Archive for April, 2010

Last month, our family mourned the passing of my wife’s grandmother. A centenarian, she lived a long and difficult life but had a faith that was unshaken. She endured the many trials associated with carving a living out of the dust and sagebrush in Eastern Utah in an era that did not have powered machinery and communications.

As I stood in the room with her casket during the viewing, the image of her spirit passing through a door into the next room came to my mind. Many of those we know and loved have made a similar journey. Their body, made up of the elements of this earth, is placed in the ground and their spirit, consisting of the elements of the eternal world, moves beyond our cognition.

What is this thing called death? From the moment we come into this life, we seem to be programmed to leave it behind. Whether it comes through accident, at the hands of another human, or a degeneration of the body, this time of mortality ends for each of us.

During the viewing, my mind also traveled back to another family funeral. Several years ago, my two-year-old grand-niece wandered away from the family at my sister’s house and fell into the swimming pool. They tried to resuscitate her when she was found but to no avail. To this day, this simple lack of attention which ended this young life haunts those who were present. Limited solace is found in the idea that these young people go directly to the celestial kingdom; that their parents can be reunited with their deceased children and can raise them in the millennium. However, this idea seems to present some inconsistencies.

Here I have two persons, one leaving us after 100 plus years of trial and error; the other departing only after a ‘few’ days well before any reasoned consideration of the good and evil in this life. How are each of these treated in the world to come?

Joseph Smith is cited in Section 137:10 telling us “that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.” On the other hand, those who pass into at this ‘age of accountability’ are to be judged and assigned a kingdom based on their ability to keep the commandments.

So, if this life is a contest to see how little we can stain ourselves with sin, the child wins out. But, if we are sent here to learn and overcome, how does that experience come to the young departed?
Nephi tells us in the second chapter of second Nephi that the purpose of this creation was thus:

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

Without this opposition in all things, we cannot be tested. “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” Much of this life hinges on the choices we make – how we conduct ourselves when options are before us. Are we able to resist temptation? Are we able to act and not be acted upon?

I have come to believe that this life is where we learn lessons, sometimes the easy way and sometimes the hard way. I also believe these lessons will continue to repeat in our lives until we learn from them, overcome them, and move on to the next lesson.

Where does the child who dies gain this essential experience of choosing between good and evil? Even being raised in the sin-free Millennium does not offer this opportunity. Are they left with no option? Will they never be presented with the same building experiences that my one hundred year old grandmother-in-law? Can these same lessons be learned when we are without a body?

I would suggest that no one can learn all the lessons in one lifetime. Even Christ, given the time of his birth, was not exposed during that mortality to all the bad choices we have before us today. Aren’t we taught that Christ descended below all things? Was His experience sufficient in the context of the materialistic, hedonistic life we are confronted with in these modern days? I would suggest the answer is: No.

In my thinking, this leaves us with no other option. We must have some means to have all these choices placed before us. We, by the rights of a loving God, are to be given the ability to act or be acted upon by temptations of all ilks.

“And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

Many have used this scripture from Alma 34:33, in a twisted form, to point out the single chance we have to prepare for the eternities. I would suggest a careful reading brings out the fact that this is a conditional statement. IF we do not improve our time in this life, THEN comes the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. The corollary would thus be: IF we improve in this life, THEN we avoid the night of darkness where no labor can be performed. We improve in this life by learning lessons, by overcoming temptation, by acting and not being acted upon. By doing so, we will be given the opportunity to continue to progress. I believe this means a continuance of learning lesson after lesson. Can we do that without a mortal body? I believe that Nephi’s earlier discussion regarding the purpose of the creation suggests otherwise.

When I was in school, I needed to pass all the requirements of the second grade before I was permitted to move on to the third grade. I suggest that our lives are like our school experience. Is this life my version of second grade? What requirements must I perform before I can move on to the next?

What think ye?

I won’t be posting any specific comments on the last session of conference, but I would submit what I would consider the two most confusing statements of the two days (sans priesthood session).

The first statement came from Sister Cheryl Lant who, after reciting the story of the ministering angels among the children of the Nephites at the time of Christ, told us that we are the angels that will minister to our children. So… even though the Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys to the ministering of angels, we can only pretend that these messengers of God are real? So sad, as I indicated earlier, what else must be given up from the early revelations to satisfy the modern church?

The last statement which left me perplexed was Elder Neil Anderson’s emphatic declaration that the divine harmony of the conference talks was a miracle. First, I am puzzled by the need to call such an orchestrated event a miracle. What is miraculous about it? The fact that the conference talks are written out ahead of time and carefully edited yet totally uncorrelated is blatantly obvious to the listener. Even President Monson admitted to ad libbing during his opening remarks. So.. if there are not true miracles among us, let’s redefine the term so we can satisfy our pride that we are blessed with the heavenly events.

What are the true miracles that are the mark of the true church? As recorded in 3 Nephi 27, the resurrrected Lord told the Nephites that ‘the Father would show forth His own works’ in His church, in contrast to the works of men. The disciples demonstrated these works as recorded in 4 Nephi 1:5

“And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.”

These are the true miracles – works of God – that are to be found in His church and demonstrated by the twelve, just as in the past times. Where are these miracles? Why would an apostle attempt to redefine the ‘spiritual’ correlation supposedly demonstrated in the conference sessions as a miracle?

The emphasis on the role of the Savior, His atonement, and our need to come unto Him, perhaps due to the Easter holiday, came through in a multiplicity of talks. I am pleased to report that I only heard two somewhat veiled messages to ‘follow the brethren.’ I am gratified that we, as a people, are not subjected to the demand that we trust in this ‘arm of flesh.’

What think ye?

Both talks by Pres. Uchtdorf and Elder Scott continued with the focus on Jesus Christ; a message appropriate for a sacred holiday that has been hijacked by the pagens and the shopkeepers.

As I listened to the talk by Dieter Uchtdorf, there was a segment that again led my thoughts to a scripture. As he described the discouragement felt by some members who are made to feel that they don’t belong among those of the church, I was reminded of the Zoramites who boasted of being ‘a chosen and a holy people.’ These misguided souls believed that they were saved, ‘whilest all around us are elected to be cast by [God’s] wrath down to hell.’ Those that labored to construct the meeting places were cast out because of their ‘exceeding poverty.’

Pres. Uchtdorf reminded us that we are called to support and heal, not to condemn. Could he be addressing those who call themselves saints with the same warning that Alma delivered to the Zoramites? The pride and vanity is easily detected among a good segment of those who view church attendance as a way to establish their ‘rank’ and to appear in the ‘right’ places at the right time.

Unfortunately, the message is likely to go right over the heads of those who need to hear it.

Elder Hallstrom

The great plan of salvation is one that requires both good and evil, joy and pain. This opposition is needed to provide a complete lesson. At the same time, we are to act and not be acted upon. I had an earlier blog on that topic

I was particularly struck by Elder Hallstrom’s statement that the work of the Savior was to deliver us out of bondage; it was as if I had heard it for the first time. As I have grown older, I have been able to experience, firsthand, the bondage that comes from allowing our physical, emotional, and temporal needs to supplant the spiritual. There are no lower lows than that brought on by actions that attempt to fulfill our selfish needs. There are no higher highs than those that come to us through the spirit.

Sister Lant

We must seek the face God. I have oft called upon God for the help of ministering angels. Sister Lant talked of the events during the visit of the Savior to the Nephites where the children were blessed to be ministered to by angels from on high. I am saddened that we were now told that we are the angels to help those around us. Yet another spiritual gift has been redefined for our modern church.

Elder Cook

The quote from Joseph Smith reminded us that all things of spiritual merit are an appendage to the atonement. Given the clear definition of the gospel in the latter day scriptures, I heartily agree.

Much was said about reverence for the sacrament. The ordinance of the sacrament began as a miracle where all were filled with the associated bread and wine. This sacred ordinance was to be performed only by one of the twelve disciples at the time of Christ’s visit to the Nephites. Today, we allow teenagers to conduct a distribution of Wonder Bread and water. Are we truly reverencing one of the most sacred ordinances established by the Savior when we replace both the emblems and the conductor?

Pres. Monson

As President Monson began his address on the Savior and His atonement, I was struck by his comment that the words he was to speak were based on thoughtful consideration and the scriptures. Should this be all that the prophet and president of the church should use in his testimony of the Savior?

When I was growing up, it was oft quoted that the apostles were to receive a personal witness of the Savior. These men were to be visited from on high and endowed with power to prophesy, act as seers, and to reveal things sacred. Perhaps not, thoughtful consideration is the same thing that President Hinckley indicated was the process of decision making in the highest levels of the church. When will be see the highest leaders of the church speak of the things that will happen, to see that which we cannot see, and reveal those things that are hidden? Not this week….

Elder L. Tom Perry

As I consider ‘modern’ society, I am grieved with what we have given up for progress. How many of us reside in homes were we must have both husband and wife acquiring paychecks in order to sustain our life style? The traditional home containing an extended family working together for the common good, the father working along side his children, the wife nurturing and supporting, seems to have become an anachronism.

Elder Perry’s message of lessons from my mother brings sadness for what is lost in our homes of today. Where is the true spiritual center when all the members of the family have their own agenda?

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

We were challenged to avoid ‘spiritual illiteracy,’ that has led us to forget things our grandparents knew. A dusting of scriptural frosting on our lives today is not adequate for the preservation of our faith and duty to God.

The scriptures are to be the standard for distinguishing truth an error and should be the touchstone for measuring correctness and truth. Yet, how many of us even know where the gospel is defined in the scriptures, or where the doctrines of Christ are found, or where we must go to read of the gate to the strait and narrow way to eternal life?

If we were to truly hold the scriptures as the standard by which we judge our teachings and doctrines today, how well would they stand up?

We are to feast upon the ‘word of God.’ But, careful analysis of the definition of the ‘word of God’ points more often to personal revelation than to the words of the prophets. We must read the scriptures for quality rather than quantity. We must seek to acquire precepts rather than to pound through chapters.

Elder Bruce Carlson

I was disappointed when Elder Carlson stopped his quote of D&C 76. Here is the extended version:

5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.

6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.

7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.

8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.

9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.

10 For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.

We should seek, as instructed here, to fear God and honor Him. We will be blessed in doing so with the gift of the mysteries of his kingdom from beginning to end. That is what Enoch and Nephi received. They saw the world and all that was in it from beginning to end. This has been promised to each one of us if we but prepare ourselves.

Elder Bednar

We should pay attention to early warning signals. I heartily agree. But what of the warnings in the Book of Mormon concerning pride? What about the concern regarding ‘all is well in Zion?’ What about the condemnation from Moroni who saw us in this day and accused us of polluting the ‘holy church of God?’ There are many warning signs for us in the church, if we would but search for them in the scriptures.

Elder Holland

Pornography is an insidious, addictive disease that destroys families and devastates self esteem. It cripples people in terms of loving relationships and sets the stage for justifying agnosticism on the part of the believer. It is much easier to question the doctrines of the kingdom when the mind has the crater blown in it described by Elder Holland.

President Thomas S. Monson

We hear again of how to measure the success of the church – on the basis of the variety of humanitarian activities across the globe and the construction of the many buildings and temples at home and abroad. As I listened to this proud message of the success of those who call themselves saints, I had the following scripture come to mind:

“And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.

But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.”

3 Nephi 27:10-11

Are not the delivery of food, supplies, and medicine, while acts of compassion and care, the works of men? Does the construction of many temples throughout the world qualify as the works of men? I believe that the answer to both questions is yes. As such we will find a temporary satisfaction in them. The true measure of the church of God will be in the works of God found therein. Where are these works and why are they not found in abundance in the church today?

Did we hear of an example of the way prophecy works in how his choice of the Navy was rendered?

President Boyd K. Packer

The priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name. We heard that the authority of the priesthood has been well deployed but that the power as not. In the Book of Mormon, we find a description of what acting in the name of God brought to the church:

“And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.”

4 Nephi 1:5

Do the men who today represent the equivalent of these disciples of Jesus show forth these works? Is that not what is the true measure of the church of God? Where are these miracles of God in our environs today? Can we not draw from the scripture above that this should be prominent among us?

Sister Julie Beck

The presence of the Spirit is achieved by obeying commandments, being true to our temple covenants, prayer and reading the scriptures. Through this we are able to know all things we should do. I had the scripture flash through my mind of the following;

“For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.”

2 Nephi 32:5

This admonition follows, in the previous chapter, one of the most forceful descriptions of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost that is found in the scriptures. This is achieved through repentance, followed by baptism, first by water, and then the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost as we read in 2 Nephi 31:17-21. This is the only path to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost.

Sister Beck spoke of the words of the prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:”

Joel 2:28

What would happen in most of the wards of the church today if a man or woman began to prophesy? Or speak of visions? The ready answer is found in the church courts of love.

Elder Keith McMullin

Disasters are a way to ‘stir us up in remembrance.’ What did the tornado of ’99 do from this perspective?

We were told that we are to pattern our lives after the savior. Our duty does not require perfection but only diligence. Duty to God is first followed by duty to our family, community and church. It was certainly refreshing not to hear ‘follow the prophet.’ Our eternal lives depend not on the brethren but on our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Elder Wilford Anderson of the seventy reinforced the need to build our foundation on none other than Jesus Christ.

President Henry Eyring

How does one reach the ‘strait and narrow way?’ Here is what the scriptures say:

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

2 Nephi 31:17-18

The cleansing power is found through the remission of our sins by fire and the Holy Ghost. Leaving out this key component is tantamount to rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Much was said about the rescue value of the Personal Progress and Duty to God programs for the youth of the church. My heart hurts when I think of the youth of the church who can easily come to perceive that the path to ‘spirituality’ is found with a checklist and a rote answer. The youth of the church, if there is to be any hope for the future, need to be taught how to find Christ.

My thoughts of the first session.