Why I Believe – Fireside with Thurl Bailey

Tonight, I attended a phenomenal devotional entitled “Why I Believe” at the D.C. Temple Visitor’s Center. Thurl Bailey, a former Utah Jazz player and convert to the LDS Church, was the featured speaker alone with his wife Sindi. Two recent converts to the Church also spoke about their conversion.

Thurl’s story was particularly memorable for a couple of reasons. Thurl first spoke about his childhood and his decision to pursue a career in basketball. Even though he was over 6 foot tall at the time (now he is 6’11), he didn’t make the team the first two times. That coach told him that he had no future in basketball. Luckily Thurl persisted and tried for a third time with a different coach. That coach put him on the team and offered to mentor Thurl one on one because he saw that he had great potential. Thurl spoke about how Heavenly Father sees us with the same kind of great potential. He also spoke about those who had given him their full trust such as his wife.

Second, Sindi spoke extensively about their marriage and courtship. Her parents refused to meet Thurl and staged an intervention where they forced her to choose between them and Thurl (Thurl is African American while Sindi is white and from Southern Utah). They then cut off contact with her for five years. It was sad to hear about that degree of bigotry and intolerance. But fortunately, the Lord eventually softened their heart. And when Thurl was baptized his father in law performed the ordinance.

Third, Thurl spent a manner of years attending Church but not being baptized. His wife was loving and supportive throughout that time. Then, Thurl felt prompted to take an opportunity in Italy even though he didn’t know why. While there, alone for a time, Thurl felt prompted to call the missionaries to come visit him because he was lonely and wanted to speak to fellow English speakers. The Mission President came as well, and really connected with Thurl and was able to answer his concerns in a way that no one had before. The timing was right and the Lord had led him to where he could be converted.

Finally, Thurl spoke of a particularly meaningful experience that occurred right around that time. He would frequently cross the Border into Switzerland, and on each trip the border patrol asked him three questions: 1) Where are you coming from?; 2) What is your purpose here?; and 3) What is your destination? On one occasion, those questions pierced deep into Thurl’s soul and he stopped at the side of the road and pondered them. He realized that the Gospel gave him answers to those question he could not get anywhere else. I really appreciated his story and his powerful testimony of the restored Gospel.

Visions of the Spirit World

Although it happened back in Feburary, until yesterday I hadn’t seen President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Nelson’s wonderful joint address to the RootsTech conference. President Nelson shared a remarkable story from his family history. This weekend Elder Kopischke of the Seventy came to our Stake Conference and he quoted the story at length while speaking of the importance of Family History and Temple Work. I offer the story with the caveat, of course, that it is not canonized revelation and does not supplant D&C 138 in any way.

I wanted to tell the family about my Grandfather Nelson and the precious gift he gave to us. His name is Andrew Clarence Nelson. They called him A. C. He died when my father was 17 years old, so I never knew my Grandfather Nelson. He’s the only one of my four grandparents I did not know. When my Grandfather A. C. Nelson was a young husband and father, just 27 years old, his father died. Then, about three months later, his father, now deceased, came to visit him. The date of that visit was the night of April 6, 1891. Grandfather Nelson was so impressed by his father’s visit that he wrote the experience in his own journal for his family and his friends. …

Listen to my grandfather’s words about that sacred experience:

“I was in bed when Father entered the room. He came and sat on the side of the bed. He said, ‘Well, my son, as I had a few spare minutes I received permission to come and see you for a few minutes. I am feeling well, my son, and have had very much to do since I died.’

“‘What have you been doing since you died, Father?’

“‘I’ve been traveling together with Apostle Erastus Snow ever since I died. That is, since three days after I died. I received my commission to preach the gospel. You cannot imagine, my son, how many spirits there are in the spirit world that have not yet received the gospel. But many are receiving it, and a great work is being accomplished. Many are anxiously looking forth to their friends who are still living to administer for them in the temples. I’ve been very busy preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

“‘Father, can you see us at all times, and do you know what we’re doing?’

“‘Oh, no, my son. I have something else to do. I cannot go when and where I please. There is just as much and much more order here in the spirit world than in the other world. I have been assigned work to do, and it must be performed.’

“‘We intend to go to the temple and get sealed to you, Father, as soon as we can.’

“‘That, my son, is partly what I came to see you about. We will yet make a family and live throughout eternity.’

“‘Father, is it natural to die?’

“‘It is just as natural to die as it is to be born, or for you to pass out of that door.’ And here he pointed at the door. ‘When I told the folks that I could not last long, it turned dark and I could not see anything for a few minutes. Then the first thing I could see was a number of spirits in the spirit world. The paper you gave me, my son, is dated wrong. But it makes no particular difference. Correct records are kept here.'” …

“‘Father, is the gospel as taught by this Church true?’

“‘My son, do you see that picture?’ Pointing to a picture of the First Presidency of the Church hanging on the wall.

“‘Yes, I see it.’

“‘Just as sure as you see that picture, just as sure is the gospel true. The gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power of saving every man and woman that will obey it, and in no other way can they ever obtain salvation in the kingdom of God. My son, always cling to the gospel. Be humble, be prayerful, be submissive to the priesthood, be true, be faithful to the covenants you have made with God. Never do anything that would displease God. Oh, what a blessing is the gospel. My son, be a good boy.'”

There is much I could say about that incredible vision. But I will only add a few thoughts. First, I love how this deceased father cares so much about his son and his family. That eternal love is the essence of the Gospel. Second, I love his declaration that “we will yet” make an eternal family. It is never too late to seal and family together for eternity thanks to Heavenly Father’s plan. As someone whose father passed away quite recently, that thought brings me a lot of comfort. Third, the spirit world is organized after the pattern of this world. This may be a source of discomfort for those who chafe at Church organization on this earth, but to me it suggests that God has a plan and is not leaving anything to chance. There is a systematic effort to teach the vast number of spirits in the spirit world.

Elder Kopischke added his testimony that deceased sisters are also lanolin dilligently on the other side of the veil. I imagine my mother, preaching the Gospel to her ancestors and those who have not yet heard of it. That thought fills me with such gratitude. Even though she died more than a decade ago, I can sense that we are co-laborers in the work of the Lord. I am grateful for the Plan of Salvation and for the remarkable vision and President Nelson’s willingness to share it with the world.

#LDSConf General Conference – 1 Apr ’17 – Priesthood Session

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf will be conducting this Session. President Thomas S. Monson presides.

Music is provided by a Priesthood Choir of YSA from Holliday and Murray Utah

President Uchtdorf : Welcome to Priesthood Session

Choir: Rise Up O Man of God

Opening Prayer: Vern P. Stanfill of the Seventy:

“We pray that our hearts may be changed, that we may use this moment to minister unto others.”

Choir: Jesus Once of Humble Birth

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Joseph Smith’s First Vision and President Eyring’s Challenge

Yesterday, the Church released for widespread distribution a beautiful video of the events of the First Vision. That video has been on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, but as far as I am aware it was not widely available before yesterday. It is a remarkable video that integrates the various accounts of the First Vision. I especially loved how the video emphasizes the personal aspects of Joseph Smith’s prayer more than any other telling of the First Vision that I have seen.  Here was a 14-year-old boy seeking personal revelation and a remission of sins. I think the added details make the vision even more relatable and personal.

Yesterday there was also a remarkable face-to-face event for youth with Elder Holland and President Eyring.  Reflecting their location in Palmyra, New York, the Apostles spent a lot of time talking about prayer, testimony, and gaining a personal witness.

In particular, I was struck by President Eyring’s final invitation and challenge to the youth and I wanted to share that portion of the event here:

““Our dear young friends, that is our desire for each of you. That you may know for yourself, independent of anyone else, that the God of Heaven is real and he knows you, and that his son has atoned for the sins of the world. Our hope is that you will gain for yourself an unshakable testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”




Resisting Satan’s Deception: Finding a Balance Between Indifference and Over-zealousness

Two weeks ago Elder Quentin L. Cook delivered a devotional address at BYU entitled “A Banquet of Consequences—The Cumulative Result of All Choices.”The text is unfortunately not yet available, but Elder Cook posted a summary on his Facebook page. He looked at three examples of how Satan attempts to persuade us that good is evil and evil is good.  He spoke of the word of wisdom, the family and parenthood, and of financial matters. He recently shared on Facebook what is in my mind the most memorable portion of the talk. Elder Cook spoke of an experience he had at the Holocaust Museum (in Jerusalem) with Elder Holland:

“I had a sobering experience in Jerusalem last October. We visited the Children’s Memorial Museum, which is part of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Elder Holland and I, together with two American Jewish leaders, laid a remembrance wreath. As you move through the Children’s Memorial, the first names of the children and their age at death are announced one after another with a background of music that portrays this terrible atrocity. It is believed that over one million Jewish children were killed during the Holocaust.

As I experienced the museum, I was overcome with emotion and completely devastated. Standing outside to regain my composure, I reflected on the horror of the experience and suddenly realized that in the United States alone there are as many abortions every two years as the number of Jewish children killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Now, as a lawyer, I am cognizant that the motives and intent are entirely different. Further, this is a problem that will probably not be solved by personal condemnation or judgmental accusations. With respect to the number and spacing of children, the health of the mother must be considered, and the decision should be made prayerfully by husbands and wives. Such decisions should never be judged by outsiders. Some faithful individuals are not able to have children or have the opportunity to marry. They will receive every blessing in heaven.

Nevertheless, Lucifer has supported abortion and convinced many people in a horrific paradigm shift that children represent lost opportunity and misery, instead of joy and happiness. Bringing children into the world is a sacred part of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness.

We are so numbed and intimidated by the immensity of the practice of abortion that many of us have pushed it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness. Clearly the adversary is attacking the value of children on many levels. We must be at the forefront of changing hearts and minds on the importance of children.”

Elder Cook’s remarks on abortion are pointed and sobering. I am not going to add much to his remarks on the substance of the abortion debate. I want to take a step back and talk about what we can learn about Satan’s tactics from this example and I hope that this discussion will be thought provoking regardless of your feelings about Elder Cook’s particular example.

Satan triumphs when good is called evil and evil good. He loves to redefine eternal truth.  And he tricks many into believing that doing evil is justified in furtherance of some other social good. However, even those who are not persuaded to redefine morality may still fall under Satan’s sway in a more subtle and pernicious fashion.

When we see widespread acceptance of an immoral belief or practice, we can become “numbed and intimidated” so that we push[] it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness.” Satan wins when people who understand eternal moral truths are silent or become indifferent. When we begin to assume that evil is inevitable and not worth combating, Satan triumphs. Silence in the face of wickedness is not a virtue. Complacency in the face of vice is deeply tragic. We must valiantly fight against evil and never become complacent.

Yet I was also grateful that Elder Cook spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing that the solution to the problem of abortion is  NOT “personal condemnation or judgmental accusations” – a theme elaborated upon in the full talk. Such methods are deeply counter-productive.  I believe that Satan is as pleased with vitriolic overreaction as he is with indifference. It seems to me that people of deep faith and moral convictions are most susceptible to these overreactions because of how passionately we can feel about certain moral topics. We must never forget that our goal is “changing hearts and minds.” Anything that undercuts that purpose furthers Satan’s plan.

Another takeaway for me is that methods matter. Satan proposed a plan in the divine council to solve the problem of sin and human frailty. But because his plan was based on coercion and compulsion it was rightfully rejected. Method matters just as much as the substantive outcome.  Speaking with friends of my generation, I am deeply concerned that many do not stop to think about method before proposing solutions to problems. Often, but not always, this means support for the biggest and most coercive government solution. Our zeal for change must be tempered with a realistic assessment of human nature, divine law, and the consideration of other virtues such as liberty and freedom.

Satan is a master manipulator. He is behind the current state of affairs where vast numbers of people in the great and spacious building call evil good and good evil and mock those who seek the tree of life.  But he is also pleased with those who are indifferent towards the pursuit of the tree. And, although this is not depicted in Lehi’s dream, he would also be satisfied with someone who has reached the tree but spends all his time railing against the wickedness of the building rather than partaking of the fruit. We must seek the proper balance between being zealous for righteous causes and tempering our approach with charity, the divine love of Christ.