Sunday, December 29, 2013

#126: Final General Conference Talks of the Apostles.

The final general conference talk of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane", was given on April 6, 1985, just 13 days prior to his death on April 19, 1985. Due to the clear and powerful testimony of Jesus Christ he gives in the talk and due to its proximity to his death, "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane" is remembered by Latter-Day Saints as one of the most beloved talks ever given. Every time I hear or read his concluding words, they stir my soul: "As pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way. God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen."

As I have pondered Elder McConkie's final talk, I became curious about the final talks given by other Latter-Day apostles. Below is a reverse chronological look into the final talks given by all of the apostles who have passed away since Elder McConkie. I love and admire these men so much. Reading their final talks has brought back many wonderful memories, and I recommend them to everyone.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin"Come What May and Love It" (October 2008) given 2 months prior to his death on December 1, 2008.

"Although my mother has long since passed to her eternal reward, her words are always with me. I still remember her advice to me given on that day long ago when my team lost a football game: 'Come what may, and love it.' I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it. As we look for humor, seek for the eternal perspective, understand the principle of compensation, and draw near to our Heavenly Father, we can endure hardship and trial. We can say, as did my mother, 'Come what may, and love it.' Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

President Gordon B. Hinckley - "The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain" (October 2007) given 4 months prior to his death on January 27, 2008. President Hinckley also gave brief closing remarks to wrap up the Sunday Afternoon session of the conference, but I consider "The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain" given during the Sunday Morning session to be his final full talk.

"Scholars not of our faith, who will not accept our singular doctrines, are puzzled by the great unrolling of this work, which is touching the hearts of people across the earth. We owe it all to Joseph the Prophet, the seer and the revelator, the Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was foreordained to come forth in this generation as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring to the earth that which the Savior taught when He walked the roads of Palestine. To you, this day, I affirm my witness of the calling of the Prophet Joseph, of his works, of the sealing of his testimony with his blood as a martyr to the eternal truth. Each of you can bear witness of the same thing. You and I are faced with the stark question of accepting the truth of the First Vision and that which followed it. On the question of its reality lies the very validity of this Church. If it is the truth, and I testify that it is, then the work in which we are engaged is the most important work on the earth. I leave with you my testimony of the truth of these things, and I invoke the blessings of heaven upon you. May the windows of heaven be opened and blessings showered upon you as the Lord has promised. Never forget that this was His promise and that He has the power and the capacity to see that it is fulfilled. I so pray as I leave my blessing and love with you in the sacred name of our Redeemer, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen."

President James E. Faust - "The Healing Power of Forgiveness" (April 2007) given 4 months prior to his death on August 10, 2007.

"When tragedy strikes, we should not respond by seeking personal revenge but rather let justice take its course and then let go. It is not easy to let go and empty our hearts of festering resentment. The Savior has offered to all of us a precious peace through His Atonement, but this can come only as we are willing to cast out negative feelings of anger, spite, or revenge. For all of us who forgive 'those who trespass against us,' even those who have committed serious crimes, the Atonement brings a measure of peace and comfort. Let us remember that we need to forgive to be forgiven. In the words of one of my favorite hymns, 'Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e’en forgiven now by me.' With all my heart and soul, I believe in the healing power that can come to us as we follow the counsel of the Savior 'to forgive all men.' In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Elder David B. Haight - "How Great the Wisdom and the Love" (April 2004) given 4 months prior to his death on July 31, 2004.

"We chose to come here. And so we’re here assembled in this vast auditorium, where we can speak to each other and bear witness and bear testimony. I assure you that in those sleepless nights that I’ve had at times, when you attempt to solve all of your problems and to make new resolutions of things that need to be done, I have had those heavenly thoughts that lift us. God our Heavenly Father loves us, as we should love Him. He selected His Son to come to earth and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ, for whom this Church is named and which we bear witness to. I am honored to stand and bear witness today of the foundation of this Church and of our love for President Hinckley, who leads us today. The gospel is true. I know it; I’m a witness of it. In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen."

Elder Neal A. Maxwell - "Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been" (April 2004) given 4 months prior to his death on July 21, 2004.

"Brethren, as you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give. Don’t wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it! No need to wait for a receipt; the Lord has His own special ways of acknowledging. I testify to you that God has known you individually, brethren, for a long, long time. He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars; He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys! By the way, you have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals—imperfect but who are, nevertheless, 'trying to be like Jesus'! In His name, even Jesus Christ, amen."

President Howard W. Hunter - "Follow the Son of God" (October 1994) given 5 months prior to his death on March 3, 1995.

"And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, through the power and authority of the priesthood vested in me and by virtue of the calling which I now hold, I invoke my blessings upon you. I bless you in your efforts to live a more Christlike life. I bless you with an increased desire to be worthy of a temple recommend and to attend the temple as frequently as circumstances allow. I bless you to receive the peace of our Heavenly Father in your homes and to be guided in teaching your families to follow the Master. I again testify that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I feel very deeply my dependence on the Lord for the guidance and direction of his kingdom. I thank you again for your sustaining vote and your faith and prayers in behalf of myself and my Brethren, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

President Ezra Taft Benson - Due to his declining health, President Benson's actual last general conference talk ("To The Elderly of the Church") was given in October 1989, almost five years prior to his death on May 30, 1994. However, in the April 1994 General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson gave a talk titled "What He Would Have Us Do" (April 1994), in which he mentioned what he thought President Benson would say if he could have been there.

"President Benson’s chair, situated between President Hinckley and me, has been unoccupied at this conference, although he has viewed the conference proceedings at his apartment by television. Our hearts are full of love for the prophet of God, and his teachings ring in our ears. If he were standing before us at this moment at the conclusion of the conference, I believe he would say, 'Lord, it has been good for us to be here.'”

Elder Marvin J. Ashton - "A Yearning For Home" (October 1992) given 1.5 years prior to his death on February 25, 1994

"When we have a yearning and don’t know what it is for, perhaps it’s our soul longing for its heartland, longing to be no longer alienated from the Lord and the pursuit of something much higher, better, and more fulfilling than anything this earth has to offer. After Joseph, youngest son of Jacob, had been reunited with his brothers, he asked them to return home to Canaan to bring his father, Jacob, to him in Egypt. As the brothers were preparing to depart, Joseph said to them simply, 'See that ye fall not out by the way.' Might our Heavenly Father have given us much the same counsel as we departed his presence to begin our earthly sojourn? May our yearning for home be the motivation we need to so live that we can return to our heavenly home with God our Father on a forever basis, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

President Marion G. Romney - "Unity" (April 1983) given 5 years prior to his death on May 20, 1988.

"Surely we need this unity and this strength in this day in which we live. We have a great opportunity, the opportunity to rise heavenward, to gain the spirit of the gospel as we have never enjoyed it before. This we can do by developing among us that unity required by the laws of the celestial kingdom. If, in the expediency of the moment, we set God aside to follow the teachings of men, we disown him. Only a united people, keeping God’s commands, can expect the protection which he alone can give when the floods come, and the rains descend, and the winds blow, and beat upon our house. It is my conviction that, since we are engaged in the Lord’s work, we can accomplish everything he requires us to do if we will but be united. That we may so be, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

President Spencer W. Kimball - "The Lord Expects Righteousness" (October 1982) given 3 years prior to his death on November 5, 1985.
"For the past century and a half since the Restoration, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, the latter-day prophets of God have raised their voices in clarity and with authority and truth as they have borne their testimonies of the divinity of this great latter-day work and the redemptive power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To the testimonies of these mighty men I add my testimony. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that He was crucified for the sins of the world. He is my friend, my Savior, my Lord and my God. With all my heart I pray that the Saints may keep His commandments, have His Spirit to be with them, and gain an eternal inheritance with Him in celestial glory."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

#125: Sacrament Meeting Doodles.

I've always enjoyed doodling during Sacrament meeting, even though I realized it isn't the best use of my church time. But then I found out that President Eyring sometimes draws during church too, and all my guilt was swept away. Lately I've been doodling on the iPad, because it's more permanent than the back of the meeting program. Here are some of my doodles from the last few weeks:
My Elder's Quorum President has the best hair in the ward.
Returned missionary spoke today. He still had that glow.
Our neighbor's son is one of the cutest kids ever.
Spying on my friend from the pew behind her.
High councilman. This drawing may be boring, but his talk wasn't.
Last but not least: hymn holder for the win.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

#124: Elder's Quorum "Nintendo Tournament of a Lifetime".

My friend Jeff is currently the Elder's Quorum President in his ward. Unfortunately, some of his past Elder's Quorum activities have not been very well attended. Together, he and I came up with a fun Elder's Quorum activity that was very successful--the first-ever Elder's Quorum "Nintendo Tournament of a Lifetime" (with food always helps).

We gathered up all of our Nintendo games from the NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, and Wii (thanks to my mom for not throwing my old games away!), set up a few TVs in the cultural hall at the Church, brought in the couches from the foyer (with permission, of course) and had an epic 24-man "Nintendo Tournament of a Lifetime". In order to facilitate 24 players, we split the men into six different teams. Four players at a time would compete in a mini-challenge on one game (one race in Excitebike, one 3-minute round of Super Smash Bros, most points in a quarter of NBA Jam, etc.) until all 4 players had attempted the challenge. The winner received 4 points, the runner-up received 3 points, 3rd place received 2 points, and 4th place received 1 point. The team that had the most points by the end of the night was declared the "Nintendo Champions of a Lifetime". In this particular case, it actually came down to a tie, so the two winning teams picked their two best players to go head-to-head in an epic speed run of Super Mario Bros World 1-1. It was awesome. Jeff gave out some gift cards for the winning team. It was a great activity, and we can't wait to do it again. If you have some old Nintendo games lying around and are in need of a fun activity, give it a shot. It's a sure way to get your 20 to 30 year old Elder's to come out to an activity.
More games means more awesome.
Free food + Nintendo is a guaranteed success.
Setting up the teams. The dude in purple is ready to roll.
Jeff kept score in Microsoft Ecxel. It's great to be a nerd.
Bo Jackson is unstoppable in Tecmo Bowl. It's really not even fair.
Brody was the champion of the night--he had nerves of steel.
 He beat Super Mario Bros World 1-1 in record time.
And then he just kept on going.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

#123: Captain Morobi-Wan.

As a kid, I loved the Book of Mormon paintings by Arnold Friberg. Friberg's depictions of Nephi, Ammon, and the Stripling Warriors all looked like superheroes with their bulging biceps and massive weapons. But of all of Friberg's paintings, my absolute favorite was Captain Moroni. To a young boy, there is just something magical about him. He was righteous, he was brave, and he "didn't take no crap from nobody" (not an actual Book of Mormon quote).
In his writings, Mormon said this of Captain Moroni: "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken  forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17). Think of it--if we were all more like Moroni, Satan would have NO power over us! That's a powerful statement.

Since my blog is called Mormon Wookiee, I thought it would be fun to take my own Star Warsy spin on some of Friberg's paintings (after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). With that thought in mind, I now present to you my very first attempt at Arnold Friberg's Star Wars: Captain Morobi-Wan. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

#122: My Name Used to Be Muhammad.

On Friday afternoon, I stumbled upon an LDS Living article about Tito Momen, a former Muslim who had since converted to Mormonism. Tito's story is one of the most amazing things I have ever read. After finishing the article, I immediately downloaded the full book "My Name Used to Be Muhammad" (available on Amazon or at Deseret Book) written by Tito and co-author Jeff Benedict. I couldn't put it down. I finished it just moments ago, and the book has changed my life.

In many ways, Tito's story is terribly tragic. He is disowned by his family, he loses the love of his life, he is repeatedly beaten and mocked, and he suffers fifteen years in prison for his beliefs before finally being released in 2006 for medical reasons--particularly diabetes, stroke, and heart problems. But at the same time, Tito's story is one of glorious redemption. Through all of his trials, Tito finds the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a greater gift than all of the wealth in the world.

Tito's experiences bring to my mind the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 121:7-8). Tito's life is a reminder to me that no matter how dark life may seem to be, Christ will never forsake us. He will ALWAYS be there.

One note: In the book, Tito does not mince words in his descriptions of abuse, drug and alcohol use, sexuality, and harsh prison life. Some of his descriptions are graphic and are obviously not meant for children. However, for adults of all Christian faiths, I offer my highest recommendation for "My Name Used to Be Muhammad". Download it. Read it. And change your life because of it. You won't regret it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

#121: Real World Heroes: Ian and Larissa Murphy.

This morning my friend Karmen showed me a video about an amazing couple--Ian and Larissa Murphy. Ian and Larissa met in college and began dating in 2005. Ten months later, in September of 2006, Ian was in a terrible car accident, putting him into a coma and injuring his brain. After coming out of his coma, Ian could barely move, could not eat, and could not talk. But over the last seven years, miracles have happened in Ian and Larissa's lives. I'll let the video tell the rest of the story.

To learn more about Ian and Larissa's remarkable lives, check out their blog Pray for Ian. Also, if you are interested, Ian has begun selling some of his paintings to help pay for his daily therapy. You can see and purchase one of his paintings here. I know what I want for Christmas now.

Ian and Larissa's story remind me of how very blessed I am to be married to Diane. She is such a wonderful wife--she is loving, beautiful, and kind. I know that she would be just like Larissa if I were ever in an accident like Ian.

Most of all, Ian an Larissa's story reminded me that good things do still happen in this world. They may not be big. But they are real. And they are beautiful.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

#120: Part Two: Salt Lake Valley Regional Conference - 9/15/2013.

See below for a continuation of my last post, in which I gave my best attempt at recording the talks given by Elder L. Whitney Clayton and President Rosemary Wixom at the Salt Lake Valley Regional Conference on September 15, 2013. In this post, you will see my attempt to record the two concluding talks given at the Conference by Elder Russell M. Nelson and President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. This are not official dictations of the talks, but I sure tried to type as quickly as I could. Hope this helps!

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles

Sister Nelson and I are very grateful to be with you on this special occasion. Meeting with 116 stakes in this part of Utah is a unique privilege for us. Most of you are gathered in local chapels. We express our love and gratitude to you. We are gratefully for Rosemary and for all who teach our precious children. We appreciate Elder Clayton's message. Those seven presidents of the Seventy carry a huge leadership load in the Church for which we are very grateful. After I address you, we will hear from President Packer. Childhood polio weakened him and now affects his viability. But he gives much strength to the Church. He has inspired leadership and seership. He is such a competent and caring leader. 

Each one of you is part of the heart of the Church. I love a good strong heart (Elder Nelson is a retired heart surgeon). I know that a heart works better when its vessels and fibers work in unity. That is one lesson we can learn from the workings of the human heart. A large heart is needed to support a large body. Two months ago on June 30th, Elder D. Todd Christofferson created the 100th stake in the country of Peru, the fourth country in the world to have more than 100 stakes--along with the United States, Mexico, and Brazil. In June, I also created a stake in the country of Armenia--the 3,025th stake in the world. We saw some missionaries from Utah and thought of you with gratitude. There are now 3,033 stakes in the Church and three more will be created today. 
Elder Nelson
As the church continues to grow, it will bless the lives of more and more people throughout the world. Where do those resources come from? You, here in the heart of the Church. You bear much of the burden of its growth. President Packer and I are members of the "Council on the Disposition of the Tithes". Those tithing resources are used carefully and prayerfully. We are to go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature. That means we need to rescue those among us who are not currently participating as actively as they ought to do. They need the blessings that will thereby come to them and their families. Long ago, my parents were among a generation that had let other priorities take higher precedence in their lives. I spoke about this last June at our worldwide missionary broadcast. I was concerned about the eternal welfare of my mother and father. I wrote a letter to their bishop, asking him if he could please invite someone to teach the gospel to them. I prayed that he could provide help. He replied, expressing sincere regret, that there was no one who could help him. The bishop's response crushed my hope. My parents didn't know about God's glorious gospel. 

Decades later they learned the doctrine and became converted. I am now eternally grateful. Loved ones in our own families and neighborhoods here in Utah are just as precious to the Lord as those who live far away. We love to bring people back to their previous covenants just as we love to bring people to their first covenants. This is best down by caring love, which is shown through loving care. The good word of the gospel is spelled d-o-c-t-r-i-n-e. Let me focus on the word "doctrine". We often hear reference to important "doctrines", such as tithing, chastity, etc. I wanted to find out how many doctrines there are, so I decided to search the scriptures. This is what I found out--in the scriptures, the doctrines of Christ's gospel are always referred to in the singular sense--just as "doctrine". However, every single time a negative doctrine is mentioned (priestcraft, etc.), it is always used as the plural form "doctrines". Don't be offended by a word, but this information has given me a greater appreciation for the word "doctrine". It is like one single, sparkling gem. The gem has many brilliant facets that make it sparkle, but it is still one gem. Let's look at the doctrine as if it were a large and brilliant diamond. Now, let us choose nine definable facets within that diamond. We could focus on the nine facets mentioned in "Come Follow Me", the new youth Sunday curriculum. Real and expensive diamonds may have many more than nine facets, but my leaner model might be more affordable. :)

Facet 1: The Godhead: They are separate and distinct beings, united in purpose to bring to pass the Father's great work of salvation. "For behold, this is my work and my glory÷to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). This most important objective undergirds everything else that we know, think, and do in this church. It is so logical and so natural. A loving Father wants his children to return home to Him. Any parent knows that feeling. 

Facet 2: Plan of Salvation: God's plan for his children has a variety of names--salvation, happiness, redemption, mercy. By any of those names, it is all the same plan. It includes the creation, the Fall, the Atonement, resurrection, judgment, all of God's commandments, and our agency to obey them or not. It allows us to endure faithfully to the end and includes eventual exaltation which is the joyous privilege of eternal life--to dwell in the presence of God, our Savior, and our families forever.

Facet 3: The Atonement.:The atonement of Jesus Christ is the central act of all human history. The atonement was uniquely his mission in mortality. It enabled both immortality and eternal life--the ultimate objectives of God the father--to become reality.

Facet 4: Dispensation, Apostasy, and Restoration: All previous dispensations were limited in time because each ended in apostasy and were limited in location to a small area of earth. This dispensation will not end in apostasy and will fill the entire earth. The Church is here to gather scattered Israel, seal the families of Israel, and to help prepare the people for the future coming of The Lord.

Facet 5: Prophets and Revelation: A prophet is one called of God to speak for Him. Throughout history, prophets have taught of Jesus Christ and his doctrine. For each worthy member, revelation comes through the Holy Ghost for one's personal revelation. Scriptures are revelation given to prophets. I have seen the original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon. Rarely are there editorial marks or corrections. We know that future revelation will come from God.

Facet 6: Priesthood and Priesthood keys: The priesthood is the authority and power that God has granted to men to act for Him. Adam held the priesthood, as given to him by God. There are two orders of the priesthood--the Melchizedek and Aaronic, each with their own keys and quorums. Heavenly messengers restored these keys so that ordinances of exaltation and salvation could be performed with the proper authority.

Facet 7: Ordinances and covenants: An ordinance is a sacred formal act of spiritual significance, accompanied by covenants between God and a person. Those of salvation pertain to an individual. Those of exaltation pertain to families (particularly, by being sealed in the temple).

Facet 8: Marriage and family: Marriage is ordained of God. Family is central to his plan of salvation and happiness. A man's highest responsibility is to love and care for his wife. Tell your dear wife that you love her each day. She is most precious to you here and hereafter. God's plan allows for families throughout eternity. That's why we have temples.

Facet 9: Commandments: They are given from God to man to protect and bless his children. We show our love of God by obeying his commandments. There are many commandments--the two great commandments, the Ten Commandments given to Moses, and others that include fasting, prayer, tithing, chastity, caring for those in need, and more. We are invited--even commanded--to emulate the Savior in all we think and do.

I have just highlighted nine facets of our diamond of doctrine. I apologize if I have given you a heavy load of doctrine. But if you know it and live by it you won't be burdened by guilt or bothered by daily decisions. Ig you ale yoked to the Lord, you will have the faith to handle every challenge you faith in life. I hope that you will love the Lord and yoke yourselves to Him. Be one of his true disciples. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). I hope you will learn of The Lord and his doctrine. You will learn it best by teaching it--teach your families and friends. As you rescue your loved ones, my love and prayer will be with you. I pray that you may heed the words of President Packer. I sustain him as the president of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. Christ lives and this is his true Church. He lives. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles

A few years ago, I remember when we, as members of the Quorum of the 12, went to a stake conference and went alone. We held a stake conference every weekend and were able to get around the whole church. But it would take me 17 years to do that cycle now. I learned something along the way--by that time the number of stakes had doubled, and I would never get back to a stake that I had previously been to. In England, I had the privilege of calling a stake president and then releasing him 10 years later. That was the only time that had happened--a Brother Johnson. When he gave his last talk, he said, "Some nice things have been said about me. That I was faithful and good and served well. I think, generally, that's true. I didn't serve well because I was experienced. I served well because I was called. I can fulfill a calling as a home teacher as I can as a stake president." We then called him as a general authority.
President Packer
The pioneers had the easy days. From now on it's going to be different and rougher. In many ways, their part was easier than our part is going to be. I have a sermon prepared for you. This particular sermon changed my life when I was a young seminary teacher. I went to a meeting with a number of other teachers in the area. Elder Antoine R. Ivins of the Quorum of the Seventy was the visiting general authority. Years earlier, his father became a member of the first presidency (Anthony W. Ivins). When he came to visit, Elder Ivins was as old then as I am now (that's pretty old!).

I asked him a question. He was sitting on the table in the ward's Relief Society room. I told him about a student in my class, and I thought sometimes that the student made his best contribution when he didn't come. When he started school in the first grade, knew his name was "Johnny, Stop!" And that's all I know. I asked him, "When was it justified to be done? When can I in good faith just get rid of him and get him out of the class?" He sat on the table and swung his feet. He said, "What if he was your boy? Your son?" That changed my life--as a teacher, as a father, and I began to learn a bit of the gospel.

I want to talk to you this morning about you. Part of this will be private--only you can answer the question. When I go in the mission field and teach missionaries, I ask what does the word "father" mean in terms of Father in Heaven? Do you know what father means? You don't know! You may learn someday, but you don't know it yet. You know the dictionary definition. I told them that if they had a doctor come out of a delivery room saying that I don't think we are going to keep this one, you will learn a little more about what a being father is like. That's when you finally begin to learn what the word father means. It's a tough world we live in now, but you (half a million of you if you're all at church) who we used to see in small groups, we don't see you now. Not long ago, every stake president had shaken hands with a member of the 12 that year. But as the church grew, we knew we would never get back to those we had talked to before. You don't get to go back in life.

The word father--you know what it means. The Savior told us to "Pray unto the Father always in my name" (3 Nephi 18:19). "Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:8-9).

We have that same relationship with our Heavenly Father. He will always answer. An old preacher said, "The Lord is holding for you and Satan is holding against you, but it's your vote that counts." It's up to you--up to what you choose to make of yourself. The devil can't make you do anything. As a son or daughter of God, you have a certain sovereignty that gives you power over the adversary, if you only knew it. Moses knew it. He said to Satan, "Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?" (Moses 1:13). The adversary has his limits, and he can only do what we let him do. We can be beguiled and fooled or just foolish and give him charge in our lives, but in the final analysis you are in charge of him as to how it relates to your life. He has been around for a long time. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an athiest who preached all over the country, doing all kind of harm. A reporter said, "Between God and Mrs. Murray a battle rages, but it isn't fair considering their ages." She died a tragic end.

When I say the pioneers had the easy part, the problem with us today is that we are being confronted at all times by that which is sponsored by the adversary. We need to pattern our life to leave him out of our consciousness. It is not an easy thing to get hold of yourself and to gain enough self control to avoid the very thought of evil. How do you control your thoughts? We've talked about inspiration. We know that a 3rd of the hosts of heaven were cast out. We know that angels exists and that they "speak by the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Nephi 32:3). The fact is that there are also angels of the adversary who follow us around and try to use the same channels. How can you keep that channel open to the right source and righteous thoughts? In the Church we have a lot going on, sometimes we have too much going on. It is possible to go to church year after year and never really find the gospel. We must remember that we are children of God. That question from Elder Ivins, "What if he were your son?" led me to realize that I am God's son. I have the obligation to live worthy of that fatherhood. You are in charge of your mind, but sometimes it is very difficult to change your mind. How can you break that circuit? First, you must want to. Second, you must want to know how.

Adam and Eve were given the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth and then they were given agency. If all the doctrine were in boxes, I would find the one called agency and put it first. Free agency is never mentioned in the scriptures. Moral agency is mentioned once. I would put that one first. "Know then that ev'ry soul is free, to choose his life and what he'll be; for this eternal truth is given, that God will force no man to heaven" ("Know Then That Every Man is Free", Elias Smith).

If you wonder who is in charge, in the final sense, you are. Confess to the Lord that you want to do it his way and that you want to be obedient. Tell Him that you will be obedient at every turn. Obedience is hard for youth. When we go about to try to manage the Church which is now so big, we have tried to tell ourselves to not be too entrenched with the scoreboard. We get used to counting things--how many meetings, etc. The things that matter most cannot be counted. You cannot quantify or control them. When we find ourselves failing, there is always someone there to lift us up. The Lord gave the supernal gift of the priesthood and the related ordinances. Angels will be about you to lift you up and inspire you if you learn to hold to the Spirit. We've joined the Church? What do we do? All you have to do is follow the Spirit. To try to sort that out in this life is not an easy thing and it may take a lifetime of practice. The things that we are taught to do and taught not to do in this Church are to help us to recognize the influence of the Spirit. No member can make a major mistake without being told or alerted by the Spirit not to do it. You will say to yourself, "I know I shouldn't have done that!" Well, why did you do it? Or maybe it's the other way around and you pass up an opportunity.

One of our boys, when he was about four--I was taking him to bed. He didn't want to go to bed and said, "You're not in charge of me." That was time for a father to son chat. I explained that I was in charge of him, but the day would come when I wouldn't be. He would have to be in charge of himself. We must learn to heed the Spirit and turn away when the things that we are doing prevent us from having the Spirit. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you. The things we do--the Word of Wisdom--when that came, it brought marvelous blessings. The basic things are not the end of it--any thing that is habit forming or addictive should be avoided. Now that we have a church of 14 million people, we largely don't worry about the drug society, because those usually begin through tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco. To think that we are a clean people is a marvelous blessing. We look clean. When I was in the Air Force, we rode on a crowded bus. A middle aged woman kept staring at me. I don't like to be stared at. It made me nervous. Finally, she said, You look so clean." Well, I could have said, "Well, I hope so. I took a shower." I knew that wasn't what she meant. It is easy to pick out a Latter-day Saint because they look clean. Once while in Mexico, I visited a group of Latter-Day Saints. Many of them didn't have shoes on, they were peasants in Mexico, but they were clean. That's part of who we are. If we live for it and live by it, then that's the pattern of our exaltation.

Are you so touchy that you can't be corrected? Most people don't like to be corrected. One of the members of the Seventy couldn't handle correction. I told him, "You've got to get over that and be able to handle discipline and correction from wherever it comes--even from your children and certainly from your wife." The sternest words I know are "Now, Boyd". :) She is perfect. She says she's not, but I know she is. That's gospel truth that I'm teaching here. That's the pattern of marriage where you can help one another. If you teach by the Spirit, the power of the Holy Ghost carries it to the hearts that listen. That's the challenge I try to operate in. When you read the New Testament, The Lord often answered with another question.

I like everyone generally, but I've made a few exceptions in my life. :) Donna (President Packer's wife) and I were on a train to Munich, Germany, where we had just organized a stake. We had an appointment the next day. Barry Fisher, one of the Medal of Honor winners in Vietnam, had a car there. We went past the prison where Hitler had written "Mein Kamph". In one of the buildings we met, Hitler had lived in the building that used to be there. Well, now the wheel has turned. We organized a stake in that room. Brother Fisher took us down the mountain to catch a plane. We couldn't find anyone who spoke English. We were in the airport for all hours and they said that the plane may or may not fly later. When it got late, here suddenly appeared two angel missionaries. They said, "We thought you might be here and we wanted to know if we could give you any help." They were literally a Godsend. By that prompting, they had come to rescue us. They told us, "You need to take the midnight train." They drove us. We went to the mission home. Donna looked through the cupboard and made a quick meal. We were very tired but anxious to be on our way.

Once we got to the train station, an Elder ran along the side of me. He pulled out his wallet and gave me a 20 mark note. "Here, you might need this." In East Germany, the communist crew of the train was not nice to us--I didn't like the conductor. He was a dislikable person. :) He asked for our passports. He woudn't accept Donna's passport. None of the others would help us. Finally I didn't know what to do. I pulled out the 20 mark note and handed it to him. He let us get through. I bribed him. The next morning in Berlin, Brother Martin, a member of the CIA, said, "I don't know how you got through. They could have pulled you off the train. They wouldn't have done it to both of you, but just Donna." Somehow we were rescued. Some years later, I was speaking at BYU-Idaho, and this incident came to mind and I mentioned it. A young man came up and said, "I was that missionary who gave you the 20 mark note." His name was David Bednar (now a member of the Quorum of the 12 apostles). He told me, "You never gave me my money back. And now you owe me 22 years interest." I did pay him back, but not in money. I told him, "That debit is cancelled." :)

We will be protected and guided and the Father will be looking out for us. We pray always in the name of the Lord. When you come to learn what the word father really means, you will truly learn what you are to do. Never forget that you have a Father in Heaven and that you can call upon Him in the name of Christ. He will not leave you comfortless. The easy times are in the past. Now we have the difficult times, but we are not being left without strength and power. We have a Father who will guide us and correct us, sometimes painfully. But He will guide us. Christ really presides over this Church. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

#119: Part One: Salt Lake Valley Regional Conference - 9/15/2013.

What a great day. This morning we had a "regional" stake conference, made up of 116 stakes throughout the Salt Lake Valley. The conference session was broadcast from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. We heard from Elder L. Whitney Clayton, President Rosemary Wixom, Elder Russell M. Nelson, and President Boyd K. Packer, all of whom gave excellent talks. President Wixom is a good friend of my wife Diane's parents, Ben and Diane. My favorite part of the conference was a wonderful surprise when President Wixom briefly told the story of Ben and Diane's conversion to the gospel nearly 40 years ago. It was a special treat, considering that Diane was visiting us from out of town and was able to hear the talk.

As there is no official transcript of the talks, I tried to type as quickly as I could while the speakers spoke. If you were unable to attend the conference today (or even if you just want to revisit the talks), feel free to check them out below. In this post I have included the first two talks by Elder Clayton and President Wixom. In my next post, I will post the concluding two talks by Elder Nelson and President Packer. UPDATE: You can find my post of Elder Nelson and President Packer's talks at this link.

Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy

I would like to speak today about anchors. In 2002, the country of Argentina was experience great economic distress. Unemployment equaled 20%. These difficult economic circumstances also directly affected the neighboring countries of Uruguay and Paraguay. I received an assignment to go to Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay to meet with the six stake presidents from the area. We met in a chapel near the temple. I knew that these stakes had many challenges. I decided not to offer them much counsel, but instead to simply listen to them. Rather than dwelling on the problems they were facing, I asked them to tell me about the strengths of their stakes and what was going well. The first stake president spoke of what was going well and then added a few problems at the end. The second spoke of what was going well and then spent some time focusing on a few more problems. The third spent half on the good and half on the problems, until the sixth stake president spoke only of the problems. 
Elder Clayton
As the stake presidents grew increasingly more negative, I began kicking myself mentally. "You have really painted yourself into a corner. Way to go!" As I was beginning to feel desperate, a thought suddenly came into my mind. "Ask them of who, among those in their stakes who pay their tithing, faithfully fulfill their assignments, etc., how many of those people in their stakes have problems that they cannot handle on their own." So I asked them. None responded. So then I asked them again. They all said of those people who faithfully obeyed the commandments, there were none who could not resolve their own problems. Those members were able to meet life's challenges without needing the church to step in. 

Those who faithfully follow the commandments of God are blessed and have the spiritual resolve to face the challenges of which they are confronted. Almost miraculously, they find strength, courage, and faith in times of need. Consider the commandment to pay tithing. It is a very simple commandment. But the promises that follow are extraordinary. Consider the promises given by the prophet Malachi: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 3:10-12).

Another example of promised blessings comes from the payment of a generous fast offering. They are remarkable. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not" (Isaiah 58:8-11).

When we keep the commandments of God, we anchor our souls to the bedrock of eternity and to the living gospel. This process is just that--it is a process. It happens gradually, line upon line. But with each new day and each act of obedience, the anchor for our souls becomes stronger and stronger. Each time we keep a commandment, our connection to the Savior grows stronger and it leads us to abound in good works. This is why those stake presidents observed that righteousness leads to blessings. They enjoyed the happiness that inevitably follows--happier marriages, happier homes, and freedom even during those dire circumstances in Paraguay in 2002. Knowing the truth had made them free. 

One time while on vacation, my brother and I were swimming in the ocean. We looked down and saw an anchor buried about 20 feet deep. We dove down and tried to pull it up. It was four feet tall and very heavy. We spent hours diving down again and again, slowly moving it to the shore and finally pulled it up onto the beach. It was not connected to anything. We did not know how long it laid in the sand. 

We who are at this regional conference today live in the center stakes of the Church. Many of us are descendants of generations of members who also lived in the Salt Lake Valley. They were solidly anchored. Other members are newer, but likewise they are pioneers with homes of faith. Traditions of righteousness have been handed down from one generation to another and from neighbor to neighbor and from friend to friend. We would almost appear to inherit gospel roots, as if faith were part of the soil on which are homes were built. However, this is no guarantee--the next generation will not survive spiritually without effort and paying the price. The benefits of living in a peaceful place may continue, but the Spirit of the Lord cannot pass on and be inherited or delivered like a plate of brownies. The blessings of the Spirit are earned by each generation themselves. Each must faithfully keep the commandments. Thus, it is vital that we help our children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends to obtain this same conversion. We must teach them by faith and by example. The building of faith occurs when parents teach and show their children how to pray and to walk uprightly before The Lord. Also, the admonition to warn our neighbors stands in place and is best accomplished when we first warm them through genuine friendship. 

I think often of that anchor on the shore. At one time, it might have offered a safe harbor. But it couldn't anymore. Someone decided he didn't need it and sailed away without it. Our children need the strength of our anchors while they forge their own anchors through their personal obedience. We should not cast them unprepared and unconverted from our homes without the scriptures as their charts, the Spirit as their compass, and the blessings of God to fill their sails. The prophet Mormon said, "But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they" (Mormon 2:18). Similarly the prophet Ether taught, "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God" (Ether 12:4). May we all anchor our souls firmly in the gospel of Jesus CHrist. He, and his Father will bless and protect us. The predictable blessings that follow obedience will always follow obedience. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Patricia was a young mother of four children. She loved light, warmth, order, and cleanliness. As a result, she vacuumed a lot. Her husband Ed came home one day and said, I know what you'll be doing in the eternities. You'll be the chief vacuumer." Patricia thought, "No! I can't keep spending all of my time doing this!" The next day she got a babysitter, began fasting, and went out alone to her parents cabin. While at the cabin, she spent the day prioritizing and sorting out her life. She knew that getting her family back to Heavenly Father was her top priority. As she worked her way down the list, she discovered that keeping her house spotless and clean fell to the bottom of the list. She drew up a plan and overlaid her list on the family calendar so that she could ensure that her plan would happen. She went home excited because she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She told Ed about her experience and then encouraged him to do the same--Ed then went through the same exercise. Patricia said, that it was a wonderful turning point for our marriage and family. Our priorities changed for the better.
President Wixom
We all have similar opportunities to get our lives in order. Time spent seeking personal revelation for ourselves and our families is time well spent. Speaking to her husband Adam, Eve joyfully once said: "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient" (Moses 5:11). Eve could see the lively hope of living with Heavenly Father again. She wanted that blessing for her family. Elder Bruce C. Hafen once said: We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing else we want more" ("The Atonement For All", 2004). 

Adam and Eve understood the Lord's plan. They understood that they shared the full plan and blessings of the priesthood. They shared a desire to make and keep sacred covenants. They blessed the name of God and taught all these things freely to their sons and daughters. So what more can we learn from them? I would like to highlight three key things.

First, they cleaved to their covenants and to each other. They remained faithful. Our first covenant was at baptism. Elder Robert D. Hales said: "Do you understand and do your children understand that when they are baptized they are changed forever?...When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Taking upon us His name is one of the most significant experiences we have in life. Yet sometimes we pass through that experience without having a full understanding" ("The Covenant of Baptism", 2000). Adam and Eve cleaved to each other! For many years, my friend Leo took care of his wife Raquel, who was very sick. On Sundays they sat on the back row. Each week he would help her take the sacrament by lifting the cup to bread and water to her lips. I noticed that they always held hand throughout the meeting. He once told me, "Where she goes, there goes my heart." I am reminded of the following verse of scripture: Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else" (D&C 42:22). That "none else" may include work, exercise, entertainment, or social media. These things may begin to slowly substitute the time we could be spending with our spouse. Even if you are single, cleave to this truth. Elder Richard G. Scott once said: "The Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances" ("First Things First", 2001).
Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden
Second, Adam and Eve labored together. "Adam began to till the earth...and Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him" (Moses 5:1). The key word is WITH. Their names are seldom spoken separately. They lived their lives together. Applying this principle applies to our families. We should often ask ourselves, "What experiences could we have with our children to strengthen their development?" A young couple, Amy and Brent, asked themselves that question, as well as the following: "What if, rather than dance or sports, we asked our children to stay home more often and we did things together as a family?" For one year, Amy and Brent decided to forgo dance, sports, and all those other ativities, and spent time together. They cooked together, they camped together, they played games together.Their children felt the Spirit because they took the time to stop and listen. Conversation is at the root of every precious relationship we enjoy. That is the story of one family's choice. We are entitled to make choices for our own families. If we allow Him, the Lord will inspire and give us the courage to make those hard choices. Families used to work together out of necessity. Today we outsource our children at a rapid pace. Some children see themselves as part of a soccer team before seeing themselves as a part of a family.

Finally, Adam and Eve called upon the Lord in prayer. "Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name" (3 Nephi 18:19). Every Christmas season, Nels and Suzanne would pray to be able to identify a family they could help. They lived in a small town and Nels was trying to get his struggling business off the ground. However, as they prayed and looked around the community, they found a family with much greater needs than their own. They talked to their three young boys about what they could do. Their resources were limited, but their desire to help was overwhelming. They prayed about how they could help the family. Suzanne said, "One morning as I was pondering the impossibility of the plan, I felt inspired. I had a five gallon bucket of high quality flour. I could make and sell cinnamon rolls. We did a test run and I said many silent prayers during the process. I taught my son Peter what to say. 'Hi, my name is Peter! I'm selling cinnamon rolls to help a family in need this Christmas. $2 a piece.'" They made $60 in two hours. Many batches of cinnamon rolls later, they were able to raise a generous and anonymous amount to help the family in need. They never found out the family's reaction, but they did know that they had been called to be instruments in the Lord's hands through prayer. Over 25 years ago, Pres Kimball said: In the past, having family prayer once a day may have been all right. But in the future it will not be enough if we are going to save our families" (as quoted by President James E. Faust, "The Greatest Challenge in the World--Good Parenting", 1990).

I want to tell you one last story about some friends of mine (Diane's parents--Ben and Diane). When they were first married, they did not want to have any children. However, they were soon baptized as members of the Church. Over the next 15 years, they had seven children. Whenever I visited their homes, it was clear that the concept of eternal families was taught in their home. Some signs of this doctrine were on post-it notes on mirrors that said "We can be a family forever." Their faith was literally written on the walls of their homes. To this day, it has served them well. 
A photo of Ben and Diane's family at our wedding six years ago.
We are so blessed by the gospel!
Each of these families sought revelation through prayer and have felt the blessings in their families. Not one of those families is perfect, but they do desire it. Through the Savior's atonement, our families too may one day reach that perfection. If we labor together, pray together, and listen to the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, we will begin to see life in that eternal perspective. If this is what we want and we want nothing more, we will get it. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

#118: A Humbled Sinner.

Today while reading 2 Nephi 4:17-19, it hit me pretty hard. Nephi is a near perfect prophet, and yet here he is talking about how wretched he is. It made me pause and also inspired me to write a poem today. I hope you like it.

A Humbled Sinner

During my life, I've done some good things--
Like holding a baby who's cried.
But more often than not, I've done things I regret--
Acts of selfishness, anger, and pride.

When left to myself, I typically take
The path with the least bit of resistance.
If life were a footrace with heaven the goal,
I'd never make it half of the distance.

And even at times when I do some good work
And feel that my talents have blossomed,
I pridefully puff up my chest and then think,
"Look at me, everyone! I'm so awesome."

Foolish, and vengeful, and so very weak,
I repeat the same sins once again.
They mock and they haunt me and each seems to say,
"Give up now! There's no way you can win."

As I think of these sins, I'm put back in my place--
Less obedient than the dirt on the ground.
I look at my failings and want to give up
As a more hypocritical soul can't be found.

But then in these moments of sadness and guilt
When I'm feeling so low and contrite,
I pause and look upward and plead for the help
of the only One who can make it all right.

And He, in his mercy, who lived so divine
Reaches down with pure love as a token
And despite all that I've done, lifts me back up
And restores my poor heart that was broken.

I know I'm a sinner and always will be
One who fails and falters and stumbles,
But because of his gift which He gives me so freely
I'm learning, at last, to be humble.

And although I will fall down again and again
And at times, life will start to feel dim
There is hope in my heart for a brighter tomorrow
When someday I can return home to Him.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#117: Lindsey Stirling's Star Wars Medley.

Star Wars. Lindsey Stirling. Lindsey Stirling playing Star Wars. What's not to love?

Click here for the YouTube link if video doesn't show above.
The GIF below is NOT the full video. But it's still awesome.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

#116: The Homeless Reverend--Willie Lyle.

Working with the deacons (12 and 13 year-old young men) allows me to be a part of some fun and unique experiences. For example, this morning I got the opportunity to go to the local retirement home to pass the sacrament to the elderly branch there. It was a humbling experience. Despite poor health, many of the branch members still come to church each week with cheerful hearts and a desire to be among their fellow believers. Their ability to endure to the end is a great reminder for me to do likewise.

One of the speakers this morning shared the inspiring story of a pastor who disguised himself as a homeless man before being introduced at his new church, in order to remind his congregation that being a true Christian means serving and loving others, especially those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Although the story did not actually happen, it had a powerful message. After coming home from the meeting, I researched the story and found that it is based on the true story of Reverend Willie Lyle, newly-appointed pastor of Sango United Methodist Church, in Clarksville, Tennesse.
Reverend Lyle in church
A couple of months ago, on his first day as Sango's new pastor (Sunday, 6/23/2013), Reverend Lyle shared the following powerful experience. Reverend Lyle's story touched me deeply and reminded me of the Savior's words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).I have reposted his story below (as originally written here by Tim Parrish).

Three days after receiving the news of his appointment as Sango's pastor, he (Reverend Lyle) was awakened by a dream at 2 a.m. This dream was different from any in the past. In this dream, God told Willie to do something very specific, and God promised Willie if he would do this, then He would provide for Willie and protect him. There was a problem. What God asked Willie to do was not something Willie wanted to do, and he had no interest in doing it. It was clearly out of his comfort zone.

In that dream, God told Willie that he needed to live on the streets of Clarksville as a homeless and hungry person. He challenged Willie to experience firsthand just what it was like to have nothing - no home, no money, no friends, no food on even a semi-regular basis, no nothing.

Essentially, what God was saying to Willie was, "I hear you preach the word of God and share the message of Christ. Now, I want you to actually live it. And I want to hear how you liked having nothing and being treated with disrespect and disdain by almost everybody. I'm not finished. I want you to tell your new congregation about your experience and challenge them to make a difference in the world, beginning right here in Clarksville."

According to Willie Lyle, his conversation with God was pretty much a one-way conversation. God talked...Willie listened. "I didn't find any comfort in what I was hearing. I definitely wasn't comfortable with the idea of living on the streets, even if for only five days."

Lyle continued and said, "My faith is incredibly strong. My relationship with God is the most important thing in my life. Without my faith, I am nothing and I am of no use to my family and others. But I was willing to do what God wanted me do." He also commented, "You know, life isn't always comfortable. Jesus wasn't comfortable on the cross."

Pastor Willie's wife, Suzette, dropped him off in downtown Clarksville early Monday morning, June 17, and he lived on the street through the morning of Friday, June 21. In those four and a half days, he learned a great deal about the homeless, the working poor who face hunger daily and those in need of spiritual and emotional help. It was not comfortable.

Reverend Lyle during his four days on the streets
There was something else Willie learned, and it was not comfortable at all. He learned from firsthand experience just how many people who are fortunate in life look down upon and ignore the homeless, the hungry and the poor without ever taking the time to learn their story. "Generally speaking, people are not kind to the homeless," he observed.

"I know there are people who live on the street and choose to do so. I am talking about the homeless and poor who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and they have nothing," he explained. "Sadly, sometimes they don't even have hope.

"They most definitely want food and shelter, but they also seek the food and shelter found in the message of Christ. I'm not sure churches are addressing those needs. Actually, I believe churches could learn a lot from the homeless and hungry if they were willing to open their eyes to the truth."

Once on the street, Lyle learned quickly some important things needed for survival, including who to trust and not trust, where to get meals, where to sleep so that he would not be arrested by police and where to "hang out."

"People on the street don't trust you or talk with you at first. They want to know who you are and why you are homeless. It's not that they are rude, but just very direct.

"Much of what I learned, I already knew from my years as a pastor, but I wanted to hear it from the homeless. I learned immediately that Loaves and Fishes served a meal every day. That meal was delicious, and the volunteers were great."

Something he was not very familiar with was a Clarksville program called the Food Initiative. It is a group of teens who are involved in different food projects around town. When he ate at Loaves and Fishes on Wednesday, volunteers from the Food Initiative were serving meals. Two young men were especially impressive.

"These two high school boys called me 'sir,' introduced themselves to me, shook my hand and wanted to know how I was doing. They treated me with respect and dignity. These are our future civic leaders and church leaders. Each had a servant attitude, not a judgmental attitude."

Although he never made it to Manna Café, other homeless said that agency was the best place to go for assistance. He also heard about the Old Firehouse. He walked there one morning from downtown to get breakfast. He noticed there were only five people there and wondered why.

"After arriving and being handed a bunch of paperwork to complete and submit, I decided maybe the paperwork requirements kept people away. It was a hassle. I did get to take a shower and was grateful for that."

Lyle had a great experience at The Well, a program located on Union Street sponsored by the Church of Christ at Trenton Crossing. "Every Wednesday evening, they provide a great meal, an uplifting message and you are accepted there. You can even get a haircut at The Well. Those folks care."

Remarking on what he now understands so much better, "Homeless people walk slowly, and now I know why. They physically hurt all over from sleeping on concrete, the ground or on wooden floors. They don't own Air Jordons and thick socks. People should try sleeping on a wooden floor sometime. It's painful."

Something that Willie noticed during his week on the street was the large number of families who battled hunger every day. Most are referred to as America's working poor. They simply do not have enough money to feed their children on a regular basis.

"I met one man who cleared $125 each week in his job, but his rent was $100. He had to use the remainder for bills and food. I sure don't know anybody willing to trade places with him."

Throughout the week, Willie kept a small journal of what he was experiencing. These notes become the foundation for the sermon he delivered at Sango UMC on June 23, a sermon that caught the congregation off-guard. Only four people at the church knew what Willie was doing.

Early morning on June 23, Willie lay under a tree on the church lawn covered up by a big overcoat. He still had not shaved or combed his hair. He wondered how many people would approach him and offer him food, or a place to sit inside an air conditioned room, or just see how they could help. Twenty people spoke to him and offered some type of assistance.

The sermon title was "The Least Used Parts of the Body" and based on I Corinthians 12:12-15. According to Pastor Lyle, "Often the least used parts of the body are the ones that mean the most, like our heart and mind. We need to understand that there are no small or least used parts in the body of Christ.

"Too many of us only want to serve God one hour each week. That doesn't cut it. That is not God's plan."

While he preached, his daughter-in-law cut his hair and his daughter helped shave off his scruffy beard. He changed shoes, and beneath the overcoat, he was wearing his Sunday clothes. He put on a tie and his suit coat, all the while continuing to preach his message. Before the 200 people gathered that morning, he went from looking like a homeless person to the new pastor of the congregation.

"This was not some grandstand show on my part. I wanted everybody to know what I had been through, what I had learned and the physical and emotional discomfort I experienced and that I am still dealing with. And I made sure to mention more than once that Christ was not comfortable on the cross."

Willie got the attention of those present, and some were uncomfortable. "If I made someone squirm, then so be it. Sango UMC is not going to be a congregation that talks about issues and solutions. We are going to be part of the solutions to the problems we face in our community. We are going to get our hands dirty as we live like Jesus and help others. Talking is easy. Doing is harder, and sometimes it is really uncomfortable."

At the end of the sermon, Lyle issued his challenge. Part of that challenge called for the congregation to "do our mission," and service to others is going to be a major part of that.