Monday, May 30, 2011

Political Quote of the Day

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

From Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint session of Congress:

My friends, you don't have to . . . do nation-building in Israel. We're already built. You don't need to export democracy to Israel. We've already got it. And you don't need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves. . . . This path of liberty is not paved by elections alone. It's paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule. Israel has always embraced this path in a Middle East that has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.

Courageous Arab protesters are now struggling to secure these very same rights for their peoples, for their societies. We're proud in Israel that over one million Arab citizens of Israel have been enjoying these rights for decades. Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel's Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. Now, I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of 1 percent are truly free and they're all citizens of Israel. This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East; Israel is what is right about the Middle East. Israel fully supports the desire of Arab peoples in our region to live freely. We long for the day when Israel will be one of many real democracies in the region – in the Middle East.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why Bank of America Won't Modify Your Mortgage

As a boy, I always loved the story of David and Goliath. Herewith, a modern-day update to the story. If I were a betting man, I'd take Goliath.

I was opposed to TARP ("Troubled Asset Relief Program") from the moment it was announced. I wasn't fully certain of all the reasons at the time, but something about it just didn't feel right. I've done a lot of reading since that day to try to understand it, and after my last call with Bank of America last week I believe I finally have the answer. There's a valid moral question about whether principal reduction on underwater mortgages should be the latest in a long list of government giveaways, and many are opposed to it. This administration, however, seems more than willing to hand out more candy to borrowers.

In the fall of 2008, when it was first proposed, TARP smacked of financial cronyism. Hank Paulson, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, was Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush. Along with virtually every other financial institution on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs was among the market makers in dodgy financial instruments with disaster written all over them, despite their gold star ratings. (I learned later many of the market makers were selling the market short from another desk in their houses.) It's what they do -- they play both ends of the market. Nobody complains. It's all perfectly legal. So why should we as free Americans reward them for their risky behavior, I wondered? Those were my initial thoughts.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Deseret News commending Congress for voting down TARP the first time. I've documented most of my feelings about all that on these pages in the past.

Fundamentally, there was a strong negative bias deeply embedded in my DNA against the philosophical roots of the bailouts for the financial institutions. I've been asked why. Would I have chosen a complete financial worldwide meltdown instead?

Here's my summation argument: By bailing out failing companies, Congress in effect decided to confiscate money (I use the word intentionally) from the productive elements of the U.S. economy, companies and individuals, and then made arbitrary decisions about which failing units to transfer it to. With banks who had ignored the risks and invested in sub-prime mortgage instruments assembled in securitization pools, Congress told us, "They are too big to fail. They must be rescued. Without the bailout there will be a worldwide financial catastrophe by Monday morning."

In the case of the auto industry, the government chose to sustain failed companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models. The unions imposed unsustainable demands, the company executives kept passing the higher costs along to consumers, and they deserved to fail. But by choosing to bail them out, the government prevented the resources of these failed and arcane behemoths of industry from being liquidated in the open market where other better-managed companies could have taken those resources and put them to better use in a thriving concern.

So everyone, including George W. "I'm a free market guy" Bush, held their noses and passed TARP. Congress went along with the dire warnings from Paulson and TARP was hatched. We learned later just how much lobbying money went into the re-election campaigns of those who voted "aye."

Back in the day when I studied Economics, it was a basic fact of life (I was told) that in a healthy free market we must permit failure to occur. (Sounds a lot to me like the arguments in favor and opposed to free agency in the pre-mortal world.) Success will be rewarded, but failure will also be punished by investors who will seek a higher return with commensurate risk elsewhere. It sounds so harsh, doesn't it? Survival of the fittest.

With a bailout, I argued at the time, the incentives are reversed. Failing companies are saved from their risky behavior and resources from the taxpayers are shifted arbitrarily by government, rather than being sorted out by the sometimes brutal efficiencies of the marketplace, where profitability is always rewarded. To this day I cannot understand how the bailouts were supposed to be good for our economy. In a country that I know rejects corporate business collusion, why would we as free Americans ever permit the government to pick and choose the winners and losers, when a free market economy does it so much more efficiently? Shifting those decisions to bureaucrats and politicians seemed exactly what we would want to avoid.

Here's a brief history of what happened in the infamous TARP bank bailout package of 2008, and then some comments about one participant's experience with one of the banks deemed "too big to fail" -- the one that services my mortgage:

Bank of America received $20 billion in the federal bailout from the U.S. government through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) on January 16, 2009, and also got a guarantee of $118 billion in potential losses at the company. ("US gives Bank of America 20 billion dollars in capital injection," 2009-01-15. Retrieved 2010-10-17).

This was in addition to the $25 billion given to them in the Fall of 2008 through TARP. The additional payment was part of a deal with the US government to preserve Bank of America's merger with the troubled investment firm Merrill Lynch. (Giannone, Joseph A. [February 5, 2009]. "U.S. pushed Bank of America to complete Merrill buy: report," Reuters).

Since then, members of the U.S. Congress have expressed considerable concern about how this money has been spent, especially since some of the recipients have been accused of misusing the bailout money. (Ellis, David [February 11, 2009]. "Bank CEOs flogged in Washington," Retrieved March 31, 201).

Then CEO, Ken Lewis, was quoted as claiming "We are still lending, and we are lending far more because of the TARP program." Members of the US House of Representatives, however, were skeptical and quoted many anecdotes about loan applicants (particularly small business owners) being denied loans and credit card holders facing stiffer terms on the debt in their card accounts.

According to a March 15, 2009, article in The New York Times, Bank of America received an additional $5.2 billion in government bailout money, channeled through American International Group. (Walsh, Mary Williams [March 15, 2009], "A.I.G. Lists Firms It Paid With Taxpayer Money," The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2009).

As a result of its federal bailout and management problems, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bank of America was operating under a secret "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) from the U.S. government that requires it to "overhaul its board and address perceived problems with risk and liquidity management." With the federal action, the institution has taken several steps, including arranging for six of its directors to resign and forming a Regulatory Impact Office. Bank of America faces several deadlines in July and August and if not met, could face harsher penalties by federal regulators. Bank of America did not respond to The Wall Street Journal story. ("US Regulators to B of A: Obey or Else," The Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2009).

On December 2, 2009, Bank of America announced it would repay the entire US $45 billion it received in TARP and exit the program, using $26.2 billion of excess liquidity along with $18.6 billion to be gained in "common equivalent securities" (Tier 1 capital). The bank announced it had completed the repayment on December 9. Bank of America Ken Lewis said during the announcement, "We appreciate the critical role that the U.S. government played last fall in helping to stabilize financial markets, and we are pleased to be able to fully repay the investment, with interest... As America's largest bank, we have a responsibility to make good on the taxpayers' investment, and our record shows that we have been able to fulfill that commitment while continuing to lend." (Bank of America to Repay Entire $45 Billion in TARP to U.S. Taxpayers, PR Newswire, December 2, 2009; "Bank of America Completes US TARP Repayment." 12-10-2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009).

Now to one man's story about trying to deal with the beast. First, there are no real live people working in Utah for the Bank of America with whom a mortgagor (borrower) can speak. All communication with Bank of America is done via mail or telephone. I have personally had to deal with them at three different physical locations and multiple phone numbers.

My mortgage was originated in 1997. After two and a half years of unsuccessfully attempting to modify my mortgage for a lower interest rate, I finally wrote a letter expressing my frustrations as follows:

November 10, 2010

Bank of America Home Loans Servicing, LP
390 Interlocken Crescent, Ste 350
Broomfield, CO 80021

Bank of America Home Loans Servicing, LP
PO Box 650070
Dallas, TX 75265-0070

Office of the Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street Suite 230
SLC UT 84114-2320

REF:  Bank of America Mortgage Loan #xxxx

I received a telephone call from Bank of America this week informing me, “Your request for a loan modification has been declined.”  Further, I was informed I would be contacted next by a “negotiator” who would share with me my “options” within the next 30-45 days.  Now I’m wondering who the “negotiator” will be representing, and what will be “negotiated.”

Attached (click to enlarge), please find a letter dated March 30, 2010, in direct contradiction to the phone call, stating “You qualify for a permanent modification of your home loan under the Home Affordable Modification Program.”  I was told “we will be sending it to you soon.  Please be on the lookout for a package in the mail and return the Agreement to us by the requested date so that we can finalize your loan modification.”  That was SEVEN months ago!  The mailbox is still empty.

I am hoping what we have here is a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.  The question before me now is which Bank of America do I believe?  My approval letter came from the first address listed above.  I have been making my payments to the second address listed above.

The person with whom I spoke most recently indicated I had passed “three stages of approval,” but somehow for reasons not adequately explained as she read from a prepared script that I had failed some test in the “fourth stage” of the approval process.  Until that phone call, I was unaware about anything regarding “stages of approval.”

I have made my trial payments of $xxx per month without fail since the first agreement dated July 3, 2009, after being told there was a “three month” trial period.  If this final stage development in the result of underwriting that was done over a year ago, you undoubtedly are making a decision that should be updated with fresh financial data which I would be happy to supply.  My income is still a fraction of what it once was, but I assure you it is sufficient today to more than qualify under a modification if reviewed and updated.  Fifteen months (two birthdays) have come and gone since the underwriting was originally done.  I’ve made the trial payments faithfully as agreed.  The whole drawn out process has now been in play for FIFTEEN MONTHS!

Your communications to me have now put me in an “awkward position,” to be stating it as simply as I can.  I have acted in good faith.  However, Bank of America has done the opposite, it appears, unless there is a simple explanation you can offer besides another phone call from someone reading a script.

When sharing my dilemma and my frustration this week with a good friend who is also a mortgage broker here in Utah, I was advised to take my case to the Attorney General of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, because in his words, “Bank of America has become the poster child for how not to handle foreclosure procedures.”  I have also copied Shurtleff’s office on this letter.

I am writing to inform you that until I hear back from you (is ten days enough time?) I will proceed as advised and bring action against Bank of America through my legal counsel, who is also copied on this letter for specific performance by Bank of America under the letter dated March 30, 2010 (see attached) upon which I have relied.  You can’t treat your customers this way.

Sadly, instead of resolving my loan with a modification to assist me in keeping my home, I am left to hope I am wrong in the assumption I am being victimized.  I still believe we can resolve the matter amicably.  However, I assure you I will not become another mortgage foreclosure statistic under these specious circumstances without some clarification I hope will be forthcoming.

I have relied upon your representations under the “Making Home Affordable” program.  I will herewith resist any and all efforts, legally or otherwise, from your office unless or until you make good on a modification offer as originally represented.

Thanks for your immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

David B. Goates

Another five months elapsed before I heard from them again. Instead of a real person calling me back, I received yet another form letter advising me my note was in default (and has been for two and half years since this process began), and that I had three options: 1) a short sale for which I would not be held liable for the shortfall if I cooperated; 2) a deed in lieu of foreclosure, also helping me avoid liability for the shortfall; or 3) a rental contract if I wanted to continue living in the home after surrendering the deed, also escaping liability for the shortfall. I wrote back and indicated I wanted to stay in my home and that I would begin making the full payments once again, which I have been doing recently. However, the note is still in default technically and the issue is now compounded because the shortfall has increased as the effects of the negative amortization have increased the outstanding balance.

Nowhere in the communication was there a reference to any specific point I raised in my letter. Days later I received a call from a "customer service representative," who once again read from a script and suggested that I apply online for yet another modification application, stating, "The program has been improved and updated."

So I did as suggested and called the department given to me to remain proactive. Rather than discuss a new modification agreement, however, I was given to a collector whose first question was, "When do you intend to make a payment to bring the account current?" I explained why I was calling, was transferred to another representative, then to another who took down my financial information, and concluded by saying, "Based upon the information you have given me today, I am sorry to inform you that you do not qualify for a mortgage modification at this time, Mr. Goates." I asked for the specific reason(s) why I did not qualify. I was put on hold for five minutes, then the line went dead.

I have decided to tell the story publicly now. There remains little hope of reaching a resolution with anyone at Bank of America. And why, you ask?

My mortgage was originated by a little mortgage loan broker, then it was sold in the secondary market and scooped up by Countrywide, who was acquired by BoA, who is merely the servicer of the mortgage. Because my mortgage is owned now by Fannie Mae as part of a larger securitized mortgage pool that was eventually sold to investors, it is virtually guaranteed that the loss on my mortgage will be covered by Fannie Mae via the bailout money available under TARP. 

The banks too big to fail were saved, but the public relations message of wanting to keep borrowers in their home is little more than a scam. There is virtually no incentive for a bank to work with a borrower. They come out whole by systematically removing all their delinquent borrowers from their homes, bidding their total mortgage balance at sale, then cleaning their books and collecting their reimbursement check from the government. 

Despite a warning shot across the bow of Bank of America's ship last week from Utah Deputy Attorney General John Swallow, warning BoA they were not in compliance with Utah statutes by failing to provide local personnel to be available for face to face meetings with residents of Utah, there is little doubt in my mind that BoA, the country's largest bank will find a way to comply and foreclosures will proceed.

Because of our elected representatives in both houses of Congress in Washington D.C., who picked the winners and losers in their infinite wisdom, why would any bank today choose to work with a borrower if the government is waiting in the wings with an open checkbook to cover their losses?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

President Palin?

I confess, I'm not a big Sarah Palin fan. I just have a really hard time picturing her in the Oval Office.

That said, I came across this interview today with the producer of the new Sarah Palin movie (yes, movie) entitled "Undefeated," set to be released across the country in theaters during the month of June.

I think I'll go see the movie, keep my powder dry, withhold my judgments and see if I can change my view. Who knows, maybe enough Americans are ready for the call to action Steve Bannon envisions.

Obama, Netanyahu and World Peace

I have been searching for days for the words to summarize my feelings about what just happened last week with President Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I have been reviewing the political backlash over the events, and I'm still reeling in a state of semi-shocked revulsion. I've written in the past about the history of the Jews, the state of Israel, and the tragic history of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It seems the more things change the more they remain the same. In the establishment of Zion in the last days it is to be expected there might be some surprises along the way, but the events of the last few days have been a stunner even for me as I've thought more about it.

Charles Krauthammer weighed in yesterday in the Washington Post. Not surprisingly, he believes President Obama is either a rank amateur or a provocateur. Most disappointing, once again, was the way Obama ambushed Netanyahu. The Obama speech was delivered while Netanyahu was in the air flying toward America, where he had requested some time in front of a joint session of Congress to deliver a speech intended to clarify his position and strengthen ties between the two countries.

So what does our President do? He boldly states Israel must be willing to return to the 1967 borders of the state of Israel before it was invaded, defeated its would-be conquerors, claimed the land the aggressors lost by the ill-fated incursion into the sovereign borders of Israel, then be willing to swap other Israeli land in exchange for an affirmation of the "right to return" asserted by the Arabs.

Then, having dropped that bombshell on the world, instead of sticking around for the speech like any former American president would have done, Obama jetted off to tip a pint in an Irish pub. Amazing and appalling treatment of America's only ally in the Middle East with a democratic form of government that is currently working well.

The Deseret News published an editorial, and tried to state the obvious without striking a strident note, in which they said:  "Also this time, he decided to set specific parameters for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, specifying a return to the borders that existed prior to the Six Day War in 1967. That was a diplomatic bombshell that may make an agreement more difficult. It certainly gave Republicans something for which to attack the president after weeks of being tongue-tied by his success in destroying al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. It sent troubling signals about the nation's continuing support for Israel as a model for democracy in the region." The editorial then praised the president for offering support for what is being dubbed "the Arab spring," as more and more countries experience uprisings in search of freedom from dictatorial rule.

But in Obama's call for a return to the 1967 borders, Israel would be signing its death warrant, since the old line cuts Israel to a narrow neck of land seven miles wide and makes it virtually indefensible. It is also untenable to ask Israel to divide the Holy City Jerusalem once again. Having captured control of its Western Wall in 1967, the only remnant of their holiest site, the Temple Mount, it is impossible to imagine the state of Israel would willingly surrender it now. Not surprisingly, that is exactly what Netanyahu said publicly in his speech.

Obama quickly recovered, mocking his critics by stating he had said "mutually agreeable land swaps" is what he was talking about. But the problems still remain -- Israel is always required to give up land it acquired through wars with aggressors who attacked them, while the Palestinians merely have to make promises they have historically never kept.

Netanyahu, speaking to a joint session of Congress, made his position absolutely clear:

Krauthammer summarizes the peril into which the U.S. President has thrust Israel, and it has to do with weakening Israel's negotiating power in the U.N. through his reckless (or is it intentional?) teleprompter rhetoric. Writes Krauthammer, "Nor is this merely a theoretical proposition. Three times the Palestinians have been offered exactly that formula, 1967 plus swaps — at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001, and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations. Every time, the Palestinians said no and walked away.

"And that remains their position today: The 1967 lines. Period. Indeed, in September the Palestinians are going to the United Nations to get the world to ratify precisely that — a Palestinian state on the ’67 lines. No swaps.

"Note how Obama has undermined Israel’s negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the ’67 war — its only bargaining chip. Remember: That ’67 line runs right through Jerusalem. Thus the starting point of negotiations would be that the Western Wall and even Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter are Palestinian — alien territory for which Israel must now bargain.

"The very idea that Judaism’s holiest shrine is alien or that Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter is rightfully or historically or demographically Arab is an absurdity. And the idea that, in order to retain them, Israel has to give up parts of itself is a travesty."

So after all the history between America and Israel since 1948, when the state of Israel was initially approved on the narrowest of margins -- one vote cast by the U.S. -- President Obama is now undermining the Jewish state. Both sides of the aisle in Congress have demonstrated their bipartisan support for Netanyahu, reaffirming not only the Prime Minister, but also standing firm by repudiating Obama's speech.

Even Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader, is his speech at AIPAC last week issued a strong statement in support of the right of Israel and the Palestinians, "and no one else," to negotiate their own path forward. PERIOD. Democrats and Republicans alike are united on this one issue -- the state of Israel has a firm and unyielding ally in the United States of America.

The only dissenter appears to be its Commander in Chief.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What's Memorial Day?

This weekend we officially kick off the summer season with a three-day holiday we always look forward to in our family. Do you know the origins of the commemoration? Take a minute to watch the video, and remember and be grateful for the amazing sacrifices of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so we could enjoy the freedom and liberty of America.

May we never take for granted that which we have received through little or no effort on our part in comparison to those who laid the foundations upon which we have built our lives. Freedom is never free, and the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Thanks to the History Channel for putting this together, lest we forget.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's the Plan to Save Medicare?

Here's by far the best explanation of what's being proposed (or not proposed) to save Medicare "as we know it." Those who are kicking Medicare like a football around the political backyard in Washington these days are focused one thing only -- winning the 2012 election as though there aren't serious problems that need addressing. Beware those with no plan. Right now, Paul Ryan is the only one offering a plan. Marco Rubio (R-FL) explains this issue better than anyone I've listened to this year.

Give him a minute to explain:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Come Unto Christ

As a young man preparing to go on my mission to England, our stake patriarch laid his hands upon my head and gave me a patriarchal blessing. Among other things he reminded me that at a very young age I had a strong testimony of the reality of my Savior. He said it would strengthen others throughout my life, if I would remain true and faithful to what I knew was true even as a young man. He reminded me that I lived in a world of doubters, that many would stand before me and declare to me there was no God. "Mankind everywhere is questioning and asking, 'Is there a God?' You are blessed dear brother at this early age with a testimony of Jesus Christ. This testimony will light your entire life if you constantly make use of all your abilities."

During those first few moments of his blessing I wondered how a man I barely knew and who barely knew me, could make such bold statements. Now, looking back on my life I have learned it was God, not him, who knew me better. I have seen the words of his blessing fulfilled again and again, but not in the ways I imagined when I was younger. The doubters in my blessing, to my surprise, have in many cases turned out to be my extended family members and friends, not random anti-Christs who would challenge me in some dramatic faith duel as I had supposed.

Family Secrets

I hasten to add these family members and friends are all good people, lifelong and faithful members of the Church. But they are doubters. They seem to lack the faith to really believe what Christ said, though most believe in Him. They believe Christ is the Savior, the Son of God, and that He established His church in the meridian of time, that He was perfect in every way and that the infinite atonement was accomplished through His instrumentality.

However, it appears many believe He does not really have enough power to cleanse them, to lift their burdens and to transform their lives. They keep secrets, deep, dark family secrets they won't reveal to anyone. Instead, they suffer in misery, they cover up their pain, they live lives of quiet desperation, thinking and believing they will someday work it all out on their terms in the spirit world rather than deal with the root causes of their pain and suffering today. They defer. They continue to live in shame and guilt. They are suffering needlessly. Private and secret acts, either ones they committed or ones which others inflicted upon them, are left untouched. They have tried repeatedly to move on but they remain in tortured desperation. Perhaps they are not so unlike many of you. Are you of the opinion that if you suffer enough on your own, you will not have to trouble the Savior with your burdens?

There is no doubt in my mind today that Heavenly Father knew everything about my extended families, both the ones from which my wife and I came, and the one we would create together. He knew all things, long before our collective choices and experiences played out in mortality. Because He knows, He can succor and help. But only if we exercise enough faith to ask for help. He can heal our spirits.

Reaching Higher

I see many who are close to me struggle with worthiness issues, feeling as though they want to do better, but knowing they are not worthy enough to ask for the help that would be theirs otherwise. It's ironic. It's as though, knowing they have been diagnosed with cancer, they feel they must first heal themselves before they seek medical intervention and surgery to remove the cancer cells that threaten their existence. How silly that seems!

President David O. McKay
I am reminded this morning of President David O. McKay, who wrote: "Man is a spiritual being, a soul, and at some period of one's life everyone is possessed with an irresistible desire to know his relationship to the Infinite. . . There is something within him which urges him to rise above himself, to control his environment, to master the body and all things physical and live in a higher and more beautiful world." (David O. McKay, True to the Faith, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 244).

Doesn't everyone feel that desire for self-improvement? It's discouraging, sometimes even overwhelmingly defeating, when we contemplate our own mortality and our obvious failures to measure up to the expectations of others and most importantly ourselves. How do you rise above the spiritual heights of a General Authority in your family tree, for instance? I can assure you of this -- you cannot do it alone, and it is not required that you do. You don't have the wisdom or the stamina or the strength to master the machinations of mortality on your own.

Come Unto Christ

Your Heavenly Father has offered this standing invitation: "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot." (Moroni 10:32-33).

Is the atonement at work in your life every day? Are you still responding to that invitation to lay your burdens at the foot of Christ's cross? Or have you given up, thinking all is lost, that you are beyond redemption? If you can find even a spark of faith to believe transformation and improvement are still available to you, then the atonement is still working in your life. After all you can do, after all your best efforts, after you have suffered enough on your own, you can find the needed assurance the atonement is working for you and on you.

We often believe the atonement is about overcoming sin, confessing sin, repenting, and being forgiven. Certainly, it is all those things. But it is more. Victims of abuse, widows and children who are left husbandless and fatherless, children and orphans of divorce, all these and more have claim upon the merits of Christ's atonement too. Sometimes their sins are sins of omission -- they fail to recognize everything and everybody can be fixed.

Repentance and Change

Thinking of that, the context is much broader for the word repentance than perhaps we have imagined. In Greek, it means "To have a new mind." To you who doubt the power and the majesty of the atonement's ability to reach "even this" in your life, I say to you, change your mind. Exercise your faith in your Redeemer. He is mighty to save. Repent of your old tired ways of thinking. Give up your flawed mental processes that have mired you in ruts of destructive thoughts. Come out from behind the cover up, unmask the demons that torment you, drag out the hellish thoughts into the naked sunlight of Christ's redeeming love. Give up your despair. Repent of it. Change your mind that you are not worth saving. Christ believes you are.

Let Christ love you. Exercise faith that He knew you and your suffering in Gethsemane's crushing weight. Listen to His words: "Therefore I command you to repent — repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore — how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I." (D&C 19:15-17).

Do you realize, I mean really BELIEVE, in the overwhelming suffering of the Savior so your pain -- whatever its source -- could be swallowed up in Him? Because if you cannot, if you procrastinate further in covering up in shame whatever you did to others or whatever happened to you as an innocent victim, then you are reminded that you must suffer alone. Many of you seem content to let the suffering continue rather than to accept the grace He so fully offers to you. How silly can you be? And here's the corollary truth -- you may not want to hear it now, but it is true: No matter how much suffering on your own you can possibly bear, it will still not be enough. You will still be forever shut out from the love and warmth of your immediate family and from the extended family of your Father in Heaven.

Let this thought take root in you today, and let it swell and begin to grow. Whatever pain repentance might bring to you in this life, it will never be greater than the pain you will someday face if do not repent here and now. Change your mind about whatever false ideas are holding you bound in your misery. No matter how much you have suffered here and now, even believing that suffering is somehow in your twisted thinking mentoring your progress toward eternity, unaided by Christ's atonement in which He descended beneath the magnitude of your suffering, you will still not receive enough mercy needed for your relief. Instead, you will just go on suffering needlessly. Yes, you may be tough, even stoic, you may think yourself a magnificent towering example of heroism, but you are deceived. There was only One true martyr who suffered sufficiently and universally for all.

Receive the Holy Ghost

Here is the measure of whether or not the atonement is at work in your life. Have you RECEIVED the Holy Ghost? It is the only cleansing agent available to purify both perpetrators and victims alike.

President Marion G. Romney
President Marion G. Romney taught: "Receiving the Holy Ghost is the therapy which effects forgiveness and heals the sin-sick soul." ("The Holy Ghost," Ensign, May 1974, 92). Those sin-sick souls are either sick of sins they have committed, good deeds they have omitted, or sins others have thrust on them. When we are finally sick enough of sin and its heavy burden, the Holy Ghost has the power to heal all of it.

The Savior taught, "Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day." (3 Nephi 27:20). Mormon, writing to his son Moroni, reminds us, "Behold, I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach -- repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children." (Moroni 8:10).

Begin today to change your mind about the false teachings you have harbored. Compare, challenge your faulty thinking against the scriptures. Do the things to invite the Holy Ghost's companionship into your life. You will know for a surety when he is there, and you will learn to discern when he withdraws. When he is your companion, you know the atonement is working in your life.

We all have roles to play in each others' lives. I'm the big brother, the father and now the grandfather many times over. I can make some choices today that will bring the Holy Ghost to me as my companion in filling those roles. Again, the patriarch reminded me, "You have a responsibility, a special responsibility, being the first born. Those who are younger than you in the family will look to you and will confide in you and I bless you as the older brother that you may inspire them to be as our Savior would have them be." No matter our birth order in our nuclear family, we are all one day promised, if faithful, we will become "firstborns" in the "church of the Firstborn." (See D&C 76:50-70).

No matter what our assignments, roles and birth order, the Holy Ghost is our ally. The Savior said, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." (John 15:26). We can comfort one another and be comforted by the spirit of the Holy Ghost abounding in each of us. It speaks peace to our hearts. It conquers fear and misjudgment, anxiety and doubt.

Think of those for whom you have responsibility. You will have impressions that come to you about them. Even something as fleeting as a thought, a glimpse into their souls through their eyes, a unresolved mystery that is cankering their soul might be revealed to you to help them. I cannot promise miracles, for such is beyond me, but I can promise you that when you feel those swelling motions stirring within you prompting you to reach out and offer help, you will be feeling the Holy Ghost who will help you deliver the water of God's salvation to the last furrow in your field. You will feel approval and joy. You will know that, for at least that fleeting moment, the power of the Holy Ghost was with you. You will hear truth spoken in your heart and mind. You will know the healing that came into your soul, and you will help clean the souls of others as you have been cleansed.

The Value of Chastening

"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you." (D&C 95:1).

There is no doubt in my mind today that a way is being prepared even as I write for the deliverance of my loved ones in the extended family who are trapped in their misery. In that one verse the Lord was announcing a specific chastisement because His people had not built the temple. He called failing to heed His commandment "a grievous sin." But the redeeming hope follows quickly -- "I love you," He says, "and I will deliver you."

I want to make it clear, however, change hurts. Repentance hurts. But it hurts less than your current suffering without Him hurts. When Christ describes His suffering, he says, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit — and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink." (D&C 19:18). But we only have to suffer to a point. That's where our suffering needlessly, either for our sins or the sins of others, intersects with Christ's pain.

No one can afford the luxury of thinking there is no pain from sin. You can be forgiven. The atonement is real. But President Spencer W. Kimball taught, "If a person hasn't suffered, he hasn't repented." (TSWK, 99). True faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ leads us to stay as far away from sin as we can.

President George Albert Smith
The Lord's Side of the Line

Some people I know in my extended family have suffered from a delusional lie. They expect because the world is more wicked they must expect to be overcome by temptation and they have no power to resist it. President George Albert Smith taught that however dark and dreary the world becomes:

"There are two influences ever present in the world. One is constructive and elevating and comes from our Heavenly Father; the other is destructive and debasing and comes from Lucifer. We have our agency and make our own choice in life subject to these unseen powers. There is a division line well defined that separates the Lord's territory from Lucifer's. If we live on the Lord's side of the line Lucifer cannot come there to influence us, but if we cross the line into his territory we are in his power. By keeping the commandments of the Lord we are safe on His side of the line, but if we disobey His teachings we voluntarily cross into the zone of temptation and invite the destruction that is ever present there. Knowing this, how anxious we should always be to live on the Lord's side of the line." ("Our M.I.A.," Improvement Era, May 1935, 278).

Some were introduced at a very young age to wickedness by others. Think back on your own experiences. Often our best friends during our youthful years subjected us to perversions once unspeakable that now seem to be our common lot. Once innocently sexually abused as a young child, the abused grows into adolescence and adulthood as the abuser. Fear and shame cover the sins of the original abuser for many, many years, then erupt in future generations, and out of shame and guilt the sins remain hidden from view, suffering escalates, is perpetuated, and gains power over the original innocent victim. How tragic. How avoidable. How senseless. The cancer can be removed, it can be cut out, and it dies in the sunlight just as the fictional myth of the vampires dies in the morning sunlight. Wickedness never was righteousness, and has no power when we oppose it.

Born Again

President Ezra Taft Benson
If you read deeper in these pages, you will discover my love for the prophets. We have many dramatic examples of marvelous "quick" conversions in the scriptures. However, we were reminded by President Ezra Taft Benson in a memorable General Conference address, "For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said 'were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not' (3 Nephi 9:20)." ("A Mighty Change of Heart," Ensign, October 1989, 5).

There is a very real doctrine, one so bold and declarative it cannot be dismissed, and one our "born again" Christian friends claim does not exist in Mormonism. It is this -- we must all be born again. (See Alma 5:14, 15, 26-31).

"And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?" (Alma 5:14-15).

Do you want to be one in whose countenance the image of Christ's reality can be etched? "Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth." (Alma 5:16). Aren't those blessed words worth changing whatever it is your life that is causing so much misery, fear, shame, anger or resentment? Alma explains the relief remedy:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?
Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved! (Alma 5:26-31, emphasis mine).

Ah, the simple words, the change -- change in what? The mighty change of heart. How is it accomplished? Google searches rely upon keywords. Long before Google, Alma used keywords too: humble, stripped of pride, stripped of envy, not making a mock of my brother, garments cleansed. So where are you on changing your mind and your heart?

My guess is you will be humble enough that you may be reluctant to believe the mighty change of heart is going on right now. I have often likened the spiritual rebirth to being as perceptible as watching your fingernails growing. It may be happening and you are discounting it. But maybe you will trust enough to confide in those who love you most. Saying the words you need to say liberates you and frees you from the chains that bind you down. When you speak truth -- the truth of your misery -- they lose power instantly. Secrets held for years melt away like frost in the morning heat of the sun. Your loved ones will know when you begin to unearth your hidden "treasures" of sin without any attached dirt clods of shame still clinging to its roots. And the Savior and our Heavenly Father already know. And that is enough.

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19). Scripture mastery scriptures are divinely selected for a reason -- that one will last throughout your life.

Choose to Change

I know we can choose to change. I know it will be painful initially, but possible. I know the Holy Ghost will provide the needed comfort. I know the cleansing influence of the Holy Ghost is priceless. I know the Holy Ghost can scatter evil spirits who are whispering lies in your ears. I know the confidence that knowing can bring. I know that coming unto Christ is the way, the only way, we are sanctified and will never hunger or thirst again.

To my friends and the members of my extended family who are still suffering, remember what President McKay said that at "some period" in your lives you will feel an irresistible desire to rise to a higher, more beautiful world. That may not be today, but don't let too many more days pass before you act on that desire. If you'll let these words penetrate into your hearts, the time will come for something better than what you are currently experiencing. Come unto Christ. He knows the way. I know the way. I've tried to lay it out in today's post.

Don't believe the lie, "Oh, that's just fantasy. That's not possible. I could never change that much."

You can. The Savior promised, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). Believe Him.

He can and He will deliver you from bondage. You don't have to wait for the spirit world. He means for you to be happy in this life. Here and now.

Your yearning for something better is a yearning to come unto Christ. This promise is not mine. It is the promise of the miracle you seek: "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunshine Always Follows the Storms

Utah this spring has been deluged with an abundance of water. On top of record snow totals in the mountains now threatening floods near every open body of water, rain has also been falling in abundance. Last night the showers came again. Early this morning I was awakened by the emerging radiant sunshine over the mountains to the east against a wall-to-wall panorama of blue overhead. The ominous clouds amid thunder, lightning and a torrent of rain had dissipated.

Isn't that exactly what we believe as Christians? Jesus Christ is the source of our light and truth. We receive and partake in His abundant glory bit by bit, day by day, interlaced amid bursts of thundershowers. It was more than rhetoric when He declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6). His declaration is truth. Nothing is appointed unto man "except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was." He continues, "I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment — that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord." (D&C 132:11-12). It's a commandment to bask in the light of truth emanating from our Savior.

The word of Jesus Christ is the essence of how we receive light and and truth. It's how we embrace the covenants associated with salvation. His word is equated with His Spirit, with light, and with truth (see D&C 84:45) and so is the priesthood. These are glorious synonyms. As we nurture and care for the word, we receive more and more until the seed has sprouted and then matured within us (see Alma 32). Receiving the word is how we grow in light and truth and avoid the deceptions abounding in mortality. Temptations may cloud our vision momentarily like a passing thunderstorm, but the light always follows the storms. The Savior has only one object in His redemptive work and that is to bring us to a fulness of glory if we will obey and trust His word. He is the Great Prototype. He knows how to obey. He followed the way the Father gave Him. When we receive anything from the Father it is in the same manner Christ received it.

God's glory is the personification of the fulness of light and truth. Christ also received the fulness in a process well defined: "I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not the fulness at the first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness." (D&C 93:12-13). At the Second Coming we will be flooded with light and truth emanating from Him. But even before that day the spread of truth is described as a flood. (Moses 7:62).

Without grace in the process we are certainly doomed to failure in our quest for more light and truth. Notice, He received grace for grace, and He went from grace to grace. The word grace can be defined as "favor, kindness, and goodwill." The theological definition is easily rendered as "the free unmerited love and favor of God," offering divine assistance to the obedient ones who will embrace light and truth. Note the key words here -- love and favor, and unmerited assistance. To receive grace for grace is to receive divine assistance on the condition of giving assistance. We get no better than what we are willing to give to someone else in return. It's paying it forward, isn't it? It's reciprocity. When I am forgiven by God, I must be willing to forgive others, and not just once but seventy times seven. (Stop counting). That's what D&C 93:20 is all about. The more we give the more we get, and we are always unprofitable servants in the exchange (see Mosiah 2:21). We simply cannot get out of debt to God because we are showered, drenched as it were, in a downpour of love, light and truth from Him.

This is the process for us, and it certainly was the path of our Lord in mortality. He received grace, or divine assistance, from the Father. This grace He extended freely to His brethren and disciples. As He did so He received more and more grace. Eventually He received the fulness of the glory of the Father. Would anyone dare to contradict? Our Savior was Himself, saved by grace.

Listen to the Savior's descriptions: "The Father hath not left me alone, for I do always those things that please him." (John 8:29). What insight! He was totally dependent upon the Father for power and knowledge. By doing God's will, the Savior enjoyed communion with the Father through which God gave grace to the Son.  "The Son can do nothing of himself," but "the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." (John 5:19; 14:10). And so it is for each of us. Ask any missionary how people are converted and come into the immersing waters of baptism. Few will take credit for the transformation -- it is a spiritual matter.

In the relationship between the Father and the Son, we come to learn about our relationship with Christ. He reminds us, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4-5).

Whenever grace is extended to us in merciful assistance by Christ, something tangible is offered. We are given increased ability to cope, to act and eventually to overcome. We see grace in the scriptures as the loss of our natural man in the desire for sin and we see the accompanying ability to live in the light of God's laws going forward. Paul taught, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? . . . For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:1-2, 14). The demands of having to live God's laws eventually give way, as the roots of our spiritual maturity deepen, to wanting to obey because we are growing in ascending degrees from grace to grace in light and truth.

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith taught, "None ever were perfect but Jesus; and why was He perfect? Because He was the Son of God, and had the fullness of the Spirit, and greater power than any man." (TPJS, 187-88). The power came through the grace from the Father.

The partial record we have in D&C 93 makes clear that the possession of light and truth allows one to forsake the evil one and to be protected against all his wiles to deceive. Light and truth enable us grow and progress toward that perfect day of the fulness of the glory of God. Our Lord grew in levels of increasing power until he received a fulness. So it is for each of us. The Savior was already the spirit Son of God. He was unique as the Only Begotten physical Son. It was the reception of the divine attributes of light and truth by which He was glorified and gained eternal life. He became the spiritual or eternal Son of God when he received of the fulness of the Father. And so the divine pattern repeats within us.

"And thus [meaning in this way, this is how it was done] he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first." (D&C 93:14; emphasis mine). The Father announced, "This is my beloved Son." (D&C 93:15). All that was necessary for the Savior to receive the fulness was to receive the proferred gift and to act upon it by extending what He received to others. In matters of light and truth, "He received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him." (D&C 93:16-17).

The Savior makes it clear if I haven't, when He says, "I give unto you these sayings that you many understand. . . that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace." (D&C 93:19-20).

Joseph Smith added, "You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power." (TPJS, 346-47).

No matter how dark your night of trouble and affliction, the Son is always shining behind all the dark clouds overhead. When the storm passes He is always there beaming light and truth. Open your heart and bask in it, then radiate.

It's a commandment.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time to Gore the Sacred Cows

In the financial world of Medicare and Social Security, things just got worse. There's plenty of denial to go around, and no one is willing, it seems, to step up and admit the obvious. There was a report released yesterday by the trustees, heightening the necessity for Congress to rejigger the massive entitlement programs.

The future, long deferred by lawmakers, has apparently arrived at the doorstep. The problems are us -- the baby-boomers. We're all retiring and the taxes collected to support the programs are in a prolonged pattern of weakness -- call it life support if you wish. The bad news couldn't come at a better time for serious reformers, and a worse time for the kick-the-can-down-the-road crowd.

The trustees of Medicare now project it will run out of money in 2024. That's been accelerated by five years earlier than last year's estimate. Social Security trust funds will be drained in 2036, one year earlier than the last estimate. Trust funds? More accurately IOUs to the Treasury, since there are no fungible assets left in the trust fund. The reality? When the trust fund balances finally reach zero, there's only one solution -- collect enough money in current payroll taxes to pay only partial benefits, the report said. Not a rosy future. Of course, not many of us are concerned today because we won't live that long. It's our children and grandchildren who will suffer.

I say "suffer" advisedly, since perhaps the alternative view is they will finally be freed from the obligation of funding entitlements in the welfare state.

Here's the projection in the report for next year: After going two years with no cost-of-living increase in Social Security payments, the trustees are projecting a 0.7 percent increase for next year. Big WHOOP. That will get nullified by higher Medicare Part B premiums.

Here's a comment from Captain Obvious: "There can no longer be any doubt or denial: Our nation's Medicare and Social Security programs are unsustainable and will run out of money sooner than expected," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. These guys are the geniuses who have supervised the debacle. McConnell is an echo chamber for Americans, who said when recently polled that 47 percent were opposed to raising the debt ceiling. Can he be trusted to lead the Senate in executing on the will of  the people? I have much more confidence in Speaker John Boehner on the House side if his rhetoric can be matched with deeds. Said Boehner: “I’ve talked to the President all year, privately-- about the fact that we were not going to increase the debt limit without serious changes. I mean, this conversation has been going on for quite a while. I’ve offered to the President, I’ve said, ‘Mr. President, come on, you and I, let’s lock arms and we’ll jump out of the boat together.’ I’m serious about dealing with this, and I hope he’s just as serious. No gimmicks. No automatic claw backs. I’ve had it with all of that. We know what needs to be done. Let’s just do it.” Even Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chair is sounding realistic: "Both parties messed this up. This is not a Republican-created problem or a Democrat-related problem. It's both parties and we've got to face up to that if we're going to get this situation under control." Now you're talking like men rather than boys. Keep it up, please.

The backdrop to this latest disclosure yesterday is the negotiation, more aptly, the political theater being played out between Congress and the Obama administration. They are "negotiating" proposals to change Medicare and other benefit programs as the looming request by the administration for an increase in the debt ceiling grows more urgent. That ceiling will be bumped up against sometime Monday. We're at $14.3 trillion in debt right now, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is claiming the sky is falling on the government's ability to service the debt on outstanding bonds.

Poppycock. The Treasury takes in 10 times what it needs to service the interest payments. Holders of the low-interest rate bonds for the moment still believe they will be paid. That could change if Congress doesn't begin acting like it is serious in cutting spending. It's a matter of prioritizing the spending, meaning making deep cutting decisions the lawmakers are so reluctant to do.

There may be time to put off sweeping changes in how we fund Social Security going forward, but Medicare seems for the moment to be in the cross hairs for reformers.

Here's the deal: If Congress continues to wait and debate, the expiring clock forces America into higher taxes. The other choice is deep cuts to benefits, according to the report. Making critical decisions today on smaller baby steps to get the needed changes made today, gives a longer ramp to run on for future retirees in the next generation.

Who are these "trustees" you ask? Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer. No one you know, but they signed the report with this warning: "The financial shortfalls confronting both Social Security and Medicare are substantial and -- absent legislation to correct them -- quite certain. Elected officials will best serve the interests of the public if financial corrections are enacted at the earliest practicable time."

The only question remaining is this one: Are lawmakers inclined to act on these predictions, or blandly go about the people's business as usual as though there is no impending urgency? The weakened economy with more people out of work for a sustained period of time has added to the problem significantly. With fewer working bees in the hive, paying fewer payroll taxes to support the programs in the short term, the trustees warn the trajectory is quickly turning negative. Medicare is more critical because tax revenues continue to fall in the face of rising health care costs.

Here's their projected fix: Two choices, neither of which is attractive. To put Social Security on a sustainable path for the next 75 years, the trustees recommend an increase in the payroll tax of 2.15 percentage points, OR an immediate and permanent 14 percent cut in benefits. Even more stark are the projections needed to fix the Medicare hospital fund -- an increase in the payroll tax of nearly 1 percentage point, OR a 17 percent cut in benefits. These are not hard math problems. What is needed is the political will to act and act now.

We have a socialist welfare state in America today. The debate should end here and now about whether or not we do. Creeping socialism has nearly engulfed and strangled our national government and what used to be considered a free-market economy. Nearly 55 million retirees, disabled people and children who have lost parents receive Social Security benefits, which average $1,077 monthly. More than 46 million people are covered by Medicare. Just do the simple math. Who says we don't already have a "nanny state?" Both parties have contributed to his current state of affairs because of their willingness to compromise with each other over the years.

Compromise is what got us here. Now we need patriots who will stand on their correct principles of freedom and liberty to lead us out of the wilderness in which we have wandered aimlessly and recklessly in our generation.

The cost of medicine continues to escalate. Medicare has allowed physicians and hospitals to experiment endlessly without restriction on high-tech solutions. People are living longer, and receiving once-complicated procedures such as heart bypass surgery and hip replacements later in life. Those treatments are now routine. Three cheers for life-elongating medicine. But how do we pay for all that charity care? Higher taxes.

The political class has usurped their power and authority from the citizenry. In exchange for all the socialist goodies they have doled out, the electorate perpetuates their longevity in office and rewards them for their largess. Most conservative realists, however, argue the Social Security Trust Fund is nothing more than political myth.

"It is important to note that the actual future costs for Medicare are likely to exceed those shown by the current-law projections in this report," the trustees added. So much for the claims that Obamacare reduces medical costs. Can you say accounting hocus pocus?

Six trustees oversee Social Security and Medicare, in case you wondered. Besides Geithner, Blahous and Reischauer, the others are Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.

Question: Are the trustees trustworthy?

Bigger Question: Are the elected representatives of the people awake and on task in overseeing the trustees?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Six Principles: Mothers and The Patriarchal Order

Recently, I was in a conversation with someone (don't even recall who it was), who expressed surprise when I stated in answer to his question that the ordinances associated with exaltation were to be received only by a husband and wife simultaneously, not separately. His assumption had always been that our ultimate salvation was strictly an individual matter.

On this Mothers' Day weekend, it seems appropriate to underscore the role of women in our lives as men. We simply have no hope of eternal life without being sealed to a woman of our choosing. Period. No exceptions. No other way. The happiness and fulfillment of the mother of your children must always be your highest and most urgent need. You may not always succeed. My experience has been how patient my wife has always been with my blundered attempts, but because she is rarely content with even my best effort I am always reaching higher than I would otherwise. I have written extensively about these core doctrines in the past. It's there for all who want to see it.

Joseph Smith
The clearest statement made to understand the shared divine nature of the patriarchal order was first uttered by Joseph Smith. Said he, "[The patriarch order] is the kingdom of an endless life." He added: "The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life, he must sacrifice all things." (HC, 5:555). This eternal kingdom in which each worthy man could receive the keys referred to by the Prophet begins in mortality, and extends to "a fulness of the priesthood" based upon several key principles. I will cite only six as follows:

First, the highest expression of sexuality is God's work and we are partners with Him as husbands and wives. We are the mortal means by which He continually increases in glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39).

Second, the only way in which our Father in Heaven can attain His full potential as an exalted being in this eternal family, is to provide a way for men and women to be organized first as personages of spirit, then secondly, tabernacled in a body of flesh and bones and endowed with the full glory and power of the Man of Holiness. Inherent in that ultimate bestowal of glory and power is the power to procreate children in the resurrection and to develop glory in them through the same divine plan. Creation of life requires a male and a female component.

Third, before the individual members of the Church could become like the exalted Man of Holiness in every way, they had to be organized into an eternal family order. The Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, effected that organization. This eternal family was a continuous, on-going priesthood organization called the divine patriarchal order. Before this earth upon which we now live was formed, the order came down by generation from God through Adam and his sons and their successive generations. Each ordinance given as part of the order was established as a dynamic, life-giving function. Through these ordinances, men and women could acquire divine attributes and powers of life through the Holy Spirit. The symbolic elements of gospel ordinances mirrored actual experiences of birth, death, the atonement, and the resurrection.

Fourth, the saints of the last days living in the dispensation of the fulness of times were required to master Zion's economic and social programs and, in time before the Second Coming, establish the government of God in their midst in observance of the laws associated with the divine patriarchal order.

Fifth, by applying the principles and laws of the gospel in their lives, the saints could have their "callings and elections made sure" in family relationships begun here on earth at the altars of the temple in the patriarchal order in eternity. We were all taught in the pre-existence and in our family units here on earth that only in this way could we eventually become priests and kings (and priestesses and queens) in the celestial order in eternity. The power to seal here on earth is held only by the living prophet and president of the Church. (See Millenial Star, 5:151, [March, 1845]; also see D&C 132:7).

Sixth, when the saints apply celestial law and are united as heirs with the greater eternal family in the presence of God, they will receive a fulness of the priesthood and be made recipients of the glory exalted beings possess, to the degree the saints were able to receive and apply it to their good.

Brigham Young, expanding on what he had learned from Joseph Smith, would later state:

"When the Holy Priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God, is upon the earth, and its organizations, ordinances, gospel, powers, authorities and blessings, are enjoyed by the children of men; then by means of sealing powers and keys, and an everlasting covenant, the sons of men become the sons of God by regeneration, and are entitled, every man in his order, to the privileges, exaltations, principalities and powers, kingdoms and thrones, which are held and enjoyed, by the Great Father of our race: and all these are obtained through the law of natural increase, and the saving of that which the Father puts in our power." (JD, 10:355).

Adam and Eve were the prototypes on this earth:

"The Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: 'I have set thee to be at the head -- a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.'" So, in like manner, every faithful couple joined by priesthood authority in a provisional sealing ordinance becomes the Adam and Eve to the race that springs from their loins, when they are embraced in the covenants and blessings of the Holy Priesthood; and in the lapse of eternity, and in the progress of eternal lives, every true son and daughter of God becomes a king of kings, a queen of queens; a priest and a priestess. (Ibid.)

Heber C. Kimball
Reality being what it is, the final patriarchal order was not to be fully realized in mortality. Heber C. Kimball reported a vision given to Joseph Smith in which "he saw Adam open the gate of the celestial city and admit the people one by one. He then saw Father Adam conduct them to the throne one by one, when they were crowned Kings and Priests of God." (JD, 9:41).

President Brigham Young
Brigham Young agreed:

"We have not yet received our kingdoms, neither will we, until we have finished our work on the earth, passed through the ordeals, are brought up by the power of the resurrection, and are crowned with glory and eternal lives. Then he that has overcome and is found worthy, will be made a king of kings, and lord of lords over his own posterity, or in other words: A father of fathers. This latter rendering, is more strictly in accordance with the original text." (Ibid., 10:355).

All of this is consistent with what should be obvious -- without mothers there would be no fathers, and with neither there would be no procreation or hope for exaltation.

People question why the leaders of the Church today are so persistent in their adamant stance against the false doctrines associated with the LGBT community and their political agenda to legalize gay marriage. Some even maintain when all those old men finally get it right and so-called "scientific proofs" are studied more in depth, there will be a change in Church policy. Don't bet the farm on that. In light of the eternal verities associated with revelation from the very beginning, a change in doctrine is not likely to ever be equated with a change in policy.

One cannot accept the premise we are led by living prophets, and simultaneously embrace the notion that someday a change in doctrine to accommodate modern politically correct dogma will be allowed to destroy the very foundation upon which the kingdom of God has been established in eternities that predate and will succeed ours.

The need for sympathy and acceptance is acknowledged. Diversity, compassion and understanding is never out of date in the Church. That said, do not be persuaded by those who suggest the leaders of the Church are simply politically incorrect or out of step with the times in which we live. They understand perfectly the ramifications for evil that such false postulations invite, and teach what they do so we may not be deceived by the sophistries of the day.

Mothers -- in particular the one to whom I am linked -- have done what they came here to do under divine command from the beginning: "to fill the measure of their creation" by creating life with their husbands. Once each faithful couple has ascended step by step through parenthood, the remaining steps crown their efforts with godhood:

"They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

"Compare this principle once with Christendom at the present day, and where are they, with all their boasted religion, piety and sacredness while at the same time they are crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc. Why, they are just ripening for the damnation of hell. They will be damned, for they reject the most glorious principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and treat with disdain and trample under foot the key that unlocks the heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world. Yes, I say, such will be damned, with all their professed godliness. Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it, etc." (TPJS, 298).

Ah, Joseph Smith -- just not much ambiguity there. I'm guessing President Boyd K. Packer is simply being true to the true prophet in this dispensation.

Part and parcel of our mortal probation is learning to distinguish good from evil. In our eagerness to embrace the downtrodden, the falsely judged and even the most ardent sinners, let us never be deceived into believing that tolerance can cross the line into open opposition against the humble prophets of God and the doctrine they lovingly declare, as if from the Lord's own mouth. (See D&C 21:5).

On this Mothers' Day, give thanks for the righteous women in your life as men. There is no greater gift than being surrounded by the righteousness of good women. God intended us to rub off all the "pointy and prickly parts" of our character against each other in the marriage relationship. I guess it's the only way He could devise to prepare us for eternal life. Be happy in all the twists and turns that don't work out quite the way you drew them up on the chalkboard of all your planning.

Always remember and don't forget -- there is a priceless legacy a righteous woman offers you as a man you can obtain nowhere else and in no other way. It is eternal life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Family Foreordination

Yesterday we had the blessing of witnessing the baptism of yet another grandchild. Recently, it was Molly and Spencer. These choice young spirits who have been sent to our family in the third generation continue to amaze and humble me. Present by invitation at yesterday’s baptism was Alex’s best friend, not a member of the Church. At age eight he is already a missionary. Even before that he gifted his kindergarten teacher with a Book of Mormon.

There is little doubt in my mind these spirits who are coming to earth in these last days are uniquely prepared for the days that lie ahead. Alex carries his scriptures with him in a special carrying case with the image of a basketball imprinted on it. Our grandchildren are all exceptional (you may discount these words if you choose, because it’s a grandfather talking about his grandchildren) but I fear no contradiction for those who know them well.

In a note to Alex I observed the new layer of snow on the ground (I know, April 30th, still snowing in Utah), and how the covering of white symbolized the purity of one who is baptized. Certainly, Alex will make mistakes, he will sin, but in the sacrament each week and in repentance the gospel offers purity going forward from one's baptismal day. 

Prompted by events, e-mails and questions lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this matter of parentage, foreordination and family life. How soon did we know about families? Where did we learn our first lessons about families? How were we organized before we came into this mortal world? We are organized into families here, we know we will be organized into families hereafter if we remain faithful, so how does that knowledge inform us about how we were organized before? How much agency was at work in our choices about which families we would come to?

These are some of the questions that arise. I doubt there is a single influence that permeates our existence more than the families into which we are born. The age-old debate about nature versus nurture will perhaps never be fully resolved to our satisfaction, but who we are, what we become and how our character is shaped is certainly the pre-eminent result of the laboratory of home and family. Regardless of how we start, it is how we finish that is important. Improvement is the goal, and we are free to choose outcomes. Nothing is pre-determined that will not yield to faith and perseverance.

There may be no more important facet of the doctrine of foreordination than how it plays out in the families to which we come. Is that ultimate designation made by assignment, by agency and freedom of choice, or by merit or by divine randomness? Without knowledge of the plan of salvation, most would conclude our family situation is merely a matter of the randomness of the universe.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
It would be hard for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to conclude anything less than the family unit being central to God's designs. With Scott Strong, I have written extensively about this topic in the past. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, ". . .the Lord operates through families. He himself lives in the family unit; it is his eternal system of government in heaven and on earth, and he always offers as much of his own system to men as they are willing to receive." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 35).

In addition to foreordination to lineage, there is evidence to indicate that there is, at least in certain cases, foreordination to favored families. President Harold B. Lee affirmed that, generally, we come to certain families as a reward or blessing for our premortal lives.

Now then, to make a summary of what I have just read, may I ask each of you again the question, “Who are you?” You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world’s history, as the apostle Paul taught the men of Athens and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created. (“Understanding Who We Are Brings Self-Respect," Ensign, January 1974, 7).

It was his view there had been a premortal assignment to specific families based upon our faithfulness in the pre-existence.

President Brigham Young
Joseph Smith appeared in vision to Brigham Young at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on February 17, 1847. The full account is longer, but here's the partial quote that applies to this topic:

Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.
Joseph then showed me the pattern, how they were in the beginning.
This I cannot describe, but I saw it, and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect chain from Father Adam to his latest posterity.
Joseph again said, “Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them just right." (Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, February 23, 1847, LDS Church Archives).

I’ll lay out a few more statements, then draw a conclusion. There can be little doubt of the noble heritage of our prophets from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson. They were certainly among the “noble and great ones” in the pre-existence. (Abraham 3:22). Brigham Young described it this way, pertaining to the foreordination of Joseph Smith:

It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father's father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. (JD, 7:289-290).
President Spencer W. Kimball

When President Spencer W. Kimball was sustained as President of the Church, Elder Bruce R. McConkie made this statement:

May I take President Spencer W. Kimball as an illustration and pattern of one who was prepared, foreordained, and called to leadership among the Lord's people. He was, it is true, born in the household of faith. . .
But more than mortal birth. . . [is] involved. He was born in the household of faith for a reason. . . The fact is, he is a spirit son of God who was called and chosen and foreordained before the foundations of the earth were laid, and he is now fulfilling the destiny designed for him from the pre-existence. ("God Foreordains His Prophets and His People," Ensign, May 1974, 72).

If this assignment of spirits based upon pre-existent spirit faithfulness can be applied to prophets who come to faithful families, it can certainly be applied to others who are not among the “pre-eminent” families who govern the Church. It is also important to point out that the details have not been fully revealed. Let’s be careful, therefore, in making broad generalizations.

President John Taylor
Elder John Taylor published an article entitled "The Origin and Destiny of Woman" in the August 29, 1857 edition of The Mormon. He hinted, "You also chose a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world (and who had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle), to be your head, stay, husband and protector on the earth and to exalt you in eternal worlds. All these were arranged, likewise the spirits that should tabernacle through your lineage." (Cited in N. B. Lundwall, compiler, The Vision [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.], 145-148).

Was he giving a specific answer to one woman here, or did he intend a wider interpretation?

Two prophets at a much later date seemed to suggest the former. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught there is "no scriptural justification. . . for the belief that we had the privilege of choosing our parents and our life companions in the spirit world." (The Way to Perfection [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 44).

In 1966, Elder Harold B. Lee stated, "we have no revealed word" on the extent to which premortal choices of family members were made. He then cautioned we should not accept or teach ideas that cannot be firmly established in the standard works or by inspired utterances of the living prophets. 

First Presidency, 1971
In 1971, while serving in The First Presidency, both men once again declared, "We have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives." (The First Presidency, 1971, cited by Steve F. Gilliland in, "I Have a Question," Ensign, June 1977, 40).

When we examine the make-up of some families, isn’t it obvious there are disparities, and that all are not alike? There's an old expression that you can choose your friends, but you don't get to choose your brother. So did we? The ranks of the disaffected former members of the Church are filled with those who were closest to the prophets. One prominent Church family may produce a deviant sex offender whose brother may be a stake president. Even some political observers I've spoken with have asked, observing Mike Lee and Harry Reid, "How can the same Church 'family' produce two such diametrically opposed points of view?" But I digress. I wonder if our Heavenly Father sends some of his most noble and great spirits to the least likely families because he knows his choice spirit sons and daughters may bring spiritual blessings to the rest of the family that might not otherwise be available. We must never judge someone's premortal character or performance based on current parentage or family conditions. Certainly, that applies to the political 'family' of the U.S. Senate, where Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch could befriend one another.

Again, God’s foreknowledge never impedes our ability to freely choose, not in the pre-existence, not here, and certainly not later in the spirit world or into the resurrection. I have come to conclude this about God, largely through my observations of a lifetime. (It's not doctrinal, only an observation). As a parent, wouldn't He want as many of His children as possible to achieve exaltation and eternal life with Him? I'm only beginning to understand that perspective as a grandfather of many in the third generation. I would want each to be with me again someday after this life. Wouldn't God? Wouldn't every father? Wouldn't any father and grandfather reach through the veil to the extent he were permitted to assist in bringing about that eventuality? To as many as will come, He will afford each child at whatever stage in their existence, ample opportunities to “get it right.” Life is a continuum, and this mortal probation is a blink in the eyeball of eternity.

President Boyd K. Packer
Noting the power of our covenants, I believe it is what led President Boyd K. Packer to conclude in an address to our stake, “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.”

There is simply too much breakage in our mortal probation to draw hard and fast conclusions about eternal life before we get there. When one is young and idealistic, it is easy to picture oneself as one of the "few" who is chosen. It smacks of the precise number of 144,000 of Jehovah's Witnesses who will be saved.

What do I mean by "breakage?" After writing this post this morning we attended a ward fast and testimony meeting. It was a cascade of witnesses, six in all, who testified of their gratitude for second marriages, a chance to begin anew and to foster hope for their eternal inheritance despite an earlier failure for undisclosed reasons in their first marriages. Each of the sisters wept openly for the privilege of finally having a righteous priesthood holder in her home, a blessing for which many had longed for years.

So in old age, the kind of thinking tending toward unfettered idealism gives way to quiet contemplation and hope for a large dose of mercy administered to those who fall in this life. And not just for those who fall, but perhaps more importantly for those who are innocently affected by the sins of other family members. We certainly have enough information to reach for eternal life here and now, and through the power of the atonement we may yearn for it, hope for it and expect it. The "breakage" can be swept up, the broken things can be mended, and hope can triumph even when it isn't perfect the first time around.

No longer is it a question for me of what we've earned, what we're entitled to by our birthright or our relative righteousness ("I did better than you at keeping the commandments"), but rather what follows perfectionism is a quiet assurance of the majesty of the atonement in all its perfections. Do we really know everything about what constitutes a full opportunity to receive what He referred to as "the greatest of all the gifts of God" yet? (See D&C 6:13). I doubt it. Ask yourselves, would Heavenly Father prefer a small number of exalted beings ("but few are chosen"), or the vast majority of His children to be exalted? As a grandfather, I feel like I am barely coming to understand the answer.

In the meantime while we see through the glass darkly today, all the principles of the gospel still apply here and now – repent early, often and continuously – regardless of who your birth fathers and mothers might be. Live the gospel the best you know how, despite a parent who may have set a poor example and turned away in shame or guilt who hasn't returned yet. In the big eternal picture we are all sons and daughters of God, giving us all the nobility we need to inherit eternal life, if obedient in whatever stage we may find ourselves in our progression.

"If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation." (D&C 6:13).