Sunday, October 31, 2010

Harold B. Lee: Follow the Brethren

President Boyd K. Packer

After the last General Conference, a whisper campaign against President Boyd K. Packer has been circulating through the Church.  It's reached our little hamlet.  Have you heard the buzz yet?  "Why doesn't he just keep his mouth shut about criticizing the gays and lesbians and let them get married if they want to.  It's none of his business.  They have their free agency.  This is just embarrassing."  And of course, there are many permutations and combinations spinning out from there. 

If you haven't yet heard some version of it, you my friend, are living under a rock.

Not a month later yet, and this is some of the media coverage: 
  • A crowd estimated at between 2,000-3,000 demonstrated outside the Church Office Building following Conference and demanded gay rights. 
  • A father writes a letter to the editor:  "Most knowledgeable [subtle -- you're not if you don't agree] Mormons and ecclesiastical leaders know that homosexuality is experienced honestly and involuntarily and is not amenable to significant change.  [To be fair, wouldn't he have to say the same thing about heterosexuals too?]  I'm confident they were uncomfortable with President Boyd K. Packer's most recent conference talk.  It is disappointing, however, to see them remain silent.  I look forward to the day when LDS Church leaders will reach out to our gay children, friends and neighbors, and figure out a way to enfranchise, rather than disenfranchise them."  (Emphasis mine).  President Packer teaches sin is sin and can be overcome, regardless of sexual orientation.  And he continues to call sinners to repentance.  Question:  Do we excommunicate adulterers?  Maybe we should rethink it, and "enfranchise them" instead.
  • A story that someone had started a Facebook page in support of President Packer.  I'm certain that person was well-meaning and wanting to show support for President Packer, but I'm guessing President Packer might think it a little absurd.  Does anyone really believe he cares much about what people think at this stage in his life as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?  He's teaching pure doctrine and he always has.  He's as pure a vessel as we have among the leaders of the Church.  He cares about what God would have him say, but I'm guessing he wouldn't give a dry fig for the opinions of others.  A popularity vote wouldn't be of much interest to him.  I've already highlighted the assessment of one observer many years ago in a previous post, who commented about the purity of President Packer's life for one so young.
    President Harold B. Lee
  • The Church calls a press conference to reiterate its stand on marriage and family.

Unrelated to this current controversy, someone asked me recently if I knew what theme or topic Harold B. Lee spoke about most frequently during his years as an Apostle and later as the President of the Church.  Because I have made a lifelong study of his teachings and sermons I replied without giving a second thought, "Follow the Brethren."

I will confess I have never added it all up, nor have I done a comparative study to validate my claim, but from what I observed and from what I know of the man and what made him tick I can assert my belief without much fear of contradiction.  The words of dead prophets are as valid today as they were when they were first uttered. 

Today, a sampling to make the point (the emphasis throughout is mine):

"When you see one who is tearing down and finding only the bad in men, seeing nothing of their good qualities, there you may see one whose heart is not pure, who finds it easy to criticize.  Shall I give you a test to try your own souls?  How did you react to the last conference?  Did you accept the declarations of the Brethren who spoke as the declarations of the prophets of the living God? Or did you make it a pastime in your private circles or around your family table to find flaws and express your displeasure at the fact that there was something said about politics or about labor and [you] wished the Brethren would keep their mouths shut about this and that?  Which was your reaction after the last conference?  You Latter-day Saints, the men who preside in this church are only prophets to those who accept them and their teachings as the prophecies from the living God.  It's great to live in a day when the prophets are leading us.  Moses, Paul, Peter — it was great in those days, but there were just as many critics and just as many who didn't receive them.  The Master said a prophet is not without honor save in his own country, and He might have added, in his own day and time (see Mark 6:4).  So today, these are prophets who lead us only if we accept them as such and apply their teachings in our lives. (THBL, 516; 50-09).

"Therein lies one of the greatest problems among those who are criticizing and finding fault and wanting exceptions, because they don't trust the Lord.  To say it another way, they are not willing to listen to the admonition of the Lord as He gave it as a preface to His revelations in this dispensation.  And these are His words:  'And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people' (D&C 1:14). (THBL, 516; 70-18).

"Oh, you Latter-day Saints, there was never a time when you needed to look so much to the leadership of this church to know the truth.  When one comes into your midst claiming revelation, and this one on this side a new interpretation, you have the good sense to remember what Paul said to the Ephesians.  The purpose of putting prophets, teachers, pastors, and evangelists in the Church was to keep us from running to and fro as children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (see Ephesians 4:11-14).  If you want to be guided in truth, you follow the light the Lord has given us in the leaders He has set to preside.  And the first one to go to is your bishop and your stake president; and if, through them, you need an answer from the Brethren who preside in the Church, it will be forthcoming.  That is one of the safeties to keep you in the path by which faith might come." (THBL, 516; 53-01, 354-55)

"The safety there is in this church is in listening to the counsel that comes from the authorities of this church. The Master said something else that we have not listened to very well. He said:
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27).
"What was the Master trying to say?  He was trying to present a great truth: that the storms of adversity, trying in difficulty, are going to descend upon every soul.  All of us — the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the humble, the haughty — all are going to have the rains of difficulty, the floods of disaster, the overhanging clouds testing faith, the winds and blasts of slander, of misrepresentation.  Everybody is going to have those things.  That is a part of life.  The only ones whose houses will not fall will be those who have built their houses upon the rock.  What is the rock?  Listening to the words of God as they come from His own mouth or from the mouths of His prophets."  (THBL, 517; 53-06).

"I can imagine the ridicule and scorn that Noah suffered during the months he was building a great ship out in the middle of a comparative desert to house himself and his family and the selected of earth's bounties in preparation for the flood that through his faith in God's prophetic revelation he knew was coming to destroy the earth.  Don't you be as the foolish virgins with no oil in your lamps because of your unbelief in God's warning of things to come (see Matthew 25:1-12).  Dare to listen to the leaders of the Church, the prophets of God, without a revelation to whom God said He would do nothing (see Amos 3:7), despite the jeers of the worldly and unrighteous who have no faith and who dare not, because of their own sinning, believe that these threatened judgments might be so. Through your faith in the inspired revelations, you will always be given time to build an ark of safety that will eventually land you on a Mount Ararat. (THBL, 517; 45-09, 80).

"The great historian Will Durant once said, "In my youth I wanted freedom. In my mature years I want order."  There is nothing so important in the kingdom of God as order; yet the tendency today is to resist law and order, which must be maintained in the kingdom of God if we are to be pleasing in the sight of the Lord.  "Be one," the Lord said; "and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27).  The only way we can be one is by following the leadership of the Church as the Lord has directed. (THBL, 518; 71-02, 215).

"A man came in to see me and said that he had heard that some man appeared mysteriously to a group of temple workers and told them, 'You had better hurry up and store for a year, or two, or three, because there will come a season when there won't be any production.'  He asked me what I thought about it, and I said, 'Well, were you in the April conference of 1936?'  He replied, 'No, I couldn't be there.'  And I said, 'Well, you surely read the report of what was said by the Brethren in that conference?'  No, he hadn't.  'Well,' I said, 'at that conference the Lord did give a revelation about the storage of food.  How in the world is the Lord going to get over to you what He wants you to do if you are not there when He says it, and you do not take the time to read it after it has been said?'
"The Lord is going to keep His people informed, if they will listen.  As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said in a classic talk, 'What we need today is not more prophets.  We have the prophets.  But what we need is more people with listening ears.  That is the great need of our generation.' (In Conference Report, October 1948, 82)."  (THBL, 518; 64-04, 159-60).

"When the welfare program was being structured and some of us were trying to assist, President Heber J. Grant made one of the saddest comments a President of the Church could make.  I was invited to the office of the First Presidency, and as we presented the outline of the plan that was proposed, President Grant, who had listened in silence for quite some time, said, 'Well, there is just one thing wrong with it. It won't work.'  President David O. McKay, his counselor, asked, 'Why won't it work, President Grant?'  And he said, 'I am afraid it won't work because we can't trust the membership of this church to follow our leadership.  See what they did when I pleaded with them to vote against the repeal of the liquor amendment?  Until the Saints learn to follow our counsel, there is not much we can do about it.'" (THBL, 519; 66-01, 16).

"The Master, in His Sermon on the Mount, made another very expressive declaration when He said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God' (Matthew 5:8).
"You will remember that in His lifetime there were some who saw Him only as the son of the carpenter. There were some who said that because of His words He was drunken with strong wine — that He was a winebibber.  There were some who even thought Him to be possessed of devils.  Only those who were pure in heart saw Him as the Son of God.
"There are some who look upon the leaders of this church and God's anointed as men who are possessed of selfish motives.  The words of our leaders are always twisted by them to try to bring a snare to the work of the Lord.  Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord's anointed, for they speak from impure hearts.  Only the pure in heart see the divine in man and accept our leaders as prophets of the living God."  (THBL, 519; 47-05, 223-24).

"I listened to an excerpt of a testimony of a man who was a member of the Twelve and of whom President Grant had said that he never knew a man who had a greater gift of prophecy than did this man.  There was put in my hands a quotation from a sermon that he had delivered some fifty years before, which proved to be the last sermon he had ever delivered as a member of the Twelve.  Before another conference, he was dropped from the Council of the Twelve and subsequently left the Church.  This is what he said, in that last sermon:  'That person is not truly converted unless he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church and it goes down into his heart like fire.'  And I repeat that to you here today.  The measure of your true conversion and whether or not you hold fast to those ideals is whether or not you are so living that you see the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church and that testimony goes down into your heart like fire."  (THBL, 520; 73-29, 90).

"I am reminded of an interview I had with one of you [teachers].  Maybe he is here tonight, and I am not sure but that I may have touched his soul as we talked that day.  We came around to the question as to whether or not he felt to follow the leadership of those who presided in the Church today.  He said with some hesitancy, 'Well, I didn't agree with President Clark when he gave his talk about 'Our Dwindling Sovereignty' up at the University of Utah.'  I repeated, 'I was there and I listened to President Clark.  You know, when I go to hear a great thinker on some subject, I don't go to criticize, I go to listen; but I suppose it would be difficult for a pygmy to get the viewpoint of a giant.'  And it was then that I seemed to bring him down to my level so that we could talk a little."  (THBL, 522; 68-07).

"The trouble with us today [is that] there are too many of us who put question marks instead of periods after what the Lord says.  I want you to think about that.  We shouldn't try to spend time explaining what the Lord didn't see fit to explain.  We spend useless time.
"If you would teach our people to put periods and not question marks after what the Lord has declared, we would say, 'It is enough for me to know that is what the Lord said.'"  (THBL, 522; 72-42, 108).

"We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord.  The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive Him.  The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand.  There will be inroads within the Church.  There will be, as President [N. Eldon] Tanner has said, 'Hypocrites, those professing, but secretly are full of dead men's bones' (see Matthew 23:27).  We will see those who profess membership but secretly are plotting and trying to lead people not to follow the leadership that the Lord has set up to preside in this church.
"Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized.  We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, 'as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith' (D&C 21:4-5).  There will be some things that take patience and faith.  You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church.  It may contradict your political views.  It may contradict your social views.  It may interfere with some of your social life.  But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory' (D&C 21:6)."  (THBL, 526; 70-28, 126).

"As I have labored among the Brethren and have studied the history of past dispensations, I have become aware that the Lord has given tests all down through time as to this matter of loyalty to the leadership of the Church.
"I have been in a position since I was called to the Council of the Twelve to observe some things among my brethren, and I want to say to you:  Every man who is my junior in the Council of the Twelve I have seen submitted, as though by Providence, to these same tests of loyalty, and I have wondered sometimes whether they were going to pass the tests.  The reason they are here today is because they did, and our Father has honored them.
"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."  (THBL, 522; 50-02, 51-52).

* * *

I am NOT a "Mormon apologist."  I once heard President Lee say, "Defending the truth is as useless as defending an Abrams tank with a peashooter."  

Rather, I believe as one of those junior members of the Council of the Twelve to whom President Lee made reference, President Boyd K. Packer is a giant among men who has been tried and tested in the furnace of affliction and not found wanting.  He is speaking the word of God.  It is unvarnished, unfiltered and unapologetic.  The gospel of repentance is easily discerned and embraced by the pure in heart with a testimony of Jesus the Redeemer.  It is an oasis in a dry and parched desert wilderness to those who thirst.  It is a banquet table of righteousness heaped high with truth for those who are hungry and faint from lack of nourishment.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I conclude with an inspired paragraph from Elder Todd D. Christofferson, whose remarks at the 2010 April General Conference about the importance of the scriptures in our lives bear precisely on the topic:

"In a complete reversal from a century ago, many today would dispute with Alma about the seriousness of immorality.  Others would argue that it’s all relative or that God’s love is permissive.  If there is a God, they say, He excuses all sins and misdeeds because of His love for us — there is no need for repentance.  Or at most, a simple confession will do.  They have imagined a Jesus who wants people to work for social justice but who makes no demands upon their personal life and behavior.  (See interview of Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, in Michael De Groote, "Questioning the Alternative Jesus," Deseret News, November 26, 2009, M5).  But a God of love does not leave us to learn by sad experience that 'wickedness never was happiness' (Alma 41:10; see also Helaman 13:38).  His commandments are the voice of reality and our protection against self-inflicted pain.  The scriptures are the touchstone for measuring correctness and truth, and they are clear that real happiness lies not in denying the justice of God or trying to circumvent the consequences of sin but in repentance and forgiveness through the atoning grace of the Son of God (see Alma 42)."  (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Blessing of Scripture," Ensign, May 2010, 32-35).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Obama's Redistribution of Wealth Debacle

I get routine comments from my children that my blog posts are "just too long."  I know I violate all the nebulous "blog standards" and all the conventional wisdom that posts should be 250 - 500 words.  So here's some relief. . .  This won't take long.

Test question for today:  What's the best way to create more jobs?

This administration has a signature legislative achievement -- the healthcare reform bill, dubbed "Obamacare." The intent was to subsidize health insurance for low- and middle-income groups by taxing high-income earners.  Big problem -- it might level material wealth but it sure dampens economic growth.  Where's the incentive to work harder?  Instead, the message sent was don't work so hard, you'll just pay more taxes.

It also kills incentive among the low- and moderate-income earners.  They can maintain the same standard of living with even less effort.  This is all strangely familiar to me.  I witnessed it in the late sixties as a missionary in England.

Do high tax rates really harm the economy? The liberal progressives (such a strange term -- they're really throwing us backward into the dark ages it seems to me) will tell you "No."  However, the countries of the European Union since the end of the World War II have tried this experiment before.  Their attempts to "carve equal slices from the economic pie" have included offering their citizens generous social benefits such as government-provided health care and mandated lengthy vacations.  France is rioting today because the government, faced with entitlements they can no longer afford, dared to raise the minimum qualification for their retirement stipend age to 62 from 60 just to keep more worker bees in the hive.  The result?  Per capita purchasing power in the EU is two-thirds of what it is in the U.S.  The slices of the economic pie may be more equal, but they are doled out from a much smaller pie.

This accompanying projection shows what happens if we don't put a swift and effective end to government entitlement programs.  They are increasingly disastrous and the increasing payments from the government to citizens are unsustainable, just as they are today in France and elsewhere in Europe.

So what does President Obama do to fend off criticism that his policies are doing harm?  He just keeps talking and talking and talking.  In his mystical never-never land, he would have us believe expanding health care coverage is going to somehow lower costs.  He gives handouts to state and local governments and calls that "stimulus spending."  Climate change legislation became a “green jobs” bill, and the list goes on and on.  If my calculations are correct (and they are), voters on November 2nd will reject him the only way they can this year -- in a tsunami wave of anger about to be unleashed on both houses of Congress.

It could have all been avoided.  Obama could have done what he said he would do -- find unanimity on policies where more could have agreed instead of being so divisive.

A glaring omission was failing to stop the massive federal subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  If he had really been interested in attacking the economic collapse root causes, that would have been an obvious place to start where bi-partisan support could have been achieved.  Instead, the disastrous Dodd-Frank regulatory reform bill did neither -- it didn't regulate and it didn't reform either agency.  The ridiculously reckless low credit standards continue, and so do the taxpayer-funded subsidies.

During the boom, realtors, homebuilders, developers, mortgage lenders, securities traders, and others reaped enormous profits, then they sold short knowing the paper was bogus, and dumped their losses on taxpayers during the bust.  Private fraudulent gains resulted for which no one yet has been prosecuted.  Oh, we all took great delight in watching token figureheads like Lehman Brothers and its CEO, Richard Fuld, take it on the chin, but all that translated into was socialized losses absorbed by American citizens.  Eliminating all federal support for Fannie and Freddie would have immediately redirected equity where it could have helped most like building newer, more-efficient manufacturing facilities, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.  As it is we're in a quadmire with foreclosures that still cannot be properly valued because of the federal government's attempts to "fix" it.

Maybe, just maybe, someone among "the smartest economists on earth" in the Obama administration could have taken a closer look at the idiocy we call the IRC, the Internal Revenue Code.  Currently, because of the permissible carve-outs, only 40 percent of personal income is taxed, pushing rates to more than twice what they need to be.  If you're going to tax the rich to provide for the poor, wouldn't it have been logical to close the holes in the sieve first to capture the income?  As it is now, everyone who can afford a smart CPA is free to game the system to lower their tax rate while others with similar income pay more.  That's inequity in its highest expression.  Companies who can afford the expensive lobbyists tend to do better than those who can't.  It's corrupt.  And the gaming continues.  If the adminstration were really interested in anything more than an audacious grab for gold, it would have considered true reform.

Close loopholes, broaden the tax base.  Simple right?  Obama and his advisors could have slashed rates, enhanced equity, and provided a huge stimulus to the economy.  Even if Congress had just written a personal check out to every American for $40,000, no strings attached, we'd be better off.  Instead, we got just the opposite -- even more loopholes and a promise to raise tax rates on the "wealthiest Americans."

I was accused last week by my good friend Marv of being too optimistic and idealistic about what might come out of the election results next Tuesday.  In his words, "You need to hear what my father once told me -- 'I'm a lot happier now that I've given up hope.'"

The problems in the economy might indeed prove to be too big to fix, but I'm still happier thinking we can make another new start.  Renewal is inspiring. 

It gives me hope, and we all need that right now.

Death of a Disciple

I haven't written very many talks over the years -- I'll bet you could count them on one hand.  Early this morning in search of something else, I stumbled over this one.  I was asked to speak at the funeral of a dear friend, John Marsing, several years ago.  My sentiments on that occasion were renewed and rekindled as I read what follows:

John Marsing Funeral, May 25, 2002

Visible from here to the west stands a half-framed home the master carpenter John was building for his family. The home he was building here on earth will be left for others to finish, but make no mistake – his eternal home, his mansion on high if you will, is already nearing completion. He’s just gone ahead to make sure the final inspection gets done on schedule in preparation for those who will someday join him. (See 1 Corinthians 3).

Funerals are still my favorite meetings in the Church. Such a declaration made in some quarters of this fallen world today among those without hope of a glorious resurrection in the highest kingdom of our Father would seem shocking. But among us – the faithful and hopeful here in the Woodland Ward – such a declaration is well understood. Woodland, I have come to understand, is the home of the second chance. If ever there were a poster child for the second chance at life, John would be the quintessential candidate for the poster. His life, seemingly shorter than it might have been or should have been in our judgment, gives us renewed hope in our own prospects for salvation. Our prospects should be more burnished than ever because of the life of our suddenly departed friend John.

Today our topic is the atonement of Jesus Christ. The man who lies in his coffin before us, John Marsing, is my visual aid. He always scolded me mildly when I called attention to him in life, now he must give me free rein for I will have the last word! Thank you, thank you, Sheri, for this glorious invitation. We are gathered to reason together and to comfort one another in our loss. The questions before us are: 1) Who is this amazing man John Marsing, and 2) where did he go so quickly without warning last Wednesday?

First, all is well with John Marsing. We will not make of his vices virtues, he would not countenance such drivel. He was full of weaknesses – not the least his legendary temper on the job (three sons who worked for him told me all the stories) – but I for one will praise his chosen course in discipleship and I will forever hallow his memory for his faithfulness.

We weep today not for him, but for ourselves. John was the prototypical product of the hippies’ revolution of the sixties. After his conversion as a newly reborn disciple of Jesus Christ, however, he was not the least bit fond of that characterization. He never denied what he had been in his past life, but once he turned that corner he never looked back because of his renewed hope in the atonement of Christ.

That’s why I love John Marsing and always will. He also became in the years I observed him up close and personal the prototypical disciple of Jesus Christ. In him, I saw the image of Christ’s countenance. There was always a brightness of hope in his face, a tear in his eye reflecting the resolve of a deeply committed true disciple, and always a word of carefully considered insight on the things that mattered most.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.” (A Time to Choose, 46).

John learned the most difficult things were the very things that brought the most happiness. He had been to the depths of despair in his life – literally to the bottom of the well – and he knew every step along the craggy and treacherous path back home. But in the years I have known him – his “redemption years” – he never ceased to marvel at the vistas of hope his new-found faith revealed to him.

He had three major heart attacks in his earlier life. Each time, his heart stopped beating in the emergency room. Three times he was declared dead, traveled through the veil for brief visits, but always returned to the unfinished business of redemption. He always had the sense he was on borrowed time, but once converted he learned, really learned, how to live. The insurance companies rejected his heart as an insurable risk, but the Lord loved the heart of this faithful disciple, John – “John the Beloved” would not be a stretch. He was at the time of his death a “work in progress.” He was also in every sense the prototypical prodigal son. The fourth time his heart stopped, the Lord himself hugged him. (2 Nephi 9:41; Alma 40:11).

His life now stands for all those with eyes to see as a towering testament to the rarest kind of courage. We don’t have many heroes among us these days – and I mean true heroes who were true to themselves – but John is one worthy of emulation in that regard. So are you, Sheri. In quieter, more private moments, we have discussed all the reasons why, and I hope you remember those sacred occasions as well as I do.

If you are John, it is not easy to admit the course you originally picked was a forbidden path. To repent and begin again takes courage to face an uncertain and consecrated future, but that is exactly what John did.

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis wrote:

The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, 'live for others' but always in a discontented, grumbling way. . .

The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours" (Mere Christianity, 167).

For those of us already aboard, it is often harder to value the tortured faith of those come unto Christ, literally gasping for breath as if they had barely caught the last train out of Babylon (to use another Neal Maxwell metaphor). This was the way Elder Maxwell expressed it:  "Our capacity as Church members to love and to forgive will be freshly and severely tested as battered and bruised souls come into the Church in ever-larger numbers. Some come in from the cold shivering. Others are breathless, having caught what was for them the last train out of Babylon. Their own continued process of repentance will be much aided if they see, all about them, more regular emphasis in the lives of the rest of us on faith unto repentance."  (Not My Will, But Thine, 74).

It was never difficult for me to value John’s faith. By any standard, his faith was of sterling quality, polished by all the friction in all the overcoming.

John loved the word of the Lord. He reverberated with it. He immersed himself in it. He was completely obedient. When I gently suggested one week that everyone who didn’t already have them should obtain a new set of scriptures, he showed up the very next week with a new set in his hands and commenced a thorough and ongoing study of the word. One verse emblematic of him illustrates the value of the new publication of the scriptures:

. . .if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments. (JST Matthew 16:26).

My last conversation with him was last Sunday. As I left the chapel after sacrament meeting, I sat down beside him on the last row of the chapel, and asked, “So how are you doing?” His response, holding his scriptures in his hands was in effect, “I’m doing pretty well, but I have so much to do to make up for lost time. I’m never going to know as much as you do.”

I replied, “John, I’ve told you before, it has nothing to do with what you know, it’s really all about the change of heart. And because I know your heart so well, I can tell you that you are light years beyond most of us.”

To which the ever-present tears appeared again in the windows of his towering mansion of his soul. “I just want you to know how much your friendship means to me, I love you,” he said.

And I responded, “That street goes both ways. I love you too.” Little did I know he had just preached his own funeral sermon. He could express love to a friend, because his best friend was Jesus – John eventually became, like Jesus, the embodiment of perfect love. He was able to give as good as he got. Isn’t that the very essence of life?

Whenever it struck a particularly responsive chord deep within the recesses of his soul, the tears spilled out through the windows. He could never speak of the gospel he loved without the tears. It didn’t matter if he were speaking at the pulpit, offering a comment in a class, or praying before the congregation – there were always tears of gratitude. Some of those tears were surely tears of sorrow for the realization of his contributory numbers in the “awful arithmetic of the atonement” (another Neal Maxwell metaphor). But certainly, most of the tears were gratitude for the sure knowledge he possessed that because he had accepted and acknowledged his Savior’s perfect love for him he would never have to suffer himself. (D&C 19:16-17). I loved that about John – he submitted like a child. (Mosiah 3:19). He had even reached the point where he had forgiven himself. He was at peace, “comfortable (as the statement goes) in his own skin.”

President Spencer W. Kimball
John was the personification of this beautiful description by President Spencer W. Kimball, as he concluded his inspired writing we revere today as The Miracle of Forgiveness:

When we think of miracles, most of us think of healings under the power of the priesthood. But there is another, even greater miracle – the miracle of forgiveness.

Indeed the day of miracles has not passed except for those who will not heed the call of the Lord and of his servants, who night and day warn and plead and implore. There is a glorious miracle awaiting every soul who is prepared to change. Repentance and forgiveness make a brilliant day of the darkest night. When souls are reborn, when lives are changed then comes the great miracle to beautify and warm and lift. When spiritual death has threatened and now instead there is resuscitation, when life pushes out death when this happens it is the miracle of miracles. And such great miracles will never cease so long as there is one person who applies the redeeming power of the Savior and his own good works to bring about his rebirth.

There are two kinds of miracles, as there are two parts to life in every area. There is the body and the spirit. Thus there are two kinds of healings.

As the Lord passed down the path, two blind men begged for light. "So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him." (Matthew 20:34.) These were their mortal eyes which were opened.

The scripture says, ". . .and they followed him." This last phrase might mean that they would receive their spiritual sight. If they followed him really, lived his commandments, were totally obedient, their souls would receive sight unto eternal life.

Of the two, spiritual sight is by far the more important. Only those whose physical eyes do not see can know of the deprivation this entails, and it is a serious one. But even this cannot be compared to the blindness of those who have eyes and will not see the glories of that spiritual life which has no end. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 362.)

John was the very miracle of which President Kimball speaks. On his first day back to the temple after many years’ absence, my oldest son Jeff joined John and me at a special temple outing for stake missionaries. I will never forget the feelings of joy that welled up within me as we lingered over dinner in the temple cafeteria, lost in conversation rejoicing together in the miracle of prodigal sons. (See Luke 15:11-32).  I have no doubt  John is still a mission leader now, hard at work rounding up even more prodigals in the spirit world somewhere not too far away from us.

Which brings us to the second question: Where did he go so suddenly last Wednesday? Alma is a most reliable witness:

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. . . thus they remain in this state. . . until the time of their resurrection. (Alma 40:11-12; 14).

Alma continues:

. . .there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 40:21).

I always used to say to John, “When that time comes, I like your chances.”

President Joseph F. Smith
In his glorious vision of the spirit world, President Joseph F. Smith gave further insight:

. . .among the righteous there was peace. . . from among the righteous, [the Savior] organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. (D&C 138:22; 30).

John knew there was still much ahead left to accomplish in his journey of discipleship. At times, he was frankly discouraged, feeling he had already squandered so much precious time.

Joseph Smith
But I often reminded him of what Joseph Smith said at King Follett’s funeral:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel — you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave. (TPJS, 348).

President Boyd K. Packer
When President Boyd K. Packer made a surprise visit to our stake conference some months ago, he said: “When we go beyond the veil we will be surprised at how different things are. But we’ll also be surprised at how similar things are. If we don’t get things fixed here we’ll get them fixed there, but don’t give up.” Again, no sermons, just simplicity beyond belief! Then this: “I have a little experience with things beyond the veil, too sacred to talk about here.”

To those of you John loved most, believe me when I say he has never given up on you and will continue to minister among you to bless your lives in ways impossible to calculate today. He has only gone ahead to continue his construction project on his eternal family unit. The doors will always be open, as will his arms of love to embrace those of you who will follow the same path in discipleship he has set before you.

President Ezra Taft Benson
At the death of President Kimball, President Ezra Taft Benson observed:

It has been said that the death of a righteous man is never untimely because our Father sets the time. I believe that with all my soul. ("Spencer W. Kimball: A Star of the First Magnitude," Ensign, December 1985, 33).

I believe it too. And I believe it about John Marsing. “Righteous” doesn’t mean “perfect.” It means we’re trying to do what’s right – trying to repent, trying to do better, trying to be a disciple, trying to forgive others, and by that definition John was as righteous as they come.

Paraphrasing what Joseph Smith said at the funeral of his dear friend, Judge Adams, we might well say of John:

He has had revelations concerning his departure, and has gone to a more important work. When men are prepared, they are better off to go hence. Brother [John] has gone to open up a more effectual door for the dead. The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith. (TPJS, 325).

Now he knows us perhaps even better than we know ourselves. He will not be far away. While he is assisting in the salvation of those on the other side of the veil, rest assured he will never be far from those he loved on this side of the veil either. The spirits of our loved ones continue to minister among us. The work of salvation is the same here as it is there, and why would he love us less simply because he has moved ahead now?

The separation of our physical body from our eternal spirit is a necessary part of the plan of God. Alma explained to somehow seek to reverse the effects of death, painful as it is, “would destroy the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). Truly, death passes upon all men and women “to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Nephi 9:6). Death is merciful in the sense that it delivers us from the toils and agonies of this life.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
 Once a faithful Latter-day Saint who has accepted and lived his covenants, as John did, enters the spirit world he does not fall off the strait and narrow path he walked in mortality. We have the scriptural promise that faithfully enduring to the end, keeping the commandments and covenants to the end of our lives, leads us eventually to the realization of the promise of eternal life, whether that promise is received here or hereafter. "But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life" (D&C 50:5; emphasis added). In other words, "If we die in the faith, that is the same thing as saying that our calling and election has been made sure and that we will go on to eternal reward hereafter." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, from an address at funeral services for Elder S. Dilworth Young, 13 July 1981, typescript, p. 5).

We might well say now of John Marsing that his calling and election has been made sure. The day of his probation is ended. In due course of time he will inherit as a joint-heir with Christ “all that my Father hath.” (D&C 84:33-40).

How is it possible, you ask, if John Marsing was not a perfect man? It is possible through the atoning sacrifice of the only Perfect One. Our claim upon our eternal inheritance rests wholly and completely in Christ’s perfection, not in our own vain attempts to perfect ourselves. As it was in the days of Moroni, so it was with John in our day:

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:4).

Never confuse yourself in the midst of the vast gulf of differentiation between the Perfect One and the perfect faith required to embrace the benefits of his proxy perfection for each of us. (Moroni 10:32-33). If the gospel means what it purports to mean, if words from our Heavenly Father mean anything through the inspired lips and pens of his chosen vessels, these things are true.

Other hands will finish the home he started not far from here. Rest assured, however, that he has merely gone ahead to complete his eternal home for those he loves. I love John Marsing. I love the Lord Jesus Christ whom he served. I know that in Christ all our hopes in his lavish promises will eventually be fulfilled if we remain faithful and endure to the end of our mortal lives.

We knew a carpenter named John, who is now on intimate terms with the Master Carpenter whom he loved. That it might be so for each of us is my prayer today.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Conceived in Sin"

In a recent lesson I attended, the topic turned to "original sin."

I had my lesson manual and my scriptures open on my lap, but this opening was not what was in the written word, so I asked the instructor, "Where in the lesson manual or in the scriptures did you come up with the idea we are all conceived in sin, so there's nothing we can do about it?"  I had already hoped he would end up discussing the atonement sometime before we adjourned, but this was a jolting opening for me, so I just had to ask to find some clarification.

I'm afraid I wasn't very patient as the instructor attempted to defend his use of that phrase without a satisfactory scriptural reference, so I offered, "You'll find it in Moses 6:55."  The first verse cited in the manual was Moses 6:57.  I thought he was just confused, but then he went on to defend his idea, "because it's right there -- that's what it says, 'conceived in sin.'"

This is a situation confronting us week after week as we attempt to teach one another.  None of us in the Church is a professional minister.  No one is paid to teach and instruct.  That's what makes the Church true (among a million other things).  We come together from all walks of life with varying degrees of gospel knowledge, and we have to learn to be patient and kind with one another as we all learn together.  

However, In the Introduction to the Gospel Principles manual, instructors are admonished:

"Before you teach from a chapter, study it thoroughly to be sure you understand the doctrine.  Also study the additional scriptures listed at the end of the chapter.  You will teach with greater sincerity and power when the teachings in the chapter have influenced you personally.  Never speculate about Church doctrine.  Teach only what is supported by the scriptures, the words of latter-day prophets and apostles, and the Holy Spirit (see D&C 42:12-14; 52:9).

"If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be.  Stay true to the scriptures and the words in the book.  As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons."

We sometimes make an honest mistake in what we say and how we express ourselves on gospel subjects.  But remember, words have meaning.  They are symbols standing for revealed truths when we are discussing gospel principles, and the Lord is very precise in the way He uses words.  Words in one place, when they can be found in another, give harmony and round out the truths involved.  We cannot, therefore, take one slender phrase out of context and pass it off as truth, when everywhere else in scripture it is refuted.

I went on to briefly explain:  Reading back five or six verses, then reading forward five or six verses from verse 55, would help to flesh out the false idea Moses was being shown by the Lord in this vision.  The additional verses wrapped around this one phrase correctly set forth the true doctrine:  There was no such thing as original sin, or original guilt, but instead "all men everywhere must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence."  (Verse 57).  

These things, Moses was instructed, should be taught unto our children as the way to correct the false idea of original sin.  

We memorize the Articles of Faith in Primary. The first four are these:

1.  We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

2.  We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

3.  We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

4.  We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Our First Parents, Adam and Eve
There can be no dispute about this:  We are born into a wicked and fallen world.  When Patsy and I were having our family, there were more than a few people in the Church who reminded us how irresponsible we were to conceive and bear children and how unfair it was to even think about bringing them into such a wicked world.  Gee, I always thought that was the whole point of our existence, if you believe words in the scriptures actually have meaning.  (You have probably already discerned -- I have been routinely out of step with the world most of my adult life.)

We are confronted with a conundrum in our attempts to first understand and then to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Salvation (which we have already said is the equivalent of exaltation) is not to be gained by teaching ethical or moral principles.  While important, ethics and morality do not produce salvation.  Neither does loosely using a few phrases that sound plausible but are simply heresies, like "conceived in sin."

Let me put a fine point at the end of that sentence by citing Elder James E. Talmage in Jesus the Christ, 30-31):

Elder James E. Talmage
"Here, let me say, that therein consisted the fall — the eating of things unfit, the taking into the body of the things that made of that body a thing of earth: and I take this occasion to raise my voice against the false interpretation of scripture, which in some instances has been adopted by certain people, and is current in their minds, and is referred to in a hushed and half-secret way, that the fall of man consisted in some offense against the laws of chastity and of virtue. Such a doctrine is an abomination. What right have we to turn the scriptures from their proper sense and meaning? What right have we to declare that God meant not what He said? The fall was a natural process, resulting through the incorporation into the bodies of our first parents of the things that came from food unfit, through the violation of the command of God regarding what they should eat. Don't go around whispering that the fall consisted in the mother of the race losing her chastity and her virtue. It is not true; the human race is not born of fornication. These bodies that are given unto us are given in the way that God has provided. Let it not be said that the patriarch of the race, who stood with the gods before he came here upon the earth, and his equally royal consort, were guilty of any such foul offense. The adoption of that belief has led many to excuse departures from the path of chastity and the path of virtue, by saying that it is the sin of the race, it is as old as Adam. It was not introduced by Adam. It was not committed by Eve. It was the introduction of the devil and came in order that he might sow the seeds of early death in the bodies of men and women, that the race should degenerate as it has degenerated whenever the laws of virtue and of chastity have been transgressed.

"Our first parents were pure and noble, and when we pass behind the veil we shall perhaps learn something of their high estate, more than we know now. But be it known that they were pure; they were noble. It is true that they disobeyed the law of God, in eating things they were told not to eat; but who amongst you can rise up and condemn?"  (Emphasis mine).

Instead, the way to salvation is by doing those things producing God's power in our lives, the influence, the regenerating force we call the Gospel.  Yes, it requires high ethical standards, but the centerpiece is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must take action, not merely believe.

Here's an example from today's lesson (among many) of what we must do to be saved.  Adam asked God why it was necessary to be baptized.  He got a straight answer:

And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said:  Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water?  And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.  [That one sentence obliterates the false doctrine of original sin -- everyone born on this earth starts fresh and clean].  Hence came the saying abroad among the people, That the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.  And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin. . . (Moses 6:53-55).

Full stop.  There's that statement, "conceived in sin," that made me see red this morning, linked with "and there's nothing we can do about it."  The true doctrine involved here has been perverted.  When properly understood, it is true; and the Lord used it in His vision to Moses.  The revelation states Adam was forgiven of the original sin and his children were freed from its effects (except for physical and spiritual death), but God still said Adam's children were conceived in sin.  

To be conceived in sin is therefore something different than the original guilt of Adam's transgression about which we can do nothing and for which we are not held accountable.  God declared the latter doctrine to be true, but He means by it that man is conceived in a fallen situation where sin is dominant, where the natural man is dominant, where other effects of the Fall are dominant over him in his fallen or natural state.  He does not mean that conception in itself, properly controlled, is transgression or sin. 

Note that God said:  ". . . Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good."  (Moses 6:55).

King Benjamin said essentially the same thing later (proving the need for multiple sources to fully reveal the correct doctrine) -- there is evil in the flesh, so that when man's physical body develops, he is introduced to Satan's temptations through the corrupt elements in the flesh. People are not predestined to sin and to transgress just because Adam and Eve were their parents.  We can never say to ourselves, "There is nothing we can do about it, because we were conceived in sin."  That is a perverse and Satanic notion.  

When born into mortality, however, each of us is introduced to those weaknesses which can, if not checked by spiritual powers coming from Christ, cause us to transgress.  But father Lehi was quick to remind us we can and we must choose for ourselves.  (2 Nephi 2:25-29).  We must act and not be merely acted upon.

So when do these weaknesses and perversions we attach to sin become associated with each individual?  Are they inherited at birth?  Later?  Before?  When?  When are the seeds of corruption and death planted within the body?  Is it after one has been born, at birth, or when the physical embryo is first started — at conception?  It's logical that it happens at conception.  If the seeds of death are transmitted to each new embryo at conception, are not the other effects of the Fall also present in the flesh at conception?  Is not a person then conceived in sin and not born in sin?  There is a time differential in the meaning of the two terms.  The embryo formed at conception is predestined to die because the seeds of corruption are there at conception, but it is not predestined to sin.  If that person lives beyond childhood, it is also predestined to grow up with certain weak and fallen tendencies which, if not checked and overcome, produce sin and its effects.  

These principles destroy the idea, "There's nothing I can do about being _____ (fill in the blank).  I was just born this way."  That excuse is dead on arrival, when the gospel plan of salvation is properly understood and taught.  If people commit suicide rather than accept the gospel and humble themselves before the eternal requirements set forth for salvation and exaltation, it means they are without hope in this world because they have misunderstood the foundational principles of the gospel which are founded upon the principle of hope!  There is always hope!  It is the plan of hope!

Again, without the light and truth emanating from our Redeemer Jesus Christ, the power of the Fall in the flesh becomes dominant and masters the spirit.  An angel told King Benjamin, "Men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ. . ."  (Mosiah 3:18).

Here in mortality we stand at the crossroads.  We are in a position where, through the natural development of our physical nature, we are introduced to the temptations of Satan.  He perverts marriage, destroys families, and inspires sophistry.  To overcome these lies and false doctrines is one of the great purposes of mortality. In order for man to be born out of this fallen condition into a new spiritual awareness, the Lord continued:  "Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:  That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;"  (Moses 6:58-59).  

This is the doctrine of birth into the Kingdom of God and it contains a statement of the blessings to be received — the blessing of being sanctified from all sin, of enjoying the words of eternal life by the revelations of the Spirit in this life, and of receiving eternal life in the world to come, even the divine endowments of immortal glory.  Then, to those who are born into the Kingdom of God, the Lord made this promise:  

"Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment."  (Moses 6:61).

The promised Comforter is the Holy Ghost; and by birth into the Kingdom of God its divine power begins to abide within man. The light and the truth in their fulness constitute God's glory as it begins to abide within us.  That quickening power — the power of God that is in all things and through all things — likewise begins to abide within us.  We do not arrive in an instant suddenly.  Sanctification is the journey of a lifetime, but we begin to get a glimpse of what we may receive by being born into the Kingdom of God.  In conclusion:  "And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time."  (Moses 6:62).  Notice the use of the word ALL -- it means the conditions apply to all:  Heterosexual, homosexual, kind, hateful, generous, stingy, loving, spiteful, in short, ALL, everyone, even people who think they can perfect themselves under the law.

What is the plan of salvation, according to this statement?  It consists of the need to receive two births.  By the first birth, we receive a physical body. By the second birth, we may attain those powers necessary to make this physical body a celestial body.  The acquisition of a physical body is received upon obedience to the requisite irrevocable laws of birth.  The acquisition of a celestial body is also contingent upon the processes of birth into the Kingdom of God.  It is only through this channel those powers that quicken all things, that have all knowledge, and that are the enlightening powers of truth in all things, can be developed within us to enable us to receive an eternal fulness.  

If we have been born of water and of the Spirit, we say as Paul did, "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."  (Romans 6:5).

John Baptizing Christ
There are those who will say one cannot enter the celestial kingdom unless he or she has been to the temple, that the temple is the gateway to the celestial kingdom.  That isn't what the Lord teaches.  The ordinance of baptism is the essential ordinance for those who have reached the age of accountability.  The ordinance of baptism is the gateway to the celestial kingdom.  That is the way by which we become sons and daughters of God.  However, in order to receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom there are certain higher ordinances, including the everlasting covenant of marriage which are also essential, as we can learn in D&C 130

When we begin to receive these divine powers by living the law, observing the commandments and repenting of our sins, we can then begin to have hope of being like Christ in the resurrection, as John said:  "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (I John 3:2).

This is the path — the only path — by which the perfecting powers of God are given to mankind in sufficient quantities to make us celestial beings in the resurrection. Then, having received these ordinances in faith, we must develop and mature in the powers of the Spirit until we come back into the full measure of God.

The scriptures teach in the overall plan of life, from the time we existed as "intelligence or the light of truth" until we rise in the resurrection to be endowed with eternal life or celestial glory, there are three basic birth processes. 

In the first, the basic intelligence of man with the spirit matter of which it was inherently a part, we were organized by a conception and birth process into an organized spirit personage.  Our Eternal Father and Mother were our divine parents in this pre-mortal spirit life.  Jesus Christ Jesus was our Elder Brother, the Firstborn of every creature.  This was the first birth and the first situation of life in which we were required to mature along the great pathway to eternal life.  By that organization, the basic intelligence constituting our primal creation was given greater powers of expression and a greater capability for development.

The second birth is our birth into mortality here on this earth.  Through our physical birth we acquire all the physical attributes necessary to possess eternal life because our spirit is clothed with a physical body.  By birth into mortality, we embark upon a series of physical relationships and acquire the endowments and attributes required for eternal life.  And thereafter we must mature these endowments to their destined fulness.

Those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven must undergo a third birth process based upon covenant making by being born of water and of the Spirit, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus.  (John 3:5).   This is the rebirth or the second birth required of each in mortality to obtain celestial glory.  Thus having become sons and daughters of the Eternal Father, Elohim, in the premortal spirit birth, and having become sons and daughters of mortal parents in the flesh, those who would enter into celestial glory must then become sons and daughters of Christ in the divine endowments that lead to eternal life by being spiritually reborn.  These are the three essential births required to attain eternal life.

All people living on the earth today are children of the Eternal Father, Elohim, by reason of a pre-mortal birth.  With that common parentage it is amazing there is so much hatred, bickering and fighting among us.  Sadly, as we enter mortality our physical bodies serve as a "veil" of forgetfulness drawn across our memories of our former home and parentage so we may walk by faith not seeing.  We become accountable before God at age eight, we become estranged by our deeds of misconduct and thereby lose our former rights and prerogatives as members of the divine family.  

We no longer have immediate access to the spiritual blessings and powers of Deity we had as the sons and daughters of Elohim in the pre-mortal world. To acquire these family rights again and thereby have access to the Divine powers rightfully belonging to the sons and daughters of God, we must subscribe to what Joseph Smith called "the articles of adoption."  (See TPJS, 328).  In doing so, we then become sons and daughters of Jesus Christ, and through Him partake of the divine attributes and powers of Deity lost to us by our estrangement from God. 

The challenge is to stand at the crossroads in mortality and to choose to become the sons and daughters of Christ. (See D&C 39:1-4).  The Apostle Paul declared:  "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Romans 8:14).  Continuing, he explained: 

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:15-19).

To say we are true Christians means just this:  We stand in the hope of someday acquiring the same glory of God. (See, for example, Jacob 4:11; Mosiah 4:12; Alma 14:11, 22:14; 36:28).

Christ in Gethsemane
Since we are fallen, we cannot merit anything of ourselves, but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for our sins, through faith and repentance. . .

It was through reading the scriptures and then pondering and listening to the voice of the Spirit that I have been able to understand in part at least the power of the Atonement.  Can you imagine how I felt when I could finally see that if I followed whatever conditions the Redeemer had set, I would never need to endure the agony of being spiritually unclean?

The prophets like Nephi, Paul, Joseph Smith, Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, to name a few, have set me free from the bonds of sin.  I could do something about my sins, I was not condemned or cast off forever because I was "conceived in sin."  It's not because they are my Redeemer, but because they knew Him.  They have introduced me to Him.  I believed His words.  I acted upon them.

Imagine the consoling, liberating, exalting feeling available to everyone when you see the reality of the Atonement and the practical everyday value of it to you individually.