Category Archives: #301-#341

Hymn 337: O Home Beloved (Men’s Choir)

When I was in college, I lived in many different apartments and houses. But there was one house that I loved dearly, and after moving out, I thought “what was I thinking?” and moved back in again as soon as I could. After getting the key, and before anyone else moved in, I went in and laid down in the hallway. It was silly, but I was just so glad to be back, to be home, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

This past summer, I was looking for a job. I expected to get one in Utah, since that’s where all my contacts and expertise were, but I kept a half eye out in my hometown, too. And surprisingly enough, it was my hometown that bit. I hadn’t really dared to let myself consider it a possibility, but when everything worked out (a bit too smoothly to be mere coincidence), I was more than thrilled to go home.

Part of it is the desert itself. Though I know other people might find the prickly plants and heat abhorrent, I genuinely love both. To me, Arizona is gorgeous. The narrator of the hymn explains “The flow’rs around me may be fairer/Than those that bloom upon thy hills;” and that’s a bit how I felt, leaving Utah for Arizona. Utah is unmistakably beautiful, and I know not everyone would agree with me on Arizona’s less-traditional beauty. But also like the narrator, “my fond heart doth thrill with rapture” when I think about my hometown.

The larger part of why I was so thrilled to go home, though, wasn’t mentioned in the hymn. It WAS, however, mentioned in the scripture that goes along with the hymn. Brigham Young had been away from  his family, but was finally told, “My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past” (D&C 126:1).  My immediate family all lives in Arizona, and I’d been away from them for 10 years. The chance to live within an hour or two of them all is fantastic, and I doubt I will move far away again. Hopefully, I will stay near my family for the rest of my life.

Home is an interesting concept, because it can apply to so many things: a building, a city, a family. No matter the type, coming home is a joyous occasion, no matter which type of home it is. And in the end, aren’t they all types, symbols of the ultimate home? When we finally  make it back to our heavenly home, won’t it be a much more joyous occasion?

Hymn #305: The Light Divine

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)

The teachings of Christ frequently use light as a symbol. Christ is the light of the world. We receive light and truth through revelation. So it’s no surprise that we have hymns about light as well.

The Light Divine teaches of the “light of God.” Scriptures teach that the light of Christ is a divine influence available to all of us, leading us toward Christ. It inspires a desire for a better world, for improvement and order and peace. The light of Christ plants the seed of hope—hope for forgiveness, hope for a better world, hope for reunion with deceased loved ones.

And kindles in our happy hearts
The hope of things to be.

The light of Christ also instills faith. It encourages us to believe in God even when we cannot see all the answers. There is an intrinsic desire in each of us to believe in something, to find meaning in our lives. Faith is a complex topic, but ultimately faith in Christ is simply choosing to believe in Christ, whatever the circumstances. That ability to believe in difficult circumstances is strengthened over time as we witness its fruits, but the light of Christ plants the seed of faith, nudging us to “give it a try.”

The light of faith abides within
The heart of ev’ry child…

Light not only leads us to hope and believe; it also encourages us to act. The light of Christ inspires kindness, patience, peace, and gentleness. It leads us to be more Christ-like, to emulate the love that he has for all mankind. In addition to the faith and hope discussed above, it encourages us to have charity.

Dear Father, make us pure in heart;
To us thy will reveal.

As we follow the light of Christ, it will lead us toward Christ. It will guide us to make covenants that will give us greater access to divine influence and assistance, enabling us to emulate Christ to a greater degree. We can choose to ignore it, or we can choose to follow it, developing our abilities to sense this light through continued effort.

Father, let thy light divine
Shine on us, we pray.
Touch our eyes that we may see;
Teach us to obey.
Ours the sacred mission is
To bear thy message far.
The light of faith is in our hearts,
Truth our guiding star.

Hymn #323: Rise Up, O Men of God

During this past conference, Elder Lynn G. Robbins told of an encounter he had with President Boyd K. Packer in which he was instructed to remember which way he faces, meaning that he represents the prophet to the people, not the other way around. It is important for all of us to remember that when we take Christ’s name upon us, we become his representatives. I think it’s common for us to come up with rationalizations to excuse many of the sinful actions of the world. By doing this, we end up making excuses for bad choices made by our loved ones or ourselves. And by doing this, we are facing the wrong way.

Rise up, O men of God!

Be done with lesser things.

Sins, rationalizations, and excuses, no matter how logical or important they seem to be, are lesser.

Give heart and soul and mind and strength

To serve the King of Kings.

Anything that takes your attention away from your main purpose of serving the Lord is lesser.

Rise up, O men of God!

Tread where his feet have trod.

No need to head to Jerusalem. As we praise and serve our Heavenly Father, we are following the example and path that Jesus Christ set for us. By walking in his ways, we are facing the right direction. We show the world what is right instead of excusing what is wrong.

As brothers of the Son of Man,

Rise up, O men of God!

We are all children of a Heavenly Father, which makes Jesus Christ our brother. There is no reason that we cannot be like him, because we are his family.

However, this hymn is much more than a reminder of our divine heritage. It is a call to action. Stand firm in your convictions. Praise Heavenly Father. Be a representative of Jesus Christ.

Rise up! Rise up! Rise up!

Hymn #308: Love One Another

As I have loved you,
Love one another.
This new commandment:
Love one another.
By this shall men know
Ye are my disciples,
If ye have love
One to another.

As recorded in both the tenth chapter of Luke and the twelfth chapter of Mark, Jesus is approached by a lawyer who asks how he is to gain eternal life. Jesus states  that to gain eternal life, we are to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30). He then explains how to do this in perhaps one of the simplest statements in any of the Standard Works: “Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31).

The root of the gospel is love. God loved us, so He was willing to let us go into a world where we would have huge potential for both success and failure. He loved us, so He allowed His Only Begotten to come live in this world, where he was mocked, shunned, beaten, and ultimately killed, and this so that we could have access to the Atonement. God loves us, so He allows us to learn from His Son and to follow in those holy footsteps.

In his first epistle, John the Evangelist taught  the best way to practice what the Savior taught during his ministry: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

It’s that simple, yet that complicated. “We cannot love God without loving our neighbor, and we cannot truly love our neighbor without loving God” (N. Eldon Tanner).

So here we are, living on earth, trying to overcome the natural man, and attempting to do our best to become like Christ. Perhaps what is most helpful in determining how to apply this concept is noting where this hymn is sung most often. Yes, it is in the hymn book. But, more often than not, this song is sung by primary children.

Matthew 18: 3 states: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”It is this childlike obedience and love for the Savior that ultimately provides a path home for us. Children, by nature, love and forgive and serve. As we raise these children and prepare them for the daunting role of adulthood, we seek to prepare them to continue exemplifying this natural love, because in loving others we learn to love God and learn to love as He loves.

 

May we, like the children who so often sing this hymn, seek to be known as Christ’s disciples by our ability to love those around us. For in the end, God will care most about how we cared for each other, and we are all His children.

 

Hymn #303 Keep the Commandments

This hymn is short, sweet, and simple. So much so that I think we sometimes take for granted, or even overlook, its profound meaning.

The words of the hymn basically amount to an “if/then” statement. IF we keep the commandments, THEN He (Heavenly Father) will send blessings. Just as with any other “if/then” statement, we cannot expect the result to come before or without the condition being met. We must keep the commandments if we desire to receive all of the blessings available to us.

So how does one “keep the commandments?” First of all, we must realize that everything Heavenly Father tells us to do is a commandment, not just the ten rules on Moses’ stone tablets. He commands us to be as little children, to forgive, to serve and love one another. These commandments are less cut and dry than “Thou shalt not kill” and can be much harder to obey. Forgiveness, especially, can be very difficult at times. However, we need to do our best to at least keep these commandments in our hearts and our minds. We need to make them a part of us to the point that, even when it is difficult, we still know what we need to do. And then we must do it.

This brings us to the “then” part of the statement. Our part is to keep the commandments. Heavenly Father fulfills his part of the deal by sending blessings. Keeping in mind that he has already blessed you with a physical body and countless other things, He will send more blessings if you do your part. Isn’t that amazing?

While the hymn promises that there is safety and peace in keeping the commandments, I truly believe that the blessings He will send are separate. By keeping the commandments, we bring peace and safety to our own lives. That’s just the nature of the commandments given by a loving God who wants us to be happy. I believe that, in addition to providing us with a way to live our lives in a safe, peaceful manner, He will send even greater blessings as a reward for keeping them.

This conditional statement comes from the “words of a prophet.” We are taught in D&C 1:38 that the words of the prophets are the same as the word of God. Therefore, it is by way of a prophet that Heavenly Father himself has extended the offer of His blessings on the condition of our obedience. When I think of it that way, it makes me want to try even harder to do His will.

Hymn #319: Ye Elders of Israel

It’s kind of a shame that this hymn was pigeonholed in the “Men” section of the hymnbook. It’s understandable, of course, given that it’s addressed to the “elders of Israel”, which could very easily mean “the men of the church”. But it’s such a marvelous missionary anthem, on par with “Called to Serve” I think, and much has changed since Cyrus Wheelock wrote it nearly 200 years ago.

There are now over 80,000 missionaries serving worldwide, with young women now making up about 25% of that number.¹ In order to better accommodate the growing number of sister missionaries, meet their needs, and take advantage of their unique perspective, the mission structure has changed to include a mission leadership council consisting of both Elders and Sisters.²

For the purposes of this post, and given the current demographic of missionaries in the field, I’m going to insert “and sisters” into the first line of this hymn like so:

Ye elders and sisters of Israel, come join now with me
And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be—
In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea—
And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

Yes, it messes with the rhythm of things a bit, but I want to be clear that the exhortations in this hymn are not just for the boys.

Brother Wheelock served five missions of his own, including acting as a mission president of the Northern States Mission.³ Missionary work was undoubtedly a large part of his identity and a cause close to his heart. Not everyone feels a strong urge to spread the gospel message, though. I, for one, struggle to share my testimony and invite friends to church. Fortunately we’ve got Brother Wheelock to encourage us.

The harvest is great, and the lab’rers are few;
But if we’re united, we all things can do.
We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares
And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

Sure, the harvest is overwhelmingly great, and the laborers are indeed few in comparison, but we aren’t asked to “seek out the righteous where’er they may be” by ourselves.

Members are invited to share the gospel with friends. Full-time missionaries teach and prepare these people for baptism. Ward mission leaders and ward missionaries provide support and help fellowship potential and new members. Ward leaders find callings for new members to help them feel welcome and needed. Home and visiting teachers check in with members at least monthly to ensure that their spiritual and temporal needs are being met. Helping one person become an active, participating, faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a massive group undertaking.

And so it is for all members, not just new ones. A united ward and stake should provide support for every member, new and old, young and not-so-young, single and married, parents and child-free. We ought to be united in helping one another learn about and use the Atonement so that none of us remains in bondage. We ought to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of being comforted” (Mosiah 18:9).

We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;
We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore
And point them to Zion and life evermore.

Once we join God’s kingdom, we are committed to strengthening it and helping it grow. Whether that means serving a full-time mission or providing service for those in need, our goal is to be “like our Captain of old”: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;
We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

Let us, like the Elders and Sisters serving in Israel, rise above the world around us and commit ourselves to a higher standard. Let us turn our hearts and minds to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Let us seek out the “mountains of Ephraim”–whether they be temples, church meetinghouses, or the homes of the righteous–and dwell therein.

Ye readers in Israel, come join now with me!

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Hymn #310: A Key Was Turned in Latter Days

In the spring of 1842, some women in Nauvoo had gathered to organize a sewing society intended to help with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Though Joseph Smith spoke highly of their proposed charter, he had told them that God had something greater in store for them. He invited them to meet with him again a few days later, and on March 17, the Relief Society was formed.

At that first meeting of the Relief Society, Joseph told the sisters that their society lead to better days for the poor and needy:

I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads. (History of the Church vol. 4 pg. 607)

Eliza R. Snow, second president of the Relief Society, later said “Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently.”

Today’s hymn is A Key Was Turned in Latter Days, and it references this founding of the Relief Society. From the very beginning, it has been a charitable organization, seeking to relieve the suffering of those in need. Though the motto wasn’t officially chosen until 1913, the phrase “Charity Never Faileth” seems to describe the society well from its very beginning.

Though it may sometimes seem that Relief Society is simply another class in church with some visiting teaching mixed in, it seems that the Lord’s vision for it is much greater. The Relief Society cares for those in need, both locally and throughout the world. Their mission is Christ-like compassion and service. Sometimes that simply involves taking care of someone who just moved into the ward, or someone who just had a baby. Other times, it means organizing blood drives or collecting supplies for survival kits. In some areas, the Relief Society has a literacy program to help adults learn to read.

A key was turned in latter days,
A blessing to restore—
A gift of charity and peace—
To earth forevermore.
Our Father, we would turn our hearts
To those who seek thy face,
Give hope and comfort to the poor
In mem’ry of thy grace.

In their Christ-like service, members of the Relief Society set an example for all of God’s children. Sons and daughters see the example of a mother’s compassionate service and faithful visiting. Men and women alike are reminded of the importance of charity in our discipleship. As sisters reach out and serve in the name of Christ, the effects of Christ’s love are scattered throughout the world, lifting everyone a little bit closer to Him. The Relief Society indeed does many small and simple things, but by small and simple things great things are brought to pass.

Hymn #322: Come, All Ye Sons of God

Despite its current positioning in the hymnal, this is less of a “men’s hymn” than we traditionally assume. Although its title and first line are directed to “all ye sons of God,” three out of the four verses actually address scattered Israel, making this yet another of the many missionary hymns of the Church.

The first verse immediately identifies sharing the gospel as a priesthood duty (and, in fact, the only priesthood duty, as far as this hymn is concerned):

Come, all ye sons of God who have received the priesthood;
God spread the gospel wide and gather in his people.
The latter-day work has begun:
To gather scattered Israel in
And bring them back to Zion to praise the Lamb.

After this verse, however, the hymn never again addresses church members and instead talks to Israel, urging her to “repent and be baptized.” Verse 2, however, drew my interest because of its shift in focus:

Come, all ye scattered sheep, and listen to your Shepherd,
While you the blessings reap which long have been predicted.
By prophets long it’s been foretold:
He’ll gather you into his fold
And bring you home to Zion to praise the Lamb.

Verse 1 commissioned individual missionaries to gather converts to Zion, but when we turn to address those converts, there’s no talk of listening to the missionaries or being gathered by those individual Church members. Although the gospel is being delivered by mortal messengers, Israel is instead urged to “listen to your Shepherd” and told that “He’ll gather you into his fold.” Israel is urged to turn to the Savior, and all those missionaries addressed in verse 1 are rendered completely invisible for the remainder of the hymn.

And that, I think, is precisely as it should be. As missionaries, our goal should be to minimize our visibility, to build a relationship between the investigator and the Savior, and to give all the glory to God.

This is the same kind of invisibility the saints are supposed to bear all the time, actually. We are made in the image of God, his icon, intended to point people to him even in appearance. Our goal is to have our countenances remade (Alma 5:14), our names overwritten with His (3 Ne 27:5), and our individual work subsumed by his eternal purposes.

Although that kind of self-sacrifice and invisibility can be a frightening prospect, the gospel promises us that in so doing, we can be adopted in with Israel and join them in receiving the blessings this hymn outlines in verse 4:

And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.

This is perhaps the greatest paradox in the gospel, articulated by the Savior himself:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt 10:39)

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Hymn #307: In Our Lovely Deseret

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In our lovely Deseret,
Where the Saints of God have met,
There’s a multitude of children all around.
They are generous and brave;
They have precious souls to save;
They must listen and obey the gospel’s sound.

For a long time, I had a sharply negative association with this hymn. I thought of it as you might, as the brainwashing hymn. It has a cloyingly catchy tune, and the “hark! hark! hark!” chorus lends itself to easy mocking (we always pretended to be seals, clapping our hands and barking to the music), and the second verse feels a little too on the nose with its specifics about the Word of Wisdom. We’d sing it at the start of meetings for comedic value, certainly, but never more seriously than that. It was a joke, and nothing more.

That’s my daughter up there at the top of the post. Everything changes when you’re no longer singing about a “multitude of children,” but about your child.

It’s easy to see this as a brainwashing hymn telling children how they must live their lives, but I prefer to think of it as instructional. Children come into the world pure and innocent, not knowing how to do, well, anything. If you’ve ever spent time around a child of virtually any age, you’ll understand as I’ve come to over the last year just how little children actually know. I’ve spent the better part of a year teaching my daughter which things she puts in her mouth are food and which aren’t. You might be teaching a child when it’s appropriate to be loud and playful and when it’s better to be quiet and still. You might be helping a child learn to share, to ride a bike, to sing, or any of a number of things. And every time you come across something that this child can’t do, you may be astonished. “What do you mean you don’t know how to whistle?” you may catch yourself thinking. “Doesn’t everyone know how to whistle?”

Everyone knows how to whistle, or fly a kite, or throw a frisbee that first has been shown how to do those things. Those who have gone before are responsible to teach those who come after how to do things. Why should the gospel be any different? Children need to understand the gospel, the same as you and I do. An instructional hymn, particularly one with a catchy tune that is easy to learn, can aid in their understanding. The next time the child is tempted to be mean, the lyrics, “They should always be polite, and treat ev’rybody right, and in every place be affable and kind” may come into his or her head, causing an unkind thought or action to be forgotten. When laying down to sleep after a long day, the lyrics, “They must not forget to pray, night and morning ev’ry day, for the Lord to keep them safe from ev’ry ill” may present themselves as a reminder to offer a prayer of their own. And yes, when a child finds him or herself tempted with a cigarette or anything else similar, this tune and the words “tea and coffee and tobacco they despise” may come to mind.

We are responsible for teaching our children to love the Lord and to obey His law. We can do that by reading the scriptures with them, praying with them, having talks with them, and yes, we can do so through music. Primary songs like “I Am a Child of God” and “Families Can Be Together Forever” are just as didactic as this hymn is, and for good reason. We want these tunes stuck in their heads. We want them thinking about the Lord and His gospel constantly. We want these principles to never be far from their hearts.

And why is that? To put it simply, it is because “they have precious souls to save.” You can read that as the children needing to grow up strong in the gospel so they can go and rescue others. It’s true. We need to be strong in the faith so that we can help others along the path. But I think it’s just as appropriate to interpret that phrase as referring to the children’s own souls. Their souls are precious, and they need saving, just as ours do. They are our responsibility, and now that I’ve held one of those precious souls in my arms, I’m determined to use any means necessary to save it, including a song I was only too happy to dismiss as cloying and jingoistic.

Hark! Hark! Hark! ’tis children’s music–
Children’s voices, oh, how sweet,
When in innocence and love,
Like the angels up above,
They with happy hearts and cheerful faces meet.

 

Hymn #301: I Am a Child of God

This is one of the first hymns LDS children learn. The melody is simple, the words straightforward. It’s difficult to find anything to say about it because the message is so clear: I am a child of God and my goal in life is to learn and do all that is necessary to return to live with Him again. Every Latter-Day Saint believes this to some degree or another. This hymn is part of our core identity and explains why we do all the things we do.

However, this line has often troubled my mind: [He] has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

I grew up in a home with kind and dear parents. They are some of the best people I know. But not every family looks like mine did, with parents and children who respect each other and live together in love.

Many children have only one parent, or none at all. Many parents are neglectful or abusive. So many families are broken in one way or another. For these people, singing about “parents kind and dear” might feel hollow and false. It might trigger painful memories or feelings of bitterness, loneliness, or worthlessness.

Whatever your background, please know that you are not alone. You have worth.

Although our earthly parents might not always be what we wish they were, our Heavenly Parents are perfect. They love us. Always. Whether we are loveable or not. They want what is best for us, and even when our present circumstances are not ideal, they are constantly watching over us. Chastening us when we are rebellious. Blessing us when we obey. Gently encouraging us when all hope seems lost.

Because They love us, our Heavenly Mother and Father send people to lighten our loads and lead us by their examples. Neighbors, teachers, friends, coworkers…so many people can act as a “parent” when needed. I know I am grateful for the influence of non-traditional parent-figures in my own life.

No matter how broken your “real” family is, undoubtedly there is someone out there who will love you like family. If you don’t know who it might be, pray. Ask your loving Parents to help you find a person who can lead, guide, and walk beside you. Let them help you learn and do what you must in order to “live with Him someday.”

Because you, my friend, are a child of God. He has sent you here and you can live with Him once more. He loves you. I hope you know that.

Hymn #340: The Star-Spangled Banner

If you’re like me you haven’t thought too much about the national anthem of the United States of America. It’s moving and majestic and a little bit hard to sing those high notes, but once it’s been sung we move on quickly to our football game/parade/fireworks show/insert your favorite activity here. Which is kind of a shame, because this is a) a beautiful piece of poetry and b) a solid lesson on fighting the good fight.

The first verse–we rarely hear more than that–contains a long, convoluted sentence that boils down to the question, “Is the flag still flying this morning?” It sounds foolish; why does that even matter? But if you look at the rest of that verse and the next, you realize those “rockets” and “bombs bursting in air” are not fireworks but actual weapons. The song places us in the midst of a war, specifically at dawn the morning after a “perilous fight.”

I’ve never fought in a war (thank goodness) but I have faced some perilous fights. Sometimes I’ve asked myself afterward, “Am I still okay? Is my flag still flying?”

One of the scriptures referenced in the hymnbook for “The Star-Spangled Banner” talks about Captain Moroni and his title of liberty:

And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. (Alma 46:23)

I think (if we’re willing to set patriotism aside for a moment) the “star-spangled banner” could stand for anyone’s personal flag, or title of liberty if you prefer. It represents who they are and what they value, their commitments and causes. Even the sight of one’s country’s flag can stir up thoughts of God, freedom, a desire for peace, and love of family.

But for Moroni, it was not sufficient to simply raise a flag. The next verse reads:

And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land. (Alma 46:13)

He prepared himself to defend the things he held dear and “prayed mightily” for God to bless the people with freedom and righteousness. In chapter 48, he has the people fortify their cities in order to protect their homes, families, and liberties. But he does not just fortify cities; “Moroni…had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:7).

He taught the people that they needed to trust the Lord and keep His commandments in order to prosper. They needed to have faith, humility, gratitude, and a willingness to work. When their enemies tried to take away their freedom to worship and live in peace, they needed to be prepared to flee or fight, whichever was more prudent.

It was the actions of the people that would preserve their lives and liberty, not sufficient strongholds and certainly not a fancy flag.

Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”

There are people who stand for righteousness in the midst of chaos and war all over the world–whether a literally bloody battle or a less obvious attack on values and principles. They pray for heaven to rescue them and praise their Creator for all He has done.

Their motto is, “We will trust in God.”

It takes courage to choose to fight against the oppressors. To speak out where the truth is unwelcome. To defend those who need our strength. To teach others that there is a better way. To remember that we are children of God in a world that tells us we are worthless. To risk our lives to do what is right.

It takes courage to keep faith and endure to the end.

But no matter what the world throws at us, in the morning after each battle against Satan’s hosts, our personal flag of liberty, truth, and righteousness will still fly in the morning.

Wherever we stand for right can be the land of the free because we are willing to be brave.

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Hymn #338: America the Beautiful

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Katherine Lee Bates, this hymn’s author, began writing the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” from the top of Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs, CO.  She was on a train trip across the country, and incorporated many of the sights she’d seen into her poem. She saw “amber waves of grain” as she crossed the Great Plains, “alabaster cities” in Chicago, and “spacious skies,” well, everywhere. But it was standing atop Pikes Peak, looking down at central Colorado from 14,115 feet up, that she was stuck with inspiration.

You’re free to believe what you like about America, but it’s difficult to argue that it is beautiful. We see the “purple mountain majesties” as in the photo above, which was taken not far from where I lived growing up. I’ve looked up at Pikes Peak from the plains, and I’ve looked down at the plains from atop the summit, and there’s not a better word to describe either view than “beautiful.” When I moved to Nashville a few months ago from Oregon, I drove across much of the country, and while there were certainly places I traveled through that I wouldn’t care to live in given the choice (looking at you, Nebraska), I didn’t find anywhere that I passed through that didn’t contain at least some beauty.

This is not, of course, to say that America has any special claim on being beautiful that other nations don’t. There’s beauty everywhere. This is a wonderful world we live in, and despite the horrible things going on in it, there’s still an awful lot of beauty scattered in it, too. Were it not for the perfect fit of the meter for the lyrics “America! America!”, we could just as easily be singing about Japan, Germany, Togo, or anywhere else.

That beauty is a gift given to us from God. He created the world and all things therein, and He did it for our benefit. We are here to be tested and to prove our worth to Him, but that doesn’t mean we have to do that in a bland, featureless world. He created rivers, mountains, forests, oceans, and everything in between. We can find beauty in the grand features of the world, and we can see it in the small things, like the little creek that trickles through my backyard.

So yes, we recognize the worth and beauty of America, and we sing its praises. But we also sing the praises and invoke the blessings of its Creator in this hymn. While singing about those fruited plains, we ask that “God shed his grace” on them. When we sing about the wonderful blessing of freedom in America, we also ask that “God mend [our] ev’ry flaw, [and] confirm [our] soul in self-control.” And when we sing about the alabaster cities “undimmed by human tears,” we also ask God to “crown [their] good with brotherhood.”

It’s a song about how terrific America is, yes, but it’s not a song that lends itself to be followed with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as much as you might think. It’s a song about humility and awe for the creator of the nation. It’s a song that pleads for self-improvement and the ability to feel gratitude for all the blessings we’ve been given as citizens of that nation. And so that’s why we sing it in our sacrament meetings, not so much to express our love for our nation (although I’m sure we do love it!) as to express our love for He who made such a nation, and indeed, such a world, possible.

It’s a wonderful world, if we care to look at it, filled with beauty from sea to shining sea.

Image credit: “Sunset over Pike’s Peak,” flickr user Jim Lawrence.

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Hymn #341: God Save the King

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With American Independence Day coming up, we’re considering the hymns on patriotism here at the Beesley Project. And we’re starting off with the one hymn of the bunch that isn’t expressly American-themed: “God Save the King.” I’ve always thought it was interesting that a church as globally-minded as the LDS Church doesn’t include any other national anthems in its English edition (no “O Canada”?), although the hymnal does indicate that, with priesthood approval, local national anthems may be sung in church meetings.

But why include them at all, and even more to the point, why include the U.S. national anthem, two generically patriotic American songs, and the anthem of the United Kingdom? What doctrine can we hope to learn from a song extolling the virtues of the British Isles? Let’s listen to the first verse and see what we can find out. You know the tune, even if you don’t think you do; it’s the same as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

God save our gracious king!
Long live our noble king!
God save the king!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to rule over us;
God save the king!

This is a change from our normal approach to the hymns. We nearly always sing praise to the Lord (with one notable exception), but here, we praise the king (or queen, as is currently the case). We sing of his grace, his nobility, and we wish for his reign to continue. Normally, we reserve that sort of praise for God in the hymns. Shouldn’t we be expressing our hopes that God can continue to rule over us and that we can become subject to His will?

Well, yes, of course, but I think that in a way, we’re already doing that. You see, while we sing our praises to the king, our prayers are directed toward our God. We pray that our God will protect the king as he protects us. It might be different if “Rule, Britannia!” were in the hymnal, a song that expressly glorifies the nation and not its God. The second verse makes even clearer the relationship between the king and God, as well as their hierarchy:

Thy choices gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign!
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the king!

God pours His blessings on the rulers of nations and supports them. We sing our praises to Him for so doing. In fact, we see hints in this verse that while our rulers currently reign over us, they may not always do so if they fall out of line with His teachings. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught that while nations will have their rulers, anyone who raises up a king against the Lord–which is to say, raises up a king that defies His laws–shall perish, for “the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king.” We will be His people, and He will be our God.

This hymn makes that relationship clear. We have our own appointed leader. He or she is one of our own that we have chosen to lead us, but though he or she may be our king or queen, he or she is not our King. There is One who rules over us, and it is His blessings we invoke on those we choose as our leaders here on earth. And as those blessings are bestowed, and as our leaders do their best to lead us in righteousness, we may ever have cause to shout, “God save the king!”

Image credit: “Union Jack,” flickr user blu-news.org.

Hymn #325: See the Mighty Priesthood Gathered

This is a great hymn. It has a regal tune and a great message. I hope you’ll take time to listen to it.

Every six months at the General Conference priesthood session, someone will note that this meeting likely represents the largest gathering of priesthood holders in the history of the world. This is significant, but not just for the obvious reasons.

Most simply, the growth of the priesthood parallels the growth of the Church as a whole, so a larger priesthood body implies a larger body of Latter-Day Saints as a whole. As the truths and covenants of the Gospel are necessary for all mankind, the growth of the priesthood body is a welcome indication that more of God’s children are finding the peace and understanding that the Gospel brings.

However, the growth of the priesthood is also meaningful in its own right. We are engaged in God’s work, and it is directed through his Priesthood. Our purpose is not merely to teach everyone about the restoration of the gospel—we also seek to make its accompanying ordinances and covenants available to all mankind. While in past dispensations the covenants of salvation have been available only to a few select nations, in these latter days God has made them available to all. The mission of the priesthood is to bring these ordinances and covenants to all the world.

This is no small undertaking. It involves planning for entire nations and concern for individual families. It’s no wonder that the priesthood body is often described in military terms—there’s organization and structure needed to effectively span the world.

Of course, when we talk about the spread of the gospel, we often talk about missionary work. And yes, missionary work is important. But the work of the priesthood is the duty of every ordained priesthood holder, not just those called on full-time missions. We are to spread the Kingdom of God to new lands, but also to establish it, to make it stable and secure.

So let’s look at some of the lyrics. The song opens with this phrase:

See the mighty priesthood gathered;
Firm in serried ranks they stand–
Son and father jointly serving,
Gathered in from ev’ry land.

The work of the priesthood is not just for 19-year-old missionaries, or just for bishops. It spans generations; fathers and sons serve together. In fact, fathers have a sacred duty to train their sons in this calling, to teach them the ways of the Lord.

Line on line, truth is revealed,
Till all darkness flees away
In the face of perfect knowledge,
Where celestial laws hold sway.

As we listen to our prophetic leaders, truth empowers us. We are better able to withstand the darkness of this world and the chaos it brings with it. Truth brings peace and order, and as the priesthood is strengthened throughout the world, peace and order will prevail.

Come, ye sons, and walk uprightly,
As your noble fathers trod

“Walk in the faith of your fathers.” Isn’t this same message repeated over and over throughout the scriptures? The prophets of ancient Israel taught it over and over. Nephite prophets taught the same. After all, sons and fathers can hardly serve together if the sons abandon the faith of their fathers. How great the importance, then, to teach our children, to guide them to a personal relationship with God.

Till Satan’s pow’rs are vanquished,
Bound in chains he conquered lies,
And our glorious hallelujahs
Loudly sound across the skies,

This is our goal: to vanquish Satan’s powers, and to bring praise of God throughout the world. Christ will come again, to reign personally upon the earth. Every six months as priesthood bearers throughout the world gather, we are reminded of this noble and holy purpose.

This is no small work. Let us not be easily distracted. The Kingdom of God is rolling forward, and it is our opportunity to be a part of that great work.

Hymn #320: The Priesthood of Our Lord (Men)

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There has been plenty of talk recently about who should hold the Priesthood.

I’m in no position to say who “should” hold the Priesthood, if it should be any different than it is right now. I can’t pretend to know the mind of the Lord or the word of the Lord on the matter, but until we hear the voice of the Lord tell us something different through His prophet I know it’s what the Lord wants for us right now.

But to be clear, the Priesthood is worth it. It is, as we know, literally God’s power held by mere mortals. While there are many things that give fleeting or apparent power in this world—money, office, military might—there is one Greater power that created all those things. There is no scenario where any person or earthly possession can overpower that God who made them; there is no tower we can build to get to heaven ourselves, for the Lord created every brick.

The first two verses of this rarely-sung hymn, “The Priesthood of Our Lord”, teach us this:

…pow’r by earthly standards
Comes by rank or wealth or sword;
But the pow’r above all others
Is the priesthood of our Lord.

It is ours, the total armor–
Priesthood held by Christ, our Lord–
If, as brethren, we are worthy
Of the Spirit’s whispered word.

Is the Priesthood really ours? Its benefits are ours, which is what we really learn here. The Priesthood can be wielded either as a shield, in protecting ourselves and our families from the fiery darts of the adversary, or as a metaphorical sword, as the power given to us to go forth proclaiming the Gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming our dead.

Metaphorical, for sure. While the Priesthood bestows certain rights on the holder, those rights are heavily contingent upon principles of righteousness. This Priesthood can only be used to do what the Lord wants, when the Lord wants it, and if a Priesthood leader presumes to use those keys or that authority for something other than the Lord’s will, then Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

So if the Priesthood itself isn’t ours, whose is it? Who decides who holds it and how it gets used?

How can that even be a question? This “pow’r above all others” is clearly the Priesthood of our Lord. It’s His Priesthood, His power that he has mercifully and impressively decided to give to us, his ever imperfect, unvaryingly unprofitable servants. Elder Dallin H. Oaks made this pretty clear in the recently-concluded April 2014 General Conference: “Ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used.”

We live in a day of blinding Gospel light; a dispensation marked by the Priesthood being again on the earth after centuries of darkness. We have ordinances, correctly performed by those holding God’s authority; we have continuing revelation through the Lord’s prophet, who holds those Priesthood keys; we have temples, eternal families, and revealed scripture, as well as divinely-inspired church organization, youth programs, welfare systems, education programs—what Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all the other inspired men and women that lived in darker times would have given to live in our day!

Instead of presuming to know the mind of the Lord on who should hold the Priesthood, perhaps we should take a moment to thank the Lord for his infinite mercy in giving us—all of us—the blessing of His Priesthood on the earth. Perhaps before returning to our personal opinions on who should hold the Priesthood, whatever they may be, we can find some joy in that we, as people in God’s church, hold His Holy Priesthood at all.

Let us venture forth in freedom
With the priesthood as our guide–
Deacons, teachers, priests, and elders,
Seeking virtue side by side.

Ultimately, we can amend this last verse. Let us venture forth in freedom, with the priesthood as our guide—deacons, teachers, priests, elders, Beehives, Mia Maids, Laurels, Relief Society sisters, and all other worthy members of the Lord’s restored church—not at odds, but seeking virtue side by side.

Hymn #321: Ye Who Are Called to Labor

I never served a full-time mission.

I am the second daughter in a family of six sons and I am the only one of my family–including both my parents–who didn’t go.

I didn’t go because I didn’t feel inspired to go. I remember my sister telling me the story of the moment she received a spiritual confirmation that she should go. She was sitting on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico with my dad, talking about her last semester of college, and suddenly the topic of a mission came up. It was like something clicked in her mind and a short time later she received her call to serve in northern California.

I remember hearing her tell me this story when I was about eight years old and thinking immediately, “Yeah, that’s never going to happen to me.”

I was right. My window to apply for full-time missionary service came and went and I finished school instead, took a job, and met and married my husband.

So what does this missionary-ish hymn hold for me? As a sister in the church whose mission has shifted to a much smaller scale (read: here I refer to the small people I am raising) I don’t do much publishing of peace on the mountaintops these days.

To me, it all boils down to one verse: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:3).

I do want to serve God, mostly because His blessings to me have been consistent, personal, and sometimes miraculous. Offering my service to Him is like putting down a penny tip on a $1,000 restaurant bill (which, of course, He already paid), but at least it’s something. It’s like my version of the widow’s mite in Mark 12, but instead of paying a tithe I’m giving the Lord some of my time.

This mission of service has become incredibly personal to me in the last two years. I had the blessing to be part of an LDS community in central Virginia who reached out over and over to our little family through what seemed like a never-ending stream of crises. I cannot speak of these people without weeping because for the first time in my life, I truly understood what it was like to live in Zion.

There were meals and babysitting, job offers, hours of moving furniture and cleaning and painting. With every new difficulty there came a fresh wave of Saints to succor us, lift up our hands which hung down, and strengthen our feeble knees (D&C 81:5). And if that is not a pure example of performing God’s work, I don’t know what is.

Today I keep these Saints and their examples of pure charity in my heart as a talisman against my own foot-dragging reticence to serve others. I am still uncovering God’s mission for me in my life, but if it proves to be one-tenth as significant in someone else’s life as these small, never-ending acts of service have been in my life, then I will be satisfied.

Hymn #327: Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven

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I remember—vividly—December 31, 2003.

I was a 20-year-old missionary, serving in a small town tucked away in the mountains on the US-Canadian border. The wind chill was well below zero. The sky was perfectly clear, and despite the cold there wasn’t much snow—if you’d asked me, a boy from Florida, I’d have guessed it had gotten too cold to snow.

I wore a thick wool coat that my grandfather had worn on his mission. I had sturdy boots, gloves, and a hat; the finishing touch was a scarf, wrapped around my face and leaving only my eyes exposed. There have been colder days, in colder places, for sure. But it was plenty cold for me that day, as I stopped every few minutes to wipe ice out of the inside of my scarf, which had formed from the moisture in my breath freezing when it hit the cold.

I have to assume that everyone who has served a mission has stories like this. Stories where it was unbearably hot, or cold to an unsafe degree, or where someone threatened you with a knife. And those are the easy parts; life as a missionary is difficult, and you spend a good deal of the time—at least I did—feeling like you’re not measuring up to your magnificent calling. You certainly don’t feel like an angel.

The prophet John Taylor, in penning this hymn, shines much-needed perspective on that work—work we all do as everyday missionaries, but work that holds special meaning for us if we were able to serve as full-time missionaries.

Go, ye messengers of heaven,
Chosen by divine command;
Go and publish free salvation
To a dark, benighted land.

Never doubt your calling; never. When we go forth we don’t go forth as men and as women, we go forth as messengers of heaven. While anyone who has a desire is called to the work, those who rise to the call are, undoubtedly, “chosen by divine command.”

Often we labor in a place that is dark, not yet illuminated by Gospel light. While “benighted” here can simply mean “dark”, it also carries its own meaning, suggesting that the shadow cast on those who have not yet received the Gospel has everything to do with their lack of proper opportunity and nothing to do with being less valiant or valued in the sight of God. There are so many searching for the Gospel that simply know not where to find it.

When your thousands all are gathered,
And their prayers for you ascend,
And the Lord has crowned with blessings
All the labors of your hand,

Then the song of joy and transport
Will from ev’ry land resound;
Then the nations long in darkness
By the Savior will be crowned.

President Taylor wrote two hymns that are in our current hymnbook, and they appear to go together—in addition to this hymn, “Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven” (#327), he also wrote “Go, Ye Messengers of Glory” (#262).  In both he writes of a future day when the Savior will reign on the earth.

But in this hymn he also writes of specific, personal joy that each of us will find in those with whom we have shared the Gospel. Thanks to your efforts, whether as a full-time missionary or simply as an everyday missionary, you’ll touch thousands. And at a later day—or maybe now!—they will cry unto our Heavenly Father in fervent prayer with gratitude that you were there, that you opened your mouth and that you helped them find the Gospel, regardless of how small your role was in it. They may not accept it in this life, but the Lord sees all the labors of your hand and blesses you accordingly.

Ultimately, songs of joy will come from every land, and the Savior will sit on His throne here on the earth. But it won’t happen until those thousands have been touched. It’s up to us to reap while the day lasts. If we do, the Lord’s promise stands—how great will be our joy.

Hymn #309: As Sisters In Zion

As Sisters In Zion is written specifically for the women of the church, and it includes language to that effect. Nevertheless, the message found here is applicable to all of us. If you’ve never had opportunity to sing this hymn, I encourage you to read the lyrics before we start.

The text of this hymn praises qualities and actives often associated with the women of the church: gentleness, comforting the weary, strengthening the weak, cheering the downtrodden. These are, of course, not exclusively feminine traits; they could also be used to appropriately describe the great exemplar, Jesus Christ himself. They can apply to us all.

As I’ve studied these lyrics, the collaboration between the sisters in Zion and divine helpers, guiding their work, really stands out to me. It’s right there in the first verse:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.

The work of building God’s kingdom is not one we undertake alone. God has not requested this effort of us as some sort of “price of admission,” before we can receive his blessings. Rather, it is something he takes active interest in. God wants us to build Zion, and he seeks to help us.

The first couplet in the second verse also strikes me:

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim

Our mission is framed in exalted terms— it is “the errand of angels.” This is both an ennobling and wearying phrase. If this errand were simple or easy, it probably wouldn’t require angelic intervention, would it? But the opportunity to participate in the work of God is a privilege to be claimed, not a burden to be borne. We each have talents and gifts that enable us to serve with the angels in God’s work, and it is a privilege to exercise those talents in their intended way.

I wonder, how often do we view our callings and religious duties as burdens that weigh us down, rather than gifts that bring us in association with angels?

Perhaps what stands out most to me is that these lyrics make no attempt to promise blessings for our service. We are not serving because it will make us happier, or lift our own burdens (though it will). Rather, the implied reward is the work itself: the building up of Zion. This is a wholly selfless view—we lift others because we share God’s vision for mankind and rejoice in bringing it about.

With this in mind, the opening lines of the third verse seem appropriate:

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.

There are no small dreams here; God invites us to participate in his work to exalt all of mankind—every soul that will accept it. The cooperation of mortals, angels, and the Holy Spirit are all essential to bring it about. Only through divine help can we adequately meet this great call.

As brothers and sisters in Zion, we have a dual relationship with deity. We are currently working out our own relationship with God, seeking to come back into his presence as we learn to keep our covenants. And yet, at the same time we actively work at his side, serving as companions in the great work of bringing salvation to all mankind.

My fellow companions of God, let us serve well.

Hymn #311: We Meet Again as Sisters

I have to confess: I’ve agonized over this hymn all week. Every time I read the title, I am reminded of all the jokes I’ve heard about the sisters of the church having meetings to plan their upcoming meetings. The sarcasm isn’t unwarranted. When I think about all the things women are involved in or in charge of–Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, compassionate service, visiting teaching, girls’ camp, various committees, etc.–it’s no wonder we seem to meet again and again and, oh yes, yet again.

This hymn simplifies all that busyness, though, and meetings take on a significance beyond all the cookies and crafting. The first two verses give us the two main reasons women of the church should meet at all: to observe the Sabbath and to “plan our service.”

The first verse lays out an ideal Sunday. We go to church to “worship God together, [we] testify and pray.” Through our worship, we invite the Spirit to be present, to “enlarge our minds with knowledge and fill our hearts with love.” And while we may not experience a perfect Sabbath every week, the goal is always to show that we “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The hymn’s second verse, unsurprisingly, hints at the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (vs 39) In our non-Sabbath meetings, we should plan to give service, help those in need, “show charity and kindness,” develop our talents and use them to bless others. It’s a good rubric to keep in mind; one or both of these commandments should be addressed every time we hold a meeting.

In my adult life, I’ve been in many different wards, and each Relief Society has functioned differently. Some women place a strong emphasis on rituals and culture, while others have broken dramatically from tradition. Some value elaborate centerpieces and homemade handouts, and others really couldn’t care less. From what I have seen, though, every successful Relief Society–wherein sisters feel loved and great things are accomplished–is centered on the actual purposes of the organization, which we find in the third verse.

We meet to sing together
The praises of our Lord,
To seek our exaltation
According to his word.
To ev’ry gospel blessing
The Lord has turned the key,
That we, with heav’nly parents,
May sing eternally.

As the Church Handbook states, “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life.” The saving ordinances of the gospel are available to everyone, and Relief Society provides whatever assistance women need as they work out their salvation. Whether that means addressing temporal needs or spiritual ones, the goal is the same: to “seek our exaltation.” Together. As sisters.

Hymn #304: Teach Me to Walk in the Light

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This is one of the few hymns included in both the LDS hymnal and the Children’s Songbook. Its melody is simple, its message sweet. Its words are straightforward enough for a small child to understand, and it is from a child’s perspective that we begin to sing.

Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.

The second verse is a response to the first, as someone–we’ll talk about who in a moment–agrees to do what the child has asked. The perspective has shifted, though, so that we are no longer the child but the teacher. Together, we reply, we will study God’s word, learn what He would have us do, because we hope to eventually live with Him again.

Based on the fact the this song is listed under the topics of “Home” and “Motherhood” in the hymn book, I think we often assume that the dialogue is between a parent and child. The only parent named, however, is our Heavenly Father. This leaves the hymn open to include many “children” and their teachers. A young woman and her youth adviser. An investigator and a missionary. An aging patriarch and his home teacher. The possibilities really are endless.

Ours is a gospel of learning.  The Lord instructs:

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 109:7)

And so we do. We attend Sabbath services to teach and be taught by one another. We read the same books of scripture over and over, seeking new insights and personal revelation. We strive constantly to gain a better understanding of the gospel and what is expected of us so that we can return “home to his presence to live in his sight.”

Frequently we find ourselves in a position where we can mentor others, but even the prophets seek regular instruction in the House of the Lord.

And so we pray to our Father and thank him “for loving guidance to show us the way.” We’re all learning together so we can walk gladly in the light.