Saturday, April 18, 2015

"He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions"

Enough days have passed since a recent automobile accident that I can finally write about it. Up until three weeks ago all my near death experiences had involved horses. Now I can add a one-car roll over to that list.

It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was near home on my way from the office. The skies were clear, the air was warm, it was a perfect spring day. The stealthy all-electric Nissan Leaf I was driving was silently humming along. I put the car on cruise control at the posted speed limit, 50 mph. That was my last conscious memory until the car left the highway and started tumbling.

I hit a tree on the passenger side, and the force of the accident flipped it in midair and landed it on all four wheels in the opposite direction I had been traveling. The force of the impact came from the rear, smashing six of my ribs in my back. When the car came to rest I was strapped into my seat belt surrounded by destruction. All the windows were broken and shattered, and the interior was mangled beyond recognition. All the air bags deployed and I found myself in a protective cocoon inside the car. The car was a total loss.

I first moved my hands that had sustained some broken glass scratches and nicks, then my arms and legs, then my neck. I tried to reach for my cell phone, but the pain in my back was excruciating and I couldn't get it out of my pocket. I knew I had broken ribs, but I also knew my spine was not involved. I would live. I didn't lose consciousness throughout the ordeal. A passing motorist called for help on his cell phone and alerted Patsy.

In due time the paramedics arrived with an ambulance and I was transported on a back board with a neck brace to the emergency room at the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake. The trip was nearly unbearable as I felt every bump in the road and the pain registered in my back.

I will spare the readers all the medical details. Suffice it to say I had never stayed overnight in a hospital in my entire life as a patient. I was told pain management was the only thing medicine had to offer me with my broken ribs. The trauma team put me through a CT scan from head to toe, and discovering no other injuries other than the cracked ribs, offered surgery to mend the bones with titanium plates on the six ribs, but when they described the benefits their case was not compelling enough to me. I opted for no surgery. They loaded me up with eight different meds in varying cocktails until they found a combination and frequency that worked. I was there for three days. Oxygen was added to aid my breathing.

When I left to go home, I discovered everything had changed and I had to begin again with even rudimentary tasks like learning how to go to the bathroom again with regularity. Showering was painful, but efficacious and it felt wonderful. Tiny shards of glass kept appearing as I showered and I meticulously picked them out of my skin. Eating was a chore, and nothing tasted right. My head was spinning. I was light-headed and dizzy. For those who talk about the benefits of masking pain with narcotics, I found them to be the antithesis of a desired life. I was walking with a walker to keep my balance, and I was admonished to practice my deep breathing to avoid pneumonia. Sleeping in a bed was nearly impossible, and I finally gave that up in favor sitting up in an overstuffed couch with pillows bracing my back. I was awake most nights, slept most days, and I found it difficult to discern the difference between night and day. Patsy was setting an alarm every two hours during the night and day to administer my meds.

Then, finally, after a week of all that at home I decided I'd had enough. I told her no more meds. I wanted to discover what my baseline of pain was without the meds, so I quit everything one night to see what would happen. I awoke to discover that I had slept and the pain was tolerable. Soon thereafter I quit the oxygen. By the time I went in for a follow-up exam with my doctor about a week and a half after the accident, I was walking unaided without oxygen and my blood was sustaining normal oxygenation levels again. His comment: "Your speedy recovery is an indication that your underlying health profile is excellent."

Based upon what I had been told at the hospital, I had expected 6 to 8 weeks of agonizing pain in the recovery process. In fact, I had gone back to the office and was driving again after 2 1/2 weeks.

I still feel some pain, but it is manageable. I am sleeping on both sides in bed without pain. My energy and stamina are still lagging, but I feel so blessed. My bruised and broken body is healing rapidly.

The rest of the story is that on scene at the accident site, the tow truck driver who came, along with the paramedics and the local police and volunteer fire department were all members of my ward. Patsy insisted that they give me a blessing before I was transported to the hospital, which they did. Then at the emergency room my sons who were nearby gathered and gave me another priesthood blessing. I was not appointed unto death (see D&C 42:48), and I am still healing and living on in mortality for purposes yet unknown to me. I am so grateful for this merciful deliverance. But for an inch or two here or there in that event, the outcome might have been very different.

Fifteen years ago this week, my mother passed away after a courageous battle with ovarian cancer. I became aware of her presence seated next to me last week in the chapel of the Woodland Ward at our fast and testimony meeting. I felt a distinct impression from her, "The time for us to be reunited is not yet. You have a work yet to do." My father, who still lives and is 93, was less comforting. He reminded me that I had arbitrarily taken away his car keys and sold his car to prevent this very kind of thing from happening to him. And now it had happened to me. Touche, father.

I have no idea what that work might involve, but I know I have gained added perspective on the suffering of our Savior in this Easter season. Never again when I read or sing the words about His broken and bruised body bleeding at every pore will I not personally connect and have immediate recognition of the degree of pain that was inflicted upon Him in the agonizing hours preceding His death and resurrection. While I may never know in full what that pain might have been, I have come to appreciate only in a small part what He must have suffered for each of us.

"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell offers this perspective:

". . . we are told that Jesus took upon Himself the infirmities of all of us in order 'that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.' (Alma 7:12. Italics added.) Being sinless Himself, Jesus could not have suffered for personal sin nor known what such agony is — unless He took upon Him our sins, not only to redeem us and to save us, but also in order that He might know how 'according to the flesh . . . to succor his people according to their infirmities.' A stunning insight!

"Thus the compassion of the divine Jesus for us is not the abstract compassion of a sinless individual who would never so suffer; rather, it is the compassion and empathy of One who has suffered exquisitely, though innocent, for all our sins, which were compounded in some way we do not understand. Though He was sinless, yet He suffered more than all of us. We cannot tell Him anything about suffering. This is one of the inner marvels of the atonement of Jesus Christ!" (Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, 35).

May we come to appreciate and understand what His liberating agony in Gethsemane and on Golgotha might mean to each of us, is my prayer.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"I Give Unto Men WEAKNESS"

In our meetings in the Church, there is a scripture that is often quoted to illustrate that God gives men their weaknesses in the flesh, and therefore our weaknesses are to be expected and in some ways, it seems, even explained away. After all, the reasoning goes, God gave them to us.

I am hoping to help others understand that is not at all what the scripture says. The Lord is offering comfort to Moroni as he compiles the gold plates of the history of his people, and Moroni is worried people will make fun of it because of his weakness in writing:

"If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble." (Ether 12:27).

Please take note: The word is "weakness" and NOT "weaknesses". There is a fundamental difference. As a young man attempting the read The Book of Mormon, I was not far into my studies before discovering I was not alone in my spiritual wrestles with God. I found a soul mate in Nephi, one of my early prophet heroes:

"Notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
"O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?" (2 Nephi 4:17-27), emphasis mine.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Nephi asked himself what President Uchtdorf asked all men of the priesthood to ask themselves at the last General Conference - "Lord, is it I?" Why do we continue to sin, even when we know better? And how is it our definitions of what constitutes sin become so convoluted as we rationalize away the conditions of our mortal probation? I remember one very bright and intelligent young man who explained his rationalization about pornography this way: "Bishop, I only really have one sin and I'm determined to wear that one out for the rest of my life because everything else is in pretty good shape except for that. Relatively speaking, I'd say I'm doing pretty well." I always wondered what his wife might say if she knew his reasoning. I don't really know what happened to him after that, but I pray he came to view his rationalization more clearly as he matured with a little more wisdom.

To refer once again to Moroni, the Lord declared: "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble." (Ether 12:27), emphasis mine.

The word "weakness" is not plural and so cannot refer to the multitude of sins we all struggle with. Being singular, it most likely would refer to our mortal condition, which indeed, was given to us by our Lord, for He alone is the "light and the life of the world." We sometimes see our mortal flesh referred to in scripture as "the natural man" (see 1 Corinthians 2:14; Mosiah 3:19; Alma 26:21; D&C 67:12) or our "carnal nature" (see D&C 67:12; Mosiah 16:5; Alma 42:10).

By our very mortal, physical natures - our "natural man" - we all have an inherent tendency to commit sin. That tendency, not the multitudes of named weaknesses, as some would have us believe, according to what the Lord told Moroni, was intentionally "given" to us by God. How was it given? Through our inherited genetic traits, conditions under which we are raised, the torments and taunts of Satan's minions, physical and difficult mortal circumstances we are forced to live through, and others. And why are we so weak in the flesh? The scriptural answer seems to be to help keep us humble, penitent, and provide a way for our spirits to overcome as we grow in faith in the Lord's perfection and His power to redeem us from our fallen condition. Without a weak and sin-inclined physical body to provide the means for the opposition needed to sanctify us, the plan of salvation would be thwarted. In the overcoming, in the yielding to the Spirit, in the stretching of our faith, we are made better men and women than we ever could be otherwise. So we see, our mortal weakness is a blessing.

I loved what President Uchtdorf said about it:

"The words of the Apostle James apply to us today:
"God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. . . Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." (James 4:6,10).
"Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, 'Lord, is it I?'
"And if the Lord's answer happens to be 'Yes, my son, there are things you must improve, things I can help you to overcome,' I pray that we will accept this answer, humbly acknowledge our sins and shortcomings, and then change our ways by becoming better husbands, better fathers, better sons. May we from this time forward seek with all our might to walk steadfastly in the Savior's blessed way - for seeing ourselves clearly is the beginning of wisdom."
"As we do so, our bountiful God will lead us by the hand; we will 'be made strong, and blessed from on high.'" (D&C 1:28). ("Lord, Is It I?", President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2014, 56-58).

I can bear a solemn and true testimony that when we ask God to show us our weakness and how we may overcome whatever tendencies to sin that impede our path, He will generously answer that humble prayer. There will be no holding back. You will be shown how to improve. When your prayers include how you may bless others through your influence, He also answers quickly and with precision. As you take action on the promptings, you will receive more and more. The cumulative effect can be inspiring and faith-building.

When we recognize tendencies to stray, to do evil, and to otherwise violate the basic operations of our conscience, we are not automatically and therefore evil in all things. Instead, evil only occurs when we submit to the tendencies and the temptations. (Mosiah 3:19). Remember, God has given us our mortal bodies through which these carnal or natural tendencies are presented to us so we may be blessed by "the enticings of the Holy Spirit," and thus become humble, penitent, and filled with faith in Christ. As we wander around in mortality, we may seek to overcome our own "natural man," and that includes being shown and coming to a full understanding of our personal weakness. By understanding that weakness, we will be better armed to completely overcome the temptations of the mortal flesh.

Remember, the grace of Christ is what delivers us as we repent and come unto Him. His perfect love for us is only possible because He paid the full price (no discounts) for our sins. It's what the qualifier, the big word IF means - "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness." He will! He does! He liberates! He redeems! One of the most blessed scriptures I know provides eternal hope for all in these words:

"My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me — the fountain of all righteousness" (Ether 12:27-28), emphasis mine.

C. S. Lewis
I loved what C. S. Lewis said about the ongoing nature of our quest for becoming more godlike while we toil here below in mortality:

"When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along - illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation - he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet not the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us." (Mere Christianity, 174).

There is no end in our quest to be delivered from the struggles of our mortal condition, as Nephi reminds us by exclaiming:

"Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road! O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way — but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen." (2 Nephi 4:28-35).

I pray we may reach a little higher, try a little harder, be a little more understanding and patient with others, in short, to be a little more kind and solicitous of the needs of those around us. As we reach upward and outside ourselves, we discover our tendencies to sin because of our mortal weakness become less distracting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"My Favorite Scripture"

My 93 year-old father continues his tradition of writing to his former missionaries twice a year at General Conference time. His labor of love becomes increasingly taxing on his diminishing physical strength, but as you will note below, his mental acuity is still very much in evidence. I am so grateful for his thoughts in this latest post.

We all have a favorite scripture(s), and Dad encourages us all to share the reasons why in his latest missive. I hope you will all take a moment and offer some reflective insights on what and why you may value a particular scripture passage. Enjoy!

Beloved Missionaries:

George Frederic Handel
George Frederic Handel, one of the world’s most celebrated musicians, performed as a violinist and organist at an early age. After composing his first opera in Germany, he went to the center of the operatic world and composed operas and chamber music in Italy.

In 1711, at the age of 26, he moved to England where initially his works gained some acceptance, but with changing public tastes in music his style ultimately became outdated. He found it difficult to stay solvent. Under great pressure, he frantically wrote four operas within 12 months, but it took its toll on him, and the 52 year-old composer suffered a stroke. His right arm was paralyzed temporarily and a doctor told his secretary that he thought Handel’s brain had been permanently damaged.

Nevertheless, he recovered his health at the Aachen, Germany hot springs, and was delighted later to find he could again play the organ. Encouraged, he moved again to England and resumed composing, but his works were not well accepted and creditors again pushed him into the depths of despondency.

Late one August afternoon in April, 1741, Handel went for a long walk. Upon his return, he found that a poet and previous collaborator, Charles Jennens, had left him a manuscript with a request that he put his libretto to music. The text quoted abundantly from Isaiah and the New Testament, unfolding the birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was to be an oratorio. Handel was apprehensive as he turned the pages of the text, but the glorious scriptures “Comfort Ye”, “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, and “He Shall Feed His Sheep Like a Shepherd”, chased away his gloom and he felt uplifted as he read the mighty conclusion “Worthy Is The Lamb”. He could not write fast enough to keep apace with the inspiration he felt as he commenced his composing.

Even though he composed profusely, Handel has become world renowned because of just this one masterpiece, “Messiah”, an oratorio which he wrote when 56 years of age, in just three weeks during the summer of 1741. He humbly acknowledged the inspiration of the Almighty by saying of his work, “God has visited me.”

I first became acquainted with this wonderful music when I sang alongside my father in the chorus of the Salt Lake Oratorical Society. The performance was a community tradition, then held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle each year on the Sunday nearest to New Year’s Day. Guest artists and celebrated conductors from New York and London were imported to head the casts. I came to love the music and I later found the texts also were forever imprinted in my mind.

Brent, top center, 1942
In 1942, I left for my mission to Texas, and was immediately assigned for the summer to visit the isolated members of the church to upgrade their records and perform neglected ordinances. My introduction to missionary work was going “without purse or scrip”, depending for meals and lodging on the generosity of strangers while en route to the next member’s distant home. In this stretching manner I learned what true faith really is, which was a perfect introduction to my ministry.

At the end of the summer, we settled into work in the city where at last I could begin an organized study of the gospel. I never had the benefit of Seminary or Institute classes, so I was just then becoming acquainted with the scriptures. I commenced my studies in the New Testament, because Texas was part of the “Bible Belt” where people were more inclined to listen to one who quotes from the Bible.

I hadn’t advanced far along in my early morning private studies until I came to Matthew 11:28-39. The text overwhelmed me with familiarity:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

With the words pulsating to Handel’s music, my heart was penetrated. I found I knew already from the “Messiah” the gospel texts before I found their scriptural origins. I became enveloped for the second time with the overwhelming power of the Holy Ghost. Humble, and moved by the Spirit, I wrote in the margin of my Bible the word, “Beautiful”, to frame my emotional response. That headline has remained in my Bible ever since to remind me of this wonderful witness of the Holy Spirit.

Helen and Brent Goates, 1975
In 1975, I was presiding over the California Arcadia Mission with Christmas approaching. A sudden
phone call came from our daughter-in-law Janie, and without warning or explanation she asked, “Dad, what is your favorite scripture?” Pressed for an immediate answer, I instinctively replied, “Matthew 11:28-30.”

The conversation was forgotten, but before Christmas came we received in the mail the words of this favorite scripture beautifully woven in needlepoint. It has always been one of our most treasured Christmas presents. Sister Goates had the art piece framed and it has been featured in our mission home, and ever since then in the dining room of our homes in Salt Lake City. I have marveled many times at the popularity of this scripture, as it has been a theme of many conferences.

But one’s favorite scripture must offer more than just poetic and emotional rewards. A doctrinal basis must be explored to find the real treasure. In my scripture the question was: “What is the meaning of ‘rest’ in this promise?” Was the key word “rest” a condition or a place? A condition is suggested similar to Alma’s description of the reward for the faithful in Paradise, who will rest from all their cares and sorrows (Alma 41:12). Or is it the ultimate place in eternity with God and Christ?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985) taught, “The rest of the Lord, where mortals are concerned, is to gain a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the great latter-day work.” President Joseph F. Smith, also speaking of mortality, said it is “rest from the religious turmoil of the world.” But in eternity, McConkie said, “It is entering into the presence of the Lord.” The climax for me came from latter-day scripture which relates how the Israelites under Moses failed to enter “into His rest”, and then provided the definition, “which rest is the fulness of His glory.” (D&C 84:24).

The evolution of discovering and comprehending and then living for the blessings of my favorite scripture has been a lifetime work. Now, what is your story? Have you written it and shared it with your family? As I have shared my scriptural odyssey with you, I hope you will do likewise for your loved ones.

Always your friend,

President L. Brent Goates

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.