Tag Archives: faith

Long Shadows, Lasting Scars

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Walking down a dirt road just before sunset, I noticed the long shadows made by pebbles and small rocks in the dust. I remembered my barefoot days of childhood and thought about how stepping on one of those sharp little rocks could leave a bruise or other injury long after the first sharp pain had faded.

Forty-six years ago, shortly after we moved into our second family home, I was clearing out overgrown bushes when I suffered a small injury. A branch I was holding under

scar on arm

Injuries that might seem small to others can leave lasting scars.

tension suddenly broke, and the sharp tip sprang back at me, raking down my upper arm. It did not cut me, but I bled under the skin, and to this day I carry a scar where I was injured.

Sometimes the injuries we suffer cast shadows that touch our lives for many years. Sometimes emotional and spiritual wounds can leave lifelong scars. The wounds might be accidental or they might be inflicted by others. In either case, we do not have to let the damage be permanent. There is a way to overcome it.

When I was a boy and hurt my foot on a stone, I would go to my mother for comfort. When I grew up, I knew how to put medicine on my own wounds. But rarely can we supply the salve for our own spiritual or emotional wounds. Treatment for these kinds of injuries requires a Healer—someone capable of applying spiritual medicine.

The psalmist looks to God for help. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).

I am a believer in Christ and the healing power of the Atonement he carried out for our sins. In announcing his mission at the beginning of his preaching on the earth, he quoted this from Isaiah: “The  Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).

He healed by His touch, just as He can heal us by the way He touches our hearts. In the Gospel of St. Mark we read: “And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.” (Mark 1:31).

Jesus did not categorize people by their belief systems; He looked on their hearts. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) I believe God hears the prayers of all His yearning children who turn to him in sorrow and pain for relief, no matter what their religious tradition may be.

His healing may not come as an immediate cure or miraculous rescue, but answers come in the way that will be for our best good in this life and in the life to come, after we return to Him. We need to be still and listen for His whisperings to us through the Holy Spirit, to be still and feel His soft touch.

In our day He has given us revealed scripture that offers confirming, prophetic witness of the teachings of the Bible. “I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; . . . And they are healed by the power of the Lamb of God: and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out” (1 Nephi 11:31, Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon and the Bible, joining together in their witness of Jesus Christ, are fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:16-17 that the “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” would “become one in thine hand.”

“If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed,” the Book of Mormon teaches (Alma 15:8). This book is a witness to the world that to be fully healed we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Its teachings offer salve for the wounds and sicknesses and hazards of our times. While He lived on earth, He revealed His way in word and deed to the people who surrounded Him. Now, to those who choose to receive it, He has given in the Book of Mormon reaffirming witnesses of His power to heal.

It is up to us whether we turn to Him for healing of the hurts in our hearts and spirits. The cure may take time and faith. But there is no other truly effective treatment for erasing long shadows of the past or the scars of old wounds.

 

Why Do I Believe? Consider the Lilies

Lily DSC00554 BLMatthew 6:28-30 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” Jesus says to those hearing His Sermon on the Mount. “. . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Lilies are at the same time fragile and beautiful, yet earthy and sturdy.

Those who believe in evolution find many arguments—some real stretches of the imagination—to explain how every form of life on this planet developed from very small and simple organisms. Evolutionists have many rationales to explain how evolving organisms overcame this obstacle or that obstacle and became the complex plants and animals that we know—including human beings.

But for me, evolution can never explain beauty and variety. How did the plant know it

Yellow-headed blackbird.

One of the varieties of blackbirds.

needed to develop certain colors or varieties of color to survive? Why are there so many different varieties of birds, or lizards? If survival of the fittest was the rule, how is it that there are so many different varieties in the plant and animal worlds?

For me, evolution leaves too many unanswered questions. Those who accept only science as the explanation for all creation answer my questions with laws of genetics, physics, and astronomy. But all of their answers require a leap of atheistic faith in the end: You have to believe that what evolutionists postulate could have happened did indeed happen. And, of course, a god had no part in it.

I believe in God, and that this earth and all the life on it are His creations. I believe that He not only created a functional, self-sustaining ecosystem, but that He, as both the consummate scientist and artist, also made it beautiful for His children. (I have to say parenthetically that many of His ungrateful children are selfishly mucking up this beautiful world He created.)

Many years ago, as part of a school trip, I found myself in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Zoo with my high school biology teacher. We stood gazing at a flamingo in a pond when he said, “Anybody who can’t see that that bird is descended from a fish is a fool.” I gaped at him and answered, “Well, then, I guess you’re looking at a fool.”

Thinking back, I have had to admit he had a point. It would be easy to imagine how some of the organs and systems of the two creatures might be altered to create new life forms. But this does not mean it did happen that way, or that any such changes came about simply as cosmic happenstance.

In Matthew 6:30, Jesus went on to say, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you . . .?”

Faith, scripture, and a witness of the Holy Spirit tell me that He created the earth and its environs as a place to send His beloved children—all of us—to school. See, for example, Psalms 148:4-5: “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” We are also told that God contemplated all His eternal spiritual offspring before this world existed and established a plan to give them a terrestrial, mortal home: “. . . we will make an earth whereon these may dwell: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (See Abraham 3:24-25 in a book of modern scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. It can be found at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org.)

I do not know how long He took to create this earth or what methods He used. He has not given us that information. But I believe that the creation followed a long-term, organized, celestially ingenious plan. He who planned it used eternal, natural laws that we only understand now at very basic levels. I hope that someday, after my time in mortality, I may begin to learn about the mechanics of this creation in some celestial classroom.

In the meantime, if you ask me why I believe, I may simply have to tell you: “Consider the lilies.”

 

 

Race and Justice: What’s the Answer?

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I don’t know the answer. Why are we here again—another man dead needlessly, more violence and pain in the aftermath?

I lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s, which were supposed to lead to our growing out of these problems. But that hasn’t happened.

Sixty years later, our country is still being convulsed by incidents related to the racial divide. Will we ever overcome this?

I remember one of my first up-close lessons in overt racism. I was 15, in a train station in West Texas one day, when I went to get a drink of water at the public fountain. Just as I bent over the fountain, I noticed a sign above it that said “Colored.” Across the room there was an identical fountain with a sign that said, “White.” What? We were supposed to drink from different fountains because our skin was a different shade? That was silly and irrational. I ignored the sign in front of me and drank.

Just one small incident? Yes–but at 15 it pushed me in the right direction. I may have been lucky that one of the local cowboys did not see me. Some of them took that racial divide very seriously. But I did not care. I had been taught differently.

Part of my family’s roots are deep in the old South. My mother’s mother was born in Louisiana in 1894 on what had been a slave plantation just 30 years earlier. Grandma and Grandpa freely used what we now politely call the “N word.” It was wrong, of course. Any kind of pejorative labeling of people is always wrong, and this word is especially ugly and damaging. It was something they had learned growing up in their time. But we can make a mistake when we judge people of the past by the standards of 2020. That kind of ugliness was not in their hearts.

My widowed mother and I lived with Grandma and Grandpa when I was a little boy because Mom had to work outside the home and she and my grandparents also ran a business together. When I was five, we were all in a car accident, and my mother and grandmother almost didn’t survive. Their recovery was difficult. A year or so later, Grandpa hired Rosa, an African American woman, to help Grandma around the house. I can remember complaining to Grandma once about Rosa, who had tattled on me to my mother. Grandma sat me down and gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that Rosa had my best interests at heart and I jolly well better treat her with the same respect I gave to any adult woman around me. Rosa, she told me, was a child of God just like me, and Rosa was precious to Him. Grandma had learned important truths about God’s love from an African American woman who helped rear her back on that old plantation in Louisiana. From that woman, Grandma gained a faith that her own mother was not able to share, and it sustained my grandmother for many years as she grew up. Later, Grandma shared it with me. I owe some of my early lessons in faith to a kind and generous black woman I never knew.

My grandfather, as a plumbing contractor, hired white, black, or Latino men, and if they gave him a good day’s work for their pay, he kept hiring them. He valued them for their contribution, not their skin color. I never heard him judge others by skin color. He spoke of them as human beings with problems and needs similar to his own.

By their behavior, my mother’s parents taught me more about the value of people, regardless of skin color, than any schoolteacher.

Once, Grandma and I had a talk about the Civil War and the end of slavery. The anger she felt about that conflict had to do with the way the people in the South were treated after the Civil War. Hypocritical northern conquerors, she said, were equally guilty of racism.

Current incidents indicate that racial problems are not confined to one section of the country.

Half a lifetime ago, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the South with a performing group of young Native Americans, Polynesians, and Latinos. Toward the end of their show, which featured music and dance from their own cultures, there was a moment in which a narrator made this point: We are not actually black or white, but we are all the multi-colored hues of Mother Earth. We are all children of the same God. And then the show closed with a song well-known to children in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “I Am a Child of God.” That song never failed to move some in the audience to tears.

Twenty-five years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana on a work assignment. The people I met there were so friendly and kind that I forgot there was any difference in our skin color. They were simply my brothers and sisters in the faith. I saw African American families from the United States vacationing in Ghana much as I might visit the land of my ancestors in Europe. Though they undoubtedly enjoyed the culture in Ghana, those families didn’t seem more at home in Africa than I. One man I saw in the hotel restaurant kept calling back home to Detroit to check on how his business was doing. It struck me that even though my ancestors came from England and his from Africa, we were both natives of the same North American country.

It is a country in which we still need to learn to live together in peace.

In my lifetime, I have had a couple of friends who were policemen. They were fine men, dedicated to keeping peace in our community, and they were paid far too little for putting their lives on the line to do it. Unfortunately, there are police officers who are not like them. I can’t imagine either of those men ever kneeling on someone’s neck while he pleads, “I can’t breathe.” We need to find ways to weed out people who would do that, and any who do it need to answer for their crimes.

African Americans have every right to protest the ongoing depredation against people of color. I believe the rest of us need to be careful not to rush to judgment when protests go bad. Peaceful protestors may not be responsible for the incitement, and the violence might not be entirely race-related. News footage of rioting in my city seemed to show a lot of white faces—perhaps more than people of color. It would be interesting to know who those people were and what was their stake in confrontations with the police.

Yesterday I read a clear, compelling article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about what African Americans are feeling when they are driven to protest. As an individual, I wish I knew how to contribute to the resolution of racial conflict. I fear that because I enjoy “white privilege”—a term with which I am not comfortable, even though I recognize its truth—my contributions might not be welcome. But I am willing to try.

White people who automatically feel uncomfortable when they see people of color around them need to get over it, especially if they call themselves Christians and hope to get into heaven. In my faith we are taught that Christ “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

Any of us who might get into heaven are likely to find that many of our neighbors there grew up on earth as people of color—African Americans, Polynesians, Hispanics, Asians. If we cannot greet them as brother and sisters, “alike unto God,” then we won’t be comfortable in heaven.

 

 

 

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.