Monday, October 6, 2008

Regarding God

Dear Atheist,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I am writing this letter to you because I value our relationship, and I believe that relationships are built on, among other things, understanding. You and I have differences in our beliefs, but I think that we have a lot in common. I think that some of our differences may be merely misunderstandings. In this letter, I hope to present myself and my beliefs in a new way -- one that helps you to better understand me. And I hope that this understanding leads to a better relationship.

If in this letter I misrepresent your position in any way, please let me know and help me to better understand you. Also, I don't want to misrepresent the position of the LDS church, or any other for that matter. So please don't consider my thoughts as official doctrine of any church. For official positions and doctrine of the LDS church, please see

My Background

To help you understand how I got to where I am today, I will start with an abbreviated history of my belief. I was born and raised in an active LDS family. I was taught from as early in my life as I can remember that there is a God. So it may be said that to believe in God is comfortable for me.

I realized this fact when I was 17 years old. When I recognized this, I actually became quite uncomfortable. Everything I had believed about God had been instilled in me by my parents and my interaction with the LDS Church. I began to realize that my perspective on the existence of God had been guided.

By this time in my life, I had some exposure to the theory of evolution, the scientific method, and an appreciation for different kinds of people (American, at least). I had been raised all over the U.S. (Missouri - 2 years, Washington - 2 years, Utah - 4 years, Chicago - 2 years, and Las Vegas - 7 years). The differences between my family's beliefs and other people's were apparent to me. But for the first time, I began to question the validity of the beliefs in which I had been immersed since birth.

"Why should I believe what my parents believe? What if they are entirely wrong? How do I know there is a God? I have no proof that God exists." These questions/thoughts dominated my thoughts at that time of my life. I continued to go to church out of habit, but I was much more of an observer now. With every word and testimony, my questions increased in number and depth. If I heard someone tell of their "knowledge" that God loved them, or that "Christ lives", I became more aware that they offered no hard evidence. The belief in God seemed more and more illogical and pointless.

I realized I was approaching the age (19) at which I was expected to serve a full-time mission for the LDS church (to be clear, I was not coerced, forced or manipulated to make that decision, I was simply a member of a culture where serving a mission was the norm). How could I go to some place in the world and teach of God when I didn't know of any such being? I had to stop sitting on the fence and decide what I believed. The possibility of departing from my "comfortable" past was frightening, but I could not live a lie. I preferred truth over comfort.

I did not discuss the matter with my family or any of my religious associates. I did, however, discuss the existence or lack thereof with non-religious friends, teachers, and co-workers. In addition, I read about different points of view, searching for guidance.

At some point I came to the conclusion that if there really was a God, I (and anyone else for that matter) had no way of really knowing who or what he/she/it was. If this was the case, then the LDS belief was as good as any belief -- since none could produce provable or scientific evidence. Further, I did not consider myself above any of the intellectuals that had attempted to prove or disprove the existence of God. I considered the question an open one -- and one that I could not intellectually answer. So I made one last attempt to prove the existence of God through the LDS approach -- search, ponder, and pray.

From Adam to Joseph Smith, the LDS accounts indicate that those who seek God will find him -- so, I thought, why should I be any different? If everything I had been taught was true, then I should receive some manifestation or confirmation.

Over the course of many months, I read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other LDS scriptures/references. I reflected on what I was reading. I prayed and asked God -- or I put out the question to meditation -- "Is all of this -- what I have been reading, what I have been living -- is all of it true?" I prayed with more intensity than I had ever prayed. Nothing happened. Total silence. The next night, I ran through the same exercise -- for hours I meditated and prayed, hoping for an answer. But still, there was no answer. This went on for some time until one day, I decided to give it one last try. The prayer turned into "Are you really there? Is anyone listening?"

I really thought that if God was really there and if all that stuff I'd read was true, my answer could be some sort of fantastic, supernatural, visionary experience. Perhaps an angel would come down and tell me "Yes -- it's true" or God would whisper in the wind "I'm here". However, I was hoping in vain. Nothing like that happened.

But something else happened. There was a small -- almost indistinguishable change in the direction of my thoughts. I suddenly began thinking of past experiences.

I remembered sitting in a Priesthood meeting (a semi-annual meeting for men in the LDS church), and the feelings I felt as I heard the prophet speak. There was a warm, almost electrical feeling that passed through my entire body. It seemed like every part of my body was acknowledging that what he was saying was true.

I remembered a youth conference when I listened to some peers tell of their testimony of the savior, and how I was moved to tears. There was a yearning -- a longing for home that overcame my whole being, and seemed to say -- you knew of this before you were here on Earth.

I remembered many other significant experiences involving powerful feelings. My baptism at age 8, my patriarchal blessing at age 12, priesthood ordinations at age 12, 14, and 16, church meetings throughout my life, church films and music, and many other experiences.

Perhaps most notable and fresh was the memory of how I felt as I read the scriptures. Those books -- those words -- were somehow different. I loved reading other books -- fantasies, westerns, academic works, etc. -- but I never felt the burning and longing in my heart as I did when I read the scriptures.

I realized that throughout my life, I consistently had undefined feelings -- good feelings -- that were unlike anything in any other setting or situation. All of these memories and thoughts had one thing in common: they were all related to God -- specifically, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I then made a startling realization. The LDS faith teaches (similar to other faiths) that God communicates to us through the "Spirit" (for the sake of simplicity, consider the spirit as a sort of sixth sense for knowing what is true and what is false -- especially when it comes to things relating to God). These experiences -- these powerful emotions -- were manifestations of the spirit. I knew it. And when I thought that, the same electrical feeling flowed through my body.

Although I had been taught about the spirit, I had not ever realized the application or reality of it. I finally made the connection. God had been telling me all along that he was there -- that it was all real and true.

I also realized why I didn't have an immediate and clear response to my prayers in those past several days. Answering my prayers about His existence or the reality of the gospel would have been redundant at that point -- he had already communicated it through those numerous experiences throughout my life. In fact, it may have been a bit offensive for me to be asking for something that had been given to me all along, and which I had been ignoring.

This experience was a major turning point in my faith in God and in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. First, I recognized that there really was something out there -- something beyond current scientific explanation. Second, I made the connection between the spirit (those powerful experiences) and God -- that the spirit testified of the reality of God and His plan. Third, I realized that I can't learn everything about/from God all at once or in the way I prefer.

Since that experience, I have served a full-time mission, been sealed in the temple, and served in many positions in the LDS church. I have continued to have spiritual experiences that have confirmed the existence of and revealed more about God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I continue to learn.

Spiritual Seeds

Throughout known history, man has looked to something greater than himself. Man has a tendency to worship -- a built-in hunger for spiritual harmony and a longing for a heavenly home. Just as our physical bodies thirst and hunger for sustenance, our spirits hunger for communion with the divine.

When we think of lies, deception, cheating, arrogance, anger, hate, stealing, abuse, murder, there is a natural negative feeling that comes with each of those concepts/acts. Except for the deranged, any human being would consider these acts to be "wrong".

Now think of honesty, integrity, humility, patience, love, respect, kindness. These concepts are accompanied by a natural feeling of goodness and "right".

From a certain scientific perspective, these polarizing concepts of right and wrong seem illogical. Evolution, for example, is dispassionate and highlights natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc. Some might argue that right and wrong is simply something that man has invented. But why? What part does it play in evolution? How does it give the human race an evolutionary advantage? Some might say it actually puts us at a disadvantage, contending that ethical dilemmas distract from the natural goal to survive. And why does it play such a prominent role in society? Where does it come from?

How is it that all can agree on these extreme maxims -- no matter their culture or background? Civilizations that originate in complete isolation from others hold to the same basic values. There seems to be something there that is truth, but that is not controlled by man -- these truths are universal -- but don't seem to be related to the physical.

While the origin of these truths may be difficult to prove, the results of their implementation has been proven time after time. Those concepts that are perceived as negative are simply not advantageous to a long-term civilization because they end in disintegration, but the positive concepts build stability and lead to harmony and cooperation.

Further, our ability to identify right and wrong is natural. Any child, adolescent, adult, or elderly will respond with similar views -- it is not right to deceive, abuse, or kill; it is good to be honest, loving, and helpful. The perception of these truths is not a product of logic -- neither is it a physical sense like seeing, tasting, touching, etc. Our natural compass is a sixth sense. Something inside us recognizes right and wrong, considering them as fundamental and as naturally occurring as light and darkness. That "something" is our spirit.

The Idea of God Makes Sense

Some of the commentary I've heard from atheists reveals that there is considerable misunderstanding about what God is. I don't believe that God is a mystical, inexplicable life-force or cloud in deep space. Nor do I believe that God is a magical, thunderbolt-wielding archetype with winged harp-playing angels fluttering around him. I would be reluctant to believe in such a being. Such descriptions might make for a nice painting, but I consider them to represent a fantasy.

Let's look at God in a different way.

Man has learned how to build fire, harness energy, automate, simulate, explore other worlds, and even manipulate genetic coding. How much further will we be in 100 years? How about 10,000 years -- or even 1,000,000 years?

We have learned how to extend life, and are learning how to further extend it. We are learning about the building blocks of life, how to use and manipulate them. We are already talking about terraforming other worlds. Is it possible that some day -- in the distant future -- we could learn how to create worlds, live indefinitely, or even create self-sustaining and intelligent life?

Now, is it reasonable to consider ourselves alone in the universe? If time and space are infinite, don't statistics indicate that it is improbable that our world is the first and only to sustain intelligent life? I take the position that there have been many worlds like ours, and that there are many worlds like ours in the universe. We are not alone. God is out there.

God is not so different from us, just more advanced -- much more advanced. God is a person who has advanced so much that he knows infinitely more than we do. He has knowledge and power (or abilities) that surpass our comprehension. He can create worlds, create life, and even live forever. God is an advanced -- even perfected -- man.

I have six children. I love them and want them to be successful. I want them to learn and grow. I hope that someday, they will become self-sufficient and contribute to society. I would be proud if they learned how to do everything I can do -- and improved upon it.

Sometimes, teaching my children means letting them struggle or even fail. It can be hard to watch, but I know they will learn how to get back up, dust themselves off, and learn from their experiences. They will learn to overcome adversity and they will be stronger because of it.

God created us. He is our father. He loves us and wants us to learn what he knows and have what he has. God knows how we can become like him -- he has a plan for us. We call this plan "The Plan of Salvation", which employs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The plan includes a mortal life in which we are to live in a time-bounded and imperfect existence - separated from his presence. While this plan gives us all the opportunity to be like him, it is designed to allow us to choose for ourselves.

Sometimes God allows us to struggle and even fail. I'm sure it's not easy for him to stand aside and let us choose for ourselves -- especially when we hurt ourselves or even hurt others -- but he knows that we need to choose and learn for ourselves. In addition, these experiences enable us to grow further than we otherwise would have grown -- like a child going away to college.

God is not mysterious. God is our father. He is advanced, and wants us to know what he knows and have what he has. In order for us to become like God, we need to pass through this experience of life. We must learn to make decisions on our own. We must learn how to use our "sixth sense" of the spirit. We must follow the tested and proven pattern to become advanced like he is.

What About Science?

I am a fan of science. Although I am not a scientist of any kind, I enjoy and am fascinated by science. I am excited by the advances of technology and the discoveries made by brilliant people. I love learning about scientific research, theories, and models. With each new discovery we learn more about ourselves and our universe.

I do not consider science to be in conflict with God, scripture, or gospel teachings. Differences, I believe, can be attributed to lack of information or knowledge. I don't have a problem with dinosaurs, neanderthals, or the big bang theory. Science is the process we use to put together the puzzle of the universe. Right now, that puzzle is scattered, but coming together day by day. As science progresses, we will have a better view of the whole picture. Some pieces of the puzzle will be reshaped, some thrown out, and new ones introduced. Ultimately, through unbiased scientific advance and divine revelation, the mysteries of the universe will be uncovered and everyone will know how all of the pieces fit together. In the mean time, I continue to accept science while I exercise faith in God and live the gospel.

A Concession and a Choice

I think most people would admit that the existence of God cannot be scientifically proven -- I would add that it cannot be disproven either. To prove that God does not exist, one would have to visit every corner of the universe (or all universes), be aware of every level of existence, and know every possibility. Ironically, to take the position that there is no God is to assume omniscience.

But not being able to prove that God exists doesn't mean we have to believe in God. It is ultimately a choice. You can choose to live a life that follows a belief in God, or you can choose not to. If there is no God, then to live a "good" life, following God may not matter in the end, but it will likely ensure a healthy, productive, and happy life that may influence others for good. On the other hand, if there is a God, choosing to live a life in harmony with what is "right" has added benefits -- like salvation. So believing in God is a win-win.

A Testimony of God

I know that God is real. The very idea of God makes sense. God is our father.

If you have any doubt of the existence of God, take a look around you. Look at the complexity and harmony of nature. The miracle of life and the order of the universe confirm the existence of a great designer and governor. The opposing concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, reveal the internal compasses that are our spirits.

I came to know that God exists, countless others have found God, and you can too. If you sincerely seek God, you will find him -- perhaps not in the time or way you expect, but you will find him.

I hope that at the very least, this letter has helped you to understand the basis for my beliefs. If anything I have said has caused you to think about God in a different way, I hope it will lead you to reconsider the existence and nature of God.

I wish you the very best in life.


Adam Michaelson

Friday, April 25, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Babes

The day was coming to a crescendoing close, as it sometimes does. Summer and I were expending every effort to get the kids ready for bed and into the loft for the day's closing ceremonies -- because by golly, we were going to have a spiritual scripture study and prayer. At some point, Cody (our dog) got in my way, and any control I had at that point slipped from my fingers. I raised my voice at Cody and carted him downstairs and out the back door. As I was rushing Cody downstairs, I heard Daniel say "I think dad lost his temperature." When I came back up, we read from the scriptures and had a family prayer. After the prayer, Daniel quietly approached me and said in a personal tone, "Dad, when you have a sec, let's talk in the guest bedroom." I though maybe he wanted to tell me about a problem at school or how he really wanted a toy bow and arrow. After I tucked in the others, I went to the guest room and found him patiently sitting on the bed. I sat down next to him, he looked up at me with his big blue eyes and said, "Dad, when you talked angry at Cody, I had a cold feeling. I don't think you should have talked like that to him." I was totally floored. All I could say was "You're right -- sometimes I have a problem with my anger." Daniel moved closer to me, put his arms around me and said "It's ok. I know you can do better. I love you." My heart melted and I just thought "out of the mouth of babes."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Life is the Time

One evening in my early childhood, my mother told me that it was time for my regular bath. For some reason, I suddenly came to the conclusion that I was old enough to run the water and bathe myself – without supervision. I negotiated with my mother, and she finally conceded. I was energized by the feeling that I had just achieved a new level of maturity – I could bathe myself, and my mother agreed.

I bustled around to prepare everything. I went to my room and pulled out my pajamas; made sure I had a fresh towel, and gathered my favorite bath-friendly toys.

I undressed and started the water. With what I considered to be an expert, and even artistic adjustment of the hot and cold faucets, I attained the perfect water temperature. Once the water was flowing according to my specified parameters, I began setting the stage for the ultimate G.I. Joe sea-battle.

At some point, my attention was diverted to something on the counter – shining in the hazy light of my steamy sanctuary. I straightened up to see if I could identify the curious object. I soon realized that I was looking at that strange tool that I’d seen my mother use on her legs.

My curiosity had now peaked. What was the purpose of that thing? I had to examine it closer, so I dripped over to the counter, picked up the razor and took it back to the warm tub for examination. I turned the razor over, rotated it, and observed every segment and contour.

The thought came to me: “If I am mature enough to take my own bath, I must be mature enough to do whatever mom does in the bath”. I lathered up my right leg with soap, and then picked up the razor by the handle. In an attempt to mimic what I had seen her do, I reached down to the top of my ankle and laid the razor blade-down on my skin. I slowly moved the razor up my leg when something caught, and the razor was stuck. I pulled harder, and in an instant, I had opened up my leg with a rather long and deep laceration.

Before I knew what had happened, the tub water was crimson red. At that moment, all feelings of maturity escaped me, and I began to scream for my mother to save me. She did, and I was soon off to the hospital to be stitched up.

My opportunity to enjoy my freedom didn’t turn out like I had expected. I got distracted.

Before we came to this life, we lived in the presence of our Heavenly Parents who guided and taught us in person. We were safe and protected. There came a point when we chose to leave their presence and experience a life of our own. This life is our chance to show that we can make good choices on our own. But this life is filled with significant distractions. We need to stay focused or we will end up harming ourselves.

The Lord has provided a path and guidance. The path is not easy, but if we keep our eyes focused on it, we will see that it is clearly marked. And if we keep our ears open, we will hear the promptings of our guides.

Some years ago, I was called to be the Teachers’ Quorum Advisor and Varsity Coach. I can still recall how I was so excited to work with those boys. I remembered those early teen years in my life as fun and formative.

When the time came for me to meet them in the classroom at church, I was prepared and fired up. I introduced myself and asked them to do the same. But the boys were not as excited as I was – at least not about meeting me, nor were they engaged in the lesson. Each question I posed was replied with sarcasm or a joke. It was a long and uncomfortable first lesson for me.

By Tuesday night, I had convinced myself that my experience on Sunday was just a fluke, and that the boys would definitely be receptive to some fun and learning at Scouts. I came fully decked out in my regulation Scout uniform, and prepared with activities and tasks for rank advancement.

When seven o’clock came around, only two or three of the ten boys were there, and none of them were in their uniform. The looks on their faces indicated they were only there because their parents had required it of them. And the rest of the evening went as you can imagine: little to no participation, more jokes and sarcasm, and a general disrespect for me.

Somehow I had forgotten that although my own early teen years had brought significant growth, it was certainly not on my account. Dealing with those boys helped me remember how irreverent and undisciplined I was when I was their age. I realized that those church and scout leaders that I grew up with had certainly put up with as much or more than I was dealing with. This experience was quite a taste of poetic justice for me.

But how was it, I wondered, that I had such positive and spiritual experiences at that age while I seemed so distracted?

We are sent to this life without the luxury of our Heavenly Parents’ presence. Like the youth leaving home to go away to college, we are far from home.

But we are not alone. God has given us parents, friends, and church leaders to guide us and keep us on the path.

Each night, I tell or read a story to my kids. We borrowed C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia from the Chamberlain’s, and the kids have loved them. Right now we are almost finished with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In this volume, the Pevensie’s are brought back to Narnia for a sea-faring adventure. They travel to the “end of the world” in search of Aslan’s country. Along the way, they encounter strange lands, a variety of people, and unforgettable experiences.

In the chapter titled “The Magician’s Book”, they find an Island inhabited by invisible people. The invisible people take the crew prisoner and explain that an evil magician has made them invisible. The invisible captors force Lucy to venture to the home of the magician – alone – in order to find the book of magic spells and reverse their curse. If Lucy did not comply, the captors would destroy her brother and the ship’s crew.

The next morning, Lucy went to the magician’s home and stealthily made her way to the room where the magic book was kept. She was instantly captivated by the beauty and detail of the large and impressive book.

Even more captivating than the appearance were the contents. Lucy read each spell and became spell-bound herself. Each spell she read was more tantalizing than the last.

One spell, if cast, would change her into the most beautiful of all mortals. The magic book showed her – Lucy – as the most beautiful of all mortals. She began to lust after her own beauty, imagining – and even seeing in the pages of that book – how her beauty alone would grant her power over men and even countries.

Another spell would allow her to “eves drop” on anyone. While reading the spell, she found herself overhearing a conversation between two of her schoolmates. They spoke ill of Lucy, and she became enraged. Soon she was drowning in bitterness and jealousy – forgetting all but what had been said and the opportunity to hear more.

Still another spell was more of a story than a spell. This story was so enchanting that she found herself feeling joy and emotion of all kinds. She felt the energy of victories, and the sorrow of defeats and losses. She was taken to tears of joy and tears of sorrow with each paragraph. Each word she read drew her further and further in until she was part of the story, and had forgotten about all but this story that had so charmed her.

Just as she was about to commit herself to the book, she was prompted by Aslan to stay on course and shun these distractions. Fortunately, she was able to collect herself and regroup her efforts toward her purpose.

Forcing herself to move on, Lucy was able to find the spell that made invisible things visible. She cast the spell, and their captors were freed from their curse. In addition, the spell had made Aslan visible to her.

The distractions of this life are numerous and captivating – just as the spells in the Magic book.
Vanity is preached through every advertisement and our very own desire to be accepted. We are bombarded by imposed visions of what beauty is. The world places an inordinate amount of value to external appearance.

We are distracted by our obsession with other people’s faults. Our tendencies to judge and seek retribution inhibit our ability to love unconditionally. We seem more preoccupied with condemning others’ faults than serving and teaching as Christ did.

Perhaps the most pervasive distraction of our day is entertainment. We have more means of entertainment than in any time throughout history. Television, movies, computer games, and many other forms of entertainment offer an escape from the world. If we give too much of our time to these forms of entertainment, or if we choose entertainment that detracts from the spirit, these entertainments will provide not only an escape from the world, but an escape from our eternal purposes.

In Elder Oaks’ discourse titled “Good, Better, and Best”, he warned against overemphasis on extracurricular activities and excessive entertainment. He stated that if we follow such paths, we may end up “[…] amusing [our] selves to death—spiritual death.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us turn off the TV and open the Scriptures.

Other serious distractions of our day are pornography and immorality. Technology and society have enabled such easy and acceptable access to filth and sin. A billboard in another city recently read “Life is short, have an affair” and indicated contact information for a company that openly facilitated adultery.

My children love the story of David and Goliath. David, the pure servant of the Lord, who overcame so much through his unshakable faith in God, ultimately became the prime example of what can happen when we allow ourselves to become distracted. Because he looked when he should have looked away, he allowed himself to indulge in one sin after another, until he had completely lost his soul.

The polar opposite was Joseph of Egypt. At one point, Joseph was made chief servant over all of Potiphar’s house.

"And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out."

Joseph did not allow himself to become distracted. Joseph kept his focus on his purpose – and his God.

Although we are far from home, and have forgotten everything from our pre-mortal life, God has not left us alone. God has given us each other, the scriptures, church leaders, and the Holy Ghost.

Each of us has the ability to touch another. Our lives – whether we know it or not – are examples and templates to others around us. We have enormous power to influence others for good.

Our hymn number 293 eloquently highlights God’s blessing of companionship and examples through our brothers and sisters:

Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects Thine own great mercy, Lord
Thou sendest blessings from above
Through words and deeds of those who love

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a brother in the ward where I served as the Teachers’ Quorum Advisor. He informed me that all of those boys – all of those boys that had been so difficult for me to reach – had received their endowments in the temple, and that most were serving a mission. Tears welled up in my eyes as I read that sweet message. Although those boys were subject to so many distractions, they held to the rod. They kept on the path, and were on their way.

I felt what I think my parents and leaders from my youth must have felt when they learned the same about me. They had never lost their faith in me. They endured so much, but held on to their sense of duty to me. They never gave up on me. And I will be forever indebted to them for their unconditional love.

The scriptures define a clear-cut path back to our Father in Heaven. The words of the Prophets, the stories that illustrate, and the teachings of Jesus himself all point us to heaven. The apostle Paul said, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

The Lord has also sent his prophets to guide us. The leaders of the church are like watchmen on the tower. They can see from a higher vantage-point. They can see the dangers that we cannot readily see. They can warn us before we are distracted or caught in the traps that Satan sets for us.

Elder Robert D. Hales said, "The greatest security of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from learning to listen to and obey the words and commandments that the Lord has given through living prophets. I would hope that the world would understand the importance of having a living prophet on earth today. The scriptures tell us that prophets receive commandments 'walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith'."

Finally, the Lord has provided the most powerful guide of all, a veritable God – the Holy Ghost. If we will live worthy of the Holy Ghost, we will be led to safety; we will receive peace; and we will know how to act in each circumstance.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn of a compass, or director, that led Nephi’s family according to their obedience.

Alma wrote to his son of the symbolism behind the Liahona:

“And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever."

We are at a critical crossroads of eternity. We have existed for eons before we came here. This life is but an instant, and yet, all of eternity depends on this small juncture. What we do here – or chose not to do here – will have eternal impact on our lives to come.

I recall when I was young scout; we went out to the desert to learn how to shoot a rifle. We placed a tin can on one side of a ravine. We made our way to the other side of the ravine to try out our aim. We lay down on our bellies and placed the rifle over a log. We carefully and patiently took aim at the tin can across the small ravine.

Bang! My first shot was off by about three feet. I made the minutest adjustment – perhaps about a centimeter, or less, from my perspective.

Bang! My second shot sent that tin can flying off the rock where it was perched.

If our aim is only slightly off at any point in this life, we can, just like King David of old, send our eternal progression off by quite a bit. The slightest adjustments now can mean significant changes across our eternal ravine toward our target.

Brothers and Sisters, let us keep our focus. Don’t be distracted. Let us remember who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

Listen to the leaders of the church. Have faith in them. Let us give them our sustaining support.

Feast on the words of Christ. The scriptures provide an iron rod that will lead us to the tree of life. Don’t be distracted by the world. Let us maintain our course to eternal life.

Be worthy of and seek out the companionship of the Holy Ghost. As we allow Him to enter our lives, we will find safety, peace, and direction.

“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”

I testify that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is His work.

May we remain steady on our course to our Father in Heaven is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.