite everything I was doing.

When I realized where these thoughts were coming from, and that they were not my thoughts, but the thoughts of a cunning devil striving mercilessly to bring me down, I told Satan to leave. In the name of Jesus Christ, I commanded him to depart, and it has made all the difference. I now ask daily in my morning and evening prayers for God to send angels to escort Satan out of my home and for God's angels to surround us throughout the day in order to live in a place of light. It is amazing how much easier it is to listen to my shoulder angel when the devil is no longer allowed a place. 

But just telling the devil to leave isn't enough to win the war. We must increase our light so that he is uncomfortable staying with us, and eventually, can never come back. For light truly does dispel darkness. Again, we can learn how to do this by following the Savior's example.

Not only did Christ command Satan to leave, but He then quoted scripture afterwards, thereby raising His level of light and increasing His power to resist temptation.

To quote an LDS primary song, "Scripture power, keeps me safe from sin. Scripture power is the power to win."

Even Jesus knew that scripture power is the power to win, and He used it to strengthen His ability to overcome. Scriptures are filled with God's light and the more we memorize and apply them to our lives, the more weapons we have in our arsenal to fight Satan and win. For the war is not won with guns and swords, but with words and ideas, just as it was won in heaven.

Just as scriptures are a source of light, so is the power of prayer. 

Through prayer, we can ask God for divine help to assist us. For we are surrounded by concourses of angels, as far as our eyes can see who are waiting for us to ask for their assistance. These angels of light add their power and light to our own and help us to stand in holy places. Just as angels came to assist the Savior, they too can be sent to assist us when we ask for them in faith. They will come to fight the battle for us and guard us with great care.

Hymns also bring light to where you stand and give you power to fight Satan. 

We learn in the Bible Dictionary that David's Psalms are the highest form of prayer. A song of the righteous is a prayer to Father and will be answered with a blessing on our head. Those blessings are many, including a greater increase in light, divine protection, comfort, and inspiration. As we sing hymns of praise, we will fight the darkness with powerful light.

The war in heaven continues to rage here on earth. Once we begin to understand that the war is raging, we can fight on a higher battle ground. We can send Satan away and increase the light where we stand. "For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light," -Boyd K. Packer

I encourage all who read this to start now and send Satan away today. Don't just send him away, but stop listening to him when he comes. Fill your life with light, love and goodness. Live in the light and every day will be filled with sunshine, regardless of the weather around you.

It is when we stop listening to the devil, and no longer allow him a place on our shoulder, that we have finally won the war.