Sunday, December 29, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1842 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1842 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James; “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him,” I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

The 1842 account is part of the Wentworth letter.  From the Wentworth letter we get our Articles of Faith as well as a well-known quote about missionary work ("no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing ...").  The letter is quite lengthy and gives a "sketch" of the rise of Mormonism.  As such, the account of the First Vision is quite brief and to the point.

- the questioning of "right or wrong" of all the religions
- the seeking in the bible
- James 1:5
- he was 14
- went to a secret place in a grove
- two personages
- the light eclipsed the brightness of the noon-day sun
- the personages tell him all the religions believe in incorrect doctrines

- does not mention his tongue was bound; nor the part about the darkness
- how the two personages appear to him seems different.  In all the previous versions, a pillar of light or fire appears above his head.  In this version, however, he says "my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded."  When I read this, to me it seems the vision occurred in his mind (like a dream) as opposed to a physical visitation (via a pillar of light / fire).
- in the scriptural account, Joseph does not ask for forgiveness of his sins.  In the previous accounts he does ask for forgiveness.  In this 1842 account, he does not mention he asked for forgiveness.

The Wentworth version from 1842 is brief and to the point.  To me, the purpose of this account was to describe the history of the church at a high-level.  Therefore the account of the First Vision was fairly direct.  Other than the part about how the personages visited him, this account is not too different than our scriptural version.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1838 Account

The 1838 version is the the official, canonized version of the the First Vision.  This is the version I was taught as a child as well as the version I taught investigators of the Church for two years.

I won't discuss much about this version - this is the version by which I've compared the previous two versions.

The one thing I will comment on is the 'thick darkness' Joseph refers to in this version.  It was not mentioned in the 1832 or 1835 versions.  Although his tongue was bound in the 1835 version, he did not mention the darkness.  In this 1838 version, he talks of an "enemy" which "seized upon" him and "entirely overcame" him.  This influence has such a profound effect on him, that it binds his tongue.  Then "thick darkness gathered around" him and he feared that he would be destroyed.  His fear is so great he says, "I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction - not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being sent from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being."

Let me back up a bit.  I mentioned I was taught this version of the First Vision when I was a child.  But, for the most part, this bit about the "darkness" was usually left out or not discussed.  And if it was included in the lesson, it was quickly covered, so as not to dwell on the "enemy" so much.  Personally speaking, I was left with the impression that if we focused on this part too much, the same thing would happen to me.

Then, while as a missionary, whenever we taught the First Vision, we almost always left the "thick darkness" part out.  Or, if we did include it, we would not go into much detail about it - such as only mentioned his tongue was bound.

In Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman describes Joseph's "reluctance" in sharing the First Vision and that as he got more confident, he shared more details.

The 1838 version is very detailed and colorful when compared to the other versions.  I can see why this version would be the preferred version to include in the scriptures.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1835 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1835 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking upon (at) the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and concidering it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involved eternal consequences; being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowd down before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men libar ally and upbradeth not; information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination I to obtain it, I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my toung seemed to be swolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me, (I) strove again to pray, but could not, the noise of walking seem ed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet, and and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of wal king, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my (me) head, and filled me with joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst, of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God; (and I saw many angels in this vision) I was about 14. years old when I received this first communication;

This version is very similar to the one found in the PoGP.  It has all the main points:
- the questioning of "right or wrong" of all the religions
- the seeking of the bible
- James 1:5
- the bound tongue
- he was 14

- the biggest difference is that he states he "saw many angels in this vision".  He doesn't elaborate, but in other versions he only sees either 1 person (Jesus Christ), or 2 persons (Christ and God).  But only in this version does he mention seeing many angels.
- this version mentions an unseen presence in the form of binding his tongue as well as a noise of a person walking.  In at least one church video I've seen, it includes this aspect - of a noise of someone walking and Joseph jumping up to his feet.  But in this 1835 written version, there is no mention of a power of darkness - just noise.
- again, in this version, the Lord forgives him his sins.

The 1835 version seems to be a "cliff-notes" version of the official version of the First Vision.  It has all the main points of the official version.

The part about the many angels is very curious.  It sounds a lot like Lehi's vision where he sees, through a "pillar of fire", "God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (see 1 Nephi 1:8-9).

One other thought and comment about where he went to pray.  In the official version, he "retired to the woods", and in the 1832 version he calls it "the wilderness" and in the 1842 he calls it "a secret place in a grove."  In this version he calls the woods "the silent grove."  Of all the different descriptions he uses, I like this one the best.  I wish we (in the Church today) would call it "The Silent Grove" instead of what we usually call it today - The Sacred Grove.

Just this past Thanksgiving, I took my son camping up to one of the forests near where we live.  We endured a cold Wednesday night, but then on Thanksgiving morning, it was gorgeous, perfect weather and we went on a long hike.  When were were deep in the forest, we stopped and sat down.  The silence was profound - and I know we were not far from "civilization."  I can only attempt to imagine the "silent grove" Joseph mentions.  Silence is something we do not heed enough in our hyped-up and "connected" world.  Even if we are not producing noise, our minds still do not assume a silent state.  I often lament and feel bad for people who cannot assume a silent state, much less who seek a "silent grove."  I don't think even I get enough silence in my life and I make an effort to seek it.

Another part of this version that caused me to ponder a bit was where he said, "concidering it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involved eternal consequences"  Do people today still consider the eternal state of their soul to be of "first importance?"  Joseph is not referring to the fate of, say thieves and murderers, rather he's referring to the fate of Catholics and Methodists.  He's looking at all the "good" people where some religions say their congregants will be saved, while the non-congregants will go to hell.  To state his dilemma a bit differently, let me cast it in a different light.

A member of the Church and I had a conversation several weeks about about some friends of ours.  Our friends are really good people - meaning they are nice, they serve, they are kind, they are good parents - they are "the salt of the earth."  But they are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.  I asked this member if they believe our friends would be able to be together as a family if they never are baptized in the Church and sealed in the Temple.  We both agree that if they are not baptized and sealed in the Church, they would still have opportunities (even after they die) to do whatever they needed to do in order to be together for the eternities.  We believe, that even despite being offered the teachings of the Church, they would have multiple opportunities - that God would be merciful.

I think this is a common belief in many people - in the mercy of God.  And since most people believe that, I don't think there are many who have the urgency that Joseph had.  He believed in a "one-chance life" at that point of his life.  I think he believed he had to find the truth, whereas today, we believe "everything will eventually work out" and that we just need to focus on "being good" (see Put Your Trust in God).

But the all-or-nothing question still remains: do we just 'have faith' that it all works out and that we just need to be 'good' or do we truly need to find out what the truth is - that this life is our one chance to find out the truth (concerning the religions) and if we don't find it here, that's it - too bad if you made the wrong choice in religions?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1832 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1832 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the well fare of my immortal Soul which led me to search ing the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that (they did not adorn) instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mand (mankind) did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons for he was God for I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the (it is a) fool (that) saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when (I) considered all these things and that (that) being seeketh such to worshep him as wors hip him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderne ss and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the (Lord) opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy (way) walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life (behold) the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not (my) commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to thir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophe ts and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] wr itten of me in the cloud (clothed) in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart.

This version has many similar points as the canonized version in the Pearl of Great Price:
- Joseph searched the scriptures
- He was convinced the religions of the day had apostatized from the church of the New Testament
- He went to someplace quiet to pray
- He was told none of the religions of the day keep the commandments
- No one believes him when he tells them of the vision

However, there are also a number of differences in this version:
- Joseph does not mention James 1:5
- No mention of an "enemy" seizing upon him
- There is no mention that God the Father was present; it seems to be only the Lord Jesus Christ that visits Joseph.
- No specific mention of persecution or prejudice for telling the vision
- The Lord speaks much more in this version than in the PoGP.
- It seems the primary reason Joseph seeks the Lord in prayer is to seek forgiveness
- The Lord forgives Joseph
- While Joseph wrote this account himself, Frederick G. Williams inserted "in the 16th year of my age".  So, according to Joseph/Frederick in this version, Joseph was slightly older than the PoGP version where he was fourteen.

To me, the two main points of this version of the vision are:
1) Joseph really desires forgiveness of his sins and subsequently receives that forgiveness
2) Joseph arrives at the conclusion that God is unchangeable and therefore people have fallen away from Him and not the other way around.

I remember Bushman indicating that other people in Joseph's day and even before him, experienced similar visions.  After reading of several of those visions received by other people, the 1832 version of Joseph's vision seems on par when compared to those other visions.

People want to see God and/or Jesus Christ.  People saw Christ before Joseph; Joseph saw Christ; people after Joseph saw Christ.  I was always impressed with the many Kekchi who would often tell us they saw Jesus in a dream.  I don't doubt people still see Him today.

Joseph's first account version seems to be similar to many of these other visions.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The First Vision Series - Introduction

The Vision - JSB at BYU
During the month of December, I will be studying the First Vision and all the various accounts.  The Church has recently published a new essay on various accounts of the First VisionThe Joseph Smith Papers project has allowed every member to directly access each of these accounts and now, we can see first-hand, the full picture of that first vision.

The first time I had heard that there was more than one account of the First Vision was when Elder Eyring made reference to the fact when the sculpture The Vision was unveiled on October 17, 1997.  At the time, his reference to "studying the various accounts of the First Vision" piqued my interest, but I never had a chance to investigate further.  So this month, I decided to do a bit more studying and comparing the various versions.

My study won't be rigorous; rather it will include simply reading the accounts, comparing them to the Joseph Smith-History version in our scriptures and then I'll add my personal impressions.

Each account will have it's own post and I'll begin with the 1832 account and then proceed to the 1835 account, then on to the 1838 account and then the 1842 account.  Lastly, I'll review the five secondhand accounts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Like" Stats on Apostles' Talks October 2013

12,000+ uchtdorf: come, join with us
12,000+ holland: like a broken vessel
4000+ christofferson: the moral force of women
3500+ monson: i will not fail thee ...
2200+ uchtdorf: you can do it now (priesthood)
1500+ bednar: the windows of heaven
1200+ oaks: no other gods
1300+ packer: the key to spiritual protection
804 nelson: decisions for eternity
626 hales: general conference: strengthening ...
599 eyring: bind up their wounds (priesthood)
534 eyring: to my grandchildren
452 ballard: put your trust in the lord
391 scott: personal strength through the atonement ...
297 cook:  lamentations of jeremiah ...
295 monson: welcome to conference
241 monson: true shepherds (priesthood)
170 anderson: power in the priesthood
138 perry: the doctrines and principles ...
51 monson: til we meet again

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Like" Stats on Apostles' Talks April 2013

14,000+ holland: lord, i believe
4900+ uchtdorf: the hope of god's light
3500+ scott: for peace at home
2700+ uchtdorf: four titles
2100+ bednar: we believe in being chaste
2100+ monson: obedience brings blessings
1800+ packer: these things i know
1200+ perry: obedience to law is liberty
1000+ eyring: come unto me
971 ballard: this is my work and glory
944 hales: stand strong in holy places (priesthood)
867 oaks: followers of christ
733 christofferson: redemption
503 nelson: catch the wave
476 anderson: it's a miracle
444 eyring: we are one (priesthood)
381 monson: come, all ye sons of god (priesthood)
357 monson: welcome to conference
249 monson: until we meet again
13 cook: personal peace ...

getting farther from the fount

our true spiritual north is jesus christ.  he is the fount of our salvation.  he leads us.  he is our example.  he is our life.  he is our hope.  he is our exemplar.  he is our teacher.  he is our savior.

and so when i see people trying to live his teachings and follow his example without acknowledging him, i can't help but feel sorrow for them.  they do not know what they really seek.

although these people have good intentions and no doubt people will see the benefits of what they are trying to do, they do not have a foundation in christ and subsequently they will fall.

happify is an app that will help you be happy, but it does not teach you from whence those ideas came.

atheist mega-churchs - people who don't believe in a god, or who don't feel comfortable acknowledging him are adamant about claiming their non-belief, yet still feel they are missing something.  hence they are now congregating to "live better, help often and wonder more."

again, i fail to see how these initiatives can stand on no foundation.  i believe they will help, but i'm not too sure they will last.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

nfl player walks way from $1M

this was the news headline that caught my attention today.

i clicked on the link and began reading.  this particular passage speaks volumes:

Moffitt, 27, made about $1.5 million before taxes in his 2 1/2 seasons in the NFL.

"I've saved enough. It's not like I'm sitting here and I'm a millionaire," he said. "That's what I kind of realized. I'm sitting here and I got to this point and I was like, what is the number that you need? How much do you really need? What do you want in life? And I decided that I don't really need to be a millionaire.

"I just want to be happy. And I find that people that have the least in life are sometimes the happiest. And I don't have the least in life. I have enough in life. And I won't sacrifice my health for that."

i italicized  the parts that really stood out to me.  notice the words: enough, need, want, happy.

source link

Sunday, November 03, 2013

temporal and spiritual self-reliance

the blessing of self-reliance is greater freedom.  it's freedom from debt and servitude.  self-reliance brings blessings of contentment and peace.  as we have greater freedom, we are able to care for ourselves, our family and others.

elder hales, in his april 2009 general conference talk, talked about becoming provident providers.  he addressed his talk to "all whose freedom to choose has been diminished by the effects of ill-advised choices of the past" as well as those who have made choices "that have led to excessive debt and addictions to food, drugs, pornography, and other patterns of thought and action that diminish one's sense of self-worth."

some of the principals he taught were:

- Exodus 20:17 - "thou shalt not covet."  wanting what others want is coveting.  coveting leads to poor choices.  many people go into debt to "keep up with the jones."  coveting leads to mindless choices where we follow the latest and greatest fad.  coveting leaves us poor financially and spiritually.

- i can't afford it - say this often when tempted to go into debt or to commit a sin.  if you are tempted to unnecessarily upgrade, then tell yourself i can't afford it.  if you are tempted to eat too much food or indulge in pornography, tell yourself i can't afford it.

- alternatively, you can say i don't need it.  do we really know the difference between and want and a need?  you want a donut, but you don't need it.  you want to buy a boat, but you don't need it.  you need to buy a boat because the one you use to catch fish to provide for your family is old.  i want a steak dinner, but i don't need it.  i want to play a game on my phone, but i don't need to.  i need to read my scriptures.  these are just some simple examples.

- one of my favorite scriptures is 2 nephi 9:51 which reads wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.  hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which i have spoken; and come unto the holy one of israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted.

some personal stories i learned early on ...

during the summer, especially on days in the mid-afternoon hours when it was hottest and when i was the most bored, i would go across the street to see what my neighbors were up to.  they had lots of entertainment over there.  they had a pool, a trampoline, video games and junk food.  every once in awhile, i would go over there and they'd let me in.  in the cool living room, we would play on the nintendo.  they were really good at video games.  i'd try to keep up, but would usually lose.  after a few hours, my eyes were bugged out and i'd head home.  i'd feel dazed and a bit groggy as i went home.  when i walked it my home, i felt a bit better.  i realized at a young age that playing video games, although fun, it really wasn't satisfying.  i would feel a bit more empty for playing them.

i would sometimes ask my parents for a video game system, but there was no way they'd ever buy one for me.  instead, once a year, we'd go to the grocery store and rent a game system.  i would stay up late friday night and play and play.  after playing and sleeping in the next day, i would have that same groggy feeling ... and i wasn't really satisfied.

on the other hand, there were activities i would engage in that would leave me feeling satisfied.  my dad made me mow the lawn ... every time i finished mowing the lawn, i would feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and i felt satisfied.  one summer, i helped my dad build a fence - upon completing the fence, i felt satisfied.  another project we worked on was the back yard deck.  we built a deck and then planted roses around it.

even when i played basketball and i played hard, i would feel a sense of accomplishment and i would feel satisfied.

of course, another activity in which i often engaged, was reading the scriptures and even memorizing scriptures.  each night, i would get into my bed, open my scriptures and read and memorize.  whenever i completed reading the book of mormon, i felt satisfied.

i think the conclusion here is we all need to pause and consider how we spend our time and effort.  we ought to observe the time when we are coveting and once we notice we are coveting, we need to choose wisely.  remember -  i don't need it or i can't afford it.  these words ought to come to our minds more often.  and once we develop these good habits, we begin to enter the world of self-reliance - both temporal and spiritual.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

commitment to discipleship and luke 9:62

three data points can be considered a trend.  luke 9:62 has been referenced in the last three general conferences: holland from october 2012, oaks from april 2013, and dube from october 2013.  reading elder dube's talk is what prompted me to find this and understand more about luke 9:62.

first off, the scripture reads, "and jesus said unto him, no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of god."

jesus says this to all those disciples who wanted to follow jesus, but first, needed to attend to something else.  jesus admonishes one that animals have homes to go to, but disciples of christ do not.  to another disciple, jesus said, "follow me" but the disciple wished to bury his father first.  and another disciple wished to bid his family farewell, but jesus responded with the chide in luke 9:62.

the lesson here, seems to be about commitment to christ.

in searching more on this, i found a very instructive and thoughtful sermon on this verse by a person named yves i-bing cheng.  not know if this link will persist, i will copy the entire sermon below.  i retrieved the sermon from this link: no man who looks back is fit for the kingdom.

This is what the Lord Jesus declares in Luke 9:62.

Luke 9:62. But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."


In this verse, the Lord Jesus tells us very clearly that it is possible for a person to be unfit for the kingdom of God, even though he puts his hand to the plow. What does He mean by that?

Let’s look at this passage closely. Jesus says these words after a man came to Him. This would-be disciple makes this promise in v. 61. Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house. We studied the rest of this passage, from v. 57 to v. 62, in our previous lesson but we did not pay particular attention to v. 62. This is what we are going to do in this lesson.

Here in v. 62, the Lord Jesus teaches us that the only kind of person who is fit for the kingdom of God does two things: he puts his hand to the plow (which is the basic condition) and he doesn’t look back.

The first point we observe is the universal application of this verse. ‘No one. No man. Any man who puts his hand to the plow.’ This word ‘no one’ is very often used in the Lord’s teaching to introduce a general principle that applies to any person. Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, no matter whether he is a pastor, a missionary, a Sunday school teacher, any disciple of Christ, if he puts his hand to the plow and he looks back, he will thereby prove that he is not fit for the kingdom of God. What this ‘not fit for the kingdom of God’ means, we shall see later in this lesson.

Enrolled in God’s service

The second thing to notice is this. Look at the words ‘putting the hand to the plow.’ These words tell us why we become a disciple of Jesus. Some people seem to have the understanding that becoming a Christian is simply a matter of having a certain religion that you embrace and that you use to comfort your heart. They like Christianity because it gives them a kind of moral and emotional support. Well, the word of God certainly gives us some support and it can certainly comfort our heart. But that is not the essence of Christianity. Being called to be a Christian is to be called to put your hand to the plow. And what does it mean to plow? To plow is to work the land. So to put the hand to the plow is to serve God.

The follower of Christ should understand that being a Christian is to be called into God’s service. It means to serve God. Now, we are not talking about being a pastor or a missionary or any kind of full-time ministry. The Lord Jesus is simply saying that no matter what kind of Christian you are, no matter how young you are in Christ or how old you are in Christ, every Christian should be active in God’s service. He does not stay idle. Being a member of a church does not make you a Christian. A person shows that he is a Christian when he puts his hand to God’s plow. He is active for God. He lives daily for God. The person who makes the decision to follow Jesus has committed his life to God’s service by plowing His field.

The notion of service behind this agricultural picture is found in many places in the NT. For example, in Luke 17:7, the Christian is spoken of as a servant of God plowing the field. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? We ought to do the things that the Lord has commanded us. This is illustrated by the picture of a servant plowing or tending sheep. In 1Corinthians 3:6, Paul says, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. Paul compares the establishment of a church to the planting of grains and the watering of the field. We are all God’s workers who are farming in His field. This is the point of putting the hand to the plow.

A sacrificial life

Now, putting the hand to the plow involves certain things, just like becoming a Christian involves certain things. First of all, it requires skills. We need to learn how to use the plow and how to get the oxen to move. The field is not going to get plowed if we don’t know what to do with the plow. In the same way, a Christian has to learn how to serve God. The most basic thing he needs to do is to study the word of God. A true Christian is someone who attends to God’s word. He likes to get his teeth into the word of God because he wants to know what he should do to serve God effectively.

In those days, plows were pulled by a number of oxen. In 1Kings 19:19, we read that Elisha was plowing behind twelve pairs of oxen. He must have been using a very big and heavy plow if he needed twelve pairs of oxen to pull it. You see, we don’t have the strength to pull the plow. Our job is simply to guide the plow. Likewise, in serving God, we don’t use our own strength. It is God who provides the power. It is God who ‘gives the increase.’ Our responsibility is to guide the plow in the right direction.

This takes us to the question of what exactly we are called to do. What is the plow that we put our hand to? Think about a plow. What does it look like and what does it do to the soil? A plow is a large agricultural tool that has two poles. One pole goes over the back of the animals. The other pole goes into the ground. It has a hook or a blade in it. The whole thing looks very much like a cross. There is the bar that goes across the animals and there is a perpendicular bar that goes into the ground. So when you look at a plow, it looks like a cross. The Lord Jesus deliberately uses this picture to show that putting our hand to the plow is like taking hold of the cross. It is putting our hand to the cross. And to take up the cross is to live a sacrificial life. In other words, becoming a Christian is a call to the sacrificial life as we take up our cross and follow Christ.

Plowing and sowing

What does the plow do? It causes the ground to turn over. What is the ground, the field? In Matthew 13:38, the Lord tells us that the field is the world. This world is the field that we are plowing. How do we plow? Well, we put this plow, this cross, into the ground. And we let the oxen pull it. Then all the soil is turned over. Everything is turned upside down. This is exactly what was said of the apostles in Acts 17:6. These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Therefore when we live the kind of life to which we are called, we will make a mark in this world. By our cross-centered lives, we are turning everything upside down.

If you sow the seed without first plowing the field, nothing will grow because the soil is too hard. The seed cannot penetrate it. The ground has to be turned over before the sowing of the seed can take place. In the same way, the kind of life that we live in being committed to Christ is what makes a mark upon the non-Christian. A verbal profession of faith alone does not leave any mark upon anybody. You will make an impression on the non-Christians when you live the life of the cross, when you live the sacrificial life, the Christ-centered life. Your life becomes like a plow, guided by your hands, your mind and your heart. You plow through the earth, turning everything upside down. This prepares the heart of the non-Christian for the preaching of the word of God. And because you have plowed the field, later on, the seed that will be sown in that person’s life will take root and grow.

Notice that the imagery of sowing seed in the Bible is often employed in relation to preaching. Paul tells Timothy to ‘preach the word of God, in season and out of season (2Timothy 4:2),’ using the picture of sowing. The Christian should sow at any time of the year, not just in the spring. But he must first plow the field. Our life must be like a plow that goes through the heart of non-Christians, turning over the hard and stony ground. In this way, their heart can become receptive to the word of God. Then somebody else may come later and sow the seed. Or perhaps, you may even drop some seed in there. And who knows? Maybe one day it will bring forth fruit for God. You and I are called to be people who plow for God. The world will not be saved because we are good at talking. The world will be saved when people see God’s power in our lives, the power that, like the plow, turns the ground over.

We need to realize that in plowing through someone’s life, living the Christlike life, we may upset a lot of people. They may think that we are too extreme, too single minded, too obsessed with the idea of plowing a straight furrow right through, refusing to turn to the left or to the right. But that’s okay. Remember that no plow has ever done its job that did not ‘upset’ all the ground underneath. Christians should not be afraid of upsetting people for the glory of God. When you serve the Lord, you may upset your mother, your father, your sister, your brother or your friends. They may all be angry with you. But keep in mind that unless they are upset, they may never be open to God’s word. They may never come to the Lord.

A total commitment

We have seen so far what it means to put one’s hand to the plow. We have seen that the plow is the cross in our life. In living a committed sacrificial life, we make a mark upon the world. But some Christians go through the world and never leave any mark of goodness in their way. For what reason? Because they look back. ‘No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom.’

Notice that we are talking here about Christians, not about non-Christians. Putting the hand to the plow is a commitment. The non-Christian has never made any commitment to Jesus. He has never put his hand to the plow. He has never taken hold of the cross. If you come so far as to put your hand to the plow and you are still looking back, you will prove thereby that you are not fit for the kingdom.

‘Looking back.’ In the Greek text, this verb is a present participle which expresses a continuous action. ‘If any man puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back, this person is not fit for the kingdom.’ It is not just an occasional glance at the back. He is constantly looking back.

Why does a person constantly look back? Because his heart is still back there. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. What is there to look back to if there is nothing that attracts your attention? There is no reason to look back if there is nothing that attracts your heart. By God’s grace, the Israelites came out of Egypt after many years of slavery. But where was their heart after the exodus? Back in Egypt. They came physically out of Egypt, yes, but their heart was still in Egypt. They were always complaining that they had nothing to eat in the wilderness and that back in Egypt, at least they could eat reasonably well. They kept looking back to Egypt.

A person may have become some sort of a Christian, but if he keeps looking back at the old life, it shows that his heart has not separated from the world. His heart has never left the attachment to the old values. So here is the warning. It is not enough to make a commitment. It is not enough to put the hand to the plow. The commitment must be total. We must not look back. The picture that Jesus is using is one of total dedication to a task. If we want to plow a straight furrow, we don’t look back. Our eyes must look ahead all the time. We don’t allow distractions and disruptions to interrupt our attention. For Jesus, discipleship is an all-consuming priority in terms of the constancy of a person’s allegiance. Either our commitment is total or it will not be acceptable.

Not suitable

That is why Jesus says that a man who commits himself to follow Him and looks back during the journey is not suitable for the kingdom. This statement is one of judgment. The issue is not only how a person serves effectively. It is also a matter of salvation.

The word ‘fit’ (euthetos) refers to being ‘suitable’ or ‘usable.’ It is found in only two other places in the NT: (1) in Luke 14:35, it is used of salt that has lost its flavor; (2) and in Hebrews 6:7, it used of herbs that are useful. In both cases, they are found in the context of God’s judgment.

Let’s take a look at Luke 14:35. The Lord uses the picture of salt to teach about discipleship. He compares the Christian to salt. He says that salt that has lost its saltiness is of no value. It is not suitable (euthetos) for anything. What do we do with it? It is thrown out. So too the saltless disciple is ‘thrown away.’ Failure to pursue discipleship can indicate that faith is not really present (even though it was thought to be) or it can indicate spiritual rebellion. In either case, the result is the same: the person is excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Saltless salt then becomes an object of judgment.

In Hebrews 6:7, the Christian community is compared to a land that receives frequent rain and is cared for by God. A land that produces useful (euthetos) herbs, useful crops, receives God’s blessing. But if these people should become apostate, they would be like a field which was well watered and cultivated, but which then produced only worthless thorns and thistles. The end of a field that produces nothing but weeds is to be set on fire. It ends up being burned. Professing Christians whose lives produce only the equivalent of weeds will face the judgment of God.

That you may be considered worthy of the kingdom

Why does a person put his hand to the plow and look back? We already mentioned one reason: because his heart is still back there in the world. Here is another reason: because of the persecutions that he has to endure.

In serving the Lord, in plowing up the field, we have to expect persecutions. We will face many trials. In fact, in 2Thessalonians 1:5, Paul says that persecution is a clear sign of God’s coming judgment. This is an interesting verse for our lesson because Paul is saying virtually the same thing as the Lord Jesus.

In v. 4, he has been speaking about the persecution that believers at Thessalonica were enduring on account of their Christian profession. Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.

And then he says this in v. 5. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment. You see, the fact that the Thessalonian church was persecuted was an evidence that there will be a future judgment. But Paul says something more. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that (now, notice carefully these words. So that…) you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. As the result of your affliction, that you may be considered ‘fit’ for the kingdom of God. Here you have the same idea. Being fit for the kingdom is equivalent to being worthy of the kingdom.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will merit heaven by our sufferings. It does not mean that a believer is saved because he remains faithful through the sufferings of his life. No one is worthy on his own account. It does mean however that your steadfastness in the midst of your afflictions shows that you have the characteristics to which God has promised salvation. When we suffer in this world and we endure through the suffering, we prove that we are truly a man or woman of God, worthy to dwell in heaven. The negative side of this is found in Jesus’ words, that a man who, having put his hand to the plow, looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. He shows that he is not worthy to enter heaven.

From justification to sanctification

There is a spiritual principle that is important to understand here. A Christian cannot say, ‘I have received God’s pardoning grace. The way I behave now doesn’t matter anymore. Don’t force me to change.’ If a professing Christian does not live like a Christian, he proves to be unworthy of eternal life. There is an inseparable bound between God’s forgiveness and our conduct. From justification, there must be a corresponding conduct. If our conduct does not match our calling to live the Christian life, then we will not be fit for the kingdom of God.

This is the situation that we find in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). The servant was forgiven and his master expected that he would deal with his debtor in the same as his master dealt with him. But he did not live the life that was expected of him. He did not forgive and therefore his conduct has proven himself unfit for the kingdom of God. He was made to repay the original debt that he owed.

What kind of person is fit for the kingdom? It is the disciple who is totally committed. And the person who is totally committed does not discuss the question of looking back. He puts his hand to the plow, never to look back to the way life was before he came to follow Jesus. He says, like Paul, ‘I have laid my hand to the plow and I press forward toward the mark of my high calling in Christ. No matter how tough the going will be, I have no thought of looking back.’ This is the standard of dedication that Jesus expects from His disciples

Sunday, October 27, 2013

living a christ-centered life

this guidance about living a christ-centered life is probably more specific about how to live a christ-centered life in this post-modern age.  below are seven ideas for striving to live a more christ-centered life in 2013 and beyond.

#1 - less is more.  our calendars are over-scheduled with practices, school events, church events, meetings, tv shows, movies, video games, smartphone apps, the internet, dates, engagements, camp outs, parties and the list goes on and one.  our calendars are particularly full in the months of october, november and december.  just this month, our local ward carried out five activities over 4 weeks.  there were no activities in september or august.  if we are gong to center our life on christ, we must push back against the tide of activities that sap time from our meditation, scripture study and communing with god. (read o be wise by elder ballard).

#2 - manage tech in your life.  we are always on our phones, tablets and computers.  just as we fast from food and water, we must fast from technology more often.  abolish tech from your kitchen dinner table when dinner is served.  read a book instead of playing the latest and addictive game.  limit your time using social media, playing games, watching tv and movies.  rather, go on a walk, exercise more, meditate and commune with god more.

#3 - develop integrity.  do you know what integrity means?  it means being honest, having strong moral principals and being morally upright.  it means being in a whole (complete) state and undivided.  think of a piece of wood or a slab of cement.  if it has cracks or rot, it does not have integrity - it will break at the weak point when it experiences stress.  but if the piece of wood or cement slab has integrity, it is strong throughout.  we need to develop our integrity and moral people.

#4 - repent.  as part of developing your moral integrity, we must all repent.  to do that, we need to understand what christ taught and then we must compare our life to his teachings and then determine where we are weak.  and where we are weak, but must turn that weakness into a strenth (ether 12:27).  if we are weak in honesty, then we must develop the attribute of honesty.  repentance and discipline must go hand in hand.

#5 - study the life of christ.  if we would have our life centered in christ, we must know who he is; what he taught.  make studying the scriptures a daily habit.  study the new testament; especially the gospels.  study the book of mormon and note those sections that speak and talk of christ.  listen to and read the general conference talks.  note all the words that speak of christ-like discipleship.  learn the attributes of christ and develop them in your life.  there are numerous resources on the teachings of christ ... if you seek, you shall find.

#6 - make and keep covenants with god.  christ was baptized to covenant with god that he would follow him.  we too should enter covenants with god.  you can do this by being baptized and regularly partaking of the sacrament.  you can even enter the temple to make additional, specific covenants with god.  once you make those covenants, do all that you can to keep them.  as part of those covenants, promise to serve others.  serve by paying tithes and offerings, giving service, helping others, counseling and teaching others and by simply loving.  if you fail to keep any covenant you've made, see point number 4 above.

#7 - come unto christ.  in summary, to make your life centered in christ, then come unto him (see john 14:6).  the prophet ameleki in the book of mormon has some very wise counsel, "i would that ye should come unto christ, who is the holy one of isreal, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption.  yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and prayer, and endure to the end; and as the lord liveth ye will be saved." (omni 1:26)

was this helpful?  what other ways can you strive to live a christ-centered life in this post-modern world?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

quotes and misc items from the back of my missionary scripture set

i've recently decided to focus on transferring my "highlights" from my missionary scripture set to my lds 'notes and journal' which is on-line.  i've already completed my 'book of mormon inspection' via blog, but now i'm going back and transferring all my highlights and sidebar comments from my physical set of scriptures to my digital set.

as i've been doing this, i've found lots of little inserts and other quotes either sitting in the set or written in.  i figured i could transfer these to a single post and have them placed here on this blog.  each "item" is detailed below between the asterisks.

taken from elder loren c dunn's article in the june 1995 ensign: elder marion g romney said, "a testimony comes when the holy ghost gives the earnest seek a witness of the truth.  a moving testimony vitalizes faith; that is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments.  conversion, on the other hand, is the fruit of, or the reward for, repentance and obedience.  (of course ones testimony continues to increase as he is converted)“Conversion is effected by divine forgiveness, which remits sins. The sequence is something like this. An honest seeker hears the message. He asks the Lord in prayer if it is true. The Holy Spirit gives him a witness. This is a testimony. If one’s testimony is strong enough, he repents and obeys the commandments. By such obedience he receives divine forgiveness which remits sin. Thus he is converted to a newness of life. His spirit is healed.” (see conference report october 1963)

 i did have one non-quote item in my scriptures that i kept from december 1996 ... back then, we had to actually use pens and pencils and paper to write letters.  we then had to fold the paper and put it in an envelop and mail it off which required postage.  from guatemala, we would send our letters to the mission office who would put all the letters in a pouch which got delivered to salt lake city.  the contents of the pouch were then dumped in the u.s. postal service system.  so my letters to my family in the u.s. only cost me $.32 (compared to $.49 today).  my family would send me books of stamps so i could write them back.  i kept one stamp from december 1996.  why did i keep it?  not exactly sure, but whenever i look at this stamp, i get these warm nostalgic feelings - a reminder of home, i guess.

one quote is in spanish and is attributed to "dr. cristian barnard", but when i found the quote on-line, it is actually attributed to walter wintle.  regardless, i like the quote.
If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win, but you think you can’t,
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will.
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But soon or late the man who wins,
Is the man who thinks he can.

i had a clipping from a church news article (August 31, 1996) that summarized the various reasons people serve.  this was from a talk given by elder dallin h oaks from the october 1984 general conference.  here is the link to the whole talk: why do we serve?

some hand-written notes ... not sure where they came from ... maybe from a talk given at a zone conference.
at the top is the thought: there must be law or government from a supreme being for happiness to exist.

below that thought i have the word LAW circled.  below is a line to two columns:
disobey - action - obey
punishment - consequence - blessing
misery - feelings - happiness

other notes
through diligent study, faith & prayer we gain knowledge.
knowledge allows us to decide wisely - to choose consequences.
we must decide what we want to receive.
who or what makes us act?  we must be given choices and then choose
satan - enticement/agency - god

another couple of quotes; i got these from the church news as well.
the english writer william thackeray put it this way: to endure is greater than to dare; to tire out hostile fortune; to be daunted by no difficulty, to keep heart when all have lost it; to go through intrigue spotless, to forego even ambition when the end is gained - who can say this is not greatness? (the virginians)

henry wadsworth longfellow wrote a few lines that are frequently quoted:
the heights by great men reached and kept
were not attained by sudden flight,
but they, while their companions slept
were toiling upward in the night
(the ladder of st. augustine)

another non-quote item ... this is from my parents who were serving in the prague czech republic mission at the same time.  they were on a church education mission, helping set up institutes and seminaries in central europe.  my mom wanted to show me they were trying to memorize section 4 in the czech language.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


last night in our family home evening lesson, we talked about what it means to be meek.  we started off asking the kids what they thought the definition was.  they did not know, but after a bit of prodding, we got them to describe what the opposite of meek is and then we were able to define what meek is.

one of the first descriptions that they thought of was: calm.

elder soares noted this in his october 2013 general conference talk.  "meekness is the quality of those who are 'godfearing, righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering.'  those who possess this attribute are willing to follow jesus christ, and their temperament is calm, docile, tolerant and submissive."

later on, he says, "by controlling our reactions, being calm and temperate, and avoiding contention, we will begin to qualify for the gift of meekness."

we further talked about what the opposite of meekness is.  we got responses like: loud, crazy, brags.  we followed up on the word "brags" with the question: what does a person usually brag about?  the answer: himself or herself.  so we further concluded that the opposite of meekness is also selfishness; and therefore we talked about how to be meek means to put others first or POF.

my wife's mother used to make these little heart-shaped wooden tokens that you can carry around in your pocket.  on the little token were the letters POF.  it was a gentle reminder of always trying to serve others.

we then watched a video about meekly serving others (see unselfish service).  after the video, we talked about how there are many paths in this life and that everyone is free to choose which path to follow.  but we have observed, been taught and have lived one path that, although difficult at times, it nonetheless bring lasting joy and happiness: and that is a life dedicated to raising a family and serving others.

we then ended the lesson by reminding the kids to always follow christ.  and if ever they strayed from following christ, they can always find the way back through repentance and using the atonement.

Friday, August 30, 2013

striving to be a disciple (a life-long pursuit) and grace ... for kids

pseudo-spiritual north guidance for children:

 true-spiritual north guidance for children:

you can read the context and background for the first poster as well as how the second poster came to be; along with lots of interesting discussion linked here.

as parents, without a doubt, we stress the importance of keeping the commandments.  we discuss the consequences of sin and bad choices.  but we are just as quick to point out that we love our children and that if they make a mistake - big or small - that we are there for them and will help them use the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  in fact, we stress just as much that they will always have the chance to repent and to turn to Christ - no. matter. what.

i agree with one of the commentors ... the only person in the not-even-once club is Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 19, 2013

do unto others ...

luke 6:30-31
give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy good ask them not again.

and as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

jean valjean and bishop bienvenu
The next morning at sunrise Monseigneur Bienvenu was strolling in his garden. Madame Magloire ran up to him in utter consternation.

"Monseigneur, Monseigneur!" she exclaimed, "does your Grace know where the basket of silver is?"

"Yes," replied the Bishop.

"Jesus the Lord be blessed!" she resumed; "I did not know what had become of it."

The Bishop had just picked up the basket in a flower-bed. He presented it to Madame Magloire.

"Here it is."

"Well!" said she. "Nothing in it! And the silver?"

"Ah," returned the Bishop, "so it is the silver which troubles you? I don't know where it is."

"Great, good God! It is stolen! That man who was here last night has stolen it."

In a twinkling, with all the vivacity of an alert old woman, Madame Magloire had rushed to the oratory, entered the alcove, and returned to the Bishop. The Bishop had just bent down, and was sighing as he examined a plant of cochlearia des Guillons, which the basket had broken as it fell across the bed. He rose up at Madame Magloire's cry.

"Monseigneur, the man is gone! The silver has been stolen!"

As she uttered this exclamation, her eyes fell upon a corner of the garden, where traces of the wall having been scaled were visible. The coping of the wall had been torn away.

"Stay! yonder is the way he went. He jumped over into Cochefilet Lane. Ah, the abomination! He has stolen our silver!"

The Bishop remained silent for a moment; then he raised his grave eyes, and said gently to Madame Magloire:--

"And, in the first place, was that silver ours?"

Madame Magloire was speechless. Another silence ensued; then the Bishop went on:--

"Madame Magloire, I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? A poor man, evidently."

"Alas! Jesus!" returned Madame Magloire. "It is not for my sake, nor for Mademoiselle's. It makes no difference to us. But it is for the sake of Monseigneur. What is Monseigneur to eat with now?"

The Bishop gazed at her with an air of amazement.

"Ah, come! Are there no such things as pewter forks and spoons?"

Madame Magloire shrugged her shoulders.

"Pewter has an odor."

"Iron forks and spoons, then."

Madame Magloire made an expressive grimace.

"Iron has a taste."

"Very well," said the Bishop; "wooden ones then."

A few moments later he was breakfasting at the very table at which Jean Valjean had sat on the previous evening. As he ate his breakfast, Monseigneur Welcome remarked gayly to his sister, who said nothing, and to Madame Magloire, who was grumbling under her breath, that one really does not need either fork or spoon, even of wood, in order to dip a bit of bread in a cup of milk.

"A pretty idea, truly," said Madame Magloire to herself, as she went and came, "to take in a man like that! and to lodge him close to one's self! And how fortunate that he did nothing but steal! Ah, mon Dieu! it makes one shudder to think of it!"

As the brother and sister were about to rise from the table, there came a knock at the door.

"Come in," said the Bishop.

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean.

A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute.

"Monseigneur--" said he.

At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction.

"Monseigneur!" he murmured. "So he is not the cure?"

"Silence!" said the gendarme. "He is Monseigneur the Bishop."

In the meantime, Monseigneur Bienvenu had advanced as quickly as his great age permitted.

"Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.

"Monseigneur," said the brigadier of gendarmes, "so what this man said is true, then? We came across him. He was walking like a man who is running away. We stopped him to look into the matter. He had this silver--"

"And he told you," interposed the Bishop with a smile, "that it had been given to him by a kind old fellow of a priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake."

"In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?"

"Certainly," replied the Bishop.

The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled.

"Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep.

"Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes.

"My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them."

He stepped to the chimney-piece, took the two silver candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean. The two women looked on without uttering a word, without a gesture, without a look which could disconcert the Bishop.

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air.

"Now," said the Bishop, "go in peace. By the way, when you return, my friend, it is not necessary to pass through the garden. You can always enter and depart through the street door. It is never fastened with anything but a latch, either by day or by night."

Then, turning to the gendarmes:--

"You may retire, gentlemen."

The gendarmes retired.

Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting.

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:--

"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man."

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:--

"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."

Monday, August 12, 2013

prayer, solitude and meditation

i was in the temple this past weekend. we were trying to make the 7am session, but arrived just a few minutes too late. i was not too disappointed and looked forward to the peace and quite of the chapel. so, for the next hour, i read from luke - in particular, i read chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7.

more than once, the sciptures talk of christ withdrawing himself from the people to pray and meditate. sometimes it talks about how he sought solitude. as an example, luke 5:16 says, "and he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed."

this week, i will focus on the why and how of prayer, solitude and meditation.

brainstorm of why we should meditate
to inventory our life; to find where we lack and where we can improve
to think about the teachings of christ and how the apply to us
to renew our spirits and minds
to re-center; re-align our life to what matters most
to find a solution to a problem - any problem - family, work, personal
to express gratitude; to improve our happiness

how to seek solitude; how to enter earnest prayer and meditation
bishop burke peterson teaches how to pray in solitude

luke 4:42
luke 5:16
luke 6:12

Sunday, July 21, 2013


i was attending my parents' ward in boise today and their high counselor spoke.  he was my wife's parents' bishop when they lived in boise.  he shared a very touching story today that i quite enjoyed.

in a small town in utah, many years ago, there were two communities.  one community was 'the mormons' and the other was 'the gentiles' who were not members of the church.  unfortunately there was animosity between the mormons and the gentiles.  one mormon young woman fell in love with a gentile young man.  the young woman was ostracized from the mormon community after marrying the gentile.  soon, she gave birth to a baby.  the mormon relief society president decided to help the young woman with her baby.  she began to organize the other women in the relief society, but one after one declined to offer service to the mother and the baby.  so the relief society president resolved to help the young mother and baby by herself.

day after day, she walked over to the home and bathed and fed the baby while the mother recovered.  after a while, the relief society president became sick herself and she could barely get out of bed to make the walk to the mother and baby's home.  but she knew no one else would go over to care for the baby and so she gathered all her strength to get out of bed and go over.  she was granted the strength to carry out the service.  when she arrived back at her home, she collapsed in her big chair and fell asleep.

in her dreams, she was enveloped in fire and was then again bathing the baby.  she soon found herself thinking and desiring after bathing the baby jesus.  and as she was pondering this thought and desire, the words came to her, 'inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these ... ye have done it unto me.'

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Tithing as a Rental" by James E. Talmage

The the book Essential James E. Talmage, there is a chapter on tithing.  In that chapter, Talmage describes tithing as a rental.

"As the matter presents itself to my mind, it is as though there had been a contract made between myself and the Lord, and that in effect He had said to me: “You have need of many things in this world—food, clothing, and shelter for your family and yourself, the common comforts of life, and the things that shall be conducive to refinement, to development, to righteous enjoyment. You desire material possessions to use for the assistance of others, and thereby gain greater blessings for yourself and yours. Now, you shall have the means of acquiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental upon that which I give into your hands. However, your life will not be one of uniform increase in substance and possessions; you will have your loses, as well as your gains; you will have your periods of trouble as well as your times of peace. Some years will be plenty unto you, and others will be years of scarcity. And, now, instead of doing as mortal landlords do—require you to contract with them to pay in advance, whatever your fortunes or your prospects may be—you shall pay me not in advance, but when you have received; and you shall pay me in accordance with what you receive. If it so be that in one year your income is abundant, then you can afford to pay me a little more; and if it be so that the next year is one of distress and your income is not what it was, then you shall pay me less; and should it be that you are reduced to the utmost penury so that you have nothing coming in, you will pay me nothing.”

Have you ever found a landlord of earth who was willing to make that kind of a contract with you? When I consider the liberality of it all, and the consideration that my Lord has had for me, I feel in my heart that I could scarcely raise my countenance to His Heaven above if I tried to defraud Him out of that just rental."

This passage reminds me of the King Benjamin's admonition in Mosiah 4:27, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.  And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order."

See also D&C 10:4

Monday, February 25, 2013


I wanted to share two things today - both deal with attitude.

The first one is a quote.  I don't quite remember where I found the quote, but once I read it, I knew I had to jot it down and read it often.  I kept the quote in my scriptures and read it quite frequently while on my mission.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” - Charles Swindoll

The second one is from a blog post I read today by Scott Adams.  The post is about Adams' take on attitude and his delivery of it makes you think a bit more and has some "science" to it.  I've copied the post below ... link to the post here.

Do you ever feel a responsibility to act happier than you are?

Our attitudes affect the people around us. When we're sad it makes the people who care about us sad too. And when we smile it makes others smile. All moods are shared moods. Even total strangers can pick up your vibes.

So, do you have an obligation to fake happiness if there is nothing to be gained by complaining? Suppose you have a bad day at work - nothing horrible, just a lot of little things going wrong. Sharing your woes might make you feel better, but it will be at the expense of a friend, loved one or coworker who has to listen to it. And dwelling on problems that can't be fixed just gives the problems more power than they deserve.

It usually feels good to complain, which is why we do it. And of course the situation is reciprocal in the sense that you have to listen to the woes of others just as they listen to yours. So it's a fair arrangement in that sense. But wouldn't we all be better off if everyone just faked it and said they were having a terrific day even if they weren't?

Scientists know that pretending to be happy - specifically by smiling - can make you happier in actuality. And when you have a bad day, what you really want is to feel good again. So for your own good, and for the sake of your loved ones, shouldn't you be a huge phony and say your day went great? From a practical standpoint, that would seem to be your best strategy.

I practice a version of this type of self-hypnosis - and that's what it is - every time someone asks "How are you?" I always answer "Great" or "Terrific" no matter how my day is really going. I do that partly because it helps manipulate me into a good mood and partly because I know it gives the person who asked a little boost. That's how we terrific people roll.

In the course of a normal day, folks might ask how you are feeling several times. Imagine saying you are terrific a thousand times a year. That much reinforcement of a message has to have an impact on your brain over time. If instead you say you are merely "good" a thousand times a year, will that lock you into mediocrity? I think it might.

We humans leave a lot of happiness on the table by believing our moods are caused entirely by our luck on any given day plus our genetic makeup. But I think moods are 80% controllable by lifestyle. If you exercise, get enough sleep, eat well, and project a positive attitude you can generally have a good day even if the facts of the day argue otherwise.

Obviously no one can act happy in the face of genuine tragedy or bad news of the larger variety. And clinical depression probably isn't much helped by fake smiling. But for the everyday ups and downs of mood, I think you control those if you want to. You just have to decide if you're in charge of your own mood or you want to delegate that decision to chance. In my experience, at least half of the population delegates their moods to chance. That's a lot of lost opportunity for happiness.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


in our primary lesson this week, we talked about how road signs and commandments are alike - they both keep us safe; they both guide us to our destination and they both can be reassuring - knowing that we can follow them.

later in the lesson, we discussed how obeying the commandments makes us happy, while disobeying the commandments will make us sad.

in trying to drive this last point, i told a famous family story - one that makes my kids laugh every time they hear the words, "when i was in 4th grade."

i realized i haven't shared this story on the blog yet, so i figured i'd share it today.

when i was in 4th grade, the school parking lot was made of gravel.  it wasn't as big as it is today.  in fact, the parking lot was only as big as the blue shaded box.

well, one day at recess, i was playing on the outside basketball court and i saw this rock from the parking lot.  i picked it up and decided to throw it back into the parking lot.

when i threw it, i bounced off the concrete basketball court and straight into mrs. betts' car head-light (about where the white box is).  my heart sank.

i quickly left the crime scene hoping no one saw it.  but at least one kid saw it and told the teacher on duty.

all this happened on a friday - the day my dad (who was also a teacher in the same school district) picked up his pay check.

when he got home from work that day, he came into my room and began asking me what i did at recess.  i told him everything ... except the part where i threw a rock into mrs. betts' head-light.  well, after all that hiding the truth, i figured he already knew what happened and so i ended up telling the whole truth ... i was in sobs of tears at this point.

my dad then told me i had to earn the money to pay for the repairs ... i spent a lot of the weekend and the following week out in the weed-field next to our house - picking up trash.

on monday, when i went back to school, i had to screw up the courage to tell mrs. betts.  now, mrs. betts was the meanest teacher in the school.  we called her mrs. butts because she smoked and would constantly cough.  when i told her what i did and that i was sorry, she accepted my apology.

it's difficult to tell the whole truth sometimes.  but by hiding the truth and then later telling the whole truth, well, that's even more difficult.  so in the long run, it's best to tell the whole truth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don't think divorce; don't speak divorce; don't divorce

I can't help but speak up about the topic of divorce.  It is a nasty topic and I feel the need to rinse my mouth to even speak the word.  But it is important to recognize the devastating effects of it in our culture today - so as to teach our children and those around us - so that we can save some soul from its heart-wrenching consequences.


First, I want to make a few things known.  I'm a Generation X-er ... we were the kids who suffered from our parents divorcing at astounding rates in the 1970s and 80s (think Kramer vs. Kramer).  And speaking of that movie ... I remember, as a kid, seeing parts of this movie and was absolutly horrified of it.

My parents did not divorce - they are married today and I praise them for being committed to each other.

One of my good friend's parents divorced when I was in 4th grade.  That experience even devastated me.

One of my relative's parents got a divorce when he was about 21 or so.

One of my good college friends was married for just a short period before he and his ex-wife divorced.

After my wife and I graduated from BYU and started our own family and career, we saw two families in our ward divorce - with small kids.  I still remember the first Sunday after the one couple separated.  The dad was sitting with the kids in the audience and the mom was leading the music.  Their little boy just cried for his mom every time she stood up.  It was heart-crushing to listen to that little plea from that boy.

And then, just last week, I hear another story from my wife about this woman she knows.  In the course of their conversation, this woman just flippantly said that she was considering divorce - apparently for no real good reason other than to just leave him!  My wife telling me this story is what has prompted me to write something about this topic.

But I ultimately decided not to ... until I came across another disturbing bit of information.

Sesame Street and Divorce

the positive spin: two houses
First off, take the time to read this article about how Sesame Street has handled the topic of divorce: "D Is for Divorce: Sesame Street Tackles Another Touchy Topic"  They first tried it back in 1992 - but that attempt failed miserably.

But now they've found a way to put a positive spin on the new topic.  Now kids can see the positive side of divorce as they watch the segment, but then get to try to figure out why it's not so positive when they actually have to live through it.

For what it's worth, Sesame Street did not air the divorce segment on TV; rather it is a segment that was produced only for their website.

What You Can Do

What can you do about divorce?  Stand up and tell people not to get a divorce if they are considering it - especially if they have kids.  This is what my wife did with her friend - she tried very enthusiastically to advise against divorce.  And this is the right thing to do when there is no serious and perpetual abuse.

Talk to your kids about it - tell them that divorce is not ok.  Tell them that marriage is serious and should be taken serioiusly.  It is not something to do and when the going gets rough it's time to bail.  No; it should take work and commitment.  It is precious and worth keeping.  It takes both the husband and wife to commit and step up.

The statistics are out there for those who want to know and to look.  You give your kids the best shot in life by being commited to your marriage.  But when you divorce, you wreck lives.

Don't think divorce.  Don't speak divorce.  Don't divorce.

Additional Reading

The Family Proclamation
Divorce by Dallin H. Oaks

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Simplify Your 2013 Resolutions

So we all are working on accomplishing our goals and new year's resolutions.  Some may still be contemplating what it is they want to resolve to do this year.  As you think about your resolutions this year, I have one simple suggestion: repentance.

The Church's definition of repentance is, "A change of mind and heart that brings a fresh attitude toward God, oneself, and life in general. Repentance implies that a person turns away from evil and turns his heart and will to God, submitting to God’s commandments and desires and forsaking sin. True repentance comes from a love for God and a sincere desire to obey his commandments. All accountable persons have sinned and must repent in order to progress toward salvation. Only through the atonement of Jesus Christ can our repentance become effective and accepted by God."

Do you fully grasp what repentance means?  At its core, it is a change of heart and mind.  If our hearts and minds are truly changed and they are centered on Christ, then all other resolutions will fall into place.

Our lust of carnal things will fade.
Our poor eating habits will begin to change.
Our desire for fame, money, status and all material possessions diminishes greatly.
Our lazy habits will be replaced with service to others.
Our tempers seize to flare.
Our constant comparing to others takes a back seat to comparing ourselves to Christ.
Our pride turns to humility.

I doubt you, I or anyone can accomplish full repentance in 2013.  In my opinion, fully turning to Christ is a life-long work.  It takes focus, commitment, patience and endurance.  But you can commit to begin the process this year ... or even to begin anew the process this year.

To start, pray every morning and ask God who you can help today, then find someone to serve that day.

Read the scriptures; especially study the life of Jesus Christ.

Get in the habit of those two things and you will make great progress in your quest for true repentance.