A Personal Blessing from an Apostle

In April 2016, I served as the Stake Clerk in the Ephraim Utah YSA 2nd Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That month, we held our regularly scheduled Stake Conference.  We were blessed to have a visit from Elder Dale G. Renlund, an ordained Apostle and Prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Elder Evan A. Schmutz, a General Authority Seventy of the Church.  Our Stake Presidency was being reorganized and it was a busy two-day process.  As the Stake Clerk, I worked closely with Elder Renlund throughout the process.  It was a spiritual feast to watch the hand of the Lord in this great work and to be a witness to revelation.

After the conference and after the new Stake Presidency was installed, Elder Renlund conducted a two-hour training session for the newly called brethren and their wives.  I was invited to attend the meeting, and Elder Renlund asked me specifically to sit beside him on his right. As I sat down, he reached out and gave me a reassuring pat on my knee.

Later, after a very meaningful, spiritual, and timely training session, the meeting was concluded and Elder Renlund offered to give a closing prayer. During his prayer, among many wonderful things, he mentioned my name specifically. He thanked the Lord for my service and asked the Lord’s blessings to be upon me and my family.

I was overcome by emotion.  Over the previous several months, I had been praying earnestly to the Father for answers to many important issues in my personal life and in the lives of my children and family. During this wonderful prayer from a living Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I was overwhelmed with a sense of the Lord’s love for me and my family.  I know that He (the Lord) knows me; and He knows my wonderful family.  The sweet message and the confirmation by the Holy Spirit was truly a “tender mercy” of the Lord.  I sincerely felt my offering has been accepted by Him.

Since that day, I have been confident that my family and children will be fine.  Of course, I will always be concerned about their welfare, and I know there will yet be the usual challenges, but I will not be worried.  My focus then shifted to my future and the needs of my immediate family: Kathy and me.

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“We’ve Witnessed a Miracle!”

In September 2012, Kathy and I (with our daughter Sara) were on a train from Germany heading for Grindelwald, Switzerland.  The ride took us from Nuremberg to Stuttgart, to Luzern, to Interlaken, and finally into the Swiss Alps to Grindelwald.

Wow, what a beautiful train ride through Switzerland.  But, the views in Grindelwald were even more breathtaking.  From the high Grindelwald valley, we could see clearly the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau Mountains.

And the valley was one of the most picturesque valleys I’ve ever seen.  Tall mountains, trains, chalets, green grass with large grazing cows, and sheep all were laid out like something we’ve seen in The Sound of Music or at a fictitious place like Disneyland.  But this was the real deal.  It was breathtaking.

We stayed in a chalet-like hotel (Hotel Panorama) located about 20 minutes from the train station.  It was a beautiful spot with great views from our balcony.

That evening we were hungry, so we went for a walk in search of a restaurant.  From the hotel, we walked along a narrow, paved mountain road for about a half mile before coming upon a lovely hotel/restaurant.  We shouldn’t have eaten there, but we were hungry.  It was a white table cloth restaurant featuring a very expensive menu.  And, I think we were one of very few guests.  Anyway, we ordered the food, it came, and it was delicious.  Unfortunately, the meal cost about 160.00 euros.  Oh well, we deserved a good meal.

Before we left, Kathy began to feel a little ill.  She thought there might have been something she was allergic to in the food, so she took a dose of her Benadryl medication.  On the walk back to the chalet, she began to feel worse.  By the time we got to our room, she was breaking out in hives over several parts of her body. Her airway was itching and swelling and even the quality of her voice changed.  We all became very worried, so Sara began searching the phone book for a local doctor.  Soon, Kathy began having difficulty breathing and her condition was getting worse. Sara was able to find an after hour’s emergency number.  She called, but they told us there were no doctors available after hours in Grindelwald, and we should take Kathy to Interlaken for treatment …about 45 minutes away.  We didn’t have a car, and buses and trains had stopped for the night.  Our only option was to take a taxi cab.

Sara called for the cab while all the time Kathy was trembling and seemed to be getting worse.  I could tell she was very frightened.  As a Registered Nurse (RN), she knew her condition was serious, and she feared she would not survive the taxi drive to Interlaken.  At that point, Kathy asked for a Priesthood Blessing.  First, we all prayed together, then I administered a blessing as I listened carefully to the spirit.  After the blessing, Sara went outside to meet the cab driver.  Just minutes later, Kathy became very sick to her stomach and threw up her food.  Then like a miracle, her breathing eased and she began to feel better.  I checked her hives and they were subsiding.  She began to relax for the first time since the onset and she sat up in bed.  Sara and I still wanted to take her to the hospital, but Kathy felt so much better and insisted that she didn’t need to see a doctor now.  She said, “I just want to stay here and sleep.  I’m feeling better.  I want to relax.”  Well, when the taxi arrived we paid the driver his basic fare and thanked him.  Then, we returned to be with Kathy.  Later, Sara said that she “has always felt the Spirit most when there’s a Priesthood Blessings.”  And she added, “I think we’ve witnessed a miracle.”

The next day, Kathy was like a new person.  She could still feel some of the effect of the hives, but overall she felt good and wanted to walk about town and see the sights.  We took the bus down the valley to Grindelwald, left our bags at the train station, and went off on an adventure walk in and around town.

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Faith and Charity

Faith is an action word.  It is not passive. It motivates us and gives us the confidence to act.  It’s an important principle of daily activity.  You could say “we live by faith” because we exercise faith in much of what we do.  Faith encourages us to get up in the morning and allows us to live, progress and enjoy each day.  Examples of active faith include faith in ourselves and our abilities, faith in our plans, faith in our spouse, faith in our family and friends, faith in our old truck starting, faith to safely cross a busy street, faith to plant a seed, and much more.  Real faith motivates us to action.

When we act in faith, we act with confidence towards an object, an action, or an outcome.  However, while faith gives us the confidence to act, it does not guarantee a positive outcome.  The object of our faith may fail us.  For example, a faithful old truck may not start, a friend may disappoint, a crop may fail, or we ourselves may fail at a task.

However, there is one object of our faith that will never fail us.  That is, there is one personage we can have faith in that will not fail us: Jesus the Christ.  We can have Faith in Him, and we can trust Him.  He is who He said He is; and He is full of light, honesty, and truth.  He is the Son of God, our Redeemer, and the Father of our salvation.  He has taught that: we are all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us; we can be forgiven of our transgressions; and, we can return to be with our Heavenly Father again.  He speaks the truth!  We can trust Him and have Faith in Him.  If we exercise sincere faith in Jesus Christ, continue to learn of Him, obey His laws, and remain true and faithful to what we learn along the way, then we can change our lives and become more like Him.

In its infancy, our faith in Christ starts and is based on just the correct idea that He exists …which is True!  When we act upon that “correct idea,” we gain a particle of faith.  The Holy Spirit will confirm in our hearts and our minds that it is true, and we will naturally want to seek to know more.  Learning of Christ is key to our Salvation.  He is the perfect example.  As we learn of Him, we can exercise faith in what we are learning, and then know of its truth.  Learning of Christ, having Faith in Him, and getting to know Him, motivates us to want to change and be better.  As we learn more about Him, we can more accurately model His life and become more like Him.  As we continue to study and learn more of the true nature of Jesus Christ, our knowledge of Him will grow, and we will have more information upon which to exercise faith.  All along the learning process, the Holy Spirit (the Revelator) will add (reveal) insight and will add additional confirmation of its truth.

This is the essence of the miracle of having Faith in Jesus Christ.  It is dynamic, growing and ultimately will lead you to Eternal Life (the Life that God the Eternal Father lives).

As we exercise Faith in Christ and earnestly seek to learn of Him, we will realize that we are different than He is.  Loving Him and wanting to be more like Him, we will naturally want to change, align or adjust our lives to His example.  This is called repentance.  In addition to making changes, we may want to express our commitment to becoming more like Him (baptism).  When we do so, the Lord is so pleased with our actions that He provides an opportunity for us to receive a greater influence from the Holy Spirit (the Revelator) in our lives (the Gift of the Holy Ghost).  Now, the primary mission of the Holy Ghost is to bear testimony of the Father and the Son.  So with an increased influence of the Revelator in our lives (and with continued study, prayer, and obedience), we will gain additional knowledge and insight of the Lord.  We will increase our understanding of who He is, receive additional insight and confirmation from the Holy Spirit, and become increasingly motivated to modify or change our lives and become more like Him.  As our knowledge of Christ increases, so does our Faith in Him because we’ll have more information upon which to exercise faith.  As we gain more knowledge of Him, we will see additional changes that must be made in our lives, so we will make additional adjustments, and the Lord will bless us with a greater influence of the Holy Spirit (see Moses 6:52).

This is the cycle of eternal progression:

    1. Receiving a true idea about the Lord Jesus Christ,
    2. Exercising faith in that idea,
    3. Receiving inspiration or confirmation of it’s truth from the Holy Spirit,
    4. Gaining a desire to become more like Christ,
    5. Adjusting/repentance to become more like Him,
    6. Making or renewing a commitment to follow Him,
    7. Receiving confirmation and increased inspiration from the Holy Spirit,
    8. Learning more of Christ and therefore being able to have more faith in Him, and
    9. Continuing  or “enduring” to the end in obedience to the principles you are learning and to your growing understanding of the true nature of Christ.

With increased inspiration and testimony of Jesus Christ, we have more information about Him upon which to exercise faith.  As we exercise faith in the additional “true” information, our faith in Him grows more, and the cycle continues.  Of course, all along the way the cycle is fueled by:

    1. Greater study of the true nature of Jesus Christ,
    2. More effective personal prayers, and
    3. Faithful obedience to what we learn along the way …and know.  (See 2nd Nephi 31:20.)

Now, what of Hope and Charity?

Charity is defined as the “Pure Love of Christ,” or the pure love that Christ has.  In the above description of “the cycle of eternal progression,” Hope and Charity are byproducts of sincere Faith in Jesus Christ and they grow proportionally as we become “like” Christ.  As our faith grows, so grows our Hope in the future, and so grows our pure love of God and all mankind (Charity).  I believe it is accurate to say, “the man with Faith in Jesus Christ will also have hope in the future and charity for all.”   The man with great faith in Jesus Christ will have great hope in this life, and above all will have great charity for all.  As the Apostle Paul taught: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  These three are inseparable.  They do not come alone.  The person who has Faith and Hope in Christ will have Charity.  The more Faith and Hope, the more Charity.  A pure love of Christ (charity) is a more visible or outward manifestation of ones Faith and Hope, and of being “Christ Like.”

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Keeping the Commandments!

The Lord’s instruction to “keep the commandments” (Alma 37:35) may seem old fashion to some, and unbecoming of a loving Heavenly Father.  Or, some may think the commandments just take away our agency.  But what are the commandments of God?  Are they just a set of arbitrary rules that test us, restrict us, and must be obeyed?  And in the end, if we have obeyed them, we win the prize?  No, the commandments of God are the Laws of Heaven, or in other words, the Laws of God.  They are the same laws He lives by.  They are Eternal Laws.

In this life, we don’t fully understand all the laws of Heaven …not yet!  But, through prayerful scripture study and the revelations of God, and as we align ourselves with God, we can begin to more clearly understand His Laws as they apply to us.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  So for now, we are asked to live by faith and keep the commandments as we best understand them.  We learn more of the Laws of God by keeping and obeying them.  And, as we faithfully keep the commandments, we will change and become …more like Him!

Consider the following from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of the Lord: “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. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.  And what is it that we must become? The Savior answered very simply: “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). He is the mark we must always look to. He is our supreme example. He was chosen as our Savior not just because of His perfect obedience but because of His perfect love—love that encompasses perfect knowledge and that motivates perfect obedience.” [The Challenge to Become, LDS General Conference, October 2000]

I am convinced that the Laws and Commandments of God are good. We still have our agency to choose not to obey.  But, as we do obey and keep the commandments, we will become more and more “Like Him!” (Matt 5:48).

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Maybe We Should Pray!

In the spring of 1975, Jenny and I were living with our three children (Heather, Melissa, and Scotty) among beautiful green forests and farmlands in the Rheinland-Pfalz area of West Germany. Driving home from church one late and rainy Sunday afternoon, we stopped to have a look at an automobile that had rolled off the road and onto its side in the wet roadbed at the edge of a forest. Inside the forest, it was already dark because of the thick canopy created by the trees and the oncoming night.

After inspecting the wrecked vehicle, we returned to our car and discovered we were stuck in the mud. I soon realized I couldn’t back up.  My wheels would just spin in the mud.  But, I could drive forward.  The wet and muddy forest road went down and into the forest. A few weeks before, we had driven down that road and through the forest.  In fact, we found that many forest roads were interconnected and would eventually lead back out onto pavement.  So, I decided to move forward down the muddy road and into the blackness.  Bad decision!

I quickly realized that I had made the wrong decision. The narrow, wet road was now filled with deep muddy ruts, and it just kept leading farther and farther down into the dark forest.  The ruts were so deep that the mud  was scrapping along the undercarriage of our car.  I tried to keep the speed up, fearing that if we stopped, we would become mired deep in the mud.  A little ahead of us, I saw a high spot that looked firm enough to support the weight of our car.  My plan was to get the car out of the mud to give us time to think. I turned sharply to the right and miraculously the car lunged up and out of the mud.

Stuck in the Mud

I turned off the car and climbed out to inspect our situation.  However, with the headlights off, I couldn’t see anything.  It was total darkness.  I turned the headlights back on, grabbed our flashlight, and climbed out of the car again.  After looking things over, I decided my best bet was to back slowly into an opening in the trees; and then, make a mad dash back out onto the forest road heading back up the road the same way we came in.

So, I backed as far into the forest as possible.  Outside the vehicle, Jenny held the flashlight and guided me as we backed up.  Once the car was in place, we climbed back in with the children.  I revved the engine a little, put it in gear, and lunged back onto the road …and, came to a full stop sinking even deeper into the mud. Now we were really in trouble. Outside the car it was total darkness and raining. Inside the car my wife and I sat with three terrified children (Note: I later learned that Jenny had recently read the story of Hansel and Gretel to the children).

Anyway, now we were seriously stuck in the mud, and I was out of ideas.  I turned Jenny and asked if she had any ideas.  After a brief moment, she said “Maybe we should pray?” Of course, that’s what we should do.  Why hadn’t I thought of that.  Amazingly, the children calmed down almost immediately. I offered a humble but desperate prayer for help.  As I prayed, a thought came clearly into my mind: “Put on the tire chains.”  I wasn’t even finished with my prayer yet, but I knew in my mind what I had to do!

Standing in 10 inches of mud in her Sunday dress, my sweet wife stood in the pouring rain holding the flashlight while I dug and cleared the mud from around the rear tires with my bare hands.  As best I could, I attached the chains on the rear wheels. With faith and renewed confidence, we prayed again and then started the engine. Slowly, the car began to move through the mud (trudge, trudge, trudge).  Slowly up the road we went and eventually back up and onto the roadway.  It was an exciting moment.  We were so relieved to be freed from the rain, the cold, and the muddy darkness.

In the excitement of being freed from the mud and the darkness, I almost forgot how we got out of the dark forest. Our five-year-old daughter Heather reminded me when she said, “Daddy, Heavenly Father really does answer prayers, doesn’t He?”

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“Endure” in Righteousness

It occurs to me that many obedient souls are rightfully and faithfully following Jesus Christ as best they can.  They abide by the principles of the gospel as best they understand them.  They strive to keep the commandments, attend their meetings, obey the Word of Wisdom, pay an honest tithe, read their scriptures, love and teach their children, live morally clean, show kindness to others, and generally keep themselves unspotted from the world.  What they do is commendable, and I’m sure the Lord is pleased.  We should admire and respect their righteous efforts.  And we should do likewise.  They are faithfully and diligently pressing forward in righteousness to the end, or “enduring to the end” (2 Nephi 31:20).  By faithfully pressing forward in righteousness, we will find hope, joy, and happiness.

But, what of this word “endure?”  It conjures up the notion of abiding or persevering through painful or difficult conditions.  To be sure, sometimes life is difficult, and at times we must “endure.” But perhaps, as in the case above, we should be thinking “righteous endurance” to the end, or …continuing in righteousness to the end!  I believe we should faithfully and diligently be pressing forward in righteousness (obedience to the laws of God) to the end.  If we press forward with faith, then we should find much hope and happiness in this life (much to have hope in, much to have hope for, and much to be happy about).

The most significant truths that bring hope and happiness are these: Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world; He is alive and well; His Gospel Fullness has been restored to the earth; the Great Plan of Salvation has been revealed …again; we can trust and have faith in Him and what He has taught us; and, in the “not too distant future,” He will return again and be among us!  If we keep His commandments, honor our sacred covenants, and remain on the “Covenant Path,” we will be redeemed and will stand confidently in His presence on the judgment day.  (Luke 12:40; D&C 29:11; D&C 34:7; D&C 35:15; D&C 45:44; 49:23; D&C 51:20; D&C 61:38; D&C 65:5-6; D&C 88:92-98; D&C 133:49; 1 Nephi 13:42).

Another significant truth in this life is this: we will experience at least some despair, often caused by a misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge (ignorance),  and the absence of hope.  Interestingly, in the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Lehi’s dream/vision of the Tree of Life (see 1 Nephi 8) provides meaningful insight into how we can deal with the cause of despair …so that we do not have to always “endure” in ignorance. In 1 Nephi 8:5-8, when Lehi rightfully obeyed the “man…dressed in a white robe” and followed him, he found himself initially in a “dark and dreary waste” or wilderness. Additionally, it says he “…traveled for the space of many hours in darkness.” So, we read, Lehi obeyed and followed the man faithfully, yet he was “…in a dark and dreary” wasteland, not knowing where he was. Lehi was “enduring in despair.” At that point, the writer (Nephi) records that Lehi prayed unto the Lord for mercy. Not until then did Lehi behold the grand vision of the Tree of Life, one of the most glorious and enlightening analogies in the scriptures.

Perhaps, as in Lehi’s dream, many of us trudge along through life, following the leader, striving to keep the commandments of God, distracted by the darkness, but “enduring” to the end. However, light, happiness, and real joy in the Gospel come when we sincerely, faithfully, and regularly pray to the Father. Yes, we must continue to strive to follow the Lord and keep His commandments. However, we must also faithfully, regularly, diligently and with gratitude, pray to the Father for mercy and “further light and knowledge.” That way, we will “endure in righteousness.” We will gain knowledge; we will be filled with “…exceedingly great joy;” we will have greater happiness; and, we will have Hope!

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