Tag Archives: faith

Cramming for Finals

Peace in the scriptures.

Finding peace in troubled, worrisome times.

We are blessed, my wife and I, to have a safe haven at home right now—no illness, so far, and still able to buy food as needed. We know that so many other people are suffering, and there is heartache in knowing there is nothing we can do to help.

We are cut off temporarily from the offices where we have been doing volunteer work. Under other circumstances, we would go out and find ways to help someone else, but that could be dangerous to others and to us as well. Stuck at home like everyone else, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Sitting around doing nothing would be impossible—something neither of us can tolerate. It would be mind-numbingly boring—like, looking-for-faces-in-the-patterns-on-the-floor-tile boring.

There’s no shortage of online advice about what to do—“The Eight New Shows You Have to Watch Right Now,” “The Best Movies to Stream,”  “The Best Books for When You Can’t Go Out,” etc. But in practicality some of those things get old quickly.

TV? After news programs and PBS shows, what? (By the way, why do the British shows always seem better written?)

Streaming movies? “Action” movies mean high body count and plots that range from unlikely to impossible. “Romance”? Again, unlikely plots, and too many cases of love = sex. “Edgy” independent movies? Well, they’re edgy, and who wants any kind of downer right now?

Reading? Ah, yes. There are whole libraries of good stuff online, and this has been an excellent chance to turn to some gift books I have received in the past, because now I actually have time for them. There are also some of my favorite books that warrant another look.

Books can be so much more engaging. In fiction, the theater of the mind has always been more powerful for me than movies. In philosophy, social science, and religion there is time to ponder and absorb concepts that can enrich or change my life.

2 Nephi 25:23-27

“. . . we rejoice in Christ . . .”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the scriptures. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon— of both testifying of the crucial, eternally essential role Jesus Christ plays in our lives—I find doctrines and concepts to savor at length. In other modern scriptures and the words of modern prophets, I find elaboration and explanation that expand the intellect and feed the soul.

Certainly, I haven’t reached a level of saintliness where I spend all day pondering verses of scripture. But I’m spending a lot more time than I used to. It has something to do with what Jesus said about laying up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-20 in the New Testament or 3 Nephi 13:19-20 in the Book of Mormon.) This seems like a good time to be looking for wisdom, and treasures of spiritual knowledge that become embedded in the eternal soul. (See James 1:5 and Luke 1:16-17 in the New Testament, or 3 Nephi chapter 17 verse 3, and Doctrine and Covenants section 109, verse 7.) In all of these verses, the Lord calls on us to learn—to store up treasures that cannot be taken from our eternal spirits by death of the mortal body.

Years ago, I read an anecdote about a child who asked, “Grandma, why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Grandma replied: “I’m cramming for finals.”

The time we’ve been given at home right now seems like a good opportunity to do some cramming for finals.

 

 

 

For Times of Crisis: A Silo Full of Faith

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The silo John and Ruth left full of wheat.

The silo holds almost four tons of wheat. The grain was put there more than 30 years ago by two loving people who hoped to provide food for their children’s families in case they Granary Paris 2019Oc DSC01556might face scarcity or famine someday.

Now, the wheat is probably not usable for food anymore—but what those two people left behind may be much more valuable than food.

John and Ruth were farm people. They knew years when the crops didn’t grow well or didn’t sell for enough money. They had lived through the Depression of the 1930s. They never spent money they did not have or wasted anything that might be put to good use sometime. Up in the old barn there are buckets of rusty nails and bolts that John meant to straighten out, clean up, and reuse one day.

John and Ruth were my in-laws. I learned to admire them for what they had become in life and what they were willing to sacrifice to assure a decent life for others—especially their children. Inside that silo full of grain, taped to the inner door, they left a note Granary note 2019Oc DSC01547 Sspecifying what they wanted done with the wheat. “It is here to be preserved for a time of need,” John wrote. “We do not expect to live to see the day when all of this will be used for human food, but say to our family you may take from it as needed for your use. . . . We want you to respect our wish that none of it is to be sold for monetary gain but may be traded for other food items if needed. We are dedicating this wheat to help sustain the lives of those who may need it . . . .”

The grain was accumulated from their crops over 10 years, the last bags being added in 1987. The company that bagged the wheat told them it would last “for a lifetime.”

Maybe no one anticipated that the galvanized steel granary could begin to rust out near the bottom. Rodents and deer, getting at a few of the bags through small holes at the base of the silo, have nibbled at the wheat. A nutritional expert tells us the grain is probably not good for human food anymore but might be used to feed animals.

John and Ruth had faith that they were helping provide for their descendants in the way a loving Father in Heaven wanted them to do. They wrote of scriptural and prophetic counsel to store food for a future time of need. But perhaps they did not realize what kind of food they were really leaving behind: nourishment for the spirit, in a store of faith that is strongly felt in their note. It’s impossible to read their words without being deeply moved, and without asking ourselves what we might be leaving behind for our own descendants.

Ruth was an example of service to others in their small farming community.

John became one of my models of integrity in life, since I had grown up without a father.

The two of them may not have left their family worldly wealth, but I believe no parents could have done more for their children in those circumstances. Their examples have helped mold the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Now we are living in times of crisis when there is an urgent, pressing need for faith. I have to ask myself: Have I given my children and their children an example of faith that will help to carry them through perilous times to come? Surely those times are coming. How can I help them to store up the faith they will yet need?

If I could choose one thing to leave them, it would be faith to rely on prophets and the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures and revelations given for our day.

[NOTE: The name of this blog has been changed from Searlebration. The blog began as a way of reaching our extended family, but it has grown beyond that, and the new name better reflects the subject matter. ]

 

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.

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I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.

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We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.

Blessed by Listening to His Promptings

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Sevier Dry Lake, Great Basin desert

We were not planning to make those two stops on our trip. But we are deeply grateful for the blessings that came when we did.

I continue to be amazed not only at how generously God blesses His children, but also at how frequently blessings come when we are paying attention to the whisperings we may feel from His Holy Spirit.

Our trip was to be a quick overnighter, out and back, the kind of experience we give ourselves to celebrate special occasions like birthdays. We were going to learn more about an area in our region we had seldom visited.

On our way out, we turned off the road in one place that looked interesting and hiked through sagebrush, rocks, and ant hills out to a dry lake bed. It is the kind of scene we have passed by many times in our travels. This time we turned around and went back. We enjoyed the stark beauty of the desert on a clear, sunny fall day, and I got some beautiful photographs that will fit well in a project I’m working on.

That was only the beginning of our rewards.

On our return trip next day, we stopped at two small museums in a rural farm town. In one we delighted at seeing items we remembered from our childhood in small-town America. The other told the story of a shameful episode in our country’s past, the detainment of loyal Japanese-Americans in a desert camp during World War II.

As a result of pondering what we saw in these two places, I received an answer to prayers I had offered earlier for direction. As so often happens, the direction did not come in words of a command: “Do this, then this.” Instead, I received ideas on how to solve a dilemma that I have long had. This particular problem has very little to do with the exhibits in those museums, and yet, because of what I saw, ideas came to mind that help resolve the dilemma. I saw a practical way forward, and I received an assurance that this was my answer.

That was not the end.

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Cabin of colorful western character Porter Rockwell, Eureka, Utah

We made one more unplanned stop on our way home, in a small, historic mining town. As a lark referring to my advancing age, we were taking pictures of “things older than Don.”  My wife wanted a picture of me in front of an old pioneer cabin. A man at the service station next door hurried over to ask if we would like to go inside it. Then he invited us to tour some of the old mine sites in town with him. It turned out that he was the mayor, and he shared with us his dream of how to preserve some of the town’s history.

What he shared brought a fresh flow of ideas for me—thoughts that built on and dovetailed with the inspiration I had received at the museum two hours earlier. It became plain that these experiences were not coincidence.  Our stops were perfectly timed; five minutes one way or the other, and we would have missed this opportunity.

My wife benefitted too. One of the mayor’s comments suggested a way forward with a project she has long wanted to develop. Moreover, as we finished our drive home, I received ideas on how I might be able to contribute to that mayor’s civic project, something it would be a privilege to do.

I know we were guided on that trip to receive answers we had asked for in prayer.

Some might scoff and say, “That was just coincidence, and your imagination.”

Some might say I’m boasting.

Scoffers deny themselves the opportunity to be taught by God, through whisperings of His Holy Spirit. Those whisperings are soft and subtle, but obedience brings rewards. Our Eternal Father is ever ready and willing to give us knowledge if we are willing to accept it. He will build on knowledge we have already gained, helping us learn lessons for eternity.

The answers that came to me were for questions I had not voiced to anyone but God. I have learned to recognize the sweet feeling of peace and assurance that comes with some of those answers. No, they are not my imagination.

As for boasting—what hypocrisy it would be! I am still a child in learning to walk by faith. Throughout much of my life, I have been a weak, headstrong person who did not listen to my Heavenly Father nearly as frequently as I should have. Perhaps I could have accomplished more—so much more—for my family and for others if I had listened better. I am ashamed that I have not been a better servant.

But I pray that for whatever life is left to me, I can continue learning to listen better. And if what I share now can help someone younger learn to listen sooner in life, then I am grateful I can help.

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Barbed wire art work on a fence at the barren site of the abandoned Topaz internment camp.

Falsehood in the Name of Faith

Blog_Falsehood        My wife found the small pamphlet at a rest area on Interstate 15 near Brigham City, Utah. A stack of the publications was left in a restroom for visitors to take. Its title was a distortion of beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sentences following this distortion contain half-truths, other distortions and outright falsehoods.

I have often wondered how people who call themselves Christian justify lying and deception about other people’s beliefs. How is this serving the Lord Jesus Christ?

This particular tract was distributed by a small ministry organization in the Midwest. How it got to Utah I do not know. Perhaps whoever placed it took some satisfaction in striking a blow against “Mormonism” in the heart of “Mormon” country—the area where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints were driven by religious persecution in the 1840s.

It doesn’t bother me that people disagree with the teachings of my church. We have religious freedom in this country by virtue of the Constitution. More, we have God-given freedom to exercise our faith in Him—or not—as we desire. One of the first laws of heaven, I believe, is that in this mortal life we will have freedom to choose whether to obey Him or not. It is a principle so sacred in eternity that He will not violate it by forcing us to obedience. The only proviso is that we will accept the consequences of our own choices and actions.

This being true, why do so many people seem inclined to try to destroy other people’s faith? Why are they not more concerned with strengthening their own?

As a young missionary for my church decades ago, I bought a pamphlet about “Mormonism” from an evangelical bookstore in the small Guatemalan city where I lived. The author assured readers that he was thoroughly familiar with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—though he got the name of one of the Church’s books of scripture wrong. I chalked that error up to faulty translation. As I read the pamphlet, I began to wonder: Did the scripture books I treasured really say the things he claimed? I began to check his references. I quickly found that he was pulling sentences and phrases out of context, distorting them with his own, biased interpretation—and even making up some of them! No such scriptural passages existed. I would learn later that this pamphlet was a Spanish translation of a work written in the early 1900s, and long ago discredited for its inaccuracies.

Reasonable, good people can disagree on religious doctrines yet still be friends and work together. I treasure my relationships with some friends and family who do not share my beliefs. They are fine people and I love them. We simply understand that we each worship differently.

I have attended events sponsored by my church where protestors stand across the street or mingle with crowds on the street, trying to disrupt the event. They may call Church members insulting names, try to bait members into physical altercations, or shout that Mormons are all going to hell. Others stand nearby handing out false materials like the pamphlet my wife found. I wonder if those people go home at night and say in their prayers, “Lord, I served Thee today by shouting angry taunts at Mormons, arguing with them, calling their women vulgar names, and telling lies about their beliefs.”

They call this love? They delude themselves into believing they are “helping” their brothers and sisters?

I wonder how much good they might accomplish if they devoted the same time instead to serving the poor and needy in their communities. Wouldn’t it seem wiser to spend that time building up something you believe in rather than trying to tear down something you believe is bound to fall anyway?

These are times when Christianity itself is under attack, even by some who claim to be Christian but who jettison principles of faith when the world shakes its head in disapproval. Wouldn’t this be a good time for Christians to stand together in defense of our faith?

In the wider world today, belief in God is under attack, by those who want to ignore Him or blame Him for all the evils on this earth, rather than looking to the true source of evil. Wouldn’t this be a good time for all believers in a benevolent God to stand up in His defense, offering our witness of Him?

 

 

 

“Holiness to the Lord–Our Preservation”

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Jonathan Browning was a gunsmith, a careful craftsman known for inventing the repeating rifle and for the quality of his work.

Browning was also a man of belief who wanted to bear witness of his faith in God through his works.

We know from his life story that in the late 1830s in Quincy, Illinois, Browning, the well-known gunsmith, was looking for religious truth. He found it among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were fleeing persecution. They had been driven out of Missouri in the middle of the winter of 1838-39 by mobs emboldened by the support of a governor who ignored their rights. At the small historical museum in Quincy today, you will read that Browning was one of those who assisted the suffering members of The Church of Jesus Christ when they fled into Illinois.

Jonathan and Elizabeth Browning investigated the Church carefully and found the religious truth they had been seeking. They were baptized and soon moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, the city being built by members of their church on the Mississippi River. Eventually they would follow the Mormon Trail west to settle in Utah.

At some point, Browning developed a desire to express his faith through the works he crafted so carefully. But how could a gunsmith do that?

Jonathan Browning crafted a small, engraved plate to be mounted on the stock of a rifle. On it were these words: “Holiness to the Lord—Our Preservation.”Browning P1000868 Blog

The first four words in this inscription come from Exodus 28:36 in the Old Testament. “Holiness to the Lord” was to be engraved on a small plate of pure gold affixed to the mitre that Aaron or his sons wore when officiating as high priests before God. Today those same four words are found on the front of every temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world, in the native language of the country. The words indicate that everything done in those temples is to be undertaken in holiness and dedicated to the glory of the Lord.

The other two words inscribed on Jonathan Browning’s small engraved plate are mentioned in Psalms 145:20, where it says, “The Lord preserveth all them that love him.” This message is extended and emphasized more forcefully in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which affirms: “. . . he will preserve the righteous by his power . . . . Wherefore the righteous need not fear” (1 Nephi 22:17).

It seems ironic that the inventor of the repeating rifle chose to testify that our preservation is in our faith in God, not in our weapons. This does not mean that we will not suffer mortal death—we all surely will—but that we will be preserved in God’s eternal kingdom. As we read the writings of King David in Psalms and the record of the prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon, they seem to be speaking in eternal terms. David says, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations” (Psalms 145:13). Nephi writes: “. . . the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.

“And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture” (1 Nephi 22:24-25).

Today, it seems, too many of us may be relying on our weapons for preservation. They might be concealed weapons we carry. The might be called fitness routines, or special diets, or financial programs. They are all intended to protect us against things that can happen in this life.

But perhaps we should all be more concerned about the really long-term future. Perhaps we might want to spend more time learning to recognize the voice of the Shepherd so that we can be preserved in His eternal fold.

 

 

The Gadianton Robbers Are Alive and Well

Who are the Gadianton Robbers?

Some of you who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might tune out when I say the robbers’ story is told in the Book of Mormon. But wait—don’t go yet. The story holds a lot of important lessons for our time and our society.

The Gadianton Robbers were bands of criminals who lived among some of the civilizations of ancient America. The robbers sometimes hid in plain sight among the people and covered the crimes they committed with the help of other members of their band. Sometimes the robbers grew strong enough to control their own territories—defying the government, so strong that the army could not go in and defeat them. Sometimes they grew powerful because they infested the government, turning a blind eye to crime and allowing the wealthy to buy justice while the poor suffered injustice at their hands.

The robbers grew powerful with the help of ordinary people who joined in or supported criminal activity because they too could profit from it. Sometimes the criminals fed the desires of those people for wealth and power, or fed their addictions. The robbers decimated societies, bringing down governments. Once they issued an edict to the people of their time: Join us and take part in our activities, and we will support you in them—or defy us and die.

Does any of this sound familiar?

In Mexico and Central America, drug gangs and cartels are so powerful that they are a fact of life for many people. Governments turn something of a blind eye to them because

Street in a poor barrio in Central America.

Violence born in poor barrios of Latin America can easily enter affluent communities in other areas by invitation–when people in those areas buy into the drugs gangs sell, or into their other activities that promise big profits.

defying them can mean death. While my wife and I were living in Central America a few years ago, a well-known judge who opposed gang power was assassinated one evening on her way home from work; a motorcycle pulled up next to her car at a stoplight and she was shot several times. In Guatemala, a young teen we knew spent months recuperating from gunshot wounds he received while shielding a little girl from a drive-by shooting; gang members shot up a neighborhood store, apparently because the owner was not cooperating. Criminals were rarely caught, and if they were known, rarely prosecuted.

One young friend of ours told us that he and his wife were desperately trying to find a private school where they could enroll their three-year-old twin daughters a few years down the road. It would be punishingly expensive. But in the public schools, he said, gangs started recruiting children as early as the second or third grade. Children who refused to join could be beaten or killed, or their families might be targeted.

Gadianton robbers have no particular ethnic or national background. They might be Russian, Asian, or white supremacists. This kind of evil is found in some degree in most countries of the world. It seems to be growing in strength, but particularly in the United States. Is there a solution?

In that Book of Mormon story about the Gadianton Robbers, the people who supported justice and goodness eliminated the robbers among them at one point by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to them—and converting all of them! People who had never known a better way readily accepted gospel truths when they were taught, and became contributing, productive members of society. Gospel teachings about love and doing good to others turned out to be the most potent weapon the people had against the evil in their society. Generously, this group of early American Christians always welcomed enemies who wanted to change their lives and live the gospel.

Later, faced with that join-or-die ultimatum from robbers hardened in evil, the people refused. Instead, they banded together in one place, pooled their supplies, and waited the robbers out. When the robbers could no longer live by plundering and could not afford to settle in and plant crops for food, they eventually became weak and desperate and the people were able to wipe them out in battle.

So how does the story of the robbers apply to us today?

The way to fight gangs and drug cartels is for all those ordinary people who are supporting them indirectly to stop. Stop buying their drugs. Stop buying their services. Stop profiting from their activities. Deprive them of the money that gives them power. Refuse to take part.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Hard? Undoubtedly.

Once gangs have their tentacles wrapped around someone, they fight against letting go. They have a habit of punishing people who want to walk away from their lifestyle. The criminals will fight back—unless they are deprived of their support and become too weak to resist. They are so entrenched in modern society that it will be hard to freeze them out.

But has anything else worked?

It seems we have two choices. Preferably, we can reach out to those involved in gang activities and try to help them change into people dedicated to building up rather than destroying our society—change into the people our Heavenly Father has given them the opportunity to become.

If that does not work, then those who are not ensnared in the gangs can say a firm “No” to the drugs and money and corruption they offer—avoid being part of the problem—and wait while the gangs wither away for lack of support.

This approach will surely work—if there are enough people left in our society who are not caught up in the corruption one way or another.