Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Blog for Your Sabbath: Warriors in the Saturday of Time

Hey, Latter-day Saint youth. Why you attended church on Sunday is the question I want you to think about. Was it of your own volition? More than likely you felt compelled by greater forces: parents, home teachers, ward leaders, all who insisted you be there, for your own good. You showed up, more or less, because your friends were there. For most years that’s what got me to church for nine o’ clock sacrament meetings, what hauled me out of bed for early morning seminaries, to endure laborious service projects and activities. My friends were there. Girls I liked were there. But to attend for the spiritual enlightenment? This wasn’t a main pursuit, although at times it turned out to be a fringe benefit, especially when a particular youth speaker might touch my heart and cause me to contemplate my future.

1974 Album Cover

You are the future of the church, a new generation full of youthful strength and vigor. But hey, that’s what the general authorities of my youth told me twenty-five years ago. Back in my youth there was a musical written by members of the church called Saturday’s Warrior. You may have heard of it. I saw a performance of it while serving my mission in 1986. When it was first performed back in the early 1970s it proved to be a very popular musical among Latter-day Saints. I’m not so much interested in discussing the ins and outs of the musical’s plot. I do want to explain the musical’s title.

The term Saturday’s Warrior is a reference to this particular time that we all now reside in, and its proximity to the second coming of The Savior. Today we exist in the Saturday of time--or more accurately Saturday Evening, prior to Christ’s second and final arrival. Some four thousand years have approximately transpired between Adam and Eve’s exiting the Garden of Eden to the Savior’s birth and some two thousand years have trudged on by since his crucifixion, during which the world slowly hauled itself out of the great apostasy of spiritual and intellectual darkness as a rebirth of art, philosophy and faith challenged the tyranny of the time. Ideals of democracy took shape too, culminating on this continent with the birth of the U.S. constitution, a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” as Lincoln eloquently put forth in his Gettysburg Address, a nation where upon the gospel was fully restored back onto the earth. This makes a grand total of six thousand years, or “six days”. The last day, or the final thousand years, is during Christ’s reign on earth. That’s a total of seven thousand years, each thousand “representing” one day of the week. (No, the earth wasn't created in six-thousand years. It's 4.5 billion years old. Moving on...)

The term Saturday’s Warrior refers to you, the youth. You are warriors in the Saturday of Time. I’m pondering this because Elder Jeffery R. Holland said something in the October 2011 Priesthood conference that made me think of this idea, of being warriors in what is an actual war against the evil in the world, battalions who will take as their weapons “every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” against an evil that is orchestrated by the very real personage we call the Adversary, or Lucifer in the pre-mortal existence. I’m pondering this because you who are reading me, are either interested in what I might have to say, or you are waiting for something better to come along.

I hope you are interested in what I have to say because I’m going to tell you things that will not only save your literal lives but possibly lead you back to where you once belonged. My motives don’t make me great. Greater men and women have spent years saying the very same things with far greater eloquence and with greater spirit than I ever could. And have you listened to them? There’s much that I want to say, and--like Elder Holland said--I’d like to get in your faces and perhaps singe your eyebrows with some of my conviction. Because...

Sometimes it’s like we’re in a disaster movie but I’m the one who knows that a comet is going to crashing down on your heads, or that aliens are coming to get us, or that a virus is spreading with deadly speed across the globe, and no one is really taking the threat seriously. As a high school English teacher I know this emotion first hand. I know that communicating effectively through reading, writing, speaking and other forms of communication are paramount to a person’s success, and that to disregard this injures one’s ability to appear smart and intelligent, which is what you need to do when looking for a job. I explain this to my students, but invariably most--while feigning interest--are content to not exert themselves too much. They throw what they can on paper just so long as they can pass the class. (Passing a class, in case you didn’t know, only requires a 60% average, or a D minus. How classy is that?)

No one it seems is willing to work hard, to lengthen their stride as Prophet Spencer W. Kimball once put it to us back in the day of my youth. I would love to blame contrivances like iPods and texting for the reason that many of you seem to disregard the messages of the general authorities and ward leaders, but even I like strapping on the earbuds and striding out to my dinosaur rock of Led Zeppelin or shooting texts or tweets to my many followers so I can't judge unrighteously. There are many reasons for the disinterest. The truth kids, when it is all said and done by your parents and leaders, like all kids, still have to figure things out on your own. And maybe you haven’t quite done that yet, or feel the urgency to do so.

Oh I know some of you certainly have testimonies. I hear some of them. Some are visible by your actions. Still, others of you are biding your time until you can graduate and leave home and descend into a life of ‘doing it my way’ not Mom and Dad’s, like my friend did. He went from high school graduate/eagle scout to putting gages in his ears, tattoos on his arms and splattering his vocabulary in F-bombs with very surprising speed. It was like he couldn’t wait to be free from the ‘shackles of the gospel’.

As a school teacher I have the usual gang of A students who totally get it or at least understand how important scholarships are in this economy. For the most part students are in no big hurry to take what I have to say seriously, and why should they when Mom and Dad are shouldering the weight of the world. When I ask students to write an essay that reflects their deep personal emotions, it is a commitment requiring them to literally use a part of their brain that has gone largely unused, unappreciated. When your church leaders admonish you to pray morning, noon and night to your Heavenly Father, your only experience at any sort of prayer may be the standard prayer over the dinner plate of pork chops, or at the beginning of Sunday school class. That prayer, the one you’ve shaped and formed by mimicking what you’ve heard from parents and leaders. The personal prayer to Heavenly Father, though, is demanding, challenging you to dig deep and--for lack of a better phrase--to feel the force flowing through you, or in this case, the spirit. Yes, I use a lot of Star Wars analogies when I teach. But Luke Skywalker can’t feel the Force unless he first believes in the Force, or is at least willing to contemplate its existence. You are not going to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost unless you are willing to contemplate his existence. Before inquiring for a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon’s divinity, Moroni counseled:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
To receive a testimony through the Holy Ghost you must be worthy and in the right frame of mind. Sincere. You must be prepared and you must be willing to do something with the knowledge Heavenly Father will bestow upon you. You can’t know if the Book of Mormon is divine scripture if you really don’t want to know, if you’re not willing to know who God is. So if you are going to church because you have to be, or you are there to just hang out, at least ponder the notion of a Heavenly Father and all that he has for you.

Does Heavenly Father exist? Is there a God? 

Luke growing impatient with weird little green man
You know what I’m going to tell you. Luke Skywalker knows what Yoda’s going to tell him. You see, Luke wants the ability of the Force right then and there. Luke knows he’s a big hero for blowing up the Death Star. He just doesn’t want to go through the hard work and discipline of training to earn the right to be a Jedi Knight. He wants to negotiate himself around all the required effort through petulant whining, the way many of my students do, thinking I’ll dial down their difficulty to appease their suffering.

Now, I will tell you. Yes, there is a God. I know this to be true. No doubt in my heart. How do I know this? Truth be told, I’ve always known. Since I was a very little kid, when I heard the concept I accepted it. (Snap of my fingers) Just like that. However, I have received continual conformation of this through pursuing experiences that further define who Heavenly Father is and his relationship to me. I have a testimony and it grows stronger through an application of discipline that comes through obeying the commandments and honoring my priesthood.

Most extraordinary in our relationship with God is that we are all literally his children. Who we are--here--is unseen. Our fully grown spirits are attached tenuously to this physical body that you teenagers are so worried about its appearance: acne, bad hair, creaky voice et al. In traditional Christianity, God made man and woman, but according to the information I've found on their side of the fence, there exists no know reason why God created us, or how he created us, only that he did because he love us. Ask the pastors and the fathers and the reverends; they will confirm this. My Catholic grandma, who first taught me about god and the bible and about the ancient prophets and Jesus, could not answer my question as to the WHY. “He just did” was the best she could muster. I googled what mainstream Christians believed was the reason for God creating the world and mankind and the only answer I found from dozens of reputable websites of major faiths, excluding, was “God created us, because he loved us.” Their basic answer.

But I’m thinking how can he love us unless he first knows us? He can’t love us if we don’t exist. Makes sense to me, anyway. Growing up outside the restored gospel it seemed as though God made us out of a whimsy, because he had the power he decided to create creatures that looked like him, us, like we're pets whom he calls his children. 

Most assuredly, God did know us before we were born because we were born in the spirit to him and our Heavenly Mother. Those angels, spoken of throughout the Holy Scriptures in the Bible, are us. We were there! The sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, all that we can physically see and touch and explore, are for us, a cosmic classroom of sorts, and the universe stands as a testament to Heavenly Father’s nature and proof of his existence. They are his work and his glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Us. Life on this planet is for our knowledge, the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years all serve as rungs on a ladder that guide us in the slow process of advancing ourselves towards our potential as sons and daughters of God, as his divine offspring.

Yes. We are literally his children. Yes. This process of choosing the right, of overtaking the natural man, is slow, oh so deliberately slow and frustrating. But the reward is more than worth the effort. And like Luke Skywalker and his desire to become a Jedi, as a youth in the church I tried letting my stepping on the straight and narrow path of the gospel through baptism be enough, in so far as effort was concerned. Back at April 2012 conference Elder Holland spoke about how the

"...lowlands of initial loyalty becomes deeply strenuous and very demanding at the summit of true discipleship... [that] the Church is not a fast-food outlet; we can’t always have it ‘our way.’ [But that] some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation can only come His way."
Luke may want to be Jedi, like I want to return to Heavenly Father, but Luke is impatient. He wants to cut corners. At times I've figured maybe we don’t need to go to church ALL the time. I've let it worm into my soul that maybe we can watch certain restricted movies and listen to certain kinds of denigrating music and indulge in certain kinds of unkind humor, and that it's okay if you put them in their proper context, good old fashioned rationalization, if you will, excuses to do whatever the heck I want to do because the General Authorities, ward leaders and my parents don’t get it, don’t understand what I’m going through. This was my thinking.

The Full Measure of Your Potential

To be a son or daughter of God, to inherit all that Heavenly Father has, one must be like God, behave like him, or in other words behave like the ONE who came down to blaze the trail back home to The Father: the very Savior himself, Jesus the Christ. True, one cannot never reach that total perfection in the flesh, but your actions should at least mirror your heart. To have that kind of heart, you must make prayer a daily ritual. As a kid the only prayers I made was when I was asked to bless the food or give some opening prayer for Sunday school class, or some such. But personal prayer? Just me talking to Heavenly Father when no one was watching? Didn’t happen.

Necessity is the mother of invention. This means that out of a need comes the creation or the motivation to fill a void. My mission was the necessity that first created my need for personal prayer. I was alone in a foreign land. Southern California in the mid '80s, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people desperately buying expensive homes, porsches, and shopping for toys through the Sharper Image catalogue, all the while proclaiming themselves born again Christians and instructing me that my church was evil and going to burn in hell. I had given up all my interests to do only one thing for two years: preach the gospel. The time for prayer had been years prior, but better late than never, as the saying goes. I got on my knees and I asked for that burning in my bosom that I might know that the church was true. No such burning in my bosom arrived. Not once. Turns out Heavenly Father doesn’t give answers when you already have the answer. I already knew the church was the true and restored church of Jesus Christ. I simply wanted the spiritual event. What I didn’t want to do was work for it.

On my mission I continued to pray privately. Turns out you need lots of prayer when you serve a mission. You want success. You want people to accept the gospel. But when you’re not in the habit of daily prayer, it comes in fits and starts until you make a regular go of it. At first you only do it to be in the habit. But real honest prayer comes when you’re in the spirit of true gratitude for your many blessings, as well as when you are in deep need of uplifting and help. Honest prayer takes exertion, it takes effort. Work.

Prayer is about building a relationship. It is communication that transcends known physics. (Yes. Aside from Star Wars, I also like to reference science and astronomy.) This communication entails a deep and abiding link to Heavenly Fathers’ messenger, the Holy Ghost. Sometimes, in the case of Joseph Smith, you get the entire Godhead dropping in on you. Unless you're President of the Quorum of the Twelve , this will not happen to you. Still, you can receive confirmation of your desire to talk to Heavenly Father through the Holy Ghost. You need to pray often with great intent. You must have the desire to know and willingness to do something with the received revelation. The testimonies of others alone will not sustain you, not without your own personal desire to seek out the influence of the Holy Ghost through devout prayer. This requires discipline, in order to be a disciple, and this is where it gets to be a sticky-wicket. 

When I speak of discipline I speak of self-control. You have to pay attention to the voice of the Holy Ghost as it attempts to reach out to you. To pull this off, you may need to change your life. Frankly, changing your life may not be a venture you are willing to embark upon. To change your life may necessitate a disassociation from friends, music, movies, brands of fashion, video games, and other interest that you hold so dear. How terrifying to contemplate such a disassociation in your lives. You might as well walk the surface of some alien world and choke down its noxious atmosphere for all the comfort a one-eighty turn in your life might bring. I know this emotion. Giving up favorite music that distracts the spirit, favorite movies that induce impure thoughts and desires, favorite people and associations that drag us away from the comfort of the Holy Ghost, all of that sounds...uncomfortable.
"No thanks. Word of Wisdom thing."

You see, if Luke wants to be a true Jedi he must be disciplined and follow the council of his leaders. He must be patient. He must clear his mind of contention and fear. He must meditate and pay attention to the will of the force that surrounds him and every living thing. What of you? If you want to be sons and daughter of God instead of children of men.

Do we know you know what that means? Sons and daughters of God? Do we really, really comprehend the depth of that statement? To be sons and daughters of God means to be heirs to what the father has. To inherit. To assume what he has and is. I don’t know if you still quite understand that, or if you do, if you even believe it. It may seem too fantastical, if there’s such a word. At this age you might be more apt to believe that your music is your bread and butter, and that your friends and the fashion are the blood coursing through your veins. But I tell you--and pray that the holy ghost confirms this--that you need to realize that your full potential as a sentient carbon-based lifeform is on a scale unparalleled in the universe. (I warned you about the science...) In other words, as human beings you have a literal heritage as direct descendants of supreme beings who are gods. If you doubt this, look around at the other lifeforms that exist on this planet. What other creatures form governments, constitutions, compose elaborate forms of music and literature and have the scientific prowess of putting men on the moon and to the deepest part of the oceans? We are wholly unique above all others. None can compare to the magnitude of what we do.

Their spiritual muscles are more impressive

Developing an Actual Relationship with God

If you want to be sons and daughter of God instead of children of men, you can’t develop a relationship with our Heavenly Father without prayer, without listening to his council, much the way a father or mother gives council to his or her child. It is the relationship of the child to the parent that makes all the difference in the development of that child. This is why the General Authorities--prophets, apostles and others--continually preach Family. But even in this desire, we mere mortals can fail miserably at this. Your schools are filled to over-following with classmates who come from homes wracked with divorce, alcoholism and drug abuse, the big three of many. Your classmates are in rebellion against their teachers because their parents have lost control in the home or the parents have simply thrown down the reins because they themselves are too bothered by their own personal problems to focus on their kids. How many essays over the past fifteen years have I read by freshman girls who tell stories of their eighth grade adventures of hopping into the cars of high school boys at night to go driving around town. “And your parents just let you?” I ask in shock. They shrug. “Yeah. My mom let me.” Mom let me. Where’s dad? I wonder.

Am I describing friends of yours? Have I described you in similar predicaments? Perhaps your parents have let you down with behavior that is devastating the sanctity of your home, like an F-5 tornado leaves behind a wind-scorched neighborhood of debris and sorrow. Is it any wonder then that we have at least one parent we can count on? The Savior himself, Jesus Christ, who took upon himself our guilt, our pains and our frustrations, miseries and woes, asks us not to pray to him directly but to pray to The Father. Always to The Father the Savior points us. Through Christ--his teachings on earth, those revealed to the prophets, the covenants of baptism and the sacrament he has established--we can get to know our Heavenly Father and step on the path back home.

If you have parents who uphold their covenants by inviting prayer in the home, gathering you and your siblings for scripture study, and drag you kicking and screaming to Church, I want you to drop to your knees and thank Heavenly Father for such a blessing. Then I want you to go find your parents, give them a hug and say thank you for making me do all of this stuff even though I complain and whine. You may find such routines a bother but someday as an adult, you will--and I promise you this--look back on those times as wonderful memories. You will long for them. When that realization strikes, you had best then incorporate those practices in your own home as an adult so your own children will have righteous memories like you did.

If you do not have these things, if what I speak of is absent in your home, develop rapidly a desire for them. Be the example. Do things to invite the spirit into your home. Show your parents love. Hug them. Do nice things for them, like the chores you’re supposed to do. Ask for prayer over the evening meals. Invite your family to read from the scriptures.

Yes. Read the scriptures. I know you have always heard that. Read-the-scriptures. “Is it not enough I have to pray now,” you complain, “now you want me to read scriptures that are hard to understand?” No one is saying jump right in and read the Old Testament. Today, with the church website, you can have access to supplemental materials that can help you understand passages and historical events occurring at the time. Start with the Book of Mormon or with the Doctrine & Covenants, or read the Gospels. In fact, just read the Gospels over and over. Forget the other half of the New Testament for now. Just dive into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Keep it simple. One chapter at a time. If you have your scriptures nearby, you can turn to Matthew chapter 14. In verse 13 the Savior learns that John the Baptist has been murdered by King Herod. It’s a simple verse:

“When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.”

I’m going to show you HOW to read this. There are two parts to this verse. Focus on the first line. Christ learns of John’s death and leaves for a desert place apart. Focus on ‘desert place apart’. Apart...apart from what? Why is he leaving to be in a desert place apart from others? To answer this, ask: "Who was John the Baptist to Christ?" They were first cousins, which means they grew up together, perhaps like brothers. When Christ learns of his cousin’s death, he goes away to naturally mourn. The Savior is very sad and needs time to pray and reflect.

It’s very easy to glide over that line and have it mean nothing. Unless you have that prior knowledge about Christ and John the Baptist, you won’t make the connection. To have the prior knowledge requires deep scripture study, a study that needs to take place regularly over the rest of your life. It means paying attention in Sunday School, seminary, and later at Institute. It means scripture study with your families. This requires discipline. To grasp the spiritual confirmation of the scriptures’ validity, you must be listening and paying attention to the spirit. You must have a desire for these elements in your lives to get to know Heavenly Father, to behave as he would have you behave, to give you strength, to endure sadness and depression, to ward off fear.

In closing I leave you with the comforting words of Elder Uchtdorf who said:

"Learn to love your Heavenly Father and become His disciple in word and in deed... The most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love. God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season. He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him."

1 comment:

  1. 'Necessity is the mother of invention. This means that out of a need comes the creation or the motivation to fill a void. My mission was the necessity that first created my need for personal prayer'

    These words, among others, sank into my consciousness... thank you for sharing this Robert... it was a preach I'd love the way you teach... cheers!