What Thanksgiving Means to Me

400 years ago, King James I encouraged his fellow Brits to worship in any church they wished, as long as it was the Church of England. Everyone else was persecuted.

One group, the Separatists (whom we usually call Pilgrims) left England for the Netherlands, in search of religious liberty.  In the Netherlands, they did have religious freedom, but were treated as second class citizens; they did not have economic freedom.  The Separatists decided there was only one final option: travel to edge of the world.  Obtaining financing and a charter to establish a colony in the Virginia area, 102 people set off on the tiny ship, the Mayflower.

The voyage was not an easy one. Miraculously, only two people died on the crossing. One of those was a sailor, who swore and cussed frequently. The Separatists warned him that he would bring a curse upon their ocean voyage, but he did not listen.  He was washed away during a storm.

A similar incident occurred to John Howland, my ancestor.  He was an indentured servant to John Carver. During a major storm, he was on deck trying to take a message from Governor Carver to the ship’s captain.  A large wave hit the deck and carried him overboard.  By a stroke of Providence, he was able to grab hold of a rope as he was swept overboard, and held on underwater for several minutes until the sailors could haul him back aboard.

Arriving to the Americas, the Pilgrims found the storms had pushed them further north than they planned. It was too late in the year to travel down to Virginia, and so they established a new charter for the group: the Mayflower Compact. This covenant was signed by 41 men. In William Bradford’s handwriting, the charter reads:

Transient

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

John Carver
William Bradford
Edward Winslow
William Brewster
Isaac Allerton
Myles Standish
John Alden
Samuel Fuller
Christopher Martin
William Mullins
William White
Richard Warren
John Howland
Stephen Hopkins
Edward Tilley
John Tilley
Francis Cooke
Thomas Rogers
Thomas Tinker
John Rigsdale
Edward Fuller
John Turner
Francis Eaton
James Chilton
John Crackstone
John Billington
Moses Fletcher
John Goodman
Degory Priest
Thomas Williams
Gilbert Winslow
Edmund Margesson
Peter Browne
Richard Britteridge
George Soule
Richard Clarke
Richard Gardiner
John Allerton
Thomas English
Edward Doty
Edward Leister
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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

It is an amazing time to be a Mormon.  It is also a challenging time.

Why is it challenging? Because we are going through a period of inoculation. The Church sees that the Internet is full of information, both true and false, accurate and inaccurate, biased and non-biased. In the last decade, it has brought forth lots of information officially and unofficially, through the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and providing materials for books on Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Recently, they have published official papers online about the First Vision, Temple clothing, Polygamy, etc.  Many have probably seen the furor over Joseph’s 40 wives that the media has recently jumped on worldwide, as if it were previously a secret! Continue reading

Flooding the Earth via Social Media

During BYU Education Week, Elder Bednar gave a great speech on using social media to share the gospel.  Two months have passed since his talk, and while there was some talk on it, I fear that his fears may already be happening.  But let me review some of his main concepts, first.

Elder Bednar stated that it is time we use social media to flood the earth with the gospel. Right now, we are only causing a trickle to occur.  To put this in perspective, the number of gospel contacts made by the Church and its members in 2013 equated to each full time missionary companionship in the Church (88,000) to have over 100 gospel contacts per day, or 37,500 per year. 1.6 billion contacts total for 2013.

If this is just a trickle, then what would be considered flood stage? Ten times more? One Hundred times more? One thousand times more?  Continue reading

The Sisters Nailed It

One of the good things about being on the high council is I get to occasionally sit in on General Women’s Conference.  This is the second for all sisters, and I think sets a very high standard for all General Conferences. First, the meeting had a clear theme: Temples and Covenants.

Next, the videos were well done. Six months ago, they had a video that seemed a little kitschy, kind of like having too many knickknacks on display.  However, beginning with a Korean Primary, dressed in traditional robes, singing “I love to see the temple” in their native language, while standing in front of the temple doors was tremendous. It quickly reminded me of my military time there in 1985, when the temple was built and dedicated (I was in the English choir).

Later, another video displayed sisters bearing their testimonies in their native languages of the temple. The stories of a young girl converting and taking her deceased mother’s name to be baptized, or the Haitian mother who lost her 6 children in the earthquake, finding joy of eternal families in the temple, were definite high marks of the meeting.

The talks were excellent, giving great examples of covenants and the spiritual and revelatory power of the temple. I applaud the sisters who spoke on a level that could touch all the sisters in attendance, from 8 to 108. (We often will have General Priesthood meetings, where someone will speak only to the deacons, or a specific group, and seems to leave others out, so this is a great example to next week’s speakers).

Finally, President Uchtdorf said something that I was excited to hear.  He called the Women’s Meeting the “opening session” of General Conference, as training will be conducted this following week for General Authorities and Auxiliary leaders, culminating in the final sessions next weekend for all members.  To officially recognize General Women’s Meeting as the opening meeting of General Conference, gives the meeting its appropriate recognition and importance to Conference.

I hope all sisters listen to this session. Then, I hope they have their husbands and sons also listen. There is some great counsel we can all gain from these talks. I hope that next weekend’s talks can be of the same high caliber!

 

A Teacher Come From God

Recently, I sat in on a high priest group meeting to listen to a lesson basically read from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. As much as I enjoy hearing/reading the teachings of the prophets, the purpose of our lessons seem to still miss the mark with many of our members – including high priests.

In his memorable April 1998 General Conference talk, “A Teacher Come From God“, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland teaches us some of the key concepts for improving teaching in our classes, homes, and Sacrament meetings.

In recent months President Gordon B. Hinckley has called on us to hold our people close to the Church, especially the newly converted member. In issuing this call President Hinckley has reminded that we all need at least three things to remain firmly in the faith—a friend, a responsibility, and “[nourishing] by the good word of God.”

Elder Holland focuses on our need to “nourish by the good word of God.”  Not only is this necessary for new converts, but for youth and adults.  Our Church is beginning to recognize this with its new youth teaching agenda.  This new agenda of teaching as the Savior taught, works to inspire individuals to seek their own revelatory experiences and to share them with others.

For each of us to “come unto Christ,”  to keep His commandments and follow His example back to the Father is surely the highest and holiest purpose of human existence. To help others do that as well—to teach, persuade, and prayerfully lead them to walk that path of redemption also—surely that must be the second most significant task in our lives

Being of such high priority, why do we feel we can give so little to instruction and think we are doing the Lord’s great work of helping others “come unto Christ”?

Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition.

In the Lectures on Faith, we learn that Faith is a great power, the power by which God created the heavens and the earth.  It is by this great power that miracles happen, angels visit mankind, and the work of God is manifested in the lives of men and women and children.  Faith is developed through hearing the word of God, taught  in such a way as to  inspire people to believe and repent.  Is such teaching becoming a “lost art”?  Can we bring it back  so that the podium is “set on fire” as in times before, as I once heard Elder Holland encourage us in a stake meeting years ago.

Eternal life,” President Hinckley continued, “will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching.”

As parents, do we try to coerce our kids into enjoying Family Home Evening? Do we try to force feed the gospel to our youth? Or do we take the time to learn how to teach effectively and with power?

We do have a legitimate worry about the new member, wanting each one to stay with us and enjoy the full blessings of the Church. I am just simple enough to think that if we continue to teach them—with the same Christlike spirit, conviction, doctrine, and personal interest the missionaries have shown them—new converts will not only stay with us but, quite literally, could not be kept away. The need for continuing such solid teaching is obvious. In times like ours we all need what Mormon called “the virtue of the word of God” because, he said, it “had [a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them.” 17 When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied. 18 During a severe winter several years ago, President Boyd K. Packer noted that a goodly number of deer had died of starvation while their stomachs were full of hay. In an honest effort to assist, agencies had supplied the superficial when the substantial was what had been needed. Regrettably they had fed the deer but they had not nourished them.

By a show of hands, how many of us enjoy spiritual Twinkies? How many of us feed our children and classes tons of calorie-empty theological hay?

We do not have to dilute the gospel. adults and youth are thirsty for it. We can talk about the skeletons in our closets in a faithful manner, and have them accept them.  More over, we can help them seek and find their own testimonies and spiritual witnesses.  We can teach them how to seek their own inspiration, by showing them how inspiring the gospel really is.

This next Sunday School year, we will see adults being taught in the same fashion as the youth have received over the past few years.  They will be taught the key doctrines, invited to ponder and study them over the following week, and then ask them what inspiration, miracles, insights, and blessings they have experienced over the week.  As Saints share their spiritual experiences, they grow spiritually together. Their lessons are filled with fire and excitement, and power from God.

Such is a Teacher Come From God.  Are we seeking to be such a teacher?