Tag Archives: Exaltation

nashville

Hymn #287: Rise, Ye Saints, and Temples Enter

nashville

Rise, ye Saints, and temples enter;
Seek the path that leads ahead.
Seal in everlasting circles
All our loved ones, quick and dead.

Maybe you’re a faithful, diligent Latter-day Saint who attends the temple regularly and who needs no introduction to the institution, but if you’re not, suffice it to say that temples are sacred buildings where members of the LDS Church meet to perform essential ordinances on behalf of the dead. Each of us needs these ordinances (baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost for starters, and later ordination to the priesthood for men, the endowment, and marriage and sealing) in order to receive all that the Father has to offer us. It doesn’t matter if we’re alive or dead, or whether or not the gospel was freely available when we were on the earth. Each of us needs these ordinances to qualify for all the Father’s blessings. None of us is exempt, and none of the ordinances are optional.

In order to make those ordinances available to all, we are counseled to go to the temple (and to go often) and receive those ordinances on behalf of those who are dead so that, should they choose, they will have the chance to receive those blessings. We search out our ancestors and bind them together through these ordinances, particularly through the sealing ordinance, which binds husband and wife as much as it binds parents and children. But that’s not to say that we can only perform these ordinances on behalf of our own family members who have gone before. As we uncover more and more names, we may find ourselves unable to manage all of those ordinances on our own, and so we help each other through frequent temple attendance. We act as a great army, carrying the blessings of the gospel to every one of the Father’s children.

Learn the plan of exaltation;
With His sacred laws comply.
Live to earn in binding cov’nant
Blessings of our God most high.

I had the chance to attend the temple with some of the youth of our local congregation last weekend. Our nearest temple is in Nashville (yes, it’s the picture above), and while it’s close to us, it’s still nearly an hour away, so it takes time and effort to get there. In order to make our 8:00 appointment, we had to meet up at our church at about 6:15, which seemed much, much too early for the 12-18 year-olds that were there. (One young man was falling asleep on his feet while waiting, slept the entire drive to the temple, then slept in the waiting room as others arrived.) They were sacrificing their Saturday, for many the only day of the week they get to sleep in, so they could spend the day in the temple serving those who had gone before.

It was a lovely experience. The Spirit was there as we performed baptisms that morning, witnessing that, even if those whose names we read didn’t choose to accept the ordinances, the doctrine we were practicing was nonetheless true. We were helping to tie families together, one ordinance at a time, and we were helping others to fully qualify to receive all that the Father has and is willing to offer to us.

Elohim, thou great designer,
Wilt thou heaven’s pow’rs bestow,
As thy faithful sons and daughters
Serve in temples here below.

I don’t know many of these youth personally, and if you’d asked me on Saturday what I thought they made of the trip, I would have told you that I thought many of them treated it as a social trip. They got a chance to spend time together, laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company. It was fun, if not spiritual.

The next day, however, some of them had a chance to share their experiences in front of the congregation, and it was clear that their hearts were touched. They felt the Spirit witness to them that they had been engaged in the Lord’s work that day. They knew that they were helping along the path those that could no longer help themselves. And they could feel of the Lord’s love for those dead and for themselves as well.

As we attend the temple and serve others, we not only provide blessings for our kindred dead, but also for ourselves. We feel the blessings of heaven come upon us and renew us spiritually. We are energized and are more able to face the challenges of life. The Father wants us to attend the temple not only to help others along the path to salvation, but to help us as well. As we turn our hearts to our ancestors, they are purified and become more in tune with the Lord, allowing the Spirit to more easily whisper to us and inspire us. And with more and more temples being built every year, it’s never been easier to attend, even if it requires a sleepy 75 minute drive to get there on a summer Saturday morning.

So rise, saints, and temples enter. Set aside some time to serve those who have gone before, and you will find that you will be blessed every bit as much.

Image credit: “Nashville Temple,” Wikipedia user Antipus.

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 #116: Come, Follow Me

“Come, follow me,” the Savior said.
Then let us in his footsteps tread,
For thus alone can we be one
With God’s own loved, begotten Son.

This hymn is so familiar. Just having read those words, you’ll probably have the tune stuck in your head for a while.

And it is such a simple phrase: “Come, follow me.” A command, but a gentle one. Compelling enough for Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets straightaway (see Matthew 4). Not compelling enough for a rich young man to give up everything he had to obey it (see Matthew 19).

Maybe his unwillingness was due to the commitment involved. It’s not enough to follow Jesus Christ for a little while. It’s not even enough to follow him throughout mortality; “no,” we realize, “this extends to holier spheres.” If we are going to be true disciples of Christ, we must give him our life, our soul, our eternity.

Not only shall we emulate
His course while in this earthly state,
But when we’re freed from present cares,
If with our Lord we would be heirs.

Nor is enough to wait until we are “freed from present cares” to make this commitment. If we hear the Savior’s call in this life, we can’t say, “Sounds good, Lord. I’m gonna have some fun now, though, and I’ll see you in the hereafter. Save me a place in your kingdom, will ya?” Alma explains:

Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:34-35, emphasis added)

If we spend our lives cultivating a spirit that is stubborn and rebellious, or lazy and indifferent, or more concerned with exploring doubt than building faith, death is not going to change us. Why should it? The veil will be removed from our minds, yes, but it takes time to learn humility, dedication, and trust. Time that our Father has graciously given us here on earth to practice those attributes. Time that we should not waste.

We must the onward path pursue
As wider fields expand to view,
And follow him unceasingly,
Whate’er our lot or sphere may be.

We will be presented with opportunities to choose again and again in this life: will we continue in the path the Savior set for us, or will we explore other options? Will we follow him when he is not here personally to direct us, but delegates that responsibility to imperfect mortals like ourselves? Will we follow him when our lives are filled with trials, doubts, fears, and sorrows? Will we follow him when our lives are easy and filled with joy and success?

“Whate’er our lot or sphere may be,” will we follow him?

That is the one question that matters in this life. And he has already given us the answer that leads to “thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow’rs, and glory great and bliss”.

“Come,” he bids us. “Follow me.”

temple

Hymn #288: How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord

temple

LDS temples dot the earth, with nearly 150 of them across the globe in 46 countries and six continents. Each has its own unique architecture, drawing from local culture, but no matter what they look like, each is beautiful. They are the houses of the Lord, and they are built to be worthy offerings to Him.

How beautiful thy temples, Lord!
Each one a sacred shrine,
Where faithful Saints, with one accord,
Engage in work divine.

Certainly the craftsmanship and attention to detail used in building these temples makes them beautiful, but they are noteworthy as much for what happens on their inside as much as for their outward appearance. Members gather to receive ordinances crucial for their eternal progression, but also to receive those ordinances on behalf of their ancestors who have since passed on, giving them the opportunity to accept those ordinances that they did not have the chance to receive during their lifetimes.

How beautiful some aid to give
To dear ones we call dead,
But who indeed as spirits live;
They’ve only gone ahead.

God could have devised any number of ways to allow those who died without receiving saving ordinances a chance to accept them in the hereafter. He chose, in His wisdom, a method that involves our direct participation. This not only gives us an incentive to return to the temple often, gaining a fuller understanding of the ordinances of the temple and opportunities to spend time in the Lord’s house, but it also helps us to forge and strengthen bonds with our ancestors. We seek out those who went before us and give them the chance to accept gospel ordinances, should they want to. They can seek us out too, prodding and inspiring us to perform the work here on earth that they cannot do in the spirit world. The hearts of the fathers are turned to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, as Malachi foretold.

How beautiful its faith and hope;
All mankind it would save,
Including in its aim and scope
The souls beyond the grave.

The Lord desires the salvation of every person, whether male or female, bond or free, living or dead. Each is precious to Him, and each deserves an equal opportunity to come unto Him. No one is punished for not having heard the gospel. He loves all of us, and the fact that He has prepared a way for each of us to partake of the gospel, and particularly one that allows us to help each other on that path, serves as evidence of that fact.

How beautiful thy promise, Lord,
That we may grow in truth,
And live, exalted by thy word,
In endless, glorious youth.

The external beauty of the temples reminds us of the beauty we find within. We remember that inside the temple, we can receive power from on high. We can be sealed together as families forever. We can receive those ordinances on behalf of our deceased ancestors, allowing them to partake of those same blessings. There’s an awful lot of beauty in the temple, both inside and out, and that’s because there’s an awful lot of beauty in the Father’s plan for us.

Image credit: Quetzaltenango Guatemala LDS (Mormon) Temple, flickr user Fersandh.

 

Hymn #58: Come, Ye Children of the Lord

The stereotypical representation of a Christian heaven usually involves angels on a cloud plucking their harps in eternal praise of God. That imagery has never really resonated with me—I believe we’ll have plenty of meaningful work to keep us busy throughout eternity, so the idea of lazily sitting around on a cloud in lazy praise of our God just doesn’t seem right.

And yet, the scriptures do speak of angels who shall “worship him forever and ever.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:21). While we may not be toting harps everywhere we go, worship and veneration of our Heavenly Father is an eternal principle. I do not believe it will not be our only heavenly occupation, any more than scripture study is all we are expected to do here on earth. Nevertheless, songs of Heavenly praise are probably not a rare sight in the eternities.

Come, Ye Children of the Lord extends this concept even further, referencing the songs of praise we might sing during the millennial reign of Christ. It draws from passages like this one in the Doctrine and Covenants:

And the graves of the saints shall be opened; and they shall come forth and stand on the right hand of the Lamb, when he shall stand upon Mount Zion, and upon the holy city, the New Jerusalem; and they shall sing the song of the Lamb, day and night forever and ever. (D&C 133:56)

The millennium will be a time of rejoicing and peace, a time long anticipated by prophets both ancient and modern. Though it often seems distant, we should recall that the Lord named this church The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for a reason. This church is intended to prepare the world for the second coming of the Messiah, inviting all to come unto him and to receive him.

We preach and sing about the millennium often, but I don’t know if there’s any hymn that speaks more directly to the joy and happiness that will prevail on the earth at that time. Consider these passages:

Oh, how joyful it will be
When our Savior we shall see!
When in splendor he’ll descend,
Then all wickedness will end. (verse 2)

All arrayed in spotless white,
We will dwell ‘mid truth and light.
We will sing the songs of praise;
We will shout in joyous lays. (verse 3)

Earth shall then be cleansed from sin.
Ev’ry living thing therein
Shall in love and beauty dwell;
Then with joy each heart will swell. (verse 3)

As we consider this hymn, it’s important to remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just intended to bring us individual peace and comfort. The gospel is meant to bring peace to the entire world. It is, in no uncertain terms, a world-changing doctrine. It will make of this world a paradise, where all can live in happiness and harmony.

And yet, take note of the first phrase of this song:

Come, ye children of the Lord,
Let us sing with one accord.
Let us raise a joyful strain
To our Lord who *soon will reign*

We are not supposed to defer our praise until the millennium arrives. Rather. We sing now, joyously, in anticipation of the blessings our Father has promised us in the future. We do not need to delay our rejoicing; whether the promise is fulfilled for us, our children, or our grandchildren, the promise is still rich and full. If a parents’ greatest ambition is to provide a better world for their children and their children’s children, then should we not rejoice in the coming millennium?

I think it sounds pretty great.

Hymn #225: We Are Marching On to Glory

 

southern cross

When we talk about enduring to the end, we often talk about staying in the strait and narrow path. The idea is that we have a clear path to follow that the gospel has laid out for us, and that we have little room for variation from that path. If our goal is eternal life and everything that the Father has, then we can’t make up our own route to get there. He’s set the goal for us, and He dictates the path. It is strait, and it is narrow.

We have guides to get us there, of course; it would be unfair to demand that we follow such a rigid course without also telling us how to walk that path. We are given the scriptures, prophets, local and general leaders, families, and of course, the gift of the Holy Ghost. We talk about the scriptures in particular as an iron rod, but we could just as easily describe all of those guides as an iron rod, built on the side of the path to help guide us along the way.

One image that isn’t used as frequently, though, is that of a guiding star. The wise men followed a star to see the infant Jesus, but I can’t think of any other scriptural imagery that references the guiding power of stars. The chorus of this hymn mentions it, however. Listen:

We are marching, marching homeward
To that bright land afar.
We work for life eternal;
It is our guiding star.

“That bright land afar” is described earlier as eternal life. We are marching on to be with our Father, and to be like Him. That goal serves as our guiding star. You may not be familiar with celestial navigation; I know I certainly haven’t had to chart a course using the stars. It can be difficult to an inexperienced person like you or me, since as the earth rotates on its axis, the stars also rotate through the sky. A constellation may start the night in the east and end up in the west before long. Navigation can only work by orientating to a fixed point. In the northern hemisphere, that’s the North Star; in the southern hemisphere, there’s no star that occupies a fixed position, but the Southern Cross points the way. The starry sky spins through the night, but those two fixed positions never change. If you know where Polaris is, you can always at least be sure which direction north is; if you can find Crux, you can also find south.

We hear many different messages in our lives, and they often contradict each other. We may be told to get with the times, or to be on the right side of history. But we know that if we want to get to our goal, we need to orient ourselves using those fixed points. Just as the location of the North Star never changes, so too can we count on the fact that the things we learn from the gospel will never change. Jesus will always be our Savior. He will always have suffered for our sins, and we will always need to exercise faith and repent if we want to make use of that gift in our lives. The gospel is a fixed point, and we can always use it to chart our course through life as everything else changes around us. We need not be “driven with the wind and tossed,” as James warned. We can plot a steady course and safely arrive at our destination.

Image credit: “Southern Cross,” flickr user rplzzz. CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Hymn #286: Oh, What Songs of the Heart

 

Death.

It’s a hard topic. Sooner or later, each of us must confront that unavoidable reality: we are all mortal. We will all die. We will all lose loved ones to the grave. In some cases, death is a relief—consider a terminally ill grandparent whose suffering finally comes to an end. In other cases, death is a bitter shock, taking from us those who had so much more to do and so much yet to give.

When death comes, we long for comfort. We crave for the assurance that somehow, we have not lost someone forever. That somehow, all the missed opportunities, and lost moments, and hopes and plans and memories and wisdom, have not disappeared into nothingness.

Eternal truth brings us a powerful message of hope—that death is not the end. Not only is there life after death, but that life is wonderful. That life is beautiful.

That wonderful life is the topic of this hymn.

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home

Right from the start, we acknowledge that precious truth: our life after death is not a sojourn into an unknown territory. Instead, it is a return to our home, to that place we lived in ages immemorial before our brief stay in this mortal realm. It is a place that will be instantly familiar to each of us when we return home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There’s no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o’er and o’er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;

Not only is death a return to our familiar home, it is also a moment of reunion. We know that family ties are meant to be eternal, not just fleeting social conveniences. When we arrive in that next stage of life, none of us will arrive alone. Family who have gone before us will be there to welcome us back. Not only that; we will have a reunion with our eternal father, God himself:

Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (Alma 40:11)

The hope that fills this hymn is inspiring. It views death not as something we all must eventually succumb to—rather, it is a blessing we will all eventually receive. We need not hurry toward it, of course. There is so much to do here in this mortal life—so many hearts we can lift and so much joy we can spread. But whenever death comes, it need not be a tragedy. Our separation from our loved ones, though difficult, is only temporary, and some day we will have our own sweet reunion with those we have lost.

This is what I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fills us with purpose and hope. It replaces the despair of loss with the hope of reunion. It reminds us of our divine heritage and our eternal destiny. Through the power of his Atonement and resurrection, our relationships can truly last forever. No sudden illness or senseless tragedy can take children or parents or loved ones from us forever. Christ has shown us the way to receive these blessings; he offers them to us freely. How could we not be filled with joy at all this? How could we not rejoice?

Paul said it best: “Oh grave, where is they victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?”


Oh, What Songs of the Heart“, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, October 2008

Hymn #65: Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth

Ah, enduring to the end. It’s a common theme in LDS doctrine and will undoubtedly be revisited time and time again as we examine the hymn book this year. It can feel tiresome after a while. “Again?” you roll your eyes. “Do we have to talk about enduring to the end again?”

Yes. And here’s why: because we haven’t done it yet.

How easy it would be to check off the right boxes and say the right words and then call it a day. How many more hours we’d have to do whatever we want! How much fun we could have on Sunday! Yet for all the necessity of saving ordinances and sacred covenants, they aren’t worth anything if we don’t live up to them.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 31: 19-21)

Sure, we made it this far, but there is so much farther to go. We can always be learning and improving, strengthening our faith and repenting.

His love is great; he died for us.
Shall we ungrateful be,
Since he has marked a road to bliss
And said, “Come, follow me”?

The words of the hymn are simple, but the implications are heavy. The Savior endured all our pain, fear, disappointment, guilt, grief, shame, and despair to provide us a way back to our Heavenly Father. Are we so selfish that we would reject this gift because “it’s just too hard” to keep trying? I certainly hope not.

“The straight and narrow way we’ve found!” And when we let go of the iron rod and wander off the path, he offers us a chance to come back and hold onto it again. Shall we ungrateful be? No. “Let us travel on” until we are “perfected by his love.”

Which will only happen if we endure to the end.

Hymn #257: Rejoice! A Glorious Sound Is Heard

shout, by Krista Baltroka

shout, by Krista Baltroka

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve sung this song in church. It’s not one that I’m very familiar with. Maybe you are. Whether you are or not, though, it’s a hymn that has a familiar feel to it. We’ve sung similar hymns with similar feelings. Some have a strong cadence to them, like the hymns of Zion. Others have soaring crescendos, like the hymns of praise. It’s the meter that makes this hymn feel so familiar. The meter is called Common Meter Doubled (CMD), and it falls into four neat couples of eight and six beats. You probably recognize it from many of the hymns you’re familiar with: it has mostly quarter notes, with the occasional syncopated eighth note thrown in here and there, and each couplet ends with a dotted half note held out to mark the end of a phrase. It’s simple, which is why it’s used frequently enough to be called common meter.

The simplicity of the hymn ties in well with the message. We sing praise to the Father, and we rejoice in His Son. We glory that His cause is found in triumph. We are glad to hear that Zion’s youth–our youth–go forth in “wondrous might” and are found “in league with truth.” These are simple things, though that’s not to say that we don’t find joy in things that are more complicated and nuanced as well. We glory in our Lord. We do as much at the end of the first verse when we sing these words:

Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts,
All hail thee, King most high.

The message is simple when you get down to it. God lives, and we worship Him. The rest of the lyrics explain more about why we worship Him (His perfection, grace, and sacrifice of His Son), but the main thrust of the hymn is found in those two lines. God lives, and that’s a thing to shout about.

When compared to some other Christian churches, the music of the LDS Church is pretty tame. We don’t have robed choirs swaying and shimmying as they sing. We don’t have electric guitars or brass. In fact, we’re encouraged not to stray beyond the hymnal when performing in church. Our music is more reserved than one might expect out of gospel music. But that’s not to say that we don’t (or shouldn’t) shout with praise. Even if we don’t literally shout while singing this hymn, we are encouraged to sing vigorously, and there’s even an exclamation point in the title to give it a little extra oomph. When we sing this hymn, we are not simply to rejoice. We are to rejoice! The Lord has triumphed over sin and strife, and we will, with Him, in glory reign.

So give a shout today. As the third verse encourages us, arise and sing to His great name. Send forth a joyous strain. Feel the joy of the gospel, and let out that great exultant cry from the first verse: Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts, all hail thee, king most high.