May 20, 2007
A great talk I read in the Ensign magazine. I added some thoughts of my own sprinkled throughout.
Alma 39:44, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it.”
There is a consistency in what the Lord says and what He does, that is evident in all creation. Nature can teach valuable lessons about spiritual and doctrinal matters. The Lord drew lessons from flowers and foxes, from seeds and salt, and sparrows and sunsets. I love this time of year. One of my absolute joys is walking. I love nature. I love everything coming back to life. Nature is everywhere and has much to teach us. I love observing nature around me.
Most of you are aware I recently planted a garden out back. Plants are growing and I am amazed to see plants coming out of the ground, that were just seeds a couple of weeks ago!
I have asked questions from my friends and relatives who have successfully grown vegetable and flower gardens. I asked what exactly they did to coax magnificent flowers to bloom or vegetable to grow. What was their gardening secret? Their answers were profoundly simple. They all said: “I stay close to the garden. I go into my garden every day, even when it isn’t convenient. And while I’m out here, I look for little signs of possible problems, things like weeds and insects and soil conditions that are simple to correct if caught in time but that can become overwhelming if left unchecked.”
We could liken their love for their garden to the care we should give our families. If we want our relationships with family members to flourish and bloom, we need to “stay close to the garden”—to spend time with family members every day, talk with them, express appreciation for them, and look for little signs of potential problems that can be resolved before they become overwhelming.
The law of the harvest is that we reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7–8). A farmer lives by this law. The kind of seed he plants determines what he will harvest. If he plants wheat seed, he will harvest wheat, not corn. Nor can he choose to neglect his crop once he has planted the seed and have a good harvest.
The principle of agency is like the law of the harvest: when we make a choice, we must accept the results of that choice. Sometimes we will not realize the total consequences of our choices until we are judged by God. But many times our choices affect us immediately. For example, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost following our baptism. The full benefit of having the Holy Ghost as a companion cannot be realized until after our resurrection, but if we choose to disobey the Holy Ghost and commit sin, we lose His influence in our lives. The immediate consequence of choosing to do wrong is that we no longer experience the comfort, understanding, love, and guidance the Holy Ghost provides when we do what is right.
The Apostle Paul accentuated an eternal law when he declared that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7.) The analogy of sowing and reaping is one favored by the prophets of old and by the Lord himself. (See, for example, Job 4:8; Prov. 22:8; D&C 6:33.) This “law of the harvest” ties behavior and its consequences together in an unbreakable relationship that has direct impact on every aspect of our lives—even on our marriages.
Like the flowers, fruits, and vegetables we grow in our gardens, our marriages reflect the nature of the seeds we have planted. If we have tried throughout our married life to plant seeds of love and harmony, then we are more likely to enjoy a rich harvest. Of course, the opposite can also be true. At any given moment, we are the sum of all our sowings.
It’s important to realize that marriages thrive where replanting is a constant process, where both husband and wife realize that a one-time planting at the beginning doesn’t ensure a perennial harvest. Each new day should be filled with planting, cultivating, and weeding. One day missed can lead to a week, or a year, missed—and the garden may soon become overgrown with weeds and insects. However, as with gardens, neglected marriages can be renewed with careful replanting, meticulous care, and a great deal of patience.
I have just planted corn from seed. I have planted other things as well, but it remains to be seen if they will come up. Because we are children of our Heavenly Father, we have within us the seeds, or attributes, of compassion. In order for us to become truly compassionate, we must nurture and work with the seeds, just as we have to water and cultivate the vegetable or flower seeds for them to mature. It is helpful for us to serve others to cultivate compassionate feelings. Many of us have cared for ailing parents and other relatives. We have felt those seeds of compassion grow within us to become very concerned for and full of love for those individuals in our lives.
Trimming back an unruly bush or flower can help to bring out its best qualities. We, too, can use a trim once in a while. Pruning out our unruly qualities to allow the true beauty inside each of us to shine forth is occasionally necessary. On the other hand, over-pruning can be dangerous. I have discovered that principle as I’ve gone too far and trimmed too much of the plant away. There was very little left and many a poor plant has died at my over-zealous hands. The same could be said of criticism. Constructive criticism has its place. But I believe it should be measured out scarcely. Criticism of those we love and others that we can negatively impact that individual, severely damage the relationship, and injure the soul inside.
At the beginning of this year, many of us witnessed the splendor of the annual eagle landing in Havana. It is magnificent to watch eagles fly. Elder Uchtdorf spoke about the following idea in the Fall 2005 conference when he said, “Christlike attributes are the basics. They are the fundamental principles that will create “the wind beneath our wings.” As we develop Christlike attributes in our own lives, step-by-step, they will “bear [us] up as on eagles’ wings” (D&C 124:18). Our faith in Jesus Christ will provide power and a strong forward thrust; our unwavering and active hope will provide a powerful upward lift. Both faith and hope will carry us across oceans of temptations, over mountains of afflictions, and bring us safely back to our eternal home and destination.”
This time of year we witness many new births. Perhaps we’ve all seen a new calf staying near the side of its mother or a new colt playfully frollicking but never wandering too far from its mom. Try to get near a nest of newly hatched bird eggs. My own kids have felt the fear of an aggressive mommy bird swooping down at their heads as they tried to get a closer look at the new hatchlings. Those new mothers know how to care for their young. Our Lord and Savior ministered personally to the people, lifting the downtrodden, giving hope to the discouraged, and seeking out the lost. By His words and actions, He showed the people that He loved and understood and appreciated them. He recognized the divine nature and eternal worth of each individual. Even when calling people to repentance, He condemned the sin without condemning the sinner. He loves us and as a parent, he wants only the best life for us.
With the many images of tornadoes that have begun with great intensity and number this spring, perhaps we have all seen on television very large trees that the wind had blown down and uprooted. These huge trees had extremely shallow roots. Would they have survived the winds and storms if their roots had been deeper? Relatively mild gusts of wind blow some trees down. Contrast this with giant oak trees that have deep root systems that can extend two and one-half times their height. Such trees rarely are blown down regardless of how violent the storms may be.
Faithful members of the Church should be like oak trees and should extend deep roots into the fertile soil of the fundamental principles of the gospel. We should understand and live by the simple, basic truths and not complicate them. Our foundations should be solid and deep-rooted so we can withstand the winds of temptation, false doctrine, adversity, and the fiery darts of the adversary without being swayed or uprooted. Members whose roots are only at the surface of the gospel need to sink them deeper until they reach the bedrock below the soft topsoil.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Rock of our salvation. He said in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell.” To the Saints in this dispensation, he said, “Do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.”
Oftentimes in spring, we decide to eat a more well-balanced and healthy diet. We’ve stopped feeding ourselves with unnecessary junk foods that we’ve used to pull us through the long, cold winter season. There is something about the brightly colored fresh produce at the supermarket to rekindle our desire for a healthy lifestyle. Spiritual nourishment is just as important as a balanced diet to keep us strong and healthy. We nourish ourselves spiritually by partaking of the sacrament weekly, reading the scriptures daily, praying daily in personal and family prayer, and performing temple work regularly. Our spiritual strengths are like batteries; they need to be charged and frequently recharged.
I recently read a story of a big, black beetle. There is a stage in which it appears to die, then this strange thing happens. His glistening black shell cracks all the way down the back. Out of it comes a shapeless mass, quickly transformed into beautifully, brilliantly-colored life. There gradually unfolds iridescent wings from which the sunlight flashes a thousand colors. The blue-green body takes shape. There occurs a metamorphosis—the transformation of a hideous beetle into a gorgeous dragonfly. It is a miracle. Out of mud can come a beautiful new life. And the thought came to me that if the Creator works such wonders with the lowliest of creatures, what may be in store for the human spirit!”
My testimony today is that through Jesus Christ we can be born again. We can change. We can change completely. And we can stay changed. Such complete changes require the power of God. He gives this promise to His covenant people: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: … and cause you to walk in my statute.” (Ezek. 36:26–27.)
The king of the Lamanites was stirred by the power of the Spirit when taught the gospel. He asked Aaron: “What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? That I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit? I will give up all that I possess that I may receive this great joy.” (Alma 22:15.) Aaron answers: “If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.” (Alma 22:16.) Laying himself before the Lord, the king pled, “If thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.” (Alma 22:18.) This transformation, this metamorphosis is completely possible for us. We can change into a beautiful creature and just as the dragonfly can change from a beetle, we too can undergo this change.
I also had read this very cute story about what a small child understood about nature. There were little children waiting in the driveway. They had discovered some newly hatched chicks in their barn. When they reached for them, a protective hen intervened to save them. So the children ran to dad for reinforcements. The dad soon gathered a handful of little chicks for them to see and touch. As the little girl held one of them, the dad said in a teasing way, “That will make a nice watchdog when it grows up, won’t it?” She looked at him strangely, as if he didn’t know much. So the dad changed his approach: “It won’t be a watchdog, will it?” She shook her head, “No, Daddy.” Then he added, “It will be a nice riding horse.” She wrinkled up her nose and gave him that “Oh, Dad!” look. For even this wise little four-year-old knew that a chick will not be a dog, nor a horse, nor even a turkey. It will be a chicken. It will follow the pattern of its parentage. She knew that without having had a course in genetics, without a lesson or a lecture. She knew the chicks would become like their parents.
We are the children of God. That doctrine is not hidden away in an obscure verse. It is taught over and over again in scripture. There are clear examples from the Bible: “All of you are children of the most High.” (Ps. 82:6.) And: “We are the offspring of God.” (Acts 17:29.)
Doctrinal truths are interrelated. There is an old saying that if you pick up one end of a stick, you pick up the other end as well. If you concede that we are His children, you must allow that God is our Father. The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Eloheim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him.
There is only one Christ, one Redeemer. We accept the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. We accept the promise that we may become joint heirs with Him. Paul wrote to the Romans: “The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17.) So, we can become like Him as the little chicks become like their parents.
I love the little tree squirrels. I believe even they can teach us a thing or two. I enjoy watching them eyeing me with curiosity and even suspicion. I imagine them thinking, “Can I trust you?” and “Don’t get too close”. I can’t help but notice that when I have gotten too close for their comfort, they scurry to the nearest tree. I have a lifelong love of trees. I have always felt a great deal of peace and at-one-ment with nature when I am in a forest or grove of trees.
When studying nature, I often ask myself how I can benefit by copying nature’s ways. What can I learn from observing all living things. You might think I’m strange but I can even ask myself “How are we like the tree squirrels? What can we learn from their behavior?” I think the answer depends on what the trees represent to us?
A tree serves well as a symbol for men because it has limbs, a circulatory system, bears fruit, and so forth. Scriptural trees can stand for Christ and his attributes.” Susan Easton Black wrote: “The tree of life is connected with the cross, the two having somewhat the same significance. Both relate to the resurrection, eternal life, the Lord, and the love of God.” When Nephi wished to know the meaning of the tree that his father saw in his dream, the angel showed him a vision of the birth of Christ. The angel then said to 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?” To this Nephi responded, “It is the love of God”. Jesus is the “love and God” and the Tree of Life”.
For me, as I think about those various meanings of representations of trees in scripture, I think we could substitute almost any gospel principle. The trees can represent the love of God as it is in the Lehi’s vision. They can symbolize the scriptures as well. Let us carry that thought out further, using those two representations, the love of God and the scriptures.
On numerous occasions the Lord has commanded his disciples to search the scriptures in order to learn and live the doctrines of salvation. During his mortal ministry, the Savior stated, “Search the scriptures; … they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) During his appearance on the Western Hemisphere following his resurrection, Christ quoted from the scriptures and then said to the Nephites: “Ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently.” (3 Ne. 23:1.) In our day, the Lord enjoins his followers to “search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and … shall all be fulfilled.” (D&C 1:37.)
The Savior revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that it is possible to hear his voice and know his words through the scriptures. He said:
“These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; …
“For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit … , and by my power you can read them one to another. …
“Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.” (D&C 18:34–36.)
In order to come unto Christ and be perfected in him, each person needs to receive a testimony of the Lord’s words. Some individuals falter because they fail to open the books, others because they read casually. As one would expect, there is a difference between diligent searching or “pondering over the scriptures” and casual reading. A Church history story illustrates the difference.
A small six-year-old boy wandered away from his handcart company during a storm and was lost. When the storm subsided, Robert and Ann Parker realized their boy was missing and began searching. For two days an organized search was unsuccessful. The decision was made that the company must move on because of the approaching winter. A pioneer journal records the following: “Ann Parker pinned a bright [red] shawl about the thin shoulders of her husband and sent him back alone on the trail to search again for their child. If he found him dead he was to wrap him in the shawl; if alive, the shawl would be a flag to signal her. Ann and her children took up their load and struggled on with the company, while Robert retraced the miles of … trail, calling, and searching and praying for his helpless little son.”
One suspects that he did not just casually look behind a few trees or leisurely walk along the trail, but that he vigorously investigated every thicket, every clump of trees and gully or wash.
“At last he reached a … trading station where he learned that his child had been found and cared for by a woodsman and his wife. [The boy] had been ill from exposure and fright. [But] God had heard the prayers of his people. “Out on the trail each night Ann and her children kept watch and, when, on the third night the rays of the setting sun caught the glimmer of a bright red shawl [above her husband’s head], the brave little mother sank in a pitiful heap in the sand. … [She] slept for the first time in six … days.”
The story illustrates the difference between just looking and searching diligently. A casual, infrequent exposure to the scriptures will generally not open the door to the whisperings of the Spirit or provide insights into the Savior’s life and character. We need to search the scriptures with the same vigor that Robert hunted for his son and with the consistency of the mother searching the horizon if we expect to hear his voice and know his words.
There are certain blessings obtained when one searches the scriptures. As a person studies the words of the Lord and obeys them, he or she draws closer to the Savior and obtains a greater desire to live a righteous life. The power to resist temptation increases, and spiritual weaknesses are overcome. Spiritual wounds are healed.
The tree in the dream is the tree of life, which represents God’s love for us as expressed in the condescension of the Father and the Son. (See 1 Ne. 11.) Holding fast to the iron rod builds faith in Christ and his work. The prophet Alma, living five hundred years after Lehi, was strongly impacted by Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. Alma, however, changes the imagery in an interesting way. He likens the word of God to a seed which is planted in the heart and then nourished. He states that if people will no more than desire to believe in Christ, the seed will sprout and grow, and they will feel a swelling inside as the seed enlarges the soul. The desire to believe, coupled with obedience, eventually turns to faith in Jesus Christ.
Alma states that continued nourishment will cause the seed to grow into the tree of life with fruit that is exceedingly white, sweet, and pure—“a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” (Alma 32:26–42.) In Alma’s example, the tree of life grows within each person to change his or her heart and soul. Holding fast to the iron rod in Lehi’s dream is the equivalent.
Alma’s explanation of the tree growing within and changing people’s hearts gives light to an earlier set of questions that he asked Church members. The questions were: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14.) Changes in the heart and soul occur as a result of planting and nourishing the seed. Scripture study, prayer, obedience, and service are key elements in building faith in Christ.
I think we need to act as the squirrels do when faced with situations in life in which we are unsure. Just as squirrels eye us suspiciously and run for cover and the safety & security of the nearest tree, when we are faced with uncertain situations and even everyday life, we need to have the love of God and the knowledge we’ve gained from daily study of the scriptures at the ready. We need to use both as our safe and secure place to run to anytime we are faced with all that this life gives us.
All of this is possible only because through the laws of nature, the Creator keeps creation in its course. Law is simply the application of truth. Let me draw your attention to some statements taken from the writings of great thinkers: Frank Crane: “Truth is the logic of the universe. It is the reasoning of destiny; it is the mind of God. And nothing that man can devise or discover can take its place.” (Quoted by Leo J. Muir, Flashes from the Eternal Semaphore, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1928, p. 100.) W. Radcliffe said, “There is no progress in fundamental truth. We may grow in knowledge of its meaning, and in the modes of its application, but its great principles will forever be the same.” (Ibid., p. 101.)
In a revelation to Joseph Smith the Lord declared: “And again, very I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;
“And their courses are fixed, even the courses of the heavens and the earth, which comprehend the earth and all the planets. And they give light to each other in their times and in their seasons, in their minutes, in their hours, in their days, in their weeks, in their months, in their years. … The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God. … “Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.” (D&C 88:42–45, 47.)
We can draw three lessons from nature’s grandeur: first, God exists; second, God is powerful; and third, God loves us. One way we can feel a surety of the Creator’s existence is to observe His handiwork. While it is the Holy Spirit that conveys such a testimony to our hearts, we may first prepare our hearts to receive it. A marvelous way to do this is to gaze into a star-filled sky on a moonless night or at the beautiful colors of nature all around us. As Alma taught, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).
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