A lifetime of service

I do not know President Monson personally.  But his history is well known to all of us.  He was a Bishop while in his 20’s, a Stake President shortly thereafter, and then called in his late 30’s to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.  He worked for Deseret News before becoming a full time General Authority.  Essentially his entire life has been church service, both in his profession and in his calling.
 
If you want to see what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would produce if a life were entirely the product of the institution and experiences derived from serving in and under that institution, you have that in President Monson.
 
It is clear to me that he absolutely trusts the system which produced all his significant life experiences.  The last two vacancies in the Twelve were filled by the senior president of the Seventy.  This would make Elder Ron Rasband the next one in line to fill a vacancy in the Twelve.  He (Elder Rasband) is a member of my stake.

An emphasis on doctrine

In addition to what I posted earlier about baptism rates, there is another number which is somewhat misleading.  The total member numbers reported in General Conference never deducts for those who are excommunicated or who voluntarily ask to have their membership terminated.  There is likely a doctrinal reason for that.  When a person is excommunicated they are re-baptized to return to membership, but they are not re-ordained to the priesthood.  They are given a blessing to reinstate their covenants and blessings, including authorization to begin using priesthood again.  But they are not re-ordained.  Although they are excommunicated, they retain some affiliation despite the severance.  Nevertheless, most people do not assume someone who has been excommunicated would be counted in the number of total members, but it is my understanding that they are.
Also, I’ve heard estimates from as little as 25% to much more than that as the percentage of members for whom the Church has completely lost contact.  That is, there is some significant number of members whose membership is so tenuous that the Church has nothing but a record.  There is no address, no way to contact them, and no information about whether they are living or deceased.  These people continue to be counted in the total membership number despite their complete absence of contact with or from the Church.
With the significantly lower fertility rate, and an aging population, the Church’s future will not be anything like the projections of Professor Stark.  That is, unless something changes.  

I agree that there may be many reasons for the decline.  However, the most prominent of reasons in my view is the de-emphasis on doctrine.  As a convert to the Church I know what attracted me to become a Mormon.  It had nothing to do with the formulaic discussions of the missionaries, slick marketing or good arguments.  It had to do with doctrine.  I DIDN’T WANT to be a Mormon.  Quite the contrary.  But I knew I should become a Mormon because their doctrines came from God and answered questions other faiths could not begin to answer.

I’d like to see the trend return to a dramatic increase of numbers.  In fact, I think there are many millions in the United States alone who are only kept from the truth because they do not know where to find it.  (D&C 123: 12.)  We won’t attract them to the Church until we begin again to emphasize doctrine.

True blue, through and through

I’ve been thinking about an incident in the young life of Joseph F. Smith.  He was outside a camp gathering firewood when a group of Mormon-haters rode into camp and scattered all the men.  Joseph F. considered running for a moment, but then decided to go confront them.  He walked with his armful of firewood back into the camp, right up to an armed man who was cursing the Mormons.

The man bellowed at Joseph F.: “Are you a Mormon?”



Joseph responded: “Yes siree; dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through.”


The man was so disarmed that he grabbed Joseph F.’s hand and told him he was the “pleasantest man I ever met!” (with a few obscenities mixed in.)


I like that story.  I consider myself a “true blue, through and through Mormon.”  Despite that, I know we have problems and many flaws.  The scriptures foretell our many deficiencies.  But human weaknesses and shortcomings are no impediment to the Divine origin of Mormonism; nor its ultimate destiny.


I think it is an error to have an unreasonably high opinion of ourselves. Conversely, it is an error to conclude that all is lost because of our shortcomings.  We are full of sins and errors, slogging along making institutional and individual errors daily.  But we are also, institutionally and individually, called to be involved in God’s work to redeem His children.  He loves us all, with a love which can overcome our many failures.

How beautiful upon the mountains

The feet of those who walk upon the mountains crying peace are beautiful (Isa. 52:7) because they are clean from the blood and sins of their generation.
In the ancient ceremonies involving animal sacrifice, blood was shed upon the ground and the feet of those involved in the rites became bloody.  The blood of the sacrifice upon the feet became a symbol of the sins for which the sacrifice was offered.
The feet of those who walk upon the mountains crying peace are cleansed from that blood.  Christ’s washing of His Apostles’ feet was to symbolize this cleansing which He alone could provide.  He employs no servant to provide such a cleansing. (2 Ne. 9: 41.)  These feet, washed by Him are, therefore, beautiful because they connote the sanctity of the one crying peace.
 
“Crying peace” because the only thing which stills the mind of man, and brings rest from the trouble of this world, is the atonement of Christ.  That is why it is called “the rest of the Lord.”  When cleansed, it becomes the consuming desire of those who are clean to bring others to partake.  Just like Lehi’s dream, when  those who had eaten of the fruit of the tree of life ate, they immediately invited others to come and join them.
“Upon the mountains” because the mountain is nature’s symbol of the ascent to God.  The climb represents repentance and purification of the soul.  When a person stands upon the top of the mountain, she appears to be part of heaven itself and no longer earthbound.  Her profile is with the sky, symbolizing the completion of the ascent back to God.
It is beautiful.  All of it is beautiful.  All of it is a reflection of the purity and intelligence of God, whose ways are higher than man’s ways as the heavens are higher than the earth. (Isa. 55: 8-9.)

Repent and Come Unto Me

There is this interesting statement by the Lord found in D&C 10:67-68: Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.  Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
 
The statement requires us to
1. Repent, and then
2. Come unto Christ.
 
Repentance is a lifelong process.  As we get further light and knowledge we have to incorporate it into our lives and change behavior.  Over a lifetime, this should be dynamic, not static.
 
The more difficult explanation is to “Come unto Him.”  It is my view that this includes fully receiving Him into your life as did the brother of Jared, Nephi, Enos, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith, Daniel, Isaiah, Jacob, Mormon, Moroni, Alma the Younger, Paul, and so many others who have testified of Him.  That is a subject so great that the entire body of scriptures exist to help us accomplish it.
 
Significant, too, is that whatever is “more or less” than this is not “of my church” according to the Lord.  So we have to take great care to not overstate or understate this doctrine of His.  Adding endless requirements by the commandments of men is “against Him.”  Similarly, any failure to declare the essential nature of coming to Him is also “against Him.”  I think the first verse of D&C 93 is a formula for coming to Him.  That formula declares that, when it is followed, you will see His face and know that He is.

Declining Numbers

There was an article on Mormon Times about the declining baptism rate the Church is experiencing. The article can be found at: http://www.mormontimes.com/mormon_voices/mckay_coppins/?id=12892.  I thought it was odd to approach this subject in an article which maintains there is nothing unusual about a declining rate of baptisms. 

The prophecy of Daniel was that the stone cut out of the mountains without hands would roll forth, grind to dust the prior world orders, become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth. (Daniel 2: 34-35.)  Daniel’s interpretation included that God will establish a kingdom in the latter days which shall never be destroyed, nor left to other people.  It will break into pieces and consume all other kingdoms and stand forever.  (Id. verses 44-45.)
To the extent the Church claims to be this kingdom, or rock rolling forth, it should be expected to increase in size, and momentum, as it rolls forth to fill the earth. 
The Church ceased to distinguish between baptisms for “children of record” and “converts” some years ago.  Numbers are given in April General Conference.  Last April’s conference statistical report included this statement: “Converts Baptized: 265,593.”  There was a separate category for “Children of Record.” but there was no separate category for “Baptisms of Children of Record.”  That used to be a separate category.  Since it’s elimination, I have had the impression that “Converts Baptized” included all numbers, including baptisms of “Children of Record.”  If that is so, then for the last recorded numbers of baptisms you would need to go back to eight years earlier, take the number of Children of Record, and subtract that number from the “Converts Baptized number to get the actual number of Converts.  Eight years earlier from the number given in last General Conference, the statistical report announced that there was an increase of 81,450 Children of Record.  So the actual number of baptisms of Converts alone would be 184,143.  That appears to me to be the real number of Converts, exclusive of baptisms of Children of Record.
Now the Church hasn’t provided this separate number for Children of Record for about a decade now.  And I can’t be certain that the “Converts Baptized” category is actually an amalgamation of the two.  But I think it is.  If so, the decline from the time of President Kimball to today is more than significant, it is catastrophic.
I believe the only reason to convert to our faith is our doctrine.  Since the Church has de-emphasized doctrine, the trend of lowering missionary success has confirmed my belief in the necessity of teaching doctrine.  Not just in the Teach My Gospel program, but in every aspect of the Church, from Sunday School and Primary to Stake and General Conferences.  Doctrine is what distinguishes us.
Deseret Book has actually told me that “doctrine books do not sell.”  They are interested in fiction, which can be read in one or two settings. 

Judging

When Christ made His Twelve Disciples in the Americas “judges” over those people in the great Day of Judgment, He did not empower them to use their own discretion to reward or punish others.  He said they would judge others “according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just.”  (3 Ne. 27: 27.)  That same standard would apply to His Twelve Apostles in the New Testament.  (See Matt. 19: 28.)  Christ Himself will provide the decision for us all; those Twelve will have the honor of announcing it.

I’ve often thought that with the standard set by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (“Judge not, that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged” – Matt. 2: 1-2), that any time a person is given the opportunity, they should forgive others, just as Christ admonished us. (See Matt. 6: 14-15.)

Those who think presiding over a ward or stake gives them an opportunity to dominate others are taking an extraordinary risk against their own eternal interests.  My counsel would be to err on the side of forgiving, and never on the side of condemning.  Even the woman taken in the act of adultery was told by the Lord: “neither do I condemn thee.”  (See John 8: 1-11.)

Christ’s teachings were meant to be applied internally to check our own behavior.  Not externally as a means to judge or condemn others.  If you see something amiss in other’s conduct, then persuade them by your example to be better.  Lectures are almost always useless.  An example is compelling.

Temple Work

In relation to the world’s population there are statistically fewer LDS each year.  Our birth rate is declining and our baptism rate does not even begin to keep up with world population growth.  In other words, each year there is far more temple work to be done than there was the year before.

Conference on Chiasmus

Yvonne Bent has been researching sacred geometry for over ten years. As  a result of her research, she submitted an art project that was displayed in the Church’s 8th International Art contest at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. A photo of her work was in the Ensign magazine, as well.
 
Added to her study of the Articles of Faith and sacred geometry, a milestone connection was made to demonstrate the same pattern as we see in the Hebrew literary style called chiasmus appearing in other fields and even in nature itself.

Yvonne Bent has organized a conference on May 15, 2010 at the Rose Wagner Auditorium in downtown Salt Lake City to have various presenters address conference attendees on the widespread sacred patternism, including chiasmus.  She invited me to speak, and I will be among those who will participate in the program. 

 
The conference will consist of lectures from persons who have discovered remarkable chiastic patterns in art, literature, architecture, science and math. In the evening there will be a concert to demonstrate the chiasm pattern in music.
 
I do not yet have the final information about the event, but thought I’d put this brief announcement on the blog for those who may be interested.

His Words are Commandments

A great resource for understanding how to gain eternal life is found in D&C 1: 38.  The Lord’s word is law.  What He says will not return void.  It will all be fulfilled. 
Immediately following his father’s death, Moroni writes concerning the plates his father had made, which he was then completing.  He recorded that the plates are “of no worth” in an economic sense, because of the Lord’s “commandment.”  (Mormon 8: 14.)  He says the Lord had spoken the words: “no one shall have them to get gain.”  (Id.)  This means that since the Lord had spoken that the gold plates could not be obtained for economic gain, this meant the Lord had “commanded” that the plates could not give a person any economic gain.  The only gain to be had was “of great worth” to the soul.
Moroni equates the Lord’s remark on the plates’ lack of economic value to a “commandment.”  This is exactly how it works.  This is what D&C 1: 38 is affirming, as well:  “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
Salvation consists in getting the word of the Lord spoken to you as a promise of eternal life.  When you obtain that word, it cannot be broken.  It becomes a “commandment” of the Lord’s which cannot fail.  This is the kind of commandment we should seek.
I’ve tried to answer questions about “commandments” and I’ve tried to discuss the subject more fully in The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil.  Instead of focusing on a list of things to do or not do, I would commend to you the idea of getting from the Lord those words which will assure you eternal life.  Not His words spoken to others found in scripture, but words spoken by Him to you.  If you obtain this from Him, then you have a sure promise, though the heavens and earth pass away.  This more sure word guarantees you, by covenant from Him whose words cannot fail, that you will be granted life with Him.

The Sacrifice

Abraham’s great test in sacrificing his son Isaac was all the more difficult when you consider he was nearly sacrificed when he was younger, by his father, on an altar, in a false religious practice.  When the true God whom he worshiped asked him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, Abraham was put in the exact position he knew from his own past experience to be evil.
Despite this, Abraham complied. 
Then God Himself provided a sacrifice.  (Gen. 22: 8.)
Not the ram found in the thicket on that day, but a living Son, later– in a direct corollary to what had first been asked of Abraham.
Many have stood back in amazement and considered the task given to Abraham to be outrageous, inexplicable and offensive.  It was.  But it was designed to make us realize how outrageous, inexplicable and offensive the sacrifice of God’s Only Begotten was on our behalf.  Abraham was one of the few men whose experience allowed him to identify with God the Father. 

Cool Change


I think Cool Change was Little River Band’s greatest song.  I found this video on YouTube which couples the song with video of swimming dolphins and whales. 

These are mammals in the video.  They are warm blooded and breathe air. Because they must breathe they are required to return to the surface.  But in the video they seem to be playing, jumping, enjoying the jump into the heavens and out of the waters where they live.  One of the dolphins leaps and twists like one of the Olympic events we just finished watching.

The upward leap seemed a symbol to me of what all life here was intended to do: reach up joyfully to that God who gave us life.  Hope you enjoy the video and song as much as I did as I watched it with a daughter last night.

Keep the Commandments

I was asked about a list of “commandments” to keep.  The person was sincerely trying to keep the commandments, but lacked a comprehensive list of them.

It is not possible to list all commandments.  In one sense there are only two:  Love God.  Love you fellow man.  All others are extensions of those.

If you love God you will do what He asks of you.  Whenever something comes to your attention He would have you do, you do it.  For example, Christ was baptized and said to “Follow Him.”  So because of your love of God, you follow Him.

But Christ also showed repeatedly, that the second commandment was greater than the rules.  Keeping the Sabbath day holy, for example, was subordinate to loving and freeing His fellow man.  He freed men from sin on the Sabbath by forgiving sins.  He freed them from physical injury or disease by healing on the Sabbath.  Both were considered work, and therefore an offense to the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Your individual path back to God will begin with following the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At some point, however, you will find that individual service and obedience to God’s will for you will create disharmony between you and others.  Can’t be avoided.  If you’re following Christ, you will find the same things He found.  Helping someone in need will take you away from Church meetings on occasion.  You can’t make a list and keep it, because as soon as you do the list will interfere with loving God and loving your fellow man.

So the whole matter can be reduced to this:  Follow Christ, receive the ordinances, accept the Holy Ghost, who will teach you all things you must do.  Any list beyond that will inevitably result in conflicts and contradictions. 

Elder Oaks

My wife also suggested I add something about Elder Oaks’ talk at Harvard, since some readers may not have access to the information:
 
When discussing our beliefs he explained that personal revelation is fundamental to Mormon beliefs.  “some wonder how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept a modern prophet’s teachings to guide their personal lives, something that is unusual in most religious traditions.  Our answer to the charge that Latter-day Saints follow their leaders out of ‘blind obedience’ is this same personal revelation.  We respect our leaders and presume inspiration in their leadership of the church and in their teachings.  but we are all privileged and encouraged to confirm their teachings by prayerfully seeking and receiving revelatory conformation directly from God.”
 
When asked by a Divinity School student why Joseph Smith was any more reliable than Mary Baker Eddy, he responded: “If you want to know go to the ultimate source.  The answer to that question can only come from God himself.  That’s what I encourage anyone who asks me about it.  I can’t promise when it will happen with anyone, but I can promise it will happen.”

Trials

On Friday Marie Osmond’s son died in LA of an apparent suicide.  My heart goes out to her.  Some trials in life are not meant to be understood, but only to be endured.  The suffering from unexplainable ordeals can bring us closer to the Lord, who alone can comfort us in such extremities.

In Chile there are over 200 dead and many missing.  There is a race to rescue about 100 people trapped in a building.  Aftershocks and injuries threaten those who are trapped.

There are no magic words to console those who endure tests in mortality.  But we do have the promise from Him whose word is law and cannot return to Him unfulfilled:  “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”  (Rev. 7: 17.)  If God intends to do this in the final day, the only God-like conduct we can imitate is to lessen the burdens felt by those with a sense of loss today.