Friday, December 20, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 46: "Zion the Pure in Heart"

Zions National Park (Angel's Landing)
Zion has been used to describe a number of different places, including Zion's National Park (see left).
Enoch's city was called "the City of Holiness, even Zion".
David's city, the ancient city of Jerusalem, was also referred to as Zion for a time.
We are told that the New Jerusalem in the latter days will also be called Zion.

What is this Zion? Reading these two scriptures might help:
Doctrine and Covenants 97:21

"Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is aZionthe pure in heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn."

Moses 7:18
"And the Lord called his people aZion, because they were ofbone heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."
So we learn from these two sources that Zion is the pure in heart, those unified in heart and mind and who dwell in righteousness. Let's look at each of those characteristics a little more.

One Heart/One Mind:
This concept of unity can be hard to embrace in the modern world. Today's world is about individualism and self. If we focus on ourselves we will not achieve unity. To achieve unity we must all be focused on the same external source.
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness within you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things”   Doctrine and Covenants 88:67
Dwelt in righteousness: 
If everybody is focused on the glory of God, they are promised understanding. It would seem a natural conclusion that with that increased light and understanding comes more obedience. 4 Nephi shows such a people in this situation:
"And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost...and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another."     4 Nephi 1:1-2
Notice the factors that helped people dwell in righteousness: formation of Christ's church with the proper authority, humble and sincere repentance, baptism by immersion followed by the gift of the Holy Ghost being received. Here was a people focused on the Lord. And they created a Zion. Compare that with the Saints of the early latter-days who were commanded to build a Zion but failed. Read Doctrine and Covenants 101:6 and Doctrine and Covenants 105:1-5.

The early Saints did not learn collectively what they needed to to be able to create a Zion. One of the things the Lord rebuked them for was not giving to the poor and afflicted.

There was no poor among them:
It would seem that where there is poverty there is no Zion. So should we all be working harder at our jobs? Putting in overtime? Creating more jobs? Trying to pursue wealth and money. The basic laws of economics suggest something like this might help. But look at this scripture:
“But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish"                                         2 Nephi 26:31
Did you get that? "If they labor for money they shall perish!" The way to solve poverty is not pursuing wealth. That will just kill you, spiritually and maybe physically too! Have you ever known people that say they are trying to pursue wealth to be of more use to the kingdom of God or to their family but in doing so end up spending less time with family or church because all they do is spend their time pursuing wealth. Well this seems to clearly indicate those people have it backwards. Notice the same sentiment taught in Jacob 2:18-19. First and foremost your focus should be on God and His glory. The rest will be added to you. Compare this with Mormon's vision of our day in Mormon 8:35,37.

Unlike the world today. there is no poor in Zion because everyone is focused not on themselves but on the glory of God - helping others, loving their neighbour, exalting and saving others. When that happens, you can't help but ensure everyone is provided for - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Pure in heart:
The great blessing of being pure in heart is that you shall see God (see Sermon on the Mount). Pure suggests being free of all infiltration, free of extra elements, all that is impure removed and refined. How do you become pure in heart and what then is the one element that should be left pure in our heart? 
"But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever;... Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love;...that when He shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is;...that we may be purified even as He is pure. Amen"      Moroni 7:47-48
Mormon, through his son Moroni, is teaching us that the element we need in our hearts is charity and the way to get it is to pray for it with all the energy of our heart. This requires removing all thought of self, all selfish wants and desires, instead focusing with an eye single to God's glory on helping others.

One of the things that can help us achieve Zion is temples: the covenants we take upon us and the principles we learn. It is no coincidence that the Saints were continually instructed to construct a temple wherever they moved. Temples are necessary in the building of Zion in our cities and in our homes and in our hearts.

Now we have done a decent job of defining Zion, so the last word goes to President Spencer W. Kimball. In the April General Conference of 1978, President Kimball gave a brilliant talk entitled "Becoming the Pure in Heart". If you click on that title you may read or listen to the talk in it's entirety. I highly recommend a study of his words. But I will leave you with a quote of his from the talk. They are words that many will associate fondly with the prophet:
"As important as it is to have this vision in mind, defining and describing Zion will not bring it about. That can only be done through consistent and concerted daily effort by every single member of the Church. No matter what the cost in toil or sacrifice, we must “do it.” That is one of my favorite phrases: “Do It.”    Spencer W. Kimball
Do it.
Do it right.
Do it right now. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 45: The Family is Ordained of God

From top left: Sumatran elephants, a family, bluefin tuna, Sumatran tiger, hawk-billed turtle
Take a look at the small collage of photos above and see if you can work out what they all have in common.

Answer: Well all of the above are an endangered species!
Many, many species of animal have gone extinct over the years and the pictures above show 4 more animals that are listed as critically endangered. Critically endangered is the highest level of endangerment before extinction. Many people don't care. Many people see plenty of other animals and do not realize the impact the loss of a single species can have on their local environment and surrounding habitat.
Similarly, families are also critically endangered. What was once considered a pillar of society is now often considered a nuisance to careers and a hindrance to individual pursuits and dreams. And the traditional moral code that once held families together is being eroded at an alarming rate. What was once universally accepted as evil is now considered the norm and that which was once considered good and moral is now considered by the masses as intolerant and evil.
Broken homes and uncommitted relationships are increasingly the norm. Having come from a broken home myself I have seen the effects first hand in the lives of my siblings and myself.
"Never before, at least not in our generation, have the forces of evil been so blatant, so brazen, so aggressive as they are today. Things we dared not speak about in earlier times are now constantly projected into our living rooms. . . .
The home is under siege. So many families are being destroyed” 
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “Walking in the Light of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 98,99).
Why are we seeing the family unit crumble so much? What is causing it? And does it really matter? 

In 1995, Gordon B Hinckley, President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints presented a proclamation to all the world entitled "The Family". Today's lesson will explore some of the principles declared within this proclamation and their importance to society today.

To obtain your own free copy of "The Family" just click on the picture of the proclamation to the right and you will be taken to a link where you can print your very own personal copy.

When President Hinckley first presented this inspired proclamation he used the terms "to warn and forewarn" to describe its purpose. What do you think that means? Why did he use two words that seem to mean exactly the same?
I am not sure but I sense there is something in the use of both words together. One seems stern and a fulfillment of legal obligations, the other seems to imply a merciful heads up and opportunity to prepare and change.

Paragraph 1 teaches us that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God" and that "the family is central to the Creator's plan." Meanwhile society teaches us that any marriage is ok between man and woman or man and man or woman and woman. While all are free to choose, this paragraph clearly indicates that the only marriage that God ordains is between a man and a woman. That does not mean that He loves others any less. It just means that is the only kind of marriage to which he gives his blessing.
Why does God only ordain/bless marriages between a man and a woman? As we read on I believe we will find that answer.

Paragraph 2 reminds us that "all human beings are created in the image of God and have a divine nature and destiny". As we summarize each paragraph and principle ask yourself how these principles have been eroded in society over time. How powerful would that be if everyone in society was aware of and believed in their own divine nature and destiny!

Paragraph 3 tells us that "sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for families to be united eternally". Do you love your family? Do you remember your marriage vows? If you were married outside of the temple of God did you notice you were married "until death do you part". If you want the fulness of an eternal rather than a temporary temporal marriage you will do whatever it takes to become worthy to enter a temple of the Lord and be sealed for all eternity to your family rather than just until death do you part.

Paragraph 4 reminds us of the first commandment given to the first parents - "multiply and replenish the earth" and tells us that this commandment remains in force. And we are also reminded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
What damage has been done to society that is warned against in these reminders? Amazingly sociologists and governments are starting to realize, maybe a little too late, that children from single parent and broken families are statistically more likely to end up in poverty, in crime and in broken homes and broken relationships later in life than children in traditional family units. This does not condemn single mothers but rather the fathers who abandon them. This does not condemn the loving parents who strive and struggle despite their circumstances to provide for their children, it merely shows that there is a better more successful, more ideal way. In 1995, 25% of children were born out of wedlock in the US. By 2011, this statistic had risen to 40%. This incredible rise in children born out of wedlock has been seen all across the world. Same sex marriages while very possibly filled with love, deny and abuse the sacred power of procreation granted them.

Paragraph 5 continues on the subject of the power of procreation and "affirms the sanctity of life" and declares "the means by which mortal is is created to be divinely appointed".

Paragraph 6 notes that "husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children". Notice the order in which these two solemn responsibilities are listed. Husbands and wives priority is each other and then their children.
Does this lessen the importance of our children? I believe rather than lessen the importance of children it magnifies the importance of caring for and loving our spouse. Often in the hustle and bustle of caring for the children couples neglect their own relationship. In all families the rules of airplane emergency should apply. When the air masks drop we are instructed to put the air masks on ourselves first and then our children. Why? We are told it is because if we do not save ourselves the children will be helpless. In the perspective of a family unit, it is once again an affirmation of the importance of that sealing relationship between man and woman.

Paragraph 7 gives married couples 9 principles of a successful marriage. Can you find them? One of those principles is prayer. We are often told, the family that prays together stays together. Have a little look at 3 Nephi 17:11-23. This is a beautiful example of family prayer. I wonder if our families feel like this each time we pray. Often times I think we forget to pray or we pray only as a function rather than with the Spirit of prayer and with real intent.
“It is a simple thing to pray, yet how generally this duty is neglected. Parents forget to call together their households and invoke upon them the blessings of God; they are too often in a hurry, or are perplexed so much with the affairs of life as to forget the obligations they are under to the Almighty.”                                      Joseph F. Smith

In 1999, 3.5 years after the proclamation, the First Presidency once more touched the topic of families with a letter addressed to the members of the church (click on picture to left to read the full letter). In it they once more advised families to give "the highest priority" to family prayer, family home evening and wholesome recreational activities.

Why do you think the Lord felt the need to remind the Saints of this focus just 3.5 yrs later? How are we doing in following this instruction? Notice we are to give the highest priority to these things. Where does that put work, tv, school or bed in the pecking order? I wonder if we even realize how many times we put off or hurry these priorities for things that are of lesser importance and what damage it does to the safety of our family and the defences of our children.

Paragraph 8 Do you remember when you got in real trouble with your parents? I don't mean just a little - I mean real trouble. How did you know? For me I always knew because my mother would call me not only by my name but my middle name also. Well in the scriptures the Lord has a code word to let us know when it is past the point of just friendly reminders. "Wo, wo!" There are a few double "wo's" and I believe there may even be one reference in the Book of Mormon that is a triple "wo". Well now read paragraph 8. Notice there are 2 warnings. I believe the Lord is letting us know this is beyond gentle reminders.

Paragraph 9 I find the last paragraph intriguing. The Proclamation is to all the world but the final paragraph calls to two specific groups of people only - responsible citizens and officers of government. It calls on them to "promote measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society"

As Latter Day Saints we have a duty to promote the family from within and throughout society. Despite the wave of malicious and brazen attacks against the family we must and can stand strong by living the principles taught within this proclamation.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 44: Being Good Citizens

I wonder how many people recognize who this prophet is and even more so, know why he was on the cover of Time magazine back in 1953.

In 1952, Ezra Taft Benson was a serving member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. In America, Dwight D Eisenhower had just been elected President and he approached Elder Benson and asked him to be his Secretary of Agriculture based on the recommendation of the farming business community. After initially rejecting the offer, Elder Benson reconsidered, was given permission of the brethren, including then President of the Church David O. McKay and accepted, serving concurrently both the US government and the LDS church.

He said of this opportunity,
"I have been happy in the privilege to serve, in a small way at least, this great country and the government under which we live. I am grateful to the First Presidency and my brethren that they have been willing, not only to give consent, but also to give me their blessing as I responded to the call of the chief executive"
What obligation do we have to serve our country and our communities while also serving our church?
Elder M Russell Ballard said,
“In the Church, we often state the couplet, ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ … Perhaps we should state the couplet … as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved;… Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right. …
“Members of the Church need to influence more than we are influenced… We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it” 
What other guidance to the scriptures give us when it comes to being good citizens?
Read Doctrine and Covenants 58:27; Doctrine and Covenants 98:10; Doctrine and Covenants 134

One of the trials of our current times is the pace at which the world would have us live. There seems to be appointments for this and meetings for that. Our kids have this club and that club to attend to after school and it seems you have to be very dedicated just to get the family sitting together around the dinner table each day.

It is no wonder anxiety is at an all-time high in society. So how do we balance the demands of every-day life with the call to be more "anxiously engaged"? And how should we become more anxiously engaged? The Church Handbook of Instructions gives us some help. It states,
"Members should do their civic duty by supporting measures that strengthen society morally, economically, and culturally. Members are urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families"
If that still leaves you unsure where to focus, maybe have a read of Elder Uchtdorf's conference address from October 2010 entitled "Of Things That Matter Most". It is a great reminder not only to enjoy life more but also to be more focused on those things that matter most.

For those that are interest more in the political side of serving your country Doctrine and Covenants 134 could be considered 12 articles of political belief. This section was actually drawn up primarily by Oliver Cowdery and ratified by the Church membership in Kirtland in response to those accusing the church of sedition and who were unsure what the church's political beliefs were. Joseph Smith was not present when this was ratified by the Church leadership but later let it stand unopposed. It serves as an interesting guideline along with modern day direction as to how we are to act politically.

D&C 134:9 addresses the age old question of mixing state with religion, the same question that could be brought up when any LDS member has been involved politically from Joseph Smith to Reed Smoot, to Secretary Benson, to Harry Reid and Mitt Romney. Notice it indicates the problem is not with mixing religion with politics but with using religious influence to "foster" one religion over another.
The Church Handbook of Instructions also helps guide us in political decisions:
"the Church is politically neutral. It does not endorse political parties, platforms, or candidates. Candidates should not imply that they are endorsed by the Church or its leaders. Church leaders and members should avoid any statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of political parties or candidates"
Some might see this as merely a way to stay neutral but when you look at in conjunction with Doctrine and Covenants 98:10, how else might this instruction be helpful to Saints when it comes to selecting and electing our representatives nationally and locally?
Notice how D&C 98:10 describes seeking "honest men" and "good men" and a double portion of "wise men". It states nothing about voting for people based on a political or religious affiliation. I think we get carried away too much in voting for the party rather than the person.

Could it be that if we had spent more time in recent decades seeking out and electing honest, good and wise people rather than blindly, doggedly supporting one party, demonizing another party and dismissing those not in a party that our lands would be better governed? Certainly the Lord's comment at the end of this verse suggests so. He says that we should choose honest, good and wise individuals,
"...otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil"
It is my hope, that we will be wiser in our political choices and more anxiously engaged in our own personal service to country and community. We are a good people, with good standards. We are taught honesty from an early age while early church service and leadership teaches many members wisdom. Our communities and countries would be well-served if those among our LDS community that are good, honest and wise would be more anxiously engaged in the world.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 43: Take upon You My Whole Armour

Some of you may be wondering why there is no picture of armour here when our lesson is about taking upon you the whole armour of God. In fact this man looks somewhat unprotected compared to those around him firing arrows at him.

I decided to choose this picture for this lesson today as it highlights that God's armour is a spiritual armour - unseen by others. For me this picture of Samuel the Lamanite being protected against the arrows of his enemies, better illustrates the concept of the spiritual armour of God and its power in our lives.

Aside from the story we know of Samuel the Lamanite - what can you see in this picture?

A man is standing on a wall, apparently unprotected, open and exposed. We see soldiers shooting arrows at him from all angles and others climbing closer in an apparent attempt to capture or kill him. They are not a few.

How does this picture represent us today? See Doctrine and Covenants 76:29, Ephesians 6:12, Doctrine and Covenants 27:15-18.
What are we "encompassed round about" with by Satan, in his war? The scriptures call them fiery darts.
What does the phrase "fiery darts" tell us about what kind of challenge they will present to us? Darts are quick and fast. They will hurt us if we are not on our guard. If they pierce us, not only do we feel them but we feel their fire also. You do not want to get hit by one of those arrows. It can mean spiritual death.
What do they represent? Temptations and tribulations such as materialism, immorality, dishonesty, minimization of God, etc.
Three such temptations that the lesson asks us to focus are immorality, dishonesty and the minimization of God.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “One of the most pervasive deceptions in recent years is the notion that immorality is normal and acceptable and has no negative consequences. In truth, immorality is the underlying cause of much suffering and many other problems that are prevalent today, including rampant disease, abortion, broken families, families without fathers, and mothers who themselves are children”
Satan really can hurt us and those around us with this fiery dart.
How does the armour of God help defend against Satan's fiery darts of immorality?

President James E. Faust taught: “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving”   
Polonius in Hamlet is famous for saying "to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
How does the armour of God help us be honest? 
Sword of truth is truth telling and truth speaking, breastplate of righteousness covers the heart and is truth loving, and together with the loins girt with truth you are covered in truth. Including helmet of salvation. Helmet protects the mind, the thoughts but also the mouth.

Minimizing God

We minimize God when we take his name in vain and use profanity, but what other ways do we minimize God? Through lack of prayer, and a lack of gratitude. The world minimizes Him by refusing to accept His hand in all things. They demonstrate this by freely taking His name in vain without a thought. Notice the helmet of salvation not only protects the mind but the ears, the eyes and the mouth, suggesting that we must endeavour to keep our minds clean and defend against allowing anything into our sight or hearing that would offend the Spirit of God, and we must defend against letting anything out of our mouths that would offend God.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Profanity and vulgarity … are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defenses by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us”
We have a shield of faith and a sword of truth also. The amazing thing about this armour is that it has no protection on the back parts. Why do you think that is?
Maybe the Lord requires us to press forward and therefore we require only armour to protect the front of us. It may also be that in pressing forward and fighting for Him he also fights for us and therefore He is our protection, He has our back! It could also be that with the kind of battles that we have to fight, once we have turned our back on the enemy and their temptations, they have no more power to hurt us, therefore there is no need to protect our backs. What we do know though is that we must wear it all.

Remember the great mythological warrior Achilles? Here was a demi-god supposed to be remembered as a great hero, a marvellous warrior. But what was he remembered for? Not having every part of him protected. The famous Achilles heel. Achilles name actually means "grief of the people". Now compare this to Samuel the Lamanite.
Helaman 16:2
"...but the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows."
Samuel the Lamanite had no physical armour and we do not fight against flesh and blood in this fight, but it is clear that he and we must be fully dressed in the spiritual armour of God.
There was no Achilles heel with Samuel. Being somewhat protected is not good enough. You must take upon you the whole armour of God and then like Samuel the Lamanite you will find that Satan will be unable to hit you with his stones or his arrows or his fiery darts!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-Day Prophets

Do you still thirst, despite the famine being over?
Water is fascinating. Our bodies are composed of about 60-65% water.

We feel "thirst" after losing around 2-3% of our water. BUT mental performance and physical coordination start to be impaired before thirst kicks in, at around 1% dehydration.

Dehydration can cause fainting, headaches, gallstones and numerous other ailments including death eventually! The daily recommended intake is around 8-12 cups of water a day.

The scriptures often use water to symbolize revelation and the word of God (Deut 32:1-2, John 4:14).

Amos 8:11-13 speaks of a famine that would come. As you read it ask yourselves these questions:
What kind of famine? 
Who shall faint from the thirst? 
Why do they mention specifically "fair virgins" and "young men"? What is this emphasis pointing out?
What are they thirsting? "a thirst of hearing the words of the Lord;"
Using our brief understanding of water above and the spiritual symbolism of thirst what can happen to our spirits if we do not refresh it with revelation and the word of God?

When did the famine start?
The famine started soon after Christ's apostles were killed. The prophetic keys were taken from the earth, leaving the world absent of a declared and authorized spokesperson of the Lord.

When did this famine end?
Fast forward to a spring morning in 1820. A young Joseph Smith has his first vision - "I saw a pillar of light" Truly the heavens opened to a young boy.

Spencer W. Kimball said
"We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and His people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord"
What a powerful short testimony as to what this gospel message is. The following video excerpt of a 2009 Conference address by Elder Holland, expands on the meaning of modern revelation.

Elder Holland invites us all "to examine what we have received" of the Lord by way of modern continuing revelation and "to drink deeply of the well of water springing up into everlasting life" which I would suggest is the spiritual equivalent of getting our 8-12 cups of water daily.

What have we received by way of modern revelation and how has it helped us?
Elder Holland helps us a little in this video by focusing on the Book of Mormon, which though written by ancient prophets was written for us today and revealed in this modern era and is thus modern revelation. But also modern revelation comes in conference talks, announcements of missionary age reduction, the coordination and correlation of church affairs - the handbook, the restoration of priesthood blessings, a proclamation of the family, calls to "lengthen our stride" or "every member a missionary" and reminders that "no success can compensate for failure in the home".

Do we get our daily dose of modern prophetic revelation by "drinking deeply"? 
There are some people that are not as blessed as we are to have such free and constant access to the copious amounts of "water" that we do.
Are we drinking this living water or does it sit unopened, untouched while we grow spiritually faint - for even the very resilient and strongest of us all still need a constant daily dose of modern revelation.

May we drink deeply.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 41: Every Member a Missionary

This year's course of study has taken us from the very earliest days of the church as just a handful of people gathered together in a small farmhouse in New York. It was probably hard for them to imagine the future but as these scriptures illustrate the Lord knew exactly what the future held for the restored church.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:30
Doctrine and Covenants 65:1-6
Doctrine and Covenants 109:72-74

What does the analogy of the stone suggest to us about the work in the latter days?
In what ways is the Church coming out of obscurity throughout the world?

As we look at 3 Latter-Day prophets missionary efforts what do we learn about the Lord and the way He works?

President McKay gave renewed emphasis to missionary work by urging every member to make a commitment to bring at least one new member into the Church each year. He became well known for his repeated admonition: “Every member a missionary.”

In 1952, in an effort to increase the effectiveness of full-time missionaries, the first official proselyting plan was sent to missionaries throughout the world. It was titled A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel. It included seven missionary discussions that emphasized teaching by the Spirit and taught clearly the nature of the Godhead, the plan of salvation, the Apostasy and Restoration, and the importance of the Book of Mormon. The number of people converted to the Church throughout the world increased dramatically. In 1961 Church leaders convened the first seminar for all mission presidents, who were taught to encourage families to fellowship their friends and neighbors and then have these people taught by missionaries in their homes. A language training program for newly called missionaries was established in 1961, and later a missionary training center was constructed. 
Spencer W. Kimball’s first address as President was to the Church’s regional representatives. A participant in the meeting recalled that only moments after the talk began, “we became alert to an astonishing spiritual presence, and we realized that we were listening to something unusual, powerful, different. … It was as if he were drawing back the curtains which covered the purpose of the Almighty and inviting us to view with him the destiny of the gospel and the vision of its ministry.”
It was here that President Kimball sounded the now famous slogan, ‘We must lengthen our stride.’” He admonished his audience to increase their commitment to proclaiming the gospel to the nations of the earth. He also called for a large increase in the number of missionaries who could serve in their own countries. At the conclusion of the sermon, President Ezra Taft Benson declared, “Truly, there is a prophet in Israel.”
Under President Kimball’s dynamic leadership, many more members served full-time missions and Missionary training centers were established in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan.

Thomas S. Monson just announced last year that the age for missionaries to be able to enter the mission field would be lowered. In just one year the missionary force world-wide increased from 55,000 missionaries to 80,000 active missionaries. There are now 15 Missionary Training Centres across the world and 405 missions.

How can we as members be missionaries?
How do we lengthen our stride?
How do we become a part of this great work?
I know that various programs and plans have been initiated over the years and many Saints have been successful as they have followed them, but many Saints have felt frustrated too. That's why I like this video.

What lesson do we learn from this video about missionary work?
Let me relate a personal experience that echoes the story in the video.
As the manager of a workforce, I had certain guidelines handed down by the Human Resources department that included not proactively promoting religion at work. I wondered how I could share the gospel with people in that kind of setting under those constraints when most of my life was spent at work and the rest was spent at church or with church friends and family.

I knew I must but I did not know how.
So I would take my Book of Mormon to work and try to read it during lunch times. This was not some great master plan I had developed. It was more Plan B while I tried to think of a better way to open my mouth. Invariably, I never found time to take lunch and read and so the Book of Mormon sat on my desk.
Also not part of any master plan but more out of curiosity I would make a point of asking employees on the Monday what they had done over the weekend. Without hesitation, after they had recounted their exploits, they would return the question. I noticed it was a great opportunity to share my church attendance experiences.
Many weeks and months passed without any noticeable effect of what I felt were my rather lacklustre missionary efforts. Then one Monday, I asked an employee, Sharon what she had done that weekend. Sure enough, she then returned the favour and asked me the same question. For one reason or another, I mentioned very specifically that I had attended my High Priest Group. I had not intended to say that but out it popped. I thought nothing more of it. But unbeknownst to me she was intrigued that her boss held a title that she associated with days long long ago in the Bible. It seemed to eat away at her, this niggling thought that she should ask more. Other events in her life also challenged her to seek the same happiness that she saw in my family life. One day Sharon approached me in my office. As she broached the subject of religion her eyes welled up and I knew that she was whom I had been sent to share the gospel with. I bore her my testimony of the happiness the gospel brings to those that live it. I gave her the copy of the Book of Mormon still sat there on my desk.

Not long after, Sharon embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and was baptized. She was like a sponge, she just wanted to learn more and more, she attended weekly institute and private scripture study sessions with my family and today is serving in a leadership position in the church, helping others to live the gospel.
The Lord prepared the way. I knew all I had to do was find a way to open my mouth and the Lord would do the rest. Doctrine and Covenants 33:7-9.
Sometimes we can be frustrated and busy and maybe even feel thwarted in our missionary efforts but if we keep at it great blessings await not only those you share the gospel with but us too!
Doctrine and Covenants 18:15-16

What do we learn from stories like this?

At a seminar for new Mission Presidents held in June 2013 Elder L. Tom Perry added the concluding comments: “This is the most remarkable era in the history of the Church. This is something that ranks with the great events that have happened in past history, like the First Vision, like the gift of the Book of Mormon, like the Restoration of the gospel, like all of the things that build that foundation for us to go forward and teach in our Father in Heaven’s kingdom.”

As President Henry B. Eyring has said, “Whatever our age, capacity, Church calling, or location, we are as one called to the work to help Him in His harvest of souls.”

The church is coming out of obscurity across the world. What part are you playing in the church coming out of obscurity in your neighbourhood, in your city, in your workplace?

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

By the Spring of 1940, Hitler's army had marched through Europe very quickly taking over unprepared and undefended countries while the rest tried to desperately make peace pacts and deals with the Nazi machine. By the time the British realized that pursuing peace was pointless, the German forces had surrounded them in a classic pincer movement in the North of France and Belgium. Winston Churchill, who had just been instated as Prime Minister, immediately recognized the impending disaster and called on all able bodied seamen and seaworthy vessels to sail across the English Channel to rescue as many of the trapped soldiers as possible from the Dunkirk beaches. So gloomy were the predictions that most felt saving 40,000 soldiers would be a miracle. Between May 26th and June 4th 1940 over 700 civilian vessels participated in this impromptu evacuation. Many repeated the journey between Dover and Dunkirk multiple times, navigating through choppy waters filled with mines and constantly trying to avoid the bombs and shelling of the German forces.
In the end over 330,000 soldiers were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk (almost 10 x more than even the most optimistic predictions). This incredibly successful rescue triggered Winston Churchill's defiant speech "we shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them in the air and on the land and on sea...but we shall never surrender".

What has Temple and Family History work got to do with Dunkirk?
When Elijah restored the keys of sealing it set in motion the beginning of the greatest rescue operation known to mankind save the Atonement itself. We have been asked to be a part of that – us in our small vessels.
Do you think people feel overwhelmed sometimes when they think about all the Lord requires - including temple and family history work-  all the while navigating the choppy waters and trying to avoid the mines and bombs of life? What is it that is can feel so daunting about it? 
Remember the Lord does not expect us to run faster than we have strength. For some going to the temple may still be only a dream. For others, having a young family might present its own challenges. The Lord understands this and requires only that which we are able and that which we are willing to offer - no matter how small our offering or vessel.

“There are many tasks to be performed in temple and family history work. We should encourage our members to make prayerful selection of the things they can do in their individual circumstances and in view of their current Church callings…”     Dallin H Oaks
What kind of different things could we do based on individual circumstances that still allow us to participate in temple and family history work? Answers may include prepare your 4 generations of family history using Family Search. Be worthy of and hold a current temple recommend, learn about ancestors lives, keep a personal journal, babysit for families so the parents can attend the temple etc.

“…There are family organizations to be formed, family projects to be planned, hearts to be touched, prayers to be offered, doctrines to be learned, children to be taught, living and dead relatives to be identified, recommends to be obtained, temples to be visited, covenants to be made, and ordinances to be received. ” Dallin H Oaks
Each of us should follow the Spirit's promptings as to what is required of us and how much we can do that allows us to participate in this great work while not running faster than we have strength. One of the great blessings of the modern era is how simple it is to do this work even from our own homes. Back in the 70's President Spencer W. Kimball noted that,
"I believe the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we layman have hardly had a glimpse."
When you think about that, isn't it amazing to recognize how great the tools are that He has provided for us over these last few decades? I remember in my early years going to St Catherines House, London where many of the public records of our ancestors were available and sitting there all day as my mother researched the necessary records to complete her family history. It was ultimately rewarding but a very long day. Today I can, with a click of a button on my iPad, open all of that knowledge in an instant right in front of my eyes, as if receiving a glorious vision of my ancestors. This modern technology truly is a marvel and a blessing in this great work.

Watch this video for another great way to include the entire family in this great work. For some families this may be the season for just inspiring their children to learn about their ancestors. This video suggests a couple of great ways to do that. Having "laboured" through many family home evenings and scripture studies and family prayers with 5 young children I got a kick out of the kid telling his dad to let him go at the beginning!

I thought that was an excellent idea to invite your local Family History Consultant to a Family Home Evening. I thought it was an even better idea of hers to get the kids involved by re-enacting an ancestor's story in a play. 

Boyd K Packer said:
“No work is more of a protection to this church than temple work and the genealogical research that supports it. No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power”                                   
What do you think he meant when he said "No work gives us more power."?

On May 26th 1940, the soldiers waiting to be rescued at Dunkirk waded into the waters up to their shoulders trying to avoid the bombing and the shells on the beach. Many waited hours in the water like this. 

When you think about these soldiers and how desperately they wanted to be rescued, it is not hard to see how important every single person was with their little ships and every single return trip to the beaches of Dunkirk. 

Now imagine that in the context of the billions of spirits waiting to be rescued by us. This is a long quote by President Eyring but well worth the read.

“Wilford Woodruff spoke of Joseph and Hyrum and David Patten, the first apostle to be martyred in this dispensation, and said that they had 50 times as many people to preach to as we have on the earth, and he said that in 1873. 
Think of the billions who have gone to the spirit world since then. And Lorenzo Snow, who is now preaching with them, said this in 1884: “I believe that when the gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable.
Yet, with all their faith and skill and hard labor they can only bring people to faith in the Savior and his gospel enough to give them a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They can bring them to the desire to be baptized. Then they must wait again, aching for the blessings of the gospel. Even Joseph the Prophet cannot baptize there. He cannot lay hands on their heads to confer the Holy Ghost. He cannot endow them. He cannot seal them. That can only be done by us, the living, and by those we serve in the sacred temples now spreading across the earth. 
Can you see at least in your minds the myriads waiting? Can you see those great missionaries waiting on us? Have you heard missionaries report, as I did just the other day, that the greatest joy of their lives was to baptize converts and to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost? 
But even David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson must wait on us, with those in the spirit world they have loved and taught and converted. Imagine the joy of those who died without hearing the gospel when they looked through the veil and saw you or one of your sons or daughters knock on the door of the first of their descendants to hear of Jesus Christ, and of the restoration of His gospel and priesthood with keys.

When you help a member trying to do family history, don't see that single person. See hundreds and perhaps thousands of their ancestors who will be praying to be found and liberated. And think of the faithful missionaries who have waited with them. As you do, you will feel not only the urgency of your service but confidence that prayers, some from this side of the veil and more on the other, will be answered.”  (Elder Henry B. Eyring - An excerpt from the Training Video for Family History Leaders, May 2000)  
 We may have tiny vessels, we may feel overwhelmed, but if we can save even just a few of them is it not worth it?
It is a great work and a very rewarding work. I believe the power it gives is the power that comes when heaven and earth is directly connected. It is a divine power, the power of salvation. We are learning to be saviours in Mount Zion. The hearts of the children are turning to their fathers and as they do they will notice that the hearts of many of their fathers have been waiting anxiously for this spiritual reunion.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 38 "In Mine Own Way"

"So there's this huge flood one day, and an entire town looks like it's going to be swallowed.
One man is sitting on the roof with the water lapping around his ankles when the emergency services come along in a boat and tell him to jump on board.
To which he says "Nah, it's ok, God will Provide"
So about an hour later they're zooming past in the boat again and they notice the man's still there, only the water's up to his waist, almost at the top of the roof.. "Quick" they say, get in the boat, it's going to get worst before it gets better.
"Nah, don't worry - God will Provide"
An hour after that a rescue helicopter flies over the area and notices the man, who must be standing on the peak of the roof now, with only his head and shoulders out of the water. "GRAB THE ROPE!" they cry "IT'S YOUR ONLY HOPE!"
"Don't worry" he replies calmly "God will provide."
So he gets drowned of course. And he goes to heaven, and is a little ticked off with Heavenly Father for drowning him like that, and expresses his concern saying "I had FAITH, I BELIEVED in you - and still you didn't help me"
"HELP YOU?!" God replies "What MORE did you want - I sent you two boats and a helicopter!"
While this is an amusing story it speaks to the theme of the lesson today. Christians are often at loggerheads on the topics of faith and works. Some even see the two principles as a dichotomy. As Latter-Day Saints we believe that they should and do co-exist but getting the right balance is really a key to surviving the floods of life that we face.
Noah was saved because he understood and followed the Lord's way.

Another man who faced a pretty severe flood and called on God and had a boat as a means of escape was Noah. As I prepared this lesson my mind has been drawn to his story a lot. And his life gives us a much better example than the man in our first story, of how to couple faith with works.

As we go through this lesson and you consider all the obstacles you encounter in fulfilling the Lord's way ponder on Noah: "a just man and perfect in his generations" he nevertheless reached a point where he and his family were the only righteous people on the earth. Talk about facing constant temptation alone.! That requires immense personal spiritual strength. How easy would it be to give in to the neighbours mocking and taunting your weird habits and lifestyle and the world condemning your "out-of-touch-with-modern-times" morality! Anyone complaining about living a little too far from their chapel or their temple? Then add on top of that a failed mission - not one convert in 120 years! Any missionaries struggling out there today? Wow! This man's testimony must have been incredible. So keep Noah in mind as we go through the lesson today.


Read Doctrine and Covenants 38:29-30
The Saints are pretty nervous and maybe scared and are asking the Lord why they have to leave their homes and farms and crops in New York and travel 300 miles to Ohio (wait till they see the rest of the travel itinerary!) and in reply the Lord gives them this wonderful sermon, essentially saying it might not make sense to you but trust me - it's for your good.

What elements of faith and works (trusting in the Lord's way and self-reliance) do we see in these verses? 
Some thoughts as you ponder that question:
Notice the Lord heard their prayers. Not prayer but plural...prayerS. As Oliver Cowdery declared in the footnotes of Joseph Smith History, "the ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble". And as Nephi asked his brothers "Have ye inquired of the Lord?"(1 Nephi 15:7-8).
Consider also these questions: what does it mean to "treasure up wisdom"? Whose is the voice that "shakes the earth" and whose voice is louder? It reminds me of a loving Father who does not want to shout at His children. Instead he whispers and shakes the earth around us to get our attention without actually harming us. But if we do not listen to those quiet feelings and promptings and changes around us then the loud wickedness of men will scream in our lives and could well do harm. Which voice do you prefer to live with?
Did you see the formula the Lord gave them in these verses for be prepared for life's floods? Look again!


"And if ye are prepared - ye shall not fear!"
Notice how these are all actions we must undertake - but with a heavy reliance on the Lord for each item. (cf 2 Nephi 25:24 " is by grace we are saved, after all we can do")


Read Doctrine and Covenants 104:13-18
3 years on from the first scripture we read and the Saints are surviving in different ways. Some are richer, some are poorer. It must have been an exciting and a tough time or as Charles Dickens may have put it,"it was the best of times and it was the worst of times".

What did the Lord teach us here?
Some thoughts as you ponder that question:
Who is the Lord going to make accountable for and a steward over earthly blessings? EVERYONE. Even the poorest of the poor has been given certain earthly blessings that they are a steward over and will be accountable for. Why do we need to be accountable for our blessings? At Christmas, could you imagine if people came back and asked what you did with the presents they gave you. Have you used them? Do you still have them? How often do you use it? I imagine for some of us it could be an awkward conversation. So, why does the Lord want to have this conversation with us?
v.15 His purpose is to provide for us all – (maybe this brings up thoughts of cf Matt 6:25-33) but then he adds a caveat…
v.16 "BUT it must needs be done in MINE OWN WAY"
What is that way?
What does that mean – poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low? Seems nice for the poor but odd and unfair for the rich – what is the Lord teaching us here? Why does he do it this way? To accommodate our agency and to teach us to love with the pure love of Christ. That really is the crux of it all.
v.17 Earth is full and there is enough to spare.
“I prepared all things..," (Would you expect any less of God - do you think He fears? NO, because he is prepared) "...and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves"(WOW! After all that preparation He then throws us and our agency in the mix. That is a tremendous amount of trust in us)
V18 so why are there people born poor and some born rich? I think it was based on the agency of man. So many bad decisions have led to a world totally out of balance with some areas in utter poverty and famine and others in wealth and abundance. (Contrast that with the city of Enoch "...and there was no poor among them")

There is enough to go around but some sit in their abundance and will not share but instead waste or throw away what they have (this reminds me of the parable of the talents)
Now read this – a news article on global food supplies just printed in September 2013
“The United Nations says there are more than 900 million hungry people in the world, and yet a new report from the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) finds nearly a third of the world's food supply—over 1.3 billion tons—goes to waste each year.
The U.N. report finds North Americans are some of the worst offenders, wasting on average more than 600 pounds of food per person each year. Globally, it’s a costly problem, too: Excluding seafood, the price tag for the wasted food amounts to $750 billion.”                                             
And what does the Lord say about this to those that have an abundance or are rich?
Doctrine and Covenants 56:16 Powerful! Do you want to be left saying "the harvest is over, the summer is ended and my soul is not saved!"

And what does the Lord say to the poor?
Doctrine and Covenants 56:17-18 Do you want to be considered as one of those that "will not labour with your own hands". These are principles you want to learn and then teach your children.

The Church has instituted a welfare program founded on these principles. The following statement from the First Presidency of the day emphasizes the purposes of the Church welfare program:
“Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 3).

So how can we apply this to our temporal and spiritual lives?
The Church Handbook of Instructions explains: “To become self-reliant in resource management, Church members should pay tithes and offerings, avoid unnecessary debt, save for the future, and satisfy all of their promised obligations. Members also should use their resources, including their time, frugally and avoid wasting them”
It seems a pretty clear instruction on how to stay temporally self-reliant. I would consider this the "treasure up wisdom" part of the formula. If you add prayer and listening to and following the Lord's voice then you should be prepared for any financial problems and avoid a lot of the fear and stress others who do not follow these instructions encounter.
How about spiritually? Well just look at the same instructions but with a spiritual eye. Do you see it? Debt being sin, saving becomes building testimony, paying tithing is saying your prayers, reading your scriptures, promised obligations are fulfilling our priesthood and church membership responsibilities.

Let's conclude by going back to Noah. He cried repentance for 120 years to his people and yet they did not heed the warnings or prepare. In life, we may all face smaller floods such as a real basement flood (as some of our neighbours did a year ago) or a metaphorical basement flood as my family did this summer when I lost my job. The question is will you be prepared or will you sit on your rooftop waiting for the Lord to bale you out. I wasn’t prepared financially but luckily I was prepared a little better spiritually. I and many others prayed, I looked for jobs and submitted resumes every day, I worked hard previously at a good education, I followed the prompting to apply for a position and an industry I had never worked in before. The Lord in his loving way provided a way for us this time, because I didn't just sit around waiting...but financially it was tough because we were not prepared. At some point we must become self-reliant, prepared and faithful like Noah– whether rich or poor, spiritually or temporally – will your soul be saved because you trusted and followed in God’s way or will you find that eventually the harvest is past, the summer is ended and your soul is not saved?

*If you want to study deeper into Noah's back story and why the Lord allows man his agency and in so doing creates such a disparity between rich and poor and good and wicked on earth then study the book of Moses 7:19-52. It is a wonderful discourse on how much the Lord loves us but due to our agency requires us to love (v33 is key love one another). 
**(interesting pop quiz question – why did Methuselah end up living so long on the earth and not be taken up with the City of Zion and his dad Enoch? See 8:1-3) 

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 37 "We Thank Thee O God, for a Prophet"

President Hugh B. Brown a former member of the First Presidency shared the following experience that occurred before he was called as a General Authority: While working as an attorney, a barrister, in England just before the start of World War II, he befriended a member of the English House of Commons. This gentleman was a prominent member of the legal community and a former justice of the supreme court of Britain.  As friends, they discussed a variety of subjects of mutual interest.  One day in 1939, as it became apparent that WWII would soon commence, his English friend asked Bro. Brown to speak in defense of his religious beliefs—just as if they were discussing a legal issue.  In a general conference address, Pres. Brown recounted the essence of their exchange.
“I began by asking, ‘May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?'  ‘I am.’  ‘I assume that you believe in the Bible—the Old and New Testaments?’ “’I do.’ ” His friend affirmed his belief in the biblical accounts of the Lord speaking to prophets.  However, he maintained that such communication had stopped soon after the Resurrection of Christ.  The conversation continued with another question from Bro. Brown: “Why do you think it stopped?” “ ‘I can’t say.’ “You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?’ ‘Not to my knowledge.’ “ ‘May I suggest some possible reasons why he has not spoken. Perhaps it is because he cannot. He has lost the power.’ “He said, ‘Of course that would be blasphemous.’  “ ‘Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps he doesn’t speak to men because he doesn’t love us anymore.  He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.’ “ ‘No,’ he said, ‘God loves all men, and he is no respecter of persons.’ “ ‘Well, then,…the only other possible answer as I see it is that we don’t need him. We have made such rapid strides in education and science that we don’t need God any more.’ “And then he said, and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war, ‘Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now.  Perhaps you can tell me why he doesn’t speak.’ “My answer was, ‘He does speak, he has spoken; but men need faith to hear him’ “ 
This was 1939. The Nazi danger has now passed.
What are your thoughts on that experience Hugh B Brown related to us?  For me it reminds me of how the Lord has indicated that he will tell us in our hearts and in our minds, our own personal biological dual witness (as outlined in eternal principles "by the mouth of two or three witnesses..."). Here he reasons with very good logic but then also indicates it is a matter of faith.

Amos 3:7 increases our understanding of how God speaks to us. He uses official appointed messengers called prophets.
What other titles do prophets have and what do these titles tell us about the nature of their calling?

This video gives a brief quote from each of the prophets from this dispensation. I am sure there will be many fond memories elicited from this video as you watch and remember beloved prophets. But pay close attention to the messages each one shares. Note how you feel as you ponder each message. And quietly ask yourself how well have you done at following the counsel from the Lord in these Latter Days.

Listening to those voices did anything come to mind? 
If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why are there so many different messages from His prophets? Which is the most important message to listen to?

“For the next six months, your conference edition of the Ensign should stand next to your standard works and be referred to frequently” Ezra Taft Benson

Harold B Lee said that the report of the conference should “be the guide to [our] walk and talk during the next six months” 

“The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us today. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece” Ezra Taft Benson

Where does the Book of Mormon fit in to this instruction? Is it classified as ancient scripture if it was written for us in our day? I suggest this is the reason greater emphasis is placed on our need to study this book daily. It was written for us in our latter days and stands with our latter day prophet as vital to our daily spiritual survival.

The Lord has called prophets whenever a people qualify to hear his voice. If you think about it there have been times through the history of mankind where God ceased to speak to his people collectively. In these latter-days we have qualified to hear His voice. How does that make you feel?

We have just listened to the prophet and apostles speak to us during General Conference. 
What are some of the messages that you remember? What are your favourite messages? Why do we remember different messages more than others? Does that discount the other messages? 

Maybe we have become perfect in one principle while another principle needs improvement in our lives. Different messages will resonate at different times with different people. But to dismiss any of them as of no worth to you is a dangerous path to start walking down. I believe that if we followed the prophet more carefully our lives would be a little less stressful.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 36 "The Desert shall Rejoice and Blossom as the Rose"

Salt Lake Valley c.1849

On the right are two images.

This top image is a drawing from around 1849 that depicts the Salt Lake Valley at that time. Notice while there are structures up, the ground looks hard and dry and there is very little vegetation.

Salt Lake Valley c.1949

This bottom image is a photo from around 1949 that depicts the Salt Lake Valley at that time.
Notice now all the vegetation, the green, lush view. The desert truly has blossomed as the rose.

The obvious question to ask based on the lesson title, taken from Isaiah, is how do you get a desert to rejoice and blossom like a rose? There is little doubt a lot of hard work went into it but what else really made this settlement of a dusty, salty valley such a success for the Saints?

In this lesson we will focus on 3 things that not only helped the Saints back then but can help modern Latter Day Saints reclaim the wilderness places in their lives.

1. Making the Temple a central focus in their lives.
On 28 July 1847, President Brigham Young stood on the spot where the Salt Lake Temple now stands. He struck his cane on the ground and said, “Right here will stand the temple of our God”. Did you notice the date? When is pioneer day celebrated? That's right - 24th July. Just four days after arriving in the valley the temple site was identified. Within a week of that the Saints began surveying the new city, with the temple at the centre of the survey. The layout of the city focused the people on the temple.

Just this last week the current St Paul's Minnesota temple president, President Hugh spoke to the Duluth Minnesota Stake of the importance of attending the temple. Sometimes we find it hard to attend because of distance, or family circumstances, or work. In teaching us the importance of attending the temple, President Hugh quoted Rene Daumel, a famous mountaineer who said:

"You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again . . .So what’s the point? Only this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.
There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know..."
                              Rene Daumel as quoted by Pres. Hugh, Sept 2013
I think this is a great metaphor for temple attendance. We may not all be able to go every week but if we make it our focus, it changes our perspective, and it changes our lives.
Some of us are blessed with a temple in our backyard, and maybe our challenge is not taking it for granted. Sometimes things so close to us can also be as blurry as those things far away in the distance. Whether near to or far from a temple, it is about where we focus our hearts and our homes.

2. Obedience to their priesthood leaders and gospel principles
During this time President Brigham Young would often call brethren to colonize an area, much like going on a mission and often called from the pulpit without prior warning or notice. By 1877 when Brigham Young died, more than 350 successful colonies had been created across the Salt Lake Valley and around the Utah territory, Southern Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and California. 

Two brethren called on such colonization missions were Charles Lowell Walker and Charles C. Rich.
Charles Lowell Walker had finally beaten the desert landscape of the Salt Lake Valley and had a home and garden that was just beginning to bear fruit. This is what he said of his call to leave and colonize another area:
"Here I learned a principle that I shall not forget in awhile. It showed to me that obedience was a great principle in heaven and on earth. Well, here I have worked for the last seven years through heat and cold, hunger and adverse circumstances, and at last have got me a home, a lot with fruit trees just beginning to bear and look pretty. Well, I must leave it and go and do the will of my Father in Heaven, who overrules all for the good of them that love and fear him. I pray God to give me strength to accomplish that which is required of me in an acceptable manner before him."
Charles C. Rich had been called to colonize a colder more severe climate and on arriving found conditions harsher than expected. This is what he said as others around him gave up:
"There have been many hardships. That I admit … and these we have shared together. But if you want to go somewhere else, that is your right, and I do not want to deprive you of it. … But I must stay here, even if I stay alone. President Young called me here, and here I will remain till he releases me and gives me leave to go."
I wonder if that sounds familiar to the Young Men's/Women's President who loves his/her calling and has just got settled only to be told he/she is being released. Or how about the quiet member in nursery who feels they have been left in this calling and forgotten and who long to return to the warmth of Gospel Doctrine class?
This speaks to the great gospel theme of "my will" vs "thy will". Consider Jonah who found his calling too tough and as a result of disobeying his call and choosing his will over the Lord's will had to endure sitting in the guts of a giant fish for 3 days. The Lord blesses those who are obedient (cf Doctrine and Covenants 58:2-4; 64:33-34; 82:10).

3. Sacrifice brought forth blessings from heaven
During this busy time building the temple in Salt Lake and building colonies across the territories, Brigham Young also recognized the importance of building the kingdom. In 1849 several members of the Quorum of the Twelve along with newly called missionaries were called to serve foreign missions.
In 1852, 106 new missionaries were called to go on missions throughout the world. Like those called to colonize, this brought trials and much sacrifice. Many were arrested and imprisoned. Many became very sick as they visited foreign lands and traveled vast oceans. But the result of their labours created a foundation of Latter Day Saints across the world. Many of these new saints heeded the call to gather to Zion. One such family were Charles and Elizabeth Wood:
"Elizabeth and Charles Wood sailed in 1860 from South Africa, where they had labored several years to acquire money for their travel. Elizabeth kept house for a wealthy man, and her husband made bricks until they obtained the needed funds. Elizabeth was carried aboard the ship on a bed 24 hours after delivering a son and was given the captain’s berth so she could be more comfortable. She was very ill during the journey, almost dying twice, but lived to settle in Fillmore, Utah"                                                                           Our Heritage, p. 86
These stories are not uncommon and as Latter Day Saints, having heard many similar tales of sacrifice we may run the risk of taking such stories for granted. But they teach an unfailing principle - sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven. Why do we hear so many of these stories? What should we learn from them? How do they make you feel?

In 1973, Spencer W Kimball gave a wonderful talk to the students at BYU, entitled "Marriage is Honorable". In his address to the students he touched on the topic of temples. At this time there were 15 operating temples across the world. This is what he said:
“The day will come when there will be hundreds of temples all over this world, when there will not be one soul in the world, probably, who is more than a thousand miles away; and for a one time experience in all one’s life, a thousand miles is not far to go. It wouldn’t be far to crawl if one knew what he was getting, and what he was missing if he didn’t go”
Now do something for me. Take out your map apps on your smartphones or your GPS on your mobile devices and calculate the distance between you and your nearest LDS temple. I currently live further away from a temple than at any other time during my life, so far. I am 350 miles away (about a 7 hr drive, sometimes 9 hr drive with all the kids and the pit stops that come with kids!). Now read President Kimball's counsel again. Ask yourself, "Can I do better to live up to that exhortation?"

Take a look at the pictures at the top of this post. Is your life (spiritual or physical) represented more by the first or the second picture?
We all have a wilderness to face whether a physical one like the Saints of the Salt Lake Valley back in 1847, or more spiritual wildernesses of the modern days. But the Lord has given us the examples of those that have gone before us. When we centre our lives on the temple, are obedient to our leaders and willingly offer the sacrifice required of us, great blessings await. May we walk the path of those who have already blazed the trail before us, is my prayer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 35. "A Mission of Saving"

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd, dear are the lambs of his fold; Some from the pastures are straying, hungry and helpless and cold. See, the Good Shepherd is seeking, seeking the lambs that are lost; Bringing them in with rejoicing, saved at such infinite cost.

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd, dear are the "ninety and nine"; dear are the sheep that have wandered out in the desert to pine. Hark! He is earnestly calling, tenderly pleading today, "Will you not seek for my lost ones off from my shelter astray?"

Out in the desert they wander, hungry and helpless and cold. Off to the rescue we'll hasten, bringing them back to the fold.

              LDS Hymnal #221, Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd

In 1856, five handcart companies were organized from Iowa heading toward the Great Salt Lake Valley. Of those five companies the majority were Saints that had emigrated from Great Britain and desired to join the fellowship of Saints gathering in the Zion of the Salt Lake Valley. Many had already submitted to great hardship and sacrifice to reach their destination. Three of these handcart companies arrived safely but the other two, led by James G Willie and Edward Martin, and made up of almost 1000 saints, were to have a very different experience.
Due to communication issues, handcarts had not been prepared for the Martin and Willie handcart companies and so their departure was delayed. When the handcarts were finally made, many had been hastily put together with inferior wood that was unable to handle conditions on the prairies.
Faced with a decision to hold or to push on the Saints decided to push on in the hope of reaching their Zion before winter arrived.

In the modern day, there would have been an inquiry into who did what wrong and why and someone would of necessity be held accountable. Do you think blame can or should be apportioned here? Why or why not?

Unfortunately for them the winter of 1856 came early and with a ferocity that caught them unawares and unprepared for the harsh, wet and cold conditions.
"I was six or seven thousand miles from my native land, in a wild, rocky, mountain country, in a destitute condition, the ground covered with snow, the waters covered with ice, and I with three fatherless children with scarcely nothing to protect them from the merciless storms. I will not attempt to describe my feelings at finding myself thus left a widow with three children, under such excruciating circumstances. I cannot do it. But I believe the Recording Angel has inscribed in the archives above, and that my sufferings for the Gospel's sake will be sanctified unto me for my good." 
                                  Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson Kingford, 1856

Although Elizabeth purposely did not attempt to describe her feelings, what kind of feelings could you imagine her feeling during this time? I imagine frustration, loneliness, desperation, blaming would be typical of feelings we could feel at this time.
Other stories tell of a young girl called Nellie Purcell, barely 10 yrs old who fainting from hunger was forced to lay in the bare handcart. When they arrived in Salt Lake and took the stockings off her feet the skin came off with them because of frostbite. She had to have them both amputated.
These were not the only stories but they suffice to paint a picture of a people trapped by the weather, by lack of shelter and supplies. As this tragedy was unfolding on the plains, in Salt Lake it was conference time. Brigham Young has just heard of the plight of the Saints trapped. This is what he told the Saints:

I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak to-day and during the Conference, it is this, on the 5th day of October, 1856, many of our brethren and sisters are on the Plains with hand-carts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be--to get them here! I want the brethren who may speak to understand that their text is the people on the Plains, and the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before the winter sets in. That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess, it is to save the people. 
The Gospel has been already preached to those brethren and sisters now on the Plains; they have believed and obeyed it, and are willing to do anything for salvation; they are doing all they can do, and the Lord has done all that is required of Him to do, and has given us power to bring them in from the Plains, and teach them the further things of the kingdom of God, and prepare them to enter into the celestial kingdom of their Father. 
                                            Brigham Young, October 5th 1856
What is Brigham Young teaching us about pure religion here?
What part of Brigham Young's text that day makes you feel the Saints were right to continue their journey when they did, despite the hardship that followed?
What great metaphor can be found in all of this? It strikes me that the journey of the Willie and Martin handcart company is a metaphor for our journey here in life back to our Heavenly Father. This life was never meant to be easy. It was meant to bring us to our knees and to the very extremities of what our souls can bear for as Elder Holland so often reminds us, "in man's extremity is God's opportunity."  And when we have gone as far as we can He makes up the rest.  cf 2 Nephi 25:23
Brigham Young's words also remind me of the temple where we go as far as we can physically and then hand ourselves over to the Lord to seek further knowledge. When you think about it the temple is as close as we can be to heaven here in this physical world.We cannot, of ourselves, get any closer. The Saints of the Martin and Willie handcart companies, likewise had pushed themselves to the very closest they could physically get to their Zion.

Ask yourself, and if you don't know take a look at your ward list/directory or ask a bishopric member how many less actives you have in your ward. Also ask yourself how many people live in your local town/city. Is this story not a metaphor for the great rescue effort we are called to undertake for less actives and non members?

As we move on, two stories of the rescue highlight well the two attitudes that can prevail among the Saints in such situations:
 "When the Martin company reached the ice clogged Sweetwater River in early November the specter of crossing it under those conditions nearly broke their hearts and spirits. Due to the unusually early winter season that year the normally undaunting stream was became a formidable obstacle. Reportedly three eighteen-year-old boys, who had come from Salt Lake as part of the relief party, literally carried nearly every handcart company member across the river. When several of those being assisted offered to thank them, one of the youths said, "We don't want any of that. You are welcome. We have come to help you" (Rescue, 27). Upon hearing of this bravery and selflessness, Brigham Young declared, "That act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end"
The other story is heroic in parts and tragic in others:
"Reddick Newton Allred was one of the rescue party sent out by Brigham Young to bring in the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. When a terrible storm hit, Captain Grant, captain of the rescue party, decided to leave some of the wagons by the Sweetwater River as he pressed ahead to find the handcart companies. With the blizzards howling and the weather becoming life threatening, two of the men left behind at the Sweetwater decided that it was foolish to stay. They thought that either the handcart companies had wintered over somewhere or had perished. They decided to return to the Salt Lake Valley and tried to persuade everyone else to do the same.
"Reddick Allred refused to budge. Brigham had sent them out and his priesthood leader had told him to wait there. The others took several wagons, all filled with needed supplies, and started back. Even more tragic, each wagon they met coming out from Salt Lake they turned back as well. They turned back 77 wagons, returning all the way to Little Mountain, where President Young learned what was happening and turned them around again. When the Willie Company was finally found, and had made that heartrending pull up and over Rocky Ridge, it was Reddick Allred and his wagons that waited for them."
When it comes to our hometeaching and visiting teaching or our missionary work do we follow the example of C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, David P Kimball and Reddick Allred or are we more like the two unnamed men who tragically gave up on their rescue efforts and in turn by word or by example or both turned back the rescue efforts of others? 

In a world that is fast-paced it seems one of our major trials is whether we make time for the Lord and His work or whether we allow other activities in life take priority. When such work requires a little sacrifice and effort do we give up or do we press on? I believe the difference depends on what motivates us. We are generally motivated in the gospel by one of three things.

Often early in our gospel lives we are motivated by Obedience. We want to please and do what is right. Obedience is the first law of heaven. Adam when he first offered sacrifice did not know why but he was obedient to the commandment to offer sacrifice.
As we understand the gospel more we recognize why we do things more and we become more invested - not just obedient for obedience sake but also out of Duty. It is a recognition that it is not just about me but also others. I have a duty to others.
The final and highest level of motivation in the gospel is Love. Why is this the highest motivator?
Read Moroni 7:46-48.
Notice the teaching "charity never faileth" and "all things must fail but charity.. '
Why does charity never fail? We are all sadly disobedient to God's commandments at some time, we have all failed to carry out our duty at some point. None of us are perfect. But when we finally obtain charity, the pure love of Christ - our motivation is pure. Because you are no longer doing it to be righteous or to please God, you are doing it because you love others. It is not a reaction to external circumstances but rather it is an innate part of you, you seek opportunities out. You cannot but help because that is you.
"I am grateful that those days of pioneering are behind us. I am thankful that we do not have brethren and sisters stranded in the snow, freezing and dying, while trying to get to this, their Zion in the mountains. But there are people, not a few, whose circumstances are desperate and who cry out for help and relief.
There are so many who are hungry and destitute across this world who need help. I am grateful to be able to say that we are assisting many who are not of our faith but whose needs are serious and whom we have the resources to help. But we need not go so far afield. We have some of our own who cry out in pain and suffering and loneliness and fear. Ours is a great and solemn duty to reach out and help them, to lift them, to feed them if they are hungry, to nurture their spirits if they thirst for truth and righteousness.
There are so many young people who wander aimlessly and walk the tragic trail of drugs, gangs, immorality, and the whole brood of ills that accompany these things. There are widows who long for friendly voices and that spirit of anxious concern which speaks of love. There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast again at the table of the Lord.
My brethren and sisters, I would hope, I would pray, that each of us, having participated in this great conference, would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives."
                                                                Gordon B Hinckley, October 1996