Monday, May 25, 2015

"Continually Holding Fast to the Rod of Iron"


Have you ever had moments where things are just hitting from every side?  
For me those moments cause me to deeply reflect on who I truly desire to be.
It is during these moments of reflection a devotional will speak to my heart and get me asking questions like "where does my heart truly lie?"

Before Brother Johnson spoke he had asked his wife to share some thoughts.  
Her thoughts were very profound and touched my soul deeply.  
She also offered counsel in which one could bring themselves closer to their Heavenly Father.

How blessed we are to have such inspirational teachers all around us.

As I listened to Brother Johnson speak about the three groups described in Lehi's vision, I found myself taking his counsel and trying to find the group that best described me. 

As you read his words may you also reflectively and truthfully find which group which best describes you. 
As for me, I have some work to do.  
"Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

May 11, 2015

 


Continually Holding Fast to the Rod of Iron

Daniel L. Johnson

First Quorum of the Seventy



 Elder Johnson


It is a real pleasure for me to be with you today in this devotional.  This university has always been special to me because my wife graduated from here when it was still Ricks College. 
 She was a math major and a member of the international folk dancers. 
 She continued her studies at BYU and continued with her dancing. 
 Then she married me, and I am not a dancer of any kind. 
But she has a very compassionate heart and has stayed with me anyway.   

Each one of us is the product of a wide variety of influences in our lives and I have had the blessing of having as my wife and eternal companion, a wonderful daughter of God who has been, without question, the greatest influence in my life.  She was born in Sugar City just four miles north of here. 

She has followed me from country to country throughout Latin America, has lived some 31 years of our 45 years together, far from her native country and family, and in countries that do not speak her native tongue.  During all of that, she raised six wonderful children and is now the grandmother of 24 grandchildren, the eldest of which is now serving a full-time mission.  She told me the other day that she has survived 18 international moves and moved into and out of something like 26 different homes.  It seems to me, President Gilbert, that there must be some kind of university degree that she has earned through all of that.

I once asked her this question, and I would counsel you to never ask your spouse a similar question:

“If you had known what you now know and having lived as we have lived, would you have said yes when I asked you to marry me?” 

I really expected and even anticipated a very quick and very enthusiastic, “yes, of course I would have”.  Instead, she waited far too long to answer…and I was rapidly thinking of how I could retract the question…but before I could, she replied:

“I would have thought about your proposal of marriage much longer before I responded…but…yes…I think that I would still have said yes.”

I earnestly pray and invite your prayers to the end that the Holy Ghost will be with us today as we discuss eternal principles than can, and should, change our lives.  I do not pretend to be the possessor and/or conveyor of great and hidden truths; rather I will be discussing some basic truths that you will have heard many times before.  But, the Holy Ghost knows each one of us and will teach us according to our individual needs.  Indeed, he is the real teacher.  But, we have to invite him to do so. 

That is why there are so many scriptural references that include, in one way or another, the invitation to “ask”, to “seek” and to “knock.”  To those who “ask,” the Lord promises that they will receive.  To those who “knock,” the door will be opened and to those who “seek,” they shall find.

You have been asked to read and ponder several scriptural references in preparation for this devotional.  I will not offend or embarrass you by asking if you did or did not.  I will simply state that those who did, will gain greater insights into those scriptures than those who did not.

You will recall from your readings of the Book of Mormon, that Lehi and his family awoke one morning and found a “round ball of curious workmanship and of fine brass” on the ground.  It had two spindles and “the one pointed the way whither they should go.”

You will further recall that it worked according to their faith and diligence.  If they were slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, then it ceased to work and they did not progress in their journey.

The Liahona also provided them a new writing which gave them understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.  These writings were changed, from time to time, according to their faith and diligence which were given to these writings.

Now, you will recall that they already had the Brass Plates which contained the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament.  Together with the writings on the Liahona, these were their scriptures and they were expected to study and give heed to them continually.  As they did so, they progressed in their journey and if they did not, they tarried in the wilderness and were afflicted with hunger and thirst.

The question that I would like you to consider is this, what was the Lord trying to teach them, and us, through the workings of the Liahona?

As you consider that question, I would remind you of the one and only purpose that the Lord has, and He has none other.  As He, Himself declared:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

To the end of bringing as many of His children home to Him as possible, He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to not only provide the way for our return, but also to be the example that we should follow.

Jesus asked this of his disciples:

Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? 

Then, He answered His own question by stating:

Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”

So, in response to the question that I asked, the Lord was teaching the family of Lehi, and us, that the primary purpose of the Liahona and the scriptures is to help us know, understand, and become as the Savior is.  Studying the scriptures continually helps us keep our eyes, our minds and our hearts focused on the Savior, and as we apply and live the teachings found in the scriptures, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we become candidates for eternal life.  He so declared:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Now, I would like to discuss with you a vision or dream given to a prophet of the Lord.  I refer to Lehi’s Dream that is usually entitled the “Tree of Life.”

This was a part of your study assignment for this devotional, so I will refer only to certain parts of what Lehi and Nephi saw and their interpretations of the same.

You will remember that there were four groups of people represented in the vision or dream.  The first three groups entered the path that led to the Tree of Life.  You will also remember that the gate to the path is baptism, as stated by Nephi:

For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water;…and then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life;” 

So, we are talking about members of the Church in these first three groups.  Let’s review each of them.  I will not take time to discuss the fourth group, as they are those that rejected the invitation to be baptized and entered the great and spacious building.  However, as we consider the other three groups, you might want to do your own internal evaluation to determine the group to which you currently belong, and ask yourself to which group you would prefer to belong.

Group 1:

And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.  And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.  And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.

Please note that there is no mention of the Rod of Iron in these verses.  From that, we can assume that these members of the Church did not grasp hold of the Rod of Iron.  Remember, the Rod of Iron represents the Word of God, or scriptures. 

Members of this group apparently did not read or study the scriptures, did not listen to general conference, read the Ensign or attend their Sunday meetings, all of which represent the Word of God, or the Rod of Iron. Consequently, they lost their way, wandered off and were lost.

Group 2:

And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.  And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed…and after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”

Please note that this group clung to the Rod of Iron.  They reached the Tree of Life and partook of its fruit.  Then they got distracted by the enticements of the world, became ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, stopped focusing on Him and focused instead on the attractions, temptations, and riches of the world.  They then fell into forbidden paths and were lost.

The key to understanding these verses is the phrase, “clinging to the Rod of Iron”.  Why were they lost if they were clinging to the Rod of Iron?  I would compare the word “clinging” to a “white knuckle” experience.  Many of you have had such experiences.  If any of you have been white water rafting, you will recall how you clung to the side of the raft.  You clung so hard that your knuckles turned white. Then, when you came to calm waters, what happened?  You let go!

That can be compared to a practice not uncommon in a university setting.  It is called “cramming” like just before mid-terms or finals.  Instead of focusing on your studies all semester long, you try to memorize in a few hours or days what you neglected to learn, through consistent study, in the weeks and months before.  In the gospel context, “scripture cramming” can occur when asked to prepare a talk for sacrament meeting, or when faced with a crisis in life such as a death in the family, a break-up of a relationship, or a new calling about which you know nothing.  So you cram.  You look up talks you seldom listened to or scriptures you were negligent in reading.  You seek the spiritual guidance and support from others because of your own spiritual weakness.  Then, when the immediate need or crisis is over, you let go! You put the scriptures back on the shelf where they were before, you regress to old habits of infrequent Church attendance, and you abandon daily scripture study and prayer, at least until the next crisis, or “white water” experience.  Or, in other words, you turn to the Savior for help only when a desperate need arises, instead of continually.

The members of this group were baptized, many were probably ordained to the priesthood, received temple ordinances, perhaps even served full-time missions and were married and sealed in the temple.  Then they let go!  They stopped reading their scriptures daily, or continually, and fell into forbidden paths and were lost.

This is much more common that you might think!  For example, how many of you know a returned missionary who is now less active? What a tragedy! Why does it happen?  For 18 or 24 months, the Lord teaches missionaries how to live the rest of their lives.  They learn to study the scriptures each day with their companion and they pray constantly.  Their focus is on the Lord continually.  Then they come home.  They get invited to dances and parties that end late at night (or early in the morning).  The next morning, they are tired and get up just in time for class or work.  What do they stop doing?  They first stop reading the scriptures, then they stop praying, they stop focusing on the Savior and then they lose the spirit and fall into forbidden paths and become lost.  They let go!

Thankfully, most do not and they remain faithful to what they learned on their missions.  Their lives are continually focused on the Savior through daily scripture study and prayer.  We are so grateful for them and for their faithfulness.  They are the future of the Church and the future parents of those who will carry the Church forward after you. 

Group 3:

…behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they 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…they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.”

Please note the phrase, “continually holding fast to the rod of iron.”  This group read the scriptures continually.  They kept their focus on the Savior continually.  Now, you may want to define the word “continually” differently, but I would suggest that it means just what it says.  I would suggest that it means every day of your life!  The scriptures are the most important thing that you can study.  It should take precedence over chemistry, physics, accounting, dance, music, sports, or any other secular study or activity.

I would suggest that you start your day, every day, with the scriptures.  I would suggest that prayer and studying the scriptures go hand in hand.  They are inseparable companions.  Constant prayer will lead you to the scriptures and continual scripture study will lead you to prayer.  Both of them keep you focused on the Savior and give you access to revelation and to that peace that can only come by “continually holding fast to the Rod of Iron. It will make you better students, it will lead you to the temple, it will make you want to keep the Sabbath Day holy, it will help you avoid and overcome the temptations of the adversary.  It will keep you focused on the Savior.

Now, I would draw your attention to the phrase, “they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.  I have asked many missionaries and young single adults what they think this phrase means.  The most common answer is that “they were probably exhausted from the journey”.  I don’t think that is it. 

The key to understanding this phrase is found in chapter 11 of First Nephi:

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.  And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.  And he said unto me: What desirest thou? And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof.

The angel responded by saying, “Look.” Then, Nephi saw in vision the Virgin Mary, whom the angel identified as the mother of the Son of God.  He then saw Mary bearing a child in her arms and the angel then asked Nephi:

Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

Then, in verse 24, we find the clincher:

And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.”

The Tree is clearly a representation of Jesus Christ.  It is interesting to note that those in Group 2 also arrived at the tree, but they did not fall down as did those in Group 3.  The obvious question is, why not?  How could they be in the very presence of the Son of God and not know it?  Is it really possible to be in His presence and not recognize Him?

You only have to read the New Testament to find your answer to that question.  He ministered for three years among the Jews, teaching and performing miracles, but few recognized Him for who He was.

The questions that each of us must ask ourselves are, “what can I do to ensure that I am firmly entrenched in Group 3, holding fast to the Rod of Iron, so that when I arrive at the Tree of Life, or in the presence of the Savior, I will recognize Him and fall down at His feet and worship him?  What can I do to keep my eyes, my mind and my heart focused on the Savior?  What can I do to become more like Him?

Again, the answer is found in the scriptures themselves:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."

On April 4, 1986, in connection with his first general conference as President of the Church, President Benson presided over a special meeting for priesthood leaders.  As he concluded his address to them, he made this plea:

“I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your callings. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and treasure them. Then prayerfully and in counsel with others, seek every way possible to encourage the members of the Church to follow your example. If you do so, you will find, as Alma did, that “the word [has] a great tendency to lead people to do that which [is] just—yea, it [has] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which [has] happened unto them.”


I add my own testimony to that of President Benson.  I know that if you will immerse yourselves in the scriptures each day of your life, you will not only not fall into any serious transgression, but more importantly, you will come to know the Savior.  You will be able to keep your eyes, your minds and your hearts focused on Him.  As you come to know Him and apply His teachings and follow His example, you will become like Him.  As you become like Him, you will be a candidate to live forever in His presence.

I testify that we are children of a loving Father in Heaven who desperately wants us to return to Him.  I testify that Jesus is the Christ and has provided the only way for us to return home, and that is through His atonement.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."


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