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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

"And Their Numbers Were Few"

"And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few...." - 1 Nephi 14:12

Here's a common question that LDS members have probably heard and have probably asked for themselves: if the Church is true, why are our numbers so few? How can the vehicle that is meant to bless the world be such a tiny, inconspicuous speck? And for those of you born into the Church, here's a corollary: What are the odds that out of all the religions on earth, I was actually born into the "true church" when it has far less than 1% of the earth's population? If God intends to bless the whole world through the Church, the stats are not especially overwhelming. Not quite 15 million people in a world of 7 billion: we need to reach 70 million members just to get up to 1%.

These are fair questions. If you're a member of the Church, you are among a very tiny fraction of the earth's inhabitants. What are the chances of that, if you think about it? Well, if you're a member of the Church, the odds are actually 100%. Something highly improbable has happened: you're a member, congratulations! But some people do the math and conclude that given how small our membership is, it is hopelessly improbably that this is the Church that God has created in the last days. And so they walk away from the pearl of great price before them and the precious opportunity they had to live and share the Gospel, just adding to the numbers problem with the subtraction of their faith.

The improbabilities really start to multiply when you look at the big picture of human life on planet earth. This planet, so perfect for our needs, is wildly improbable. But it's the universe itself that stirs me with improbable wonder. It is so improbable that the fundamental forces of nature could be so fine tuned as to allow a universe to exist that isn't all black holes or scattered dust, in which stars can exist with orbiting planets, where the wonders of the water molecule and the carbon atom can even be found. Even if we take the existence of an Omniscient God for granted, I am honestly astounded and delighted, of course, that a solution was even possible, that within the parameters governing space and matter, a combination could be found that would allow all this, the glories of the cosmos and of life on planet earth, to even be creatable. It is so improbable! Yet here we are, in this spectacular mortal journey, able to choose and think and love, and able to be tempted to disregard it all and walk away from the even greater wonders prepared for us in the future.

The numbers problem gets worse when you think about the scope of history. Why are we so lucky to have been born after Christ came, and to have heard about Him and hear His message? Christianity, by the way, is a minority religion, if numbers worry you, and was especially so when Christ began His ministry. A whole planet of people, yet in only one microscopic spot of real estate in Palestine was He sent to bring His message--as far as we know from the New Testament. We get significant added hope from the Book of Mormon, where we learn that Christ also ministered to other parts of the world, including another tiny peace of real estate in the New World, and where we learn that God has spoken to other parts of scattered Israel whose records we do not yet have. However, even multiplying these brief moments of divine contact with humanity several fold still leaves billions who lived and died without ever hearing of Jesus Christ and the beauty of His Gospel. What of them? And why among the vast concourses of humanity are we few so lucky?

But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, small as it is, also has the best solution (IMHO) to this conundrum: a loving God and a majestic Messiah who will ensure that each soul, whenever and wherever born, will have a fair chance to hear and possibly accept the blessings of the Gospel thanks to the ministry to those who have died (see, for example, my LDSFAQ page on Baptism for the Dead). Fairness to all. The ability to hear and accept the Gospel and even receive the blessings of baptism (eventually) and all other blessings of the Gospel. Amazing. Wonderful. For now, our numbers are small, but there are many in our midst who will hear and accept the message. Sooner is better, though, so don't clam up and don't give up in sharing our message. It will bless the world and will much more fully fill the world, though the real numbers will come much later.

Improbable? Certainly. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in spite of the odds, is true. He is the Improbable Messiah, with 100% certainty.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Tender Mercies of the Lord: Sacrament Talk from a Teenager in China

I am so grateful for the privilege we foreign Latter-day Saints in Shanghai have to meet and worship. There are two large branches of "expats" (foreign passport holders) and we have wonderful sacrament meetings on average. The average was brought down last week when I was the concluding speaker, but fortunately the meeting also featured an exemplary talk from one of the terrific young women in the Shanghai International Branch, 16-year-old Kimberly Teo. When I spoke, I commented on what a fine talk it was and publicly suggested that it should be put online. I later spoke with her personally and got permission to share this with you. I really like how well she prepared, how she thoughtfully applied scriptures and personal experiences to her topic, and how her talk was written and delivered with the objective of helping those in the audience. She told me that when she prepared the talk, she prayed that at least one person might be touched. There were many of us. Thank you, Kimberly!
Sacrament Meeting Talk by Kimberly Teo, Shanghai, June 2012

Good morning dear brothers and sisters. When was the last time that you counted, one by one, each of God’s tender mercies towards you? When was the last time you acknowledged that through the power of the great Omnipotent, you have been spared by the fiery darts of evil and been protected, spiritually and physically? If you have not, you can always start, and the time is now. In preparation for this talk, it dawned on me that I have been protected in many instances by the power of God, and that even in circumstances where I needed to experience a trial, it was because of God’s tender love and mercy towards me that I am able to stand before you and deliver this talk to you today. However, because I feel like God’s tender mercies over His children are limitless and so insurmountably great, I will be focusing my talk specifically on God’s tender mercies to us during times of trial.

In Psalms 56:1, King David cries out: “Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me”. In this increasingly dark and filthy world we live in today, I am sure that many of us in this room have echoed the words of David at one point of our lives. However, we can find comfort in modern day revelation, where in 1 Nephi 1:20 it reads, “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all…to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance”. That was revelation given to Nephi at the start of the Book of Mormon. At the end of the Book of Mormon we also see similar words being offered by Moroni, who pleads: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things… that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts”. I don’t know about you, but when I try to think about times from the creation of Adam up till the time when Moroni says “that ye shall receive these things”, it’s a pretty long time. God is definitely a patient God. What with the wars and rumors of wars that have happened on the face of the Earth since the dawn of time up till this very moment, God has definitely proven himself to be a merciful God.

Elder David A. Bednar of the twelve said, “As you and I face challenges and tests in our lives, the gift of faith and an appropriate sense of personal confidence that reaches beyond our own capacity are two examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. Repentance and forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. And the persistence and the fortitude that enable us to press forward with cheerfulness through physical limitations and spiritual difficulties are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord.”

I cannot imagine a life to lead where my knowledge of this gospel is void. Unable to recognize a higher power from on high, I would most definitely feel lost and out of place in this world of 7 billion people. However, because I was blessed to grow up in the church, I have been able to see God’s hand move throughout my life.

My parents recount that I was a particularly difficult birth. Almost immediately sent to the intensive care unit soon after I was born into this world, the fragile body that my new soul was set into could have easily lost the battle with my physical fragilities, and I could have just spent a few hours, days, or weeks on this Earth. Being then fresh into this world, I know now that God was watching over me, preserving my tiny life and giving me a chance to experience mortality. That was an example of God’s tender mercy towards me.

Some of you may have heard my Mom tell this story before. My sister Krystal encountered an unfortunate accident when she was about 3 years old. One of her fingers on her right hand was cut off in the incident, and when you put a screaming toddler and a group of confused and crying young cousins together, you get a much disoriented, angry, and sad mother who walks in and sees what has happened. The chaos might have been long-lasting even after the incident was cleared, but my family is a clear witness that God was watching over us. He was merciful in eventually allowing my sister to get back what she lost that day. Just like Elder Bednar said, He gave Krystal the persistence to press through physical limitations. But hidden more subtly behind the surface was that God taught my Mom what it meant to be merciful. To forgive the ones who had done wrong, and to have a cheerful heart despite of the circumstances. Brothers and sisters, I am sure that as I could ramble on and on counting every time God has shown my family and I mercy, so could you. We are all walking, breathing testimonies of the love that God has for us.

A striking example of the Lord’s tender mercies upon all of his children is definitely Christ’s atonement. Christ did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. W. Jeffrey Marsh wrote in an April 2000 Ensign article that says, “Besides providing a way for us to escape the demands of justice, and beyond enabling the Resurrection of all mankind, our Savior would extend mercy to help us in time of need. His mercy is the ultimate expression of His love for us. As Isaiah explained, He will teach us, comfort us, give us beauty, anoint us with the oil of joy, and clothe us with the garment of praise. The Atonement provides eternal life, but it is also a real power that helps us throughout life. It is our immediate help as well as our eternal hope.”

I promise that as we live by the words of Helaman 5:12, the mercy extended to us by our Savior will be fulfilled. “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” Afterall, “Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.Yea, ... the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.”

President Brigham Young wisely observed that one day, in the celestial kingdom, we will look back on the difficulties of our lives and say, “But what of all that? Those things were but for a moment, and we are now here”. Throughout this mortal life, we will see God’s tender mercies towards us as he sustains and supports us. As he warns us of impending danger through spiritual promptings. As he enlightens us, delivers us, and shields us. We will experience his tender mercies from the peace he brings into our lives, and we will be encircled by his arm of mercy.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands”. I bear my testimony as a Young Woman of this Church that if we recognize the tender mercies of God in our lives, he will know of our gratitude and not hesitate to shower us with more. I know that my Father in Heaven is a merciful God, and I await the day I can stand beside him and thank him for his mercy, saying as Paul of old: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”. I know that this church is the only true church on the face of this Earth, and that our living prophet today is President Thomas S. Monson. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

King Mosiah's State Crisis and the Role of Ether's Account

My wife, Kendra, shared with me some insights she picked up as she pondered King's Mosiah's actions near the end of his life, the dramatic actions in which a king would voluntarily step down and try to create a new legal system based on written law and a system of judges responsive to the voice of the people.

King Mosiah has several sons, but none of them were willing to be king. A king without a clear heir or with contending heirs (something he feared could happen) was a recipe for chaos and civil war, as Mosiah had just learned from the newly discovered record of the ancient Jaredites that he had translated with the power of God. Coupled with the recently reported experiences of the Nephite colony of King Zeniff through King Noah, he had seen more fully than ever the dangers of the throne. It must have been the great concern of his final days, a matter of intense prayer and study, and the new system he bestowed upon his people was brilliant and surely inspired.

Even with all his concern and all his efforts to prevent chaos and civil war, it still happened. A few short years later Amlici would rise, wrapped in robes of patriotism seeking to restore the old, proven ways of rule by king--and he just happened to be the ideal man for the occasion, even if it meant civil war to put him in power.

The impact of the Book of Ether on Mosiah's thinking seems so strong in reading the closing chapters of Mosiah. I love the deep relationships between various parts of the text and the subtleties that are woven throughout this intricate, ancient text.

By the way, as we learn from the Book of Mormon, man's quest for power must never be underestimated. Restraint through checks and balances and other means will always be needed to hold back man's and government's unlimited appetite for power.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

From Boy Band to the Tabernacle Choir: The Alex Boyé Story

Alex Boyé is the delightful musician you might have seen in the Tabernacle Choir, or perhaps in the European boy band, Awesome, which was a hit before he chose to go on an LDS mission. Alex's story, from the poverty in the streets of London, abandoned by his Nigerian mother for a few years, to the stages of Europe and then the ranks of the Tabernacle Choir is told by the new DVD, Alex Boyé: Front Man, produced by Avalanche Studios. (Disclaimer: a very cool sibling of mine runs Avalanche Studios, but I would have enjoyed the DVD regardless of who made it.)

You can read about Alex Boyé over at Wikipedia, or you can hear him on his website, AlexBoye.com (joyous music from his latest album, Africanized, will load and play immediately, so be prepared, quiet office surfers--but go there now, if you can, and enjoy). There's a lot about his life and the trials he has overcome that can strengthen us, regardless of who we are. What a remarkable life! Thank you, Alex.

Here's a sample from his Youtube offerings. Beautiful!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Orson Scott Card's LDS Project: The Nauvoo Times

Orson Scott Card's interesting LDS project, The Nauvoo Times, is now out on the web. For reasons I can't comprehend, yours truly has been included among the group of contributing authors for this online magazine on LDS topics. I'd be recommending it even if I weren't slightly involved. One of my contributions, "Notes from the Ministry of Shoes," appears to be featured on the home page today, next to Orson's column. "Notes from the Ministry of Shoes" shares an experience from a Christian friend of mine here in Shanghai. It was through a local musician and night club owner that I was introduced to Jeff Fletcher, a black musician and multidisciplinary talent that I wanted to interview for a future book on a secular topic. But in the interview, he shared a dramatic story with religious value that I am able to share with his kind permission. I hope you'll check it out along with all the other content at The Nauvoo Times. Another post of mine you may wish to read is "Finding Moses." True story, and a bit embarrassing, but I hope you'll learn from my foolishness.