Understanding the Plan of Salvation

Episode 53.  March 5, 2017.  Today I want to talk about how understanding the plan of salvation changes our lives.

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Elder Neal A. Maxwell often referred to the Plan of Salvation as the “great pavilion of mormonchurch-post02-maxwellperspective.”  I can think of no better description.

I can remember the very time that the plan of salvation became of interest to me.  I was sitting in Mr. Carson’s 9th grade science class in Blackfoot, Idaho.  There were 4 of us at each of the big science tables and Curt Matthews was sitting across from me.  I was Catholic at the time and Curt was always talking to me about what he believed as a Mormon.  I will never forget his question, well really more of a statement, that day:  “You do believe that we lived in a premortal existence before we came to earth don’t you?”  While I had never considered that concept, nor had I heard it, that day it resonated deep within my soul and I knew it was true.

Later as I learned more about the church, I found that this concept of a premortal existence could be found throughout the scriptures.  Here are four examples.

  • JEREMIAH 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it
  • EPH 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
  • 2 TIM 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

I could already begin to see the implications of knowing that I lived as a spirit before coming to earth.  For me it meant several things:

  • I made the decision to come to the earth
  • I may have made promises and commitments there that I need to fulfill here
  • And the most important, if there was a life before this one, there certainly would be one after this one.

41m8zsve2kl-_sx313_bo1204203200_A few years back I read a book titled “Trailing Clouds of Glory by Harold A. Widdison.  Widdison is an LDS Psychologist who spent 7 years researching near death experiences.  His thesis however, was not to prove that there is life after death, but rather, he set out to prove that there is a premortal existence.

One of the more interesting aspects of his research was a consistent theme that we had a hand in selecting the challenges that we would face here in mortality.  This would serve two purposes.  First we wanted to show our Heavenly Father how much we loved him.  Second, we were very aware of our own development needs.  We knew that mortality would be an opportunity to become like Heavenly Father and so we willingly accepted the challenges we would face in this life so that we make the progress we so desperately wanted to make.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell hints at this same concept from an April 1984 General Conference address:. “The plan places a striking emphasis on present human freedom to choose. (See 2 Ne. 2:27.) Yet some of our present circumstances may reflect previous agreements, now forgotten, but once freely made.”

Can you see how this changes our perspective?  Perhaps we might complain a little less, be a bit more grateful for our challenges and struggles and be willing to be more reliant on the help promised us by a loving Father in heaven through ministering angels up to and including the great sacrifice of His only begotten son.

This is the power of understanding that we lived before we came.  In referencing the plan of salvation, Elder Maxwell also said this:  “In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it.”

Today my hope is that we might all reflect more on what it was that we may have agreed to when in the premortal existence we decided to follow the Father’s plan.

I want to say a few things about the fall of Adam and Eve, and the impact it has on us. I think the most important aspect of the Fall is that because of Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the plan of salvation was put in motion.  Had they remained immortal in the Garden of Eden, they would have lived forever, but they would have had no posterity and the plan of salvation would have been frustrated. It was because Adam and Eve received what we often think of as two conflicting commandments (multiply and replenish the earth AND not partake of the fruit of the tree inexpressible_joyof knowledge of good and evil)  that forced the plan into motion.  Eve desired to have children and knew that without partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil she would be stuck in an immortal state – childless.  Once she partook the punishment she faced would force her out of the garden and this alone was sufficient reason for Adam to follow suit….all in the desire to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.. And thus, this well known scripture becomes extremely descriptive of the result of that decision.  Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.

You see, mortality is actually an opportunity for us to have joy.  And that is only possible because we know sadness and misery and discouragement and hard times. Who among us has not felt the joy of holding a new born baby?. Or the joy at the success of someone we love, a spouse, a child, a sibling or a parent.  Or the joy of serving another in need.  Or the joy of a beautiful sunset or sunrise, a mountain landscape or the beauty of the sea incessantly washing over the sand of a seashore?. Or of most importance, the joy of repenting and feeling the blessing of being free from the guilt and anxiety that sin brought into our life. Without the blessing of mortality, we wouldn’t experience any of this.. And we certainly could not progress to become more like God.

Elder Richard G. Scott in an April 1996 conference address titled Finding Joy in Life said this:. “Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy. Pondering their doctrine will let you enjoy the beauties of this earth and enrich your relationships with others.”

Today my hope is that we might all understand better that we should seek for the greater joy that is available to us while in this mortal probation.

I want to wrap up by saying just a few words in regards to the depth and breadth of the atonement of Jesus Christ.   Certainly, this is the centerpiece of the Plan of Salvation and opens the door to all great blessings.

d-todd-christofferson-largeIn 2001, Elder D. Todd Christopherson, a member of the presidency of the seventy at the time presided at a stake conference for the Cypress Stake.  This was 2 years prior to the formation of  the Klein Stake.  In the priesthood leadership meeting of that stake conference, Elder Christopherson challenged all of us to read, study, ponder and pray about four chapters in the Book of Mormon pertaining to the Plan of Salvation and then asked us to write a one page summary of what we learned.  The four chapters were:  2 Nephi 2, 2 Nephi 9, Alma 12, Alma 42.  I learned many things from that assignment but today I will mention only one.  I will quote from the document I wrote 16 years ago.

“Through the opposition we face in adversity and Satan’s temptations, we are forced to choose between righteousness or sin. If we break the law and then elect to choose mercy, we grow spiritually. (2 Ne 2:11). This requires faith on our part. Just as the children of Israel needed faith to look upon the brazen serpent, so must we have sufficient faith to believe that asking for mercy will result in a tangible change in us. And here is the one point I want to make:  If we do not exercise faith, then the law of justice claims us and it is as though there was no atonement made. (Alma 34:16).”

When we understand the plan of salvation, we seek to improve ourselves every day.  In fact, as Elder Christopherson explained in his April 2011 conference address we should actually seek chastisement and correction from the Lord.  Here is what he said:

“I would like to speak of one particular attitude and practice we need to adopt if we are to meet our Heavenly Father’s high expectations. It is this: willingly to accept and even seek correction. Correction is vital if we would conform our lives “unto a perfect man, [that is,] unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Paul said of divine correction or chastening, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6). Though it is often difficult to endure, truly we ought to rejoice that God considers us worth the time and trouble to correct.”

He then quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks who said this: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

 Fully understanding the Plan of Salvation will change us.  We will complain less about our lot in life.  We will seek for greater joy through our service to others and by enjoying all of the beauty that we have around us.  We will seek divine correction so that we can fulfill the measure of our creation and become more like our Father in Heaven.

In closing I want to share 4 quotes from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

“Life turns out, however, to be just what one would expect of a deliberately constructed proving and tutoring experience which features opportunities, choices, and deprivations. Furthermore, there is no way around—the only way to go is through!”

“Christ’s doctrines pertaining to the plan of salvation stand like sentinel scriptures to mark and light the way. His gospel guardrails line the strait and narrow path to steady us, nudge us, and even jar us for the sake of our spiritual safety!”

“So much more than a matter of abstract theology, this great plan can focus daily life. Its truths are crucial to how we see ourselves, others, life, the Lord, and even the universe. Or how we view a baby. Or death. Or the praise and honors of the world. This plan constitutes the mother lode of meaning and can cradle us, conceptually, amid any concern.”

“Its truths and perspectives permit us to distinguish between a great book and mere want ads, between vengeance and justice, rage and righteous indignation, and pleasure and happiness.”

“With an understanding of God’s plan of salvation, we know that the rejoicing, the striving, the suffering, the tutoring, and the enduring experiences of life all play their part in an intelligible process of helping us, if we will, to become, as the Savior beckoningly invited, “even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)”

When we fully and completely understand the plan of salvation our lives our better.  We understand who we are, why we are here and where we are going.  May we all reflect more on this great plan and its impact in our lives.

 

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Corregidor

Episode 52.  February 19, 2017.  Today marks two major milestones for my znukcast.  The first is that today marks the 52nd episode, so it has been just over a full year since I started recording these znukcasts.  The other milestone is that this marks the first episode since returning from our assignment in the Philippines.  Right before coming back to Houston our daughter Kira and her husband Brian visited us for a week.  On January 21st, the last day before they returned to Houston we made a trip to Corregidor, an island rich in history.  Today I want to talk a little about that island and an important lesson to be learned from the second World War waged against that small island.

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Corregidor sits in the middle of the mouth of Manila Bay and has long been a strategic outpost for the Philippines, albeit they have not always been the one in control of the Island.   To appreciate the importance of Corregidor, we need a bit of Philippine history to set the context.

With the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, the period of Hispanic colonization began. In 1543 a Spanish explorer by the name of Ruy Villalobos named the Islands Las Islas Filipinas (Islands of the Philippines) after King Philip II of Spain.   With the arrival of Miguel Legazpi from Mexico City from what was then New Spain in 1565, the first Spanish Settlement was established and the Philippines became part of the Spanish empire for the next 300 years.    As a result of this, Catholicism became the dominant religion and it was generally the Catholic Church that ruled the Islands rather than governors sent over by the King of Spain.

In 1898, Spanish rule in the Philippines ended with the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American war.   The resulting Treaty of Paris allowed the US temporary control of Cuba and gave ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands to the US for a sum of $20 million.  The Philippines then remained under US control until July 4, 1946 when the Treaty of Manila was signed following World War II.

With that as context, I want to talk a bit today about Corregidor’s role in the Pacific theater of World War II and draw a gospel analogy.

Within hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, obliterating with bombs Clark Air Force Base which sits 80 km north of Manila.  Over the next few months, Japan’s aggression against the Philippines intensified with the use of ground, air and sea attacks.  But the Philippine-American army did not give up easily and history now shows that the defense of the Philippines was the longest resistance to the Japanese Imperial Army in the initial stages of World War II.  Philippine-American resistance against the Japanese up to the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 lasted just over 3 months and then it took another month for the Japanese to capture Corregidor.

images-3The fall of Bataan ended all organized opposition by what was then called the U.S. Army Forces Far East under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur. However, the island of Corregidor, with its network of tunnels and strong array of defensive armament, along with the other fortifications on other small islands across the entrance to Manila Bay, were the remaining obstacles to the Japanese Imperial Army.  The Japanese had to take Corregidor for as long as the island remained in American hands, they would be denied the use of Manila Bay, which was considered the best natural harbor in the Far East.

From December 29 to the end of April 1942, despite incessant Japanese aerial, naval and artillery bombardment, the garrison on Corregidor, consisting mainly of the 4th Marine Regiment and combined units from the US Navy, the Army and Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses on men and aircraft.

The defenders were living on about 30 ounces of food per day. When the bombardment imageskilled the mules in the Cavalry, the men would drag the carcasses down to the mess hall and they would be cooked. The continued lack of proper diet created problems for the Corregidor garrison, as men weakened and their night vision became unreliable.

During this period between the end of December 1941 thru the May 4, 1942, Japanese aircraft flew 614 missions, dropping 1,701 bombs totaling some 365 tons of explosive on Corregidor.  Joining the aerial bombardment were nine 240 mm howitzers, thirty-four 149 mm howitzers, and 32 other artillery pieces, which pounded Corregidor day and night. It was estimated that on May 4 alone, more than 16,000 shells hit Corregidor.

Japanese propaganda to its home population repeatedly declared that Corregidor was about to fall, followed by weeks of silence as the fall repeatedly didn’t occur as promised.  Imperial General Headquarters finally declared that the resistance was becoming a serious embarrassment.

On May 5, Japanese forces led by Maj. Gen. Kureo Taniguchi boarded boats and barges and headed for the final assault on Corregidor.  Shortly before midnight, intense shelling struck the beaches and the initial landing of 790 Japanese soldiers quickly slowed due to surprisingly fierce resistance from the American and Filipino soldiers whose artillery exacted a heavy toll on the Japanese.  The Japanese later admitted their amazement at the incredible resistance, which accounted for the sinking of two thirds of their landing craft and losses amounting to 900 killed and 1,200 wounded, against US losses of 800 dead and 1,000 wounded.

The strong currents between Bataan and Corregidor and the layers of oil that covered the beaches from ships that had been sunk earlier made the Japanese assault even more challenging, but the overwhelming number of Japanese infantry equipped with grenade launchers forced the Philippine-American defenders to pull back from the beach.  The final blow to the US and Philippine soldiers came later that morning when three Japanese tanks landed and began their assault.   When a sizeable number of men withdrew from one of the large batteries to a concrete trench near the Malinta tunnel, where over 1000 wounded men lay, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainright decided to surrender knowing that they might hold out another day, but it would cost them several thousand lives.

In a radio message to President Franklin Roosevelt, Wainwright said, “There is a limit of images-2human endurance, and that point has long been passed.”   Wainwright finally surrendered the Corregidor garrison at about 1:30 p.m. on May 6, 1942.

While Corregidor’s defeat marked the fall of the Philippines and Asia, Japan’s timetable for the conquest of Australia and the rest of the Pacific had been severely upset.  In fact, General Masaharu Homma, who lead Japan’s conquest of the Philippines ended up being relieved of his command because it took him 3 months longer than expected.    This delay gave McArthur, who was now leading the Pacific war from Australia, precious additional preparation time giving the Americans the upper hand at the battles for New Guinea and at Guadalcanal, considered the turning point in the Pacific War.

Nearly 3 years later MacArthur kept his promise to return to the Philippines and on February 26, 1945, Corregidor was retaken by the Americans and declared secure.

Okay, now the gospel analogies.

The first scripture that came to mind is found in Mosiah Chapter 5:15.   “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.”

The soldiers on Corregidor were indeed steadfast and immovable.  Their indomitable spirit and incredible courage changed the face of the war in the Pacific as they were able to stand firm for over a month after Bataan had fallen, given MacArthur additional time to plan and prepare for the battles at New Guinea and Guadalcanal.

We too must be firm and steadfast and immovable.  The evil encroachments of the world are unparalleled.  It will only be through our good works and our desire to be good that Christ, will seal us his, that we might have salvation and eternal life.

The second scripture is found in Alma 37:6.  Here is what it says:  “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”

I would never knowingly make light of a single fatality that occurred during this horrendous time in our world’s history, but in contrast to the 36 million deaths, both military and civilian, that occurred in the Pacific region during WWII, the 800 that died on Corregidor during April and May 1942 pales in comparison.  Yet it was the courage and the strength of these men as well as the few angel women nurses on that island that extended the Japanese Imperial Army’s assault in the Philippines and bought time for MacArthur and the Americans to ultimately defeat Japan.  Truly by small and simple means the Lord brought about a great thing!

And so it is in our own lives.  Small things matter.  Studying our scriptures every single day.  Praying on our knees night and morning.  Attending the temple each week or as often as circumstances allow.  These are small and simple things that will bring great things to pass.

May we all be firm and steadfast, courageous and true to the faith for which martyrs have perished.  To God’s command soul, heart and hand, faithful and true may we forever stand!  As we do so, truly the Lord will make great things happen in our own lives as we defeat the enemy of all righteousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tender Mercies

Episode 51. January 16, 2017. On Saturday night, our daughter Kira and her husband Brian arrived here in the Philippines to spend a week with us, so I want to give a shout out to both of them today.  We love you both and are grateful you have taken the time to come and visit with us here in the Philippines before our assignment ends.  Also a special shout out of appreciation to Brian’s mom, Patty Conley who agreed to fly to Texas and watch the kids so they could come.  Thank you so much Patty!

Today I want to talk about the tender mercies of the Lord.

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The concept of tender mercies from God gained mainstream attention in the church when Elder David A. Bednar spoke about the topic in the April 2005 General Conference, six months after being called to be a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. In that david-a-bednar-largeaddress, Elder Bednar defined tender mercies. “I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits “his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men” (D&C 46:15).

I am sure we have all experienced many of the Lord’s tender mercies in our lives. Given the definition above, our biggest challenge may be identifying them as they occur rather than trying to figure out whether or not they are present in our life. We all have spiritual gifts, and we have all certainly felt the consolation and support that comes through the spirit of the Lord and the Holy Ghost. Today I want to share one experience with you, though appearing minor, actually was a significant event for my wife and me.

idaho-falls-idaho-808x480-0001581sWhen our oldest son Tyson asked Chelsea Wasden to marry him – and she agreed, they decided they wanted to be married in the Idaho Falls Temple. They were both attending BYU-Idaho in Rexburg and the Idaho Falls Temple was “their temple” at the time. In addition, Chelsea’s parents were from Caldwell, Idaho and LaDawn and I were married in the Idaho Falls Temple so there was good logic behind the decision.

Leading up to the wedding, we never gave a second thought to who the sealer might be. We figured the temple would assign someone and since we really didn’t know anyone working in that temple (or so we thought) it never crossed our minds.

Well on the morning of April 24, 2004 we walked into the temple and made our way to the waiting room. Once the scheduled time arrived, we were taken from the waiting room to the sealing room. On the way there we bumped into Peggy Loveland. It was so fun to see not only a friendly face that we recognized, but someone for whom I had deep admiration. It was Peggy’s son Kraig that had had such a deep impact on me as a youth. He invited me to play basketball with their ward young men’s basketball team and then would call me about attending church each month so that I would be eligible to play. We were great friends from elementary school up through high school. He stood with me when LaDawn and I got married. You can learn more about Kraig and his influence on me in episode 1 where I talk about my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and my baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Anyway seeing Peggy was such a treat. I told her that our son was getting married that morning and she said “I know” and then we were off to the sealing room.   I thought, that was interesting, how would she already know that? We had only been in the sealing room a few minutes when Tyson and Chelsea walked in and with them was Karl Loveland, Peggy’s husband and Kraig’s dad. He was to be the sealer! When Tyson and Chelsea’s name showed up on the list and my name was listed as one of the witnesses, Peggy told him that he needed to write his name on the schedule for that particular sealing. Karl was hesitant because he thought that perhaps because LaDawn’s parents had been working in the temple and knew a lot of people, that they may have recommended someone. So he waited. As the date drew nearer, Peggy continued to encourage him and when no other name showed up on the schedule a few days before the sealing, he relented and wrote his own name in. What we didn’t know until the sealing actually started was that Karl Loveland was a counselor in the Idaho Falls Temple presidency.

I cannot tell you what a flood of gratitude washed over me when it hit me that President Karl Loveland would be the man to seal our eldest son and his wife. We had traveled to Idaho from Texas, never expecting to be rewarded with such a tender mercy. The Loveland’s were like second parents to me, especially after I joined the church. It was Karl Loveland who, while serving in the Pocatello Idaho North Stake presidency in May of 1976, interviewed and then later ordained me an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.   When my dad died in February of 1998, it was Kraig’s little brother Kevin who was serving as the bishop of the ward where my dad’s records were who presided and conducted my father’s funeral. As President Loveland began to counsel Tyson and Chelsea, he referred back to some of the experiences he had had with me as a new member of the church, later as a missionary and even when LaDawn and I were sealed in that same temple. Sister Loveland would write to me often while I served my mission in Germany and when LaDawn and I were married they attended the sealing. Even today they continue to send us a Christmas Card every year with an update on their family accompanied by a wonderful Christmas story.

I have to say that of all the people we have come to know over our years through our associations in the church, and even with all of the people LaDawn’s parents have known over the years, there is not a single person with the authority to seal, that I can think of that could possibly have meant more to me than Karl Loveland. We were 1500 miles away from our home and our current ward and stake church family when this tender mercy of the Lord was granted and recognized. I was so grateful and the spirit bore witness to me during that sealing, that this indeed was a sign that Heavenly Father knew us and loved us. It was a powerful day for all of us.

As I was reading the Book of Mormon last Saturday I came upon an example of a tender mercy of the Lord in the book of Alma that I had tagged earlier under the topic of “Tender Mercy”. It is recorded in the 17th chapter of Alma. I think you will recognize it immediately. It is from the first verse. “And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.” Skipping over to Alma 27:16-17 and the first sentence of verse 18 we read: “And it came to pass that as Ammon was going forth into the land, that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken; and behold, this was a joyful meeting. Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth. Now was not this exceeding joy?”

Can you imagine how these men must have felt? They had been separated for 14 years and during that time all 5 of them had given themselves to serving others and becoming sanctified. They not only shared the same incredible visit by the angel, but they had all given of themselves to teach the gospel to others in an effort to bring them joy and peace. Their joy was multiplied because as Alma stated, “they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.”

I want to close by quoting one more statement from Elder Bednar’s 2005 General Conference talk. “I repeat again, the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness and obedience enable us to receive these important gifts and, frequently, the Lord’s timing helps us to recognize them.”

How grateful I am for the tender mercies of the Lord in my own life and that of my family. I know that God lives and that he loves us and that these tender mercies are his way of telling us that he is aware of our circumstances and is helping us work through our mortal journey.

 

 

 

 

The Foundation of Genuine Happiness

Episode 50.  January 8, 2017.  Today I want to talk about the Foundation of Genuine Happiness.

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Last night LaDawn and I went out to dinner at img_4667one of our favorite restaurants here in the Philippines. The name of the restaurant is The Grind Bistro. Normally we eat at the one between 4th and 5th Avenue here in BGC, but last night we tried their new location over in SM Aura Mall. (As an aside, I think we prefer the original location.) In the restaurant, well, in the mall they call it a café, there hangs a sign that says: “Good Food is the Foundation of Genuine Happiness“. The quote is attributed to Auguste Escoffier. I did a bit of research on this guy and here is what I found out.

Auguste Escoffier was born on October 28, 1846 near Nice, France. He was known as the “king of chefs and the chef of kings”. He earned a worldwide reputation escoffierbiopicwhile at the Savoy Hotel and later at the Carton Hotel, both in London. He left the Savoy Hotel when he and his partners were charged with mismanagement and embezzlement. He signed a confession and originally agreed to pay 8000 GBP, but ended up settling for 500 GBP. He started his career at age 13, when, despite being a gifted artist his father took him out of school and sent him to work in his uncle’s restaurant. He showed quite a talent for cooking and kitchen management that at the age of 19 he was hired by a fashionable hotel as an apprentice roast cook. Months later he was inducted into active military service where he served as a cook in various assignments for 7 years.   After leaving the Army, he opened his own restaurant called The Golden Pheasant in Cannes until he moved to London to work in the Savoy. Two years later, in 1880, at the age of 34 he married Delphine Daphis. Auguste and Delphine had two sons, the younger one was killed in active service during World War I. Auguste died just a few days after his wife on Feb 12, 1935 at the age of 88.

So why did I tell you that story? Well, I guess because it is no wonder that he felt that food was the foundation of genuine happiness, it seems to have been all that he knew from the time he was 13 years old. While being honored by many as one of the greatest French chefs of all time, truly he lived a very narrow life if he believed that food would bring ultimate happiness.

Now I want to tell you a different story. This is a story told by my mission President F. Enzio Busche. I am sure I have some of the details wrong, as time tends to weave cobwebs of forgetfulness. But the lesson was etched on my soul by the spirit of the Lord when he first told this story to me in 1978.

President Busche was a marathon runner. He really enjoyed running, but it was not always1982-04-5050-elder-f-enzio-busche-590x442-ldsorg-article the case. He told us the story of the first marathon that he ran. He said after about 15 miles he wanted to quit and give up. His legs ached and he was completely spent. It was right about that time that he came around a corner and found a young boy on the side of the road with his bicycle chain broken. The boy was in tears. President Busche went over to the boy and asked him what had happened. Apparently he had been following his dad who was running the race and when his chain broke, his dad hadn’t realized it and went on ahead. The boy was left stuck with no way to get to the finish line except walk. At that moment, President Busche’s heart was filled with compassion. He told the boy to get on his bike and he would push him the rest of the way. President Busche related that where he was completely exhausted before, he was now filled with new energy and that he never once felt weary the remaining 10 miles. As he spoke to and focused on the young boy, he completely forgot about himself. He ran the rest of the way pushing this boy on his bike to the finish line.

I have always loved the lesson of this story. When we are looking inward, we can only see our own situation, our own pain, our own agony, our own disappointments and everything about life that is unfair. But when we focus outward on someone else’s troubles, somehow our own situation fades into the background and is just not so important anymore. This is the great blessing of serving others. Every time I think of this story, I think of this scripture found in Luke 9:24. “For whosever will save his life shall lose it: but whosever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”

Okay, back to the foundation of genuine happiness. In the book of Mormon, chapter 10 we are introduced to Zeezrom. This was a lawyer who was “foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.” Sounds like a very successful lawyer with a lot of clients and he must have35666_all_025_13 had a pretty nice income from the sound of it. I am sure he could easily afford to eat the very best food that the city of Ammoniah had to offer. But was he happy? Perhaps he thought so before he began to hear Amulek and Alma preach unto the people, but after hearing Amulek explain the resurrection and judgment he begin to tremble with fear. When Alma took over and became a second witness to things to which Amulek had testified, Zeezrom trembled even more, and 8 verses later in Alma chapter 12:8, Zeezrom begins to inquire of them diligently that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God. Fast forward to Chapter 15. Alma and Amulek have been miraculously freed from the prison where they were being held and have made their way to the land of Sidom where Zeezrom “lay sick with a burning fever caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity.”   Now when Zeezrom heard that Alma and Amulek were alive and in the land of Sidom, his heart took courage and he sent a message to them asking them to come to him. When Zeezrom saw them, he “besought them that they would heal him”. So Alma took him by the hand and said, O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.” And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet and began to walk. Alma then baptized Zeezrom and “he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.” This sounds like a much happier man now that he had repented and been baptized. I have never seen food do that!

Maybe this would be a good time for a few happiness scriptures:

  • Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
  • John 13:17 If ye know these things (referencing the saviors example), happy are ye if ye do them.
  • 1 Peter 4:14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you
  • 1 Nephi 8:10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
  • Mosiah 2:41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual…
  • Alma 27:17-18 Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth. Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.
  • Abraham 1:2 And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to minster the same; have been myself a follower of righteousness….

So what is the true foundation of all genuine happiness? It is in following the Saviors example. It is in partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, which is the atonement of Jesus Christ (this is what Zeezrom did). It is in knowing and keeping the commandments of God. It is in serving others to do things for them that they cannot do for themselves, it is being willing to suffer reproach for the Saviors name. It is in seeking to be worthy of the priesthood of God to bless the lives of others. These are the things that form the foundation of all genuine happiness.

The world continues to try and create substitutes for happiness:  Drugs, pornography, alcohol, self-promotion, fame, and yes even food. All of these things are false foundations. It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that foundation for genuine happiness can be found.

Daily Scripture Study

Episode 49.  January 2, 2017.  I want to wish a very Happy New Year.  May 2017 be a year of reflection, commitment and total obedience to the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all of us.  Today I want to talk about why studying the scriptures everyday is so very important to us.

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Whenever I think about how reading, studying and pondering the scriptures blesses my Scriptureslife, the very scriptures I think about are found in Mosiah, Chapter 1 in the Book of Mormon.   It is in this chapter that Mosiah teaches his sons the language and prophecies of their fathers and how the records kept on the various plates had preserved their religion.

There are three phrases from this chapter that I want to talk about today. Here they are, chronologically arranged as they appear in the chapter.

Number 1: “were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.”

Number 2: “were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.

Number 3: “remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby

Let’s start with the first phrase “suffered in ignorance not knowing the mysteries of God”. It is found in verse 3.  As I have pondered on this, I have concluded that the very nature of mortality is that suffering will be a significant part of it. No one escapes suffering, no one. Not even the Son of God.

In an address at Brigham Young University in Feb 2005 titled “The Love of God: Suffering Tribulation in the Redeemers Name”, Elder Gene R. Cook said this: “Our trials can either end up hardening our heart or humbling us. How true the saying that suffering in life is inevitable, but misery is of our own making. In other words, because of the plan that we all agreed upon in the premortal life, we are going to suffer, whether we want to or not. However, if you can find how to suffer that tribulation in the Redeemer’s name, you will bear it well and perhaps even do it with an understanding, happy heart.

In the October 1997 General Conference, Elder Maxwell adds this: “Even though our experiences do not even begin to approach our Master’s, nevertheless, to undergo this mortal experience is why we too are here! Purposefully pursuing this “cause” brings ultimate meaning to our mortal lives. And we are greatly helped if we enter with faith that pavilion of perspective—the plan of salvation. Then the search for meaning is ended, even though further and resplendent discoveries await us.”

In other words, it is the gospel, the Plan of Salvation that gives perspective to our suffering. Without that perspective, we are completely ignorant to the important role that suffering plays in our development. And it is that ignorance that often turns to misery, anger and resentment.

Scott Ferguson, a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at BYU Idaho further clarified this in a talk at BYU-Idaho in 2009. “To persistently resist the enticing of the Holy Ghost only worsens pain and suffering. A soft heart helps me welcome pain as a teacher, friend, and forerunner to joy.  Soft hearts—or broken hearts—give suffering a purpose; our pain becomes a divine sacrifice, an offering preparatory to joy.

The importance of suffering in knowledge (verses suffering in ignorance) is articulated in the following three quotes. The first is by Orson F. Whitney.

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”

The second is from the April 1991 general conference where Elder Neal A. Maxwell made this statement: “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences, which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’ “

And the third is from the Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball. “Being human, we would expel from our lives sorrow, distress, physical pain, and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort. But if we closed the doors upon such, we might be evicting our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery. The sufferings of our Savior were part of his education.”

The second phrase “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief” is found in verse 5. The tone of this statement from King Benjamin reinforces that their fathers, referring primarily to Lehi and Nephi, were extraordinary men with great spiritual insights and priesthood power, but without the brass plates, even these great men would have dwindled in unbelief. This to me is an amazing statement and speaks to the important of the scriptures in our own lives.

In the April 2010 General Conference Elder D. Todd Christopherson explained the importance of studying the scriptures. His explanation helps us to understand how the scriptures build our faith and why NOT spending time with the scriptures will result in our own dwindling in unbelief.

“The central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ—faith that They exist; faith in the Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life; faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which animates this plan of happiness; faith to make the gospel of Jesus Christ our way of life; and faith to come to know ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent.'”

The interesting thing is that we can be active church-goers and professed believers, but unless we are studying the scriptures, our faith will decrease over time and we will find ourselves in trouble spiritually. If it is true for prophets like Lehi and Nephi, it will certainly be true for us.

The third and final phrase:  “search them diligently that ye may profit thereby” is found in verse 7.

In a talk by Elder David A. Bednar published in the April 2006 Liahona titled “Because We Have Them Before Our Eyes”, Elder Bednar explains the importance of the scriptures and how we can profit by studying them.

“The scriptures, in essence, are a written “recording” of the voice of the Lord– a voice we feel in our hearts more than we hear with our ears. And as we study the content and feel the spirit of the written word of God, we learn to hear His voice in the words we read and to understand the means whereby the words are given to us by the Holy Ghost.

In our process of coming unto Christ, hearing and feeling the voice of the Lord and knowing His words are essential. … Thus, hearing His voice precedes properly following Him, “for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7). Truly, we can receive instruction from Him and follow Him. And the spiritual capacity to hear, to feel, and to follow is available to every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–and that capacity is strengthened through diligent study of the scriptures.

Why is studying the scriptures so important? Sincere study of the scriptures helps us progress in the process of coming unto Christ and becoming more like Him. Through daily feasting, we can gain a testimony of the gospel truths for ourselves and learn to hear and follow the voice of the Lord.”

In my own life, I feel I have greatly profited through my study of the scriptures.   From the time I was a new missionary up until I was called as a Bishop I never really understood how church leaders and other scriptorians could add meaning to verses in ways that simply were beyond the words written on the printed page. I marveled at how they could possibly come to know the things that many would often write and speak about. And then I came to know for myself. When I got serious about studying the scriptures rather than just reading them, it was as though I had my own Urim and Thummin. As I would read, ponder, ask myself questions and then write down my thoughts, I would find wisdom beyond my own understanding. Truly it was exactly as Elder Bednar stated. I began to understand the voice of the Lord and the Holy Ghost would allow me to see beyond the words into their application specifically for me. It continues to be a marvelous and sacred experience to study the scriptures and hear the voice of the Lord teach me.

In closing, I want to add one final quote by President Spencer W. Kimball. This was a talk from a fireside to the Santa Monica Stake on November 18, 1973.   The title of his talk was “See His Face” and he spoke extensively about the scripture found in D&C 93:1. Here is a short quote from that talk.

“And then we come to number four: “… and obeyeth my voice …” Let’s read down to there again. It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins, who cometh unto me and who calleth on my name, who obeyeth my voice … shall see my face and know that I am.” The Lord doesn’t need to lock any doors and say, “Well, I’m going to see these that are the stake presidents, and these that are in the bishoprics, and these that are in the high places. He doesn’t say that. He says, “every soul” of every nation, of every race — every soul, without exception. “I’ll come to see him. I’ll talk to him. I’ll give him these blessings.” Every soul who doeth these five things, only four of which we’ve mentioned so far. This last one was: “who obeyeth my voice …” What is His voice? Here is His voice — the four standard works — the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price.“

The scriptures are a powerful and important part of our mortal journey. It is no wonder maxresdefault-3that the Lord, in Lehi’s vision, referred to them as the Iron Rod. May we all hold fast to it by studying the scriptures every day so that we will learn to hear and understand the voice of the Lord as we make our way to the Tree of Life; and in so doing avoid suffering in ignorance and dwindling in unbelief and instead profit greatly thereby.

All Things Testify of Christ

Episode 48.  December 31, 2016.   I want to apologize to my listeners for not getting a znukcast published earlier this week. We were back home in Texas for 12 days and with Christmas and all of the kids and grandkids in town, I just didn’t get it done. Hopefully lae is better than never.  Today I want to talk about a couple of experiences that helped me to understand that all things testify of Christ.

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I think I first realized for myself the truthfulness of the statement that all things testify of Christ while we were living in LaPlace, LA in 1987. The Norco Refinery where I was working had contracted Ed Foreman to come to the site and hold a series of seminars with the staff about improving our attitude towards life. His motto was “Life is Terrific”. He was mostly just a motivational speaker, but he had sufficient content to put some credence behind his enthusiastic marketing of the power of a positive attitude.  At my level we were offered a husband-wife Saturday morning seminar and so LaDawn and I attended and really enjoyed what we learned. I have always been a fairly enthusiastic person, so this really spoke to me. Part of what Ed promoted was to get up early each day and talk a walk, enjoying the beauty that the earth offers and repeating the affirmation, I’m Healthy, I’m Happy, I’m Terrific!

It was on one of these morning walks in the fall of 1987 that I noticed something that I had never noticed before. It had to do with the trees, the grass, the shrubs and the flowers. walk-in-natureEverything that was green. Don’t get me wrong, I had obviously seen all of this, but that morning I saw with new eyes. It started with the trees. As I gazed upon their magnificent grandeur and strength, I saw that every single aspect of that tree was in what I now call a “worship pose”. As if that tree were alive, it was stretching every tree limb, every branch, and yes every leaf heavenward in praise of its creator. It was an amazing realization. Immediately my eyes followed the tree trunks down to the ground where I then saw shrubs, bushes, flowers and even the grass in the very same worship pose. Everything God had created was gazing upward with outstretched arms giving glory and praise to the God of the Universe! For me it was an amazing realization how all of nature recognizes, obeys and worships the God of the universe and reminded me of the scripture found in the Helaman 12: 7-8 “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are bless than the dust of the earth. For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.”

A number of years later I was in York, Maine attending a series of seminars having to do with leadership, change management and dialog. The course was taught by Bill Isaacs and Peter Garrett and their company was called Dialogos. Bill was a contemporary and student of Peter Senge, author of the now famous book, the 5th Discipline. Much of what Bill and Peter taught was teaching practitioners how to become effective change agents through the use of Dialog as means of getting people to think together. The course was held over a year, and the entire group would come together every three months for 3-4 days at the amazingly beautiful Stage Neck Inn right on the Atlantic Ocean.

I think it was the third week we were together. It was early fall in 1999 and as part of our coursework we were to each take a quiet reflection walk. I had been thinking a lot about the whole dialog process about getting people thinking together in order to create lasting change. The more involved I became with the practice of Dialog it was clear to me that what was being taught were gospel principles in an effort to tap into the Light of Christ. It was an amazing realization to see people who had no concept of a personal God (I mean these were ultimate East Coast liberals) figure out how to apply principles that could tap into this power that helped them discern one another’s thoughts and come to the same conclusions about the way forwards. I was both ecstatic and confused at the same time. Ecstatic because this was my territory. Confused because I didn’t realize it was possible to tap into this power unknowingly or by using non-gospel themed approaches. But sure enough, that was what was happening. It also gave me an entirely new perspective on how much God loves all of his children. Truth is eternal and unchanging. Anyone can access the power of the Light of Christ, cultivate the influence of the Spirit of the Lord in their lives and even from time to time tap into the Holy Ghost.

Well, I was in the midst of a full-blown realization of these truths when we were asked to go on this reflection walk. I don’t exactly remember what it was I was supposed to be reflecting on, but I do know what I was thinking about.

As I walked, the memories of that morning back in 1987 came rushing back to me and I began to look around for evidences of God. There was a construction site nearby that had been fenced with a chain link fence. As I looked at that fence I suddenly realized that the materials to make that fence came from minerals in the earth….made by God. Inside the fence line was a big yellow backhoe. Again, I realized that the backhoe was made of steel,Backhoe-Loader.jpeg which had been forged by man from minerals made by God. And in that moment, this phrase came to me: “O man, ye think ye are so wise, yet everything you have created comes from God.” The more I looked around the more I realized that everything around me, cars, equipment, buildings, roads – all of them came from the natural resources of the earth. God not only created the earth and all of its resources, but also inspired man through the Light of Christ to create valuable and necessary tools and building materials. As I looked around, every single thing I could see testified of a loving Heavenly Father and His only begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Since that day I have truly appreciated the scripture in Moses 6:63. “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.”

I later found another scripture that reinforces this. It is found in 2 Nephi 11:4. “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.”

We are so privileged to live in a world where we are surrounded by evidences of a loving Heavenly Father and His son and our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. I hope you will have a look around and see it for yourself.

When Faith Matters

Episode 47.  December 18, 2016.  Today I want to talk about Faith and when it really matters.

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On Feb 14th, 1997 we started building our home in Magnolia. Well that wasn’t the actual day that the building started, but it was the day that we closed on the construction loan and within days the lot was cleared and the foundation was framed. It was an exciting time for us. We were living in Kingwood at the time and had been since returning from our assignment with Shell at the Norco, LA refinery in 1989. We had long felt the pull of the northwest area of Houston, having looked a number of times in Tomball for a home and some land, But it wasn’t until we found Indigo Lake Estates out in Magnolia that we actually had the courage to take action. We would try to get out to Magnolia, about 50 miles due west of Kingwood, every weekend. When the house started to take shape, we agreed with our builder that we would do the cleanup each weekend. This would save a little money in the construction cost and allow us to be a part of the building experience. Each weekend we would take ictures of the progress. It was an exciting time for our family.

Our initial thinking was that we would put our home on the market and find a place to rent while our house was being built. However, with 7 children we soon learned that that option was not open to us. It was impossible to find an apartment where 9 people could live. The max was always 6, meaning that we would have to rent two apartments, and that made no sense to us and wasn’t really affordable. We looked around for homes, but everything was an annual lease, and we only needed 6 months. We even checked with a new modular home rental community in Magnolia but they only offered 6 month leases and by the time we checked with them, we only needed 3-4 months. We ultimately decided there was nothing else to do but stay in our existing home until our new home was completed and then try to sell or even rent our home at that point. It was a little scary because we knew we couldn’t afford two house payments. But the feeling that we needed to move to Magnolia was so strong, that our faith exceeded our fear and on that Friday in February, we signed the papers.

In 1997 the housing market wasn’t great. It was a buyers market making it that much more difficult to sell. At some point, we figured that our only option was to rent the home with the potential for purchase. So sometime around the end of May, with our home in Magnolia about a month away from completion, we put a listing in the Houston Chronicle and began to take a few calls. Not long after listing it, we were contacted by a man, his wife and her mother who were very interested in the home. The wife’s father worked on an oil rig so he was gone for extended periods of time, so the mother was going to live with them and help pay for the lease. We felt like it was a solid deal and so they gave us some earnest money and we signed an agreement. Two weeks before our home was to close and we were feeling really good about how things were working out.

Then came the bombshell a week later, when the wife called us and told us that her husband had run off with another woman and they could no longer afford the house and could she please get her earnest money back because it was from her parents and they were no longer going to support the deal. I told her that if we could get it rented out again, that I would give her the money back, which despite the rest of the storyline, we actually returned to her.

So we redoubled our prayers even as some level of panic began to set in. Here we were a week away from closing on our new home and we had no renter. For documentation purposes we had to have a lease for our old home, which we still had from the young couple and her parents, but we knew it wasn’t any good. We explained this to the mortgage company but I think at that point they just wanted to close the deal, so they accepted the original lease and we closed. The pressure mounted.

A few days later I got a call from a man that wanted to lease the home. I don’t remember the story he told me, but it sounded good. He was already living in Kingwood but needed to move immediately (he gave me a good reason). I told him I would require the first months payment in cash and a reference from his existing renter. He told me that wouldn’t be a problem. I guess I should have known something was fishy when a woman called me a couple of days later, claiming to be his landlord and giving him rave reviews as a renter. I still felt uneasy, but we were in a bind and he did offer to pay cash for the first month’s rent. He explained that he power washed driveways and owned his own business and did very well at it. In fact, he said he would be happy to power wash our driveway for free once he moved in. We were undecided and I felt like I had not received any direction from heaven one way or the other on the matter. Seems like a couple of more days passed, he called me several times during that period expressing his need for a decision because he had to move. My recollection is that on the day we decided to go ahead with the deal, we were on our way to Kingwood, and stopped at the stop sign at the end of our street and I offered one more heartfelt prayer about whether we should do this. Again nothing from the heavens. I then began to reason how this must be an answer to our prayers. We were desperate and maybe Heavenly Father directed this man to us to bail us out of a difficult situation, so we should just go with it. I mean if he had the cash and a good reference, then it must be right. We proceeded to Kingwood, met the man, got his money and he signed the lease. Whew. We were saved…. Or so we thought.

Within days of him moving into our home we received a call from one of the parents on our daughter’s soccer team. Somehow they had found out their former renter had moved into our home and they called to warn us that he had just moved out of their home and had taken the refrigerator with him and that he could not be trusted to make the payments. They had called the police and wanted to have him arrested. Oh Oh. A few days later we called one of the neighbors that lived across the street from the house and asked if everything in the neighborhood was okay with the new renters. The sense we got from her that it was not okay and the neighbors were not happy about this guy. Seems like people were coming and going all night long and it wasn’t a stable situation. In fact, they indicated he had already broken the gate on the side of the house where he had a boat stored and when pulling it out quickly broken the pole and had done nothing to repair it. We were getting more and more concerned. Then about a week later, this neighbor called us back and said that last night the cops had been to our home and arrested this guy. Apparently he was notorious for buying electronics and then writing hot checks. The cops told her that he was storing these stolen goods in our attic. Ugh. Now we had to do something and do it quickly. So we drove over to Kingwood (it must have been a Saturday morning) and posted a notice on the door that he was evicted and had to be out of the home the next day.  When we called the neighbor the next day, she confirmed that he had indeed been moving stuff out of the house in the middle of the night. So we went back to check and while nearly everything was out, there was still a refrigerator and a few belongings which we moved out to the end of the driveway. After we left he came back, took the rest of his stuff and we never heard from him again. He had indeed damaged the fence and the attic opening had been roughed up pretty bad, but in the big scheme of things, we considered ourselves extremely lucky that he moved when we told him to and no further damage was done. Lesson learned. When the heavens are silent that does not mean “yes”.

Okay it was now the first of August and our home was empty again with no renter in sight. Then within a day or two we received a call from some friends of ours (the Davis family) who were looking for someplace to rent for a couple of months while the house they were moving into was being refurbished. They had an made an arrangement to rent another house, but when the owner found out they had 5 kids, he refused to honor the agreement. They were stuck, we were stuck, so we agreed to let them live there for two months. That would give us time to put a listing back in the newspaper and get someone in that would be longer term. I think this proved to be a nice miracle for both of us.

So we listed the house for rent again in the Houston Chronicle and sometime in late August or early September we received a promising phone call from a couple who were interested in our home. He seemed very articulate and intelligent on the phone and really wanted us to meet his family and talk about a possible deal. They were living in Humble so we agreed to meet them halfway which turned out to be at the Woodlands Mall up in the food court. They were a very nice couple. He was black and she was white and they had two adorable young children. We talked for about an hour. I liked them. I started to drill down a little bit on their situation. When I found out that he smoked I told him he could not smoke in the home. Absolutely not allowed. He said that would not be a problem. They wanted to buy the home eventually on some sort of lease purchase agreement. When we left I explained we would need a deposit and the first month’s rent and that I needed a reference or a credit check of some sort he indicated that wouldn’t be a problem either.

A couple of days later he called to talk about smoking in the home and the credit check. He said if they were going to buy the home why would it matter and that if they ended up not buying it they would pay to have the carpet and draperies cleaned. I was not convinced. And then he told me that I needed to know that they had had a bankruptcy recently and that their credit report wasn’t that good, but they had turned over a new leaf and this was the home they knew was right for them. When I found out about the bankruptcy, alarm bells went off in my head. Put that together with the insistence to smoke in the home and I knew it was not going to work. We had been praying about whether we should lease to them and the heavens again were silent. We had been down this road before, so I was already convinced that they weren’t the right renters, and when he told me about the bankruptcy it was easy to tell them no. His reaction was one of anger. He immediately claimed that I was prejudice because they were a mixed race couple and that was why we wouldn’t rent to them. No matter what I said about my problem being the bankruptcy and the smoking, he wouldn’t listen. He raised he voice, chewed me out (at least that is how it felt) told me I was to blame for his family not having a place to live and then slammed the phone down.

This landlord thing was not working out so well for us. But through the experiences I was having I I was beginning to understand the still small voice in a way that I had never understood before.

Telling this man no, was hard for me, but I had received a phone call from another guy a couple of days earlier that was interested in the home, so I knew I had a backup option. A man who was being transferred to Houston taking a job with Houston Lighting and Power had called. So when this last deal fell through I called him back to see if we could work something out. He was a senior manager and they were in the process of building a home and needed to rent a place for 7 months. I told him I was really looking for a 12 month contract. He indicated they would even be willing to pay a premium to lease it for a shorter period of time. This was Saturday evening. On Sunday LaDawn and I fasted and prayed about whether to rent to this man and his family. While not the deal we wanted, because it was not someone who wanted to purchase it, it was definitely someone we could trust. But as we fasted and prayed, again there was no burning bosom and in its place was that same recognizable empty feeling from the earlier experiences. We were committed to obeying the spirit of the Lord (we had already learned the consequences of not doing so), so I called this man and told him no. It was a hard call to make because I couldn’t tell him that the spirit told me not to rent to him, so all I had was that I didn’t want a 7 month contract. He was not very happy either, but he didn’t slam the phone down at least.

It was in that moment when I told him no, that I realized that now my faith really mattered. Faith was easy when I had a backup option. Faith is always easier when the stakes are small such as when we have faith that the lesson or talk we prepared will go well. Or even when we have faith that someone will get well or will get a job. I mean our faith matters in those situations, but the impact to us personally is often minimal. For me, it was another complete matter to know I had someone who was ready to move in on October 1 and pay me for 7 months, vs. having no one and not being able to make two house payments. In that moment we felt totally dependent upon the Lord for his help. We had listened to the spirit and now we needed help. The clock was ticking.

After hanging up from that last call I just sat and pondered on what we were going to do. I then remembered that LaDawn had mentioned a week earlier earlier that a woman had called from California about the home. She hadn’t thought much of it because we thought we were going to do a lease purchase agreement with this couple we had met, but she thought she had written her number down. Now if she could just find it. Miraculously she was able to find the phone number on the back of a piece of scratch paper that should have been thrown away. I felt like even though a week had already passed that I should call this woman. So on Sunday evening, after fasting and praying all day, I called her. I told her the house was available and was wondering if they were still interested. She said that they were. I said, okay and then, still smarting a bit from the recent experience with the smoker, I said something like “but you can’t smoke in our house”! Then it was me who was surprised when she said “I don’t know if you know anything about the LDS Church, but we are members of that church and we don’t smoke!”

Well to make long story short, this family was to be on a house hunting trip in the next week and wanted to see the home. They hadn’t really found anything else thus far that appealed to them. He had just taken a job with Enron and they were moving from California to Houston. They weren’t in a position to buy a home, so they needed to rent for a few years, but ultimately that was their goal. As we prayed about this family that night after a difficult weekend with potential renters, it was as if our souls were filled with light. We knew this was the family that would lease our home. So they came and saw the house. The neighbor across the street happened to be from the same town in California that they were moving from. When she saw the wall paper border in one of the bedrooms, she said it was the same border they had in their home in California. They loved the home and we ended up renting it to them for three years. They would write the checks out in 6 month increments and send them to us so they were never late. At the end of the three years, they purchased the home for a favorable price and we were both happy.

What a painful yet powerful lesson the months of June-September turned out to be for us, and especially for me. During that time, despite the difficulties, we were paid for every single day. We did not lose any money, but there was a cost in time. Valuable teaching time. When I was called to be the bishop in the Magnolia Ward on November 9, 1997, the lessons I personally learned about listening to and obeying the spirit, about having faith when it really matters and the power of fasting and prayer, served me and I hope the members of the ward well. How grateful I was for a kind and loving Father in Heaven who invested such effort in me to help me learn these valuable lessons in an effort to make me a more effective father and priesthood leader. I hope have lived up to his expectations.

There are two scriptures that I believe reinforce this principle of Faith that matters. The first is in 1 Nephi 7:12: “Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.”

My experience is that when we have done all we can. When we have been faithful and sought his will and his help and when we have nothing more we can do, this is when miracles happen. When we are willing to press forward to the edge of the light and then take a few steps into the darkness. It is in the very moment when we cannot see the next step that he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

The second scripture is well known from Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

For me, faith that matters is a result of hope for something that we cannot see initially but once we have exercised that faith, the evidence is clearly visible. Such was the case for us. When we can only hope for an outcome without the ability to make it happen, and that outcome is of extreme importance to us and when we have been faithful in following the spirit of the Lord in order to follow His will, then will He move mountains in our behalf.

There was one other lesson that I learned through this tutoring period. Heavenly Father does his best work when there are disparate, yet matching needs. In the case of the Davis family, they had need for short term housing and we had an immediate need for a short term tenant and it seemed that Heavenly Father must have inspired them to contact us. In the case of the final lease and ultimate sale to this LDS family in California, they had a specific need, we had a specific need and he inspired them to call us from an online add, then inspired LaDawn to first write down their number and then to not throw it away. The wallpaper border and the neighbor being from the home town were just evidences to both of us that this was the answer to both families prayers.

Faith that matters is the most important faith at all. I have learned that this is the type of faith that I must nourish and ultimately develop. If there is no consequence for a failure of faith, then we never really put our faith to the ultimate test.