Sunday, October 9, 2016

Satan Comes First

I attended the temple yesterday, and I was struck with the way God answered Adam's prayer. There they were, Adam and Eve, both full of faith as they built an altar without knowing why, doing exactly what they were supposed to, begging the Lord for some much needed direction, when who should appear? Not God, but Satan, with his impudent claim of lordship over the earth. As usual, he was eager to peddle to them his usual wares: the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.

This sometimes bothers me. Why wasn't God more on the ball? Why didn't he step in right away and answer their prayer first, respond more quickly to their sincere demonstration of faith? Why the slowness to respond? Why the wait?

As I was thinking about this idea, how God answers prayers, I realized there is a kind of pattern in the scriptures. This actually happens again and again. When someone requests knowledge, God usually stands by and lets Satan do his song and dance first. Very often, when a prophet in the scriptures needs direction from God, it is Satan who is first on the scene.

Jesus tempted, by Carl Heinrich Bloch
1. For example, we have Moses. After seeing all of God's creations and being left in a physically weakened and vulnerable state, and full of questions, having "other things to inquire of [God]"; in that state, who should appear but Satan, showing off, trying to look cool, and commanding him to "worship me." (Moses 1)

2. Another prophet, Elijah, retiring to the mountains to seek direction for his ministry and being left alone, was first subjected to the impressive displays of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire (and the Lord wasn't in any of those), and not until afterward did God speak to him with the still small voice, and instructing him how to proceed with his prophetic ministry. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

3. When Jesus Christ began his ministry with a fast for forty days in the wilderness, Satan immediately comes waltzing in to tempt him, trying to win over even the Son of God with vain and selfish offers, cunningly matched and supported with scripture. (Matthew 4:11) Not until afterwards did angels minister to him.

4. And most recently, Joseph Smith, seeking to know which church to join, was first encompassed with the powers of darkness before he persisted in calling out to God for aid, and then he received the First vision, followed by all kinds of angels and messengers which opened up this last dispensation. (JSH 1:15-16)

The pattern in the scriptures seems to be this:  a person seeks further knowledge, Satan eagerly and quite forcefully offers what he's got, pointing out his lordship over the world, his money and carnal pleasure, his endless preaching and theologizing, and then the person has to decide if his goods are what they're looking for. If they aren't, if the worldly logic and philosophies don't satisfy the longing in his soul, and if he persists in seeking messengers from God, then God will step in to teach him eternal truths.

Not just prophets, but all of us deal with tough questions and all of us need personal guidance and answers. I have personally wrestled with some tough questions. I am often frustrated that, even when I am doing all that I am supposed to, praying sincerely and really searching the scriptures, listening to the prophet, attending church, etc., I don't get immediate answers from God. In fact, I often get kind of the opposite. My first attempts to search out answers bring out a barrage of opposition to the faith I have been taught since primary. The moment I start seeking is when I am faced with even more doubts. Suddenly, I am presented with a whole banquet of exciting and stimulating reasons why this church is mistaken, why this claim is unreasonable, or that prophetic teaching is not all that wonderful. There are all kinds, an endless supply it seems, of philosophies of men mingled with scripture that could assuage my struggle. People step in from all sorts of places, from strangers on the internet to very close friends, each calling me over with a solution that offers to take care of my worries.

I often have to ask myself:  am I satisfied with worldly, man-given explanations, or do I long for answers from above? Am I looking for "messengers from Father to teach me?" Too many friends I know have abandoned the gospel, as taught by the Lord's authorized servants--those rather plain, ordinary, unpopular, unexciting men--because they found the world's teachings to be more interesting or desirable.

Over the years, my answers have grown like a sunrise does, starting out dim on the horizon, but growing brighter to illuminate a dusky sky. Judging by my continuing struggle and lingering questions, I would guess for me it is still only the early hours of dawn; just barely light enough to move forward, and there is still such a long way to go. But I can say that I know enough. I know that I am a son of God, and I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and that this is His church. I did not learn it from "flesh and blood":  from scientific methods, from lively and engaging debates, from video blogs, podcasts, or from good and learned teachers, even parents, church leaders, and friends, all of whom are mortal earthly sources, and therefore unreliable. I have listened to the many voices, weighed them out, studied them, but ultimately, I have received this knowledge and testimony from God by the Holy Ghost.

If anyone is ever troubled or discouraged that seeking guidance from God seems to just bring up more doubts and stirs up more trouble, remember that Satan always comes first. Stick with it. Keep seeking until you get an answer from heaven. Don't settle for worldly explanations. Remember that opposition and testing is part of the plan, and the alternatives need to be attractive enough for it to be a valid test. If you keep exercising faith, holding on to what you know, God's answers will come to you, and you will know it, because it will be like a "well of water springing up into everlasting life" and you will never thirst as you move forward in searching further truth from Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Irrigation and the Latter-day Saints

I didn’t water my garden consistently this year, and boy did it show. As I pondered my pitiful, burnt plants this September, roasting up in the Alberta sun, and saw the hose that sat next to it all summer long that I just neglected to turn on, I thought dismally that my pioneer ancestors would be unimpressed. I totally failed them. They, who practically created a garden paradise out of dry rock, and I am looking pathetic with my shriveled tomato plants and a hose.

You see, Mormon pioneers knew how to water their plants.

When the Latter-day Saints came into the Salt Lake Valley, which was kind of like their last hope at a “promised land” after being violently driven from the luscious, green, and fruitful lands of Missouri and then Illinois, they were settling, essentially, in a desert. In 1847 and immediately upon arriving, along with beginning a temple, Brigham Young oversaw the damming of the river. Together the Saints began the arduous task of digging canals and ditches to sustain themselves and their expanding population in this foreign Utah wasteland. Irrigation was definitely not a new concept back then, but the Mormon people were the first group in the West to really go crazy and use irrigation on such a large scale. And you might say they perfected it. Mormon pioneers completely transformed the landscape: communities sprouted up all around the state of Utah and Idaho, then extended up into Canada all the way down to Arizona and then down into Mexico. They planted crops and trees and fruit orchards and beautiful gardens, and they all sprang to life miraculously where little vegetation had been growing before. They established a bustling economy built entirely on irrigation. They truly made “the desert blossom as the rose.” (Isaiah 35:1)

And like I mentioned, Mormon pioneers came to Canada. I live there. Here in Southern Alberta, irrigation is a part of our heritage. My own great-great-grandfather, Charles Ora Card, brought the irrigation techniques and principles he practiced in Northern Utah and applied them to his founding town of Cardston. Canals and ditches were soon expanded, conducting water through Southern Alberta fields to allow the arriving Mormons to settle outlying communities like Raymond, Magrath, and Stirling.

Then, more recently in the mid-20th century, a man named Asael Palmer, a leader of the LDS Church in Lethbridge and Superintendent of the Experimental Station (Research Station), expanded irrigation even further in the Lethbridge area and made it into better farmland. My grandparents tell me they remember the days before Palmer’s initiative to irrigate, and how dust storms would descend upon them regularly and fill their cupboards and houses with sand. Irrigation was revolutionary to Southern Alberta. Whatever a person thinks about the belief system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you have to give them credit for knowing how to use water.

My forbearers taught me that community improvement is built into my religion. As children in Primary, we grew up singing a song called “Give Said the Little Stream.” One LDS lady with dementia that I know, a humble farmer’s wife who can remember very little, can still sing every word of that song when I walk her down for supper at my work. She sings,
I’m small I know, but wherever I go,
The grass grows greener still.
Singing, singing all the day, ‘Give away, oh give away!’
Singing, singing all the day, ‘Give, oh give away!’
Our work of irrigation as Latter-day Saints is meant to go beyond the physical landscape. Today, instead of irrigating dry fields, we are given the charge of irrigating a world that is drying up in disbelief. Our message brings new life to individuals that are dried out because of sin or doubt. I have seen the transformation happen, and it is a miracle. Our actions should be motivated by principles of selfless service and love, and they can turn the driest desert into a fruitful garden. Our message of hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ can refresh individuals who may feel at times like withered plants.

The water source of the Latter-day Saint communities in the intermountain West has always been the mountains. The run-off from those mountains, when collected, pooled together, and shared selflessly, sustained large populations. Our spiritual water source also finds symbolic emphasis in the mountains. Latter-day Saints often refer to our sacred temples as “mountains of the Lord.” This is a reference to the Old Testament practice of using mountains as places of communion and instruction from God. It is also a reference to Isaiah’s prophesy that “the mountain of the Lord’s house (temple) shall be established in the top of the mountains.” (Isaiah 2)

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision great waters flowing out from the temple mountain. As he first waded out with an angel “the waters were to the ankles.” A thousand cubits further out and
“the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.”
He then looked out at the once dry, barren landscape surrounding the mountain and saw that the water that had gone out from the temple had healed the land. (Ezekiel 47)

The healing water is the atonement of Christ. The full access of His grace is found in making and keeping covenants in His house. We are promised divine help in the temple, and then we descend down from the mountain to the arid, burnt-up social landscape we live and work in and use the power of the priesthood to heal and bless. In the temple we receive the living waters that are meant to not only sustain ourselves as individuals, but to make us into “little streams” ever “giving away” to our families and to our communities. As weak, simple saints in training, we are prone to weakness and mistakes, and we pull it off with varying degrees of success. But we always try, and like Ezekiel saw, the water continues to rise from the shallow water at our ankles until it is over our heads in preparation for the Second Coming of the Christ.

I am grateful for my legacy of irrigators. Some ancestors were irrigators of land. Even more impressive to me are the irrigators of souls:  parents and grandparents and countless others in my life that spend their lives giving themselves away in service to others, always singing, in their own way, “I’m small I know, but wherever I go, the grass grows greener still.” I am hopeful that my feeble efforts to irrigate this world will look less like my mangy tomato plants this September, and more like the fruit trees of my ancestors. I am hopeful because I know that the living water is Jesus Christ, and like the canals in the area, I will continue trying to carry forward some of His water as it flows down from his house in the mountains.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joseph Smith and the Facts

I recently read about the label "post-factual world" to describe our politically charged method for gaining information. The article describes a world where facts are secondary to ideology, and where one's preconceived beliefs are like blunt instruments to hammer and shape uncomfortable facts to fit better our own ideas. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. There are many complex, important issues that need nuance and understanding, but our current system for obtaining knowledge with nuance is broken.

We get our information more and more from social media, where our friends often think the same way we do, and ideas we disagree with become muted. Outrageous claims live on and spread even after being proven false. Arrogant politicians and activists no longer have shame for lying because the fear of consequences is gone, so long as they support the greater ideology. Meanwhile, hoax news websites are doing better than ever, and the sheer volume of news information to sift through overwhelms anyone who wants to find answers. Facts are often swallowed up in the fat belly of angry, arrogant, intolerant, bologna makers. It is absurd, and it is violent. Social media is a battleground in the culture wars, and there are plenty of Facebook friend casualties.  It is a "war of words and  tumult of opinions" (JSH 1:10).

These are mad times. How do we get truth in all this? Does it even exist?

Joseph Smith lived in a similar "war of words and tumult of opinions" where "all the powers of both reason and sophistry" were employed to prove an ideology (JSH 1:9-10). Things really have changed very little since life in the burned-over district of upstate New York. I can easily imagine Palmyra New York on Twitter, tweeting their latest outrage at the Methodists or the Presbyterians, angrily arguing in lengthy comment threads on Brother Jones' latest inflammatory Facebook post about the definition of the Godhead. 

In all this, Joseph Smith went to God, saw a vision, restored truth, conversed with angels, translated an ancient book of scripture that restores doctrine and confounds error, and restored the ordinances that help us, even modern me living in 2016, to gain companionship to the Holy Ghost and navigate my way home.

I love the teachings of Joseph Smith, teachings like:
"Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." (D&C 8:2) 
"You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right." (D&C 9:8) 
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118) 
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true...and by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:4-5)
Joseph Smith teaches me that God is not just an idea. God is someone who cares about my questions and wants to answer them. Joseph teaches me that we are not alone, just muddling around in this mess of rhetoric, trying to piece together jumbled fragments to give coherent meaning to our lives. Joseph teaches me that science and study and education can bring me closer to understanding God. Joseph teaches me that the Holy Ghost is a crucial ingredient for obtaining truth. Joseph teaches me that it takes effort, and I must study out the arguments, wade through the facts, formulate my own ideas first, and go to Him. Without Him, I am forced to rely on my own biases and faulty intellect.

Joseph teaches me that God loves me enough to send angels and prophets and books of scripture buried in hillsides to challenge my ideas, push me to consider things I don't want to, answer my questions and guide me home. No defector to this church has ever given me a convincing argument about how God is involved so much like that. At best, they say God may be up there somewhere; but for now, we have brains.

Truly Joseph Smith gave wings and an engine to the promise of "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).

Trouble is, you have to feel like you need wisdom first, before it is given. You and I, with all our access to education and knowledge, often feel ourselves puffed up in our own learning, setting aside the counsels of God, and supposing we know for ourselves how the world turns, what is wrong with the Church today, who is to blame for what latest tragedy, etc. (2 Nephi 9:28) I know I am like that.

May I be like Joseph. May I separate myself from the contemporary stand-ins for the Methodist vs Presbyterians:  the liberals or the conservatives, the new age Mormons or reactionary Mormons, pro-gun or anti-gun, black lives or all lives matter, etc. each of them hammering out the philosophies of men on their keyboard pulpits until their fists are sore, recruiting for their congregations. Many of these philosophies have truth, pieces of the puzzle. But there is more, and unless we turn to God and his power, we are being decoyed away.

May we all retire to our own forest of trees, kneel down and put aside our preconceived beliefs and self-importance, and with the simple faith receive something more wonderful than any of them: that God is our Father, that he is intimately involved in our lives, that he has restored priesthood power on the earth, and that he is closer than we know.

After we know that, we can build. After the rains come down and the floods come up, what we build will last forever, because of the rock upon which we build--the one true fact, the word made flesh, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Conversation with a Stone

How firm a foundation! But now I look up—

At this fortress all crooked, these angles all wrong.
This beam is displaced, this window’s too long!
And I tremble to see all these wavering towers,
And buttresses weakened by unholy powers.

The ceiling is crumbling, and what if it falls?
“Take courage, my friend,” a voice gently calls,
“The archway’s unsteady, the pillars will tilt—
But Zion is still being built.

So pick up your tools; take compass and square,
And build on what’s already there.”


Church members building the Salt Lake Temple.
(Photo retrieved from www.templesquare.com)