Sunday, February 28, 2016

By Small and Simple Things.

As the bishop of a married student ward I often work with couples that are having a difficult time dealing with the stress of busy lives. They have their classes, work, church, and their relationship with their spouse and many other things. When this type of stress goes unchecked it has a negative effect on everything. They get behind in their classes, and frustrations can lead to difficulties in their marriages and even their health declines. One of the things I try to help them understand is the need to simplify their lives and get back to the basics. We talk about how they are doing with their relationship with Heavenly Father, are they reading the scriptures daily (individually and as a couple), praying daily (individually and as a couple), are they keeping the Sabbath day holy? Many times these things have slipped because they are too busy to do them regularly.

Usually when we start this process they ask how can I possibly do these things when I don’t have any time? My response is faith. It takes faith to start with the things that are most important and if we focus on them the other things have a way of working out. It really is that simple. The lord has said “that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass (Alma 37:6). The Lord has promised us that if we will remember our covenants, pray, and be believing, “all things will work out for (our) good” (D&C 90:24). Remember what happened to the children of Israel while they were wandering in the wilderness and were stricken with the serpents and were bitten? All they had to do was look on the staff of Moses to be healed, but many thought that was silly and they perished. The prophet Nephi taught:

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41)

President Uchtdorf in the last general conference asked us to think about the experience we are having as members of the church:

“I wonder if we as Church members might also benefit from asking ourselves from time to time: “Is my experience in the Church working for me? Is it bringing me closer to Christ? Is it blessing me and my family with peace and joy as promised in the gospel?”

“…why does it seem to work better for some than for others? What is the difference between those whose experience in the Church fills their souls with songs of redeeming love2 and those who feel that something is lacking?” (“It Works Wonderfully”, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference, October 2015)

President Uchtdorf gave us two suggestions to help us. The first is to simplify and the second was to start were we are. He said: “The gospel is so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime – even an eternity – of study and discovery to fully understand it.” For the second suggestion he said:

Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are not “more” of something—more spiritual, respected, intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly, or capable. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. But remember, our weaknesses can help us to be humble and turn us to Christ, who will “make weak things become strong.”4Satan, on the other hand, uses our weaknesses to the point that we are discouraged from even trying.

I learned in my life that we don’t need to be “more” of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become.

God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you. All you need is a willing heart, a desire to believe, and trust in the Lord. (“It Works Wonderfully”, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference, October 2015)

Glen L. Rudd spoke to the students of Brigham Young University about keeping the gospel simple. When he was a young full-time missionary he served with President Matthew Cowley (later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve) in New Zealand. For the last part of Elder Rudd’s mission, he lived in the mission home and had the opportunity to travel with President Cowley. He said that President Cowley told him to keep his briefcase packed with clean shirts, clean socks, and clean underwear. President Cowley told him “When I say, ‘We’re going,” you grab your bag and beat me to the car, and don’t ask questions.” Elder Rudd said:

“Once, after we had driven a few miles, he asked, “Would you like to know where we’re going?” I said, “Yes.” Then he said, “So would I! I’m not sure just where we’re going, but we’ll keep going. And when the Lord tells us to turn, we’ll turn, and we’ll end up where he wants us to be.”

“The Maori people used to pray for President Cowley to come to them. One day he drove up to the front of a post office in a rather distant city in New Zealand. There were two sisters standing by the post office waiting. When he got out of the car, one said to the other, “See, I told you he would be here soon.” President Cowley said, “Hey, what’s going on here?” One of the sisters said, “We needed you and we’ve been praying. We knew you would be coming, and you always go directly to the post office, so we decided to wait here until you arrived.” It was just that simple. People would tell the Lord what they wanted, and somehow or other President Cowley was led by the Spirit to go where they were. Now, he wasn’t totally disorganized, but I have never known anyone who planned less and accomplished more, simply by doing the things he felt impressed to do.” (“Keeping the Gospel Simple”, Glen L. Rudd, BYY Devotional, February 16, 1988)

Elder Rudd talked about how simple repentance can be. He said many people feel that repentance is a “long drawn out process. That is absolutely not necessary. We just quit doing what is wrong, make up for it in the best possible way, and let the Lord do his part”. He told another story from his experience with President Cowley”. There was a Maori man, Syd, that went to America for high school and college and became a professional basketball player. He was a member of the church but when he went back to New Zealand he became inactive. He was a friend of President Cowley and one day they went to see Syd. They found him sitting on his porch chewing on a cigar. Elder Rudd said:

He didn’t stop chewing on his cigar as President Cowley sat beside him to visit. After they had talked and laughed for a while, President Cowley became serious and said, “Syd, I want you to come to church tomorrow.”

They both looked toward the old chapel that was nearby, and Syd said, “I think it would fall in! I haven’t been there for a long time. I don’t think I’d better risk it.”
President Cowley said, “Syd, I want you to be there. I’m going to do something important tomorrow.”

Syd inquired, “What are you going to do?”

President Cowley answered, “I’m going to release the branch president and put in a new one.”

Syd said, “Why don’t you just tell me who the new branch president will be, and then I won’t have to get myself cleaned up for church in the morning.”

President Cowley said, “Well, I’ll tell you who it is. It’s going to be you.”

Syd had that old cigar in his mouth. He pulled it out and looked at it and said, “Tumuaki, you mean me and my cigar?”

President Cowley said, “No, Syd—just you. We don’t need your cigar.” (“Keeping the Gospel Simple”, Glen L. Rudd, BYY Devotional, February 16, 1988)

Elder Rudd said Syd threw the cigar out on the ground and said to President Cowley “I don’t break the word of wisdom anymore. I pay a full-tithe. I will be the branch president, and I’ll be worthy.” He was one of the best leaders in New Zealand. His son was the first bishop and his grandson also served as the bishop of the ward. Elder Rudd continues:

“Now, that’s all there is to repentance. You see how simple that really was? President Cowley never did ask Syd to repent. He gave him an opportunity to be of service to the Church. He gave him a priesthood calling. Syd knew he could no longer sin, so he immediately quit. It was over—just like that! The Lord accepted his repentance, and Syd became a great leader.

“My whole purpose in telling you these stories today is to bear testimony to you that simplicity is possible. Almost every principle and every doctrine of the Church can be made simple if we make the effort. It is absolutely possible to live righteously and properly in a simple way.

The Lord knows how to hear our prayers—so pray!

The Lord knows how to give us faith—so ask him for faith!

The Lord knows how to help us repent—so repent as needed!
(“Keeping the Gospel Simple”, Glen L. Rudd, BYY Devotional, February 16, 1988)

My message is that if we will live the gospel of Jesus Christ in it’s simplicity and not complicate it, everything the Lord has in store for us will come to pass. You will complete your classes, graduate, get the job you need, and provide for your family. Your relationship with your spouse and children will be sweet and joyful. The Lord has promised us that by small and simple things great things will be accomplished if we only believe.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Keystone of Our Faith

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to the young adults in Cache Valley, Utah on January 31. He spoke of the power of the Book of Mormon and the necessity for each of us to read and pray to know of it’s truthfulness. Elder Andersen spoke of the familiar analogy of how the keystone in an arc holds all the pieces together. If you take the keystone out of the arc the rest of it falls. One of the fundamental parts of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. We believe that the Book of Mormon is a second witness, along with the bible, of Jesus Christ. We believe that Joseph Smith was given the gold plates and that he translated it by the gift and power or God.

The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our faith because either it is true or it is false. If it is true, then everything else Joseph Smith said and did is true and the arc (or the church) stands even in the midst of the turmoil of accusers and those who wish to disclaim what Joseph Smith said. If the Book of Mormon is false and not the word of God, then everything else that Joseph Smith said and did is also false and crumbles to the ground. There can be no middle ground. It cannot be partially true. Either it is or it isn’t true.

Page from the original Book of Mormon manuscript
If the Book of Mormon is true, and I testify that it is, every other aspect of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true from the restoration of the priesthood, living prophets and apostles, the teachings of the church related to eternal marriage, and the policy related to same sex marriage. We may not understand all the doctrines and policies, but we can know that they are the truths God has revealed through his living prophets.

Elder Andersen showed the audience a page from the original manuscript that Joseph Smith dictated to the scribes when he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. The manuscript flowed from one sentence to another. There were no corrections, crossed out text or changes. While there were times that the translation was interrupted, the actual time spent translating the Book of Mormon took about 65 working days (See “I Have A Question”, Ensign, January 1988)

Joseph Smith's 1832 Journal
The Book of Mormon is 531 pages and when Joseph Smith received the gold plates in 1827 he only had the equivalent of a third grade education and had difficulty writing. As an example, Elder Andersen showed a copy of Joseph’s first journal from 1832 (two years after the publication of the Book of Mormon). On the very first page when Joseph was explaining the purpose of the journal there were several spelling mistakes, places where he crossed out words and changed the wording. It shows the difficulty Joseph had writing anything on his own. Elder Anderson quoted from the journal:

(The Joseph Smith Papers- Journal 1832-1834)

Elder Andersen then quoted Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, when she describes Joseph’s writing abilities. She said: “Joseph could neither write or dictate a coherent letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon”. He said that Emma described to her children what it was like when she was Joseph’s scribe as he translated the Book of Mormon (Emma was the scribe for a brief time). She said:

“Your father would dictate to me hour after hour and when returning after a meal or other interruptions he would begin where he left off without seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. It would have been improbable that a learned man to do this and for one so unlearned as he was. It was simply impossible.”

It would have been impossible, under the circumstances, for Joseph Smith to have written the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was not the only witness of the gold plates or the Angel Moroni, that gave Joseph the plates. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris all saw the Angle Moroni and the gold plates and their testimonies are in the introductory section of the Book of Mormon. We also have the testimony of the eight witnesses. These eight men did not see Moroni, but the did see the gold plates. Joseph brought the plates to them and they each handled the plates and their witness is also contained in the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and three of the eight witnesses all left the church. Oliver and Martin eventually reunited to the church, but none of the eleven witnesses ever denied their testimony of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Their last words on their death beds were of the truth of the Book of Mormon.

Elder Andersen in the October 2015 general conference had this to say of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“..questions concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith are not new. They have been hurled by his critics since this work began. To those of faith who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice: For now, give Brother Joseph a break! In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined, and it will come from our all-knowing Father in Heaven. Consider the totality of Joseph’s life—born in poverty and given little formal education, he translated the Book of Mormon in less than 90 days. Tens of thousands of honest, devoted men and women embraced the cause of the Restoration. At age 38, Joseph sealed his witness with his blood. I testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Settle this in your mind, and move forward!” (“Faith Is Not By Chance But By Choice”, Neil L. Andersen, General Conference, October 2015)

I add my testimony of the Book of Mormon, it is the word of God. It is a second witness of Jesus Christ. It is the only book of scripture that includes a promise that if we would just read it and pray with a sincere heart and with real intent to know if it is true, God will tell us it is true (Moroni 10:3-5). The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and for 186 years has stood the test of time. Even with all the doubters and critics not one has been able to prove that it is not what the Prophet Joseph Smith said it was: “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (Introduction to The Book of Mormon)

Your comments and questions are welcome.