Thursday, August 24, 2017

God the Father                                    to:  P. Chinese group    Aug. 19, 2017

When I was young, my father was a hunting guide.   My brothers and I helped him with setting up camp, and when we got older, we accompanied hunters to make sure they didn’t get lost in the Utah back-country.   We also hunted for ourselves when we didn’t have duties helping our guests.
One Fall day I was hunting alone, walking quietly along a trail through a wooded area on a mountainside in Utah.  Ahead of me, I saw a small patch of dense, dark  green brush, which stood out because most of the brush in the area was rather dry and many leaves had already fallen, but this patch of brush looked like spring.  As I got closer I saw that the green brush was growing around the edges of a SEEP.
 In case you are not familiar with this term, a SEEP is where water comes out of the ground, but not enough to run down the hill or do anything more useful than getting an occasional sip of water.  A seep is just a muddy area, with maybe a few puddles.   A SPRING is where enough water comes out of the ground to run down the hill.    
This one was a fairly big seep, with enough water  to make the bushes around it grow big and stay green through the long, hot summer.  In fact, the bushes around this seep were quite large and spread over the top of it, making a lovely shelter from the sun and wind.  I could walk into it upright if I was willing to get my feet muddy.  It was open on the down-hill side, and a fallen tree made a nice seat where I sat to rest for a while and enjoy this delightful little spot.
Looking inside I saw that a cow had died, deep inside the shelter.  It had died long enough ago that the smell was no longer objectionable, and what was left was literally the skin and bones.  As I sat there enjoying a quiet moment to myself I looked closer at the dead cow and realized that it had died while trying to give birth to a calf, which made it out only part way.  That was sad, and yet death is a part of life.  They died alone, but the cow had selected a lovely spot to spend her final hours, and was probably drawn to it for the same reasons I was – its beauty, its peacefulness, and the sense of shelter inside.
I sat there in peace for perhaps a half hour before moving on.  I am sure that I will never see that spot again, for even if I tried to find it I wouldn’t know where to look within perhaps 20 square miles of remote, deep woods.  And yet, in spite of only one visit, that spot and the poignancy of seeing the cow and calf inside are vivid in my memory.  It is one of only a handful of places I associate with being exceptionally close to God through nature.
We, who are striving to become men and women of God, see his works all around us.  I, personally, find great comfort when I see a butterfly wending its way through the air in fits and spurts, weaving erratically, and yet navigating where it wants to go. 
I have in mind the monarch butterfly.  The monarchs born last year laid their eggs a few months ago on milkweed plants in the Texas countryside.  The butterflies born here are smaller than their parents, and they quickly move many miles north where they lay eggs and die.  Those too, fly further north and lay eggs before dying.  In perhaps 6 or 7 generations, all born during a single summer, they make it to Canada.  The ones born in Canada at about this time of year (late summer) are larger than all the ones born in Texas and in between.  The large ones are the ones that fly all the way back, past us and on to Central Mexico, where they gather in vast plumes on a few small patches of pine trees in the mountains.  We will start seeing them flying past us on their way south next month.  They spend each winter huddled together in those same small patches of pine trees.
Nobody knows why late fall monarchs are larger than their peers, although the size is perhaps needed to fly all that way.  Nobody knows how they know to fly north all summer, until it is time to fly south in the fall.  Nobody knows how they all find those same patches of pines in Mexico each year, year after year, after year.  These kinds of things don’t happen by accident.  Personally, I see God’s hand in such a complicated life cycle.
There is an Arab saying that I particularly enjoy,  “God loves wondrous variety.”  I think of it when I see the variety of butterflies.  In college, I had to prepare an insect collection and it included many different kinds of butterflies:  Tiger Swallow Tail, Purple Emperor, yellows, Pygmy butterflies, Blues, Skippers, Coppers, and Fritillaries.    Of course, modern chemicals have cut down their numbers and that kind of collection is no longer appropriate.  Long  gone are the days of my youth when there were clouds of butterflies in my mother’s flower garden every summer day.  I remember butterflies so thick we had to stop frequently to clear their wings out of the car’s radiator to keep it from overheating.  Our children think it is normal to see one or two on a day when they are actively searching for them.
So besides that God loves wondrous variety, what else do we know about him? 
D&C 130:22 says:   
The aFather has a bbody of flesh and bones as tangible as man.”    
By that we know that he is like us.  At least he is like us as much as a mother is like her baby.  We are mere larva compared to him, but  we hope to grow so that at some point we WILL be like him.
I like this scripture in 1st Nephi: 10:18-19
18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.
19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Good!  That means someday I will understand why monarch butterflies do what they do.  From this, we also learn that God has good intentions for us, but that he expects US to make good decisions and follow his directions.  I too, expected my children to make good decisions and follow in my footsteps, and for the most part they did.  None of them became biologists, but that is not one of the important things.  They are trying to grow spiritually, and raise their own children to be good people, too.  This is the part about, “the course of the Lord is one eternal round.”
One of my 6 children has chosen to ignore spiritual things.  He married a nice girl, who is not a member of our church, and he does not participate in our church (or any other) in any way.  I still love him, and like to spend time with him.  I try to teach him the true way as much as he will let me.  But I also love him enough to let him choose his own path.  We call this “Agency.”  He is free to make his own choices.  And if he doesn’t choose the way I know to be the true way to God,    well,    He IS free to make his own choices.

We also know that God helps us, and sends teachers to us.   In Moroni 7:22-23 we read
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

And, of course, we know that he works almost all of his works for us through his begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Another thing that makes me think of God is keeping honeybees.  I have always been fascinated by honeybees.  Of course, I didn’t create bees.  I just cared for them.  Being a beekeeper is all about taking care of one of God’s creatures.
If you do it right, they aren’t very aware of what you are doing.  You have to pay attention to make it so.
First, honeybees need a place to live.   When I decided to keep bees, the very first thing I had to do was build a place for them.  I built a long wooden box.  I made an entrance hole so they could get in and out, and some ventilation holes.  I made a top so that they would be sheltered from wind and rain.  I built a stand so their hive would be up off the ground so they would be safe from predators and floods.  And I made bars where they could attach their comb.
I wanted them to feel like they were at home, so I got some lemongrass oil.  Lemongrass is very attractive to honeybees because it smells like the pheromone they make to signal their fellows that a place is suitable for starting a new hive.  I put just a tiny amount of the oil inside the hive, and when I added some bees (which I bought) they settled right in because it smelled like home to them.
From that point on, the hardest thing I had to do was leave them alone.  I wanted to watch them, but I knew that each time I opened up the hive to watch, it disturbed them and threw them off track.
I did have to monitor them.  It is important when keeping bees to be able to see how they are doing, and for that you have to remove some combs so you can see into the hive.  That’s how you tell if the queen is laying eggs, and if the baby bees are healthy.  And you can see how much honey they are making.
At the end of the summer, it is time to harvest honey.  That takes some thinking.  The honey is the winter food for the bees.  If you take it all, the bees will die during the winter.  It is better to leave a little more than you think they will need.  But if your estimation is wrong and they get short during the winter, you have to give some of it back to them.  So you have to monitor how much they are using during the time of year when it isn’t so fun to be outside.
And finally, in spring you have to remove old, darkened comb and get it out of their way so they can make new clean comb.
  If I do all those things, the bees allow me to have amazing gifts:  honey, beeswax, and increased understanding of life.  But do they thank me?  Never!  In fact, one wrong move and they will sting me.  That hurts!  On a good day, they ignore me.  On a bad day, they come after me to hurt me.
In a lot of ways, taking care of the Bees gives me insight into how God sees us.  How he helps us without getting in our way.  We go about our lives largely unconscious of what he is doing, even though he is doing the things that make it so we can live as we want.

Brothers and sister, God loves us, because we are his children.  He has given us the things we need, and the things to make us happy.  He gave us this world and put interesting things in it – things like butterflies, and honeybees, and sunsets, and solar eclipses, and little children.  And his two most amazing gifts:  chocolate and almonds.

By these things I know that God is real, and that he lives.

And I say this . . . 

Jesus: The Perfect Leader                             P1                              08-13-2017

Your bishopric has assigned me to talk about:
Jesus Christ, as the perfect leader.
To understand this concept, We need to look beyond our Worldly view of leadership as people wielding power over us.  That is the wrong mindset for understanding Jesus Christ as a leader.  He doesn’t wield power to force us to follow him.     In fact, the Truly great leaders don’t do that.
I was in the U. S. Marines, almost 50 years ago.  They have some great leaders in the corps, as well as some not so great.   One that I admired exceedingly told me, after he retired, that he had never given a direct order during his 25 years of service as a Marine Corps officer.    The great leaders don’t go around yelling,  “That is an order, private!”        They don’t.
 Jesus never said things like that.  He was, and is, a great leader.    Let me have you open your hymnbook to # 116.  I am going to read this hymn in three parts.  First, verses  1 and 2:

1. “Come, follow me,” the Savior said.   Then, let us in his footsteps tread;
For thus alone can we be one,      With God’s own loved, begotten Son.

2. “Come, follow me,” a simple phrase,     Yet truth’s sublime, effulgent rays  are in these simple words combined,    To urge, and inspire the human mind.

The gospels contain many references to Jesus asking people to follow him, to follow his example, to follow his counsel.  For example at the very beginning of his ministry, in Mathew 4:18 – 22

18 ¶ And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.

He didn’t have to yell at them, or be overbearing.  He simply showed them the way and asked them to go with him.   He was inspiring,  and he showed them the way to greatness.   They happily accepted his invitation to follow him.
Of course, not everyone was willing to follow him, just as it is today.  There is one story that I find very poignant.  It makes me quite sad.  This is found in Luke 18:  18 – 23

18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one,       that is, God.
20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

This story is striking in its similarity to how Jesus called his disciples.  You have to wonder what this man’s place would have been if he had heeded the Savior’s call, as Peter and the others had done.  He may have been one of the twelve and forever remembered for his service.  Instead, he is forgotten, except as  a bad example.    It says, in verse 18, that he was a ruler;    but of what?    We don’t know and barely even care.
So this calling was a setback, but Jesus took the opportunity to teach his disciples a very important lesson.  That they (and we) need to be focused , if they were to reach the BIG goal.
Continuing  from verse 24 thru 30:

24 And …  he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
27 And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time,
And,  in the world to come,  life everlasting.

From this, we know that we have to keep our eye on the long-term goal at all times, if we are to receive mansions in Heaven.  On Earth, we are often focused on things that are of little importance in that long-term goal. 
Should I buy a new car, or keep nursing this one along?
Should I invest in stocks and bonds, or flip houses?
Should I look for a new job?
Should I watch the big game on Saturday, or wash those dirty windows?

These kinds of things do not, of themselves, have much long-term impact.  But we have to keep them from distracting us from the things that DO matter. 
We need to focus on the questions that really do make a difference.  Such as:
Should I be more friendly to that check-out person who irritated me last time I bought groceries?
Should I watch the Academy Awards show or go visit my home/visiting  teaching families?
Should I prepare my lesson now so I have time to listen to the spirit this week, or wait until Sunday morning?
Should I take time to go talk to my new neighbors and welcome them to the neighborhood?

Speaking of Missionary work, consider the example of Jesus Christ as he taught a woman he met casually along the way.
Jesus was traveling through Samaria, whose people were despised by the Jews because they were descendants of Jews who had married out of the faith.  Jesus sat on the edge of Jacob’s well while his companions went into town to obtain food. 
And Jesus gives us an awesome example of doing missionary work.
This is John 4, starting with verse 7:
There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
. . .               skipping down

25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.  
28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,
29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?
30 Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.

  He simply talked to the woman in a simple, friendly way, but it led to a discussion which ended with her village coming to hear him.   He said things that surprised her, and that led to more discussion. 
We might not have the perception and insight of the Savior, but we have the ability to be friendly to all the people we meet.  And we have the ability to talk to them.  If the opportunity arises, we even have the ability to introduce them to the missionaries.
Great leaders show us the way to go forward. 
Continuing with the hymn, verses 3-5:

3. Is it enough     alone to know       That we must follow him below,  while trav’ling thru this vale of tears?     No, this extends to holier spheres.

4. Not only shall we emulate His course while in this earthly state,
But also when we’re freed from present cares,    IF with our Lord we would be heirs.

5. We must the onward path pursue,  As wider fields expand to view,
And follow him unceasingly,   Whate’er our lot or sphere may be.

For the past several years, I have been trying to re-mold myself as more of a man of God.  When I started down this path, I had a couple of things I wanted to work on that I knew would make me a better man.  I focused on those things and made them part of my life. 
For example, my wife and I started the daily habit of  praying together and then reading the scriptures together – every night,  no matter what.  We had done both those things before, but let things interfere now and then, and did  not often do both of them together.   Now we make the effort, every, single day.  We haven’t missed a day in years, even though we are not always together.  For example, sometimes I travel alone up to Utah and spend up to a month; with our kids when they need help, or when I have a big project to do.  During those times, we do our prayer and scripture study, but over the phone.   Sometimes when we have guests, rather than let them take us out of our plan, we invite them to join us and let them take turns reading.
As I focused on those things I wanted to do to lead me towards becoming a man of God, I noticed other things I should do.   When I addressed them, I realized there were more.
Brothers and sisters, I do not think there is an end to this process.  We will always have at least one thing to do.  We all have trials.  And we all have weaknesses to counter our strengths.    BUT    If we are going to follow our great leader, Jesus Christ, we have to carry on, and continually strive to “UP our game” to the next level.  
Remember that in our own way we should identify our “one thing” to work on.  Consider again Jesus’ advice to the young ruler:
Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
If he had done that, he would have had another “one thing” to do for his next step on the path to eternal glory.
And finally verse 6 of the hymn:

6. For thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow’rs,   And glory great and bliss are ours,
If we, throughout eternity,     Obey his words, “Come, follow me.”

And I say this . . .

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Talk to P5: Celestial Families 03-19-2017

[This talk was given to a congregation where a large portion have no experience with small towns of any kind, much less a Utah Mormon town.  The culture in those towns is unique in many ways, and I attempted to share a flavor of it in my talk.]

I come to you this morning as a member of the Stake High Council to talk to you about Eternal Families.  The assignment came from our Stake Presidency, but the topic was assigned by your Bishopric.  I am always delighted to fulfill this kind of assignment, but I have to tell you that this is a particularly poignant time for me to discuss this topic. 
There are many aspects to the topic of Eternal Families.  Eternal families are built on Earth, but will eventually be composed of resurrected beings who are celestial in nature.  That means people who have made good choices and endured in being faithful.  People learn how to be celestial people by listening to the promptings from the Holy Ghost, but it also takes many teachers, and others who are positive examples, and who help us learn how to hear the spirit whispering to us.  Most of us also need a fair amount of encouragement to go the course.    In addition, there are certain ordinances that are required to be done  and that can happen while we are here on Earth, or vicariously after we are dead.
One of the key things we do as members of the church is build Eternal Families, but I have always felt a little bit out of synch with my own family.   Let me give a little bit of background information.
I have pioneer ancestors on my Mother’s side of my family.  One of my ancestors sat and ate at the same campfires as Brigham Young as they crossed the plains from Winter Quarters to the Unsettled Salt Lake Valley in 1847.  My grandfather’s Daddy walked along that same route when he was 7 years old, in 1850.  Another of my ancestors stopped to plant fields of grain during the great exodus from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, even though he would not live to see it harvested.   I have more pioneer ancestors  with those kinds of stories.  This is an awesome heritage and I am very proud of them.
But on my father’s side of my family I have NO such heritage.  My father went to the little town of Fillmore Utah  to learn how to fly in the Army Air Corps during WWII.  There he met and married my mother, but he never joined the church.  So I grew up in a part-member  family in a small Mormon town.  To help you understand the magnitude of the mono-culture in those little towns, let me tell you that there was a Catholic family who lived in the next block over from us.  They were the ONLY catholic family in town.  More, as far as I know they were the only completely non-LDS family in town.  We had part-member families, and we had inactive families, but they were the only ones with no ties to the church at all.  When I went to first grade, their daughter was in my class.  I quite liked her, but I always knew that she was part of THE Catholic family, even though I had no clue what catholic was.  I tell you this to illustrate how pervasive the church culture saturated our lives there.  Everything that happened, happened in the context of the church.
Living there, I always felt like my own family was kind of broken.  One foot in, and one foot out, as it were.  As I grew up, my siblings and I were baptized, but our church activity waxed and waned, sometimes strong, sometimes just hanging on.  I became serious about the church when I was 16 and have been serious about it ever since.  I married my wonderful wife in the temple and we’ve raised our 6 children safely wrapped tightly in the church.  But I still felt like I came from a religiously broken family.
Three years ago, my 91 year old father had a stroke.  He mostly recovered, but one side of his body was weaker than the other, which made him frail and forced him to use a walker.  The biggest outcome of it was that he couldn’t  talk very well.  If he needed to say something that came automatically, he could say it just fine.  Things like “Hello,”  “Yes, please,”  and “Thank you,” came out like it does from all of us.  But if he had to think about what he was saying, he just couldn’t spit it out a good portion of the time.   That made conversation difficult.  The stroke also made him slow down a lot and we could see him aging month by month.
In August 2015 I visited him.  As it turned out, that visit was about a week before he died.  My sister and I were sitting with him when he asked me, “When I die are you going to make me a Mormon?”
This was a startling question.  It isn’t how we think of things as Mormons.  But I understood his concern because I knew how he fit into the small-town Utah culture.  What he knew about the church was filtered through friends who were largely not active in the church.  And I knew that his question was really about whether we were going to override his agency by doing what he had chosen not to do.
So I told him, “Dad, when you die I am going to baptize you, and I am going to seal you to my mother, but you should understand that nobody is going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.  You will have the opportunity to learn about the gospel, and if you decide you want to accept it, those ordinances will be there for you.  But if you don’t,  they  won’t mean much of anything.  It will be your choice.”
He was looking down, but after a second he looked up with a smile and said, “That’s good.”  He had a hard time getting all that out, so I didn’t press him for whether he meant  it was good that I was going to do the ordinances, or whether it was good that he wouldn’t be forced, or both.    As I’ve thought about it, I’ve decided that I think he meant both.
You probably know that we don’t do vicarious temple work for people until at least a year after they pass on.  I let my siblings know that I was going to do his work.  None of them objected.     So,  I counted the days.     One year after he died, I printed out his ordinance cards.   It included the card to do his baptism and endowment, but that also opened up other ordinances.  I was able to do the cards to seal him to my Mom, and me to them, and my little brother who was killed when he was a young man.  And my Dad to his parents, whose own work was done some time ago.  And Dad had a sister who died in a tragic accident when about a week old, so I prepared to seal her to her parents, too.  And I had some other family names I had been working to get ready.
So, I was all set.    I was ready to go down to the temple and put my family together.
But I got to thinking about it.  It isn’t just my parents.  Families run both directions: back to ancestors, and forward to descendants.   My kids, and my nieces and nephews  are my parents’  descendants, too, and they are equally affected.  My kids know all about Dad’s story and I wanted them to be part of it, too.  So I decided to involve them as much as I could.
About this same time, my grandson proposed to a very nice young woman who is from the San Diego area.  They were planning a December wedding at the San Diego temple.  Not all of our kids would be there, but several of them were, so my daughter and I planned how to do my temple work in San Diego without detracting from her son’s wedding.  Here is what we worked out.
1.       I had several baptisms to do, including my father’s.   These had to be done before anything else.  So, after the wedding, and after the massive photo session on the temple grounds, I took my teenage grandson and teenage granddaughter back into the temple and we did the baptismal ordinances.  I performed all those baptisms.  First up was my grandson, acting for my father.  I have to admit that I was pretty emotional.  I started to cry before we even started and it was very hard for me to speak.  Much harder than I’d thought it would be.                This is a sign that I am getting old.  When I was in my 20’s I joined the US Marines, who turned me into a lean, mean fighting machine.   In those days, I never cried!  Now I am trying to be a man of God, and I get emotional.                        My grandkids were a little bit shocked to see me loose it that much.  But we got it done.        We did baptisms that spanned 7 generations in that session, all family members, including one who I had been researching for over 40 years.
2.       The next day, the adults returned to the temple.  My good wife, my son, and I came early and did all the initiatory work.   Then we met the others and we had just the right number of names for each of us to do an endowment session.   Isn’t that interesting?  This wasn’t something we planned and worked out - I just had a bunch of male names and female names and we had that many men and women in our group.                 Again, this was an emotional time for me.  I held it together pretty well, but when we got to the celestial room, I looked at my son who was acting as proxy for my father, and we threw our arms around each other and next thing we knew we were blubbering on each other’s shoulder.  Now THAT was embarrassing!
3.       After our session, we met up with a sealer and went into a sealing room.  My sealing to my parents was a “live” ordinance, so the paperwork had to be specially prepared by the temple office.  The others were ordinary sealings by temple standards.       I had planned and organized this part.  I made sure each one of us got to participate.   I also made sure each of the girls got to act as proxy in a sealing involving my mother , whom they all remember.  Same thing with the men.  There were a lot of wet eyes.  By this time, my tear ducts felt like they’d been wrung out.  Literally!  They were sucked dry.   I’ve never felt that before.
After that, we went to a nice place for lunch and hit La Jolla beach to watch the sunset as we basked in the glow of love for our family.

After all these years, I finally feel like my own family has been fixed.    I can look back over the generations to my grandparents who came from opposite sides of the World, and met and built a life in California.  My great grandparents who left Kentucky after the Civil War because there was land in Texas, and who built a life in San Angelo.  And back and back.
Eternity includes all the time before now and all the time after now.  It includes both directions.  And so do Eternal Families.  
We need to look back to all those people who came before now, and understand who they were and why they did the things that led to us being who we are.  We need to know how our family fits together.
Brothers and Sisters, the numbers involved in this work are hard to grasp.  Each generation doubles the number of people involved, even without counting siblings.  Sometimes, my ancestors are also your ancestors.  Odds are that if I laid out all my ancestors and their families and you laid out yours, we would find we have a common ancestor before we got further back than the age of our country.  Maybe not, but the odds are that we would.
And as we grow old and watch our children and their children and theirs, we will be seeing my children and your children making interconnections in their own families.
That is the nature of all families.  But what does it take to make them eternal families?              It goes back to understanding that Eternal families involve people who have led near-celestial lives and have celestial characters.
We get so involved in this that we forget that all of them have the same concern my father had – that they are not forced to do something they don’t want.  We can’t control them.  I now think of my father as LDS,  BUT My father spent his entire adult life living among LDS people, and my Mother desperately wanted him to join the church.  He chose not to do so.  He may well continue to make that choice.  It is his choice to make, not mine.  I have to remember that I have done my part – I performed the ordinances for him, like I told him I would.  If he chooses not to accept them, then he will drop out of my eternal family.  He will still be my earthly father and I will still love him, but he may choose not to be in the eternal family I am trying to build.
For those who choose to become celestial beings, they will become part of eternal families.  Maybe not quite like we know them today.    Our responsibility to them is not to force them to be like us, rather we are commanded to keep them in our hearts, - “To turn the hearts of the children to the fathers”.  In other words, it is our responsibility to do temple work as thoroughly and completely as we can.  It is our responsibility to make sure that we are becoming celestial beings.
Also, it is our responsibility  “To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children”.   It is our responsibility to help our children and grandchildren become celestial beings.  Again, they get to make their own choices, but we are responsible to teach the things they need to know so that they understand their choice.
And finally, what do each of us have to do to become celestial beings who can be part of our eternal family?  It is simple.  Keep the commandments.  All of them.  As good as we possibly can.  
It can be a bit overwhelming to think of it in terms of keeping ALL the commandments.  We are told by our prophets to do a lot of things.  It helps to simplify it by bundling them together.   In Matthew 22, verses 36 through 40 we read:
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Now that sounds much simpler.  It is nice to reflect on what this scripture means.  In actual fact, it is very hard to keep all the commandments, but it’s nice to see the end goal from this scripture.  It helps us see why we have so many commandments to follow -  to know that they can be boiled down into simple concepts.  It helps us choose a thing or two to work on until we get better at it.  And then we can move on to another area where we can improve.
Becoming a Celestial person takes a lot of hard spiritual work, but the rewards are huge.    And the joy of being in a Celestial Family is the best reward of all.

And I say this ….

Monday, August 29, 2016

Talk given to P4 ward, 087-28-2016 "Family and the Temple"

When I was a young man, we went to the Manti Temple to do Baptisms for the Dead.  Manti is an old temple.  It was completed  after the St. George and Logan temples, but before the Salt lake Temple.  It is an impressive building and sits on a hill above town so that it is the dominant feature in the valley.   What I remember about the inside is that everything was big there.  We went in the massive front doors and down a big hallway, then down a big, wide staircase to the basement where the font was.  Nowadays, there is an exterior door to the baptistry there, so YM and YW don’t have to walk through the main door.  When we got to the baptismal font, it, too, was big.  Maybe it’s just that I was small, but I was impressed with how big everything was.
Our trips to Manti had some other things that impressed me greatly. 
First:     I got to take sack lunch, and Mom put a twinkie inside.   Twinkies were unusual for me – I think I got maybe three all the time until I was earning my own money and could buy whatever I could afford.  We didn’t often buy treats in our house.  Mom made as much as she could from scratch:  bread, butter, cookies, etc.  She even saved fat so she could make lye soap, which she grated and used as laundry soap.  We butchered our own Meat, which came either from hunting, or animals we bought directly from the local farmers who raised them.  So, a twinkie automatically put that temple sack lunch in the memorable department, and to this day I have a special feeling for them, although I seldom choose to eat any.
Second:     While waiting, after our turn in the font, we got to roll down the hill between the temple and the hiway.  The hill by the temple is steep so it made for good rolling.  The thrill of it was that at the bottom of the hill was a wall about 5’ high and if you didn’t stop in time you’d  roll right off it, and at the bottom of the drop you were in the hiway!  Nowadays they’ve put in a fence and ruined it.  You never see kids rolling down that hill now.  But isn’t that a silly thing to remember doing?
But, of course the work we did there was the reason we went.  I was very aware of why we were there.  The difference between then and now is that I didn’t know any of the people whose work we did.  Not one.  Today, the YM and YW should be doing baptisms for family who have passed on, their own ancestors if possible, or ancestors of people they know.  That makes the work much more significant.  Our YM and YW today should be remembering who they did work for, not what they had for lunch, or the thrills they had while waiting outside afterward, like I did.

The temple is a place where we tie families together for eternity.  That is the reason why we build and maintain temples.  That is the reason why we can ask for 6-8 volunteers to go vacuum the temple every night, and have our busy members respond to the call.  I got to vacuum the temple just last Wednesday.  It was an honor to do it.  We try to keep the temple spotless, just as we wash ourselves and prepare ourselves spiritually before we go to do the work.  The preparation of making ourselves clean, helps us remember and  understand the significance and holiness of the work we do there.   And, clenaing the temple prepares it so we can focus onthe work.

I’m going to share another funny story.  On December 9th, 1970, Liz and I got in a car with her parents and my grandfather.  We drove for  80 miles to Manti, where Liz and I both received our endowments in preparation for our temple marriage the next day.  Liz’s family were converts to the church while I have pioneer ancestors, but in many ways she was more prepared than I, because her parents were both dedicated to the church and endowed, while my father never became LDS and my mother was not permitted to take out her endowments because her husband couldn’t go.  (That policy has been changed, and she later did get her endowments)  We never talked about the temple endowment experience in my home because none of us had any experience with it. 
As we drove to the temple that day, my grandfather was with me, as my closest endowed family member, to escort me through the temple knowing that the endowment can be a bit overwhelming.  But I don’t think he appreciated how painfully ignorant I really was on that day.
As the endowment began, the man officiating said something to the effect that we would be taking on ourselves sacred covenants.  He emphasized that they were extremely sacred covenants, and that anyone who was not willing to accept those covenants should raise their hand.  I was surprised at that.  How did I know whether I was willing to accept them when I had no idea what they were?!?
In a moment of near-panic I looked around to see how many other people were going to raise their hand. 
At that moment, my grandfather put his hand on my knee and leaned over to say, “It’ll be OK.”   With the reassurance of that kind old man, who I loved dearly, I calmed down and indeed, everything was OK.    As I learned about the covenants, I realized they were the same things I had learned about in my church classes all my life.  I was happy to accept and commit to each one of them.   The next day was the highlight of my life as my wife and I were married in the temple.
Today, Liz and I, and our daughter are at the temple every week as temple workers.  It is a wonderful experience to be there as helpers and officiators, and doing it with our daughter is especially sweet.  One of the most special experiences we have there is when faithful men and women go for their first time and we get to help them along.  Some of them are well prepared and breeze through it easily, while some have that “deer in the headlights” look like I did on my first time.  It works either way, but it is best if they are well prepared.
After that first time, we all do work for the dead, and just as with baptisms, it is a wonderful experience to do the work for people we know, especially our own family.

When I was a young man, about 137 years ago – approximately  -  the church was encouraging everyone to record a 4-generation chart of their family.  My older brother had done one, and I mostly copied his, however, I dutifully talked to my grandparents to make sure I had it right.  On my Mother’s side of the family, I found what many other descendants of the pioneers find – that somebody had already done the pedigrees - far back, and well.  I felt there was nothing left for me to do, there.  That is an illusion, but it is how I felt. 
But on my Father’s side of the family it was virgin territory.  He was not LDS and nobody had done anything in the way of genealogy.  That sounded like a bit more fun  - but not enough to actually do anything about it at that time.  I was still a young man, after all.
So I finished high school and went off to BYU.  I served a hitch as a U.S. Marine part way through my college work and came back to BYU as a married student.  I finished up my degree in Zoology and chemistry in December, 1975 and headed off to Arizona for my first job as an agricultural biologist.  At that time, they didn’t pass out diplomas when you finished your degree in December like I had, so when I got a fat letter from the Y in the mail, I thought it would be my diploma.  To my surprise, it was a copy of my transcript and a notice that I needed two more hours of coursework before I could expect a degree.  Any two hours, in any subject, would do the trick.
Well, I was disappointed, to say the least.  I was living out in remote NE Arizona about 30 feet from the edge of the Navajo Reservation, and there was no way I was getting back to Provo for a 2 hour class. 
But wait!  There are correspondence classes.  (For you young people, that's what we had before we had the internet.)  I called BYU and had them send me a course book.  I found that the Religion Department had a class in Genealogical Research that was 2 hours.  It sounded kind of interesting, so I sent in my registration and fee. 
Mostly I was retrieving microfilm records from SLC that had been photographed from the county courthouse in Paris, Kentucky where my great-grandparents were born.  It took 2-3 weeks to get a copy of the microfilm, and some of them turned out to be useless while others had information I could use.  I found many good marriage and death records, which, when combined with census records let me build up my pedigree back to the revolutionary war.  So that was fun. 
What I could not find was any birth records in Paris, KY, so I was using estimates based on census records for birth dates, and that isn’t very accurate.  That bothered me.  It still does.  I’d like to find better dates. 

That pure research of the Ashurst family line was in 1976.  I sent copies of my pedigree to Salt Lake.  I left copies in the Arizona State genealogy library in Phoenix, and later in the courthouse in Paris, Kentucky.  I gave copies to my grandfather’s brother.  Of course, I also gave them to my siblings and my children.  Many, many people have taken that beginning and used it as the basis for their own research on Ashurst ancestors.  I often find where my early work has been copied or referenced. 
So, I finished my class and graduated from BYU. 
But there was a problem with doing the temple work for one of my ancestors.  William Ashurst.  There are records indicating that he might have been born in 1806, 1812, 1818, or 1823.  That’s confusing!  I suspect he had a cousin with the same name, but I don’t know for sure, yet.  And he seemed too young to be a child of his parents.  In today’s online genealogy programs, people keep deleting his connection to the family because it doesn’t seem to fit.  I knew he fit in our line somewhere because he lived in the house built by his father and passed down to my later ancestors, but I was reluctant to do his work without nailing it down better.  I wondered if I had missed a generation – if he was a grandson, instead of son.  It took me 40 some years of anxiety about him before I finally located court records that clarified it.  He was pretty young to be in his family, but not impossibly so.  It turned out that he was a late child.  One of those special babies born to parents who had thought they were past child-bearing age.  His siblings were all much older than he was, almost in another generation.  
The record I found was a court record where his aging father arranged to have William’s next older brother legally appointed as his guardian, with the family home left to him in care of his guardian.  And his father also specified that William was to be responsible for his mother, who also lived in the house.  So that record tied it all up and specified his relationship to his parents and one sibling, and even gave his age, making him born in 1812.  Yeah!
Doing the temple work for William after all these years wondering if I’d gotten the line correct, was a wonderful experience, and I completed it last year.  I was kind of giddy as I carried the little card with his data on it and completed the ordinances.  When I sealed him to his parents I had some trouble with tears in my eyes.
Doing the work for someone like that is extremely rewarding, and it has gotten much easier to do it.  We no longer have to wait weeks to get poor quality microfilm copies of records, and our computers help us put families together correctly.  These days more and more people are bringing their own family names into the temple to do the work, and people have those same kinds of feelings as I had, when they do the work for people in their own families
This is the work we are charged to do as part of being among those privileged to live in the latter days, and enjoying the fullness of the gospel.
Part of preparing to go to the temple should involve looking for ancestors who need their work done.  And doing family work increases our own spiritual understanding of the work, and helps us appreciate what a blessing it is to be able to do temple work.
It is a great work, and I pray that we may be able to do all that is needful to be done . 
In the name of . . . . .