Sunday, September 30, 2012

GCBC Week 27: "Believe, Obey, Endure"

Who was thoroughly impressed by our new General Relief Society presidency last night? I definitely was. If you missed the broadcast you can watch it here. I have a lot to say about it, but that will probably come later this week. I just have to say that I felt as if Sister Burton accomplished the seemingly impossible task of filling Sister Beck's shoes - in just one night. That is a testimony to me that her call came from God and that she is the woman for the job today.

This week is the last week of General Conference Book Club! I have been honored with this privilege of hosting GCBC while Stephanie took a sabbatical, but I am excited to give her baby back. GCBC belongs with Stephanie. I can't wait to discuss the October General Conference talks over at Diapers and Divinity, so make sure you head over there next Sunday!

Believe, Obey, Endure - by President Thomas S. Monson

President Monson's counsel to the youth was excellent. I appreciated that he discussed with them the exciting opportunities that come to them as teens. When I was a teenager I hated it. I hated the stereotype and stigma that came attached to being a "teen". In fact, one of my essays for my scholarship application to Brigham Young University was focused on how I was not "just a teenager". I never felt like I wanted to be a teenager. The world thinks teenagers are lost and messed up and society kind of leaves teenagers "out to dry" most of the time. Where did this limbo land come from for teenagers? Why don't we expect much much more of our teenagers?

Well, apparently President Monson expects more of our teenagers, and I appreciate that. Children (including teenagers) will live up to our expectations of them. There is no need for children to suffer through this limbo stage of "teenage-dom". Why don't we just expect our children to become adults? The teen years should be a training ground for our children to learn how to be adults, not a time for our teens to make every mistake imaginable and potentially ruin their chances at a successful adulthood.

President Monson gave the young women a clear road map for learning how to become faithful adults - believe, obey, endure.
For this purpose have you come into mortality, my young friends. There is nothing more important than the goal you strive to attain—even eternal life in the kingdom of your Father.
What were your thoughts and impressions about President Monson's talk?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I write with Real Intent

Behind the scenes for the past several weeks, I have been working with a wonderful group of bloggers getting ready for the launch of a new blog – Real Intent.

Since you are probably a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have been dissatisfied with the gospel conversation lately. It seems that most of the gospel conversation online is critical of the Church, fault-finding, and focused everywhere but on the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the power that atonement can have in our lives. Unfortunately, a lot of the gospel conversation offline is shallow, often close-minded, and shies away from the hard questions.

Until today, the only place to discuss hard questions and gospel principles in a meaningful way was online in the “bloggernacle” – but finding people asking questions with real intent was hit and miss. Occasionally you could find a good post or two, and frequently there were parts of posts that were faithful and encouraging, but for the most part it seems like the entire world is dissatisfied with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or, at least, the entire blogging world).

Well, thanks to the amazing hard work and dedication of fellow blogger Bonnie, there is now a place for the hard questions to help us develop our faith, rather than tear it down.

RI Author Button 300

Announcing the new blog, Real Intent

from the blog:

We, the authors at Real Intent, are interested in promoting a journey of discovery through the experimentation of faith, aiding one another by sharing insights and solutions regarding issues that face individuals, families, and communities in an increasingly divided world.

We hope that you will join in the conversation and help to create a community where we can ask hard questions with real intent, and hopefully find answers and strengthened faith and renewed commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

See you there!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

GCBC Week 26: Young Women General Meeting

Each spring, the young women of the world have the privilege of hearing from all of their leaders, and the prophet, in a special broadcast tailored specifically to them. I remember after I turned twelve and entered the Young Women program the thing I looked forward to the most was being able to attend the General Young Women’s Broadcast.

I can’t wait until my daughter is twelve and she gets to attend these meeting as well.

But thanks to the Ensign and other church publications and websites, the messages from the Young Women’s broadcast are available to everyone and the messages are excellent and pertinent to any member of the Church, not just the Young Women.

I felt like it was important to study the YW broadcast talks this year in GCBC. I have been listening to them along with the other General Conference talks, and I really felt the messages from the broadcast speak to me. They are timely messages for all Latter-day Saints, and we should all be studying them.

This week we will be studying the messages from the General Young Women presidency. Next week we will study President Monson’s talk to the YW, and the next week will be October General Conference and the start of the next round of GCBC! (which will be held back at Diapers and Divinity! Make sure after next week you head over there for the posts and discussion)

Arise and Shine Forth - Sister Ann M. Dibb
Now Is the Time to Arise and Shine! - Sister Elaine S. Dalton

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little, Young and Tender Branches

As promised – more on Zenos’ Allegory of the olive tree. I wrote last week about a little connection I made between the house of Israel and the lifespan of an olive tree. I promised myself that I would use that connection to make my study of the allegory more meaningful this go around.

My first step was to look up the pertinent chapters to the allegory in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine manual, the Institute manual, the seminary manual on the allegory, and then any talks/Ensign articles/etc. Most of them had one thing in common – they started with the part where the master of the vineyard starts grafting in the branches of the wild olive tree.

But I had noticed that the master of the vineyard did not resort to grafting at the very beginning. In fact, in verse 4-6 we discover that the master “pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it” – and as a result, “after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches.”

The only place I found a reference to these verses was a fun little graphic in the Institute manual.

Fullscreen capture 9182012 91401 AM.bmp

So what was the pruning, digging about, and nourishing that the Lord did? And who were the “somewhat a little, young and tender branches” that began to grow? Well, I went back to the timeline of the Old Testament (the seminary bookmark) and checked out what went on before the house of Israel was scattered.

We know that after the time of Moses, the House of Israel started going downhill fast (this was about 900 years or so after the beginning of the House of Israel – or the birth of Jacob). In fact, even Moses had to deal with a lot of issues due to the House of Israel’s hard headedness. From the time of Moses until the scattering of Israel (when Lehi went to America and the rest of the Jews were carried off by the Babylonians) was about 600 years.

Image Credit: Bruce Okkema

The Lord pruned, dug, and nourished the dying house of Israel for nearly 600 years. During that time, several “young and tender” branches came forward. The Old Testament bookmark lists several of those “young and tender” branches – Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Deborah, Ruth, Solomon, David, Saul, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, Lehi, Isaiah, Jeremiah.

The description of the branches being “young and tender” makes me think of something delicate and easily damaged. Some of these “young and tender branches” were easily damaged. The good kings that were raised up in this time – many from their youth (young and tender branches) – Solomon, David, Saul – they were delicate, and those “young and tender branches” ended up dying off. They didn’t make it.

But there were other branches that, though young, became stronger and were able to be grafted into other tress. For example, Joshua was born in Egypt before the Exodus and was basically raised under Moses and became his successor. Then there is Samuel, who was called by God while he was still a child. We also have Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, who were raised in mostly righteous environments – young and tender branches that grew strong and stayed strong. , who was adopted into the house of , became a very strong branch – in fact, through her branch would eventually come the Savior of the world. And finally Lehi, who was spiritually young, although physically he was old became one of the strongest of the new young and tender branches, through his sons, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph.

However, even when all of these “young and tender branches” were growing, “the main top thereof began to perish.” During this whole time the the Lord was furiously taking care of the house of Israel, trying to save it, the house of Israel was becoming apostate, regardless of the new branches that were growing.

It was at this time that the master of the vineyard finally decided to cut his losses, burn the dying branches, and begin the process of grafting his young and tender branches into other wild olive trees, hoping to create more tame olive trees that would bring him good fruit.

Image Credit: khraishi.sameer

The gospel doctrine manual points out that “For a wild olive tree to become tame and productive, its main stem must be cut back completely, and a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted into the stem of the wild one.” The master’s plan was to tame the wild olive trees with the young and tender branches from his beloved, ancient olive tree.

It might seem odd that the master would graft wild branches into the roots of the tame olive tree, but he didn’t want to lose the roots of the old tree. The gospel doctrine manual also points out that “the root of the [olive] tree may go on producing new trees and fruit for thousands of years” through grafting the new shoots that can potentially grow from the roots of the old, dying tree into other wild olive trees (this is probably where the young and tender branches came from originally). Because the master of the vineyard took all the young and tender branches and grafted them into the wild trees around the vineyard, he put some of the wild branches into the old tree to help preserve the roots, probably hoping that the roots would keep sending out new young and tender branches.

This post would not be complete if we didn’t have a little discussion about what this all means. The most significant part of the beginning of the allegory of the olive tree, and a theme that is constant throughout the allegory (and throughout our lives) is the love of Jesus Christ for His people. He experiences grief when His people are lost. “It grieveth me that I should lose this tree” – that sounds like a loving Savior to me. He always does all He can to save us, to protect us, and take care of us. We still have our agency, and as seen by this first part of the allegory, despite everything the Lord is willing to do for us, He cannot save us against our will. But He will definitely do everything in His power to help us.

I also can’t help thinking about the young and tender branches in my own life. I want my children to grow to be strong branches of our family tree, and so I need to treat my family tree the way the Savior treated the olive tree, by pruning and digging and nourishing. Ruth is one of my favorite examples of a strong branch – she was a convert, but her branch became so strong it was through her lineage that the Savior was born. That’s the kind of strength I want in the branches of my family tree.

What doctrinal principles do you see in the allegory of the olive tree?

Monday, September 17, 2012

GCBC Week 25: “What Thinks Christ of Me?”

Only two more weeks until October General Conference. I love General Conference. I’ve said it multiple times, and I’m sure the number of posts around here about Conference, referring to conference, or quoting conference talks proves it. I am a General Conference junkie. I can’t get enough. I even downloaded every General Conference that is available (back to 1974 I believe) on my iPhone so that I can have General Conference at my finger tips.

That also means that after this week there are only two more weeks of General Conference book Club before the new session starts up in October. And, much as I have loved hosting GCBC, due to Stephanie’s return from sabbatical General Conference Book Club will be returning to Diapers and Divinity after October Conference. I told Stephanie that honestly I was excited for her return, because while I have really enjoyed hosting General Conference Book Club, I much prefer being a participant on her blog. I like writing lengthy posts and linking to them in the comment section on her blog. What can I say, I like being long winded. I also like not having to remember to blog every Sunday (and if you’ve been around you’ll know that I don’t remember to blog every Sunday… and this post is no exception).

So, without further ado, here is Elder Neil L. Andersen’s conference talk -

What Thinks Christ of Me? - by Elder Neil L. Andersen

What were your thoughts about Elder Andersen’s talk?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Lifespan of the House of Israel

This past weekend I came up on Jacob chapter 5 - that's right, Zenos' allegory of the olive tree. Because it is nearly 100 symbolism-rich verses long I decided to skip the Book of Mormon reading for that night and wait until the next evening when I would have a little more time to devote to studying the allegory.

A verse I read in Chapter 4 stuck out to me. I had never really thought about the relationship between what Jacob had been talking about and the allegory. Turns out there was a reason Jacob quoted the allegory (I think I should probably pay closer attention when I study the Book of Mormon... This is probably not news to anyone but me). In verse 17, Jacob poses the question, "How is it possible that [the Jews], after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?"

I'd say this is a valid question for anyone who has rejected the Savior at some point in their lives.

Honestly I didn't get very far in Jacob 5 because I got stuck on verse 3 where Zenos says the House of Israel is like a tame olive tree and then he says "and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay." And I couldn't help thinking "How long does a normal olive tree live?"

So I looked it up. According to various sources (i.e. a Google search) an olive tree lives to be about 2,000 years old.

Image CreditYellow.Cat

And that got me thinking some more - how many years was it from the time of Jacob (also known as "Israel") and the time of Christ? (we know the House of Israel was in a state of apostasy by that time).

So I looked that up, too. According to the LDS Seminary Old Testament bookmark (you know the cool plastic bookmark with the chronology on one side and the scripture mastery verses on the other?) it was a little under 2,000 years.

Hmmm... So the House of Israel had about the same life expectancy as an olive tree.

It made the olive tree allegory that much more meaningful to me.

I haven't studied the rest of the allegory yet, but I am interested to see what other connections I will make reading it in the light of the house of Israel having the same lifespan as an olive tree.

Have you ever been reading the scriptures and had a thought - or a question - come to your mind that eventually helped you get more out of what you were studying?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

High Time

I was studying the Daughters in My Kingdom book this past week, anxiously reading so that I can finish it in time for the General Relief Society meeting on September 29. I was reading in Chapter 4 and the book started describing how the women of the Church boldly defended the practice of polygamy (the irony of that is not lost on me – especially given the amount of discomfort and desire to explain it away by women – and men – of the Church today). The book describes how the United States government passed legislation banning polygamy due to the opinion of the rest of society that Mormon women were degraded and abused under the law of polygamy. In January 1870, a group of Latter-day Saint women decided to speak to the world – for themselves – and let them know what active, faithful Latter-day Saint women were really like.

imageImage Credit: Daughters in My Kingdom p. 44

Eliza R. Snow said of the occasion:

“It was high time [to] rise up in the dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves. . . . The world does not know us, and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demands us to speak. . . . We are not inferior to the ladies of the world, and we do not want to appear so.”

I have felt in the past several months that the world does not understand Mormon women. The world still thinks that Mormon women are oppressed, somehow treated as less than men in our Church, because we aren’t ordained to priesthood offices, and because a woman will never be The Prophet. And most of the people who seem to speak about what faithful Mormon want are not, in fact, faithful Mormon women.

Two cases to illustrate my point:

One of the most vocal Mormon women about the inequalities and injustices that Mormon women face is a woman who of her own choice (so she says) has never been through the temple, has never experienced the endowment of priesthood power given freely in the temple ordinances – and then vehemently argues that women should be ordained to priesthood offices in the Church (and that the Church should embrace same-gender marriage, among other things).

Recently, on the Mormon in America primetime special on NBC, the person they chose to interview about the temple was a Mormon woman who had left the Church and had never been through the temple – again, never been endowed with the knowledge and priesthood power that comes from the ordinances and covenants made in the Holy temple.

The loudest voices these days are women (and men) who criticize Church leaders, clamor for “change” in the Church structure, and describe most faithful saints as disillusioned, unintellectual, or somehow brainwashed. If you really knew anything, you would know that the Church needs some serious change to occur before it is actually the true Church. Oh, but the gospel is true. (says these people)

I have been feeling an increased urgency to stand up and speak out. To be louder than the dissenting voices. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and she made the observation that most women in the Church are not like the women (and men) who are the loudest voices of the Church. As blogger SilverRain put it recently,

“In this dichotomy [perpetuated by the loudest voices], there are two groups of women in the Church: those who see a problem with the way women are utilized and heard in the Church, have likely been adversely affected by it, and who therefore choose to “agitate for change;” and those who have never felt the pain a male-only Priesthood can bring to women, who don’t question the authority, and who therefore urge women to, essentially, “sit down and shut up” about it.

But there is another group, of women who have likely been mistreated or misunderstood by a member of the male-only priesthood in the past, or of women who have never been hurt but have still pondered these issues deeply, who would like to see hearts change, but who believe that the male-only Priesthood structure is in place at the will of the Lord, and who support the Lord’s authority structure and the Lord’s established methods for any change that will come.”

In my experience, the largest group is the third group that SilverRain points out. Also, in my experience, the most silent group is that third group. They are the women who are not writing inflammatory blog posts. Rather, they are writing stories of spiritual inspiration in their journals for their posterity who have been born in the covenant. They are not openly criticizing Church leaders or policies on very public news websites, newspapers, and news channels. Rather, they are silently sustaining those Church leaders by magnifying their callings, providing compassionate service in their wards and branches, and instructing one another in the doctrines of the gospel. They are not fighting for same-sex marriage, but rather they are ardently defending the family within the walls of their own homes, shunning pornography, protecting their children from the influences of the world, studying the scriptures, and praying with their families. They may be silent, but from what I have seen they are strong.

Image Credit: LDS Church News

We cannot be silent any longer. It is “high time [to] rise up in the dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves. . . . The world does not know us, and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demands us to speak. . . . We are not inferior to the ladies [of the Church who speak out], and we do not want to appear so.”

Women of the Church – you faithful, righteous women. It’s high time to rise up in the dignity of your calling and speak for yourselves. Come join us. Come speak up with us. Come help us show the world what it really means to be a Latter-day Saint woman, a disciple of Christ.

How can you speak up in your circle of influence? How can you expand your circle of influence and be part of a “wide and extensive sphere of action”? Will you rise up and speak for yourself?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Secret Combinations

Note: This post was originally published on May 2, 2011. I thought it would be appropriate to share again on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by terrorist groups. My thoughts are turned to the victims - both those who survived and those who did not - and their families. It is heartbreaking that our country had to endure such tragedy, but I am hopeful that we can remember the unity that we experienced after those attacks and work at unifying our country again - especially as we come together in a few months to choose a president for this country. I hope that we will keep in mind that unity, and not be so divided by all the partisanship and the backbiting and the arguing. United we conquer, divided we fall. Let us be united in this great country.

Yesterday, the President of the United States announced that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York, the Pentagon, and (presumably) the White House, has been killed in Pakistan.

What does this have to do with a scripture blog? Plenty.

The Book of Mormon is rampant with examples of “secret combinations.” What is a secret combination? Examples in the Book of Mormon talk about secret combinations that “plan to murder, rob, get power” (Hel. 2:8), “secret combinations murder to get kingdom” (Hel 6:15, 18-19, Ether 14:8-10), “government is destroyed by secret combinations” (3 Ne. 7:6,9), “secret combinations are had among all people” (Ether 8:20), “nations that uphold secret combinations shall be destroyed” (Ether 8:22-23), “many are slain by sword of secret combination” (Ether 13:18).

But secret combinations “had their origins long before Lehi left Jerusalem, long before the Jaredites colonized the Western Hemisphere.” (here) In Moses 5, we can read of secret combinations of Cain – the son of our first father, Adam. Secret combinations want to gain power and influence by violence and fear. If al-Qaeda is not a secret combination, I don’t know what is.

“Great civilizations of the past have fallen because of the influence of Cain’s combination. As it happened in the past, it could happen again.” When we look at the horrible political, social, and military conditions of countries in the middle east, where al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, run rampant, we see the truthfulness of this. Any country that gives support to these secret combinations will not be great. They will be ravaged and torn.

While most of the country, and probably the world, celebrates this recent military victory for the United States, I am reminded of the death of Kishkumen in the Book of Mormon. In Helaman 2:8, we read that the servant of Helaman (the chief judge) tricks Kishkumen into coming with him to the judgment seat, but slays Kishkumen instead, Gadianton and his little band of robbers flee into hiding so that they can’t be found. Just because our military found and killed bin Laden doesn’t mean that the rest of al-Qaeda will be easy to catch.

We can hope for the best, like what happened shortly before Christ’s death and visit to the Nephites. In 3 Nephi 5 we find out that all the members of the secret combinations were taken into prison – and my favorite part? They “did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty.” Of course, God’s law required mercy. I wonder if our countries would do this if by some miracle they were able to round up every member of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Would they allow the gospel to be preached to these murderers?

Unfortunately, it didn’t really turn out so well for the Nephites. The scriptures don’t say if it was the same people who had “made covenants” and were set “at liberty,” but a few chapters later, in 3 Nephi 7, we read about the secret combinations that developed in the actual government, and the eventual collapse of the government. Why, after they were able to overthrow the secret combinations, and they were able to grant such mercy to those members of the combinations who would repent, did they fall so hard and so fast? They had prospered because of their righteousness, and “some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions".

In the United States, the stock market rose slightly to the news of bin Laden’s death, and oil prices dropped slightly. Some suggest that if this success is effective long-term against the terrorism groups, our economy might grow substantially. I doubt it will take long for us to fall back into wickedness. After the September 11 attacks, we were united as a country, people were more religious – they prayed more, they went to Church. And our country prospered. Then we started to talk about gay rights, we started to talk about same-sex marriage, we started buying more than we could afford, we stopped going to church, we started consuming more than we needed, and the economy dropped like a rock. And now, we have worked again together to uproot secret combinations from our world – which is really very small these days – and we will probably see our economy rise again. I wish that I could say I think we might last a little longer this time, but we probably won’t. In 3 Nephi, shortly after the government fell, Christ came to the Nephites.

I can’t make any predictions about when Christ will come again, but I can feel that it will be soon. (But remember Lehi and all those other Book of Mormon prophets who said “the time is near at hand” – 600 years or so before Christ’s birth – so when I say “soon” I don’t mean in the next few years – but I can believe within the next hundred years or so).

On our family blog, I have this scripture written (it’s kind of my personal theme for our family), and it is no more true then than it is now:

For behold,
this life is the time
or men to prepare to meet God;
Alma 34:32

Sunday, September 9, 2012

GCBC Week 24: "Only Upon the Principles of Righteousness" & "Was it Worth It?"

I am too tired to go downstairs and write up a full blown, formatted post for this week, so I am just going to put the links up right now (I'll add the video later).

I appreciated that Elder Wilson reminded us that the right to use any God-given authority, which to me includes motherhood and any calling in the Church, Priesthood of not, is based on the same principles - whether we are male or female. Too often we get in this spat about women not having the Priesthood. Well, ladies, D&C 121:36-37 applies to us just as much as it applies to the men. Don't go around thinking that just because you aren't ordained to a Priesthood office somehow means that you are any less responsible or accountable than a man.

Such principles apply to all leaders in the Church as well as to fathers and mothers in their homes.

Elder Wilson also warned us from waiting to let our children exercise their agency

Our children are in our homes for a limited time. If we wait until they walk out the door to turn over to them the reins of their moral agency, we have waited too long.

True words.

Whenever the gospel is shared, it is never "just one boy." Whenever conversion happens or someone returns to the Lord it is a family that is saved.

What stood out to you from these talks?

If you are new to General Conference Book Club be sure to check out the About GCBC page link you can find it under the header. Feel free to join in the discussion!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, September 2, 2012

GCBC Week 23: “That the Lost May Be Found”

Just as the nausea recedes from my list of pregnancy symptoms, congestion begins in full force. I was thinking about the patience it takes to be pregnant for nine months and I thought, “What a great training ground for the patience it will take to raise a child.” If I can make it through nine months of pregnancy symptoms, then labor and delivery, I can take anything this child can dish out, right?

That the Lost May Be Found – by Elder M. Russell Ballard

I was struck by Elder Ballard’s observation about families -

Opposite of what many had thought, prosperity and education seem to be connected to a higher likelihood of having traditional families and values.

I admired him for bringing out the concern of causation vs correlation.

The real question, of course, is about cause and effect. Do some sectors of our society have stronger values and families because they are more educated and prosperous, or are they more educated and prosperous because they have values and strong families?

But of course we know that it is causation, and we know what the cause is – strong families.

…[S]ocieties at large are strengthened as families grow stronger. Commitments to family and values are the basic cause. Nearly everything else is effect. When couples marry and make commitments to each other, they greatly increase their chances of economic well-being. When children are born in wedlock and have both a mom and a dad, their opportunities and their likelihood of occupational success skyrocket. And when families work and play together, neighborhoods and communities flourish, economies improve, and less government and fewer costly safety nets are required.

What stood out to you from Elder Ballard’s talk?

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