Sunday, December 13, 2015

Strengthen Thy Stakes

As members of the Church, we gather in the stakes of Zion.  Nonmembers sometimes inquire, “What is a stake?” Members likewise inquire, “What is the significance of a stake? What does it mean to us as members?”

To nonmembers, a stake is similar to a diocese in other churches. A stake is a geographical area comprising a number of wards (local congregations) and presided over by a presidency.

        A side view of a parking lot and a red-brick chapel with a white steeple and a clear blue sky overhead in Caldwell, Idaho.

A stake has at least four purposes:
1. Each stake, presided over by three high priests, and supported by twelve men known as a high council, becomes a miniature church to the Saints in a specific geographic area. The purpose is to unify and perfect the members who live in those boundaries by extending to them the Church programs, ordinances, and gospel instruction.
2. Members of stakes are to be models or standards of righteousness.
3. Stakes are to be a defense. The members do this as they unify under their local priesthood officers and consecrate themselves to do their duty and keep their covenants. Those covenants, if kept, become a protection from error, evil, or calamity.
We build temples only where we have stakes. The blessings and ordinances of the temple prepare one for exaltation. Of course, it is not possible for every stake to have a temple, but we are presently witnessing some remarkable, yes, miraculous developments, in thebuilding of temples in different parts of the world. Such a program permits members of the Church to receive the full blessings of the Lord.
4. Stakes are a refuge from the storm to be poured out over the earth.
The Lord states: “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:14.)
Stakes of Zion are strengthened and Zion’s borders enlarged as members reflect the standard of holiness that the Lord expects of His chosen people.
Today … we see the fulfillment of this prediction where Satan, in undiminished fury, is displaying power over “his own dominion”—the earth. Never has his influence been so great, and only those who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide—and followed counsel from priesthood leaders—will be spared from the havoc of his evil influence.
The stakes and districts of Zion are symbolic of the holy places spoken of by the Lord where His Saints are to gather in the last days as a refuge from the storm. You and your children will gather here to worship, to do sacred ordinances, to socialize, to learn, to perform in music, dance, drama, athletics, and to generally improve yourselves and one another. It is often thought significant that our chapels have on them a steeple, with spires toward the heavens symbolic of how our lives ought to be ever moving upward toward God.
Through revelation we know that there will be perils, calamities, and persecution in the latter days, but through righteousness the Saints may be spared. The promise of the Lord in the Book of Mormon is sure: “He will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Nephi 22:17.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Thy Kingdom Come

                    Jesus Christ in white robes and a red sash, standing on a cloud in the air, surrounded by thousands of angels blowing trumpets.

“Come, O thou King of Kings!”  We are a very large worldwide family of believers, disciples of the LordJesus Christ.
We have taken His name upon us, and each week as we partake of the sacrament, we pledge that we will remember Him and keep His commandments. We are far from perfect, but we are not casual in our faith. We believe in Him. We worship Him. We follow Him. We deeply love Him. His cause is the greatest cause in all the world.
We live, brothers and sisters, in the days preceding the Lord’s Second Coming, a time long anticipated by believers through the ages. We live in days of wars and rumors of wars, days of natural disasters, days when the world is pulled by confusion and commotion.
But we also live in the glorious time of the Restoration, when the gospel is being taken to all the world—a time when the Lord has promised that He “will raise up … a pure people”4 and arm them “with righteousness and with the power of God.” 
Although the Lord reassures us again and again that we “need not fear,”  keeping a clear perspective and seeing beyond this world is not always easy when we are in the midst of trials.
Three beautiful examples of the Lord’s hand in establishing His kingdom are the temples announced today by President Monson. Only a few decades ago, who could have imagined temples in Haiti, Thailand, and the Ivory Coast?
The location of a temple is not a convenient geographical decision. It comes by revelation from the Lord to His prophet, signifying a great work to be done and acknowledging the righteousness of the Saints who will treasure and care for His house through generations.
Can you see the hand of God moving His work forward? Can you see the hand of God in the lives of the missionaries in Haiti or the Kaivaivatanas in Thailand? Can you see the hand of God in the lives of the Assards and the Affoues? Can you see the hand of God in your own life?
“And in nothing doth man offend God … save those who confess not his hand in all things.”
God’s miracles are not happening just in Haiti, Thailand, or the Ivory Coast. Look around you.  “God is mindful of every people … ; yea, he numbereth his people, and his … mercy [is] over all the earth.”
Our faith grows as we anticipate the glorious day of the Savior’s return to the earth. The thought of His coming stirs my soul. It will be breathtaking! The scope and grandeur, the vastness and magnificence, will exceed anything mortal eyes have ever seen or experienced.
In that day He will not come “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,”   but He will appear “in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels.”  We will hear “the voice of the archangel, and … the trump of God.”   The sun and the moon will be transformed, and “stars [will] be hurled from their places.”  You and I, or those who follow us, “the saints … from [every quarter] of the earth, “shall be quickened and … caught up to meet him,”    and those who have died in righteousness, they too will “be caught up to meet him in the midst … of heaven.”
Then, a seemingly impossible experience: “All flesh,” the Lord says, “shall see me together.”   How will it happen? We do not know. But I testify it will happen—exactly as prophesied. We will kneel in reverence, “and the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it.”   “It shall be … as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder.”   “[Then] the Lord, … the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people.”
There will be unforgettable reunions with the angels of heaven and the Saints upon the earth.  But most important, as Isaiah declares, “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God,” and He “shall reign over all flesh.”
In that day the skeptics will be silent, “for every ear shall hear … , and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess” that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.