Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

There Are Good Reasons for Safety Rules in Scouting and Other Church-Sponsored Activities

The tragic electrocution of four Scout leaders and the heat-related illnesses of hundreds of Scouts at the National Boy Scout Jamboree remind us of the importance of safety rules in youth activities and other events. Sometimes bishops and other youth leaders take a lot of heat when they enforce rules and policies, or when they add some rules of their own aimed at promoting safety. Parents and youth used to doing things their own way might get annoyed, and may be right in saying that they've done things some other way dozens of times without trouble. But violating those principles greatly increases the risk - and when trouble does strike, as it did for the adults who were asked to help install a dining tent near power lines at the Jamboree, it's too late to repent and start following the rules. When you push your luck too far, someone may be dead or blinded or paralyzed for life.

Bishops and other youth leaders have a grave responsibility to keep their people safe and alive. Parents and youth need to understand that and help ensure that safety comes first, and stop whining when a cherished activity is banned.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Video Games, Porn, and Addiction: Parents, Pay Attention!

With last week's news that one of the most popular video games actually has pornographic content built into it that kids can now unlock using a readily available code, it's time for Christian parents (of all faiths) to be much more vigilant about the risks of electronic entertainment these days. The youth I've known who spend vast amounts of time playing these games almost always languish in school. The odds of going on a mission tend to be greatly reduced. These are not healthy things. Parents, are you sure you're fulfilling your responsibilities to bless your children and protect them from harm? Not if you've purchased Grand Theft Auto! Ditto for many other video games.

One With the Bugs?


Last night my family and a visitor from Japan went to visit High Cliff State Park near Appleton, Wisconsin, on the shores of Appleton's largest lake, Lake Winnebago. The lake hosts a unique lake fly, the Winnebago lake fly, which has two hatches a year with massive swarms near the lake and river. I think yesterday must have been one of the big hatch days, because an hour after we arrived, clouds of these benign and elegant flies began swarming over the roads, attracted to the warmth of the rising air from the hot asphalt. The photo above was taken as I stood in the middle of the road. What looks like smoke is a cloud of millions of flying insects, each about an inch long.

The first time I encountered such a swarm, it was a rather frightening scene like something from a Hitchcock movie. But this time, it was beautiful. The flies make a wonderful hum as they buzz, with a dominant note that is just about a middle C (my wife had a tuning fork to verify this). I have never noticed this before, but it's a marvelous sound.

When we saw the thick clouds over the roads, instead of wanting to get away, I had to stop and get out of the car. My family thought I was nuts - OK, no argument. I stood in the swarm, enjoying the waves of motion they made and the hum. They didn't bother me, and I enjoyed participating in their ancient ritual of gathering, marveling at the rhythms of life that the Lord has placed on this amazing planet. (Had this been mosquitoes, my gratitude would have been substantially less - but the Winnebago lake fly is one of the most "friendly" of insects, apart from the mess they leave on windshields if one drives too fast.)

Our Japanese guest, an English teacher from Japan's sister city with Appleton, Kanonji, felt lucky to have seen the spectacle of the bugs, and chuckled when I told her that I had been "one with the bugs."

Elilzabeth Smart

Ken Bingham's post on Elizabeth Smart expresses outrage over the recent ruling that her abductor is not yet mentally competent to stand trial. There's one silver lining. If I ever commit some horrific crime, I'll also be able to showcase my carefully honed singing skills in court and perhaps avoid a trial as well.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mormons and Ear Infections: Something to Chew On

Mormons tend to have more children than the general population, and that means one thing in particular: more ear infections. Antibiotics are the most common treatment, but for many kids they don't seem to help all that much. Now some studies suggest that ear infections as well as tooth decay can be reduced by using a naturally occurring sugar, xylitol. Xylitol occurs naturally in some plants such as raspberries and is used in some chewing gums (e.g., Trident). It's also available in several other forms such as syrup. Talk to your doctor and be sure to NOT give gum to young children who might choke on it - or put it in your hair.

Here is an abstract from M. Uhari et al., "Xylitol in Preventing Acute Otitis Media," Vaccine, 2000 Dec 8;19 Suppl 1:S144-7:
Xylitol is a polyol sugar alcohol and is referred to as birch sugar, because it can be produced from birch. Natural sources of xylitol include plums, strawberries, raspberries and rowan berries. Xylitol inhibits the growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae and it inhibits the attachment of both pneumococci and Haemophilus influenzae on the nasopharyngeal cells. In two clinical trials xylitol was found efficient to prevent the development of acute otitis media with a daily dose of 8.4-10 g of xylitol given in five divided doses. The efficacy in these 2-3 months follow-up trials was approximately 40% when chewing gum was used and approximately 30% with xylitol syrup. The need to use antimicrobials reduced markedly when using xylitol. In a high-risk group of children with tympanostomy tubes xylitol was ineffective in preventing otitis. Xylitol appears to be an attractive alternative to prevent acute otitis media. A more practical frequency of doses should be found before its use can be widely recommended.
However, giving xylitol only when the child is suffering from ear infection may not work, according to T. Tapiainen et al. in "Xylitol Administered Only During Respiratory Infections Failed to Prevent Acute Otitis Media," Pediatrics , Vol. 109 No. 2 February 2002, pp. e19 (full article is available at "Pediatrics.org).

Disclaimer: I am not a physician and know almost squat about medical science, ear infection, otitis (is that a musical instrument from Brazil?), xylitol, and children. But I do occasionally chew gum, and once had an ear ache. Given my lack of credentials, it is amazing that I would dare post anything at all on health issues - or any other topic. Even more amazing is that some people would look to random blogs for medical advice. But if a little xylitol helps spare you from the frustration of ear aches in young children, well, I guess that's OK. Talk to your doctor, do your homework, be careful what you do, don't mess up your children with quack remedies, and floss daily. And keep your fingers out of your mouth and nose.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Aren't You Glad It Was I Who Caught You?" - A Home Teaching Story from Floyd Larson's Life

At the recent funeral for Floyd Larson of Sandy, Utah, his daughter and my wife, Kendra Larson Lindsay, told the following story about one of Brother Larson's home teaching experiences.
Dad was a phenomenal home teacher. Even at the end of his life, when he could barely stand up straight or walk, he would go home teaching. He went home teaching on Father's Day, this year, only one month before he died. Mom and I saw a special lady at Reams whose family Dad home taught. She asked if she could do anything for us, and I said, "Yes, actually, I’m looking for stories about Dad." She smiled and said, "I have a great story for you." Dad never missed a month home teaching. Without fail he brought over a big Hershey's candy bar and a personal note for each child on their birthday. One day a couple of the teenaged girls and their friends wanted to go to Leatherby's for ice cream. The problem was, they didn't have quite enough money for one of the girls. They decided to lie and say it was one of the girls' birthday so she would get her ice cream free. So they walked in and started singing Happy Birthday to the girl, not knowing that their home teacher was right behind them. Well Dad thought he had missed her birthday and felt terrible. He went home and got a candy bar and wrote a note and took it over to the house. The girl's father opened the door and greeted his home teacher. When Dad explained that he had brought her birthday candy, and how he learned it was her birthday, the father said, "It isn't her birthday." He called her in for an explanation. She came in and stuttered her explanation of how she and her sister and friends had cheated to get her a free ice cream. Dad put his arm around her and said tenderly, "We often get caught when we slip and do something wrong, but aren't you glad it was I who caught you?"
That was a characteristic moment in the life of my incredibly gentle and devout LDS father-in-law. And I think it teaches us a little about the Savior's love in addition to offering a great example of home teaching.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Have We Infiltrated United Airlines?

While flying United Airlines to Salt Lake City recently, I noticed that two adjacent gates both displayed Mormon-related images on the monitors at the counters. The monitor for a flight to Salt Lake naturally showed an image of the Salt Lake Temple. But I was surprised to see that the adjacent monitor for a Kansas City flight showed an image of the Temple of the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Latter-day Saints) in Independence, Missouri - near but not in Kansas City. Does United show other Mormon-related attractions for other cities? Maybe those "Godmakers" folks aren't so paranoid after all. We may not be able to take over the world, but perhaps we've got our tentacles in United Airlines - the only true way to fly.

(The image above is a composite of two photographs at adjacent counters taken as I was boarding my flight. I took the photos very quickly and put my camera away before anybody got too spooked about me being some kind of terrorist - some people get very jittery about anyone taking photos at airports, though there are lots of interesting scenes to capture. That's why one image came out blurred. As usual, click to enlarge.)

No Need for a Temple?

Many people tell me that we Latter-day Saints are silly to build temples, and the there is no need for temples anymore now that Christ has come. I would encourage them to reconsider their viewpoint in light of scripture. For example, when the Lord returns in glory, guess where He is going to go, according to Malachi 3:1-3? And after that, during the great Millennium, guess where the saints will be serving God day and night, according to Revelation 7:15? And before all that, in the last days, guess what will be established in the tops of the mountains as a focal point of the international gathering of people following the Lord, according to Isaiah 2:2-4? And after Christ came, guess where the early Christians were daily, according to Acts 2:46 and Acts 5:42? And for good measure, you may want to ponder on other passages like Rev. 15:5-8; Matt. 23:21; Luke 24:53; Psalms 27:4; and Psalm 26:8.

According to the Bible, the temple, the sacred house of the Lord, was a place of covenant making, worship, and instruction that was important before Christ came, during the ministry of Christ, and during the days of the early Christian Church. Prophets foretold that it would still play a critical role in the last days before the coming of the Messiah, during the coming of the Messiah, and after the coming of the Messiah in the Millennium.

One can offer lots of reasons to explain why the temple is not needed, but it's a case of special pleading to justify the troubling absence of the temple. Regrettably, the mainstream Christian world (and Jewish world) has lost the temple and an understanding of what the temple is. One can justify that fact with all sorts of arguments, but the Bible is pretty clear that the Lord will continue to use the Holy Temple right up to the end. This would be a terribly puzzling thing if it weren't for the wonderful news that we have: the Temple is back. The ancient temple concept has been restored, established not just in the tops of the mountains at the focal point of the gathering, but also throughout the world.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Scriptural Thought: Rejecting the Prophets

To those who have been taught that we no longer need prophets, or that there were to be no prophets after Christ, below is one of many New Testament passages that I wish you would consider. And I especially hope it might give pause to those who delight in mocking and denouncing those whom we believe to be modern prophets called by the Lord. The passage is Matthew 23: 31-37, giving the words of Christ Himself on the topic of prophets and those who persecute them:
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. . . .

34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: . . .

37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Christ prophesies that He will send more prophets, but some of them will be killed. He moans for Jerusalem because they persecute and kill His servants, the prophets, that He sends. The passage implies that divinely sent prophets play a role in God's effort to gather His people.

In this day of gathering, I am grateful that God once again has sent prophets to teach us the Gospel and lead us in the Lord's ways. How sad that they are reviled and persecuted, even driven from city to city as were Joseph Smith and the early Saints. How tragic that mobs stirred by religious bigots posing as ministers of God would even murder the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I Usually Don't Get Choked Up Giving Talks, But Today Was Different....

I usually have no trouble in keeping emotions suppressed when I'm giving a talk or sharing a testimony, and rarely get choked up, but today was different. It wasn't even a Church talk -- it was a talk to a group of Hmong people and some local Wisconsin natives at a celebration of National Lao-Hmong Recognition Day held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, sponsored by the Lake Winnebago Area Mutual Aid Association. I was one of two keynote speakers for the event. I was asked to speak for an hour on the history of the Hmong people, the reasons for their coming to the US, and their tragic involvement in the Vietnam War, fighting for the US in a secret war in Laos that cost them everything. A native Hmong missionary, Elder Vue, was there as my guest to translate for me. The talk was going along well until I read the following passage from Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992, by Jane Hamilton-Merritt (Indiana University Press, 1993, pp. 220-221):
Determined to keep the enemy short of supplies, [General] Vang Pao had units staked out along all supply routes, particularly along Route 7 and in the Ban Ban area. Vang Kai, who had joined the Hmong "special forces" a year earlier at age 16, and who would eventually gain the rank of lieutenant, was a member of one of these 100-man units. His unit operated near Lat Sen, not far from Ban Ban. Vang Kai knew it was his duty to rescue American pilots. The order, as he understood it, was to make any sacrifice to get them out. There was never any quibbling about this order. He and other Hmong considered it their duty to save Americans.

NVA [North Vietnamese Army] forces surrounded Vang Kai's unit. Radios screeched with frightened men calling for "air." American jets responded, swooping in on enemy positions with bombs and strafing runs. During one day of heavy fighting, Vang Kai noticed smoke coming from an American jet. "Two pilots parachuted. Everyone, including the enemy, could see them. As we watched, an urgent message came over our radio: 'Get the American pilots before the Vietnamese!' Quickly coordinates were given to our radio man. It was our turn to rescue Americans.

"Since there were so many Vietnamese in this area, we knew we would have to fight to get there. We knew we had to be fast to reach the Americans before the Vietnamese did. Our rescue party of 100 started to run. We ran! Fighting! Running! Fighting! More than an hour of running and fighting. We reached the area first, but the Vietnamese were chasing us. One American pilot was hurt from the waist down; the other was also wounded, but could walk. We could not secure the area for the rescue chopper to get in. There were too many Vietnamese shooting and closing in on us. They would kill us all. We must take the Americans and run. We took turns carrying the one who could not walk. He was big and heavy. We ran, carrying him, until the two men carrying him couldn't run any more. Then two other Hmong would pick him up and run. We ran like this, carrying one wounded American and helping the other. Still the Vietnamese chased us, firing. For several hours, we ran and fought.

"Finally, we outran the Vietnamese and got to the Lat Sen position. We secured the airstrip long enough to call in a chopper to take out the wounded pilots. When we got to Lat Sen, there were only 40 men left in our rescue party. The rest were lost."

Years later when I asked Lt. Vang Kai, who was then living in Montana as a refugee, about the extraordinary loss of Hmong life to save the two Americans, he explained: "When the Americans arrived in Laos, the Hmong respected them and called them 'sir.' We were friends. We had a ba-sii ceremony for every American who came to live and work with us. We did everything we could to help the Americans. When the Americans were in trouble, we Hmong made a path with our blood to save them."
The idea of 60 Hmong soldiers giving their lives to rescue two American pilots really hit me. I choked up and had to pause for a few seconds in this talk. The Spock-like side of me beamed up to some other planet while I was left to struggle with a wave of emotion all by myself. But the Hmong people there understood. I saw several wiping away tears themselves. They knew the price that their people had paid for America.

Over 100 American pilots were rescued in such desperate operations, and thousands more American lives were saved by the courageous fighting of the Hmong irregulars and brave Hmong pilots in the heavily bombed hills of Laos - a war that was kept secret from the American public for many years. Over 100,000 Hmong people would die as a result of the US bringing them into the conflict with the promise that we would protect them and never leave them should the Communists turn on them for supporting us. It was a promise that was broken when America suddenly pulled out, leaving a broken people to fend for themselves against vengeful, genocidal maniacs equipped with tanks, planes, and chemical warfare agents like Soviet-made "yellow rain." To this day, thousands of survivors languish in refugee camps in Thailand or struggle in the jungles of Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam. America owes a great debt of gratitude for their service to us, yet many Americans just think of them as unwelcome foreigners who are here to exploit our welfare system, utterly ignorant of the reasons behind their arrival in the US.

The plight of the Hmong people continues to choke me up sometimes. We have about 150 Hmong people on the LDS membership rolls in the Appleton area, and it was my privilege to serve them as their bishop for five years when they were still part of the Appleton Second Ward and then for a few more years in other capacities when they were put into their own branch. They've been through a lot, and the challenges have not gone away. Their first branch president here is now a Baptist minister who has drawn many away from the Church, if that's any hint at the challenges they have faced. Painful, painful memories - but wonderful, wonderful people.

(Some basic information about the Hmong people is available on my page, "The Tragedy of the Hmong People.")

Friday, July 22, 2005

Tip for Anti-Mormons on Maintaining Credibility:
Do No Evil, or at Least Admit to No Evil

Some of us LDS folks are often curious about ex-Mormons who become anti-Mormon activists. I wonder why they can't leave the Church alone, why they feel driven to write books and go on speaking tours criticizing the Church, and why so many aspects of LDS life must be mocked. The anti-Mormons often wish to present themselves as dispassionate, objective seekers of truth who left the Church not because of sin or a rejection of LDS moral standards, but because their quest for intellectual honesty required courageously dropping an errant but beloved faith.

Some Mormons make the sometimes incorrect assumption that those who leave the Church must have other personal issues besides intellectual concern over obscure statements of Brigham Young or over the apparent difficulty of squaring DNA science with popular but naive assumptions about the Book of Mormon. This Mormon stereotype of anti-Mormon apostates is, unfortunately, often reinforced by the behavior of the apostates themselves. Ever since Joseph Smith's day, a number of influential apostates were excommunicated for or otherwise left the Church over "stupid stuff" like committing adultery, raising the suspicion that their opposition to the Church may have been based on a personal axe to grind or anger at the Church's standards rather than an objective quest for Christian truth.

Given that, I just don't understand why one up-and-coming anti-Mormon would tell the world that he's being excommunicated for adultery, and even admit that adultery took place. Why, why, why? Seriously, this kind of thing rattles other devout anti-Mormons and makes it difficult to keep the debate focused on the real issues. And I just don't understand why someone who rejects the Church would wait for Church disciplinary action to be taken, allowing an issue like adultery to even enter into the debate. If you reject the Church and want to depart, you only have to write a letter asking for your name to be removed. Even if local leaders know there were moral transgressions involved, they are required (as I understand the current rules) to accept your request and remove your name from the records, if that's what you really want. So, if for some reason you are planning on a career as an anti-Mormon apostate, please don't do stupid stuff, or at least don't admit to doing stupid stuff, and just get your name off the records before any stupid stuff you've been doing might become an issue.

Oh, one more thing: don't show off your profanity, either. I see this from a lot of critical ex-Mormons who seem to revel in their usage of profanity now that they are outside the Church. It's so immature, and again suggests that the issue was the enticement of sin rather than intellectual concerns. Offensive language is not a sign of an enlightened intellect. Just my 1.8 cents (after tithing).

July 26 update:For the person I was thinking of, upon further reflection, one can credit him for being honest and open about the nature of the disciplinary action against him. And much more positive and important is the fact that he and his wife are back together and hopefully doing well. That's great. I still would strongly recommend that people who wish to leave the Church simply ask for their names to be removed and not try to make high and public drama out of a private disciplinary council. This person left the Church some time ago. There was no need to wait for a disciplinary council to score some dramatic points. He's disappointed that the council will deal with the arguably weightier charge of adultery rather than the serious but less weighty charge of apostasy (I offer my opinion on the basis of Alma 39). Maybe it will address both - it could and perhaps should, but it's not going to be broadcast on CNN as the antis would like. Maybe the Disney Channel, though.

Also, several people have accused me of urging people to lie. Come on. Asking people to keep their dirty laundry in the closet rather than showing it to the world is NOT lying. I did not say to lie about anything, just not to go around telling the world about one's serious sins. When interviewed by the press, one particular anti-Mormon volunteered the information that he was facing disciplinary action for adultery. It's now a public story. I think it would have been better to keep that to himself and to never let it be an issue, even in a private disciplinary council, by just asking for name removal long ago. (Or even now -- it's still not too late.) But since this advice has been so poorly received by the anti-Mormon community, I guess I should just apologize for asking for a little decorum. OK folks, if you want to tell the world about your major sins, don't let me stand in the way.

This post has gotten more traffic than I can handle at the moment. I'll close comments on this one, at least for now. Sorry!

"The Congregation of Saints"

"Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints" (Psalm 149:1). This verse is a reminder that those who covenanted with God both in Old Testament and New Testament times were called "saints." The LDS Topical Guide entry for "Saints" lists several other interesting scriptures. For example, in Romans 1:7, Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome - to all of them, not just a few outstanding examples - and notes that they are called to be saints: "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints. . . ." Likewise in Ephesians 1:1, Paul states that he is writing "to the saints which are at Ephesus," and in 1 Corinthians 1:2, speaks to "the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. . . ." Those who join the Church of Jesus Christ were said to be "no more strangers . . . but fellowcitizens with the saints" (Ephesians 2:19). And as we read in Ephesians 4:11-12, one of the reasons for the existence of the Church, with its organization that included apostles and prophets, was "for the perfecting of the saints" - the imperfect members of the Church who needed the blessings of divinely authorized guidance from leaders called of God.

Many people assume that we call ourselves Latter-day Saints because we think we're holier than everybody else. Not so. The term "saint" is what the Lord calls members of His Church. It reminds us that we are called to live His laws, but we are utterly imperfect and have no monopoly on righteousness.

The term "saints" in our name is just one little part of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, bringing back some of the ancient ways that the Lord has seen fit to apply in for our day as well.

I suppose that if Joseph Smith were just making everything up by absorbing elements in his environment, he may not have used the terms "saints" as he did. In the modern mainstream Christian world, it has generally taken on a different meaning, referring to rare individuals rather than the members of the Church in general. Indeed, the entry for "saint" in the 1828 Webster's Dictionary gives definitions that do not suggest Joseph Smith's usage:
SAINT, n. [L. sanctus.]

1. A person sanctified; a holy or godly person; one eminent for piety and virtue. It is particularly applied to the apostles and other holy persons mentioned in Scripture. A hypocrite may imitate a saint. Ps. 16.

2. One of the blessed in heaven. Rev. 18.

3. The holy angels are called saint. Deut. 33. Jude 14.

4. One canonized by the church of Rome.
I truly believe that there has been a divine restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, and to me it only makes sense that this tiny little aspect of the original Church would be one of the many components that were restored. I say this not as any kind of serious evidence for the Restoration (turn to the Book of Mormon for that!), but by way of sharing some thoughts about that puzzling term in the name of our church.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Will John Roberts Be Another Grave Disappointment for Pro-Lifers?

Many socially conservative Christians have assumed that George Bush as Republican President would, in spite of his liberal tendencies, appoint a conservative, pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, or if not overtly pro-life, at least somebody who cares about the intent of the Founding Fathers. This assumption overlooks the painful fact that seven of the justices in our often liberal and activist court were appointed by Republicans. Now we may have another Souteresque mystery man in John Roberts. Ann Coulter's column on John Roberts rings true with me. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Supreme Court to begin following the Constitution again.

So here's a question for you legal scholars: In light of the recent Kelo case, if a local government decides that it can raise more tax revenues by condemning Church property and turning it over to Wal-Mart, would our current or next-generation Supreme Court stand in the way?

San Diego Temple

Also while in California in June, we briefly visited the San Diego Temple. Here is a night view that I photographed while standing in the parking lot of a shopping center on the other side of the freeway. It's one of my favorite temples. (As with most photos posted here, you can click to enlarge, but I've only posted a low-resolution version 450 pixels wide.)

Newport, California: A Beautiful New Temple in a Beautiful Place

While in California at the end of June, we had the chance to visit the new Newport Temple that is about to open. Here is a photo I took:


It's a beautiful temple in a beautiful place. For even more beautfy, we went down to Newport Beach that evening and strolled in the mist from the waves as the sun was setting. Here is a view from a pier that I like:

And another:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Another Fulfilled Book of Mormon Prophecy: 2 Nephi 29

While reading 2 Nephi 29 with my family the other day, it occurred to me that this passage provides another great example of fulfilled Book of Mormon prophecies. Consider verses 1-3:
[1] But behold, there shall be many -- at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel;

[2] And also, that I may remember the promises which I have made unto thee, Nephi, and also unto thy father, that I would remember your seed; and that the words of your seed should proceed forth out of my mouth unto your seed; and my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel;

[3] And because my words shall hiss forth -- many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
If the Book of Mormon were a mere forgery, there is no way that Joseph Smith or his associates could have actually known that the book would spread to the ends of earth, that even 175 years later in our day it would be translated into many dozens of languages and serve as the Church's primary missionary tool to act as a standard for gathering people into the Church. Could he also have known that the Book of Mormon would indeed be so strongly opposed by "the Gentiles"? Even to this very day, the primary response to the Book of Mormon of many in the nominally Christian world of "the Gentiles" is to repeat the words prophesied by Nephi, calling the Book of Mormon a "Bible" (we never call it that) and chanting the mantra that LDS missionaries are so familiar with: "We already have a Bible and there cannot be any more Bible."

Sure, you can dismiss this as some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, but 2 Nephi 29 is far more interesting than that.

For those who are tempted to dismiss the Book of Mormon out of hand because you believe the man-made argument that God has not spoken more, consider the further words of Nephi:
[6] Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

[7] Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

[8] Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

[9] And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

[10] Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
Almost by reflex now, Rev. 22:18,19 will be cited, warning against tinkering with the text ("adding or subtracting"). John is absolutely correct: no mere man has authority to add or subtract from the word of God. In fact, this is an ancient principle that Moses taught in Deuteronomy 4:2:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it....
Here are the related word of John in Rev. 22:18,19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
In those verses, John, who is in exile on the Isle of Patmos, is obviously referring to the text before him -- the Book of Revelation and its prophecies, its descriptions of plagues, its discussion of the holy city, etc. -- and urges no one to change what he has written. The Bible as a collection of canonized books did not exist when he wrote those lines. In fact, several non-LDS authorities believe that Revelation was not the last book of the Bible to be written, but may have preceded other writings of John himself by a couple of years. Nevertheless, what John wrote is true: no man should change what God has spoken. Don't tinker with the text! However, God has the authority to speak what and when He wants. God spoke to other prophets after Moses (the injunction against men adding to the word in Deut. 4:2 not being applicable to the case of God adding to His words), and many of their divinely commissioned writings have been preserved in the Bible.

Among the many chosen prophets to whom God spoke anciently, there were some in the New World who were descendants from the House of Israel and who knew of the long-prophesied ministry of the Messiah that would occur in Israel. The Book of Mormon is a record written by such prophets in the New World, covering (with one more ancient exception) a time span of 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. This book, like the Bible, contains a record of God's dealings with a part of the House of Israel. It contains prophecies of Christ and also reveals how Christ, after his resurrection and ascension into heaven, later ministered to those who had waited for him in the New World.

How grateful we should be that God has provided another testament to confirm the reality of Jesus Christ and add more hope and knowledge in these dark and troubled days. Why should we murmur because of His grace in giving us more help, more light and more knowledge? Praise be to God for the divine truths revealed in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, companion volumes of scripture that the world desperately needs today to help all men come to Christ and find the joy that He alone offers.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What the Gospel Does for People:
Reflecting upon the Life of Floyd Larson

In preparing to attend the funeral of my father-in-law, Floyd Larson of Sandy, Utah, I have reflected upon the life of that great man and the lives of his family. This was a man who took his religion seriously, a devout Latter-day Saint who sacrificed much to serve God and follow the teachings of his religion, a man thoroughly infused with what some call "Mormonism." He was a returned missionary, served in many callings including service as a bishop and later a Stake Patriarch, and served an additional mission to Nepal with his wife a couple years ago before his battle with cancer. He was a steady Temple attender, a student of the scriptures, a dedicated Priesthood holder, and a disciple of the Lord.

What did all this do for him and his family? The result of his lifelong pursuit of Latter-day Saint religion was not a frightening fanatic that threatened the welfare of society and damaged his family - in fact, it was the polar opposite of how some critics characterize us. Floyd Larson was a noble, gentle, loving man, selfless and kind, a true servant and follower of Jesus Christ. His example of love, patience, humility, and service has blessed my life and the life of my family in numerous ways. He and his equally noble and amazing wife, Doreen Larson, raised a large family of well-adjusted, successful, interesting, proactive, kind, and decent people - people that I am just happy to be around, people that I want my children to associate with. His approach to life was always founded on the Gospel. One of the greatest fruits of that approach was his first daughter, Kendra, who became my wife - and the most amazing and wonderful person ever in my life. The effect of a heavy dose of "Mormonism" in the life of Floyd Larson has been a legacy of joy and true success, an influence that lives on and inspires me and my entire family to be better people. I love what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does for people that take this precious religion seriously.

Floyd was not a deluded, unintelligent man duped by a religion for fools. He was a critical thinker. He was an intelligent electrical engineer with a Masters Degree from the University of Utah. He understood human limitations and intellectual fallacies. He worked hard to expand his mind throughout his life, studying and learning much. And he understood that there is a Supreme Being more intelligent than we all, a Being whom we worship as God the Father, Whose son Jesus Christ stands at His right hand and directs His Church through revelation to man. He knew that all of us mortals are imperfect, but that the true Leader of our Church can be fully trusted. He knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and valued His acceptance more than any perishable thing.

I marvel at how many lives Brother Larson touched in his humble, quiet way. At the viewing last night, hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects. Many of them offered additional stories or insights into his life. For example, I met his former secretary who told me how he always managed to stay calm when others were getting heated over drastic deadlines and other problems. She was thankful for the peace and the politeness he brought in a stressful environment. And then there are so many stories from those who served with him in the Church or from those in his family. It will be a wonderful funeral.

If you've never been to an LDS funeral, you should go. They tend to be uplifting and filled with hope.

Yesterday, while walking back from Church (so strange to be in a heavily LDS area where one can just walk to Church!), a sweet Mormon widow approached us with an armful of banana bread she had baked. And the day before she had just brought some of the best wheat bread ever, baked in her own oven. As we chatted with her for a few moments, I was deeply touched by what I saw in her life. Her goodness shined from her face. She reminded me of so many other older LDS women I know: a sweet, loving person filled with hope and the desire to serve others. I was being blessed not just by a good baker, but by another disciple of Jesus Christ. Mormon widows are another great place where one can often see the true fruits of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. These wonderfully kind people belie the caricatures of LDS faith that I often see from some rather nasty critics. By their fruits ye shall know them.

The fruits that I see among those who are serious, faithful Latter-day Saints, including people like my late father-in-law and my precious mother-on-law, make me rejoice that God has restored the fullness of the Gospel in these latter days. How grateful I am for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Healing Power of the Atonement of Christ: Not Just for Offenders, But Victims as Well

One of the powerful truths about the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that it can do more than just wash away the sins of sinners (which all of us are). For those who are the victims of the sins of others, the Atonement also offers divine power to heal wounds.

The Book of Mormon refers to the great compassion of the Savior who has taken upon him our sufferings and pains. Through such compassion, He can reach us all and give us faith and hope to move toward Him. His mercy "encircles [us] in the arms of safety" (see Alma 34:9-16), something we all desperately need. As our Advocate before the Father, he pleads for us, as we read in Doctrine and Covenants 45:4-5:
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
Those who have been victimized by others face special challenges. It can be so hard to let go of anger, to forgive, and to accept the mercy of the Lord in healing our hearts as well as removing the sins of the offenders, should they repent. In the comments of one recent post, one former Latter-day Saint on his way back ("Books of Mormon in Indy") made this salient point:
I honestly didn't know that the Atonement could heal and "pay for" the wounds of the victims. I had thought it only applied to sinners and the perpetrators, not the victims.
Many of us sinners have, like Alma, found rapid relief from the hell of our guilt and the pains of divine justice by turning the Savior to seek forgiveness. For victims, the healing process can be much more complex and painful. But I can say that some of the most dramatic and miraculous evidences that I have seen of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ have been manifest in the healing of victims dealing with the trauma inflicted by others. This is especially true for those who have suffered from prolonged abuse. Sometimes victims feel far less worthy of love and forgiveness than the foulest of criminals, but the Lord has not forgotten them. With His help, miraculous and joyful progress and healing is possible. I've seen this in powerful ways, and wish for all victims to know that you, too, will only have true hope by turning to Jesus Christ to let the healing power of the Atonement work in your life as well. It's not just for the offenders.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

An Amazing Prophecy: Book of Mormon Witnesses to Establish the Word

This week during family scripture study, I noticed what may be one of the most interesting prophecies to come through Joseph Smith. It wasn't his prophecy, it was actually Nephi's, but it certainly counts in favor of Joseph Smith. The prophecy - so I will call it - comes from 2 Nephi 27, the chapter in which Nephi built upon Isaiah's prophecy of the sealed book to give insight into the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Verse 14 is what impressed me. It refers to the witnesses of the Book of Mormon that will be called (the three main witnesses plus a number of others), and states that through these witnesses, God will "establish his word." If Joseph were a fraud, it would have been utterly foolhardy to let others in on his secret and ask them to pose as false witnesses of real plates and angels and so forth - much safer to keep the conspiracy to as small a circle as possible - preferably him alone - and keep everything visionary and mysterious. If it were a fraud, the chances of multiple false witnesses all remaining loyal to their testimony to their dying day to "establish" the word of God is beyond belief, especially given that many of those witnesses did part ways with Joseph Smith and would have had every motivation to expose him and avoid the constant trouble their testimonies created for them - but none of them denied their witness of the Book of Mormon.

As the prophetic Book of Mormon states, multiple witnesses were called. They saw and held the plates, and three saw an angel and heard the voice of God. They put their necks on the line, standing bravely as eye-witnesses of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, facing a life of trouble as a result, but never wavering. Truly these witnesses, with their valiant, lifelong testimonies of the Book of Mormon, did establish God's word - or that part of it we are blessed to have in the sacred book, the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ.

A Powerful Lesson on the Atonement from an Ex-Mormon Coming Back

A great deal of insight into the Atonement, the importance of forgiveness, the traps the adversary sets for us, and the need to treat one another with charity comes from some fascinating comments by "Books of Mormon from Indy" under my completely uninteresting post, "Apologies - Comments Problem Fixed." Here are excerpts from two of his comments that I especially want to highlight:
I joined the church in the early 80's (when I was in my 20's), and two years later went on a mission.

I had a "difficult" mission, to put it nicely, and to be kind to myself.

I loved the people among whom I served, but couldn't stand some of the missionaries with whom I served. I had some great companions, but there was always at least one "problem missionary" in every apartment who made life hell. (Typically there were 2 or 3 sets of missionaries per apartment.)

It was very frustrating to have one of those "burned in" testimonies that the Book of Mormon and the church were true, but at the same time to be constantly offended by people in the church, even though the "offenders" were in the minority.

A year after the mission I went inactive, and four years after that I requested to have my name removed from church membership records.

In 2002 the Lord started to make it painfully clear what the eternal consequences of willful disobedience would be, and DC Section 19, specifically verse 20, started to come into play. I had already lost the Holy Ghost, but then the second definition of "his spirit", the Light of Christ, started to be withdrawn. I probably tasted a little of what Martin Harris tasted, and I decided that repentance would be the easier way out.

In other words, the Lord kicked my butt back to church.

While researching the church on the web, I've come across a few ex-member web sites, and the apologetic web sites. I can identify with some of what the apostates say. I've been there and done that.

I understand how those who grow up in the church without a testimony can fall away.

And I understand how those who join the church based on faith (an "I believe" testimony as opposed to an "I know" or a "burned in" type of testimony) can fall away.

In the interest of full-disclosure I'll state that I have not been re-baptized yet. But I've been as active as an ex-mo can be, and have been blessed beyond what I deserve.

There's more to the story, but I've wasted too much time online today anyway.

{Next comment:}

More on my story. I can't entirely blame my problems on the problem elders or those "less than valiant." Once I lost the Spirit from being in a constant state of being offended, I turned bitter and became a problem elder myself. I was so bent out of shape over what others were/were not doing, that I neglected to weed my own garden.

One item of contention led to an elder spiking my food with drugs (Rohypnol, the date rape drug), which knocked me out for 24 hours, and all 5 elders in the apartment, including my companion, refused to call an ambulance or take me to the hospital. It wasn't until years later that I found out Rohypnol was a "date rape drug", and wondered "how did a supposedly temple-worthy Mormon teenager know about that?"

In the mission country, no prescription was needed in order to buy any medicine sold at drug stores, so it was available to anyone who knew to ask for it by name.

The result of that was that I learned to never trust someone just because they are a member of the church. I couldn't even trust the mission president at that point, and probably should have bought my own ticket home then. From my point of view, it was an out-of-control mission. I decided to not report the incident to the president, but felt sure that it did get back to him. I didn't report it because I didn't trust him, but I also knew that if I started to talk about it, I'd go off the deep end, threatening law suits if he didn't send that elder home, etc. If I gave the president an ultimatum to send one of us home, he'd have just said "bye."

I contemplated gutting the other elder with a knife and strangling him with his own intestines, and decided it wouldn't be shedding innocent blood. But I also decided I didn't want to spend time in an Ecuadorian jail while I tried to prove it was self-defense. I just decided to "let the Lord handle it" and prayed that that elder would pay (SUFFER!) for it.

But that was a major point of my down-hill slide. Once I started hating missionaries, not trusting the mission president, resenting Monson for what he said, I was a goner. The Atonement lost it's effect in me because I wouldn't let the Atonement pay for the other missionaries' transgressions.

I tried to stay active after I got back, but I sort of knew that I wouldn't stay in the church. So I kept sliding downhill, with the Spirit withdrawing more and more. I became overly sensitive to the small ordinary every-day offenses. Every little thing wrong that others did was magnified because I stopped repenting of my own sins (mote and beam thing). Until one Sunday I woke up and decided I didn't want to be around "those people" any more.

And I completely justified everything in my mind. All my problems were the fault of the other elders, of the mission president, of Elder Monson misrepresenting missionary requirements, of morbidly obese single women who hounded me when I got back. There's an excuse for leaving the church: too many crazy fat women!

But I honestly wouldn't have applied for a mission had I known the true nature of the average missionary, or of the bottom 1/4th of missionaries. I never associated with those kinds of people (frivolous, arrogant, selfish, snotty punks and hypocrites) before I joined the church, and I resented having to live with them for 2 years, when Monson made it sound like those kinds of people would never be called on a mission.

In 1999, after a visit to my parents, I saw a negative trait in my father, and realized I had that same trait. Then it dawned on me "why everyone hated me." I inherited or picked up some personality and emotional problems from my father. I had turned into him, after swearing I wasn't going to grow up to be like him.

In a way, it was liberating because having realized what my emotional/psych problems were I knew that they could then be worked on, but by then I didn't want to change.

By 2002, I sank to the point where Section 19 kicked in, especially verse 20. And when that happened, it finally dawned on me that my transgressions were greater than those who transgressed against me, and that I had lost my excuses.

When the Lord withdraws "his spirit", meaning the Light of Christ, that's when the buffetings of Satan come into play. That is, literally, Hell. What a wake-up call. I had forgotten the section number, but the verses came vividly to mind.

It took several months after attending church before I figured out how to forgive others, but I knew that I had to.

Then as I processed forgiving others in my mind and accepted the Atonement as payment for all the past offenses and things that caused me flashbacks, from the Rohypnol elder to an unrighteously dominating Branch President bully in the MTC, a marvelous thing occurred.

As I forgave each person who offended me, I stopped having flashbacks on that event. I started getting calmer, and even my friends noticed the difference.

A key in all this was the "burned in" testimony, my anchor, my pearl of great price. I somehow knew there had to be a gospel solution to it all, and that God couldn't have set me up to fail.

And that's the missing key in the lives of a lot of apostates. They either never had a testimony, or they want to keep on blaming others for their own problems.

Sorry this got kind of long.
This is very heavy. It's tragic that such things should happen to a missionary. I truly hope that the raised bar for missionary service will reduce the presence of problem missionaries that make life painful for others. But the more important lessons, for me anyway, are the importance of forgiveness. "Once I started hating missionaries, not trusting the mission president, resenting Monson for what he said, I was a goner. The Atonement lost it's effect in me because I wouldn't let the Atonement pay for the other missionaries' transgressions." How true this is! And we can also ponder these words: "I sank to the point where Section 19 kicked in, especially verse 20. And when that happened, it finally dawned on me that my transgressions were greater than those who transgressed against me, and that I had lost my excuses."

We have all lost our excuses. We must not let the sins of others stand between us and the Lord, though it's so easy for that to happen. I rejoice that "Books of Mormon in Indy" has broken out of the stranglehold of bitterness that our Adversary uses to hold us down. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the only hope for all of us. Welcome back!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy

One of the most common objections from critics of our faith pertains to allegedly false prophecies of Joseph Smith. Some of these are based on statements reported from unofficial or unreliable sources, where we can't really be sure what was said. Others are based on a misunderstanding of what was meant or of what actually happened. Others are based on failure to recognize the timeframe of the prophecy - a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled is not necessarily a false prophecy. Further errors still are made by confusing personal opinions with prophecy or commandments with prophecy. An excellent article on these issues is "The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy" by John Tvedtnes, one of my favorite LDS scholars. I also have an LDSFAQ page, "Mormon Answers: Questions about LDS Prophets" that deals with many so-called false prophecies of Joseph Smith.

And let's not forget the many fulfilled and accurate prophecies of Joseph Smith, a true modern prophet of Jesus Christ. For even more examples of prophetic accuracy, I suggest you read the pages of the Book of Mormon, where ancient prophetic editing aimed at our day has given us a text with incredible relevance to this century, filled with prophecies of our day that we can see unfolding before our eyes. It is a marvelous tribute to the prophetic call of Joseph Smith.

Apologies - Comments Problem Fixed

When I tried to turn anonymous comments back on a couple days ago after a comments abuse problem had been amicably resolved (in my opinion, anyway), it appears that I actually turned comments off ("blog members only"), the opposite of my intentions. Not sure how that happened. Sorry! Anyone can make comments now.

New Spanish LDS site: Cumorah.org

Cumorah.org is a new site for Spanish speakers with information about the Church. It's most recent additions include some Spanish articles from Stephen Purdy about topics such Joseph Smith's prophecy of the Civil War. There is also the classic article from Hugh Nibley on leaders versus managers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How Can Anyone Eat a Strawberry and Not Believe in God?

It's so artfully designed, so intricate in form, texture, and flavor, obviously meant to be a mouthful of joy. How can anyone eat a fresh, ripe strawberry and not recognize the mastery of a loving Creator?

What a blessing food can be, what a testimony of the richness and variety of the Creation. And how good food can lift our souls and fill us with gladness and gratitude.

Food even played a role in a number of small spiritual experiences in my life. For example, during my mission in the Zurich, Switzerland Mission, I was stationed in St. Gallen near the end of my 2 years. My willing companion and I wanted to achieve a lot in those last few weeks, so we made a few extra sacrifices and tried to be extra efficient to have more teaching time. On the day before preparation day, we had largely run out of food, but we still had some rice, some sardines, and some tomato sauce. Rather than go shopping outside of preparation day, we decided to make do with what we had. I've always been into experimental cuisine, and it often works out surprisingly well - but not that day. My mixture of mashed sardines, tomato sauce, and rice was one of the least appetizing experiments I've tried. Ugh. We ate as much as we could, but we were hungry not long after.

s six PM approached and shops were about to close, we felt like taking some time off to get a bite of real food. But it was also prime teaching time, and we decided to keep working, heading toward some apartment buildings. We liked to joke a lot, and so we joked a little - still partly hopeful - about how our sacrifice of hunger might just qualify for a blessing or two. "Yeah, I think I would like the blessing of some good bread," I said. Nothing beats Swiss bread! My companion, Elder Angerhofer, said, "And I would like the blessing of some wurst." I then added cheese to my ideal menu, and he added nuts. Bread, cheese, sausage, and nuts. That's what we were thinking about as we cheerfully climbed the stairs of an apartment building and knocked on a door at the top of the stairs. It opened, and to our surprise, the woman who saw us seemed happy to see us, checked with her husband, and then warmly invited us in. This was not common. We were seated in the living room and were surprised to see something unusual on the table in front of us: a bowl of nuts. I think they were peanuts. We didn't actually eat any, but it raised our eyebrows - this was not a common thing to see in a Swiss living room. Thus husband and wife explained that they knew all about us and had met with missionaries before. The wife then got up and left as we kept talking with the husband. A few moments later she called us into the kitchen. "I thought you might be hungry - you missionaries always are - so I prepared a light snack for you." Spread out over the table was a feast for a king - at least in our eyes: delicious bread, cheese, and sausage (Italian style - delicious). Plus apple juice. It was one of the best meals ever because it was so appreciated.

That night we realized that the Lord was mindful of us and that He has a genuine sense of humor.

If you have missionaries in your area, whether you are LDS or not, invite them in for a bite. Chances are they could use a break and might even be on the hungry side.

From Matthew 10:40-42:
He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
Yes, even a cup of water to the missionaries will count. But think of the extra blessings if you can offer them something even more wonderful like good bread, cheese, and a strawberry or two.

Oh, say, did you notice verse 41? "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward." Why would Christ say that if there were to be no more prophets after Him?

Anyway, praise be to God for the wonderful blessing of delicious food. May we rejoice in His goodness and share good food liberally with those in need, with our friends and families, and with the Lord's servants.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Surprised by "The Singles Ward"

Last night several members of my family watched The Singles Ward, an LDS comedy that I would never have watched were it not for the recommendation and free loan of the video from a single sister I home teach. Apart from a tendency to overdo things for a laugh, I found the movie to be surprisingly good. I was especially surprised to find myself relating well to the man character, John, a divorced Mormon who struggles to find his path forward in terms of his faith and his social life. While my life has been much different than his, his descent into acting like a jerk and his rescue motivated by the influence of a good woman reminded me of some of my low points in life, and of the way that the examples, the influence and the kindness of LDS women (especially but not only my wife) have rescued me. My life probably would have turned out to be vastly unhappier, much less filled with joy, were it not for the presence of these female beacons who called me back to shore when storms were raging. God bless them all.

We are all such imperfect beings. Even those who we think are strong often have great weaknesses, gaping wounds in our spiritual psyche that need first aid from those who can heal. How vital it is that we love one another and seek to have charity in our lives, for a simple kind act at the right moment can make all the difference. As the great Apostle Paul wrote (Ephesians 2:19-22):
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:

22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
We need to be in a community of saints, founded upon Christ with the inspired guidance of divinely called apostles and prophets to guide us. We need each other and the Church in our journey, if we are ever to find joy and ultimately Eternal Life. How grateful I am for the blessings and guidance that the Gospel offers us, and for the kindness of its members - especially some of you sisters and my own incredible wife.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Searching for Truth versus Searching for Arguments (and Comfort)

In dealing with the many objections that people make to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, I think it's helpful to determine if the inquirers are actually looking for truth or just looking for arguments to attack our faith. In the latter case, we often see people who demand quick and easy answers to complex problems, seeking a comfortable shortcut to the painful discipline of finding truth. Imagine someone critical of modern physicists, demanding to know whether light is made of particles or waves, armed with a list of simple experimental results - all "facts" - to challenge either point of view, and unwilling to accept the "equivocation" of those who believe it has properties of both. Someone other than a trained physicist - "a physics apologist" - might have difficulty responding to the arguments, and even a physics professor might be absolutely unconvincing to the anti-physics crowd.

Similar things happen in religion. Those demanding quick and easy answers - easy comfort - can readily find reasons why Joseph Smith was not a prophet. He taught Disagreeable Doctrine X or promoted Objectionable Practice Y or made Silly Mistake Z, and therefore he is a fraud.

But truth is more complicated than that.

Joseph was either a prophet of not - yes, I think that's a fair statement. But then how do we evaluate it? Some take the following approach:
1. A true prophet must have divine power from God.

2. Divine power makes you omniscient, infallible, invincible, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

3. Joseph Smith did not know everything, made some mistakes, was easily killed by ordinary bullets, and had an absolutely dismal track record when it came to leaping and buildings. (His only recorded attempt involved falling from the window of the Carthage Jail - and it was falling down only, after which he was dead. Not very impressive.)

4. Therefore, Joseph Smith was not a true prophet. Q.E.D.
This approach, of course, is based on faulty assumptions. The search for truth requires careful consideration of assumptions, of alternatives, of frames of reference. A simple "slam dunk" argument with seemingly straightforward logic is not all that is needed, especially when it's based on errant assumptions.

The real issue is not what kind of mistakes Joseph did or did not make or how many documents and witnesses weight in his favor or not. The real issue is whether he was called of God. Did He see God? Did angels minister to him? Was he given gold plates to translate by the power of God? These are the real issues, and the best way to assess them, in my opinion, is through an examination of the Book of Mormon. If it is divine, then we've got a prophet on our hands, regardless of how thick any anti-Mormon book is.

For those seeking understanding or even truth, it's not enough to flag an apparent contradiction or discrepancy. One must dig and ask further questions. Could there be another explanation? Could something else be understood or meant? Are my assumptions correct? Is the issue really relevant? Consider the Biblical account of the Creation. It says the earth was created in six days. Scientific evidence suggest that billions of years were involved in the development of the earth and its life forms. For many, this clash is enough to justify atheism or at least a rejection of the Bible. But for those seeking truth, a less comfortable process is needed. One must do a little work and ask further questions. Does the word "day" in the Bible really mean a 24-hour period, or could it accommodate much longer periods of time? Is the Genesis account meant to provide revealed scientific details about the Creation, or meant to simply affirm that God was the Creator and did His work in stages? If the revelations in Genesis are incomplete, imperfect, or have been altered by men without scientific knowledge, does that mandate rejection of the rest of the scriptural record? Are there aspects of Genesis that do accord with scientific understanding? How important should the scientific implications of Genesis be?

This process of examining assumptions and continually seeking for truth is also a healthy one for people of faith, including LDS folks. The task of reconciling all knowledge into one great whole is actually consistent with the teachings of the Gospel. It may require discarding some of our own assumptions - like the errant assumption that the Book of Mormon describes ALL migrations to the New World, or encompasses all of North and South America. Critics are wildly uncomfortable that we can adjust our understanding of the text or of other LDS issues based on further information obtained by science or even by revelation. They are more comfortable locking us into the nineteenth century, where it is easy to find puzzling unofficial quotes and teachings from various sources that can be caricatured - things we don't accept and need not defend. When we say that we don't share such views or don't believe such teachings, they treat it as a scandal - as if religious understanding could not develop and grow over time.

True scientific knowledge and true religious knowledge demand flexibility from the thinker - the ability to overcome limitations in understanding and to revise paradigms and theories. Yes, this leads to the terror of uncertainty, the discomfort of work, and the tension between the known and the unknown, but there are few easy answers when dealing with the biggest issues of all. There are some things that we can establish with certainty through spiritual and sometimes intellectual means: the existence of Jesus Christ, the divine power in the restored Gospel, the reality of the Book of Mormon, but that doesn't settle every issue or answer every mystery, anymore than knowledge of the great Laws of Thermodynamics lets us explain the nature of time, gravity, and quarks.

For those seeking truth, there are answers, but they won't always be found in a library or even via Google. If there is a loving God - and there is! - ultimately we must turn to Him as we do the best we can with our minds to determine what is real and what really matters. We can appeal for Him to know if Jesus Christ is the Savior. Through a combination of study, pondering, mental exploration, and sincere prayer, we can also know that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record that is also a testament of Jesus Christ, another witness with the Bible for the true Messiah. Neither book is perfect, and both can be dismissed by those looking for the comfort of "easy" arguments against them (the Book of Mormon contains a modern French word, for heaven's sake - what a fraud! - and it even contains hundreds of English words!). But for those willing to do the work of seeking for truth, a rich and intellectually rewarding journey awaits you.

Joseph Smith was a prophet of God - and the Book of Mormon provides massive, documented evidence to support that claim. We don't need to argue over various ways to interpret minor prophecies in the Doctrine and Covenants. He gave us 500 pages of an ancient text to hang himself with, filled with details and place names like Nahom that leave no room for treating it as warm and fuzzy fiction. It's an ancient text or not, a text inspired of God or not. I urge you to examine it carefully and sincerely - give it every test you can, and seek the help of our loving Heavenly Father in honestly seeking for truth. Then you, too, can know for yourself.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Knowledge in Part, Prophecies in Part: The Terror of Uncertainty vs. the Comfort of the Spirit of God

Some people think that if God did speak to true prophets, He would take over their brains and make them know everything perfectly. Where does this caricature of prophethood come from? Certainly not from any understanding of the Bible, where prophets are fallible and mortal. Showing that a prophet was mortal or that a prophecy was incomplete or subject to alternate interpretations hardly provides grounds for outright dismissal of the prophetic message. The critics demand certainty - they demand a prophet and a Church that would not let any bad things happen, that would ensure that every member called to every position was perfectly worthy or not called at all, that could give sound predictions for daily trades on the stock market, that could pick the box of Cheerios with the winning coupon inside, and that could make the Weather Channel obsolete ("Log on to LDS.org/weather - 100% accuracy with prophetic weather predictions up to 5 years in advance - for registered tithe payers only"). But their disappointment in the lack of comforting certainty must not be translated into a rejection of the Gospel.

Life is uncertain, knowledge is partial and incomplete, and it's frightening. But we must not run from this fear. Rather, we should look forward to the perfection and joy that awaits, recognizing that this is a temporary time of trials laced with uncertainty and imperfection. Hear the wise words of Paul in I Cor. 13:8-12:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. . . .

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Even the greatest of prophets and apostles prophesied and knew things only in part - it was incomplete, seen through a glass darkly. Those who expect error-free Bishops and godlike prophets, showing off their omniscience with daily miracles, are looking for excuses to reject the imperfect but divinely called mortal assistants God has appointed. There are a dozen reasons why I could reject Abraham or Moses or Peter or Paul - but to reject His servants is to display our own blindness and lack of faith.

But it is not blind faith that God demands. He has not left us without grounds for abiding faith. The Book of Mormon, for example, is a powerful witness of the divinity of Christ and the reality of the Restoration. Want to see if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has any merit? Read the Book of Mormon - put it to the test. That's one of the key steps that we challenge people to take on their own. It's why I am a member of this Church. As we encounter the word of God in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, we can know, through the power of the Holy Ghost - the Comforter - that Jesus Christ lives, that He is real, and that His work moves forth on the earth. The comfort and assurance that the Spirit brings to our minds and hearts as we seek God compensates for the terror of an uncertain world in which we only know in part at this time. Faith and patience are needed for now - but it's worth it.

Now for those of you who want to ask all sorts of questions to attack our faith, this is not the forum. But I do provide a means for that in my LDSFAQ section at JeffLindsay.com, where I take e-mail and answer many common questions. Send me your questions by e-mail, and with a little faith and patience, you may get an answer. But if you're just out to attack, don't waste our time. Start you own blog and share your thoughts there - it's free!

Comments on Blogs: A Privilege, Not a Right

I've had a busy couple of days deleting offensive comments from an anti-Christian/anti-Mormon who has sought to use blogger comments to express his trivial anger for people of my faith. I have allowed many (not all) previous critical comments to be posted on this blog, provided that they are civil and on-topic, but his comments were extreme. The first time I deleted his post, I explained that any post with links to pornographic or other offensive sites would be deleted, that comments with profanity would be deleted. He continued to come back and violate my policies, trying to use my blog as a forum for his senseless and angry graffiti. I am tired of his insults and antics. His comments will simply be deleted from now on. Here is the explanation I gave as a comment in my previous post:
I'm surprised that a certain complainer doesn't get it. I've stated my comments policy clearly: comments with links to offensive sites will be deleted. Comments with profanity will be deleted. My site is not here to generate traffic toward the dark side.

Our chief offender violated my policy again yesterday with another link to his offensive site. And he has continued to be insulting and has used this blog to attack the Church on topics completely unrelated to my posts.

Sorry - but you comments are no longer welcome. I don't want to give you any more attention or any more bandwidth. I don't want your name mentioned on my site. Your approach is more that of a vandal spraying graffiti on the side of my home than it is of someone willing to engage in civil conversation on the topics I post about.

Allowing comments on a blog is a privilege, not a right. Off-topic or off-color comments can be and should be deleted. Don't whine about censorship - do you accept random offensive graffiti sprayed on your car or home? Do you allow Mormons to post pro-Mormon pages on your Web site?

Today I solicited the help of a third party to monitor this blog when I'm at work to simply delete any comments from our chief offender. If you see his remarks, don't respond here, and don't mention his name. Persona non-grata, unless, of course, he repents and becomes civil, and cleans up his Web site. This, ultimately, is the message of the Gospel to all of us sinners: repent and get not just a life, but Eternal Life. But you need to start repenting fast, if only to become a more civil human being.

Please, you're giving your fellow anti-Mormons a bad name. Many of them are actually civil and have posted some thought-provoking on-topic comments - but yours are no longer welcome. Please e-mail me when you're willing to change and be more respectful and we can try again.
Ladies and gentleman, the comments feature on this blog or any other blog is a privilege extended to readers willing to be civil. It is not some kind of right that anyone has. You have no more right to post anything you want on this blog than I have to tattoo your forehead with the design of my choice - but I could recommend some lovely custom logos --(must . . . resist . . . temptation. . .). For those who can't handle that, I've got some great news: you can go somewhere else! Now! Hurry!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In Praise of Baptists

Today I had lunch with an outstanding Christian who is Baptist. We were at a Mexican restaurant, sparsely populated while we were there. Before we began eating, he very naturally and politely asked if I would like him to say grace before we ate. While I usually don't pray publicly in such settings - fear of being "too religious" or something like that - it was truly refreshing to have a short prayer with him. His prayer sounded much like the kind I would offer - similar language and tone, closing in the name of Jesus Christ. And it just felt very comfortable and pleasant. While we were discussing a number of legal and organizational matters, we also discussed social and religious issues. I was pleased with his ability to comfortably discuss faith in God.

I've had similar experiences with other Baptists. While some Baptists have been taught that we are terrible non-Christians, and some Mormons have had negative encounters with anti-Mormon Baptists, when we sit down and talk as friends, we're likely to find that we have a lot more in common that we thought. Some of the finest Christians you'll find with high values and remarkably "LDS" views can be found among our Baptist brethren.

Speaking of prayer and Baptists, I gave the opening prayer at the kick-off meeting of the Christian Coalition in Atlanta, Georgia (I think it was held in Decatur). It was a group of about 200 people, I think, and some media types. I was invited to do so by someone who I believe was a Baptist, and who probably didn't realize I was LDS. While I later became inactive in the Coalition (feeling they were too based on promoting Republicans per se), I did enjoy associating with the heavily Baptist group. Marvelous people, just like the Mormon Baptists I've known (the Baptist in some people often doesn't leave after conversion to the LDS Church, which is just fine - adds to the interesting diversity of the Church).

Now let me say that one of the most impressive and patriotic Americans I've ever read about was a Baptist minister who gave his life in the twentieth century for the cause of liberty and the Gospel. He was a true Christian martyr and a fearless defender of truth and liberty. I had no idea just how inspiring this man's life was until I read his biography this year at the request of my youngest son. Can you guess this minister's name? Hint: The name will immediately evoke controversy. Second hint: he was murdered in a foreign country while serving with the US armed forces over 50 years ago. And his murder involved an amazing cover-up. Any guesses?

Faith Without Works - and also Faith Without Charity

Some of our Christian brothers and sisters call Latter-day Saints non-Christian because we don't believe in various doctrines that were developed long after New Testament times, such as the modern concept of the Trinity (three persons in one Being of one immaterial substance without body, parts, or passions) or post-Biblical formulations such as "salvation by faith alone." I have previously discussed the irony of condemning us for not believing in the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone when the only reference to faith alone in the Bible actually says that salvation is NOT by faith alone or faith only. That's from James (James 2:24), who notes that faith without works is dead (James 2:14).

My thought for the day on this issue comes from 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul speaks of charity. Note particularly verses 2 and 13:
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
If faith alone really were sufficient for salvation, I would ask how one could have all faith - real faith that can move mountains - and still be nothing if charity is lacking? I would also ask why charity would be said to be the greater than faith? Wouldn't it be safer to say salvation is by charity alone, or at least by charity plus faith alone? But then the faith isn't very alone anymore.

There are passages in the New Testament where Christ is asked what one must do to gain eternal life. His responses never came close to teaching "faith alone." Rather, he spoke of following God through obedience to commandments and through taking care of others (charity).

By the way, for an interesting Protestant discussion of the meaning of James 2:14, "faith without works is dead," see "Can Faith Without Works Save?" by Bob Wilkin at FaithAlone.org. I find much of his discussion to be persuasive and helpful in understanding that oft-maligned verse, James 2:14. But their statement on how one achieves salvation is something that strikes me as rather incomplete in light of the teachings of Christ in the Bible. But that's just my LDS-oriented opinion, of course. The fact that I disagree doesn't mean I think my fellow Christians who share that view should be condemned as cultists or non-Christians.

Monday, July 04, 2005

John Beck on Martha's Book

FAIRLDS.org's newsletter recently noted that John Beck, the former husband of Martha Beck, had written a review of her recent book that blasts the Church. Though John has left the Church, his review raises some questions about a few of Martha's allegations. The best way to get to John's review is by this link at Amazon.com. I sympathize with John's frustration.

FAIRLDS.org also has their own review of Martha's book.

Change or Die

I find fascinating Gospel implications in Alan Deutschman's article, "Change or Die," in FastCompany. The article discusses recent scientific findings about why it's so hard for people to change. For example, heart patients facing death keep eating the wrong foods and smoking, not responding to the dire threats of their physicians. Logic alone does little to motivate change in habits, as we should all know by now. But dramatic change in a person's behavior is possible when there is also emotional reinforcement - nurturing, But many more change when the emotions of the patients are considered (e.g., focusing on an increased joy in living as a reason for change versus being threatened with death) and when the patients are given support and encouragement from many sides.

Here is a brief excerpt:
Look again at the case of heart patients. The best minds at Johns Hopkins and the Global Medical Forum might not know how to get them to change, but someone does: Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, in Sausalito, California. Ornish . . . realizes the importance of going beyond the facts. "Providing health information is important but not always sufficient," he says. "We also need to bring in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored." Ornish published studies in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, showing that his holistic program, focused around a vegetarian diet with less than 10% of the calories from fat, can actually reverse heart disease without surgery or drugs. Still, the medical establishment remained skeptical that people could sustain the lifestyle changes. In 1993, Ornish persuaded Mutual of Omaha to pay for a trial. Researchers took 333 patients with severely clogged arteries. They helped them quit smoking and go on Ornish's diet. The patients attended twice-weekly group support sessions led by a psychologist and took instruction in meditation, relaxation, yoga, and aerobic exercise. The program lasted for only a year. But after three years, the study found, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes -- and safely avoided the bypass or angioplasty surgeries that they were eligible for under their insurance coverage. And Mutual of Omaha saved around $30,000 per patient.

Why does the Ornish program succeed while the conventional approach has failed? For starters, Ornish recasts the reasons for change. Doctors had been trying to motivate patients mainly with the fear of death, he says, and that simply wasn't working. For a few weeks after a heart attack, patients were scared enough to do whatever their doctors said. But death was just too frightening to think about, so their denial would return, and they'd go back to their old ways. . . .

So instead of trying to motivate them with the "fear of dying," Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the "joy of living" -- convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, like making love or even taking long walks without the pain caused by their disease. "Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear," he says. . . .

[It is also] vital to give people the multifaceted support they need. That's a big reason why 90% of heart patients can't change their lifestyles but 77% of Ornish's patients could -- because he buttressed them with weekly support groups with other patients, as well as attention from dieticians, psychologists, nurses, and yoga and meditation instructors.
Now think of the process of conversion. Just preaching hellfire and damnation does little to change a person's behavior in the long run. The joy and peace that the Gospel brings in this life seems to be a more immediate motivator, coupled, of course, with the far-off promises of eternal life. Further, the LDS approach of nurturing our members with home teachers, caring Church leaders, friends, teachers, and others provides a powerful aide for the challenges of radical change in behavior.

Understanding the human dynamics of change reminds me of why we need a Church. We need to be fellow citizens in a community based on the foundation of Christ. We need each other if we are ever going to change and move one iota in the direction Christ has set before us.

(Kudos to Walter Reade for pointing out this artice.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

NephiProject.com

Many LDS people are familiar with some of the major defenders of the faith such as FARMS or FAIRLDS.org, but another outstanding resource with some of the most impressive information I've seen may be less known to some of you. I refer to the Nephi Project. The videos and books they provide on the Arabian Peninsula, for example, will change the way you think about the Book of Mormon, bringing First Nephi to life and providing incredible insights into the evidences for authenticity. I haven't seen some of their materials yet, but the book Lehi in the Wilderness by George Potter and Richard Wellington is a true gem. And I love the video, Discovering the Valley of Lemuel. There is no substitute for actually getting out to the Arabian Peninsula and exploring the places along Nephi's trail. They exist!

Yahoo's User-Created Chat Rooms Shut Down

I previously complained about Yahoo chat rooms for pedophiles and perverts and their sponsorship by major US corporations. Thanks to Brian Duffin for letting me know that Yahoo has now pulled these chat rooms from its services, responding to the pressure created by outraged people.

Thank goodness there are still some people who still have a sense of morality and can speak out against such evil. I suppose we may yet hear the ACLU bemoan such "censorship" - but it's clearly a case of good riddance.

Friday, July 01, 2005

1776 and the Hand of the Lord

One of the best talks I've heard on the topic of liberty and freedom was delivered last Sunday in the Placentia 2nd Ward of the Placentia Stake near Los Angeles. While there as a guest of some relatives in Brea, I was delighted to hear the comments of Brother Mansur on the inspiring leadership and goodness of George Washington. This talk came just as my family finished the book 1776 by David McCullough, a masterful account of the history of George Washington's efforts to lead the nation to freedom in the fateful year of 1776. Surely the hand of the Lord was powerfully manifest in the events that led to the establishment of the free republic of the United States in an impossible war against the greatest empire on earth.

How the people of this nation need to remember the captivity of their fathers, a theme repeated several times in the Book of Mormon, that we might recognize the great things the Lord has done for us in giving us freedom and the blessings of religious liberty.

How grateful we should be for the dazzling integrity and selfless leadership of President George Washington, one of the greatest men this world has known, in my opinion. He was a man who, like many prophets of the past, was raised up and moved by the Lord to achieve a marvelous work and a wonder. May we never forget. Sadly, almost everything of value about the life and achievements of George Washington have been forgotten in our schools. Parents, we cannot rely on the schools to teach our children about the rise of liberty in this country and he greatness of its early leaders. About all some kids learn of George Washington was that he had slaves. The real story of the birth of this nation must not be forgotten if we are to preserve what liberties we have left.