Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dumping our Excuses

We all have numerous excuses for not attending to our duties, attending church, or putting off what we have committed to do in taking upon us our ordinances with their associated covenants.  Discouragement due to unrealized expectations; nervous that we are not accepted because we are too old, too young, too poor, too whatever; perhaps there have been serious mistakes that are known to all and we feel uncomfortable; I may seem to have it all together, but God knows my dirty little secrets; I have a disagreement with another member or a leader in the Church.  I think you get the idea.  There are plenty of excuses to go around. So, why don't we take advantage of these excuses and drop out?  Unfortunately, some do.

We choose not to because we know that is not where the promised blessings will be found.  We sometimes wonder why our prayers are not answered right away or not at all. We discover that God is not our butler.  Sometimes we get tired of the search and take the attitude to God, "Just show me or tell me what you want and I will do it." We discover that God does not need us to be his butler.

In his talk in the April 2012 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about the parable of the landowner and the workmen.  He pointed out that there was an area in the market place where men who needed work could go to find employment as day laborers.  Here the landowner or his agent came several times during the day to get men to perform the harvest. (See also Matthew 20)

Most would expect that the harvest would begin at the break of day, so they would be there early.  The householder chose from among the men who were there and agreed to pay them the appropriate wage for a day's work.  I suspect that there were those who came late, saw that the workers had been chosen and left in discouragement.  Others, who were there on time may have thought, "I have done all I can to make myself available, but the lord of the harvest has chosen someone else.  Isn't that just the story of my life," and in discouragement also left to beg or find some less profitable work.  Others, however, stayed on in the hope that some other grower will need their help or that the householder will return as the day wears on to acquire more laborers.

Some of those were rewarded for their patience and faith as the agent returned again at 9:00, at noon and even at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Incredibly, he returned again at 5:00.  These other shifts were only told that they would receive a fair wage for the time they worked.  When they were all paid at 6:00PM, they all received the same wage as the first laborers. All were incredulous for one reason or another.  The first, because they had born the heat of the day and had labored 12 hours and yet received no more than the last who had worked only one hour.  Those who came later in the day because they only expected a fraction of the wage those before them had earned.

To the early arrivals the lord of the harvest said, "I have paid you a good wage and one to which you agreed. As to the others, am I not free to spend my own money has I see fit?  These others were there when I needed them and I was glad of the assistance.  Otherwise, the harvest may have been lost."

Envy and its close cousin covetousness rob some of the blessings God has in store for us.  I recall that early in our married life another couple with whom we were close could not have children.  The wife was sad and disappointed, but never envious.  We were with them when another of our acquaintance announced that she was pregnant with their second child. Quietly, our friend said to my wife, "I truly am happy for her." 

This young couple continued faithful in the Church and did all they could despite their unfulfilled desire to enlarge their family.  Sometime after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the plight of the Romanian orphans came to light.  This couple had been very successful in business, so they had the means to travel to Romania and adopt a child.  When they arrived, they discovered that the child had a sibling just a year older, so they arranged to adopt them both.  Because of the unrest in the country, they were not able to fly out and had to travel across the continent in the famous Orient Express.  Now I became envious.

We are not diminished because someone else has good fortune.  In the end, we are promised that those who receive the Priesthood (follow the inspired counsel of the brethren) receive Christ and that all who receive Christ receive the Father.  All those who receive the Father receive all that the Father has. (D&C 84:36-38)  If you receive all that the Father has, what is left for me? Put that way, we see how ridiculous the notion of envy is.

We cannot allow discouragement to destroy our lives any more than envy.  In the end they have the same root.  They are used masterfully by the same being.  Neither leads to an increase in faith, patience to endure, serving the needs of others or finding the will of God in our lives.

On the other hand we are promised that when we forsake our sins, call on Christ's name, obey His voice and keep his commandments will see his face and know that he is and that it is his light that gives us our light. It is that light that allows us to grow from grace to more grace (the enabling power) until we achieve the fullness. Like the workers who chose to become agents to the wrong master, our agency can be our condemnation.  We will receive some wages, but they will not be the fullness. (D&C 93:1,2,12,13,19,20,31).  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

That is why we dump our excuses.

When Principles Colide

Many years ago, I heard Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone talk about the problem of what he called “hobby horses.”  He said, in effect, that then people get involved in a particular issue to a point that it dominates their thoughts it becomes their hobby horse.  Too often, they will saddle their particular hobby horse and ride it out of the Church.  I cannot find the reference, unfortunately, but I wanted to give him proper credit. 

     I have seen this pattern over and over again; sometimes in situations very close to me, personally.  It varies in scope, but can include some of the current issues in which the Church is at the center of controversy such as gay marriage, today; the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; the “liquor by the drink” issue in Utah when I attended BYU; and other issues of the type.

     It can also involve issues in the doctrine or practices of the Church that are held to in a fanatical manner.  These might include food storage and self reliance; preparation for the last days; genealogy; the fact that we no longer practice polygamy; the fact that we ever did practice polygamy; historical documents and differences from today’s practices; the priesthood being denied to black people, etc.  A former district leader of mine, met up with a former assistant to the president when they were both at BYU. They started looking at the Semitic writing style called chiasmus and finding it in all the scriptures, not just the Old and New Testaments.  After a lot of time spent on this project, they concluded that chiasmus was the mind of God, that is, God thinks in chiasmus.  They published a paper to that effect which almost no one in the academic community or the Church took seriously.  They could not leave it alone, however, and eventually both either left the Church or were excommunicated.  I saw my old district leader in the supermarket at that time and engaged him in conversation.  I only wanted to catch up with an old friend; he could only talk about how narrow minded the Church leaders were.
     The pattern is always the same, with minor differences. The focus turns from what is fundamentally true to what is perceived to be a gap in doctrine or policy.  Next it is assumed that the brethren (whom all the uninformed masses of the Church ignorantly sustain) are either ignorant as well or that they are evilly forcing a conformist agenda for their own self interest. These conclusions now justify finding camaraderie with other like-minded people who may favor the same issue or a different one, in criticizing the leaders of the Church. Eventually, the fault finding justifies violating consciences, breaking covenants, and eventually leaving the fellowship of the Church.  Because these justifications never fully soothe the conscience, they embrace the failings that others have found, seek the companionship of those others who are even more invested in their opinions and grow more and more bitter. It can even (and often does) get to the point where godly, pure-hearted men like Thomas S. Monson, Spencer W. Kimball and Gordon B. Hinckley are accused of being uninformed, or even calculating and evil.

    What is the approach of the truly pure in heart when they are faced with the dilemma in their own lives?  I have heard the advice to just “put it on the shelf” until there is greater clarification from sources we do not yet know.  That is good advice, but it sounds like a cop out to some. There is only one reason that this would be appropriate for anyone.  They must be truly striving to become pure in heart; to love God and serve Him with all their hearts.

     We know that what we nourish, tend and cultivate grows and what we starve and ignore eventually dies. Some things do not die easily, I know.  I recall losing some fruit trees to Texas Root Rot in Arizona.  In every case, the year they died they gave off a bumper crop of fruit; they did not go out with a whimper. The person who dwells on their low self esteem, their emotionally stingy mate; their physical disability, their sexuality, their lack of opportunity or whatever unfairness with which they have been born or later acquired is nourishing the bitter seed that will grow into an unsightly tree. That tree will eventually bear bitter fruit.

     The person who acknowledges his weakness or the unfairness of the circumstances he has been given, but builds on his strengths, will see the weaknesses become less important and his strengths compensate, and then grow. He will come to realize that he has been blessed beyond his dreams.
I may be quadriplegic, but I have a bright mind.  How can I use this gift to serve God, build the Kingdom of God and improve the circumstances of those around me?  I may be in an unhappy marriage, but dwelling on that will lead to adultery, destroy the family and damage the children.  I still have the capacity to love and show affection.  What can I do to more deeply understand my mate, support my children in their positive endeavors, and serve the Lord, his Church and those around me? I may be homosexual, so I may never qualify to serve a mission, marry or have children in the sealing covenant.  If those limitations are what I dwell on, I will grow bitter, eventually violate my covenants, fight against God and lose the promises that, deep inside, I desire above all those issues.  On the other hand, I have the ability so serve wherever I am called, so I will do so with all my heart.  I have talents, intelligence and empathy that can be turned to serve the God I love and trust.  I can be turned to serve God and I can bless the lives of his children and build his kingdom.

     I take compliments with a grain of salt, but I cannot let go of criticism.  If I allow myself to dwell on my lack of self esteem, I will never exceed my current, pathetic achievements.  On the other hand I know I have gifts.  I have a bright mind (others’ are brighter, but I can use what I have got), I have the ability to listen deeply to others, I can receive promptings and, with a little courage, I can act on them.  I have talents (others’ may be greater, but I can apply what I have) so I will use those talents, my ability to see the needs of those around me and bless the lives of others.  Most of all , I know that I have a loving Father and a Savior who has experienced these feelings to a greater depth than I, so I will always have a friend who understands where I am and will support my efforts to improve.

     Nourish strengths and virtues; starve unhealthy appetites, and spiritual weaknesses.

     We know life was never intended to be fair, but that God, our loving Father, is ultimately fair.  Maintain an eternal perspective.  The person who, despite exceptional challenges, remains true to his testimony, keeps his covenants and constantly nourishes his spirituality will receive all that God has. 

     The person who uses his challenges as justification to violate his covenants and nourishes his perceived misfortune will not grow what is starved and will receive less than all God has.  While it may seem that our situation is hopeless if we only get what we deserve, because we are constantly falling short, that is true only if we cave; if we fail to keep trying and to keep improving.  As long as we discipline our bodies, control what we allow to remain in our minds, act on promptings to love and serve others and constantly repent, we will not get what we deserve, we will get what Christ suffered, died and atoned for.  We will get all that the Father has.

     We have a choice or a series of choices that lead us to an end.  Compare Cain with Spencer W. Kimball (or anyone you know of who has had serious challenges).  Cain observed the prosperity of Abel, his brother.  As Abel’s flocks increased and his life seemed blessed, Cain bristled at the fact that he got crops instead of herds.  The obvious unfairness worked on him until he drew away from God, listened more to Satan and eventually took his brother’s life.  In his mind he would now receive his brother’s wealth; or, if not his wealth, at least the satisfaction of knowing that his brother would no longer be able to flaunt his wealth and his piety in Cain’s face. Seeing his brother dead, Cain exultantly exclaimed, “I am free!”

     Such rebellion always turns out badly, and its adverse effects seldom affect only the rebellious individual.  It usually destroys families, keeps children from fully embracing the full benefits of the Gospel and breaks the hearts of loved ones.

     Spencer W. Kimball was a short, somewhat frail boy whose father, while faithful to the Church was usually absent from the home.  He desired to serve his country in World War I, so he enlisted in the Army.  Within a short time he “washed out” because of physical limitations.  Such men in those days were all painted with the same broad brush as “slackers.” He was not handsome, even as a young man.  He had every opportunity to nourish these weaknesses and eventually die as a less than ordinary man.  Instead, he determined to nourish what he had.  He determined to work beyond his being exhausted, a trait the Lord used in building the Kingdom.  He determined at a young age that he would never receive promised blessings if he never nourished his testimony, so he began what would become a lifetime habit of reading and memorizing scriptures.  Putting scriptures on small cards, the boy, Spencer, would review and memorize them while milking the cow.

     While serving as an apostle, he suffered throat cancer and virtually lost his voice.  Because he lacked volume, even with a special microphone, he maximized his ability to tell stories that illustrated his points.  The stories were not only compelling, but written and delivered in the most beautiful prose.  Read the story of the mistletoe, for example.

     Because he nourished his strengths, he never exclaimed, “why me?”  Instead, as he stated in a general conference, that we may have enormous challenges to meet in these times, “…but I am want to say, ‘Lord, give me this mountain.’”  He died as a man who was truly free.  

     What we will become will depend upon what it is that we choose to focus on.  What we choose to nourish is what will grow.  Who we become will be determined by whose we become.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Open Your Mouth

Is there a principle of the Gospel that you wish they (whoever "they" is) would stop talking so much about? This is the one for me. I have, however, been praying for missionary opportunities and the privilege of seeing someone receive baptism before the end of the year, so I guess reading these passages (D&C 29-32) is, at least in part, an answer to my  prayers.

Working with the young single adults in my calling has also been a partial answer as they are anxious to have more missionary experiences and are aggressively pursuing them. We have many in the ward who are ward missionaries; I have been meeting with the elders quorum presidency for training and have seen many others in the ward who raise the issue of missionary work quite often.

In Section 29, Joseph Smith is given a revelation in the presence of some of the elders of the Church. Verses 4-6 tells us that we "...are chosen out of the world to declare my gospel with the sound of rejoicing." We are then informed that Christ will be in our midst to plead our cause (be our advocate - another evidence that he is a lawyer) that we may inherit the kingdom. We accomplish all this by being united in asking in faith. The word "united" indicates that we need not approach this responsibility alone, but seek others to assist and bring their wisdom and inspiration into the mix.

Primary among those for whom we have responsibility to teach the Gospel with rejoicing is our own children. (v. 46) For a time we have them when they cannot be tempted by Satan. (v. 47) During that time we can teach them right from wrong and help them develop a strong sense of their own conscience. I have often wondered about the proposition that they cannot be tempted prior to age 8 because it is obvious that they are perfectly capable of choosing to do wrong. Show me a three-year old and I will show you an accomplished liar. I have come to realize, however, that it is during this time that they are using their logical abilities to test their surroundings, including their parents. It is during this time that they must be lovingly and patiently taught the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of each.

An interesting insight is found in Section 30 where the Lord says not to fear man more than God and the ministry to which God has called us. "[Y]ou have not given heed unto my Spirit, and to those who were set over you, but have been persuaded by those whom I have not commanded." The Lord concludes with the admonition , "You shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you."
I sometimes fear what man can say or the reactions of others when I speak because I fear that I may offend or cause them to be prejudiced against the Gospel. I fear that my explanation of spiritual matters will be inadequate to bring their faith to a level where they can accept the principles of the Gospel. I know my faith has been developed beyond the elementary aspects of the Gospel, so it is sometimes difficult to give a simple explanation.  Fear is always the reason for failing to act on the Lord's injunction to open my mouth.

Section 31 gives us even more reasons to open our mouths. "Therefore," the Lord says, "thrust in your sickles with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you." That  is a result I can relate to and live with. Section 32 tells us to teach from the scriptures and not pretended revelation. To my mind this means that we should not put words into God's mouth. If it is in the scriptures, we should feel free to teach it, if it is not, but in our minds it should be, we should keep it to ourselves. The promise is that our audience, whoever that may be, will give heed to the scriptures and the Lord will bless them.

So what do I do, now? I must open my mouth about the wonderful blessings the Gospel has brought to me and not worry about trying to explain everything.  I am to be prepared to answer questions and to gauge interest and, to the extent that I follow this counsel, I am finding that it is much easier.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Inspired Leadership

One of my favorite quotes comes from Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM. I don't remember where I first heard it, but I have had it on my desk at home and at the office at various times throughout my life since college.  It states: "Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself." To me, leadership principles fall into two categories, as this quote and the scriptures almost always point out when discussing the matter.

Probably, the most complete list of leadership principles comes from Section 121, which is the most inspired treatise on leadership I have ever read. I suspect I have read at least 40  - 50 books on the subject of leadership; some of them several times. Nothing compares with D&C 121. These sections also cover some of the principles of leadership.

1. What we do to properly lead others.

In D&C 26 we learn that what is accomplished in the Church is done by common consent. Common consent is only accomplished by much prayer and faith. In other words, leaders should be led themselves by the promptings of the Spirit after proper preparation. When the people know that the leadership is inspired, they will follow in faith.

We also learn, in D&C 27 that there is to be order in priesthood. Joseph and Oliver were given the "first" priesthood at the hands of John the Baptist in the same manner as Aaron received the lesser priesthood. They received the sealing power and the charge to seek out and be a blessing to their "fathers" from Adam to the present time. They witnessed "Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain. And also ... Michael, or Adam, the ancient of days: And also ... Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry..." (v. 10-12) What Joseph Smith received on those occasions are also the keys of Christ's kingdom and this final dispensation of the fullness of times when all things shall be gathered together in one, both in heaven and on earth.

We also learn that the sacrament (the common term then and now for the sacrament of the Lord's last supper) is the responsibility of those who hold the priesthood. It is in Section 27 that we learn that water should be used in the place of wine. We are told that the act of partaking of the water and the bread should be done with an eye single to the glory of God "...remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins."

2. What we must do to lead ourselves.

Elder Robert D. Hales, in the most recent General Conference gave us some keys for remembering Him during the sacrament. "I testify that the sacrament gives us an opportunity to come to ourselves and experience 'a mighty change' of heart—to remember who we are and what we most desire. As we renew the covenant to keep the commandments, we obtain the companionship of the Holy Ghost to lead us back into our Heavenly Father’s presence. No wonder we are commanded to 'meet together oft to partake of [the] bread and [water]' and to partake of the sacrament to our souls."

We are commanded to put on the whole armor of God in order to withstand the evil day.  Leaders in the Church and in our homes must protect themselves with truth, righteousness, faith and the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. They must be armed with the Spirit which will be their weapon of choice. As a sword, the Spirit is also a protection. When we enter into battle with less than the whole armor, we leave ourselves vulnerable. By ourselves, we are not that good, or that smart or that strong.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Endure to the End

The more I read about Oliver Cowdery, the more I realize that my challenges are nothing in comparison. Obviously, we receive tests of our faith in accordance with and on the level we need to secure what we need to know for ourselves about ourselves. Of Abraham's commandment to sacrifice Isaac, Truman Madsen stated, "Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham." James Allen in his famous book As a Man Thinketh, states, "Our challenges do not make our character, but rather reveal our character."

As we endure and prove our mettle, our character grows. If we merely get through it and hope that we never have to face another challenge, we set ourselves up for the time when the challenge will just be more than God should ask of us and we cave, blaming God for our circumstances. Deep within we know that it was not God's plan that we should fail, but our own weakness that allowed us to be in the place where we find ourselves. Pride and fear keep us from gaining our place with Him, if we do not repent and apply ourselves to the task of rebuilding our faith.

In Section 23, Oliver is told, "Behold, thou art blessed and art under no condemnation. But beware of pride, lest thou should enter into temptation." The Lord obviously knew the weakness of the man and gave him the key to enduring to the end. In the end, however, it was pride that Oliver allowed to keep him from his greatest potential.

In Section 25, Emma Smith is told, "...[T]he office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness." Later in that section she is told that she should lay aside the things of this world and seek for a better. Then she is reminded that she should rejoice and cleave unto the covenants into which she has entered. As did Oliver, she suffered untold persecution and tragedy. What she suffered and what her attitude was that kept her from joining with the saints in the trek west, we don't fully know. Much has been written that excuses her and much has been written and spoken that condemns her. What we do know is that she did not keep her covenants and allowed her pride to keep her children from receiving the blessings of being raised in the Gospel. Only now are their descendants beginning to return to the restored Gospel.

What can we learn from these examples? Obviously, we can determine a couple of principles. First, endure to the end includes every trial of our faith. Perhaps, like Oliver and Emma, the trial of our faith seems more than we can endure and we leave the faith. Often, however, it means we lose the fire that we once had to love and serve the Lord and we simply go through the motions. We ignore the promptings of the Spirit to visit the widow and the fatherless in their afflictions and find something else to do. I don't know if the condemnation of one is any worse than the other. We must work through these trials of our faith, no matter what the genesis of the trial might be, whether it comes from inside ourselves in the form of discouragement or pride, inside the Church in the form of perceived unfairness or offense from a leader or co-worker or from its detractors who somehow manage to strike a chord with one of their accusations. It may take some time, but if we remain as faithful as we can, pray without ceasing, and try to hear and obey the voice of the Lord, that trial will, after a time, become a distant memory. Our faith will grow and our blessings will increase.

The other lesson, in my experience, is that the Lord's servants are called to positions of responsibility and some of those have prominence to one degree or another. We must keep in mind that the position has the prominence, not us. Whether our calling puts us in front of a class, a congregation, a stake or the entire Church, we are not prominent, the office is. We do not punish the Church or punish God with our absence, our breach of covenants, or our loafing. The Church and God will thrive without our presence, but without the devout fire within us we do not thrive. They can get by without us, but we cannot succeed to any comparable or significant degree without them. I believe both Oliver and Emma learned this lesson. Oliver returned to the Church in humility. Emma never did, perhaps because of the circumstances in which she placed herself. Her posterity have paid the price, but mercifully, they are starting to return and the ordinance work is being done for those who have passed on since that difficult time. We can learn from them, if we will.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Priesthood Completes the Atonement

Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants is one of the most complete and, at the same time, compelling explanations of the purpose of such a complete organization as the Church is.  Looking at it as a whole you come to an appreciation of why the Lord would not sanction a church with little or no organization. You can also see why the Lord would not sanction a church with a corporate-style organization. The section also points out the importance of the Book of Mormon in bringing to the world the more complete understanding of the Atonement.

It begins with the calling of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the fact that they were ordained to their callings as first and second elders of the Church. It points out the Joseph received a remission of his sins, then "became entangled in the vanities of the world" (a reference to the incident where the first 116 pages of the translated Book of Lehi were lost), repented and was able to complete the translation of the Book of Mormon.

It next bears witness of the verity of the book, the confirmation of witness, some of whom witnessed the book by the ministering of angels. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the testimony of the witnesses proves to the world that God is unchanging and gives scripture to men today as he did of old. Those who humble themselves to receive these scriptures and work righteousness will receive eternal life while those who reject it will do so to their own condemnation.

Who is this unchangeable God? He is the same who created the heavens and the earth and created man and woman in his own image and likeness. He gave them commandments that they should love and serve him, but through transgression they became fallen, sensual and devilish. He then gave his Only Begotten Son who suffered, died and rose again, then ascended into heaven to assume almighty power. Now as many as will repent and accept baptism in his holy name and endure to the end will be saved, which includes those living today, those who lived before and those who will yet come. They must believe the words of inspired prophets and the Holy Ghost who bears record of the Father and the Son.

Yet, even after having received the ordinances and the justification through the grace of Christ; even after having received sanctification by our holy love and service as well as the grace of Christ, we may yet fall from His grace and depart from God. Therefore, even the sanctified must take heed and pray always, lest we fall into transgression.

What an amazing and inspiring summary of the creation, fall and atonement. It is a simple, inspiring summary of our duty and opportunity to build our character and become like Him: holy and sanctified. Who does not, in their heart of hearts, desire such a state? Yet we live in a fallen world; we have the concerns of fallen man and we will not always be sanctified and holy (though, I have met men and women who have learned to live above the petty concerns that weigh down the majority of us).

He now goes into the tools given to those who embrace the restored gospel, church, priesthood and priesthood ordinances.

Baptism is to be received by those who humble themselves before God and who have truly repented of their sins and are determined to serve Christ to the end. If that doesn't sound like an eight-year old, consider the verses later in the chapter that describe those who receive the sacrament. Not only do we make such a commitment at our initial baptism, but each week throughout our lives. As we mature and our lives become more complicated, this ongoing commitment becomes even more important.

Next, we receive the offices of the priesthood. With the exception of the office of a deacon, all priesthood offices have the duty to preach, teach, expound, exhort, watch over the church, and take charge of meetings. Throughout this portion of Section 20, it is clear that the whole purpose of holding offices in the priesthood is to be a strength to the church. The word church is not capitalized, indicating that these verses apply not to the organization - Church, but to the members - church. Exhort them to pray, see that there is no iniquity, hardness, lying, backbiting, or evil speaking. Teach them their duties, meet together often (including quarterly conferences) in order to see that they do their duties.

The wisdom in this type of organization is only now being recognized by the corporate world. If all the responsibility of these important matters is left primarily to one person, a minister or preacher (or even a boss), not only would much fall through the cracks, but little growth would take place in the individual members. Certainly, they would have the reinforcement of the Holy Ghost as they strive to live their lives, but taking this level of responsibility engenders loyalty, a deep commitment to the work and to the individual members, as well as personal growth in spirit and understanding.

The section ends with the exact words for those prayers/ordinances that can be performed outside the temple and which require the exact wording specified by scripture: the sacrament prayers and the baptismal prayer. It is once again observed that in order for the blessings of baptism to be realized and the commitments to be better understood and accepted as we mature, it is important that we meet together often to partake of the emblems of the sacrament.

So important are these ordinances and ordinations that records are kept and certificates are issued so no one can take this honor to himself upon a whim that he has received some order from God to act outside the structure of the Lord's church. The record is so important that specific instructions are given for the removal of a person's name should his actions of rebellion rise to the level of apostasy.

This is one of the most complete treatises and inspired writings in all scripture. Beginning with the need for the restoration and the publishing of the Book of Mormon to the explanation of who the unchangeable God is and describing the creation, fall and atonement all in a way that engenders hope, faith and gratitude, the Section then gives specific instruction for our accepting and performing the ordinances of salvation. It deserves careful reading and re-reading to extract for ourselves where we are and where we could be with just a little more effort and a little deeper commitment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Repentance Should Feel Like

The first half of Section 19 is defining Endless torment and Eternal punishment. It is God's torment and punishment as Endless and Eternal are two of his names. As we traveled from Utah after Dad's funeral, we listened to an audio book by Joel Rosenberg where he describes the end of the world. One character has demons scratching out his eyes and he realizes that that will be happening to him for the rest of eternity. The description in this section of the Doctrine and Covenants of what will happen to us if we fail to repent is not pleasant - we will suffer as Christ suffered, but we are also promised that we need not suffer if we would repent.

Then, the comforting words regarding his mission: "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." He then commands us not to be covetous, not only of other's spouses, property or their lives, but not to covet even our own property. Earthly status, wealth, even reputation are secondary to the will of the Father.

"Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing - yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof. Behold canst thou read this without rejoicing and lifting up thy heart for gladness?"

There is gladness when the Spirit is assisting our walk in life. What, though, of those times that we have acted to repel the Spirit? It is so easy to become discouraged because it seems that we fall into a pattern of behavior that we thought we had overcome or we violated our consciences once again. We know that we are forgiven if we repent, but that we must not enter into that sin again. We did anyway.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave a masterful address on this subject in the October 2011 General Conference.  Part of his talk addressed this issue: " Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed 'virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own' (D&C 88:40)." (Emphasis added)

There are two things to keep in mind. First, discouragement is not of God. The source of discouragement is Satanic.  There is a place for it if it brings us safety or redirects us to something better than what we are currently pursuing, but more often it keeps us from stepping out of our comfort zones and achieving more. Stare discouragement in the eye and go forward anyway. It is a subtle form of fear which is the antithesis of faith.  Second, Christ's atonement is not limited to just the first sin. It is an infinite atonement. Of course, we cannot use that as an excuse to continue in our destructive paths with the idea that we will someday take advantage of the atonement, but for today we will be self indulgent. But when we return to the Savior with sincere hearts and the true desire to change our lives, his grace is sufficient.  Now we can truly lift up our hearts for gladness.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Duty of Testimony

Sections 14-16 of the Doctrine and Covenants were given to the Whitmer brothers and Section 17 to David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.  All of them have to do with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  In each case, the man or men being addressed had a specific, but unexpressed desire to know what was of most worth to them. I think most of us, if we are truly anxious to do the will of God and live in accordance with his will, have desired to know the same thing.  "Just tell me what to do and I will do it." Usually, in answer to that inquiry we get silence, or only the smallest hint of what we should be doing.

In actuality, we don't really want to have our entire lives dictated to us.  We cherish those moments when we have received promptings and direction. These experiences have brought us joy and the satisfaction of knowing that we are an instrument in the hands of God. To have every step dictated to us, however, would eliminate our need for growth, learning and developing our gifts to make the decisions of life. Galileo stated, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." Part of the use of sense, reason and intellect results in failure. Failure is part of our learning; no one who succeeds in any aspect of life has done so without some failure (usually a lot) along the way.  We abhor failure and wish to avoid it, so we think we would prefer to just have the Spirit tell us everything, especially when we are young.  As we grow to see the place of failure, we are less concerned with it and are more willing to move on despite it, I think. "I have not failed," said Thomas Edison, "I have found 10,000 ways that won't work."

In the case of the Whitmer brothers and the Three witnesses, the thing that is of most worth is to declare repentance that they might bring souls unto Christ.  They were also charged with the duty to testify of the Book of Mormon and the fact that they had seen the plates either as one of three or one of eight witnesses.  They were cautioned that because they had the same power, gift and faith as the prophet that they must endure to the end so the gates of Hell could not prevail against them. They were promised that they would receive the greatest gift of all, which is the gift of eternal life. "[M]y grace is sufficient for you and you shall be lifted up at the last day. And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it unto you, that I might bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men."

In actuality, none of them remained faithful, or endured to the end.  They all committed serious transgressions to the effect that to some degree, they could be seen to have blood on their hands as they gave fodder to the mobs that drove the saints from one place to another by physical abuse, bloodshed, rape and destruction of property. Most of these men returned and asked forgiveness of the members of the Church and of the First Presidency, but none were restored to their previous prominence.  What does that mean for them, eternally? It means that the perfect God who knows them perfectly and who has the capacity for eternal perspective will judge them accordingly and that they will, assuming that their repentance was true and sincere, receive the gift that was promised to them, that is eternal life - the greatest of the gifts of God.

We must never presume that prominence in the Church (or any other aspect of life, for that matter) will assure us of eternal life.  We must never presume that lack of prominence in this life will condemn us eternally, either.  We may assume, however, that while we may delay, time does not, as Benjamin Franklin observed.  When we fail to use our short time that is allotted to us, or we waste it due to indolence, fear of failure or exposure of our weaknesses, self indulgence, or for whatever reason, we lose what we have been promised, or it is delayed until we take the opportunity to repent and use the time we have left to make up the difference as much as possible.  If you were to ask anyone who has absented himself or herself from activity in the Church, and later returned, they will express regret for the time they have wasted. They have also been absent when others could have used their attention, maybe in positions of prominence or maybe not; it doesn't matter.

In other words, when these men, and , by extension, all of us who accept covenants of sacrifice and consecration, were told to thrust in their sickles with their might if they expect to receive the greatest blessings in heaven and on earth, that challenge was serious.  Anything less deserves less of a result. We cannot expect that we can sit on the sidelines and nurse our doubts, coddle our fears, and grovel in our weaknesses and receive the blessings that those who put aside their excuses and apply themselves with all their hearts will receive. It would be eternally unfair. What shall we do? Stop thinking about ourselves and go to work. When prompted, call someone or visit someone. Know the handbook regarding our calling and do more research, commit it to prayer, act on promptings regarding it and, after setting goals, make a plan to achieve the goals. Have a daily plan to read and ponder the scriptures, including the Ensign and General Conference talks with the idea of finding those things we could be doing better than we currently are. 

In my experience, the results are above our expectations if we are willing to just do it without excuse or fear.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What We Know About God

Reading Sections 6-11 of the Doctrine and Covenants and knowing a little about Church history, some interesting observations can be made.  Oliver Cowdery was given some amazing promises and great spiritual experiences.  The things he witnessed during a few short years were likely beyond anything anyone in the Church today would experience in their lifetimes.  Oliver discovered two truths: 1. The more he experienced, the greater the growth and  joy he obtained. 2. The more he grew spiritually, the greater the burden, challenge and opposition he experienced.  The same is true of Hyrum Smith and many others. The difference among them is that those who endured and did not succumb to the challenges and opposition continued in growth and joy. Those who allowed the opposition and burdens to overcome them ceased receiving the blessings.  In most cases, they considered the great spiritual experiences as a distant memory of something that hardly seemed real any more.

Oliver had expectations of wealth and given the prosperous times, the expectations were well founded.  Land prices were accelerating at an unprecedented rate in Kirtland and all the upper part of Ohio as people moved into the fertile country to settle.  There was no central banking system, so money was produced by the local bank.  Our money today is the result of the type of money they had developed then.  Banks would take your gold or silver coin or bullion and issue you "notes" in various denominations. Your $5 note may be worth $5 or more, or less depending upon the good credit of the bank upon which it was drawn. Today we have a central bank, so our money is subject to inflation or deflation, but will never be worth nothing. Unfortunately, in Kirkland the bank, along with thousands of others, became the victim of the bursting of the real estate bubble and resulting depression and it failed.

Oliver had many trials from mobbers and others outside the Church and even disaffected members of the Church, but this time, he felt that investing with the prophet was his pathway to wealth.  His faith and that of several others was tried beyond what he felt he could bear and he left the Church.  He became a bitter man and an enemy to the prophet.

Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff and many others also lost their fortunes in the venture, but disassociated the bank from the restoration of the Gospel and continued faithful.  Revelations continued, the process of restoring the Gospel, the Church and the priesthood with its saving ordinances also continued.  Oliver felt that he had become an indispensable part of the process and became, at first, bitter when he saw that it all continued without him and that others had easily taken his place.  Later, this realization touched his heart to the point of turning him around and he sought to be readmitted into the Church.

We sometimes make mistakes similar to Oliver.  It may not be that we feel the Church cannot do without us, but we place our finite understanding before God's infinite understanding.  He gives us counsel we would rather not accept.  We find that the way we are living or the way someone we love is living is harmless in our own minds and that a loving God would accept that.  We try to create God in our own image.  We cannot (or choose not to), with our limited understanding, accept certain principles that have been revealed.

We have two choices.  We can continue faithful and accept that the principles are true and eternal, or we can give God an ultimatum that if he does not change the principle, the situation, the commandment, or whatever the case may be, we will leave him and his church. Put that way, the choice is clear, but when we are emotionally invested in the outcome, our ability to see the situation logically sometimes gets cloudy.

In my experience, it never works to try to punish God or his church.  As Cecil B. DeMille once observed, "We cannot break the Ten Commandments, we can only break ourselves against them."  The only process that works is to continue faithful and wait for the day that it becomes clear to us.  That day does come, eventually.  Why?

We know without any doubt that God's understanding is infinite, thus obviously superior to our own, so we trust in his wisdom and keep his counsel.  We know that God's power is infinite, but functions within universal laws which he cannot break because, if he did, the universe would be chaos.  Therefore, he can accomplish with his power what our puny arm is incapable of accomplishing.  Finally, we know his love is infinite and superior to our own.  Because he loves us he cannot excuse our kicking against the pricks and our violations of his laws and commandments, but will give to us what we deserve.  We will deserve what we truly seek.  When we come to the realization that what we seek is damning us, his love, power and understanding are available to change our hearts.

Where is Christ in all this? It is by his grace (enabling power) that we can approach the Father and receive the miracle of forgiveness.  I am reading a book written by Neal A. Maxwell when he served as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy - well before he became an apostle.  It is one of the books that came from my father's library.  It is entitled Things as They Really Are.  In it he talks of the reality of the purpose of life, the reality of a living God, the reality of a living church, a living prophet, living scriptures and things as they really will be.  It is typical of Elder Maxwell's writings; short, filled with brief metaphors, but direct.  In the chapter on The Reality of the Living God he makes the point these sections we have been  looking at in the D & C are making.

In this chapter he makes the point that it may be "nettling" to be reminded that our work is unfinished and that we yet have remaining possibilities, responsibilities and things that must be done or undone. "But, could we honestly worship the living God or care much about membership in the living Church if it all were not really so?"  He goes on to describe the various levels of acceptance of God.  There are those who are angry with God for not existing (he does not respond as a butler when they call), those who are angry because he does exist (that bothersome conscience thing), those who accept his existence, "but smugly do not choose to take him seriously."

Then there are "others [who] believe their morals are superior to God's. Because he does not adopt their issues or jump the hurdles they wish him to jump, they are not going to extend themselves in worship of him. The Lord describes such individuals as 'walking in darkness at noon-day.' (D&C 95:6) The living God will not be disregarded."

He then states that a "passive life force" (a God who is like a book on a shelf - there when you need him, but otherwise unnecessary) or "an indulgent grandfather God" (one who will change to match our superior morality) wouldn't worry about our life's challenges. "As long as we are being basically good boys and girls who might find some good to do in Tarshish [where Jonah tried to flee in order to change his mission to one he favored over Nineveh]. But we have a precise and loving Father in heaven who knows what we need and who loves us enough to get us to Nineveh instead of settling for the chores of Tarshish.
     "We keep forgetting that a test must really be a test, and a trial a trial... It is a measure of both the love of a living God and his perfect awareness of our needs.  In our hearts we often know this  even if we resent it!"

What of those who never choose to change their damning course; who place their morality before God's; who leave his living church, scriptures, worship and Christ's grace?  We also cannot assume we know their hearts, their conscience or their disabilities. We must only assume that a living God knows them deeply and completely.  They will receive what they have chosen and that with which they will be comfortable.  We weep for them, we grieve for them, but in the end, we must never cease loving them and trusting in a God whose infinite power will change them if they choose to come unto him.  Life tends to last a long time; longer than time, to be exact.  Much can happen that we cannot even predict.  We are patient and loving with them, but we do not accept evil and call it good.  We stay on a plane from which we can pull another up and not descend to a plane below where we should be.

The last verse of Section 11 states: "[A]s many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name." That is why we seek to know his will for us every day of our lives.  That is why we conform to his will despite our desires to avoid the challenges of Nineveh and just stay comfortable in Tarshish. The result is always that we become better than we thought we could in every aspect of our lives.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Results of Miracles

We have seen the pattern in our own lives, and yet, when we read about it in the scriptures, we are prone to say, that would not happen if I were in their place.  What I am referring to is the loss of testimony based on a miracle or several.  When  I was a 12-year old Deacon, we had to get up early to go to Priesthood Meeting.  I was always sleepy and hard to rouse.  My brothers would chide me because I was not living up to my duty.  They both said that when they got the priesthood they would not sleep in.  In fact, when they were ordained, they did the same.  I hope it was not because of a bad example; I rather think that it is human nature to take what we have been blessed with for granted.

In D & C Section 6, Oliver Cowdery had just begun to act a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon. He had  received a witness of the mission of the Prophet and of the Book of Mormon, but wanted more.  I speculate that he was desirous of obtaining the same spiritual gifts that were obvious in Joseph Smith.  In reading about the life of Joseph Smith, it is obvious to me that he considered himself a mere mortal, at least in the beginning, and assumed that if he could receive such manifestations, anyone else could, as well.  We also see that he assumed that when others witnessed those miracles, they would remain as pure and as dedicated as he had.

In the biography written by his mother, she records that after the Three Witnesses had received their vision of the plates, Joseph returned home and exclaimed that he no longer had to bear the burden of testimony alone.  Similar expressions came with Oliver's and Sidney Rigdon's great spiritual experiences. The fact is, however, despite their amazing experiences, the world was able to pull them away and every one of them forsook their commitment to and testimony of the restored gospel, though none denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. While it is true that some returned, none were restored to their former spiritual status of seeing heavenly messengers and being involved with mighty miracles.  Those who remained faithful, such as Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff, did not experience the same level of manifestations that were necessary during the process of the restoration, but their priesthood power and spirituality remained with them for the remainder of their lives.

In this section, Oliver was promised that he would be given significant spiritual gifts.  He then was told that he had already been given answers to his prayers. When he prayed about the truthfulness of the work of Joseph Smith, peace was spoken to his mind and he was led to the prophet's door.  Other evidence came in the form of enlightenment to his mind.  Yet, these things were so common to him that he had discounted their importance.  Over the years that followed, he was witness and participant to many amazing experiences wherein he saw heavenly beings and had hands laid on his head to receive ordinations and ordinances. (See the footnote to J.S. History 1:71 where he declares, "These were days never to be forgotten - to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven..." He recounts being visited by an angel of God and the voice of Jesus and goes on to say, " Uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise,...fiction and deception had fled forever.") When, however, the trial of his faith came in the form of loss of money, it was more than he could endure, all the experiences he had received were a distant memory and he left the fellowship of the Church and the prophet.

There will be trials of our faith; there certainly have been severe trials of mine.  What can we do to be sure we will survive those trials and not only remain faithful, but come out better than we started?  The answer is in this section.  First, remember that we have already received sacred experiences, some of which we cannot share; "Trifle not with sacred things." (V. 12, 14-16, 22-24) Second, magnify our gifts to bless others and we will receive the greatest gift: "there is no greater gift than the gift of salvation." (V. 13) Third, never let fear of any kind destroy your faith whether it is the fear of loss of society, fear of commitment, fear of loss of employment, fear of giving offense, fear of______ (fill in the blank - several more times). (V. 33, 34, 36) Finally, doubt not, but be faithful to the end. (V. 36-37) The promise is that we will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes, holding out faithful is a matter of minutes, days or months, but sometimes it is a matter of years.  It does not matter.  We faithfully continue to read sacred writings with an eye to how to  improve our service. We continue to meditate on sacred things.  We continue to magnify our callings, not just fill a space in them. We continue to pray morning and evening and more when prompted.  We continue to act on the promptings of the Spirit.  We continue in all matters as commanded and counseled and one day we find that our spirit is renewed and we are right with God.  When that time comes, we realize that we are in a place that is superior to where we were before that trial.  "Therefore, fear not, little flock...doubt not, fear not." (V. 34, 36)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Of Human Potential

How many times have I recited Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants?  I can't count them. As I began to read it this time, I was struck by the head notes: Valiant service saves the Lord's ministers. I have taught and tried to practice the principles of magnifying one's calling for many years.  I have, myself, and have heard a number of other priesthood leaders emphasize the need to apply our heart, might, mind and strength and all the virtues listed in the last three verses, but I had never focused on the end of verse four. We apply ourselves that we might bring salvation to our souls.

I have been trying lately to remember what it was that turned me from a smorgasbord Mormon to a dedicated priesthood man.  I now distinctly remember that I came to the conclusion that I would spend my life doing the will of the Father as expressed by the counsel of the Brethren, the teachings of the scriptures and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  I determined that I did not need to have every doubt satisfied before I could commit myself to that practice.  I also determined that I was not putting God to the test, so if bad things happened or good things that I hoped for did not come to pass, I would not blame God and try to punish Him.  I had seen that in others and it always turned out badly. I was not placed here to test God, but to be tested by Him.

In this context, salvation to the soul is not just being saved by grace, but , as Brad Wilcox put it in a recent article in BYU Magazine, being changed by grace. I had never considered myself to be of the material to be a priesthood leader or scholar.  Neither of those were my goal.  What I wanted was to know what the scriptures said about my situation and what I had to do to qualify to be considered a good and faithful servant. To do this I began to read everything with an eye to what steps were involved for a particular commandment, counsel or principle and what blessing was associated with those steps.

For example, I pulled out my patriarchal blessing and underlined the passages that made promises and double underlined the passages of counsel to accomplish those promises.  When I read the scriptures I found the same pattern often applied.  For instance, Section 93 of the D&C has five requirements in the first verse to achieve the promise of seeing the Lord's face and knowing that he is and that he is the true light.  Jacob 1:17-19 has three principles for magnifying our callings in the priesthood and avoiding the mistake of trying to magnify the calling of someone else, lest we become critical of the work of another.

The first time I was called to serve as a counselor was a complete surprise to me.  After a while, I realized that the Lord chooses those who are willing to magnify their callings.  I have also come to realize that even if we are not called to a position of responsibility, we must continue with the same determination to serve others and to approach the counsel and commandments with equal dedication.  I have also come to realize that this approach has fixed in me not just a testimony of the Church, the Gospel and the Priesthood, but a love for them and for the Savior.  I now seldom have doubts, but some things are unclear from time to time, so those things I either research until I find what I need to know, or I shelve it until, as always happens, I later gain some insight into the issue.

Most often I find that the doubt or mystery is nothing that will affect my salvation, and I am really only concerned with those things that will allow me to fully use the amazing resources that remain untapped in my own body and brain as well as the spiritual blessings that are yet to be discovered.  I see so much of human potential that is utterly wasted.  It sickens me to go into a casino or see a young person completely absorbed in electronic media that the potential within these people is ignored.  I believe that finding the will of God and complying with it to the best of my abilities will get me farther in life than any other pursuit.  That has more than proven to be the case thus far.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Grandpa's Funeral

I thought I would try to put down in writing the talk I gave at my father's funeral. I don't write out my talks, typically, although I did some of this one.  While it is relatively fresh on my mind, I will try to remember what I said based on my outline and notes. I understand there were recordings made, so those may be a more accurate source.  This is how I remember it:

I remember many years ago when I was just a boy that Dad's brother, Clyde, was called to serve in the stake presidency of the Uintah Stake.  At the first conference where he was called upon to speak, I remember him asking for the congregation to pray for him.  I knew that this was hard for him because he was a shy man, so I took him seriously and prayed for him.  He gave a great talk.  I tend to be emotional, so I am asking you today to pray for me to get through this talk.

My wife and I, until just a few months ago, were ordinance workers in the Reno Temple.  One evening I had a particularly strong feeling of being close to the Spirit.  I was assigned to the front desk that evening, which is quite busy just before an endowment session, but then is quiet for long stretches of time.  I was anxious to read from the scriptures and was particularly impressed to read from Mosiah 18.  I have read that chapter many times.  There are some well-known passages in Mosiah 18, but I could not go beyond verse 2.  Here Alma is recounting to the people the message of Abinadi and in verse 2 he summarizes the five elements that were necessary in the atonement. "Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people<the part of the atonement for which I am most grateful>, which was brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and the death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven."

What do we know about the power of Christ?  We know he had the power to heal, the power of discernment (John 4:16-18), the power to change lives, the power to lay down his own life and raise it up again (John 10:17-18).  There are many examples of his powers. After his resurrection, he explained to the remaining apostles that the father had given him all power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).

My father also had power.  He had the  power of the priesthood.  Many who are here today have been healed of serious issues as a result of the exercise of his priesthood power.  Many have received ordinances, ordinations, patriarchal blessings, and some have been set apart by him. You have felt the power of the priesthood through the blessings you received.

He had the power of faith.  He had the faith to move mountains.  The way he used his faith to move mountains is exemplified by what happened in LaBarge, Wyoming.  There was some prejudice against the Church in that little town.  The LaBarge Bible Church preached against the Church as did the Singing Knudsens.  We were using the school as our chapel at that time and the principal was a member of the LaBarge Bible Church.  He always made sure to turn the thermometer all the way down so when we arrived for church it was barely 50 degrees. We got to sit in metal chairs while waiting for the temperature to rise.

It was announced one day that the Jones' house was going to be flooded due to a dam that was going to be built and that they had donated it to the Church if we could arrange to move it.  Land was also donated by a ward member.  We would have to prepare a foundation to place it on.  Dad was serving as bishop at the time and announced that there would be a work party to dig the basement for the chapel.  It had to be a basement because it would be heated by a coal furnace that had to be below the building.

In church the next Sunday he told the story of arriving at the property with his shovel and being the only one there.  Expecting that others would soon come, he began digging.  He dug until he was down about waist deep and disappointment began to set in.  He knelt in the hole he had been digging and prayed that others would come.  As he is reporting this in church tears are running down his cheeks as he expressed gratitude – when he got up from his knees he saw two men coming toward him with shovels over their shoulders. There was no scolding or attempts to make anyone feel guilty, but I am sure that day a lot of husbands received Scotch blessings from their wives, because every work party after that had a lot of men with shovels, backhoes and other earth moving equipment.  That is how Dad moved mountains.

Dad had the power of love.  There are people here who have been invited to change their lives and  changed initially just because they felt his love for them and would not disappoint him.  He radiated Christ-like love.  I call Mom and Dad every Sunday and until he could no longer hear, I talked to him.  One day I asked him what they had him doing in the Church.  You have to picture this.  Here he is all bent over and he could hardly hear.  He said, “Well, Brad, since your mother can’t stay for more than sacrament meeting because of her arthritis, I can’t really have a calling, so I just visit the old people.” Sometimes it is hard to imagine doing what Christ would do, but we can imagine what Dad would do, because we have seen it modeled for as long as we have known him. (This was in my notes, but so cryptic that I couldn't remember what it meant, so I didn't include it in the talk).

If Christ had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again, why didn’t he just lie down, stop his heart, have his disciples witness it, wait three days and rise again?  He knew that suffering was a necessary part of the atonement.  “[W]herefore they scourge him and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it.  Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” (1Nephi 19:9) “And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7)

Dad accepted personal suffering with patience and grace.  I never heard him complain.  When he was all bent over, when he could no longer hear, we heard no complaints. When he was disappointed by his children, grandchildren ward or stake members, he did not dwell on what pain they caused him.  Through prayer, counseling with them and personal faith did all he could to invite them back to the path that leads to the tree of life.
Christ’s death was among the most ignominious ever conceived by the minds of evil men.  It was also very public.  There was no question in anyone’s mind that he was dead when he was taken down from the cross. His death did not occur until his suffering was complete.  When he knew that the mission was complete he said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) then he shouted with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and he laid down his life.

Dad had no such power; he couldn’t lay down his own life.  As his suffering drew to a close, I felt anxious to be here with him, to lay my hands on his head, but circumstances would not allow me to do that.  At that same time Devon, one of his grandchildren felt that same urgency and went with my son, Micah, to give him a blessing.  We don’t know how much longer he lingered, but when his granddaughters, Cherie and Robin and a friend came to visit later that day, they found that he had passed away. I am grateful that there are men of the priesthood who act when prompted.

When Christ appeared in the room where the remaining apostles and some disciples had gathered for protection they were terrified and afrighted for they thought they had seen a spirit. Then he spoke, “Peace be unto you.” (Luke 24:36-41) As he had earlier calmed the waters, he calmed their souls.  He later told Peter, “Feed my sheep…Feed my lambs… Feed my sheep.” As he met with the eleven remaining apostles on a mountain in Galilee he blessed them and gave them their mission to spend their lives inviting all to keep his commandments, teaching them and baptizing them.

Dad did not begin inviting and feeding when he became a bishop, nor did he cease when he was released from his callings. It was a lifetime mission that was as natural to him as breathing.

It is interesting that the first person to whom Christ appeared was Mary of Magdalena giving rise to speculation that they were married. As our temple president recently observed, in the morning of the first resurrection, Dad will raise Mom’s veil and will see the most beautiful woman to have graced the earth and Mom will see a man whose beauty and grace is beyond our ability to describe.

The resurrected Christ appeared to literally thousands in the old and new world, but made it clear that he must return to his Father.  Had he remained, no faith would be required of us and, thus, no growth. Imagine having a resurrected being with all power both in heaven and on earth.  The Ascension was a necessary part of the Atonement.

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said, "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)  In the new world he said, "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as I and your father which is in heaven are perfect." (3Nephi 12:48).  A more accurate interpretation from the Greek is "complete" rather than "perfect."  If, at the end of the summer, I go into my garden and pick a green tomato, it is not complete or perfect.  It is not rotten and to be discarded, it is simply not yet ripe.

I know from experience that if I take it to the garage or into the basement, it will still turn red, but it will taste like something from the store - sort of mealy and flavorless.  If, however, I put it in the window or on the picnic bench where it can ripen in the light of the sun, it will taste as good as if I had allowed it to ripen on the vine.

Unlike the tomato, we can choose how we will become complete, whether it will be in darkness or in the light of the Son.  My father chose to ripen in the light of the Son.  It was a conscious choice for him just as it is for us. I pray that we might choose the light of the Son in our lives.  I bear witness that Christ beckons us to be with him and that if we place our will upon the alter and put aside our personal agendas to spend our time accomplishing His will, we can be comfortable in His presence.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All That Will Hear May Hear

I have begun the study of the Doctrine and Covenants again and that means reading Section 1.  This section is filled with wisdom and counsel with which we are quite familiar.  The section is called The Lord’s Preface because it was revealed specifically for the purpose of preceding all the other sections and as an introduction and a warning to those who read the book.
Of all the familiar parts of the section one that impressed me as I read it was in verse 11: Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear.
I know I had read that before, but I concentrated more on the verses that follow.  They talk about those who will not hear and the consequences that follow when we refuse to take into our hearts the words of the Lord or his servants.
This verse, however, is an invitation to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that will lead us to the blessings we seek in life.  We all tend to pick and choose what we will accept and what we will leave to others to believe. 

In his autobiography, Yearning for the Living God, F. Enzio Busche describes his conversion.  He has, at one point, several witnesses of specific parts of the Gospel as he has received them, but his life experiences and circumstances have caused him to have doubts about others.  When the missionaries challenge him to quit smoking, his wife says, “Oh, that is no problem, he is good at that.  He has quit eight times, already.”  In fact, he was smoking 40 cigarettes, 3-5 small cigars and 2-3 pipes every day.  He accepted the challenge to pray about it, as he knew that his prayers were heard from time to time.  As he prayed he got the impression that God would help him quit smoking if he would read the Book of Mormon
He had never read the Book of Mormon except to find fault with it and he had no desire to read it again.  He knew that this time would have to be different.  This time he would have to read it with the intent to discover what it contained that could be of use in his quest for truth.  He looked for those things that could teach him of Christ.  He said he expected to cut down on his tobacco intake, but to his surprise, he had already smoked his last cigarette.
So our search must be.  If we are looking for the inconsistencies in the scriptures, we will find them whether in the Book of Mormon, the Bible or any of the recorded words of God.  This critical approach gives us permission to continue in our comfortable path without truly examining our lives.  When we accept the Lord’s invitation, not only will we examine our lives and discover where we fall short, but we are given energy, positive feelings of love and hope and a desire to be a blessing to everyone.  We are open to receive all that God promises to the righteous and faithful.

 That little verse opens us to a world of possibilities.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Gifts of God

I have, in my lifetime, come across several people who have attempted to punish God.  He had failed to meet their timetable, answer their need, provide a doctrine or any number of other imponderables, so they rebelled as if that would change God.  In every case, the result has been unhappiness and failure to one degree or another.  Others, in similar situations, have exercised their faith and found solace in God and His words and patiently wait for the blessing, knowing it will come according to His timetable.

In his final treatise, Moroni discusses the power of God and the gifts of God.  This comes right after the reminder of the love of God.  “Deny not the power of God, for he worketh by power according to the faith of the children of men…” (Verse 7)  Moroni then states, “…deny not the gifts of God, for they are many and they come from the same God.”  (Verse 8) He concludes by saying, “…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.” (Verse 30) The power of God is apparently manifested in the gifts of God.  Both require faith if they are to be expressed in their highest capacity.

In Moroni 10 there is a list of the gifts of God that are bestowed upon mankind.  They are bestowed by the Spirit and are sometimes referred to as spiritual gifts.  They include the ability to teach the word of wisdom (as opposed to the Word of Wisdom) and to teach the word of knowledge. To some is given the gift of great faith, to others the gift of healing, and to others the ability to work mighty miracles. Still others receive the gift of prophecy, while others receive the ability to perceive and receive the ministering of angels. There are those who are given the gift of tongues and the interpretation of languages.

In D&C 46 and ICor. 12 we find similar treatises and the lists are similar but by no means intended to be a complete list of all the gifts of God.  I think the point is often missed that we come with some gifts, we develop our capacities and receive other gifts, but if we are to find the highest expression of the gifts we are given, we must exercise those gifts in accordance with the influence of the Spirit of God (which I understand is the Holy Ghost) and the Spirit of Christ (which we are taught is our conscience). Further, we must understand that “every good gift cometh of Christ.” (Verses 8,17-18)

Are there those who have gifts, but do not have to live by the influence of the Spirit of God, and ignore the Spirit of Christ?  Of course, we see them every day.  They can be prominent men and women or just people we meet from day to day.  The gifts they have received are sometimes used to their own profit, sometimes for the profit of others, sometimes never put to a good use because of fear or laziness.  Some even become great by earthly standards all the while being arrogant that they are somehow superior to others who have not the same degree whatever their gift may be.  Seldom do they stop to realize that what they have is a gift and the source from which that gift is derived.

These people may magnify their gift by studying, exercising, performing, rehearsing, or in any number of ways, but if they do not include the Spirit of Christ at least, they reach a ceiling and find they cannot go beyond a certain point.  If they magnify that gift while following their conscience, they find their gift is a blessing to themselves and to others, as well.  A good example is Steve Jobs who had a magnificent gift, realized it and used it to produce products that continue to enrich the lives of people all around the world. When someone not only magnifies his gifts while honoring the Spirit of Christ, but also the Spirit of God by increasing sensitivity to the promptings he receives, he finds that his gift is greater than he could imagine.  That person also comes to realize that he is magnifying other gifts he may not have known he even had to begin with.  Having read the autobiographies and biographies of Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, Spencer W. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball and many others I see that pattern repeat itself over and over.

I believe this is what Moroni was leading to when he began discussing the gifts of God.  When we look at the chapter as a whole we find that it begins with the admonition to ask God if these things are true.  Receiving the answer is a gift from God, so he continues with the commentary on the gifts of the Spirit which, again, require a hope in Christ (despair comes from rebellion and disobedience he tells us), faith adequate to exercise those gifts and the charity to use our gifts to bless the lives of others.  Then he ends the entire book by discussing the doctrine of perfection.  

Why the discussion on gifts with the discussion of perfection?  Because “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  We, being sinners deserve death (or Hell, in other words) and that is what we will get without our turning to Christ, but with Him we can overcome that death and receive eternal life.  It is the greatest gift of God and it is a gift he is anxious to bestow on all of us.  Cut out the excuses, turn our lives to Him and receive the gift. It is that simple; and that difficult.