Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Faith

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

I have a deep love of music and have played piano since I was eight. Years ago I was asked to lead a choir in my church. My favorite hymn came to be “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. There is a line in that song that says, Here I raise my Ebenezer, Here by Thy great help I’ve come. When I began learning the piece, I wondered what an Ebenezer was. Being a history major, I did some research. It’s a reference in the Old Testament about a series of battles between the Israelites and Philistines and how Ark of the Covenant was reclaimed after the Israelites changed their hearts. The prophet Samuel raised an Eben-Ezer—which means ‘stone of help’—a place to commemorate where God had rescued them after their decision to change.

This is my Ebenezer.

My personal beliefs have had a profound impact on my life. I’ve gotten many e-mails from readers asking what church I attend because my author bio talks about being very active in my church. I’ve had e-mails from strangers asking for spiritual advice and some have become friends. Not just the Facebook kind.

Bishop Wheeler

From 2008-2014, I served as a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Rocklin, California. We have many congregations in the city, so I wasn’t the only bishop. I’ve spent many years counseling people and seen the best and worst of human nature. It was an amazing, powerful, and difficult experience. I grew a lot and learned a lot. Because my church does not have a professional (or paid) clergy, I was reluctant to talk about my faith online to avoid the appearance that I would try and use my church responsibility to sell books. After my service ended in August 2014, I was then called to teach early-morning seminary. If you are LDS, you already know what this means. If not, seminary is a weekday class that happens before high school every day where students come and study the scriptures for an hour before school. I love teaching. I tolerate early mornings.

So why would a guy who has achieved his dream job of writing books full-time get in a suit every morning to greet a group of somewhat surly teenagers and try to motivate them to study ancient books and try to be better while at high school they face the worst the world can throw at them? Well, first of all I’ve had so many spiritual experiences I can’t even number them nor will I attempt to. I’m absolutely, 100% convinced that God is real and that He has a plan for all of us. And I really can’t complain because in comparison the sacrifices I’ve made as a bishop, a choir director, or a seminary teacher is nothing compared to what my ancestor went through.

Stillman Pond

In the fall of 1846, Stillman and Maria Pond and their children left Nauvoo, Illinois because of religious persecution and joined the Mormon migration west. Along the journey members of the family contracted malaria, cholera, and consumption. By the time they reached Nebraska, five of their children had died. During the harsh winter months that followed, they lost even more of their children. As the trek continued, Stillman lost his wife Maria as well. It’s a heartbreaking story. In total, Stillman Pond lost his wife and nine children. But he never lost his faith.

Stillman Pond is my great-great-grandfather. Because of him, I’m here. On the Wheeler side, I grew up hearing a tale that my ancestor was a constable in England and was sent to arrest one of our early church leaders for preaching. The leader (who later became one of the presidents of the church), told the constable to wait until the sermon was done. When it was finished, Constable Wheeler was one of those who asked to be baptized. You could say that my church runs deep in my blood. I have a strong sense of heritage and commitment to honor those who came before me.

But I’m not a member of this church just because of them. I’m a member for the same reason they were—because I’ve felt the Lord guide my life and it has changed for the better. That’s the neat thing about spiritual truths. If you try out a principle of truth, you gain the benefit of it right away. You learn it for yourself. If I told you the full story of how my publishing deal happened, you’d be convinced it was a miracle too.

Beliefs

While my personal faith does come from rich soil, of course I’ve had to nurture it on my own. I cannot point to one single experience or one amazing episode which cemented my beliefs. The more I’ve aligned my life with God’s will, the more I learned and the more I changed. I’ve read a lot of books in my life, many of them multiple times, but I’ve read the Book of Mormon every year since I was 18. I’ve felt God’s Spirit speak to my heart that it is true so many times. And it is full of spiritual truths. I still learn new ones each time I read it. I’ve read the Bible multiple times and continue to learn from it. I’ve found truths in other religions as well, ancient and modern. But nothing that pulls it all together like my faith does. My faith has grown from a series of choices which I’ve made over the years to turn my heart to God and to do what He would want me to do. These choices include reading the scriptures daily, praying deeply, and making Sundays sacred. It meant giving up my favorite heavy metal music I used to like in high school. These conscious decisions to live my beliefs have resulted in so many spiritual experiences (Isaiah 58:9).

Bishops in our church routinely have extraordinary experiences, and I can say that the experiences I had were incredible. The joy is in working alongside equally committed members who lead and participate and try to have good families. We help each other along the journey. It’s strengthened my family and my faith to be part of a larger community of believers. I’ve seen our members rally around a sister stricken with spinal cancer and repaint and repair her entire home. They comfort grieving families who lose loved ones. They fix dinners and mow lawns. They help people move. Our lives are full of miracles and most are so small, you’d hardly notice. But they are real. Nothing is more impressive than the dozens and dozens of teenagers choosing to live higher standards and then leave to go on missions sharing their faith with others. It builds my faith just being with them, seeing their trials and struggles, and watching them serve each other. I belong to an amazing church.

I have a testimony of Joseph Smith, a young man who had a miraculous vision in 1820 and was called by the Lord to be a prophet. I have been in the presence of modern-day prophets and apostles. These are absolutely some of the most sacred experiences in my life. I know God loves us so much and that he knows we need prophets today just as they needed them anciently. That is why Stillman Pond crossed the plains. That is why he never left the faith.

As I said, I love my church. I love my family and appreciate their support for my new career as an author. I love to write. I am so grateful to God for the opportunity of being a writer. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. So if you happen to see posts on my Facebook wall calling me “Bishop” or “Brother Wheeler” you now know why.

Here I raise my Ebenezer, Here by Thy great help I’ve come.

(my favorite painting of Christ)