Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Expecto Patronum

The newest Harry Potter video is out, and I've already watched it several times. I have to admit that I am a huge fan of science fiction/fantasy in general, and am particularly fond of the Christianity-inspired fictional writings of the Inklings (including C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings), with which J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books have been compared.

Now, I have heard that some Christians claim that these books promote witchcraft and sorcery, and that we should not read them. But I think that, as with Lewis and Tolkien's works, the magic is merely a metaphor for spiritual power. What is magic, except when something happens that seems to defy our common assumptions of what is possible? When Christ turned water into wine, was that magic? Sure.

Books or movies about magic that are uplifting and inspiring and are very different than those that are purely explorations of the diabolical for sensational purposes. When evil is glamorized, or made to be an alluring and seductive way to power, then I concur: these are best avoided. But those which represent in symbolic "magical" imagery the very real ongoing battle between good and evil, I think are a welcome and much-needed reminder of why we are all here and what we are supposed to be doing.

In a world where we are losing our freedoms of speech and religion, it may be that we may need to rely on such symbols to inspire our children and ourselves, to awaken our moral senses to oft-forgotten truths in a world that is becoming ever blinder to the reality of the fight between good and evil.

I love the Expecto Patronum spell! I love the linguistics of all Rowling's work (she has no small influence from Piers Anthony, another huge favorite of mine!), but this one causes my heart to leap with joy! The word "Patronum" conjures not only the word Patron, or a benefactor who takes care of you, but of the latin word for Father, pater. This one word encompasses the quality of a benevolent Father who takes care of you, and then, she adds the word "Expecto"...which sounds to me like expect...to believe that something will happen, to have faith....

So, in two short words, Rowling manages to have Harry Potter saying something that to my mind is tantamount to saying "have faith in the Father to protect you"! Or actually, to make it more personal, as Harry has to do, he is saying "I have faith in the Father to protect me!" I also love that he first believes it is his own earthly father who has the "power" to make this spell work, and he finally figures out that power (faith) has to come from within his own heart.

Oh, I love that movie! Expecto Patronum! This may become my new motto!

Let Your Light So Shine

From "Let Your Light So Shine," by Dean L. Larsen, Ensign, Sept. 1981. (Remarks delivered at a Brigham Young University fourteen-stake fireside, 1 March 1981.)

The Lord has made it clear that each of us has a responsibility to exert an influence for good in the lives of those who share this mortal experience with us. We cannot live in isolation from others and still fulfill the purpose of our existence. Our actions, our words, our thoughts, and our values will inevitably affect the souls of those whose lives brush against ours. If fact, the Lord himself said that this influence may continue to reverberate long after we have departed, even to the ensuing generations. (See Mosiah 13:13.) This is an awesome prospect. When we contemplate the power we have for perpetrating both good and evil in the lives of others, we have good reason to search for careful understanding of this power.

It is clear that we will be held responsible for making our influence felt. There is no safety or sanctuary in living passively or in avoiding contact with others. This is true for individuals as well as for groups. Nowhere in scripture is this made more emphatic than in the Lord’s injunction to Ezekiel. He said: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." (Ezek. 3:17-19.)

To his disciples the Savior said, "I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men." (3 Ne. 12:13.) On another occasion he spoke of the need of our placing our light on a candlestick, not under a bushel, so that it could give light to the whole house. (See Matt. 5:15.)

How do we exert this kind of influence upon others so that their lives and ours are enriched and blessed? Joseph Smith warned that it is the nature and disposition of almost all of us to exercise this influence in an unrighteous way. He said, "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen." (D&C 121:39-40.)

Is it possible for us to have the best motives and intentions and still produce undesirable results? In what ways can we unrighteously dominate the lives of others? Obviously this is a matter of overriding importance, for not only do we bring others into jeopardy by our misuse of power, but it appears that our own prospects for eternal advancement are closely related to our learning to use it righteously.

In order for us to interact with each other in a correct way, it is necessary to comprehend the immense importance of the gift of agency—freedom to exercise one’s own will. Of course, one’s agency is of little productive value unless it is accompanied by knowledge and understanding. When knowledge and understanding are combined with agency, a condition is achieved that we call accountability.

Achieving accountability and helping others to achieve it are among the most important concerns of mortal life. Parents have this great responsibility with regard to their children. The Lord has said that those parents who fail in this are guilty of a serious transgression. (See D&C 68:25.) Progress and development toward a celestial standard of life cannot be achieved in the absence of individual accountability. It is a process that continues after baptism. The Lord has said that children only begin to become accountable before him at the baptismal age. (See D&C 29:47.)

It is helpful to review the account given to us by Moses in the Pearl of Great Price of the propositions that were advanced and the decisions made in the great council of spirits prior to the creation and habitation of this earth. In that council the purposes and opportunities of mortal life and the essential nature of agency were explained. The preeminently important role of a Redeemer and Atoner in this great plan was also outlined. One whom we know as Jehovah, the Firstborn of the Father in the spirit, was chosen to fill this role. He was fully qualified for such an assignment. It would require attributes of unexcelled devotion, love, and perfection. Jehovah accepted the conditions of the plan and willingly agreed to comply with them. Additionally, he insisted that the honor and glory resulting from the success of this plan would remain with the Father. (See Moses 4:1-4.)

Paramount among the conditions Jehovah espoused was that of agency—the freedom of each individual spirit to make choices and abide by the consequences of these choices. All of us who participated in that council were informed as to the risks that would attach to a mortal existence. We understood well that while our decision to come into mortal life would enable us to be "added upon," the prospect of having "glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever" (Abr. 3:26) would be conditioned upon our willing obedience to those principles and practices that would make this possible. We understood that because we would be free to make choices—to exercise our agency—some would fall short of their highest potential in consequence of their disobedience. It must have been a most sobering and compelling moment in our lives. The magnitude of the step to be taken into mortal life must have seemed overwhelming to us, and indeed, for some or us, it must have been!

At this momentous time of decision-making, another prominent figure stepped forward. We know him as Lucifer. He contested the plan of the Father and opposed the choice of Jehovah as the Redeemer. Taking advantage of the anxiety and doubt that must have been felt by many of the spirits in that council, he used his influence to incite a rebellion. He proposed that he should replace Jehovah as the central figure in the plan of salvation. His plan would deny the freedom of choice to those who followed him. They would be compelled to obedience. His promise to them was that not one soul would be lost. Furthermore, all the honor and glory were to rest upon him. The words of the Father describe these events and their consequences for Lucifer and those who rebelled with him:

"Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice." (Moses 4:3-4.)

Lucifer knew that the promise of salvation extended on his conditions was a lie. He could not have delivered the results he promised. He had two despicable motives in taking the course he did. One was to make himself an absolute dictator with all power and glory. The other was to enslave his followers by taking from them forever their right to make choices. Obviously, under such conditions all opportunity for individual progress and development would have been lost. Lucifer sought to aggrandize himself at the eternal expense of all who would submit to this proposition.

From the account of these dramatic events we gain considerable insight into the importance of Joseph Smith’s inspired observation. No person can be compelled to progress. When compulsion is used, the benefits are lost. It is an irrevocable law. Manipulation, regimentation, coercion—for whatever motive or reason—will ultimately fail to produce good results. Joseph Smith specifically warned against such things as pride, vain ambition, control, unrighteous dominion, compulsion, hypocrisy, and guile. He declared that methods of exerting influence based upon these things would cause the Spirit of the Lord to grieve, the heavens to withdraw their sanction, and, finally, the power for accomplishing good to be terminated. (See D&C 121:36-37.)

The Prophet goes on to say that no power or influence can be maintained, nor should it be attempted, even within the purview of a priesthood calling, except "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile." (D&C 121:41-42.)

In order for progress and development to occur, then, one must have the freedom to exercise his own will, and he must have a knowledge of truth sufficient to make him accountable—enough to "greatly enlarge the soul." Moreover, he must have come to value the truths he has learned for himself, by his own volition, not through compulsion or intimidation from another. Under these conditions he is capable of exercising moral judgment. And he is capable of progress.

I like the statement made by Albert Payne on this point. He said: "A distinguishing feature of Church organization lies in its balance of authority and individual rights. … In its operation the highest capacities of man—his capacity to act as a free agent, and his capacity to be spiritual—must be respected and enlarged. Leaders invite, persuade, encourage, and recommend in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. Members respond freely as the Spirit guides. Only this kind of response has moral value. Fear and force have no place in the kingdom because they do not produce moral actions and are contrary to God’s gift of free agency." (Unpublished manuscript, copy in author’s possession.)

It should be pointed out that the Lord’s plan does not ignore the need for occasional correction and discipline. He does not withhold the consequences of bad choices. When we err, we feel the pain. Those in positions of influence and leadership, including parents, are required to see that purity of conduct and belief is maintained among the membership of the Church. Persistent or recurring violation of the Lord’s standard requires disciplinary action. His commitment to agency does not include a tolerance for sin. It is important for us to remember the fact taught by Alma to his son Corianton: mercy cannot rob justice. (See Alma 42:25.)

While his love for us does not diminish, he does not rescue us from the hard lessons that we must sometimes learn. Freedom always has jeopardy as its companion. Only inspired wisdom and an unrelenting commitment to truth and righteous conduct guarantee a forward course on the path of progress.

The freedom to choose our own course of action does not provide freedom from the consequences of our choices.

With these facts before us, how do we govern ourselves in wielding the influence the Lord expects us to have upon others? How can these principles apply in our relationships with family, friends, associates, and with all whom we encounter on life’s journey?

Just as the ends do not always justify the means, neither do the motives always justify the methods. Lucifer sought to aggrandize himself by enslaving others. His motive for compelling others was to exalt himself above them. One may have the purest of motives for regimenting, compelling, or controlling the lives of others, but his motives will not prevent negative results from occurring in the lives of those whom his incorrect methods touch.

We have a perfect model to follow in the Savior himself. He had great power that he could have used to compel people to follow him and to be obedient to his word. Occasionally he demonstrated this power in miraculous ways, but never with the intent to command a following. It was not uncommon for him to ask of those who had been the recipients of his marvelous power to keep the matter to themselves and tell no one. Such was the case with the leper whom Jesus healed. "See thou tell no man" (Matt. 8:4) was the Savior’s charge in this case. It was almost as though he feared that men would follow him because of his power rather than as a result of having learned his truths and having valued them because they were true.

In no incident in the mortal ministry of the Lord is this concern made more manifest than in the case of the feeding of the multitude with the loaves and fishes. (See John 6.) This great gathering of people had followed Jesus into a mountain where he taught them. They had brought no provender with them. Out of compassion for their physical hunger, he miraculously provided food for 5,000. Their reaction to this demonstration of power was to attempt to force him to become their king. The benefits of yielding subservience to one who could care for their needs so easily were obvious. Their intentions alarmed the Savior. He left the crowd immediately, and during the night crossed over to the other side of the sea of Galilee near Capernaum. Word soon came to them of the Lord’s whereabouts, and the throng pursued him. When they found him, they said, "Rabbi, when camest thou hither?" (John 6:25.)

Perceiving the real purpose of their interest in him, the Lord accused them, "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life." (John 6:26-27.)

The crowd then demanded another miracle, protesting that they were not so different from the children of Israel for whom Moses had provided manna in the desert.

Obviously the truths that Jesus had taught these people had not penetrated their hearts and their understanding. They were untouched by the influence he had wished to effect. "I am the bread of life," he said, "he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:35.)

"This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:50-51.)

Completely untouched by understanding, the multitude was repelled by this allegorical attempt of the Savior, and "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66.)

It would not have been difficult for Jesus to continue to command the following of these people. Their welfare and their salvation meant more to him than his own life. A few more public miracles could have held them and augmented their numbers. It would have been an easy thing to do. But the essential parts of the equation were not coming together. He did not wish a following on that basis. It must have been a terribly disappointing, frustrating experience for the Master. If they would not follow him because they believed and valued the truths he taught them, he would not have them follow him at all.

From a careful review of the Lord’s own methods in teaching and influencing others, it appears that he has always been greatly concerned about helping people to become accountable. His teaching is designed to give both knowledge and understanding. He has set a perfect example. And he has always honored the agency of men. When it has been necessary for him to reprove and correct, he has done so openly and directly, but always with the intent to help and to lift—never to bring honor or attention to himself, nor to bring lock-step, blind obedience to his will. The Lord does not exercise unrighteous dominion.

Following this pattern, it would seem that we must use every opportunity that comes to us to share with others the truths we have about life and its purpose. The Lord’s charge to Ezekiel that we referred to earlier is evidence of this. Additionally, we must continue to encourage and guide and assist with patience and meekness, not to serve our own needs nor our own objectives, but with an eye single to the glory of the Lord and the blessing of his children.

These are matters that are at the very center of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Father’s plan of life for us. There is no other plan capable of producing the character and strength and independent goodness that must qualify one for eternal life. The gospel principles and the institutions of the Church provide the essential road map for us to follow, but the detail of the daily itinerary is left up to us.

The Savior trusts us to succeed because he knows of the divine spark within us. And he trusts the plan because he knows of its perfection. Even as he had to be trusted by the Father to drink of the bitter cup in those last hours of Gethsemane, when he wondered and hoped momentarily that there might be an easier way, he must trust us. Even as he had to trust Peter and the other Apostles to pass the tests of the refiner’s fire after he had been taken from their midst, he must trust us. There is no other way.

When we contrast the vacillating Peter on the night of the Savior’s betrayal and humiliation before Pilate to the calmly unshakable Apostle who later stood before the Jewish council, and at the peril of his life witnessed for the divine Messiahship of the Master, we too can know that the plan is valid. It is true; it is perfect.

In order for it to work its miracle for us, we must go beyond that which is prescribed for us. We must do many good things of our own free will, for the power is in us wherein we are agents unto ourselves. (See D&C 58:26-28.)

The challenges through which we must pass in making the necessary preparations for the Lord’s return will require that we develop the tempered integrity of Peter and Paul and Joseph. It is an integrity based upon commitment to truth that cannot be imposed upon us. It is a strength that must be born and nurtured within one’s own soul. It is the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. We may teach and encourage and love and correct one another to achieve it, but we cannot compel.

The elders quorum president who takes it upon himself to do all the unfinished home teaching in his quorum during the last week of the month must ask himself what his real motives are. Is it for the sake of a good record? And if so, for what reasons does he wish to make the record look good? Is he concerned about helping his home teachers to be accountable? Is he willing to let them be accountable whether or not the teaching is done? These are challenging questions. They require soul-searching, honest answers. When we delegate a responsibility to others, we establish a sacred trust. We have an obligation to do everything appropriate that we can do to help them succeed, but we must be careful not to preempt them in the responsibility we have delegated, lest we rob them of their rightful opportunity and in doing so exercise unrighteous dominion.

The ward mission leader who prescribes the exact procedure to be followed by all members of his ward in fulfilling their member-missionary responsibility must carefully assess both his motive and his method. Certainly he must do all he can to teach the purpose and the need for the missionary effort. He must share ideas and encourage at every opportunity. But he must guard against the temptation to regiment in order to get the results he has specified. At what point is agency infringed upon and unrighteous dominion exercised?

As a high school basketball coach, I learned the value of what we used to call our "free-lance" offense. There were times when all the practiced patterns and set plays didn’t produce the desired results. At these times the free-lance offense was often effective. It simply consisted of having each player take advantage of every opportunity that arose, with a minimum of form and system. It required a considerable command of the fundamentals and a keen sensitivity to the situation. Sometimes a good free-lance offense will win for you at those times when the system fails to meet a specific need, especially if the fundamentals are understood.

In order for people to keep the Sabbath day holy, must they have a full day of required activities prescribed for them at our chapels, or can they enjoy the necessary group worship experiences, including partaking of the sacrament, and then be trusted to govern their own conduct and find their own means of spiritual uplift on this sacred day? Can we live with the risk that some will misuse their time and opportunity? Can agency be honored in an important matter such as this?

Can parents be entrusted to teach the gospel to their children? Or must we require all to follow intensive group programs for instructing our young people to protect against the possibility that some parents will be negligent and their children be cheated of their rightful opportunity? Are there reasonable answers to these important questions in the pattern that the Lord has set? Where can the most appropriate balance be found in order to bring the greatest ultimate blessings for all?

In our consideration of these vital and very real issues, we must never tune out the warning sounded for us by the Prophet Joseph Smith. "It is the nature and disposition of almost all men … to exercise unrighteous dominion." We must remember the terrible price that has been paid in order that our agency and accountability might be preserved and enhanced. Finally, we cannot lose from our minds the picture of the Savior’s heartache and disappointment as the multitude at Capernaum turned away "and walked no more with him." Another miracle could likely have held them on—another meal of the loaves and fishes. They were so precious to him. One can sense the heart-wrenching disappointment of the Savior as he turned to his Apostles and said, "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67.)

Peter’s response has meaning for us all: "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." (John 6:68.)

The words of eternal life, while full of transcendent hope and promise, are not easy. The pathway of progress marked by the Lord is filled with challenges and risks. But it is the only way to celestial life. As we move along the path, we have the reassurance of knowing that we follow in the footsteps of one who knows the way, who understands and trusts us to press on, always with his encouragement and supporting strength, but by our own effort and will. He has removed from this path every obstacle that we could not remove ourselves. He now beckons, "Come to me."

On our onward journey, may we draw proper strength and help from each other, and may we be so wise as to avoid any act or desire that would unnecessarily hedge up the way for another.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

"We Have Sinned Against You"

A leading evangelical speaks at the Mormon Tabernacle and says evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs.
By Richard Mouw (beliefnet)

I know that I have learned much in this continuing dialogue, and I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe.

We have made much of the need to provide you with a strong defense of traditional Christian convictions, regularly quoting the Apostle Peter’s mandate that we present to people like you a reasoned account of the hope that lies with in us—but we have not been careful to follow the same Apostle’s counsel that immediately follows that mandate, when he tells us that we must always make our case with “gentleness and reverence” toward those with whom we are speaking. Indeed, we have even on occasion demonized you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is “really” trying to accomplish in the world. And even at our best, we have—and this is true of both of our communities—we have talked past each other, setting forth oversimplified and distorted accounts of what the other group believes.

Wow! As convert since 1978, who was previously a member of a Southern Baptist church, and who heard vast amounts of that anti-Mormon stuff, this is amazing! (Can't help but wonder if they'll finally figure out that Catholics are Christians, too!! Maybe if we can figure out who's in God's Army, there can be more cooperation in the world against the forces of the adversary, and less "friendly fire" amongst ourselves, which must sadden our Father in Heaven, and bring glee to Satan's forces.)

Summary below, but read the whole thing here.

For the first time in 105 years, non-Mormons mounted the pulpit at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Nov. 14. The event, dubbed an "Evening of Friendship," was organized by Standing Together, a network of 100 evangelical churches trying to improve relations with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historical animosity dating back to the founding of the LDS Church has heightened in recent years between the two groups, particularly in the 1990s, when high-profile evangelical leaders said that Mormons are not Christians and the Southern Baptist Convention held one of its annual meetings in Salt Lake City, partially with the goal of converting Mormons to evangelical Protestantism.

In what the Deseret News referred to as "stunningly candid" comments, Fuller Theological Seminary president and Beliefnet columnist Richard J. Mouw apologized to Mormons for evangelicals' tendency to distort the truth about Latter-day Saints' beliefs. "Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you," Mouw said. The speech is making the rounds among surprised and generally pleased evangelical and Mormon groups.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Strengthen the Feeble Knees

From "Strengthen the Feeble Knees," by Marvin J. Ashton Ensign, Nov. 1991.

There is a phrase used four times in the standard works which has always intrigued me. It is the expression "feeble knees." By definition, feeble means weak, not strong, without force, easily broken, frail. When Frederick G. Williams was called to be a counselor to Joseph Smith, he was given this charge: "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5.) Coupled with the word strengthen, which is to make or become stronger, the phrase led me to contemplate the meaning of these words.

Early on, I assumed "feeble knees" meant weak or exhausted. However, the context of its use in Isaiah (see Isa. 35:3-4) suggests that it may have a somewhat richer meaning, something more like fearful. I actually favor this latter interpretation. Today we often hear such expressions as "weak in the knees" or "knocking knees" to denote fear. In D&C 81:5, the verse might be interpreted as the Lord’s urging Frederick G. Williams to provide strength to the weak ("succor the weak"), to provide encouragement to those who are exhausted or discouraged ("lift up the hands which hang down"), and to give courage and strength to those with feeble knees and fearful hearts.

In March of 1832 when this section was revealed, Church members had reason to be fearful. In Hiram, Ohio, where the Prophet Joseph Smith was living, there was a rising tide of hostility against the Saints. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were brutally attacked by a mob of fifty men. Those who would destroy at the present time no longer use tar and feathers; they taunt and fault.

Today, almost 160 years later, there is no doubt in my mind that the admonition to strengthen feeble knees is more apropos than ever. Who among us has not experienced feeble knees or fear and uncertainty over the responsibilities we encounter in this mortal existence? What of the father, for example, who works long hours to provide for his family only to find at the end of each month that his income only barely meets his expenses? Is he likely to experience the fear that an unforeseen expense might upset his family’s delicately balanced, already strained budget? Does he ever fear that he might not be able to adequately provide for his family’s necessities?

And what of the parents who find themselves rearing an unhappy and nonconforming child? Do they ever experience doubt and fear that they might not be providing the right counsel, discipline, and rules? Do they ever fear they might not be able to provide enough unconditional love to their child? Do they ever fear that the child may be lost eternally because of their parenting? What of the single parent who is rearing children by himself or herself? Does that parent ever fear that he or she will be overwhelmed by the myriad responsibilities, particularly since these challenges must be met alone?

It would seem that no one escapes some uncertainty, insecurity, doubt, and even fear. This mortal existence is invariably challenging and unpredictable. An honest person who is acquainted with the characteristics of life cannot ever be completely confident that his circumstances will not change unexpectedly. How do we deal with the inevitable moments of fear or "feeble knees"? It is vital that we not face them alone. Always it is helpful and comforting to be able to confide in a loving and trusted friend or relative who empathetically listens to our uncertainties. We often find that our confidant has experienced similar fears, and we may even share in his wise counsel.

Life is never easy, and we cannot escape our own case of feeble knees from time to time. It is thus essential that we love and support one another. As we look for ways to strengthen friends and loved ones who may have feeble knees, it would be well to examine ourselves. Do we have feeble knees, wherein by word and action we can weaken ourselves and our associates?

Let me share a few of today’s subtle trends and enticements that can cause our knees to become feeble. None of these is going to cause apostasy by itself, but as the conduct continues, our knees may lose the strength we need to face the realities and fears of life.

In D&C 11:22, we read: "Study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men." Nowhere are we advised to dilute the doctrines of the gospel with personal amendments. Our view is limited and our personal strength is dependent on understanding and following His word.

Some of us may be inclined to study the word with the idea in mind that we must add much where the Lord has said little! Those who would "add upon" could well be guided by the anchor question: Do my writings, comments, or observations build faith and strengthen testimonies? Oftentimes we can cause confusion and misdirection in our lives and in the lives of others if we promote the startling and unorthodox. Feeble knees are strengthened by those who lead with purpose rather than with personal interpretations.

Some today are losing the reinforcement that comes from observing the Sabbath. They say, "Sunday is my day off. I will do as I please. I can worship without having the day structured for meeting attendance or meaningful family and neighbor relationships." Sometimes the freedoms and blessings of the Sabbath can be lost by attitudes that allow selfishness and lack of personal involvement in tried-and-true patterns. Sabbath days can be lost an hour at a time. Sabbath days can be lost an outing at a time.

Controversy and contention are other weakening habits. If Satan can succeed in creating in us the pastime of arguing, quarreling, and contention, it is easier for him to bind us with heavier sins which can destroy our eternal lives. Anger is a poor substitute for self-mastery and compassionate service.

In recent days all of us have witnessed many who have weakened themselves even to the point of falling completely as they have sacrificed the leading principles of honesty and integrity in order to climb an artificial ladder of accomplishment. No lasting great personal heights are ever reached by those who step on others to try to push themselves upward.

It is not surprising to learn that people who tell white lies soon become color-blind. Despite the endless examples of scandals in business, religion, and government, honesty and integrity are still the ingredients to strengthen knees. A coach of the East St. Louis, Illinois, High School took a group of young men and turned them into champions. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor wrote: "This is a story Hollywood wouldn’t believe: kids growing up in America’s biggest urban disaster, slugging it out, year after year. No money, no fancy facilities, just a coach who still believes pride and hard work can mean something." The coach told his players, "Life isn’t always fair, but we can still expect excellence from ourselves." He insisted on hard work from all of his players, the stars included. His team won more than many championships.

On our last trip to Great Britain, I had a chance to visit with an eighteen-year-old young man who has had close association with many missionaries in the field. As I was going to speak to a large number of missionaries in the next few days, I asked this friend what he thought was the most important trait missionaries needed in order to be successful. His answer was simple. "They must know how to work. Many come on a mission never knowing how to work." It has been my experience over the years that feeble-knees are not a by-product of work and commitment to goals. As this eighteen-year-old has observed, we can strengthen feeble knees of others and ourselves by going to work.

Many of us today have a tendency to seek instant strength, instant pleasure, instant acceptance, instant relief, instant answers, instant change, instant success, instant knowledge, instant wealth, omitting day-by-day effort and work. We become discouraged and get more feeble kneed if goals are not reached immediately. Work is a necessary pattern in the solid life.

Often we hear, "Be a light, not a judge." Yet we assume the right to point out flaws in others or dwell on our own weaknesses. Constant criticism can wear one down and weaken knees. As we look closely at family members, friends, and leaders, we will see their human limitations.

An old fable, and one of my favorites over the years, tells this story: A Japanese scholar each evening talked with workmen from a factory. One night he told the men that he would bring them something of beauty on the morrow. One man asked the scholar to bring him a rose; another asked for a branch; and the third requested a lily. The next evening he handed out the rose, the branch, and the lily. "There is a thorn on my rose," said the first man. The second complained, "There is a dead leaf on my branch." "There is a clump of dirt on my lily," cried the third. The scholar took all his gifts back and said, "You had a beautiful rose and saw only the thorn; you had a lovely green branch and saw only the dead leaf; and on the glorious lily you saw only the clump of dirt."

In each of us there may be a thorn in our character, a dead leaf clinging to our reputation, or a bit of dirt in our past. If we dwell on past mistakes, we will certainly become weak-kneed and fearful. When we point out faults or mistakes others may have made, in no way will we strengthen their feeble knees or hold up hands that hang down.

William James wrote, "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." (Familiar Quotations, ed. John Bartlett, Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1980, p. 649.) Joseph Smith said, "I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities." (History of the Church, 5:181.)

How far we have come since the accepted adage for children was "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Now both in business and in the home we are encouraged to catch people doing something good and then give honest praise. We strengthen and build by pointing out the good traits of a person and cause fear and weakness by being unduly critical. I am in agreement that tact is rubbing out another’s mistakes instead of rubbing them in.

A scripture says it this way: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:31-32.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith said: "No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done." (History of the Church, 4:540.) With this kind of declaration from a prophet of God, whose knees need to remain feeble?

May God help us to strengthen the feeble knees of ourselves and those about us by daily improvement in our attitudes and examples, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Family History Links

OK, I started looking through my family history links and realized most of them are at least locale specific, and most family specific, so I am only including the most general of them. Some of my favorite family history links are:

Ancestry.com The Lazy way to do genealogy! A paysite, but I spent the first six months without sleeping poring over census record images that I could not access for years! Very well worth the price. Also, often available for free at the local LDS family history centers.

Heritage Quest I get this for free with my local library card, usually only available in smaller cities, because they have to pay by how many patrons they have. It does a great job with the census records that Ancestry needs to work on still, and vice versa, so between the two of them, most census data can be found.

Census Records Online Although both Ancestry and Heritage Quest have census records, this one is not images, but painstaking transcriptions of the images done by amateurs, and often very helpful.

Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records This is invaluable if your ancestors bought land (and most did!).

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System Helpful if you had an ancestor in the Civil War.

FamilySearch You can download PAF (a software for creating your family tree) for free here. This is a good site, and it links to the one below, which will let you search through the Church's holdings from around the world. Very helpful, as really very little of the holdings are available online. Vast collection, and essential to the serious genealogist. You can order the records on microfilm at your local LDS family history center for about $3. (a bargain!) It takes about 10 days to get them.

Family History Library Catalog Search This is also available on cd, which has the advantage of letting you actually use the keyword search option, which is grayed-out on the website. We have a copy of it, but darned if we can figure out where we got it. If anyone knows, please tell me. May have been the LDS Distribution Center.

U.S. GenWeb Project A good place to start, because it breaks down into states and then counties. Tons of info.

RootsWeb Same thing. Lots of the same stuff as Ancestry, but free. The Social Security Death Index Database is not as up-to-date as Ancestry's, though. The family trees are good (I think Ancestry may have gotten theirs from RootsWeb, because mine is on both and I only ever submitted it to RW).

CinnamonToast Genealogy My daughter gave me this link (I convinced her that genealogy is the ultimate video game! And now she prefers it to video games! Too bad she's doing her boyfriend's family! No, just kidding, but I could use her wonderful sleuthing in our own family lines!)

Hamrick U.S. Surname Distribution Map This gives you a map of how a particular surname was distributed throughout the U.S. at various times. It is kinda cool, and actually useful. We use it in the "Gift of Family History" packets we create for investigators and new members.

dMarie Time Capsule Another Gift of Family History goodie. This gives a "on this day in history" snapshot of what was happening for whatever day you put in, like your birthday. Somewhat U.S.-centric.

The World GenWeb Project The same as GenWeb but has most of the countries in the world.

Canadian Genealogy and History Canadian specific site.

Alberta Family Histories Society This site has great stuff for all across Canada, not just Alberta.

Newfoundland's Grand Banks Genealogy Site Newfoundland-specific site. Very, very good. (A lot of Newfoundland parish records can be found on microfilm, too.)

Newfoundland and Labrador GenWeb The GenWeb link for Newfoundland. A lot of it links to Grand Banks, above, so I mostly use Grand Banks, but this does have some stuff GB doesn't.

OK, that's it for today. If anyone has any questions or wants any help with genealogy, just email me. It is one of my greatest passions, and it is one of the most fun things to do! It is also incredibly important!

The International Roots of the Same-Sex Marriage Furor

From The International Roots of the Same-Sex Marriage Furor By Darla Isackson (from Meridian Magazine)

A Life-Changing Moment

Suggestions flew in the caucus room, and a plan began to develop as caucus members determined a place and a time to meet to fine-tune their strategy. Then a prominent voice rang out: “We need to find out who is in this room!”

Susan said that other pro-family delegates, not wishing to disclose the names of the organizations they represented, quietly left. However, she stayed in her seat. She wanted to discover what was really going on. She knew a lot about the leader of this group, former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug. Abzug had been at the helm of the radical feminist movement with their anti-family work. Her goal was to save women from the “drudgeries” of marriage and children. Susan knew Abzug’s priorities were opposite from her own.

Susan said, “Each woman was asked to stand and introduce herself. When it came my turn I stood and said, ‘My name is Susan Roylance, and I’m with United Families of America.’

“As soon as I said the word ‘families’ the room broke into laughter and jeers. The outburst was so spontaneous and so taunting that I was absolutely shocked. In retrospect, it was a life-changing moment for me, as I realized that these leaders of women from all over the world were absolutely united in their attitude against families. I had known that some of them were pushing toward acceptance of other lifestyles, but was surprised at the intensity of the animosity they all had toward the traditional family.“

Please read the rest.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Meridan Magazine :: Family Connections: Fatherhood is Sacred

The article "Fatherhood is Sacred" by Sean E. Brotherson is wonderful! If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Here's a small sample (read the rest!):

"Fathers have a great capacity, because of their power, to sow either beauty or ugliness in the lives of their children and family members. How do you sow beauty? Perhaps you begin by recognizing that to be the father and mother of a child is a beautiful thing."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Family History: The Phenomenon That is You

From "The Phenomenon That Is You," by James E. Faust (Ensign, Nov. 2003).

Picture with me a little six-year-old orphan girl traveling across the plains of America. Her name is Elsie Ann. Her mother died when she was two. Her father remarried, and so for a time she had a stepmother. Then her father died at Winter Quarters when she was five. Her stepmother remarried and moved away, leaving this little orphan behind with Peter and Selina Robison, who were related to her stepmother. Elsie Ann left Winter Quarters with the Robisons in July of 1849 to come west. As she watched Selina care for her 10-month-old baby girl, she no doubt ached for the love of her own mother. Sometimes she would even ask, "Where is my mother?"

My heart goes out to this little girl when I think of her facing her uncertain future with no blood relatives to comfort and help her. Elsie Ann was my great-grandmother, and only recently did we find out who her mother really was. For years we thought Elsie Ann was Jane Robison’s daughter. Careful research discovered her true parentage, and after all these years Elsie Ann now has been sealed to her father, John Akerley, and her mother, Mary Moore.

My grandparents have had a great influence on my life. Even though they have been dead for many years, I still feel their confirming love. One grandfather, James Akerley Faust, died before I was born. I knew him only through the stories my grandmother and my parents told about him. However, I feel a strong kinship with him because I am in part what he was. Among other things, he was a cowboy, a rancher, and a postmaster in a small town in central Utah. On one occasion Grandfather took a trip in the winter to Idaho, where he met an acquaintance who had fallen on hard times. It was cold, and Grandfather’s friend had no coat. Grandfather took off his coat and gave it to him.

This evening I encourage you ...to begin to unlock the knowledge of who you really are by learning more about your forebears. Alex Haley, the author of the book Roots, said: "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." We can have exciting experiences as we learn about our vibrant, dynamic ancestors. They were very real, living people with problems, hopes, and dreams like we have today.

In many ways each of us is the sum total of what our ancestors were. The virtues they had may be our virtues, their strengths our strengths, and in a way their challenges could be our challenges. Some of their traits may be our traits. I noticed a while ago that one of my great-grandsons, a toddler, seemed to have an interesting kind of a walk. My wife said, "He walks just like you do!" Now I wonder from whom I inherited this characteristic.

It is a joy to become acquainted with our forebears who died long ago. Each of us has a fascinating family history. Finding your ancestors can be one of the most interesting puzzles you young men can work on.

Each of us has to begin this work somewhere, and it can be done by young or old. This summer 170 children of the Accra Ghana Lartebiokorshie Stake worked on their four-generation family trees during a two-hour program, with more than 74 completing and displaying their trees.

As President Boyd K. Packer has said, "If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself. If you don’t know what records to get, and how to get them, start with what you have." You will learn about the phenomenon that is you. It can be more fascinating than any movie you might see or any computer game you might play. You will need to find out who your grandparents and great-grandparents were and what temple work has been done for them. If you don’t know how to get this information, ask people in your ward who do know how.

Ask living members of your family what they know about your extended family. Look at records close at hand, such as family Bibles, to find more details about your forebears. Then you can reach out to other sources such as vital records, church records, census records, and military records. If you have access to a computer, you can put your computer skills to work and log on to the Church’s FamilySearch.org Web site. Family history has become a sophisticated activity where computers provide immense resources for your search. You can easily access a vast collection of family history records using the Internet on your home computer or at your nearest family history center.

Family history centers are now available in 88 countries. They are part of an unequaled record-keeping system that helps preserve the heritage of families all over the world. In the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, patrons are constantly corresponding and submitting information about their family histories. One person wrote, "We are sending you five children in a separate envelope."

The great work of providing the saving ordinances for our kindred dead is a vital part of the threefold mission of the Church. We do this work for a purpose, which is to redeem our dead ancestors. Temple work is essential for both us and our kindred dead who are waiting for these saving ordinances to be done for them. It is essential because "we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect." They need the saving ordinances, and we need to be sealed to them. For this reason it is important that we trace our family lines so that no one is left out.

Searching for our kindred dead isn’t just a hobby. It is a fundamental responsibility for all members of the Church. We believe that life continues after death and that all will be resurrected. We believe that families may continue in the next life if they have kept the special covenants made in one of the sacred temples under the authority of God. We believe that our deceased ancestors can also be eternally united with their families when we make covenants in their behalf in the temples. Our deceased forebears may accept these covenants, if they choose to do so, in the spirit world.

The great vicarious work for our kindred dead in our temples demonstrates both the justice and the fairness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the terrible dilemma which would face God’s children without temple work for our dead. Said he: "One dies and is buried, having never heard the Gospel of reconciliation; to the other the message of salvation is sent, he hears and embraces it, and is made the heir of eternal life. Shall the one become the partaker of glory and the other be consigned to hopeless perdition? Is there no chance for his escape?" Fortunately our ancestors will have the opportunity to receive and accept the saving ordinances as we identify them and complete these sacred ordinances for them by proxy. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. It is a very satisfying experience.

In the great vision in the Kirtland Temple, Elijah the prophet appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and committed the keys of temple work and the sealing power into Joseph Smith’s hands. This fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah would be sent "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse."

So what does this mean? To turn our hearts to our fathers is to search out the names of our deceased ancestors and to perform the saving ordinances in the temple for them. This will forge a continuous chain between us and our forefathers eventually all the way back to Father Adam and Mother Eve.

The heart of an 11-year-old boy was turned to his fathers during a family home evening when the children assembled personal books of remembrance. Young Jeff wanted to accompany his mother to the National Archives. She was afraid he might disturb the other researchers there. But he persisted, and she relented and took him with her. Four hours into their research, he exclaimed, "Mama, I’ve found Grandpa!" Indeed, he had found his great-great-great-grandfather. However, it doesn’t always work that way. In a letter to the Family History Department, someone wrote: "We lost our grandmother. Will you please send us a copy?"

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that the celestial family organization will be "one that is complete," that is, "an organization linked from father and mother and children of one generation, to the father and mother and children of the next generation, thus expanding and spreading out down to the end of time."

In tracing our family names, we often find them spelled differently, depending on the source. This was the case of a university student in Provo, Utah, who caught the vision of this linking of generations. He was walking through the library one evening and remembered hearing someone in the Searing family tell about a town in New York State that had been named after an ancestor. So he decided to look up the town. He stumbled across a very old copy of a gazetteer of New York and read about a man named Simon Searing who helped settle Long Island in the mid-1600s. Could Simon be his ancestor? He had to know. He began research in earnest and traced his line back several generations. But still he needed to bridge the gap between the 1800s and the 1600s. Then a miracle occurred. He unexpectedly located a history of a Syring family. The families in the Syring book ended in the same generation he had reached in his own research. Not only was he able to connect many generations, but he also linked himself to the early settler Simon Searing.

Some who are interested in family history try to enhance their own image by linking up with prominent people. In my own experience it has been quite different. I have been fascinated by learning of some of the unknown, ordinary people whose records tell of heroic lives. Arthur R. Bassett once said: "Who among us wants to throw stones at their own ancestors? I, for one, am intrigued by their battles—their victories as well as their defeats. … I am fascinated by what may seem the most commonplace of lives, because I have come to realize the excitement that is concealed in the commonplace."

It is not likely that you will find any horse thieves in your ancestral line. But if you do, it is important that their temple work be done, because we believe in repentance for the dead also: "The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation."

The process of finding our ancestors one by one can be challenging but also exciting and rewarding. We often feel spiritual guidance as we go to the sources which identify them. Because this is a very spiritual work, we can expect help from the other side of the veil. We feel a pull from our relatives who are waiting for us to find them so their ordinance work can be done. This is a Christlike service because we are doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves.

Many of you young men have already had a taste of temple work as you have participated in baptisms for the dead. When we go early to the temple, we often see young people dressed in white, ready to take part in this satisfying experience before going to school. You are to be commended for your dedication in performing this vital work. In so doing you have already felt the peace and serenity found within the walls of our temples.

I testify that God is a just God, and He will not give privileges to us and withhold them from our forebears. But we will need to do the baptisms, the endowments, and the sealings for them by proxy here on earth in order for us and them to be linked together for eternity "and have part in the first resurrection."

A Mighty Change of Heart

From "A Mighty Change of Heart," by Ezra Taft Benson (Ensign, Oct. 1989).
(It is fascinating to me that the membership of the church has doubled from this 1989 talk from the then 6 million to now nearly 12 million worldwide!)

In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have more than six million members of the Church. But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, "Behold, this is my doctrine— whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church." (D&C 10:67) To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record.

I would therefore like to set forth important concepts that we must understand and apply if we are to truly repent and come unto the Lord. One of Satan’s most frequently used deceptions is the notion that the commandments of God are meant to restrict freedom and limit happiness. Young people especially sometimes feel that the standards of the Lord are like fences and chains, blocking them from those activities that seem most enjoyable in life. But exactly the opposite is true. The gospel plan is the plan by which men are brought to a fulness of joy. This is the first concept I wish to stress: The gospel principles are the steps and guidelines that will help us find true happiness and joy.

The understanding of this concept caused the Psalmist to exclaim, "O how love I thy law! … Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies. … Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. … Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart." (Ps. 119:97-98, 105, 111.) If we wish to truly repent and come unto Him so that we can be called members of His Church, we must first and foremost come to realize this eternal truth—the gospel plan is the plan of happiness. Wickedness never did, never does, never will bring us happiness. Violation of the laws of God brings only misery, bondage, and darkness.

A second concept that is important to our understanding is the relationship of repentance to the principle of faith. Repentance is the second fundamental principle of the gospel. The first is that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance? To answer this question, we must understand something about the atoning sacrifice of the Master. Lehi taught that "no flesh … can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah." (2 Ne. 2:8.) Even the most just and upright man cannot save himself solely on his own merits, for, as the Apostle Paul tells us, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23.)

If it were not for the perfect, sinless life of the Savior, which He willingly laid down for us, there could be no remission of sins. Therefore, repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. If we truly seek to put away sin, we must first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation.

The third important principle for us to understand if we would be true members of the Church is that repentance involves not just a change of actions, but a change of heart. When King Benjamin finished his remarkable address in the land of Zarahemla, the people all cried with one voice that they believed his words. They knew of a surety that his promises of redemption were true, because, said they, "the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, [and note this] that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2.)

When we have undergone this mighty change, which is brought about only through faith in Jesus Christ and through the operation of the Spirit upon us, it is as though we have become a new person. Thus, the change is likened to a new birth. Thousands of you have experienced this change. You have forsaken lives of sin, sometimes deep and offensive sin, and through applying the blood of Christ in your lives, have become clean. You have no more disposition to return to your old ways. You are in reality a new person. This is what is meant by a change of heart.

The fourth concept I would like to stress is what the scriptures term "godly sorrow" for our sins. It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute "godly sorrow."

Godly sorrow is vividly portrayed in two places in scripture. In the final days of the Nephite nation, Mormon said of his people: "their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin. And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die." (Morm. 2:13-14.)

In the Eastern Hemisphere, the Apostle Paul labored among the people of Corinth. After reports came of serious problems among the Saints, including immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:1), Paul wrote a sharp letter of rebuke. The people responded in the proper spirit, and evidently the problems were corrected, for in his second epistle to them, Paul wrote: "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. … For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Cor. 7:9-10.) In both of these scriptures, godly sorrow is defined as a sorrow that leads us to repentance.

Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having "a broken heart and a contrite spirit." (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37, 59:8; Ps. 34:18; Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15.) Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.

The next principle I would like to discuss is this: No one is more anxious to see us change our lives than the Father and the Savior. In the book of Revelation is a powerful and profound invitation from the Savior. He says, "I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him." (Rev. 3:20.) Note that He does not say, "I stand at the door and wait for you to knock." He is calling, beckoning, asking that we simply open our hearts and let Him in.

In Moroni’s great sermon on faith, the principle is even more clearly taught. He was told by the Lord, "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men." It matters not what is our lack or our weakness or our insufficiency. His gifts and powers are sufficient to overcome them all. Moroni continues with the words of the Lord: "My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27; italics added.)

What a promise from the Lord! The very source of our troubles can be changed, molded, and formed into a strength and a source of power. This promise is repeated in one form or another in many other scriptures. Isaiah said, "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." (Isa. 40:29.) Paul was told by the Lord, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9.) In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, "He that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom." (D&C 52:17; see also 1 Ne. 17:3; 2 Ne. 3:13; D&C 1:28; D&C 133:58-59.)

Brothers and sisters, we must take our sins to the Lord in humble and sorrowful repentance. We must plead with Him for power to overcome them. The promises are sure. He will come to our aid. We will find the power to change our lives.

The sixth and final point I wish to make about the process of repentance is that we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said "were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not." (3 Ne. 9:20; italics added.)

We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.

So, my beloved brothers and sisters, as we seek to qualify to be members of Christ’s Church—members in the sense in which He uses the term, members who have repented and come unto Him—let us remember these six principles. First, the gospel is the Lord’s plan of happiness, and repentance is designed to bring us joy. Second, true repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Third, true repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior. Fourth, part of this mighty change of heart is to feel godly sorrow for our sins. This is what is meant by a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Fifth, God’s gifts are sufficient to help us overcome every sin and weakness if we will but turn to Him for help. Finally, we must remember that most repentance does not involve sensational or dramatic changes, but rather is a step-by-step, steady, and consistent movement toward godliness.

If we will strive to incorporate these principles into our lives and implement them on a daily basis, we shall then qualify to be more than members of record in the Church of Jesus Christ. As true members, we have claim to His promise: "Whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them." (D&C 10:69.)

My prayer is that we may all win that promise for ourselves.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Thanks for linking!

I just wanted to say a big thank you! to several bloggers who have linked to mine. I am humbled and honored.

The Commons at Paulie World
Tachyon City
North Western Winds
Dave's Mormon Inquiry
a bird's eye view
Ebenezer Orthodoxy
By Study and Also By Faith

Wow! Thanks! It is wonderful to be in such great company.
As Red Green says, we're all in this together!

BYU-Idaho students urged to be lovers of truth

He read Doctrine and Covenants 93:28,
"He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things." Throughout our lives we can increase in knowledge of the truth if we will keep the commandments, he said. He pointed out how a child reacts when corrected for doing something wrong. They may accuse the parent of yelling at them even if the parent is speaking with a calm voice. If the truth clashes with our behavior or some of our strong personal beliefs, we may not want to hear it, he said. To a guilty person the truth seems harsh.
(Paul Johnson, BYU-Idaho)

Read all of it; it's good stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Oh Beautiful for Patriot Dream

From "Oh Beautiful for Patriot Dream," by Paul H. Dunn (Ensign, Nov. 1975).

Some weeks ago in the summer heat of Boston, two men worked vigorously and perspired mightily to construct displays for the American Bicentennial. One stopped to mop his brow and asked the other, "Do we really have to go through this every 200 years?" The correct answer, of course, is that we have not celebrated often or deeply enough the birth of this promised land, this choice and beautiful and still-young land, which we possess as the Lord’s gift in freedom and joy—just as long as we serve him.

Boston is a proper place to begin; Boston, in fact, is "a very proper place." We who have prayed, preached, and tracted in lovely New England did not find it at all that formal. It is a charming place with friendly, wonderful people, and just now, a very successful baseball team—it has a melting-pot of names like Petrocelli, Lynn, Rice, Carlton Fisk, and a thinking, Polish player known as "Yaz" for Yastrzemski—and on all sides the "where it happened" of precious American tradition.

Indeed, it has been just over 200 years since a better-than-average silversmith on a black horse made history as Longfellow later recalled:

"The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed in his flight. …
A cry of defiance, and not of fear. …
And the midnight message of Paul Revere."
"Paul Revere’s Ride," The Best Loved Poems of the American People, comp. Hazel Felleman, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Co., 1936, pp. 196-97.

That’s the way it was, from Boston to Lexington to Concord, as the war for independence and liberty began. Most of all, it was for people, men and women of courage and vision and faith, strengthened by God as a part of his plan, who struggled, froze, starved, and when necessary, died, that these free states in union might be born, in Thomas Jefferson’s incisive words, "To assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them." ("Declaration of Independence.")

It was worth a lot to the new Americans of that hour to beget this nation—worth all they had, all they were, and all that they had dreamed. What is it worth today, to you and to me, and especially to us as Latter-day Saints, who alone know what the Lord is doing, to assert our free agency toward the fulfilling of his plan?

As you decide, let me suggest an exciting tour for you. Go, if you can—and if you cannot, then make the trip in your mind’s eye from your study or your armchair or your library, but go—go to Charlestown and Breed’s Hill, to Washington’s Crossing, Brandywine Creek, Saratoga, to the great courthouse and a dozen more, and to King’s Mountain and Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse on the road to Yorktown, where it finally ended. Ask yourself along the way who these people were, and where they got their vision, and listen intently for a drummer boy tapping out a song that is two centuries older than George M. Cohan.

Give a thought as well to a lad age twenty-one who regretted that he had but one life to give for his country and a twenty-year-old French major general who came 3,000 miles to secure the final victory. And if you are traveling and you come to one of those too-numerous claims that "George Washington slept here," and you kind of hope that if so the sheets have been changed and that modern plumbing has been installed, pause to remember that there really was such a man as George Washington, sometimes disliked, but respected, gladly followed and superbly there when we needed him most, to lead in carrying out the plan of the Lord in the founding of America. Childless, the Virginia planter today has 220 million living children. You and I are among them. God had set him apart and lifted him up.

Carry on with me then to Philadelphia to the year 1787. Gathered to frame a constitution in cramped and overheated quarters, delegates from most of the thirteen sovereign states struggle through the summer months to produce a document upon which a free nation might be built. Fortunately (and it has been said by those not of our Faith), they achieved a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which far exceeded the best that could come from these men. But it did. More than that, it was and is a living document, capable of defending its basic principles but flexible enough to adapt to the needs of this changing and growing United States.

You and I are made aware, of course, that there is a better explanation of what really occurred. The scriptures tell us. The Lord "established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (D&C 101:80.)

The land was "redeemed" indeed by thousands killed and wounded along the way at Germantown, at Bemis Heights and Charleston, and so many other places in the American Revolution.

President Brigham Young spoke for himself and for every living prophet who has addressed the question since when he said, "The signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the Constitution were inspired from on high to do that work." (Journal of Discourses, 7:14.)

An objective study of the delegates involved—their fears, their limitations, vested interests, and the like—makes it clear that they were not the sort of men we usually think of as prophets. Nonetheless they were inspired, and the Constitution they provided can be designated accurately as a divine document.

But even a divine constitution requires something further; it demands a kind of people who will, by their very natures, receive and respect such a constitution and function well within the conditions it establishes. Where indeed shall we find such people today? I recall one. It was in a concentration camp I helped liberate during World War II. As we blew the lock off the door and tried to assist the miserable and the painful inside, I was interrupted by a tap on my boot and found, wallowing in the mud, a Protestant minister. One of his first requests was, "Soldier, do you have a flag?" Later when we retrieved one from the jeep I gave it to him on a stretcher and with tears in his eyes he said, "Thank God, you came."

Again the Lord said, "Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them." (2 Ne. 1:7.)

As Latter-day Saints then, we know why some persons came to America and others did not. And as someone has said, "We haven’t done badly for a nation of immigrants." We are immigrants, you and I, because the Lord made immigrants of us and brought us here. We have done as well as could be expected, and are richly blessed despite our shortcomings because the Lord has thus far held us in his hands and worked his purposes, his ultimate purpose, through us.

Can you understand, this is what America is all about? You and I know, and you and I alone really know, the reason for this blessed and beautiful land. In a world where men have given up on this most vital question, we know the purpose of America.

For this country did not end in Philadelphia, even if Horace Greeley did mean that city when he urged us to "go west." It was a new land, fresh, clean, unspoiled with a past. America included the frontier. In 1805 the Prophet Joseph Smith was born, and he grew up toward adolescence just like the new land. He fitted it. He was young, clean, unspoiled—a lad without a past, kneeling in a grove. This pristine land—this innocent young man—and thus the Lord reached out and kept his promise. He established his conditions over centuries; you see, God has time. His plan made it possible for the holy priesthood and the Church to be restored upon the earth—the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ—but only in America.

Can you understand the way God has worked? And if you do, will you join me this day in committing yourself to preach the message of the Lord’s glorious achievement in America and to teach it as missionaries wherever the opportunity allows? This is a time when you and I can afford to be patriotic, in the best sense of that term. There is reason to be proud that we live in an established land that has been conditioned by the Lord so that his gospel could be restored. The purpose of America was to provide a setting wherein that was possible. All else takes its power from that one great, central purpose. May I commend to you Mark E. Petersen’s book The Great Prologue (Deseret Book Co., 1975)? Read it in connection with your scriptures and receive greater light on our history and its purpose.

As some of you know, I have never counted mathematics as my most exciting subject. Nevertheless, I believe that I can set in sequence the steps the Lord has used in his plan.

First, there was selecting and bringing the people. The next step was establishing a free nation. The third was inspiring a divine constitution. The fourth was opening the American frontier, new land, fresh and clean. The fifth step was calling young Joseph Smith to become a prophet in such a little time, God’s prophet, seer, and revelator, and later his martyr.

Let me add one final stop to your American journey. The place—Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia—the tomb of America’s unknown soldier. Today the remains of three servicemen from three wars lie there. The inscription reminds us, "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." There are in addition 4,724 other unknown servicemen buried in Arlington, and all across the nation and the world I have seen the crosses, row upon row, marking the places where lie America’s honored dead, literally in the thousands. What did it cost them that this nation might remain "the land of liberty"? How shall we honor them, you and I?

In two ways it seems to me: First, by striving to make our citizenry the righteous people the Lord requires of us. And second, by telling the story of what the Lord has done for you and me and this great church, and why.

"Oh beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years.
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."
Katherine Bates, "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies," Hymns, no. 126

May that be the song of our heart and our prayer for fulfillment, I humbly pray as I bear witness to these truths and add my testimony that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that here sits his prophet, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

False Prophets and False Teachers

From "Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers," by M. Russell Ballard (Nov 1999).

Towards the end of the Savior’s earthly ministry, His disciples came to Him with several questions concerning the future: "Tell us...what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Jesus responded: "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: ...and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:3-8). The Apostle Paul warned of these days: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Paul also taught that the Lord "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets...for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, ...that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:11-14).

Brothers and sisters, the exact time of the Second Coming is known only to the Father (see Matt. 24:36). There are, however, signs that scriptural prophecy relating to that tumultuous day is being fulfilled. Jesus cautioned several times that prior to His Second Coming, "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matt. 24:11). As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony. Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising; and if we are not careful, even those who are among the faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will fall victim to their deception.

President Joseph F. Smith gave wise and clear counsel that applies to us today: "We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel, the constituted organizations of the Priesthood, which is the channel that God has appointed through which to make known His mind and will to the world. ...And the moment that individuals look to any other source, that moment they throw themselves open to the seductive influences of Satan, and render themselves liable to become servants of the devil; they lose sight of the true order through which the blessings of the Priesthood are to be enjoyed; they step outside of the pale of the kingdom of God, and are on dangerous ground. Whenever you see a man rise up claiming to have received direct revelation from the Lord to the Church, independent of the order and channel of the Priesthood, you may set him down as an imposter" (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 41-42).

When we think of false prophets and false teachers, we tend to think of those who espouse an obviously false doctrine or presume to have authority to teach the true gospel of Christ according to their own interpretation. We often assume that such individuals are associated with small radical groups on the fringes of society. However, I reiterate: there are false prophets and false teachers who have or at least claim to have membership in the Church. There are those who, without authority, claim Church endorsement to their products and practices. Beware of such. Yesterday, members of the Church sustained the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators, with Gordon B. Hinckley also being sustained as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, and only he, holds and exercises in their fulness all of the keys of God’s kingdom on earth. How grateful we all are to know and to sustain President Hinckley.

In plainness and power President Hinckley teaches the eternal plan of salvation, rebukes sin, calls all people to repent and accept Christ and His gospel. The doctrines of eternal salvation are not unclear or uncertain, but rather they are consistent with revealed truths, both ancient and modern.

President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that the prophets "constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord; against pollution of mind, body, and our surroundings; against vulgarity, stealing, lying, pride, and blasphemy; against fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and all other abuses of the sacred power to create; against murder and all that is like unto it; against all manner of desecration." He continued: "That such things should be found even among the Saints to some degree is scarcely believable. ...Sadly, however, we find that to be shown the way is not necessarily to walk in it" ("The False Gods We Worship," Ensign, June 1976, 4).

Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. Like Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon, they rely on sophistry to deceive and entice others to their views. They "set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (2 Ne. 26:29). Of such President Joseph F. Smith warned when he spoke of the "proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamps of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings" (Gospel Doctrine, 381).

Now let me give you a few examples of the false teachings of those who read by the lamps of their own conceit, who, though "ever learning," are "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). False prophets and false teachers are those who declare that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a duplicitous deceiver; they challenge the First Vision as an authentic experience. They declare that the Book of Mormon and other canonical works are not ancient records of scripture. They also attempt to redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they deny that God has given and continues to give revelation today to His ordained and sustained prophets.

False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation. Perhaps most damningly, they deny Christ’s Resurrection and Atonement, arguing that no God can save us. They reject the need for a Savior. In short, these detractors attempt to reinterpret the doctrines of the Church to fit their own preconceived views, and in the process deny Christ and His messianic role.

False prophets and false teachers are also those who attempt to change the God-given and scripturally based doctrines that protect the sanctity of marriage, the divine nature of the family, and the essential doctrine of personal morality. They advocate a redefinition of morality to justify fornication, adultery, and homosexual relationships. Some openly champion the legalization of so-called same-gender marriages. To justify their rejection of God’s immutable laws that protect the family, these false prophets and false teachers even attack the inspired proclamation on the family issued to the world in 1995 by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

Regardless of which particular false doctrines they teach, false prophets and false teachers are an inevitable part of the last days. "False prophets," according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, "always arise to oppose the true prophets" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 365). However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a "loyal opposition." One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.

And as Lehi of old counseled his sons, so this counsel is true for us today:
"And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit" (2 Ne. 2:26-28).

Brothers and sisters, let us be anxiously engaged in good causes. Let us love the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us sustain and live by the revelations of the restored gospel. Let us love our fellow beings and fill our hearts and souls with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then we will sing with Isaiah: "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; ...Therefore with joy shall [I] draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:2-3).

We also know from Paul’s inspired words to the Galatian Saints that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. ...if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23, 25).

As members of the Church, each of us needs to model what it truly means to be a believing and behaving Latter-day Saint. Our example will have a powerful effect on others, making the restored gospel become much more relevant, meaningful, convincing, and desirable to them. Let us, each one, radiate to others the joy, confidence, love, and warmth of being part of the true Church of Christ. Our discipleship is not something to be endured with long face and heavy heart. Nor is it something to be jealously clutched to our bosoms and not shared with others. As we come to understand the love of the Father and the Son for us, our spirits will soar, and we will "come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy" (D&C 45:71). Let us reach out in friendship and love to our neighbors, including those of other faiths, thus helping to build better family-to-family relationships and greater harmony in our neighborhoods. Remember, too often our behavior is a bigger deterrent to others than is our doctrine. In the spirit of love for all men, women, and children, help them to understand and to feel accepted and appreciated.

Let us remember that it is our duty to be faithful to the restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes faith—real faith, total and unreserved—to accept and strive to live prophetic counsel. Lucifer, the adversary of truth, does not want us to feel or exhibit that kind of faith. He encourages disobedience, planting defiance in the hearts of the unwary. If he is successful, they will turn away from the light into the darkness of the world. Our safety, our peace, lies in working as hard as we can to live as the Father and Son would have us live, in fleeing from false prophets and false teachers, and in being anxiously engaged in good causes. I know that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. The restored gospel is true, and there is great joy in being anxiously engaged in this true and holy work. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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