Category Archives: Christ and the Atonement

Eternal Life – Part 3 – Tribes and Families United Forever

I just watched a Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast, all of which was dedicated to the music and genius of Oscar Hammerstein II. Not only was it a musical feast, but my love for the Jewish people reawakened. It’s a little known fact that most Broadway musicals were a product of two great legacies: the American struggle to create itself and the Jewish struggle to recreate themselves. Jewish songwriters, lyricists, producers and directors wrote stories of outsiders who were lost, then found – a mirror of their own struggles over the centuries. But they didn’t directly tell their own story but instead told the story of the “Gentiles” (non Jews) who founded this nation and gave birth to a vibrant new culture.

So why are Jewish people telling the Gentiles’ story? To answer that, I needed to reflect back on Biblical history:

A close reading of the Old Testament tells the story of the 12 Tribes of Israel, descendants of Abraham, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob (spiritual name Israel) who had 12 children with multiple wives – hence the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Throughout ancient history, their fate rose and fell on the tides of righteousness versus idolatry, false values, and downright wickedness. The Tribe of Judah are the ancestors of today’s Jewish people, especially the sect known as Pharisees. They were the administrators of the Kingdom, a “chosen people” unto God, really self-chosen by their righteous living and dedication to that God. But the tribes of Israel struggled and fought with each other, ultimately dividing into the Northern Kingdom of 10 tribes and the Southern Kingdom based in Jerusalem, consisting of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. When the Northern Kingdom had “ripened in iniquity,” they were scattered by the Assyrians in the year 721 B.C. and absorbed into other cultures, and are now called The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.

The Southern Kingdom lost the way of good living, embraced sin to the degree of sacrificing their children to idols and embracing every known sin, resulting in their vulnerability to outside enemies. They were conquered by the Babylonians and carried away captive in 586 BC, as a group, for 70 years; they were then allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and, unlike the Northern 10 tribes, were able to maintain their culture and religious identity. But since a segment of Judah (mostly Pharisees), ancestors of today’s Jewish people, crucified Christ, they and their descendants have been fated to be “scourged,” afflicted, and scattered throughout history as a way to ultimately bring them back to God. They found a refuge in Spain for centuries until the Inquisition sent them fleeing, yet again. Pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust during WWII, and persecution elsewhere finally drove many to America where they again found a safe harbor. Their business experience, intelligence, and creative talents opened doors of opportunity, especially centered on both coasts. Of course, not all Jewish people followed good paths, just as people from all religious and cultural groups spawn evil doers. But those who reached upward created much of our wonderful American culture.

This morning I’ve listened to classics from Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma, and State Fair, with the spoken word given by Oscar Hammerstein III describing how his grandfather gave us such wonderful stories and lyrics through his own continual struggle and much failure. He told his sons, when playing tennis, to “always look to the next ball, not the last ball” – good advice for us all!

This wonderful legacy is detailed in the PBS Special, Broadway Musicals, A Jewish Legacy. I saw it years ago, never forgot it, and ordered my own copy recently. Who doesn’t love the music of Barbara Streisand, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Rogers (Oscar Hammerstein’s creative partner) to name just the most famous?

Christian prophecy tells of the great restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel with Judah’s spiritual leadership centered in Jerusalem and “Zion” or the Tribe of Ephraim as temporal leaders centered in the “New Jerusalem.” Even though many of our struggles only result in partial victories now, we have the hope of absolute victory in Christ at His Second Coming.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out:
and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,
which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God:
and I will write upon him my new name. 
(Revelation 3:12)

Last week, I spent some wonderful time in our local LDS Temple, “sealing” ancestors together as families. I could feel the spirits of those who especially wanted this work performed for them, all of which is conditional upon its acceptance by them. It’s my testimony that everyone who wants this blessing, who lives so as to qualify for it, and embraces the path to it, can bring that restoration and ultimate unity to their own family.

Gladly, we also have the promise that the family of God will be made whole. All human life on this planet has the same promise: to be restored to their original place in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or be adopted into it; then to be taken home to the God who made us to live eternally with Him, the great patriarchs, our ancestors and families. Those who arrive there are not chosen capriciously by God, but they choose themselves through their intentions, efforts and journey towards truth.

Salvation is so much bigger than human ideas and even experience. It’s my “hope in Christ” that all those who have wandered, struggled, and felt lost will find the eternal home they’re seeking. The Jews, by telling America’s story, really tell the story of all humanity, for which we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Sealed Together for Eternity
Family Photo

Eternal Life – Part 2 – Worlds Without Number

Once the Hubble Telescope was launched and repaired, scientists could see far deeper into the universe than ever before. They focused on the darkest spot they could find in the heavens, then counted the number of galaxies they could see. They were stunned to see at least 10,000.

Galaxies in Hubble Deep Field
Courtesy Pixabay.com

How many stars is that? Estimates range from 100 to 400 billion stars just in our own Milky Way! 10,000 galaxies x 100,000,000,000 stars is huge and that’s the conservative estimate for just that one spot. Scientists estimate there are between 125 billion to 2 trillion galaxies in the whole universe. I won’t even tackle how many stars that is. This gives new meaning to worlds without number – see below.

Billions of Stars in a Single Galaxy
Courtesy Pixabay.com 

In the LDS scripture, Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses, we read:
And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten (Moses 1:33).  This may not be authoritative for non-members of the Mormon Church, but in the New Testament we read:
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)

I don’t know about you, but the idea of having my own world or “mansion” is pretty thrilling. Think how much we enjoy a new home, however modest. I’m having a blast feathering my nest in my new house and cultivating a large garden. How about designing and cultivating an entire world! This makes any sacrifice I make to walk the Christian path seem minuscule and puts fresh heart into me for the uphill climb.

From Psalms 8:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet . . . .

This post harkens back to an earlier one, The Three Pillars of Eternity: #1 The Creation. None of what I’ve said above makes any sense if we don’t believe there’s a Creator and that He consciously created not just this world, but all worlds. Is there a God? If so, where does that belief lead us? How does that influence how we live and how we regard the future? These are all questions I think the stark realities of mortality pose to each of us individually.

I, for one, choose to believe and live with faith and hope. Good wishes to all in your journey through this mortal life.

The Milky Way Seen Through Utah’s Delicate Arch
Courtesy Pixabay.com

Eternal Life – Part 1 – Grace for This Life

Today is New Year’s Day, a time I and many others refocus our vision forward: a time for fresh beginnings and to be freer from the reach of the past.

One of the greatest blessings of Christianity is the absolute promise of immortality for all mankind and the more conditional promise of eternal progression (shortened to just the phrase Eternal Life), if we live the Christian journey wholeheartedly. This brings an unlimited future of increasingly glorious personal growth, extending into the next life. We will then be rewarded for all sacrifices and trials faithfully endured, and to end up in one of the “many mansions” Christ is preparing for His followers in the hereafter (John 14:2). I don’t know any philosophy or religion whose promises the Holy Spirit will confirm as this was witnessed to me years ago and many times since.

A beloved LDS apostle and scholar, Bruce R. McConkie, named three central Christian doctrines The Three Pillars of Eternity which I described in previous posts. They are the Creation, The Fall, and The Atonement, which are bookended in the Book of Mormon by a preface question, “Do you believe in God?” and a concluding promise of “Eternal Life” as the final state of sincere Christians. Read for yourself: Alma 22:7-15. Here’s the list again with links to the previous posts:

Foundational Concept: There is a God, Part I and There Is a God, Part II
Pillar #1 – The Creation
Pillar #2 – The Fall
Pillar #3 – The Atonement
A Glorious Promise and Reward: Eternal Life – 
today’s and subsequent posts

Furthermore, I believe that those rewards start to appear in this life. Just as there’s a temporal reward for effort in everyday life – think high school graduation, obtaining a fulfilling job after years of training, seeing a child become a happy and productive citizen, or conquering a life-long pattern of dysfunction, I believe there’s divine grace that blesses and enlarges us as we strive to make spiritual and creative growth as well as temporal progress in this life.

As a divorced mother of 44 years, I struggled financially most of that time. I plodded on trying to juggle work with personal growth and service to God and my fellow man. The phrase muddle through most accurately described my progress through life! I even found a picture on a greeting card I adopted as a personal image. The young woman below is walking through a dreary winter landscape (to me, symbolizing adversity), inadequately dressed but resolute with snowflakes of light and affirmation around her, illuminating her path.

Hopeful Woman in Winter
Source Unknown

But now I’ve gotten out of debt, bought a house and rented out my bonus room to my church for the sister missionaries, I have finally arrived at a place of far greater temporal stability than any time since my divorce. As I settle in, establish a garden, and start to sink roots in my new community, I can see the prospect of also being much freer creatively, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ll have time to launch a new phase of real estate work, continue my spiritual writing, give increased community service, and generally have more fun – whoopie!

A massage therapist recently commented that with all these positive changes, I should find another totem image. I immediately thought of the Monet painting my daughter decoupaged on a wooden plaque many years ago. I found it online immediately:

Claude Monet, Woman with Parasol
Musee D’Orsay, Paris
Image in Public Domain

This lovely painting calls to mind a quote by Albert Camus, a French philosopher:

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me
lay an invincible summer. 

I see myself in a delayed but prolonged creative summer, and I plan to bask in that warmth as I sail warm updrafts of inspiration and divine encouragement. Furthermore, I think these triumphs and that happiness is available to all – it’s called Grace. Hopefully we’ll all build our own “invincible summer” within, believing in the next breakthrough.

The Three Pillars of Eternity: #3 The Atonement

Today is Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, providing universal immortality. We are all also given an invitation to repent and be forgiven, as well as be healed of all our mortal sorrows.

In my previous post on The Fall, I recounted highlights from my own healing journey and how God’s grace blessed my fumbling efforts. The broken pieces of my childhood are finally mended, so I can look forward to future creative growth without that drag on my footsteps. Hooray! It’s a mini-resurrection for me. I have much work to do and growth to make, never fear, but that’s one challenge I can finally put “Paid” to. So yes, Humpty Dumpty can be put together again!

But no effort of mine nor anyone else’s can mend mankind’s fundamental brokenness. That happened through Adam and Eve choosing between two conflicting commandments: Multiply and replenish the Earth (Genesis 1:28) and Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). If they had stayed in the garden of Eden, they couldn’t have had children. By partaking of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they gave life to the warning that they would surely die, meaning they would enter mortality with its condition of certain physical death. But only by doing this could they have children and fulfill the first commandment.

Why would Heavenly Father give contradictory commandments? I believe, along with many religious scholars, that He did this so that the Fall would come about by choice, not compulsion – a fundamental law of Heaven. And that fall into mortality was universal for all humankind. We have all “surely died” since then. Can any effort of ours overturn this awful condition? People have long sought for the Fountain of Youth or a magical path to immortality, but always in vain.

That’s why we needed a Savior, someone with more than mortal power. In an almost unbelievable story, we’re told that Jesus Christ volunteered to be that Savior in pre-mortality. He would be half god, half mortal. His mortal half could experience life as we know it, suffering all our temptations, trials, and deprivations. His godly half would have extra strength to resist evil and super intelligence to understand all things. Most important, He would have power over death just as Heavenly Father has.

To be our Savior, he had to live a perfect, sinless life of His own free will and choice, then choose to be unjustly sacrificed for all our sins and sufferings, hence the phrase “sacrificial lamb.” The ancient Israelites were taught about this upcoming event and practiced actual animal sacrifice of a perfect, lamb “without blemish” each year on Passover, so the lesson would be imprinted deeply on their minds and hearts.

The scriptures give us the glorious tidings that Jesus fulfilled His mission perfectly, suffering every pain, sin, temptation, and sorrow of mankind willingly. Once the “uttermost farthing” was paid, He gave up His life voluntarily – no one could take it from Him. Instead of endless night and bondage to evil for eternity, all people will be resurrected and permanently escape death! It’s my testimony that this is the true story of life.

The big picture promises resurrection and the hope of eternal progression in worlds of glory if we choose to come unto Christ and live the laws of life (The Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount, etc.). Most important, we must repent of wrongdoing promptly for:

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom;
therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those
who have washed their garments in my blood,
because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins,
and their faithfulness unto the end. (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 27:19)

And from Isaiah:

Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence,
touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her;
be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord. (Isaiah 52:11)

In Joy to the World, our joy comes from the Atonement:

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He’ll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse was found,
Far as the curse was found . . . .

The little picture promises divine guidance during our mortal journey, healing of our broken pieces, and rich rewards for our feeble efforts now. No matter how long it takes, our own personal curse, like Job’s, will be removed and the Lord will bless “our latter end more than our beginning” (Job 42:12).

The true end of our mortal journey is the promised Second Coming of Christ, a truly great day for the faithful, and the real promise of Easter!

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Second Coming by Harry Anderson
Courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

 

 

 

The Three Pillars of Eternity: #1 The Creation

An LDS scholar and Apostle, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, defined the parameters of mortal existence as The Three Pillars of Eternity:

  1. The Creation
  2. The Fall
  3. The Atonement

I love this and want to write about each one, as we usually only hear a secular view of life: we evolved out of chaos and we live a life based only on our own efforts til death ends it all. The Christian view is significantly different: life is created by God, mortality tests and refines us, and we have a promise of life after death.

Mormon doctrine agrees with these basic tenets but adds something more: that human beings have a dual nature: The Natural (or Biological) Man and The Spiritual (or Idealistic) Man. The Natural Man provides needed instincts and energy. The Spiritual Man provides sane management of the animal within, necessary for civilized life.

As I understand it, the secular world asserts that the Theory of Evolution totally accounts for the origin of life and of human beings – arising from chaos and evolving into complex life forms, one small increment at a time. Christians have maintained that God “created” the earth, the heavens and all life therein as a conscious, systematic act, as stated in the Bible: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) These two theories have then been presented to the public as diametrically opposed and irreconcilable. Those in the “Science Camp” shout down “Creationism”; and I even know a local Christian high school that doesn’t teach any science at all – only the religious doctrine of creation! But are they truly mutually exclusive?

My education says “No.” I was raised in the beating heart of a Big Ten university in the Midwest, attending a University lab school from first through twelfth grade. Many of my classmates were children of professors, and I didn’t know what a bad teacher was as all were select graduate students or university professors themselves. We were urged to think independently but responsibly. All our teachers acknowledged that “the more they learned, the more they realized they didn’t know.” Most students and teachers loved learning and displayed this basic humility. In college, I soon learned to distinguish between the true seekers of knowledge and the infrequent “know-it-all’s” I encountered. When I saw professors go head-to-head over an apparent theoretical impasse, I just sat back and watched the fireworks. A year or two later when an academic resolution was inevitably reached, I chalked up their posturing and fights as just so much unnecessary ego. I believed then, and still do, that Truth exists independent of men’s opinion.

Then I joined the Mormon Church at age 31. As part of the Temple ceremony, I heard the phrase, All truth is circumscribed into one great whole. That resonated with me and I still believe it. In other words, there are no ultimate irreconcilable conflicts in eternal truth. And one day God will show us the true origins of life and answer all the questions we still have: the real age of the earth, whether or not biblical time frames were literal or symbolic, what happened to the dinosaurs, and many more.

I think because learning and technology have advanced so rapidly and so dramatically in modern times, we have become dazzled by it and have forgotten to look beyond man’s achievements – beyond the Natural Man’s reach. We’ve forgotten that God is a perfect being who knows infinitely more than we do and who also has our best interests at heart. He wants to share all His knowledge and power with us, but only as we acknowledge Him and obey His teachings.

Could it be that some people haven’t forgotten God but are nevertheless happy to throw Him out of their lives, along with His unwelcome rule book, clearly defining good and evil? In a reference I cannot now place, an LDS scientist recounted a conversation with a secular scientist who openly admitted that many scientists supported the Theory of Evolution’s explanation for the origins of life so they could go on committing adultery without consequence! This was surely the Natural Man speaking . . . .

It’s a lot like a classroom of fifth graders, whose teacher is suddenly called away but leaves clear instructions on the homework they are to complete, then they are left to manage themselves for a time. Soon the class degenerates into those who want to work as instructed and those who just want to have fun. Conflict and chaos erupt, both sides labelling the other, either “goody goodies” or “lazy good-for-nothings.” The obedient kids huddle in their own small groups while noise and chaos reign as a whole. Bullies emerge and claim the class doesn’t need their teacher; they will take charge and throw out the old rules. Those who don’t play along are shamed and persecuted. History shows similar patterns in society when God and His rule book are tossed aside, and the result is always chaos and destruction. Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them is a maxim too often forgotten.

I maintain that civilization was built on rules the Spiritual Man recognizes and supports as universal. I further maintain that God blesses those civilizations with prosperity and protection as long as they honor what I call “The Laws of Life” – essentially the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule. And He “upholds all things by the word of his power” – protection that can be withdrawn:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past
unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us
by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things,
by whom also he made the worlds
;
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,
and upholding all things by the word of his power,
when he had by himself purged our sins,
sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
(Hebrews 1:1-3)

What do we each believe? How do those beliefs influence our actions and our lifestyle? Integrity demands our actions line up with our true beliefs, so if we talk the Christian talk, shouldn’t we look more deeply at God’s Rule Book to see if we’re “walking the walk”?

My own faith – unabashedly a “revealed religion,” revealed by God, not voted on by mortals – says that God has not revealed the details of the Creation and therefore we have no clear answers, for now. But we also believe in continuing revelation through authorized prophets and believe that those answers will come forth in God’s own time.

In the meantime, I live with faith. I support the laws of life as I understand them, and have been richly blessed for doing so. I wish all the rebellious “children” running our world today would take back the Rule Book and live by it. The world would be a more peaceful, prosperous and happy place, when the true Teacher returns.

And I also rejoice in a beautiful world that could not possibly have happened by accident.

Beautiful Earth Courtesy Pixabay.com, Image 511029

Beautiful Earth
Courtesy Pixabay.com, Image 511029

Do You Believe in God? Part 2

Last night I watched a new BYU production, Joan of Arc, streamed live from BYUTV.org. The story itself is stunning in its impact, inspirational in content, and as historically accurate as they could make it – taking the dialogue straight from the extensive trial transcripts that have miraculously survived over 500 years. Click HERE to view their upcoming schedule.

At about age 13, Joan claims to have been visited by an angel announcing her calling by God to lead the crown prince of France out of exile and be crowned in Reims. Then she was to lead the French patriots against the English who already occupied much of the country. How could a mere farmer’s daughter hope to accomplish any of this? But she believed this was from God, and she had repeated visits and messages from her “voices” who tutored her until she was 17 or 18, when she set out secretly to obey. Well might we think she was schizophrenic or otherwise deluded if it weren’t for the fact that she miraculously succeeded beyond even her own wildest dreams. That she was subsequently tried for heresy for merely political reasons and burned at the stake doesn’t change this history at all. God evidently didn’t want France to be English! And her martyrdom guaranteed that we would never forget His divine role.

I think many people would agree that individuals can and do receive answers to prayer, even many miracles in their own lives. But do we also believe that God directs those leaders, who are willing, on how to bless whole groups of people? Do all people who claim divine authority actually have it? And are there limits on the reach of authority of those who are genuinely inspired?

I think we can all agree that some people are either deluded or lying about claiming revelation and divine authority. But I suggest that Joan’s story gives us one guideline for discerning the source of claimed revelation:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (New Testament, KJV, Matthew 7:15-20)

Here are some others:

Moses claimed that God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to free the Israelites from bondage in Eqypt, in spite of his personal weaknesses. Moses doubted, but obeyed. The result was a series of miracles and deliverance of his people into a better land and a newness of life – clearly “good fruit.” See Exodus 3-15.

The Virgin Mary learned she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the promised Messiah, in spite of her lack of social prominence, wealth, and existing betrothal to another man. The result was the best fruit to ever come forth in all of mortal existence: Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

Teresa D’Avila was Mother Superior and reformer of a Carmelite order of nuns in Spain in the 1500’s. She was a practical administrator as well as famed mystic. She would retreat into prayer for long periods of time, communing with the Spirit of God. The famed sculptor Bernini portrayed her being flooded with divine light and pierced with the love of God. I was privileged to see this amazing work on the wall in the church of Santa Maria Vitória in Rome in 2001 and have never forgotten its impact as lovely soft light filtered down on it from above, just as it evidently did on her in real life! She reports that these experiences informed all areas of her life and very successful leadership.

Bernini Sculpture, St Teresa D'Avila http://www.luiginovarese.org/2015/03/27/il-beato-novarese-e-santa-teresa-davila/

Bernini Sculpture, St Teresa D’Avila
Courtesty www.luiginovarese.org

Peter Marshall was a Scottish immigrant who had received a call to the ministry in his native land after being saved by a divine warning from tumbling over a cliff during a late night walk. He emigrated, attended Seminary, eventually headed a successful Presbyterian church in Washington DC, and finally became the US Senate Chaplain. He was known for his fiery sermons and no compromise on principles. He died young, and his widow Catherine Marshall became a prolific and beloved Christian writer. Reverend Marshall felt the call many times in his work and in his message. His wife’s biography of him, A Man Called Peterwas eventually made into a popular movie – I highly recommend both book and movie (which has a rare audio recording at the end of the real Dr. Marshall speaking). Once again, we have someone called to a specific work for God, and his fruits are far-reaching and good.

Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported a visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees in Palmyra, New York, after reading James 1:5 (If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him) and praying to know which church to join. The result was a totally new church with over 15,000,000 members today, approximately 100,000 missionaries (most paying their own way), and 150 temples, and growing, in operation worldwide providing saving ordinances and sealing families together eternally.  With an emphasis on personal sacrifice, Christ-like love and service, this is an abundant harvest of goodness.

People in other walks of life often claim inspiration and divine guidance in their work and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be a religious leader to receive guidance for groups and individuals over which they have some stewardship (family, patient, client, employee, etc.), just sincere humility and honest intent.

I pray for my children and grandchildren daily and often see the fruits of those prayers. I prayed to be a better teacher, and I still pray for my real estate clients and to know how to properly advise them. I believe we each have an opportunity to become a conduit for God’s love, mercy, wisdom and power in this fallen world.

Just think how much light all of us joined together in faith and charity can bring to it!

New Dawn Courtesy Pixabay #570881

Joyous New Dawn,   Courtesy Pixabay.com

Do You Believe in God? Part 1

Coming out of science one day in 7th grade, my friend Sally asked me, Do you believe in God?  It took me by surprise, as we had never discussed religion before, and I answered candidly, I don’t know.

I decided to think about it and see what I really believed. I felt that if there was a God, He would be wise, loving, powerful, and all knowing. I thought that if there wasn’t a God, I would feel an emptiness in the universe, a lack of a larger consciousness than what I experienced within myself, from my family, and from the academic community around me. But I felt there was a consciousness around me that wasn’t human, that was bigger and wiser. It felt paternal. Furthermore, that being reacted to the things I said and did, just as a father would: either with approval when I was unselfish or hardworking, or with disappointment when I said something mean or did wrong. I don’t know if I told Sally, but I knew I believed in God. However, I didn’t stop my thinking there.

I lived across the street from an enormous City Park sloping down to the City Pool, then down another hill to a large area tucked into a bend of the Iowa River. It contained two ponds where we fed the ducks in summer and ice skated in winter. The 4th of July fireworks and carnival were held on the softball field there every year, plus there was a small zoo with rabbits, monkeys, buffalo, and peacocks. Though the park was well attended, it often seemed to be nearly empty. So we relished the playgrounds, leading each other around blindfolded, and sledding on the hills undisturbed. When I slept out on our screened-in front porch in the summer, I could hear the peacocks screaming in the night and owls hooting in the huge oaks across the street. There was a brooding consciousness over all the life that happened there. Since then Nature has always spoken to me of a loving caretaker and eternal, orderly mechanisms by which the universe unfolds and operates.

Iowa City Park, Family Photo

Iowa City Park, Family Photo

In college, I devoured philosophy and psychology looking for more answers. I rejected out of hand the existentialism of Sartre and Camus I found in French Lit. If you’re going to be that depressed, what’s the point of even living? I rejected behavioral determinism in learning theory because I experienced my own power of conscious choice. It was a “duh” moment, just like in the children’s story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. We have free choice because I exercised it myself and could see the results of both wise and foolish choices. And there was a spirit around “good” people who were self-sacrificing, hard working, intelligent and kind. They had a form of happiness that no amount of self-indulgence could create. I experienced that myself when I resolved to help out more at home and did so, or when I studied hard for a test and did my best. No donut, new outfit, or TV show gave me that!

Then Pete and I moved to New England for a grand adventure in country living. If I thought Nature spoke to me in Iowa, She set up a symphony in rural New Hampshire. I was awakened by thousands of birds at dawn, picked wild blueberries on Pitcher Mountain with its dizzying views, washed my hair under the small dam on Highland Lake, and enjoyed innumerable dinner parties with like-minded friends. Sadly, Pete and I didn’t continue our adventure together, but we each bought little country houses, burned wood, and drank sparkling well water. I was actively pursuing my own spirituality, learning meditation, astrology, visiting communes, and sharing insights with friends. One of them invited me to a Christian prayer group with the older ladies of our small town. There I learned about Christ’s invitation to come to Him in simple, sincere prayer and His promise to answer.

So one day, alone in my house, I knelt down by an upstairs dormer window and said my first official prayer: “God, if you’re there, I need to know it.” I went on to lay out my concerns for my children and the difficulties I faced providing a life for them on my own. I lay down on my bed and, no sooner than I did so, a waterfall of pure love poured all through me. It lasted for at least 2-3 minutes and soon I was crying tears of real joy. My search was over. I was a Christian. Not from belief, but from my own experience and knowledge.

My younger sister and mother had become active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since I’d left home, and they introduced me to the Restored Gospel and the power of a priesthood authorized by God. I learned that all throughout history, those people who lived true to their Christian faith were blessed, prospered, and protected. Here are the words of Moses from the Old Testament:

3 And Moses went up unto God,
and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying,
Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob,
and tell the children of Israel; 

4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians,
and how I bare you on eagles’ wings,
and brought you unto myself.
[In freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt]
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed,
and keep my covenant
,
then ye shall be a peculiar treasure
unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 

6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests,
and an holy nation
.
These are the words which thou shalt speak
unto the children of Israel.
(Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis added)

You might ask yourself if this nation is still a Christian nation, keeping its original covenant with God and meriting His blessings and protections. See my earlier post on Covenant America, July 4, 2014, and more about my personal journey in About Janet.

More importantly, ask yourself the same question my friend Sally asked me so long ago: Do I believe in God? If you say, Yes, then you might ask yourself how you can participate in a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We are each just one little person, but we can all light our own candle and dispel darkness around us. I wish you Bon Voyage.

A Candle in the Darkness Courtesy Pixabay.com

A Candle in the Darkness
Courtesy Pixabay.com

The Feast of Trumpets

Today, September 13, 2015, is highly significant in the Hebrew calendar.

At sundown today, the Feast of Trumpets begins. I knew very little about this until last night. I did know about Passover in the spring and how it commemorates the Israelites’ miraculous exodus from ancient Egypt, led by Moses. It’s also the day Christ was crucified, to be resurrected on the third day, he being the first fruits of the Atonement.

According to an article I read last night, The Golden Plates and the Feasts of Trumpetsthe Passover signifies the Early Harvest or the first harvest of souls at the time of Christ. The fall holy days symbolize the Later Harvest, or the harvest of souls in the Last Days – the times in which we live!

This day is part of three High Holy Days or Days of Awe:

  • The Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah – This is a day to remember how the ancient Israelites escaped from both Egypt and Babylon. In both cases, many spirituals truths and practices had been lost. So, even today, Israel remembers and begins the repentance process to become more spiritually righteous. It is also the Jewish New Year, a time for new beginnings. It is signaled by a single long note, offering God’s hope to the truly penitent.
  • The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur – This is a day of fasting, reflection and repentance, about 10 days after The Feast of Trumpets. It is signaled by a series of short trumpet notes, symbolizing man’s weeping for his sins and failings, and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness. This year it begins at sundown, September 22, and ends at nightfall on the 23rd.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot means receiving the Lord’s forgiveness and a return to grace – a completed harvest. It is signaled by another single long sound from the trumpet. This year, it begins on Monday, September 28, and ends seven days later on Sunday, October 4.

Even though Latter-day Saints don’t officially observe Jewish holy days, I plan to use this three-week period to look within, see what I can and need to improve, and recommit myself to the Christian path. I especially want to repent of hardheartedness, my tendency to hold onto resentment, and my failure many times to love others as I should.

I also have a great love for the Jewish people as well as empathy for their long sufferings and worldwide wanderings over many centuries. It mirrors my own wanderings through a wilderness of unfulfilled hopes and some negative generational patterns that have dogged my footsteps. Plus Mormons believe that we are part of the House of Israel just as the Jews are. Some scholars believe it’s significant that the Angel Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon plates to Joseph Smith on Rosh Hashanah, September 22, 1827. It then became God’s voice of warning to all the world in our day – a trumpet in its own right.

I saw a PBS special this last year on how Broadway musicals have been mostly created by Jewish writers, composers, producers, and directors. They wrote about alienation and a desire to belong. They set their stories in the most American of settings with non Jewish characters: Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Carousel,  Showboat, and many more. My heart went out to them in their desire to find a home in America and a cultural identity integrated with the story of our nation. In many respects, they’ve succeeded and prospered, while adding to the greatness of our nation.

Today, I join with them in celebrating our common history, in affirming our common allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finally in looking forward to the ultimate harvest of souls through the return of our Messiah – the ultimate new beginning.

Today is also the 29th day of Elul, the last day of the Shemitah or Sabbath year, but that will be the subject of another post.

May you all burn with a “perfect brightness of hope” that only a hope in Christ can kindle and not put out. And may we each sound a trumpet of invitation and hope to those around us.

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple Courtesy lds.org

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple
Courtesy lds.org

Are Miracles Real?

Last week I saw a movie with huge impact: The Cokeville Miracle about how a small elementary school coped with a mad man holding over 100 students and teachers hostage with a bomb and guns – every parents’ and teachers’ worst nightmare. It happened for real in 1986 and details of how this all played out are based on fact. This is an LDS produced movie, not widely available, but if you can find it, I highly recommend it.

In today’s world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by bad news and anxiety about the future. It’s easy to feel small, powerless, and vulnerable in the face of big business, big government and a sense of evil growing in the world. It’s also easy to think that the only way to protect ourselves is with a similar strength and worldly power. This movie, however, suggests another way, and one rarely, if ever, talked about in mainstream media: the way of faith and spiritual protection.

Pardon the spoiler! Innocent teachers and children were protected by angelic beings, some of whom they recognized as ancestors, after uttering many simple prayers for help. The bomber’s wife accidentally triggered the bomb while the bomber was in the restroom. He shot himself when he realized his plan was failing, and she was the only other casualty. The bomb set off ammunition that shot all over the room but no one else was killed or even seriously injured. Why?

A teacher had previously taped off a line around the bomber and his wife to keep the kids at a distance. Several children reported seeing beings that looked like “light bulbs lit up” standing all along that line protecting them. Their power kept the bomb blast from radiating outwards which could have killed everyone in the room. Instead the blast only went upward through the ceiling.

What brought the angels? The whole class had been praying silently, then aloud. I believe the faith of children is especially powerful. In any case, it worked. Read an account in the Deseret News remembering the actual event:  CLICK HERE

The Book of Mormon teaches us about faith and miracles. Here’s my favorite scripture:

 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles;
and I will show unto the world that I am the same
yesterday, today, and forever;
and I 
work not among the children of men
save it be 
according
 to their faith.
(Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 27:23)

I believe we can all seek after miracles when we need them. We can exercise faith “like a little child” and, God willing, we will receive divine help. Sometimes accident, disease, and death are part of His plan for us, with all suffering and losses made up in the next life. That’s the rub, and it requires a huge amount of faith to not become bitter or depressed.

But when you’re feeling particularly powerless or vulnerable, remember the Old Testament story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6:8-23. The vast armies of Syria gather against little Israel. The Israelite servant turns to Elisha, the prophet, in fear:  Alas, my master! how shall we do? 

Elisha replies with this famous statement: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

The children of Cokeville saw the unseen powers of heaven marshalled in their defense. I testify that we too can call upon angels and “chariots of fire” to protect us when we need them. They are greater than any evil that surrounds us.

Elisha Calling Forth Chariots of Fire People of the Keys.com

Elisha Calling Forth Chariots of Fire
People of the Keys.com

The Resurrection of Daffodils

I always enjoy the Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts but today on Easter Sunday, they hit it out of the park.  Their program ranged from the thundering Hallelujah Chorus from Christ on the Mount of Olives by Beethoven to an Irish tune, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, arranged by Conductor Mack Wilberg. 

But it was the Spoken Word that expressed my thoughts most closely. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been said that God rewrites the book of Genesis every spring.
“In the beginning” takes on special meaning each year
as we witness the renewed life, the rebirth, and the new beginnings
that seem to be built in to earth’s cycle of seasons.
It’s as if nature itself is trying to tell us that whatever we are going through,
things can change—things can get better.
No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.
In that spirit, a poet once observed:
“I wonder if the Daffodil
Shrinks from the touch of frost,
And when her veins grow stiff and still
She dreams that life is lost?
Ah, if she does, how sweet a thing
Her resurrection day in spring!” *
That is the hope of this season. It is the assurance
that nothing is ever permanently lost, that no one is forever gone.
Indeed, heartbreak, discouragement—even death itself is not final,
as long as we have hope in that “resurrection day in spring.” 

Daffodils. Photo by Author

Daffodils. Photo by Author

The words “In the beginning” bring to mind the decades-old debate over Creationism vs Evolution. In my thinking lately, a common theme has emerged:

Is life random or orderly?

It might be easier to sort out our ideas if we think about what follows from these two possibilities?

  1. As I understand it, the essence of the Theory of Evolution is that all life evolved randomly. It that is true, then we can do whatever makes us happy now. We can be random. The only order is force, dominance, and “the survival of the fittest.” Does this produce true happiness? Or a lot of anxiety in an environment of bullies and victims?
  2. What answers do the evolutionists offer for the dilemma of mortality and the certainty of the grave? Certainly no comfort, no promise of an afterlife – only the cold ground and an end to consciousness and progression.
  3. With this bleak picture, why do so many people eagerly, even vehemently, embrace this belief? Could it be that they don’t want a leader that spoils their fun with strict rules?

But consider the ramifications of an orderly, created universe:

  1. Creationism or Intelligent Design says that the universe and all life was intentionally created and orderly in its operation. If the origin of life is indeed the random combining of elements with increasing complexity, why is the universe so orderly in its operation? Many scientists point out that life could not happen if any one of thousands of variables were off even slightly.
  2. The rules of Creation are the rules that support life. While we do have free choice in this life – to choose life or death, productivity or dissolution – we cannot choose the consequences of those choices.
  3. Could there be value in a God who is loving, perfect, and all powerful? Are we such competent beings that we need no help from someone wiser? Hasn’t history shown that we don’t do well left to our own devices, that the greatest civilizations are built on physical and moral order?
  4. While real sacrifices of immediate pleasure are required, order brings stability, peace, and true prosperity in this life, not just in qualifying us for a place in Heaven.
  5. Finally, it’s only in the Judeo-Christian religion that we have a real promise of resurrection from certain death and the hope of continuing our life’s journey after death, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare in high school to get into a good college and have a successful career, what we do now affects our experience after this life. Most of us understand that some sacrifice to safeguard our mortal future is necessary. Why wouldn’t that logic be even more true to safeguard our eternal future?

One system is Play Now, Pay Later (and pay big!). The other system is Pay Now, Play Later (and play gloriously!). But we don’t have to guess which is right. We can simply ask God to show us the true path through mortality into eternity. And it isn’t all or nothing – the Christian path is one of great joy. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

So my Easter message isn’t the usual one about bunnies, new beginnings, or even daffodils, but about life and death. I invite all to come to the throne of grace, to feel God’s love and promises for themselves. It’s my testimony that your prayer will be answered and that all of life’s sacrifices will be worth it.

In the end, it’s all good. If it’s not good, it’s not the end!    (Anon)

Daffodils, Courtesy Pixabay.com #288004

Daffodils, Courtesy Pixabay.com #288004

* from Emma C. Dowd, “Daffodil and Crocus,” in Country Life in America, Apr. 1902, p. 218