Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Heart Filled with Thanksgiving

This year, as we approach another national day of Thanksgiving in America, we have two LDS missionaries from our family who are currently serving. Our eldest grandson, Izach, is serving in the Iowa Des Moines Mission, and our youngest daughter, Merilee, is serving in the Washington D.C. South Mission. Their service, like that of all their counterparts around the world, represents a free gift of love as they share the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As their families who remain behind at home, we feel the blessings as they give of themselves.

I share my latest thoughts with both of them here:

Dear Elder Izach:
Dear Sister Merilee:

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday, I think, since Christmas now more than ever is overrunning any and all considerations in the USA. I couldn’t believe the Christmas decorations and displays in all the retail outlets that began appearing this year earlier than ever – before Halloween!

We sometimes forget to remember to be grateful. Now more than ever I recognize how blessed I am, and how thankful I am for all I have. Chief among those blessings are our children, their spouses and grandchildren. There is no greater gift from God than a righteous posterity in whom we have received so much joy.

The knowledge of the gospel and what it is and how we implement it into our lives individually each day through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ unto repentance, making it possible to lay aside our sins and walk in a newness of life in the Spirit day by day is the very essence of our existence. Imagine life without that precious knowledge!

Faith, giving rise to hope of eternal life, producing the pure love of Christ in our lives is powerful doctrine. I have truly become a simpleton as I grow older – I am constrained to acknowledge that when we distill life into its purest essence it is not difficult or complicated or complex at all – it is simple!

We are all God’s spirit children having a brief mortal probation clothed in bodies of flesh and blood, He loves us, we must learn to love each other, then we return to live in the Spirit eternally. If we qualify through our faithfulness we live Eternal’s life, since Eternal is one of the names we apply to our Father in Heaven.

I know when we were all together in the spirit world before we came to live here, we enthusiastically supported the proposed plan of salvation – there was no wavering on our parts, because we wanted mortality. I know we all shouted for joy at the prospects of coming here, that we embraced our Elder Brother as the Firstborn Son, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, when we raised our arms to the square and sustained Him in the role of Redeemer, Savior and Messiah.

We knew the Gods personally – God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Testator – even the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. We walked with them, we were taught all that we needed to know, then we came to earth. We began life just as little Emma did (she was with us overnight this weekend, along with Andrew and Jessica) did not long ago. As infants pure and innocent, sent straight to earth from the Father of us all to inhabit a mortal body of flesh and bone and blood, they come trailing clouds of glory.

In our mortal bodies are sown the seeds of corruption from the beginning of our existence. Entropy (the tendency of all things to decay and die) took root in us as it does in everything the temporal eye can see.

Satan sought us out from the very moment of our births. We became subject to his temptations, his wiles, his lies, and his deceptions. He sought to destroy our innocence. He succeeded. Until we were eight these things mattered little to us, since we were not accountable before God for our wrong choices, but then we turned eight.

We were baptized, and we took upon ourselves the sacred covenants of baptism and membership in the kingdom of God here upon the earth. The promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost was held out to us, indeed we were commanded to “receive the Holy Ghost.” Only our willingness to submit our lives as true disciples enabled us to fulfill the commandment.

Only when we truly come unto Christ through our faith on Him can we truly be saved and sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost and His sanctifying power to purify our hearts. In and of ourselves we have no power. We do not set a goal to be good, then strive for its accomplishment on our own. There is nothing about us in our fallen condition that is good, virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy or righteous. On our own we are a miserable wreck of carnality and depravity. Without the grace and mercy and love of a God incarnate in the form of Christ, we would be lost forever in our sins.

If there is anything good in us, it is only because of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost that has come to dwell in us. We are only pure vessels as a worthy habitation for His presence when we have repented, truly repented, of our sins.

Knowing of our tendency toward entropy and backsliding, the saving ordinance of the sacrament was introduced by a loving Savior the night before His agonizing crucifixion outside the city walls of Jerusalem on Golgotha’s hill.

Each week in sacrament meeting we are put in remembrance of His body which was slain and His precious blood which was spilt for each of us. In His agonizing death and burial, then subsequent glorious resurrection on the first Sabbath morning of the third day, we find hope for ourselves to be elevated from our fallen mortal condition to a resurrection of glory comparable to Eternal’s resurrection.

We aspire as saints and disciples of Christ living in the last days to become as Eternal is in His realm – to become joint-heirs with our Elder Brother, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – possessing (no longer merely hoping) to have all that the Father hath. We aspire to be Eternal Parents, to live in the Eternal’s family forever, to be one with Him, with Christ, and with all our progenitors who so qualified for Eternal’s life.

All of it is possible only because of Jesus Christ, the only true Prototype of Eternal’s life. It is only through and in Christ that the plan of Eternal’s salvation is possible.

Now how do we come to know such a plan? All of it was lost in dark ages of sin and depravity for centuries. Down the corridors of time humanity trudged alone and without hope until the dawning of a new day in the last days.

A boy, only fourteen years old, went into a grove of trees in upstate New York to pray. He was confused by the cacophony of voices everywhere he turned. He sought truth. He determined no one knew what he longed to know. He asked God the Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost to reveal the truth about the various religious sects of his day. He was answered. Alone in the grove, a glorious pillar of light descended upon him until he was enveloped (even transfigured) in the light. Without that transforming, transfiguring power transferred to him by the very glorifying presence of the Father and Son, Joseph would have been literally consumed and annihilated as a mere mortal man.

But he survived the light, and from that day forward remained a pure and enlightened vessel, though he continued to struggle in the flesh. He beheld and spoke directly to the Father and the Son that brilliant spring day in 1820. The heavens were opened anew. The Restoration began. Of that fact I am a witness.

After that initial encounter with Deity, there came a stream of visitors from the other side of the veil to instruct and teach. Hundreds of ancient prophets appeared and taught the boy prophet. Finally, in 1827, on the morning of September 22, he was ready. He was led to the plates compiled by the ancient worthies Mormon and Moroni.

How convenient that he was living only a short distance from the hill where the sacred record had lain buried for centuries.

How convenient that the veil of darkness was burst by the very Moroni who had hid them up as his last act in mortality.

How convenient that this mere boy without any formal education was thought to be so clever as to have concocted such a tall tale.

How convenient that when it was brought forth out of the ground that the voice from the dust has withstood all the tests of authenticity without fail all these many years since.

How convenient that we have the record at our fingertips and can examine its contents for ourselves, and not have to rely upon first the words of three witnesses, then later eleven, who saw and handled those plates of such rare quality and saw and heard the angelic ministrant, Moroni, bear record of their truths.

How convenient, yes, but more than convenient – the word is more accurately “how true.”

Imagine the sacrifice, the blood, the sweat and the tears, the human extremity necessary to have produced those plates we now have! Imagine the faith, the painstaking faith, required to have preserved and left for a latter-day boy prophet the task to bring the record forth from the ground to publish it to the world as the saving document, the tangible evidence of the mercy and love of the Father and the Son for all the spirit children of Eternal’s family unit.

Then think about all the billions of Eternal’s children who never had the blessing of learning the truths of the fullness of the gospel while they lived in mortality! Think of the mercy, the justice, to make available to all of them without exception the ordinances of Eternal’s life – to have the same opportunity as those who had actually lived and received the glorious truths of the gospel while they lived in the flesh.

What provision, what foresight, what fairness, what love! I truly can scarcely take it all in.

Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor both testified that there would few IF ANY who, when presented with the gospel message in the spirit world, would reject it. They will be judged the same as us – they will qualify for Eternal’s life too.

For us it remains to improve upon the days of our probation by learning two invaluable lessons – to repent and to forgive – and by so doing put into implementation in our lives the saving power of the gospel so it can truly save us.

When we first embrace the gospel we go through a gate. That gate is baptism. Baptism leads to a path. That path is the strait and narrow path. “Strait” literally means narrow though it sometimes winds hither and thither during our mortal journey. That path leads upward, through mists of darkness, through temptations of all kinds imaginable. We are buffeted, mocked by others, tested and tried in all things.

Along side that path is an iron rod. The imagery is of something tangible, solid, easily within reach, yet it symbolizes something totally spiritual, elusive and often difficult to discern. The word of God is Spirit essence at its best, only to be understood by those who seek it with all their hearts, minds, strength and souls. The promise is that we will have a companion on that journey up the strait and narrow path.

As we cling to the word of God, as we implement its entreaties in our daily living, as we seek to purify our lives week by week at the sacrament table, making spiritual realities grow out of our physical acts of partaking of the bread and water – then and only then do we receive token down payments along our way of what our state and station in Eternal’s realms of glory. These are the glorious principles of truth we teach.

I have summarized here the essence of what I have said in many, many Sunday lessons, sermons and writings over the years. Missionaries like you often attended those meetings with their investigators. I think of you with your investigators each time I attend Sunday meetings and the temple, as we did last Thursday night with our stake. I always wonder what goes through the hearts of the missionaries and the investigators as they sit in those meetings. When I teach, I am only interested in answering the prayers of those missionaries that the speaker won’t blow it for their investigators. I have always tried to deliver the message the Spirit gives me. I always bear pure testimony. I keep it simple. No matter what the topic of the meeting where we are asked to speak, I try to lay out for investigators my witness of the precious truths they are studying with the missionaries.

For all these things and more I am eternally grateful to my Eternal Father and my Savior Jesus Christ. Imagine life without what we know! Can you even imagine it? It’s no wonder these truths, once embraced, truly change lives with transforming power and cleansing sanctifying effect. That you are engaged in the very essence of bringing these truths to the human family where you labor fills me with gratitude and thanksgiving unlike anything I’ve ever experienced to this point in my life.




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