Monday, October 5, 2015

This Winter

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Courtesy LDS Media LibraryI know winter will be blue. It's how
the ashes of summer color the cold, and
the stubborn grass leans on my regret,

and how timid, ripe clouds—
silent angels—storm my fitful hopes
and wounded resolve.

I wait at the season's verge
with skyward eyes, not daring
to look down,

and trust the Timekeeper of heaven
who promised, long ago, to weep
with me through the night.

Michael James Fitzgerald

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Tom Monson!"

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Courtesty LDS Media Library
President Thomas S. Monson
A friend from work, Rob, recently told me about an experience he had with President Thomas S. Monson in the early 1990s.

Rob was a Sunday School president in his ward back then and he had been asked to take charge of a sacrament service at a care facility in his stake. Leadership in his ward took turns holding the meeting, and he had arranged with several youth to help him with talks and administering the sacrament.

As the meeting time approached, no youth appeared. Rob was getting nervous. Then a car pulled up in front of the building and out came President Monson from the back seat.

President Monson extended his hand to Rob and said with some energy, "Tom Monson!"

"I know who you are, President," Rob replied. President Monson was a member of the First Presidency and a counselor to Ezra Taft Benson at the time. His mother had lived at the building before she died and he still visited there regularly.

Rob was embarrassed to admit that his plans for sacrament meeting were not coming together. President Monson assured Rob that they, the two of them, could pull something off and handle things just fine.

"Would you like me to bless the bread or the water?" President Monson asked.

"Well," said Rob, "I think you are presiding."

"Yes, but you are in charge."

"Okay, will you do the bread then?"

President Monson agreed. Rob also asked him to be the concluding speaker. Rob would speak first.

They blessed and passed the sacrament together and gave extemporaneous talks. The meeting went very well. They parted company and President Monson went on to bless others at the care center. Rob was left with an unforgettable experience.

I have thought since about the youth who didn't show up that day. How did they feel afterwards when they learned who and what they had missed that day? I know how I would have felt. This story is a reminder to me to be where I am supposed to be when I am supposed to be there.

One place I plan to be this weekend is at general conference, to listen to a prophet of God, President Thomas S. Monson. I love conference weekend. I am very excited to learn what the Lord would like me to learn and to feel the healing presence of His Spirit.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Death at Palermo

Troops from 51st Highland Division unloading stores
from tank landing craft on the opening day
of the Allied invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943
Patrick attends our homeless branch in downtown Salt Lake City. A few weeks ago, he shared a story with me about his dad that I can't seem to get off my mind.

His father Edward fought in World War II. He was an infantryman, part of the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Eventually, his battalion was encamped on top of a hill, near the city of Palermo.

One morning, Edward kept getting the feeling that he should go down to the river below the hill. He finally went down to the river, alone.

He was met there by a woman, a stranger, who said to him, "Eduardo! Eduardo!" as if she knew him.

While he was below the hill, his camp was shelled by Axis artillery, and when the firestorm stopped, all the soldiers on the hill had been killed. Not one of them was left alive. Only Patrick's father survived.

Years later, Edward told Patrick the story. Patrick asked his father why he of all people was spared. Edward's simple answer: "So you could be born."

I am reminded of these words from the New Testament: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Angels are among us—and angel voices. Some are mortal, some immortal. They have messages for us. They'll protect and guide us if we'll listen.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Second Coming: "All the Proud . . . Shall Be Stubble"

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The Prophet Malachi, by
Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1310
Malachi, who prophesied about 430 years before the first coming of Christ, wrote these words now recorded in the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament:
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Malachi 4:1; emphasis added.)
The Savior Himself quoted this verse, among others from Malachi, when he visited the Nephites in America after his resurrection (see 3 Nephi 25:1). He also spoke these words in modern times (see D&C 29:9; 64:24).

The prophet Nephi, who lived less than 200 years before Malachi, also invoked the same notion (see 1 Nephi 22:15 and 2 Nephi 26:4), and when the angel Moroni visited 17-year-old Joseph Smith on the night of September 22, 1823, he quoted Malachi's words a little differently:
For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Joseph Smith-History 1:37; emphasis added.)
Section 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the original appendix of the Book of Commandments, also cites the verse (see D&C 133:64).

Who are the proud, why will they burn, and who will burn them up? Why do these words appear eight times in the standard works? Let's uncover together a few things that the scriptures and modern prophets have to say about this searing subject.

Who Are the Proud?

On the morning of April 3, 1989, I sat in our living room and watched Gordon B. Hinckley on TV read Ezra Taft Benson's landmark address, "Beware of Pride." I remember that day well. It was the day of my father's funeral.

I'll call out just a few lines of his inspired words. I recommend clicking the link above and reading the whole talk. I believe it's one of the most important and memorable messages from a modern prophet in my lifetime.

It's a clear, prophetic standard against which we can measure voices of contention and dissent against the messages of light. If the chatter on the Internet matches President Benson's description of pride, set it aside and keep searching.
Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. . . . Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.”
Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled.
It was through pride that Christ was crucified. The Pharisees were wroth because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, which was a threat to their position, and so they plotted His death.
At the end of this world, when God cleanses the earth by fire, the proud will be burned as stubble [but] the meek shall inherit the earth.
These words are humbling. I'm proud and I know it. I struggle with thinking I have answers when all I have is opinions. Sometimes I go a whole day without saying something arrogantly stupid, but most days I don't. This is on my mind all the time, and I'm working on it every day.

Who Will Burn Them Up?

When the Savior comes again, arrayed "in flaming fire [to take] vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel" (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8), He will not be alone. Jude is among those who told us why. He quoted these words from Enoch in his short but powerful epistle:
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. (Jude 1:14–15; emphasis added.)
Paul said that "the Lord shall consume [the wicked] with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy [them] with the brightness of his coming" (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8). Christ will return with many thousands of His saints and the truly wicked will not be able withstand their presence. Light will consume all corruption and all arguments against God will be reduced to ashes (see Malachi 4:3 and 3 Nephi 25:3).

Sometimes the Lord doesn't seem to be very tolerant or politically correct. This is one of those instances. I know some people take issue with that. They have told me so. It doesn't fit their world view. But if I know anything, I know that God lives and that His words are true. He has told us that He "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31; compare Alma 45:16). When He comes again, we will experience what that means first hand. 

Better Employment

Pride comes in degrees and we all have a degree of it. I certainly have it and I'm not proud of that. But I as I observe, I learn and do better. Awareness and admission are two keys.

In the worst and perhaps most extreme sense, the proud are intellectually arrogant but spiritually ignorant. They think they know it all and imagine that they win all arguments. They set aside the wisdom of the ages, preferring instead a moment of popularity and political righteousness. They can't ever imagine themselves being wrong or admitting that they are.

They bring spiritual and physical harm to themselves and others while not regretting their words or choices. They see nothing wrong with destroying life so they can selfishly enjoy theirs. Their desires know no bounds and they love to indulge in physical pleasures. Their feel no need to stop their addictions and fixations, which alienate so many. They consider themselves the kings and queens of their own destiny.

They are uninnocently immodest in dress, words, actions, and imagination. They are defensive and refuse to change. They are intentionally deceitful though unintentionally self-deceived. They are willful, unreasonable, and defiant. They set at naught the wisdom and counsel of God and the words of His messengers. They belittle what is pure and mock what is sacred. They call good evil and darkness light.

I cannot judge nor condemn them. It's not my place. But for my own protection, I need to recognize and discern them—and avoid them. And I do.

Christ has said that He "will not spare any that remain in Babylon" (see D&C 64:24). My advice, to myself and everyone else, is to get out of Babylon and give up the long career of pride. That last, dreadful day will not be a happy one if we don't. We can find a much better Employer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An Atheist's Near Death Experience

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Courtesy LDS Media LibraryA friend of mine and coworker at a downtown LDS branch for the homeless has told me several times about his brother-in-law Scott. He was by all accounts a very nice guy, but he did not believe in a God. If you ever brought up the subject, he would turn it off as quickly as he could. He denied God existed and would have nothing to do with Him.

Scott was a heavy drinker and had developed some liver problems over time. He was on medications to help regulate the problem, but one day it caught up with him and he landed in the emergency room. While he was at the ER, he passed away. They were able to revive him there and when he came to, he had an interesting story to tell.

His spirit had separated from his body, and while he was away, so to speak, he was not met by a glorious being or by a tunnel of light. He did see his deceased aunt, however, who without force took him on a brief tour of hell to show him what it was like. When he came back, he told his family what he had seen and said, "I don't want to go there."

That very week he sought out a Christian pastor and decided to accept God in his life and Jesus as his Savior. A week later, he died. The second time, though, he did not come back.

Isn't our God a generous and merciful God? If there is even a twinge of goodness in a person, there is hope and possibility.

I would like to say that, theologically, I don't worry about hell. I am grateful to know, by study, faith, and stories like this, that hell is a place reserved for the intransigently evil. Those, I am happy to say, are few and far between in my experience. Take heart, not vengeance. There is a lot of hope for the rest of us.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Second Coming: September 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse, April 15, 2014, by Robert Jay GaBany (Wikicommons)
September 2015 will be an interesting month. Several astronomical events will fall on the same days as holy days on the Hebrew calendar. I'll let you decide if these events are significant in regard to the Last Days or not. Let's take a tour of the month and see what will happen.

Happy New Year!

Rosh Hashana (ראש השנה) or Jewish New Year is also known as the Feast of the Trumpets. It begins at sundown on Sunday, September 13, 2015. It occurs on the first two days of the month Tishrei, which is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Lenet Hadley Reed wrote an article entitled "The Golden Plates and the Feast of the Trumpets" in the January 2000 Ensign. I recommend it.

The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. A partial solar eclipse will occur on September 13, 2015, though it will be visible in certain areas of the southern hemisphere.

Shemitah and Jubilee

The shemitah (pronounced schmee-ta) is the seventh or sabbatical year, a year of rest for the land according to Exodus 23:10–11:
And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.
Some controversy exists about when the next sabbatical year will fall, but according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition ([Thomson Gale, 2006], 623–628), the shemitah began in 2014 and will end this year. (See Leviticus 25:1–7, 18–22; Deuteronomy 15:1–6; also see the entry on the sabbatical year in the Bible Dictionary.)

After seven times seven years comes the fiftieth or jubilee year (see Leviticus 25:8–17; see also the Bible Dictionary entry on the jubilee year). Some believe that 2015/2016 will be the 70th jubilee year since the nation of Israel entered the land of Canaan. However, there is much dissension about calendar dates so I will not go out on a limb here.

The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur (יום הכיפורים) or the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. For Jews, it is the holiest day of the year, a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance.

Joseph Smith received the plates of gold from the angel Moroni 188 years ago on this day; however, September 22, 1827, fell on the same day as the Rosh Hashana or the Feast of Trumpets that year.

The Feast of the Tabernacles

Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) or the Feast of the Tabernacles or Booths begins on sundown on Sunday, September 27, 2015. A total lunar eclipse will occur during the evening of September 27, 2015. If you live in northern Utah, for example, the eclipse will reach its apex at 8:47 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time. By the way, September 27, 2015 is important to me personally: I heard the first missionary discussion 40 years ago on this day and it stuck! 

The dates of the holy days and the eclipses are astronomical certainties. The Lord gave the "lights in the firmament . . . for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years" (see Genesis 1:14) so there may be significance to these phenomena. But the dates for the shemitah and jubilee are not so certain. When someone makes bold claims as to the exact date of a prophesied event, well, I am careful not to board a train for which God has not given me a ticket. But it's always good to be aware and watching. As the Savior warned, "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matthew 24:42).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Second Coming: Be Not Moved until the Day of the Lord Come

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I recently saw this short video by David Christensen and wanted to pass it on.

Here are the quotes with sources from the video. Ezra Taft Benson said on March 4, 1979 at BYU:
For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. Every previous gospel dispensation has drifted into apostasy, but ours will not. True, there will be some individuals who will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God. . . . There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been as well organized. Now is the great day of the devil’s power, with the greatest mass murderers of all time living among us. But now is also the great day of the Lord’s power, with the greatest number ever of priesthood holders on the earth. And the showdown is fast approaching.
George Q. Cannon said on May 6, 1866 in Salt Lake City in (probably) the Old Tabernacle:
God has reserved spirits for this dispensation who have the courage and determination to face the world, and all the powers of the evil one, visible and invisible, to proclaim the gospel, and maintain the truth, and establish and build up the Zion of our God, fearless of all consequences. He has sent these spirits in this generation to lay the foundation of Zion, never more to be overthrown, and to raise up a seed that will be righteous, and that will honor God, and honor Him supremely, and be obedient to Him under all circumstances.
Henry B. Eyring said on January 5, 2005 at BYU Idaho:
Fear shall come upon all people. But you and I know that the Lord has prepared places of safety to which He is eager to guide us. . . . As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough.
Recorded in the May 1982 edition of the New Era magazine are these words from Ezra Taft Benson:
This preparation must consist of more than just casual membership in the Church. You must learn to be guided by personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so you will not be deceived. . . . We know not the day nor the hour of His coming, but of this you may feel assured: You stand close to the great day of the Lord! In His words of modern revelation, we say to you, “Seek the face of the Lord, always” (D&C 101:38).

You will live in the midst of economic, political, and spiritual instability. When you see these signs—unmistakable evidences that His coming is nigh—be not troubled, but, “stand … in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come” (D&C 87:8). Holy men [and women] stand in holy places and these holy places include our temples, our chapels, our homes, and the stakes of Zion, which are, as the Lord declares, “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth” (D&C 115:6).
Thomas S. Monson as the new president of the Church said on April 6, 2008 in the Conference Center:
I know without question, my brothers and sisters, that God lives. I testify to you that this is His work. I testify as well that our Savior Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church, which bears His name. I know that the sweetest experience in all this life is to feel His promptings as He directs us in the furtherance of His work. I felt those promptings as a young bishop, guided to the homes where there was spiritual—or perhaps temporal—want. I felt them again as a mission president in Toronto, Canada, working with wonderful missionaries who were a living witness and testimony to the world that this work is divine and that we are led by a prophet. I have felt them throughout my service in the Twelve and in the First Presidency and now as President of the Church. I testify that each one of us can feel the Lord’s inspiration as we live worthily and strive to serve Him.