Friday, August 29, 2014

Obedience: The First Law of Heaven

Joseph Smith taught that,
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21).
All blessings from Heavenly Father whether in our pre-mortal, mortal, or post-mortal life are dependent upon our obedience to God.  Bruce R. McConkie wrote, 
“Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 539).
Three scriptural accounts—two from the Old Testament and one from the Book of Mormon—illustrate the importance of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. The first of these accounts is that of Joshua and Israel's fight with the people of Ai.  In the battle for Jericho, the Lord commanded the Israelites, through the prophet Joshua, to destroy everyone and everything. Nevertheless an Israelite by the name of Achan decided to keep some silver, gold, and a Babylonish garment. Sometime later the Lord told Joshua to destroy the nearby city of Ai. Joshua thought that it would be an easy task so he sent a small army that ended up being badly beaten. Joshua was distraught with the defeat. The Lord told him that their defeat was because an Israelite kept what the Lord called the "accused things”—the silver, gold, and Babylonish garment. A search found the forbidden items in Achan's possession.
The phrase “accursed things” is interesting. There was nothing inherently evil in the silver, gold, or the garment. These were only accursed because the Lord wanted them destroyed. The flaw was in Achen's heart—he thought he knew more than God and chose not to follow the prophet and obey the Lord. Achen's disobedience cost him his life.
The second account is the story of King Saul and the Amalekites. In this account, the Lord commanded Saul, through the prophet Samuel, to destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions. Saul went to battle as commanded but spared the king of the Amalekites and the best of his herds and flocks. When Samuel confronted Saul about these disobedient acts, Saul first lied, then blamed others, and finally denied that he had done anything wrong rationalizing that he had spared the best of the sheep and oxen to offer for sacrifice.
Samuel identified Saul's pride as the cause of his disobedience. "And Samuel said, when thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?"(1 Samuel 15:17). Saul became king when he was humble but over time he grew proud to the point that he disregarded the commandments of the Lord and no longer followed the prophet. He mistakenly believed that he could lie and deceive his way out of the trouble he found himself in. Samuel told Saul,
“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
"God delights in the willing heart” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 65). Achan's and Saul's hearts were filled with pride, stubbornness, and rebellion. Because they turned their hearts away from the Lord and ignored God's commandment, the Lord turned away from them. They made their choices and suffered lost blessings and tragic consequences.
Obedience is our choice. No one is going to force us to be obedient. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“Choosing to be obedient is a choice. Jesus chose to let His will be ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father’. It was a deliberate choice—a choice, of course, that blessed all mortals mightily and everlastingly. Being obedient is a way of life, but it is also the way to eternal life.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Free to Choose,” BYU Devotional Address, 16 March 2004)
Nephi was a powerful example of choosing to be obedient. One of the earliest examples of his obedience was when his father, Lehi, told him that the Lord wanted him and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban. Apparently Lehi had already told Nephi's older brothers of this commandment from the Lord but they murmured and complained because they thought it would be too hard. Lehi told Nephi, "I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord" (1 Nephi 3:5). Nephi then declared, " I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). With unbending determination in the face of severe opposition, Nephi was able to secure the brass plates from Laban. As a result he was "blessed of the Lord" (1 Nephi 2:22) and became both a "ruler and teacher" of his people (1 Nephi 3:8). 
The accounts of Joshua and Achan, Samuel and Saul, and Lehi and Nephi teach the following valuable principles about obedience:

  • The Lord's commandments most often come through a prophet. Amos said, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7) Today a prophet just like Joshua, Samuel, and Lehi leads us. We need to be like Nephi and be obedient and follow the prophet.
  • Pride is the root of disobedience and humility the source of obedience. Achan, Samuel, Laman, and Leumel were prideful while Nephi was humble. We are commanded to be humble. As we are we will follow the prophet and in turn the Lord.
  • We should not second-guess the Lord who said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."(Isaiah 55:8-9) Achan and Samuel both pridefully thought they knew better than the Lord and second guessed His prophet. Elder L. Tom Perry said, "Obedience is a choice. It is a choice between our own limited knowledge and power and God’s unlimited wisdom and omnipotence." (L. Tom Perry, "Obedience Through Our Faithfulness," Ensign, May 2014)
  • Blessings flow from obedience and tragic consequences result from disobedience. Achan lost his life, Saul lost the kingdom, and Nephi prospered. Numerous are the promises that if we obediently keep the commandments we will be blessed and prosper.

In my life, I have experienced the blessings that come when I freely choose to be obedient.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Book of Mormon

I am grateful for The Book of Mormon. I know it to be the word of God. This book is an account of people who lived anciently in Mesoamerica. It was written by the prophets who lived among these people. These prophets taught and testified of Jesus Christ and His atonement. It also contains the account of Christ's visit to these people following his resurrection.

A belief in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon can be based upon many differing sources. For example, I am reading the book "Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book" by John L. Sorenson, an eminent scholar on Mesoamerica.  In this 800+ page book Sorenson discusses hundreds of correspondences between the Book of Mormon account and the history and culture of Mesoamerica. He believes that someone unfamiliar with the geography, history, social structure, and culture of the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica, such as Joseph Smith, could not have possibly written the Book of Mormon. It had to be written by someone familiar with life in ancient Mesoamerica.

While "Mormon's Codex" makes a compelling argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, my belief in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon isn't based upon the historical, geographical, archaeological, or anthropological evidence discussed in Mormon's Codex. My belief is based upon a witness by the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.  Moroni, the final prophet who wrote in the book, promised this:

"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."  (Moroni 10:3-5)

I have read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed to know whether it is the true record it claims to be. Each time I have read it and prayed the Spirit has witnessed that it is true.

Joseph Smith said, "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon).  I have read the book many times, and I have tried to apply what I have learned each time I have read the book. As I have applied its truths, I have become a better person. The Book of Mormon has had a greater influenced on my life than any other book.
Nephi, the first writer of the record, stated near the end of his writings:

"And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye--for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness." (2 Nephi 33:10-11)

When the day comes that I stand before the judgment bar of God, I will not know any more then than I know now that the Book of Mormon is the word of Christ and that it is a true record.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Following the Prophet

Central to the tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the belief that "we believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Articles of Faith:9). This revelation comes to His prophets for as Amos said, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). With all my soul I believe this to be true.

I have had the privilege of meeting each of those I sustain as prophets. They are all extraordinary men. They are highly educated and have had very distinguished careers as educators, doctors, lawyers, or in business. They are kind, compassionate, and Christ-like. They are devoted. Due to their unique calling, they see and know things that I don't see and know. They feel the weight of their calling. They may not be perfect but they are who God works with to lead His Church.

In the last General Conference of the Church, President Boyd K. Packer testified:
"After all the years that I have lived and taught and served, after the millions of miles I have traveled around the world, with all that I have experienced, there is one great truth that I would share. That is my witness of the Savior Jesus Christ.
"Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon recorded the following after a sacred experience:
'And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
'For we saw him' (D&C 76:22–23).
"Their words are my words.
"I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and 'by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God' (D&C 76:24).
"I bear my witness that the Savior lives. I know the Lord. I am His witness. I know of His great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father’s children. I bear my special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Witness," Ensign, May 2014, emphasis added)
I choose to follow the prophets because of this unique relationship they have with the Savior. I believe that they personally know the Savior.

I believe that I can best serve and follow the Lord by following the counsel of His anointed servants the prophets. The Lord said,
"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:38)
The Lord speaks to His Church through His prophets. The Lord also warned:
"And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;
"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." (Doctrine and Covenants 1:14-16)
There are many voices today are trying to persuade me to follow the philosophies of the world. While this may be appealing it is wrong if it is contrary to Lord's way as revealed to His prophets.

In the same General Conference the President Packer testified of the Savior, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught about the importance of the priesthood and priesthood keys. In speaking of those who lead the Church, he said,
"But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood." (Dallin H. Oaks, "The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood," Ensign, May 2014)
Our leaders cannot change doctrine; only the Lord can change doctrine.The priesthood isn't theirs to give; it is God's priesthood and He will decide who receives it regardless of what the world believes.

In the same General Conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen declared,
"While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. In the very beginning, God initiated marriage between a man and a woman--Adam and Eve. He designated the purposes of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults to, more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured. Families are the treasure of heaven.
"Why do we continue to talk about this? As Paul said, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the responsibility to teach our Creator’s plan for His children and to warn of the consequences of disregarding His commandments." (Neil L. Andersen, "Spiritual Whirlwinds," Ensign, May 2014)
Again the leaders of the Church are not free to change doctrine. God declares the doctrine and it is my choice to follow or not.

I believe that one of the dangers of our era is that we can get caught up in the philosophies of the world and become distracted from what is truly important. For me what is truly important is increasing my faith in the Savior, becoming a better disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, and being more faithful in keeping sacred covenants. The devil doesn't want me to focus on these principles; he wants me to be distracted.

For me, I echo the declaration of Joshua:
"Choose you this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15)
My testimony is that they are the prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ on the earth today who receive revelation from God for the guidance of His Church. As I follow their counsel, I will be blessed. And I trust that "that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail" me (D&C 58:8).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chinese Proverb

My good friend, Marie Hartman, sent me this Chinese proverb.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.  At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.  But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.  'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.'

The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?'

'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.

'For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.  Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'

Each of us has our own unique flaw.  But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.  You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Follow the Prophet

I am thankful for the prophets, seers, and revelators who lead us today. I am grateful for their inspired teaching, counsel, and warnings.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting each of them, and I have had some very personal experiences with a number of them. Every time I have had the opportunity to be with one of them I have come away with the distinct impression that they see, know, and understand more than I see, know, and understand—it’s as though they are seeing around corners. Some may think that they are ordinary men with an extraordinary calling, but I find each of them to be extraordinary in every way. Most importantly they do have a holy calling. The scripture says, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).  In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord also said:

"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D and Covenants 1:38, emphasis added)

This is their calling to reveal God’s will to His children and to speak for Him. The Spirit has testified to me that they are the Lord's anointed.  I don't worship them for I reserve that for my Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ, but I do respect their calling and sustain them in it.

The Lord told the Nephites gathered at the temple in Bountiful:

 "Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants "(3 Nephi 12:1, emphasis added).

I have found that following the counsel of those with apostolic authority—the prophets, seers, and revelators—blesses my life. With so many voices advocating for this or that cause, I am grateful that I can look to them for direction. By following them, I know I will find safety in troubled and confusing times.

The greatest danger is in not following their direction and counsel. Samuel, the Lamanite, warned the rebellious Nephites of the folly in not following the prophets of their day. He said,

"Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time. And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out. Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil. But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth--and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light? (Helaman 13:24-29, emphasis added)

Likening this scripture to me, I ask, "How could I cast out the prophets, mock them, cast stones at them, and even slay them?" I could cast them out, mock them, cast stones at them, or symbolically murder them if I choose not to follow them, pridefully disagree with them, or think I know more than they do. I could foolishly choose to follow “blind guides” and those who espouse comfortable or politically correct paths rather than doctrinally sound ways.

The choice for me then is to choose whom I am going to follow. If I choose to follow the prophets, seers, and revelators, I know that I will hear the voice of the Lord and find safety in troubled and confusing times. I know that the Lord will bless my life and that I will be on the path that will lead me safely back into the presence of Heavenly Father.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finding Safety

In troubled and uncertain times, where can we find safety for ourselves and our families? How do we protect ourselves and our families from the storms that can swirl around us.

A pattern is found in the Book of Mormon. When Giddianhi, the leader of the band of Gadianton robbers, threatened the Nephities with destruction, Lachoneus, the Nephite governor, caused,

"That his people should cry unto the Lord for strength against the time that the robbers should come down against them.Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great. And he caused that armies, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or of all them who were numbered among the Nephites, should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night." (3 Nephi 3:12-14, emphasis added)

These steps protected the Nephities from a fearsome enemy and provide a pattern for us when faced with the inevitable challenges of life. This tried and tested pattern is to,

  • Pray for the strength to endure.
  • Gather together with the righteous.
  • Fortify ourselves through religious observance such as prayer, scripture study, and covenant keeping.
  • Follow those who have been called by God to lead and guard us.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Communication Principles

We live in relationships with other--family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. A key to strong relationships is good communication. Often we think of communication as a skill but it is more than a skill--it is a way of being. The scriptures contain principles that when followed will change our way of being leading to improved communications and better relationships. The following are some of these scriptural principals:

"Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath..." (James 1:19)

Master the art of asking questions (Moses 4:15-19)

"A wise...[person] will hear, and will increase learning (Proverbs 1:5)

Know when it is time to stop speaking (1 Nephi 8:38)

Choose not to be angry (3 Nephi 12:22, 3 Nephi 11:30)

Avoid contention (Mosiah 18:21, 3 Nephi 11:29)

Be careful with what you say (James 3)

Be merciful, "deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually" for mercy and justice to be returned (Alma 41:14)

Take the time to get the story right (Alma 60-61)

Avoid criticizing (3 Nephi 14:1-5)

Quickly forgive (Doctrine and Covenants 64:8-10 and 1 Nephi 7:2)

"Let your speech be alway with grace" (Colossians 4:6)

Be aware of others and quick to observe (Mormon 1:2)

Don't be overbearing (Alma 38:12)

Use persuasion, and be long-suffering, gentle, meek, loving, and kind (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-43)


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Our Stories

Our lives are full of stories—we are told stories by our parents; we hear stories in school; we read stories in books, magazines, and newspapers; we watch stories on the television and in the movies; and we hear stories at work and from our friends. All of these stories help us interpret our world.

Some of our stories are ones we tell ourselves about the people and events in our lives, and seldom are these stories based on complete information. We make assumptions about what is happening in order to fill information gaps, form opinions, and draw conclusions.We then respond to events and interact with people based upon these stories.
It's particularly important that we get the story right when the stakes are high. Bad assumptions can lead to a faulty story, which in turn may have disastrous consequences both for us and those around us. The danger of a faulty story is illustrated by the Book of Mormon account of the exchange of letters between Moroni, the leader of the Nephite armies, and Pahoran, the governor of the Nephites.

At the time of this letter exchange, the Nephites were engaged in a prolonged war with the Lamanites. In the midst of this conflict, Moroni received a letter from Helaman, one of his generals. Helaman told Moroni that he had sent the governor, Pahoran, a letter requesting more supplies and men, but they had not received any help. He wrote, "Now we do not know the cause that the government does not grant us more strength; neither do those men who came up unto us know why we have not received greater strength" (Alma 58:34). Helaman didn't make assumptions about the reason for the lack of support from the government. He avoided the human tendency to impute motives for Pahoran's apparent lack of support.

Upon the receipt of Helaman's letter, Moroni wrote a letter to Pahoran. When he didn't receive an answer, he became "angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country" (Alma 59:13). In his anger, Moroni wrote a second letter to Pahoran filled with accusations based upon Moroni's assumptions about the motivations of his governmental leaders. He complained and condemned, accusing them of willfully neglecting the army, thoughtlessly performing their duties, traitorously seeking authority, and idly seeking the comfort and security of the capital while their armies were suffering. With the story he created, Moroni threatened that unless the needed resources were forthcoming, he would lead the army against the Pahoran and overthrow him.

Moroni based these accusations upon his assumptions, not upon facts. He assumed the worst of his leaders. He started from the lack of support and created a story explaining the reason for this apparent indifference. This was a much different approach than Helaman's who stated that he didn't know the cause for the lack of men and supplies—he only knew the result.
Pahoran replied to Moroni's letter and explained that there had been an insurrection in the capital, and he and the government had fled. Pahoran explained,
"I, Pahoran, who am the chief governor of this land, do send these words unto Moroni, the chief captain over the army. Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. But behold, there are those who do joy in your afflictions, yea, insomuch that they have risen up in rebellion against me, and also those of my people who are freemen, yea, and those who have risen up are exceedingly numerous. And behold, they have driven me out before them, and I have fled to the land of Gideon, with as many men as it were possible that I could get... And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart... I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people... My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free. And now, Moroni, I do joy in receiving your epistle, for I was somewhat worried concerning what we should do, whether it should be just in us to go against our brethren" (Alma 61:2-3, 5, 19, 21).
Pahoran diffused Moroni's false accusations by explaining that the situation in the capital was completely different from the assumption-filled story that Moroni had created. As Moroni understood the actual situation in the capital, he rushed to Pahoran's defense.

Moroni's faulty story could have led to blood shed and civil war. Pahoran was magnanimous towards Moroni even though he had threatened to overthrow the government. He didn't condemn Moroni for his accusations but expressed joy in the greatness of Moroni's heart. Pahoran was able to courageously look past the accusations and threats and see Moroni's great qualities.

The account shows the possible danger in the stories we create. How do we avoid creating a faulty story?

First, we need to gather correct information. Avoid making assumptions. Too often we construct stories based on broad and oftentimes grossly inaccurate assumptions. We don't live our lives with perfect information, but we must be careful in drawing conclusions based on what little information we may have. Helaman didn't make assumptions as Moroni did.

Second, we need to be aware that our assumptions are not facts. It isn't always possible to live without making some assumptions, but we should acknowledge they are just that and not facts. We should recognize that we might be wrong and be willing to change our story when we get better information. This is what Moroni did when he received the second letter from Pahoran. Rather than attacking the government, he went to its defense.

Third, we need to ask questions. What difference would it have made if Moroni had asked "What don't I know here?" or "Where could I be wrong?" Clarifying what we don't know enables us to seek the information we need to create a true story. Identifying where we might be wrong identifies the risks inherent in our story; it's better to take more time to gather additional information rather than jump to conclusions.

Fourth, we need to watch our emotions. Emotions can make it difficult to act rationally. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "There are many degrees of offense. There are many degrees of hurt. But what I have noticed is that often we justify our anger and satisfy our consciences by telling ourselves stories about the motives of others that condemn their actions as unforgivable and egoistic while, at the same time, lifting our own motives as pure and innocent" (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "One Key to a Happy Family," Ensign, October 2012). Moroni created a story while angry, and that anger colored his perceptions and guided his assumptions.

Stories help us understand and respond to the events in our lives. Every event is not of equal significance, but when the stakes are high, it's critical that we get to the right story. A faulty story can lead to potentially devastating actions. The right story can help us respond appropriately. With patience and care, we can gather the information that is necessary to properly guide our actions as we respond to the events and people around us.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Counsel to Remember

When I served on the Board of Trustees of Catholic Health Partners (CHP), one of my fellow trustees was Sister Marie Hartmann. Sister Marie became a good friend and I am blessed by her continuing friendship. She no longer is on the board but sends out a weekly email of wise counsel to various people associated with CHP and a few friends. I am fortunate to receive her emails. When I opened this week's email, I was touched by wise counsel and advice I found in it. I hope you find these beautiful sayings as refreshing and encouraging as I did.

1. Prayer is not a "spare wheel" that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a "steering wheel" that directs the right path throughout.

2. So why is a car's windshield so large and the rear view mirror so small? Because our past is not as important as our future. So, look ahead and move on.

3. Friendship is like a book. It takes few seconds to burn, but it takes years to write.

4. All things in life are temporary. If it's going well, enjoy it, that won't last long. If it's going badly, don't worry, that won't last long either.

5. Old friends are gold! New friends are diamonds! If you get a diamond, don't forget the gold! Because to hold a diamond, you always need a base of gold!

6. Often when we lose hope and think this is the end, God smiles from above and says, "Relax, it's just a bend, not the end!"

7. When God solves your problems, you have faith in His abilities; when God doesn't solve your problems, He has faith in your abilities.

8. A blind person asked St. Anthony, "Can there be anything worse than losing eyesight?" He replied, "Yes, losing your vision!"

9. When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them. Sometimes, when you are safe and happy, remember that someone has prayed for you.

10. Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles, it takes away today's peace.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Thou Hast Heard My Prayer"

I treasure the chapters in the Book of Mormon that tell of Alma's mission to a group of people, the Zormanites, who had had adopted many apostate practices and in so doing had perverted the gospel of Jesus Christ. In these chapters Alma and his companion Amulek testify of Christ and teach about faith, repentance, and prayer. I have read these chapters numerous times. When I recently re-read them, Alma's quotation of the prophet Zenos, of whom we know little, resonated with me. According to Alma, Zenos said,

"Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness; yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies, and thou didst turn them to me. Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me. And again, O God, when I did turn to my house thou didst hear me in my prayer. And when I did turn unto my closet, O Lord, and prayed unto thee, thou didst hear me. Yea, thou art merciful unto thy children when they cry unto thee, to be heard of thee and not of men, and thou wilt hear them. Yea, O God, thou hast been merciful unto me, and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregations. Yea, and thou hast also heard me when I have been cast out and have been despised by mine enemies; yea, thou didst hear my cries, and wast angry with mine enemies, and thou didst visit them in thine anger with speedy destruction. And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son" (Alma 33:4-11, emphasis added).

I can echo the words of Zenos for repeatedly have my prayers been heard and answered. They haven't always been answered in the way I was hoping . With the perspective of time though, I can see where they have always been answered in the way that was best for me and my growth. Whether it has been family concerns, health, employment, or Church assignments, He has never failed to answer my prayer. I believe that every answered prayer is a miracle and a manifestation of Heavenly Father's tender mercy.
I know that Heavenly Father is close and wants to help me. I just need to sincerely ask and then watch as my petitions are answered in His way on His timetable. I am grateful for such mercy.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions for 2014

The start of a new year is the time when I reflect on the events of the past year and whether goals set at the beginning of the year have been achieved. I ask myself questions such as:

  • Where did I do well and where did I fall short and why?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What needs to change in this coming year?
This exercise then leads to another round of goal setting.

As I have done my evaluation of 2013 and thought about plans for the coming year, the words of Amulek, spoken over two millennia ago, have guided my thinking. He said that, "if we do not improve our time while in this life,then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" Alma 34:33,emphasis added). His wisdom has caused me to think a little differently about what I want to do in 2014. I don't want to just tackle a list of desirable projects. At times in the past, my goal setting has been more like constructing a bucket list of good ideas rather than an effort to really focus my life.

In 2014, I want to focus on just a few really important areas. I want to become a better

  • Disciple of Christ,
  • Husband,
  • Father, and
  • Grandfather.
These are the most important areas of my life and the ones that have eternal significance. If I can improve in each of these areas in 2014, I will count this year as a success. I will have become a better son of God. I will have improved the time allotted to me.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

The beautiful carol, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," is about the coming of Jesus and the blessings which His birth brings to me and the whole human family. The carol, "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful," is about my coming to Jesus. His coming can give me hope, but to receive it I must seek and come to Him as did the shepherds and the wise men. The words of this beautiful carol, composed by John F. Wade in the eighteenth century, are,

Oh, come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant!
Oh, come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;

Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation;
Sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!
Glory to God,
Glory in the highest;

Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n.
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing;

Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him;
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord.

Jesus' miraculous birth, exemplary life, and unselfish act of atonement are the pivotal events in all of human history. Amulek declared,

"For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made." (Alma 34:9)

Prophets prophesied of His coming. An angel announced His birth while a choir of angels sang in the heavens. Has there ever been a more anticipated or celebrated yet humble birth?

For me, "O Come All Ye Faithful" extends an invitation to symbolically journey to Bethlehem and worship the Only Begotten Son of the Father just as the shepherds and wise men did centuries ago. Years after His birth, Jesus made this invitation when He said,

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you 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." (Matthew 11:28-30)
I owe Jesus the hope I have for Eternal Life with my Heavenly Father. He is worthy of my adoration, worship, devotion, and discipleship not just as I celebrate His birth today but every day of my life.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

One of my favorite Christmas carols has become "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". With beautifully moving verse, this carol teaches of the reasons we have to rejoice in Jesus' birth. The words of the carol are,

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These beautiful words teach about the atoning mission of Jesus Christ and why I have reason to rejoice in His birth. Without Jesus, I would be in bondage to sin, doomed to hell, and exiled from God. But with Jesus' suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, He paid the price of my sins and ransomed me. He swung open the doors of hell to enable me to escape the captivity of sin and be forgiven though repentance. In the words of Isaiah, Jesus "was wounded for...[my] transgressions, he was bruised for...[my] iniquities: the chastisement of...[my] peace was upon him; and with his stripes...[I am] healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Because of Jesus, the dark shadow of death does will not permanently hold my body captive in a cold grave but I have the promise of a resurrection or the reuniting of my body and spirit. Abinadi taught,

"For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished. But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead" (Mosiah 15:19-20).

Jesus was the first to be resurrected and the rest of Heavenly Father's children, including me, will follow.

Christ's teachings and example gives me the way to return to my Heavenly Home. He is the only way home (John 14:6). It is only through His gospel and His "merits, mercy, and grace" (2 Nephi 2:8) that I can return home to live eternally with my Heavenly Father.
The prophet Alma prophesied of Jesus' birth and taught about His atoning mission. He said,

"And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem...she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God. And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:10-12)

I am grateful that Emmanuel, the promised Messiah, even Jesus the Christ came to earth. He has given me every reason to rejoice. He has given me the peace found in hope.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Innkeepers, Shepherds, and Wise Men

I love everything about Christmas. The sacred music, beautiful decorations, bright lights, giving of gifts, and cherished traditions create a special spirit during this season of the year. Most of all I love the message of Christmas. The story of the first Christmas reminds me of the importance of the Savior in my life. To me the message is that through Jesus' miraculous birth, exemplary ministry, and atoning mission, I can find peace, goodwill, hope, and eternal life along with all of God's children.

While there are many things to be learned from the story of Christ's birth, there are three events from that first Christmas that teach me important principles for my life as I strive to be a disciple of Christ.

The first of these events took place on the crowded streets of Bethlehem shortly before the Savior was born. Luke records,

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . . And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee . . . unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . . To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1 -7, emphasis added).

The phrase,“there was no room for them in the inn” has always peaked my curiosity. I wonder why there was no room in the inns of Bethlehem for Mary, Joseph, and the yet to be born Son of God. I think about those scriptural accounts where some humble man or woman was inspired to care for one of God's servants. Amulek was told by an angel to care for Alma. A widow was commanded to provide for Elijah. Why wasn’t an innkeeper told to prepare a more fitting place than a stable for the birth of the Son of God? Perhaps the Spirit did try to whisper to someone but he was too busy conducting business to hear the promptings telling him to prepare a place for his King’s birth.

Unfortunately, unless I am careful, I am no different than the innkeepers. My life can become so caught up in my daily routines of life that I may fail to let Christ in. When He knocks, do I let Him into my life or am I so busy that I turn Him away?

President Thomas S. Monson said,

“Before we can successfully undertake a personal search for Jesus, we must first prepare time for him in our lives and room for him in our hearts. In these busy days there are many who have time for gold, time for shopping, time for work, time for play, but not time for Christ.

"Lovely homes dot the land and provide rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, playrooms, sewing rooms, television rooms, but no room for Christ." (Thomas S. Monson, "The Search for Jesus," Ensign, December 1990)

In the beautiful poem, "A Prayer for December," the poet offered this prayer:

Dearest God, please never let me,

Crowd my life full to the brim.

So like the keeper of Bethlehem’s inn,

I find I have no room for Him.

Instead let my heart’s door be ever open,

Ready to welcome the newborn King,

Let me offer the best I have,

To Him who gives me everything. (Author unknown)

At this Christmas season, I pray that I may rededicate my life to always inviting Him in, to truly knowing Him, to always hearing His voice, and to doing His will. May I never crowd Him out.

The second event took place with the shepherds on the plains of Judea when the angel and the heavenly hosts announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds. Again Luke records,

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away . . .the shepherds said one to another, Let us . . . go . . . unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which . . . the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen [it], they made [it] known abroad . . .” (Luke 2:8-17).

As I contemplate this account, I wonder why the angels appeared to the shepherds. Why wasn’t the Savior’s birth announced to the powerful religious or political leaders of the Jews? After all He was the King of the Jews. Why the shepherds? Maybe it was to the shepherds because they were humble, meek, and submissive and not only would they hear and accept the message but they would also act upon it. Perhaps angels did announce the Savior's birth to many others, but as with the innkeepers, they were also too busy. Maybe it was just too inconvenient or it didn’t fit in with their beliefs and traditions, and they chose not to listen or perhaps they procrastinated doing something with the message and missed their opportunity to worship the Christ child.

There may also be another reason why others are not mentioned. Luke says that the shepherds after visiting and worshipping Jesus went and “made it known” to others. They went and testified of what they had seen and felt. They shared their sacred experience with someone who recorded it. Perhaps, there were others who visited the baby Jesus but they kept silent and didn't speak of it so it was never recorded.

For me there is much to be learned from the shepherds. I learn to be humble, to listen, to go when the Spirit speaks, and importantly to testify. After I have made room for Jesus in my life, after I have sought Him and let Him in, after I have gained a testimony of Him, I need to tell others both through my actions and my words that I believe and accept Christ.

The final event took place some time later when the wise men came seeking Jesus. Matthew records,

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem . . . . And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2: 1 - 3, 9 - 11)

It's interesting that these seekers of Jesus were called “wise men”. Our traditions refer to them as three kings, but all Matthew says is that they were wise men. These men who knew of the prophecies about Jesus' birth were undoubtedly watching for the signs of His birth. Maybe they even heard heavenly choirs and heeded the message of an angel. While the innkeepers of Bethlehem, King Herod, the religious leaders of Judea, and others may have been caught unprepared, they were ready. Having seen the Star, they went searching for Him. When they found Him, they gave Him the gifts they brought. But these worldly gifts of wealth were no where near the value of the goodness of their lives. I am sure they had prepared by giving gifts of sacrifice, love, obedience, and devotion. These were the gifts and treasures of eternal significance that insured them a place at the cradle of the recently born King.

I need to be similarly prepared to receive Him. I must love, sacrifice, be obedient, and devoted so that I will be ready whenever my call to serve and worship Him comes.

As I reflect upon these events of long ago, I have much to wonder about. I believe if I can learn the lessons of the first Christmas and let Him into my life and heart, bear testimony of Him as the Shepherds did, and worship Him as the Wise men then I will be ready, as the Shepherds and Wise Men were ready, to worship Him not only during this Christmas season but throughout the whole year.