Come Follow Me
Satan's Garage Sale
Free To Soar
The Fox Hunter
The Tiger, the Man and God
Mists of Darkness
Work In Progress
A great and wise man once called one of his workmen to him saying, "Go into the far country and build for me a house. The decisions of planning and of actual construction will be yours, but remember, I shall come to accept your work for a very special friend of mine."
And so the workman departed with a light heart for his field of labor. Material of all kinds was plentiful here, but the workman had a mind of his own. "Surely," he thought, "I know my business. I can use a bit of inferior materials here and cheat on my workmanship a little there, and still make the finished work look good. Only I will know that what I have built has weaknesses."
And so, at last the work was completed and the workman reported back to the great and wise man. "Very good," he said. "Now remember that I wanted you to use only the finest materials and craftsmanship in this house because I wanted to make present of it? My friend, you are the one I had you build it for. It is all yours."
How much like man. He comes to earth a stranger. He has his free agency. He may build as he likes. But on the morning of his resurrection he will receive what he has built for an eternal home and habitation.
Once upon a time, there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug.
He wasn't a Scrooge. He was a very kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn't believe all that stuff about an incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did.
"I am truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer, "but I simply cannot understand this claim that God became man. It doesn't make any sense to me."
On Christmas Eve, his wife and children went to church for the midnight service. He declined to accompany them. "I'd feel like a hypocrite," he explained. "I'd much rather stay at home. But I'll wait up for you."
Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier.
"If we must have a Christmas," he reflected, "it's nice to have a white one."
He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another. He thought that someone must be throwing snow balls at his living room window.
When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window.
I can't let those poor creatures lie there and freeze, he thought. But how can I help them?
Then he remembered the barn where the children's pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter. He quickly put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on the light. But the birds didn't come in.
Food will bring them in, he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction - except into the warm, lighted barn.
"They find me a strange and terrifying creature," he said to himself, "and I can't seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety."
Just at that moment, the church bells began to ring. He stood silently for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow.
"Now I understand," he whispered. "Now I see why you had to do it."
You perhaps recall the story of the blacksmith who gave his heart to God. Though conscientious in his living, still he was not prospering materially. In fact, it seems that from the time of his conversion more trouble, affliction and loss were sustained than ever before. Everything seemed to be going wrong.
One day a friend who was not a Christian stopped at the little gorge to talk to him. Sympathizing with him in some of his trials, the friend said "It seems strange to me that so much affliction should pass over you just at the time when you have become an earnest Christian. Of course, I don't want to weaken your faith in God or anything like that. But here you are, God's help and guidance, and yet things seem to be getting steadily worse. I can't help wondering why it is."
The blacksmith did not answer immediately, and it was evident that he had thought the same question before. But finally, he said "You see here the raw iron which I have to make into horse's shoes. You know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost white with the heat. Then I hammer it unmercifully to shape it as I know it should be shaped. Then I plunge it into a pail of cold water to temper it. Then I heat it again and hammer it some more. And this I do until it is finished."
"But sometimes I find a piece of iron that won't stand up under this treatment. The heat and the hammering and the cold water are too much for it. I don't know why it fails in the process, but I know it will never make a good horse's shoe."
He pointed to a heap of scrap iron that was near the door of his shop. "When I get a piece that cannot take the shape and temper, I throw it out on the scrap heap. It will never be good for anything."
He went on, "I know that God has been holding me in the fires of affliction and I have felt His hammer upon me. But I don't mind, if only He can bring me to what I should be. And so, in all these hard things my prayer is simply this: Try me in any way you wish, Lord, only don't throw me on the scrap heap."
Behind the city of Colorado Springs, at the back of the U.S. Air Force Academy stands a mountain called Eagle Peak which is popular among local hikers, and Scouts in particular. From it's summit you can peer into the depths of the Rocky Mountains on one side or overlook the vast expanse of the Great Plains on the other. Each summer the trail leading to the peak is trod by those who've walked it's track before as well as those who make of it a new experience.
The inexperienced hiker is generally always told, if he cares to ask, that the hike will take all day to go up and back. He is told to start early and to set a strong, steady pace for the journey will be difficult and rigorous. The inexperienced hiker who follows this advice and plans accordingly can be easily disappointed and even become angry or confused upon reaching the beginning of the trail, because he can see with his own eyes from the parking lot that the hike to the summit and back would take far less than half a day with little difficulty at even the most leisurely pace.
And so he changes his plans. He meanders up the trail wandering frequently from the path, taking numerous side-trips and detours. He stops to play and to snack on some of the supplies he had brought since he obviously won't need so much for such a short trip. He goes well out of his way to avoid some of the more difficult parts of the trail. This he does until about half way through the day when he finally climbs to the summit only to discover that it was his eyes which had deceived him and not the words of those who had gone before. For he now stands on a false summit which had blocked his view of the higher summit far above.
Realizing his lack of foresight, this hiker now quickly reevaluates his time and decides that if he pushes himself hard enough he can still make it to the summit and back before it gets too dark. And so he sets off at a frantic pace; stumbling, crashing through the brush, receiving bruises, scrapes and scratches as the sun moves steadily toward the horizon. Until at last he reaches his mark and looks up at still another summit. You see, Eagle Peak has two false summits, both of which must be travelled over before reaching the real goal. Our inexperienced hiker now sadly begins his trek back down the mountain knowing he fell short of the goal he had sought after. He will try again another day, for there are many beautiful days in Colorado Springs. Wiser for his experience, he will doubtless reach his goal on the next occasion.
In our journey through life, however, we are not so fortunate. There are many false summits and if you strive toward only those goals which you can see, you will fall far short of the genuine goal.
Once upon a time, Satan was having a garage sale. There, standing in little groups were all of his bright, shiny trinkets. Here were tools that make it easy to tear others down for use as stepping stones. And over there were some lenses for magnifying ones own importance, which, if you looked through them the other way, you could also use to belittle others, or even one's self. Against the wall was the usual assortment of gardening implements guaranteed to help your pride grow by leaps and bounds: the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, the tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy. All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with fabulous promises and guarantees of prosperity. Prices, of course, were steep; but not to worry! Free credit was extended to one and all. "Take it home, use it, and you won't have to pay until later!" old Satan cried, as he hawked his wares.
The visitor, as he browsed, noticed two well worn, non-descript tools standing in one corner. Not being nearly as tempting as the other items, he found it curious that these two tools had price tags higher than any other. When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, "Well, that's because I use them so much. If they weren't so plain looking, people might see them for what they were." Satan pointed to the two tools, saying, "You see, that one's Doubt and that one's Discouragement -- and those will work when nothing else will."
One windy spring day, I observed young people having fun using the wind to fly their kites. Multicolored creations of varying shapes and sizes filled the skies like beautiful birds darting and dancing in the heady atmosphere above the earth. As the strong winds gusted against the kites, a string kept them in check. Instead of blowing away with the wind, they arose against it to achieve great heights. They shook and pulled, but the restraining string and the cumbersome tail kept them in tow, facing upward and against the wind. As the kites struggled and trembled against the string, they seemed to say, "Let me go! Let me go! I want to be free!" They soared beautifully even as they fought the imposed restriction of the string. Finally, one of the kites succeeded in breaking loose. "Free at last" it seemed to say. "Free to fly with the wind."
Yet freedom from restraint simply put it at the mercy of an unsympathetic breeze. It fluttered ungracefully to the ground and landed in a tangled mass of weeds and string against a dead bush. "Free at last" -- free to lie powerless in the dirt, to be blown helplessly along the ground, and to lodge lifeless against the first obstruction.
How much like kites we sometimes are. The Lord gives us adversity and restrictions, rules to follow from which we can grow and gain strength. Restraint is a necessary counterpart to the winds of opposition. Some of us tug at the rules so hard that we never soar to reach the heights we might have obtained. We keep part of the commandment and (pardon the pun) never rise high enough to get our tails off the ground.
Let us each rise to the great heights our Heavenly Father has in store for us, recognizing that some of the restraints that we may chafe under are actually the steadying force that helps us ascend and achieve.
In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it. (Can't lay my hands on the article, but I swear I read it.) Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
Ah, those poor nave innocents. Such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive. Too bad thay don't have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind.
Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I've been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.
Man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines--especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling.
Don't know what good it does. Machines and things just sit there. Even kicking doesn't always help. As for people, well, the Solomon Islanders may have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts....
In the early dawn, a young gardener was pruning his trees and shrubs. He had one choice currant bush which had gone too much to wood. He feared therefore that it would produce little, if any, fruit.
Accordingly, he trimmed and pruned the bush and cut it back. In fact, when he had finished, there was little left but stumps and roots.
Tenderly he considered what was left. It looked so sad and deeply hurt. On every stump there seemed to be a tear where the pruning knife had cut away the growth of early spring. The poor bush seemed to speak to him, and he thought he heard it say:
"O, how could you be so cruel to me; you who claim to be my friend, who planted me and cared for me when I was young, and nurtured me and encouraged me to grow? Could you not see that I was rapidly responding to your care? I was nearly half as large as the trees across the fence, and might soon have become like one of them. But now you've cut my branches back; the green, attractive leaves are gone, and I am in disgrace among my fellows."
The young gardener looked at the weeping bush and heard it's plea with sympathetic understanding. His voice was full of kindness as he said, "Do not cry; what I have done to you was necessary that you might be a prize currant bush in my garden. You were not intended to give shade or shelter by your branches. My purpose when I planted you was that you should bear fruit. When I want currants, a tree, regardless of it's size, cannot supply the need."
"No, my little currant bush, if I had allowed you to continue to grow as you had started, all your strength would have gone to wood; your roots would not have gained a firm hold, and the purpose for which I brought you into my garden would have been defeated. Your place would have been taken by another, for you would have been barren. You must not weep; all this will be for your good; and some day, when you see more clearly, when you are richly laden with luscious fruit, you will thank me and say, `Surely, he was a wise and loving gardener. He knew the purpose of my being, and I thank him now for what I then thought was cruelty.'"
Some years later, this young gardener was in a foreign land, and he himself was growing. He was proud of his position and ambitious for the future.
One day an unexpected vacancy entitled him to promotion. The goal to which he had aspired was now almost within his grasp, and he was proud of the rapid growth which he was making.
But for some reason unknown to him, another was appointed in his stead, and he was asked to take another post relatively unimportant and which, under the circumstances, caused his friends to feel that he had failed.
The young man staggered to his tent and knelt beside his cot and wept. He now knew that he could never hope to have what he had thought so desirable. He cried to God and said, "Oh, how could you be so cruel to me? You who claim to be my friend - you who brought me here and nurtured and encouraged me to grow. Could you not see that I was almost equal to the other men whom I have so long admired? But now I have been cut down. I am in disgrace among my fellows. Oh, how could you do this to me?"
He was humiliated and chagrinned and a drop of bitterness was in his heart, when he seemed to hear an echo from the past. Where had he heard those words before? They seemed familiar. Memory whispered:
"I'm the gardener here."
He caught his breath. Ah, that was it - the currant bush! But why should that long-forgotten incident come to him in the midst of his hour of tragedy? And memory answered with words which he himself had spoken;
"Do not cry ... what I have done to you was necessary ... you were not intended for what you sought to be, ... if I had allowed you to continue ... you would have failed in the purpose for which I planted you and my plans for you would have been defeated. You must not weep; some day when you are richly laden with experience you will say, `He was a wise gardener. He knew the purpose of my earth life, ... I thank him now for what I thought was cruel.'"
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
Two old acquaintances, who hadn't seen each other for years, were walking down the street together, renewing old times.
"Just a minute," said one, "I think I hear something," and turning a loose paving stone over he liberated a cricket which was chirping merrily away.
"Why, that's astounding. Of all the people on the street at this hour, hurrying from work, you alone hear the cricket above all the traffic noises."
"My friend," said the first. "I learned a long time ago that people hear in life only what they want to hear. Now, the noise of traffic has neither increased nor decreased in the past few moments, but watch." And as he finished speaking he let a silver half dollar fall from his pocket to the sidewalk. Everyone within an amazingly large hearing distance stopped and looked around.
A man was being chased by a tiger. He ran as hard as he could until he was at the edge of a cliff with the tiger in hot pursuit. The man looked over the edge of the cliff and saw a branch growing out of the side of the cliff a few feet down. He jumped down and grabbed the branch just as the tiger reached the cliff. The tiger growled viciously as the man sighed a great sigh of relief.
Just then a mouse came out from a crevice and began to chew on the branch. The man looked down to what was a drop of a thousand feet and sure death and looked to the heavens and yelled out, "Dear God, if you are there, please help. I will do anything you ask but please help."
Suddenly a voice came booming down from heaven, "You will do anything I ask?" it questioned.
The man shocked to hear a reply to his plea yelled back, "I will gladly do anything you ask, but please save me."
The voice from heaven then replied, "There is one way to save you but it will take courage and faith."
The branch began to weaken from the mouse and the tiger was still growling a few feet above the man, "Please, Lord, tell me what I must do and I will do it. Your will is my will."
The voice from heaven then said, "All right then, let go of the branch."
The man looked down to a fall of a thousand feet and certain death. He looked up at the hungry tiger a few feet away and he looked at the mouse still chewing on the branch. Then he looked up at the heavens and yelled, "Is there anyone else up there?"
There is a story about an old fox hunter. He had been extremely successful, but he finally decided to retire and go south for the winters.
Before he left for his first winter in a warmer climate, an energetic young man came to him and asked how to become as successful as the old hunter. He offered to buy the old man's shop, his hunting rights, and even his secrets for successfully hunting foxes. The old hunter agreed; he sold the young man all his goods and carefully told him all the secrets to his great hunting success.
When the old man returned in the spring, he sought out the young man and asked how his first season as a fox hunter had been. Discouraged, the young man admitted that he had not caught a single fox. The old man pressed further: had he followed the instructions given him? "Well, no," answered the young man. "I found a better way."
One summer night, out on a flat headland all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages; otherwise, there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars; the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon.
It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead. And because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.
"And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost." (1 Nephi 12:17) In our modern, myopic view we tend to regard the temptations of Satan as only those carnal things which we might desire. We fail to realize that also included are things noone would want - doubt, discouragement, anxiety for the future, sorrow for the past. Sometimes he even uses good things to tempt us. But in all these things, it is his aim to distract us from striving toward our highest and most worthy aims.
We must constantly move forward on the paths we know to be correct though our vision is dim and our ears deafened by the din of the world. We are sent here to learn and grow through precept and example, and through overcoming opposition, "for it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things." (2 Nephi 2:11) Kites rise against, not with the wind. We cannot progress without proceeding, and the only way out is through.
God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity still in the cloud, the oil still in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged, the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gave man the challenge of raw materials -- not the ease of finished things. He left the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.