Saturday, August 09, 2014

On Prophets and Pioneers (Modern)

Following the Prophets in Unity
In this there is safety, peace
By Scott L. Vanatter, Reston Ward, July 20, 2014

Please return with me to my senior year in high school over forty years ago. It was just prior to my receiving a testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The foundational truths of the Restoration revealed by God through the Prophet Joseph Smith were about to be made known to me.

At the time I was ignorantly, blissfully satisfied existing in the world without a belief in God. While others found truth and solace in religion, I was compelled to reject what I saw as the false, double predestination of automatically consigning most of humankind to eternal damnation. This very narrow sliver of philosophy, to me, seemed to infect most of the Christian churches I had encountered. I couldn’t conceive that, if there was a God, this plan was what he or she or it designed and set in motion. If there was a God, this world could not have begun as a major accident. If there was a God, why would he conceive of a plan where most would fail and suffer eternally in a lake of fire and brimstone, also inconceivable to me. As I say, these ideas seemed to inform every discussion, and everything I read.

Let’s consider for a moment the simple but miraculous process of such a person moving from a position of doubt, disbelief, and disconnection . . . to one of testimony, vision, and covenant. Imagine with me -- or remember your own -- sacred moments in time where doubt faded into faith. Remember when light overcame darkness. Remember when a lively hope of eternal life replaced the cold fact of the future death of the body. Remember when truth replaced misconception. See once more how inspiration and revelation blasts like the dawning of a brilliant early-morning sun, the frost of a cold earth-bound science -- or a lonely, lowly, soley philosophical logic. The inherent and self-admitted limitations of reason can only accept a narrow lane of truth – only those few facts which can be overtly measured with the earthly calculus of rulers, scales, or microscopes. However, God stands ready to reveal to us the greatest spiritual verities – vast spiritual realities -- via the celestial calculus of a quiet discernment, assisted by the collected wisdom of living prophets. Even a child can apprehend these truths, though there are the beautiful, deep things of God which only “time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts” can find out. We, of course, need to be ‘in tune’ so as to be able to perceive these authentic spiritual intuitions, inspirations, revelations, realizations, and revelations -- awakenings out of a deep sleep.

So, today/now, I sincerely seek your quiet assent in a brief shared silent prayer as we consider together our theme today (chosen by the stake presidency): The value, necessity, and safety in following the living prophet -- in unity.

After being a member for a little over a year, and after attending Institute which my bishop had highly recommended, I realized that I too needed to serve a mission. Soon I submitted my papers and was called to serve in the Australia Sydney Mission. Coming from the rough world of football and wrestling, I looked to a more Mormon-oriented set of heroes to inspire me through the twenty-four month journey I had embarked upon.

I chose two subjects as a convenient go-to model of attitude and action. I often thought of them as a tool to self-check the Why and How of my service as a fulltime missionary. Wanting to reserve Jesus to the higher role of the being on whom I would focus my worship, and whose example of the finest godly and divine attributes I would seek to emulate, and keeping Joseph also in the lofty role of latter-day prophet whose expansive doctrine I needed to more fully apprehend, and passing over the many exciting prophet and apostle heroes of the Bible and The Book of Mormon, I chose to focus on the modern apostles and prophets -- particularly using a 45 year old apostle, Thomas S. Monson, who was rather young and easy to identify with, as a convenient place holder for all of them. Really, more than imagining him in any particular missionary setting, I tried emulate what I conceived as the general positive attitude and proactive energy that an Elder Monson would bring to serving a mission if he was to server a mission in the early 70s.

Secondly, I chose to ponder the faith of the Pioneers. They did many extraordinary things, for the most lofty of motivations. They would follow the prophet with courage and sacrifice even at a high cost. They had a vision of Zion and what was to be done, and set about to do it – no matter what obstacle was placed in their way. Physical or otherwise.

After I joined the church, my wife’s extended family of aunts, cousins and her beloved and sweet Grandmother gave me a baptism by fire of their family’s participation in early church history and as Pioneers. I felt wholly adopted into the family lore of those who knew Joseph Smith as a living prophet, or who participated in the most marvelous spiritual or physically dangerous scenes of early church history in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, or who crossed the Plains in the vanguard company, or in several other migrations from Europe over the ocean and across the Plains to Nauvoo or Salt Lake City. Then they helped settle Utah and Arizona.

So, I let several favorite Pioneer stories rest in my mind. Athletes did tough things, but Pioneers did all this and much more often settings of life and death.

One of the stories I heard shortly after joining the church, which has never left me, is the grand overarching vision and sure testimony of one immigrant Pioneer widow, a convert from Scotland, Mary Murray Murdoch. She was only 4 foot, 7 inches tall, and weighed 90 pounds; she was known as Wee Granny. She and her family joined the church in the early 1850s. Her son, John, a sheepherder was soon asked to come to Utah to tend Brigham Young’s sheep. After five years he saved enough money to send for the rest of his family -- brothers and sisters, a brother-in-law, etc., and Wee Granny, now 73 years old. Across the ocean they came, then by train to Iowa. Then, they undertook to travel the rest of the journey by handcart. The company had to camp at Chimney Rock, Nebraska for a few days because so many were too weary and sick to travel. Her spirit was strong, but her body was not able to finish the journey to Zion to join her son, John. The next morning (October 3, 1856), word was sent through the camp that sister Mary Murray Murdoch had passed away during the night from the hardships of the trek. In ten more days she was to turn 74.

As she lay near death there on the plains of Nebraska, the family gathered around her. Her last spoken words were a plea that the burning faith and love she shared with her son of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known to her son in Utah. She concluded, "Tell John I died with my face toward Zion." This kind of pioneering vision of the great latter-day work continues to inspire me to this day.

I remember the day on my mission when hoped that if I lived in Joseph’s day, I would have been one of those who did not abandon him -- no matter how many other members or leaders did. Not that there were nearly as trials in latter-day Australia, but I determined that I would follow the living prophet -- the First Presidency and Quorum or the Twelve Apostles -- no matter how many others in or out of the church would seek to criticize or reject their considered counsel.

President David O. McKay related the story about one of our pioneers. This man had crossed the plains under the most trying circumstances. In a meeting in Utah years later, members were criticizing the brethren for errors in outfitting and in the timing of their handcart trek. The man who had been in the company said, “I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie . . . whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? … Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church,” the old man said, “because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.”

One of my wife’s great-great-grandmothers, Elizabeth Reese (Craig), compared the relative challenges which the saints encountered over her lifetime. In her old age, she looked back and wrote: “Yes, I’ve pioneered in Arizona, but my mother was a pioneer before me -- she came from Illinois to Utah with the first handcart company, and my husband‘s father James Craig, was a bugler for the [vanguard company of] pioneers of 1847 and crossed the Plains into Salt Lake City with Brigham Young. . . . Yes, I suppose you‘d say that pioneering in those early years was hard, but we were all trying to develop the country and build a better nation. No one was trying to destroy it or tear it down. Everybody worked together and tried to follow the teaching of one of the Apostles who said, ‘Stick to the good and work for the right.’

“Of course we worked hard, but hard work is good for the souls of men. Hard work kept our children out of mischief and kept men from getting into trouble. If I had my life to live over, I believe I’d take the hardships of our [early] times rather than the problems of today. We built the nation. A lot of people now are trying to tear it apart. No matter how hard, it is easier to build a country than to keep the enemies from destroying it afterwards.

“There’s a tremendous job of pioneering for our young people today -- pioneering in a wilderness of unrest, selfishness, intolerance, greed, and dishonor. True courses must be charted through this wilderness just as we broke trails through nature’s wilderness sixty-nine years ago.”

What is really needed -- as much as it has ever been -- is a listening ear attuned to the spirit and a believing heart grounded in the core, basic elements of revealed truth. We need to develop a lively faith in the living God. And, as per today’s theme, there is safety in Following the Prophet.
  • The people of Zion followed Enoch to Heaven. 
  • The children of Israel followed God’s chosen prophet Moses out of bondage. 
  • Scores, then hundreds, then thousands followed a new prophet, Joseph Smith, as he declared that the Heavens were once again opened, and then revealed this marvelous work and a wonder -- of the First Vision (and all it teaches on the nature of God, and the nature of Man), of The Book of Mormon (and its witness of Christ), and this beautiful and ennobling doctrine of the Plan of Salvation and Exaltation and Happiness of the “whole family of heaven” (wonderfully laid out in the ordinances of the temple). 
  • Later, the Pioneers followed Brigham Young across the country to the tops of the mountains. 
  • And today, we follow a modern prophet in a wilderness of “sophistication” – as one modern prophet has labeled our modern age.

President Hugh B. Brown spoke of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, quote. "A sense of relationship and co-partnership with God involves the concept of universal brotherhood -- and that will help to develop intelligent tolerance, open-mindedness, and good-natured optimism. Life is really a battle between fear and faith, pessimism and optimism. Fear and pessimism paralyze men with skepticism and futility.” Fear and pessimism also fosters a nagging, destructive doubt.

Let’s discuss doubt for a minute prior to moving on to faith and following the living prophet.  Late last year (2013), President Uchdorf reminded us that the search for truth has led millions of people to the Church. However, he added, there are some who leave the Church they once loved. Quote.

“One might ask, ‘If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave? Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple,” he explained. “In fact there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.”

President Uchtdorf said some members struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. “We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history — along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events — there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question. . . . Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.”

President Uchtdorf said there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. “There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine. I suppose the Church would only be perfect if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us — His imperfect children — and imperfect people make mistakes.”

Speaking to “those who have separated themselves from the Church,” President Uchtdorf said, “Come, and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.”

He said it is natural to have questions or doubts. “Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true (Alma 32:21),” he said. “Therefore, please, first doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith.” Some, he said, don’t think they fit in with the people in the Church. “If you could see into our hearts, you would probably find that you fit in better than you suppose.” End quote.

#A. On hearing and believing the Word of God . . .
Let’s consider for a moment why we need to follow the prophet in unity. Above all, there is strength in unity. Whether this is declared or exhibited by the most famous of successful political leaders, award winning coaches, prophets, caring bishoprics, or relief society or priesthood presidencies, or close growing families.

Listen to how Paul desires us to be one in his epistle to the Ephesians. What advice does he offer? (See Ephesians chapter 4) -- I therefore . . . beseech you that ye walk . . . 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . . .

These verses immediately precedes the famous LDS missionary scripture where He calls prophets and apostles for the following purposes: -- 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: [the church]

He then addresses the question of how long we will need prophets. Answer: -- 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . [even that we are raised up] unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

He continues: 29 Let [only that] communication proceed out of your mouth, . . . which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God . . . .

Then he addresses how we go about living in unity: 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Along these lines, Joseph Smith counseled: “let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated; and let love to God and man predominate, and reign triumphant in every mind…. The work in which we are unitedly engaged is one of no ordinary kind. The enemies we have to contend against are subtle and well skilled in maneuvering; it behooves us to be on the alert to concentrate our energies, and that the best feelings should exist in our midst; . . . We, all of us, have our friends, our connections, our families and associations; and we find that the ties of friendship … and brotherhood have indissolubly united us together with a thousand endearing associations; . . . A kindred sympathy runs through the whole body, even the body of Christ [which is the church]. . . . By a concentration of action, and a unity of effort . . . the blessings of heaven must flow unto us in an uninterrupted stream; . . .”

Elder Hugh B. Brown illustrated the absolute need for a living prophet, to a great judge in Brittan just as evil tyrants were raising their ugly head prior to World War II. He clearly and convincingly demonstrated to this judge, not a member of our church, the need for a prophet in those troubled time. Elder Brown later reported, “what was the reaction of this judge, when we finished? He sat and listened, intently. He asked some very pointed and searching questions. And then he said, and his eyes were moist when he said it, ‘Mr. Brown, there never was an age in the history of the world, there never was a people or a time, when the voice of God was needed as is needed now.’ And at the end of [our discussion], he said, ‘Mr. Brown, I wonder if your people appreciate the import of your message. Do you?’ He said, ‘If what you have told me is true, it is the greatest message that has come to this earth, since the angels announced the birth of Christ.’ Elder Brown said, “This was a judge speaking. A great statesman. An intelligent man. He threw out the challenge, ‘Do you appreciate the import of what you say?’ The judge said, ‘I wish it were true. I hope it may be true. God knows it ought to be true. I would to God,’ he said, and he wept as he said it, ‘That some man could appear on the earth and authoritatively say, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord.’”

#B. On receiving God’s Promises . . .
Now, let’s speak of the promises related to following the prophet and the need and blessing of acting in unity.

On the value of being united, President George Q. Cannon said, “I suppose each of us is fond of having his own way. I know I am. … But I do not like my own way well enough to want it in opposition to my brethren’s way. That is our duty as the First Presidency of the Church. It is the duty of every presidency throughout the Church. … Suppose that one [person in the presidency or related organization] has more wisdom than another; it is better to carry out a plan that is not so wise, if you are united on it. Speaking generally, a plan or a policy that may be inferior in some respects is more effective if men are united upon it than a better plan would be upon which they were divided.”

Joseph Smith published an editorial about building the Nauvoo Temple which stated, “The cause of God is one common cause, in which the Saints are alike all interested; we are all members of the one common body, and all partake of the same spirit . . . . . Party feelings, separate interests, exclusive designs should be lost sight of in the one common cause, in the interest of the whole.” [May 2, 1842]

#C. On Overcoming the World
President Hinckley remarked that, “There are many little things that test our willingness to accept the word of the prophets. . . . So it has been through the history of mankind, and so it is today. . . . Now again, as always, we are faced with public moral issues, [for example, gambling, laws about concealed firearms in our church buildings, warnings about debt, abuse, the family, pride, and of course, the policies and procedures of the church.] The Presidents of the Church have spoken clearly and unequivocally on these matters.” End quote.

In the Book of Mosiah, we are counseled that “that there should be no contention one with another, but that [we] should look forward with one eye, . . . having [our] hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.”

#D. On becoming a Servant of the Lord
President Hinckley declared, “I say for each and all that we have no personal agenda. We have only the Lord’s agenda. There are those who criticize when we issue a statement of counsel or warning. Please know that our pleadings are not motivated by any selfish desire. Please know that our warnings are not without substance and reason. Please know that the decisions to speak out on various matters are not reached without deliberation, discussion, and prayer. Please know that our only ambition is to help each of you with your problems, your struggles, your families, your lives. . . . Ours is the responsibility outlined by Ezekiel: ‘Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me’ (Ezekiel 3:17).” (Oct. 1992)

#E. On the Blessing of following God and His Prophet . . .
Please deeply consider how this beautiful recent statement by President Monson applies to you and your loved ones. “Your Heavenly Father loves you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.” End quote.

No matter where our loved ones are, in or out of the church.

#F. On Being One with God and His Son
Sharing the perfect oneness which he enjoys with his Father, Jesus prayed, in his Great Intercessory Prayer (see John 17) –

Holy Father,
keep through thine own name [or, his power, or nature, or identity]
those whom thou hast given me,
that they may be one, as we are. . . .

20. Neither pray I for these alone,
but for them also which shall believe on me
through their word;

21. That they all may be one;
as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,
that they also may be one in us: . . .

that they may be one, even as we are one:
23. I in them, and thou in me,

that they may be made perfect in one….”

Perfection in the scriptures speaks of wholeness and completeness, etc.

In conclusion, looking back to the years prior to my testimony, I could make the case that my doubt with respect to all things religious helped pave the way to my accepting the truth when it was finally presented to me. Of course, it was not only this ‘healthy skepticism’ but also a fair amount of curiosity, inquisitiveness, searching, openness, yearning, responsiveness, and a thousand other motivations which led me to the truth, the divine, and to God. And to Jesus Christ who he has sent.

I do bear my personal witness that God our kind, loving, Eternal Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost enjoy a perfect and glorious Oneness. As Jesus declared in his Great Intercessory Prayer, they desire all to receive it.

I also testify that there is help, safety and peace in following the living prophets. I wholeheartedly sustain the President of the church, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.

I have discovered for myself from firsthand experience that the other General and local authorities of the Church sincerely serve with your best interests in their hearts. There is no personal agenda. They seek the Lord’s will in all things discussed and decided.

I understand that there are those who have doubts, or who do not agree with church leaders. Some of my decade’s long friends have recently left the church. I have a strong belief, though, that someday they will return to the fold, without reservation and without rancor. It may take a while, as President Kimball once said, a hundred, a thousand, or even a million years. Till then, we will show unfeigned love till they return, where they will once again enjoy the power and blessings of their covenants in unity and harmony -- which has been the hallmark of the Saints in all ages. I pray in the sacred name of my Savior and Redeemer, my Exemplar and Friend, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

# # #


[I.] On hearing and believing the Word of God . . . 
[II.] On receiving God’s Promises . . . 
[III.] On Overcoming the World – Calamity, WWII
[IV.] On becoming a Servant of the Lord 
[V.] On the Blessing of following God and His Prophet . . . 
[VI.] On Being One with God and His Son 

# # #  

As I have intimated, there is still such a thing as a Destructive Doubt – one that absolutely negates the other, finer, more nuanced aspects of our search for truth, beauty, meaning, and connection. Surely there has been over the millennia, such a thing as faith run amok -- a blind, unthinking, uninformed, unaware and unengaged approach to God. But doubt run amok is the subject of the following couplets. Please remember I am discussing here a Destructive Doubt as it relates to loving and following God -- and the prophets he has called.

[I.] On hearing and believing the Word of God . . . 
Faith creates clarity. Doubt causes confusion. 
Faith enlightens. Doubt darkens. 
Faith feels. Doubt numbs.
Faith Sings. Doubt Sorrows. 

[II.] On receiving God’s Promises . . . 
Faith is assurance; doubt, misgivings. 
Faith creates commitment; doubt, discord. 
Faith fills us with promise; doubt limits. 
Faith opens new opportunities and beautiful vistas. Doubt closes doors. 

[III.] On Overcoming the World
Faith is action. Doubt is delay, hesitation, wait, pause, ‘not now’, later.
Faith is dynamic. Doubt is static.
Faith moves forward. Doubt is bogged down. 
Faith Overcomes. Doubt Succumbs. 

[IV.] On becoming a Servant of the Lord
Faith is the power to act. Doubt is paralysis. 
Faith builds up. Doubt tears down. 
Faith builds respect; doubt, disrespect. 
Faith is trust. Doubt is [constant] suspicion. 

[V.] On being Blessed by following God and His Prophet . . . 
Faith creates hope; doubt, cynicism. 
Faith includes a healthy skepticism, and a searching inquisitiveness. But, Doubt says there can be no answers.
Faith is a steady, dependable Perseverance. Doubt is cut and run (in times of trouble). 
Faith Preserves the best. Doubt Destroys hope. 

[VI.] On Being One with God and His Son 
Faith connects. Doubt separates. 
Faith is Heaven-sent. Doubt is earth-bound. 
Faith is Now. Doubt is never. 
And finally, Doubt is a divisive cacophony. Faith is Unison and Harmony. 


Key Insights from the King Follett Discourse
Joseph Smith’s seminal April 1844 speech 

Please see below for several nuggets taken from this important speech. Prayerfully considered and thoughtfully presented, many of these insights are suitable for use in any LDS meeting. 

On the Nature of God and Man
  • If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend their own character. . . . They do not know—they do not understand their own relationship to God. 
  • God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.
  • If the veil were rent today and the great God that holds this world in its sphere and the planets in their orbit and who upholds all things by His power—if you were to see Him today, you would see Him in all the person, image, fashion, and very form of a man, like yourselves. 
  • The first principle of truth and of the Gospel is to know for a certainty the character of God, and that we may converse with Him the same as one man with another . . . . 
On the Nature of Close Relationship Facilitates Communication/Connection
  • Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation….
  • When we begin to know how to come to Him, He begins to come to us. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to receive us. As soon as we begin to understand the character of God, He begins to unfold the heavens to us and tell us all about it before our prayers get to His ears. 
  • All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement and improvement. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. 
On the Nature of How We Know
  • This is good doctrine. It tastes good. You say honey is sweet and so do I. I can also taste the spirit and principles of eternal life, and so can you. I know it is good and that when I tell you of these words of eternal life that are given to me by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the revelations of Jesus Christ, you are bound to receive them as sweet. You taste them and I know you believe them. I rejoice more and more. 
  • All things whatsoever God . . . [sees] fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in our mortal state . . . are revealed to us in the abstract. . . . 
On the Definition of What Constitutes Salvation
  • If a man has knowledge he can be saved, for knowledge saves a man. 
Bonus: One more on the Shared Nature of God and Man
  • I am going to tell of things more noble. We say that God Himself is a self-existent God. Who told you so? It’s correct enough, but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principle? . . . Man existed in spirit; the mind of man—the intelligent part— is as immortal as, and is coequal with, God Himself. . . . Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. The first principles of man are self-existent with God. 


PRIVATE INSPIRATION A side note. The day after I had determined to tell the missionaries (and what turned out to be my future wife) that I wanted to be baptized, I was standing Becky’s kitchen alone waiting for the missionaries to arrive. As I reviewed what I was to say to them sometime over the next hour, and as I was about to walk out of the kitchen into the living room where we held our lessons, the impression came to me, clear and distinct (from this God who I have just discovered) that, no matter what, Joseph was a prophet. And that it is right to join this church. 

And in an age prior to PCs, prior to the Internet, prior to anyone trying to tell me anything negative about Joseph Smith, in an instant I saw that a thousand and one things would be said against Joseph. That no matter the most astounding, puzzling, hard to understand, e.g., coincidences or problems concerning the translation of The Book of Mormon, or this or that horrible thing that might be said against his character, he was a prophet. In this instant, I was assured that any one of a hundred, no more than a thousand individual potential controversies which I perceived, I was not to worry. There would be an answer, some answer, and that I could trust that he was indeed the prophet of this dispensation. That what he taught about the First Vision, about God the Father, about Mankind, about the Plan of Salvation and the Temple . . . all this unique combination of eclectic Gospel was of God, and good. No matter how many years and now decades have transpired, I cannot forget the power of this simple message. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. 

Through hours and year of study to of all the primary sources with respect to Joseph’s teaching and character, I can tell you from firsthand experience with the spirit, this stand true to this day. I have not encountered anything which violates what was made known to me that afternoon of March 1972. 


Going back to 1972, I fondly recall the late afternoons after wrestling season concluded when I was taught the missionary lessons (using the old flannel board method). I also recall keenly the private evening hours later each night devoted to reading and pondering the scriptures and pamphlets – capped off with humble prayer. I can almost see the very moment realizing that for the first time two twin ideas – practically simultaneously, #1.) that God does indeed live, and he sent his Son to our earth, and #2.) that Joseph was His prophet. Of course The Book of Mormon was key in this discovery. But for me it really was the import of the First Vision. I have read and studied and reveled in each recitation of this extraordinary event. For me, we can almost divide written religious history into Before 1820 and After 1820. Considering how Parley P. Pratt described Joseph Smith’s leadership as being lived in crescendo, this implies much about what was taught in Nauvoo. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

POEM: The Things of Mom

The Things of Mom
On the occasion of her moving out of her home, and giving up and giving away the stuff of her life’s accumulations

  Whether “dust collector,” simply useful, or family treasure. . .
    Impossible to measure.

  Regrets? (“Too few to mention.”) Overcome and offset
    By a thousand beautiful memories . . . impossible to forget.

  An Eternal chain of new “Dollybabes” are the results of her instinctive divine maternal impulses. . .
    Impossible to number.

Her Soul
  The depth and breadth of the tears she wept
    on behalf of loved ones here grieved
  Echo in the eternal realm and are felt
    by dear ones who long before us have left 
  This frail existence, but who now know where they are what we must here accept
    to appreciate thereby the heights with them later to be received.

      Her joys and glories and the extent of her sphere of influence in the next world there,
        Will a thousand fold compensate for any pain or worry while dwelling in this world here.


By Scott L. Vanatter, July 17, 2014 (A poem for Mom as she moves to her new home with Tracy in Washington State)

Monday, July 07, 2014

POEM: Sounding Joy

Sounding Joy

She speaks!
Really she never ceased.

Her boundless voice of love now echoes not only in Time, but Eternity.
With all the angels she shouts, and even dances.

More than ever, she is there for us.
No, she is here for us.

Into all the Eternities, she beckons us. (Yes, we can hear her.)

Finally, her communication is again
Sounding and heard by her dear ones there (and here),
Vibrant, clear and audibly brilliant for them (and us)
Till that Great Day when all shall hear clearly.

Embracing her mother, with all of Heaven’s Family welcoming her home,
She stops to think of us, and whispers to us,
We are not alone.

One day we shall behold her shining face again,
She will look deep within our eyes, and in a moment, into our very souls.
We yearn to talk and walk with her – looking forward with her to Eternal possibilities.

In our deepest trials, her voice will sound in our ears
The silence of our night will be broken
Punctuated with a needed comfort,
Or pierced with her still small sacred voice, of “I love you.”

Forever clear is her now language.
She speaks, literally now, with the voice of an angel, with power to stir the whole world,
Though, now much softer than even the quiet of recent years – for another reason.

Knowing the depths and heights of our world – she years for us to understand hers.
I can hear her (even now). I hear her drawing us into Eternal perspective
Which, in ways perhaps unknown to our outer self, give us inner satisfaction and joy.

Her expressions to us, now impressions, lodge deep in our hearts – as we let them.
Ever will her loving invitations draw us to her – and back to our Heavenly Home.


By Scott L. Vanatter, December 2011. (Poem for Lola Lenore “Lee” Allen on the occasion of her passing out of this world into the next.)

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Family History and Temple Work (including, Nauvoo Temple experience)

Family History and Temple Worship
Scott L. Vanatter, May 18, 2014, Chantilly Ward

As a convert, Nauvoo the city Joseph Smith founded and named in 1839, has always held a special place in my mind and heart. I have been fascinated and inspired by Nauvoo -- the name, its Hebrew meaning, even its sound, its history, and more importantly, the doctrine revealed there -- the ultimate in Mormon theology. The ennobling doctrine that we can be sealed to our loved ones in the Temple as part of God’s whole family in heaven. ##1
Sacred Experience (Nauvoo Temple)
We were fortunate to be able to serve as patrons in the Nauvoo Temple the very first week it opened in 2002. I had several Vanatter family names with me so we could do all aspects of temple ordinances, from baptisms for the dead, confirmations, and ordinations, to initiatory, endowment, and sealings -- sealings of spouses, and sealing of children to parents. Actually, it was my mother and one of my sisters – who are not members of the church – who did the careful and loving genealogical research and shared their extensive labor of love with us so we could perform the temple ordinances. My wife had introduced them to genealogical research over 30 years ago, and they have really taken to this great labor and have done extensive work.
So for two days in the Nauvoo Temple my wife and I performed ordinances for several of my ancestors, including my very first ancestors to arrive in upstate New York from Holland in the 1650s. . . .
Near the end of the day, we sealed my father’s father to my father’s grandparents. NOTE: My father’s father died when by dad was just a boy of six. More on this in a minute. . . .
As we were sealing sons to their parents, I was acting on behalf of the various sons in all these generations. ##2 After several sealing ordinances were performed . . . I lifted my hand, paused and said to the sealer, “That was my dad’s dad. He died when my dad was six.” The sealer looked right at me, then slowly and calmly said, “He’s here, right now.” He paused, and then repeated, more slowly, “He’s here. Right now.” Needless to say, this was a sacred experience.
Sacred Experience (Kitchen Table)
Four months later our youngest daughter returned from her mission . . . . The whole family gathered for her homecoming talk. My parents and sisters, none of them are members of the Church, traveled to Virginia for this mini family reunion -- as did our oldest daughter and her husband.
After sacrament meeting I gathered them all around our kitchen table and shared with them my testimony. My father sat immediately to my left, my mother across the table from me next to my wife.
I began by sharing with them my witness that it was my sincere belief that our loved ones – our ancestors and our friends -- really are there on the other side of the veil, in what we call the Spirit World. That it is my personal opinion -- and firm belief -- that there is not one person we know that ultimately will not want to be together forever, after the option is presented to them in the spirit world -- no matter how hard their family circumstances here on the earth. Further, that we will all clearly see there that it is Jesus that offers this opportunity to everyone to be together forever. I shared with them that I sincerely believe that we will all meet each other there, and we will all want to be together -- forever. “Every one around this table,” I said. I shared with them my confidence that one day we will all be reunited as an extended family with our loved ones and ancestors in Heaven. That Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven if it were otherwise. Not to us. Not even to God. I bore to them my testimony that God was a loving God of mercy and not one of vengeance.
I told my Dad that I was confident that he would see and know and enjoy the close association with his Dad once again—someday in Heaven. ##3
I then related the sacred experience my wife and I had in the Nauvoo Temple where we sealed together forever my Dad’s father to my Dad’s grandparents. I looked at my father and shared with him that the sealer looked right at me and said, “He’s here, right now. He’s here. Right now.”
Things got very quiet. All of the sudden Dad quickly and forcibly reached over with his right hand and grabbed hold of my left forearm which was resting on the table. He held it very tight – in love and affection. For a few more moments no words were spoken. I felt his love and saw his eyes well up with tears. (Tears, on his part, had previously been very, VERY rare.) He then rose from the table, excused himself, and went straight into the bathroom to have a good cry in private. Around the table it was silent and still. No one spoke. My angel Mother appropriately broke the silence reminding us how much my Dad loved and missed his Dad. My sister said, “Well, that makes it all worth it.” (Meaning, the genealogy work.) Almost simultaneously, my Mom echoed her words.
It was a moment we will not soon forget, a sacred experience for our family. ##4
Dad’s Temple Work
A few years later my dad died. After we returned home from his funeral, my dear Mother (again, not a member of the church) called and asked whether and when we were going to do Dad’s temple work. With her permission -- and urging -- I performed by proxy his temple ordinances, including sealing him to his own parents here in the DC Temple. ##5
The theme of my talk today is Family History and Temple Work, with a special focus on the important part the Youth of today will play -- and the blessings which flow to them. So, to the youth of the ward please listen for the next few minutes how far-reaching are these great and glorious promises associated with temple work, or in other words, Temple Worship.

Ancient prophets spoke of the highest promises of God being planted in our hearts. These promises apply to you, your ancestors, and your posterity. Later, I will remind you of specific promises of protection made especially to you by modern apostles. ##6
An Agreement with the Almighty
Elder John A. Widtsoe explained that before we came to earth we were participants in the Council in Heaven. Quote. “In our [pre-mortal] state, in the day of the great council, we made an . . . agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan. . . . We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all [people], we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to [help save] the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation. That places us in a very responsible attitude towards the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor, his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.” End quote. (“The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189) – Elder David B. Haight, Ensign, November 1990, p. 59) ##7
The Whole Human Race
Joseph Smith said that, “A [person] filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing [their] family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” 

Among the very first things Moroni taught Joseph Smith included the foundational truths having to do with the everlasting promises made to the fathers. Moroni told Joseph that God would “reveal . . . the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet . . . . And [that God] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children [would] turn to their fathers.” (D&C 2)
Welding Link
Commenting on this almost twenty years later Joseph said: “It is sufficiently plain . . . to know . . . that . . . there is a welding link . . . between the fathers and the children . . . . And . . . what is that [link]? It is . . . baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect . . . . It is necessary . . . that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of . . . keys, and powers, and glories should take place . . . . (DC 128:18) “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” End quote. (DC 128:15)
Joseph Smith summarized: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. The apostle says, ‘They without us cannot be made perfect’ . . . It is necessary that those who are going before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us; and thus hath God made it obligatory upon man. ”
Before they even arrived in the Great Basin, Brigham Young instructed the saints on the purpose of temple ordinances. He said: “The Apostle Paul, while speaking of the Fathers & the Ancients, said that they without us could not be made perfect. . . . [and] Joseph said [it is] an item of the celestial law [that they are] not perfect without us. [Not] until our children rise up in the last days and attend to all the ordinances [of the temple]…. [None] of us can get any glory alone. We must finish our work together, and so with the whole human family. . . . ##8 The Chain of [the] Priesthood [has been] restored. . . . Suffice it to say that [we] must be linked [in] …the Chain of the Priesthood . . . [and we will] as soon I can get a temple built. I have heard Elders say they were not dependent upon any man. . . . [But,] I consider that we are all dependant one upon another for our exaltation and that our interest is inseparably connected. . . . If men are not saved together, they cannot be saved at all. . . . The business of this Church [is] to [bring the] blessings of the Priesthood to all that have lived . . . ##9 Neither can you without me, nor I without you be made perfect. . . . This applies to the whole Human family.” End quote. (Brigham Young, Mormon History, Tuesday, Feb 16, 1847)
A Day Contemplated by Prophets
Joseph Smith challenged: “Let every man, woman and child realize the importance of the work, and act as if success depended on [their] individual exertion alone; let all feel an interest in it, and then consider they live in a day, the contemplation of which animated the bosoms of kings, Prophets, and righteous men thousands of years ago.” End quote. (History of the Church, 4:214.)
Tentacles of Divine Providence
Dear youth, please listen to how far reaching are these promises. President Hinckley cited the following quote several times during his presidency, and in a seminal address, his counselor President Faust explained the following blessing in detail in general conference. Quote. “The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught a more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them . . . would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s [and mother’s] heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain.” End quote. (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110)
None of us will be satisfied if someone we love is not with us. The hope of Eternal Life which we receive at our baptism, becomes the promise of Eternal Life in our temples.
When? A Million Years
President Kimball observed that, quote: “The time will come when there will be a surrender of every person who has ever lived on this earth, who is now living, or who ever will live on this earth; and it will be an unforced surrender, an unconditional surrender. When will it be for you? Today? In twenty years? Two hundred years? Two thousand, or a million? When? Again, to you... I say, it is not if you will capitulate to the great truth; it is when, for I know that you cannot indefinitely resist the power and pressure of truth. Why not now? Much time has been lost.” End quote. (President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Sept. 1978, p. 8)
This applies to all of us, all of our friends and neighbors, all of our ancestors, all of our posterity -- even and especially those who stray. ##10
Vast Realities
Elder John A. Widtsoe beautifully described how temple ordinances are infused with symbolism. He said: “Mighty spiritual ordinances are carried on daily in [our] magnificent Temple[s]. [These ordinances are] a series of symbols of vast realities . . . . It is the meaning of things that counts in life. We live in a world of symbols. We know nothing except by symbols. . . . [When we are] endowed as [we] should be [we will see] beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand.” End quote. (Elder John A. Widtsoe, Utah Genealogical Magazine, 12:62)
President Faust cited Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse. “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” ##11

An emeritus Yale professor, and perhaps America’s preeminent literary scholar, Harold Bloom, has become an admirer of the doctrine of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Bloom who characterizes himself as a lapsed, Gnostic Jew, said that Joseph Smith was a “religion making genius.” It was his opinion that Joseph Smith created The American Religion. ##12
Of the many unique/former Christian doctrines restored through Joseph Smith, Bloom cites the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead as, perhaps, the most important – more than the Book of Mormon, more than the First Vision, as seminal as they are. He suggests that baptism for the dead succinctly captures the essence of the expansive and generous Plan of Salvation as understood in Mormon chapels, in Mormon Temples, and in the hearts of endless generations of Mormons. Bloom is describing the effects of the Spirit of Elijah.
In our temples is a marvelous power connecting the generations – making as one all of God’s children past, present, and future. Truly teaching the eternal implication of what President Hugh B. Brown spoke of as, The Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man.
Joseph Smith stated that even those without knowledge of -- or obedience to -- the Bible would be enfolded in the arms of mercy. Quote: “God hath made a provision that every spirit can be ferreted out in [the spirit] world.” End quote. Joseph’s was a generous vision.
Continued Duration for Completion
Joseph commented on the Vision of the degrees of glory in the heavens, thusly: “Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saints . . . than the light which burst upon the world through the foregoing vision. . . . . Every promise, every truth, and every point touching the destiny of man . . . go[es] to show the [the truth of the revelation] . . . . The sublimity of the ideas; . . . the scope for action; the continued duration for completion . . . are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every [honest] man is constrained to exclaim: ‘It came from God.’” (Joseph Smith, Feb., 1832. DHC 1:252-253.)

In our last general conference, Elder Cook discussed the importance of the role our youth will play. He said: “The First Presidency has encouraged members, especially youth and young single adults, to emphasize family history work and [temple] ordinances . . . . We need to be connected to both our roots and branches. . . . ##13
Rising Generation to Lead the Way
“The leadership of the Church has issued a clarion call to the rising generation to lead the way in the use of technology to experience the spirit of Elijah, to search out their ancestors, and to perform temple ordinances for them. Much of the heavy lifting in hastening the work of salvation for both the living and the dead will be done by you young people. ##14 Of course, the main objective is to determine what ordinances still need to be done and make assignments for the essential temple [ordinances]. . . .” This temple worship by our youth “will bless their entire family to experience the spirit of Elijah. Our precious roots and branches must be nourished. . . . End quote. (Elder Quentin L. Cook, April 2014 Conference, Roots and Branches)
Roots and Branches, Remembered
As Jacob said, “How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and . . . as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (Jacob 6:4)

In reviewing this theme with your bishop over the past few weeks, he desires that you young women and young men receive the specific blessings of protection promised by modern apostles and prophets. As you participate in this work he is confident you will “gain a deeper understanding of the commandment and doctrine of ‘honoring our fathers and mothers’ – ‘and that you’] will see doing family history and temple work in a whole new light.”
No Greater Protection
Elder Scott has spoken of the blessing of protection for our youth as they become involved in this work. He said: “Do you young people want a sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary in your life? Immerse yourself in searching for your ancestors, prepare their names for the sacred vicarious ordinances available in the temple, and then go to the temple to stand as proxy for them to receive the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. ##15 I can think of no greater protection from the influence of the adversary in your life.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, October 2012)
Question: How and why does this work? It works through the efficacy of Lord’s marvelous promises and power, in partnership with your inherent and refined ‘desires, appetites and passions.’
Conversion Deep and Abiding, and Protected
Elder Bednar has also promised specific blessings, including that of protection, for our youth. Quote. ##16 “I invite the young people of the Church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. . . . And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories. . . . You are sons and daughters of God, children of the covenant, and builders of the kingdom. You need not wait until you reach an arbitrary age to . . . assist in the work of salvation for the human family. . . . ^ As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing . . . will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives. Parents and leaders, please help your children and youth to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. But do not overly program this endeavor or provide too much detailed information or training. Invite young people to explore, to experiment, and to learn for themselves. . . .” ##17
In our last stake conference President Wheatley, commented on these promises, “Brothers and Sisters, if we would claim these promises of protection for our youth, let us obey the law upon which they are predicated. If we do, the promises are sure and are ours.”
President Boyd K. Packer has given wise counsel on improving behavior. He said, “True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior . . . .” (Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17).
In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith was asked by a visitor to from the Illinois state government how he governs so many people so well. Joseph replied, “It’s easy.” The visitor asked, “How?” Joseph stated: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came out of the desert and entered into a synagogue. He opened the scriptures and read the following words from Isaiah. One might say that they form something of a mission statement for our Savior’s ministry.
Opening the Prison
Quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound . . . . ” End quote.
Glad Tidings for the Dead
Last month Elder Cook cited the following soaring words from Joseph Smith’s beautiful letter to the Saints introducing the doctrine of baptism for the dead – which is also cited in D&C 128. “Now, what do we hear in the Gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; And a voice of truth out of the earth. Glad tidings for the dead; A voice of gladness for the living and the dead; Glad tidings of great joy. Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. . . . Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free. . . . And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” (D&C 128)
As Soon As
I bear my witness that there is now no spirit prison in the eternities -- or of one’s own making here on earth -- that can or will forever hold bound those who Jesus has already set free. They can walk out of the door anytime they want -- as soon as they will.
And I bear my witness that we have now the wherewithal and opportunity and obligation and vision and love to help secure their freedom -- as soon as we will.
In so doing, I testify that we -- and especially our youth -- can and will receive the promised blessings of connection with our ancestors, and protection from the adversary.
I pray we do so joyously and profitably sooner rather than later . . . in the powerful and merciful Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
# # #
# # #
##1. SIDE NOTE: A large framed piece of art – an image of an old daguerreotype of the Nauvoo Temple -- hangs prominently near our front door. Before we moved to Virginia, the California license plate on my car was Nauvoo.
My wife Becky’s early Mormon ancestors lived in Kirtland, Far West, and Nauvoo. They trekked across the plains as pioneers. Some of them received their endowment and were sealed in the original Nauvoo Temple. I have felt adopted into Mormon history and her family lore as I have read and pondered her ancestors’ experiences. . . .
##2 We had invited a couple from Kansas (near where I was born) to help us by acting as proxy for the various sets of parents.
##3 (Remember, my dad’s dad died when my dad was six.)
##4 Reflection -- Years later our oldest daughter remarked, quote, “This was so significant to me, feeling the Spirit of Elijah in that room, and knowing my Grandma and Aunt have caught the Spirit of Elijah and accepted that day the beautiful happenings in the Temple with their family members. While they have not yet joined the church, I know that someday, all the pieces that they have felt and heard and seen over the years will all fit together and it will all instantly click for them.” End quote.
##5 To make that day even more special, my mission president in Australia in 1973-75 was then serving as the DC temple president. He performed the sealing -- two important men in my life brought together in different aspects of one sweet and eternal sealing ordinance.
##6 So, please open your minds and hearts as we consider what great things God has in store for us, and especially for you.
##7 A Sense of Relationship and Co-partnership -- President Hugh B. Brown also spoke on this idea of partnership. He said, “A sense of relationship and co-partnership with God involves the concept of universal brotherhood.” He said, “that [this sense] will help to develop intelligent tolerance, open-mindedness, and good-natured optimism.
##8 ‘Neither is man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’
##9 This is another strong proof of the Apostle’s saying when he declared that, they without us could not be made perfect. [Neither we without them.]
##10 Jesus used the following words to set up the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We were all in the pre-mortal world, looking down on the happenings here on earth. Imagine being with your loved ones and friends when you heard Jesus say these words: “4 [Who among] you, having an hundred sheep, if [you] lose one of them, do [you] not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after [the one] which is lost, until [you] find it? 5 And when [you] [find] it, [you] lay… it on [your] shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when [you] come… home, [you] call… together [your] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one . . . that repents…, more than over ninety and nine [who] need no repentance. “
One Vast and Grand Work -- President Kimball also said, “The more clearly we see eternity, the more obvious it becomes that the Lord’s work . . . is one vast and grand work with striking similarities on each side of the veil.” End quote. (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Jan. 1977, p. 3) ]]
Brigham Young also taught that: “The whole subject of the marriage relation . . . lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the Holy Gospel of Salvation -- of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity. When the vision of the mind is opened, you can see a great portion of it . . . . [which] we can see and understand . . . .” (JD 2:90)
##11 PROMISES BECOME REAL -- Question: How can these “vast realities” be apprehended?
Only by Experience, Gaze Five Minutes -- Joseph Smith cautioned that, simply, “Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” End quote. (TPJS, p. 324; cf. HC 6:50)
Must Experience -- Brigham Young explained regarding the meaning of “the ordinances of the House of the Lord in their fullness” that, “to know, [one] must experience; and to experience, a Temple must be built.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol.2, Pg.31, April 6, 1853)
You are to be Instruments -- Joseph Smith encouraged those who were embarking in this work – and this applies especially to our youth who are growing into powerful leaders. Quote. “Do not be discouraged on account of the greatness of the work; only be humble and faithful . . . Therefore, inasmuch as you are to be instrumental in this great work, He will endow you with power, wisdom, might, and intelligence, and every qualification necessary; while your minds will expand wider and wider, until you can circumscribe the earth and the heavens, reach forth into eternity, and contemplate the mighty acts of Jehovah in all their variety and glory.” End quote. (History of the Church, 4:128–29.)
In our last General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Our Father’s plan is about families. . . . The spirit of Elijah . . . as Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught, is ‘a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family.’ . . .
“On October 11, 1840, in Nauvoo, Vilate Kimball wrote a letter to her husband, Elder Heber C. Kimball, who with other members of the Twelve was serving a mission in Great Britain. The October general conference had been held a few days before. I quote from parts of Vilate’s personal letter: ‘We had the largest and most interesting conference that ever has been since the Church was organized. . . . President [Joseph] Smith has opened a new and glorious subject. . . . That is, being baptized for the dead. Paul speaks of it, in First Corinthians 15 . . . . Joseph has received a more full explanation of it by revelation. He says it is the privilege of [members of] this Church to be baptized for all their kinsfolk that have died before . . . . By so doing, we act as agents for them, and give them the privilege of coming forth in the First Resurrection. He says they will have the gospel preached to them in prison.’ Vilate added: ‘I want to be baptized for my mother. … Is not this a glorious doctrine?’” End quote. Indeed.
Vilate Kimball was right to exclaim that first month, “Is not this a glorious doctrine!”
##12 That what he taught was on par with that of Emerson, and other great American poets and thinkers.
##13 “Less than a year after President Thomas S. Monson was called as an Apostle, he dedicated the Los Angeles Temple Genealogical Library. . . .” [ NOTE: It was in this same Genealogical Library that my wife would go to do family history research once a month as I served as a veil worker in the L.A. Temple.
##14 “If the youth in each ward will not only go to the temple and do baptisms for their dead but also work with their families and other ward members to provide the family names for the ordinance work they perform, both they and the Church will be greatly blessed.
##15 As you grow older, you will be able to participate in receiving the other ordinances as well.
##16 “It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. . . . The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation. . . . Our young people are excited to learn about the lives of family members—where they came from and how they lived. Many have had their hearts turned to the fathers. They love the stories and photos, and they have the technological expertise to scan and upload these stories and photos to Family Tree and connect source documents with ancestors to preserve these for all time.
##17 -- “My beloved young brothers and sisters, family history is not simply an interesting program or activity sponsored by the Church; rather, it is a vital part of the work of salvation and exaltation. You have been prepared for this day and to build up the kingdom of God. You are here upon the earth now to assist in this glorious work. . . . “I know the youth of the rising generation have a key role to play in this great endeavor. . . .” End quote.
As Elder Bednar said, doing family history and temple work (or, rather, we might say, Temple Worship) affords us promises of not only being preserved in this world of trials and tribulations, and protection from the adversary, but also a sweeter, more intimate relationship with God.
In order to receive these promised blessings and the associated beauties of the ordinances, we need to ponder the mysteries of Godliness, as revealed in the scriptures, the temple, and our own sincere prayers. Prayers can be thought of as an individual, personalized portal piercing this veil of tears and into the eternal realm where we can commune directly with the Divinity – with our Father in Heaven.
“Things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity -- thou must commune with God.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings, Page 137)
Joseph Smith said, “This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I.
“I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know that it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more. . . . All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us…are revealed to us in the abstract . . . . (Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse)
And he had this to say about how we grow over time into a more effective servant: “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, . . . But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same.…” (Joseph Smith, Letter to the Brethren, January 22, 1834. Teachings, Page 47)

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A poem for Mom's 80th Birthday

The Center
Through the heart and words of a natural mother AND through the heart and works of a natural genealogist, Mom (Grandma Dot) is at the very center of all that is important. Connecting our hearts and the generations.

Looking back (and forward), seeing past an earthy veil
   Into the heart.

Love no longer lost, the chain no longer frail,
    Is now rebuilt and an inherent part . . .

Of those we knew. But being separated
    Here in our own time . . .

And forgotten. Are now recovered and remembered --
    With faint inklings sublime.

Weak links, now strong. Those long asleep, now awakening,
    No longer alone.

She, at the center point of our shared existence, connecting
    Our Hearts and the Generations. Now one -- and known.

(Poem by Scott L. Vanatter, written Feb. 26, 2014, in honor of my Mother’s 80th birthday.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Steward, By Carol Lynn Pearson

The Steward
~ a poem by Carol Lynn Pearson, from her book, Beginnings and Beyond

Heber looked at his lands
And he was pleased.
He’d be leaving them, tomorrow, and his hands
Hurt with anticipated idleness.
But he knew there was no other way
When a man is seventy-eight and has to make
Two rest stops with a full bucket of milk
Between the barn and the kitchen.
Condominiums-do they have gardens?
He wondered.
His son had arranged the place for them in town
And he was ready. He sat down
On the rock that knew his body
Better than the front room chair.

Could it really be fifty-five years ago
That sitting right there
They had talked?
His father’s voice had never left him:
“Heber, I’m trusting to you
The most precious thing I’ve got.
I worked hard for this land. You know all about
The crickets and the Indians and the drought,
And the buckets of sweat it took
To make what you see today.
I’m giving it to you as a stewardship, son.
And when your time with the land is done
And we get together again
I’m going to call you to account.
I’m going to say, ‘Heber, did you make it more
Than you found it? Did you watch it
And tend it? Did you make it grow?
Is it everything it can be?’
That’s what I’ll want to know.”

Heber looked out on the fields
That for fifty-five years had been
Green and gold in proper turn-
On the fences and the barns and the ditches
And the trees in careful rows.
Even his father hadn’t been able to get peaches.
He could hardly wait to report about those.

Margaret was finishing the last closet.
Just a few things were going to the city
And the rest rose in a mountain
On the back porch, waiting for the children
To sort through and take what they chose.
She opened the lid on a shoebox of valentines.
Perhaps just one or two for memory’s sake?
But whose-whose would she take?

She put the box aside and reached again.
“What in the world?” In an instant her face
Cleared and in her hands was the old familiar case.
The violin. She hadn’t touched it for forty years,
Hadn’t thought of it for twenty at least.
Well, there they finally were-the tears.
Her mother’s dishes hadn’t done it,
Or the little Bible she had buried with Ellen,
Or the valentines –
But there they were for the violin.
She picked up the bow.
Had it always been so thin?
Perhaps her hand had grown so used to big things,
To kettles that weighed ten pounds empty,
And to milk cans and buckets of coal.

The wood felt smooth against her chin
As she put the bow to a string.
A slow, startled sound wavered, then fell.
How did she used to tune it? Ah, well.
No sense wasting time on moving day.
If Heber should come in, he would say,
“Well, there’s Margaret – fiddlin’ around
With her fiddle again.”
He’s always said it with a smile, though.

“I could have done it,” she said out loud.
“And it wouldn’t have hurt him.
It wouldn’t have hurt anybody!”

He hadn’t minded that she’d practiced two hours
Every afternoon – after all, she got up at five
and nobody in the world could criticize
The way she kept the house
Or the care she gave to the children.
And he was proud that she was asked
To play twice a year at the church.
And music made her so happy.
If she missed a day things were not quite
So bright around the house.
Even Heber noticed that.

And then she was invited to join the symphony in town.
Oh, to play with a real orchestra again!
In a hall with a real audience again!
“But, Margaret, isn’t that too much to ask
Of a woman with children and a farm to tend?”

“Oh, Heber, I’ll get up at four if I have to.
I won’t let down – not a bit. I promise!”

“But I couldn’t drive you in,
Not two nights a week all year round,
And more when they’re performing.”

“I can drive, Heber. It’s only twenty miles.
I’d be fine. You would have to be
With the children, though, until Ellen
Is a little older.”

“But I couldn’t guarantee two night a week –
Not with my responsibilities to the farm,
And to the Church.”

“Heber, there’s no way to tell you
How important this is to me. Please, Heber.
I’ll get up at four if I have to.”

But Heber said no.
What if something happened to the car?
And then it just wouldn’t look right
For a man’s wife to be out chasing
Around like that. What would it lead to next?
Once in a while he read of some woman
Who went so far with her fancy notions
That she up and left her family, children and all.
He couldn’t see Margaret ever doing that,
But it’s best to play it safe.
Two nights a week – that was asking a lot.
So Heber said no.
It was his responsibility to take care of her.

She had been given to him, in fact.
He remembered the ceremony well,
The pledges, the rings,
And he didn’t take it lightly.
She had been given to him,
And it was up to him to decide these things.
So Heber said no.
She had seemed to take it all right,
Though she was quieter than usual
And more and more an afternoon would pass
Without her practicing.

He didn’t really notice how it happened –
The shrinking of her borders,
The drying up of her green.
If Heber ever thought about it in later years
He marked it up to the twins.
Motherhood was hard on a woman,
And Margaret just wasn’t quite the same as before.

She laid the violin in its case
And rubbed away the small wet drop
On her thin hand.

“I could have done it,” she said aloud.
“Heber, you didn’t understand.
I could have done it and not hurt anybody.
I would have gotten up at four!”

Slowly she made her way to the porch
And put the violin with the things
For the children to sort through.
“Will any of them remember?
I don’t think so.”

Heber gave a last look at his lands
And he was pleased.
He could face his father with a clear mind.
“Here’s my stewardship,” he would say,
“And I think you’ll find
I did everything you asked.
I took what you gave me – and I made it more.”

He got up and started toward the house,
Putting to his lips
A long, thin piece of hay.
“Better get movin’. Margaret will be
Needing me for supper right away.”