Tag Archives: God

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.

 

 

 

Let Me Sing of Beauty

Nvoo SGK home20170513_009Sometimes I just have to give praise to God for the glories of this earth He created.

We have been very busy for the past several weeks in our service assignment for our church, but we have still had time to enjoy the beautiful things and creatures on Heavenly Father’s good, green earth.

The woods north and south of the place we live “are lovely, dark and deep.” (Homage to Robert Frost here.) We have seen deer watch us curiously as we are out walking, and Squirrel Nvoo 9My17_00438other creatures—including lots of lively squirrels—scampering nearby. The neighbor’s bird feeder draws cardinals, blue jays, redheaded woodpeckers, and other beautiful birds we can see from our kitchen window.

To the east, toward sunrise, there are houses with beautiful expanses of green lawn and fields with healthy crops coming up. One mile to the west, our street ends at the Mississippi River. Before the river, there are the restored homes and sites of historic Nauvoo, surrounded by bright flowers (including some that we helped plant last week).  More often than not, the evening brings a spectacular sunset across the Mississippi.

The works of man here are interesting, but the works of God are glorious. They bring these thoughts.

O let me sing of beauty

In creation’s wide expanse,

For thou art surely master

Of more than form and function,

Adding artistry in the shaping

Of the countless living things

That fill our ordered sphere.

How shall we see a leaf

And fail to recognize

Thy careful hand as artist

In its green pulse of growth?

Cardinal Nvoo My17_DSC00470How shall we see a cardinal

And not ask if brilliant red

Was somehow essential

To its graceful flight?

How can we see the river’s

Wide and surging power

And not see in its flow

The surging fount of life?

We live midst ordered systems,

Each driven by its laws,

Yet something more than order

Dresses and shapes creation,

Something more than function

Adds hue and pleasing form.

The delights of earth around us

Are products of Thy hand.

O let me sing of beauty

That is a gift from Thee.

Among Believers

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Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Our worship service was a bit different last Sunday. It involved seven people balanced on the edges of beds or on hard chairs in a small hotel room in St. John’s, New Brunswick. We came from three different countries and four different faiths.

What the seven of us had in common was belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him on the Sabbath. We met in that hotel room at the invitation of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois traveling with our tour group. He followed the order of worship he would have followed at his pulpit back home that day.

Those of us in that room could have found doctrinal differences, I am sure, if we had chosen to discuss them. Instead, what we found together was comfort in the knowledge that through the Lord Jesus Christ we all may be forgiven of our sins and become better followers of His.

In several cities during this trip, my wife and I have seen many people who appear to be wandering aimlessly in life. They seem to know how to fill their days with activity, but not how to fill their lives with growth and useful experiences.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02991BAnd yet we have met others who find fulfillment in giving of themselves. In our tour group, these included the outdoorsman who has spent many years in lifesaving on Australian beaches, and the teacher who uses music to help young people through their educational and emotional struggles. The minister and his wife are also among those people who purposefully give to others. While he and I might have differences on theological themes, I have to admire his willingness to share the knowledge of God with others. In that he is an example to me.

In high school, an agnostic friend of mine once said that Hell is every church’s gift to every other church. He was too cynical, I think, and too inexperienced to see how good can draw people together no matter what their backgrounds. I believe in a loving, caring Heavenly Father who will reward every one of His Children for the good we do, no matter what church we attend.

On a personal level, some doctrinal differences matter very much to me. I dare not minimize the principles of faith to which I am committed. Belief in those principles has shaped every crucial decision in my life. Trying to live those principles is making me a better disciple of Christ. I will hold them dear even as many in the world abandon them, and even if my beliefs are challenged and mocked.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02982BBut I do not believe that God reserves His blessings only for those who share my doctrinal views and my church affiliation. Experience teaches that there are many upstanding people of other churches—or of no church—who are intent on doing good to those around them. Surely God will answer the prayers of any of His children who desire righteousness. Often we mortals simply need to work on understanding the wisdom of His answer, be it “Yes,” “No,” or “Follow the counsel I have already given in my holy scriptures.” Sometimes the answer may be, “Are you ready to follow the direction I will give you through my Holy Spirit?” Jesus Christ wasn’t just leading us on when He taught that if we ask in faith, we will receive (Matthew 21:22).

So on a Sunday far from home, we were grateful to be among a group of believers—people who believe in asking for His blessings, and who have the faith to receive.

Consider the Lilies

Lily_2538dtl

“Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? . . .

“. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;

“And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is and to morrow is cast Lily_2574into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

“(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

(Matthew 6:25-33)

To the Question: Is There a God?

The eminent physicist Stephen Hawking said recently that he does not believe there is a God. With all due respect to Mr. Hawking’s knowledge and accomplishments—and they are truly noteworthy—I do not believe he is what the courts would call a competent witness on this topic. I doubt that he has the knowledge or expertise to testify on the matter.

There would be two significant problems with taking Mr. Hawking’s word that there is no God. First, while he seems to have made himself as familiar as anyone can with the workings of the universe, this is no indication that he has made himself similarly familiar with the workings of God. Second, and more important, it is not for Mr. Hawking, or anyone else, to tell us whether there is a God. Each one of us has the opportunity—the responsibility, in fact—to learn this for ourselves.

Moon1 6Dc11

How can the order and symmetry of the universe and the things in it have come about through the workings of unexplainable, unguided forces?

We ought to be able to do this with a kind of scientific experiment or an application of the scientific method. Our experiment would have to begin with a hypothesis, and since it seems impossible to prove a negative, the hypothesis would have to be positive: “There is a God.” (Every atheistic assertion I have ever seen comes down ultimately to this: “I know there is no God, because I have not seen Him. He has not shown Himself to me.” This is not only arrogant, but silly—and obviously inconclusive.) However, in order to prove our hypothesis that there is a God, we would have to investigate according to rules He has established, and this would require faith. We would have to act with belief in order to detect a response from Him. (And why would a legitimate scientist, who acts with belief in a hypothesis within his own field, question the need for belief here?)

Mr. Hawking has been quoted as saying, “The universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” I would agree with his last sentence. I do not know how God set the universe, and all His creations, and our little earth in motion, but I know that he did it according to laws he knows intimately. All things operate according to laws which He decreed and will not violate. I have seen His works, and they testify to me of the order He created to govern the universe and His children.

Moses told the people of Israel, “God doth talk with man, and he liveth” (Deuteronomy 5:24). Moses, we are taught in the Bible, was a personal witness to the glory of God. Few of us will ever have the opportunity to see God as Moses saw. But we have the opportunity to know for ourselves that God exists.

In the beauties of nature, I see not unguided development, but the hand of the foremost scientist and the consummate artist.

In the beauties of nature, I see not unguided development, but the hand of the foremost scientist and the consummate artist.

I know. I have not seen Him as Moses did, but He has made himself manifest to me in my heart and my mind and my life in ways that are incontrovertible—not in abstract impressions, but in personal words of counsel and in concrete actions and events. One involves an event that saved my life, and I have shared the story often with others, but some experiences are so sacred and deeply personal to me that I do not share them.

It would probably not be appropriate for me to transfer my knowledge to another person, even if I could, for it is up to each one of us to learn of His existence through our own relationship with Him. I cannot learn of God’s existence for you, any more than you could learn it for me. Through personal faith, God speaks to each individual’s heart. He does not give someone else the assignment to obtain this knowledge for us.

Moses said that God talks with man. Throughout history God has called prophets to teach us and lead us in His paths, if we will listen to them. There are prophets on earth today. Their calling is to teach and lead. But the knowing Him and His will is still our individual responsibility.

Knowing requires exercising our faith—putting our hearts and actions behind our beliefs. If you need help with this, there is a passage in the Book of Mormon that describes the process of nurturing the little seed of faith, and what we can expect when we do. (Alma chapter 32, verses 26-43—pp. 289-291) But if you already know how to exercise faith without studying the process, then go for it.

We cannot trust the responsibility of knowing to someone else, no matter how intelligent or accomplished that person may appear. Appearances are no substitute for truth that we experience personally. It has always seemed strange to me, and oddly superstitious, when those who trust in science refuse to acknowledge that God may have had a role in creation and organization of the universe and the life found in it. In seeking explanations that rule out His involvement, they offer no concrete evidence; they offer only their own doubts or lack of knowledge. It is as though they are afraid to acknowledge that there could be some Greater Intellect who understands even more about all of this then they do.

I know that God lives. Do you wonder whether this could be true? Don’t ask me, or Stephen Hawking, or someone else. Find out for yourself.

 

What Are We Doing with Our Privileges?

There is an incredible sense of privilege when we look back over the route we have just traveled. We have driven, more or less in reverse, the route our Mormon pioneer ancestors followed 167 years ago. The journey took them a little more than three and one-half months. We drove it in a day and a half.

Fairbanks stat_1010176

Avard Fairbanks statue of a pioneer couple struggling across the plains, Winter Quarters ceemetery

At freeway speeds on I-80 we covered in one hour about the same distance they covered in a week. We left Salt Lake City early on a Thursday morning and we spent Friday afternoon visiting the pioneer cemetery and the LDS Temple at Winter Quarters, in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska.

As a boy, my father’s father drove the freight road in eastern Utah with his father, transporting goods from Price to the Vernal area. He told me that in a loaded wagon pulled by a team of horses, 10 miles was a good day. Today, we can drive the distance from Price to Vernal in a matter of hours. So sometimes it is hard to comprehend the obstacles our pioneer ancestors faced.

Building on the efforts of pioneers in science, industry, and medicine over the past 100 years, we have created a world in which we are free to do things my grandparents could not have dreamed of.

There is a temptation to indulge in old guy stories here: “I remember when we had to pick up a phone in the nook in our hallway and give an operator the number we wanted so she could connect the call.” I remember when we bought our first 512K Mac computer—allowing us to type electronically and play a few simple games—a generation ago now. My seven-year-old grandson, who has his own small tablet computer, cannot conceive that such a primitive world ever existed.

But the point here is not that the world has changed. The question is: In a world with machines, devices, and systems that make it possible to accomplish so much more, what are we doing with our opportunities? Do we aspire simply to the same things our parents and grandparents hoped to do when so much more is at our fingertips?

Chimney 9Oc14_3524

Chimney Rock, pioneer landmark along the Platte River, Nebraska

I no longer have to spend all day plowing or planting so that we have a crop for food in the winter. What, then, am I doing with my time? Since I do not have to spend time in another day of trekking across the Great Plains with my wagon, what is on the wider horizon? Can I perhaps spend my time on something that will benefit others? My wife no longer has to spend all day building a fire, heating water, scrubbing clothes in a tub, and hanging and gathering them on the clothesline. She spends a lot of her time serving others.

Are we doing enough? Is there more I could do to put myself in tune with the infinite—or to be less vague, to learn my Heavenly Father’s will and do it? What would He have me do for others?

Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once taught that most of us live far below our spiritual privileges. We could receive so much more of what God has to offer us if we were in tune with His Spirit. The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis taught something of the same thing in writing that God could make so much more of our lives, if only we would let Him.

So the question we need to ask ourselves (or at least that I need to examine myself on daily) is: What are we doing with our privileges?

 

The Persistence of Life

The tree is slowly dying. Many dry branches can be broken off easily, and the three largest ones, growing up from the splitting trunk, are bound together by a loop of steel cable.

And yet, again this spring the tree bore new blossoms on young branches. It will not give

Even old trees send forth new life.

Even old trees send forth new life.

up and die, and it is a reminder that life is very, very persistent.

Life is a gift of the Great Creator that is meant to be eternal.

We follow as our granddaughter scuffs through the litter of tiny “helicopters” on the sidewalk, seeds that spiraled down from the tree above. They are scattered over the nearby grass. Most of them will become debris to be washed down the gutters into the storm drains. But some will become new trees.

We delight in watching Kate learn of this world and grow through new experiences. Chances are that in 20 years or so when she is bringing new life to this earth, we may not be around. Yet through her and others, life we have brought to this earth will go on.

But that is not what I mean when I say that life is eternal.

I was well past the middle of middle age before I witnessed death firsthand. I often wondered what makes that instantaneous difference. Apart from accidents or violence, what makes a person alive one moment and dead the next?

I know the answer. Death occurs when the immortal spirit leaves the mortal body. Each of us is a spirit—the spirit offspring of God—inhabiting a body of flesh and blood He has given us through normal biological processes He established. Death, too, is a normal process that He established, but it does not touch the Spirit. What we are—the personality, the knowledge, the intellectual and spiritual achievement that is within each living soul—does not disappear when the mortal body ceases to function. Those things go on with the eternal spirit. We do not cease to exist, but we cease to function in this mortal sphere that we see with our natural eyes, the tissue in our body created to house our sense of vision.

There will be a resurrection, when this spirit lives again in a body of flesh and bone. That, too, will be a natural process—one that He has established, one that will occur on His timetable. When it happens, we will again be able to use a body, this time immortal, to function according to the knowledge, experience, and wisdom we gained during our mortal years. Those men and women who gained more knowledge and wisdom here, more ability to love and serve others, will be better prepared to function effectively in the eternal hereafter.

That is part of what I believe the mortal Jesus Christ meant when He preached in the Sermon on the Mount: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). When He comes again, those who laid up treasures of faith, wisdom, and the power to love while they lived in mortal life will be better prepared to serve Him in His kingdom throughout eternity.

Every living thing persists in clinging to life, from the dry tree that still sends out blossoms every spring to the unborn baby in the womb that resists when it is attacked. That, I believe, is the will of God.

But for a flawed creature like me, clinging to life is not simply an effort to put off inevitable death. Knowing my weaknesses and the many times in this life that I have lived below my potential—oh, how I need His saving grace!—I welcome every opportunity to learn a little more about loving, a little more about serving others, a little more about what Jesus meant when He said, “Follow me” (see John 12:26).