Website changes – a work in progress

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Let me know what you think of the new design. I want to leave this as my site template for a day or two to see what I think. I’m not completely sold on the template. In the meantime, feel free to poke around and read some of my posts you might have missed. Please be patient with my website changes

BYU Speeches – The Sacred Gift of Agency

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Today I listened to Dr. David Dearden’s BYU address given on 31 March 2009. He is a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University. As a fellow scientist (although I am in the neurosciences and psychological sciences) I appreciated his views on science, faith, and agency. His talk is entitled The Sacred Gift of Agency. He states that all he sees in science affirms his faith in God; in other words, all he learns about nature, chemistry, physics, and the universe strengthens his faith and belief in God. He believes this way because he chooses to: “Well-meaning people may honestly disagree with my interpretation of how the universe is put together. Agency allows and requires this possibility. But for me, as I noted above, science is faith affirming because I choose to believe, and everything else follows.”

That is exactly my experience. Everything I learn about the brain or behavior or other sciences, strengthens my faith in God. I look at someone’s brain and I see God’s work. My faith in God is strengthened by science because I too, “[first] choose to believe, and everything else follows.” However, science is not sure; it is never sure. What I mean is that science is not perfect – our methods of science are not perfect. Even more than that, being completely, 100 percent sure goes against the very fabric of the method by which we conduct science. This does not mean that we can never trust science but it also means that through science we can never be entirely sure of what we learn from science. We can be reasonable sure about most things we learn from science but fully trusting all science is placing ‘blind faith’ in a fallible knowledge system. Science is the search for knowledge, it reveals little about Truth. I love science, it is what I spend most of my time doing; I love research and discovering knowledge and learning but I recognize the limitations of science.

There is something about which we can be sure. That is God. Those who have not felt the influence of the Holy Ghost (or at least did not recognize it) might not understand this principle. Those of us who have felt this Spirit and recognized it for what it is know this principle – certainty only comes from God. There are other things we can know for certain – we can know of someone’s love for us or our love for them. We can know other things but even with my love example, how often have you heard someone say, “I thought I loved them” or “I thought they loved me.” Even love can be deceiving some times (but thankfully, not all the time).

There is something about the influence of the Spirit that is absolute. What I mean is that His influence is certain. This is not to say that we can not deny it – we certainly can, that is part of our agency – but by denying it we are only lying to ourselves and to God. An example of someone who knew the truth but chose to deny it is Korihor. Here is part of the exchange he had with Alma:

“37 And then Alma said unto [Korihor]: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.” (Alma 30:37-42).

Alma knew Korihor believed in God and have felt the Spirit. Korihor was simply lying to himself and others. He acknowledged as much after he asked for a sign from God and then lost his power of speech.

“52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

“53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:52-53).

Korihor used his agency to choose to not believe in God, even though he always knew there was a God. His actions stemmed from that lie. I choose to believe in God, to not deny the feelings I have felt; I try to let my actions follow from my belief.

I’d like to share an experience from Dr. Dearden’s BYU address. It strikes a melodic chord with me because in many ways, I’m in a similar situation as he was in this experience.

“One of the great experiences of my life came as I was beginning my independent career as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington. Paul had a great experience on the road to Damascus, and I had my own on the road to Dallas. No, I did not see the Savior as Paul did, but I did experience His love, and I got to see how many little, seemingly less-important choices added up to bless me.

“I was trying hard to raise a family and to serve faithfully in the Church. It is challenging to do this as a young assistant professor. I had taken the job planning to pursue a certain course of research that appeared to have good opportunities for funding. I set up my lab and needed a test problem to check whether or not my instruments were working. I wasn’t quite ready to do what I had originally planned, and I remembered some work I had done years before as an undergraduate at BYU. This gave me an idea for a new experiment. It wasn’t a big deal, but I tried it, and it worked.

“I wanted to attend a scientific meeting I thought would further my career. I needed something to present at the conference because the university required me to present in order to fund the trip, so I took the results of my test experiment and drove 700 miles from Dallas to Nashville to attend the meeting. It was just a poster presentation, one among hundreds, but I was shocked at the strong positive response I received.

“I had to drive the 700 miles home by myself, and that was when the revelation began. All
the way home it was as if I heard a voice saying over and over, ‘Drop your original plans and pursue this other course of research.’ I did, and that choice laid the foundation for my entire subsequent career. In part, that is why I am here at BYU today. It may not have won a Nobel Prize, but the choice was a good one. It came after much thought and hard work and led to much more thought and hard work. I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot. It has blessed my life.”

Let me repeat my favorite part: “I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot.

God loves each of us. We can know Him beyond doubt, even though we do not see Him (at this time in our existence). “All thin
gs denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44). All things denote there is a God to those who choose to believe and serve Him. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We all have agency; what is important is that we use that agency to believe in God and do His will.

Follow-up on City Creek Center

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The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper, posted an article that gives more insight into why the LDS Church is spending so much money and effort on the City Creek Center and other developments in Salt Lake City. Because I previously posted on this topic, I thought I should link to the article. The article is based on an interview with Bishop Burton, presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The following short quote offers a summary of why The Church spends money on land development projects: “‘We are committed to do our part to make this a safe, beautiful and enjoyable community where people can enjoy one another, can enjoy the blessings of living in the tops of the mountains and can have safety and education for their families,’ Burton said. ‘That’s what we’re about, in part — to help with community enhancement.'”

I think Salt Lake is a beautiful city already but the work the LDS Church is doing is only making it more beautiful.

BYU Speeches – Pres. Monson’s Principles From Prophets

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I love reading and learning about the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their lives are inspiring and their teachings powerful. I also love reading about and studying the lives of the scriptural prophets – Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, Nephi, and Alma. I try to picture what the prophets looked and sounded like. What were their personal characteristics? How was their sense of humor? What did they like to eat or do for fun? But most importantly I focus on what they taught and how they lived. All the prophets testified of Jesus Christ. He has always been the central theme of their messages, in fact one cannot be a prophet without testifying of Jesus “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). A prophet is one who testifies of Jesus so anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ is a prophet. However, in a more specific sense, prophet is a calling given to only a few men who, in our day, are set apart and ordained and given priesthood keys to administer the Lord’s kingdom here on earth, namely The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Recently I have been listening to the podcast of devotional and Church Education System (CES) addresses given at Brigham Young University. I listen to the talks as I ride to and from school on the bus or as I am walking across campus. Devotionals are one thing I miss about BYU. When I attended there as a student I did not always attend the devotionals, I know I missed many great talks, but I attended often. Every Tuesday at 11 AM we could go and listen to a talk given by a BYU faculty member, a General Authority, the prophet, or someone else. All these speeches are available online at BYU’s Speeches website as MP3s or PDFs or other formats. Recently I started downloading the PDFs of the talks I most enjoyed so that I’ll have them ready to use in talks or essays or simply to re-read for enjoyment and knowledge and spiritual uplift.

One talk I particularly enjoyed was Pres. Thomas S. Monson’s address given on Sep 15, 2009. It is called Principles from Prophets. Text and audio are available here. In his talk, Pres. Monson shares experiences and lessons from the various prophets with whom he had personal experiences. Pres. Monson is witty, poignant, and humorous as he shares stories and lessons from the prophets’ lives. Pres. Monson has known every prophet from Pres. Heber J. Grant, President of The Church from 1918 to 1945, to Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, who was President of The Church from 1995 to 2008.

I’ll share a couple of the stories Pres. Monson shared. The first is about Pres. George Albert Smith.

“I believe one of President Smith’s most noble accomplishments was after World War II. Starvation was rampant in Germany and in other nations of Europe. President Smith met with United States President Harry S. Truman and said, ‘We’d like to send welfare supplies to the starving people of Europe, but the bureaucracy and the red tape in postwar Europe are keeping us from doing so.’

“President Truman heard his plea and opened the way. He asked, ‘How many months will it take for you to assemble your supplies?’ President Smith replied, ‘President Truman, they’re already assembled. All you need do is say go, and they’ll be rolling within twenty- four hours.’

“President Truman was taken aback by this slender man who spoke rather softly—but oh, could he move things along. The supplies were sent, and Elder Ezra Taft Benson was also sent to oversee their distribution. Lives were saved as a result.”

Pres. George A. Smith was a compassionate man.

The other experience I would like to share is about Pres. Howard W. Hunter. He was President of The Church for only 9 months but over the course of his 35 years as a general authority he had a large influence on many people. He was a soft and gentle man who was concerned with the needs of others.

“One of President Hunter’s hallmarks was that of courtesy. Whether in a moment of pleasant conversation or in times of constant pain, he was ever courteous. On one occasion a man who had been painting in President Hunter’s home said to me, ‘President Hunter is so remarkable. He graciously thanked me and my crew for painting a room. He commented on the color match, the absence of brush or roller marks, and repeated a hearty thank-you as he shook my hand when we finished our work and departed his presence.'”

There are many more stories and teachings in this talk. The talk is based on the principle that knowing the prophets better as people is inspiring. They lived what they taught; they taught what they lived. While knowing the character and personalities of the prophets is not as important as knowing and living the doctrine of The Church, getting to know the prophets can help us see how the Lord was able to take ordinary men and help them do extraordinary things.

C.S. Lewis Quote du Jour

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“Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled…. It follows that this Bad Power…must have things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them…. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things – resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself…. Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.” (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 2001, pp.44-45).

There was a war in Heaven between Jesus Christ and Lucifer. Satan rebelled against God and God’s plan of salvation. At one point, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, Lucifer was good. He had intelligence, light, knowledge, and free will. He had the moral agency to choose right from wrong. These are the good things Lucifer received from God. He took these gifts and used them to become evil. It is only in this manner that God created evil. There are eternal principles – God’s laws – that are not breakable. Agency is one of them. God gave Lucifer – and all of us – agency, which agency Lucifer used for evil. Lucifer rebelled and was exiled to the earth. “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3).

With this agency we all have been given comes the responsibility to choose that which is right. “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C; 101:78). With this agency – the same gift that made Lucifer’s fall possible – we can choose good or evil. Do you choose good?

C.S. Lewis Quote of the Day

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“He [God] wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love – a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy [God]; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, HarperCollins, 2001, pp.71-72).

This new love God wants us to gain is called charity. One of the greatest definitions of charity was given by the prophet Mormon.

“46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 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.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (Moroni 7:46-48).

Updates to Two Posts

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I made some edits and additions to my Voice of Thunder posts. You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2.

I have some more posts nearing completion, I just find myself starting a post then having an idea for a different one and so on until I have a number of unfinished posts. School is also keeping me busy with research and work on my dissertation. 🙂

The LDS Church and City Creek Center

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Jesus told the following parable.

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
  15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
  16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
  17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
  18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
  19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
  20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
  21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
  23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
  25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
  26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
  27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
  28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
  29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
  30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30).

In summary, a man had three servants to whom he gave different amounts of money. One received five talents, another two, and another one. What was important was not how much the servants were given but what they did with what they had. The servants who took their money and increased it were praised and given more when their master returned. One servant hid his money, doing nothing with it, and certainly not increasing it. This servant was punished for his wickedness and sloth.

This parable is not really about money but I’m going to draw some monetary parallels. Some people criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for spending as much money as they are on the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Would not this money be better spent on the poor? First, any who criticize The Church for not doing as much as they can to care for the poor is being disingenuous. Besides, does all money The Church has have to ‘help’ the poor?

We read of a time when Judas criticized the use of some expensive ointment when he thought it would be better to sell that ointment and give the money to the poor:

“1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” (John 12:1-8).

Now how is City Creek Center like this example? There are times when it is appropriate to not just spend Church money on the poor. There are more ways than one to build His Kingdom.

I’ll share one last example. Let’s say that I loan you $100. What are you going to do with it? Will you spend it on some new clothes? Will you pay your cable bill with it? Will you repay part of a student loan? Will you give it away to help the poor? Are any of those things bad? No, they are not. Helping the poor with the money is wonderful. However, what if you decided to invest that money or take it and buy some supplies that you use to make something else and sell for a profit. Pretty soon, with your ingenuity and diligence, you have $1000 where before you only had the $100 that I loaned you. Now you have enough money to pay me back and to continue to grow your wealth. As you continue to make more money you never stop helping to poor but soon you have enough money to build an entire orphanage. You have enough money to teach indigent farmers around the world how to improve their crop yields so they no longer are merely and barely surviving but are able to have an excess of food.

So what is a better use of money? Giving all of what you have away or using the money to increase what you have so you can be in a secure financial position to be able to help more people? Do you hide your money away or even give it all away, or do you work hard and increase it?

The LDS Church is in a similar position. It has tithing funds that are used to build temples and church buildings, to fund the upkeep of those buildings, and to help the poor and needy, among many other things. There are fast offerings that go to help the needy – both in and out of the Church. There are humanitarian funds that go to help the needy worldwide. The Church has an education fund that loans money at low interest rates to people so they can get the education they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

Then there are the commercial arms of the Church, like Property Reserve that is paying for City Creek Center. With this massive expenditure the Church is renovating downtown Salt Lake City. This benefits the businesses in the area, it benefits the people of Salt Lake, it beautifies the surroundings, and it is a good investment for the Church. They will be able to continue to grow their real estate holdings. The Church is trying to take its talents and increase them.

Simply giving money to the poor is not always the best way to help. I’ll end with some words by Arthur C. Brooks, who gave a forum address at BYU in 2009. He said:

“Rockefeller was famously quoted…as saying, ‘God gave me my money ‘…. Now, that’s sort of troubling to Christian people. God gave him his money? Some have used the quote as evidence that John D. Rockefeller was a bad man—that he believed he deserved to be rich when other people were poor. But that’s not actually what he meant.

In 1906 Rockefeller went on to tell a newspaper reporter for the New York American: “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God
. . . to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind”…. What Rockefeller meant was this: He believed that he made money because he was charged with helping others with his money, and he honestly believed (as he wrote at other times) that if he stopped giving his money and giving it in the right way, then God would take his money away.

Now, that still might trouble you theologically that God would intervene in the direct finances of John D. Rockefeller, but you have to admit that it doesn’t sound so weird at that point. John D. Rockefeller believed that he was rich because he gave so much, and throughout his life, before he was a rich man, he gave a lot. He was a charitable person.” (Source).

There is charity and there is charity. What I mean is that where some would simply give all their money away – again, not that that is bad – others will increase their talents and strive to help more and more people as they grow their holdings. You can help as many or even more people through business as you can through donations. I am not advocating we all become business owners but for good or for ill, businesses are at the heart of our world.

This post isn’t meant to be a commentary on economic theory. It is simply my opinion on matters of LDS Church spending. Critics will find any way they can to attack the Church. You might disagree with what the Church does but it is the Lord’s church. He directs the Church. This does not mean that leaders do not make mistakes but even if they do, it is not our place to be critical of them. Instead of attacking we should be building up the good we see in all around us. The LDS Church is doing many great things all over the world – things that benefit people both temporally and spiritually. This is the Lord’s work and He works in diverse ways and through diverse means.

Meetings and Covenants of Consecration

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In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we meet together in what are called wards (local congregations) every week on Sunday. We attend Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School (called Nursery and Primary for the kids 1.5 to 3 and 3 to 12, respectively), and Priesthood, Relief Society or Young Women’s meetings. In all we have 3 hours of church each Sunday. In the meetings we partake of the Sacrament (bread and water), listen to talks given by members of the congregation (or occasionally, the local church leadership), sing songs, and pray and worship together. During the rest of church we attend classes and are taught (or teach). Some leaders in the ward attend meetings before and/or after church to coordinate efforts and discuss the needs of LDS Church members in the area. There are other meetings held regularly too.

Twice a year our normal Sunday meetings are canceled as we listen to and watch General Conference, an event that occurs on the first Saturday and Sunday in April and in October. Men and boys 12 years old and older have five sessions of Conference to attend, each session is 2 hours long and is broadcast from Salt Lake City. Women in the Church who are 18 years and older attend a Relief Society (women’s) broadcast the last Saturday in September each year. Young Women (12-18) attend a broadcast the last Saturday in March each year.

Additionally, twice per year in lieu of regular church meetings, we attend Stake Conference. Stakes are the superordinate group of wards in an area. There are typically 6-10 wards in a Stake. Stake Conference is conducted by the Stake President – a man called to watch over and organize the efforts of the wards in the stake. For Stake Conference there is usually an adult session (for 18+) on Saturday night and a general session (for all ages) on Sunday. Also on Saturday there is usually a Priesthood Leadership meeting for those men who are called into leadership positions within the wards and stake. Each of these meetings last 2 hours. Stake General Priesthood Meetings are also held twice per year (often on a Saturday or Sunday night) as are various meetings for the Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and Primary.

The Young Men and Women (ages 12-18) have weekly night time meetings (to work on Scouting or service or education or just to have fun). I could go on but one thing we usually are in the LDS Church is busy. Much of this busy-ness comes because we do not have a paid clergy – all the local administration and ministration in the Church is done on a volunteer basis (technically we are called by the Lord {through church leaders} to serve in various capacities within the church. If we accept these callings – most do – then we fulfill that job in the ward or stake (or broader church) until we are ‘released’ from the calling or until we move to a different geographic location). For example, I currently serve as the 1st Councilor in the Young Men’s Presidency in our ward; this means that I directly with the 14 and 15 year old young men in the ward (and indirectly with all those 12-18). I teach them every Sunday as well as attend meetings on Wednesday nights (and others as scheduled). I also play the organ in church – in Sacrament Meeting – as well as sing in the ward choir (although I’ve not been consistent in singing in the choir in the past few years).

Yesterday (Saturday) I was sitting in the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference (held from 3-5 PM). Our Stake President asked the question of all in attendance: “Why are you here on this Saturday afternoon?” We could have been home with our families, we could have been working on our house, paining a picture, napping, playing, reading, working, or whatever else we might do. Some in attendance gave various answers as to why they were there: duty, responsibility, knowledge, and so forth. My thought on the matter was similar to the duty answer.

I thought that I was there because I had made a covenant of consecration to the Lord, to the building up of His Kingdom. I’ve covenanted that I will consecrate my time and everything else I can to serve Him. This means that if there is a meeting on a Saturday afternoon, I will be there. Now, there might be circumstances when I cannot be there – that is understandable – but it is important to be true to the covenants we make.

Our Stake President then brought up the reason he hoped we were there – because of love: love for God, love of the gospel, and love of those for whom we hold responsibility. Our service and sacrifices are a way to show and grow our love. A William James quote came to mind: “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.” If we want to love others more, we should act like we love them and eventually we will love them. If we want to love others we need to serve them and sacrifice for them. Jesus loves us more than any other person who lived on the earth and He provided the greatest act of selflessness and sacrifice and love ever performed. He atoned for our sins and sorrows because He loves us. It is this love of Christ’s that we should seek. This charity is Christ’s pure love; it should be our motivation for all we do in His service. If it isn’t then by our righteous actions of service we can gain this love. We gain if by faith, sacrifice, righteousness, and prayer. Charity is a gift from God.

We can keep very busy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are meetings and more meetings; there are programs upon programs but what is most important is not the programs but rather the people. The organization of the Church has been established by God to provide the means of bringing His children back to His presence. We covenant to serve God and to consecrate our whole lives unto Him. We show this consecration and love by our actions towards and for others.

Sons of Helaman

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In the Book of Mormon we read of a group of Lamanites who renounce their past murders and other sins. They covenant with God to never fight again lest they return to their old ways and sin again. They vowed to never fight even to save their own lives or the lives of their family. Here is this account in the book of Alma:

“12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.” (Alma 24:12-18).

These faithful followers of Christ gave up their sins. For them, killing had been a common occurrence. They were a wicked and warlike people. By giving up fighting altogether they demonstrated their desire to change.

Some time after this covenant was made some of the children of these people decided they needed to go to war to fight to protect their families, freedoms, and religion. They had not promised that they would not fight again – their fathers and mothers had made that covenant. These stripling warriors were of great faith. It is written of them: “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56:47-48).

Recently I pondered this scripture. Why were the teachings and faith of their mothers so important to these young men? Mothers are always important, they do most of the teaching of children. Mothers are important and should be recognized but why were these mothers recognized here? Was it the miraculous nature of the survival of these young men? I’m sure that was part of it but there was more.

I then realized that this group of people – the Anti-Nephi-Lehis – had been slaughtered by fellow Lamanites a few years before. Those are the verses I quoted from Alma 24. Most of those killed probably were men. Both men and women faced death fearlessly after they covenanted to never kill again. However, it is my opinion that most of those killed were men. I think they would have placed themselves in a position so they were the first attacked by the Lamanites. So many of these young men had likely lost their fathers in this attack. A lot of the attackers when they saw what they were doing, threw down their weapons of war and joined with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis but I doubt any of the mothers would have remarried any of those other Lamanites – it’s possible but not probable. They were forgiving people but there is a difference between forgiving the person who might have killed your husband and turning around and marrying them.

While some of these widows might have remarried (men other than their converted attackers), it’s likely that many were left to raise their children on their own (with the help of the church and community). There were fathers involved (“they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives”) but the mothers played the larger role. Again, I believe that it is because many of their fathers had been killed by the wicked Lamanites. These were “Momma’s boys” because for many of them, a mom is all they had. This is all opinion (and maybe literary license) but it makes sense. These sons of widows were taken care of by He who watches over and cares for the fatherless and widows.

This might also explain why Helaman referred to these youths as his sons (even “little sons”) and they him as their father. “And I did join my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons) to the army of Antipus…” (Alma 56:10). The young men were upstanding, honest, and righteous. They had great faith: “For as I [Helaman] had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us…” (Alma 56:46). While many of these young men might not have had living earthly fathers, they had Helaman who cared for them as sons and they had their Heavenly Father who watched over and protected them.