Saturday, July 28, 2007

In Memory of Stephen Holm

The following is the transcript of a talk I gave at the memorial service of a good friend of mine named Stephen Holm on July 28, 2007:

Here we are to remember dear Stephen Holm. He was a friend, a father, a son, a brother. I count it a great blessing and privilege to have known Stephen. Every time we met, he would hug me and tell me that he loved me and was praying for me. I know that I have felt the strength of his prayers and I will miss that. How grateful I am that among the last words I ever said to Stephen in this life were “I love you.” That’s truly how I felt about him.

I could tell you more about Stephen, but I think he would like me to share something else. What I shall do instead is impart to you some of the light that illuminated Stephen’s soul. If you will open your hearts, some of this light will get into you and it will go home with you. If, as you go back to your daily cares, you ignore this light, it will go out, and it will be forgotten. If, on the other hand, you make a place for it and you nurture it and take of it, this light will grow into a brilliant flame within you that will prepare you to stand spotless before God. And thus the death of Stephen Holm will become a miracle. That’s what this light does, you see, it turns death and hardship into miracles.

And so we come to death, which is what brings us together today. This mysterious and final thing is unwelcome and fills many with fear and dread. In its wake, it leaves shattered lives and broken hearts, never to be the same. It comes at inconvenient times and seemingly at random, to the innocent and the guilty alike. It leaves us to wonder about the fairness of God, and leads many to conclude that God is stern, uncaring, unloving, and even unreal.

I declare to you that our creator does not resemble these dreary descriptions. I know there is a God. He loves you as a Father, because he is your Father, the literal Father of your spirit. He created this world out of Love for you. Your life on this Earth is part of an Eternal plan that He has prepared for you. This plan is the key to your happiness in this life. It is the way to endure the tests and trials that come to you. This plan allows you to organize a family after the pattern of heaven, making a way for supernal love and peace, and allowing families and relationships to endure forever. And ultimately, by following His plan, you can come to know God, just as a close friend knows another, for this is Eternal life.

God knew that our life on earth would subject us to death. Because we are mortal our bodies would die, and because we would sin, our spirits would die too. Jesus Christ was prepared from the foundations of the world to make a way for us to overcome death. He came to Earth and lived as one of us, suffered the same trials and temptations as we do, and died as all of us will die. On the third day after his death, however, he rose again, breaking the bands of death. Because of him, all of us will live again after we die. Our spirits and bodies will be reunited in a perfect frame, never to die again.

In addition to dying, Christ, through the miracle of his perfection, paid the price of our sins through a great sacrifice of suffering that none of us can comprehend. If we choose to receive this gift, then we may overcome the death of our spirits and live with God again. To receive this gift, we must follow the path that leads to happiness.

And what is this path? Jesus said, “Come follow me” and he showed us the path by his very deeds. As he began his ministry, Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized by immersion and receive the Holy Ghost, and he then lead a life of righteousness, courage, and charity.

This is the path. This is how God’s children return to him. This is always how it has been and always how it will be. It is part of the Plan of Happiness, and God has revealed it in all ages of the earth to his children. The way that he reveals it is through prophets. These special men learn first hand about the gospel from angels, then reveal it to the rest of us, who learn and accept the gospel by faith. It has always been God’s way to call prophets, and he is the same today, yesterday, and forever.

When Christ was on the Earth, he established a church. At the head of it, he placed apostles and prophets, and to support them he placed other leaders such as seventies, pastors and bishops. With Christ as the chief cornerstone, this organization existed to teach the plan of happiness and help people to live it. The leaders in Christ’s church were called by revelation and the laying on of hands, and in this manner, they were given authority from God to carry on His work. This included the authority to baptize and to give the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Over time, the Apostles were persecuted and killed. New apostles were called to take their places, but eventually there were no more apostles and the church was left without leadership or priesthood authority. Without the priesthood, the necessary flow of revelation stopped. Errors crept into the church, ordinances such as baptism were corrupted, and the scriptures themselves were altered or destroyed so that many plain and precious truths were lost. Thus began what is called the “Great Apostasy”, when the true church of Christ was lost and replaced with the false ideas of men. Eventually, great reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin recognized that the church had strayed, but without the priesthood, they could not fully restore the church to its original form.

When the time was right, our Father in Heaven again chose a prophet to reveal his plan and organize His church. This prophet was Joseph Smith. Joseph was a boy and was confused by the many religions that followed the bible yet contradicted each other. If they all followed the same bible, shouldn’t there be just one church? As he searched, Joseph read a passage in the Book of James, and it struck him deeply: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally… but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Joseph knew he needed wisdom from God, because the matter could not be decided by man or the bible. So on a spring morning in 1820, this 14-year-old boy walked from his home to a grove of trees where he could be alone and he offered up his heart in prayer to God. In answer to this prayer Joseph saw a pillar of light descend upon him, and in the light he saw two beings, whose “brightness and glory defied all description.” One of them called Joseph by name, and said, “This is my beloved Son, hear him!”

This was the beginning of a long string of visions and revelations to restore the gospel in its fullness. The apostle Peter called this time the “restitution of all things”. The authority to baptize and to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost were give to Joseph by John the Baptist and by the apostles Peter, James, and John. The restoration of this authority allowed Joseph to establish the true church of Jesus Christ on April 6, 1830. Today this is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The authority of the priesthood is found in this church. The truths that were lost are here.

This is an amazing story with incredible claims. It is unsettling to some, and others fight actively against it. Prophets have always faced this kind of skepticism, and many, including Joseph Smith, have lost their lives standing for the truth that many did not want to believe. How can we separate truth from error in these matters? Is there a way we can we know for sure when someone is really a prophet and what they have to say is really true? Fortunately, God has not left us in the dark, and there is a way to know. The Bible says that Prophets are recognized by their fruits. And so it is with Joseph Smith. Through the spiritual examination of the fruit of this prophet, we may come to know Joseph Smith was indeed called by God.

The fruit I am speaking of is a book. In order to restore truth that was lost, God revealed to Joseph the location of an ancient book recorded on gold plates. It was written by a people who lived on this continent long ago- a people who knew Jesus and had dealings with Him. Just as the Jews in Jerusalem, their prophets wrote down what the Lord taught them. Joseph Smith, through the gift and power of God, translated this record into English, and we have it today as The Book of Mormon. It is another testament of Jesus Christ and goes hand-in-hand with the Bible to declare that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

The Book of Mormon is a unique book, in that it contains the following promise:

4 And when ye shall receive these things, … aask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not btrue; and if ye shall ask with a csincere heart, with dreal intent, having efaith in Christ, he will fmanifest the gtruth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

You see, God has not left us alone to figure things out by ourselves. He wants us to return to him, but we have to be able to listen with our spiritual ears. There are some things in this life that you cannot discover unless God reveals it to you directly. This is one of those things. If this book is false, it is perhaps the greatest fraud in history. Yet, if it is true, it is the most profound book of our time, and it confirms that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet called by God.

If you knew Stephen Holm, chances are he gave you a copy of this book. (If he didn’t, see me afterward and I’ll give you a copy.) He knew The Book of Mormon is true, because the Holy Spirit told him so. That light he received was the beginning of a fire in his heart that he could not put out. It gave him hope and changed his life in ways he couldn’t believe or even comprehend before he experienced them. I had the privilege of watching Steven grow and blossom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the last few years of his life. As he brought his life in harmony with the teachings of the Lord’s church, joy penetrated and filled his soul. He told me once that he felt like he was walking around on pillows, and another time he told me how he had to pull his car over in order to weep out of sheer gratitude to know what he knew and experience what he experienced because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He also told me about many of the books he gave away. He gave this book because he loved his friends and desired their happiness. He gave this Book because he knew that it is the key to the one sure way of happiness that he had discovered for himself.

And so now we come to this. Stephen is gone now, gone home to the God who gave him life. He left behind his testimony of the truth, and I add mine to it. What is the truth? The truth is that God lives. He knows who you are and he loves you. He will communicate with you if you really want Him to. The truth is that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son, and that through His atonement and resurrection, you and I will live again after we have died, and if we have been true to Him, we will stand in His presence without shame because we will be spotless. The truth is that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that through him came the word of God in its fullness, and that he established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the only true and living church on the face of the whole Earth. This was Stephen’s testimony, this in my testimony, and if you let the Spirit work within you, it will be yours as well.

And so I leave this with you, my friends, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


(This is the transcript of a talk I gave to the Everett 2nd Ward on July 22, 2007.)

I love looking at the sky, and living in the Northwest has been a delight to me because of the frequent occurrence of Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.   If you’ve seen them in person, you know that Auroras don’t look like they do in the pictures.   They are very dim, and can easily be mistaken for low hanging clouds, the kind you see in the winter lit from below by city lights. 

Back in November of 2004, I saw a spectacular Aurora, the most amazing I had ever seen.  It literally filled the entire sky.  My dad lives nearby, so I called him up to tell him about it.  He went out and looked, but he thought the aurora was just some low-hanging clouds.  Though I tried to convince him otherwise, he didn’t believe me and went bed thinking that I was a little too excited.  I was flabbergasted.  Here was this amazing show right in front of him and he completely missed it!  

Can the gospel be something like this?  Has the Lord put something out in plain sight for us to see, but it is invisible to us because we don’t believe it?  In Deuteronomy, Moses has something to say about plainness:

Deut. 30: 11-14  For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not ahidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, … Neither is it beyond the sea, … But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy aheart, that thou mayest do it.

The Lord, speaking through Isaiah says

1 Ne. 20: 16. Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in asecret; …

Joseph Smith taught that prophets of the past sought to reveal the mysteries of the gospel in plainness (D&C 84: 23).  It is basically a prophet’s job to reveal the gospel in this way.  But this is only half of the equation.  For learning to happen, you and I need to receive it. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:

D&C 93: 31.Behold, here is the aagency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is bplainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

Nephi, the son of Lehi, gloried in plainness, yet he grieved that people would not understand what he taught.  In one of his sermons, he said:

2 Ne. 32: 7.  … I, … cannot say more; … and I am left to mourn because of the aunbelief … of men; for they will cnot search dknowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in eplainness, even as plain as word can be.

Enos and Amulek provide concrete examples of men who had much revealed unto them in plainness, but they lacked something in their understanding.   Enos was the son of Jacob, a prophet of the Lord.  Jacob taught Enos as clearly as he could about Eternal life, yet Enos says that he had to wrestle with god to understand it.

Enos 1:3-4 And I will tell you of the awrestle which I had before God, before I received a bremission of my sins.  Behold, … the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the ajoy of the saints, bsunk deep into my heart.  And my soul ahungered;

Amulek was a rich and popular member of the Nephite community and a prominent member of the church with an impressive pedigree.  Yet he says

Alma 10: 5-6 … I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, … I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; … Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, … and I would not bhear;

There is a saying from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas which applies here.   In this account, Jesus says “The Kingdom of Heaven is spread out across the Earth, but people don't see it.”  That’s an interesting thought:  There is something wonderful going on all around us, but somehow people are missing it.  In the bible, Jesus talked about spiritual blindness as a malady of people who "will not see".   These people heard his parables, but did not understand them.  Jesus said of those people:

Matt. 13: 10  … their ears are dull of hearing, and their beyes they have cclosed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should dheal them.

Let us observe and believe, then, that the gospel is presented to us in plainness, but there is a real danger that we are asleep to it.  We may be missing something simple, yet profound that is essential for Eternal Life.   If ever we hope to discover what this is, we have to become serious students of the gospel.  This serious study of the gospel that I am talking about is called “Discipleship”.

We hear the word “disciple” in the scriptures given as a title of honor to the faithful followers of Jesus.   The requirements of discipleship are great and challenging; however, it is important to remember that anyone can be a disciple- It is not a question of ability, it is a question of commitment. If you are willing to pay the cost, you can be a disciple.

The Savior explained the cost of discipleship very clearly as recorded in Luke 14.   At the end of this chapter, he gives the parable of the tower, which I will paraphrase here:  Anyone who decides to build something big is first going to sit down and figure out how much it will cost, because you know that if you run out of money, you’ll have a partial building, which is worthless, and people will laugh at you.   Similarly, if you are king, and you are deciding whether or not to go to war, you are first going to talk to your generals and make absolutely sure you can beat the other king, because anything short of a complete victory is losing.    These two ideas are easy to understand, the key now is to apply them to discipleship.  Now I will quote the Savior:

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that aforsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my bdisciple.  

Stop and think about that for a minute.  The cost of discipleship is everything.  Everyone is able pay that cost, therefore anyone can be disciple.  On the other hand, if we decide to hold anything back from the Lord, we cannot be his disciple.   So, we are left with an important question: What does it mean to hold something back from the Lord?  

Some instruction on this is found in the Doctrine and covenants:

D&C 41: 5 He that areceiveth my blaw and cdoeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and ddoeth it not, the same is not my disciple …

There are temporal and spiritual aspects to discipleship.  This scripture is speaking to the spiritual aspect- we must willingly receive and obey all of God’s laws.  Choosing to disregard these laws is one way we can hold something back from God and prevent our discipleship.   

Speaking of the temporal part, the Lord says:

D&C 52: 40 And remember in all things the apoor and the bneedy, the csick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.

All we possess is on loan to us; we haven’t earned a penny of it. (Mosiah 2: 21)   We might be able to work hard and make a buck, but we cannot justly claim it because God gave us our ability to work.  He gave us the air to breath, the food to eat, and even the very gold of the earth that we seek so jealously to collect.  God gives us all of it.    Ironically, while God has been very generous with us, we have been busy learning to withhold God’s gifts from each other. We cling to a thing and say, “It’s mine”, but it’s not. To hold back our substance, time, and talents from others is another way that we hold something back from God. 

To be clear, a disciple must be willing to lay down all that he is and all that he has as a sacrifice to God.   This is a tall order for many and some say that it just doesn’t seem possible.  The good news is that God has given us comforting guidance that brings hope and reveals what is possible.  A would-be disciple can use these principles to find the strength to try.

First principle: The grace of Christ fills in where we are lacking.   Often, members of the church receive a calling and they stress and fret about it because they are afraid that they can’t do it.  Well, of course they can’t do it!    The Lord doesn’t call people because he thinks that they have natural ability, He calls them because He wants to work a miracle!  The scriptures are brimming with examples of this.  The miracle happens when we realize we can’t do it without the Lord’s help and we allow the grace of Christ to support us.  

Second principle:  The gospel comes to us a little bit at a time.  The prophet Isaiah wrote:

2 Ne. 28: 30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon aprecept, here a little and there a little; …

Abraham was 75 years old before he began his prophetic ministry (Gen 12) and he was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born (Gen 21).  In the mean time, he was repenting and getting better a little at a time.  You, and those around you, are not going to become what the Lord wants you to be overnight.   So if you feel upset because the guy in the bench in front of you drinks Coke and kicks the dog, I say give him a break!   Be patient with him. He’s trying.   Similarly, if you have a hard time overcoming a certain habit, give yourself a break!   You are trying.  The very fact that you are here, listening to me speak means that you are trying.   So don’t feel discouraged, be patient and just keep trying. 

Third principle: fear does not come from the Lord.  Often we feel afraid of failure or fear what we don’t know.  Those fears do not come from God.  What does come from God is courage, hope, and faith so that we may proceed in spite of our fears.   What I’ve learned in my life is to use my fears as a sort of compass.    If I am not just a little bit afraid, I am probably not doing what I should be doing.   And the corollary:  if I am not doing something because I feel afraid to do it, then I should probably do it!  The Lord always comes through for me in those circumstances and peace always follows when I decide to face my fears.

I wish to pause now to ask:  How do you feel at this moment?  Do you feel a desire in your heart to be a disciple?  Do you feel the spirit moving you at this very moment to do something?  If you feel this way, may I suggest just a few things we might try as an experiment?   I encourage you now to listen with your heart and choose one of these things as a way to forget yourself and become a better disciple.

1)      Repent.  If there are sins cluttering your life, confess them to the Lord and resolve to do them no more.  Confess to those you have wronged.  And if they are serious, confess your sins to the Bishop.  There is great spiritual power in this.

2)      Make your prayers more meaningful and more frequent. 

Personal, sincere prayer and meditation is essential to discipleship.  Jesus says, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret”.  (3 Ne. 13: 6)  

Our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “We are all so busy with our mundane pursuits which pull us this way and that. We all need, the whole world needs, the opportunity to meditate and reflect on the things of God and to listen to words that inspire and help.”. 

David O. McKay said, “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord”

Try this experiment:  Every morning this week, find a time and a place where you can be alone with the Lord for 20 minutes.  Use this as a time to really talk with God.  Pour out your heart to him and ask him what He thinks about you and what He wants you to do that day.  He is happy to answer petitions of this kind.   (And if He tells you to do something, make sure you do it!)

3)      The next time you receive a calling or invitation to participate, accept it cheerfully.  A disciple will never turn down a calling for God.   If you feel overwhelmed, the proper response is not to turn down the calling, but rather it is to seek from the Lord a way to accomplish what he has asked of you.  This is how we exercise faith.

4)      If you are not doing so now, begin paying a full tithe.   This is one of the most basic tests of discipleship- it tells the Lord whether you have faith in Him or faith in your possessions.   If you are already paying tithing, then give a generous fast offering.   If you are already giving a generous fast offering, then look for ways to give more.   If the Lord has blessed you with wealth, you will be required to give much more than others in order to receive the same blessings.  (Where much is given, much is required Luke 12: 48, D&C 82: 3)  Perhaps your family is planning a large purchase of some sort-  A vacation at an amusement park , a Big-Screen TV, a remodeled kitchen, or some other luxury.   Before you make this purchase, gather your family around you and counsel together about it.  Talk about how much you are going to spend.  Talk about why you want to spend it and what you hope to gain.  Then talk about people you know who are in need.  Would your family be willing to forgo the purchase in favor of giving the money to someone who needs it more than you?   I promise that this kind of sacrifice will unite and strengthen your family better than any product, or vacation, or indulgence you could buy.

5)      Prepare a talk even when are not asked to speak.   Next Sunday’s topic is __________.  Pretend that the bishop has asked you to speak on this topic.  Each day this week, study as if you were actually going to give a talk.  You may be surprised at how much more interesting and beneficial that sacrament meeting will be to you.  (You may also be surprised at how much more beneficial the meeting will be to the speaker!)  Then, on the Monday following, use your talk as a family home evening lesson.   Disciples are hungry for knowledge and this is the kind of thing they do to get it.

These are just a few of many good things we could try.  Will you try an experiment on these words?   Alma says that you need only have the desire to believe and the Lord will bless you so long as you just give it a try (Alma 32:27).  Will you give it try?