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.

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