Of Man and Talking with the Father

David, as psalmist, asked God, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4) David was driven to the question by contemplating the infinite works of God displayed in the night sky. To him, all that man was, whatever man was and did, was insignificant when compared with God and His creations.

David went on to answer his own question, at least in part. He recognized the divine attributes with which God has endowed man, crowning him “with glory and honour”, granting to man “dominion over the works of” God’s hands, that God has “put all things under his [man’s] feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:5-8)

The marvels of nature and the creatures of the earth are breathtaking. The complexity of the simplest forms of life eludes adequate description and elicits wondrous appreciation when carefully considered. As marvelous as all these are, nothing on earth inanimate compares in wonder and complexity with living creatures, and there is no living creature to approach the wonder of man.

Of course some self-important yet self-despising scholars trouble to challenge the apodictically true pronouncement of God to the first man and woman that they were given dominion over all living things on earth (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). But the very erudition of their failed philosophy still serves to demonstrate the intellectual chasm between man and the most intelligent non-human life form, a distance that is unbridgeably vast.

Evidences are abundant, but I offer a handful in illustration: no creature but a human can write even the simplest book let alone a Shakespeare play. No creature but a human can build anything remotely as complex or useful as a typical suburban house let alone a modern skyscraper. No creature but a human can invent musical harmonies let alone compose a Beethoven symphony. No bird of any kind can fly as fast or as high or transport as much weight as one of the more simple jet planes let alone a modern airliner. Elsewhere I have pointed out the curious example of man’s dominion in that (as far as I have observed) humans are the only creatures on earth to have pets. Even man’s destructive abuse of his powers serves to emphasize his possession of abilities of a kind beyond the ken of any other creatures.

Man has not been given these gifts as the most favored of God’s animals. He receives them by inheritance, and the gifts that man exercises in mortality are but intimations of what God the Father has prepared for His children in the eternities. So Paul taught the Romans,

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:16-18)

With these gifts come responsibilities. In modern times the Lord reminded His children that the riches of the earth and of all creatures,

are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
And it pleaseth God that he has given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20)

This confidence coupled with accountability assigned to man by the Creator may be significant reasons why prayer is so simple, why communication with God is so direct, as child to Father. We are like Him, and He is mindful of us. Communicating with God is not like a dog trying to communicate its wants to its master. When God created the earth, all creatures were to multiply, “after their kind”, but God created man and woman, “in his own image” (cf. Genesis 1:21-27). He wants us to talk with Him and places no barriers between us and Him, because we are of a kind.

It takes no more faith—and no service charges—to talk with God than it does to communicate with your aunt in Cleveland. But you do have to believe in Him as much as you do in her. And He is even more eager to take your call.

(First published February 24, 2013)

Of What I Believed and What I Found

Until the day that I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ I had not affirmatively adhered to any of the various creeds of the denominations of Christendom, none of them in particular, but I have always had faith in God and Christ. My parents, acting upon the best knowledge and light that they possessed at the time, had me baptized when but a few days old into the Lutheran church (I think that it was the Missouri Synod, but I am not sure of that). I was quite short of sin at the time of my infant baptism, a claim that I confess I could not make when I approached the waters of baptism on my own volition later in my youth.

Also upon the initiative of my parents, and without any resistance on my part, I was a regular and active attendee at the protestant churches my parents attended. I sang in youth choirs, and I tried to pay attention to the weekly sermons. Often I would sit by myself on the front row, right in front of the minister’s podium, and watch him go page by page through his text. I regularly attended Sunday School and was involved in the lessons. It was at one such Sunday School where as a little lad I was taught by the Sunday School teacher, my mother, to build my house upon a rock.

In my childhood I grew up in suburban communities, richly endowed with a wide variety of Christian churches and sects, and when as a youth we moved to western New York I became acquainted with still others. My experience was that people chose their protestant church in accordance with what suited them as to location, music, oratorical powers of the minister, the fellowship of the members, the physical facilities of the local building, worship customs and practices, meeting hours, and a variety of other factors. Whether one denomination was “true” in comparison with another was not a question that I recall ever being raised. The general attitude that I could discern was that each and all of the denominations were recognized as possessing no more or less truth of consequence as any other.

I do not remember a beginning to my faith in Christ or my assurance of the presence of God. I recall them as much as I can recall anything from my earliest memories of my earliest thoughts. What I was taught in my childhood reinforced that faith. Indeed, if the churches taught anything, it was to have faith in God and in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, I thought of more. More than occasionally I pondered why the churches of the day were so different from the Church of Christ as described in the New Testament. None of them was even close in resemblance. I imagined that it would have been marvelous to live in the days when Apostles of Jesus Christ walked among men and when the gifts of the Spirit were abundant. I also pondered, even as a child, the situation of people in China and elsewhere who had little knowledge of Christ and no access to His saving ordinances. The churches offered no solution to the problem of these people other than to try to reach them by missionaries as much as possible. But what was the fate of those who missed out in the meantime? I never heard the question asked or an answer offered.

I was also taught by my mother to pray. Prayer was a part of my daily routine. I had a deep reverence for the Holy Bible, a copy being one of the first books I ever “bought” (by redeeming a book of green stamps). The churches I attended taught from the Bible, particularly recounting the stories. As I got older, I sensed, however, a hint of embarrassment on the part of minister and teacher about relying upon the Bible too literally. We were not encouraged to bring a copy with us to church or class.

All of that changed after my mother invited the Latter-day Saint missionaries to come by and tell us something about their church. She really had my brother in mind, since at the time he was wrestling with all of the distractions of young manhood. She felt that they might do him some good. When the missionaries arrived, I was home and he was not. I listened and learned.

What the Latter-day Saint missionaries unfolded to me was the ancient Church of Christ in its fullness, all restored on earth today. Once more living Apostles walked among men, with all the same gifts and powers of the Spirit manifested as they were nearly 2,000 years before. The scriptures came alive, the Holy Bible resumed its place as a standard reference for daily living and communion with God, its messages and miracles embraced into real life rather than mere moral tales of antique lore. As they did anciently, the living prophets and Apostles were revealing more from God, guidance directly relevant to our current and modern conditions, all fully in harmony with what God had always said.

One example I learned and had until then never been taught was news of the work to spread the message and redemption of Christ to all people, wherever and whenever they lived. As the Bible taught and as modern prophets taught, those who left this life without access to the gospel of Christ would hear that message in the world of spirits, where they lived and waited for the day of resurrection to come when the Savior returned to the earth, as He promised. None were to be left out, all to have as full a chance to receive God and Christ as would any other.

Echoing what I had always believed, the Latter-day Saints proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the Savior of all the world and of all mankind, His religion not just a faith for a segment of the population in one part of the world. Together with the Holy Bible of the ancient east The Book of Mormon was a testimony from the ancient west that salvation is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, proclaimed by two societies of antiquity separated by an ocean but united in the same witness from God of the divinity of His Son.

To these ancient testimonies of Christ were added the modern testimonies of men and women who knew. The Latter-day Saints gained through their faith personal knowledge born of personal revelation of the Savior Jesus Christ. Through prayer and many personal unimpeachable experiences their faith had grown to solid assurance.

To their witness I add my own, gained in the same way. Building upon my own faith in Christ, exercising the familiarity with personal prayer taught me by my mother, I acquired just as the saints of old days and modern times a deep personal knowledge and assurance that God is real, that Jesus Christ is resurrected and the Savior of all, and that His Church is on the earth again possessing and manifesting all that it had anciently.

I found the true and living Church of the true and living God. The interaction has made my life richer and better, deeper and full of value. Since and from that discovery I have been gaining every good thing.

(First published March 10, 2013)

Of Joy and Prayer

According to my own experience—and others have given similar reports—the most fun, pleasure, and joy in this world come from the presence of the Holy Ghost. That influence enlivens the whole soul: body, spirit, and intelligence.

Some avoid prayer, or pray in a perfunctory manner, because they consider prayer to be boring, work, drudgery. Prayer indeed can be difficult at times, for it calls forth sincerity, faith, and humility, three traits that go against the grain of modern culture. So I will admit that prayer can require work, but I think that boring and drudgery apply only to prayer that is short on sincerity, faith, or humility. Fortunately, those elements are free and within the reach of any willing to apply them. They do take time, and so does effective prayer.

It is well worth the effort to take the time to apply these elements in prayer to the Father, in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ. There are few better ways to invite the presence and influence of the Holy Ghost. When that is understood and acted upon, prayer can become the most enjoyable activity in this life.

I recall a memorable recognition of that fact, when accompanying the missionaries who were teaching the gospel to a friend of mine. This friend had known some significant experience with drug abuse. The influence of the Holy Ghost was present in that discussion, felt by all four of us. The joy of that presence was noted by my friend with these memorable words: “This is better than drugs.” He was right.

(First published October 12, 2008)

Of Marriage and Happiness

Last week I completed teaching another “Strengthening Marriages” course at church. The principles I taught were my own. By that I do not mean that I thought them up. They are mine because I embrace them. The course was designed under the direction of living Apostles and prophets. The concepts are divinely inspired. Their purpose is not to “fix” troubled marriages but rather to help husband and wife in any marriage increase the joy of this most important of all human relationships.

Here is a summary of some of the key principles taught.

The first and foundational principle is that the family is not only the most important institution in the Church but is in fact the most important institution in all time and all eternity. The marriage relationship is our most important relationship and can be the source of our greatest joy, beginning now and lasting forever. The key to that joy is building our marriages and our homes on the rock of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. So built, we can withstand all that this life of trial throws at us, allowing us to begin living in heaven already while here in mortality.

Another central principle of happiness is unity in marriage. Husband and wife are intended to be one. Man and woman were created to be united and become a greater one. No man or woman is complete or whole without wife or husband. To enjoy the most of that unity husband and wife should allow their differences in gifts to complement one another. God intended man and woman to be much alike but also significantly different in physical, mental, and even spiritual gifts. Embrace that, do not fight it. Unity in marriage also requires complete loyalty to each other, placing commitment to each other above any relationship with anyone else on earth. This unlocks an unending wealth of happiness in marriage.

Important in the day-to-day life of marriage is nurturing love and friendship with each other. Frequent expressions of love and kindness—in ways large and small— play no small part in that nurturing. The proper expression of intimacy in marriage is a gift that God has extended to His children that, kept in proper channels, unlocks enormous eternal power. Complete faithfulness to each other strengthens that intimacy and enfolds it in an ever increasing love.

Both husband and wife should expect and acknowledge that there will be challenges. The purpose of mortal life is to be immersed in a world of challenges and grow from those challenges, our reactions to them shaping us into who we choose to be for the eternities. In marriage we find help to face those challenges, a help meet that we can find in no other way or relationship. Husbands and wives, with the aid and inspiration of the Lord, can work through any challenge. This is part of the marriage covenant. Marriage, to be what the Lord intended, to manifest all of its power for joy, must be a covenant, not a contract, a covenant through which we give all to each other without consideration of an “exchange.” The concept of “prenuptial” agreements, of counting the contributions of each in marriage, are foreign to the eternal union of souls that marriage can be as intended by God.

An important principle of happiness that needs to be applied whenever a challenge arises within the marriage itself, be the challenge large or small, is that we can choose to react in patience and love rather than in frustration and anger. That may take practice, but it is a rewarding practice. As children of God, we can increase our power and freedom to make that choice each time that we choose well. Strong lines of communication between spouses will enable us to respond to challenges most effectively. When looking at each other, seeing the admirable qualities rather than the temporary weaknesses facilitates that communication and builds the confidence that underlies it.

A successful eternal marriage involves the Lord as a constant Partner, Help, and Guarantor of the covenant. He wants us to succeed. We draw upon His help and strength through faith and prayer. Modern prophets for a hundred years or more have counseled that great power comes to husband and wife and then to their family from such inspired practices as regular, daily family prayer and scripture study and weekly family home evening. From long experience I can tell you that this is true.

We know that we each will come up short from time to time. The atonement of Christ gives us the best tool for dealing with our shortcomings and not letting them harm our marriage: forgiveness. We discussed how we need to seek forgiveness from each other and be ever ready to extend forgiveness. The result is peace, trust, and security.

Do not neglect to follow, jointly, principles of sound family finances. Managing family finances together can be a powerful way of uniting marriage in real life. As we manage the material elements of our life we build eternal spiritual ties with each other. In a material way we see our complete union growing closer. A few of the key principles of successful financial management include paying an honest tithe (as a constant reminder of the spiritual nature of all things material), spending less than we earn, and the freedom that comes from living within a budget.

These are just highlights of the marvelous truths that God has revealed to us through His prophets to make our marriages what He intends them to be, the greatest source of happiness and joy in this life and happiness and fulfillment beyond anything that we can imagine in the eternal worlds.

As you consider them, think on the words of the modern prophet Brigham Young about the marriage relationship:

But the whole subject of the marriage relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man’s reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach. We can tell some things with regard to it; it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of salvation—of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity.
(Brigham Young, October 6, 1854, Journal of Discourses, 2:90)

(First published June 8, 2013)

Of Miracles and Modern Times

My son famously declared to his school colleagues in morning devotional, “Brothers, I believe in miracles.” I do, too. I have witnessed them. I have experienced them.

Believing in miracles supposes some understanding of what they are. I understand all miracles to have their source in the Divine. No connection to God, no miracle. That is to say, each miracle is an intervention into the world of mortality from the realms of eternity. That is why all miracles are to some degree other worldly, but not entirely other worldly, because part of the marvel is that they take place here. I suppose that what we see as miraculous on earth would not seem so miraculous to us or anyone else in heaven.

While God is the source of the power in each miracle, the essential feature of a miracle is its timing, not its substance. In fact, it seems to me that all of the miraculous quality consists in the timing. Is restoring sight to the blind a miracle? Certainly it was when it took place in 100 B.C. Today we have medical procedures that restore sight for many, perhaps daily, with techniques that we have learned but which were unknown anciently. These are marvelous procedures of great benefit, but we do not look upon them as miraculous. The difference is timing.

Curing a man of leprosy, ordinarily impossible in the days of the ancient Apostles except through divine intervention, is quite common today with the proper medicines. The difference surely is knowledge, but knowledge acquired over time. An antibiotic treatment would have been a miracle in the days of the Caesars.

As time goes by and medical and scientific knowledge advance, there is little that was considered miraculous in bygone eras that cannot be replicated today, and what cannot yet be done we can fully expect one day can and will be. That takes nothing away from the miracles of antiquity, but rather makes them all the more understandable. Increasingly as we look at miracles, we replace the question, “How could they do that?” with the question, “How could they know?”

There is no “magic” in a divine miracle. God does not nullify the laws of nature any more than we can. But He knows them better. He knows them all, and He exercises them as He pleases to do His work, which seems and is wonderful to our eyes.

God knew the powers of controlling vapor and flame in the days of Moses, but man’s knowledge of it was primitive. What was involved with the control of energy in the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night and the “pillar of a cloud” that guided them by day (see Exodus 13 and 14)? Is it something we could do 2,000 years after the birth of Christ? Very probably. The miracle was not in the substance, but in the timing, a very explicable exercise of fire control that was once beyond the skill of man.

But in this example there was an even more important display of the miraculous timing of God. The pillars of fire and vapor appeared exactly when needed, either to guide Israel or to keep the armies of Pharaoh at bay. They were taken away just in time to lure Pharaoh’s armies into the flood. With their back to the sea and the Egyptian chariots nearly upon them, Israel despaired. But not Israel’s prophet, as Moses declared, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13). The timing was all and everything.

In my own day and life, I have received the piece of information, just in time. The increase in salary has come precisely when needed. The new medical treatment became available none too soon but not a day too late. An acquaintance was made, too beneficial to have been by chance. Closed doors have been opened.

Others have witnessed greater than these, the recovery from terminal illness, the power to endure the unendurable, the inspiration to touch the hearts of one and of many, the means to build, to comfort, to restore, and to renew. Nearly all have come in answer to prayer, from a God who is easy to be entreated.

Should these seem small to you, especially when compared with the miracles of the prophets recounted in ancient scripture, bear in mind that miracles are not given to satisfy a popular appetite for spectacle, but rather they have always been employed by God to do His work, which is most usually done quietly.

Yet I would offer a couple of great modern works of God for your contemplation. Consider the translation of an ancient work of scripture from an unknown language by a young man barely literate in his own native tongue. And consider that this work, The Book of Mormon, would be so powerful in the testimony of Jesus Christ as to make millions of Christians on every continent of the world. Consider the miracle of thousands of these people crossing a thousand miles of 19th century American wilderness to an even more desolate and barren wasteland, carving out of the desert an empire of cities, farms, and enterprises, a successful effort unmatched by any other colonization effort in the history of the Americas. These are epic works of God worthy to stand alongside any of antiquity, no less powerful for happening in our time.

These and other modern miracles point to the truly greatest miracles in the work of God, the quiet transformation that takes place in the hearts of men by the power of repentance and forgiveness, which makes an ordinary man or woman full of kindness, someone who “envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45). That is the miracle that is the most awe inspiring of all.

(First published September 10, 2013)