Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Devil's Advocate

I started to make a comment to Rich in the last post, and as usual it turned into another post, since the allocation of words for a comment was exceeded (a common failing of mine). Verbosity can be such a burden.

Your comment about the electronic versions of scriptures is worth expanding. I've settled on the convenience of taking my iPad when I don't have a teaching or speaking assignment. However, what I've observed in others attempting to use them from the pulpit while giving a talk, teaching a class, or giving a presentation in the stake center with the big screen is that there is invariably a technology hiccup of some kind. The downtime while we wait for the interruption to be corrected is always awkward and tends to drive the Spirit right out of the meeting. For that reason I always use my "low-tech" version of the scriptures when I talk or teach.

But even then it's important to be easily familiar with your tools as you transition from scripture to scripture when you are being guided by the Spirit in what you say in your teaching. We've all witnessed speakers fumbling with notes or losing their place when reading their talks word for word, and that too can be distracting. "Read yourself full, think yourself empty, speak yourself clear," is still good advice in preparation for a speaking, teaching or presenting assignment.

Since we're all amateurs in the Church where there is no paid clergy, as I see it the only answer is to become familiar with the tools we use, whatever our personal preference may be, in fact, so familiar that for all of us we can aspire to the day when we're all finishing each others' sentences because we all know what we know from the same sources. That blessed day will come when we all have come to know Him.

Joseph Smith
"This principle" — that of having one's calling and election made sure and of being sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise — "ought (in its proper place) to be taught," the Prophet Joseph said, "for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, know ye the Lord; for all shall know him (who remain) from the least to the greatest. How is this to be done? It is to be done by this sealing power, and the other Comforter spoken of, which will be manifest by revelation." (TPJS, 149).

The scriptural passage alluded to by the Prophet in this statement is from Jeremiah, who stated: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When that day finally arrives, we will have ceased doing home teaching and visiting teaching ;-)

We live in a time when it seems the membership of the Church is being sifted and separated and families are divided in the debate. In case you're living under a rock and unaware, the critics are among you in your own congregations everywhere and even among your aunts, uncles and cousins in your families. There have always been critics of the leaders of the Church - ALWAYS! The great divide that is setting up over LGBT issues and women and the priesthood, while often interesting to observe and debate among ourselves, is really nothing new at all. "Equal rights" is such an appealing notion, isn't it? And because I doubt there's a family left on earth that hasn't identified at least one family member with same-gender attraction tendencies, we're all enlisted in this latest skirmish. The topics may change, new advocates may arise, but the critics never seem to subside. However, I'm going to stand with Joseph Smith and his successors.

The Brethren are not on trial here. God our Eternal Father is not on trial, nor is our Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was already dispatched to a cruel Roman cross and those who opposed Him thought that would be the end of it. But He arose from the dead. He restored His gospel in these last days. He continues to feel after us and invite us to come unto Him through obedience to His laws, His gospel and His humble servants.

It is we as members who are on trial. It is so much easier to be a critic than a contributor when it comes to building faith among ourselves in the Church. When we take the role of the "Devil's Advocate" to spice the debate and do others a service by "testing their faith," we sometimes fail to recognize the Devil already has millions of willing minions who followed him in the pre-existence and they continue to afflict and torment us here in mortality. The earliest reference I've been able to find for the term "Devil's Advocate" is a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic Church appointed to argue against the canonization or beatification of a person. Then as now, the reasoning seems to go, let's doubt the motives and goodness of a person first, question everything they represent and let's stand against goodness as the loyal opposition to everything that suggests righteousness. That is so progressive, so smart, so forward-thinking, or so they say! Those who are already doing that as unembodied spirits easily outnumber those of us here on earth in physical bodies today. Why would we ever volunteer to do their work for them?

Satan and his followers are always willing to welcome new Advocates within their ranks. Hey, if you've got a body, you're going to offer them much more than they have. Those who defect here in the second estate and fail to remain valiant in their testimonies of Jesus, and especially when they're offering commentary about their long-standing tendency as individuals to question everything first are valuable assets to Satan's cause! They are easy targets for deception. (See D&C 76:75, 79). Let us not be blinded by "craftiness".

In the sanctuary of our dedicated chapels and classrooms, may I suggest that we seek higher ground and stand with the living oracles first? We all have doubts, but let's doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith, as President Uchtdorf suggested recently:

"To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
"Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
"Some might ask, 'But what about my doubts?'
"It’s natural to have questions — the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith — even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. (See Hebrews 11:1; Alma 32:21).
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters — my dear friends — please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. (See F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer [1924], 23). We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine).

Since that invitation from President Uchtdorf, some are now positing with the most recent federal court judge in Utah striking down Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution that the judge has somehow nullified the living prophets among us. "If the prophets were truly inspired," the latest reasoning goes, "why didn't they know the Amendment they advocated would be declared unconstitutional?" Similar arguments were made when Proposition 8 and DOMA were also overturned, but with an important distinction. California's governor made the decision not to challenge the rulings there, but in Utah the Attorney General under the direction of Governor Herbert will make a vigorous defense of Amendment 3, since 2/3 of Utahns voted in favor of Amendment 3 and the will of the electorate in defining marriage cannot be so easily ignored. I know good members of the Church who are now taking public stands on their social media platforms in exultation over the courts' rebukes of the Church. Really? Why?

When one makes a moral argument, as the Church did over gay marriage rights, we must be cautious to make the leap that the legal authority may have the last word. Remember, there is a higher unseen tribunal. It is as though some in the Church never seem to have been introduced to the LAWGIVER, you know, the One the Founders accepted in the founding documents for America who has given us our rights as free men and women.

The Devil's Advocates today would like you to believe they have made a clear and logical argument, except what is NOT clear at this writing is how the appellate courts will decide. Will they uphold the first federal judge's ruling or set it aside? The Tenth Circuit Court and eventually the SCOTUS will ultimately adjudicate the law of the land, but the law of the Lord is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. THAT law is eternal, unchangeable, unamendable and immutable.

Upon THAT law of holy matrimony - that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman - rests the eternal plan of salvation. Does one presume to assert eternal law can somehow be altered by popular opinion or a court decision? There is no earthly tribunal in America, even the SCOTUS, that can compel the churches to solemnize a wedding ritual in violation of its religious beliefs under Constitutional safeguards. And certainly, the highest courts in the land will never be able to rule effectively in matters of conscience and righteousness. That's why the Founders were so explicit that America could never be governed except if the people remained righteous. But Satan will not rest. Since the Garden, he has sought to separate the man from the woman, and he has sworn in his wrath he will never retreat.

We are admonished to gather together in our meetings "to AGREE upon my word." (D&C 41:2). When our high priest groups descend into nothing more than a debating society where we mingle the philosophies of men with scripture, and never once during a lesson cite a single sentence from the prophets' teachings that are laid before us, we are opening ourselves up to being deceived. I suspect this is all in fulfillment of sorting out the wise virgins from among the foolish ones. (See Matthew 25). They were all good girls - virgins! - waiting for the Bridegroom. As members the Church in the last days, we are good girls too for the most part. But about half of us tend to be wise, and about half tend toward foolishness.

President Thomas S. Monson
The demarcation line will likely be those who have embraced the word, honored and defended the humble prophets God has raised up from among our congregations to lead us in the latter-days, and who put their covenants ahead of all other considerations. Whenever I am asked who I think the greatest prophet in this dispensation is, most are surprised when my knee-jerk reaction isn't "Joseph Smith," or "Harold B. Lee." They are both dead prophets, and great as they were, the greatest prophet for me will always be the one who is living on the earth and leading the Church TODAY, Thomas S. Monson. And when he is gone, it will be his successor. I find obedience to the covenants we have made with God leaves me no other option in answering that question.

Those who will yet lose their way in the mists of darkness will be those who treat casually the glorious gifts we have received in the Restoration. It's a marvelous flood of light for those who choose to live in the light.

So no matter which version of scripture you favor, electronic or paper, feast upon the word, familiarize yourselves with their contents, and avoid the winds of deception that are blowing at gale force all around you. In this course there is safety, light and LIFE.

Remember - eternal life comes only from the Lawgiver, and it is given on His terms.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Become a Gospel Scholar

President Harold B. Lee
To answer that question, which has been posed to me on numerous occasions, I turn once again to President Harold B. Lee for guidance. He was often asked how he studied the gospel and the scriptures, and I frequently heard him answer this way: "There is no royal road to learning." That answer never fully satisfied anyone, I am sure, because it never directly addressed his method for studying the gospel. It only implied it wasn't easy.

During this Christmas season I got a deeper insight into the "how" part of his answer. My father is now in his 92nd year, and still lives in the home Harold B. Lee purchased from James Moyle (Henry D.'s brother) many years ago located at 1437 Penrose Drive in Salt Lake City. I affectionately refer to Dad sometimes as "the curator of the Harold B. Lee museum." Little has changed in that home since Harold B. Lee's occupancy. Only Dad knows how many Harold B. Lee artifacts he still controls, since as his children we never have seen it all and get rare glimpses when he allows.

While we visited with him recently before Christmas, he surprised me yet again by handing me a black well-worn leather-bound notebook. The book itself is 5.5" wide and 7.75" tall, the pages being 4.25" x 7.25". It's curled down on the edges and has three rings inside, holding 167 pages with writing on both sides of most pages. The handwritten outlines of many speeches Harold B. Lee had given during the years of 1927 to 1940, mostly to wards in the Pioneer Stake it seems, are as timely perhaps today as they were then. He was called to the high council in 1927, and spoke monthly in the various wards of the stake as assigned. In 1930, three years later at age 31, he was called as the stake president in Pioneer Stake. These early outlines supply the evidence of his post-mission attempts to organize his thinking around gospel topics.

As my father handed the notebook to me he said he would "loan" it to me. He said there are two more like it covering Harold B. Lee's subsequent Apostolic periods of time, and he is "loaning" one each to my two brothers Jon and Tim. He requested that each of us pick one of our favorite talks, then come prepared to teach him at a family home evening he wants to hold on his upcoming 92nd birthday on a Sunday night. After that night we will "exchange" the notebooks with each other and do it again and again. It gives me so much joy to turn those pages and see his handwriting. Each time I study his outlines I have felt as though I am having a "visit" with him. It gives me a glimpse of his mind and I found several "echoes" of his later speeches as an Apostle in these original notes.

Harold B. Lee laid out his first notebook in 24 topical headings, with tabs separating each topic. The first page under each tab lists as many scriptural references as he could find, interestingly, taken only from the Doctrine and Covenants. He typed the scriptural references on an old typewriter, as shown at the right. One might find his topical headings interesting. I've presented them here as they appear in order in the notebook:

Ministry
Book of Mormon
Revelation
Divinity of Latter-day Work
Restoration
Apostacy [sic]
Faith
Prayer
Testimony
Resurrection
Priesthood
Organization of Church
Law of Consecration
Signs of Times
Gathering of Israel
Atonement
Marriage
Good Counsel
Sabbath Day
Godhead
Persecution
Baptism for the Dead
Pre-existence
Outlines for Talks


As I have reviewed the contents over the past few days and shared it with many of our family, I have come to several conclusions I think are worth sharing.

1. There is no "one right way" to study the gospel. The Holy Ghost bears witness to each of us of gospel truth. Books, study courses and many BYU symposia over the years have suggested "how" to go about studying the scriptures. None of them, perhaps, is the one and only way you should do it. Listen to the Spirit. Unwittingly, I started with studying the scriptures topically as the topics came up in classes. I would exhaust one topic to my heart's content, then move on to the next and the next and the next. The gospel is truly inexhaustible.

2. The key to learning gospel topics is consistency and constancy. If anyone were to pick up my copies of the scriptures, they would find a disorganized mess, a colorful array of multi-colored inks, underlinings, circles, arrows, scripture chains, cross references and notes scribbled all over the pages. But each mark suggests a moment in time when the Holy Ghost helped me to make a discovery for myself. Since my mission days I have always preferred the large pulpit-sized editions because it gave me more room for margin notes.

3. I've always done what Grandfather did with his scriptures - inserting quotes from prophets that illuminate and interpret certain passages. You can do it by putting a line of Elmer's glue on a blank sheet of paper and gently touching the edge of your insert onto the line of glue and then inserting it where you want it within the scriptures. It will permanently be part of your scriptures thereafter, and you will find that the bindings bulge and sometimes can't contain the inserts if you have as many as me. But you'll have a way to speak from them spontaneously thereafter at a moment's notice.

4. However you choose to organize your thinking around gospel topics, the key takeaway is this - you gain knowledge on your own terms, at your own speed, and in your own time. This is what it means to have the Holy Ghost with you as a constant companion. You invite His guidance when you open the word routinely. You can't learn it from Harold B. Lee or anyone else. As you teach the principles of the gospel to others, you "own" those principles for yourself. It is the way, the only way, we will come to a "unity of the faith," as spoken of by the prophets. We must anchor our teachings in the scriptures.

Harold B. Lee was my role model in gospel scholarship and teaching. He had a personal standard he used. If he couldn't answer a gospel question from the scriptures, he would often say, "I don't know, and you can quote me on that." He would only cite quotes from presidents of the Church during the time they were serving as president. I wasn't sure until this week "how" he studied the scriptures, I only knew he had paid a deeply personal price for what he knew. I came to realize I could do the same for myself without having to follow precisely in his footsteps. It didn't matter that I have the precise inserts he used in his scriptures. That way I owned my own testimony and could be independent from his testimony. That was important to me. I never wanted to be his lap dog just because he was my grandfather.

It would perhaps be audacious for me to claim I knew as much as Harold B. Lee. But it is not arrogant to assert my gospel knowledge is the same as his because today I am intimately familiar with all the references he has cited under his topic headings starting back in 1927. I can say that at least Harold B. Lee and I have come to a unity of the faith in the same conclusions, but our paths might not have been identical.

That discovery gives me the assurance that someday we may all begin speaking the same scriptural language in the Church.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Political Quote of the Day on the Death of Common Sense

I am always interested in a good piece of satirical writing, and I'm always anxious to give the correct attribution where possible. Several "versions" of this exist on the Internet, many of which have been attributed incorrectly to George Carlin, or "anonymous." Today, I am happy to reproduce this in its original essay:

The Death of Common Sense
Lori Borgman | Sunday, March 15, 1998


Three yards of black fabric enshroud my computer terminal. I am mourning the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense. His obituary reads as follows:

CommonSense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape. 

Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering.

Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S. A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet.

C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men's movement, body piercing, whole language and new math. C.S.'s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus.

In the following decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf.

His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of Scope mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

Services will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought. Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The White Wedding Dress

This past week our granddaughter wore her grandmother's wedding dress. Ashley Bayles was a beautiful bride, as she and Tyler Johns solemnized their wedding vows in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. I hadn't seen that dress in forty-four years, and the mere sight of it brought with it an unexpected rush of emotions and memories.

Ashley Johns, Dianne Bayles, Patsy Goates, Peggy Weight
Patsy and her mother picked the dress in an exclusive shop in Melbourne, Australia, where she was living with her parents while her father was serving as a mission president. They brought the dress home and we were sealed on a warm sunny day, December 19th, 1969. And now here we were together with our granddaughter and her husband on December 21st, 2013! Time had collapsed around us. Four generations of faithful women stood together shoulder to shoulder.

The dress had been carefully tucked away for many years but was in need of cleaning. A careful and thorough dry-cleaning and a few nips and tucks here and there restored it to its once former radiant glory. On a dreary cold and snowy Saturday December day it was luminous and dazzlingly white. As she and Tyler exited the temple to greet friends and family waiting on the grounds outside for pictures, there was a catch in my throat and tears began to flow. Could it be possible that my bride had worn this same dress forty-four years ago?

Ashley and Tyler Johns
As we walked around to the front of the temple I was bombarded with memories of that day and all the days that followed. I reflected on how much I loved the woman who had worn it first so long ago. I remembered and relived the emotions of our wedding day. We had embarked on our eternal marriage journey full of hope in an uncertain future that awaited us, like all newlyweds. What would the future hold? Were we prepared for what life would bring us?

And now instead of looking forward with all those uncertain feelings, I found myself looking back over the path we had walked together with a sense of gratitude, calm and sweet serenity. I found I had forgotten everything that seemed fearful, uncertain or foreboding. In its place my memories were sweet and fulfilling, the culmination of forty-four years together with the same bride I cherished then. The love I felt then which seemed so all-consuming was merely a foretaste of the love I now feel. Patsy's white hair had replaced the white dress, an enduring testament to her constant purity and goodness. Her life had become the embodiment of what her white wedding dress had only symbolized so many years ago. The promise of what it once suggested had been delivered.

I wish I had words to express to young people what it means to live a life of virtue and selfless service. To know Patsy is to understand it without words. Ashley has expressed it beautifully in her tribute to her Grandma Patsy in this blog post of her own.
Ashley Johns and Grandma Patsy

I find there is only one way to communicate what it means to embrace the covenant relationship with God. It is to obey, sacrifice, walk the daily gospel path, remain chaste and to consecrate one's self to the task of building up the kingdom of God on the earth. It is to cleave to one another and to none others, and it is to cleave unto God and no other gods. It is to walk on a straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life in a very far distant day. It is to believe and to trust God. It is to embrace God's ways, His attributes and His Son. It is to come to know Them through all the twists and turns of mortality. It is to lean into the fierce winds and the howling voices of opposition that assail us in an increasingly hostile world and to remain true and faithful through it all.

Together Patsy and I have come down that path of mortality a very great distance. We now have more to look back upon than to look forward to. We have sown our seeds in fertile gospel soil, we have nurtured the seedlings, and we are now harvesting the mature crop. It is a rich harvest as we survey our vast fields. As we harvest the good memories, we also see before us many little blades of new green shoots popping up, assuring us the future will continue to produce nothing but good fruit.

When we stand in a mirrored chamber within sacred precincts, we now find ourselves in the unique position of understanding even better today than we did forty-four years ago what it is to see into eternity in both directions. In so many ways the symbols of the temple have found fulfillment in our lives. We know what it is to accept the torch of faithfulness from our ancestors, carry that torch for two or three generations, then pass it along for future generations.

As we witnessed Ashley and Tyler's sealing ceremony, I came closer to understanding what my Grandfather must have experienced that day, emotions spilling over as he uttered the words, "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." In that room on Saturday sat the fulfillment of what had once only been the hope that posterity would eventually come to us. We had lived long enough to be surrounded by the embodiment of goodness and purity and joy. There is nothing to compare with the peace and serenity of a righteous posterity. Nothing. No other compensation can suffice.

The temple symbol of a white dress had become a reality in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is The Only Way

The title of today's post summarizes the opening of the Christmas season. Today the true gospel of Jesus Christ is juxtaposed against the world's opening for the season with what has come to be known as "Black Friday". And let me assure you all, "Black Friday" is NOT the way, the path or the course our Father in Heaven would have us pursue for happiness here and eternal life later on.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life," our Lord proclaimed. He is the Way in that it is in and through him that salvation comes; "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me," he said. (John 14:6.) He is the Truth because he is the embodiment and personification of that holy attribute. (Alma 5:48.) And he is the Life because in him the light of life centers; except for him and his power there would be no existence; should he withdraw the light of life, death would gain an immediate victory; and without him there would be neither immortal life, nor eternal life, which is life in unending glory. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 832, emphasis mine).

The Book of Mormon has a subtitle on the front cover: "Another Testament of Jesus Christ". Nephi concludes his teachings this way: "And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way, and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Nephi 31:21, emphasis mine).

Unbelievably, despite this declaration, there are some people (a thankfully shrinking number, I hope) who contend the Mormons are not Christians. Joseph Smith in several revelations was told we could find the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in The Book of Mormon. Why wouldn't the whole world flock to embrace the fulness, when it is so obvious most Christians have at best only fragments of truth? Here are some examples of this declaration:

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder [Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel [Moroni], whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;
And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;
And gave him power from on high, by the means ]Urim and Thummim] which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;
Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;
Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them —
Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;
Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen. (D&C 20:5-12).

In a revelation giving instruction about what elements to use in the sacrament, the Savior Jesus Christ, declared:

Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim. (D&C 27:5).

The Savior gave instructions about what the missionaries were to teach:

Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. (D&C 42:11-12, emphasis mine).

Following the martyrdom, John Taylor summed up the work of the Prophet:

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! (D&C 135:3).

There are three specific passages from The Book of Mormon describing a complete definition of "the fulness of the gospel". They are 2 Nephi 31:2-21, 3 Nephi 11:31-39, and 3 Nephi 27:13-21. Jacob's teachings in 2 Nephi 9 mirror the same principles and ordinances, a reflection of his own witness he derived from the visions of Lehi and Nephi. Harold B. Lee referred to that one chapter of scripture as his favorite on many occasions, as witnessed by the frequency from which he drew his sermons from its themes.

There are useful synonyms defined by scripture describing the fulness of the gospel. These synonyms include the way, along with the gospel, the [his] word, the [his, my] doctrine.

Here's a wonderful verse from 2 Nephi 9:41 to illustrate:

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (Emphasis mine).

The elements of the fulness of the gospel are almost always grouped together in scriptures like the ones cited. They include faith, repentance, baptism by immersion, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end of our mortal lives, and eternal life. In shorthand, John summarized that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). 

I am indebted to Noel B. Reynolds, an emeritus professor at BYU, for a list I saw today (Religious Educator, Volume 14 No. 2 - 2013,  82) that summarizes these six distinct elements in the three passages cited above:

Element - Occurences
Faith - 13
Repentance - 18
Baptism by water - 22
Baptism of the Holy Ghost -13
Enduring to the end - 12
Eternal life - 18

Whenever I see that kind of repetition in scripture I have come to understand that we are being given divine definitions of terms. If we want to find truth, be saved through Christ's atonement from sin and death and inherit eternal life, we would expect a loving Heavenly Father to tell us how more than once, and certainly in more than one place.

In addition, Reynolds points out that plural and singular uses of "the word" occurs in 962 places in The Book of Mormon. I'll leave the accuracy of the counting to him - I wouldn't doubt it for a minute. 

Here are useful verses to underscore the symmetry of "my gospel" and "the word":

Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you — that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil —
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words. (3 Nephi 27:13-18, emphasis mine).

John first asserted Christ was THE WORD, and he was right as far as that statement takes us. (John 1:1). However, The Book of Mormon gives us the fulness of the word, the gospel, the way, the truth, and the life with interchangeable meaning.

Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life is far in excess from anything Black Friday has to offer.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"I Am So Grateful. . ."

We have returned home from our trip to Washington D.C. where we picked up Sister Merilee Goates. She was released into our care and keeping a week ago on Thursday morning at the final transfer meeting. I take today's title for this post from Sister Goates.

If there were one phrase I heard repeatedly more than any other from our daughter, it was this one - "I am so grateful for. . ." and then she would cite a specific blessing she had received. The list included her testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as she witnessed the dramatic changes that had come into people's lives whom she had taught.

She referred again and again to members of the Church with whom she had labored to teach their friends, many of whom eventually joined the Church.

I heard her express gratitude for ALL the people who had changed her life for the better, including her mission president, Matthew Riggs, and his wife and their children, the senior missionary couples who had influenced her, her companions, and all the leaders of the Church she had met, including President Brian Swinton of the Washington D.C. Temple. We had a chance to renew our boyhood ties as we concluded an endowment session last Saturday morning. She mentioned several occasions where he had given sound counsel to missionaries and members.

There was a stranger she met on the Metro as we rode back from the city that day, an engaging black lady who was a grandmother and lifelong government employee who was full of light. After their brief encounter, Sister Goates expressed gratitude for putting that wonderful woman in her path that day so she could invite her to join our Church. She was a Southern Baptist, who knew much about the Mormons and had visited the Washington D.C. Temple in times past.

Gratitude was on her lips for a pair of shoes someone had sent to her on her mission, and for a sweater an investigator had given her when she needed warmth during her first bitter cold winter in Virginia. I also heard gratitude expressed for Honeycrisp apples to which she was introduced. She was never without one thereafter, so grateful for the discovery.

The weather was also on the list. We were at Mount Vernon on a November day basking in 70 degrees when she said it. She also spoke of green trees, so dense that in summer it was impossible to navigate because of the canopy of leaves on all those trees. And then her gratitude was for the fall colors of the leaves that were still clinging to their branches. And then it was for barren trees that made it possible to discern our surroundings more clearly.

Her citizenship in the United States also made the list of things for which she is most grateful. Living in that history-rich environment had heightened her awareness of all our blessings as free people, and the incredible price for freedom that has been paid by so many hundreds of thousands for that precious gift. It is hard to visit those stirring memorials on the National Mall and not be moved. The inspired quotations chiseled in granite, marble and other stones remind everyone of the cost to overthrow tyranny. The World War II Memorial honors over 400,000 lost in the global conflict. The price of freedom is always eternal vigilance. May we never forget the sacrifices of so many! The Vietnam War Memorial inscribed with all the names of the dead in that conflict designed to stop the march of communism was yet another reminder.

On a gorgeous fall morning in November, she shed some tears as we stood inside the Lincoln Memorial and I recounted my love for that iconic American leader who presided during a very divisive time in our history. Emotions were also close to the surface as we stood at the base of the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the other end of the Tidal Basin. Reading their words in those sacred precincts is inspiring. Later we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and soberly pondered how many there must be like that one in our perpetual struggle to remain free. As we visited JFK's grave site overlooking the capital city and stood before the eternal flame burning there, hope of our perpetual freedom in America was rekindled and sunk deep within our hearts. We were there only hours before the commemoration of Kennedy's death fifty years ago. Oh, what memories it conjured up within me!

Iwo Jima Memorial
She admitted her favorite monument was the Iwo Jima statue, since it was not far from her apartment in Arlington and she was able to visit frequently during her stay there. She was so grateful for those sacred times of somber reflection.

Perhaps most impressive was her introduction to us of a young refugee from Egypt, Yousef, a Coptic Christian who was forced to flee to America when the violence against Christians in Egypt seemed to accelerate a couple of years ago. Yousef is on date for baptism into the Church in December. We had a chance to read several scriptures with him, to testify, and to re-commit him to his baptism date. That's really what we spent most of our time doing in D.C. - retracing her steps with people she had met, loved, served and taught.

As we spoke with Yousef he told us how excited he was about the prospects that soon all minority groups, including the Mormons, would be recognized in two months when the new Constitution for Egypt becomes ratified. His desktop background has pictures of Mormon temples that dot the globe now. He loves the thought that someday there will be temple in Cairo. I told him I felt impressed he would be in the vanguard of early pioneer saints in Egypt, all in fulfillment of the prophecy of Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1980. Yousef, thrilled at the prospect when I explained he would someday be a pioneer for Mormonism in his beloved Egypt, exulted, "Soon everyone on earth will know about the Mormons!" I felt impressed to tell him I believed as part of Elder McConkie's prophecy there would someday be a temple in Cairo, and he would live to see the day come to pass if he remained faithful to his testimony.

As we left his apartment with water bottles he had graciously given to us out of the little he had to give, Sister Goates once again said, "Meeting Yousef has helped me to appreciate so much my citizenship in America. I had always taken so much for granted. He is here to escape death in his own country, where he told me Christians were being slaughtered in the streets. How grateful I am for freedom to worship God!"

Tears silently fell as the aerial view of Washington D.C. faded into the distance on the horizon. Her face now turned West to resume her life again. She will look back with fondness on her missionary experience, but she will also begin a new chapter now with a renewed sense of gratitude, cultivated from her last eighteen months in Virginia. She will never again be the same person she was.

So we are grateful this week before Thanksgiving for all our blessings as a family. As we recount them all, our list like Merilee's grows longer and longer. This year they include being reunited with Merilee, and yesterday we met our first grandson at the airport, Elder Izach Jach, who returned home from the Iowa Des Moines Mission, taller, broader, and a pillar of power after a mission experience filled with happiness and success.

Our cup is running over, and I am so grateful. . .

Monday, November 11, 2013

Leaving the Beautiful Virginia

As many close to our family will know, our youngest (and last of eight full-time missionaries) is wrapping up her mission in the Washington D. C. South Mission this week. We depart on Wednesday to meet her back there and bring her home next week after spending some time meeting the people with whom she has labored. Her final testimony is worth sharing with everyone:

Sister Woodbury (l), Sister Goates (r)
Oh my goodness! I can't believe today is here.  My last Preparation Day as a missionary. What an incredible 18 months it has been! It truly has been the best of my life. I have been refined and molded. I am so grateful for the experiences and the miracles the Lord has blessed me to witness for the past year and a half.

I know God truly is our loving Heavenly Father and He truly does know each of us personally and perfectly. I know He ALWAYS has our best interest in mind. He wants us to be happy. We are His children and He has sent us here to be happy and find joy, but also to have trials and to be tested so we can become more like Him and learn more about His attributes so we can gain them as well.

I am so grateful for the perspective a mission has given me for my life. I have learned so much. I am grateful for the weaknesses the Lord has revealed to me so I can work on them and He can refine me and help me become stronger.

This past week has been bitter-sweet. Mostly, it still hasn't hit me that I'm really leaving and that this is the end of my mission. Nonetheless, it has still been a very special week. I was able to go to the temple with the other departing missionaries, and what a sacred experience that was. I am so grateful for the temple and I'm grateful for the knowledge of the significance of the temple in my life and the blessings that come as we keep the covenants we make there and as we become a "Temple Going and Covenant Keeping" people. I know the temple truly is the House of the Lord. I know it is there our families truly are sealed together for time and all eternity. There is NOTHING greater in this life than that knowledge right there. There is NOTHING that brings greater joy or peace in this life, than the knowledge of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There really isn't.

It is because of the events Joseph Smith had in his life that we have the gospel today. How grateful I am for his sacrifice and for his humility in offering that sincere and humble prayer that day in the Sacred Grove. I know without a shadow of a doubt that he truly did have that experience. I know through that experience we truly do have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With that knowledge, we have been promised never again will we be in darkness and never again will we not have a prophet on the Earth. What an incredible promise!

I know President Thomas S. Monson is our living prophet today. I know it is through him we have all of the Preisthood Keys so we can partake in ALL the ordinances needed to return to live with our Heavenly Father and with our families again.

We had an INCREDIBLY powerful stake conference this past weekend. We had Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy come and it truly was a spiritual feast! Also, apparently he knows the Goates family well. [Editor's note: His mother and mine served in the Federal Heights Ward Relief Society Presidency, then later as members of the Relief Society General Board under Sister Barbara Smith.] He is part of the Missionary Department and it was a powerful weekend here in the Oakton Stake. We were told we have some of the finest leaders in the Church in this stake and it was encouraging to hear we have such great potential in performing so many incredible miracles with a combined effort. It was inspiring and I felt the Spirit so strongly.

It made my heart hurt a little when I realized with all this fire the members have now that I won't be able to help keep that fire ignited and continue to encourage them much longer as a missionary, but I know I still can as a member missionary.

I received very specific and wonderful revelation for what I can do to continue to be a missionary. It was wonderful. It was humbling to be called before the stake to share my testimony my last Sunday as a missionary. It was an incredible opportunity and I was so grateful for it.

I know this work is real. I also know it is truly hastening. I have felt that for a long time, but the urgency was so apparent this weekend as we listened to Elder Evans and President Monson, a prophet, seer, and revelator, talk about it in our conference. It is happening, the signs of the times are here and we don't have much time. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to be more engaged than ever. It is my prayer each of us will be, and continue in our missionary efforts until our Lord and Savior returns.

I love you all. I thank you for your constant love and support for me. I can't express and thank you enough for the help to get me on a mission, whether it has been contributing money, your time, or the experiences we've had together. Each of you has been a support to me and has helped bless my life so much in helping me be in a position where I could have this incredible experience. I am so grateful to my loving Heavenly Father for the invaluable experiences He has given me and lessons He has been able to teach me during this sacred time in my life. Thank you for all you've done to help in any part or form in that.

I love you all. I love my Savior and I love His work.

All my love and gratitude,

Sister Merilee Goates

Update from the Utah Obamacare Exchange

Jon Goates
My brother, Jon, is in the trenches on Obamacare. He might even be considered the "canary in the mine shaft" as my early-warning device to monitor the impacts on small medical practices like the one he manages in Davis County (small town) Utah. In his latest installment he documents what is happening to his personal plan with his insurance carrier and what the implementation of Obamacare means to his business. Based upon reports that are now surfacing all across America, his story about Utah's health care exchange can be considered more typical than extraordinary.

* * *

Just a quick note to demonstrate why you don’t ever want to allow Washington to mandate your medical insurance coverage. Amid other considerations, the 1,500 new regulations I have to implement over the next 18 months will most assuredly result in an audit and fines for not doing it just the right way for the subjective enforcement according to the personal whims of the auditor. 

Last week I met with our insurance broker. He explained that because the insurance plan I pay for through the practice falls under Obama’s Federal mandate for “affordable” care, my personal premium (for one child, spouse and me) will go from $956 per month to $1,495.75 – a 55% increase! I already have a $2,500 individual and $3,750 family deductible and a qualified HSA card. I feel so good about BHO's assurances that “You can keep your current insurance if you want to.” This massive increase is what it takes the commercial insurance carriers to include the regulated Obamacare items into my coverage.

This is ludicrous. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her side-kick “the-buck-stops-with-me-Barack” are healthcare idiots who are both dumbfounded as to why it is so hard to attract the American public to the insurance plans they have so generously provided. Have you seen what their brand of “affordable care” is for the public? Sure, you can go shopping on the insurance exchanges for low monthly premiums for families of about $300-$450, but those same plans sport $7,500 to $9,000 annual deductibles. So if families were uninsured prior to BarackHealth, how will the same families ever begin to whittle down these massive deductibles before their co-insurance ever kicks in? Simply, they cannot afford to do so. Conundrum.

The result is that the same doctor’s office or Emergency Department will have to carry the same if not more debt from these now "insured" families as we were carrying before BarackHealth went into effect. The biggest difference will be that prior to BarackHealth’s mandated deductibles local medical clinics could openly discount the care to our patients by 20-30% as they paid cash for each visit, which was our own way of creating an "affordable care" solution for the uninsured. Did we get any credit for doing so? Nope. Now and going forward we cannot discount someone’s annual deductible, since every dollar they spend will “benefit them” at meeting their minimum coinsurance thresholds. 

The Utah insurance exchange has 5,000 visitors to the website each day. Only 1% actually sign-up for an insurance plan. And you wonder. . . why?

Thanks,
Jon Goates
Chief Executive,
Davis Family Physicians, PC

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Be of Good Cheer"

The Apostle Paul has always been one of my scripture heroes. Once in a group of young married couples gathered for game night, the question was asked, "Who is your favorite author?" My reply, "Paul." Everyone demanded to know, "Paul who?" My answer: "Paul the Apostle." "Oh," was the predictable response. I was admitting my lack of literary awareness in their eyes.

But I stand by the answer. Paul was once in bondage among his accusers, the Jews. It seems they were divided as Sadducees and Pharisees, and offended by his doctrine of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, notwithstanding his eyewitness testimony of the events on the road to Damascus, was vilified and discredited among his peers. Here's one example from his life:

And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy. (Acts 23:9-13, emphasis mine).

The Lord said to Paul, who was in chains, "Be of good cheer." That's optimism from the Lord to one faced with certain death. In essence, "You've been incarcerated for my name's sake in Jerusalem, but they won't kill you yet, because you're still going to Rome to testify of me." What Paul couldn't know after he miraculously escaped that conspiracy at Jerusalem was that things would really get dicey in Rome.

Perhaps it was the resurrected Lord quoting the condemned mortal Jesus. Facing the cruel agony He alone knew He would face in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, the Savior said to his baffled disciples:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.
At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:
For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.
His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.
Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.
Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:20-33, emphasis mine).

How could the Savior possibly say, "Be of good cheer" under such adverse conditions? And how audacious to think He had "overcome the world" when the world was about to crucify Him in the fashion of cruel Roman justice to pacify the Jewish co-conspirators!

I thought of the Savior's encounter with stormy seas in the wake of the devastation we have witnessed this past week in what has been dubbed "the worst storm ever" in the Philippines. These images are sobering as we think of the suffering of the families of those estimated 10,000 who perished. The actual number may never be known, the proportions of destruction now being described as "Biblical."

Earlier during His mortal ministry, after learning that day John the Baptist had been beheaded, the Savior spoke to and fed a large multitude. He sent His Apostles into a ship and went alone into a mountain where He observed them toiling all night in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee. Late that night, just before dawn, in the "fourth watch" between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., He appeared on the stormy waters before them. Then we have this account, once again an indication of His optimism in the face of imminent disaster:

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain, apart, to pray.
And when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with the waves; for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. (JST John 14:19-23, emphasis mine).

He tried their faith until the uttermost extremity in the early morning hours. And so it is with us sometimes. And after the winds and the waves have sufficiently beaten us down to a point where there is little left to hope for, He appears and reminds us there is nothing to fear after all. He brings "cheer" to comfort us.

We have other examples from scripture. On the night before the Babe of Bethlehem was born, the true believers on the American continent half a world away were faced with certain death at the hands of the unbelievers, who threatened to put them to death unless they disavowed their faith in the Promised Messiah:

Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son — of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given. (3 Nephi 1:9-14, emphasis mine).

In our day as early as 1831 in Hiram, Ohio:

Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come. (D&C 68:6, emphasis mine).

A year later, also in Hiram, Ohio:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C 78:16-19, emphasis mine).

To Thomas B. Marsh in Kirtland, Ohio, 1838:

Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee.
Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth.
Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech.
Let thy habitation be known in Zion, and remove not thy house; for I, the Lord, have a great work for thee to do, in publishing my name among the children of men.
Therefore, gird up thy loins for the work. Let thy feet be shod also, for thou art chosen, and thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations.
And by thy word many high ones shall be brought low, and by thy word many low ones shall be exalted.
Thy voice shall be a rebuke unto the transgressor; and at thy rebuke let the tongue of the slanderer cease its perverseness.
Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers. (D&C 112:3-10, emphasis mine).

So in the space of a week I've gone from pondering the effects of "sore trials" to the seeming irony of the Savior's injunction, "Be of good cheer."

Sometimes in life we encounter circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. We buckle under the weight of burdens we cannot possibly overcome or sustain. We are promised, however, in sacred precincts that we will be blessed to bear the weight of those burdens placed upon our shoulders. I am grateful for an optimistic God. I am grateful for His optimistic prophets, who seem to have no fear in the face of seemingly impossible odds stacked against them to move the kingdom of God forward in the earth in these last days.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
I was reminded this week of something Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote:

"Gospel gladness is possible even in the midst of affliction, because of the reassuring realities that pertain to our mortal circumstance. The everlastingness of certain things puts the temporariness of other things in perspective. God's promises to us are so rich that even difficult tactical circumstances cannot conceal our causes for genuine cheerfulness: God is in charge; God's plan of happiness is underway; momentary tribulation does not set aside the universal resurrection, which is a reality; individual identity and personality are thereby assured; death has been defeated by Christ's atonement; and Satan and his misery-causing minions will finally be defeated. Each of these (and many more) form the litany of reassuring reality.

"Thus we should not let the gray mists of the moment obscure the bright promises and prospects of eternity. Gospel gladness is a precious, precious perspective — essential to have, if one is to keep his attitudinal balance while traveling the straight and narrow way. The way is often no more than a path. It inclines sharply, and it is strewn with loose rocks. Indeed, there are points along the way to be traversed only on one's hands and knees." (Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am, 98).

Elder Maxwell concluded this chapter in his book with a marvelous metaphor:

"If in all of this there is some understandable trembling, the adrenalin of affliction can help to ensure that our pace will be brisk rather than casual. His grace will cover us like a cloak — enough to provide for survival but too thin to keep out all the cold. The seeming cold is there to keep us from drowsiness, and gospel gladness warms us enough to keep us going." (ibid., 109, emphasis mine).

President Harold B. Lee
I also stumbled over a poem (source unknown) that President Harold B. Lee cited in his last First Presidency Message (Ensign, August 1974):

May You Have. . .

Enough happiness to keep you sweet,
Enough trials to keep you strong,
Enough sorrow to keep you human,
Enough failure to keep you humble,
Enough success to keep you eager,
Enough friends to give you comfort,
Enough wealth to meet your needs,
Enough enthusiasm to look forward,
Enough faith to banish depression,
Enough determination to make each day better than yesterday.

I believe we have "enough and to spare" when it comes to our hope in Christ's atonement. He did overcome the world - that means the effects of sin and death - all of which is only temporary based upon our miscalculations about their importance in mortality. I conclude with Jacob, the brother of Nephi:

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves — to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen. (2 Nephi 10:23-25, emphasis mine).


Sunday, November 3, 2013

When Sore Trials Come Upon You

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we sing a familiar hymn, "Did You Think To Pray?"


Click the link and listen to the combined BYU choirs sing a Mack Wilberg arrangement. The words of the last verse have been playing again and again in my mind this weekend. I hope you will enjoy the spirit of the video as much as I have for the comfort it has given me:

Ere you left your room this morning,
Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ our Savior,
Did you sue for loving favor,
As a shield today?

Refrain:

Oh, how praying rests the weary!
Prayer will change the night to day;
So when life seems dark and dreary,
Don’t forget to pray.

When you met with great temptation,
Did you think to pray?
By His dying love and merit,
Did you claim the Holy Spirit
As your guide and stay?

When your heart was filled with anger,
Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother,
That you might forgive another
Who had crossed your way?

When sore trials came upon you,
Did you think to pray?
When your soul was bowed in sorrow,
Balm of Gilead did you borrow
At the gates of day?

During our mortal lives sore trials may come upon us in an instant. Most often these trials come as unwelcome guests and they appear in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is the death of a loved one. Often relationships once filled with promise and hope sour and become bitter. Divorce in marriages can result when spouses grow apart and the once raging bonfires of love and devotion to one another dissolve into smoldering embers and turn stone cold.

The vicissitudes of life are seemingly countless. When employment disappears overnight in a downsizing, and loyalty and hard work seemingly mean nothing to an employer you once loved and admired, bitterness sometimes results. One wonders if the universe has singled them out for particularly harsh treatment, because no one could have been dealt with as harshly as they were.

Health, once taken for granted and never second guessed, can suddenly evaporate with a cancer diagnosis. The worldwide financial meltdown of 2008 wipes out life savings. A well-planned retirement suddenly evaporates overnight. 

There seems to be no end to the possible scenarios, does there? 

Our family was struck with this reality of a "sore trial" this weekend. A routine intrauterine ultrasound diagnosis revealed one of our little granddaughters has a birth defect known as anencephaly. Her parents were in shock. When they informed us, our hearts were burdened with sorrow over the diagnosis, knowing all too well the feelings of having to bury a little one when our youngest daughter Adrienne died unexpectedly of SIDS at seven weeks of age. This year marked the twenty-first anniversary of her birth and death. Perhaps the only thing worse than having to live through these traumatizing experiences yourself, is to have to live them vicariously, knowing so well what our children are now facing. In seeking to produce a posterity of our own, it should not be surprising when we are called to pass through Abrahamic tests not unlike those of our noble progenitor.

So the words of the hymn keep replaying in my mind - "When sore trials came upon you, did you think to pray? When your soul was bowed in sorrow, balm of Gilead did you borrow at the gates of day?"

We have been forced to our knees as we have fasted that they might be comforted through the weeks and months of uncertainty that lie ahead. 

Seeking to comfort our family this weekend, I sent out an e-mail:

Words are hard to come by in expressing our feelings. . . 

The hardest questions to answer in this life are all the "Why?" questions. Those will have to wait awhile as our faith is tested and galvanized in the fiery furnace of affliction here on earth. Jake quoted Nephi, in answer to the question if he (Nephi) knew what the "condescension of God" meant. Said Nephi: "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." (1 Nephi 11:17). 

His love for us rarely shields us from the randomness of an imperfect and fallen world, but it is always in evidence when our hearts ache as they do today.

Because Christ descended below all things on this earth, including every conceivable human condition, He is able to succor us in our sorrow, grief, doubts, guilt, anxiety and every other human emotion we feel. Alma summarized Christ's role in our lives when tragedy strikes and "sore trials" come upon us: "And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things. . ." (Alma 7:12-13, emphasis mine). 

Allie called this morning, heartbroken over this news. She sobbed, "What can I do? I would do anything for them." The answer is the same as it has always been - love them and love one another. 

Love and blessings,

Dad & Mom

I testify from these pages that Christ is our never-failing balm of Gilead in times of traumatizing knee-buckling tragedy. He will heal us of all our infirmities as He promises, when we turn to Him for comfort. There is nothing in the human condition He does not know intimately, having suffered in Gethsemane at at Golgotha for EVERYTHING that threatens our peace and our joy. 

Wherever we are in our lives presently, no matter what fiery trials we are currently passing through, He is an ever-present and willing participant in all our outcomes. He answers with the calm assurance we need when we turn to Him in our anguish.

Prayer really can change the night to day.

We open prayer in the name of our Heavenly Father because it is He to whom we address our prayers. We thank Him for all the blessings we enjoy because we know He is our Father who loves us. We ask Him specifically for the help we need, whatever form our "sore trial" may be taking, and we close our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who makes all the answers possible because of His atonement. Prayer is available to all of us. We are all brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

We just need to remember to pray when the sore trials come. . . I pray we may always remember.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The WHOPPER King

In the realm of big WHOPPERS, we may never again see the likes of Barack Hussein Obama. Not only are his lies already garnering "famous" status, at least one observer here, Jonah Goldberg, maintains his lies will achieve INFAMOUS status. If you hadn't guessed, the topic is one dear to my heart - Obamacare. It's stunning now that there is simply nowhere to run and hide from the facts as they are emerging. Of course, that assumes there's anyone left who actually cares about FACTS anymore.



This POTUS may become a lame duck quicker than any two-term president in history.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Who Started the Welfare Program?

Regular visitors to this page will know my identity as the eldest grandson of President Harold B. Lee. From time to time I am asked to contribute insight and commentary on his history, as I was last week in our ward gospel doctrine class.

The lesson was on the origins of the Church Welfare Program. Whenever these infrequent invitations pop up, I go back and take a fresh look at what I know about Harold B. Lee. Each time I do it I feel as though I have a personal "visit" with him. It all feels so familiar and comfortable. His spirit and his gentle reminders to me are omnipresent.

This time as I reviewed the origins of the Welfare Program through his writings I had a fresh perspective.

President Harold B. Lee, 1930
Harold B. Lee was thirty-one years old when he was called as the President of the Pioneer Stake. There were six stakes in Salt Lake City at the time. The year was 1930, and the full impact of the Great Depression was being felt by the members of his stake. It was eighty-three years ago today on October 26th, when the stake was reorganized. A few days before that, he was invited to come to the office of President Rudger Clawson. He describes it this way:

"On the Friday preceding the quarterly conference, I was called to the office of President Rudger Clawson, where I was told by President Clawson and Elder George Albert Smith that I had been chosen by the First Presidency and the Twelve as the new president of Pioneer Stake. I told them I would much prefer working as a counselor to Brother Hyde, and was bluntly told by George Albert Smith that I had been invited to meet with them, not to tell them what should be done, but to find out if I was willing to do what the Lord wanted me to do. There followed a discussion on the selection of my counselors. Again I was told when I asked if they had any suggestions on that, 'We have suggestions, but we are not going to tell you - that is your responsibility. If you are guided by the Spirit of the Lord, you will choose those whom we have in mind.'" (Harold B. Lee, Prophet & Seer, L. Brent Goates, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985, 88).

He describes how difficult the decision was in choosing his counselors:

"I retired that night, or rather early morning, to a fitful sleep, about three o'clock in the morning, after earnest prayer for guidance. During the few hours I tried to sleep it would seem that I had chosen two counselors and was trying to hold council meetings with them. Disagreements, obstacles, and misunderstandings would arise, and I would awake with a start to realize that my first choices were wrong. This process was repeated with ten or twelve of my brethren until, when morning came, I was certain the Lord had guided me to choose Charles S. Hyde and Paul C. Child as my counselors. When I announced to the Brethren my decision the next morning, they smiled their approval. The men whom they had desired had been selected.

"On the Saturday night following our conference priesthood convention, I went for a long ride with Brother Hyde, who was many years my senior in age and experience, and informed him of the proposed change and of my desire for him to be my first counselor. It was like a thunderbolt to him, and he deferred his answer until he could think it over and talk with President Clawson the next day. Paul C. Child had been my bishop in the Poplar Grove Ward for seven years, and he was not aware of his selection until his name was placed before the conference." (ibid., 88-89).

Harold B. Lee recorded in his journal that by 1933, out of their stake population of 7,300, there were over 4,800 who were "wholly dependent upon outside agencies" for a livelihood. The national jobless rate became a shocking 24.9 percent. Out of a work force of 51,132,000, approximately 12,830,000 were unemployed. As a stake presidency much of their time was spent in prayerful supplication over what to do about their stressful conditions.

Almost immediately in the fall months of 1930, they had gone to work to do what they could to alleviate the problems of the unemployed.

"An employment committee in each ward, consisting of a member of the bishopric and the chairman of the welfare committees of the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and the Relief Society welfare workers, kept in touch with the available male and female workers. Directed by Fred J. Heath of the stake central committee, workers from all wards were assigned to farm and industrial projects, which were organized from Provo on the south to Layton on the north.

"Workers were told that for their services the stake would undertake to see that food and fuel and shelter for themselves and their families would be provided fully. Hundreds of tons of produce soon began to roll in-peaches, tomatoes, fruits, vegetables, and meats. Relief Society women were organized and two canning machines were purchased for their own use. After exhausting all surplus bottles in the area through a 'drive,' we purchased ten to twenty thousand cans from the American Can Company at 1.5 cents each.

"After supplying our families and stocking our storehouse, we were able to sell considerable surplus to outside people.

"The storehouse was known as the Pioneer Stake bishop's storehouse and the bishops of our eleven wards were organized into an executive committee, with Bishop Joseph H. McPhie of the 25th Ward as chairman. They were instructed to meet regularly and to manage and initiate the policies of the storehouse. The First Presidency, after hearing our plan, agreed to permit withdrawals from the tithes to supplement the food received from our own efforts. With these funds we purchased at wholesale prices butter, eggs, flour, sugar, coal, etc., to provide a wide variety of foodstuffs for our people." (ibid., 94-96).

Harold B. Lee was often asked, "Who started the Welfare Program?" In 1958, speaking at a regional welfare meeting, this is what he would say repeatedly in answer:

"Everywhere I went people were always asking questions. They asked, 'Who started the welfare program?' I have always answered, and do today, 'The Lord started it.' Many asked how the welfare program was getting along — and that got to be such a monotonous question that everywhere I was being asked how the welfare program was going — and I used to say, 'Just as fine as the bishops of this church make it go, and no better.'" (Teachings of Harold B Lee, Clyde J. Williams, editor, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, 304).

There are perhaps a thousand more details in the history that are all well-documented, but many years later looking back, Elder Lee offered this more valuable insight in a magazine article entitled, "Are You Ready for Christmas?" It was published in the Improvement Era in December, 1968.

"One Christmas (I believe it was the first one during my presidency), our small daughters quickly opened their Christmas morning gifts and soon dashed over to show their little friends the new dolls and other gifts. Shortly they returned home, both in tears.

"'What in the world is the matter?" we asked.

Sobbing, they said: 'Our friends did not have any Christmas. Santa Claus did not come to their home.'

"All too late we remembered that just across the street was a family whose father was not a member of the Church, although the children were, and the mother passively so; he had been out of work, and we had forgotten. Our Christmas was spoiled.

"We sent for those children and tried to divide what we had in an attempt to make up for our lack of thoughtfulness, but it was too late. Christmas dinner that day did not taste very good to me. I was unhappy. I realized that upon my shoulders rested the welfare of the people of the stake.

"We made a survey and were startled to discover that 4,800 of our membership were either wholly or partially dependent — the heads of families did not have steady employment.

"There were no government make-work projects in those days. We had only ourselves to look to. Church finances were declining. We were told that we couldn't expect much help from the general funds of the Church. Thus, it was in this same condition that we approached another Christmas season.

"We knew that we had about one thousand children under ten years of age for whom, without someone to help them, there would be no Christmas.

"We started to prepare. We found a second floor over an old store on Pierpont Street. We gathered toys, some of which were broken, and for a month or two before Christmas, fathers and mothers were there. Some arrived early or stayed late to make something special for their own little ones.

"That was the spirit of Christmas giving — one only had to step inside the door of that workshop to see and feel it. Our goal was to see that none of the children would be without a Christmas.

"There was to be Christmas dinner in all the homes of the 4,800 who, without help, wouldn't have Christmas dinner. Nuts, candy, oranges, a roast, and all that went with it would be their Christmas menu.

"It so happened that I was then one of the city commissioners. On the day before Christmas that year we had had a heavy snowstorm, and I had been out all night with the crews getting the streets cleared, knowing that I would be blamed if any of my men fell down on the job. I had then gone home to change my clothes to go to the office.

"As I started back to town, I saw a little boy on the roadside, hitchhiking. He stood in the biting cold, with no coat, no gloves, no overshoes. I stopped, and he climbed into the car beside me.

"'Son,' I asked, 'are you ready for Christmas?'

"'Oh, golly, mister, we aren't going to have any Christmas at our home. Daddy died three months ago and left Mamma and me and a little brother and sister.'

"Three children, each under ten!

"'Where are you going, son?'

"'I am going up to a free picture show.'

"'I turned up the heat in my car and said, 'Now, give me your name and address.'

"Further conversation revealed that they were not members of the Church.

"'Somebody will come to your home; you won't be forgotten. Now, you have a good time today — it's Christmas Eve.'

"That night I asked each bishop to go with his delivery men and see that each family was cared for, and to report back to me.

"While waiting for the last bishop to report, I painfully remembered something. In my haste to see that all my duties at work and my responsibilities in the Church were taken care of, I had forgotten the boy in my car and the promise that I had made.

"When the last bishop reported, I asked, 'Bishop, have you enough left to visit one more family?'

"'Yes, we have,' he replied.

"I told him the story and gave him the address.

"A little later he called to say that that family too had received some well-filled baskets. Christmas Eve was over at last, and I went to bed.

"As I awoke that Christmas morning, I said in my heart, 'God grant that I will never let another year pass, but that I, as a leader, will truly know my people. I will know their needs. I will be conscious of the ones who need my leadership most.

"My carelessness had meant suffering the first year because I did not know my people. But now I had resolved never again to overlook the needs of those around me." (ibid., 322-24, emphasis mine).

I heard Harold B. Lee give many sermons while I was a young man growing up. I was twenty-five years old and married with two children when he died, so I knew his heart, mind and soul as well as anyone could. Whenever he spoke about the Welfare Program, he invariably turned to these verses:

For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment. (D&C 104:13-18, emphasis mine).

In his own words as recently as last week, Harold B. Lee gave me valuable insights into how he believed the Welfare Program started. Boiled down to its essence, I concluded the Welfare Program started because of the need of some little girls who lived across the street who didn't have Christmas that year. It stemmed not from his organizational genius or his brilliant mind, but rather from his "carelessness," which then led to seeking inspiration with his valued counselors on how to address the overwhelming basic needs of his stake members.

Anthon H. Lund, Heber J. Grant, Charles W. Penrose
First Presidency, 1930
The answers then flowed in the form of revelation from God over a period of years. Those revelations translated into action in the Pioneer Stake, then his implementation church-wide in the years that followed under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

The principles haven't changed much in the years since. The goal of Church Welfare is to eradicate the dole - getting something for nothing. When people who need help are willing to work as they are able, self-reliance and self-worth are re-enthroned until they are able to stand on their own once again without assistance. The assistance they receive is only designed to be temporary, and their needs are provided by the bishops in the wards in which they reside. Sometimes those needs become perpetual due to poor health and other extenuating circumstances, and the good bishops of this Church are taught to seek out the people within their ward boundaries who need assistance and then to give it freely as required.

The bishop has at his disposal funds donated by members of his ward in the form of "fast offerings." Once a month we fast for twenty-four hours and donate the equivalent cost of those meals or substantially more for those who are in a position to do it. It's all voluntary, it's the Lord's way of providing for His saints and all His children, and there is no government program involved. Today those funds are commoditized for distribution worldwide whenever and wherever disasters strike.

It's a timely lesson for the world in which we now live in America, overwhelmed, it seems, with government interventions as far as the eye can see. All of that giving is mandated in the form of tax collection, and the misuse of those tax revenues is plain for anyone with eyes to see. Seldom do those tax monies reach the intended recipients without the government extracting a sizable portion. The Lord's way is to render help voluntarily.

If Harold B. Lee could see little children in need in his day and with scarce resources inspire a whole generation to find a way to bless the lives of others around them without government intervention, surely we can do it today out of our abundance.