Thursday, October 23, 2014

Second Coming: A Desolating Sickness

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This post is part of an ongoing series on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I'll be posting on this topic from time to time in the coming weeks, perhaps months.  We cannot know all the when and where and how of the Second Coming, but we can be aware of the signs so that when they appear we will be prepared to act. That is my hope. 

Before the Second Coming of Christ, an overflowing or desolating scourge—a desolating sickness—will be poured out from time to time upon the earth. Shortly before the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Isaiah prophesied to scornful men who ruled the once holy city (see Isaiah 28:14):
Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us . . . [but] your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. (Isaiah 28:15, 18.)

When mortals boast that they can escape death of themselves, God is obliged to disabuse them of the notion. On several occasions, such as in 588 B.C. and 70 A.D, He has flattened Jerusalem when the people of that city rejected and killed the prophets including, ultimately, the Son of God.

A scourge, according to Merriam-Webster, is "a cause of wide or great affliction," but it appears from latter-day scripture that this scourge is more than an affliction: it will lead to the death of many souls "until the earth is empty":
For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming. (D&C 5:19.)

Later in modern scripture we read:
And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land. (D&C 45:31.)
Here the Lord tells us that the scourge will be a desolating sickness that will cover the land.  It is easy to imagine, given recent news, that a disease or series of diseases could get out of control and take thousands even millions of lives, in spite of the frantic efforts of modern medicine.

The knowledge and wisdom of men cannot save us from the decrees of God which will remain in force unless the inhabitants of the earth repent. Given what we know, that repentance is not likely. But one can hope.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Will Happen on the Day Christ Comes Again?

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
On a day not far distant, Christ Himself will return to the earth. What will that day be like?

We rely on the scriptures to tell us this story but even when we rely on the best sources, it is often difficult to see how all the pieces fit together chronologically. But there is a coherent story. I find it fascinating—riveting really.

On that incredible day there "will appear one grand sign of the Son of Man in heaven," said the Prophet Joseph Smith. "But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, etc. But the Son of Man will come as the sign of the coming of the Son of Man, which will be as the light of morning coming out of the east" (History of the Church, 5:337; Matthew 24:27D&C 45:36; Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:26).

On that day, we will see Him "in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory . . . with all the holy angels" (D&C 45:44). Enoch prophesied that "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" (Jude 1:14–15). What we will see and hear on that day will be very convincing.

When Christ comes again, it will be a day of vengeance. We read that He "shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat" (D&C 133:48). Why will His garments be red? He answers that question for us: "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me; and I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart" (D&C 133:50–51; Isaiah 63:2–4; Revelation 19:13–15).

On that day of vengeance, "the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it; and the nations of the earth shall mourn, and they that have laughed shall see their folly. And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire" (D&C 45:49–50).

Unfortunately, that great day will be an unhappy day for many. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and [will say] to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:15–17).

Just before that time, all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem and the city will apparently be under siege. Half the city will be taken captive but "the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city" (Zechariah 14:2).

On that glorious day, Jesus will set His foot upon the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem, and there will be a great earthquake. The mountain will split in two, to the north and south, and there will be a great valley through which the residue of the Jews in Jerusalem will escape (see D&C 45:48; Zechariah 14:4–5).

On that day of great awakening, the remnant who escapes will finally recognize their King. The Lord says, "the Jews [will] look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God. And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king" (D&C 45:51–53; Zechariah 13:6).

In summary, on that day of all days, Jerusalem will be under siege and half the city will be taken captive. Christ will descend with holy angels and there will be a great sign in heaven. All the ends of the earth shall hear His voice. Many shall see their own iniquity and shall attempt to hide from His wrath. He will be in red apparel for it will be a day of vengeance. His foot will touch the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. There will be a great earthquake and the mountain will split in two, creating a great valley, through which the residue in Jerusalem will escape. Then they will recognize the wounds in His hands and in His feet and mourn for their iniquities and how they persecuted their true King.

I am not overconfident in my own private interpretation of these events, but as best as I can tell, this is what will happen when the arm of the Lord shall fall upon the nations on that great day (see D&C 45:47).

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Wrote a Novel and This Is What I Learned

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
I recently finished writing a novel. It was my second attempt at writing one. My first attempt over 20 years ago was a flop because I gave up. I was wrong to give up so easily.

I've learned a few things along this road, lessons that go beyond writing, life lessons worth sharing. Here's five of them.
  1. Don't give up. If you are engaged in a good cause and you're growing by your efforts, don't give up. I got discouraged with my first attempt at writing a novel. I got embarrassed, really. So I gave up. I had written several drafts but on one furiously immature day, I threw in the towel and stopped working on it. I actually discarded all copies of it. That was a big mistake. I should have kept going. I learned from the experience, but I could have learned a lot more if I hadn't given up. I've learned that perseverance is the solution to almost any problem we'll face in life. 
  2. Accept criticism. If you want to grow, you have to be open to criticism. You have to be willing to take a hard look at yourself and what you're doing, and then make positive changes, make things better. If you want your life to be better and you want adventure, you have to take risks. Big ones. You have to be willing to expose your true self to others. It can be discouraging to listen to critics—or it can fuel for your passion. You get to choose. Your critics are not always right, but if they are right, do something about it. Lesson? You may feel safe wrapped in a blanket of self-defense, but you won't go very far in life. 
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if everyone else in the world doesn't believe in you or your cause, believe in yourself. Even if all you have is a flicker of divine light in your heart, believe in yourself. That light is there for a reason. It won't go out. You may try to snuff it out, but if it is divine, the flame will burn on. Lesson? If you don't believe in yourself, who else will? Okay, maybe your mom, but you won't believe her either. 
  4. Set your fear on fire. If you're afraid to follow your dream, take a match to your fear and light it on fire—with passion and courage. Fear may protect you in certain instances, but most of the time, it's just bad advice. Therefore, what? Reduce your fear to ashes and keep going. 
  5. You've got mountains to climb. Are you climbing a mountain or resting in a valley—with a remote in one hand and a diet Coke in the other? If you are not climbing a mountain, a really big mountain, your life will likely feel aimless and probably pretty boring. If you are caught up in the dailiness of life and not allowing yourself to have a big goal that you are pursuing daily, I'll bet you're feeling lost. What now? Somewhere, there's a mountain with your name on it. Find it and climb it.
Song of Falling Leaves is book 1 of the Wanderer series, a four-volume set. It's a story of a 14-year-old girl who, with the help of a pair of falcons, an unbreakable stallion, a small army of rattlesnakes, a cougar, and two coyotes, discovers that she is much more than she ever imagined she could be.

This series is my mountain to climb. I've only climbed a quarter of the way. It took me six and a half years to get that far. But I'm looking up and I'm still climbing.

I've converted my fear to ashes. I'm listening to what others have to say. I believe in myself and I'm not giving up. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How I Learned It Was Okay to Cry

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I didn't cry much when I was a young teenager. I only remember crying a couple of times. Once when I got dumped by a girl one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1975, and another time when I did really poorly at a horse show in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Both times I hid my tears and did my crying in private—in the cab of my pickup, in an empty horse stall.

I had been taught to "John Wayne" it by my stoic father. Back then, tears were a shameful thing that you kept hidden. That's what I thought. Until.

I joined the Church the fall of my senior year in high school. I lived on our family ranch then. We lived a long way from town and I was much the loner bumpkin. Just south of our ranch, on the other side of the Little Luckimute River, was a dairy farm, a farm owned by an active Mormon family, the Gillians. They visited us once at our home on the ranch. I hid out in my bedroom. But that wasn't my last chance to get to know them.

Lee Gillians was a kind, honest, genuine man, a dairy farmer with a crushing, bear-claw handshake. He had his "milk-parlor words"—he was as tough a man as I ever knew—but his testimony ran deep.

One testimony meeting, shortly after I'd joined the Church, Lee got up to the pulpit. His daughter Faye had just called him from Ricks College where she was going to school. Right there, at Church, at our little two-phase country Church, she called him. Minutes before he got up to share his testimony.

He told the little congregation that Faye had just called to tell him how much she loved him. That was it. She just told her dad that she loved and appreciated him, then she hung up. Lee's tears came. Pure, honest tears, the likes of which I had never seen before. It was, at that time, the tenderest story of family love I had ever witnessed. Tears came to my eyes too. I've never forgotten that moment. It was the day I learned that you can be a tough old buzzard and still cry. In public. And it was okay.

Tears that come from hearing and feeling truth are precious. I accept them readily and openly. I still do most of my crying in private, but I am not ashamed when they spill out, wherever I happen to be.

When your spirit trembles and tears come because you are hearing an eternal truth or seeing a tender scene, you are making a shift. You are taking a step up the staircase. It is a denial of who you are as a child of God to always suppress those tears. Let them come. Let your Father in Heaven talk to your heart. Let yourself be who you really are. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

An Anti-Mormon Conversation, Recast

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
Here's a conversation I imagine having with an anti-Mormon, recast as a conversation about my mother. Let's call the antagonist Philastus Hurlhurt, Phil for short. This conversation resembles some real conversations I've had.

Mike: Hi Phil, how are you?

Phil: Great if it weren't for you!

Mike: What'd I do this time?

Phil: It's not you, really, Mike. It's your mom.

Mike: My mom?

Phil: Yes.

Mike: What could possibly be the problem with my mom?

Phil: Well, she's a liar. You can tell just by looking at her.

Mike: Alright. Please explain.

Phil: She claims to be your real mom, but she's not. It's clearly evident that can't be true.

Mike: She is my real mom. I'm sure of it. In fact, I'm absolutely certain of that.

Phil: No you're not! I mean, like, do you remember being born?

Mike: No, not really. But I heard about it from a lot of people, including her.

Phil: See! I knew it! You can't prove anything. Your pretend mom is tricking you!

Mike: Why would she want to trick me?

Phil: She's trying to take control of you and take away all your money! She is like the queen of chores! She takes away all your freedom! She won't let you go out and have any fun with your friends—like she won't let you drink or take drugs or watch R rated movies—and all kind of stuff like that! She is so restrictive! She pretends to be an angel but she is a witch!

Mike: No she's not. How can you talk like that? She is a very kind and understanding person. She doesn't have a selfish bone in her body. I've never heard her complain, and her only motive is love. I know she's not perfect, but she's true to me—always has been—and I love her so much.

Phil: You've been taken in. She's not your real mom and you can't prove that she is! You can't.

Mike: I could easily prove it but do I have to prove it to you? I don't. I simply know it's true. I have all the evidence I need, but I don't think I need to prove it to you. You won't accept any of the evidence I offer anyway.

Phil: You couldn't get me to accept it if you tried. You've been brainwashed! Duped! Tricked! Shanghaied!

Mike: Let's not go there. Have you ever actually met my mom, I mean, have you been to her house?

Phil: No. I'd never go there. Except maybe to crash her parties.

Mike: Why?

Phil: I don't need to go to her house. She'd just try to fool me like she's fooled you. I've read a ton of books about her and watched a bunch of YouTube videos too. I know all about her. I won't be sucked into her schemes.

Mike: Really? My mom is a very good person, incredible actually. She has endured so much over the years. I am amazed by her attitude in the face of so many trials.

Phil: She can afford to have a happy-slappy attitude like that because she is so rich. Who wouldn't with that kind of money?

Mike: She has done well for herself, that's for sure, but that's because she is generous, not thinking of herself. And others have been generous to her because of it. She uses what she has to make others' lives happier and better. She's adopted a lot of kids, you know, from all over the world.

Phil: She only adopts those kids so she can control their minds and take away their hard-earned money. You have been deceived. She only has wicked motives.

Mike: You don't know my mom, Phil. You can't understand her. If you could only meet her, you'd know differently, but I don't think you want to.

Phil: You're right. Hey, me and my friends know about her big party this weekend. In fact, a bunch of us are going to crash her party or get on the 10 o'clock news trying. Woot.

Mike: I won't try to stop you.

Phil: You can't! You need to know, Mike, that I really love and support you. It's just that your mom is completely off base and I need to prove it to you and to the world.

Mike: What you're saying doesn't make any sense to me. It never has. It doesn't sound like love to me. It sounds like a private agenda to prove yourself right, no matter the cost.

Phil: You're going down, Mike. You're going to the bad place because you stand by your mom. You are so stupid and stubborn.

Mike: I know with all my heart that my mom is truly a good person. She is exactly who she claims to be—my true mom, loving, kind, generous, and honest. I will always love her and stand by her.

Phil: Oh no. You're going to a lake of fire and brimstone. I can already smell the smoke and the cinders.   

Mike: I'll take my chances. Phil, I feel sorry for you. I really do. I wish we could see eye to eye on this issue but it seems like we can't.

Phil: I'm going to write a musical called The Book of Mom, a clever exposé. I'm going to travel all over and show the world how dumb your mom is. It'll take Broadway by storm.

Mike: Someday, Phil, you'll be sorry. I promise you that. You've reached the point of "no discern." Someday, a door will open and you will see yourself clearly, in all your bitterness and pride and blindness. It will be a sad day.

Phil: If I go down, I'm taking you with me!

Mike: One morning, you got up and took the wrong pill. And you're still suffering from that hangover. That's all I will say. If you ever want to know who my mom really is and what she represents, I'll be happy to talk to you. Until then, goodbye.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Mission Miracle

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Kirtland Temple
Courtesy LDS Media Library
Our daughter received her mission call on Wednesday, September 24. She waited until the next day, Thursday, to open it at her sister's home in Provo. She asked me to take the envelope—her "big white baby" as she called it—to work that day so she wouldn't be tempted to open it.

She was called to the Ohio Cleveland Mission and will be serving in the Kirtland Visitor's Center. Here's why that's significant to me. I served in the Ohio Cleveland Mission (1977–79), and I spent the last eight months of my mission in Kirtland (May 1978–January 1979).

When I was there, I lived in the Newel K. Whitney store which was not yet owned by the Church. It was amazing to live in the same building where Joseph and Emma lived, where Joseph Smith III was born, where the school of the prophets was held. The store was in miraculous preservation. In just a few years, that building will be 200 years old.

Now my daughter will give tours there—38 years later. It's more than fulfilling. It's amazing.

God is good. He knows us. He likes to tell us in gentle ways, "I care." He really does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Relationships Erode

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
I've thought about this for years. I've seen relationships fall apart. I've also seen them hold together. Here's what I think is behind the erosion of a lot of relationships. Relaxing standards.

When you're courting, your standards are high. Your behavior is the best it's ever been. You hold your tongue. You're polite and generous. You're energetic and respectful.

Then you get married. You are playing house with a real spouse! You are Ken and Barbie. It's an adventure. You are ridiculous together. Every day is a day of discovery.

Then things start to trend down. You are tired. You have school or work or both at the same time. Then children come—those little energy sucking cuties. Callings require hours away from home. You come home exhausted and grumped out. You lower your standards.

You don't watch your words closely. Things fly out of your mouth and cut your spouse like a knife. You're disrespectful and sometimes downright mean. Some days, you're so tired, you ignore personal hygiene and you stink. You burp and have gas without apology. You let your wife open her own doors. You sleep longer than you should. You hide out in your room to read. You watch too much schmaltzy television and drink too much diet Coke. You have 47 reasons why you don't exercise or eat right. You cherish bad habits and defend them. You lazily, unconsciously, and predictably lower your standards.

You sing a song that goes like this (my apologies to Veggie Tales):
We are the Mormons who don't do anything,
We are grumpy and forget to pray,
And when you ask us to do anything,
We just tell you,
"Call the Relief Society President." 
And then you wonder, "What's wrong with my wife?" Or you murmur, "My husband is a slob." You complain to your friends about your spousal unit and circle the drain. Your relationships suffer or may feel doomed.

Wake up! Start with you. Yeah, you. Set your sites high again. Be a gentleman. Act like a lady. Turn off the electronic vampires. Open a car door for someone. Buy flowers. Say, "Excuse me." Stop drinking 64-ounce sodas. Take a shower regularly. Keep your mouth closed and listen. If you need to burp, handle it as if you were at a job interview or sitting in sacrament meeting. Ask for forgiveness. Stop defending and justifying your actions and think about how you can make your spouse feel more loved and needed and appreciated. Start working out every other day. Clean up after yourself. Set time limits. Raise your standards. Do something better than you've been doing it.
If you want things to get better, you have to get better. —Kirk Duncan 
Stop blaming and shaming and raging. Start acting on your best instincts. We all depend on grace—the grace of God and the grace of our better halves—to get through life. Show Those in heaven and those on earth that you appreciate them, that your are willing to change, that your are willing to set aside lazy habits and do things better. It will make a huge difference in your relationships.

You don't have to be perfect. You just have to be better.

Yes, you can expect unconditional love no matter your condition. But people might actually want to be with you if you are more kind, dignified, tasteful, respectful, disciplined, energetic, hopeful, and helpful.

Don't ever say, "That's just the way I am." You are far better than that, far greater than you imagine. Your potential is infinite, your possibilities, endless. I'm serious.

If you want things to change, you have to change. Just take one step up.

Today is a great day to start.