Touch These Stones

I’ve taken a facebook “challenge” to state my favorite scripture verse as an excuse to write up a post I’ve been toying with for a while. Lately I have been rather fascinated by the story of the Brother of Jared building the barges.

In Ether 2 the Jaredites are commanded to build barges “after the manner which they had built.” So this is not so much like Nephi’s experience–apparently this group was familiar with barges, at least for short trips. But for crossing the ocean, the barges that were built had a couple major faults:

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

No light, and no air.

Imagine being a Jaredite helping to build these barges to cross the ocean. You know that there are some big problems with the solution that is being presented. But you are asked to pitch in anyway.

Imagine being the Brother of Jared, asking the people that have followed you all this way, and being commanded to build these barges, but there are some obvious problems. You have to ask your brethren to help you build these barges, and at some point the major design flaws come to light. And you have no idea what to do.

Are we ever asked to pitch in towards something that seems absolutely useless, pointless, or futile?

So The Brother of Jared prays and asks for guidance. God gives him the solution to the air problem. He then tells His prophet to come up with a solution for the light problem.

“Here comes the Brother of Jared! Hey, what did the Lord say?”

“He told me how to get air in the barges.”

“Wonderful! What about the light?”

“He asked me to come up with a solution”

“…Oh. OK, what are you going to do?”


Now it could perhaps be that the Brother of Jared had formulated an idea fairly quickly, but I rather doubt it. I would guess that he wrestled with it for a while. I think it was a hard time for him, and he spent a lot of time thinking and working. I think God wanted him to have that time to think and to struggle, and to come up with a solution.

I also think he worked hard on the solution. The scriptures state that he did “molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Perhaps not; but to me, that sounds like a lot of work.

I think he realized that he could not do it without help from the Lord. That in the end, his efforts alone simply would not be enough. But he needed to do the best he could.

In my own (much smaller) experiences, I’ve found that there is very often a difference between what I think is my best effort and what my best effort really can be (I’ve also learned that I can’t give everything my best effort all the time). Miracles come by the grace of God, but they are more likely to come after we have given much more than we thought we could initially.

So I think it quite likely that the Brother of Jared understood that it may be that God would not provide the miracle, but would give him further instruction and guidance (and that was OK).

But the miracle does come. And I love the implication behind this. God takes that effort, and makes it shine, providing light (and a constant reminder of God’s power and mercy) for everyone.

I love the lessons here, and there are a lot of them. God expects us to work and struggle to solve our problems. He will definitely help us, but the point is that we need to learn and grow. But most of all, that when we have worked and prayed and done everything we can do, and prayed some more, and worked some more, and it seems like all we have to show for our work is a lump of rock.

God touches it.

Lessons in Eternal Families

My sister recently sent me this very excellent and rather introspective text:

As a teen boy what was the most helpful thing you were told to prepare you for eternal marriage?

This has made me think a bit about the various lessons that I still remember from my own aaronic priesthood days… honestly, I don’t remember very many, although there are some that still stick in my mind.

But what I keep coming back to is that for me, the thing that prepared me the most for eternal marriage (and family) is the family culture that my parents raised me and my siblings in. Two things in particular stand out to me:

  1. We worked hard together as a family.
  2. We played and vacationed together as a family.

Working Hard

Growing up, we worked hard. Yes, I know everyone says that. However, while I don’t think we were worked to the bone, I think I can say that with a fair amount of honesty. I’ll list a few examples, and you can be the judge:

  • Cleaning up the acre lot that we moved into, which included several large piles of brick, some old cars, and lots and lots of pig bones. Fortunately we had some neighbor help with this one.
  • Re-digging the various irrigation ditches for the yard, putting in a very large garden (at one point it covered a full quarter of our yard).
  • Working in that yard and that garden, seemingly all the time. One time I remember thinking, “How can we possibly still be weeding out here? It’s well after dark, and I can’t even see the weeds anymore!”
  • Spring Cleaning. My mom was really big into this. It was typically at least a week of intense deep cleaning; scrubbing walls and baseboards, shampooing carpets, washing drapes, cleaning out cupboards, etc.
  • Newspapers. No, this is not the traditional paper route (although it started that way). We delivered between 800 and 1000 newspapers twice each week through most of my teenage years.
  • Family projects. There was always some project or other going on, whether it was re-finishing the cupboards, putting in a new kitchen floor (and discovering that the existing floor was nowhere near to level–about 1.5 inches difference in some places), putting in a swimming pool, finishing the basement, etc.

We worked. We worked hard. We worked as a family. We worked until the project was done right (there’s definitely a streak of perfectionism in my parents). Seeing how difficult it is to get my own kids to participate–to have something even close to the skill to participate, I am impressed at the effort my parents went through to have us all involved in these projects as much as possible. When we finished the basement, we were all down there working on it. When we were weeding the garden or doing newspapers, everyone was involved. Everyone had a task to perform.

Playing Together

My parents were pretty good at making sure we had a good family vacation every year. Some of my favorite trips were the family reunions in Yosemite and the trips down to San Diego (we loved the Wild Animal Park there). We regularly visited my mother’s small home town (where strangers recognized us every time).

We camped and hiked all the time. We had a tradition of hiking Mt. Timpanogos each year–my first time hiking it I was eight years old. And terrified. And thrilled. Dad held my hand the entire way (He was under strict instructions to do so).

We also began a habit of reading books together on our trips and campouts. Dad would read books from Watership Down to Winnie-the-Pooh to Riddle-Master of Hed.

And I have already begun to pass on the gloriously violent traditions of pig-sticks and pool-pomp.

But it wasn’t just the big family events, either. There were game nights and sledding trips and snowball fights and soccer games. We played together all the time. It’s not like we didn’t have our own sets of friends and do stuff with them. But it is the case that I am friends with my siblings and grew up playing with them as well.


Now, I’ve painted a very rosy picture. But we had the standard set of bumps that any family has. There were the family fights and “He’s such a jerk” and “She’s such an idiot.” There were debates and sides, and “I’m not talking to them.” There were the irreconcilable differences that kind of seemed to become less important over time.

And there were lots of years where the garden was a mass of weeds, and the lawn was knee high, and the laundry piled higher than my head (luckily I was short).

But my amazing parents kept at it. They kept trying, they kept doing. They kept packing that tent even when it came out that Dad really doesn’t care for camping and Mom is not a hiker.

We learned how to work. How to really work, rain or shine. Incidentally, the insane paper routes that we did as a family financed missionaries and family trips.

We learned to enjoy each other’s company. To look forward to seeing each other.

And my parents are still at it. They still arrange reunions–real reunions with real fun that everyone genuinely looks forward to. They visit their children as much as they can, and continue to do things with us (guess what? since many in my family have taken up running, my Dad has done several half-marathons–I believe each one with one or more of us kids). And my mom has to be just this side of death’s door before she’ll admit that she’s just not up for company right now…

I can’t think of a single piece of information, or nugget of truth that my parents told me that prepared me for eternal marriage and family, although I know there were plenty of discussions and lessons on that topic. But I have grown up in an environment where family is the great treasure, and well worth all the sweat and tears that are required. I’ve seen it and lived it, and I want that for my own family.

Father’s Day

I wanted to put down quickly a few things from my father’s day.

One: I love hearing my primary kids sing a father’s day song in church.

Two: When church got out I met back with my wife who had our kids already gathered. My youngest handed me a paper “card” with a lollipop taped to it that said, “I love my pop” I hadn’t looked at the card for two seconds before the lollipop was ripped off the card. Mommy informed me that she had insisted I see the card before they could have the candy.

Three: At lunch my wife just mentioned to my kids how we had bought the kitchen table when we were first married, and we were the only two that sat at the table, but how wonderful it was to now have our children sitting at the table with us.

Four: Our stake president spoke at church on the Father’s role as defined by the Proclamation on the Family. Those roles are to Preside, Provide, and Protect. He explained what those meant.

Preside – This is not a position of authority over others. It is a position of responsibility for others. The father is responsible for what happens in the home and with the family. The father should ensure that scripture study, family prayer, family home evening etc. are happening in the home.

Provide – The father should provide financially for the family, but in addition to that, the father is responsible to provide a safe and loving environment for the family. A place where nurturing can occur.

Protect – Again, protection from physical harms is part of this role, but the need to protect one’s family from spiritual harm is equally important. The father protects the family and home from evil influences (inappropriate media etc). Part of this includes keeping himself clean and pure.

How God Has Instructed His Saints to Win Friends and Influence People

I was recently told this quote by Winston Churchill:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Now, that’s a cool quote. When I first heard it I really liked it. There are a couple ideas that it communicates very effectively. One is to be crystal clear in what you are saying. Another is to be very forceful; even heavy-handed. The latter idea is the focus of this article. There are times when such force is needed. But the more I think about that quote, the more I think; that’s not how God usually works. He does have a “loud” or “forceful” voice (just ask Laman and Lemuel), but He rarely uses it. Rather, the Lord is not in the earthquake or in the terrible wind, but in the still, small voice.
The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all…
Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, “Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:10.)
That may be how God communicates to Man, but are we to emulate that? If we are trying to become like our Father in Heaven, then the answer must be yes. We have been commanded as much:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
This is how Christ instructs us to influence others. Obviously, the above verses are directed to Priesthood holders, but I would suggest that the principles taught here are generally applicable.
We are to persuade. To be kind and gentle. To be long-suffering. These are the traits that should characterize our efforts to teach and correct others. This makes a lot of sense–when someone tries to be argumentative with me, my immediate reaction is not to sit back and consider the merits of their argument, as noble as that would be. Instead my gut reaction is to immediately begin thinking of counter-arguments (Exercise for the reader: examine in your conversation at what point you begin building your counter-argument). I have to force myself to stop and think about what they are saying and what merit it has. Joseph Smith put it this way:
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 240).
I am NOT saying that we should not take a stand, or be bold in our stance. What I am saying is that Christ seems to have an opinion on how we take a stance–how we try to influence others. Alma taught his sons to be bold, but not overbearing (Alma 38:12).
In Elder Richard G. Scott’s Talk, “I Have Given You an Example“, he discussed how his grandmother had used ” just the right amount of courage and respect to help our father recognize the importance of his driving us to the church for our meetings. In every appropriate way, she helped us to feel a need for the gospel in our lives.”
Both Grandmother Whittle and Jeanene loved me enough to share their conviction that the ordinances of the gospel and serving Father in Heaven would bless my life. Neither of them coerced me or made me feel bad about the person I was. They simply loved me and loved Father in Heaven. Both knew He could do more with my life than I could on my own. Each courageously helped me in loving ways to find the path of greatest happiness.
Elder Jeffrey R Holland in the same General Conference emphasized the need for us to defend our faith, but to do so with courtesy and compassion. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently sent a letter to congregations across the United States about the Same-sex Marriage debate. The letter emphasized the need to uphold and encourage God’s standard of chastity, and also that all sides needed to show civility and respect.
A powerful lesson about teaching is contained in an object lesson that President Packer used when he was a mission president. He would present a beautiful 3 layer cake and ask who wanted some. An elder would be selected and invited forward:
“I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.
“Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’
“The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it?”
I learned something about this a few weeks ago from the deacons in my ward. One of the boys their age is a Catholic. He is very friendly and has attended a number of youth activities. Recently, while they were on the bus to school, this boy began asking some questions to learn about the differences between Catholicism and Mormonism, and a friendly conversation ensued. However, another young boy joined in the conversation, quoting scripture to the catholic boy to prove why Catholicism was wrong. He kept insisting that this boy ask more questions in order to be proven wrong again. What began as a very positive experience quickly turned sour.
How long will it be before this catholic boy asks any questions again? How has his perception of what Mormons are like changed from that experience?
Again, I don’t want anyone to think that they should avoid gospel discussion, or wait until the absolutely perfect moment (a stalling technique that Satan thoroughly loves to use). But I do think we have been and are being counseled to be considerate and careful. To think about what we are saying and how we can approach an individual in the best way possible.
In a CES devotional in 2012, Elder Holland counseled us on defending Zion and attacking Babylon and its evils:
“I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time.”
When teaching the gospel, counseling or correcting others, I believe it has been made pretty clear that we do need to have the “love unfeigned” spoken of earlier. Christ taught the Nephites and Lamanites:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
And we see this all the time. We see republicans vs. democrats; liberals vs. conservatives; Pro-choice vs. Pro-life; SSM vs. traditional marriage. Some of these issues and stances are really important, and some less so. Regardless of the issue; when both sides are simply yelling at each other or basking in the glow of their own rhetoric the end result is often more contention, which is just fine with Satan.
Christ further instructed that we are not to stir men’s hearts up to anger, and I think that strikes at a key difference. What is the purpose? Whose glory are we interested in? Whose progression are we interested in?
Think of the two great commandments.
The first is to love God with all our hearts. The second to love our fellowman as ourselves. Both commandments are about loving others. President Monson taught that the two commandments are inextricably linked:
“We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all.”
Our love for our fellowman is what should be our motivation. Consider the example of Ammon and his brothers’ mission to the Lamanites. What was their motivation?
3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soulshould perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
Notably, this was the first recorded successful mission to the Lamanites. And boy, was it successful.
The scriptures are literally filled with examples of God’s love and mercy for His children (Do I really need to cite examples? How about the Atonement). It is absolutely true that along with the blessings mercies, teachings and warnings, God’s wrath can be kindled. He does have a loud voice, after all; and he does use it when needed. A great illustration of this is in Moses 7. I would recommend the entire chapter, but this should give you the basic idea:
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.
37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
Even as God was preparing the floods to cover the earth; His wrath was matched by his sorrow. God is not vengeful or spiteful. He is the perfect, loving father. He asks us to follow His commandments because that is what will bring us the greatest joy. His motivation in counsel and in correction is love for his children. It is because of His love that He offers counsel and correction. Our efforts should have similar motivations (Of course we won’t be perfect, but we can at least try). “Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing afterward an increase in love toward him whom thou hast reproved” (emphasis added).
As we make our stand for the gospel, we also need to help and encourage others to do the same, and to be patient with their attempts. Each of us has been given some measure of light and knowledge, and many of us are honestly trying to be true to that and to increase in their understanding of the gospel. In short: nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes. For example, I don’t think any of the young men on that school bus had ill intentions. I rather think they were trying to do what was right. And I think a lot of us are in the same position; trying our best to live the gospel, including sharing it and defending it. And we may take that opportunity and really mess it up.
That’s OK. Really, it is. The important thing is that we try our best to make the most of the opportunity.
Remember, Elder Holland said we would have lots of practice. The idea is that in doing so, we will get better. Our testimony will grow stronger, and our ability to effectively communicate that testimony to others will increase. But we need to also remember that others are also practicing.
I love the illustration Elder Zwick gave of this principle. He told of driving a truck with his wife and baby when the cabin filled with smoke due to an electrical failure. As he worked to get the vehicle pulled over and stopped, his wife lept from the truck with their baby in her arms.
“When our truck cab filled with smoke, my wife acted in the bravest manner she could imagine to protect our son. I too acted as a protector when I questioned her choice. Shockingly, it did not matter who was more right. What mattered was listening to each other and understanding the other’s perspective.
The willingness to see through each other’s eyes will transform “corrupt communication” into “minister[ing] grace.” The Apostle Paul understood this, and on some level each of us can experience it too. It may not change or solve the problem, but the more important possibility may be whether ministering grace could change us.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way:
“Likewise, unremembered by some is the reality that in the kingdom we are each other’s clinical material; the Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a “student” rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.”
As the gospel spreads and the world shrinks, our ability to share the gospel has been dramatically increased. There are so many ways in which we can defend the faith, encourage others, teach gospel truths, and bear testimony. And we can be bold in doing so. I would encourage everyone to take part as we are continually counselled to do. As we do, please try to be considerate, careful, and patient. I believe we can do all those things even while being bold and courageous. It just takes some practice.
References and resources:
Boyd K. Packer, 1983, “The Candle of the Lord
Doctrine and Covenants 121
Richard G. Scott, 2014, “I Have Given You an Example
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2014, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship
Church Instructs Leaders on Same-Sex Marriage
Boyd K. Packer, (Teach Ye Diligently, rev. ed. [1991], 270–71) (quoted in Teaching, No Greater Call)
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2012, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling
Thomas S. Monson, 2014, “Love, The Essence of the Gospel
Moses 7
W. Craig Zwick, 2014, “What Are You Thinking?
Neal A. Maxwell, 1982, “A Brother Offended

Living Prophets

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.

9th Article of Faith

This Sunday I will be teaching the lesson “Why is it important to listen to and follow the living prophets?” I thought I’d put down a few ideas here to help organize my own thoughts.

So a few different thoughts come to mind. One of the main ones is that this is one of the very striking things about the LDS faith; that we believe in living prophets and apostles.

I love this. I love that the heavens are not closed. I love that God still speaks to man. I love that we can receive a witness of those prophets and their teachings (Elder Oaks discussed this topic quite well in his talk “Two Lines of Communication“).

The twelve apostles we have today are very different people (Here’s a fun exercise: go through the scriptures and try to pick out the personalities of the various prophets, seeing how they compare with each other). A judge, a surgeon, a nuclear phycisist, an educator, and a car salesman are some of the former occupations of our current apostles. Very different experiences and ideas.

Elder Ballard discussed this briefly in the CES devotional he gave earlier this week. He said something to the effect of, “We each have strong personalities; so when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion.”

Personally, in my own experience both in various Church callings and at work, I’ve seen how difficult it is to come to a unanimous agreement. If my coworkers and I made no decision until all parties involved agreed unanimously, then nothing would get done.

Elder Christoffersen gives some additional insight into how the Church is led by the apostles in his talk entitled “The Doctrine of Christ.” He discusses how changes in practices are made, how prophets are not infallible, but how they keep the body of the Church from straying.

I really like the imagery of the prophets as watchmen on the tower, who can see approaching danger from a long distance. Elder Tingey gave a devotional in which he discussed this parable:

In addition to the trees and the nobleman, there was a watchman, and he was to stand on a tower. I believe the watchmen today are the prophets and apostles. The Lord has designated President Gordon B. Hinckley as our chief watchman on the tower today. We will be guided and protected from the enemy if we follow his counsel. President Boyd K. Packer is also a watchman on the tower… Trusted local priesthood leaders, including stake presidents and bishops, are watchmen on the tower to their members and congregations. Certainly a father is a watchman on the tower to his family. Each of you should be a watchman to yourself.

Another really good discussion on the watchmen on the tower vs. prophetic infallibility can be found here.

I truly believe that we are led by modern apostles and prophets. I believe that individually they are very different people. But through them the Lord guides His Church on the earth today.

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.

Doctrine and Covenenants 1:38

Because of Him

Because of Him, I was born into a loving family, with a mother and father who lived and loved the gospel, and were committed to each other and to raising a righteous family.

Because of Him, my parents taught me the truths of the gospel. They taught me to study the gospel, and to pray and listen to the Spirit. They taught me to find out the truth of the Gospel for myself.

Because of Him, I have attended Church all of my life. I accepted and served in various teaching and leading capacities in my ward (congregation). I served a mission to teach the gospel to others. By teaching and leading, I learned the gospel more fully, and learned that service and example are the best forms of leadership.

Because of Him, I have learned that I am a child of a loving father in heaven. I am not the result of chance or even an interesting experiment. I existed before I was born, and will continue to exist after I die. I have learned that we are all children of God, and the God loves each and every one of us.

Because of Him, I have learned that I (as well as all of the human race) have been sent to Earth to gain physical bodies, as well as to gain knowledge and experience. We are to use this time to become more like our Heavenly Father.

Because of Him, I have learned that we live in a fallen world, and are subject to pain, sorrow, death, temptation, and carnal desires. We sin, and separate ourselves from God.

Because of Him, I have an example of a sinless life as a guide and a lesson.

Because of Him, sin is conquered. I can repent of my sins. I can be made clean again. And again. And again.

Because of Him, sorrow and pain are conquered. While this life is certainly not fair, in the end all wrongs will be made right.

Because of Him, I can receive grace to do more good than I could on my own.

Because of Him, I can make covenants with my Father in Heaven, and return to live with Him again.

Because of Him, I have been sealed to my wife and children. My wife and I are married for time and all eternity. Our children will always be our children.

Because of Him, my wife and I are raising our family in the gospel. We work together to love each other and our children, and to strengthen each other.

Because of Him, I have experienced joy in this life through my family and my faith.

Because of Him, death is conquered. I and everyone on earth will be resurrected, as He was. We will all live again.

Because of Him.

We wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this world

A little bit ago I wrote about trusting God. I indicated that we who call ourselves Christians should remember that there is a God in Israel, who won’t do our work for us, but will strengthen and increase our efforts to the point that miracles can be accomplished.

I’d like to follow up on that theme a little.

My examples for that post used stories of courageous soldiers and battles from the Bible. Those stories are inspiring and meaningful.

There are other great examples from the Book of Mormon, particularly Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty:

In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children

Captain Moroni wrote those words to remind people what it was that people needed to fight for. What was at stake. Why it was so important for people to risk their very lives in battle–to preserve these ideals.

Isn’t it still just as important?

The nature of the wars and battles are certainly different–we are not fighting other armies.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our challenges are not as straight-forward as a mighty army intent on our destruction. Our time is not as much like Captain Moroni’s as it is like a generation or so later. Actually, President Benson mentioned this in a talk he gave in 1987:

The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.

So what was life like at that time? There were secret bands scattered throughout the nation, seeking (and gaining) positions of power. Corrupt judges ruled the land. Righteousness was looked down on and mocked.

Sound familiar?

President Benson expanded on this in 1988:

I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.

President Packer in 2007:

Atheists and agnostics make nonbelief their religion and today organize in unprecedented ways to attack faith and belief. They are now organized, and they pursue political power. You will be hearing much about them and from them. Much of their attack is indirect in mocking the faithful, in mocking religion.

Ideas, philosophies, slogans, ridicule, misunderstanding. These are our enemy today. These are what we must fight. These ideas are not new. Immorality is not new. Faithlessness is not new.

I am reminded of the scene in Ben-Hur, where the retiring commander demands, “How do you fight an idea?” and is given the response, “With another idea.”

We have another idea. It also is not new. It is tried and tested and true.  The armor of God; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Him miracles can and do happen.

Through Him we can quench the fiery darts of the adversary. “The righteous need not fear.” We may not be able to solve every problem or right every wrong, but as we stand for the right, we can make a difference. We can have that faith that there is a God in Israel, who will guide and encourage us and magnify our efforts.

When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2014


Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. A long history of inspired voices… point you toward the path of Christian discipleship. It is a strait path, and it is a narrow path without a great deal of latitude at some points, but it can be thrillingly and successfully traveled, “with … steadfastness in Christ, … a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” In courageously pursuing such a course, you will forge unshakable faith, you will find safety against ill winds that blow, even shafts in the whirlwind, and you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if you build your unflagging discipleship, you cannot fall.

Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2014

A Spiritual Feast

I got a lot more from this conference than others, I think mostly because this conference I was particularly looking for guidance. And boy, did I ever get it. What a wonderful opportunity General Conference is! I am so grateful to live in a time where we not only have prophets and apostles, but we have such access to their teachings as has never been available on this earth before. Who could have thought that a prophet’s voice could be heard by so many people (What would King Benjamin have given for satellite reception, eh?). Who would have thought that I could search, study, highlight, annotate, comment on, and read not only the scriptures, but the words of the prophets and apostles for the last 40 years? As well as manuals, magazines, references, study guides, and other resources? Oh, and that all fits in a hand-sized computer that I carry in my pocket everywhere I go.

As cool as the golden plates are; at about 50 pounds, I’d rather not have to take them to church every Sunday.

There wasn’t just one or two talks that really spoke to me, there were so many that I have a hard time keeping them in my head.
I absolutely loved Elder Holland’s talk on defending our faith. And the many talks that continued that theme. I was tempted to take a nap when a few 70’s were lined up (maybe I’m the only one who mistakenly says, “OK, he’s not an apostle, so it’s not as critical for me to listen”), but Elder Zwick’s talk was really powerful for me.

I loved Sister Reeves’ talk about pornography and it’s dangers, and things we can do to avoid it. This is particularly close to me as I attended an anti-porn conference recently.

I loved how Elder Uchtdorf loves to mention planes in his talks, with “Dieter, don’t even think about it” being one of my favorite lines–it’s not only funny in the context of the story he was telling, it also speaks to the need for us to control our appetites and desires, lest they begin to control us.

I loved his later remarks about the importance of gratitude. Of simply being grateful to the Lord for what you have, and making gratitude a defining characteristic of your personality, and allow other virtues and righteous traits to come to you more easily.

It was really, really, powerful.

I’ll finish with a drive-by-shooting-style set of one-liners from my notes:

Defend your faith with courage, courtesy, and compassion.
Disciples of Christ are also called on to worry, warn, and sometimes just to weep.
To sustain a leader is to help them bear their burden.
String winds can cause trees to grow their roots deep, and to strengthen their trunks and branches. We can similarly be prepared for adversity through the gospel of Christ.
Whatever civil law may say, God’s moral law does not and can not change.
When teaching and encouraging others, keep the short and long views in mind.
Even if everyone is doing it, wrong is never right.
Gives others questions to ponder, and time to do that pondering.
Our family history centers are now in our homes.
Once you conclude “That’s just the way I am,” you have given up the ability to change (or be changed by the atonement).
What we insistently desire becomes, over time, what we will become. Therefore we must educate our desires.
The restoration is not an event that is over. It is a process that we are in the middle of. God has yet many great things to reveal.
Don’t sleep through the restoration.
Be specific in your prayers and in your expressions of gratitude. This will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought.
We need to have courage to do the right thing because it is right.
A grateful heart is the parent of all virtues.
God helps us. Not necessarily in the way we want, but in the way that will help us grow.
This life is our Olympic four minutes.
Happiness is not the absence of a load.
We cannot keep either the first or second great commandment without keeping the other.
There is much knowledge that can only be obtained by study and prayer.
Obedience is an emblem of our faith in the power and wisdom of God.
Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to truth.
Faith requires work.
May we realize how close God is willing to come to us, and how far He is willing to go for us.
These talks are worthy of our careful review and study.

The Silly Little Things -or- How God Works

I love the stories the little kids tell. The ones where they have had some small experience with prayer and listening to the Spirit. You’ve heard them: they were looking for their lost puppy, or got lost in the store. After praying they find the puppy, or feel comforted. My own experience was with my CTR ring (“Choose The Right”).

I love these stories and experiences. I love the things that we learn from them. The main one being that God is there, and that He loves us.

That’s huge. That is a Big deal. There is a God. He hears and answers prayers. He will answer your prayers.

But beyond that, He is concerned about the little things as well as the big ones. Not in the way that we expect, either. Very few of my prayers and desires have worked out exactly the way I expected. But they always work out.

Here’s a very silly example that happened tonight.

I had borrowed a flash drive and needed to return it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked in my bags, around the computer desk, on my dresser. No luck. Maybe it fell over the edge? No, not by the bed, maybe the other side…

OK, bit of a mess, but it’s not there.

Clean it up.

Really? I’d really rather not right now. I’ve got to find that flash drive.

Clean it up.

<Sigh> Fine, I’ll clean it up… Hey, look at that! Those coupons that Rosanne made for me! Those were sweet. I better put those somewhere safe. Here in the drawer…

Oh look, there’s the flash drive.

Again, not big, not important. But the fact that it’s not important actually makes it a little more special.

For we are well able to overcome it

God did not do everything for the Israelites. He certainly did many mighty miracles, and strengthened them in their battles and difficulties, but it is clear that they were to put some effort in on their own. Or at least some faith.

For example, when the Israelites initially arrived at the land of Canaan, which God had promised would be given to them, He did not cause an earthquake or plague to wipe out the existing inhabitants. Instead, God tells Moses to send spies out into the land. One man from each tribe is assigned to go.

Forty days later they return, and the report from 10 out of the 12 spies is very depressing:

And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great

…We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

Only Caleb and Joshua report that they will be able to take the land from their enemies.

The people of Israel are terrified at the report, and decide they want to go back to Egypt and be slaves

And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

Now on one hand, this seems like a reasonable response. Out of 12 spies sent into the land, 10 of them are adamant that the land can never be taken by their own army. So the choice seems pretty clear: either death at the hands of their enemies, or return to Egypt (their other enemies) and be slaves. Clearly, the “promised land” idea was simply that, an idea, and a foolish one at that.

Now wait a minute. Just wait a minute.

God doesn’t seem to like their tone, so to speak, and for good cause. These children of Israel can never seem to get it in their heads who is really leading them. They can’t even seem to remember the profoundly miraculous circumstances that have brought them to where they are now, considering whether to attempt to conquer the land of Canaan.

How frustrated God must have been! How many miracles had these very people witnessed? The ten plagues of Egypt; followed by leaving that land where they had been slaves with the spoils of their captors. Then the Red Sea was parted. Then the Egyptian army was drowned as they tried to give pursuit.

(At this point, one of the greatest nations in the known world has been thoroughly defeated. So what’s with all the grumbling about these cities?)

But there’s more: The commandments given to Moses on Sinai, and the miraculous food and water provided to an entire nation, time and time again.

How can these people possibly forget? Hasn’t it been shown to them over and over that God is with them as they put their faith and trust in Him? That there is nothing that they cannot do when they are on the errand of the Lord?

And now, here they are, at the very gates of the land promised to them by God. Their land of Promise. And yes, the walls are high, and yes the people are strong. Under virtually any other set of circumstances the task ahead would seem at least daunting, if not impossible.

But it should not be to these people. All they need is faith that God will help them, as He always has. All they need to do is act in faith.

If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.


Fast forward to another pending battle. The Israelites, now in the land promised to them, are threatened by yet another army, the Philistines, who has a mighty champion, Goliath.

This story is much more well known. Goliath comes out every day and taunts the Israelite army, challenging them to choose someone to fight him in single combat, winner-take-all. The army of Israel is terrified of this giant.

Once again, God could do the Israelites’ work for them and take care of this giant in some fashion. But God doesn’t work that way. He expects us to do what we can, and He will bless and strengthen that effort.

So in walks David. He’s not a soldier, he’s a shepherd. But that doesn’t stop him from volunteering.

Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

David is remembering something that the army (and the King) seems to have forgotten. That they are the army of the living God. The same God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan in the first place. That same God has made covenants with His people, which He will keep as the people of Israel trust in and follow Him.

And so, against all odds, facing an entire army, this shepherd boy runs toward his opponent, and dispatches the great giant that defied the entire army of Israel.


So, when we who call ourselves Christians are put to the test, what will we do? Will we act in faith, or cower in fear and doubt? Will we remember that there is a God in Israel?


Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.


References: Numbers 13 and 14, 1 Samuel 17, and 2 Kings 6:14-17