Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Saviors on Mount Zion

I was searching for something else tonight and stumbled over a journal entry dated May 1, 2006:

Last Saturday morning, I went to the temple to accompany our ward youth group to do baptisms for the dead. I went at Merilee’s urging – she said she wanted me to baptize her.

It was a much needed morning of proxy service I enjoyed very much. Temple Square's flower beds bursting in color were resplendent in the soft light of the early Spring morning -- a perfect day.

We assembled in the small chapel in the baptistry in the Salt Lake Temple. A "Sister Scott," likely an octogenarian and brim full of the Spirit, greeted us and gave us some opening remarks. What struck me so forcibly among the things she said was that as temple workers she and her associates have come to the conclusion that they feel the Spirit more strongly in the baptistry than anywhere else in the temple.

I thought to myself, "I’ve never heard anyone say that before." She also said we had come out of a wicked world full of evil people into the sanctuary and peace of the Lord’s house, and we were safe. She wrapped us all in the warm blanket of the Spirit and set a remarkable tone for what would follow.

She lauded the young people for getting up so early on a Saturday morning to come to the Lord’s house, and assured us the blessings of the temple always follow us out into the world when we leave.

She concluded by telling us her husband twenty years earlier had been a mission president in Florida, he had contracted cancer while they were serving there, and when President Monson came to their mission to release him and install a new president he told them it really didn’t matter which side of the veil they served on – the work is the same in both the spirit world and here.

Her husband died within three months of their return. She said she had gone on serving on this side of the veil, while knowing her husband was busy on the other side, and when they were reunited they would go on doing what they have always done together again. She was so powerful in the simplicity of her convictions. The really good ones never really know how good they are.

We had family names from members of our ward dating back into the 1300’s. The names came from England. One of the ordinance workers indicated in all his years in the temple he had never seen names that old. He reminded us those people we would be doing the work for in the temple that day have waited a very long time to begin their ordinance work, and we would be doing something for them that could only be done here on earth. We were able to assist them that morning in putting them on a path they had waited to obtain for over 700 years.

It was humbling to think about that. "Imagine what their lives must have been like," I thought to myself.

I was the first of our group to go into the font. As I stepped into the water and looked at the screen and the first name appeared, there was an overwhelming sense of knowing – a vision opened up in my mind's eye. I was shown what their lives must have been like 700 years ago in ancient England. Small, thatched roofs covering modest, humble dwellings; dirt roads, muddy with rain, expansive green pastures, grazing animals on the hillside; stone row fences drenched in mossy green from too much rain; cold, damp and bitter cold weather; families huddling against the biting cold outside trying to stay warm inside. Marauding foreign armies were marching across the countryside, leaving destruction and poverty in their wake year after year. Evidence of the vestiges of Roman rule were everywhere. Fear permeated the air.

The “view” was startling to me – their lives were so harsh, their surroundings so unforgiving and so primitive.

I was instantly humbled by what an unprofitable servant I am, complaining routinely to the Lord about my challenging circumstances right now, when in fact I live by contrast like the King of England must have lived in those days. How ungrateful I have become.

I was stunned by the revelation of my ingratitude and my lack of awareness that I am only one of billions of sons of God, so highly favored in comparison. They had nothing, forced day by day to squeeze out an existence that threatened their lives every day. Mortality rates were high in those days. I now understand my privileged circumstances.

I was reduced to emotions that flooded close to the surface, so much so that I struggled with the choking in my voice to get out the words, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” That day they were more than mere words.

I was standing in the water of a baptismal font supported by twelve oxen, all symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. I was unlocking the prison doors for those spirits who had been held captive for hundreds of years. I was in that simple act of the baptizer a "savior on Mount Zion," just as the Savior had prophesied I would be.

There was specific fulfillment in my life, an awareness I was where I should be, doing what I should be doing to fulfill my priesthood opportunities. I was overcome with the reality of what I was doing unlike anything I have previously known. Sister Scott’s prediction I would feel the Spirit more strongly here than anywhere had been realized in that moment. It was all true, truer than it had ever been before.

Their names came and went on the screen – some sixty or so men and women before I was relieved. I didn’t want to quit – I never wanted it to end. I was linked to them in a very real embrace of the Spirit. They were real – they were so grateful the work had finally been done so they could enter in at the gate and have all the covenant blessings they had been promised.

Their mortal lives never knew the light and the hope of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness. They never had access to scriptures, to prophets, to temples, to the gift of the Holy Ghost. I marveled once again that the plan of happiness is so perfect; that there are no shortcuts; that the ordinances of salvation are uniquely, yet universally, individual; that each child is treated with the same deference, given the same ordinances without exception, without consideration for privilege, rank or distinction; that all are alike unto God; that we are all His spirit children with names and individual identities and endless eternal possibilities that He knows perfectly; that if faithful we can become as He and Christ already are.

How is it possible? How can He know all of them as perfectly as He seems to know me? How can His Spirit be poured out in such rich abundance upon me and upon them simultaneously for the edification and blessing of us all? How marvelous that it is so – I just don’t know the details.

I waited in the lobby of the baptistry for all the others to finish (first in first out). An ordinance worker who had been one of the witnesses came over and sat down beside me. He put his hand on my knee, leaned in and whispered, “I have been witness to thousands of baptisms over the years, and I must tell you that I have never seen anyone baptize the way you do. I appreciated how you were so gentle, so kind the way you carefully laid them into the water without so much as a slight splash. Others I have seen splash them under and throw them around. Thank you for doing it better than anyone I have ever seen before.”

I had thought he was going to tell me he saw their spirits, or something grand and glorious, but only some encouraging words about my “technique.” He was such a nice man, possessed of a loving, gentle and kind spirit. I suppose his words were the Lord’s way of confirming to me that the work I had done that day was acceptable, and that good brother blessed me without even knowing by offering his unsolicited commendation about something so seemingly trivial.

What a great lesson to all of us -- that we can lift and bless others with a few softly spoken and deeply felt words of comfort and encouragement. So interesting how simple it was, like Sister Scott. These are gentle giants who work in the Lord’s house. Their missions of mercy extend to the living (me) and to the dead.

I was so buoyed up spiritually. I went away rejoicing, and as Sister Scott predicted the blessings of the temple followed me all day, then the next day, and all through today. I have been strengthened, and I can testify it is tangible and wonderful.

Yesterday, I gave the pornography power point presentation in one of the wards for the fifth Sunday, once again at the bishop’s invitation. I had revised it since the last time I did it – added some more recent slides of breaking news as it relates to the “overflowing scourge.” This time all the youth and the adults were invited. I felt the Spirit strongly this time, much more so than the first time I did it in the adult fireside on a Sunday evening. It was more powerful, and the Spirit emboldened me.

Our county sheriff came with me again, and this time I went first and he finished. (I had to leave to speak in another ward). The bishop gave us two full hours to present. He believes it is a topic that needs attention in our ward and throughout the valley – he is lobbying the stake presidency to have us do this in each ward. We’ll see where it all leads. Others have e-mailed their bishop friends to promote our “road show.”

I spoke in another ward. Two youth speakers, and a returning missionary, Elder Benedict, took most of the meeting. The topic was “testimony.” He used the little booklet True to the Faith to illustrate his main talking points. Following his talk we sang a rest hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” I watched the people as we stood and sang. There were many teary eyes. When it was my turn there were nine minutes left. I commented on the tears I had witnessed during the hymn, and testified the spirit of testimony ran deep within their souls as evidenced by their tears.

I quoted Elder McConkie’s five essentials of a true testimony – that we have a Father in Heaven; that His Firstborn Son is Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and the Messiah in his pre-mortal, mortal and resurrected states; that together they established their Church among men and that it was lost repeatedly through the various dispensations; that Joseph Smith was the chosen vessel through whom the ancient rites and ordinances of salvation would be restored; and there is and always will be a living testator upon the earth as prophet follows prophet in orderly succession until the Second Coming.

I testified their testimonies would be tried to the very quick, if they hadn’t been already. I testified there would be a fiery furnace through which each of us will have to pass – tailor made tests and trials designed to forge us, galvanize us, and that we would never be left alone in the flames. I testified the scriptures are full of examples of deliverance, but they also contain accounts of no intervention by God where His children are left to suffer and die without any deliverance.

Through it all, even if we don't the get answers to the "why questions" just yet that our faith must never waver or fail us regardless of the outcomes we seek. I testified there would not be a way around that fiery furnace, only that we must go through – that those of us who aspire to be as Father Abraham would be tested to the uttermost even as he was if we would gain an eternal seat at the right hand of our Father someday.

I testified in the due course of the Lord each of us will see His face and know Him, because Jacob told us at the veil He employeth no servants. The Holy One of Israel is the keeper of the gate. (See 2 Nephi 9:41). Knowing that fact will shape our decisions day by day, keeping us in the strait and narrow way that leads back to Him and the Father.

There was hushed silence – the Spirit was powerful. I testified all the answers to all the “why questions” would someday be supplied, but for now we walk by faith not knowing.

I never could have delivered that message a year ago – I didn’t know a year ago what I have come to know today. I am so much more dependent than ever before on a merciful covenant partner who is chastening me for purposes only He can know about fully. I testified of the things I have to remind myself about every day of my existence in the here and now of my life. Perspective – knowing because you know – what a deal!

Do we ever cease to learn the lessons? Do we ever become wise enough? Do we ever graduate from the graduate courses and the gentle (though difficult) tutorials of the Lord?

Then last night, a fireside. Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, now an emeritus Seventy, was our invited guest speaker to the youth of the stake. He has a cabin up Weber Canyon, so we consider him one of our own here in the Kamas Stake.

The man is amazing. No notes, much of his repertoire memorized after long years of speech making and youth fireside giving, he wrapped us in the same spiritual warm blanket Sister Scott had the day before in the temple.

He began with three jokes, funny, really funny jokes, explaining that humor is important -- it releases endorphins into the blood stream that make us feel better. He highlighted four ideals for living he had gleaned from the people who had touched his life. Who wouldn’t want to know his four ideals?

First, from Elder McConkie at a stake conference in Grace, Idaho. “There is no greater talent than spirituality.” He said we can all receive this talent of spirituality if we nurture it. He gave several examples from his life where his spirituality at work had produced marvelous and beneficial results.

He told a story about praying to find some lost glasses that belonged to a humble stake president in a cold river in Canada while attending scouting training.

Second, from Elder David B. Haight, at a temple dedication. “Do you think the brethren of the priesthood will ever come to understand they were born to serve their fellowmen?” Then several examples of how he had attempted to serve others throughout his life. Simple responses by him to requests of others when he was bone weary, and that when he responded and served he was always blessed for doing so. A story about going in the middle of the night to give a blessing at the hospital to the daughter of a member of his stake -- serving took away the weariness.

Third, from Ray Welker, a prodigious lesson writer for the Church, whose contributions had spanned a long career at Church headquarters. Then in his nineties, Elder Featherstone asked Brother Welker once at a stake conference to tell him who the greatest General Authority was he had ever known. He paused, hesitating to answer. He said they were all wonderful men, true sons of God endowed with the powers of heaven. When pressed, however, he said, “I suppose it would have to be Elder Boyd K. Packer, because of the purity of his heart for one so young.”

So then he spent several minutes talking about what purity really means to those young people – about sexual purity most of all. He was so gracious and gentle with such a sensitive topic. He spoke about an attempt by a school teacher to sexually molest him as a young thirteen year-old boy, and told the young women especially that if ever anyone forced themselves sexually upon them that they were not to consider that they had committed sin. “You are pure, and you will always be pure if someone forces themselves upon you sexually against your will. Heavenly Father will pour out his judgment upon those who have perpetrated such sins against you, but you are pure. Don’t ever believe anything else about yourself if it happens to you,” he concluded. He then cited the sobering statistic that one in four young women in the U.S. is sexually molested while they are teenagers.

He went on to denounce homosexuality as a learned behavior. “The God of Heaven never puts a female spirit into a male body, nor a male spirit into a female body,” he said. “You can trust Heavenly Father to get something like that right. Our gender is a divinely appointed gift of eternal dimensions that never changes.”

He went on to renounce those who had concluded falsely that DNA studies disprove The Book of Mormon’s origins. He said, “Read D&C 17:6, where the Lord swears an oath by Himself when He declares, ‘as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.'” End of discussion.

Fourth, from his blessing when he was set apart as a member of the Presiding Bishopric in 1972. “I prayed for days that President Harold B. Lee would be able to set me apart when I went down for the setting apart. He had set me apart before as a stake president, and I wanted that blessing once again to come from him.

"When I got there, President Joseph Fielding Smith was there with President Lee and President Tanner. President Lee announced that President Smith had asked him to conduct, and that he felt impressed that he needed to give me my blessing.”

In the blessing, President Lee counseled Elder Featherstone that whenever he had a problem that he didn’t know the answer to that he was to ask himself this question to govern his actions: “What would the Master do as measured by His teachings?”

He then gave examples from his almost forty-year ministry as a General Authority about how that counsel given so long ago had guided him throughout his life. He also cited from memory this statement by President Lee: “It is my conviction that every man who will be called to a high place in the Church will have to pass tests not devised by human hands, by which our Father numbers them as a united group of leaders willing to follow the prophets of the living God and be loyal and true as witnesses and exemplars of the truths they teach.” (Teachings of Harold B.Lee, 527).

I was dripping silent tears throughout, but by the end of his talk the water works were on in full force.

In our own small corners of the Kingdom, each of us is truly a "savior on Mount Zion."  These are examples of a few who crossed my path in a weekend.  God, please give me the courage to live by their ideals!


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