Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Strength of Unity

Prepared as a Sacrament Meeting talk and given on July 15, 2018

Last summer included one of the unique experiences of my life. While the Detwiler Fire was becoming the largest wildfire in our county’s history—burning more than 80,000 acres and taking 74 homes-- I was stationed in the Emergency Operations Center. The Emergency Operations Center does everything except respond to a disaster. This is where a limited number of staff are making sure firefighters are fed, disabled residents are getting help to evacuate and recovery efforts are underway from the first day. It is a government operation, so you have to expect a few acronyms are involved—we call it the EOC for short.

A couple of things made working in the EOC a unique experience. First, normal organizational hierarchy is suspended. There are no bosses or subordinates in a traditional sense and it doesn’t matter what you do in your day job or where you normally do it. There’s no time for drama or office politics. Each person has an assignment and everyone depends on everyone else to get the job done.

Normal organizational rules are also suspended. For two weeks, it didn’t take committee deliberations and public meetings to make a decision. I didn’t receive a single request to meet with a union before work could continue. The EOC is authorized to do what needs to be done. Fortunately or unfortunately, doing what needs to be done also tends to include very long hours without many opportunities to take a break or slow the pace. In fact, one of the assignments is for someone to get food for the rest of the EOC staff so they can keep working.

Now, perhaps some of you are thinking that casual relationships and loose rules are no way to run an operation. And much of the time, I might agree with you. But I also observed some behavior that taught me a great deal about the principle I’ve been asked to discuss today. I’ll share three quick anecdotes.

On the morning of the second day, it was becoming clear that we would need more staff in the EOC to support the more than 5,000 firefighters that had arrived or were on their way. I texted the department directors and asked for five volunteer clerical staff to work 12-hour shifts in the EOC with no mention of overtime. In less than five minutes, I had seven volunteers on the way.

A few days into the fire, I noticed that one of the department directors assigned to the EOC was smiling more than usual. When I asked about it later, I was told that they had been so bogged down with administrative duties that they felt like they had almost forgotten why they entered public service in the first place. Though a tragic event, the opportunity to directly serve the people of our county was rekindling all of the positive feelings that drove them to public service in the first place. They felt privileged to be doing something that would make a positive difference for their community.

Shortly after we returned to normal operations, one of the EOC staff who responded that second day related to me what a positive experience they had. They told me that working for the County had always just been a job before, but now they wanted to make a career in public service. This employee enrolled in an online bachelor’s program shortly thereafter and is already making plans for a master’s degree when that is done.

These experiences, and dozens more like them, left me with a question. What is it about two weeks of casual work relationships and loose rules that makes seven people drop everything, an accomplished director love their job again and an already stellar employee recognize there’s even more they could be doing? A year later, almost to the day, why is the EOC still the most mentioned positive experience when I ask my team about their work?

As I’ve asked these questions, many of those that participated in that EOC echo the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, who wrote that it is “not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies.”

In the days of the prophet Enoch, the city of Zion was unbeatable. The scriptures record that “so great was the faith of Enoch” that he used earthquakes, moved rivers and mountains and called lions out of the wilderness to fight their battles for them. The enemies of Zion, including the giants upon the land in those days, were so intimidated by the strength and glory of Zion that they scrambled away to a newly-formed island where they hoped they would be safe.

And how does the Lord describe the people of Zion? As ferocious? Of superior education or training regimen, perhaps? Or as a peaceful, giving and united people? “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them… and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven. And the Lord said unto Enoch: Behold mine abode forever” (Moses 7:18, 21).

The Lord wants each of us to enjoy great strength and so he commands that we be One in at least four different ways: one with ourselves, one with our spouses, one with Him, and one with our fellow Saints. Each of these is important for our salvation.

First, we must be one with ourselves. The people of Enoch were “of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” The Lord has warned that we “cannot serve God and mammon” and that he spews out the lukewarm because it is neither hot nor cold.

I recently read an interview of Wendell Berry, who is a farmer, poet, novelist and a sort of philosopher of the land. He was asked in the interview if farming was more of an art or a science. He replied, “To farm you have to know, which is science, and you have to do, which is art. In practice,” he continued, “it is impossible to draw a straight or firm line between knowing and doing. When this line is drawn… it is at best tentative and suppositional, at worst false.”

None of us would imagine that we could stop watering or weeding our gardens and get the same results. It seems too obvious to say that we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labor, literal or metaphorical, if we skip planting or harvesting. We understand quite clearly that what we know and what we do must be in sync for our garden to be successful. Yet, somehow, we don’t always seem to understand that it is the same with what we know is right and how we live our lives. Life, like farming, is a good deal of art and a good deal of science with no clear lines between the two.

The polarity and union of knowing and doing shapes our lives and our challenges. For example, sometimes we get comfortable coming to church and listening to those who have been assigned to teach us for the day. We come to expect inspiring messages and maybe a list of what we should know or what we can do; but reading a list about what we can do is not doing, so when we approach our church meetings in this way we relegate ourselves to passivity. We can come to church every week and still be little more than observers—and we can learn very little this way.

The opposite of passive observance is active participation. What the observer appreciates as valuable concepts and ideas, the participant understands as a call to action. The Lord has designed his Church as a place of activity: we sing the hymns together as “songs of the heart” (D&C 25:12), we “teach one another words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118), we volunteer for assignments and magnify the callings we are asked to perform. On occasion we have a reason to practice forgiving someone who has offended us or serving someone who needs our help. Approaching our time in church as a time of giving, rather than receiving only, not only increases our learning, but it also affects our integrity.

Integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” but the second definition is “the state of being whole or undivided” including “the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction”. We are whole or undivided with ourselves when there is high fidelity between the person we know we should be and the person that we are because our knowledge of what we should be doing is consistent with what we do—or, in other words, when we are honest with others and ourselves about who we really are.

Interestingly, this is similar to a definition of the word, “perfect,” which is to be “complete, finished, or fully developed.” I submit that one way we can heed the Lord’s call to “be ye therefore perfect” (Matt. 5:48) is to be true to the person we really are, a son or daughter of the Most High God with courage to do the things we know we should. Because we cannot really give what is not real, personal integrity, or what we might also call “strength of character” or “unity of self” is prerequisite to dedication to the Lord, fidelity to our spouse and unity with others.

Next, unity with our spouse. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees attempt to trick the Savior into verbal support for no-fault divorce. “Is it lawful,” they asked, “for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (v. 3)

Jesus answered, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 4-6).

The unity of a married couple is recognized in our temporal law as well. When Tara and I were married, she had recently graduated from BYU. She had a full-time job teaching at a nearby elementary school, a newer car, a rented duplex and no school debts. I, on the other hand, was just starting my sophomore year of college. I had no car, I was sleeping on a buddy’s couch and since I didn’t have a fancy scholarship I had already racked up over $10,000 in student loans.

On the day we were married, we were no longer Dallin Kimble and Tara Thurston in the eyes of the law. We became one unit: the Kimbles. I was now the proud owner of a little white Hyundai; and with my name, Tara also received responsibility for my school loans. This is another reason why you should always date people who are smarter than you.

The same thing happens to us on the day we step into the waters of baptism. When we are baptized, we covenant with the Lord that we will always be willing to keep his commandments, remember him and take his name upon us. We take his name upon ourselves as a bride takes the name of her groom. So long as we keep that covenant, the laws of eternity recognize we who have sinned as a single entity with our Savior, who died and rose again the third day as a part of His infinite and eternal atonement. Through our baptismal covenant and the boundless grace of God, our debt of sin can be wiped out by the wealth of his grace. Each of us can be declared perfect as a consequence of our unity with our perfect Savior, making us joint-heirs with Christ of all the Father has (Romans 8:17).

Finally, the Lord commands us to be one with each other. This, of course, makes perfect sense in light of the unity introduced by the baptismal covenant. If I am bound to Christ by virtue of my baptismal covenant and you are as well by yours, then you and I are bound to each other. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, when we are baptized we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

In the household of God, we are charged with being of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness with no poor among us. We teach each other the peaceable things of the kingdom and pray to know the Lord’s will individually and collectively. A slight against another is a slight against ourselves, particularly if our offense breaks the covenant we have made. We may choose to cut ourselves off, but we cannot choose who else is in the household of God.

Likewise, service to one another is only service to our God. Such service is for our own benefit and has a multiplier effect as those we serve are strengthened, our capacity grows and the household is enhanced more than the sum of the two. No wonder the Lord would ask us now to improve our efforts to minister to one another.

Each of us brings our own gifts to the household of God. The Lord taught Joseph Smith that these gifts “are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do… And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:9-12).

Unity in each of these covenant relationships—with ourselves, with our spouse, with God and with each other—are of the upmost importance to the Lord. Each of the ten commandments address these relationships. The third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” refers not only to our language, but also prohibits wasting or abandoning the strength that comes through the baptismal covenant, for example.

In many respects, a life in the household of God is a lot like what I experienced in the EOC. The staff of the EOC was unified and motivated by an urgent need to help our community; the household of God is united by the urgent need to save all mankind. Worldly status is irrelevant here—we are all equal in the sight of God. Worldly excuses are also of no use here—none of us are too old or too inadequate or too busy-- each of us has gifts that are given for the benefit of all.

When we live with integrity, being true to our real and divine identities, we will recognize that this is the greatest cause there ever was. We will prioritize service to others and be willing to drop everything to help them. Our service will bring us joy and help us smile a little more even in the worst of times. And we will undoubtedly find that there is more we can be doing, more purpose for our lives and more blessings available to us than we are currently experiencing.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Subtle Blessings

"Windows of Heaven" by Jeff Brimley
In 1899, President Lorenzo Snow felt prompted to make the long journey by train and horse-drawn carriage from Salt Lake City to Saint George, Utah. He had been deeply troubled about the crushing debt left over from the anti-polygamy crusades of the 1880s. At the same time, there had been no rain in Saint George for many months and the Saints in that area were at risk of not being able to grow their crops that year. He had been praying anxiously about how to help the Saints and the Church, but received no answer except a feeling that he should go to Saint George.

President Snow made the long trip to Saint George and witnessed dry fields and dying livestock all along the way. Soon after his arrival, a conference was organized so the people could hear the word of the Lord from a prophet of God. He stood to speak with deeper concern from all he had witnessed but without knowing what he could possibly say to make a difference.

Suddenly, in the middle of his remarks, President Snow paused for several moments. When he resumed his sermon, he had renewed confidence and his voice was stronger. Many of the people testified afterward that they knew he was speaking under the inspiration of the Lord. He said, “The word of the Lord is: The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint … to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full. That is the word of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion” (quoted in LeRoi C. Snow, “The Lord’s Way Out of Bondage,” p. 439). He promised that if they would pay their tithing, rain would fall and they would be able to plant and harvest good crops that year.

In the year following President Snow’s revelation, the Saints contributed twice as much in tithing as they had the previous two years. Not only were the Saints in St. George blessed with rain, but within eight years the Church was able to pay all its debts. Since that day, the Church has continued to have enough money to carry out the Lord’s work because faithful Church members pay their tithing.

The Lord promised Malachi that if the Israelites would pay their tithing he would, “open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:7-12). After months of drought and facing the prospect of having no food for the winter, I can imagine that the people in Saint George must have been overwhelmed with gratitude at the sight of rain.

At the same time, despite paying my tithing faithfully for years, I have sometimes felt that I had room to receive a lot more. I have wondered why this promise didn’t seem to be as true for me as I imagined it could be. In seeing only with my temporal eyes, have not understood what the Lord was really offering.

Elder David A. Bednar has explained:

Often as we teach and testify about the law of tithing, we emphasize the immediate, dramatic and readily recognizable temporal blessings that we receive. And surely such blessings do occur. Yet some of the diverse blessings we obtain as we are obedient to this commandment are significant but subtle. Such blessings can be discerned only if we are both spiritually attentive and observant (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).

The imagery of the "windows" of heaven used by Malachi is most instructive. Windows allow natural light to enter into a building. In like manner, spiritual illumination and perspective are poured out through the windows of heaven and into our lives as we honor the law of tithing.

Now I can see that my family has experienced an outpouring of light and understanding on several occasions. One of those experiences occurred while I was attending graduate school in Arizona. Soon after graduation, my wife and I accepted a job in Virginia. It was a big decision that came as a shock to a lot of our friends and family members. Some of them wondered out loud how we could make a decision so suddenly that wasn't even in realm of possibilities just the day before.

Of course, we hadn't made the decision suddenly at all. Years before we decided to move, we began praying for guidance and that we would be able to find a good job after graduate school. I paid close attention when my professors, most of whom were or had been active in my chosen profession, would give career advice. I interviewed for promotions within the company where I worked and started applying for jobs in my field around the metro area where I was attending school. I was constantly looking at job ads and talking with my wife about what we wanted from life, the kinds of communities where we would like to live and jobs that would help us reach our larger goals.

Over time, my wife and I began to have experiences that helped to clarify the path ahead. One interviewer at my then-employer told me I was overqualified and another told me it would be several years before the labor union would allow me to be considered for promotion. A guest practitioner in one of my classes shared stories from working in rural communities that resonated with me. The same advice about mobility and finding a first job was repeated over and over and over again by professors, mentors, role models and career counselors.

As graduation approached I was getting anxious to find a position, but it was much easier to identify the jobs that would get us closer to our long-term professional and family goals. My wife and I knew the entry-level job titles that were most likely to lead to management opportunities, the size and type of community where we wanted to live, and which states and communities we were willing to call home. Four months after graduation, I interviewed in Virginia and accepted a position that was everything we had learned we wanted.

Looking back, there was not a single epiphany that dramatically changed our course or a grand revelatory moment where the Lord commanded us to move to Virginia. Instead, the Lord opened the windows of heaven and steadily poured out a thousand smaller experiences, thoughts and impressions that gradually opened our minds, clarified our goals and led us gently down the path to where we needed to be.

Following the guidance we have received in this and other experiences like it has led to the opportunities, challenges and understanding we have needed to progress in our lives. We have been afforded greater happiness, testimony, strength, knowledge, experience and prosperity than we could ever deserve.

Just as the blessings of tithing most often come line upon line and grace for grace, Bishop Gerald Causse shared an experience in the April 2017 General Conference that highlighted the subtle blessings of priesthood service in his life:

When I was 30 years old, I began working for a retail group in France. One day the company president, a good man of another faith, called me into his office. His question startled me: "I just learned that you are a priest in your church. Is that true?"

I replied, "Yes, that is correct. I hold the priesthood."

Visibly intrigued by my response, he further inquired, "But did you study at a theological seminary?"

"Of course," I answered, "between the ages of 14 and 18, and I studied seminary lessons nearly every day!" He almost fell off his chair.

To my great surprise, several weeks later he called me back to his office to offer me a managing director position in one of the group's companies. I was astonished and expressed my concern that I was too young and inexperienced to hold such an important responsibility. With a benevolent smile, he said, "That may be true, but it doesn't matter. I know your principles, and I know what you've learned in your church. I need you."

He was right about what I had learned in the Church. The years that followed were challenging, and I don't know if I could have had any success without the experience I acquired by serving in the Church from the time I was a young man.

The Lord has taught, “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" (D&C 130:20-21). Sometimes the blessings we receive are as sudden and significant as rain to end a long drought. Quite often however, the blessings of our obedience to any principle come so quietly that we do not even notice them at the time.

This is the Lord's way: "line upon line; here a little and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). "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).

Elijah stood on Mount Horeb (Sinai) and witnessed that the Lord was not in the powerful wind nor the earthquake nor the fire, but rather a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). Instead of ushering in the restoration of the gospel with a visit to a prominent minister or president, the Lord appeared to a fourteen-year-old farm boy with a third grade education and a burning desire for truth. President Snow could have been inspired to know where to dig for gold or secure a large donation, but the Lord told him to go to Saint George and teach obedience to the ancient law of tithing.

You or I may still feel from time to time that we could use more of the Lord's blessings in our lives. This can also be guidance from the Lord. At such times, I have found I get the best results when I strive to be obedient and follow the counsel of a favorite hymn:

When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; ev'ry doubt will fly
And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold.
Count your many blessings; money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven nor your home on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Looking Steadfastly Toward Heaven

"Mountain Lion" by K. Baughan
One night recently, I arrived home from a business trip after dark. As I got out of my car, I heard something rustling in the bushes a few yards behind me. It sounded like something bigger than a squirrel or a cat, which always gets my imagination working. I glanced in that direction and saw the porch light reflecting off a single pair of large eyes amid the darkness of the bushes.

This experience could be unnerving for anyone, but it is even more unnerving in a rural, forested area known for bobcats, bears and mountain lions. Feeling almost certain that I was being watched by a hungry mountain lion, I stopped where I was with my car door still open and turned on my cell phone flashlight. Turning toward the bushes, I pointed the light at my stalker only to find that my hungry mountain lion was really a deer who was probably more terrified of me than I was of it. With a deep sigh of relief, and a chuckle about the whole situation, I closed the car door and went inside the house.

All of us have had experiences where we thought we saw or heard something that turned out to be much different when we looked closer, asked again or decided to investigate. What may have been muffled or shrouded in darkness can suddenly become clear when we turn to face the source of a light, movement or sound.

Following the death of Christ, there was great destruction in the Americas. Valleys became mountains, mountains became valleys, entire cities burned or fell into the ocean and many people were carried away in large tornadoes. The chaos must have been overwhelming.

When the earth settled and the fires died down, there came three days of complete darkness. The darkness was so thick, flint wouldn't spark and fires wouldn't light. Amid the blackness, and in the wake of prodigious disaster, the air was filled with sorrowful cries of grieving and regret.

Dawn finally came and scripture records there were many people gathered around the temple marveling at the transformation of the land and "conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death". Suddenly, "they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard". It was a small voice, but it pierced them to their cores. The people had just experienced fires and earthquakes, but this voice made their bodies quake on solid ground and their hearts burn without a flame.

Though the people could hear the voice and feel of its power, they could not understand its message even when it came a second time. Finally, the people "did open their ears to hear it... and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came." This time they understood the voice and were privileged to hear God, our Heavenly Father, introduce His resurrected Son, the Savior Jesus Christ.

There have been many times in my life when the voice of the Lord has seemed muffled. Sometimes I have known something was there, like the eyes staring at me from the bushes, but was unable to recognize what it was. Other times it has seemed as if the answers to my prayers were being intercepted somehow so that I could not hear at all. This has been especially true when I have been discouraged or feeling rejected or lost.

In every instance, I've found the volume and clarity I needed to understand when I have turned toward the source of the messages I have sought. Praying more earnestly, studying more sincerely and striving more diligently to do the Lord's will turns our hearts and minds to Him and shines a light on the doctrines and principles we are seeking to understand.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Stripling Fathers

Every Latter-day Saint youth has heard the story of the two thousand stripling warriors. Speaking of those young men after a great military victory, the prophet Helaman, who was also their leader in battle, wrote:

Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives...

And now it came to pass that when [the Lamanites] had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold, I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war (Alma 56:47, 55-56).

Helaman explained that "they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it" (Alma 56:47-48). As these young warriors put their faith in their mothers' promise that God would deliver them, they were able to fight with "miraculous strength" and "as with the strength of God" so that not one soul of them was lost despite their own inexperience and overwhelming odds.

Without trying to steal any of the credit from the valiant mothers, which is often noticed and appropriately so, popular youth speaker John Bytheway has wondered aloud what the fathers of these young men were doing the whole time. The simple answer comes about twenty verses earlier in the same chapter:

And now it came to pass in the second month of this year, there was brought unto us many provisions from the fathers of those my two thousand sons (Alma 56:27).

The Lord has shared his plan for successful families in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads in part:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Fathers are given three roles in this paragraph: to preside, to provide, and to protect. Presiding in love and righteousness requires knowing the doctrines of the gospel, striving toward self-improvement first, gently and meekly leading in the home and then teaching children what they need to know and do. Whenever possible, fathers should also provide for their family's needs and maintain the home as a sanctuary that is safe from the physical and spiritual dangers of the world.

The fathers of the stripling warriors were valiant and brave men who led by example. They had been violent and savage before they were converted to the Lord, but when they were taught the gospel they committed with all of their heart, might, mind and strength. They left their homeland to seek religious freedom, ultimately settling as peaceful neighbors among a people who had previously been their most bitter enemies. They covenanted with the Lord that they would never again shed the blood of mankind and kept that promise even at the peril of their own lives.

When war broke out between their home country and their new country, they were loyal to the Lord. Though they could not fight themselves, they offered their faith and their two thousand sons in defense of their freedoms. While their sons were away, they continued to magnify their duty as fathers by sending 'many provisions'. From these verses we see that both the mothers and fathers of the stripling warriors were fulfilling their divinely appointed roles and contributing to the divine protection and ultimate success of their sons in battle.

As our kids leave the house each morning, and one day for good, they step onto a great battlefield. The perils are no less serious than those faced by the stripling warriors. The enemy of their souls will attempt to prey on their inexperience and use every strategy he knows to make them feel outnumbered, doubtful and discouraged. He will seek to wrap them in the chains of sin and drag them down to a miserable destruction.

Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.

As we fulfill the same divinely appointed roles that existed two thousand years ago, and that have been taught again in our time, we prepare our children to fight with the strength of God and to be preserved by his miraculous power. And what's more, we will teach them how to raise their own families in the joy and protection of the Lord.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Four Quadrants of Prayer

In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey outlines a method for organizing our priorities and managing our time. Simply put, it begins with classifying each task we perform into one of four quadrants: urgent and important (Quadrant I), not urgent and important (Quadrant II), urgent and not important (Quadrant III), or not urgent and not important (Quadrant IV). By classifying our work in this way, we can be most effective with our time and effort as we identify and concentrate on the most important tasks first.

As obvious and straightforward as this might seem, Covey teaches it explicitly because, as it turns out, focusing on the most important tasks is not at what most people naturally do. Of course we all "put out fires" first, doing those things that are important and also very urgent. Then, however, most people tend to move to those tasks that are urgent but not really important. We delay more important tasks to check email, tend to a distraction or address some other "pressing" matter. Surprisingly, when the urgent tasks are all complete, most people drift toward tasks that are neither urgent nor important, leaving the important but not urgent tasks for last.

This quirk in human behavior is unfortunate because it is those important task that are not urgent that create the most value in our lives. These are things like building relationships, making plans for long-term success, preventing future crises, developing discipline and perspective, and improving ourselves through training or recreation.

"Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren't important," Covey writes in his book. "They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II... Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management."

While putting first things first may help any aspect of our lives, there is great power in applying this principle to our daily prayers. Most of us already turn to God for help when we are in dire straits and we need the Lord to intervene to prevent serious consequences, but what do we pray for next? And when was the last time you prayed to build your relationship with God or discuss something important that wasn't on a tight timeline?

The pattern of revelation used to direct recent changes in Church procedure exemplifies what can happen when we spend quality time discussing the important elements of our lives in sincere prayer. President Nelson explained:

When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation. The Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each Apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us to discern the Lord's will for His Church.

In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost in spine-tingling! (April 2018).

This process can take many months as each member ponders, studies and prays about what is being considered. That was the case with the decision to combine ward Melchizedek Priesthood quorums into a single quorum. The result will be better direction for a more supportive, responsive and unified priesthood quorum. A similar process was used to call new apostles, assign counselors in the First Presidency, identify locations for new temples and modify and enhance the home and visiting teaching programs now wrapped into a cooperative ministering effort.

Following the examples of modern day prophets and apostles, we would do well to consider where we might prayerfully counsel with the Lord. What aspects of our testimony need to be strengthened before we have a crisis? What is our personal mission on the earth and how can we go about accomplishing it? Where should we dedicate our resources of time and energy to develop Christlike attributes and build metaphorical temples in our lives? What should we be learning now to help the people we will meet next year, teach our children in a few years and face the challenges of the next decade?

When urgent prayers are done, we make little progress with hurried, rote or habitual monologues offered to check the box that we think will bring blessings from heaven. "Ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts," the prophet Moroni taught, "but ask with a firmness unshaken that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God" (Mormon 9:28).

Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.

But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you (Alma 34:18-27).

The Lord asks that we offer our prayers "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ" (Moroni 10:3-5). We do this as we counsel with Him about those things, urgent or not, that are important in our lives and for which we need his guidance. As we do so, the promise is sure: "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."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Risk, Benefits, and Alternatives

A few years ago, I had a medical condition that required surgery. On the appointed day, I went to the hospital and began preparations for the operation. Once I had settled in the hospital bed, the surgeon came in to see me. As he had in his office a few weeks prior, the surgeon explained the operation, gave me a few post-surgery symptoms to watch out for, and answered my questions.

In the medical world, my short conversation with the surgeon is known as "risks, benefits and alternatives," or more colloquially, as RBAs. Surgeons are required to personally share this information with each patient. If a patient has a question later on, the surgeon must return to address that question personally. No part of RBAs can be delegated to a nurse or other staff.

Our Heavenly Father operates in our lives very much like a surgeon. The scriptures testify that all of us lived with God before we were born. We are his spirit children (Romans 8:16-17). "Even before [we] were born, [we], with many others, received [our] first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord" (D&C 138:56). When the time was right, God the Father personally shared the risks, benefits and alternatives of His plan for us in a grand premortal council.

As with any surgeon, the Lord provided information but the choice was ours. We knew that life would be a difficult learning experience and that the stakes were high. Side effects would include pain, frustration, temptation and other symptoms common to mortality. We would need to check in frequently with our Heavenly Father and rely on the Great Physician, our Savior Jesus Christ, to help us heal the wounds we would inevitably receive. If we were faithful to the prescribed plan, we would find great joy, peace and love in this life. We would have his image in our countenances. We would return home to Him to inherit all He has in the life to come. If not, our progress and our royal inheritance would be lost.

Some of our brothers and sisters chose not to come to earth. Perhaps for some, the risks were too great. Lucifer, the scriptures say, wanted God's glory without enduring the trials of life and attempted unsuccessfully to create his own alternative. Many followed him. All people that have lived, that now live, or will yet live, understood the risks, benefits and alternatives and chose to proceed with the plan to come to earth.

Thankfully, unlike most surgeries, our communication with our Heavenly Father does not end once the procedure has begun. Throughout our lives, it is often the case that we will think of questions we may not have before. Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a specific mission or purpose for my life? How can I have peace, love and joy when my circumstances aren't ideal? What should I do about a particularly vexing problem I've encountered at work or in my marriage or just with life in general?

We must never allow ourselves to believe that we are alone. Our Heavenly Father is invested in our success and He is always there to guide the operation of our lives. "For behold," he has said, "this is my work and my glory-- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).

Just as a surgeon will return when a patient has a new question, our Heavenly Father has provided access to him through prayer. He is always there and he always answers in his own time. Christ taught:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

We should never hesitate to speak with our Heavenly Father about the trials and temptations we face. We should pray to him about our aspirations, ask him for the strength and protection we need and express our gratitude for his marvelous plan and the Savior that makes it possible (Alma 34:17-27).

These years later, the pain of my medical condition is now a distant memory. Following my surgeon's orders, I was able to make a full recovery. Even so, his name and contact information remains on my medical record and in my phone in case I ever have a question.

I know that I can always contact my Heavenly Father also; and that he will take my calls personally. He oversees the mortal operation that I chose to experience. He knows how to make it a success and he's deeply interested in doing so. You see, he's not only my surgeon, my god and my king; he's also my dad and he wants me to come home.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

An Offering Unto the Lord in Righteousness: A Prophecy Fulfilled

 An ancient prophecy was fulfilled with an announcement made, and largely missed, in December of 2017. Like so many other Bible prophecies, its fulfillment foretells the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in the same way that new leaves on a fig tree foretell the coming of summer (Mark 13:28-29).

Around 445 B.C., the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple... And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:1-3).

There are several parts to this particular prophecy: the messenger, the Lord coming to his temple, the purification of the sons of Levi and the offering unto the Lord in righteousness. Each part is connected to the others and has occurred in its own time over the last 190 years. The final piece was made possible just two months ago.

First, the Lord sent his messenger to prepare the way before him in the spring of 1829. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were prayerfully engaged in the work of translating what we now know as the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ when they came across a passage they did not understand. As they often did, they went into the woods to pray for the greater light and knowledge the needed. Joseph recorded that as they did so,  "a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness" (D&C 13, JSH 1:68-72).

The messenger introduced himself as, "John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament". It is particularly fitting that the man who was called to prepare the way for Christ's earthy ministry would also have a key role, now as a resurrected heavenly messenger, in the restoration of the priesthood preparatory to the Second Coming. It is equally appropriate that John would echo the prophecy of Malachi he was sent to fulfill.

Restoration of the Priesthood of Aaron was soon followed by the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and then the doctrines related to temple worship. After building the first temple of our dispensation in Kirtland, Ohio, Jesus Christ appeared suddenly on April 3, 1836. Joseph and Oliver testified:

We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us... His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying: 'I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father' (D&C 110).

To understand the remaining parts of this prophecy, we first need to understand who the sons of Levi are who are to be purified and offer an offering in righteousness. In the Old Testament, the Levites performed sacrifices in the tabernacle, which was essentially a portable temple. Those sacrifices were offered on behalf of the Israelites requesting forgiveness of sin, as a sign of personal commitment to God, in gratitude for one's blessings or to continue to be at peace with the Lord. Each of these offerings were intended to point the minds of the people to the Messiah who would one day come to free them from their sins. These sacrifices were only to be done by ordained priests in the Levitical Priesthood-- and only the male descendants of Moses' brother Aaron, a Levite, were permitted to be ordained priests. The Levitical Priesthood is also known as the lesser, the preparatory or the Aaronic Priesthood.

Beginning with John the Baptist's ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the sons of Levi are once again called to do the work of the Priesthood of Aaron. The Lord has taught:

Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses-- for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed... whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church. For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken... become the sons of Moses and of Aaron (D&C 84:31-34).

The sons of Levi in our day are those who have inherited his priesthood as restored by John the Baptist. Over the last several decades, there has been a renewed emphasis on purity among these modern-day priests of the Aaronic Priesthood. Whether "raising the bar" or lowering the age for missionary service, these young men have risen to the challenges of modern prophets to live with greater purity and devotion than generations past. There can be no question the Lord has been purifying the sons of Levi, and continues to purify them, in our day.

Finally, we can turn our attention to the nature of the offering to be given in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Clearly, it cannot be a blood sacrifice in the way the ancient Levites offered animals. Amulek, an ancient American missionary, explained:

Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.

And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal (Alma 34:13-14).

In modern temples, just as in Solomon's temple, there are baptismal fonts where the living may act as proxies in performing baptisms for the dead. This principle of the gospel has been present whenever there have been temples on the earth. "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead," wrote the Apostle Paul in one sermon about resurrection, "if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15:29).

In December 2017, the First Presidency of the Church announced that, under the direction of the temple presidency, ordained priests in the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood may be asked to officiate in baptisms for the dead, including performing baptisms and serving as witnesses. This is a change from the last 180 years, when only those who were ordained to the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood could officiate. Now in more than 150 temples around the world, priests are once again performing sacred ordinances on behalf of those in need of repentance, divine covenants and the peace of God.

Echoing Malachi in an 1842 letter to the Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote:

Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like a fuller's soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation (D&C 128:24).

With a simple announcement that went unnoticed by most of the world, the Lord is fulfilling the prophecies of all the ancient prophets and preparing the world for his eventual return. It is as Christ has said; and today there is another leaf on the fig tree warning us of the approaching summer.