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.