Sunday, November 27, 2011

#24: Nephi, son of Helaman -- a true Jedi Knight.

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The scriptures are full of stories about incredible heroes.  These heroes exemplify faith, courage, dedication, and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for others. One of my favorite of these heroes is Nephi, the son of Helaman, (not to be confused with Nephi, the son of Lehi, who was also a hero himself).  For the purpose of this blog post, I will call Nephi, the son of Helaman, "Our Nephi" to distinguish him from Nephi, the son of Lehi. Our Nephi's story takes place just before the birth of Christ and can be found in the Book of Mormon.

Our Nephi was the Chief Judge of the Nephites (basically, the equivalent of our modern-day President) during some of the most difficult years of Book of Mormon history. During his reign, our Nephi's country was under the control of its enemies (the Lamanites), the people were spiritually weak, and there was no cable TV. We know very little about Nephi's personal life (except that he had a nice garden, as you will see later), but we clearly know that he was an amazing man. In fact, Nephi was pretty much a real-life Jedi Knight and one of the greatest heroes of all time.

The first thing we learn about our Nephi is that his dad Helaman named him and his brother after Nephi and Lehi of old (you know, the ones that I mentioned earlier). Helaman said the following about the names he gave to his sons:

"Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good. Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which
is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them" (Helaman 5:6-7).
Our Nephi was named after THIS guy.  Check out those muscles!
"Nephi Subdues His Brothers" by Arnold Frieberg.
Clearly, our Nephi took this counsel to heart, and he definitely went about doing "that which is good". There are three stories that I would like to share about our Nephi's life.

1. Pillar of fire in the Lamanite prison:
As his people grew increasingly wicked, Nephi "became weary because of their iniquity" (Helaman 5:4).  As a result, he gave up his title as Chief Judge in order to go "preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days" (Helaman 5:4).  Nephi's willingness to give up his worldly power and influence impresses me.  He could have tried to legislate that the people stop being wicked, but he probably knew that wouldn't work.  So, instead he gives it all up and goes on a mission.  BUT Nephi (along with his brother Lehi) doesn't just go on a cushy mission to the beach or the ski slopes.  No, Nephi goes to preach to the Lamanites, his mortal enemies, instead.  I'm sure Nephi knew he could be imprisoned, tortured, or even killed, but this didn't stop him, because, well, Nephi was a hero.

Nephi and Lehi were indeed captured almost immediately into their missionary journey. Lamanite soldiers imprisoned them with the intent of killing them shortly thereafter. However, as the soldiers went forth to kill the brothers in the prison, a pillar of fire circled round about them and the Lord spoke, "Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and seek no more to destroy my servants" (Helaman 5:32). Eventually, all 300 of the Lamanites in the prison converted to Christianity and were baptized.  Shortly thereafter, 8,000 other Lamanites were converted, and the Lamanite armies COMPLETELY RELINQUISHED THE NEPHITE LANDS THEY HAD CONQUERED! Can you imagine that? Not only did thousands of people join the Church of Jesus Christ, but thousands of others were given physical freedom from Lamanite bondage.  Talk about a successful mission!
"Nephi and Lehi Encircled by a Pillar of Fire" by Ronald K. Crosby.
2. Murder of the Chief Judge:
After his first mission, Nephi returned home for a short break.  You would think that this time at home would have been peaceful for Nephi.  He could have taken the time to relax, catch up on his favorite sports team, and hang out with his family and friends.  But instead, when Nephi returned home, he discovered that his fellow Nephites had declined into such a state of wickedness, that he refused to stop preaching.  In a moment of despair and disappointment, Nephi climbed upon a tower in his garden and "pour[ed] out his soul unto God" (Helaman 7:14) in vocal prayer. 
Nephi praying on his garden tower.
I'd like a tower like that, but my neighbors might complain.
Nephi's prayer caused a multitude of people to gather around to see what he was so upset about. Never one to lack courage, Nephi rebuked the wickedness of the people and told them "thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent" (Helaman 7:24). This statement ticked off the leaders of the people, but of course, their anger didn't stop Nephi. Not only did he declare their sins, but by the power of God, he also proclaimed that the Chief Judge had just been murdered by his very own brother. At first, the people did not believe Nephi's bold prophecy. But, once they went to check it out and realized that what Nephi said was true, they accused Nephi of being an accomplice to the murder, and caused that Nephi should be taken and bound (didn't they realize that it's NEVER a good idea to put Nephi in prison?!). Nephi refuted his captors, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, he gave them knowledge of who the true murderer was and was eventually set free. But, sadly, the people still didn't repent or soften their hearts.  Oh, but they will....

3. Nephi is given the "sealing power" (it's Jedi time!):
My absolute favorite story about Nephi occurs right after he is set free from his captors after announcing who the true murderer was.  As Nephi was heading back home, he suddenly heard the voice of the Lord:

"Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.  And now, because thou hast done this...I will bless thee forever...that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word for thou shalt ask ask that which is contrary to my will" (Helaman 10:4-5).

Do you realize how cool that is?!  Because Nephi was so obedient, the Lord basically gave him the power to do anything he desired.  The Lord knew that he could trust Nephi absolutely and that Nephi would never abuse that power.  Well, what do you think Nephi does with that power? He goes back and continues to preach to the people, of course!  BUT this time when they try to put him into prison, "the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them" (Helaman 10:16).  Take that, you prison-hungry people! I like to picture him disappearing from their midst just like a Jedi.

Since the people would not listen to his message, Nephi prayed to the Lord and used the sealing power to send a famine so that the people would repent and "remember the Lord" (Helaman 11:7). As a result, the people repented for a while, and Nephi prayed to have the famine removed. But, as you can guess, the people soon fell back into their wicked ways.  

Despite this, Nephi never gave up his mission to bring souls to Christ. For the rest of his known life, "Nephi was baptizing, and prophesying, and preaching, crying repentance unto the people, showing signs and wonders, working miracles among the people, that they might know that the Christ must shortly come" (Helaman 16:4).

As you can tell, I love Nephi.  He was a true hero and a disciple of Jesus Christ. He inspires me give up my own desires and instead seek the will of the Lord in all things. I can think of no greater thrill than to someday have the Lord say to me, "Thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments." I think we can all agree that THAT is definitely something worth shooting for. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

#23: The inspiring story of Andrew Justvig.

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As we were watching the news tonight, we saw the following incredible story about BYU freshman Andrew Justvig. Andrew has cerebral palsy, but he doesn't let it stop him. Andrew's story is a powerful reminder to me of the potential within each of us.
This is a picture of Andrew from high school,
as found at http://essentialeducator.org/?p=1276
To see the KSL news video, click on the link below (my apologies that I cannot directly show the video on my blog):

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=18220960&nid=148

What a powerful example! Andrew's determination, optimism, faith, perspective, and gratitude blow me away.  Andrew reminds me of how blessed I am. He also makes me want to be a better person and to try to inspire other people by being a good example.  Thank you, KSL, and thank you, Andrew!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#22: 34 "other" things I'm grateful for.

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With Thanksgiving upon us, I have been thinking about some of the things that I am grateful for. I am profoundly grateful for Diane, for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for freedom, for family and friends, and for a great job, among many other things. These things all make my life full and wonderful. They are the kind of things that I try to remember to thank Heavenly Father for when I pray.


But there are also a whole bunch of “other" things that I am grateful for, which I don’t normally pray about. I thought it would be fun to make a list of 34 “other" things I'm grateful for.  I stopped at 34 because I'm lazy and I want to go eat a sugar cookie. Enjoy!


1. My 1995 Buick Century. It may be rusty, and it may be old, but it's 100% completely free (thanks mom and dad!). I’m hoping it keeps on running for another 15 years. That way, it will become a classic car and double its value.
The Blue Bullet
2. Nintendo. Particularly, The Legend of Zelda. It’s great to feel like a hero without even getting off of your couch.
Hero of Time.
3. Dogs. Specifically, Diesel. It never gets old to come home and have someone be so excited to see you after you have been away at work for the day. I love that stinkin’ dog. 
Diesel's favorite activity--riding in the car with the window down.
4. Apple, Inc. and Steve Jobs. I can never go back to a regular phone now. Thank you, Mr. Jobs. You will be missed. 
Oregon Trail, anyone?
5. Gel pens. Have you ever tried to write with a quill? Hermione makes it look easy, but I bet it’s ridiculously hard to do.
"Writing with a quill is harder than it looks, Ronald!"
6. Windows in my office at work. I love seeing the sun during the day, especially during the winter.
Whoops.  Wrong kind of windows.
7. Lays Potato Chips.
I have a 72-hour kit made up entirely of Lays Classic Potato Chips.
8. Bananas.
Juuuuuuust in case you didn't know what they looked like.
9. Chick-fil-A.
Waffle fries that don't taste like waffles.
10. Marshmallow Mateys (or Lucky Charms, for you rich people). Man, I must be hungry. I’ll be right back.
12 vitamins and minerals!
11. A GE dishwasher for your dirty bowl of Marshmallow Mateys. You load the dishes. You press a button. You come back an hour later. And they’re clean just like magic!
Unlike a microwave, you CAN put metal things in this guy.

12. George Lucas (despite the abomination that is Jar Jar Binks).
If ONLY this were how things really went down in Empire Strikes Back.
13. Hot running water.
Very punny!
14. Socks. I get really cold feet (pardon the pun...again) when I don’t wear socks.
Olympic socks?
15. Toilet paper, preferably soft toilet paper. You never want to be stuck without it. Ever.
I'm all out!  Bummer. (3 puns in a row!)
16. Calvin and Hobbes. Greatest comic strip characters ever.
I still read it to this day.
17. Superman and Batman. Greatest comic book characters ever.


I want these bookends for Christmas.
18. A king-size bed.
Cobweb rug optional.
19. Youtube. It’s hard to say what my favorite video is though. Hmmmm, this one is definitely near the top:


20. Humility. In my opinion, it is the most elusive virtue. It is so easy to be prideful instead of being humble. I guess that’s why President Benson called it the universal sin.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994)
21. The Pac-12. Without it, the Utes would be just like that other team down south....shoot, I guess I need to work on that humility thing again.
Go Utes!
22. Dog doors. It took us two years to finally put one in, but my life will never be the same again.
Thank goodness....no more of this.
23. Cities & Knights of Catan. Best board game ever.
Three hours of hilarity every time we play.
24. Chest tubes. You only know what I’m talking about if you have had a collapsed lung.....or an obsession with poorly placed body piercings.
Chest tubes are gross.  BUT they sure are handy when you need them.
25. My leather jacket. Keeps me warm and keeps me cool.


Thank you, cows.
26. Treadmills, because it hurts to run outside when its cold.
Um.....no thanks.
27. Duct tape. It makes me feel manly when I use it.


"What are you guys doing?" "Oh, just hanging around."
28. Electric razors. I have NO IDEA how to use a real razor. Really, I don’t.
Because three heads are better than one.
29. Automatic transmission. I have NO IDEA how to use a stick shift. In high school a girl I had a crush on tried to teach me how to use a stick shift once, but I almost ruined her car. She dumped me shortly thereafter.
A secret code that I will never understand.
30. Wal-Mart. I once bought socks, bananas, Marshmallow Mateys, a dog door, and an electric razor in one trip at Wal-Mart.
You KNOW that Target employees aren't this happy.
31. The Biggest Loser. Inspires me to be healthy every Tuesday night.
One of my all-time favorite contestants, Moses Kinikini.
32. The 1997 Utah Jazz. The video below shows the eighth happiest moment of my life.  It was incredible.
33. Sugar cookies with frosting. Man, I must still be hungry.
I can never eat just one.
34. Blogging. About Mormons. And Wookiees.
Nothing tops the elegance of a wookiee in the wind.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#21: That one holiday between Halloween and Christmas.

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Ah, November.  Time for University of Utah football, turning on the heater in my 1995 Buick Century (light blue with rust), and Thanksgiving.  Sometimes I feel bad for Thanksgiving.  It has to compete with the hangover from Halloween candy while also trying to not get overlooked by Santa, Rudolph, and Best Buy.  In fact, this year is the first time ever that "Black Friday" shopping will actually begin on Thanksgiving day.  A few of the major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Toys 'R Us (I don't know how to make the "R" backwards!!!), and Target are starting their Black Friday deals at 10 PM on Thursday.
Must have that camera!!!!!!!!!
As much as I love electronics and other toys (just wait till I post about my Star Wars room), I think it is unfortunate that Black Friday shopping is being pushed into the actual Thanksgiving Day holiday.  When he made Thanksgiving an official national holiday, Abraham Lincoln said the following:


I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States...to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. -- Abraham Lincoln, "Proclamation of Thanksgiving", October 3rd, 1863


I wonder how Mr. Lincoln would feel about our growing desire to go deal-shopping on a day that he dedicated to family, friends, and giving gratitude to God for our blessings.  Just something to think about this week.

Friday, November 18, 2011

#20: Tithing and the Panic of 1893.

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A couple of weeks ago, one of my neighbors, Adam Whitefield, gave a magnificent talk in Sacrament meeting about tithing, unlike any other talk about tithing I have ever heard. With his permission, I have posted it here in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it (and learn from it) as much as I did. Thanks, Adam!

Last night as we were eating dinner, my wife was telling us about the play she saw with her mom—My Fair Lady. While going over the musical numbers, she mentioned “Get Me to the Church on Time,” to which my daughter Megan immediately said should be our family’s theme song for Sundays. Sometimes it just takes a speaking assignment.

Approximately 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a graduate program for banking, which was held at the University of Virginia. The program required me to travel to Charlottesville where I stayed in college dorms with roommates for a couple of weeks each summer for 3 years. During that time, I lived in a typical college environment except for the fact that I was married and had two young kids back at home.

I was the first banker from Utah to attend this particular school and the only Latter-Day Saint in my class. My roommates and I would often stay up late talking about various things, and it seemed that the conversation turned to my religion almost every night. It was obvious to me that my roommates had never had such direct access to information about the church in a non-threatening environment such as this, where they outnumbered me two to one, and they weren’t going to let the opportunity go to waste. The topics varied from the Law of Chastity to the Word of Wisdom and eventually one night we ended up talking about the Law of Tithing.

Of all the things we discussed, I think the thing that amazed them the most was that I willingly paid 10% of my income as tithing to the Lord. Being financially minded people, it seems they were hung up on all the other things I could be doing with the money instead of paying tithing and they asked me how I could do it. I gave the typical answer that I believe I owe the Lord for everything I have and that all he asks in return is that I pay 10% of my income as tithing. I also told them that I have been blessed because I pay tithing—much more than I would have been had I not paid it.

I think that most of us would agree that this is true—that we owe the Lord for everything He has given us and that we are blessed when we pay tithing. We’ve all read Malachi 3: 8-11. That being said, part of my job requires me to analyze peoples’ personal and business financial statements and tax returns day after day—and I can tell you from experience that I also know that many people are suffering—some as a result of decisions they made and some through no fault of their own. People are losing their homes, savings, and businesses they’ve built over a lifetime. As with the Widow’s Mite, I believe that paying tithing in circumstances such as these requires a higher level of faith, understanding, and obedience.

During times like these, I believe there is value in reflecting on the experiences of our ancestors and there is comfort in knowing they overcame challenges as bad if not worse than those we face now. I’d like to share a few stories from the past with you today.

Although the Church was restored in 1830, the law of tithing, as a commandment, was not given to the Saints until Joseph Smith received the revelation known as Section 119 on July 8th 1838. Until that time, the members had been following the Law of Consecration and Stewardship. According to the heading of Section 119, the Lord withdrew this practice for a time “because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant.” Tithing referred to in D&C scriptures received prior to July 1838 refers to a free-will offering and is not the 10% requirement outlined in Section 119.

Given the fact that the heading of Section 119 is as long as the section itself, I felt the historical setting of this scripture warranted a little research. What I found was very interesting. In 1838, Church members were in the process of migrating to Far West, Missouri in order to escape persecution and the Church’s financial situation was somewhat desperate. On July 6th, 1838—just two days prior to asking the Lord what He requires of the Saints as tithing—the Prophet received a heart-breaking letter from his brother, Don Carlos, who was trying to move people to Far West. In his letter, Don Carlos described conditions as follows:

“…we have only $25 to carry twenty-eight souls and thirteen horses 500 miles.

We have lived very close and camped out at night, notwithstanding the rain and cold, and my baby only two weeks old when we started. Agnes is very feeble; father and mother are not well and very much fatigued; mother has a severe cold, and in fact it is nothing but the prayer of faith and the power of God, that will sustain them and bring them through. Our courage is good, and I think we shall be brought through. I leave it with you and Hyrum to devise some way to assist us to some more expense money. We have unaccountably bad roads, had our horses down in the mud, and broke one wagon tongue and thills, and broke down the carriage twice, and yet we are all alive and encamped on a dry place for almost the first time. Poverty is a heavy load, but we are all obliged to welter under it.

It is now dark and I close. May the Lord bless you all and bring us together, is my prayer. Amen. All the arrangements that brother Hyrum left for getting money failed; they did not gain us one cent.

In response to the Prophet’s inquiry, the Lord revealed that the Saints should pay “one-tenth of all their interest annually.” Note that the Lord did not tell the Prophet the Saints should wait until their financial situation improved to start paying tithing. Nor did he say they should wait until the economy recovers to start paying tithing. To the contrary, it was in the midst of extreme financial difficulty that the Lord chose to bless—not burden the Saints with the Law of Tithing. As we know the Saints were faithful and the Church survived and eventually began to prosper. We know they moved on to Nauvoo and eventually to the Salt Lake Valley.

This was not the end of financial hardships for the Saints or the Church. Between 1887 and 1893 the following series of events occurred, which nearly bankrupted the Church:

Just 49 years after section 119 was received, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 in response to the practice of polygamy. This Act dissolved the Church’s legal standing and required the surrender of all Church assets. It also shifted political power to non-members who transferred territorial funds to non-Church owned banks. This left the Church owned banks without capital to loan to the Church or its members. 

Two years later, there was a real estate bubble, which was incredibly similar to what we just went through. An article called Crisis in Zion, Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893 published in Arizona and the West in 1979 described the real estate bubble as follows: “…the value of land and business and residential property had skyrocketed to as much as ten times their pre-1889 prices. Speculators reaped enormous paper profits, and real-estate transactions in Salt Lake City alone reached an unprecedented $100,000 daily. To meet the voracious demands for credit, nine new banks opened up in the city. Then, in December 1890, the collapse of London’s Baring Brothers burst Utah’s speculative bubble, leaving behind depressed prices, lowered profits, overextended credit, and tight money.”
In 1893 there was a drop in the price of silver, which forced the closing of many mines and there was a late winter, which heavily damaged local agriculture.  

The Church had just completed several large projects, which required borrowed funds. These included the completion of the Salt Lake Temple, Saltair Pavilion, Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railway, and the Utah Sugar Company.  The nation entered into the Panic of 1893, which was the worst depression in American history until the Great Depression hit in 1929. 

It is difficult to describe how dire things were and how close the Church and many of its prominent members came to bankruptcy during this crisis. In the interest of time, suffice it to say that things were very serious. The Church had a number of short-term loans coming due when capital across the nation dried up.

In the deepest part of this crisis, Wilford Woodruff called upon then Apostle Heber J. Grant to go to New York and secure loans for the Church. At one point, things were so desperate, that Heber J. Grant said he shed bitter tears as he supplicated the Lord with all the earnestness and power which he possessed. The next day, he secured the financing, which saved the Church from bankruptcy. 

A young Heber J. Grant
Heber J. Grant was an amazing entrepreneur and had more than 10 business ventures, which included everything from insurance and banking to vinegar and a livery stable. Many of these businesses were leveraged and he personally lost most of his fortune during this crisis. In the Church publication, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, it says that Heber J. Grant—as an apostle—gave an address where he said the following:

“I want to confess to you that I and many others have done wrong. Why? Because we have been so very anxious to make a dollar that we have run in debt, and now we cannot promptly pay our honest debts. For the first time in my life I have had people come to me and ask me to pay money that I owed them, and I have had to ask for an extension of time. If the Lord will only forgive me this once, I will never be caught again. I have been a borrower of money since I was eighteen; but if I can only get paid off what I owe now, I shall be content, I believe, with the blessings of the Lord, whatever they may be, be it much or little.”

Heber J. Grant was a remarkable man as well as a remarkable Apostle, Prophet, and Church President. If I were to ask you which Church President saw the membership double under his tenure, you’d probably think of David O McKay. If I ask you which President is known for his PR efforts to improve the Church’s reputation among non-members, you’d think of Gordon B. Hinckley. What about the Church Welfare Program—Harold B. Lee. And we all know that Lorenzo Snow is the President who really pushed paying a full tithe, right? Well the fact of the matter is that all of these things can also be attributed to Heber J. Grant.

Heber J. Grant’s term as Prophet and President of the church lasted 27 years from 1918 to 1945—the second longest in church history. Church membership increased twofold during that period.

As far as public relations are concerned, U of U Media Solutions, says, “President Grant commanded the national media unlike any other contemporary Utahan, Grant managed to alter long-standing negative stereotypes about Utah and her people. He frequently spoke before influential national groups, personally guided nationally prominent Americans through Utah, boosted Utah's tourism, and quietly assisted sympathetic Hollywood productions such as Union Pacific and Brigham Young. Symptomatic of these public relations efforts, Grant cultivated the friendship of leading national opinion makers and visited U.S. presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.”

It was under President Grant’s direction that Harold B. Lee began his work on the welfare program.

In regard to tithing, Dallin H. Oaks said the following during an address given in the April 1994 General Conference:

“No prophet of the Lord in modern times has preached the law of tithing more fervently than Heber J. Grant. As an Apostle and later as President of the Church, he frequently called upon the Saints to pay an honest tithe and made firm promises to those who would do so.”

Not only did Heber J. Grant preach the law of tithing more than any Church President, but he also served as an apostle and prophet during the most trying financial times in our nation’s history. Personally, I do not believe these two things are unrelated.

Through much of my reading on the subject, I found that Heber J. Grant often mentions financial responsibility and tithing together. In Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant it says, “President Grant emphasized the need to avoid debt. He also urged his listeners to pay tithes and offerings, even in times of financial difficulty.” It later continues, “I believe that when a man is in financial difficulty, the best way to get out of that difficulty (and I speak from personal experience, because I believe that more than once in my life I have been in the financial mud as deep as almost anybody) is to be absolutely honest with the Lord, and never allow a dollar to come into our hands without the Lord receiving ten per cent of it.

As I read through the words of President Heber J. Grant, as well as other Latter-Day Prophets such as Joseph F. Smith I kept coming across quotes such as, “I believe nearly all of the hardships of a majority of the people would disappear if they were willing to forego the habit of wearing silk stockings so to speak …” –Heber J. Grant

And this, “I believe that one of the principal causes of the distress that exists among us—and I believe the same thing will apply almost universally throughout the land—is that people have gone beyond their means. They have borrowed largely, mortgaged their homes, their farms, and nearly everything they possess, to keep pace with their neighbors, competing one with another in putting on appearances.” –Joseph F. Smith (spoken nearly a hundred years ago)

I realize that these last quotes are about debt and finances instead of tithing, but the root cause that leads to these financial habits in my opinion is putting ourselves first or at least placing too much importance on wants and appearances. Consider that according to the National Association of Homebuilders, the average home size in 2009 was 2,700 square feet. In 1970 it was 1,400. The home I grew up in was 1,200—and we had seven kids and a dog. Clearly, our perception of what constitutes a basic need such as shelter has clearly evolved over the past few decades.

Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of tithing?” Of course tithing supports the physical facilities, the missionaries, lesson materials, and so on, but there is another reason. Tithing helps us be less selfish. It helps us focus less on the things of the world. A less selfish person is probably not as likely to go heavily into debt for a want or to keep up appearances.

Author and radio talk show host Dave Ramsay, said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” He also said, “The tithe, which is a scriptural mandate, was not instituted for God’s benefit because He already has all the money He needs. He does not need our money. So why does He ask us to give 10% to Him? Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, emplyees, and employers.”

Now consider how similar Dave Ramsay’s words are to those spoken by Heber J. Grant more than three quarters of a century ago. President Grant said, “The Lord does not need your money or mine. He also said that, “No man living upon the earth can pay donations for the poor, can pay for the building of meetinghouses and temples, …can take of his means and send his boys and girls to proclaim the gospel, without removing selfishness from his soul, no matter how selfish he was when he started in. That is one of the finest things in all the world for men—to get to that point where the selfishness in their natures is cured. When it is eradicated from their dispositions, they are glad and anxious and willing and seeking the opportunity to do good with the means that the Lord places in their hands instead of trying to get more of it.”

I hope that we can look back at some of the more difficult times in our history and draw strength from those who were so faithful and paid tithing to the Lord in the face of such poverty.

As I said before, tithing is a blessing—not a burden. We are blessed when we pay it. I’m not saying paying it will solve your finacial problems, and I’m not saying not paying it will lead to financial problems. Remember that the Lord revealed the Law of Tithing in the Latter Days during times of financial difficulty. It was emphasized by a prophet of the Lord regularly during the Great Depression and the Panic of 1893.

Dallin H. Oaks said in the April 1994 General Conference, “Some people say I can’t aford to pay tithing. Those who place their faith in the Lord say I can’t afford not to pay tithing.”

I listened to Dave Ramsay respond to a caller who asked him if he should suspend tithing payments until he was back on his feet. Dave said, “If you cannot live off 90% of your income, then you cannot live off 100%. It does not require a miracle for you to get through the month. I think that if you sit down and look at your budget, you will see that you can make it while giving at least 10%."

Adam then concluded his talk with his testimony in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

#19: A lone man in the wilderness.

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Diane was out of town helping family this week (the same family that stayed with us last month in post #5 "Nephew and Nieces Invade the Rebel Base").  They have adorable kids, and I was happy for Diane that she was able to go see them.  However, while she was gone, I was once again reminded how pathetic I am as a single man.  Here are some of the things I learned while she was gone.


1. Honey Nut Cheerios are like manna from heaven; otherwise I might have starved.


2. I have bad habits when I am alone.  I stay up too late.  I sleep in too long.  And I don't put the seat down.


3. I feel sympathy for couples who have a spouse on the road a lot.  It makes me want to be nicer to the traveling sales guys at work.


4. Diesel is a great dog, but snuggling with him just isn't the same as snuggling with Diane.  Plus, he really needs a bath.









Sunday, November 13, 2011

#18: Writing in your journal (the joys of being an 8-year old).

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One of my favorite ways to end the day is to take a few minutes to write in my journal.  Writing in my journal gives me an opportunity to reflect, to recognize things I am grateful for, and also to vent about frustrations or difficulties that I may be experiencing (such as collapsed lungs, stress at work, or having to watch Jar Jar Binks in Episode I).

When I write, I like to pretend that my future grandchildren will someday be reading my journal (let's call them Luke and Leia Dalton).  Keeping them in mind helps me write with purpose, knowing that someday they may gain insight from my life that they can use in their own.

President Spencer W. Kimball encouraged the youth of the Church to write in their journals for this very reason.  He said, "We urge our young people to begin today to write and keep records of all the important things in their own lives and also the lives of their antecedents in the event that their parents should fail to record all the important incidents in their own lives. Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity" (New Era Magazine, 1975).

In my primary class I encourage the kids to write in the journal every night, even if it is just a few sentences.  I promise them that when they are an adult someday, they will get a kick out of reading their journal entries as a kid.  With that in mind and in an effort to encourage you to write in your own journals, I would like to share a few of the journal entries from my past.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

#1: August 11, 1991: My very first journal entry

Guns, "purls", and baptisms all in one day!
#2: Some other day in 1991: Only journal entry I have ever written with orange crayon

Playing ninja is always better with friends.
#3: July 12, 1995: Super Nintendo, NBA Lockout, and Book of Mormon
It's scary that a journal entry from 1995 is quite similar
 to one that I wrote last week (I guess some things never change).
#4: January 12, 1999: Teenage testimony of Jesus Christ

I feel the same way about Him now.  I can never thank Him enough.
#5: September 11, 2001: Saddest day in American history

Never forget.
#6: November 6, 2011: www.mormonwookiee.com

Looking forward to many years to come.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

#17: Tom Cruise on Home Teaching (spoof).

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Just a quick post this afternoon.  For all you Elder's Quorum Presidents out there, I know it isn't always easy to get your quorums to do their home teaching.  Perhaps Tom Cruise can give them some inspiration. :)


This video was prepared and posted to youtube by camsawproductions (subscribe to his videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/camsawproductions).  Just remember, "it's wild and woolly out there"!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#16: Mormons are like Zombies. Really?

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When you think of Mormons, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Temples?  Mitt Romney?  Green jello?  How about zombies?  Hmmmm, me neither.  


But Pastor Matthew Johnson of the First Baptist Church in Bellhaven, North Carolina (Go Tarheels!) thinks that Mormons have quite a bit in common with the living dead.  I take the following quotes from a Deseret News article written by Joseph Walker (the full article can be found at http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700195913/Are-Mormons-like-zombies.html).


In the article, Walker quotes Pastor Johnson as follows:


"The most frightening scene of any zombie movie is when the hero is confronted with a loved one who has been turned into a zombie. The zombie might look like the hero's mother . . . But it isn't his mother anymore. It is now a mindless monster that wants to eat him alive.  


"From the viewpoint of many Southern Baptists, Mormons are Southern Baptist zombies.  Mormons hold the same family values as Southern Baptists. They talk about Jesus like Southern Baptists. They send out missionaries like Southern Baptists. They baptize people like Southern Baptists. But they believe the wrong things about Jesus, God and the Bible. For many members of the (Southern Baptist Convention), Mormons' foreign/familiarity leaves them with the same creepy feeling that we all get when we watch a George Romero movie . . . What's more, many Mormon converts were previously Southern Baptist.  Isn't this simply a version of the basic plot of any zombie movie? They are trying to turn us into them."


My thoughts on Pastor Johnson's statements:


1. I love zombies.  Especially when they are fighting plants. 


Plants vs. Zombies:  "Braaaaaains!"
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/plants-vs.-zombies/id350642635?mt=8


2. I think I make a great looking Mormon zombie.


Mormon or Zombie?

3. I am grateful to be a member of the Church, even (and especially) when people say funny things about us.  It makes me want to try harder to be a good person and help people understand that we really aren't that weird.


4. Although I disagree with Pastor Johnson's analogy, I appreciate the point that he is trying to make.  He feels that although we share similar moral values with Southern Baptists, we have different beliefs on core doctrinal issues.  This is indeed a fact.  And it is a fact that we boldly proclaim to the world.  God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ are certainly "one" in purpose, but they are physically two separate beings.  This is part of the very foundation of our faith, and it is made clear in Joseph Smith's "first vision" in the Spring of 1820.  Joseph described: "When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph Smith History 1:17).  It doesn't get much more wonderful than that.



Sunday, November 6, 2011

#15: "Fast and Testimony Meeting" in the 13th Ward.

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Growing up, there was one particular Sunday that I really didn't look forward to--the first Sunday of each month.  For those of you who may be unaware, as a Mormon, sacrament meeting on the first Sunday of each month is known as "fast and testimony meeting".  In this meeting, after the sacrament is passed, the pulpit is made available to any member of the congregation to come up and share his/her testimony.

Fast and Testimony meeting...during the 80's.
There are some humorous situations that occasionally occur during a fast and testimony meeting, such as when people get up and go off on a wild tangent unrelated in any way to their testimony or when 10 kids get up in a row and share the same testimony ("I know the church is true.  I love my mom and dad...etc.).  These things don't really bug me though.  In fact, I actually enjoy them.  However, there is one aspect of fast and testimony meeting that I dread.  It is something that I like to call the "unbearably awkward Mormon pause" (uaMp for short.  Trademark pending).

The uaMp occurs right after one person has finished sharing his/her testimony and no one else is in the queue to go next.  Usually someone will get up within a few seconds and the uaMp will not have time to grow and fester.  However, sometimes the uaMp is simply destined to occur.  When this happens, each second of the uaMp becomes more and more awkward.  As the time of the uaMp drags on, people either duck their heads or frantically look around the room to see who will get up next.  Once, in one of my old wards, the uaMp actually went on for eight minutes!  Eight minutes may not seem like that long, but to me it was like an eternity.  The bishop finally had to get up himself and remind the congregation of the importance of sharing our testimonies.

I have only seen two successful strategies for dealing with the uaMp.  (1) Get up and bear your own testimony.  Then, you can enjoy the rest of the meeting guilt-free, knowing that you have done your part.  (2) Pretend that you have to go to the bathroom.  Hopefully, I'm not the only one who has ever faked a full bladder during fast and testimony meeting. :)

Well, as much as I dread the uaMp, for some wonderful reason it rarely occurs in my current ward.  I don't know how I got so blessed to be in the Riverton 13th ward, but I absolutely love it.  Fast and testimony meeting in the 13th ward is a powerful example of how great a sacrament meeting can be.  Today, our fast and testimony meeting was a spiritual feast.  I would like to highlight a few of the testimonies that were given, because they are just a small sample of the type of testimonies we hear each month.

Our Elder's quorum president and his wife both bore powerful testimonies of the scriptures, baptism, and the truthfulness of the gospel.  They expressed gratitude for all of the blessings the gospel provides.  Their son was baptized yesterday, and you could see the joy it brought to their family.  Their enthusiasm and excitement was contagious.

A recently returned sister missionary and her two teenage sisters all bore their testimonies about the influence of the Savior and the atonement in their lives.  One of them used to be in my Sunday School class (before I got called to primary), and she was always a great example of faith, cheerfulness, and obedience.

A humble father got up and bore his testimony about the importance of the Book of Mormon.  He is a continually faithful example as each month he courageously gets up and bears a sweet testimony.  He makes me want to be a better person.

A mother of five children told a story about a stake conference a couple of years ago where the Jordan River temple president spoke during the meeting.  He encouraged the congregation to make it a goal to go to the temple each week.  As a mother of five, she felt like this was an impossible request.  But, after softening her heart, she committed to do whatever it takes to go each week.  She has kept up this habit for more than two years.  She spoke of the connection she has developed with her ancestors by preparing their names for the temple.  She also said that going to the temple each week has helped her to keep a calm and peaceful feeling in her home.

One of my favorite teenagers in the whole world bore his testimony about the power of prayer.  He spoke about the stress he has been under with trying to maintain good grades while still committing time to the school football team.  After a sleepless night, he knew that he could not do it all himself.  He knelt down and asked Heavenly Father to help him get the grades he needed, if he gave his best effort to study.  At that time, he had a number of B's and B minuses.  By the end of the quarter, his grades had improved to straight A's and a 4.00 GPA.  He expressed his gratitude to the Lord for watching over him and supporting him in his efforts.

A mother in our ward spoke about our tendency to get distracted by things that don't matter.  She said that she is trying harder to focus on her blessings.  She made the observation that we have the tendency to skip the importance of Thanksgiving by going straight from one commercial holiday (Halloween) to another (Christmas).

Another mother started her testimony by singing a solo hymn about families.  Although it is unconventional for someone to sing their testimony in fast and testimony meeting, it had a very powerful effect.  She then spoke about the fear her young son has of water.  He is having a difficult time with the thought of getting baptized, because he is so afraid of the water.  She spoke about how this experience has helped her gain patience and asked for our prayers and support in her son's behalf.

Last but not least, our humble high counselor finished the meeting with a testimony of the powerful influence of good neighbors.  He told a story of when he was a newly married father with a young son.  He and his wife were less-active members of the Church and attended Sunday meetings only infrequently.  The members of their new ward embraced them, served them, and invited them to come back to Church.  He was called to serve as the Young Men's president, even though at the time he did not regularly attend the ward.  Eight months later, he, his wife, and their young son were sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake temple.

I am very grateful for fast and testimony meeting, and the strength and comfort that it gives to me.  I challenge you to bear your testimony in your own wards and do whatever you can to invite the Holy Ghost into your meetings.  You will be edified and uplifted and so will everyone else who hears you.  You can set the example and encourage others to do the same.  Plus, it may just help you to avoid the uaMp. :)