A Move and Heavenly Father’s Plans

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My family and I just moved from Florida to North Carolina for school-related training. During the chaos of a move and the uprooting of a family, there is something that provides great stability – the Church. I don’t know how many outside the Church understand how amazing the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is. It is organized in such a way that all around the country or world, even with cultural and individual differences, congregations are the same – different people, same organization. You know exactly what to expect when going to church. There is unity in the Church.

As I drove in for the first time to the city in which I now live, I had the distinct feeling that this was where I wanted and needed to be. I had a series of interviews with different supervisors and faculty, which interviews strengthened my desire to be where I am now. After visiting a few other sites around the country, even though there was much to commend the other sites for, none of them had the same feeling of “rightness” for me as did where I am now. After all my interviews were done I submitted rankings of where I wanted to be and then waited to see where I matched (interviewees ranked sites and sites ranked interviewees and a computer algorithm figured out the best fit for everyone). I was extremely grateful but not overly surprised when I matched at my top site here in North Carolina. I was not surprised because I knew that this is where I needed to be.

Six years ago when visiting the university where I attend graduate school, I had a similar experience. As I was driving in to the city where the university is housed, I had a feeling that it was where I both wanted and needed to be. Sure enough, it’s where I ended up. There have been other times – four that are very distinct – when what I really wanted was not what the Lord wanted for me and what He knew was best for me. In those instances I have had to trust the Lord and give up on what I thought was best for what I knew was right. The Lord does not always give us what we ask for, for what we ask for is not always right even if we might feel it is good. In these times, what has been helpful for me is to review Hugh B. Brown’s story of the currant bush. The main message of his story is that sometimes the Lord cuts us down to build us up better than we would have been otherwise.

Now back to North Carolina. When looking for a place to live, we went through many options and took time to figure out where we wanted to live. We had to consider my commute time, whether or not we rented a house or an apartment, schools for the kids, rent cost, and which ward we wanted to live in. I felt drawn to the current area and ward boundaries in which we live. Maybe my draw to the ward was because we had heard that it had a lot of young families and a lot of kids but this was the ward for which I felt the most draw. Then, almost like manna from heaven, we discovered a house to rent where we wanted to be and where we felt that we needed to be.

We moved in and went to church and felt right at home. The people are friendly, the teachings are the same, and we are happy to be where we are. I don’t know why we need to be in this particular ward or even at this particular training site, but I believe the Lord needs us to be here, if only because it is what best helps my family. Are not all these feelings I’ve had just my wishful thinking? Are they not just what I want to further my career? Are these feelings of “needing” to be somewhere fanciful imaginations and, when I end up there, coincidence? No, I do not believe that they are. God has a plan for each of us. Our Father in Heaven loves us and wants us to have the most good that we can while doing the most good for others that we can. God gives us opportunities to help others; sometimes He places us in situations so that we can help others; we need to be sensitive to those situations and serve those around us.

This reminds me of an opportunity I had to help someone else. As an LDS missionary I had the opportunity to become good friends with a fellow missionary. What I did not know is that this missionary was struggling with wanting to stay on the mission – the stress of the mission and other factors (including difficulties with a companion) were becoming overwhelming. After we had become friends, this missionary confided in me that I was one of the major factors in this missionary’s decision to remain a missionary. This person and I were both in situations where we could meet and help one another. I believe the Lord directed me to my particular mission area not just for the people I could teach the gospel to but also for the opportunity to help missionaries around me. I write these not to seek accolades or to pat myself on the back, they are meant to serve as examples of the necessity of being in tune with God’s plan for us and acting to help Him with His work – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of humankind (see Moses 1:39). We need to be willing soldiers in the army of the Lord, willing to go and do the things that the Lord commands us (see 1 Ne. 3:7).

The Hand of the Lord

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Ten years ago I was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the town of Sultan, a small settlement off Highway 2 up in the lovely Cascades of Washington. Our area covered a number of small towns along the highway. The ward in which we served was small – we met in a local middle school for the first four months I served in that area. For the first experience we were still meeting in the middle school, for the second, we had just moved into our new church building.

The two experiences I will share are similar in that I was preparing talks for church for both of them and had a similar experience in my preparation of both. Here is the – mostly unedited – first experience.

“Since today was a 5th Sunday we got to speak in church. I had my talk done by last night but this morning I woke up and started looking over my talk and I started rewriting it. I kept the basics [of the talk] but wrote it over, really basing it on the Plan of Salvation. This morning gave [a man] a blessing with the help of [a brother in the ward]…. I gave my talk and it went well and I left plenty of time for my companion. He did well. People commented on how much they felt the spirit during Sacrament Meeting. I really felt it strongly. We filled in…teaching…the 7 and 8 year-olds [in Primary]. After church we saw all the women crying and then [a sister] told us that [a brother in the ward] had just died. He had a heart attack, called 911 and within 45 minutes was gone…. It is really interesting that I spoke on the Plan of Salvation. This day has been both a spiritual high and a sad day.”

What I did not write at the time is what happened during my talk in Sacrament Meeting. Because we met in the cafeteria of a middle school, Sacrament Meeting was usually noisy due to the acoustic properties of the room. However, when I started to give my talk and throughout my talk, the room went completely silent. It was the strangest experience. I believe that the spirit was there in strength because of what the Lord had inspired me to speak on. That was one time in my life I knew I was speaking directly for the Lord. My talk had been about talents but then changed to talents as found in the Plan of Salvation. I talked about the pre-earth life, earth life, and life after death. I firmly believe that the Lord inspired my words to help prepare the ward members for the sudden death of the ward member who died at home during church (maybe even right around the time I gave my talk).

I was scheduled to give a talk in sacrament meeting the day Daylight Saving Time ended, which was on Sunday, October 31 that year. The Fall was cool, with gray skies more often than not and light, misty rains more often than not. Over the previous week I had tried to prepare a talk but had not had much success in my preparations. Now I’ll quote from my missionary journal (I’ll not make edits to my writing in order to keep the quote pure):

“I have learned many things today. I have really learned that the Lord does provide. I had to give a talk in Sacrment Meeting today and up to last night, nothing seemed right [i.e., which topic to write on]. I kept praying that I would know what to write. Last night it started coming to me and this morning I got to finish it. I even had an extra hour to write it because daylight-savings went off but I still got up at the normal time. I am really learning to trust in the Lord by really praying a lot. I find that out here I pray many times a day, even if it is a little plea or a prayer of gratitude in my heart.”

Through sincere prayer, we can know God’s will for us. As we pray and listen, we receive inspiration and revelation. Through us, the Lord can help others. We need to be willing and ready vessels of the Lord so that our lives do not hinder the work of the Lord. As we look for the Lord’s hand in our lives we will see it.

Lucifer’s Insidious Plan – Part 3

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Heavenly Father chose Jehovah. In response, Lucifer rebelled. Many rebelled with him. But the majority of spirits did not join with Lucifer; they understood his lies. They saw through his orations and discerned his pride. However, those who followed Satan fought hard for his plan; Lucifer drew the support of one third part of the hosts of heaven (see D&C; 29:36). Heavenly Father let Lucifer fight and gain supporters because He could not take away His children’s agency. He would not force them to follow His plan. Michael led God’s armies to victory and Heavenly Father cast Satan out of heaven and down to the earth through the power of His Beloved Son (see Moses 4:3). Lucifer became Satan and the heavens wept over him. God wept over Lucifer’s fall; all wept for him and those who followed him. He had been a choice spirit but instead chose the path to perdition. His path left him nothing more than spirit. He is bitter about the loss of glory but he is still prideful; he wants to draw away as many children of God as will follow him.

Satan continues to wage his war against the Savior and all of God’s children. He wants to deny us what he was denied – the opportunity to return to live with God again. The war he commenced in heaven continues today. Satan’s prophets preach sermons that are merely gaudy imitations of godly principles. They preach relativism, hedonism, and humanism. They build false temples and gain faithful followers. His disciples buy up power and influence with the riches of the earth and with promises of happiness. Any happiness or mirth that comes from living as a citizen of Babylon is ephemeral. His followers prance about in gaudy clothing, walking with a mincing step (see Isaiah 3:16), and speaking with tongues of tinkling cymbals and sounding brass (1 Corinthians 13:1). They compass themselves with sparks, thinking they are the lights of the world (see Isaiah 50:11 and 2 Ne. 7:11). Yet their evanescent sparks will sputter and die. Some of Satan’s followers even preach his gospel while denying his existence. They create whitewashed facades to hide their inner decay. Instead of being filled with truth and light, they are filled with dead men’s rotten bones. Satan’s lies are so insidious yet so appealing, that many do not realize the deleterious effects of heeding them. Those ensnared by Satan’s deceptions often, like the anti-Christ Sherem who stated at the end of his life that “he had been deceived by the power of the devil” (Jacob 7:18), do not know that they are living his plan of damnation and not the Lord’s plan of progression. Satan lives a plan of misery and desires all of us to forget and stop following the plan of happiness.

We should use our agency to reject Satan’s plan of misery. We need to cleave to the good and reject that which is bad. We need to clasp the iron rod and ignore the scorn of those dwelling in Satan’s architectural marvel – the great and spacious building – even as beautiful or impressive an edifice it might be. It was built by the master of pride, and like Lucifer, will have an exceedingly great fall. The time is now to choose to endure to the end where we partake eternally of the sweet fruit of the tree of life and where we will be forever clasped in the loving embrace of the Savior through His atoning blood.

We must press on keeping the encouragement of the Prophet Joseph in our minds: “Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren [and sisters]; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free. Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons [and daughters] of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” (D&C; 128:22-23).

As we fight on in righteousness we will be victorious! We can, and will, win the war that was started in the pre-earth life. In righteousness we will stand victorious, surrounded by the army of the archangel Michael, and be reunited with our Eternal Father in a world of endless light and love.

Lucifer’s Insidious Plan – Part 2

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The day came for an official presentation of the plan of salvation. God had prepared His plan from the beginning; I believe that many and even all of His spirit children already knew the plan but God needed to give His children the opportunity to accept it or reject it. He needed to let Jehovah exercise His agency and publicly propose and accept His role in the plan. Our Father also wanted to allow Lucifer to exercise his agency and put forth his own plan. A great conference was called in Heaven; we all gathered there as siblings, friends, and families. We waited in eager anticipation for the announcement of the next step in our eternal progression. Heavenly Father explained to us the Plan of Salvation and called for a Savior. Jehovah stepped forward and said he would go in accordance with His Father’s will and that the entire honor would go to the Father. This was the plan we knew and accepted. Many shouted for joy at the prospect of coming to earth (see Job 38:7). Not all were thrilled though. Then Lucifer stepped forward and revealed his plan.

Some likely knew portions of his plan but he had not let his plan be widely known – he waited for the right moment to present what he deemed a superior plan to his Father’s. What was his plan? It was similar to the Father’s plan but with insidious differences. With all the power and persuasion of his rehearsed oration, he began to unfold his plan. “I propose that we will send everyone to earth to receive a body. However, I will be the Savior.” Murmurs arose from the crowd. “Lucifer will be our Savior?”

He continued his speech, “But only on one condition – we will require everyone to be good. We will make sure everyone makes only good choices. Then they will not sin and they can return to live with Father. We will make sure everyone makes it back to heaven. With my illustrious plan there will be no suffering, no sin, and no sorrow. Everyone will be perfect. All will live in Heaven on earth and be as Zion. We will not lose any to the dredges of sin or the pain of despair! I will save all my brothers and sisters; I will exalt them!” People started nodding in approval. “Lucifer’s plan sounds fair. It sounds good to me.” Others saw his plan for what it was: “If everyone will be forced to be perfect, then we don’t need a Savior. Satan wants to usurp Jehovah without actually doing anything!”

As Lucifer listened to some express their approval, he smirked. He knew something those who liked his proposal did not know; some understood Satan’s motives instantly. Satan knew the fatal flaw of his plan but he was not going to tell anyone. The flaw in Satan’s plan was that no one would be able to return to Heavenly Father’s presence. Without agency and thus a time of testing, God’s children could not make the required growth that would enable them to be like their Father. All Lucifer wanted was Heavenly Father’s honor (D&C; 29:36), in fact he demanded all of Heavenly Father’s honor.

That was the most insidious part of Lucifer’s plan – he knew that his plan would not work; he knew it would relegate all of God’s children to eternal damnation. However, he believed he could be granted God’s power through his plan; that only shows that he did not fully understand the process and nature of exaltation. Why did Lucifer desire to take what he deemed to be the easy road to exaltation? Satan might have been frightened of what earth life entailed. He wanted the easy way out. He wanted the reward (and all of the reward) without any effort. In what would have been the most selfish act in eternity, Lucifer was willing to sacrifice the eternal progression and eternal lives of all of his brothers and sisters, just so he could be like God. Ironically, Satan’s plan that would deny people their agency resulted from him exercising his agency. God allowed the presentation of this plan because agency is an eternal principle. In his perversity and knowing that agency was essential for people to become like Heavenly Father, Satan proposed a plan that removed agency—only he would reap agency’s benefits while all of God’s other children would be denied its blessings. Lucifer wanted to usurp Jehovah’s role as God through divine investiture of authority. While his plan might have started out innocently in the beginning, it was not innocent in the end.

Lucifer’s Insidious Plan – Part 1

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Let me tell you the story of one of the most tragic characters in all of the scriptures. This story begins many years ago in a premortal world of light and truth. This is the tragic tale of a bringer of light, a shining one, even a son of the morning. This essay is quite different from anything I’ve previously posted on my blog. It’s part doctrinal, part speculative, and part dramatized. As such, please forgive the literary license I take in the story. While I believe my interpretation of the root cause of the tragedy is sound, some of the ascribed thoughts and feelings are included to flesh out the character of the antagonist – who happens to be the main character of this story. Again, this means that much of this is my opinion and certainly is not doctrinal, although I do not think it is far-fetched.

Lucifer was one of the bright stars in heaven; he was likely one of our Father’s choicest sons – someone of great intelligence and faith. He was there when the “morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7). He was not evil in the beginning, his path to depravity began small and potentially innocently but it soon became overgrown with thorns and thistles. How did he become the devil, an enemy to the Savior forever (see D&C; 76:25)? As with all sin, I believe Lucifer’s fall started with pride.

The Savior was the firstborn of the Father. He was chosen from the beginning for his role as Savior and Lord. He was the most intelligent and truest of all His Father’s children. By divine investiture of authority from His Father, Jehovah had authority to act fully in place of the Father. When the discussion started concerning going to an earth and gaining physical bodies, the Savior was there to support His Father’s plan. At first, Lucifer might have thought that the plan of salvation was good. It made sense. But then he started thinking that it left too much room for error, it seemed too hard. “Hey, that is not fair! How could Father’s plan be fair if some of His children would never return to His presence?”

Lucifer knew, as did we all, that eventually we could become like our Heavenly Father – in character, in attributes, in authority, and in power. Knowing he could be like Father made him feel good. He knew of the power and authority that would come in time and he liked the idea. However, he began to be impatient – he couldn’t wait that long. He might have asked himself, “Why cannot Father give me His power now? Why is He holding me back?” He wanted to be like Heavenly Father now! Even though Lucifer had some authority from God and was in God’s bosom (see D&C; 76:25), he wanted all of God’s authority. Lucifer might have been envious of Jehovah’s relationship and status with the Father. However, He not only wanted that position as favored Son but also he wanted God’s position! Isaiah tells us Lucifer’s thoughts, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High” (2 Ne. 24:13-14). What a selfish desire! “I will” do this, “I will” do that, “I will exalt myself.” He was puffed up with pride. He thought his expansive pride could exalt him. He wanted to make himself like God and sit on God’s throne.

So Lucifer formulated a plan. He thought it was good. It would, he thought, allow—no, require—all of God’s children to return. So Lucifer started talking to his brothers and sisters, gaining support where he could for his plan. It made sense and it seemed fair. Those who listened to him thought it seemed fair but Lucifer had ulterior motives.