In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah had a vision. In this vision, he is commanded to prophesy that when the Messiah comes, many of the people would refuse to be healed. They would be complacent, and refuse to see, and hear, and understand, and as a result could not be healed. This prophesy was quoted by Christ in the Book of Matthew, and also by Paul in the Book of Acts, from which I will read chapter 28, verse 27: “For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
I read this verse about six months ago, and I was puzzled by it. It seemed such a paradox. Who wouldn’t want to be healed--when the Savior was walking among them, performing miracles on so many occasions? And yet they wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t see, and as a result they couldn’t be healed. I looked again at the scripture and saw a phrase that I had been overlooking, the part about being converted. To be converted means to be changed, from one form to another. For example, we can convert electricity from Direct Current to Alternating Current. We can convert US dollars into pesos, or Euros, or British pounds. In a gospel sense, conversion has a very similar meaning to repentance, which comes from a Greek word that means to change our minds or to change our views about God, about ourselves, about this world.
I realized that this was the clue I had been missing – so often we don’t want to listen and see, because we don’t want to be changed. It’s not that we don’t want to be healed-- I think we're just afraid to be changed in the process. Today, I would like to focus my remarks on Jesus Christ and his power to heal us. I pray that today each of us will open our hearts and our minds to understand this message.
I remember an experience I had as a very young boy, when I was taught by my Grandma Fellars a bit of practical wisdom that had been passed down through several generations of Fellars. My grandmother was visiting with us in my parent’s home, and I think she had grown tired of hearing me complain all week about all the things I didn’t have, all the things I wished I had. I’m sure I must have been talking about all the toys that I wanted. My grandmother told me, “I’m going to teach you a saying that my grandfather taught me when I was a little girl. The saying was this -- ‘You can wish in one hand, and spit into the other – and see which hand gets filled up first.’” Now, this was a rather abstract concept for a young boy to grasp, and she must have seen that I was a bit confused, so she elaborated upon the principle for me. She said, “Think of all those things that you really want, and put a mental picture of them into one hand. Then spit into your other hand (and at this point she made a spitting sound). When you’ve done that a couple times, take a look and see which hand’s got something in it that’s not just a dream.”
Now, as a young boy, I was quite fond of spitting and really enjoyed it. But I had never had an adult actually encourage me to do it. I wasn’t sure if she was joking with me or not, but I soon knew what the results would be if I acted out her practical proverb. When she saw that I had caught on, she rubbed her hands together, and indicated for me to do the same. In a no-nonsense, no-more-whining’s-gonna-be-tolerated-here tone of voice, she said, “All right, now get to work.”
Thirty years later, I still remember that lesson. I’ve thought about it occasionally, especially when I watch those older Hollywood movies, where the hero faces a critical moment in the story. Maybe it was Lou Gerhig in the on-deck circle, waiting for his turn to bat. He would spit into his hands and rub them together, then pick up his favorite hickory bat, work his grip into the handle, and stride up to the plate, ready to do his job. Or more often the character was an American farmer or frontiersman, who faced with an overwhelming setback, would spit into his hands, pick up his shovel or axe, or grab onto the handles of his plow, and go to work to make his dreams come true.
Eighteen days ago, I realized for the first time that my father was dying. By this time he was sedated and unable to speak to me as I came to his side to say goodbye. You can imagine the grief and sadness and love that filled my heart at that time. I flew back to northern California and told my wife, “I just wish I knew him better.” I wished I could have one more week with him to ask him all the questions I never asked. To have him tell me all the stories and all the life lessons he might have told me when I was younger, but was unwilling to listen to or understand their implications. Without knowing it, I began to go through those well known stages of grief. I spent a lot of time in the bargaining stage, with thoughts of bargaining with the Lord in exchange for one more week with my father healthy enough to talk to me. In my heart, it was as if I was trying to come to terms with how much my father meant to me. What would I be willing to give up for one more week with my father? I said I would give up every material possession I owned, just for one more week. (After my father passed away, I thought this was rather humorous. Because after all, what use would the Lord have with my rusted-out, 1986 Ford Ranger? That can’t even pass the smog test? And now has an expired registration.)
But during that process, I learned a valuable lesson. I knew I was willing to use every penny of savings to fly down and visit my father each week. I came to the conclusion that I would trade every wave I ever surfed, every concert I ever attended, every movie I ever saw or hour I spent watching T.V.; I would trade every photograph and every memory from all of my crazy adventures around the world – for one more week with my father. I came to the realization that I would trade every memory I had except for those that contained my family. I had an epiphany – the only thing that matters in life is the relationships we form with other people, most especially our families. I knew this before, but I didn’t know it then like I know it now. I was taught this lesson in a way that nothing else but the death of a loved one can teach. Nothing matters except the love we create.
On the morning of the day that my father passed away, I read a letter that my father had written to my brother Todd while Todd was serving on his mission. I realized that my father was the first Fellars to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first Fellars to serve a full-time mission. I remarked to Todd about the significance of those two decisions. Then, for the first time, I heard the story about my father's decision to serve a mission. Todd had heard the story from our grandmother who had witnessed the event. My grandfather was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, and when my father expressed his desire to leave college and go on a mission, my grandfather refused to support this decision or to give his blessing. My grandfather felt that it was foolish to leave college and to give up an education. And he told my dad just that. The conversation ended and my grandfather left the house, went into the backyard and began mowing the lawn. My grandmother related that she watched out the window as my father went into the backyard and followed his father around the yard, explaining why he wanted to serve a mission and why he wanted his father to understand.
A few hours after I heard this story, I was in my father's hospital room, knowing that he only had a short time to live. I thought about this story of my grandfather mowing the lawn and my father walking beside him. It was a revelation to me. I realized -- that might have been the defining moment in my father's life. It was at that moment when he decided he was not going to do what was easiest for himself. He was not going to do what others wanted him to do, if it contradicted what the Lord wanted him to do. What was it that caused him to leave a good life in California, to interrupt a university education and the promise of lucrative career. What was it that caused him to suffer his father's temporary displeasure? I think it was his desire to be part of an eternal family, to be bound together not just in this life, but also in the next. My father must have known at that point, that wishes can only get you so far, and then you have to rub your hands together and get to work. He went to Brazil, and for two and a half years he taught people the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He taught that God has a plan for each of us. This plan has been called the Plan of Salvation, the Plan of Redemption, the Plan of Mercy, and the Plan of Happiness. Please allow me to share with you the key points of this plan.
Before we were born on earth, we lived as spirits in the presence of God. This plan of salvation was presented to us. We were told that the only way we could progress was to leave the presence of God, gain a body, and learn to choose for ourselves. We would come to earth and be organized in families, and be given complete agency to choose for ourselves what we wanted to think and do. We were told that if we made the wrong choices, we would be separated from God, but God would provide a Savior for us. And if we accepted this Savior, it would be possible for us to return and live in the presence of God once again. In addition, God promised us that if we lived righteously, the loving relationships that we created on earth could continue forever.
God told us that we would not be left to wander on this earth without direction. He would reveal himself to prophets who would share with us the words of God. And God promised to speak to each of us individually through his Holy Spirit. We were warned this life on earth would be a brief but thorough test. A test in which each of us has to decide what we want most. Do we want to seek out and accept the will of God, or do we want most of all to do our own will? We knew all of this while we waited in heaven. The next step was Birth.
The poet William Wordsworth, in his inspired poem "Intimations of Immortality" most beautifully said it,
Our birth is but a sleep and a
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere it's setting,
And cometh from afar,
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of Glory do we come,
From God, who is our home. (End of Quote).
And so now, here we are on earth, with no conscious memories of our life before. But if we open our hearts, and listen with our souls, the Spirit of God will whisper to us, and remind us of the truths that we once knew before we were born. Now that we are on earth, we often lose sight of the fact that death is an integral part of our progression. Death is the part of the process that each of us must go through to be converted to immortality. The Savior said to the prophet Moses, “This is my work, and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Death is part of the Plan of Happiness, even though it creates sadness when we contemplate being separated from those who have gone on ahead. But this separation does not have to be permanent.
These are the basic doctrines of the Plan of Salvation. My father believed it, believed it enough to give up his life in California to go and teach the Plan of Salvation to the people of Brazil and to his father back home. My grandfather softened his heart, and opened himself to the promptings of the Spirit. He changed his views and was baptized. On what must have been the happiest day in my father’s life, June 12, 1963, my father was married and sealed to my mother, for “time and all eternity”, Afterwards he was sealed to his parents through the same authority. This is the authority that was given to Peter, the New Testament Prophet, by Christ, who said in Matthew 16:19, “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” It was this authority to bind families together that was given to our modern prophet Joseph Smith by Elijah on the day of Passover, April 3rd, 1836.
Each of us is at a different stage of life, therefore each of us has a different work to do. To those of us who have opened our hearts and our minds, the Lord is speaking to us at this moment, telling us individually what our work is, what he wants us to do at this point in our lives, what we must do to prepare for our own death, and our life after death.
To those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I speak by way of invitation. If today you have felt the promptings of the Spirit, the feelings of love, joy, and peace in your heart, if you have felt a desire that your family could be eternal, then I encourage you to invite the missionaries into your home. Allow them to teach you about the Plan of Happiness and the blessings of the temple in greater detail. If you do so, I promise you that the Spirit of God that you feel today will be magnified many times over as the missionaries share with you the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
To those who are members of this church, I speak by way of exhortation. We have rested on some plateaus long enough, it is time to quicken our pace, to lengthen our stride (President Kimball). It is time to rub our hands together and go to work. We must study the life and teachings of our Savior and draw closer to him. We must share these teachings with our family. Nephi, the great prophet in the opening pages of the Book of Mormon, wrote, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi, 25:26)
In the Book of St. John, chapter 21, the resurrected Savior appeared to his apostles on the shores of the sea of Tiberias. The apostles had been fishing and John records that they had pulled in quite a large catch. They roasted fish over a fire, and ate the fish and bread. When they had eaten, the Lord said to Peter, referring to the fish, “Simon Peter, lovest thou me more than these?” Now, to Peter, who was a fisherman by profession, the fish represented not only a meal, but material wealth, and symbolically represented all the things of the world that could distract him from doing the Lord’s work. Peter answered, “Yea, Lord. Thou knowest that I love thee.” To which Christ replied, “Feed my lambs.” This question was continued two more times, and the Lord repeated his charge, “Feed my sheep.” Let each of us think about what is distracting us from focusing our lives upon the Savior and feeding his lambs.
If my father could speak to us today, I know what he would say. He would say, “Go to the temple, for there God covenants with us and promises us eternal life and eternal families.” (End of Quote.)
Brothers and Sisters, Family and Friends, my personal testimony is this. It is one thing to wish for an eternal family, but it is an entirely different thing to hear the Lord’s authorized servant pronounce this blessing upon you. I know of no place other than the temples of the Lord where we can receive this blessing. To those of us who have received this blessing, I must remind us that it is conditioned upon us being “true and faithful” to the end of our lives.
Conversion is a continual and often difficult process. I begged and bargained with the Lord for my father’s life. And though I went through a lot of sadness and pain in anticipation of my father’s death, I bear witness that the healing process began even before his passing. The sadness began to disappear and was replaced by love and joy. The gratitude I’ve felt to God since my father’s death has occasionally overwhelmed my emotions. But my heart has been healed because of the principles I learned while my father was dying.
I heard the Lord whisper in my heart that I needed to learn a lesson, and if I learned this lesson well, the Lord would return my father to me. Not just for a week, but for eternity. The lesson was this – nothing matters but our love for God, and the love we create between each other. I hope I never forget this lesson as time passes and the appeal of the things of this world return to distract me from my work.
For those of us who are grieving, either
the loss of my father, or the loss of someone more personal to your life, for
those of us who desire to be healed, I say turn to the Savior Jesus Christ, and
open your hearts and minds that he might change you, that you might be
healed. So that together, we might all echo the words of Paul, “Oh Death,
where is thy sting, Oh Grave, where is thy victory.” (1Corinthians, 15:55)
For Christ hath risen again, whereby He hath gained the victory over the grave,
and also in Him is the sting of death swallowed up.
I can hear my father saying, Now get to work.
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