Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Tree of Life

Last week I wrote about the parable of the seed and how our lives are compared to a seed that is planted in the ground. The seed represents the Gospel of Jesus Christ and depending on the type of soil it is planted in determines if the seed will grow or not. If we provide good soil and nourish the seed it will grow within us and a testimony of the Gospel will develop until it is fully grown and produces the fruit that shows in the way we live our lives.

Lehi, the Book of Mormon Prophet, had a vision of the Tree of Life. He said he was walking through a dark and dreary waste. After many hours he prayed for deliverance and then found himself in a large and spacious field. He said:

10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

 11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

 12 And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit. (1 Nephi 8:10-12)

Lehi tells his family of his dream and his son Nephi desires to know the meaning of the dream. He goes to the Lord and asks to know the meaning of what his father saw and he was given the same vision. He is also shown a vision of the birth of Jesus Christ and his ministry in the meridian of time. An angel explains the meaning of his vision:

18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

 19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for  the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

 20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

 21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
 22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. (1 Nephi 11:18-22)

Through these scriptures we learn that the Tree of Life represents the love of God. What is the love of God? It is His Son, Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most desirable above all things. It brings us the greatest joy as well as salvation in the Kingdom of God. The gospel seed that is planted in good soil and is nourished and allowed to develop will eventually become the tree of life and the fruit is our lives as we live the gospel and is the outward sign of our Christ centered lives.

A group of young men and women from Salem, Oregon participated in a memorable youth conference that taught them the importance of staying on the path that leads to the tree of life. The youth were taken on a 45-minute walk at night that simulated Lehi’s journey to the tree of life. It was on a dark and rainy night and the path was muddy and there were stones and logs that blocked their way. There were also other youth and leaders that were along the path trying to convince them that they should leave the path and take a short cut to the tree of life. After it was over some of the youth made these comments:

“‘Shaunelle Lakey, 17, testified: “The fact that it was so muddy and rainy that night relates a lot to life, because lots of times we have so many trials, especially as teenagers. Near the end, when we came to the tree of life, it was so beautiful. Coming to the tree that night was a relief for a lot of people. That’s how I think it’s going to be when we go back to our Heavenly Father, so that’s what we have to look forward to.”

“They learned to help one another make it to the end. Kayla Merriman, 17, said: “You need to always keep trying. The person above me on the hill reached out his hand and said, ‘Here, I’ll help you.’ When we made it to the end, everyone was so happy, even though we were wet and muddy and cold. You just have to endure!”
“We need our own testimonies,” said Haley Prychun, 17. “We can’t always rely on our parents. I’m so glad to be surrounded by strong youth.”
“Isaac Bergevin, 18, related his experience to the conference theme: “The holiest place was at the hill, because it was there that people worried about each other. That brought us together.”
“One of the most memorable lessons was learned by those who left the path. They felt disappointed as they had to wait in “spirit prison” and watch their brothers and sisters walk by them on the path.
“Jackie Haws, 18, said: “Because I was on the youth committee, one of my jobs was to try to lead others astray. Because of this, I ended up going to ‘spirit prison’ and being separated from the others. I felt such shame in prison. But I’m so grateful for repentance. I need it every day.” (In Search of the Tree of Life”, New Era, January 2004)
These youth learned that it is not easy to stay on the path that leads to the tree of life. But if we ignore those around us that try to lead us from that path and if we continue to cling to the rod of iron (which represents the word of God) and follow the prophet we will one day make it to the tree of life and partake of the fruit that is most desirable above all other fruit.

As the seed that we planted is nourished and grows in our lives, the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ really does become most desirable. We desire to associate with others that have the same goals that we have. We keep the commands of God because doing so is the only way to have true happiness and freedom. We serve others because that is what Christ did and we want to follow his example. This is the type of life that Nephi described when he said that they “lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). This is the life of anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ wants to live. This is the life that I desire and strive for every day.

Your questions and comments are welcome.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Parable of the Seed
One of the parables that Jesus taught during his ministry was the parable of the sower. He said that a sower went forth to sow:

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:4-8)

The seed was the same seed planted in each spot of ground and the quality of the seed did not determine if it grew but it was the place where the seed was sown. The seed represents the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it has the ability to grow and develop if it is planted in the right type of soil and it is nourished. Jesus explained that the seed that fell by the way side is like the gospel being given to someone and because they were not ready to receive it because of sin or some other problem their heart is not able to receive it and it did not grow.

President James E. Faust explained the different types of soil where the seed was sown and how it relates to how the gospel is received by Heavenly Father's children:

“In this parable, the seed is the same but it lands on four different kinds of soil. The Savior also explained the meaning of the parable. The seed that “fell by the way side” represents those who hear the word of God but do not understand it and fall into the clutches of Satan. The second seed, which “fell upon stony places,” describes those who joyfully hear the word and thrive as long as all goes well. But when trials come and they feel peer pressure because of their beliefs, they are offended and do not endure. The third seed, which “fell among thorns,” represents those who hear the word, but worldliness and riches are more important to them, and they fall away from the truth. The last seed, however, which “fell into good ground,” represents those who hear the word, understand it, live it, and reap great eternal rewards.” (“Of Seeds and Soils”, James E. Faust, General Conference Address, October 1999)

 The important thing to remember is that the type of soil the seed is planted in will determine if it will grow. In this situation it is not the quality of the seed because the seed is good and will grow if planted in good fertile ground and if it is nourished. The prophet Alma helps us understand the process of growing the gospel seed when he said:

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

 33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.

 37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.

 38 But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

 39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

 40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.

 41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. (Alma 3228-41)

What type of soil are we providing for the seed of the gospel? Is it fertile ground where the seed will take root and grow and develop or is it rocky ground that is hard and impossible for the spirit to be felt? President Faust talked about how we can prepare the seedbeds of faith and allow the gospel to grow:

“We also need to prepare our own seedbed of faith. To do this we need to plow the soil through daily humble prayer, asking for strength and forgiveness. We need to harrow the soil by overcoming our feelings of pride. We need to prepare the seedbed by keeping the commandments to the best of our ability. We need to be honest with the Lord in the payment of our tithing and our other offerings. We need to be worthy and able to call forth the great powers of the priesthood to bless ourselves, our families, and others for whom we have responsibility. There is no better place for the spiritual seeds of our faith to be nurtured than within the hallowed sanctuaries of our temples and in our homes.”(“Of Seeds and Soils”, James E. Faust, General Conference Address, October 1999)

President Faust said that our homes are the best place to nourish the gospel seed and if we do we will see it grow and produce the fruit that the gospel brings. We first must be willing to keep the commandments and serve others and as we set the example our children will see the fruit of the gospel in our lives and they will desire to have it as well.

As the seed grows and bears fruit it will become the Tree of Life whose fruit is most desirable above all other fruit. That fruit is the gift of eternal life.  But that is the subject of next week.

Your comments and questions are welcome.