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.

Habits of Christ-centered Homes

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Jesus spent much of His ministry walking and talking with people. One day he was asked to come minister to a young girl who was ill. As He walked to bless the daughter of Jairus, who would die and be brought back to life, many people followed Him or pressed around Him to gawk. In this setting while Jesus traveled, we read in Mark about an experience of faith: “And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” (Mark 5:25-34)

One of my favorite works of art is a painting by James Christensen of this woman who needed healing. In the painting, she reaches out to touch the hem of Christ’s cloak. The pressing crowds, the background, and even the Savior other than part of His cloak are not in the painting because the focus is on the woman’s great faith as she reaches towards the Savior’s healing. A copy of this painting takes a prominent place in our home to serve as a reminder of the power of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we keep our thoughts and homes centered on the Savior our faith in Him will be strengthened and His Spirit will be with us.

After miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus sent his disciples away on a boat while He went to pray to and speak with His Father. He spent hours in communion with His Father. The following day in the hours before the rising of the sun, His disciples were on the boat in the midst of contrary winds and stormy seas. On the unsettled water “Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And [Jesus] said, Come.” (Matthew 14:25-29)

I can imagine Peter crying out to the Son of God, the Light of the world, as he stepped from the boat onto the waves:

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene–one step enough for me.” (John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light)

“When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33)

Some observations about this story. We know Peter had great faith – He walked on the water to the Lord! How many of us have the faith to take even one successful step? Peter’s faith was great – it was not until he took his eyes off the Savior, when Peter looked at the storm around him, that he became afraid, started to doubt, and began to sink beneath the waves. As Peter’s faith faltered and he cried out to the Lord, Jesus immediately reached out and caught Peter. Jesus responded to Peter’s plea for help immediately! King Benjamin spoke of these immediate blessings: “[The Lord] doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:24). We are forever indebted to the saving, grasping hands of the Savior.

The winds continued to blow around Peter and his Master. It was only after making it to the boat that the winds ceased and peace prevailed. Blessings come while we experience the storms of life; greater blessings and peace come after trials of our faith.

One of the most important lessons from this experience between Jesus and Peter is not the great faith Peter had, it is what happened when Peter looked away from the Savior. As soon as Peter looked away, he focused on the waves and wind; Peter focused on the storm and turmoil and became afraid. With that fear came sinking doubt. If we lose focus on the Savior, though the consequences might not seem as immediate to us as Peter’s were to him, we begin to lose faith and begin to sink.

In order to weather the stormy days we live in we must focus constantly on Christ. This focus needs to start in our hearts, minds, and homes. The moment we look away and become fearful of the storms, our faith can falter. Satan tells us lies about the things we fear the most – the waves are too large, the winds too strong, we are unloved, we have sinned too much to repent, we cannot overcome our genes or our biology, we are failures, there is no hope for the future. Satan tries to hit us and hurt us where we are weakest but through Christ all our weaknesses and fears can become strengths. Jesus Christ suffered that we might triumph in strength. He reaches down to pull us up.

The prophet Nephi exulted of the Savior: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26). Nephi strove to build a Christ-centered home. He set an example for us to follow so that we can fill our homes with the love of God. We can fill our homes with God’s love as we consistently keep His commandments. We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home, where God dwells.

During the final meeting with His apostles, a meeting paralleled many years later by Joseph Smith giving his last charge and saving ordinances to the latter-day apostles and others, Jesus gathered with His friends 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. Even more, we must not only have a knowledge 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 knowing that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are distinct Beings is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we have an opportunity to become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent.

This is 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 nature of men and women and of their divine potential, even though that potential would not be understood for years. We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just as we had with Him before we were born with physical bodies.

A simple recent experience reminded me of the 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 our prayers. Experiences like this can remind us of our heavenly home.

We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home and build them upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We can do this by establishing patterns of righteousness. Our righteousness can become habitual. The brain is made up of 87 billion neurons – the brain cells that allow us to breathe, think, walk, talk, pray, serve, and love. Each of these cells is connected to others with an estimated total of 100 trillion connections. That’s a staggeringly large number – the number 1 followed by 14 zeros! These connections are not set for life; they strengthen or weaken constantly based on what we do and learn. Even simple actions, such as clapping or raising our hands in sustaining of church leaders, changes blood flow within our brains for half a minute. Each thought we think, each action we do, changes our brains. As we learn and re-learn things, the connections between brain cells change. If we do things over and over they become habits; habits might be easy or difficult to develop but they are usually hard to lose. This is because habits are ingrained within deep recesses of our brains; they travel along major brain pathways automatically and at rapid speed. Each thought or action we have or do has the potential to become a habit if we repeat it. What habits are you forming? What connections are you making in your brain – positive, uplifting, faithful ones? Or are you strengthening connections that lead you away from Christ? The roads of the mind can elevate or debase. Do we seek and strengthen the paths that will lead us back home?

I’d like to share four habits we can develop that will help us focus our families on Christ. These are not meant to be prescriptive, rather they are shared as examples of the types of behaviors we can instill in our homes, whatever the size or state of our family.

Habit 1

In our home every week or two we pick a scripture to memorize. Each time there is a new scripture, it is printed out and placed on a door where everyone will see it regularly and be able to read it. All in our family are encouraged to memorize the verses. In the morning – during breakfast or in the car on the way to school – we take turns reciting a memorized verse (it does not have to be the one for the week) and talk about the scriptures. With this constancy and repetition, all of us (except our baby) have been able to memorize a number of verses. This process doesn’t take long but it requires consistency. Having scriptures memorized allows us to recall them when we need a spiritual boost. Even if some of the specific words of the verses slip from memory, the principles will be retained and will provide strength against storms.

Habit 2

The first habit was knowing the words of prophets of the past. The second habit is learning and knowing the names and teachings of the current prophets and apostles. Knowing who the Lord calls as His chosen servants is important for recognizing how His work is accomplished upon the earth. More important than knowing names and faces of the prophets and apostles is being familiar with their recent messages. Frequently for Family Home Evening we talk about one of the church leaders and discuss the most recent general conference address. We distill one of the main messages of the talks into a single simple phrase. We also pick out a scripture from the talk or find a related one to memorize and discuss. This past week our family discussed Elder Holland’s talk “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet” and learned 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” We all experience sin and death, just as Adam and Eve did, but through the merciful atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ we will overcome physical death and may overcome spiritual death. Understanding the need for the Savior and the centrality of Him needs to start in the home. As we listen to, read, and follow the words of the Lord’s living prophets, we follow Jesus Christ. As our homes are filled with the words of the prophets, we fill our homes with the light and spirit of Christ.

Habit 3

The third habit we seek to instill in our children is a set of simple habits: 1) weekly Family Home Evening, 2) regular journal writing, and 3) daily personal and family prayer. These are ways we show daily devotion to God. In Family Home Evening we have the opportunity to “preach…receive, [and] understand one another [that all will be] edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22). Each of us takes turns teaching a lesson, choosing a song, saying a prayer, arranging a treat, and sharing a scripture or short spiritual thought. When everyone participates, everyone feels some level of responsibility. This helps the children pay better attention and be more involved in the evening.

Journal writing is also an important habit that helps us reflect on the present and anchors us to the past. I was encouraged to write in my journal regularly as a child. We encourage our children to write regularly in their journals. While we sometimes hear protests, these journals will be appreciated later. Journals can become sacred texts to us and our families. Many of the books of scripture are journals of the prophets.

Much can be said about prayer. Personal prayer is, as I frequently tell my children, the most important thing we can do in the day. Prayer is an opportunity to for us to converse with our Father. He loves us and wants to speak with us. When we pray we have the opportunity to thank Him. We have the opportunity to tell Him about our thoughts, desires, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failings. He knows all these things but wants to hear from us. It is far too easy to become complacent in our prayers. It is easy to be like the brother of Jared of old and slip in our personal communications with God, something for which he was criticized severely (Ether 2:14-15). We must make time for God. Family prayer can also bring great blessings of unity and love.

Habit 4

The fourth habit is Sabbath day observance. The Sabbath is a holy day, a day sanctified for us. To be sanctified is to be set apart, holy, dedicated. Is that what our Sundays look like? Is it a day different from the other six of the week or is it just another day? Is it a day spent worshiping God and strengthening our family, or is it merely a “fun day”? I love hearing my children say, “This is Sunday music!” or “That’s not a Sunday movie!” and see them choose to stay in their Sunday clothes all day. Both are signs that they recognize that Sunday is a special day; it is a day to cast off our normal activities, to put off doing our pleasure, and dedicate ourselves more fully unto God. One of the greatest things we can do throughout the week and on Sunday before church is prepare for the sacrament. Partaking of the sacrament is an opportunity to partake of the grace of God. It is a sacred ordinance, central to our week and our lives. It is a time to worship the Lord and offer up our sacraments to God, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 59:9).

Pres. George Albert Smith, the president of the church from 1945 to 1951, said of the Sabbath: “It is not an insignificant thing to violate the Sabbath day. I want to say that you lose every time you violate the Sabbath day, you lose more than you can gain, no matter what you may think you are going to gain. To forget that it is the Lord ’s Day, as some of us appear to do, is ungrateful. He has set apart one day in seven, not to make it a burden, but to bring joy into our lives and cause that our homes may be the gathering place of the family, that parents and children may…increas[e]…love for one another…. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…and it will bring to you great joy and our Heavenly Father will bestow upon you the blessings that result from obedience to his advice and counsel.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 16)

Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a habit we can gain or maintain. There are few things we can do that will strengthen our own spirituality and our homes better than keeping the Sabbath Day holy. It is a sign to the Lord of our faith. He richly blesses those who honor his holy day.

One way to honor the Lord by honoring the Sabbath is attending church. Jesus Christ established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make individuals better and families stronger. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ. The responsibilities of baptized members of Christ’s church include:

• Bearing one another’s burdens
• Mourning with those who mourn
• Comforting those who need comfort
• Testifying of God in all things and times through their words and deeds

Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

The words of the hymn remind us of our duties at home and to those around us:
“Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now in the paths of sin
Some wand’rer whom I should seek.
O Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,
Tho dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet:
I’ll say what you want me to say.” (I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Mary Brown, Hymns #270)

There are loving words we need to speak in our homes and to all around us. We need to say what the Lord wants us to say and help others along the way. Ultimately God wants us to return home to Him. That does not mean we need to be perfect now but the Lord requires us to try to be better; the atonement of Jesus Christ will help us overcome our shortcomings and sins.

The four habits I mentioned – memorizing scriptures, knowing the words of the living prophets, personal and family daily devotion, and Sabbath day observance – will help us draw near to God. They will help us strengthen our homes, allowing them to be places of refuge and peace. Our homes can become sanctified houses dedicated with the spirit of holiness to the Lord. May we strengthen our homes by following the Savior! May our homes be sacred places where the Spirit of God dwells! May they be edifices where we feel comfortable inviting the Lord to dwell. May we build our homes into tabernacles where we might kneel and greet the Lord Jesus, the Great Redeemer!

Give Heed Unto the Words of the Prophet and Apostles

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After a number of lengthy recent posts, I thought something brief would be welcome. The Savior said, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of [the] twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants” (3 Ne. 12:1).

We are blessed when we give heed to the words of the prophet and the twelve apostles. They serve us by dedicating their lives unto the Lord and spending all their time and efforts engaged in spreading His word. We should be wary of any who openly or in secret oppose the prophet and apostles for those who oppose them stand in opposition to the Savior.

Church Organization: Overview

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized after the same manner as the church Christ organized during His mortal ministry. The head – or leader – of the LDS Church is the Savior, Jesus Christ. The core unit of the LDS Church is the family and all structures and organizations of the church are established to support and edify families. Watch this brief introduction to the organization of the LDS Church.

3 Nephi 11

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The focal point (or, global maximum, if you will) of the Book of Mormon starts in 3 Nephi 11 when Christ appears to some of the survivors of the destruction that occurred after His death. I was struck by what Christ told those who were there. Here He was coming to some of His chosen people after His resurrection; He could tell them anything so what He first taught the people must be supremely important. So what did Christ teach? What did Christ do?

  1. He testified of Himself and His mission and that many prophets testified of Him (see verses 10-11). With this He not only stated the importance of His mission but also the missions of all the prophets before (and after) Him.
  2. He testified of the Father and that all Christ did was His Father’s will (see verse 11). This is His humility in reiterating the supremacy of the Father.
  3. Christ commanded those present to feel the wounds in His hands, feet, and side so that they would have a solid witness of His reality (see verses 14-17).
  4. The Savior then gave unto Nephi power to baptize (see verse 21). Nephi possibly already had this priesthood authority but at this time he was called as an apostle of the Lord (and made chief apostle). Jesus then called others as apostles, giving them authority to baptize (see verse 22).
  5. Jesus condemned disputations among the people, particularly about doctrine or ordinances (see verse 22). He also taught other important doctrines – repentance (and implied faith; see verse 23).
  6. Implicit in Christ’s call to the apostles was their role as missionaries (see verse 23).
  7. Christ then gives the words of the baptismal prayer, one of the few set ordinance prayers we have in the LDS Church (although the modern baptismal prayer is slightly altered). He also makes it clear that baptism is by immersion. Once again, with this the Savior reinforces the importance of baptism for salvation but also the importance of strict adherence to the ordinance of baptism (see verses 23-26).
  8. In the context of baptism and the baptismal prayer (performing the ordinance in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), the Savior teaches of the oneness of the Godhead (see verse 27).
  9. After this, the Lord Jesus Christ once again condemns disputations and contentions, particularly over doctrines and ordinances of the gospel (see verses 28-30). The Savior spends what amounts to three verses about the evils of contentions. He will shortly teach the people that peacemakers are blessed. Now, I do not believe the Savior was calling for pacifism at all costs but He wanted to make sure that people did not argue and fight one with another. How can a Zion society exist if people fight one with another? The Savior’s stressing of the evils of contention is one of the reasons there was many years of peace following Christ’s visit and brief ministry among the Nephites.
  10. Christ then moves into summarizing His doctrine (verses 31-40).
    1. The spirit of prophecy and testimony (verse 32), particularly how the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost testate of and for one another.
    2. Have faith in Christ (verse 32).
    3. Be baptized in the name of Christ (verse 32).
    4. Faith and baptism and repentance are necessary for salvation and for returning to dwell with the Father (verses 33, 37, & 38).
    5. There are consequences for willfully not believing in Christ and following Him (verse 34).
    6. Those who have faith in Christ will be blessed with the Holy Ghost (verse 35).
    7. It is important to have your foundation upon the doctrine of Christ. Any who seek to go beyond His doctrine to add or take away from it are cursed (verses 39-40).
  11. Missionary work is essential (verse 41).

I want to interject that anything after verse 18 was directed to Nephi and the apostles, Christ spent little time directly teaching the people at this point. He spent individual time with them but then left the bulk of the teaching to His anointed servants. This is an important point. Of the recorded words and actions we have of the Savior’s first hours in visiting with the Nephites, He taught the people little before calling His apostles and making sure they knew that they had primary responsibilities for teaching His doctrine and performing His ordinances. This mirrors what Christ did during His mortal ministry – He first called His apostles and then started teaching. The foundation of prophets and apostles is key.

While there are more lessons to be gleaned from this chapter, I thought it an interesting exercise to focus on what Christ and did in the first few hours of His visit. I want to re-stress the fact that Christ took time at the start of His visit to visit with each individual. The Savior is focused on people, on individuals. He knows all our names and knows each of us individually. Our task is to know and follow Him.

A Loving Kick in the Pants

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When the Savior needs to help someone make a needed behavior change, I imagine He does it much in the same manner as Elder Holland did during the Sunday morning session of General Conference (October 2012). Elder Holland gave a talk I called at the time a loving kick in the pants.

I hold to that description. As always, Elder Holland gave a remarkable talk. He told of the Apostles after Christ’s resurrection returning to fish the solitary sea of Galilee.

Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: “Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, “We also go with thee.” John, who was one of them, writes, “They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.”

So the Apostles were out working without success when the Savior appeared on the seashore, although at first they did not recognize Him. It was not until He asked them to cast their net again into the water did they start to recognize Him. They caught many fish and came to shore to talk with the Resurrected Lord. This is where the chastisement – the loving kick in the pants – started.

Jesus asked Peter three times – “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yea Lord, I do.” But the Savior needed to teach Peter a lesson – Peter had not fully grasped the nature of his calling as Apostle (and chief Apostle at that!).

To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

The calling of Apostle is to be a representative of Christ full-time. It is to love Christ and our Father enough to take up a cross and follow the Savior. Jesus chastised Peter for not understanding that after Christ’s resurrection Peter was not to return to fishing, he was to be a full-time fisher of men. The absence of the Savior does not mean the cessation of His work.

Even though the calling of Apostle is special, the rest of us are not off the hook from Elder Holland’s and the Savior’s loving kick in the pants.

My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.

Will we be able to answer the Savior when we stand before Him to be judged that we really do love Him, that we loved Him enough that we put Him first in our lives? Did we love Him enough to really love other people? Do we really understand the weight of the responsibility we bear when we are baptized and are confirmed and make sacred covenants to follow the Savior? Do we feel like we can stand before the Savior today with clean hands and a pure heart having done all we can to follow His commandments? If not, what changes need to be made? If not, start making the changes today. I end with Elder Holland’s testimony.

I testify from the bottom of my heart, with the intensity of my soul, to all who can hear my voice that those apostolic keys have been restored to the earth, and they are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To those who have not yet joined with us in this great final cause of Christ, we say, “Please come.” To those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well. To the youth of the Church rising up to missions and temples and marriage, we say: “Love God and remain clean from the blood and sins of this generation. You have a monumental work to do, underscored by that marvelous announcement President Thomas S. Monson made yesterday morning. Your Father in Heaven expects your loyalty and your love at every stage of your life.”

To all within the sound of my voice, the voice of Christ comes ringing down through the halls of time, asking each one of us while there is time, “Do you love me?” And for every one of us, I answer with my honor and my soul, “Yea, Lord, we do love thee.” And having set our “hand to the plough,” we will never look back until this work is finished and love of God and neighbor rules the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Those are powerful words from a loving Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ! May they inspire us to be a little better than we were yesterday, to be a little kinder, a little more loving, and a little more faithful.

Nephi’s Commentary on Church Organization

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Anyone who doubts the centrality of Jesus Christ to Mormonism (if we ignore the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) needs only to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi 1:9 we read: “And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.”

It took just a few verses to reference the Savior. The context is Lehi, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, had a vision where he saw God sitting on His throne, surrounded by many angels. Then he saw “One descending out of the midst of heaven” who was followed by “twelve others” (1 Ne. 1:10). These twelve had similarly bright radiances. So here we are with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and His twelve Apostles. Who were these Apostles? The twelve He called while on earth.

Now we continue to see the organization of God’s kingdom. “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.” (1 Nephi 1:11). The first in the verse might refer to the Savior but that does not make as much sense as it referring to the first of the Apostles; in other words, the chief apostle. Who is this? Peter.

Here we have the Father sitting on His throne, His Son descending to earth, and Peter (and the rest of the apostles) doing some of the specific work. That is the order of God’s kingdom, His authority and His priesthood. Heavenly Father sends His Son to act in His stead in some situations (actually, in most circumstances of which we have record). Jesus then delegates some of the work to His apostles, namely to Peter (and James and John). This is what we read in the first part of the Book of Mormon. It’s quite a rich commentary on the nature of God’s work, including how He accomplishes some of the work – through Priesthood delegation.

So there we have not only Christ taking an early and central role in the Book of Mormon, we have reference to the Father as well as Christ’s Twelve Apostles; there are other Apostles, including 15 alive at present – the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plus the 12 Apostles – but the original Apostles had and have (although I can probably safely say that Judas Iscariot is not currently acting in the role of Apostle) a special calling. They have been involved in directing and teaching the work of the Lord since the beginning of the earth and since Adam’s time upon the earth.

It did not take long in the Book of Mormon to reveal the centrality of Christ and the centrality of the organization of the Church. This is one of the reasons that I really enjoy the writings of Nephi. He teaches so much in such a compact space. The 1st chapter of 1 Nephi is rich with doctrine.

The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: Organization of LDS Church, Part 2; Chart of LDS General Authorities; How Many Children do the Seventy Have?
I’ve been fascinated by the leadership and organization of the Church for many years. I enjoy watching the Church grow and seeing how the structure of the general church leadership changes to meet the needs of a growing church. What is interesting is how the changes made always fit within the pattern Christ established when on the earth as well as the pattern revealed to Joseph Smith. In other words, the pattern of church leadership established in ancient and modern scripture is sufficient for meeting the needs of any size church. I was thus pleased to see that the Church posted an interview between Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Seventy) and Pres. Boyd K. Packer.

At one point in the interview Pres. Packer commented about the foresight of Joseph Smith (the foresight was not his own but rather was from God). “President Packer said it is marvelous that Joseph Smith could have anticipated an organization that would expand to meet the needs of the Church worldwide. ‘The revelations came when he was a very young man,’ President Packer said. ‘How he knew what he knew, I was going to say it was incredible. It is not, because he did not have to know much. All he had to do is follow the patterns of revelation.'”

Here’s the video of the interview with Pres. Packer. It’s a nice video that shows the hand of the Lord as He directs the work of His church.

The Necessity of Prophets and Apostles

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CNN has an article about “family values in the Bible” written by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College. I obviously do not agree with all the writer is stating but he makes a strong argument for the necessity of modern prophets without intending to.

For example, he writes:

“In current debates about family values, most of which have to do with sex, opponents of abortion and advocates of a woman’s right to choose both cite the Bible in support of their conflicting views, even though the Bible in fact says nothing specifically about the issue. And with regard to same-sex marriage, although the few biblical writers who mention same-sex relationships, especially between men, were unequivocally opposed to them, many contemporary believers would argue that, as with slavery and the status of women, it is time to recognize that the values of the biblical writers are no longer necessarily our own.”

So who gets to decide what is okay to accept and okay to reject from the Bible? A committee of scholars? Are we too advanced for prophets in our modern society? I know that’s not how things worked in the Bible. If I recall correctly, there seemed to be some prophets who spoke God’s words and commands – men like Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Peter, and Paul.

The author goes on to slyly argue against calling homosexual behavior sinful by making false appeals to other portions of the Mosaic Law that we do not follow today:

“Opponents of same-sex marriage cite Leviticus, which says that when a man sleeps with a man as with a woman it is an abomination. They’re right: It does say that. But it later calls for the death penalty for such activity, which only the most rabid opponents would insist on. The Bible also calls eating pork and a woman wearing a man’s clothes abominations, yet many would no longer enforce such prohibitions.”

That’s written as if the matter is settled. That’s a little bit like arguing that it is okay to murder because we (used proverbially as meaning the House of Israel in Biblical times) also used to perform blood sacrifices and we don’t do that any more. The author is making doctrinal decisions based on worldly acceptance. Besides, he conveniently ignores that New Testament writers also preached against homosexual behaviors. I know there are revisionist theologians who reinterpret and seek to re-write the scriptures to fit their own beliefs but they are like historians re-writing American history books to state that the Confederacy won the Civil War. Those who were there might have an issue with that position. Again, wouldn’t it be great if we had someone who could authoritatively speak God’s will just like in Biblical times?

The wonderful thing is that we do! Since 1820 we have had a prophet of the Lord on the earth just like in olden days. Today the Lord’s prophet is Thomas S. Monson. Further, we also have apostles who are called of God. You can read and watch some of what prophets and apostles are doing here. Prophets speak God’s word, which renders articles like the one I linked to for the most part moot.

Chart of LDS General Authorities

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put together a website with photos and links to biographies of the current General Authorities of the Church. One thing that is interesting is the small size of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. It’s been smaller than the First Quorum for as long as I can remember but the size difference is striking. One reason for the difference – I believe – is the localizing nature of the Church. What I mean by that is that with the formation of additional quorums of (area) Seventies – there are 8 in total – there is not as strong a need for such a centralized church. All authority goes back to the General Authorities but with the growth of the Church, there is greater need for stronger, more local leadership. Many of those who serve in the First Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve in various parts of the world to direct the church there, but their primary calling is to provide general (global) leadership over the Church; others are called to provide more local and specific leadership.

In any case, that website is a great source of information about the leaders of the Church.