Share Goodness: Part 1

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I’m starting a new occasional feature on this site that I’m calling “Share Goodness”. This is taken from a social media campaign encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Another inspiration is one of the slogans of BYUtv:  “See the good“. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we accept truth and goodness from any source: “Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” (Joseph Smith)

Rather than protesting what is bad, I believe in supporting what is good. After all, the Savior went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Instead of hearing, seeing, and saying no evil we can hear, see, and say good things. I hope to share some good things to see, hear, and read.

For the first part of this series I want to share a handful of uplifting songs, books, and visual media I’ve enjoyed recently. All are appropriate for families (at least my family), although some might be best for preteen and older. I won’t really provide reviews, I’ll just list things my family and/or I have enjoyed.

Shows

There are three I’d like to recommend with this first installment.

My family and I loved watching Random Acts on BYUtv. The show is described as: “Whimsical and heartwarming, BYUtv’s original hidden-camera show highlights the good in humanity through surprise service projects and pranks with a purpose.” If you haven’t watched it, watch it today.

The second recommendation is the show Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. The show is targeted to 8-13 year olds but is enjoyable for the whole family. I like it as much as my kids (maybe more). This is produced by Amazon and is available to view with an Amazon Prime subscription. It is also available to purchase. We haven’t watched all 3 seasons but really enjoyed the first.

The third recommendation is Just Add Magic, also produced by Amazon. The show is geared towards 8-13 year olds but has something for the whole family. It is available for purchase or is included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Music

I could list hundreds of songs but I’ll start with two.

The Ground, “Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria too” by Ola Gjeilo. Here’s the link on Spotify. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed it as part of Music and the Spoken Word on January 11, 2015.

Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin. Here is the Spotify link. A lovely cover by two musicians I enjoy (Peter Hollens and Malukah) is on YouTube (and is available to stream and purchase). The lyrics for the song Baba Yetu are the Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Books

I could list many good books I’ve enjoyed (although not all are appropriate for this site). I’ll start with The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling and her sister Brooke S. Passey. It’s an uplifting book full of positive messages. This one probably isn’t appropriate for (“interesting to” is probably a better term) kids younger than 10-12 but I strongly recommend the book for an interesting and unique perspective on the entertainment industry. Lindsey deals with some serious materials (her struggle with an eating disorder, for example), which is why I think it’s probably best for teenage and older individuals. I will, however, strongly encourage my children to read it (or listen to it, I have a copy of the audiobook) once they are teenagers.

Note: I did one post like this three years ago but it was focused just on sacred music. My hope is to continue posts like this where I share good (uplifting) books, songs, and visual media (movies/shows) I’ve enjoyed for years or just started enjoying. I won’t rate or rank anything I post.

Safety through ordinances and covenants

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[I gave this talk in our stake’s Spanish branch. I don’t speak much Spanish so I relied on a translator of the bulk of the talk.]

Buenos días, hermanos y hermanas. Estoy feliz de hablar con ustedes hoy por asignación del Presidente Graham. Hablo solamente poquito Español y hablo como un niño y un gringo, por lo que se traduce el resto de mi discurso.

I’d like to talk about two things that help us to return to Heavenly Father. The first are ordinances. The second are covenants.

“An ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord.”

“Ordinances and covenants help us remember who we are. They remind us of our duty to God. The Lord has provided them to help us come unto Him and receive eternal life. When we honor them, He strengthens us spiritually.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/ordinances?lang=eng)

The prophet Joseph Smith taught of the importance of ordinances in the Articles of Faith. The 3rd article of faith states: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

We are obedient to the ordinances of the gospel when we keep the covenants we make. Obedience saves us by unlocking the power and path of Christ’s Atonement.

The fourth article of faith tells us how to start on this path: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The first covenants we formally make with God are baptism and confirmation. Any person who wants to live with God has to be baptized and confirmed. All ordinances and covenants have to be done through the proper authority. This is why we have full time missionaries. This is why we perform work in temples.

The fifth article of faith is about the authority of God: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.3-5?lang=eng#2)

Ordinances are not valid without the proper authority given from God. Ordinances also do not have any power without righteousness. If we do not keep the commandments, our baptisms and confirmations will not allow us into heaven.

Saving ordinances and covenants were restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. The ordinances and covenants were first given to Adam and Eve. They were also given to their children. Abram also made the covenant with the Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).

Abraham truly is the father of many nations. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are numbered among the children of Abraham and partakers of his covenants. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the promise of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.

This covenant of Abraham is clear in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)

We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.) Now this mediator was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)

The new covenant given by Christ was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death and resurrection. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas but Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon for us. It is a book of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon edited and wrote the book and then gave it to his son Moroni. Moroni finished the book and then buried the plates. He sealed them up unto the Lord so that they might come forth later by the power of God.

Just as the prophets in the Americas were killed, Jesus Christ’s apostles in Israel were killed and the gospel became polluted. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered in darkness. There was light and faith but no authority. The true covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of the apostasy, which is still happening: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16).

To reverse the apostasy, God and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith. I recently walked through the Sacred Grove. It is a special place of peace. My small children recognized the spirit there. We also climbed the Hill Cumorah where Moroni buried the plates. We felt the Spirit there too. In the Kirtland Temple we saw the place where Jesus Christ and angels appeared to Joseph Smith. What an experience that was! They visited to restore truth, authority, ordinances, and covenants.

These restored covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9)

Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would gather around a standard. We have ordinances and covenants to light the path back to Heavenly Father. They provide safety for us. God blesses us through ordinances and covenants. As we promise to follow Him, He promises us rich blessings. The greatest blessing is the gift of eternal life. Eternal life is a life with God; it is a life like God’s.

As a boy, I often went rappelling with my family – going down a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall. As skills progressed, the cliffs we went down were taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, jump, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is safe. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. My father had three main safety principles. 1) In order for rappelling to be safe you must be securely anchored. My father would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor. He had a backup anchor in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. 2) As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face to stop the person on the rope. 3) Another safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once our ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes and other equipment to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment was always cheaper than a person’s life.

Ordinances – baptism, priesthood ordination, the temple endowment, a temple sealing – are like the equipment we used to go rappelling. They anchor us to a sure foundation through the journey of life. The covenants we make and keep are additional safety equipment. Covenants bind us to God the Father and to Jesus Christ. If we break our covenants, we are at risk of falling. One of the miracles of the gospel is if we fall, Jesus Christ can lift us up. When we fall, we can be saved by the Atonement.

I know God gives us ordinances and covenants to strengthen and bless us. They keep us anchored to God and open the path of Christ that leads home. I pray that God blesses you as you strive to be true to the ordinances you receive and covenants you make.

That Thy Joy May Be Full

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When Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites He first reassured them; like many when confronted with a heavenly being, those gathered at the temple were afraid when the Savior appeared. I’m not sure why fear is the typical response; maybe people reflect on their sins and unworthiness in the presence of angels and fear destruction. Maybe it’s just the shock of someone appearing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, Jesus first told the people to calm their fears. He visited as the merciful Savior to calm, teach, and heal. Jesus next invited all to come feel the marks of His crucifixion as a physical witness His triumph over sin and death. Third, He called and set apart twelve disciples, giving them the priesthood. After He established the core church organization He taught the basic doctrines of the church – mirroring the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus first gave the pattern of prayer then spoke of fasting, “Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (3 Nephi 13:16-18)

Fasting is of such importance that it was one of the first truths Jesus taught. Do we similarly make fasting a central part of our lives? Just as Jesus taught the pattern of prayer and then fasting, is fasting yoked with prayer in our lives? Fasting without focused prayer is just going hungry. It might have physical health benefits but fasting without prayer has limited spiritual health benefits. God will acknowledge our sacrifice without prayer but prayer combined with fasting is an opportunity for us to show our dedication to Heavenly Father. He in turn will bless us.

The first Sunday of every month is designated a day of fasting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members who are able are asked to fast for at least two meals. They are also asked to donate to the church the money they would have spent on the meals; more generous donations are encouraged. This is not a commandment, no church member is required to either fast or pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the immediate ward or branch and then more broadly from there if there is excess. All overhead for these fast offerings (and that overhead is very small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.

Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

As we fast, our bonds of sin, our heavy burdens can be broken. We should also fast to help others. I’ll add that if we are not helping others, we are not fasting as fully as we might. We also need to fast in the right spirit. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate.” (Isa. 58:4) In other words, those who fast for the wrong reasons often are irritable and short-tempered, what some call being “hangry”. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves with little benefit. When we fast for the wrong reasons, we are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), as Isaiah said; in other words, we make sure others know we are suffering and take it out on them. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount (and to the Nephites after His resurrection). Jesus said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:16-18).

There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it’s interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through fasting in faithfulness.

Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast – to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God’s commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.

To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weakened, what was fastened together might slip apart. The bond might break. We must always be mindful of our fastening to God and keep it strong. This bond to God makes us free. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and “fastened it upon the end of a pole” (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni’s call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.

When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.

Fasting is an opportunity for us to faithfully sacrifice eating and drinking and pray for special needs for us or others. Fasting is an opportunity for God to bless us and others. Those blessings might not always be what we want.

Forgive me for sharing a personal experience. I share this because I think it will resonate with some of you; it might even be encouraging.

I set a goal when I was younger to get a specific job when I was all done with school. After years of graduate school, almost 15 years after setting that goal, I was finally in a place where I could apply for that desired job. I prayed and fasted for months that I could get the job. My parents, siblings and their families, and some friends prayed and fasted for me. With all those prayers and all that faith offered on my behalf, what happened? I didn’t get the job. I didn’t reach the goal set nearly 15 years before. Why weren’t my prayers and fasts answered? Why weren’t the prayers and fasting of others on my behalf answered?

First, they were answered but the answer was “No” or maybe “Not right now.” Second, I probably wasn’t asking for the right thing. My goal was good but it turns out that it wasn’t the job I was meant to have. I’ve found that I’m not always very good at wanting what Heavenly Father wants for me. Isn’t that one of the main tests of life? Learning to give up what we want when it isn’t what our Father wants for us? Our ultimate sacrifice – that’s what fasting is about is sacrifice; the law of the fast is part of the law of sacrifice. So our ultimate sacrifice is submitting our wills to the Father’s. We can, just as Jesus did, ask for another way but ultimately we need to submit our wills to the will of our Father. He knows what will bring us greatest happiness. He knows where we need to be and what we need to do.

So what do we do when we work towards something only to have the goal frustrated? We trust in God and accept His will. My parents have always encouraged my siblings and me to be the best we could wherever we were. A favorite saying was (and still is): “Bloom where you are planted.” I urge you to do the same.

I don’t have an answer yet about what job Heavenly Father wants me to have but opportunities are in sight; they just might be better than what I didn’t get. This is one of the messages I felt strongly that at least one of you needed to hear today. When we don’t receive what we want, when it seems as if our prayers and fasts have not been answered, it is important to keep trusting God. He has something better in store for you. The words of C. S. Lewis are appropriate here:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 176)

You might want a cottage, God wants to give you a castle. You might want to be an angel, God wants you to be something more…someone more. Fasting is one of the methods by which our Father in Heaven helps us become who we are meant to become. One of the things God wants us to become is radiantly joyful. It might be a difficult path to that joy.

One such difficult path was shared on the Church’s Instagram feed on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Some of you might have seen what was shared about a young woman named Katia:

“In the last few years, the following occurred: a tumbling accident left me in a wheelchair for more than half a year; my dad almost died from a brain hemorrhage (and lost his job a couple of times); my mother underwent a complicated surgery; I had to have a tumor removed; and my brother had to return home early from his mission because of health problems. It was a lot for our family to deal with. In the midst of all of this, my younger sister was struggling through an intense battle with depression that was scary and confusing for all of us. There was one point when I kind of just broke down. My parents taught me to never question why you are going through something, and instead to remember that God has a plan. But I guess it was the timing that got to me. I was just afraid of how much longer it would be like this. I can remember kneeling on the floor crying one evening in our living room. At one point, I looked up and I saw a picture of Christ on the wall. And I just felt at peace at that moment. I just had this feeling that I was meant to go through all of these difficulties. I knew it wasn’t going to be over soon, but I also knew there was a purpose in it all. I felt that God was preparing me to help others in the future—that I could be a light and example through my experiences. I knew I was going to be able to help somebody else at some point.” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9M_R7DyBT/?taken-by=ldschurch)

We can continue to have faith through trials. Fasting, even if it doesn’t result in what we ask for, will build faith. Eventually we will receive all that our Father can give as we press forward in faith, relying on the grace of Christ. Though fasting might be a trial now, ultimately, as we learn from restored scripture, fasting is about joy. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “And on this day [Sunday] thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:13; emphasis added). When our fasting is perfect, our joy is full. Fasting is a means to bring joy to our lives. We make a small sacrifice of hunger. God in turn satiates our hunger and fills our emptiness with more than we gave.

Fasting in accordance with the law of sacrifice allows us to show love and devotion to God. God in turn showers forth love and blessings upon us.

Another part of the law of sacrifice is the law of tithing.

I remember being a full time missionary teaching the commandment of tithing. It was always challenging for me to testify of the blessings I had seen in my life from paying tithing. I grew up with the example of my parents who always paid tithing. Paying tithing was never a challenge for me but at 19 and 20 years old I was not in the same place in life as most of those I taught. I taught mostly middle age individuals who were working and supporting a family. That’s one reason I loved having members there to help teach the law of tithing. They could usually give more examples of the blessings they saw from paying tithing. An investigator or new convert being asked to donate 10% of their income was usually a significant challenge – that can be true for many of us, recent convert or not. On the surface tithing seems like a 10% pay cut. A convert joins the church and suddenly gets to live on 10% less income from before. I know some of you struggle with this. If you’re in school, funds can vary between slim and nonexistent. If you’re working full-time or part-time or not at all, funds can also vary between slim and nonexistent. God loves us and does not enjoy watching us struggle. So why does He require us to pay tithing?

There is not a single answer to that question and I’m not going to answer it. Instead, I want to share some blessings…I’ve seen in my life as I’ve paid tithing – most of these became clear after years of paying tithing. Isn’t that how the gospel usually works? We have to put forth the faith first, sometimes for years, before we are blessed.

[Two stories were removed to protect confidence in this setting].

I’ve seen tremendous blessings from paying tithing. Providing for a growing family on a graduate student income was a great lesson in budgeting and faith. Even though funds were severely restricted, we never ran out of money. We never had to do without the necessities of life. Another blessing was discovered when my wife and I looked back and realized we had very few medical costs for years. We worked on remaining healthy but we saw that the Lord blessed our family with good health. That is a blessing we both know was partially due to paying tithing and fast offerings. After all, the Lord promised us through Isaiah that if we fast (and, I might add pay tithing): “[our] health shall spring forth speedily” (Isaiah 58:8).

Being generous with tithing and offerings has other benefits.

Arthur C. Brooks ran a study looking at the relationship between charitable behaviors and  prosperity. He explained his findings at a BYU Forum address: “when people get richer, they tend to give more money away. But I also came up with the following counterintuitive finding: When people give more money away, they tend to prosper.

“Specifically, here’s what I found. If you have two families that are exactly identical—in other words, same religion, same race, same number of kids, same town, same level of education, and everything’s the same—except that one family gives a hundred dollars more to charity than the second family, then the giving family will earn on average $375 more in income than the nongiving family—and that’s statistically attributable to the gift…. [Other studies have found that] givers are healthier, happier, and richer in this country—and probably around the world. It gives us stronger communities; indeed, it gives us a more prosperous nation.”

Arthur Brooks went on: “As Christian people we are taught that giving is important to help others. I’m telling you that the data say giving helps you, so if you want to help others, don’t just give to them—think about what you can do today to help somebody else to give. The main beneficiary of a charitable gift is the giver.”

As we give we receive. I’m not encouraging paying tithing or giving fast offerings for selfish reasons but it is important to recognize and thank our Eternal Father for the blessings he gives us for paying tithing and other offerings. In Malachi we read: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10). When God pours out those blessings on us – and those with eyes to see will recognize the blessings – we need to thank Him for them.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord gave us the law of sacrifice, of which tithing and fasting are a part, to help us be better. They are opportunities for us to be more Christ-like and serve others. They are opportunities for God to richly bless us as we faithfully offer up our sacrifices to Him. May God bless each of you through your tithes, fasts, and offerings!

My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah

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Today in Sunday School we covered Isaiah as quoted in the Book of Mormon, primarily in 2 Nephi. In the teacher’s manual there are five points about why Nephi included so many of the words of Isaiah. Two of the points are related and were incompletely discussed in class. The manual is partially misleading because it ties Isaiah to our own rejoicing, as if it is a feel good pep talk. That misses the point.

Nepali quoted Isaiah in part “To help us (his readers) rejoice” (2 Nephi 11:5–6, 8). What the scriptures say is this: “And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.” (2 Nephi 11:8; emphasis added).

Isaiah can help us rejoice but we rejoice specifically “for all men [and women].” We rejoice for all because Isaiah taught of the salvation that comes through Christ. He taught of resurrection, propitiation, and restoration. We rejoice for all people because all might return to God and have eternal life because of Christ’s atonement. Isaiah doesn’t help us rejoice, his words help us rejoice for all people.

The next point in the Sunday school manual is related: “To reveal God’s judgments” (2 Nephi 25:3). We rejoice for all because of promises given through Christ’s atonement. Those who reject those promises by rejecting the prophets, by not repenting when sinful, by refusing properly authorized ordinances are subject to God’s just judgments. All are subject to those judgements – for their progression or their damnation. So we can rejoice for all people but such rejoicings can turn to weepings with rejection of God’s laws.

Our Father By Whose Name

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During the final meeting with His apostles – His friends and followers – Jesus gathered to celebrate Passover. He performed the ordinance of the washing of feet. Jesus broke bread and drank wine in sacrament with His disciples. He sent one off who would betray Him and then taught the apostles significant doctrines. Only after Judas departed did the real teaching and blessings begin. What the Savior taught during these late hours is covered in just over four chapters in the book of John – one fifth of a book covering three years of Jesus’s ministry. That so much of the book of John focuses on this time is one indication of the importance of what Jesus taught before His atoning suffering in Gethsemane and His death upon the cruel cross.

What did Jesus teach? One of the most powerful lessons in all scripture is found in John 17, what is commonly called the intercessory prayer, intercessory meaning praying or petitioning on behalf of another. Of this prayer John wrote: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:1-4)

The key verse here is “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). Life eternal is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. As we strive for eternal life we must strive for a knowledge of God. We must not only know of Him but also truly know Him. The better we know Him the more we love Him. How can we fully love something we do not understand? How can we truly love someone we do not know? The more familiar we are with someone, the more we understand and love that person.

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a light in the darkness of knowledge about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph had clear evidence that the Father and the Son are distinct beings. One of the implications of this knowledge is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we can, through the grace of Christ, become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent.

Most of Christianity, at least in formal theology, believes that Jesus Christ is not a separate Being from the Father – a distinct manifestation but not a separate physical Being. If our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are separate individuals – They are! – and if Christ is the Son of God – He is! – then all children of our Father have the potential to become more like Christ. The Savior prayed to His Father in the last hours of His mortal ministry: “Neither pray I for these [His Apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22).

Christ is the Son of God; we are children of God. Because we are God’s children we can be, as ancient and modern prophets and apostles teach, joint-heirs with Christ of all that our Father has! To the Romans Paul taught: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17). That is quite a promise! Christ pled that His Father would bless His apostles and all those who believe and follow Christ’s teachings with the same oneness that He and the Father share. This does not diminish the power or authority of God or Christ – for their power and authority are endless and eternal. Rather, it shows our true relationship to God; we are His children and He loves us not just as a perfect God but as a perfect Father.

This is all what was so revolutionary about what was re-taught in bright clarity to the world when Joseph Smith, a young man of 14, saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It upended not only the world’s misconceptions of the nature of God but also of the world’s misconceptions of the divine potential of men and women, even though that potential would not be understood for years.

There is a trick of the vision called afterimage where when looking away from an object (usually a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of our eyes. This image “burn in” is caused by using up too much of the pigment chemicals in the eyes, which then regenerate slowly. To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds and then look away. Afterimages occur when you focus intently on an object with high contrast or brightness. This process often results in a negative afterimage (like camera film negatives) but bright lights can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the light appears to still be there when you look away. In other words, when staring at bright lights, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away. These afterimages last just for seconds but are reminders of the light that was before us.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We saw His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light; it was continually before our eyes. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith described the brightness of God’s glory as being greater than the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). God’s glory is light and a purifying fire.

We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. The poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.”

We are not left utterly naked when we come to earth. We have the afterimage of our pre-earth life given to us by light of Christ. We have remembrances of old light and the giving of new light unto us through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point. The test is whether or not we accept and act upon those burnings. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives, becoming the light of common day, and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives by constantly looking to God.

I love the hymns of the church. Many truths can be taught through music. The text of the hymn “Our Father by Whose Name” teaches truths of the Godhead, the presiding quorum of an eternal family. The first verse teaches of God the Father:

“Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known,
Who dost in love proclaim each family thine own,
Bless thou all parents, guarding well,
With constant love as sentinel,
The homes in which thy people dwell.”

We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just like the one we had with Him before we were born on earth. A simple experience I had last year reminds me of the personal nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears and answers our prayers. Sometimes that answer is “no” but God knows what we need.

God the Father wants His love to fill our homes. As we fill our homes with His light and love they are fortified against the wickedness of the world. Our Father’s love stands as sentinel against evil that strives to destroy homes and families. God’s commands are gentle, His precepts are kind. Our cares, our burdens, our anxieties find sweet refreshment at His throne (see Hymn #125, How Gentle God’s Commands).

Remembering that God is our Father helps us to know that all He does for us is to help us grow. All He does is out of love and concern for us. He is perfectly loving and kind so His children’s sins, transgressions, hate, anger, and pain all hurt Him abominably.

As God is gentle and kind, so should we be gentle and kind! As we strive to return home to our Father may we retain in our minds the words of the hymn “Oh My Father”: “When I lay this mortal by…may I meet you in your royal courts in high? Then, at length, when I’ve competed all you sent me forth to do, with your mutual approbation let me come and dwell with you.” May we emulate our Father’s love and righteousness so we may return and dwell with Him.

The second verse of “Our Father, by Whose Name” teaches of Jesus Christ who acts in perfect unity with the Father:

“As thou thy Child didst fill with wisdom, love, and might,
To know and do thy will and teach thy ways aright,
Our children bless, in ev’ry place,
That they may all behold thy face,
And, knowing thee, may grow in grace.”

Jesus is the source of wisdom, love, might, and grace. He is our Exemplar on how to become more like God. Becoming like God is a process. None of us is perfect; we are fallen, living in a fallen world. We are in an embryonic stage, trying to grow up and control these wonderful but mortal bodies. Sometimes we sin, sometimes we turn away from God, sometimes we forget who we really are. All of us, in the grand council of heaven, subjected our spiritual bodies and wills to the will of the Father; that is why we are here in mortality – we said in shouts of joy, “I will follow God’s plan for me!” Now as mortals we are trying to subject our physical bodies to the will of the Father – truly a difficult task. Just as in the premortal world, the mortal Christ was the consummate example. He subjected His will completely to His Father’s; this surrendering of His will culminated with His death on the cross and His triumphal resurrection from the tomb in the ultimate act of love.

Of all the roles of the Savior, one of the greatest is that of healer. He healed in Galilee, He healed from the garden, He healed from the cross, and He healed from the tomb. Jesus offers hope and healing to all – to those who stray, to those who don’t, and to those who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer; we learn of His great love for us. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus once of humble birth, a meek and lowly lamb who groaned in blood and tears, forsaken, left alone descended below all so that He might understand and rise above all. He will return to earth to rule and reign (see Jesus once of humble birth, Hymns #196), having overcome the world. What a time that will be. I am grateful for living prophets who speak His words and who act under His direction.

Verse three of “Our Father, By Whose Name” teaches us about the Holy Ghost, the final member of the Godhead:

“May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev’ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.”

Through the witness of the Holy Ghost our testimonies of the Savior are strengthened. The Spirit of God burns like fire to teach us right and bind our hearts to God. In this church we have the precious gift of the Holy Ghost – the promise and blessing that He can be with us always as we do what is right. I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

I love the words of the hymn “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” (Hymns #143):

“Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let him teach us what is true.
He will testify of Christ,
Light our minds with heaven’s view.

Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home
If we listen to his voice.

Let the Spirit heal our hearts
Thru his quiet, gentle pow’r.
May we purify our lives
To receive him hour by hour.”

I know that God lives! He loves us and wants us to return to live with Him. I know that Jesus lived, died, and lived again so that each of us might be healed. This testimony has been given to me by the Holy Ghost who teaches truth and illuminates the path back home.

Walking With God

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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. The crew of the Endurance spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue but it was solid ground.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea. If they were not exactly obedient to their navigator, they would be lost.

Life is like that for all of us, even the smallest deviation from course will put us off the path back to God. Thankfully, we are provided with a way to get back on track through the Atonement of Christ.

Returning to the story of Shackleton’s expedition: “Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.’” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost. Just as Ernest Shackleton spent his all to save his men, I testify that leaders throughout the world of this church consecrate their all for the salvation of those around them. Our church leaders have deep love and concern for us, wearing themselves out as they serve us. How do they and we survive our journey of endurance through life? Just as the men of Shackleton survived for 18 months in extreme weather and harsh conditions – through obedience to their leaders. Shackleton encouraged obedience so that his men would live. Because they were obedient, they lived.

Do we face life with the same determination to endure in obedience? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation. As we are obedient we will live.

In Deuteronomy 30 we read the words of Moses as he called the Israelites to make the choice between life and death, blessing or cursing: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut. 30:19-20: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/deut/30.19-20?lang=eng#18).

The choice is clear – choose to live spiritually by cleaving unto God through obedience or choose a cursing and death through disobedience. The blessing is a life with God, the cursing is a life separated from God. Because the choice is clear does not mean it is always easy to do but our Father mercifully prepared a way to overcome our shortcomings and disobedience.

Sometimes people want to walk the line between obedience and disobedience – they want to live in the world and partake of some of its sins; these are those who Elder Neal Maxwell said want to maintain a summer cottage in Babylon while trying to partake of all the blessings of Zion (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], 47). There are also people who intentionally disobey many of the the commandments. They are not maintaining summer cottages in Babylon, they are living in Babylon and trying to maintain a summer cottage in Zion. That’s not how the gospel works. We do not get to live a telestial life in the celestial kingdom. We do not have a right to sin in God’s kingdom. A “right” is “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” According to God’s laws we have a legal entitlement to agency, which then can be used for works of righteousness or sin. In other words, agency is our right. We can use that agency to join with our Heavenly Father through obedience to Him or we can separate ourselves from Him and His grace through disobedience.

Obedience is not an accident. Elder Neil L. Andersen said: “[As a member of the Church you] no longer stand on neutral ground. Your faith will grow not by chance, but by choice. How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not’? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/faith-is-not-by-chance-but-by-choice?lang=eng)

We choose faith by choosing obedience. Pres. Monson also encourages obedience: “Great courage will be required as we remain faithful and true amid the ever-increasing pressures and insidious influences with which we are surrounded and which distort the truth, tear down the good and the decent, and attempt to substitute the man-made philosophies of the world. If the commandments had been written by man, then to change them by inclination or legislation or by any other means would be the prerogative of man. The commandments, however, were God-given. Using our agency, we can set them aside. We cannot, however, change them, just as we cannot change the consequences which come from disobeying and breaking them. May we realize that our greatest happiness in this life will come as we follow God’s commandments and obey His laws! I love the words found in Isaiah chapter 32, verse 17: ‘The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.’ Such peace, such assurance can come only through righteousness.” (Monson, October 2015).

I testify that wickedness never was happiness. Sin brings turmoil and sorrow. Obedience and righteousness bring joy and peace. I have seen this in my life; I have felt the turmoil of sin and the peace of forgiveness. There is no lasting peace without the Atonement of the Savior. Only He heals the wounds and sorrows we all experience.

Every Christmas season I reflect on words penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, he wrote the these words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words written in midst of turmoil and war still resonate today, perhaps more now than then. People cry for peace but peace seems hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. The streets of cities filled with lights turn dark with blood. It is enough to make people despair – and many do. Many feel that hope is lost; that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The answer for all this despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. It is not found in worldly goods. It is found in the teachings of the Son of God, who was sent to earth to save it and all those on it who would be saved. Jesus Christ is our hope and salvation!

Our primary children sing,

“How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?
He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness.
How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go?
He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know.
How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death?
He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath.
What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?
Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.
What does he ask? Live like his Son.”

Our Father sent His Son to walk with us on earth. That is the essence of obedience – walking with God. Obedience is choosing God over ourselves. It is choosing the eternal over the temporal. Obedience is choosing life over death. It is choosing to walk with God. What greater comfort is there than following the footsteps of Christ? What greater safety is there than walking with God?

One of the commandments that will richly bless our lives as we follow it strictly is remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. The First Presidency and apostles have called for us to renew our devotion to God by better observance of the Sabbath. It is a day for us to rest from our labors of the week and focus on our relationships with our families and with God. This will come through worshiping at church, spending time with family, and serving others.

Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Honoring the Sabbath is a form of righteousness that will bless and strengthen families, connect us with our Creator, and increase happiness. The Sabbath can help separate us from that which is frivolous, inappropriate, or immoral. It allows us to be in the world but not of the world. In the last six months, a most remarkable change has occurred in the Church. This has been in the response of the members to renewed emphasis on the Sabbath by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and to President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge to make the Sabbath a delight. Many members understand that truly keeping the Sabbath day holy is a refuge from the storms of this life. It is also a sign of our devotion to our Father in Heaven and an increased understanding of the sacredness of sacrament meeting. Still, we have a long way to go, but we have a wonderful beginning. I challenge all of us to continue to embrace this counsel and improve our Sabbath worship.” (October 2015 General Conference).

A renewed commitment of obedience to God can start today.

I testify that God loves us. Because He wants us to be happy He gave us commandments that place us on the path to eternal happiness in the world to come. I testify that the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ provides peace, healing, and wholeness. When we stray we can be cleansed through Christ’s Atonement. Through the water of baptism, the blood of Jesus, and the Spirit of God we can be obedient, forgiven, and sanctified (see Moses 6:60). I testify that our Father wants us to enter into His presence as joint-heirs with Christ; the only way to do this is through obedience to God and through the grace of Christ. I testify that our Father wants us to live as eternal families in the life to come. When we stand as families before the gates of Heaven, will our Father look at us and say, “They’re all here. They’re all safe, not a life lost”? No matter how dark the way may be now, if we keep walking there will be many good things to come; if we have faith, it will all work out in the end. May we seek His Spirit always by choosing righteousness as we obediently and humbly walk the path of discipleship.

LDS Church Policy on Same-Sex Marriage

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Note: I originally had an extensive post here but I decided to remove it. While my post was not written to be controversial, my policy is to not post on controversial issues relating to the LDS Church, particularly when many people have strong emotions about the issues. In order to be true to my policy, I’ve removed the article.

I will keep only Elder Christofferson’s thoughtful interview on this matter.

The Fourth Article of Faith

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We have a series of statements about our core beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the Articles of Faith. The fourth of these states: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

One evening as a missionary, my companion and I received a call from the hermanas, who asked if we could go give a blessing to a baby who hadn’t slept more than minutes at a time for a couple days and hadn’t stopped crying for hours. The baby was exhausted, her mother was exhausted and didn’t know what to do other than ask God for help. I think we’ve all been or will be there – in a situation where we are overwhelmed, exhausted, beaten down, looking for relief. Maybe we are like this mother or like the infant – in either case we need the Lord.

My companion and I prepared for the blessing and went over to the apartment, meeting the hermanas there. As soon as my companion took the infant in his arms, she stopped crying. We blessed her that she would be comforted and be able to sleep. During the short blessing the baby fell asleep. Her mother was greatly relieved and grateful to God. I was touched at the faith of the mother and baby. Infants have innate goodness and faith in Christ. I knew that it was because of their great faith that the prayers of the mother were answered.

Such can be the power of faith in our lives every day! Some of us might have the pure, but small, faith of a child. Though your beginning fire of faith might be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. Others might have more mature, tested faith. This is the more abundant faith we receive over time as we are tested and strive to remain true to the faith. At any stage of development, faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other principles and ordinances build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

Just as faith is a shield to us we should shield our faith. Elder Neil L. Andersen said “There is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (Andersen, Oct 2015 General Conference). Faith in Jesus Christ should lead to repentance.

Most years when I was growing up my family would drive out to the desert near our home in Arizona and pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus plant is covered with large and small spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we picked them using tongs and dropped them in buckets. Usually within an hour we would have enough fruit for a large batch of jelly. One year when I was about 14 we were picking fruit when my sister called saying, “There’s a rattlesnake over there under the cactus!” I looked, asking “Where?” She stood by me, pointing right to it and said, “Right there under that cactus [about 10 feet away].” I looked but did not see the snake. I looked again in the same location and finally it became clear. The snake blended in perfectly with the ground, only becoming visible with close inspection. What appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a serpent that would be dangerous if approached. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.

What is a spiritual application of this story? Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who are not looking carefully. Sin, like venomous snakes, is increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize it, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get to it because eventually you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns. All of us sin, we all fall short. When we sin it is important to exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance might bring suffering but it’s necessary to be cleansed from sin to live with our Father again.

Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, “Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing” (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so that we all had a way to be resurrected and be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to fully learn the impact of our sins and in turn the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering – it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead that soothes souls.

A story of the Savior teaches the healing process of repentance.

“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).

Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near or might have been the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (in other words – paralysis – the man might have had seizures as well) on a stretcher to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all have rapidly dividing cells and are why chemotherapy usually suppresses the immune system, causes hair loss, and digestive difficulties). To kill the bad cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions of the brain causing the seizures. To heal, drastic actions and destruction can be required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered healing – not just the physical that was sought but also spiritual.

C.S. Lewis wrote on this process of healing through destruction: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Healing might hurt us abominably but such pains are necessary. To heal us, the Savior hurt abominably. He suffered so that He might succor us. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance. Repentance leads to and grows from baptism.

Not long after returning home from my mission I had an opportunity to hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Arizona – Humphrey’s Peak. Much of the northern part of Arizona is a region called the Colorado plateau. This area is mostly high altitude desert but there are areas with luscious vegetation – towering pine trees, quaking aspens, and brilliant wildflowers. Rising above this plateau is Humphrey’s Peak, peaking over 12,600 feet above sea level. The parking lot of the main trail up to the peak sits at almost 9000 feet, leaving three quarters of a mile elevation to ascend along a 4.5 mile trail. The path winds up the mountain with loose jagged rocks underfoot. At the start of the trail there is thick vegetation but as you approach the tree line – the point above which trees no longer grow – the towering trees turn into bristlecone pines, sturdy trees hardened and twisted by strong winds and frost. Above the tree line the only plants left are hardy shrubs that can withstand the tundra climate. During the summer the air is often warm but snows can come during any month and weather changes rapidly. At the peak on clear days it is possible to see for over a hundred miles. In the distance you might see the mile deep gash of the Grand Canyon.

My parents, a neighbor, and I hiked Humphrey’s Peak. My mother did not want to hike the whole way so shortly after starting she told us to go on ahead. Soon, I wanted to ascend faster so I left my father and neighbor to follow up after me. When I hit 12,000 feet with about a mile to go I started feeling the altitude but I improved approaching the summit. Up at the peak, there was time for resting and enjoying the view. Parts of the landscape were blocked by clouds lower than the summit. I marveled at the winds that whipped clouds by me. It was serene being high on a mountain top. Mountains always remind me of the majesty of God. After a rest, it was time to descend the mountain. One thing I love more than hiking up mountains is running down them. This trail was challenging – a misplaced foot, a loose rock could result in serious injury – but running down a mountain is exhilarating. My muscles, bones, and joints ached for hours after the descent and my legs were sore for days but I enjoyed the run at the time.

What happened to my father and our neighbor? They eventually made it up and down but had to go slowly because my neighbor had altitude sickness due to the thin air.

What is a principle from this story? Climbing the mountain is like getting baptized. Baptism is the gate opening the path that we travel to try and return to our exalted home. But baptism is not the end. Those of us who are baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all covenanted with God – a covenant is a two way promise – that we would keep His commandments and always remember Him. If we want to reach the summit we cannot stop by the gate, we need to press forward with our eyes fixed upon the Savior. We work but none of us works our way to heaven. We are required to participate in priesthood ordinances like baptism but Jesus strengthens our lungs and legs. He lifts us up when we fall and strengthens us in spiritual and physical sickness. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that ultimately lifts us home but baptism puts us on the upward path, a spiritual one that we never need descend from.

Just as hiking does, baptism requires preparation. In Moroni we read of the requirements for and duties of those who are baptized: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:3-4).

Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and his varsity scouts – a 21 mile hike in the Grand Canyon when I was 11 and a 40 mile one through the Paria Canyon when I was 12. We could only carry enough water to last a day so on both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. Water from the springs is pure; we could drink right from living streams. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification or it could have made us sick. If we did not have water, we would not have survived our desert hikes.

Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Drinkable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. “Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh” (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.

The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet.

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms. Jesus walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.

Water is cleansing. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Through it we make a covenant – a two-way promise – with our Father. Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.

But just as the Mosaic Law was incomplete without Christ, so is baptism without confirmation and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half – that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p.314).

By baptism we keep the commandment but through the Holy Ghost we are absolved of blame and purified. The blood of Christ sanctifies us (see Moses 6:60).

I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

These are a foundation for us. If you have not been baptized, I encourage you to take that step. It is one you will not regret. If you have been baptized, continue on the path of faith, repentance, covenant, and spirit. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior. He loves you and me.

Children of the Apostles – Updated Analysis

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About five years ago I wrote a post looking at how many children the apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have. With the recent deaths of three apostles and the calling of three more in the past week, it’s time to update my analyses.

Before I start I want to clarify that the number of children people have is not necessarily the number of children they want to have. I don’t want to downplay the heartache many feel at not being able to have (more) children due to health issues or other life circumstances. I pass no judgements on the number of children anyone has and ask that any who read this follow likewise. I’ll never forget a comment Truman Madsen made that when he was younger he and his wife would sometimes hear people ask behind their backs, “I wonder why the Madsens only have three children.” His poignant comment was, “We wonder too.” With this post I’m simply providing an analysis of things as they are.

Here are the numbers (Apostles are sorted according to seniority with number of children, current ages (as of 10/04/2015) and their ages when called as apostles):

Apostle Children Current Age Age When Called
Monson 3 88 36
Nelson 10 91 59
Oaks 6 83 52
Ballard 7 86 56
Hales 2 83 61
Holland 3 74 53
Eyring 6 82 61
Uchtdorf 2 74 63
Bednar 3 63 52
Cook 3 75 67
Christofferson 5 70 63
Andersen 4 64 57
Rasband 5 64 64
Stevenson 4 60 60
Renlund 1 62 62
For those whose eyes glaze over at tables of numbers, here is a column graph of the apostles and the number of their children.
children_of_apostle_bar_graph
The data are roughly normally distributed (skewness = 1.02, kurtosis = 1.34) so assumptions of normality are not violated and we can use parametric analyses. There is a moderate correlation between number of children and current age (Pearson r = 0.50, p = 0.057) but no correlation between number of children and age when called (r = 0.008). What does this mean? The older men tend to have more children than younger ones but the relationship is not associated with their calling as an apostle (it’s just an age association and not an age*apostle association). However, the correlation is largely driven by Pres. Nelson (10 children) – the oldest apostle – and Elder Renlund (1 child) – one of the youngest apostles. If they are removed from the analysis, there is no age/children relationship (r = 0.18). We cannot really exclude those two as outliers because I’ve sampled the entire population of apostles and such an exclusion would be misleading even if Pres. Nelson and Elder Renlund have a large influence on the relationship.
How much of the number of children does age explains? Age explains 25% of the variance in number of children (R = 0.501, F = 4.363, p = 0.057), which is a moderate amount but it is obvious that age alone cannot account for the difference in number of children. There are other potentially testable factors (e.g., number of children in the apostles’ nuclear families, age at marriage, income, etc.) and untestable factors (e.g., personal choice or how many they physically could have) that might explain the difference but those are not addressed here.
What about seniority, which is correlated with age, but is a different matter? I created two groups within the Apostles based on seniority (those called before 2000 and those after 2000); the 7 most senior (through Pres. Eyring) were one group and the 8 left were the other group (beginning with Pres. Uchtdorf). This group split is essentially a median split of seniority. A t-test revealed that there was not a significant difference in the number of children between groups (mean for group 1 = 5.29 (median = 6), mean for group 2 = 3.38 (median = 3.5), t = 1.70, p = 0.11, but the difference was a fairly large effect). This shows that the more senior apostles do, on average, have more children than the less senior ones but this difference is primarily driven by Pres. Nelson and Elder Renlund (this group difference is not significant with them removed from the analysis: p = 0.40).

pre_post_2000_apostles_children

Now for something tangentially related. How old were the apostles when called? The figure below shows current age (blue) and age when called (red).

age_apostles

What is interesting is that there is a trend towards a difference in age when called between the two groups (p = 0.07) with the more senior group called at slightly younger ages (mean = 54) than the less senior group (mean = 61). Pres. Monson, of course, is a strong driver of this difference (with him removed, p = 0.116) because he was ordained an apostle at age 36, which is incredibly young (he’s the outlier in the box plot below).

age_at_calling_apostles

Does any of this really mean anything? No. The Lord calls those He foreordained to the scared apostleship and who are ready to accept the calling, regardless of the number of children they have. However, it is interesting that younger apostles tend to have fewer children, which parallels but does not match the general trends in the world.

Nurturing the Seed of Faith and Testimony

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To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. Testifying is the declaration of a fact or a truth – stating something that you know is true. The word testimony is a noun, which means that testimonies can be acted upon; someone possesses a testimony and can share it. The word testimony comes from the Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that a witness stands as another – particularly a third – witness.We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book; this includes God’s word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C 6:28). We have multiple witnesses at church. Bro. [Smith] and I are visiting by assignment from the stake presidency to teach truths; the Holy Ghost also bears witness of the truths we share and the testimonies we bear. We are establishing truth through three witnesses. Even members of the Godhead, though united in testimony, purpose, and glory, serve as multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove as a sign to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God’s pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.

When Alma and Amulek preached in the land of Ammonihah, the people were amazed that two missionaries bore testimony: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason our missionaries go out two by two – there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.

We gain knowledge about testimonies and how we gain one by listening to the Lord’s apostles. In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. That is the only way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles that you want to gain a testimony of. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, follow Him! If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it and pray about it! We are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).

With these words, the prophet Alma taught the poor and outcast how they could develop faith. These humble people were struggling with their faith so Alma taught them how to increase it. My words are particularly directed at those who do not have a testimony or those who feel like they have a weak testimony. I pray that all may benefit.

The word experiment is only found in the scriptures five times. One of those is in the New Testament (see 2 Cor. 9:13). The other four uses of the word experiment are all found when Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramites. Alma developed an analogy of faith as a seed, encouraging those who listened to plant the seed of faith in their hearts then nurture it and watching it grow.

My wife Kristi and I recently taught this principle to our children. We talked about the seed of faith and how by nurturing it, it will grow. Then we planted actual seeds and, as we cared for them, watched them sprout and grow tall. We are still nurturing the plants as we wait for them to bear fruit. We build faith and testimonies the same way – it takes work and time. Alma taught the humble Zoramites to experiment upon the word of God, almost like performing a science experiment. I am a brain scientist by profession and so I spend much of my time doing science.

A foundation of modern science is to seek to discover facts that we hope lead to truth. Scientists study facts, which may or may not be true, by studying what can be observed or indirectly measured. I’m interested in understanding what will happen to the brain as someone gets older or what happens to a person’s brain after a major surgery. My goal as a scientist is to discover things through observation or experimentation that I hope are true and that will help people. While it is not possible to look at a person’s brain directly, I can give tests that measure how well it works. I can also use a machine to take pictures or movies of it.

In some ways, Alma’s faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith – sometimes this evidence is not what we expect or is not immediately clear, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:28-30).

Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they accepted the seed, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, would grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, fruit which never spoils and is without end. In a scientific experiment, the scientist usually makes a prediction and then tries to show that it is wrong. That’s how many doctors diagnose illnesses – they believe the symptoms might be one thing but they have to rule out other causes. A faith experiment is not quite like this.

In a faith experiment we plant a seed, nourish it, and care for it; we don’t try to kill the seed of faith and then, if it survives, call it a good seed – that’s science. We don’t try to explain away feelings and faith as wishful thinking. We do all we can to try to show that the seed is good – because it is. There are many witnesses of the truth of God. The key is to believe and come to a knowledge for ourselves. We do not need to prove that God exists or that the gospel is true – He does and it is; the gospel is not on trial, we are! We should not fight faith, we nurture it. Neither should we sow the seed of doubt in our own minds or those of others.

Elder Holland said, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…. When…moments [of trial and doubt] come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. It was of [the] very incident, [the] miracle [of healing the mind of a boy], that Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.” (April 2013 General Conference)

Or, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” (October 2013 General Conference).

To those of you who are struggling in your testimonies – embrace what you have and help it grow by living the doctrines in the scriptures and taught by God’s living prophets.

I want to talk more about faith. The word faith is often used as a synonym for trust or belief. We’ll say “You just have to have faith.” That use is the main definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines faith as “Belief, trust, or confidence.” That understanding of faith, as helpful as it is, falls short of the real power of faith. The apostle Paul wrote of faith: “Now faith is the substance [or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [or proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

There are things that we cannot see but that do exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed by us now – the scriptures and prophets teach us this. There are things that are real that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” It’s not a gift we give to God – the gift we give God is integrity to the faith we have received. We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him. We believe, hope, and trust our Eternal Father. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. That means faith is given to us as proof that our beliefs in God are good and true. Belief and good works lead to faith. Referring back to Alma’s analogy of the seed – we have desires to believe and then we plant the seed of faith. We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed must be planted and then not cast out by unbelief. To help the seed to grow we have to believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands. As we do this, we are blessed with further evidence – with more faith – as we see the seed grow, sprout, and produce good fruit.

It is important to recognize that faith is the evidence or proof of God’s love that we desire; it is a great and wonderful power. Many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. But faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe, trust, hope, and experiment upon the word but overlook our growing faith as evidence of God’s love because we’re so busy looking for something bigger – an angel or a clear sign from heaven? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the answer to our prayers and the reward of our righteousness. Faith is a glorious gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened and my faith grew. I’ll quote from my missionary journal: “Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion! Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, something we do not always do. [Sarah] used to go to [the LDS] church [with friends] when she was 8 or so. She even wanted to be baptized but [when she] told [her mom, Sarah was not allowed to] go to that family’s house any more. What a change [Sarah’s mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her mom previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me – getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, ‘Now I can really…say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.’ I have always [believed] but now [my knowledge is sure]! This feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny.”

I have not forgotten that feeling more than a decade later. That was one of the singularly important moments in my life. I have always believed Joseph Smith was a prophet. That’s not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful experience like the one I had that evening as a missionary. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before – I did – but it was strengthened by that experience. How did I gain this witness? What I did not write at the time was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel. A strong testimony can take years of effort or it might come quickly but for those who seek it, it will come. Even if it takes a long time, God blesses us richly along the path to testimony.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, Elder Scott, one of the Lord’s apostles, offers His counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Most importantly, a testimony helps you draw near to Jesus Christ and partake more fully of His grace.

One final example of how to gain or strengthen a testimony is in the Book of Mormon. We read in Alma 17 of an encounter between Alma the younger and his friends, the sons of King Mosiah. They had not seen each other for years. “Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2-3). The sons of Mosiah demonstrated the foundation for developing great faith and a strong testimony – search the scriptures diligently to learn the word of God and spend much time in prayer and fasting. By doing those things, our testimonies will grow. But as Brigham Young said, “More testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees.” It’s important to live what we read and pray.

I add my testimony to that of the prophets that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I have not had an angel appear to me like the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger but I have had something better; I have had the Holy Ghost – a member of the Godhead – witness unto me the truth of the Scriptures and the truth of the restored gospel. This is a miraculous witness that is no less miraculous than the visible ministering of angels.