Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hiding from God Under our Pavilions

President Henry B. Eyring
I have been preparing to give a lesson to the high priests tomorrow. The assigned October 2012 General Conference talk is one from President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency. He titled it "Where Is the Pavilion?" It was the anguished question Joseph Smith once asked while he was incarcerated in the dungeon cellar of Liberty Jail in the cold damp Missouri winter of 1839. He believed God had abandoned him.

There are times in our lives when we, like Joseph Smith, feel betrayed and abandoned by God. President Eyring suggests God never abandons us. Rather, it is we who separate ourselves from His loving watch care and desires to bless us by what President Eyring defined as "a pavilion of motivations." It's an interesting choice of words. What is it about our motivations that separate us from God? He expanded with the thought, "Our own desires, rather than a feeling of 'Thy will be done,' create the feeling of a pavilion blocking God."

"God is not unable to see us or communicate with us, but we may be unwilling to listen or submit to His will and His time," observed President Eyring.

This matter of submitting our will to the will of our Heavenly Father is tricky stuff, to be sure. It seems God is determined to help us understand that we, as little children, must submit our will to him "as a child doth submit to his father," since it comes up so often in Holy Writ. In another passage, we are admonished, "Cast off your sins, and [do] not procrastinate the day of your repentance; . . . humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering; having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest." (Mosiah 3:19; Alma 13:27-29).

Being submissive and meek makes us keenly aware of our blessings. I felt to say based upon my own life experiences with President Eyring, "I was blessed to know that whatever success I had in my career and family life was a gift from God."

This week marked a "dubious" milestone for Patsy and me. Our eldest grand-daughter Tessi gave birth to an infant daughter. They named her Quincy Aida Wood. That makes five generations of our family now living on planet Earth! What a breathtaking thought! This little girl threatened an early arrival a couple of months ago, but as we united our faith and prayers as a family on her behalf her delivery was delayed until she could be born full-term at a healthy 8 lbs. 1 oz. with a full head of black hair! I don't think we ever recover from the miracle that is birth, no matter how many times we witness it. And our gratitude finds a way to expand exponentially.

Sometimes we lose sight for a season of our blessings. President Eyring suggested that happens when "[our] desires for professional success might have created a pavilion that would make it hard for [us] to find God and harder for [us] to listen to and follow His invitations." He reflected, "My personal ambitions might have clouded my view of reality and made it hard for me to receive revelation."

As you reflect on your own life, how often can you find a time when "my desire to know and do His will gave me a soul-stretching opportunity?" I thought of one in recent years. My world had turned upside down almost overnight when a long-sought fulfillment was snatched away at the finish line. I found myself adrift in the aftermath of the worldwide financial meltdown, having to search for employment late in life.

I reached out for help from the Employment Resource Center sponsored by the Church. To make a long story shorter, I was invited to accept a calling with Patsy as a senior missionary couple to serve as the Chair of the Professional Placement Program. I found it so ironic. I wasn't considering myself retired and certainly not eligible to be called a "senior" missionary. I still had years of work ahead of me. However, I learned a valuable lesson about service. It could not have come at a worse time in our lives. I needed to focus on my own employment needs. How was I to be able to give precious time I didn't feel I had to serve others in their search? As I helped others network into new opportunities, I found few were helping me. "Where was I to find answers to my own problem?" we wondered frequently. I learned that service to others of any kind is rarely convenient.

As the months in that assignment unfolded we found marvelous fulfillment not only in helping others, but it seemed our own prayers were being answered. Marvelous lasting relationships with those we served were forged out of the fires of our shared adversity. I was fond of reminding those who showed up week after week, "Look around, you're in good company. Don't let your temporary unemployment situation define you."

And so it was. My heart was drawn out continually as I watched the suffering of those we served. My own appreciation for my blessings was heightened. I found joy again. From the joy came new hope for the future. None of it happened overnight. In fact, it has taken years since it all happened to fully appreciate just how blessed we have been. And isn't that true for all of us? We are rarely able to discern the blessings while we are in the crucible of our suffering. Only looking back do we fully appreciate that we were not consumed in the fires of adversity, only singed a little.

I also learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of a lifetime. "We can't insist on our timetable when the Lord has His own." While we often have an agenda for goals being reached on the timetable we set for ourselves, God is often interested in a completely different timetable with eternal objectives. We are in such a rush to get things done here and now, and He is willing to wait upon the harvest a bit longer. Said President Eyring, "We remove the pavilion when we feel and pray, 'Thy will be done' and 'in Thine own time.' His time should be soon enough for us since we know that He wants only what is best."

It seems God is willing let us simmer on the back burner as long as it takes for us to submit. He is willing to be invited to move us to the front burner when we are ready to accept His judgment for what is best for us. "Submitting fully to heaven's will. . ., is essential to removing the spiritual pavilions we sometimes put over our heads. But it does not guarantee immediate answers to our prayers." And I found that to be the case also. When you're building for eternity, it takes time for the cement to cure a bit in the weather.

Who could doubt the time it took for Abraham and Sarah? God had purposes in mind that had to be fulfilled first before the promised blessings were realized in their lives. "Those purposes included not only building Abraham and Sarah's faith but also teaching them eternal truths that they shared with others on their long, circuitous route to the land prepared for them. The Lord's delays often seem long; some last a lifetime. But they are always calculated to bless. They need never be times of loneliness or sorrow or impatience. Although His time is not always our time, we can be sure that the Lord keeps His promises." I wondered how many childless couples there are today, and how many single women, who would give anything for the promised blessing of posterity. Sarah-like faith is to be prized as we wait upon Him. And that requires patience.

Paul reminds us, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:26-29).

Abraham-like, we are often required to remove our "pavilions of motivations" by waiting patiently upon the Lord for His promises to be fulfilled. The harvest will come, even unto the fifth generation. Of that, I am sure.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Predicting the Future of Politics

I was reminded today about an old Yogi Berraism: "Predictions are always uncertain, especially about the future."

When you look back ten years, is there anyone who could have predicted then where we would be as a nation today? So why would anyone in their right mind believe ANYONE living today could possibly predict the future of politics in this country?

That said, I will venture a guess that things as they are today will not remain for much longer politically. The Republicans are still smarting from the election of 2012. There were many surprises. The old methods of analysis of the demographics have faded away, it would seem. Conversely, there were numerous allegations of voter fraud and stealing the election in key battleground states. Whatever the facts may someday reveal, it was a shock to the conservative base to which I belong.

We face some daunting challenges. The country is broke, at least by the traditional definitions of what that means. When we spend more than we take in that used to mean "broke." We have a federal government that is out of control in its spending habits. We can’t afford what they are doing. We now have a government that is doling out benefits across a broad spectrum to half the citizens. Our private industry, once the envy of the world in productivity is now stalled and mostly stagnant compared to China's output. The Republican Party, once the champion of free enterprise, limited government and individual freedom and responsibility lost its way in the darkness of progressivism a long time ago.

Democrats were historically the party of big government. There was hope in the 90s when Bill Clinton declared the end of big government, constrained as he was by the Newt Gingrich revolution in Congress that produced a balanced budget. Now they too have lost their way. Under Barack Obama it appears they would make everyone dependent upon big government. They believe they have discovered the golden ticket to winning elections in perpetuity among voters who like the dole they receive in whatever form it takes.

Sadly, about all we got Republicans to admit in this last election cycle is that they could manage big government better than Democrats. While I at one time believed there was a clear and obvious contrast between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, when it comes to the argument about Big Government versus small government, the argument became a blended mishmash that was nearly indistinguishable, especially in that last debate.

So I've mostly gone silent on the political front since that first week in November. Stunned and still recovering would be the best way to describe my reaction. This country has been without a true political freedom of expression and limited government party for many years.

That reality must change. The upstart "tea party" has received its death warrant from more than a few pundits, most recently from former Senator Bob Bennett, who was soundly thrashed in the Utah nominating convention in 2010, and whose seat is now held by Mike Lee (R-UT). But I have the sense predictions of the spirit it represents may be premature. I hear a lot of rebellion talk brewing under the surface in the Republican Party, at least here in Utah. You can describe "the base" any way you wish. I choose to think the true conservatives, moderates and independents who make up Utah's "base" were aroused in 2008, spoke up in 2010, and still shout, "Stop it! Reduce this out-of-control federal government! Wake up, Washington, and put a lid on the debt, the spending and the deficits that are enslaving our future generations. Reduce the taxes, abandon the regulatory agencies that are throttling down the economic engine of America. Stop it all!"

This ground swell of emotion and political action state by state made a decision to return to the Republican Party in 2010, hoping they would get it right. The grassroots elements of the tea party now seem to be opposed once again to the "establishment wing" of the Republican Party. We saw it play out in the primary elections held in the states during the last cycle. If all the establishment can give us is an argument they can be better managers of a bloated government, then my prediction is an easy one to make - those grassroots people will abandon the Republican Party, both here in Utah and nationally.

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
As an example, I suspect Mike Lee chose the Republican Party only because it was the most expedient vehicle in which to ride at the time. I might be wrong. I didn't discuss it with him personally during his run when he had my unabashed support, but everything he has done since being elected leads me to believe he cannot long endure the status quo I see promoted by the establishment in the party.

So here's my bold prediction, and I've held this view for some time now: The new political reality we will see playing out in the future is no longer going to be Republican versus Democrat. That's been a carefully managed political contrivance of convenience and expediency for way too long. No, instead, it’s going to be lovers of freedom and limited government versus Big Government dependency. We may be running out of time to make a conscious choice about that. Events may compel us into that path whether we like it or not.

Back in the day, Abraham Lincoln left the Whig Party and formed the Republican Party because he and others would not compromise on slavery.

In the future people like me will leave the Republican Party because we will not and cannot compromise on freedom and limited government. Finding candidates who believe in principle over party will be the next challenge.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Answers to Prayers

There may be no more frequently repeated scriptural injunction than this one:

"Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? - If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you." (1 Nephi 15:11).

We all seek answers to life's complex problems. Sometimes we turn to others who are more experienced, like family members, parents, bishops, contemporaries, and others. Sometimes, and often it is only after we have exhausted all other sources, we turn to God for the answers to our prayers.

I will suggest some lessons I have learned in the crucible of faith. The lessons begin with the pattern cited above by Nephi. When we desire knowledge of an eternal nature, and wish to seek out the wisdom of God in a certain matter we are pursuing, the pattern is useful to observe.

First, Nephi suggests we must not harden our hearts. It's interesting to me that this comes first. Too often we reject the testimonies of others who have experience in these things. We may become jaded and cynical in our pursuits of spiritual things. We've seen hundreds of examples of others who have or have not succeeded in their spiritual quest, and having seen their success or failures we shrink in our own attempts to approach God for answers to our own  prayers. NOT hardening our hearts, says Nephi, is the first step. We must be open to the possibility of having answers to our prayers.

Second, he suggests we ask God in faith. When we ask in faith with the expectation we will receive answers to our prayers, Nephi says we will receive the answers we seek.

Third, he reminds us we must believe we will receive the answers and the direction we seek. Believing is knowing beforehand we will and can receive.

And fourth, he says we must be diligent in keeping God's commandments. There is an implied quid pro quo in this formula: If we expect to know we will receive that which we seek with soft, not hard, hearts, and we ask in faith, believing, and we are diligent in keeping God's commandments, then the promise is we will receive the knowledge God has promised to impart unto us. Moroni and Nephi remind us we may in time come to know the truth of ALL things. (Moroni 10:3-5; 1 Nephi 32:3-5).

Joseph Smith
It was Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820, who ventured into a grove of trees near Palmyra, New York, with nothing more than these simple verses reverberating in his soul:

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:2-8, emphasis mine).

Let us suppose a case. There is a man who enters into a business venture with the promise by all involved that the outcome will bless financial institutions, insurance providers, donors and charities, as well as being profitable for him in exchange for his hard work and sweat equity to bring about the desired outcome. He does his due diligence to learn all he can about the proposed venture. Every answer to his inquiries yields fruit. All indications are that the transaction is precisely what it purports to be.

He enters into contractual relationships with all involved willingly, and with the expectation it will be a successful outcome. Along the way over five years there is witness after witness of the Spirit that this project will be successful and will contribute to the welfare of all involved in nothing but positive and happy ways. When obstacles present themselves, one by one they are overcome, the way opens again and again, and the efforts of many years approach fruition. Suddenly, for reasons completely beyond the control of all the participants, the world economy goes into a tailspin and five years of concerted efforts by many people of goodwill are dashed. Where, then, was God? Could He have not forewarned of the impending disaster? Why all the affirmations it would end in success? Why instead do the faithful participants end in a blind alley? Why, why, why? Then, nothing but silence.

Another four years of financial reversals ensue. Doubts and fear prevail. Uncertainty about the future dogs every footstep. Slowly but surely little answers appear along the way, the new way, since the old way was long gone, never to return. Don't go there, go here. Stay here for awhile, then take the next step. Along the new path there are signs and assurances it will eventually bear fruit once again. The sun will come out tomorrow. Learn to dance in the rain while you await the next turn of the wheel that will pull your little cart out of the mire. And so it is. Who is to say God was not in ALL of it every step along the way, even though the long-sought answer the man was looking for was elusive and evaporated in the end? Through it all the voice of peace was heard, the whisperings of the day and the dreams of the night spoke nothing but comfort as the threats and the turmoil swirled persistently.

Faith grew, confidence persisted, trust in God became paramount, dependency on the things of the Spirit marked each day's morning and evening prayers. Through it all there was never a definitive outcome that seemed certain. Joy in the journey, however, increased steadily. The destination once sought remained elusive.

President Boyd K. Packer
We may all come to understand and know the voice of the Lord as it whispers to us. President Boyd K. Packer said it well: “These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears.” (That All May Be Edified [1982], 335). Even though words fail to fully describe it, in another place he said: “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” (in Conference Report, October 1994, 77; or Ensign, November 1994, 60, emphasis mine).

Elder Richard G. Scott
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:

“When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight.” (in Conference Report, October 1989, 40; or Ensign, November 1989, 32, emphasis mine).

And that describes as perfectly as it can be expressed what my experiences with the Spirit have taught me. I have learned that every prayer offered in accordance with Nephi's pattern cited above is answered. Sometimes, failing immediately to receive the answer we are seeking, we think God has not answered us. Or we may conclude His answer was "No," when we learn much later it may have only been, "Not yet." Through it all the requirement is that we trust Him as a little child trusts its parents for survival every day of its infant life.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

“The Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and he will immediately respond, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. . .

“The principle stated in [D&C 88:68] applies to every communication from our Heavenly Father: ‘It shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.’ We cannot force spiritual things.” (Ensign, March 1997, 10–11).

President Packer counseled:

“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. . .

“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.

“The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).

“Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.” (in Conference Report, October 1979, 29–30; or Ensign, November 1979, 21, emphasis mine).

And that is my testimony about how we receive answers to prayers. All of this knowledge about how revelation may come to all of us individually in very personal ways rests on a firm foundation described by Joseph Smith:

"Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the Kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

"What is the sign of the healing of the sick? The laying on of hands is the sign or way marked out by James, and the custom of the ancient Saints as ordered by the Lord, and we cannot obtain the blessings by pursuing any other course except the way marked out by the Lord. What if we should attempt to get the gift of the Holy Ghost through any other means except the signs or way which God hath appointed — would we obtain it? Certainly not; all other means would fail. The Lord says do so and so, and I will bless you.

"There are certain key words and signs belonging to the Priesthood which must be observed in order to obtain the blessing. The sign of Peter was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost; and in no other way is the gift of the Holy Ghost obtained.

"There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man, and it obey him; for the spirits might say unto him, as they did to the sons of Sceva: 'Paul we know and Jesus we know, but who are ye?' It mattereth not whether we live long or short on the earth after we come to a knowledge of these principles and obey them unto the end. I know that all men will be damned if they do not come in the way which He hath opened, and this is the way marked out by the word of the Lord." (TPJS, 198-99, emphasis mine).

Those who seek answers to prayers will never be abandoned or left alone by God. Like a tender parent, He nurtures, occasionally chastens, and never forsakes one of His children who remains open to revelation from Him, asks in faith, believes he will receive and diligently obeys. Of that much I am certain.

What I don't always understand perfectly is His timetable. . . and often what His answer looks like when it comes. As I grow older, I frequently find myself saying, "Thy timing be done."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Lifetime of Being "Truly Converted"

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we talk a lot about being "truly converted." There seems to be a silent gradation of testimony among the members. Being converted is not the same as being "truly" converted. Being converted once upon a time is not sufficient to carry one throughout life in mortality. The quality of one's conversion is a lifetime pursuit, one never to be taken for granted or guaranteed for even a moment.

President Lorenzo Snow
Tomorrow's Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society lesson throughout the Church will come from the teachings of President Lorenzo Snow, who tells a moving story about how he initially acquired his testimony. He was baptized and confirmed in June 1836 at the age of 22. Later, he wrote: “I believed they [the Latter-day Saints] had the true religion, and I joined the Church. So far my conversion was merely a matter of reason.” He remembered, “I was perfectly satisfied that I had done what was wisdom for me to do under the circumstances.” Although he was content for a time with this understanding, he soon yearned for a special manifestation of the Holy Ghost. He said, “I had had no manifestation, but I expected one.”

The key element of his story that leaped from the page for me was "I expected one." Do we expect to have spiritual gifts in our lives today? Do we expect answers to our prayers when we offer up our petitions to a loving Father in Heaven? Do we expect to receive eternal life through our faithfulness? It is a common expression among prophets I have known personally to expect miracles when they lay their hands on someone's head. I include in my definition of "prophets" both those who are set apart specifically to lead the Church and those who are not leading anyone but their family members.

Lorenzo Snow continues: “This manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism, as I expected,” he recalled. “But, although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate. One day while engaged in my studies, some two or three weeks after I was baptized, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work — that I had not realized the fulfillment of the promise: ‘He that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine;’ [see John 7:17] and I began to feel very uneasy.

“I laid aside my books, left the house and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer to a grove, a short distance from my lodgings, but at this time I felt no inclination to do so.

“The spirit of prayer had departed, and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel."

Have you experienced the "indescribable cloud of darkness," doubt and even fear in your pursuit of the truth about God? Have you felt discouraged in that pursuit? Have you ignored the promptings you've felt to seek a higher path in spirituality, regardless of which of the many paths leading to religious endeavor you have pursued? This experience of Lorenzo Snow seems all too typical in the mortal realm. It is certainly reminiscent of what happened to Joseph Smith in another grove of trees in upper state New York on a spring morning in 1830. It seems consistent with everyone I have ever known who has confronted and overcome the powers of evil so prevalent in our lives today. That Satan would do all in his power to dismantle one's faith in the pursuit of the knowledge God has promised us should not come as a big surprise.

Then in that moment of despair, Lorenzo continues: “I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and the fulness of the gospel.

“It was a complete baptism — a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt or fear in relation to the fact handed down to us historically, that the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’ is truly the Son of God; also the fact that He is now being revealed to the children of men, and communicating knowledge, the same as in the apostolic times. I was perfectly satisfied, as well I might be, for my expectations were more than realized, I think I may safely say, in an infinite degree.

“I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of this blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element, which filled and surrounded me, began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, with my heart swelling with gratitude to God beyond the power of expression, I felt — I knew that he had conferred on me what only an Omnipotent Being can confer — that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, Chapter 3).

Unlike the "born-again" Christians, many of whom can point to a once-in-a-lifetime moment where they opened their heart to God and received a witness, Lorenzo Snow went forward growing in faith and light and truth from that moment on, never wavering in his formative experience with the witness he received from the Holy Ghost.

And so it is and must be with each of us. We do not believe in a "once and done" kind of conversion. True conversion is a lifetime pursuit. Our initial introduction to the power of the Holy Ghost is only a good beginning.

Later in his life, reflecting upon this early experience, President Snow said: "The foundation upon which we have placed our faith is grand and glorious. I know this for myself. I had been in this Church but a short time when I succeeded in securing the most perfect knowledge that there was a God, that there was a Son, Jesus Christ, and that Joseph Smith was acknowledged of God as His prophet. It was a knowledge that no man could communicate. It came through a revelation from the Almighty. That is a very good starting point for a Latter-day Saint, and it is something that every person, who has any ambition at all to advance in this path, will need at some time or other. He will come into circumstances of such a nature that he will need strength, and that strength will come from a knowledge of the fact that the path in which he is traveling will lead him to the possession of his highest and best desires." (Ibid., emphasis mine).

All who seek truth independently and sincerely are offered this promise at the end of The Book of Mormon:

"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

"And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:3-5).

What person living on the earth today would not want to know and understand "the truth of all things?" In a world filled with contradictory voices seeking to influence others in so many disparate paths, who would not welcome the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide them unerringly back into God's presence? Who would not welcome the gift of discernment to be enabled to sift and distill truth from the chaff that blows in the wind of public opinion indiscriminately?

Lorenzo Snow believed spiritually what he came to know at first only intellectually. He believed the pursuit of light and truth was an ongoing endeavor. Said he, so long ago: "I feel that the Latter-day Saints are advancing; that they are receiving an education. We are getting up higher and higher. We are advancing to a higher condition and sphere and to a higher plane, and we are receiving such an education that the wisdom of the world with all its attainments and false doctrines and principles, will have no effect upon the Latter-day Saints, for they are rising above the theories and hypothesis of human inventions and soaring in things of truth that raise the mind, exalt the understanding, and establishing them[selves] more and more fully in the true principles of life and glory. We are filled in our hearts with these truths and we cannot tell the day or the hour in which our faith has been increased, but we feel, when we look back over the last week, month or year, that we have increased in faith and in the knowledge of faith and power of God; we know that we have got nearer our God and we feel that we are in fellowship with God our Father." (Ibid.).

So my question to all of us is this: How is it we can constantly "be soaring in things of truth" day by day? By what instrumentality is it possible? What is required on our part to make this a reality as we pursue our goals here in mortality? How is it our spiritual progress can be ongoing when our "mortality" constantly impedes our innate desires for spiritual growth?

President Snow has an answer: "Every man has got to learn to stand upon his own knowledge; he cannot depend upon his neighbor; every man must be independent; he must depend upon his God for himself entirely. It depends upon himself to see if he will stem the tide of trouble and overcome the impediments that are strewn in the pathway of life to prevent his progress. A man can get information by the operations of the Holy Spirit, and he approaches to God and increases in his faith in proportion as he is diligent." (Ibid.).

So what is required on our part is diligence. I believe it is inherent in our quest for truth that we become more consistent, more earnest, more inclined to be involved in spiritual pursuits. That includes our reading materials, our proximity to spiritual things, and the choice of our companions in life. Like singing, it is much easier to carry a tune when standing next to an accomplished singer in a choir. Our choice of what we permit into our lives to influence us is in direct proportion to the degree we rise in light and truth. If you want to know whether Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw, don't ask your local Catholic priest what he thinks about it. You can go to God personally in prayer and ask a simple question: "Heavenly Father, did you really call Joseph Smith as a latter-day prophet to restore the ancient church, and did you appear to him in a grove of trees in Palmyra, New York?" That might be followed by a sincere question, "Is The Book of Mormon really true?"

Too many times in life, I believe we do not really want to know the answers to difficult questions for fear we might learn the truth then have to actually do something about the knowledge we receive. And that involves change, something we humans seem loathe to undertake. As I grow older some things tend to go up with little or no effort required by me - my blood pressure, my cholesterol and my weight. Ignoring these vital risk factors with my family history is something I cannot afford to do. Not knowing those numbers actually CAN hurt me, just as not knowing the truth about God and our relationship to Him can hurt us when we are not diligent in seeking Him. Once we are on task, diligently involved in our own individual struggles with the aid of the Holy Ghost to guide us, we begin to accelerate in our spiritual quest. As with my charting my health risk factors which I desire to watch go down, down, down, the inverse relationship with spiritual matters must ideally look like a graph line going up, up, up. These are all individual matters and must be pursued diligently, as President Lorenzo Snow suggests.

In 1882, he would observe, "There are men among us upon whom the Spirit of the Almighty once rested mightily, whose intentions were once as good and pure as those of angels, and who made covenants with God that they would serve Him and keep His commandments under every and all circumstances. . . But how is it now with some of those Elders? They do not feel so to-day. Their affections are set upon the things of this world which the Lord has enabled them to acquire, that they wait now until they are called, and in many instances when called, they obey more out of a desire to retain their standing and position, than a real heart-felt love of the labor to which they may have been called.

"This is the condition of all men, no matter how well they start out, who allow their thoughts and affections to run after the world and its ways, and it is a plain and indisputable proof that when this is the case with men they love the world more than they love the Lord and His work upon the earth. Having received the light of the everlasting Gospel, and partaken of the good things of the kingdom, and being of the seed of Israel and heirs to great and glorious promises, we should labor with fidelity and diligence to accomplish what God has designed to do through us; we should be men and women of faith and power as well as good works, and when we discover ourselves careless or indifferent in the least, it should be sufficient for us to know it in order to mend our ways and return to the path of duty." (Ibid.).

True conversion, lasting lifetime conversion, consists not in making merely a good beginning. There were dozens of men who were close to the Prophet Joseph Smith and had many visions, manifestations, and visitations from heavenly messengers. How, one would ask, could such men then lose their way spiritually? Ask yourselves, if an angel were to appear to me, show me the gold plates from which Joseph translated The Book of Mormon, and then bear a solemn witness to me that God lives and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, would I ever depart from that sure knowledge? Yet many did, even some in the upper room of the Whitney Store in Kirtland who were eyewitnesses of a visitation from the Father and the Son. Some rebelled against Joseph's leadership, as President Snow attests. There truly is a witness more powerful than sight.

It behooves each of us to wake up if we are currently asleep spiritually. When all that we hold dear in this mortality is stripped away, what will we still possess? It will be the priceless witness of who we are as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of God, redeemed from our fallen condition by the Lord Jesus Christ. We must come to understand that absolute truth by the power of the Holy Ghost and know that Joseph Smith restored these precious truths in our day, that we are led by true prophets today, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church upon the earth today that is infinitely and eternally sanctioned by God. (D&C 1:30).

Concludes President Snow: "And if there is any man or woman that is not fairly awake, may the time soon come that the Spirit and power of the Holy Ghost may be upon them, that it may teach them things past, present and to come, and by the assistance of the Lord, plant righteousness and the principle of truth in their systems, that they may be prepared for the storms that are coming." (Ibid.).

The storms will surely come. They will be more intense as time unfolds. Many of the storms of life have already battered us. We wonder how it could be worse than it has already been. But many more will follow. We can find our anchor in Jesus Christ. Said Nephi: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. 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. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen." (2 Nephi 31:20-21).

Elder John A. Widtsoe
Let me offer one final word to those who are troubled by all the political upheaval we are witnessing in America and around the world today. In the midst of the World War II, an almost unimaginable international conflagration the modern world had seldom known, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled people who were worried back then. Nazism was on the march, there was war in the Pacific, and nation after nation seemed to be drawn into war. This is what Brother Widtsoe said in 1942:

"Above the roar of cannon and airplane, the maneuvers and plans of men, the Lord always determines the tide of battle. So far and no farther does He permit the evil one to go in his career to create human misery. The Lord is ever victorious; He is the Master to whose will Satan is subject. Though all hell may rage, and men may follow evil, the purposes of the Lord will not fail." (Conference Report, April 1942, 34).

We are reminded: "The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men." (D&C 3:1-3).

No matter what happens to America in the second term of President Barack Obama, the future is known in advance by God our Heavenly Father, and you may rest assured He has made ample provision for all the contingencies. Let your testimony of God's existence and His reality grow and flourish in the meantime, for He will never leave you comfortless if you are truly converted.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

America's Debt Ceiling and Why It Matters

This explanation of the federal debt ceiling debate and why it matters to every single American citizen is critical to understand:

Unless Congress gets its act together and addresses these issues, America will face a situation where it can no longer pay its bills. The insanity over believing this path can go on and on without reducing spending is hard to fathom.

Senator Mike Lee recently proposed an amendment to the Sandy hurricane relief bill to reduce spending by a very small amount and it was shot down without so much as a fair hearing. The belief that the national credit card has no limit is flawed. Until we get members of Congress who can impose the restraints we need, the country will continue to languish economically through this decade.

Only by throwing off the shackles of government debt and spending can we unleash the innovation and creativity needed to grow us out of the debt overhang. It's called capitalism, and it's the only way we have been able to advance historically.

Social spending for entitlements has killed other European economies and is unsustainable. Just today we learned the CBO projects that in the next 10 years the federal government will be spending 53% of its budget on entitlement programs. The problem should be obvious - where do you get that much in taxes to pay for it all? The revenue has to come from somewhere, and the only "revenue" the government takes in is from taxes. Somebody has to pay for that "warm glow" that is supposed to accompany social engineering to help the poor and needy, and it's always done with OPM - and that means YOUR money.

To think we can somehow rewrite the history of socialism with a happy ending in America is folly.