Friday, August 10, 2007

Each Life that Touches Ours for Good

Early this morning, President James E. Faust, Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away.
Before his call to the ministry, President Faust was an attorney and served as a member of the Utah State Legislature, President of the Utah Bar Association, and was appointed as a member of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.
President Faust was a true disciple of Jesus Christ whose words and testimony of Christ served to strengthen and sustain my own devotion to Jesus. As a missionary in Ecuador, I listened as President Faust addressed the Church about the importance of having a growing testimony of Jesus Christ, the text of which is attached below. He spoke of his feelings of inadequacy: He was just an ordinary man called to an extraordinary calling, and the only thing which qualified him for the ministry as an Apostle was his burning and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ.
At that time, I was struggling with my own feelings of inadequacy: I had also been called to be a witness of Jesus Christ, yet my personal weakness often impeded the Lord's work in Ecuador. But President Faust's words helped me recognize that despite my weakness, I also have a burning and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ. And I moved forward, as an imperfect servant with a perfect witness, striving to follow the example of President Faust.
Nearly one year after my wife and I were married, we went to Park City for a weekend. We went to a local restaurant, and as we sat down, I recognized a man sitting just a few tables away. It was President Faust with his wife and two other members of his family. Certain that as someone with such a prominent position within the Mormon community he is constantly approached, my wife and I decided not to approach him to let him enjoy some time away from the burdens of his calling. I admired him from afar. But as he and his family left the restaurant, he walked by our table and asked, "How are you folks?"
All we could say was we were doing well.
I testify the President James E. Faust was truly an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ with all the powers, authority, and privileges enjoyed by ancient Apostles, such as Peter, James, John, and Paul. I will always remember him as a true disciple of Christ and someone I sought to emulate as I have strived to become a true disciple of Christ.
I will miss him.
The following is the talk I mentioned before and an excerpt of another presentation which President Faust gave as a Special Witness of Jesus Christ:

A Growing Testimony

My beloved brothers and sisters and friends, I have lived a long time. As I look back over my life, I recognize one source of singular strength and blessing. It is my testimony and knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. I am profoundly grateful that all of my life I have had a simple faith that Jesus is the Christ. That witness has been confirmed to me hundreds of times. It is the crowning knowledge of my soul. It is the spiritual light of my being. It is the cornerstone of my life.

As one of the least among you but in my calling as one of His Apostles, I testify of the Christ as our Savior and the Redeemer of the world. Since this testimony has been forged by a lifetime of experiences, of necessity this requires my relating experiences which are very personal in nature. But this testimony is mine, and I feel that the Savior knows that I know that He lives.

The first cornerstone of my testimony was laid a long time ago. One of my early recollections was having a frightening nightmare as a small child. I still remember it vividly. I must have screamed in fright during the night. My grandmother woke me up. I was crying, and she took me in her arms, hugged me, and comforted me. She got a bowl of some of my favorite rice pudding that was left over from dinner, and I sat on her lap as she spoon-fed me. She told me that we were safe in our house because Jesus was watching over us. I felt it was true then, and I still believe it now. I was comforted in both body and soul and went peacefully back to bed, assured of the divine reality that Jesus does watch over us.

That first memorable experience led to other strong confirmations that God lives and that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Many of these came in response to earnest prayer. As a child, when I lost things such as my precious pocketknife, I learned that if I prayed hard enough, I could usually find it. I was always able to find the lost cows I was entrusted with. Sometimes I had to pray more than once, but my prayers always seemed to be answered. Sometimes the answer was no, but most often it was positive and confirming. Even when it was no, I came to know that, in the Lord’s great wisdom, the answer I received was for my best good. My faith continued to grow as building blocks were added to the cornerstone, line upon line and precept upon precept. There are far too many of these to be chronicled individually; some are too sacred to utter.

These early seeds of faith sprouted still further when, as a young Aaronic Priesthood boy, I received a firsthand confirmation of the remarkable testimony of the Three Witnesses concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. My stake president was President Henry D. Moyle, and his father was James H. Moyle. In the summertime Brother James H. Moyle would visit his family, and he would worship with us in our little ward in the southeast of the Salt Lake Valley.

One Sunday, Brother James H. Moyle shared with us a singular experience. As a young man he went to the University of Michigan to study law. As he was finishing his studies, his father told him that David Whitmer, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was still alive. The father suggested to his son that he stop on his way back to Salt Lake City to visit with David Whitmer face-to-face. Brother Moyle’s purpose was to ask him about his testimony concerning the golden plates and the Book of Mormon.

During that visit, Brother Moyle said to David Whitmer: “Sir, you are an old man, and I’m a young man. I have been studying about witnesses and testimonies. Please tell me the truth concerning your testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.” David Whitmer then told this young man: “Yes, I held the golden plates in my hands, and they were shown to us by an angel. My testimony concerning the Book of Mormon is true.” David Whitmer was out of the Church, but he never denied his testimony of the angel’s visitation, of handling the golden plates, or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Hearing with my own ears this remarkable experience directly from Brother Moyle’s lips had a powerful, confirming effect upon my growing testimony. Having heard it, I felt it was binding upon me.

One of the foundation stones of my testimony came when I served my first mission in Brazil as a young man. At that time our labors were unfruitful and difficult. We could not envision the great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord which has come in that country and its neighboring countries of South America, Central America, and Mexico in the intervening years. Sixty years ago there was only one stake in all of these countries. Now there are 643 stakes in Latin America. I believe it is only the beginning. What has happened is beyond my wildest hopes and dreams. It is one of the many miracles we have seen. It is my witness that all of this could not have happened without the divine intervention of the Lord, who is watching over this holy work, not only in Latin America but in all of the countries of the world.

In my long life I have found peace, joy, and happiness beyond my fondest hopes and dreams. One of the supreme benedictions of my life has been my marriage to an elect daughter of God. I love her with all my heart and soul. Upon the wind of her spirit have my wings been carried. 1 We were married in the Salt Lake Temple 57 years ago when I was a soldier in World War II and did not know if I would come back alive. Her strong, unwavering faith and support have strengthened my own testimony in times of challenge and difficulty. My inevitable eternal journey, if I am so favored, will be wonderful with her at my side.

Another great blessing in my life has been to have children come into our family even though we thought we might never have any. Our joy has increased with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Only by the power of a priesthood blessing did this come about.

Along with the blessings, however, I have known some difficult challenges and heartaches. I am grateful for the lessons learned in these adversities. As a young man, I lived through the Great Depression, when banks failed and so many lost their jobs and homes and went hungry. I was fortunate to have a job at a canning factory that paid 25 cents an hour. That may have been all I was worth! But it helped me get my education. I served three long years in the military in World War II. One time when we were in peril of our ship capsizing in a horrendous storm in the Pacific, I put myself in the Lord’s hands and fervently promised Him that if I survived I would try to serve Him all of the days of my life.

At times I have stumbled and been less than I should have been. All of us experience those wrenching, defining, difficult decisions that move us to a higher level of spirituality. They are the Gethsemanes of our lives that bring with them great pain and anguish. Sometimes they are too sacred to be shared publicly. They are the watershed experiences that help purge us of our unrighteous desires for the things of the world. As the scales of worldliness are taken from our eyes, we see more clearly who we are and what our responsibilities are concerning our divine destiny.

I humbly acknowledge that these many experiences have nurtured a sure knowledge that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer. I have heard His voice and felt His influence and presence. They have been as a warm, spiritual cloak. The wonder of it is that all who conscientiously strive to keep the commandments and sustain their leaders can receive this same knowledge in some measure. The privilege of serving in the cause of the Master can bring great satisfaction and inner peace.

The united testimonies and faith of the early Church members brought them from Palmyra to Kirtland, and from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley. Eventually that faith will establish this work all over the world. That strength of testimony and faith moves the work of God forward in such a marvelous way. The power of the Lord is in this work, as evidenced in the wonderful happenings of our time.

President Gordon B. Hinckley presides over what is possibly the greatest number of faithful people who have ever lived upon the face of the earth. I testify that he is a truly great prophet. He needs faithful followers. The great strength of this Church comes from our collective and individual testimonies, born of our own trials and faithfulness. The faithfulness of the Saints has permitted this great Conference Center to be built and dedicated in the name of the Lord on this historic day. It is unique in all the world. So wondrous and great are the works of the Lord in our time. As a people, we are not as yet what we ought to be—far from it. However, I hope we will strive harder to become a more righteous people, worthy to continue to receive the blessings of heaven.

The acceleration of temple building in our time has been marvelous. Through the prophetic vision of President Hinckley, we now have many temples that dot many lands on the earth. This remarkable achievement has been made possible because of faithful tithe payers. This in turn has caused the Lord to redeem His promise spoken through Malachi: “And prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” 2 All of these exquisite holy edifices are a testimony of our belief that the Savior broke the bonds of death and opened up the way for us to enter into covenants which will be binding in another world.

Like Alma, I can testify, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” 3
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith that I know to be true, the Savior testified of Himself in these words:

“I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;
“… I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.” 4
The Lord has promised that “every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” 5

When I was called to the holy apostleship many years ago, my sure witness prompted me to testify on that occasion in these words: “I understand that a chief requirement for the holy apostleship is to be a personal witness of Jesus as the Christ and the Divine Redeemer. Perhaps on that basis alone, I can qualify. This truth has been made known to me by the unspeakable peace and power of the Spirit of God.” 6
Since accepting that call many years ago, my certain witness has been greatly magnified. This is because of my undeniable testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

My greatest desire is to be true and faithful to the end of my days on this earth. That we may all do so, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(James E. Faust, "Testimony," Ensign Nov. 2000).

Excerpt from "Special Witnesses of Christ"

In the Gethsemanes of life which we all have, and often in my present calling, I have gone to my knees with a humble spirit to the only place I could for help. I often went in agony of spirit, earnestly pleading with God to sustain me in the work I have come to appreciate more than life itself. I have, on occasion, felt a terrible aloneness of the wounds of the heart, of the sweet agony, the buffetings of Satan, and the encircling warm comfort of the Spirit of the Master.

I have also felt the crushing burden, the self-doubts of inadequacy and unworthiness, the fleeting feeling of being forsaken, then of being reinforced an hundredfold. I have climbed a spiritual Mount Sinai dozens of times, seeking to communicate and to receive instructions. It has been as though I have struggled up an almost real Mount of Transfiguration and, upon occasion, felt great strength and power in the presence of the Divine. A special, sacred feeling has been a sustaining influence and often a close companion.

As I serve in the calling of the holy apostleship, I recognize that I am a very ordinary man. Yet I gratefully acknowledge one special gift. I have a certain knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is our Divine Savior. I know that He lives. I know that through the unspeakable agony of the Atonement, men and women, if they repent, can be forgiven of their sins. Because of the miracle of the Resurrection, all will rise from the dead. I feel His love and marvel at the price He paid for each of us. I wonder how many drops of blood were spilled for me. This is the testimony I give of Him, even in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(James E. Faust, "Special Witnesses of Christ," Ensign April 2000).

Monday, August 06, 2007

On Prayer

Prayer is a miracle. During the first few months of my time as a missionary in Ecuador, my companion, Elder Rekoutis, and I were across the room from each other, kneeling at our beds, praying. When each of us had finished, Elder Rekoutis quipped, "which of us was God listening to?" The answer, of course, was both, which is the beginning of the miracle. I wondered then how many millions of people were praying at the same time Elder Rekoutis and I were. Yet, during that prayer, I literally felt as if God was focusing all His attention on me and my concerns.

Still, God cares just as much about His other children and their concerns. And modern revelation teaches the inhabitants of this Earth are not the only children of God in the universe: There are other worlds and other men and women. (See D&C 76:18-24; Moses 1:29-34). And science estimates there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on every beach on the Earth! When we look at ourselves within the context of the universe, we are specks living on a speck called Earth, which is a speck within our solar system, which is a speck in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a speck within an ever-expanding universe.

Yet I have offered prayers when scarcely I have begun that I felt my Heavenly Father say, "I am here." And although Heavenly Father oversees the creation and governing of countless galaxies, He is completely devoted to us as individuals.

And what adds to the miracle of prayer is that God even cares about the minutia of our lives. For example, as my family and I traveled from Waco to Utah, we only had forty-five minutes to catch a connecting flight in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. But our flight from Waco to Dallas was delayed. We were certain the plane to Utah would take off without us. But my wife and I were both praying that we would make it in time. And we did. As I sat waiting to take off, I said a silent prayer of thanks and was filled with the love of God. At that moment, I realized what a trivial thing catching a flight is when it compares to the grand scheme of things. But I also realized that our Heavenly Father took great pleasure in answering and granting that "trivial" petition.

Because it mattered to my wife and me, it mattered to Him!

That is the miracle of prayer. Even though we are specks, one of many billions of billions---or more---children of God, our Heavenly Father knows us individually, loves us personally, hears our prayers, delights in blessing us, and treats us as if we were His only child.

Thank God for the miracle of prayer.