Wednesday, November 30, 2016 2 comments

How Moroni demonstrated charity while alone

Moroni wrote some things about how charity is manifested that are very similar to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians:

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (Moroni 7:45)

It was fascinating to me to recently think about how Moroni exemplified charity even during his 36 years alone after the Nephite destruction.  Lesson 42 in the Primary 4 manual had a whole list about this. It was so profound, that I had to wonder if any primary teacher would actually get to teach it.  Maybe it was the kind of thing that was more for the teacher’s edification than the students’.

    • Suffereth long: Moroni lived alone for over thirty-six years patiently keeping the records. (Mormon 8:5.)
    • Kind: Moroni prayed for us, and he loved his brethren. (Ether 12:36, 38.)
    • Envieth not: Moroni saw our day and counseled us to not be envious or proud. (Mormon 8:35–37.)
    • Not puffed up: Moroni was humble because of his weakness in writing. (Ether 12:23–25.)
    • Seeketh not her own: Moroni unselfishly worked and prayed for us that we would have a knowledge of Jesus Christ. (Mormon 9:36; Ether 12:41.)
    • Not easily provoked: Moroni forgave his enemies and worked hard to write things that he hoped would be of worth to them. (Moroni 1:4.) [Moroni also avoided those who would want to kill them, and didn’t try to retaliate for hatefulness.]
    • Thinketh no evil: Moroni exhorted us to hold to good and touch not evil. (Moroni 10:30.)
    • Rejoiceth in truth: Moroni was honest. (Moroni 10:27.)
    • Beareth all things: Because Moroni would not deny Jesus Christ, he had to wander alone for his safety. (Moroni 1:2–3.)
    • Believeth all things: Moroni encouraged us to believe in Jesus Christ. (Mormon 9:21.) So great was Moroni’s faith that he was able to see Christ face to face. (Ether 12:39.)
    • Hopeth all things: Moroni understood the importance of hope. (Ether 12:32.) [He hoped for a better world and for a future day when Israel would be gathered again.]
    • Endureth all things: Moroni was faithful to the end. (Moroni 10:34.)

So much of that stuff is future-oriented.  It almost seems as if he lived in a dream of the future as he wrote.

Monday, November 28, 2016 3 comments

Thinking about Moroni’s years alone

I substitute-taught a primary lesson this last Sunday on Moroni and his writings to the 11-12 year-olds. When I was first asked to do it, I said yes mostly for selfish reasons because I’ve found that somehow the Lord gives me opportunities to substitute-teach when the lesson is something He particularly wants to teach me.  I didn’t know what the lesson was about when I agreed to do it, but when I looked at it, I knew that once again it was for me.

2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
3 And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not.
4 Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not.
5 Behold, my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.  (Mormon 8:2-5)

Show the picture Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation and ask the children who the men in the picture are.
·      Explain that Mormon gave part of the sacred records to his son, Moroni, to protect them from the Lamanites and to have Moroni complete the account. Have the children read Moroni’s words in Mormon 8:2–5.
·      Help the children determine approximately how long Moroni was alone by finding the year of the final Nephite battle on the bottom of the page in Mormon 6. Then have the children subtract that date from the year listed on the bottom of the last page of Moroni 10. (421 - 385 = 36 years.)
·      Ask the children how long they have ever been alone. Help them imagine what it would be like to be alone for thirty-six years.
·      Explain that Moroni lived through many difficulties to complete the gold plates so they could come to future generations as the Book of Mormon and help us become like Jesus Christ.
·      You might also use enrichment activity 1 as an attention activity.

Enrichment activity:  For this activity you will need a piece of tin and a nail. (A large lid from a can might work for the piece of tin. Cover all sharp edges with tape.) Have the children take turns using the nail to scratch a letter or two of the following words: Now I, Moroni … on the piece of metal or tin. Express your appreciation for the Book of Mormon record keepers, who engraved the words of God on metal plates.

A few reasons why I felt this lesson was for me was because 1) I’ve been going through one of those periodical struggles wherein I feel my writing is not worthwhile or important 2) I’ve been feeling like I’m very much isolated and alone a lot and don’t have much opportunity to be an influence for good, and 3) I’ve been feeling like writing is getting harder for me.

Reading over Moroni’s experience has given me some much-needed perspective about what I face.  I am nowhere near the same class as the prophet Moroni, either in spirituality, or in difficult life experience, and the comparison is instructive to me.

1) Moroni was alone for 36 years. Any civilization he ran across was likely to be dangerous to him. Me, I’m only alone during the day as I write.  (The longest I was ever alone was about a week when my husband was overseas for work, and even though I was going through a sad time in my life, I had other people I could talk to.) My neighbors are not likely to kill me if they find out I believe in Christ.
2) Moroni was an apostle with no one to minister to, since all the Nephites were destroyed and everyone left was determined to destroy believers in Christ. (Talk about feeling unimportant and unable to be an influence for good!) Me, I’m a run-of-the-mill Latter-day Saint who gets to live in a place and time with a relatively high number of faithful Saints of the restored church, and I have people I can serve in my callings. 
3) Moroni had to painstakingly scratch his message on metal and carry that load around with him everywhere. Me, I get to type my little thoughts and scripture insights out on a nice laptop in the comfort of my central-heated home with running water and a pantry of food. When I’m ready, I can instantly post my writing to the internet where anyone in the world can read it. 

I have so much to be thankful for! (I guess that makes this a belated Thanksgiving post.)

And still the few challenges I face are just enough for me to feel great respect and compassion for Moroni.

What prophets and people in the scriptures have you identified with in difficult times?
Have you ever taught lessons seemed to speak directly to your difficulties?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2 comments

Why did the Nephites have confidence in Mormon as a commander?

And it came to pass that I did go forth among the Nephites, and did repent of the oath which I had made that I would no more assist them; and they gave me command again of their armies, for they looked upon me as though I could deliver them from their afflictions. (Mormon 5:1)

It is interesting that the Nephites thought Mormon could deliver them from their afflictions. It is hard to know whether they thought he could make everything better, or whether they thought military victory was the be-all-end-all of success, or whether they hoped victory could give them breathing room they needed to fix other things.

Another question came to me too here: What evidence is there that the Nephites’ confidence in Mormon’s military leadership was well-placed? There is so much written about Captain Moroni in the Book of Alma, so what record is there of Mormon’s skill as a commander? The Nephites would not have resorted to him if he didn’t have some skills.

As I looked for the answer to this question, I realized that Mormon really downplays his own role as a military leader and any credit in Nephite victories. While he went into great detail as a historian on the clever tactics and practical hows of Captain Moroni and Helaman and Teancum in the past, he is very self-effacing about his own victories. Here and there he might drop a few words about fortifying or gathering or protecting key points or hint at a motivating speech, but otherwise he’s very brief, saying simply, “we beat them” or “we withstood them” or something of that sort, preferring to wrap his efforts in with the army at large.  And usually at the same time that he notes a victory, he also makes mournful spiritual observations about the wickedness of the people.

Considering the pride of the Nephites, Mormon’s style of leadership would have been hard to take. They probably felt he was a bit of a downer. It is extraordinary he was given command by these people in the first place; he wasn’t the type to draw attention by tooting his own horn.

Now here’s an odd thought: Mormon observed the Nephites put him in charge of the armies at the beginning because he was “large in stature” (Mormon 2:1) in his sixteenth year. The way he puts it, we get the sense that the Nephites were incredibly shallow to put that much trust in Mormon’s callow youth just because he was a big guy.  You also get the idea that Mormon wasn’t qualified for the position, but did his best anyway. This angle takes a dim view of both Mormon and the Nephites.

But if we take into account Mormon’s humility, it might be he was downplaying it. Turn it around and we could easily imagine a proud Mormon saying, “The Nephites cleverly chose me to lead their armies when I was only 16 years old—younger than Captain Moroni—because my observations suggested I would be excellent at military strategy and my large stature made me a poster child for men of war.”

It is probable that Mormon downplayed himself deliberately to keep himself humble when he could have let his position go to his head.  In the end, his humility allowed him to see the impending doom of the Nephites coming closer, even while that doom may have seemed sometimes on occasion to be masquerading as triumphant victory.

This suggested me that humility is a skill to practice even in victory or opportunity. Mormon’s life essentially proves to me it is necessary to spiritual survival. It will enable us to see the truth, piercing the comfortable illusions of society. It will also put us out-of-step with those around us, and we have to accept that.
Monday, November 21, 2016 0 comments

An unexpected indication of religious freedom and respect in Genesis

In the story of Joseph in Egypt, there’s a place where Joseph’s brothers return for food for the second time to Egypt, bringing Benjamin and double money because their money had been mysteriously returned to them before and they thought it was an oversight. They are invited to Joseph’s house, and they worry they are about to be taken advantage of and fear the returned money will be used as the pretext, so they explain their situation to Joseph’s steward before going into Joseph’s house.

The steward’s answer is curious:

And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them. (Genesis 43:23)

The steward’s answer is curious because by speaking of “your God” we see he speaks to Joseph’s brothers as one who does not share that belief.  It hints that Joseph did not require those who worked for him to share his beliefs and that he let them be free about it too.  It also hints that the steward has not only been told who Joseph’s brothers are, but he knows they believe in the same God Joseph does.

It is also interesting that the steward speaks to Joseph’s brothers in terms of their beliefs (instead of his own) in order to reassure them.  That shows a rather astonishing respect for them and their religion, even though he doesn’t share it.  All of these factors combined together paint a picture of a very sophisticated kind of freedom and respect. It may be that he learned this from Joseph’s example.

We get another hint that Joseph was sensitive to the particular sensibilities of the Egyptians when we are told about Joseph’s eating arrangements for himself, his brothers, and the Egyptians in his household:

And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians. (Genesis 43:32)

It seems peculiar that the Egyptians wouldn’t eat with Hebrews. Some commentaries think this was because the Hebrews ate and herded around animals the Egyptians worshiped, which is understandable, even if peculiar.  But Joseph didn’t force the Egyptians of his household to do what they considered abominable, even if they served him. 

Joseph seems to have been one who allowed freedom of conscience and religion among those around him. It is probable he learned to value it while he was a slave in Potiphar’s house.  It is also possible that his example of forbearance was a positive recommendation for his religion to the Egyptians.
Friday, November 18, 2016 0 comments

Thoughts on “I Will Bring the Light of the Gospel into My Home” from General Women’s Session of October 2016 conference

Sister Jean B. Bingham’stalk “I Will Bring the Light of the Gospel into My Home” was an interesting talk because it had a number of principles relating to charity and judgment in it that seemed rather loosely connected, but which seemed at first glance to be unrelated to the title. But ultimately, I think at the end of this analysis, it will be shown that they do relate.  (I will quote her words in blue.)

She started out talking very briefly about acts of charity to meet needs of refugees and how true charity leads to building hope, faith, and greater love.  The first paragraph might seem like a throwaway, but the statement about the results of true charity is a profound one.  It’s an upward spiral.

She quotes Moroni’s words about charity from Moroni 10:21: “Except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God,” and points out that charity is an essential characteristic in the celestial kingdom.  I like that she puts a positive spin on the way Moroni says it.  Moroni’s way of saying it is a warning. Sister Bingham’s way beckons higher.  I think both ways of saying it are necessary, since they each can speak to a certain spiritual condition.

By this time, it seems that the theme of her talk is going to be charity. But she focuses in a particular aspect of charity:

One of the most significant ways we can develop and demonstrate love for our neighbor is through being generous in our thoughts and words. Some years ago a cherished friend noted, “The greatest form of charity may be to withhold judgment.”4 That is still true today.

This is a fabulous subject for a conference talk.  How often are we advised to not judge others? Pretty often it seems. And yet, sometimes it is hard to know how to refrain from judgment in a healthy way so as to do others and ourselves the most good.   As soon as we learn what the rules are in life, we automatically notice who seems to be keeping the rules and who isn’t.  As soon as we learn what is considered “normal,” we start to notice what and who seems to be not normal.  So what do we do?  We point things out.  We judge.

Recently, as three-year-old Alyssa watched a movie with her siblings, she remarked with a puzzled expression, “Mom, that chicken is weird!”

Her mother looked at the screen and responded with a smile, “Honey, that is a peacock.”

Like that unknowing three-year-old, we sometimes look at others with an incomplete or inaccurate understanding.

Alyssa, a three-year-old, clearly already learned to recognize what a chicken looks like.  So when she sees a peacock for the first time, she compares it to the animal she already knows.  (But heavens! What is that chicken doing with that crazy tail and all that color!  What a weird chicken!) But as soon as she knows that it is a different kind of bird, all of a sudden, the peacock becomes its own kind of normal that is different from a chicken’s normal.

One of the things that is fascinating about this story is that it is a positive illustration of how categorization can help us understand and accept different types of normal. Usually we hear about how categorization as a limiting practice (and it can be when we put someone in a little box).  But used charitably, categorization is a tool to help us understand someone better and form appropriate expectations based on our knowledge.  If we know the peacock is definitely not a chicken, we know better than to expect the female peacock to lay eggs for us or for the male peacock to wake us up in the morning with a certain kind of crowing. Instead, we will know we can expect beautiful feathers and an exotic kind of screaming. 

Now, understanding birds is one thing. But understanding human beings is quite another thing altogether.  There are so many differences possible that we are simply staggered by the infinite variety.  Family background, age, birth order, gender, education, religion, socio-economic status, disabilities, sickness, weakness, talents, careers, interests, nationality, culture, political leanings, and mixes of any two kinds of things, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera—and at the bottom of all of that, raw personality and divinity.

Is it any wonder that we look at others with an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of who they are? (And that’s just assuming that we’ve been given facts and not defamation!) You can’t know everything about someone all at once when you first meet them. It takes time to get to know people.  We simply must accept that we will be revising our idea of what others are like quite often. 

No, that’s not a chicken. It’s a peacock.  Who loves to read. And is an introvert. But works as a nurse in a NICU. Who switched majors from computer science, but who still programs apps in her spare time.  Who was the first one to graduate from college in her family. And she has three children. And a weakness for piña colada anything.  And driving scares the heck out of her because of a bad accident, so she drives really slow.

We may focus on the differences and perceived flaws in those around us whereas our Heavenly Father sees His children, created in His eternal image, with magnificent and glorious potential.

Perceived flaws or glorious potential?  That sounds like a different version of the old question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”  Sometime the flaw is a flaw. Sometimes the flaw is a lack of development.   Sometimes the flaw just needs a new context to reveal it is a glorious talent. (“That’s not a software bug, that’s a feature!”) 

Sometimes our lack of life experience makes us ignorant of certain human conditions and our ignorance causes us to judge harshly.

President James E. Faust is remembered to have said, “The older I get, the less judgmental I become.”5

Let’s take an example.  I read about parents getting judged harshly for not “controlling their children.” I don’t have children, but I was the oldest of seven kids.  Because of that, I have a high tolerance for kid chaos, and I’m about 98% approving of parents I see in difficult situations.  But I imagine if I didn’t have the family background I do, I might wonder why parents let their kids get away with ____. 

But I imagine there are probably other things I judge because I don’t have the experience of being in that situation. 

When we see our own imperfections more clearly, we are less inclined to view others “through a glass, darkly.” We want to use the light of the gospel to see others as the Savior does—with compassion, hope, and charity. The day will come when we will have a complete understanding of others’ hearts and will be grateful to have mercy extended to us—just as we extend charitable thoughts and words to others during this life.

I thought this was interesting.  In some talks we are told we need to stop focusing so much on our weaknesses, and think instead about our blessings.  Here, Sister Bingham points out that awareness of our own imperfections causes us to be more compassionate towards others.  I also notice that it keeps me humble and reaching for the Lord. This is the healthy way that awareness of our imperfections can help us and others.

Some years ago, I went canoeing with a group of young women. The deep blue lakes surrounded by green, thickly forested hills and rocky cliffs were breathtakingly beautiful. The water sparkled on our paddles as we dipped them into the clear water, and the sun shone warmly while we moved smoothly across the lake.

However, clouds soon darkened the sky, and a stiff wind began to blow. To make any progress at all, we had to dig deeply into the water, paddling without pausing between strokes. After a few grueling hours of backbreaking work, we finally turned the corner on the large lake and discovered to our amazement and delight that the wind was blowing in the direction we wanted to go.

Quickly, we took advantage of this gift. We pulled out a small tarp and tied two of its corners to paddle handles and the other corners to my husband’s feet, which he stretched out over the gunwales of the canoe. The wind billowed the improvised sail, and we were off!

When the young women in the other canoes saw how we moved along the water with ease, they quickly improvised sails of their own. Our hearts were light with laughter and relief, grateful for the respite from the challenges of the day.

How like that glorious wind can be the sincere compliment of a friend, the cheerful greeting of a parent, the approving nod of a sibling, or the helpful smile of a co-worker or classmate, all supplying fresh “wind in our sails” as we battle the challenges of life! President Thomas S. Monson put it this way: “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude.”7

I gain a bunch of different lessons from the above story and its commentary.

First, there is the obvious lesson that compliments, approval, smiles, and encouragement is like the helpful wind that can supply us with fresh strength in our challenges.  How wonderful that encouragement is when we’re going through a rough patch!  I have noticed that when I am praised, it makes me want to do more of what I was praised for.  (And I also make sure I record those experiences, which is like catching wind in a bottle to re-use it whenever I’m in the doldrums.)

Second, not only are we blessed by that encouraging wind, we can be that wind for others. The more we know about what someone is facing, the more precise and powerful our praise and encouragement can be.

Third, would any one of us want to be the opposing wind, the wind that wears down others’ strength, that pushes them back?  No!

After this story about canoeing, I read her quote of President Monson “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails,” and I was confused and thought it was inappropriately placed.  But then I realized that it actually was a very brief way of addressing the situation when we might face opposing winds. 

We don’t have control over what others say or do to us, so it is true we can’t direct that wind, but we do have control over how set our own sails or attitude.  I know just enough about sailing to know that it is possible for a sailboat to make progress against an opposing wind simply by skillfully setting the sails in a certain way.   The course becomes a zig-zag (called ‘tacking’; look it up), but progress can still be made.  Likewise, choosing a positive attitude in the midst of social opposition can help us find and learn from buried truths in others negativity.  It can teach humility and turning to the Lord for approval.

Words have surprising power, both to build up and to tear down. We can all probably remember negative words that brought us low and other words spoken with love that made our spirits soar. Choosing to say only that which is positive about—and to—others lifts and strengthens those around us and helps others follow in the Savior’s way.

Notice that not only is Sister Bingham encouraging us to say positive things to others (to their face), but also about others (when they are not around.)

How does this help others follow in the Savior’s way? I think this is about being a good example. We need models for how to interact with difficult people and how to derail the gossip train.

As a young Primary girl, I worked diligently to cross-stitch a simple saying which read, “I will bring the light of the gospel into my home.” One weekday afternoon as we girls pulled our needles up and down through the fabric, our teacher told us the story of a girl who lived on a hill on one side of a valley. Each late afternoon she noticed on the hill on the opposite side of the valley a house that had shining, golden windows. Her own home was small and somewhat shabby, and the girl dreamed of living in that beautiful house with windows of gold.

One day the girl was given permission to ride her bike across the valley. She eagerly rode until she reached the house with the golden windows that she had admired for so long. But when she dismounted from her bike, she saw that the house was abandoned and dilapidated, with tall weeds in the yard and windows that were plain and dirty. Sadly, the girl turned her face toward home. To her surprise, she saw a house with shining, golden windows on the hill across the valley and soon realized it was her very own home!8

Sometimes, like this young girl, we look at what others might have or be and feel we are less in comparison. We become focused on the Pinterest or Instagram versions of life or caught up in our school’s or workplace’s preoccupation with competition. However, when we take a moment to “count [our] many blessings,”9 we see with a truer perspective and recognize the goodness of God to all of His children.

The story of the girl who was drawn to the gleaming gold windows of the house across the valley is a useful parable. It highlights things we tend to do that prevent us from enjoying and appreciating the blessings and happiness we have in our own circumstances.

Let’s take this story apart and see what lessons we can find in it.

First, I notice the girl was attracted by the golden windows of a house across the valley.  She was attracted by something shiny and sparkly. We are often attracted by the shiny and sparkly parts of other peoples’ lives.  We need to think about whether that gold and sparkle is real or not. Is it lasting?  Are we attracted by how it looks, or is it the reality and how things really are that draw us?  The Pinterest and Instagram versions of people’s lives are just like those golden windows from across the valley. They show the best, the brightest, the brilliant, the exciting, the triumphant, all the best parts of a person’s life. It’s collected, edited, and glorified content. Of course it is going to gleam like gold. Especially from a distance.  (Heck, not only are there going to be golden windows, but there will be rainbows and unicorns grazing in the front yard.)

This teaches us it isn’t smart to compare the foam and cream of other people’s lives to the day-to-day realities of our own. It is an unfair comparison.  No one’s life is foam and cream 100% of the time.  Or, if you want a sports’ analogy, don’t compare other people’s game highlight footage to your raw game. 

A second point about the story gives a bit of a twist to this. The girl in the story discovered that when she visited the house that so attracted her from across the valley, not only were the windows not golden, but they were plain and dirty. And the house was abandoned and neglected.

Someone wants to lure us from our homes with illusions of golden windows. It’s Satan. Satan would like us eat our hearts out for yearning for those golden-windowed houses across the valley.  Even worse, he’d like us to trade our houses for those abandoned, neglected houses that look so shiny from a distance. If he can get us there, where we discover just how paltry the attraction really was, then he will of course torment us with what we left behind.

So, in terms of raw principles, this story teaches us we need to be really careful about making comparisons between ourselves and others. We have a tendency to make comparisons between the wrong things, and to admire features that, if examined closely, might prove illusory.

Let’s play around a little more with this story about the golden windows.  Suppose the girl went across the valley and discovered the house’s windows were indeed golden. Suppose the windows had to be painted with gold paint every week and that left no time or money for anything else. Would she still want to live there?  

Or suppose the house’s golden windows were the only beauty the house’s occupants could muster in their difficult life of disease and weakness?

My husband pointed out that this story spoke to him about the importance of counting our blessings. To his mind, the girl should have looked around her own home to see what was beautiful about her own circumstances. It’s a valid point.  Do we have the strength of mind to count our blessings when the house across the valley flashes golden windows at us?

When I was a teen, I used see interviews of famous people in magazines and I used to envy those people and wish I could someday be that famous. I thought that if someone wrote a magazine article about me, that would mean that I had become a worthwhile person.  Over time, I realized several truths: 1) Magazines always had to be putting out something, so they would interview anyone thought sufficiently interesting. 2) Famous people often have publicists whose job it is to keep them in the pubic eye so they can get attention for some recent music/art/movie/book/charitable cause/performance product and make more money.    To me, magazine interviews were a kind of golden window that turned out to be illusory.  (Thankfully, I didn’t have to become famous to figure this out.) What sort of thing have turned out to be golden windows to you?

Social media isn’t the only environment where we can get golden window syndrome. Sister Bingham also points out we can get caught up in school and work competition too. What do you think are the illusory golden windows in those environments?   What is the reality that we should stay focused on in those situations?

In terms of bringing the light of the gospel into our homes, I think it is important for us to be able to not just detect the illusory golden windows across the valley for ourselves, but also to help our children and others detect them as well.  Advertising in particular is all about flashing golden windows at us.

Whether we are 8 or 108, we can bring the light of the gospel into our own environment, be it a high-rise apartment in Manhattan, a stilt house in Malaysia, or a yurt in Mongolia. We can determine to look for the good in others and in the circumstances around us. Young and not-so-young women everywhere can demonstrate charity as they choose to use words that build confidence and faith in others.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told of a young man who was the brunt of his peers’ teasing during his school years. Some years later he moved away, joined the military, received an education, and became active in the Church. This period of his life was marked with wonderfully successful experiences.

After several years he returned to his hometown. However, the people refused to acknowledge his growth and improvement. To them, he was still just old “so-and-so,” and they treated him that way. Eventually, this good man faded away to a shadow of his former successful self without being able to use his marvelously developed talents to bless those who derided and rejected him once again.10 What a loss, both for him and the community!

Every time I’ve heard this story, it just makes me feel sick inside. It makes me want to ask the young man why he returned to his hometown at all. Perhaps he hoped to show them how far he had come, but the people refused to see it.  Jesus Himself noted the phenomenon when He observed that a prophet is never accepted in his own country. 

As for the people who refused to acknowledge the young man growth, all they knew of him was what he was like during at most the first 18 years of his life.  And yet, a person isn’t even fully developed as a person when they leave high school. People still have so much life over which to learn and grow. There is no telling what they could become.

Notice that it says the young man “faded away to a shadow of his former successful self without being able to use his marvelously developed talents to bless…”  The young man was prevented from showing what he could do because no one would let him. They wouldn’t give him the chance to even try.

Is there a difference between withholding chances from others because they can’t do it and withholding chances because we don’t think they can do it?  How do we know they can or can’t do something?

So one way we can withhold judgment is by giving people chances to demonstrate their skills and improvement.

I personally am thankful for callings I’ve been given when I knew nothing about it and I was given the opportunity to learn and practice new skills. I’m thankful for those who believed I could do it.  I hope I can give other people those kinds of opportunities as well.

The Apostle Peter taught, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”11 Fervent charity, meaning “wholehearted,” is demonstrated by forgetting the mistakes and stumblings of another rather than harboring grudges or reminding ourselves and others of imperfections in the past.

Our obligation and privilege is to embrace improvement in everyone as we strive to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. What a thrill it is to see light in the eyes of someone who has come to understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ and is making real changes in his or her life! Missionaries who have experienced the joy of seeing a convert enter the waters of baptism and then enter the doors of the temple are witnesses of the blessing of allowing—and encouraging—others to change. Members who welcome converts who might have been considered unlikely candidates for the kingdom find great satisfaction in helping them feel the love of the Lord. The great beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality of eternal progression—we are not only allowed to change for the better but also encouraged, and even commanded, to continue in the pursuit of improvement and, ultimately, perfection.

Clearly new converts need our encouragement as they are changing. But in a way, we’re all converts, so we need that too.

If we’re allowed and expected to change, there will be and should be a lot of growing pains. When I try new things when playing the organ, I start making odd mistakes in other parts of my playing because I’m diverting brain-cycles to the new area.  I have also observed in my life that some times I’ve made mistakes at things I’m ordinarily good at because I’m trying to improve another area of my life.  Growth is stressful and it takes a while to get a handle on it. 

President Thomas S. Monson counseled: “In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. … Rather than being judgmental [or] critical of [one] another, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life.

I have to observe at this point that this makes me think of times when I hear someone at church say, “Please bear with me.” That represents a time when they know some might judge or criticize them for the way they are doing things.  It’s a time when we can choose to exercise forbearance and long-suffering instead of judgmental.

May we recognize that each one is doing her [or his] best to deal with the challenges which come [her or his] way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.”12

When people deal with challenges, it is called “coping.” Everybody copes, and some ways are more healthy than others.  But if people cope in unhealthy ways, it is usually because they haven’t learned any better.  And if people are acting out, it may be a sign their coping isn’t working very well and they need help.  Just saying, “You look like you’re having a hard time,” can be validating and a relief.  And offering to help, even better.

Charity, in positive terms, is patient, kind, and content. Charity puts others first, is humble, exercises self-control, looks for good in others, and rejoices when someone does well.13
As sisters (and brothers) in Zion, will we commit to “all work together … to do whatsoever is gentle and human, to cheer and to bless in [the Savior’s] name”?14 Can we, with love and high hopes, look for and embrace the beauties in others, allowing and encouraging progress? Can we rejoice in the accomplishments of others while continuing to work toward our own improvement?

Yes, we can bring the light of the gospel into our homes, schools, and workplaces if we look for and share positive things about others and let the less-than-perfect fade away. What gratitude fills my heart when I think of the repentance that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has made possible for all of us who have inevitably sinned in this imperfect and sometimes difficult world!

So how does looking for and sharing positive things about others bring the light of the gospel into our homes, schools, and workplaces?

I think that when we consider how dark and polarized the world is becoming, our example of positive interactions will do a lot more to attract others to the gospel than it has previously.  People look for light and love, and we want them to find it among us.

I bear my witness that as we follow His perfect example, we can receive the gift of charity, which will bring us great joy in this life and the promised blessing of eternal life with our Father in Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Suggestions for Teaching:

How does Allysa’s first encounter with a peacock illustrate bringing the gospel to our homes by withholding judgment?  In what ways was judgment withheld in this story?

In what way did President Faust consider that his growing older helped him becoming less judgmental? Does aging automatically do this, or is it something in addition?

Bring small pieces of paper and hand out pencils to all class members. In connection with the story of the women using the wind to sail to their destination, encourage your class to think of someone they know of who is having a hard time in life and write a note to that person conveying a sincere, compliment, approval, and encouragement.  Challenge them to send the note when they get home from church.

Ask your class to think of some recent interpersonal opposition they have faced.  Ask them to reflect on what might be useful and helpful from that experience. How can they use that to grow and progress?

When is it appropriate to withhold judgment toward children we’re raising? In what situations have you tried to do this and it has had a good result?

When is it appropriate to withhold judgment versus expressing disapproval?

How many ways of withholding judgment or judging righteously can you find in this talk?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 0 comments

Officiating under the direction of the Presidency

High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office of an elder, priest (of the Levitical order), teacher, deacon, and member. (D&C 107: 10) 
I ran across an illuminating quote concerning this verse. The quote was from John Taylor:

“ALL PRIESTHOOD FUNCTIONS UNDER DIRECTION IN CHURCH CAPACITY.—There is another question associated with this matter. Because a man is a high priest, is he an apostle? No. Because a man is a high priest, is he the president of a stake, or the counselor to the president of a stake? No. Because he is a high priest, is he a bishop? No, not by any means. And so on, in all the various offices. The high priesthood holds the authority to administer in these ordinances, and at no other time; and while they are sustained also by the people…It is not because a man holds a certain class of priesthood that he is to administer in all the offices of that priesthood. He administers in them only as he is called and set apart for that purpose.”  (The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, selected, arranged, and edited, with an introduction by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1941]. 202)

What this implies is yet another way we know there was an apostasy in the former-day church. Once the apostles died and no more were chosen, there was no one with authority to set apart or change or release individuals to or from priesthood offices. There would be none to set new bishops or elders. And once those died, there would be none with authority to set apart or ordain new ones.

How grateful I am that we have the priesthood restored in this dispensation!
Monday, November 14, 2016 0 comments

Enoch walked with God

48 Enoch was twenty-five years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam; and he was sixty-five and Adam blessed him.
49 And he saw the Lord, and he walked with him, and was before his face continually; and he walked with God three hundred and sixty-five years, making him four hundred and thirty years old when he was translated. (D&C 107:48-49)

I find it very interesting all the different ways it says Enoch was close to God. 1) He saw the Lord, 2) he walked with the Lord, 3) the Lord was before Enoch’s face continually.  What exactly does that mean to you?

To see the Lord is pretty plain. But how does one walk with the Lord? It has to be something more than a figurative expression about obedience, since there are lots of prophets of whom the same might be said of them. But why is it particularly said of Enoch that he walked with God?

And what does it mean that the Lord was before his face continually? Did Enoch always see Him there, or did he live with a sense that the Lord was with him and watching him?

What do you think? Is it possible to cultivate a sense that the Lord walks next to us constantly? What would life be like if we did that? How might it help us?
Saturday, November 12, 2016 3 comments

History of early Genesis priesthood ordinations

D&C 107 is a great section about priesthood. I once tried to summarize it down, and it was virtually impossible. Recently I was reading v40-52 and noticed some interesting things I hadn’t seen before.

40 The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.

41 This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in the following manner:
42 From Adam to Seth, who was ordained by Adam at the age of sixty-nine years, and was blessed by him three years previous to his (Adam’s) death, and received the promise of God by his father, that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth;
43 Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age.
44 Enos was ordained at the age of one hundred and thirty-four years and four months, by the hand of Adam.
45 God called upon Cainan in the wilderness in the fortieth year of his age; and he met Adam in journeying to the place Shedolamak. He was eighty-seven years old when he received his ordination.
46 Mahalaleel was four hundred and ninety-six years and seven days old when he was ordained by the hand of Adam, who also blessed him.
47 Jared was two hundred years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam, who also blessed him.
48 Enoch was twenty-five years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam; and he was sixty-five and Adam blessed him.
49 And he saw the Lord, and he walked with him, and was before his face continually; and he walked with God three hundred and sixty-five years, making him four hundred and thirty years old when he was translated.
50 Methuselah was one hundred years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam.
51 Lamech was thirty-two years old when he was ordained under the hand of Seth.
52 Noah was ten years old when he was ordained under the hand of Methuselah. (D&C 107:42-52)

These verses tell us how the priesthood was handed down from father to son, which tells us that ideally it is part of righteous families.

I noticed that the men were ordained at many different ages: 69, 134, 87, 496, 200, 25, 100, 32, 10…. It shows that ordination is not something that comes at a certain age, but with maturity and faithfulness. Today, our church seems to tie it to ages-- 12, 14, 16, 18, but ultimately faithfulness is the deciding factor, as judged by the bishop. (Ordination to elder probably requires an interview with the stake president, but I’m not sure about that. Someone correct me?)

Another thing I notice is that many of those who were ordained in these verses received it from Adam. Adam ordained Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah. It is possible Adam did it because he was the presiding authority at that time and the fathers deferred to him.  (Anyone with additional insight on this may chime in too.)

I also notice little stories about the spirituality of these men. For instance, Seth tried very hard to be just like his father Adam, and he succeeded such that people could only distinguish them by age. Think what that would be like to have a child so carefully copying you. Some things you might not recognize were wrong unless you saw him doing it too, so you’d have to repent pretty quick, lest you lead theme deeper into error.

There’s also a story in v45 about God calling Cainan in the wilderness when he was 40, and he met Adam while journeying to Shedolamak, then was ordained when 87. That story is interesting because it shows us Cainan felt spiritual impressions and obeyed them and evidently felt that meeting Adam was what the Lord wanted him to do. I suppose he progressed over 42 more years to the point that Adam felt he was ready for ordination.  Sometimes divinely orchestrated meetings with a priesthood holder can change the course of our lives, and perhaps this meeting with Adam was one of those.  It also shows it can take time for people to become worthy and ready for the priesthood. But once they are, surely their power is no less valid than any other priesthood holders.  Looked at it that way, Cainan’s story could be an inspiration to men in the church who might be ashamed of not progressing. 

The way these stories are so spare, it makes me wonder what formative spiritual experiences of ours could be distilled down into a verse.