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Thursday, October 31, 2013

212: VAINGLORY

 We are on this earth to bless others, to elevate others, and connect them with the Lord. That is what the priesthood is to be used for. We read in the scriptures of holy men, prophets who had a personal testimony of Christ, that taught others using the words of other prophets. For example, Joseph Smith quotes words given to him by Moroni, Moroni used words written by Malachi, Malachi who quotes the words from the Lord.  Rarely did any prophet teach using stories about themselves.

   When we focus on ourselves, or seek our own vainglory, we are abusing our priesthood and therefore, do not possess it. We are not here to claim titles, superiority or recognition. We should never draw attention to our service, our own performances that we render to others. Phillippians 2:3 “ Let nothing be done through vainglory, but in lowlinesss of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

A couple of years ago I read a short book on parables. Below is one chapter from the book. For reference it is the eight parable in this book entitled, "Brakhill's Greatest Citizen". In case you haven't read it, I think there is a good lesson to be learned in this parable about receiving an earthly reward now vs laying up treasure in heaven.
 ...
 
"Brakhill's Greatest Citizen".
 
The town of Brakhill is located in the high plains of northwestern Wyoming. There are rolling hills surrounding it, and several hot springs which produce columns of steam during the winter months. The pillars of smoke inspired some of the early settlers to believe God’s hand watched over this particular Promised Land. The native grasses would grow green in the Spring, then settle into a tan buckskin color for the rest of the year. Antelope and deer ran wild around Brakhill. They were a precious food source which fed the earliest settlers, but now had returned to be part of the beauty of the landscape.

Everyone knew Brakhill, Wyoming was the home of Olyvie Canfield, the famous children’s author. She died impoverished, but left a legacy which grew over time. Her fame came only after her death. She taught school until she retired, and was a grandmother before writing her first book. As an Art and English teacher to children in first through sixth grades, it was a natural development for her to turn to writing once she had the time to do so. She spent a lifetime teaching and loving children, so it was also natural for her to write and illustrate children’s books.

 Her illustrations were works of art. She patiently painted them with oil on canvas, then used photographs of her paintings for the prints in her books.

Her series on Wendy Wilson were local favorites for years, and became popular on a regional basis when Olyvie was in her 80s. It was after her she death, however, that Wendy Wilson became known nationally and internationally.

Fame for those who provide insights always increases over time. Ideas last forever. They are the only really permanent things in the world. Even continents drift, but a well-taught idea will cross time, culture, language and generations. Olyvie’s Wendy Wilson was introduced in Windy Wendy. She was an awkward child, whose peculiar appearance made her self conscious. Like she would do in all her books, Olyvie used Windy Wendy to show children how things they think are their weaknesses may prove to be their strengths. Wendy thought herself too skinny, too tall, too freckled and too shy to ever amount to anything in this world. She thought her hair was all wrong. It was so curly and unruly it could not be managed. Her hair “looked like an explosion,” wrote Olyvie.

To Wendy’s surprise, however, on a particularly windy day she was lifted by her hair, like a great sail, and found, “she could fly about like the seeds of a dandelion carried by the wind.” Wendy’s body was “just right,” and her hair “just perfect,” to allow her to become “the only girl who could fly.” Wendy would grow her unruly hair even longer, and could jump off buildings on even a calm day and float to the ground. It was a reassuring tale of triumph by what was once just an awkward little girl. All children could relate in one way or another to the awkwardness of their own youth. In Wendy they had a model for hopeful triumph over life’s limitations.

Olyvie took Wendy into adventures crime solving in Private Eye Wendy, then into a foreign land in Wendy and the Tornado. A dozen books, all illustrated by her, became treasured tales that children all across the country knew and loved. The artwork was as light and whimsical as the stories themselves. Her other stories were popular, but it was Wendy who was her most loved character.

All of Olyvie’s works taught lessons to children. They were popular and endured because they contained the wisdom and truths gathered by a grandmother over her lifetime. The problem children she had encountered, and the care and love which brought them to change, became the inspiration for Olyvie’s characters and stories. Adults found themselves reflecting on Olyvie’s teachings long after they stopped reading her books to their children who grew up. There were even adults with no children who bought copies to read and enjoy. Olyvie’s children wanted to keep their mother’s artwork together, and left it in the modest home in which their mother died. As their mother’s fame grew, they had the idea of putting it on display, and the original little museum was opened.


Over the years people came from increasingly distant places to Brakhill to see the original artwork Olyvie painted. They particularly wanted to see the art for her series on Wendy. Her modest home had been expanded to allow more of her artwork and original manuscripts to be put on display. Although Olyvie died more than three-quarters of a century ago, generations of her readers came through Brakhill to pay tribute to the beloved writer, painter and illustrator.

When the Wyoming Visitor’s Bureau compiled their latest numbers, only Yellowstone National Park drew more visitors than little Brakhill. It was because of this the Wyoming legislature decided to build a proper museum for Olyvie Canfield.

Since public funds were being used, public land was also to be used as the site for the project. David O’Conner came to Brakhill to inspect the project his employer was awarded by the State of Wyoming. He was making notes on the demolition of the abandoned City Hall building. It was boarded up, suffering from disuse. It was cracked, leaking, weathered and worn. It had once been grand, but was now just a relic, part of which had fire damage. A masonry structure, with solid fur floor joists, lath and plaster walls, tile floors and a granite foundation, this relic was still a formidable structure to demolish. When he literally broke into the structure through the front door barricades, he was surprised to see a large, open room. It was an odd waste of open space. “Why would a City Hall need such a large open room?” he thought.

However, the cavernous opening in the front and center would aid in containing the debris as they brought the building down. O’Conner realized the plan for demolition could collapse the building inward to this open area. The building’s wiring, plumbing and roof were all copper. O’Conner recognized there was a profit to be made salvaging some of the materials from this old structure. His company had not figured that into their price, and therefore there would be more profit on the job than first anticipated. There were odd neon light fixtures which seemed incompatible with the rest of the building. “There must have been some salvage done on this place already,” he realized. He wondered why the light fixtures had been taken and replaced, and not some of the other, valuable materials.

 Inside the front entry of this once elegant City Hall was a plaque on the wall which caught O’Conner’s eye. It had faux ionic pillars on it, paying tribute to someone in Gothic lettering, appeared to be solid brass, and would make an interesting keepsake for his office. He made a note to have it removed and brought to him. He planned to add it to his office collection.

David O’Conner’s office was filled with memorabilia from his career in construction. He collected eclectic bits from his work around the Western United States. It was a collection of things which caught his eye, more than things with any particular meaning to him. One day a visitor to his office was asking him about things in his office when the City Hall plaque came up. It read: “Dedicated to the honor of Ira Wilkas, Brakhill’s Chief Benefactor and Greatest Citizen.”

O’Conner was asked, “Who was Ira Wilkas?” But he didn’t know.

“Well then why do you have a plaque honoring him in your office?”
“Because I like the way it looks.”

“Where did you get it?”

O’Conner had to think for a while before remembering. The clue which allowed him to place the plaque was its reference to “Brakhill.” The only job he’d performed there was on Olyvie Canfield’s Museum. He first demolished an abandoned City Hall building. “It came from a run-down building I tore down in Brakhill, Wyoming.”

The discussion had him wondering about Ira Wilkas. But he never followed up to find out about him. No one alive remembered anything about Ira. Even his few living descendants did not know anything about an ancestor from five generations in their past.

Ira Wilkas had been Brakhill’s leading citizen in his lifetime. His cattle and mining businesses were the leading employers in the two counties surrounding Brakhill. He was a powerful man economically and politically. During the last 50 years of his life it was said that “no one can be elected governor in Wyoming without Ira Wilkas’ support.”

He was a religious man who supported a Lutheran Church in his community. The four ministers who served the church during Ira’s lifetime were all deferential to him, oftentimes holding him up as an example to others of goodness and virtue in their sermons. This led to Ira’s personal conviction that he was a very good man, better morally than his fellows. He took that conviction seriously and provided many public examples of goodness and charity.

 Ira’s single most expensive act of public charity was his announcement that the old clapboard City Hall built by the original settlers of Brakhill was to be replaced by a new City Hall built of brick and stone. The foundation was to be made of granite block cut by his mining operation and delivered to the site he would donate in the center of town. He intended this to be more than just a center of government for the city. He wanted it to become the very heart of the community.

 In addition to providing offices, indoor plumbing, storage and meeting rooms, Ira intended for the main entrance to be usable as a community ballroom. It would be elegant and open, finished with a tile floor, two stories tall, lit by gold plated chandeliers, with a divided staircase containing a large landing, suitable as a stage on which musicians could perform. He wanted the sound to fill the room, but not echo, and so he commissioned tapestries depicting local scenery to be hung on the walls. When the project was announced he explained the pictures of local scenes had already been sent east and the tapestries were already begun.

Even in the generosity of providing the City Hall, Ira doubly blessed the community because many people needing work found it in laboring on this new project. Although it was a city project, the costs were all paid by Ira. Not a cent of taxpayer money went into the ambitious project.

During the years of construction, word of the project spread far beyond the Brakhill community, and people would come from as far as Cody and Sheridan to see it being built. Word spread from there into Western South Dakota, Casper and Cheyenne. It was expected that the official dedication of the building would be attended by a larger audience than Brakhill.

They were not disappointed.

The official dedication was set for the Fourth of July. The Governor and many members of the State legislature were in attendance. Newspapers from five states had reporters there, and photographs of the elegant City Hall were seen in over sixhundred communities.

Brakhill’s Lutheran minister gave the dedicatory prayer. The mayor’s remarks included the following comments:

“Brakhill has the greatest leading citizen of any community in Wyoming. His selfless and generous heart has provided us with much more than a City Hall. We now own a landmark, built of such solid materials and containing such works of art that it will endure forever. Future generations will recall our day as this monument remains a testament to our times and our great benefactor. They will wonder at how we could have built such a public temple, and their wonder will be answered by what is found inside. Unknown to Ira Wilkas, we were able to have the tapestry maker weave his likeness into the foreground of the center tapestry. We also commissioned a plaque, which was done in secret at his mine, made of solid brass, that will stand forever in the main lobby paying tribute to Brakhill’s greatest citizen.”

Ira was surprised at this announcement. He had inspected the work as it progressed, and they had used trickery to keep him from discovering these tributes to him. Scaffolding and temporary placement of wood trim materials blocked his view. But the surprise pleased him. It seemed natural for his generosity to be memorialized in the monument he helped to create. The Governor was the final speaker before the anxious crowd was allowed to enter the building. He confirmed the building was to hold its first ball, and the orchestra had traveled from the State Capitol to perform. He also confirmed what everyone present already knew: “Ira Wilkas is, and always will be, Brakhill’s greatest citizen. A man of his stature, prominence and generosity just does not occur in the same place twice. Today, without any doubt, Ira is our State’s greatest citizen.” This sounded right to the crowd, who erupted in applause at these final remarks.

The Governor then led an eager throng up the stairs into the spacious main room where the orchestra at once struck up the music and filled the room with the invitation to dance. The tapestries were beautiful, with only one person in any of them. In one a large, two story scene had Ira standing in the foreground, wearing his trademark white hat with his hands on his hips, exuding the confident pose of a leading citizen, proudly portrayed in permanent splendor.

Overhead the new chandeliers brightly lit the room. The warm light was eye-catching and before long people began to recognize the fixtures were covered with 24 carat gold, which added to the light’s hue.

In a polished brass plaque centered on the wall beneath the orchestra’s landing, were two cast pillars on a brass plaque surrounding the words: “Dedicated to the honor of Ira Wilkas, Brakhill’s Chief Benefactor and Greatest Citizen.” No community since Rome herself had more reason to believe they had an enduring public tribute to a man. But monuments to men crumble and come to an end.

Over the decades, Brakhill’s City Hall was the place where many entertaining evenings were spent by the town. It was Brakhill’s heart for two generations. It was so well built it required little maintenance, and the community got used to a building which did not require regular repair.

Times change, as do communities. When the U.S. Highway was built, it was not practical to run it through the center of Brakhill. It ran to the north with two exits for the town. The highway traffic offered commercial opportunities and over time the new businesses—hotels, restaurants and service stations prospered more than the old businesses which were in the center of town. Some old-time businessmen saw that the opportunity to survive required them to move. In time Brakhill’s town center became run down.

Energy costs rose over the decades and older buildings needed renovation to make them cost effective. However, Brakhill’s City Hall was a masonry structure which could not easily be improved. The exterior walls were all load-bearing, and the plumbing and heating systems were run inside the walls themselves. It would be impossible to replace them without cutting the masonry walls which supported the upper floor and roof. By the time the community needed to renovate the dilapidated structure, the costs of doing so were high enough it made sense to consider replacing it altogether.

One of the advantages of replacing the old City Hall with a new one was the ability to move the building to the new center of the city, beside the Highway. When the bids were opened to do the work, Brakhill had asked for prices to either renovate the old City Hall, or build a new one. All the bids were opened together and it was only slightly more expensive to build a new one. The city council decided the slight cost difference was worth it to get a more modern building located closer to where most people worked and most traffic was flowing. So the old City Hall was abandoned for public meetings. The light fixtures from the old building were removed and put into the courthouse. The tapestries were taken down and stored. They were damaged in storage by rodents and insects. Eventually they were burned because of the damage. When they were burned, no one had seen Ira’s proud stand memorialized in the weave of the artwork for twenty years.

For a few years the old City Hall became a library building, with neon light fixtures providing the patrons enough light to read inside the cavernous main library room. Eventually they closed the library and the building was boarded up. From time to time the children of Brakhill would sneak into the building and use it for play. Younger children would pretend it was a castle and hold sword fights on the main staircases. Teenagers would use it to conceal underage drinking. During winter the kids would build campfires in the abandoned, masonry building. Though it had few flammable materials inside, there were two occasions when the Brakhill Fire Department came to put out fires.

The teenager problem was bad enough the city council considered tearing the old City Hall down. However, the cost of doing so was high enough the city never approved the project. It was a godsend to the community when the State Legislature decided to build a museum for Olyvie Canfield’s works. They eagerly donated the old City Hall site for the new structure. This would eliminate one problem while providing a blessing to the community.

When the new museum was announced, word of the project spread far beyond the Brakhill community, and people were coming from as far as Cody and Sheridan to see it being built. Word spread in newspapers and on the Internet. It was expected, therefore, that the official dedication of the building would be attended by a much larger audience than Brakhill. They were not disappointed.

The official dedication was set for the Fourth of July. The Governor and almost all the members of the State legislature were in attendance. School teachers, who used Olyvie Canfield’s books came by the dozens from around the state. Newspapers from all over the nation had reporters there, and photographs of the new museum were seen nationally. Brakhill’s Lutheran minister gave the dedicatory prayer. He mentioned in his remarks, “Olyvie Canfield is, and always will be, Brakhill’s greatest citizen. A person of her stature, who has influenced so many lives for the good just does not occur in the same place twice. Today, without any doubt, Olyvie is the greatest citizen ever produced by our State.”

Though in time even the Olyvie Canfield Museum would require many repairs, it was her teachings of love for children which held life, not the building. As a result, repairs were faithfully made to keep pace with the increasing crowds of those interested in knowing more of the old woman who died in poverty and relative obscurity, but left a life’s labor in her words and art. Love and wisdom outlast stone itself.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

211: THOMAS S MONSON LEADERSHIP EXCELLENCE COMPLEX

 
10,000 Acre Boy Scout Camp now called the Thomas S Monson Leadership Complex
 
 

President Thomas S. Monson was recognized last night at the "Century of Honor" Celebration event for his lifelong service and support of the Scouting movement. BSA National President Wayne Perry added his voice to a variety of LDS Church and Scout leaders who saluted President Monson in video tributes — including his two counselors in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
 
In addition to being presented Scouting's Medal of Honor for saving the life a girl who was drowning in the Provo River when he was 12 years old, it was announced that an over 10,000 acre Boy Scout and High Adventure Camp is now going to be renamed the Thomas S Monson Leadership Excellence Complex.  This announcement was made by the Boy Scout National President, Wayne Perry.  This camp has been called The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve located in Mount Hope, West Virginia, and is the home of the National Scout Jamboree. (The Bechtel Foundation donated $50 million to the BSA to help purchase and develop the land that is now The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Not sure how the Bechtel family feels about their name being removed from the Camp. )







Take a look at this video shot at what will now be called the Thomas S Monson Complex, formerly known as The Summit.  Looks like an amazing place. Here is the website: The Summit




Here are a few photos of the Century of Honor Celebration held last night at the LDS Conference Center.





Monday, October 28, 2013

210: PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE BOY SCOUTS AND THE LDS CHURCH.



Above is the official logo being used in the media by the LDS Church which represents the partnership between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America. This is the first time I have seen our iconic Angel Moroni  logo merged within another institution's logo.


In commemoration of the Church’s 100-year affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, an event called “A Century of Honor” will be held  tomorrow night on October 29, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. The event will originate at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and will be broadcast live throughout North America in English and Spanish. Thousands of local Scouts of all ages will participate. Members of the First Presidency of the Church as well as national BSA leaders and executive board members are expected to attend. Our prophet, President Thomas S Monson, who has served on the BSA National Executive Board longer than any other member, is expected to receive an award.

The Church became the first sponsor of Scouting in the United States in 1913 and is now the largest sponsoring organization of BSA with more than 430,000 boys and young men enrolled. All Scout troops in North America are invited to watch tomorrow night's broadcast live at a local LDS stake centers.  Local Priesthood leaders have been asked to use this event as an opportunity for outreach into the community as well as for recruitment.

It was mentioned to me today that incorporated into the performances of the Scout choirs, historical vignettes enactments, and multimedia presentation videos in tomorrow night's celebration in the Conference Center, they will have zip lines cascading down  and canoes floating high up in the air as part of the show. Unfortunately in rehearsal, one of the scouts fell from the zip line and broke his arm. Good thing that happened in practice and hopefully no one will get injured tomorrow night.
 
For more information you can click on the Church's website as will as see the trailer for the event:
http://www.lds.org/church/events/event-to-celebrate-100-years-of-scouting-in-the-church?lang=eng

To see the trailer: http://scouts100.lds.org/#

Side note: Here is a list of "to do" items for local leaders were asked to accomplish before tomorrow's event:

  • Contact your LDS-BSA Relationships chairmen or other key LDS Church leadership in your area. The purpose of this conversation is to set up a time to meet to discuss how to make this event as successful as possible for each of the locations within your BSA council.
  • Communicate the event plans with the entire professional staff and key council volunteers.
  • Working through the established BSA district structure, ensure that each district is aware of which LDS chapels/stake centers will host the event.
  • Ensure that each district is aware of the key LDS leadership they should be working with.
  • Clearly communicate that all chartered organizations are invited to assist with the planning and are encouraged to participate.
  • Develop a plan with the local LDS Church leadership on how to best promote this event to the community. Remember to include www.beascout.org on your promotional material
  • Attend the event.
  • Remember that your main responsibility for this event is to provide youth the opportunity to join Scouting.
..

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

209: MAINSTREAM FISH vs UPSTREAM SWIMMER?


Are you a mainstream fish and swim with the current?

 
or are swimming a fish trying to swim UPSTREAM ?



If you are LDS, you probably have been taught many times to stay in the mainstream of the Church. I can understand the reasoning behind our leaders advising us to do this. My parents have cautioned me as well when I started to read books that were not sold at Deseret Book. We are also taught to avoid anything on the fringe since it is too dangerous and you can possibly get mislead. I won't even discuss comments I get about searching into the mysteries of God. However, I equate searching for truth as being the same as a fish swimming upstream. In my worldview, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about swimming “upstream” against ALL currents we face in this world.

 Just for reference, here are a few quotes from Church leaders suggesting that enduring to the end actually means that we stay in the mainstream of the Church. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Enduring to the end means that we have planted our lives firmly on gospel soil, staying in the mainstream of the Church,” link

 A recent article in the Church News was recently published about the importance of not being deceived and staying within the mainstream. link

“Leave the exceptions to the prophets, Brother Millett counseled. “Elder McConkie taught to stay within the mainstream of the Church,” said Brother Millett. He advised class members to watch out for new interpretations of scripture or people claiming that following something outside the mainstream of the Church brings deeper spirituality.” 

Elder Carlos Asay said the following: "If the assessment of current position reveals the slightest deviation from the right course leading to eternal life or the slightest drift from the mainstream of our faith, we must make immediate course corrections.” link

But where does the mainstream eventually flow? Water always flow downstream. Most all fish usually swim downstream. It takes less effort. Water always flows where there is less resistance. Sidestream, while maybe not in the strongest current flowing down, does eventually flow downstream. However, a few fish, like the salmon and steelheads, swim upstream and return to their original hatching ground.

I have a few questions. What if in 600 BC. the religious leaders instructed the members of the Church that they should stay in the “mainstream”? If Lehi was mainstream, what would have happened to him and his family? Would he have ever left Jerusalem or would he have been carried away into cavity by the Babylonians?

What if in 30 A.D. the religious leaders taught the Jews that they should be good “mainstream” Jews, would any of them listened to the teachings of Christ?  Would they have become Christians?

 I think it is interesting to read in Luke 4 when it describes Christ’s first missionary journey in his hometown.   It is interesting that among his friends, relatives, neighbors, and fellow church members that the response was uniformly hostile. The congregation became so angry at what he taught that they attempted to cast him off a cliff. “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Christ escaped, but what is sad is that there was no hand raised in his defense (Luke 4:14-29). The truth is that, despite his family and friends exposure to his words and his works, "neither did his brethren believe in him" (John 7:5). Furthermore, “that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9: 22)
 
What does it mean to be “put out of the synagogue”. In todays terms.. would this mean that they were excommunicated? Cast out of the mainstream religious organization? In other words, mainstream is safe, doesn't rock the boat, but follow the masses, the majority. History shows that people like Lehi, like Abinadi, like Alma, like Christ were never in the mainstream. The mainstream usually are those who are told that all is well, those with flaxen cords, those who loveth the world. Those who are swimming upstream face strong current of opposition.

  "Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream”
W.C. Fields
...

Sidenote: We are told in JST Matthew 1:41 that the last days is going to be as it was in the days of Noah.  The Gospel is a net that has been cast out to gather together all manner of fish. (Matt. 13: 47-50.) The angels are going to come at the end of the world to pick through all manner of fish, they keep the good, and the wicked are cast away. What are the good fish? are they the "mainstream" fish? Do any of the "fringe-fish" get selected? What about the fish swimming upstream? Are they the fish that get preserved?

I learned this recently in a talk that I just listened to on Covenants. It describes that everything is written in the heavens including a pattern of the stars that is called a band or "net of Pisces"

"When the Lord hung on the cross, and the sun was darkened at noon, if you had looked up in the sky to see what was overhead, you would see the sacrificial sheep in the pattern of the stars; what we call Aries today. Proceeding forth from under the forefoot of Aries, we have renamed it "the bands of Pisces," but it should be more appropriately rendered as the net of Pisces. Because from under the fore leg of the Lamb, was cast out a net. This is the New Testament pattern or church. That net gathers in at least two kinds of fish. The larger one that is gathered in the net is forever circumnavigating the ecliptic, and will do so eternally. The larger group in the star field, though caught in the net cast by the Lamb will never rise up to the North. The smaller group, the smaller star field of Pisces, which also is caught in that same net, is pointed to the sides of the North, where the Throne of the Father is to be found; that place around which all things revolve and where the Father presides and sustains all of His creations."

The larger group of fish are in the mainstream. the smaller group swims upstream to the North to return to their original home.

The Band of Pisces in the starfield (the net of Pisces with two kinds of fish)

...

Friday, October 18, 2013

208: A FINE CONGREGATION... YES, THEY ARE A GOOD PEOPLE.


Twice a year, our Church leaders speak to a worldwide congregation and share messages they have felt inspired to give to the members of the Church. I listened intently to each of their talks. It helps me get a pulse on the state of the Church as I hear the current messages that are given.  In the opening remarks in his General Conference address, President Thomas S Monson stated the following,

"It has been just over 183 years since the Church was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, under the direction of the Lord.  At that meeting on April 6, 1830, there were six members of the Church present. I am happy to announce that two weeks ago,  the membership of the Church reached 15 million. The Church continues to grow steadily and  to change the lives of more and more people every year."
 
Much has transpired over the course of 183 years, and not just with the membership numbers increasing from six members to 15 million.

While most members of the church are not aware of this, I heard this from a recent talk.  "We [meaning the members of the Church] got off on rather a ragged foot at the beginning of the restoration of the Gospel. How fully we got off on that ragged foot is not well enough appreciated by Latter-day Saints, who choose to see a sort of uniform continuity of progression, from that moment until today, in a rather uninterrupted course of forward momentum. When in fact, Joseph Smith had to fight against terrible opposition inside of the church to get the doctrine he was trying to establish established". Ezekiel chapter 14 was a topic that he raised early. And he raised it again at the time of the Relief Society organization in Nauvoo. Go read Ezekiel chapter 14. Go look at what Joseph Smith was concerned about. He's talking to people who accepted him as a Prophet. And yet they were more interested in getting from him what they wanted, instead of receiving from him what the Lord wanted to give."

What they wanted was a New Testament Church.  Over the past hundred years, the Church has become the focus, after all, it is the only true Church on the face of the earth.

For reference, I created a "word cloud" from the opening session of this past General Conference. I took all of those talks given and compiled them into one document. I then created a word cloud from the text. A 'word cloud' is computer generated and gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. For example, the largest word, 'church' was said almost 100 times as compared to one of the smaller words like 'tithing' that was only spoken 18 times. Word clouds are helpful to see in a quick glance what the focus is by the number of times the word was repeated.
 

Word cloud from all of the talks given in the opening session of the October 2013 LDS General Conference 
 

I can't imagine trying to run such a global church. It is quite a responsibility to reach out to all of these 15 million members, many of whom are in need of rescuing. It is particularly difficult when many of the members are struggling with so many problems. Some of these problems were addressed in the Conference talks, problems like depression, addiction, questioning faith, economic and financial difficulties.  Answers to these problems were also given. We are to repent if we are not paying our tithing, keep the commandments, doubt your doubts, and follow the counsel of our living prophet.  Some of you might have noticed that there was a new verse added to the hymn, "Keep the Commandments". Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle choir,  the new words are  "We are his children, and we must be tested to show that we are true, hold to his promises, heeding the prophets, keep the commandments, in this there is safety and peace."  link

In corresponding with a friend of mine, we talked briefly about our thoughts on General Conference. I agreed with what he said and I quote, "As I listened I thought, "a lot of what's being said here is good and wholesome.  So what is the problem?" After some thought I think I was able to pin it down. It's as though there's a train wreck coming and nobody is talking about it. That's the problem. Everything is good, lovely, and happy. Problems are occasionally acknowledged, but overall we are lulled into security. .... they are good men with good advice."



So what is the problem?, what is this train wreck?

In the Priesthood Session, Elder L. Tom Perry made an interesting statement in his talk on the importance of doctrine. Here is the quote:

 "This doctrine is to the Church like a battery is to a cell phone. When you remove the battery from your cell phone, it becomes useless. A church in which true doctrine is no longer taught is similarly useless. It cannot guide us back to our Heavenly Father and our eternal home."

So if  I understand correctly what our apostle is saying is, True Doctrine is power. If true doctrine is no longer taught in a Church.. the Church is useless. Furthermore, the Church which does not teach true doctrine cannot guide us back to our Heavenly Father.

Elder Perry further explained in his talk:

"False teachings come from Satan, the father of all lies. His desire is to pervert, change, and alter revealed truths. He wants to deceive us so some of us will lose our way along the journey back to our heavenly home."

So  again, if  I understand correctly, Satan desires that revealed truth gets changed and altered. He wants us to be deceived. In order for Satan's plan to work, he starts out with revealed truth.. not falsehood. He then changes and alters the revealed truth.

Some of the most important doctrine, if not the most important doctrine, revealed in this dispensation by the prophet Joseph Smith is contained in the Lectures of Faith. It is doctrine that describes the character, nature and attributes of God. I quote,

"correct ideas of the character of God are necessary in order to the exercise of faith in him unto life and salvation, and that without correct ideas of his character, the minds of men could not have sufficient power with God to the exercise of faith necessary to the enjoyment of eternal life, and that correct ideas of his character lay a foundation as far as his character is concerned, for the exercise of faith, so as to enjoy the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ, even that of eternal glory."

Further doctrine contained in the lectures describe how we can hope to inherit the same reward as the Ancients by following the same path as they did. It  teaches that we can't expect to achieve the same glory if we do not make a similar sacrifice as they did. It defines faith as a principle of power through action, in which you put your beliefs into action and thereby acquire power; because  faith is related  to having power. All of this doctrine is contained in the Lectures of Faith.

These lectures were prepared for the School of the Prophets and approved and edited by Joseph Smith. Their presence in the scriptures was the reason for the change in the title from Book of Commandments to Doctrine and Covenants. The "Doctrine" portion of the book was comprised of these lectures.

In the preface of this scripture it states: "The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work."

 
 
However, all of this Doctrine has been removed from our scriptures. The Lecture on Faith were subsequently removed from the Doctrine and Covenants in 1921, essentially leaving the just the "covenants" since the "doctrine" was removed.


Can we equate the removing of this doctrine from our scriptures like removing a battery from a cell phone? Has misapprehending the character and nature and attributes of God from that date until today, prevented us from acquiring faith? If so, then it's time for us to shake that off  and rise up and lay hold upon faith again.

Monday, October 14, 2013

207: ALL THAT THE FATHER HAS

 


We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25: 23).  It is my opinion that we focus too much on "all we can do" instead of that it is "by grace" that we are saved. For the most part, we are a Church of "Do-ers" and rarely speak about the importance of  "Grace".  Luckily ever so often, someone will remind us about grace, this beautiful free gift given to each of us.

In 1993 article in the Deseret News entitled, "God's grace is our hope, in humility we find Him." comes the following quote given by Carol Cornwall Madsen, "I believe we can learn something about this free gift (of grace) from the parable of the Prodigal Son. Our attention and empathy frequently focus on the older brother, the faithful one who stayed at his father’s side but received no celebration, and felt the injustice of it all. Perhaps we even tend to identify with him as we seek to live good lives ourselves. But who of us can claim to be the older? Who of us has not left the Father’s presence to tarry a while in a sin-filled world, succumbing to our own weaknesses but yearning to return one day to our Father’s house, even as a servant? The parable is a reminder to us of the limitless reach of God’s grace, and God’s grace is our hope. God knows we are weak. He gave us our weaknesses (Ether 12:27). And he know that most of us will demonstrate our weaknesses many times over before we leave this life. This is the risk of agency. But as He so wisely knew, it is through our weakness that we discover humility, and it is through humility that we find God. We are probably never more humble than when we reach the point of acknowledging our weaknesses in that process we call repentance."

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine gave a sacrament talk and spoke on this parable of the prodigal son. With permission, I share some of the thoughts from the talk. To review the parable for a minute, a prodigal's father had two sons. The younger son demanded his inheritance while his father still lived. The request itself is a form of mutiny. The prodigal, driven by a self-centered pride, is impatient for his father to die, and rather than wait, as custom dictates, he demanded his inheritance immediately, feeling that he had a right to it. In doing so, a his relationship with his Father is broken. However, the Father yielded to the demand of the younger son who then promptly took himself and his father’s money to a far off land where he wasted it all on riotous living.

A famine came into the land and the rebellious son who was now penniless, became a lowly servant feeding swine. Which to a Jewish man would be the lowest of stations considering the Jews believe them to be unclean animals and Jewish custom dictates they are not even to be touched, ever. So to feed them would be an abhorrent act for him.

He eventually hit rock bottom, and awoke to his awful situation, came to himself and determined to go back to his father and beg to be his father’s servant.

As the prodigal returned to the village he expected his father to remain aloof in the house while he made his way through the village. To say the least, it would be a long shameful walk through the crowds in the street who would definitely be aware of the Son’s shameful choices and actions toward his father and his entire clan. Upon discovering his identity and remembering that he had lost all his father’s money among the gentiles, Jewish custom of the first century would demand a Kezazah ceremony to be enacted.

First century Jewish custom dictated that if a Jewish boy lost the family inheritance among the Gentiles and dared to return home, the community would break a large pot in front of him and cry out “So and so is cut off from his people”. In fact that is the meaning of the word, “Kezazah”… “the cutting off”. After it was performed, the community would have nothing to do with the wayward person.
So, after enduring this most public humiliation the son would then be obliged to sit for some time outside the gate of the family home before being allowed to even see his father. Finally he would be summoned. With the boy already rejected by the village, the father would be very angry, and the boy would be obliged to apologize for everything as he pleaded for job training in the next village.

That is what custom dictated. That is what justice demanded. And yet, the beauty of this parable (and the whole point of it) is that is not what happened at all!

The father reacts in the most stunning countercultural manner imaginable! He breaks ALL the rules of patriarchy as he RUNS down the road to reconcile his son to himself.

 A deeper look at the most correct translation reveals that he doesn’t simply run, the actual word Luke uses is “RACE”. Thus we can translate the phrase, “His father saw him and had compassion and RACED to his son.”

In the Middle East a man of his age and position always walks in a slow, dignified fashion. It is safe to assume that he has not run anywhere for any purpose for forty years. No villager over the age of 25 RUNS anywhere. But now the father RACES down the road. To do so, he must take the front edge of his robes in his hand like a teenager. When he does this, his legs show in what is considered a humiliating posture. All of this is painfully shameful for him.

But it does not end there. The loiterers in the street who are awaiting their chance to perform the KEZAZAH ceremony will be distracted from tormenting the prodigal and will instead run after the father, amazed at seeing this respected village elder shaming himself publicly.

Compelled by his immeasurable compassion, the father races out to his son. You see, He knows what his son will face in the village--- that the Kezazah awaits and will cut him off.

Instead, in meeting his son on the outskirts the father knowingly, takes upon himself the shame and humiliation that is due the prodigal. Sparing him the punishment that justice demands.

After their dramatic reunion, the actions the father takes show how immediately he restores all that had been lost. For example kissing him not just once, but again and again was a robust PUBLIC demonstration to the entire village of his overwhelming joy at seeing his son. Next, he orders the servants who are there on the road with him to dress the boy as a son. Notice he doesn’t say, “Go clean up and get dressed”….rather he orders the servants to bring the best robe and dress him. They are to honor him as a son of the house.

The best robe is naturally the father’s finest robe. The prodigal will attend the banquet attired in this father’s most elegant robe. The guests that night will recognize the robe and treat him in a respectful manner because of the clothes that he is wearing. They will fully understand that he has been fully restored to Sonship.

To have shoes put on his feet is a symbol of his new rank. Slaves go barefoot. Sons wear shoes.

 The fatted calf that is killed for the banquet is really a “prime beef”. The word fatted is from the word “grain”. Hence the fatted calf is a grain-fed animal with high quality meat. Meat is a rare delicacy in the village. The father is making a public statement about how joyful he is that he has found his lost son land brought him from death to life. 

Thus we see that it is the father in this parable, AND ONLY the father that is able to restore. And that restoration comes through grace alone.

The Pharisees were always complaining that Jesus accepted sinners and ate with them. But Jesus doesn’t apologize, ever. In fact, He not only accepts the sinners, the broken ones, but he RACES to restore them with open arms!

“We may not fully understand the theology of the atonement, nor completely comprehend the depth of God’s love and mercy for us in giving us the free gift of life by the sacrifice of his son. But I think we all yearn to feel the touch of grace in our lives, moments that capture the soul and hold it, a willing hostage away from the assaults and demands of the unjust world in which we live.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

206: THE CREATORS AND ORGANIZERS vs the destroyers and deceivers

“And the Gods organized the lights in the expanse of the heaven,
and caused them to divide the day from the night;
and organized them to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years;”
Abraham 4: 14
Taken early morning  before sunrise.
 
"If you look up in the morning sky, you can see Orion on the Eastern horizon. That has been true twice a year since the beginning. It has been true that all of the ordinances ordained by God in the heavens above have remained true from the day that He set them there until today. They are so well established, they are so permanent, and they so far beyond the ability of man to touch, alter, or destroy. That, the only way to have apostasy from those ordinances from our perspective is for you to forget what knowledge there is that is written in the heavens.

The Lord created the heaven. The Ancients viewed the heavens as being a testimony given to us on the earth. From the surface of the earth, the sun occupies a space, even though the sun is over a 100 times larger than the earth. The space of the sun occupies from the firmament of the earth is exactly the same as the space in the firmament that is occupied by the moon. Although the moon is one sixth the size of the earth. From the surface of the earth, they are identical in size, so much so that when you view them on the ecliptic that they are located, one can block out the other entirely in an eclipse. Because all these things were ordained by God to testify in the heavens about Him and about His work. And those things are bearing testimony. And they are telling you something."


"And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying,
Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them,
saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day,
and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night,
which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar;
The LORD of hosts is his name. "
Jeremiah 31: 34-35
....
 
 
THE CREATOR vs. THE DESTROYER 
 
The above photo was taken in Idaho Falls on Saturday night, September 28.  I was guided to this location late at night by a series of interesting events. There is much symbolism in this scene. Since it is somewhat difficult to take a good photograph at night, hopefully the quality is sufficient to see the important symbols. There is a lot of symbols that could be discussed: living water, barren fallen trees, light, and darkness, eagle and the cougar.

In brief, the Eagle is full of light. It is descending down from Heaven. The eagle is the symbolic bird of the Father in Native American lore, (the hawk is the Son, and the owl is the Holy Ghost). The eagle suggests freedom, power, clear vision, intelligence, renewal, and courage.

Below the eagle on the rocks is a cougar. It is standing on precarious rocks without a sure footing. It seeks to attack it's prey. It doesn't create but instead destroys. The Cougar is the largest cat in North America.  Cougars are both solitary and territorial, not to mention excellent hunters.  They will sit for hours just watching their prey, waiting to ambush it. Like the great hunter, they persevere and wait for the perfect moment to strike.  Yet cougars are easily threatened, and thus quick to attack.

 

205: FALL CONFERENCE WEEKEND 2013: CHRISTIANITY vs CHURCHIANITY


Conference Weekend is now upon us. Downtown Salt Lake is bustling with people from all around the world. Leaders and members alike descend upon Temple Square for this weekend's two day event to hear messages carefully written and then read to us over the pulpit. Since we are a world wide church, the talks have already been translated into many languages  for all those to be able to hear the messages. LINK

Most members will watch the sessions via their television sets, including Priesthood Session which for the first time can be viewed live on television by all the Priesthood holders, as well as provide the opportunity for all those who have always wanted to watch (and have been campaigning for permission to attend) this "Priesthood Only" Saturday night session.

Centered around this conference weekend, there is an open house at the Church History Library that will extend through this weekend, ending on Oct 10. For those interested, the open house showcases memorabilia from all of the 16 Presidents of the Church. Here is one of many advertisements you can see on the streets of downtown.

 
 

It might be hard to read the text at the very bottom. This is what it says: (emphasis mine)

"From the time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in 1830, a prophet, seer, and revelator has been called and sustained as the President of the Church. Sixteen men have been called to serve in this position. Wilford Woodruff, speaking of the Presidents of the Church, said, "We have the living oracles with us, and have had from the commencement. The Lord will never leave his kingdom without a lawgiver, leader, president ... to direct the affairs of his Church on the earth". (Deseret News Weekly, May 3, 1876, 212). Each President has left a legacy of faith."

...

In addition to this open house, there is another interesting display at Deseret Book. There are huge creative stacks of the latest released books written by the Brethren (including one book written by the wife of one of the apostles.) From Left to right here are the book titles and authors:

Consider the Blessings by President Thomas S Monson.
One Drop at a Time by Elder M Russell Ballard
An Uncommon Life: Years of Preparation by Elder L Tom Perry
For Times of Trouble by Elder Jeffrey R Holland
The Not Even Once Club by wife of Elder Russell M Nelson


    
 
Sidenote: In reference to the above advertisement for the Presidents of the Church open house, I found the placement of all 16 Presidents photographs to be interesting. It is a diamond shape.  I think it is wonderful that Joseph Smith is at the top of the diamond shape. He is our dispensational head.
 
I have often wondered, as we progress  through the years, from one President to another, are we progressing upward with further light and knowledge?  Or perhaps have we been falling farther and farther away from what Joseph Smith taught and originally tried to restore? If the first is true, then why wouldn't we put President Monson at the very top of the pyramid? If not, the advertisement might be symbolic of the direction/situation we find ourselves.  
 
That being said, most main stream Mormons would probably say we are increasing in light and knowledge. With our emphasis that we place on our current living prophet, some might  wonder why President Monson's photo doesn't appear at the very top of the diamond. Case in point, a friend of mine sent me this photo below of the positioning of these two framed images hung in their Church building. Usually the higher we place something, the higher of importance. Thus, are we members of Christianity or of a Churchianity?