Sunday, May 17, 2015

Second Coming: The Disintegration of the Family

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
Almost 20 years ago, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles published "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." President Hinckley shared it for the first time at a general Relief Society meeting on September 23, 1995. He gave it as part of a talk entitled, "Stand Strong against the Wiles of the Devil." Before he read the proclamation publicly, he introduced it with these words:
With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history.
To me the most chilling sentence in the document is near the end: "Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

How has the traditional family held up in recent years? Here are a few telling indicators. I'll let you judge and draw your own conclusions about these statistics.
  • In 2013, more than 41 percent of births in the United States were to unmarried women. The number was 5 percent in 1960. The following analyses of this trend comes from the Child Trends data bank and cites 15 studies:
    Children born to unmarried mothers are more likely to grow up in a single-parent household, experience instable living arrangements, live in poverty, and have socio-emotional problems. . . . As these children reach adolescence, they are more likely to have low educational attainment, engage in sex at a younger age, and have a birth outside of marriage. . . .  As young adults, children born outside of marriage are more likely to be idle (neither in school nor employed), have lower occupational status and income, and have more troubled marriages and more divorces than those born to married parents. . . .
  • Between 1973 and 2011, some 53 million legal abortions took place in the United States. In 2011, 85.5 percent of abortions were performed for unmarried women.
  • In spite of some statistics to the contrary, divorce rates have not declined but continue to be high though these rates may have flattened because younger people tend to wait longer to get married and cohabitation is now commonplace. 
  • Last fall (2014), the marriage rate reached a 93-year low with a rate of 50.3 percent for American ages 18 and older (this rate includes same-sex couples). The highest marriage rate occurred in 1960 when it reached 72.2 percent. 
  • A synopsis of the book The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (The National Academies Press, 2014) states:
  • The rate of imprisonment in the United States more than quadrupled during the last four decades. The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world's prisoners are held in American prisons. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is 5 to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies. The U.S. prison population is largely drawn from the most disadvantaged part of the nation's population: mostly men under age 40, disproportionately minority, and poorly educated. Prisoners often carry additional deficits of drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical illnesses, and lack of work preparation or experience.
  • Between 2007 and 2014, a Pew Research report shows that those claiming to be unaffiliated with any religion grew from 16.1 to 22.8 percent, an increase of 6.7 percent, while Catholics and evangelical and mainline Protestants declined in numbers. 
In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ asked, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (see Matthew 7:16). In other words, "Can you pluck sweet fruit from noxious weeds?" The answer is, of course, no. Weeds prosper when the garden is neglected, and many families in the early 21st century are withering.

Stable families are the foundation of a stable society. Without strong, united families, society will unravel. I believe that, though much of society may unravel, many traditional families from all walks of life will remain intact and strong until the Savior appears, and that those families will be a means of spiritual and physical survival for many who are standing on the earth on that great and dreadful day. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Paul's Vision on the Road of Damascus

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
There are three accounts of the apostle Paul's vision on the road to Damascus in the Bible. They are all given in the Acts of the Apostles, in chapters 9, 22, and 26. Each account provides unique details.

The account in chapter 9 is a third person account and the versions in Acts 22 and 26 are given by Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus.

Here is a comparison of those accounts from Slideshare. You can also view another version of it here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Are Mormons Brainwashed?

Courtesy LDS Media LibraryIf you're a Latter-day Saint, have you ever been accused of being brainwashed? This is just one of the labels that have been slapped on us to dismiss us and our beliefs.

When I was first learning about the Church, this and other labels were quickly attached to me: stupid, idiot, dupe, brainwashed, cultist, etc. Even as a teenager, I realized that these were cheap Post-it Note knockoffs—the kind that don't stick very well.

The psychologist Albert Bandura proposes four ways people are manipulated to disassociate them from their consciences:
  1. Offer moral justification
  2. Minimize the consequences
  3. Dehumanize the victims
  4. Displace responsibility 
These common human behaviors lead to social marginalization, or worse, persecution, and much, much worse, genocide. It's ugly business. Really ugly. Labeling others is one of the first steps in falling in with these behaviors. Labels like brainwashed fit pretty well with number 3.

I wasn't raised in the Church and I have written in other posts about my conversion experience. I was not programmed, tricked, deceived, misled, or otherwise manipulated into joining the Mormon Church. My experience was quite the opposite. The people around me were clamoring for me to go the other direction. If there was any "programming," it was anti-Mormon.

I studied the Church, its scriptures, its history and doctrine, extensively, independently and alone, under lamplight in my room. I also studied anti-Mormon literature. For months, I researched all sides of the argument.

I read or heard most of the claims against Mormonism. They did not move me. They rang false. They were ripe with jealousy and contradiction. They were what I have come to call "the Chevy report on Ford." In fact, these claims nauseated me.

No one cajoled me to make the choices I have made. I made them on my own under the tender guidance of a loving Heavenly Father. I felt and followed His Holy Spirit. I was led by a gentle, still, small voice. The love and power of God enveloped me. I acted of my own free will and conscience, under the guidance of that power.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. . . . (1 Thessalonians 1:5.)
I chose to join the Church though I was cast out, threatened, persecuted, belittled, shamed, and berated by family and former friends. I listened to them but I didn't believe them. I tried to not throw gasoline on their fire. It was their fire, not mine. I was singed by it, but not burned. 

I had seen a light and power, and I knew that the truth was in that light. I have walked in it my entire adult life. I hope and pray I will have the strength to endure to the end.

As time has passed, my study has broadened and my conviction has only grown deeper. I know that "Mormonism" is true. Label me as you will, here I stand. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

3 Reasons Why You Don't Read the Scriptures

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Courtesy LDS Media LibraryWe know that reading and studying the scriptures is fundamental to living the gospel. A previous bishop of ours used to call the scriptures "love letters from God." So why on earth don't we read them more consistently? It should be a non-negotiable for a disciple of Christ.

Here are three common reasons I've heard—and given myself—over the years for not reading scriptures regularly, followed by three solutions for getting them to be part of your daily life.

1. I Don't Have Time to Read the Scriptures

If you catch yourself saying that you don't have time to read the scriptures, think for a moment what you do have time to do. Do you have time to watch television, play golf, crochet, scrapbook, scroll Facebook, go clothes shopping, or fill in the blank? Of course you have time for those things because you really like to do them.

Try this: Set a goal, starting today, to read just one verse. How long will that take you? It will take 10 to 20 seconds tops. That's it. Open them up and read only one verse. Then tomorrow, read two verses. The next day, read three. If you keep this up for a week, adding just one verse per day, you'll find momentum and you likely won't be able to stop. You'll get engaged and curious and just keep reading.

2. I Don't Understand the Scriptures

This is one reason I've heard a lot and felt myself. It can be discouraging, I know, to read and not understand what you are reading. It's not very motivating. But there is a simple solution, though it takes some effort.

Try this: Remember when Nephi asked his older brothers if they understood the scriptures? What was his advice? "If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask [the Lord] in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping [His] commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you" (1 Nephi 15:11; emphasis added.) Ask the Lord as you read a passage, "What does this mean?" then reread it several times. Then wait for an hour, or a day, or a month. Wait in faith and listen. The Lord is true to His word. He will not neglect a righteous prayer, but He often waits for our respectful attention.

3. I Don't Like Reading the Scriptures

This is the toughest of the three. If you don't like reading the scriptures, it's probably because there is something that isn't right in your life. If that statement just made you feel defensive or angry, that's an even stronger indicator that something is amiss.

Look, I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but if you don't like reading the words of your Heavenly Father, there is a reason why. Or maybe the real reason is you don't like reading the scriptures because you are not friends with them. You aren't well acquainted.

Try this: If it is clear to you why you don't feel like reading the scriptures, I'd suggest that you sit down with your bishop or branch president to discuss it. If it is not clear, get out a blank piece of paper and a pen and start writing, "I don't like reading the scriptures because. . . ." This will help thoughts and feelings bubble up to the surface so you can discover and deal with them. Circle the sentences or phrases that resonate with you, then take action. Resolving smoldering issues will help you get back on track. Maybe I've oversimplified things, but those are the basic steps.

There are other reasons, to be sure, that you and I don't read the scriptures, such as not making scripture reading a priority or simply forgetting to do it. But there are many positive reasons to try and change, not the least of which is this habit of reading the scriptures daily will save your spiritual neck. Believe me, we've got to get this one figured out if we want to survive the last days.

I'll close with a bit of scripture-reading inspiration from the Psalms.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Psalms 19:7–11.)
P.S. You might also enjoy this post: "Scripture Marking Success."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Quote I Chanced Upon

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
The other day, I opened a book lying on our kitchen table and my eyes landed instantly on this quote, a quote I needed to find. 

"Atonement, literally at-one-ment, is a word introduced into English in 1526 by William Tyndale as he translated the Greek New Testament into English; specifically, he used the word at-one-ment to translate the Greek word (katallasso) which means 'reconciliation' or 'to come back into a relationship after a period of estrangement.' Reconciliation, a word with Latin roots, means literally, 'to be seated together again.' This word points to what is happening to man—he has fallen from a relationship, even many relationships, and from a knowledge of the oneness of the premortal children and of divine society. The scriptures tell us that man came from a heavenly society and fell, by his birth, into a state of spiritual death (see Helaman 14:16), alienated from his Heavenly Father by the nature of the Fall. Christ wrought the atonement to restore us to the heavenly society. So we might say that the word rendered atonement by the early biblical translators could have been more accurately rendered re-at-one-ment or reunion. Christ wrought the great Reunion. . . . The Hebrew word for atonement includes the meaning 'reconciliation,' but scholars find additional meanings such as 'cover' (even 'embrace')." (M. Catherine Thomas, Light in the Wilderness [Orem, Utah:Amalphi Publishing, 2008], 173–174.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Heard This in Sacrament Meeting Today

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A woman who gave the closing prayer in our sacrament meeting today thanked the Lord for "believing in us and having faith in us," His children. I am not sure I have ever thought of it in that way, but when she said it, I felt in my heart that it was true.

The Lord Himself believes in and has faith in you! What a remarkable and encouraging thought. I am so grateful to know this now. I really needed to hear it today. It was a gift. 

Second Coming: The New Jerusalem

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"Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse,"14th C., photo courtesy of Kimon Berlin via  CC Licence
When He visited the Nephites in the New World, the Savior told them that He would establish His
people in a place called the New Jerusalem, and that the city would established "in this land":
And behold, this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you. (3 Nephi 20:22; see also 3 Nephi 21:22–25.)
Where is "this land"? We know from modern revelation that the city of New Jerusalem or Zion will be established in the last days on the American continent (see Articles of Faith 1:10). In the Book of Mormon, Moroni spoke of the ancient writings of Ether on the subject (see Ether 13:1–11). He wrote that "that after the waters [of Noah] had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord" (v. 2) and that "a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph" (v. 6).

In the early days of the restored Church, the Lord commanded that the saints gather there at "a land of peace, a city of refuge":
Wherefore I, the Lord, have said, gather ye out from the eastern lands, assemble ye yourselves together ye elders of my church; go ye forth into the western countries, call upon the inhabitants to repent, and inasmuch as they do repent, build up churches unto me. And with one heart and with one mind, gather up your riches that ye may purchase an inheritance which shall hereafter be appointed unto you. And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; and the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. (D&C 45:64–67; emphasis added.)
What did the Lord mean by the "western countries"? Where will this city be? We are told that it will be in Jackson County, Missouri, and in the counties round about.
And in order that all things be prepared before you, observe the commandment which I have given concerning these things—which saith, or teacheth, to purchase all the lands with money, which can be purchased for money, in the region round about the land which I have appointed to be the land of Zion, for the beginning of the gathering of my saints; all the land which can be purchased in Jackson county, and the counties round about, and leave the residue in mine hand. (D&C 101:69–71; see also D&C 42:9, 35, 62–67; D&C 84:2–4D&C 105:28–32; emphasis added.)
It is near the center of the United States of America—indeed, the Lord calls it "the center place" (see D&C57:3–5)—a place of safety established for and by His saints. It will be during a time of war.
And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand. (D&C 45:68–70.)
The Savior also said that after Zion is established, "then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst" (see 3 Nephi 20:25). The Lord also told Enoch that He would "prepare . . . an Holy City . . . that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem" and that Enoch and "all [his] city [would] meet them there, and . . . receive them into [their] bosom" (see Moses 7:62–64).

The apostle John wrote of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven, apparently after the Millennium:
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (Revelation 21:2–3.)
His description of this heavenly city is glorious. Like our father Jacob, we look "for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (see Hebrews 11:10).
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrew 11:16.)
Finally, let me note that the prophet Ezekiel also wrote of a holy city with a temple called "The Lord Is There" (see Ezekiel 48:35). This city would be set up after the Lord's Second Coming (see Ezekiel chapters 36–48), but there are indications that this city may be established after the Millennium. It is also possible that the city he describes is the old Jerusalem, which will also be built up (see Ether 13:11).

(You can also find a list of all Second Coming posts on this blog here.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When Clothes Really Do Make the Girl

Courtesy LDS Media Library
Yesterday, a sister missionary told me the story of a young woman who grew up in her ward. She was disconnected from the other girls. She dressed "goth" — everything was black, including lipstick. She didn't want to be with the other young women because she didn't feel like she fit in.

Then one day, the parents of the sister missionary said to the girl who dressed goth (with the permission of the girl's parents), "We want to take you shopping. We will pay for your clothes. Do you want to go?" The girl said yes and they went shopping.

Well, the girl picked out a whole new wardrobe, a whole new look. Lots of bright colors. It was fun!

Then something happened. The girl started looking at herself differently. She started feeling differently about herself. She started to attend Young Women. She found a new place in the world—because of the way she chose to dress and because of how that made her feel about herself.

She remained active. Later, she went on a mission. And when she came home, she married in the temple.

Those missionary's parents. They were guardian angels.

What is it about the clothes we wear and what they say about us? Our clothes—and the lack of them—are often a reflection of what is going on inside. They can also influence what is going on inside, and what goes on outside. It all starts on the inside, though.

I used to interview missionaries when they got home from their missions. Among other things, I'd say to them, "Don't go shaggy." Why? Because shaggy is as shaggy does. Shaggy looks invite shaggy behavior.

It's not about the clothes, really. It's about how you choose to feel about yourself and the effect it has on you.