Monday, November 9, 2009

Meeting with Elder Nelson

On Saturday, November 7th, 2009, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. The Stake Presidency was being reorganized and Elder Nelson was assigned, along with Elder Anthony Burns of the Seventy, to come to the Liberty Missouri Stake to reorganize the leadership. Elder Nelson Stated in our Priesthood Leadership meeting, that with the rapid growth of the Church, and the ever increasing numbers of Stakes and Districts within the church, the days of having an Apostle of the Lord visit one Stake for a conference is likely behind us. With that in mind, I view my opportunity to meet with him privately , and be interviewed by him, as a once in a lifetime blessing.

As a member of the Stake High Council, I was one of the nearly 30 members of our Stake interviewed as a potential new Stake President. Now, having never been a Bishop and only being on the High Council for a mere 6 months, I viewed the liklihood of being chosen as Stake President somewhere between impossible and 1% probabilty. I was right. Largely, because there wasn't much risk in being called upon as a Stake President, I approached my interview with enthusiasm, and with the simple mindset that I would enjoy every minute I was able to talk with him. As it turns out, I had 5 minutes.

When I entered the room, Elder Nelson and Elder Burns stood to greet me and indicated where I should sit. Elder Nelson was taller than I expected and for an 85 year old man seemed unbelievably spry and energetic. I sat and Elder Nelson pulled out my profile sheet I had submitted to the Stake 2 weeks earlier. He reviewed with me briefly some of the information on my profile such as, my age, where I met my wife and went to college, where I work and my duties there. He noted with interest that I served my mission in the Independence Missouri Mission which includes the Liberty Stake. He asked about my mission Presidents but embarassingly, I only remembered the name of my second President. He then asked me about men I would recommend to be Stake President. I gave him three names and explained why I chose them.

After those formalities were finished, he turned to the comment area of my profile sheet where I had taken the opportunity to ask a question. The question was: In the early days of the restored church, leaders regularly spoke of spiritual manifestations, visions and revelations. In modern times the Brethren do not tell us of similar experiences. Why is this? Did the early restoration period have more of these unusual manifestations whereas the leadership now primarily receives revelation and inspiration by the power of the Holy Ghost? Or is it a policy, or decision to keep these experiences private and sacred?

I asked the question because I regularly hear members of the church make statements about how the Prophet and Apostles have all seen the Savior personally and sometimes insinuate that they sit accross the table from the Savior in meetings etc. While I don't doubt this is possible, I had never heard it stated as fact and I would prefer to base my beliefs on fact, rather than supposition. His answer was simple; I paraphrase.

In the early days of the restoration greater spiritual manifestations and visions were required to accomplish the work of the Lord with relatively unexperienced men. They received the manifestations they needed to progress the work, and of course restore the keys of the Priesthood. The needs today are different, and in 25 years, they could be different still, but the brethren are skilled at recognizing the promptings of the spirit, and they rely on the Holy Ghost for their direction. Now, this in no way precludes the possibility that some have received special manifestations, or that they are still possible, but the Holy Ghost teaches and guides the Brethren, just as it teaches and guides us, which is why we must all learn to recognize and act on the promptings of the Spirit.

The five minutes went very quickly, in fact I had to look at my watch once I left the office to ensure I got my full five minutes. I did. Later I had the opportunity to attend the Priesthood Leadership Meeting, the Saturday Adult Session and then the Sunday morning Session where the new Stake Presidency was called and sustained. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.

Based on my simple experience with Elder Nelson, and knowing that the other members of the High Council and Bishops had very similar experiences, I have no question in my mind, but that the Holy Spirit directs the Prophet and Apostles in all they do. Perhaps the greatest difference between them and us, is their ability and confidence in recognizing and acting on the promptings of the spirit.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Like a Dog to his Vomit

After the death of his father, Lot went to live with his uncle, Abraham. When the Lord commanded Abraham to move to the land of Bethel, Lot also went. They separated their households and Lot had first choice of the land he and his household would possess. Abraham settled the remaining area.

The land Lot chose was fertile and beautiful and it appeared he made a wise decision about where he would establish himself. But Lot pitched his tents near the city of Sodom while Abraham took his household in the other direction toward the land of Canaan.

Lot was a good man and tried to teach his children the gospel but he lived in one of the most evil cities on the earth. The city was so wicked the Lord prepared to destroy it. Abraham was worried for Lot and his household because he knew Lot was a good man and he plead with the Lord to spare the city if 10 righteous people could be found. The Lord agreed that if 10 righteous people could be found He would not destroy the city. Sadly, 10 righteous people could not be found.

The Lord sent two angels to destroy Sodom but first they met with Lot and warned him to take his family and quickly leave the city. Lot’s married children refused to listen and would not leave. Only his two unmarried daughters were obedient and agreed to leave the city.

In the morning the angels told Lot to “Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters, which are here, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.”

Lot hesitated. Maybe he thought about his home and possessions, but more likely he was thinking of his married children who refused to leave. The angels knew there was no time to waste so they took Lot, his wife and his daughters by the hand and led them out of Sodom.

The angels commanded them, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.”

Despite being commanded not to look back on the burning cities, Lot’s wife could not resist the temptation. Unwilling to surrender her will to the Lord’s, unwilling to let go and turn away from the thing she had been commanded, she looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

We may look at the example of Lot’s wife and say, “what was she thinking? How foolish. I would never do that.” And hopefully we never would.

But are there things in our lives from which we have been commanded to turn away or give up, that we just can’t bring ourselves to fully eradicate from our lives? Do we turn back to our bad habits or sins longingly, like a “dog to his vomit”?

The image is pretty disgusting, but it’s supposed to be. Why in the world would we want to return to our sins like a dog returns to his vomit. Returning to our sins is just as foolish, but we do it.

To go out of Babylon we must turn away from our sins and not look back. We must be willing to give up anything that the Lord requires.

Maybe we are asked to sacrifice our favorite TV show on a Sunday afternoon when we should be doing our home teaching. Or maybe it is sacrificing an addictive habit or behavior, or the pride of a grudge we are holding. Maybe we need to sacrifice leisure time and money to attend the temple or invite a non-member to a family home evening. Maybe we find it difficult to sacrifice our money by paying tithing and a generous fast offering.

Is it safe to say we all have a habit or behavior or maybe even an attitude that we need to turn away from? I think it is. I know it’s true for me. As long as we refuse to turn fully away and not look back, we are keeping our foot in the battlefield of Babylon and Satan has us in his sights. We think we are at a safe distance but we’re not.

We may think our sin is small or insignificant. We may think that even with our faults we are still more righteous than others, but the truth is if we refuse to remove ourselves out of Babylon we are susceptible to the ravages of battle. Because of our carelessness or curiosity or maybe our stubbornness, we are too close and we are in danger.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Babylon: Too Close to the Battle

On the night of July 20, 1861 more than 30,000 Union soldiers prepared for the first major battle of the Civil War—It’s known as The Battle of Bull Run because it was set against the distant backdrop of the Bull Run Mountains (also known as the battle of Manassas)

Meanwhile, in Washington DC there was great excitement for the impending battle. The politicians and media were whipping the citizenry into a frenzy, speculating about a decisive and immediate Union victory that would crush the Confederacy. With this in mind, Sunday morning, several hundred people, newspapermen, politicians and average civilians gathered to what they considered a safe distance, high on a rise 5 miles from where the battle was to take place.

As the battle waged, the spectators reportedly ate picnic lunches and drank lemonade but many became dissatisfied with their distant and obstructed view of the battle. Union soldiers visited the group and reported that a sweeping victory was imminent. On this news, some of the spectators, including Congressman Ely of New York decided to get a closer view of the action.

At about 4:00 PM Congressman Ely strolled down the road when a bullet struck the ground near him. He dodged off the road and hid in the trees and at 5:30 he spotted a line of Confederate infantry emerging from a nearby grove. Two officers approached him and asked who he was. When he told them he was a Congressman they arrested him.

Atop the ridge the remaining civilians recognized that the Union Victory was quickly unraveling as the Confederate cavalry charged up the hill. Military officers, dignitaries and civilians were all caught up in the chaos of a full retreat. Fortunately no civilians were killed.

Despite being what they thought was a safe distance from the danger of battle, these people discovered they were too close, but it was too late. It was not safe. Some, like Congressman Ely were enticed by curiosity and excitement to move even closer to the danger. They thought they could avoid the threats but they were wrong. They were caught right in the middle.

We might look at this example and say something like; “it serves them right for being so foolish and getting that close. I would never do that.” Or we might think how grotesque it is to take a picnic lunch to watch a bloody battle. Hopefully we would never be caught up in such foolishness. But are we?

The spectators at Bull Run symbolize the nation’s naïve view of the impending Civil War. They didn’t fully understand the risk, or appreciate the danger. Are we sometimes naïve of the spiritual battles that surround us? Do we underestimate the danger to ourselves and to our families? Or might we be found on the ridge of the battlefield hawking t-shirts that read, “Battle of Bull Run: Been there, Done that.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Unexpected Experiences

From time to time we all have opportunities to try and do new things. Sometimes these opportunities are welcome and sometimes we would rather avoid them altogether, but the opportunities to experience new things generally helps us to stretch our capabilities and grow as a person. I recently had an experience like this.

For the last 12 months I have been assigned to home teach a couple at the furthest corner of our Ward. From my house it took me about 40 minutes to get to the small town where they lived. The couple had never been active and did not seem interested in having a home teacher visit. At least that is my assumption since I was never able to locate the home. I called repeatedly and left messages but I never heard back. I sent letters to the post office requesting an address correction but I never received a correct address. I never met or heard from this couple so I decided to do the only thing I could.

Each month for my home teaching message I sent a copy of a General Conference talk and wrote a personalized message based on the talk. At the end of each letter I invited the couple to church or to at least contact me. I never heard from them, until 2 days ago.

2 days ago I received a call from the sister of this woman. I was informed that the husband died a couple of days earlier and they requested that I say a few words at the funeral. They asked me to keep it to under 5 minutes. I accepted the invitation but having never met the couple, I was a little nervous. I resolved to do the only thing I could, which was to speak about the plan of salvation.

I took off work for a couple of hours and drove to the grave site. I was on time but everyone else was already there waiting. I picked up a program to see when I would be speaking. I was struck with some fear and trepidation when the only statement in the program was "Elder Steve Westover- Officiator".

I approached the funeral home director as the appointed start-time neared. He asked if I was the minister who would be officiating. I told him who I was but asked him if there was a mistake with the program as I had not been asked to officiate. He apologized for the confusion and told me to "Go ahead. You'll do fine." So with no program and nothing more than plans for an extremely brief talk I approached the family and introduced myself.

As planned I spoke about the plan of salvation but went more in depth than I originally intended. I spoke about eternal families and the tremendous joy and hope we can all have because of the Savior and His plan. I concluded my remarkes and then dedicated the grave. Following the grave dedication a military honor guard saluted the war veteran. Despite being a brief service, I think it turned out well.

I was honored to have such an impactful experience and I'm thankful that other experiences had helped to prepare me for this surprising opportunity. I hope I will now have other opportunities to meet with this family and teach them further, assisting them back to the road of faithful church participation.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fortress of Righteousness

We read in Alma how Captain Moroni fortified the Nephite lands and cities as a protection against angry and aggressive forces which were attempting to destroy his people. He describes his efforts in fortifying the cities in Alma 50.

1 And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.

2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.

3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.

4 And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them.

5 And they were prepared that they could cast stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength, and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city.

6 Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.

Moroni recognized the severity of the conflict and the nature of his enemies so he prepared strongholds as a protection for his people. His people fortified the cities with heaps of dirt and pickets and Moroni caused towers to be built tall and strong that the people could see and defend should their enemies come upon them.

Likewise, as parents, we must recognize the severity of the evil forces which are pushing upon our families, seeking to destroy us. We must fortify our homes to be strongholds of safety, or as Joseph B. Wirthlin called it, "a fortress of righteousness". We have been given a design, or pattern by our Heavenly Father, through His prophets, to strengthen and protect our families. We can also follow Moroni's example in fortifying our homes like he fortified the Nephite cities.

We can follow a proven design by fortifying our homes, building them upon the righteous principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once we follow this divine design and build our home upon a sound foundation we must maintain our family fortifications. Moroni erected towers to keep vigillant watch in case the enemies came close. Likewise, as parents we must keep watch upon our children to ensure evil influences do not creep in underneath our noses. We must maintain a Christ centered home with both parents standing as equal partners in marriage, keeping guard in the towers overlooking the home.
Dallin H Oaks said, "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, love and compassion."

Elder Wirthlin has said, "If Satan can weaken or destroy the loving relationships among members of families, he can cause more misery and more unhappiness for more people than he could in any other way." (Spiritually Strong Homes & Families, May '93 Ensign)

Satan is at war with us. Are we at war with him? And are we taking the threat as seriously as we should or do we suffer from a false sense of security?

Elder Russell M Nelson said, "I know that the earth was created and that the Lord's Church was restored so that families could be sealed and exalted as eternal entities. And I know that one of Satan's cunning methods of undermining the work of the Lord is to attack the sacred institutions of marriage and the family."

The threat against our marriages and families is real but we can have confidence that as we follow God's patterns in establishing and maintaining our families on principles of righteousness and we are vigillant in maintaining the spiritual fortifications of our home, we will be victorious against the forces seeking to destroy us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Learning the Hard Way

My wife teases me because my memory is often found lacking, but I vividly remember a snow camp I participated in when I was a young scout. This particular camp was on Mt. Bachelor in the Oregon Cascade Mountains.

It was a beautiful crisp day with a cloudless sky and our Scout Troop had spent months preparing for this snow camp, learning how to cross country ski and build snow caves. We learned how to properly design and build the cave allowing for ventilation and drainage of the condensation. Following this design, our snow cave would keep us warm and dry. During our preparations we acquired the proper equipment and clothing and we were ready to go. Our scoutmaster had taught us well.

The day of the camp we were excited. We drove to the mountains and skied a couple of miles in to our site and began to set up camp, but instead of spending the time and putting forth the effort to create a proper snow cave, my friends and I decided we had a better idea. Instead of building the cave, which would keep us dry and warm, we dug a wide ditch, figuring we could lie safely below the cold blowing wind and we could enjoy sleeping comfortably under the beautiful mountain stars. Despite the good teaching and counsel we had received from our leader we had discovered a better way to camp in the snow.

By 5:00 PM the sky was nearly dark and the clouds began to move in. We were tired from all the snow playing and skiing we had done so we finished dinner and climbed into our sleeping bags. We could hear the wind blow harmlessly above us and we were comfortable in our ditch.

An hour or so later fear began to set in as we heard thunder and saw lightning flash across the sky, and then it happened. It rained. And not just a light sprinkle. It rained hard and steady. My comfortable little ditch became a small stream as the rainwater searched for a conduit to run off. My warm down sleeping bag was right in the middle of the stream. It quickly became soggy and cold, but I was determined I would endure and not let the others see how uncomfortable I was. I was not willing to give up my position in the ditch or accept defeat, but the night seemed to last forever. I remember being horrified when I heard snow mobilers come through the camp. I looked at my watch after what had felt like an eternity and realized it was only 9 PM. At that point I knew this was going to be a long and difficult night. I climbed out of my useless sleeping bag which felt like a pile of wet mashed potatos and my clothes were soaked. A couple of my friends were already up so I joined them around a camp stove warming our hands and trying to heat up water for hot chocolate.

After a couple of hours around the stove I was exhausted. I needed to find a place to lie down and get some rest but I knew my sleeping bag was useless so I quietly crawled into my wise scoutmasters snow cave where he, his sons and a couple of others were sleeping comfortably. There was not much space so I squeezed my way in and found some open ground and lay down to sleep on the cold snow in my wet clothes.

I don’t know how much time passed but I recall my scoutmaster waking me up. Apparently my chattering teeth and shaking body had awakened him and as a medical doctor he was concerned hypothermia had set in. Fortunately I survived the night because of his care.

When I was taught and counseled to build a snow cave, I never imagined it would rain, snow maybe, but not rain. I thought building my ditch was just as good, or better than a snow cave. Instead of following wise counsel and having a positive experience with this snow camp, I had to learn my lesson the hard way. I am reminded of the quotation, “an intelligent man learns from his mistakes but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

We have numerous examples in our scriptures of individuals and even entire peoples who ignored the words of the prophets and were destroyed as a consequence. These people thought they knew a better way, or simply didn't care about the counsel that was given. Are we wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others and learn that we must follow the counsel of the prophets of God? Or are we doomed to learn our lessons the hard way, and hope that somehow we are saved from our own foolishness?

Finding Safety in Counsel (Henry B. Eyring- May ’97 Ensign)

“We are blessed to live in a time when the priesthood keys are on the earth. We are blessed to know where to look and how to listen for the voice that will fulfill the promise of the Lord that he will gather us to safety.”

“Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close.”

“When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.”

“Having listening ears requires humility.”

If we have listening ears we will find safety in the counsel of our priesthood leaders and prophets. I hope others will not be as foolish as I was when I was a young scout, disregarding the counsel of my leader because I could not see the reason, or wisdom of the counsel. Even though I thought I was exempt from such counsel, it was meant as a protection for me. Likewise, the counsel of the prophets is meant for each of us. We are not exempt from obeying any commandment or counsel from our Father in Heaven. We will find safety as we heed the counsel of the prophets.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fable of the Gullible Gulls

In the Reader's Digest, October 1950 edition, the Fable of the Gullible Gull is shared as a warning against dependency. The story is told of great flocks of sea gulls starving despite the good fishing waters nearby. Why were they starving? They were starving, because although there were plenty of fish to eat, the gulls did not know how to fish.

For generations the gulls depended upon a fleet of shrimping boats which would toss out the scraps to the gulls, but then the fleet moved.

"The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets. Now the Sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the 'something for nothing' lure! They sacrificed their independence for a handout."

The fable concluded with this, "Let's not be gullible gulls. We must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence."

Marion G Romney taught that "all of our Church and family actions should be directed toward making our children and members self-reliant."

What great counsel. He also states that becoming self reliant is wonderful but it is only the means to an end. Self reliance allows for greater freedom, but then what we do with that greater freedom is the true test. We must make the right choices by serving others and helping them to become self-reliant. Once the others also become self-reliant, they can serve and bless the lives of others and the cycle of service continues.

Sometimes as parents, or even as members, or leaders within congregations we make the same mistake as the gullible gulls, looking for a quick fix instead of a more difficult but permanent fix. The gulls simply wanted to get food on the table for their families. There's nothing wrong with that, but they failed to teach their young ones how to provide for themselves. Do we sometimes do the same thing in providing an easy food order or payment of bills to individuals or families who perpetually have problems providing for themselves? Are we content to merely place food on the table and then go home feeling good about ourselves because we helped?

Recently I have had the opportunity to offer budgeting assistance to various members of my Ward who have been struggling. As we sat together and reviewed their income and expenses a woman asked me if I could simply take over their budget, tell them what to do and pay their bills for them each month. Of course my answer was "No". My task was not to offer a simple fix, but rather to teach her how to budget and stay within her means, cutting expenses where necessary. We discussed the sacred nature of the consecrated Fast Offering funds and explained why the church cannot, and should not continue to subsidize their lifestyle when there were things they could do to lift themselves and become self-reliant. Together we developed an action plan that would allow her and her husband to put off the shackles of dependency. This plan included some difficult actions but by talking through options together, they realized for themselves what needed to be done and therefor had ownership of the plan.

Over the next couple of months the family moved from an old large, energy guzzling home to a small home, reduced to one family vehicle, cut their cable bill and modified their cel phone plans, and sought after more gainful employment. Now, instead of relying on others to provide for their needs, they can meet their own needs by living within the means of their income.

This is a simple example, but a good one. Through this process the family moved from being satisfied in their dependence on others to being capable gulls, able to fish for themselves.

Friday, February 6, 2009


The law of consecration and stewardship is the highest manifestation of gospel living. Many view this law as only a temporal economic program, but it is a spiritual command as well (D&C 29:35). The personal requirements for celestial living are also the foundation for the successful practice of this holy and ancient order of gospel life. It is the basis upon which Zion, the New Jerusalem, is to be built and the preparations completed for the glorious Messianic reign.

President George Q. Cannon taught: “The time must come when we must obey that which has been revealed to us as the Order of Enoch, when there shall be no rich and no poor among the Latter-day Saints; when wealth will not be a temptation; when every man will love his neighbor as he does himself; when every man and woman will labor for the good of all as much as for self. That day must come, and we may as well prepare our hearts for it, brethren, for as wealth increases I see more and more a necessity for the institution of such an order. As wealth increases, luxury and extravagance have more power over us. The necessity for such an order is very great, and God, undoubtedly, in his own time and way, will inspire his servant [the prophet] to introduce it among the people.” (Journal of Discourses, 15:207.)

According to the Doctrine and Covenants, early attempts to build Zion in this dispensation failed because of transgression and because the Saints were “not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; and Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 105:4–5). These principles are a part of the law of Christ to prepare the sanctified for celestial glory (see D&C 88:20–21). The development of personal righteousness is how the blessings of Zion are obtained, and, in due time, the celestial world. “For this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART” (D&C 97:21).

The scriptures further describe some of the characteristics of those who strive to live the principles of Zion. Unity is of primary importance: “If ye are not one ye are not mine,” said the Lord (D&C 38:27). Zion requires that all be of “one heart and . . . one mind” (D&C 45:65).
President Spencer W. Kimball reaffirmed the importance of developing unity today.
Another characteristic of the Zion society is that the people “had all things common among them” (3 Nephi 26:19; 4 Nephi 1:3). This is how the law of consecration was administered.

Sacrifice is the principle through which the individual is able to practice the law of consecration. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “I shall now set forth some of the principles of sacrifice and consecration to which the true saints must conform if they are ever to go where God and Christ are and have an inheritance with the faithful saints of ages past.

“. . . The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so is the law of consecration. . . .

“Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church; such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.

“The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families; all things, even our very lives if need be.

Joseph Smith said, ‘A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.’ (Lectures on Faith, p. 58.)

“We are not always called upon to live the whole law of consecration and give all of our time, talents, and means to the building up of the Lord’s earthly kingdom. Few of us are called upon to sacrifice much of what we possess, and at the moment there is only an occasional martyr in the cause of revealed religion.

“But what the scriptural account means is that to gain celestial salvation we must be able to live these laws to the full if we are called upon to do so. Implicit in this is the reality that we must in fact live them to the extent we are called upon so to do. . . .“Now I think it is perfectly clear that the Lord expects far more of us than we sometimes render in response. We are not as other men. We are the saints of God and have the revelations of heaven. Where much is given much is expected. We are to put first in our lives the things of his kingdom.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, pp. 74–76; or Ensign, May 1975, pp. 50–51.)

D&C Study Guide

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Paradigm Shift

We all view the world through the lenses of our values and beliefs. Some of our values and beliefs may be well established while others may be in a more infant stage of development. These values and beliefs are developed over time by our personal experiences as well as the knowledge imparted to us through sources we trust. These sources may include individual personal relationships developed in the family, as well as influences from school, work, community or church. Over time these values become entrenched in us so much that many of our subconscious decisions dictate the course of our lives. If our values are based on truth, we’re in great shape, but if they are based on bigotry, falsehoods or half-truths our lenses will be blurred and our vision will be inaccurate. If our lenses are based on truth they will be clear and the paradigm through which we view the world will be accurate.

The problem is, few of us ever think we’re wrong. We may admit to the occasional error, but it’s unlikely we would admit to a faulty worldview. For example, if I thought my conservative political viewpoints were incorrect, I wouldn’t be a conservative. I would consciously search out a different philosophy around which I would structure my belief system. But based on my personal experience and the knowledge imparted to me by the people and institutions I trust, I find myself generally satisfied with the conservative political philosophy so I am not willing to discard it, although I may be willing to accept failures within my paradigm. Despite my confidence in my worldview it is important to refresh my vision or clear the lenses as I challenge my core values. As I challenge my own views, those which are based in truth will be strengthened and my confidence will increase, while those that cannot hold up to scrutiny will be discarded and replaced with a more complete truth.

It has always been interesting to me how good, intelligent people can disagree about the most basic things I would consider to be fact. Do tax cuts stimulate the economy? In my mind the answer is a no-brainer. Of course they do. My knowledge and experience tells me they do, while the knowledge and experience of others tell them that tax cuts are selfish and not helpful in stimulating the economy. Am I that much smarter than others? Yes, I am. OK, just kidding- kind of. But I listen to Republicans and Democrats discuss political issues and it often seems that they’re arguing for the sake of arguing. Undoubtedly this is true in many cases, but I think it is highly possible that both sides truly believe what they are saying. The paradigm through which they are viewing the world is vastly different from each other.

It is also interesting to me to view or hear the sentiments of our older generations when it comes to race relations. Sometimes I will hear a comment or a word, or see an action, which to me seems inappropriate or bigoted. The individual who uttered the statement thinks nothing of it. Perhaps it’s a phrase or word they used as a child when such things were common and considered politically correct. Have we ever seen or heard such things from grandparents or great grandparents? Are they bad people? No. They would argue vehemently that there is no racism in their heart and I believe them. But the experiences of growing up in a different time, when the cultural norms and correctness were different, may color the lenses through which they view the world.

Sometimes, as members of the church, we think of our doctrine and think, “of course, it makes perfect sense. How could anyone refute this belief.” Or “how could a person claim we are not Christian when our church bears His name”. To our thinking based on the spiritual paradigm we have developed over time, it is difficult to comprehend that a good, honest person could view something 180 degrees differently than we do. Because of our difficulty in understanding this, we may incorrectly assign a motive for the actions of others, which is wrong. Limits in our own worldview make it difficult to understand others and vice versa.

At work or at church I am often challenged to solve problems in operational procedures or staff concerns. I do the best I can to formulate a solution I think will work and when I reach my conclusion I feel satisfied with the answer to my problem. I have found that when I rely solely on my own view, and devise my own plan without the various views and experience of others, my answer, although good, may not be as great as it could have been. By basing my answers solely on my own experiences and knowledge, I eliminate the possibility for something better and remain a prisoner of my own pattern of thinking, my own paradigm.

When Proposition 8 in California passed and protesters targeted the Church, I remember feeling defensive and upset. I viewed the protests as damaging to the reputation of the church and myself personally as a member of the church. When I shifted my mindset to view the protests as an opportunity for the church to share its values to those who may be searching for truth, my defensiveness subsided. Though I still believe the protesters were wrong and petty, I no longer focus on them. I now focus on the missionary opportunities within the community; opportunities only made possible by the protests and I don’t fret the small stuff. This is a very simple example of how I refocused my worldview and shifted my paradigm from the view of a problem to the view of an opportunity.

There is such thing as absolute truth. I wouldn’t be a member of the church if I didn’t believe that. But there are also patterns and paradigms of thinking that can be challenged. Even if our answer to a question is right, there may be another right answer, and it may be better than what we came up with originally. When we are open minded to the thoughts and ideas of others, and try to view the world through the lenses with which they are viewing the world, we do not discard our values and beliefs but rather strengthen those that are correct, and view critically others which may be based falsely on our environment or limited experience.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Example of Humility and Forgiveness

During the difficult Missouri period of 1838, many saints fell away from the church. Some left of their own accord and many others, men who had been stalwarts in the faith, were excommunicated for their wickedness and apostasy. Among the spiritual casualties of this time was William W. Phelps, one of the Presidents of the Church in Zion, church printer, and close friend to the prophet Joseph Smith.

W.W. Phelps was accused of using church money for his own personal purposes and was excommunicated in March of 1838. After his excommunication Phelps appeared in a hearing before Judge Austin King at Richmond in late 1838 and testified falsely of Joseph Smith’s advocacy in resisting all law and of his involvement in engineering the burning and plundering of the towns of Gallatin and Millport. Phelps testimony, combined with other dissenters bolstered the State’s case and led to the incarceration of Joseph Smith and other church leaders. As a true apostate, Phelps desired not only to be separated from the church, but also to destroy the church and its leaders.

After his separation from the Church, W.W. Phelps moved to Dayton Ohio. In 1840 Orson Hyde and John E. Page found Phelps impoverished but humble and urged him to write to the prophet for the purpose of regaining his fellowship with the saints. On June 29, 1840 Phelps wrote the following…

“I am as the prodigal son, though I never doubt or disbelieve the fullness of the gospel… I have seen the folly of my way, and I tremble at the gulf I have passed. I prayed and God answered, but what could I do? Says I, Oh, I will repent and live, and ask my old brethren to forgive me, and though they chasten me to death, yet I will die with them, for their God is my God… I want to be saved if my friends will help me… I have done wrong and I am sorry. I ask forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ of all the Saints, for I will do right, God helping me.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith responded with a letter dated July 22, 1840. In part his letter is as follows…

“Our hearts were melted into tenderness and compassion when we ascertained your resolves and I can assure you I feel a disposition to act on your case… and agreeably to the principles of truth and righteousness which have been revealed and inasmuch as long-suffering patience and mercy have ever characterized the dealings of our Heavenly Father towards the humble and penitent, I feel disposed to copy the example and cherish the same principles, by so doing be a Savior of my fellow men.

It is true that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior, the cup of gall already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us. Had it been an enemy we could have borne it. However, the cup has been drunk, the will of our Heavenly Father has been done and we are yet alive for which we thank the Lord.

Believing your confession to be real and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship and rejoice over the returning prodigal. Your letter was read to the Saints last Sunday and an expression of their feeling was taken, when it was unanimously resolved that W.W. Phelps should be received into fellowship.”

‘Come on dear Brother since the war is past,
For friends at first are friends again at last.’

Despite the personal betrayal, the pain, anguish and imprisonment Joseph suffered because of William W. Phelps, Joseph and the Saints welcomed back the prodigal son with ‘tenderness and compassion’. Among W.W. Phelps many accomplishments, he is perhaps best known as the composer of some of the most beloved Church Hymns we still sing today. These songs include Adam Ondi Ahman and one of my favorites, Praise to the Man which was written after his return into Church fellowship. When considering the road he had traveled the words W.W. Phelps penned and put to music in Praise to the Man are even more beautiful and inspiring.

William W. Phelps traveled the hard road but ultimately delivers to our eyes a great example of humility and repentance. Joseph Smith on the other hand, as a prophet of God, sets an example for us all in offering honest, personal forgiveness to those who have wronged us, regardless of the heinousness of the offence. Hopefully we can be wise and learn from Phelps’ experience so we do not travel the same hard road, but also follow the example of the prophet and offer tender forgiveness and compassion to others in spiritual need.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Perfect Brightness of Hope- Part 2

We are commanded to be charitable and kind, faithful and studious to the Word of God. We are to receive the oaths and covenants of the Gospel, live worthy of a temple recommend and be diligent in our service to God and our fellow man. We are commanded to be “perfect” even as the Lord is perfect. These commandments constitute a very tall order and it is impossible for any of us to accomplish it – on our own. We all fail, and as a result, at the time of our death, no matter who we are, or how good a life we think we have lived, we still must rely on the grace of Christ to save us. We all die as sinners, so we should expect to continue repenting after death, because in this life, repentance will never be complete.

Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ we are lifted and saved from utter and unavoidable destruction. We can hope for great blessings in eternity. We can confidently hope in being resurrected and we can hope with confidence in receiving eternal life as we exercise our hope unto faith in Christ. We have confidence in the Savior and our Father in Heaven because there is evidence that they can and will do the things They have promised. Faith in Christ and the hope that we will receive the promises He has made are the foundation of our faith in Him, and as President Uchtdorf has said, this hope is an “anchor to our souls”. Hope is a spiritual gift, which together with faith and charity, stabilize our lives.

We learn from the teachings of Joseph Smith, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard… He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men.”

Unless we can entirely understand the complexity of the grace and judgments of God, it is best not to pass judgment on others. If we are not passing judgment on others, how could we ever possibly say that someone’s eternal state is hopeless, or that because of their actions, or the actions of a loved one, their family cannot be eternal. If someone happens to be dragged into a desperate state of mind because he feels hopeless, it is our duty to bring the “Good News” of the gospel to that person and restore hope in the possibility of a grander future.

President Uchtdorf has said, “The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be.”

This world has plenty of despair, confusion and fear. We should never add to this, but instead focus on the “beam of sunlight” piercing the darkness “with a brilliant dawn.” We should seek to have a “perfect brightness of hope” and we must build and inspire hope in others. With the Savior, there is no such thing as too much hope.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Perfect Brightnesss of Hope- Part 1

President Uchtdorf has taught “Hope.. is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and fear” (The Infinite Power of Hope)

When considering the promise of salvation made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and His just and merciful judgments, is it possible for a person to have too much hope for the attainable joys of eternal families and exaltation? Or is it possible to forfeit the opportunity of having an eternal family or benefit from the atonement’s saving power, with certain actions or failures? Does our death constitute the end of our chance to repent, eternally closing the door on all access to the fruits of the atonement? No.

The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is an opinion which is generally received, that the destiny of man is irretrievably fixed at his death, and that he is made either eternally happy, or eternally miserable; … however orthodox this principle may be, we shall find that it is at variance with the testimony of Holy Writ, for our Savior says, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men wherewith they shall blaspheme; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, evidently showing that there are sins which may be forgiven in the world to come.” Repentance is essential for the personal progression of the true believer, both in this life and the next, until the ultimate exaltation is conferred by our Heavenly Father.

We are taught in the scriptures repeatedly that our mortal lives are a probationary state in which we are to prepare to meet God by keeping His commandments, yet we are also taught that we do not earn salvation, for it is only through the Grace of Christ that we may be saved. During our lives we are to come unto Christ, exercising our faith in Him by following His example, and repenting continually.

We know that those who have not received the gospel during their life will be judged according to the light and truth they had received and will not be accountable for the light and truth they had not received. These people will have the opportunity to be taught in the spirit prison and will exercise agency in deciding to accept or reject the gospel after receiving their ordinances vicariously. We also know that some in spirit prison are those who “sometimes were disobedient”. These are the individuals who received at least a portion of truth and knowledge but were disobedient to that truth. Will members of the church fall into this “disobedient” category? I suspect many will. So which sins, and under what circumstances can these sins be forgiven after this life? I have no idea, and neither do you, but it would be foolish for a person to go through life purposely breaking the commandments of God with the expectation that all could be repented of after this life. However, we cannot close the door of hope on the person who dies a sinner.

Think of Alma the Younger. He was living a wicked and rebellious life, damaging the testimonies and pulling many away from the church of God. According to our orthodox thinking, if he had died after being kicked in the head by a horse, prior to witnessing the angelic vision and his subsequent repentance, Alma would have been damned, and lost forever. However, fortunately for him, he was granted time to repent of his sins and he ultimately became a great spiritual leader. Does it stand to reason that the capricious timing of an individual’s death would determine the individual’s eternal standing with God? Would a rebellious young man be lost forever because he was unfortunate enough to die accidentally prior to taking the opportunity to repent and set his life right?

Joseph Smith said, “It is common for many of our orthodox preachers to suppose that if a man is not what they call converted, if he dies in that state he must remain eternally in hell without any hope. Infinite years in torment must he spend and never, never, never have an end; and yet this eternal misery is made frequently to rest upon the merest casualty [chance]”. There must be opportunities for repentance after death, or else why would the Savior have gone to teach the spirits in prison? Did he intend to leave them there? No. He went to deliver and set them free.
To be continued...