The dangers in this world are real and it is easy to feel frightened.

The young servant of the Prophet Elijah was understandably panicked to wake up and see a bloodthirsty army surrounding him.  But the prophet was unruffled.  “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.  And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master!  how shall we do?  And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

“And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17)

I think we are often like the young friend of Elisha.  He was not imagining the problems and dangers surrounding them.  And we may not be imagining the problems and dangers we face.  But like the young man we may forget to consider what unseen powers may be near to help us.  .

David was much smaller than Goliath, and we all know how that turned out. But have we thought enough about why? Goliath was fighting with his own brute strength.

David’s war cry was, “The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.” (1st Samuel 17:47)

During the dark days of the Civil war when the Northern armies couldn’t seem to ever win a battle, one of Abraham Lincoln’s aids asked him, “Mr. President is the Lord on our side?”

Lincoln replied, “I am not so concerned if the Lord is on our side as I am that we are on the Lord’s side.”

Good council. Facing life’s challenges We may not have visible armies of angels at our command, but when our cause is just, our motives pure and our desires are only to do good our strength is multiplied many times. If we are on the Lord’s side, we may not win every skirmish but ultimately we will emerge victorious.

Smart Money

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Consider this sad story about so-called riches.

It’s about a man who lived among a primitive people.  His house servants watched him get things just by writing notes from his checkbook and giving them to people.  At length greed got the best of the servants.  They killed the man and stole his magic check book so they could get all the wonderful things it could buy.

What a tragedy.  A life traded for things of the world. But we see that all the time. Even more tragic, sometimes it’s our own life.  We ignore or are ignorant of the principles of celestial economics.  We spend time and money on corruptible commodities of earth and ignore the opportunities to invest in eternity.  Who of us would not give an honest tenth of his possessions and a generous donation of his time and money if he could be sure he would get in return a reward so great he couldn’t carry it home?

That is precisely what the Lord promises. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10, 3 Nephi 24:10)

On the other hand, suppose our wildest dreams of acquisition and possession came true, and we owned the whole world?  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Jesus asked. (Mark 8:36)

It should be obvious that the smart money and the smart time would go for the larger and enduring return.  But too often.  We go for the quick reward, conspicuous consumption, something for nothing. These schemes are as popular as they ever were in this world.  Ultimately they are as unprofitable as stealing a checkbook.

Little Epistle, Ecology of Eternity

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There is something terribly wrong with the way we are treating the good earth.  From the often leaden and laden skies to the slash and burn farming of irreplaceable hardwood forests, the suffocating oil spills, the mountains of garbage, the toxic wastes this is indeed as the Book of Mormon predicted, “…a day of pollutions.”(Mormon 8:31)  And it isn’t just waste.  Even when we use earth’s resources efficiently we too often use them for destruction not construction.

The problems will not be solved by Greenpeace and animal rights activists.  Their premise of this planet is wrong.  They see it as a spinning space station accidentally evolved and eventually destined to grow cold and die.

In reality the earth is an eternal living creation of God.  It cries out in agony over the misuse and abuse perpetrated upon it. (Moses 7:48)  It will one day be redeemed, purified and celestialized forever.  Eventually he only will be worthy to inhabit it who “hath clean hands and a pure heart who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”       (Psalms 24:1-4)

Clean hands will not be stained with the blood and bodies of needlessly slaughtered living things.  Pure hearts will not use earth’s resources for evil ends.  Those not lifted up in vanity will not gorge themselves with conspicuous consumption while their fellow humans starve and the earth strains to support them in their extravagant tastes.  Those with the integrity to avoid deceitful swearing can be trusted to care for the earth according to the Lord’s commandments.  Only these principles of eternal ecology will ultimately save the earth and its inhabitants.  The best thing we can do for this planet is preach and practice the gospel.

Epistle: Memorial Day Thoughts 5.10.17

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The Mormon pioneers were driven out of Nauvoo Illinois in 1846 by armed mobs. That exodus began a 23 year gathering by ox drawn wagons, and handcarts. More than 6,000 died and were buried along the way. Yet they came singing. A verse of their favorite song says, “And should we die before our journey’s through, happy day all is well. We then are free from toil and sorrow too. With the just we shall dwell.

“But if our lives are spared again to see the saints their rest obtain, oh how we’ll make this chorus swell. All is well. All is well.”

That is still our declaration.

A number of years ago, my father lay in the home in which he had spent most of his adult life. His wife of 64 years sat quietly near the bed set up for him in the family room where he could catch a little more sunlight. His sons gave him a blessing, and later that night, he struggled into his next life. He did not just slip away. It was hard for him to get the job of dying done. His body still had strength from the years he had labored to support his family and to live his faith. But at length his time came and he passed away.

That night a feeling of accomplishment filled the room and the house. We would miss his counsel, his friendship, and his sense of humor. But he had done what he came to do in this life, and he felt it was time for him to move on.

For those who have lived long and well death is sweet. We as a society often seem unable to accept that fact. Too many times loved ones and health professionals expend heroic efforts and vast sums of money to extend a life even when he or she would prefer to move on. Sometimes the life they extend is a poor excuse of an existence, filled with pain and limited capabilities.

There is even some speculation about eventually extending life indefinitely. This is foolishness. It comes of a wrong paradigm we have on the here and the hereafter. Locked into scientific humanism as our unofficial national philosophy, we are unable or unwilling to look past the veil of death to what might lie beyond. Because of this we have turned death into a horrible non-existence to be postponed and fought off at any price. It becomes a contest in which to live is to win; to die is to lose. This is the wrong metaphor. Death is not defeat. It is a transformation into eternal life.

This view of life and death hurts even more when we see a child struck down by disease; a young soldier killed in battle; a mother taken before she can rear her children, a promising life snuffed out by bad habits and dissipation. These are, of course, sad and even sometimes tragic events. But they are made infinitely more heart rending when we view death as a horrible empty long dark and lonely chasm instead of the door to a better world, which is what it really is.

Death will come to us all soon or late. But it will affect us long before it takes us. How we view life dictates in large measure how we view death. Likewise how we view death influences how we live life. Will we spend our years anxiously avoiding the shadow of the grim reaper, or will we invest our time and energies preparing to enter a more glorious existence when our time comes? Then we will be comforted to know that death here is birth into the hereafter.

Hands that See

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In that classic movie in 1939, The Wizard of Oz. The plot revolves around things the characters want. The scarecrow wants a brain. The lion wants courage. The tin man wants a heart. Dorothy wants to fly over the rainbow.

I suppose the movie is unforgettable because most of us at some times want something more than we have. When I get that want mood, try to remember true stories like this one.

A number of years ago back in Missouri a night patrolling policeman stopped to check out a suspicious looking scene.  A car was parked on the dark street and a man was working underneath it.  The cop naturally suspected somebody was pilfering parts.  He called the man out from under the car and got one of the bigger surprises of his career I think.  The midnight mechanic was a multi-talented young medical student.  He was fixing his car because like most students he was on a tight budget and didn’t want to pay a garage.  Also he was very handy with his hands, had been since the days he grew up on the farm in southern Utah.  Mechanical work was a refreshing break for him from the mental grind of medical studies.

But why in the dark?  The young medical student explained to the policeman, “Because I’m not handicapped like you and most other people. You have to have light to see things.” I can see with my hands.

The policeman saw the light, so to speak. Got in his car and went to his patrolling shaking his head in amusement.

The medical student/mechanic went back to his fixing his car in the dark. He had learned to see with his hands and fingers since he lost his sight in a childhood accident.

The policeman is one of a long line of people who were amazed at what this man could see and do with his hands.

He was a high school wrestler, played a little guitar and musical saw for recreation, raised a fine family and contributed to his church and community.  His BYU graduating class of 1936 honored him as its most successful student.  He was featured in a verse of a song by Janice Kapp Perry titled “The Test.”  He has blessed the lives of thousands through his long career.

But this remarkable man saw with more than his hands.  He saw with his mind, and heart. With these he gained his insights into life and how to live it to the fullest despite, or perhaps because of challenges.  We are privileged to have known this good man could see without sight, Dr. Iliff Jeffery.

Little Epistle: Infinity

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Epistle: Infinity      May 2, 2017              

I once read about isolated societies where their mathematical skills had no use for squiggly lines dividing this, carrying that, and leaving remainders. All these people cared was; this pole is longer than that pole, so chop it off or your house will be crooked. My basket has more eggs than in it than yours has bananas, so make them the same, and then we’ll trade. I thought, “Mathematically those are my people.”

Much later I caught a glimpse of the beauty and poetry of mathematics. I’m still a Dr. Seuss reader in a mathematical Shakespearean sonnet world, but I can catch enough to marvel at what else is in there.

For example, Jesus/Jehovah promises to those who accept him, “…all that my father hath shall be given unto him.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:38) Non math types like me would tend to jump to the conclusion that this is a strong metaphor of how the Lord will share his glory with us. Mathematicians would insist, and rightly so that the scripture says give all, not share with.

But to take the phrase literally the first time the Lord met a true believer, he would give him everything he had. This would leave the Lord with nothing. That makes no sense.

But later I read about George Cantor, a German mathematician who between 1874 and 1884 developed a system for dealing with infinity. In a finite world if I have a hundred gold coins and give you 50, that cuts my supply be half. But with an infinite supply that never happens. “Half” of infinity is still infinity. “Half” is as big as a “whole” in fact you can divide an infinite treasure among an infinite number or people and each one will have the same amount which happens to be—you guessed it, infinite.

Whoops, I just blew that circuit in my little brain. And that is just the beginning. You can also compare and measure infinities, add, subtract and multiply or divide them, arrange them in power sets and subsets, and other mathematical functions as you would finite numbers.

Maybe that’s also the way you can feed 5,000 people with a few of loaves and fishes and  create worlds without number.

Even though I can’t do the math yet, I can catch a little reflected light from the vision. As a parent I know the first baby soaks up all your love. But miraculously the second born has to share the lap, but not the love. The love supply increases to meet the demand. Our love grew with every baby, and now is exploding with the grandchildren. I believe that the love within the human heart is potentially infinite.

How this all integrates into God’s master plan is beyond my finite brain capacity. I cut myself some slack since the Lord seems willing to do so.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Infinitely beautiful truth. I can’t do the math, but I can believe. And I do.

Little Epistle: Where Time Touches Eternity

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“The present is the point at which time touches eternity,” wrote C.S. Lewis.  Older people tend to dwell in the past.  They forget Will Rogers down home wisdom, “Things ain’t like they used to be… and they never was.”  Younger people sometimes fixate on the future.  What’s wrong with that?  Planning ahead is a good thing isn’t it?  Yes, but it isn’t the best thing for obtaining eternal exaltation.  Better than planning for the future is doing in the present.  The past is frozen in time.  The future is a wispy vision.  It is only the present we can take hold of and direct.  President Kimball’s famous desk plaque dictum said “Do it.”  It didn’t say plan it.  Plans and preparations are important, of course.  But only as they help us make the maximum use of future present moments.

General George McClellan was a superb tactician, a peerless planner an inspirational commander of the Union armies in the Civil War.  He had only one fatal flaw.  He almost never got around to fighting the battles he planned.  He would have died of old age in Washington getting ready to prepare to commence to begin to start to get going.  It wasn’t until Ulysses S. Grant took over and began to seize the moments that the Union won the war.

J. Golden Kimball liked to tell of the man who wanted a certain maiden’s hand in marriage so badly that he prayed night and day it would come to pass.  Unfortunately while he was praying somebody else asked her and she married him.

The road to the sub-telestial kingdom is paved with planning that never animated itself to action.  Old King Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get wisdom.”  Somebody with even more wisdom than Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get going.”

Little Epistle: Setting Goals and Eating Elephants

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More than a few years ago I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the open Pacific bound for the Tonga Islands.  The beautiful skyline of San Francisco disappeared slowly behind us and the open ocean spread out in every direction.  Night settled on us and blotted out any guidance.  One direction was as good as another to me.  Fortunately the captain and navigator had something more specific in mind.  Otherwise I might still be drifting in the open sea or long since wrecked on an unfriendly shore.

And such is the voyage of life.  Personal effective authorities and their research all agree that of the principles and practices that promote personal effectiveness, none is more important than setting goals.  It is the foundation of virtually every successful effort at self-improvement.  I don’t know anyone from personal association or historical research who has stumbled into a successful life.  Everybody I know who lives life well has at least the rudiments of goals to guide him or her.

If goals are so effective why do we so often dislike them?  Some very good reasons.  Often the goals have been assigned to us.  They are somebody else’s goals not ours.  Goals sometimes intimidate us.  They look too big for us to handle.  Perhaps our greatest hangup is that we don’t like to be measured.  We may come up short, and it may take effort to achieve what we have laid out for ourselves.

Try these antidotes for those spiritual illnesses.  Set out your own goals and have them supersede your assigned ones.  Break big indigestible goals down into little bite sized nibbles.  As the saying goes you can eat an elephant a bite at a time.

And finally start slow and easy. Especially at first, nibbling on a small succulent success is a lot more satisfying than choking on a heaped platter of failure.

Epistle: What Can We Achieve 3.29.17

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Motivational speakers sometimes say, “Anything the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.”  Some people find this saying inspirational.  Others express reservations that it is merely psychological hype and does not describe the challenges in the real world.  They note that conditions in the environment limit us.

No less a man than Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a man of great mind and spirit, but modest stature recounted how he wanted to be a basketball player, but felt he was just too short. External circumstances, mental, physical, maybe social may somewhat limit us in the accomplishment of our aspirations.  But they may also lead us into areas where we can excel as they did Elder Maxwell.

All of us have experienced failures in life.  If we haven’t that is no great compliment to us.  It just means we have set our goals too low.

I think most of us do conceive and achieve below our potential, and that little motto may motivate us.  My difference of opinion with the statement is not because it promises too much, but because it promises too little.  It limits our possibilities to what we can conceive.  But the Lord declared, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.(I Cor. 2:9) And these things are totally within the grasp of each of us.  These promises so outshine the goals that this world generally aspires to that they are quite beyond our comprehension.  The achievement motto may be appropriate for worldly aspirations.  But in our relationship with the Lord it might be more accurate to say, “If we will believe, what we can receive is far beyond our power to conceive.”

Epistle: Living is Giving

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The lawyer was to all appearances an upright citizen, a faithful observer of the Mosaic Law. He was assertive, but that’s not an uncommon nor unforgivable trait in lawyers. His bigger problem was in expecting to use his legal expertise to argue his way into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus first pointed out to him the difference between the hair splitting legalities of humans and the sublimely simple system of the Lord. There are only two great laws; love the Lord, and love your neighbor.

The lawyer still seeking salvation through argumentation saw a loophole. “Who is my neighbor?” he asked. But Jesus turned his escape hatch into an infinitely open door to godlike service. He told the lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

The story contains many truths on many levels. But the truly sublime and celestial symbolism of the Samaritan comes in his simple words as he pays the inn keeper for the injured man’s lodging. “If it costs more, when I come again I will repay thee.” This is not a singular experience for this good man. He has not gone out of his way to help another. This is his way. He has purposely left his account open ended. Whatever it costs to serve another he will pay.

In this interpretation he is not just a good neighbor. He is a Christ symbol.

The lawyer was seeking the minimum requirements for salvation, the narrowest definition of neighbor that would qualify him for the kingdom. Jesus’ instead showed him that citizenship in the celestial kingdom comes not from a set of rules, but from a set of the heart. As it is in heaven so it is on earth. To live is to give. To the lawyer and to us the Lord offers the invitation, “This do and thou shalt live.”(Luke 10:28)