Saturday, February 28, 2015

Faith in God's Timing

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, "Faith in God includes faith in His timing."

Our newest grand-daughter, Vivienne, has been the latest object of our family faith in recent weeks. Her mother and father, Heidi and Jake, are exercising extraordinary faith in God's timing right now. Heidi, in her candid expressions on their blog will admit waiting in faith upon the timing of God just flat out "sucks" sometimes. Vivi is now at 31 weeks and making slow but steady progress. We celebrate every new day with her and we continue to pray for good timing.

So it is for all of us, if we are as honest as Heidi. So much of the rhythms of our lives seem to contradict what we would choose for ourselves. Life could be so much more convenient if things unfolded the way we intended on our own terms. But many things happen to disrupt our flow.

Think about what life would be like if we lived a third-world country where we were under constant threat of death by decapitation at the hands of some random radical terrorist. I can't imagine living under those conditions, yet many do, and certainly they would choose something different if they could.

We live in a day when assaults on freedom of religion abound. When the living Apostles raise a warning voice, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did this week, and when legislatures craft new legislation designed to make any and all forms of bigotry against religion illegal, we know the Constitution's guarantees for freedom of religion are being eroded.

There are those who live lengthy lives into their nineties, and their quality of life slowly erodes until the end. Day by day their ability to do even the simplest tasks is compromised. Their faith in God is challenged as they wonder aloud, "How much longer, Lord?"

Observing the wickedness of these last days, many ask how much longer the Lord can delay His Second Coming. Is there something in the timing of the Lord that needs to be corrected, we wonder?

The marvelous atonement of Christ covers all these contingencies. This month's lessons for the youth in Sunday School are devoted to the topic of the atonement. It is hard for young people, and even adults, to realize, accept and believe there is nothing His suffering did not contemplate. Sometimes, we feel our suffering is somehow warranted because we know our lives are less than perfect and we reason our suffering must be the just desserts the universe is meting out to us for our dereliction. It is so sad for me to witness people who deny the power of Christ to heal "even this" in their lives, but I understand their doubts. The sure antidote is living long enough to develop the faith in His timing.

Until we are confronted with the realities of evil in our lives and think about having to rely upon the merits of Christ's perfection, seldom does our faith in His timing come into effect. What if our relatives who strayed from the path in mortality really can accept the gospel, seek the ordinances, and have the chance to put themselves on an equal footing with others who were faithful?

We heard yet another testimony from a visiting Area Seventy, Elder Lynn Summerhays at a recent stake conference, that faithful parents can exercise sufficient faith in the Lord's timing that their children will someday return to them. Parents cannot compromise the moral agency of their wayward children by compelling their observance of gospel principles, but they can influence their children through their own faithful and consistent choices. Where else, Elder Summerhays asked, will they go? They will go home to their faithful parents and the warmth of the fire of their faith when every other option expires. Is that not an example of having faith not only in the atonement, but also in the timing of the atonement? I believe that is what Elder Maxwell was telling us.

As I think about Heidi and Jake, I believe I understand the longing of their hearts when it comes to better timing. They would have chosen a full-term pregnancy without any complications at delivery, and a swift exit from the hospital with a healthy baby in arms and a one-time journey home to begin raising their little third-born daughter.

When it comes to me, I would have chosen a successful completion to my working life with enough retirement money to choose something more useful, perhaps, than extending my working life as I take the long ride into the sunset. Timing was everything, and the timing of a world-wide economic meltdown was very inconvenient.

Sometimes callings to serve in the Church seem to come at a time that is anything but convenient. I have often been amazed to see the demands put upon young couples who are establishing themselves in careers, working diligently in the Church and answering the demands of all their children that seem all-consuming.

President Gordon B. Hinckley
The timing in all these circumstances routinely requires super faith, it seems. I loved President Gordon B. Hinckley's infectious optimism:

It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is.
It all works out. Don’t worry.
I say that to myself every morning.
It will all work out.
Put your trust in God,
and move forward with faith
and confidence in the future.
The Lord will not forsake us.
He will not forsake us.
If we will put our trust in Him,
if we will pray to Him,
if we will live worthy of His blessings,
He will hear our prayers.

From the funeral program for Marjorie Pay Hinckley, April 10, 2004; see also “Latter-day Counsel,” Ensign, October 2000, 73.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mortality - Keep Building in Faith

I have lived long enough to know something about the ironies of life. We recently celebrated my father's 93rd birthday with a quiet homemade dinner of Dad's favorites. Then he engaged with us in a light-hearted banter about what he should say to people when they ask, "How are you doing?" Does he give them a blow by blow account of all his ailments? Or is it best to answer with the usual, "Fine," which in his case is a bald-faced lie. It's a dilemma for an old man who hesitates to buy green bananas these days because he may not live long enough to enjoy them. I hasten to assure my readers there is no imminent threat to him that we know about, but at age 93 anything can happen as he searches for the exit door to mortality.

Four generations removed from old age is our newest addition to our family, little Vivienne, who was admitted today to Primary Children's Hospital for closer observation. She was born prematurely at the U of U Medical Center last week at 26 weeks, and is now valiantly clinging to life in her fragile little frame and fighting an intestinal infection. We are united in our fasting and prayers on her behalf again today as a family. In her case, unlike Dad's, we pray she may stay with us on this side of the veil and not be shown the exit door quite yet. We long for a miraculous outcome, that she may rid her body of this infection and prosper so she may grow to adulthood. We believe in miracles.

Whatever the outcome in either Dad's or Vivienne's case, mortality comes in long and short versions. I have been pondering today just how imperative the constancy and consistency of our faith in God must become regardless of the details of our individual lives. We really have very little control over the outcomes in mortality. Just when it appears we have taken control of our lives and things are rolling along smoothly, it seems conditions change abruptly and sometimes unexpectedly for the worse, and our dependency on God becomes paramount. In those times when we say to ourselves, "I've got this one, God," we are brought up short and our faith in Him is put to a test not of man's devising that buckles our knees under the weight of the burden. It is all part of our mortal existence.

For some reason this morning, I was drawn to the historical record of the early pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley for an example of perseverance and diligence in the face of almost insurmountable opposition and long odds for a successful and happy outcome. Despite all their hardships, stout pioneers were able to sing in unison, "All is well, all is well."

President Brigham Young
On July 28, 1847, four days after his arrival in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, President Brigham Young stood upon the exact spot now occupied by the iconic Salt Lake Temple and boldly declared to his companions who had barely managed to survive the long prairie and steep mountain trek, "Here [we will build] the Temple of our God!" (James H. Anderson, "The Salt Lake Temple," Contributor 6 [April 1893]: 243).

The southeast corner of the temple grounds in Salt Lake City forms the baseline and meridian on the original plats as designed by Brigham Young. All addresses radiate outward from that point in all four directions, and Temple Square as it later came to be known covers an eighth of a square mile. At the time the pioneers were destitute, but the first thing Brigham Young said they would do is build a temple that would stand through the Millennium and beyond into eternity. There was no thought about the money they didn't have, the timbers that hadn't been located, or where the granite would come from. No thought was given just yet to how they would house themselves during the upcoming winter. They had no way of knowing crickets would descend and devour their first crops. Nor could they have known the United States Army would be dispatched to assure their destruction. Instead, they broke ground, unaware that the vision of Brigham Young would take 40 years to materialize.

So it is with us. Dad's life today stands as a testament to moving ahead in faith without knowing the end result. The ravages of World War II disrupted many millions of lives. Uncertainty about the future was rampant. Predictions of the Second Coming being imminent were pervasive. Things haven't changed much, it seems, as Vivienne's uncertain future in 2015 also hangs in the balance today. I wonder, will we shrink in fear of the unknown, or will we persist in faith and triumph over mortality's demands despite the opposition?

The work on the Salt Lake Temple seems so analogous to the work we put into our own lives. The excavation for the basement required hand digging trenches that were twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep. The rock beneath the desert hard pan soil seemed immovable. It is estimated the digging for the foundation required nine thousand man days of labor. When they saw the magnitude of what Brother Brigham was envisioning, some must have faltered wondering why it had to be so big and if his vision of futurity were somehow faulty and over-reaching.

Salt Lake Temple
But Brigham Young had a vision. He expressed it to our rugged pioneer ancestors in these words: "I do not like to prophesy much, . . . but I will venture to guess that this day, and the work we have performed on it, will long be remembered by this people, and be sounded as with a trumpet's voice throughout the world. . . . Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. [I stood] not ten feet from where we have laid the chief corner stone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was [fully] represented before me." (Anderson, Contributor, 257-58).

As we set about to live our faithful lives in mortality, I am also reminded we come in for our share of adversity and opposition, just as Brigham Young observed, "We never began to build [any] temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring." (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book, 1973, 410). That principle is true of temples like our physical bodies of flesh, blood and bone, and temples made of granite.

When the foundation work was done, Johnston's Army set out for the Salt Lake Valley to go to war with "the Mormons." Despite all the hard work they had done to date, President Young made provisions to evacuate and, if necessary, to destroy the entire city behind them to avoid armed conflict. The hole and the footings and foundation were buried again so the temple site looked like an open field. How disheartening to make such a diligent and faith-filled beginning, only to suffer the setback because of the imposition of others. How much like that is our own lives? We chart a course, we take control, we move ahead, only to be pushed back to the starting line again and again.

Once the threat of war subsided and the Army left, the pioneers returned to their homes and then painstakingly began uncovering the foundation and removing all the material from the excavated basement structure. To their dismay they discovered the sandstone had cracked and also had to be removed. Granite was offered as the preferred building blocks, but the materials were twenty miles away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Imagine the degree of difficulty! Precise design and dimensions of every one of the thousands of granite stones to be used had to be meticulously measured in the architect's office and then shaped individually by skilled stone cutters. Progress was excruciatingly slow and tedious. The first layer of six hundred stones took three years to complete. It seemed no one could discern any progress being made at all. Have you ever felt progress in your own life was seemingly impossible? I have likened progress in my life to watching my toenails grow. It's imperceptible. You seem to take one step forward and two steps back. Discouragement can often become our constant companion. The opposition we face tends to wilt our faith and the temptation to curse God and quit trying so hard becomes overwhelming at times.

But the persistent Saints of those early days never stopped trying and coming up with new and ingenious ideas. A canal on which to convey the massive granite blocks was begun and a great deal of labor and money expended on it, but it was finally aborted. Other ideas were tried and abandoned, but eventually using teams of oxen and reinforced wagons proved to be the preferred method. Throughout two decades, teams of oxen could be seen almost every day of the year toiling to haul one massive granite block to the temple site.

Then came the arrival of the railroad during that time. Workers abandoned the temple for three years to work for the more lucrative wages offered by the railroad companies. Twice during those years, grasshopper invasions sent the workers into full-time summer combat with the insects.

By mid-1871, fully two decades and untold misery after it had been begun, the walls of the temple were barely visible above ground. Through all those years, President Young seemed to be in no hurry. "The Temple will be built as soon as we are prepared to use it," he often said. His faith was so unwavering, and his vision of futurity so fixed in his mind that amid all the hardships they were suffering he announced plans to build temples in St. George, Manti and Logan. Who of us is left with an excuse for faltering under the weight of our burdens in the face of such faith, diligence and commitment to a dream like that?

"Can you accomplish the work, you Latter-day Saints of these several counties?" he asked. And then, not waiting for their reply, he affirmed, "Yes; that is a question I can answer readily. You are perfectly able to do it. The question is, have you the necessary faith? Have you sufficient of the Spirit of God in your hearts to say, yes, by the help of God our Father we will erect these buildings to his name? . . . Go to now, with your might and with your means and finish this Temple." (Anderson, Contributor, 267). When I look for examples of inspired leadership, I seldom have to look beyond Brigham Young. Our pioneer ancestors never flinched nor doubted. They went forward in faith with their might and put to rest their doubts and fears. And so must we.

When President Brigham Young died in 1877, the temple was not yet twenty feet above the ground. Ten years later, his successor, President John Taylor, and the temple's original architect, Truman O. Angell, were dead as well. The side walls were finally up to the square, ready for construction of the roof.

Complicating progress in the final stages of completion was the imposition by Congress of the infamous Edmunds-Tucker Act. It had the effect of disincorporating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and putting the Church into receivership. The U.S. Marshal, under a court order, seized the temple. The object of their blood, sweat and tears was wrested away from them and put into the hands of their enemies, the very group who had often boasted that the Latter-day Saints would never be permitted to finish the building.

But in this latter-day extremity, God was also with these modern children of Israel, as He always has been and always will be. They did all they could do and left the rest in His hands. Then the Red Sea parted before them, and they walked through on firm, dry ground.

On April 6, 1893, the Saints as a body were filled with joy. After 40 long years they had cut out of the mountain a granite temple that would become their offering, a mountain of the Lord, where He could reside. The streets that day were jammed with upwards of 50,000 people.

Inside the Tabernacle President Wilford Woodruff, visibly moved by the significance of the moment, said: "If there is any scene on the face of this earth that will attract the attention of the God of heaven and the heavenly host, it is the one before us today — the assembling of this people, the shout of 'Hosanna!' the laying of the topstone of this Temple in honor to our God." (Anderson, Contributor, 270). Then, moving outside, he laid the capstone in place exactly at high noon.

In the writing of one who was there, "The scene that followed is beyond the power of language to describe." Lorenzo Snow, beloved president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came forward to lead the Saints in the Hosanna Shout. Every hand held a handkerchief and every eye was filled with tears. One said the very "ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound" which echoed off the tops of the mountains. "A grander or more imposing spectacle than this ceremony of laying the Temple capstone is not recorded in history." (Anderson, Contributor, 273). It was finally and forever finished.

The prestigious Scientific American referred to this majestic new edifice as a "monument to Mormon perseverance." And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

The best things in life are always worth finishing. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). You are worth finishing. As long and laborious as our efforts to build our lives may seem in mortality, may God grant us the courage of our pioneer ancestors to keep shaping and setting our stones in place to make of our faith and our diligence "a grand and imposing spectacle."

Whether we are at the end of our mortal path or the very beginning, there is life on the other side of the veil in both directions for as far as our minds can imagine. I pray we may take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, dream our dreams, see visions of futurity to bless our families, work toward their realization, wait patiently when we have no other choice, lean on our sword and rest a while when we must, but get up and fight again.

It is not unimaginable that like Brigham Young, we may not live in morality long enough to see the completion of all our dreams in our lifetime. But if we live well, work in faith and build something lasting, our children will, or our children's children will, until finally we, with all of them, can stand by and see the salvation of our God. He will surely crown our efforts with eternal life as he did Father Abraham who expended the last ounce of his faith after waiting 90 long years for posterity. . .

But today we wait upon God with our faith in tact for a miracle if it be His will. And we submit to yet another Abrahamic test.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

My World View - Amended

This has been a memorable few weeks. It has been filled with events of deep significance for us, beginning with the Christmas holidays when we spent a lot of time together with our family.

We had a special treat the first Saturday in January. Patsy had always longed for a sleigh ride with all the kids here at the Ranch, so I connected with Kim Richins out of Coalville, and he brought a matched team of black Percherons and hitched them to his twenty-passenger sleigh for two hours of fun. It was so great! Andrew and Jessica were taking some holiday time off from the rigors of medical school, and their visit was the catalyst for getting everyone here.

Next up was three weeks of business-related travel for Packsize that took us out to the Eastern Caribbean for the annual sales meeting aboard the Carnival Freedom cruise ship. Our ports of call included San Juan in Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Thomas, Nassau in the Bahamas, then on to Germany for a week of training with the sales team in the the European Business Unit at Herford. What a cultural feast this past month has been!

The day after our return last week, Jake and Heidi were blessed with yet another miracle baby, Vivienne, who was born three months early, weighing in at 2 lb. 6 oz. at a length of 13 inches! Mother and baby are doing well. You can read all about her and their journey through the vicissitudes of infertility and anencephaly by clicking the link to their blog.

When you travel, if you are like me, you spend a few hours in various ports of call and you come away with distinct impressions that last a lifetime. This last month for me was particularly meaningful because I got to return to ground I had not seen for 46 years!

My parents came to England in 1969 to pick me up from my mission. They had not seen Europe, and thought it would be a memorable time to make that trip, even though it was winter in early February. Our itinerary included England, Holland, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal. High on their list of things to do was to visit historical sights, including museums, cathedrals, and even a night at the ballet in Paris for me and Mom. Dad wasn't interested in ballet.

My purpose in recalling that memory has everything to do with my week in Germany last week. I had a chance to return to Berlin.

When I was there in 1969, Berlin was a divided city, and Germany had been partitioned after World War II. It was divided among the Allies who defeated Hitler to assure that Germany never repeated that debacle. The Berlin Wall was the iconic symbol representing the worst features of the Cold War raging between America and the USSR. We had just come from Amsterdam and Poland where we reviewed the history of the rise and the fall of the Third Reich, and it was a chilling and sobering chapter. We rode trains from Amsterdam to Poland, where the highlights included visits to Anne Frank's home and Auschwitz. We then went to Dusseldorf and Berlin on trains.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
My youthful mind was filled with those images and, frankly, Germany scared me. As the miles on the crowded trains flew by with my parents I wondered if we would somehow get trapped behind enemy lines and never return to America. Remember, it's 1969, and nothing's really going on in Europe except the Cold War and there's a war in far-off Vietnam nobody cares anything about. I knew as I prepared to return home I would have to go into the Army, but I wasn't nearly as concerned about that as I was about getting out of Germany that day.

The memories of that visit to Berlin in 1969 persisted into my adult life. We went through the Berlin Wall into East Germany on a two-hour visit permit. The warning posted at the checkpoint, "YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR," did nothing but chill me to the bone. On the other side of the Wall, it was so disheartening to observe firsthand the effects of Communism on the buildings, the people and the cold winter scenes we witnessed. People in the streets were huddled around barrels burning whatever they could find to stay warm and scrounging for food. Our guide drove slowly and ignored the pleas for help. "If you help one, you have to help them all," he informed us. Everything was old and dilapidated. There had been little progress under Communist rule since the War had ended. The oppression, the fear and the menacing overhang of soldiers everywhere was foreboding to me. The concrete tenement buildings for the workers were drab and uninviting. Today some of those tenements have been reclaimed and updated as upscale and pricey condominiums, but you get off the main thoroughfares and our tour guide talked about "open ownership" to properties that no one has claimed and they remain as dilapidated as they were in 1969 when I was there last. I couldn't wait to get back out of there. Freedom had never been so precious to me.

Brandenburg Gate today
Fast forward to last week. We picked up a tour bus on a Saturday morning. It was almost the same time of year, once again only two weeks different than my experience in 1969. It was still winter, and Berlin that Saturday morning was very cold with light snow in the air. But this time the difference was there were no soldiers, only their ghosts and my distant memories. We breezed through the streets of the old East Berlin with ease on the tour bus. Because we took that portion of the tour first, our guide let us stop and spend time wherever we chose to do, and we enjoyed that leisurely approach very much.

There are still stretches of the old Berlin Wall left. The tour guide spoke frequently of the "GDR" days and the days since under reunification that began when the Wall finally figuratively disintegrated overnight in 1989. In evidence everywhere is the slow but steady progress that has occurred since my first visit in 1969. However, my colleague in Packsize, Jan Spiekermann, who is a German citizen, informed me last week there is still a deduction from every one of his paychecks for the rebuilding effort that will be ongoing for many years to come.

The train travel has advanced dramatically. We were speeding along in ICE trains at about 125 mph during this visit, a stark contrast to the crowded and slower trains I remembered from my youth.

Victory Column, Berlin
A total of two days in a lifetime spent in Berlin does not an expert make. Let me make that declaration here and now. But the differences in what I observed then and now cannot be denied. These are the reasons I have lamented with amazement so frequently on these pages that America would intentionally embrace socialism and a socialist POTUS in recent years when they could have had Mitt Romney. Didn't we all learn the lesson that Communism was a dismal failure? Did we need any other reminder that socialism, as practiced in Berlin and the GDR in post-World War II years produced nothing but depression and dismal economic failure? Can't we all agree that politicians espousing such economic policies should be ignored and shunned at the ballot box? God help us all that when Barack Obama's term comes to a merciful end in November, 2016, that we never sign up for a repeat of THAT ever again in America.

If you believe there is merit in socialism in the least of its shades and hues to any degree, I'd suggest you study history, then make a visit to Berlin sometime. I think you'll come away from that exercise convinced that socialism offers nothing to those who love freedom. The promise of a better life to the masses by taking from the rich is a lie. It was then, it still is today.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Today in Berlin there are reminders everywhere of the horrors of war. I thought it was no more clearly illustrated than a visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Its bombed-out skeletal remains stand next to the modern rebuilt sanctuary as a reminder that war destroys. Those modern memorials also remind Germans that, after all, Hitler was an Austrian in Germany only long enough to claim citizenship that enabled him to stay there legally. He has been totally disavowed by modern-day Berliners. Our past as nations and individuals can define and advise our future in very significant ways to find a more productive and prosperous way forward if we choose it.

Holocaust museums and memorials are abundant there. Germany continues to prosper under the democracy in place there as the anchor to the European Union. These facts alone should be ample evidence, sufficient to tamp down any thoughts of returning to socialism in any way. But government solutions tend to pop up everywhere despite the lessons of history. That reality dismays me, though I can do little but comment about it. I believe, however, the power of ideas related to freedom ultimately appeal to our Father in Heaven's children wherever they live on this earth.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin
Sadly, however, mankind seems almost incapable of remembering and taking a different course. Conflicts around the globe today persist. We don't call them wars these days, and the current administration in Washington seems reluctant to admit we are in a war with a radical strain of Islam. Make no mistake, however, there are still people out there who would kill Americans if they could. The enemies of freedom will persist because Satan inspires some to think they can conquer and subdue the human spirit by compelling them into bondage that takes many forms. We may not think we are at war with them, but they have no other desire than to topple America and the freedoms she stands for around the world. The ancient and ever-present war between good and evil will always be with us.

It was my children in 1989, who informed me upon returning from school one November day that "some wall in Europe came down today." I said, "You mean the Berlin Wall?" "Yeah, that's it," was their answer. I was stunned. Overnight a miracle had happened, and just that fast the end of the Cold War came without a single shot being fired. The total collapse of the Soviet empire had come to an unbelievable, swift and merciful end.

Ronald Reagan, 1987
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II had been right to confront the evil of their day. Reagan's bold demand at the Brandenburg Gate to Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," had been miraculously fulfilled. It was shocking. Berliners on both sides of the wall took to the streets in celebration. Freedom at last!

So based upon their tortured past with major wars in nearly every century of their history, let's take a lesson from the Germans - recovering from the effects of wars takes many more years than we can imagine, and the drain on productivity and progress is almost impossible to calculate.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On Becoming a First Watch Disciple

After reading yesterday's post, someone sent me an e-mail asking, "Do we really have to wait on God until the very last minute before we can be rescued?" As I pondered an answer to that question, I reflected on whether or not there might be an exception to the fourth watch observations I had made.

The world about us is increasingly chaotic and troublesome. In recent days as 2014 ebbed to a close, we have witnessed unrest in the streets of America over racial tensions arising from police shootings of black teenagers and the seemingly retaliatory brutal assassination in Brooklyn of two of New York's finest. We can debate the causes for this uprising, but that is not the point. Our collective faith and determination to right our national ship of state must continue to be in evidence in the days and years ahead, or we will default to this kind of lawlessness in the streets.

The imagery of a ship being tossed to and fro on the mighty deep is a familiar theme in the scriptures. It could be true for nations as well as individuals. As my little individual ship is tossed to and fro amid the mighty waves of mortality, like the barges Mahonri Moriancumer built, I have become convinced it must be “tight like unto a dish,” otherwise it would have sunk a long time ago.  (See Ether 2:17).

There is insight here that is priceless. The barges in the scriptural account are prepared for a journey to the promised land. The journey would provide “waves of the sea,” “winds,” “rains and floods,” and even “mountain waves.” The account tells us “the winds have gone forth out of my mouth” – in other words, God is the cause of the wind that causes the mountain waves. So why didn’t Moriancumer just say to the Lord when asked how to solve the problem of the light in the vessels, “Lord, why don't you just NOT blow the wind so hard?” However, leaving the problem to be solved by Moriancumer, the Lord offered this comfort:  “I prepare you against these things.” (Ether 2:23-25). Note, the preparation the Lord was focusing on here was Moriancumer's personal preparation for that which was to come, not on preparing the vessels, which was Moriancumer's primary objective. I think, painful as it is right now, that we are being prepared for the Lord's Second Coming.

C.S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis said lots of cool stuff, and this is just one example:

. . .ye cannot in your present state understand eternity. . . But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . . all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. . . That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences:" little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven," and the Lost, "We were always in Hell." And both will speak truly. (Lewis, C. S., The Great Divorce, a Dream. HarperSanFrancisco, (c)1946, 1973, 2001, 69).

As perhaps an addendum to what I wrote about yesterday and in answer to the e-mail writer's concern, I can declare there is one area in our lives where the Lord is a “First Watch God.” Whenever I have sought to be forgiven in my life His response is always immediate and overwhelming. Have you ever been so “filled with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh?” (2 Nephi 4:21). I have. When we repent and come unto Him seeking forgiveness, the response is instantaneous. I can cite several scriptural examples from The Book of Mormon to prove the point.

Enos tells us he received an immediate answer to his plea for forgiveness:

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.  (Enos 1:2-8, emphasis mine).

Amaleki, when he began to be old, said by way of invitation and promise:

And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.  (Omni 1:26, emphasis mine).

King Benjamin’s people were forgiven instantly:

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.  (Mosiah 4:2-3, emphasis mine).

Zeezrom, one of the infamous converted Anti-Christs, was similarly healed:

And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.  (Alma 15:6-12, emphasis mine).

Ammon, who converted King Lamoni, described it this way:

And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.
And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people. . .  (Alma 18:40-41).
[Then he’s in a little trance for awhile, and when he awakens he declares to his wife the queen:]
And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.
For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.  (Alma 19:12-13, emphasis mine).

The queen also received instant help when she awakened with this testimony on her lips:

And it came to pass that she went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!  (Alma 19:29, emphasis mine).

Then Lamoni’s father gets immediate forgiveness when Aaron teaches him:

And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.  (Alma 22:15-18).
[Then he too sleeps for awhile and when he awakens, this:]
Now this was done in the presence of the queen and many of the servants.  And when they saw it they greatly marveled, and began to fear.  And the king stood forth, and began to minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord.  (Alma 22:23, emphasis mine).

When Alma later told his conversion story, he related how quickly salvation came to him:

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.  (Alma 36:17-21, emphasis mine).

Even the wicked people who came to kill Lehi and Nephi, sons of Helaman, received an instantaneous deliverance:

And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.
And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.
And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession.  (Helaman 5:44-52, emphasis mine).

We live in a day when hatred among people of different ethnic backgrounds (think Lamanite and Nephite civilizations) extend back to the beginning of Abraham’s tribal family feuds. All are related to Father Abraham, but the differences between these peoples are often dramatized and exacerbated, much as the race relations in America rise to unwarranted heights when the flames are fanned as they are today. Ishmael was saved in the wilderness to give rise to a vast Islamic world population today, a small percentage of which is wreaking havoc not unlike the Gadianton robbers of another time. Who can doubt when we read of these miraculous conversions that the same thing could not happen again as liberty and freedom spreads abroad in the war against terrorism today? Despotism, while it may flourish here and there for a season, cannot be sustained. It is the yearning for freedom, however, that endures.

When we seek forgiveness, there is no doubt the God we worship is a "First Watch God."  But that degree of forgiveness implies we must do “all that we could do” (see Alma 24:11; 15) to receive the blessings sought. The key lies not in God’s power to grant. The key that unlocks salvation in our lives rests in our hands – when we knock, He opens immediately. As powerful as the atonement is, it never has power in our lives until we give Him permission to heal us.

Hugh Nibley
I love the perspective of Hugh Nibley, who when asked to sum up all he had learned, replied that we must become really good at two things in mortality - to repent and to forgive. He fleshes it out this way:

The test for this life is not for knowledge; it is not for intelligence, or for courage, or for anything like that. That would be a huge joke. None of us knows very much, none of us is very brave, none of us is very strong, none of us is very smart. We would flunk those tests terribly. As Alma said, we are only to be tested on one thing - the desires of our heart (Alma 41:3); that is what we are really after. . . Thus we don't need to go on forever suffering the same nonsense in order to see the things we can be tested for, namely the two things and the only two things we are good at: we can forgive and we can repent. These are the two things the angels envy us for. (Approaching Zion, 300-301).

In Luke 17, the Lord Jesus Christ admonishes the disciples to “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4).

He raises the stakes even higher in our dispensation with this: “My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:8-10).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
If that is the standard He expects of us, isn’t it reasonable to suppose we could expect Him to do at least as much for us when we need forgiveness – even if it’s seven times in a single day? But how do we get to be so good at forgiveness just like Him? Practice, practice, practice. We are organized into families for that express purpose, so that we may have (as Neal A. Maxwell used to say) “laboratory material” on which to work.

I know that small slights and offenses are all part of rubbing against each other. I know I may have been the cause of some of that among all of you, and for that I seek your forgiveness. Such was never my intent to hurt anyone. But it happens. I try to do my best and years go by, it seems, before I take action to make needed repairs. Like many of you, I am a great procrastinator, but I hope to be better and better as the slippery slope before me and death looms ever more slippery. I love you all and I seek your forgiveness for whatever it is I may have done, not done, or said or not said to have given offense.

In that spirit, while toiling forward in my discipleship late into the Fourth Watch and beyond, my desire is to become a First Watch Disciple who dispenses immediate forgiveness and seeks to swiftly repent as often as seven times a day when needed. That it may be so for all of us, I pray.

And don't be surprised, having done all you know how to do in the way of repenting, if the wait for deliverance continues on for a little while longer. It's all part of your preparation to bring you forth a little more burnished and finished from the fires of adversity. In the immortal words of Earl Hayes, "Pure gold was never refined in an air-conditioned chamber."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

We Worship a Fourth Watch God

On this Christmas afternoon in Pine Valley, the snow is piling up, the trees are adorned in a covering of white, and I'm listening to Christmas carols in the quietude of the scene spread before me. I'm in a reflective mood, and cleaning up some old files on the computer. I found an entry I had written during a bleak time of doubt and fear about the future. All these years later things did work out for us. I wrote these words when the hour was the darkest, just before the dawn's light began to shine. The answers that had seemed so elusive eventually emerged, and yielded themselves after persistence, faith, hard work and consistency. This was "self talk" back then, now I share it with those who may be toiling in the darkest time of their lives:

Several years ago I was given a Christmas gift that endures. It was a talk on CD given by Michael Wilcox titled “The Fourth Watch.” It was right on point for us. Echoing back to me in my ears was the advice and counsel I have given to so many over the years. But looking back, it’s always different when you’re the one in the barrel going over the falls. It’s so much easier to be the dispenser than the recipient. I am grateful to Julie for giving us this gift of inestimable worth to remind us that even when it seems we are receiving no answers that there is still hope to be found in the journey!

A useful bit of historical trivia to help you understand the New Testament scriptures: Brother Wilcox explains that the Hebrew day was divided into four three-hour segments beginning at 6:00 a.m. The third hour is 9:00 a.m., the sixth hour is noon, and the ninth hour (when the scriptures say the Savior was crucified) is 3:00 p.m.

At night, the three-hour segments are divided into “watches.” The first watch is 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., the second watch is 9:00 p.m. to midnight, the third watch is midnight to 3:00 a.m., and the fourth watch – the object lesson of his talk – is 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

He teaches some powerful principles to those of us who have toiled in faith, seemingly with no answers coming our way. He gives the example of the Savior’s walk on the water as the illustration. Many of you, perhaps, have not come to realize yet that His coming to the troubled and weary disciples who had rowed all night on the Sea of Galilee was in the darkest and most foreboding time of the night – just before dawn.

He had fed the multitudes earlier in the day (five thousand men plus the women and children), sent them away, and told the disciples to get into a ship and row to the other side. Then the scriptures say (Matthew 14:23) he “went up into a mountain apart to pray,” and he must have prayed into the evening and well into the night all alone.

Meanwhile, the ship “was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” Mark in his record (Mark 6:48) adds the detail that “he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.” John says “it was now dark, and the Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs (a “furlong" is about 220 yards, so you do the math – they were no doubt tired and exhausted by now), they see Jesus walking on the sea.” (John 6:17-19).

Well, what are the lessons to be learned by this extreme example from the scriptures? 1) He sees us toiling in our discipleship from a vantage point far higher and more superior to ours; 2) He knows we are often exhausted and apt to grumble about our circumstances, yet loves us anyway; 3) He has power over all the elements that conspire to create the waves of adversity and has the power to calm them; 4) He tells us not to be afraid. I would add one more – when He does come to us in the fourth watch “immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” (John 6:21).  In other words, the timetable of when He comes to us is His not ours, and when the time is fully ripe in the fourth watch it seems the miracle is immediate.

Brother Wilcox suggests that we worship a “fourth watch” God. I used to say, “God loves a cliffhanger.” It seems when all help is seemingly spent, when the last extremity has been reached, then and only then – in the fourth watch – does He respond in mercy and kindness. I suppose that fact is mandated in discipleship to determine whether or not we will really – REALLY – learn to trust Him.

Brother Wilcox cites the example of Hagar with Ishmael in the wilderness, when the “water was spent in the bottle.” (Genesis 21:15). He gently chides her with “What aileth thee, Hagar?” Oh, I don’t know, she had just been cast out of Abraham’s household, was at the point of starvation and dehydration, near death, and she could not have had much to complain about, could she?  He told her (and all of us) that someday, “I will make him a great nation” (verse 18). God “opened her eyes” when all hope was lost and “she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (verse 19). He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Another example was the widow in Zarephath who was commanded to sustain Elijah in the moment of his extremity, when all she had was “a little water in a vessel,” and "a morsel of bread,” “a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse,” just enough to make her last meal for herself and her son in preparation of their death. (1 Kings 17:8-16). The promise was once again fulfilled, and “the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.” He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

I’ve also wondered about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac (see Genesis 22).  In that example I have learned not to fear the long hike up the mountain of preparation. I’ve learned to embrace the tests that come along the way. And I’ve learned that by accepting the invitation to join the church of the Firstborn, consecration defies (and is in direct contradiction) to the natural man within us. There is no evidence that Isaac resisted even a little bit. He went forward in his uncertainty trusting his father. “Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called upon him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (verses 10-12). Again, He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Extreme examples? Yes, each one. But are our lives any less dramatic? When all seems to be lost in our lives, we can paint ourselves into these stories and learn to trust God at all costs. That’s what the path of discipleship is all about, and yes, it is a dangerous doctrine.

What is coming up ahead of us on the path of discipleship as we live our lives on borrowed time well into the sixth seal is a darker night and more fierce winds on the sea. It will take fourth watch faith if we are to successfully navigate our dark night of stormy seas up ahead. But remember, He WILL come even in our fourth watches!

We really do worship a Fourth Watch God! He hears your desperate pleas for help. He will succor you in your afflictions. He will be merciful and kind.