Tag Archives: God

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.

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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?

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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).

A Lesson in Turning the Other Cheek

Miguel's view

Miguel’s view

Lessons in being a disciple of Christ can continue throughout our lives. That’s a good thing, I’m sure, but some days it seems that the more I learn, the more I see how far I fall short.

Yesterday I learned a good lesson from my friend Miguel. (And to protect his privacy, I’m not using his real name here.)

Miguel showed me something of what it can mean to turn the other cheek.

The first time I met him, he lived in a nice home in the hills above the city—a place he had built as a refuge for his family. It was a lovely place. I enjoyed a few days of peace with them there. How fortunate they were, I felt, to have such a place.

Now he and his wife, well into their “golden” years, live in other circumstances. Their home was taken from them cruelly by someone who coveted—a former business associate Miguel had trusted. A little deception in the office, a little forgery, and my friend and his family found themselves being evicted from their nice home.

He speaks about it matter-of-factly now. There was nothing he could do.

I don’t know if he protested, or if he fought. I would have. But he seems to be at peace with it now.

I’m sure I would still be whining, “But he can’t get away with that! It’s wrong! If people can get away with cheating others like that, then what protection do the law and society offer?”

Some people would be asking “Why?” after something like this happened to them. I have learned that “Why?” is usually useless after the fact—a waste of time. The situation simply must be dealt with, and worrying about the why is unproductive.

But I am not good at letting go when injustice is involved. How can we let someone get away with cheating another innocent person? If society tolerates that, are we not also guilty? Are we not guilty of letting the thief abuse one of Heavenly Father’s children who did not deserve it?

But now we are skirting the dangerous swamp of deciding who “deserves” evil and who does not.

My friend Miguel is wiser than I. He seemingly does not spend any time occupying his mind with past hurts. The man who cheated him may need to carry that baggage into eternity, but Miguel knows that he does not.

He still has the most important things in his life—a strong family, a woman of great spiritual strength beside him, his faith that God loves him. He still looks outward. Getting burned did not make him fearful of extending himself to others. He still serves.

Would I be able to do that? I’m not sure. And this worries me a bit, because that is exactly where the road of discipleship leads.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

 

House of Peace, House of Joy

Teg22Fb13_901_sJoy is something that people have a hard time holding in. We saw a lot of it coming out last weekend at the dedication of the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple.

One man I had the opportunity to interview explained it this way. When he was young, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to travel from Honduras to Mesa, Arizona, to attend a temple. It was a costly, two-week journey by bus. Then there was a temple in Mexico, and it was a journey of several days. The coming of a temple in Guatemala made the trip just a day’s journey. But now—now they can visit the temple every day if they want. And many of them want to do just that.

I can understand. There are two things I enjoy about spending time in a temple. First, as a house of God, it is an extension of His kingdom of heaven, and therefore filled with the peace of God. Second, there is joy in service—knowing I am giving a gift to someone who has passed on from this life and could not enjoy certain blessings without the help of someone living.

For most of my adult life, I have lived where there is a temple close by. Not so for my brothers and sisters in Honduras. I can remember those times when a temple was only a distant dream for most of them. When I served as a missionary here in the mid-1960s, for some of them a trip to the temple meant selling possessions, even sacrificing the tools or Teg22Fb13_888vmeans of their livelihood. Many willingly offered those sacrifices.

Now they can feel the peace and joy of serving in the temple regularly, without being required to pay such a high economic price. All it requires is the broken heart and contrite spirit that God asks of the obedient and penitent.

No wonder they can’t keep their joy inside.

I rejoice with them, and for them.

Why I Believe

NativityThe longer I live, the more it seems to me that those who truly believe in God—those who live as though they are actually going to meet Him someday—are generally happier and more productive in life.

They could respond easily to the admonition of Peter to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Admittedly, I have been shaped by different experiences than other people, but still, it is difficult for me to understand why some people do not believe in God, especially because there seem to be so many things that testify of Him.

I cannot comprehend atheism. It seems to be the most ignorant and most superstitious of all philosophical positions about God—ignorant because it stubbornly refuses to pursue certain avenues of learning about Him, and superstitious because it clings desperately to the need to be right. After all, the alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate.

For a time in high school, one of my best friends was an agnostic who was steeped in science. He said he did not know whether God exists, but nothing in his experience convinced him that Deity was involved in the affairs of mankind. That seemed at least a rational position; he could not affirm the existence of God because he did not know from his own experience.

But it is a big leap from there to the assertion that God does not exist. Every atheist’s argument that I have ever heard boils down in the end to this: “I know that God does not exist because I have not seen him.” That is supposed to be convincing? The most effective, most rational answer I have ever seen to the atheist’s assertion is this from a prophet in the Book of Mormon: “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God . . . ? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only” (Alma 30:40).

A god by definition does not have to respond to man’s demands to prove Himself. Yet all I know of Heavenly Father suggests that He is willing, even eager, to testify of Himself to us, His beloved children—on His own terms.

I am reminded here of the scientific method. When scientists set up experiments to prove or disprove a hypothesis, they try to take into account all the factors that could influence the outcome. They recognize that there may be influences they do not yet understand or have not seen. And yet, with regard to knowledge about God, some will record the result of the experiment without actually carrying it out—without taking into account the factors of faith that would be crucial to knowing God. They say, in effect: “There could not possibly be anything about this situation that I do not yet understand.”

The arrogance of that is almost stunning.

My high school friend and I agreed it would be impossible to “prove” the existence of God by any mortal means.

And yet I know that God exists.

Some would ask if I have seen Him, or heard His voice.

No, I have not seen His person or heard Him speak to my mortal ears.

But I have heard Him. He has answered my pleas very specifically and spoken to me in my heart in ways that were incontrovertibly true. Sometimes He has done it through other people, sometimes He has done it directly. But no one else could have known the specific questions in my heart and mind, nor could anyone else have answered in ways that were so undeniably beyond mortal capability.

Will I share the details? No. Those answers are sacred to me. They were gifts to me alone to strengthen and guide. They would not apply to everyone in general, and I will not risk sharing them with anyone who may not treat them as sacred.

But I will promise you that you can get answers for yourself. All you have to do is set up an experiment in faith that admits the possibility of God. If you truly want to know, He will answer you in His own way—in the way that will be most understandable and plain to you—and in His own time. (I think I can also promise that if you go into such an experiment with the attitude “This isn’t going to work,” you will be right.) You may be surprised at the result of your experiment in faith. My high school friend eventually became a Christian, though I never heard from him how that happened. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis once considered himself agnostic. His conversion to Christianity and deep faith are a matter of public record.

God would never compel you to believe; that isn’t His way. He allows us freedom to choose what we will believe and how we will act—with the understanding that we will eventually be accountable to Him. But as a loving Father, He is eager to respond if we extend our trust to Him.

Of course we can use the freedom He gives us to live our lives trying to ignore Him. If we do this, we can never know with any mental or spiritually certainty that He is there.

But please do not tell me that you know He is not there because you have not seen Him. That is no evidence. That is arrogance.