Saturday, November 22, 2014

God's Prophet Today

I have some really great news for you guys. We have a modern prophet today! He is called of God to declare His word to us.

No, no, no, wait. Didn't God stop calling prophets after Jesus Christ came? Aren't the days with prophets over? No. Why would they be over? Why would God call prophets for thousands of years and then all of a sudden stop calling them? If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then doesn't that mean His ways don't change? God has always given His children prophets to lead and guide them and tell them God's word. 

Each of God's prophets is unique and came from different circumstances. In the Bible, no two prophets were the same. Adam was the first man on earth, Noah was 600 years old when he was called to build an ark, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son as a test, Moses was raised with Egyptian royalty and was called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Samuel was chosen as a boy to be a prophet, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and Daniel was thrown into a Lion's den. I will go ahead and let you all know right now that although each prophet is called of God, none of them are perfect. Only Jesus was perfect. Don't act so shocked. 

There have been many periods of time when there was no prophet on the Earth because of the people's unbelief but God loves us and always calls another prophet when the people are ready. You can find this pattern all throughout the Bible. The last time that this happened was when Jesus was born. The people rejected Him and His apostles and killed them. After this, the Earth didn't have any prophets for many years because of wickedness and because people simply weren't ready to have a prophet again. When the world was ready to once again have a prophet, one was called and Jesus Christ's church and authority was restored to the Earth after being lost and altered for so many centuries. This prophet was Joseph Smith

After Joseph Smith died, God continued to call prophets through revelation. The next prophet was Brigham Young. Then we had John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and now Thomas S. Monson.

Today instead of wearing robes and crying repentance in cities, the prophet wears a suit and carries a brief case and speaks to the world about following Jesus Christ. Even though they live thousands of years apart, they were all called of God to bless His children and to do a specific work here on the earth. 

The way that a new prophet is called is inspired of God. These men were chosen before they were born to be one of God's prophets. "And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born"(Abraham 3:23).

President Monson was born in 1927 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1948 with a degree in business management and later received his MBA degree from Brigham Young University. He also served in the United States Navy near the close of World War II. He married his wife, Frances Beverly Johnson, in 1948 and they have three children. He also has had a distinguished career in publishing and printing. He is a past president of Printing Industry of Utah and a former member of the board of directors of Printing Industries of America. 

President Monson also has served faithfully in the Church his whole life. He served as president of the Church's Canadian Mission from 1959 to 1962. He also served as a Bishop of a ward in Salt Lake City. He was called to be an Apostle in 1963 and was later called to be a counselor to three prophets. In 2008, after President Gordon B. Hinckley's death, he became the next prophet of the Church. 

Each prophet is a humble man who has done his best to serve God. Every calling in the Church is voluntary and that includes the calling of the prophet. President Thomas S. Monson is not paid for his service and neither are the apostles, bishops, missionaries, or Sunday School teachers. A prophet is not voted for by the people. When a prophet dies, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the next prophet. If Thomas S. Monson were to die today, President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would become the next prophet. 

Although the process of "becoming" a prophet may seem simple, it is divinely inspired of God. No one will become a prophet unless he is called of God. Everyone who is called to be an Apostle of Prophet serves for the rest of his life. They are faithful, God-fearing men who do their best to serve God and His people. We are promised that if we follow the prophet, we will never go astray. Following the prophet is always right, even when it isn't generally accepted. Anyone who has picked up a Bible can attest that following the prophet has never been a popular decision. However, it has always been the correct decision that has led to peace and salvation. 

I love President Thomas S. Monson. He is a true disciple of Jesus Christ and he has spent his whole life trying to serve him in the best way possible. I know that heeding the words of God's current and past prophets will bless us and help us to know God's will. 

Go here to read President Monson's recent sermons from last month. 

"Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea"(Jacob 4:6).


Thursday, November 13, 2014


The word "repentance" is intimidating. When I was younger I always thought of repentance as being in trouble and being reprimanded by my parents. However I have learned that repentance isn't something to be nervous about, it's a good thing! It's how we become better and draw closer to God.

None of us are perfect. We all do stupid things. We all have regrets. We all need to be better. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God"(Romans 3:23). None of us can return to live with God in our sinful state. It's a good thing our loving Heavenly Father provided a Savior for us! Because of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our sins and return to live with God again!

As we learn more about Jesus Christ, we can increase our faith in Him. You can read my post about faith to learn more about that. When we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will want to follow Him. Our faith in Christ and our love for Him lead us to repent, or to change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with His will. As we repent, we improve ourselves and become more Christ-like. 

We can return to live with God the Father only through Christ's mercy, and we receive Christ's mercy only on conditions of repentance. It is only by grace that we are saved, but we are still expected to do our part in order to access that grace. 

So how do we repent? It's very simple. Actually it's as easy as ABC...and D. Here are the steps of repentance in their most basic form: 

A. Admit. We need to recognize and admit to ourselves that we have sinned. 

B. Be sorry. We need to feel remorse or godly sorrow. We shouldn't feel bad just because we may have gotten caught or have negative consequences. We should feel bad because we know what we did was wrong. This is true for any sin -- big or small.  

C. Confess. Next we confess our sins to God. We also confess very serious sins to God's authorized Church leaders, who can help us repent. We ask God in prayer to forgive us.  

D. Don't do it again. Finally we need to commit to not do that sin again. We also do all we can to correct the problems our actions may have caused; this is called restitution.  

And there you go! Now you have successfully repented of your sin(s). You may have noticed that for Confess I mentioned that you only need to confess to Church leaders if it's a serious sin like a crime or adultery. Repentance is between you and God and you have every right to go directly to God to ask for His forgiveness. You will know you are forgiven when you feel His love and peace come over you and you no longer have guilt.

Repentance brings a change in us. As we repent we can feel God's forgiveness and His peace enters our lives. We realize that we really our His children and that He loves us and is always waiting for us to repent and turn back to Him. Our guilt and sorrow are swept away. We feel the influence of His Spirit in greater abundance. And when we leave this life, we will be more prepared to live with our Heavenly Father and His Son.

We never need to feel like we aren't worthy of His love or can't go to Him because that will never be true. We can always go to our loving Father in Heaven for forgiveness, direction, and love. "And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!"(D&C 18:13

Even after we have accepted Christ and repented of our sins, we may fall short again. We should continually repent and try to correct these transgressions. That means repenting every day. I think most of us don't commit gross sins every day, but we all need God's help to become better. As we repent every day, we will find that our lives will change and improve. Our hearts and behavior will become more Christlike. We will find joy in repenting daily. 

I'm grateful for the opportunity that I have to repent. Repentance has allowed me to overcome some of my bad habits and helped me to feel relief from my guilt over past wrongs. Repentance allows us to be cleansed from sin and become even more like Jesus Christ. Repenting is awesome. 

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more"(D&C 58:42).


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book of Mormon Stories - Nephi and His Family Cross the Ocean

Time: 600 BC
Place: The wilderness, the ocean, and the American continents
Reference: 1 Nephi 17, 18
Lehi: Father of the family and a prophet.  He enjoys fearlessly preaching repentance to the Jews, receiving death threats, reading books obtained in strange ways, dreaming crazy dreams, trekking through the wilderness, and dwelling in tents.
Sariah: Wife of Lehi and a worried mother.  She enjoys spending time with family, bearing children in the wilderness, matchmaking, and gardening.
Nephi: Legendary younger brother and heroic prophet.  He enjoys archery, playing with swords, building ships, hiking to high mountains, writing poetry, and confounding his brothers.
Sam: Faithful but sometimes forgotten middle child.  He enjoys long walks through the wilderness, campfire stories, sailing, and playing with God's compass.
Laman and Lemuel: The two peas in a pod rebellious older brothers.  They enjoy antagonizing their brothers, eating raw meat, making new friends, dancing with hot women, and uttering tribal cries.
Zoram: Promise-keeping servant of Laban. He enjoys playing hide-and-seek in the dark, hitch hiking, reading in the libraries of Laban, and skinning beasts.
Ishmael: Adventure-seeking Jerusalem father. He enjoys playing matchmaker, listening to stories, going on trips with his family, and building camp fires.
Sons of Ishmael: Strong, rude, party animals. They enjoy bullying, building alliances with others, practicing robe knotting, and arm wrestling. 
Hot daughter of Ishmael: Sweet, spiritual, beautiful woman. She enjoys shopping for clothes, saving people's lives, and being married to Nephi.
Writer: Nephi
Background information: Nephi and his family were commanded to leave Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. After traveling in the wilderness for 8 years, they arrived at the ocean. In this popular story, Nephi builds a ship, confounds his brothers again, and they sail across the ocean and arrive in the promised land despite Laman and Lemuel's attempts to stop their progress.
Previously on Book of Mormon Stories: After Nephi and his brothers brought back Ishmael and his family, Laman and Lemuel and some of the sons of Ishmael tried to rebel and turn back. Thanks to the power of God and Nephi's hot future wife, they were all able to return to Lehi in the wilderness and the day was saved. Lehi had a dream about the Tree of Life which he relayed to his family. Nephi was confused about the dream so went and prayed and an angel of the Lord appeared to him and explained it to him. Now we all know that we need to find this delicious fruit and I graciously let you know that it's right here in the gospel of Jesus Christ ready for you to enjoy. You're welcome. (Click here to read the full story.) 

Our story continues as Lehi and his family continue their journey through the wilderness. We learn that the children of Ishmael marred the children of Lehi which was one thing that Laman and Lemuel did't complain about. Unfortunately, Ishmael died along the way and was buried in the land of Nahom. (To learn about evidence for The Book of Mormon that comes from this, go to this post, point number 5.) 

As they took their journey into the wilderness, Nephi tells us that their women bore children.  They also lived off of raw meat but the Lord blessed them with strength "and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings." Yuck. I think if this was written from a woman's perspective instead of a man's it would've said: "And it came to pass that my husband is making me eat raw meat while I'm pregnant and breastfeeding in the middle of a wilderness and I'm supposed to be grateful and feel blessed by the Lord. And I esteemeth my husband as crazy and I gave him the silent treatment for 2 weeks."

Eventually they arrived in a land they called Bountiful, "because of its much fruit and also wild honey." Yummy. They pitched their tents there and were "exceedingly rejoiced" to be there at the seashore after their many difficulties. 

After many days, the voice of the Lord came to Nehpi and told him to get into into a mountain. He obeyed and went up there to converse with God because this is now a normal thing for him. The Lord said to him: "Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters." And Nephi, bless his heart, said: "Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?" He didn't even question the Lord but just right away was like, "k cool, tell me what to do." What a stud. 

The Lord then told Nephi how to construct the ship and he right away got to work. Unfortunately, Nephi has some really annoying older brothers. Laman and Lemuel found out what he was doing and started making fun of him, saying: "Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters. And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart;"


"And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the the Lord."

Nephi then testified to his brothers that he had been instructed of God and that they are being thick-headed: "Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time...but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words...O, then, why is it that ye can be so hard in your hearts? Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever."

Surprisingly, Laman and Lemuel weren't happy about being accused of doing iniquity and being cast off forever. They were "desirous to throw [Nephi] into the depths of the sea" but "as they came forth to lay their hands upon [him]" Nephi said to them: "In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed." That scared them.

For the next couple of days Laman and Lemuel avoided Nephi out of fear. ("Our brother is insane, for he thinketh he can electrocute us.") The Lord then said to Nephi: "Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them...and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God." Nephi gladly obeyed and shocked his brothers. Laman and Lemuel were adequately freaked out and humbled. They then acknowledged that God is with Nephi and from that point on they helped him build the ship. 
After the ship was finished, everyone loaded in and they set sail. After many days, Nephi's brothers, the sons of Ishmael, and their wives "began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness." When he writes "dance" and "sing" here, he's not talking about this:   

He's talking about this:

In a boat. With a bunch of men who haven't showered. Sounds like a party. Whatever they were doing exactly, it wasn't OK and it wasn't in line with the Lord's commandments. 

Nephi started to get nervous and was like "the commandments! the commandments! we need to keep the cOmAnDmEnTs!" The party-goers weren't impressed. "Behold they were angry with me, saying: We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us." And then they proceeded to bind him with cords "and they did treat [him] with much harshness." Nice, right? 

After they bound him, their compass which the Lord had given them stopped working so they didn't know which direction to go. To make matters worse, a huge storm started. For three days they "were driven back upon the waters...and they began to be frightened lest they should be drowned in the sea." Laman and Lemuel threatened anyone who would help Nephi and not even the tears of Nephi's wife or children softened their hearts. 
Eventually, Laman and Lemuel realized that there was a higher power at work there and that they were going to die. They released Nephi and he grabbed the compass and started praying to God. "And after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm."

Nephi guided the ship and after many days they arrived in the promised land (the American continents). There they settled and planted seeds and hunted. And that is how Nephi and his family arrived in Jerusalem. Cool story, right?

Although Nephi went through a lot of hardship, he never complained to the Lord. He trusted in Him and was willing to obey Him even when it seemed crazy or hard. Nephi is a prime example of keeping the commandments and we can all learn from him.

Next time on Book of Mormon Stories we will learn how the problems between Nephi and his brothers escalated until they separated and grew into two huge civilizations that battled each other for 1000 years. Talk about sibling rivalry.

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love"(John 15:10). 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Mormonism is Insane" and Other Accusations

I recently received a comment on my Facebook post where I was sharing my blog when I got a great comment from someone we'll call "Dane." He said, "Mormonism is insane. It's not really Christianity either (which is crazy enough as is). But Mormonism is far and away completely bonkers. You believe that God was once a person and that he's from a planet called Kolob, and you believe that everyone will get to be a god when they die. Also, you believe that Jesus came to America to visit a Hebrew civilization here that there is no evidence for (and every bit of evidence against). It's completely and absolutely nuts; the only thing Mormonism does is show just how much you can delude people in mass numbers.

Wow I've never heard that before (sarcasm). I'm just going to cover each of these topics one by one if that's alright.

1. "Mormonism is insane.

I get it, you all think we're a bunch of weirdos. We are all VERY aware of what the world thinks of us. The Lord Himself said: "For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be an peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth"(Deuteronomy 14:2). God's people have never been very popular in the world. From the beginning the world has persecuted and killed them. They even thought Jesus was mad, called him "gluttonous" and a "winebibber," and killed Him. (Matthew 11:19)

I will let you all know that the Mormon church teaches its members that nothing is more important than family. Family is central to God's plan. We teach people to have good values, be honest, love one another, be self-sufficient, care for the poor and needy, etc. Next time there's a national disaster, check and see who some of the first responders are. American Red Cross, Mormons, and other religious organizations. Regardless of how "insane" people think we are, we do our best to follow Jesus Christ and love and serve everyone. 

2. "It's not really Christianity either.

Oh Dane, if only you'd read my blog post found here. I explain why we are Christian but why some people think we're not. Our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We worship Jesus Christ. Not Mormon or Joseph Smith or Satan or Mitt Romney.

3. "You believe that God was once a person... and you believe that everyone will get to be a god when they die." 

Correct.. mostly. The Bible teaches us many times about this concept: 

"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if it so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together"(Romans 8:16-18).

"Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ"(Galatians 4:7).

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne"(Revelation 3:21). 

God's plan for His children is for us to come to Earth in families to gain a body, be tried and tested, and return to live with Him again if we were faithful. If we follow Him and do our part, we can one day inherit all that the Father has. Essentially we can become as He is, a God. Not everyone will get to become gods because not everyone will follow Him and qualify. So we don't believe that everyone will get to be a god, only the faithful will as outlined in the scriptures.

This process is how God Himself became a God. He went through the same process we did on some other world. He overcame and was able to become a God. Lorenzo Snow, the fifth prophet of the Church today, said: "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be." This adds a whole new round of questions and for the answers to those I will direct you here.

4. "You believe... that [God is] from a planet called Kolob."

In case you haven't noticed, Mormons have two additional books of scripture besides The Book of Mormon. It's the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. We just learned about additional scripture called The Book of Mormon and now I'm throwing more at you? Yes. I think if we can use more of anything in the world it's more of God's word. God loves us and likes to speak to us through more mediums than just the Bible. Get over it. Anyway, in the Pearl of Great Price is the book of Abraham. This Abraham is the same one in the Bible. This is where Kolob is mentioned. Abraham says:

"And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; 

"And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.

"And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest"(Abraham 3:2,3,9).

And that's about all we know about it. Kolob is a planet that is nearest the throne of God and the time of Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time. So we don't believe that God necessarily lives on Kolob, we just believe that it is a planet that is nearest to God. You can read the rest of that chapter in Abraham for further information.

5. "Also, you believe that Jesus came to America to visit a Hebrew civilization here that there is no evidence for (and every bit of evidence against)."

Yes we do believe that Jesus Christ came to visit the Americas after His resurrection and appearance to His apostles in Jerusalem.  Jesus told His disciples: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd"(John 10:16). Jesus Christ Himself said that there are other people besides the ones in Jerusalem that He's going to visit. It's possible that the Americas were one of many other civilizations He appeared to. The account of His visit to the Americas can be found starting in 3 Nephi 11

As for evidence for the Book of Mormon. God of course doesn't give us evidence for everything He does because He expects us to have faith in Him. However, there is a bit of evidence for The Book of Mormon. For example, the idea of writing on metal plates was once ridiculed, but in recent years numerous examples of sacred writings on metal plates -- some hidden in stone boxes -- have been found. 

Linguists have noted Book of Mormon words and phrases that sound awkward in English but make perfect sense in Hebrew and related languages that would have been known by the people of the Book of Mormon -- languages young Joseph Smith did not know. 

In 1 Nephi 16:34, a man named Ishmael died, "and was buried in the place which was called Nahom." Cool. Where's Nahom? A group of Latter-Day Saint researchers found evidence linking a site in Yemen, on the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula, to the name "Nahom." They located a stone altar that professional archaeologists dated to at least 700 BC. This altar contains an inscription confirming "Nahom" as an actual place that existed in the peninsula before the time of Lehi. Can you imagine Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey "writing" the Book of Mormon and Joseph says, "hmmm, let's have this guy Ishmael die. And we'll have them bury him in a place called 'Nahom'. Make the 'h' silent. Yeah, that sounds great. I bet they'll dig up evidence for that one day and we'll totally get them!"

Lastly, there are many small evidences found in the cultures and traditions of North and South American people. When Christopher Columbus came, the Native Americans thought he was a god because they had been told that a white god would come to visit them. Can it be possible this same "white god" they were thinking of was Jesus Christ who appeared to their ancestors 1400 years before? Many Latter-Day Saints have traveled to South America on vacation and learned that some of those people's ancient beliefs sound very familiar to our beliefs about the Plan of Salvation

Essentially, the Book of Mormon has been around for over 200 years and no one has been able to prove it's false. However, millions now can attest to its truthfulness. And that brings us to our last point made by our friend Dane. 

6. "It's completely and absolutely nuts; the only thing Mormonism does is show just how much you can delude people in mass numbers.

In 2013 the Church had 282,945 convert baptisms. How do we "delude" people in mass numbers? Because it's true. There are thousands of missionaries that go out every day to teach people about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and The Book of Mormon. Missionaries don't force anyone to believe. All they do is teach them and ask them to pray to know if it's true. Those who receive an answer to their prayers are baptized into the Church. That means that 282,945 people last year received the answer from God that this is true. The promise is there: "Ask and ye shall receive." God says it over and over again. He's not kidding. Anyone can know if it's true if you are willing to experiment to see if it's true. I promise that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon and prays and asks God with faith and real intent will receive an answer. 

I know it is true and so does God and 15 million others with that number growing every day. If it wasn't true, this church wouldn't have survived. How could a silly 14 year old with a crazy book and a band of destitute followers ever survive and grow into a church with millions of followers and 88,000 young adults traveling the world to tell everyone that it's true? It could never happen unless this is God's work. And I testify that it is.

And there you have it. Six arguments against the church laid out for you. Now are you going to take my word for it or some other guy on the internet or are you going to ask God if it's true? Here's the Book of Mormon. Read it. Then pray and ask God. Once you receive your answer, let me know. (:

"And by the power of the Holy Ghost you shall know the truth of all things"(Moroni 10:5).


Friday, October 24, 2014

Why are Mormon Missionaries Always Knocking on Your Door?

How many of you have ever opened your door to find this?


And then you're just like, "oh great, how do I get them off my porch?" Some people are very polite about it and others just slam the door in their faces. Rude. Missionaries are people too.

So who are these weirdos that keep on coming to your door and approaching you on the street? They are missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and they have traveled hundreds and often thousands of miles to tell you some great news! The great news is that Jesus Christ's church has been restored to the earth with a living prophet, twelve apostles, and additional scripture and because of that your family and our family and everyone's family can be together forever! Yay!

Missionary work has always been part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible and Book of Mormon, the Lord sent His prophets and servants to go preach repentance to the people. In the book of Matthew, the Savior charged his disciples to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen"(Matthew 28:19-20). Latter-Day Saints take seriously this responsibility to teach all nations about Jesus Christ and His gospel. 

The missionaries are always in pairs of two or three. Paul said to the Corinthians: "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established"(2 Corinthians 13:1). Missionaries work together to testify of each other's words and to be witnesses of the truth. But who exactly are these people? What kind of young adults spend their time trying to tell people about Jesus instead of dating and partying like everyone else? I am happy to explain just who these people are.

There are currently over 88,000 missionaries serving world-wide. Men can serve a mission beginning at age 18 and serve for a period of 2 years. Women can serve a mission starting at age 19 and serve for 18 months. The missionaries you see on the streets are usually anywhere from 18 to 25 years old. It is considered a duty for men to serve and a great option for women if they so choose. Once a young man or woman decides to serve, they submit what we call "mission papers." They have to go to the dentist and get a physical and fill out lots of fun information. They are then interviewed by their church leaders, usually the bishop, to determine if they are worthy and are keeping the commandments. Once that's all done, they can submit their papers to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Once it arrives in Utah, one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles personally selects each and every mission call through prayer and revelation

Once their call has been assigned, a big, white envelope containing the call is sent to the excited future missionary. The mission call tells them where they are serving and when they should report. There are over 300 missions in 80 different countries that a missionary can be sent to. That mission is where they will serve for the full 2 years or 18 months. Missionaries report to one of 15 Missionary Training Centers around the world. They are there for anywhere from 2-12 weeks to learn how to be a missionary and learn their mission language if needed. Super duper exciting. 

Missionaries have very strict rules. They wake up at 6:30am and go to bed at 10:30pm every day. They can only email, shop, and have free time on Mondays. Mothers' Day and Christmas are the only days they can call home to talk to family. Every day they are out serving God's children, teaching people about the gospel in their homes, giving out Book of Mormons, and trying to be good representatives of Jesus Christ. It's hard work and a huge sacrifice. It's very tiring and taxing but these boys and girls come home as men and women. 

Missionaries leave behind their family, school, friends, sports, video games, dating, and lots of other things in order to go and serve the Lord and help others come unto Christ. As soon as missionaries get home, they go back to being regular members of the church. They can get married, have kids, start a career, and live their lives as strong members of the Church. Some have even gone on to play in the NFL or star in movies. 

These missionaries sacrifice their time and money to go out and serve because they love the gospel. It's also a way of saying "thanks" to God and giving back for all of the blessings they have received. They know that the Church has been restored, that The Book of Mormon is true, and that their families can be together forever. It has made them so happy that they want to tell everyone.

Have you ever discovered a new product, book, or movie that you just absolutely loved? What did you do? You probably told all your friends about it. When I first read the book, "The Hunger Games" four years ago, I thought it was incredible. I drove my mom and sister crazy telling them that they need to read it. I was frustrated because my sister waited so long to read it but once she did she fell in love with it as well. Sharing the gospel is the same way for members of the Church. We have discovered something that brings us joy and we want others to know about it too.

People who serve missions come from vastly different circumstances. Some were lucky enough to be born in a good home with two parents and financial security while others were born in hard circumstances where money was tight or parents weren't there. Some were born into the church and have been members their whole lives while others were only baptized a year or two before. Some missionaries' families support them wholeheartedly at home and send them loving letters and emails while other missionaries' family's resent their service and sometimes even disown them. I have met each one of these kinds of missionaries. No matter the differences in their backgrounds, all missionaries have one purpose: "To invite others to come unto Christ." 

So next time missionaries knock on your door or approach you, don't shut them down. They are just humble followers of Christ who are trying to serve and love everyone. If you have house or yard work that needs to be done, put them to work! They love doing service. You don't have to accept a Book of Mormon to accept their service or sit down and talk to them. 

I am grateful to be a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love serving and teaching others about Jesus Christ. This gospel is life-changing. I have seen how happy it makes people and what it does to strengthen and bless families. Even though I face a lot of rejection, I keep going because Christ never quit on me so I won't quit on Him.

"Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor"(D&C 88:81). 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Do a Lot of Mormons Live in Utah?

Currently there are over 1,975,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints living in Utah. That is 68% of the state. There are a little over 15 million members worldwide and about 6.4 million in the United States. That means that 31% of Church members in the United States and 13% of members worldwide live in Utah. That is quite a chunk. How come so many live in Utah? Is it because the Church started there? Nope. It was organized in up-state New York.

Perhaps some of you remember vaguely hearing about the Mormon pioneers in your United States History classes. Some man believed that God and angels appeared to him so he started a church with a weird book but then everyone thought the members, nicknamed Mormons, were crazy, devilish polygamists who were taking over their towns so they drove them out from everywhere they tried to settle so the Mormons trekked across the plains until they arrived in Utah. That's it in a nutshell. Now let's expound on these teachings. 

In 1830 The Church of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth with the proper Priesthood Authority of God complete with prophets and apostles just like in Biblical times. Many people joined the Church after that and it started expanding. Many Saints (we call Church members Saints. Not that we think we're amazing or anything, it's just what we're called.) moved to Ohio. Others moved to Missouri and Illinois later on.

When the Mormons settled in Jackson, Missouri, they were very excited and started up their own little town with more members arriving every day. Soon, the locals grew very uneasy. They were nervous about the growing influence and were afraid they would soon be outnumbered. Ministers, merchants, and politicians especially resented the intrusion. There was also a slavery issue which we all know was a huge deal during this time. The old settlers liked their slaves but the Mormons brought their abolitionist views and there was fear of a black rebellion. Soon, committees were meeting together discussing how to get rid of the Mormons. One of these meetings turned into a mob that destroyed stores owned by the Mormons and tarred and feathered Mormons who wouldn't denounce their beliefs at the public square. Later, mobs killed many members of the church and told them that if the Mormons didn't leave then every man, woman, and child belonging to the Church would be whipped. Eventually all of this conflict led to more and more violence until the Mormons were brutally driven from the state. 

Governor Boggs, the governor of Missouri, issued the infamous "Extermination Order" ordering that Mormons must be treated as enemies or exterminated. Many people took this to heart.

mob attacking Haun’s Mill

One of the most violent events happened at Haun's mill in Missouri on October 31, 1835. A mob attacked the village, shooting at everyone regardless of age. One ten year old boy was hiding during the attack when one of the mobbers found him and blew off the upper part of his head. The man later said, "Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon."

Many more incidents like this occurred throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The Saints lived in Kirtland, Ohio for a few years until being thrown out as well as in Nauvoo, Illinois. They managed to build a temple in both Kirtland and Nauvoo before being forced out. The Nauvoo temple was burned down and was rebuilt over 150 years later but the Kirtland temple is still standing today and is owned by a different church.  

The leaders of the church weren't getting any help at all from the federal government and it was eventually made clear to them that they had to leave the United States in order to have peace. Although the Mormons left the United States, they responded to the call when James K. Polk, then President of the United States, requested 500-1,000 Mormon men to assist in the Mexican War. This became the longest infantry march in history with the men marching approximately 1,850 miles to help defend the country that denied them their rights. We call this the Mormon Battalion.

covered wagons
The famous Mormon Pioneers trekked across the plains and the first group, Brigham Young being with them, arrived in the Salt Lake valley on July 24, 1847. Utah celebrates this day as a state holiday. Throughout the coming years, thousands more of the Saints arrived from eastern United States and Europe, a lot of them going through a lot of difficulty to get there. They built up Salt Lake City and had members of the church settle neighboring communities. They built temples there and the Headquarters of the Mormon church have been there ever since. 

The Church has expanded a lot during the years and now there are more Mormons living outside the United States than in but Utah is still the main place for Mormons because of their pioneer ancestors. We acknowledge that our ancestors weren't perfect and made mistakes, but so has every person who has ever lived besides Jesus Christ. We revere our ancestors for their sacrifice and bravery.

Most Mormons living in Utah can trace their ancestry back to the Mormon pioneers. My ancestors on my mother's side were Mormon pioneers. My ancestors on my father's side consist of the mobbers who killed the pioneers. One of my father's ancestors in particular was part of the mob that murdered Joseph Smith and his brother. 

And that is why so many Mormons live in Utah. The majority of them have stayed from when their ancestors arrived there. Many have come for other reasons. It isn't a perfect state and we keep church and state separate but it was founded on Christian values. I love Utah. The Salt Lake City Temple is beautiful as are the surrounding mountains. It's also famous for having great snow for skiing and snowboarding which brings in thousands of people each year. If any of you are ever passing by Utah, stop by Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There are buildings and museums there with lots of history of the Mormon pioneers and also the Native Americans who lived there as well. 

President John F. Kennedy visited Salt Lake City, Utah on September 29, 1963, 55 days before his assassination. He delivered a speech, found here. He praised the Mormon Pioneers and said, "Of all the tales of America's pioneers and settlers, none is more inspiring than that of the Mormon Trail."

I'm grateful for the Mormon pioneers and for their faith and sacrifice. Every hardship they went through was worth it for them to be able to follow God and do what they believed to be right.

"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). 


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

An "atonement" is defined as "reparation for a wrong or injury"; "reparation or expiation for sin"; and "the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. The atonement was when Jesus Christ suffered for all of our sins, pains, and sorrows in the Garden of Gethsemane, died on the cross, and was resurrected on the third day.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the garden, they transgressed against God. Ever since then, men have sinned. We live in a fallen world where sin is all around us. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us"(1 John 1:8). None of us can return to live with God in our fallen and sinful state. That is why our loving Heavenly Father provided a Savior for us. It is all part of His merciful plan.

Jesus Christ was sent to the Earth to do the will of the Father. He was the only perfect man to walk this earth. He served others and performed miracles and forgave sins and established His church. The most important thing He did was the Atonement. 

After the Last Supper, Jesus took His disciples with him to the garden of Gethsemane. There He left them and went a little bit off and prayed to the Father. Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew that He was going to have to endure excruciating pain that would destroy any other mortal man. He prayed to Father "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done"(Luke 22:42). Heavenly Father knew that it had to happen and so did Jesus. An angel was sent to strengthen Jesus as He underwent the first phase of the Atonement.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus suffered for the sins, pains, and sicknesses of every single person who had or would ever live upon the Earth. "And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground"(Luke 22:44). No one can understand the pain He felt. No one can ever possibly understand the agony. I don't know how long it lasted, but in that moment He felt every single thing you or I have ever felt. 

One woman said it very well:

"We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It's our faith that He experienced everything - absolutely everything. Sometimes we don't think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don't experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means He knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer -how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

"Let me go further. There's nothing you have experienced as a [human] that He does not also know and recognize. His last recorded words to His disciples were, "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20) He understands your pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth grader, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when your 50th wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He's been there. He's been lower than all that"(Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up, Preface, p.147).

After Jesus went through that, He came back to His apostles to find them sleeping. Shortly after He was betrayed by His disciple and friend, Judas. From there "He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary's cross"(The Living Christ). I always wonder what He must've been thinking as He was betrayed and then mocked, whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men whose sins and pains He just suffered for. 

Since Jesus was half God (His mother was mortal but His father is a God), only He could give up His life. If He wanted to, He could've hung on that cross forever and never died. While on the cross, He comforted His mother and asked the Father to "forgive them; for they know not what they do"(Luke 23:34). Then He gave up the ghost. 

Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept"(1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected with a perfect body. He showed His resurrected body to those at Jerusalem, allowed them to touch Him. He also ate with them to demonstrate that He did, in fact, once again have a body of flesh and bones. 

Because Jesus rose from the grave, we will all live again. We will all be resurrected whether we be good or evil and receive perfect, immortal bodies. However, our actions will decide whether we get to live with God again. 

The Atonement did not eliminate our personal responsibility. We all have the gift of free agency. It's our choice to accept or reject the Jesus Christ's atonement. Don't get me wrong, we believe "that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do"(2 Nephi 25:23). But we need to do some work to access that grace. We need to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, keep the commandments, and endure to the end. Seems like a list. And now you're all thinking that I believe we're saved by works. Let me explain further.

Nothing we ever do can save us. It is only by grace that we are saved. BUT we are still expected to do our part in order to access that grace. Here's an analogy to help us out:
Say you were a little kid and you want to learn to play the piano. What do you do? You ask your parents to sign you up for piano lessons. They agree and sign you up for piano lessons. Every month, year after year, they pay the piano teacher so you can learn the piano. What do your parents expect you to do in return? Practice the piano. Is practicing the piano ever going to physically repay your parents for all the hundreds (and probably thousands) of dollars that they spent on lessons, books, music, and the piano itself? No. But that's all they ask of you in return. It's the same with Jesus Christ's Atonement. No amount of prayer, scripture study, or church attendance can ever physically repay Him for what He did. He does not expect us to pay Him back. All He asks is that we follow Him and keep His commandments as outlined in the scriptures and given by His authorized prophets. The amazing thing though is that even if you were to never accept Jesus Christ and follow Him, He would have still atoned for yours sins so that you could always have the choice. He's that loving and merciful. 

"He's not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don't need a Savior. He came to save His people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He's not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief"(Okazaki).

"And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it
"For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made"(Alma 34:8-9).