The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.

Worldwide Leadership Training

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As someone who works with the young men, I thought the recent Worldwide Leadership Training meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was great (I’ll come back to that point). One thing the Church has been trying to work toward is a reduction in meetings and work load while increasing the efficacy and purpose of the meetings that are left. I liked Elder Bednar’s point that meetings should be opportunities for revelation. I’d add that if you are not receiving revelation during a church meeting, whether it is a Sacrament Meeting or a Ward Council, then either the meeting is not being run entirely appropriately or you are not completely prepared for the meeting. When we are engaged in the work of the Lord, we are entitled to receive revelation for ourselves, our family, and for our stewardships within the Church.

So why training meeting great for someone like me who works with the young men? Part of the changes to how wards function is to reduce the load on Bishops and their counselors. This means that they will be able to spend more time with the young men and the young single adults. A bishop is the president of the Priest quorum in the ward. He is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward as well. This means that if the Bishop is not in the quorum meeting with the Priests on Sunday, he is not where he is supposed to be. Bishops should be with their quorums. I know there are extenuating circumstances and other things that need to get done but the bishoprics are the primary leaders for the young men. When I was growing up my bishops were good about spending a lot of time with the young men. They came to our classes as often as possible and came on as many campouts as possible. They were great role models who led us as Christ would lead us, in love and righteousness.

But now, the Church is putting more emphasis on simplifying handbooks (when Elder Oaks stated that they had cut about 12% from the Stake Presidents’ and Bishops’ manual, I thought of Steve Jobs introducing a new Apple product that is now “thinner and lighter”). When you can simplify the bureaucracy by cutting administrative overhead, you have more time for ministrative service. This comes when all fulfill their responsibilities and help each other. Alma taught: “And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). Part of being members of the Church is being willing to bear one another’s burdens. This is specifically the role of the Ward Council – to lighten the load on the Bishop by diffusing the weight. The old adage that many hands might light work is true.

As the Church procedures are simplified and streamlined, there is more time for the individual. This has been repeated many times but I can never state it enough – the people, not the programs of the Church are what are important. This is what the Apostles are reemphasizing with the changes to the leadership handbooks for the Church.

Busy Mormons

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To some people who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the fact that Mormons attend church for 3 hours each Sunday is overwhelming. At the risk of making things even more overwhelming, I’m going to answer the following question: Do Mormons really spend 3 hours per week in church? For many church members that is the case. However, others, especially those called into leadership positions, spend much more time. This is because the LDS Church is largely a lay church – it is run by normal people, those of the congregations, who are called to fill and serve in different capacities. Some of these jobs range from ward librarian to building facility manager to choir director to bishop to stake president and so forth. As members of the LDS Church we receive callings and then serve where we are called. Some callings take little time, others take considerable amounts time. So what do these time requirements look like?

Here’s a fairly typical schedule for someone like myself who serves as the Young Men’s President (which means that I help the bishop of our ward in working with the boys between the ages of 12 and 18):

  1. Pre-church meeting for 45 minutes.
  2. Short break (spent coordinating activities or getting things ready for church meetings) until Sacrament Meeting.
  3. Sacrament Meeting – 1 hour 10 minutes.
  4. Time to get to class.
  5. Sunday School – 45 minutes.
  6. Time to get to class.
  7. Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings – 50 minutes.
  8. Brief clean up of rooms and building after church.
  9. Home from church after spending about 5 hours there.
  10. Wednesday night youth activities – 1 to 2 hours.
  11. Preparation of lesson for Sunday – minutes to hours, depending on the lesson.

Then there are other church responsibilities – home teaching, presidency meetings, temple trips, monthly youth meetings, and so forth. We’ll have youth dances and other youth activities. There might be camping involved too. My church responsibilities require more time than some other people’s and much less than others’. Twice a year we have General Conference instead of our normal church meetings. That is up to 10 hours of meetings over two days. We also have Stake Conference, which can be 6 hours of meetings over two days.

Being a fully invested member of the LDS Church requires dedication and consecration. Most of us are more than happy to dedicate so much time to what we believe in so strongly. We have faith in the Savior Jesus Christ and His church; we love Him and want to serve Him by serving others. Further, we make covenants with the Lord at baptism, when males receive the Priesthood, when we partake of the Sacrament, and when we receive our temple endowment. We covenant with God that we will consecrate all we have unto Him. That includes our time.

Church responsibilities are never a burden (although I know some do feel that they are). That does not mean that spending the time requires no sacrifice, but our burdens are made light through the Savior.

So do Mormons attend a lot of church? Yes, we do but we are building the Lord’s kingdom here upon the earth and it requires a lot of work. His work will not do itself, we need to be actively engaged in it. We as church members can be as involved as we want to be but we should recognize that God and family come first. While we should not neglect our families in the name of service to God, neither should we neglect our service to God because we might feel inconvenienced. The work of God will go forth boldly as we are bold in our efforts. Three hours of church a week often is not enough. We do not get paid for our efforts but we serve because we love – the Lord and those around us. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t a Sunday thing, it’s a Sunday through Saturday thing. It’s who we are. It’s part of our lives. Again, we feel this way – at least I do – because of my love for the Savior and my faith in Him and His gospel, which include His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Acts of Service

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Every day around the world acts of service such as the one depicted in the embedded video are performed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that a religion that does not effect positive changes in people’s lives and promote charity and service is no true religion. Religion is not only about lofty theology or enjoying the future bliss of blessings in heaven; true religion is about love and service and goodness.

“None is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity…. But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:44-45,47).

We serve others because it is a commandment but as the Apostle Paul noted: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). This means that we are given commandments so that we might learn charity and serve with a pure heart and good conscience and unfeigned faith. The end of commandments, or in other words the goal, is that we might become Christ-like and full of God’s love, which is charity. While I believe there are many good reasons to serve others, the highest and best reason is because we love others and are filled with charity, which never faileth and never ends. Charity is perfection.

So while our motives to serve others might not always be out of pure charity, by serving we keep a commandment and are working toward the day when we will be filled with God’s perfect love. The LDS Church provides many opportunities for service, including ones like what is depicted in the following video. Service like this is given frequently by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Help Those in Haiti

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Today the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement:

“Our hearts are filled with sadness as we have watched the suffering in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. We turn to the example of Jesus Christ who reached out to ‘lift up the hands which hang down’ and ‘strengthen the feeble knees.’  We are keenly aware that many in America are dealing with economic challenges caused by the recession. However, we are appealing to members to donate to Church Humanitarian Services as their means allow in order to help our Haitian brothers and sisters.  Many have already contributed and others are anxious to do so.
“Money is not the only need in Haiti. People are frightened, bewildered, and wholly uncertain about their future. In addition to what people can do in helping with food, water and shelter, there needs to be a calming influence over that troubled nation. We invite our people everywhere to supplicate God for a spirit of calm and peace among the people as urgent aid and reconstruction efforts continue.” (Link).

Please consider donating – even a small amount – to the LDS Humanitarian Services. 100% of donated funds go to those in need. All administrative costs are covered by other organizations or by tithing funds. All funds will go directly to those in need. The LDS Church is already helping people in Haiti and will continue to do so until the needs they can meet are met.

On Time

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One night Wilford Woodruff had a vision of Joseph Smith and others in heaven. Joseph was at the door of the temple in heaven. He was in a hurry and could not stop to talk with Wilford. Many people were in a hurry. After a bit, Joseph passed by Wilford again. Wilford stopped him and asked why he and everyone were hurried. Joseph replied, “I will tell you Brother Woodruff. Every dispensation that has had the Priesthood on the earth and has gone into the Celestial Kingdom has had a certain amount of work to do to prepare to go to the earth with the Savior when He goes to reign on the earth. Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation and so much work has to be done [that] we need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it!”

In other words, we do not have much time before the Second Coming. We must be anxiously engaged in the work of the Lord. We must not waste time! We have so much to do and so little time. Those who have already passed on are engaged in the work from the other side of the veil. They continue their work with all the energy they have.

General Conference was one week ago. I marvel at the wonderful technology that allows us to watch Conference as it happens, even though we might be across the globe. Mp3s of the sessions were up hours after each was over. As soon as each session ended, we could watch it (again) via streaming video. Shortly later each talk and song were available to download as videos or audio. On Thursday the full text of the talks was posted.

The Church is constantly working on new ways to reach more people more quickly and with less effort. We can watch church videos on YouTube, we can listen to an LDS radio station – online and over the air in some locations, we can read scriptures online or on our iPods or iPhones, we can send out emails to the whole ward announcing activities, we can report home teaching via email, we can share the gospel using Twitter or Facebook or blogs. The Lord has blessed us with technological advances so that we might have more time to devote to fulfilling His work. We need to take advantage of these advances and labor and time-saving inventions by making sure we fulfill our gospel responsibilities and our duties to God.

We have little time to do the Lord’s work; let’s not squander what time we have. Those like the Prophet Joseph or Pres. Hinckley or many of our ancestors on the other side of the veil are working with all diligence to do the Lord’s work. They need willing and active hearts and hands from us to fulfill our duties. We need to remember the words of Amulek who said, “Behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). We have much work to accomplish in this life – there are things we can only do here. We have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. How are you spending your time?

Selected October 2009 General Conference Quotes and Thoughts – Sunday Morning Session

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Pres. Henry B. Eyring – The Road of Improvement

Different as we may be, we share a desire to be better than we are. We can and must expect to become better as long as we live. We will all meet the Savior someday and need to prepare for that time. Any believing Latter-day Saint is an optimist about what may come. Even the most humble person can take comfort in the invitation to become like the Savior.

I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His way. I’m trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say.

It is a commandment to become like the Savior. He has prepared a way through His Atonement and example. Love is the motivator along the way to becoming like Him. Love of God will lead us to keep His commandments. The family is an example of the ideal setting in which we can experience love [and service]. Sorrow [in our families] comes primarily from selfishness.

I pray that there will be no empty chairs in your family in the life to come. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own.

[He talked about wayward children]. Orson F. Whitney quote: “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them…Pray for your careless and disobedient children…Love them, reach out to them with confidence…”

Honor thy father and mother – the only commandment with a promise.

You can feel the approval our your Heavenly Father when you do what He asks. I hope you will go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did.

Elder L. Tom Perry – Temple and Missionary Work

Talked about the Manti Temple pageant and temple. There is a special spirit about these older temples that were constructed [with great sacrifice]. I can hear the pioneers saying, “Look what we built with our own hands!”

Stories of the pioneers. Settling in Sanpete and promised to have a temple. They waited and no temple was started so they, with the Church leaders’ permission, started building the Manti temple. They used the principles of ship-building to build a solid roof for the temple (they designed it like a ship and turned it upside-down). The principles of building a sound ship also applied to the temple.

We have all accepted the responsibility to share the gospel with others. The church eliminated the stake missions and brought it down to the ward level; it increases involvement by the members. Pres. Hinckley said: “So many of look upon missionary work simply as tracting…there is a better…wherever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is a built-in support system.”

How prepared are you to give witness and testimony of the gospel…to play that supporting role to the full-time missionaries as they teach investigators?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine way to face the future.

Elder Russell M. Nelson – Revelation

Modern technology is amazing. But more amazing is our ability to receive knowledge from heaven without hardware, software, or monthly fees. This offer to receive personal revelation is extended to all God’s children. We always need to be ready to receive [personal revelation].

To access information from heaven, one must have firm faith and sincere desire. One needs to ask with real intent and with faith in Jesus Christ. Study the matter diligently.

Some revelations have been given for specific circumstances, like Noah’s ark.

A desire to follow the prophet takes much effort because the natural man knows little of the Lord. The natural man is an enemy to God and will be forever unless he [submitteth unto the Lord].

Personal revelation can be honed to become spiritual discernment. This is a supernal gift. It allows us to see things not visible and feel things not tangible. Can detect trends in the world…things that are flashy and fleeting and those that are [worthwhile and lasting].

“None of the callings in the Priesthood are for the personal benefit or fame of those who have them. They are to fulfill the purposes of God.” ~ Pres. John Taylor (paraphrased)

Revelation need not all come at once. It may be incremental. “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” Unto him who receiveth, I will give more.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson – Service

Volunteers in Medicine founder – Dr. McConnell – giving service

Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose in life. Giving service can, in effect, save your life.

“Man’s greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others” – David O. McKay.

At baptism we covenant to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. Too often we think, “oh, someone else will fill that need.” We spend too much time thinking about things that do not matter much in the grand scheme of things.

“I have wept in the night for the shortness of sight that to somebody’s need made me blind; But I never have yet felt a tinge of regret for being a little too kind.”

“Warm fuzzies jar” – based on acts of service. A girl in a ward babysat for free for a family who did not have a lot of money. [Other examples of service were shared].

We have to live a long time to learn how empty a room can be that is filled only with furniture. The memories of the past can burn within our hearts.

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.

If we truly listen we may hear that voice say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Norman Borlaug: A Life of Service and Good Fruits

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The year 1914 was significant. The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, which event led to the start of World War I, a devastating conflict between many nations that left millions dead. 1914 was also the year the Panama Canal opened, providing quick access by boat from hemisphere to hemisphere. It was also the year that Sir Earnest Shackleton left for his expedition across Antarctica. In the U.S., 50% of the people who were born in the early 1900s could expect to live to age 60 (less than 80% would have been expected to live to age 20). In contrast, 50% of people born in 2004 can expect to live to about age 83 (source). Thus, since around 1914 we have added about 30 years to the average human lifespan. Most of this has come from reductions in infant mortality. Around the world, similar improvements in life expectancy have been made.

The world was in upheaval in 1914 but in an obscure rural town in Iowa a baby was born who would change the world. However this person largely remains unknown, at least within the United States. His name was Norman Borlaug. He died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95. He grew up and received a PhD in plant pathology. He helped create hardier grain plants that increased food production by enormous amounts throughout the world.

“In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug’s concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands “at the lowest level in human history,” despite the global population having trebled in a single century.” (Source).

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work. He is one of the main reasons for a large increase in life expectancy worldwide. He spent much of his life living in the countries he was trying to help. His family went along too. In his own way, Borlaug was like Mother Teresa but on a much broader and macro level. His helping the poor and hungry was not ostensibly religious – it was based on science and plant genetics – but he had great devotion to helping and teaching those who needed help. Norman Borlaug was a man who was blessed with much and gave much. He never sought for fame and fame, for the most part, did not seek him.

None of us will likely ever have as great an impact on this world as Norman Borlaug did but we have all been given talents – spiritual gifts – that require us to use them for the good of ourselves and others.

“Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are…. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C; 46:8-12; emphasis added).

All on the earth are given at least one spiritual gift by God. Many are given many. They should be used and expanded for the profit of all. In the New Testament we read the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-29). In this parable are three servants who are given talents (money) by their master as He leaves on a journey. The servant given five talents turned around and through wisdom and good sense turned the talents into ten. The servant given two talents turned those into four. The master was pleased with both servants. They were given talents and had increased them wisely. The third servant was given one talent. He, fearing his master, and not wanting to lose his talent, buried it; upon his master’s return the servant gave unto him his single talent. The master was not pleased. He stated that this servant should at the least have put the money in the bank, so to speak, where it might have earned some interest. Because this third servant had not been wise with his talent, it was taken from him and given to the servant with ten talents.

The moral of this parable is not based on how many talents the servants had originally; it is based on what the servants did with the talents allotted unto them. Both the servant with five and two talents had doubled their talents. They expended effort and did not hide or neglect their talents. The servant given one talent would have acted similarly had he been given ten talents instead of one. Again, it does not matter how much we have been given as it matters what we do with what we have received. That last statement is not strictly true in the broader sense (i.e., outside this parable), I believe, because those who have received more talents have a greater responsibility to wisely use and grow them. Jesus said unto Joseph Smith, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C; 82:3). The more we receive, the greater our responsibility.

To me it seems that Norman Borlaug was given much. He had the intelligence, training, creativity, and support that enabled him to help others have the food they needed to survive. He was not selfish with his knowledge. He spent the time himself training others so that they might in turn be able to train others. Borlaug helped start what is known as the Green Revolution, a revolution not of swords and guns but one of plows and tractors. It helped modernize the agricultural techniques of many areas of the world. Before where famine and starvation were rampant, Borlaug’s work helped pave the way for surplus and plenty. He is a man who was given much and gave much in return. I do not know what he was like as a person but his fruits were good.

A Father’s Day Tribute

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A number of years ago before the invention of electricity but after the invention of outdoor plumbing, my father was born. He was born when he was quite young to goodly parents. They taught him the gospel and helped him start along the path of life. When young, he lived for a time in Boston as my grandfather attended law school. However, he grew up mainly in Phoenix, Arizona with time spent in St. John’s, Arizona. He loved and still loves spending time outdoors. I think there are relatively few people who have seen as much of the wilderness of Arizona (and Utah) as my father.

Even though my father spends a lot of time outdoors, he also spends a lot of time reading and learning (not that being outdoors and learning are mutually exclusive categories). While he used to read many novels when younger, he rarely reads novels now (“now” goes back many years). Almost every week as we – my siblings and I – were growing up we went to our public library and checked out books. My father would check out many books – all non-fiction – on topics ranging from geology to physics to linguistics (which is what he has a Master’s degree in) to art. He would then either read or skim (if the books were not that great) all of the books before they were due; he always had a stack of books checked out from the library. I do not expect to meet anyone who has the breadth and depth of knowledge that my father has. Even as a teenager I always respected my father’s opinion, even if I did not always follow it or agree with it. I never thought he did not know anything because he always seemed to know everything.

My father has exhibited similarly broad interests in his work over the years. He spent a couple years as an intelligence officer for the Army during the Vietnam War. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a Master’s degree in linguistics. He then attended law school and worked for a number of years as an attorney, which he currently does. He owned and operated an Apple Computer store. He owned and ran a digital design and printing business. He taught classes at a local college. He has always worked hard – his idea of taking a break is working in the garden or repairing something or hiking up a mountain (although he does more leisurely things from time to time). For the church, he served as an LDS missionary in Argentina. He also served in various church callings at the ward and stake level.

My father has been many things in his life but greatest of all, he is a husband and father. My father taught all of us children to love the gospel. He always placed the most important things first – whether it was the gospel or family. He has a testimony of the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he never shied from sharing that testimony with us. He always read his scriptures, reading the complete standard works regularly. He taught our family during family home evening, although we all would take turns teaching. He always went to church and did his home teaching. He is like those of whom the Savior said these words: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15; emphasis added).

My sister wrote of an experience with our grandfather that is similar in many ways to countless experiences I had with my father. Even though it is about my grandfather, I share it not only for the beauty of the experience but also because it is representative of things my father taught me.

“Almost every year, as is common in late July, a storm builds up. One year the lightning was so fierce that I was terrified. Dad patiently took me by the hand, and we walked over to his father. ‘Ask Grandpa to tell you about thunder and lightning.’

“Grandpa stood in the middle of the circle, holding on to his cap and shielding his eyes from the blowing dirt, and began to teach me about storms. He talked about the movement of storms and what caused them. He talked of larger weather patterns in northern Arizona and electrical phenomena, including how to calculate the distance from you to the lightning.

“But more than teaching me the scientific explanations, Grandpa quietly taught me through his example not to be afraid. He taught me that storms are to be appreciated and admired, surveyed and studied, but not feared. So from thunderstorms and Grandpa, I learned how knowledge and courage can dispel the darkness of fear.” (Source).

My father taught me the beauty of the desert as we hiked in the Superstition Mountains. He taught me the importance of preparation as we hiked the dusty trails of the Grand Canyon. He taught me perseverance as we plodded our way through the Pariah Canyon. He taught me safety as we rappelled down mountainsides. He taught me love as he brushed away my tears. He taught me how to be a husband by how he treated my mother. He taught me creativity as he wove or drew or sang. He taught me service as he helped those around us in need. He taught me lifelong learning by his voracious appetite for knowledge. He taught me a love of family through his family history work. He taught me the gospel through countless Family Home Evenings. He taught me integrity by always keeping his word. He taught me by his word but most strongly by his deed. He lives as he teaches and teaches as he lives. Above all, he taught me that there is no more important thing in life than building my foundation upon Christ. There is no one whose opinions I value more than my father’s. He truly is my hero.