Sunday, April 15, 2018

Service - Talk to Plano 8th Ward, Apr. 15, 2018

A year or so ago, I wanted to get more water to the plants on the south side of our house.   On a hot, sunny afternoon I dug a trench, nice and deep, connected it to the sprinkler system, installed a pipe and three sprinkler heads.  All I had left to do was fill the trench in. 
But I was exhausted. 
There was a time – many, many years ago – when I could do anything.    I was a marine.  I was a forest ranger.  I was even a Librarian.  It’s true!        I had thick, golden blond hair all over my head, and my waist was smaller than my shoulders.
But those days are past and gone.    After I installed the final sprinkler head, I was sitting on the edge of the trench with my feet down inside it, and I realized I would have to rest a while before I could stand up and get out.  I decided filling in the trench could wait until another day  -   Maybe a month   -   or two.
Most of you know that Liz and I are planning to move to a townhouse a little ways up Custer Road, in McKinney.   We love our current house.  We love Plano stake, and especially the Plano 8th ward.  We love worshipping here with you.    But incidents like filling in the trench have convinced us that we need to downsize.   After much searching, we found a place that suits us quite nicely, and there are no sprinklers to maintain  -  no trenches to dig.    It gives us much sadness to do it, but it is time for a change for us.
Back to the trench.  I was sitting on the grass with my feet in the trench when Mark Morrell came strolling around the side of the house.  He was out for a walk and happened to stop by to see us.
Back in the olden days, we called him our home teacher.    The olden days  -  you know – more than 2 weeks ago  -  before President Nelson changed our World.  Mark and I chatted for a while and the result was that Mark Morrell filled in my trench for me.  He said it was no big deal.  But I saw it differently.   He filled a need that I had, and was happy to do it.  Mark hadn’t come by to make a checkmark on the home teaching report.  He came ready to minister to us.  He saw an opportunity for service and he grabbed it.  
Matthew 20: 25-28
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

We use some particular words in the church in ways that most people don’t quite get.  We have our own usage of those words.  Fast meeting.  Word of Wisdom.  Garments.  Recommend.  Endowment.  These are just a few.     I’ve been thinking about  SERVICE  because that is what my assigned topic is today.  As I thought about Service, I couldn’t help thinking about our newest buzz word, Ministering.   And about whether,  and how,   ministering is different from Home Teaching.
Is ministering merely home and visiting teaching with a new name?  No, I don’t think so for one second.  So, how is it different?   Isn’t it true that we will still have assigned families and a charge to see those families?  Which charge is not much different than our charge as home and visiting teachers  back in the olden days?     Yes!  The charge is not MUCH different.   But the emphasis is  WAY  different.  I think our eyes are just beginning to open to this new emphasis, but Brother Morell’s service to me was a forshadowing of what is to come.
All my adult life I’ve sat through Priesthood meeting opening exercises and heard the following announcement:  “Brothers, we are at the    [fill in the blank: beginning, middle, end]  of the month.  Be sure to get your home teaching done before the end of the month.”
If you heard this one time, you would naturally assume that the key thing about “home teaching” was the month.  Did you get it done this month?  Yes.  CHECK!
I don’t expect we’ll be hearing that any more.  The expectation is no longer a check for the month.  The expectation is that we will be ministering the way the Savior taught his apostles to minister.  Now we will begin to associate a lot more things with the simple word, Minister.
Our ward has been very good at providing service to our fellows.  Service and ministering are very closely related.  So closely related that you could substitute one word for the other and not stray too far off the mark, in most cases.  You could say that our new charge is to give an extra helping of service to our assigned families.     But it is hard to know when to offer service and  hard to know what service can be rendered.  There has to be some preparation before we will be ready to make it work.
To become ministers and provide service as it is needed, we need to be listening to the spirit.  That is how we will know what service to render.   I don’t think it was coincidence that Bro. Morrell came by my house just when I needed a hand with that trench.   I think he was prompted by the spirit to stop by.
We all need to have the spirit with us to effectively execute our ministering assignments.   And how do we do that?   Simple, by doing all the things we are supposed to do to be perfect in the gospel.    Only that one small thing, right?  Only we all know none of us are perfect in that way.  Nobody expects us to be.  But we are asked to try to be.   We need to be doing our best to do all the things we are taught to do.  Prayer, fasting, tithing, temple work, scripture study, Family Home Evening, etc., etc., etc.  It is overwhelming to think about all of it.  So, we just work on it a little at a time.  And as we do, we keep adding the next thing, and the next.  And the spirit will help us as we work on them.  And as we work on even the very first thing, he will tell us what we can do to provide service to those around us.
What did the Savior say?
Matthew 25
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
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.

So, for our ministering assignment, we will be assigned to love  (that is brotherly love)   a family or two or three, or perhaps some particular individuals.  Can we love someone that way  -   simply because we are assigned to?  Yes, but it’s easier to think of it like the Savior said,  “love thy neighbour as thyself”.   And then we need to start thinking that way about everybody.   All the time.   When we get ourselves focused so we can love everybody, then the assignment is simple.  We just pay a wee bit more attention to those to whom we are assigned.
If working in the garage or office and you suddenly think of your neighbor, that is likely a BING Moment.  The spirit is saying, “Pay attention to that person.”    So do.     Call, text, email, or stop by.  Make the contact and see what the spirit has for you to do.
Earlier I said that service is almost the same thing as ministering.  What I meant by that is service always counts as ministering, and a good portion of ministering is providing service.   But there is more ministering we can do that isn’t providing service, exactly.
I remember a time when I was feeling really low and discouraged.   A nice person said to me, “It’s going to get better.”   That’s all.    A simple thing, but it absolutely made my day.  When I heard that, it was like a load was lifted off my shoulders, and things WERE better!   Sometimes ministering is no more than sharing a smile or a friendly word.  It is incredible the difference you can make in someone’s life when you offer one of those simple, little things.  A smile, or a friendly word.
I used to work in an office with a lot of people you might describe as downtrodden.   I noticed that a lot of them walked around with their heads down, a frown on their face, kind of listless.  They acted like they expected to get kicked any second.
Bob Brigman worked there, too, and I noticed that when he walked down the hall many, many of those people brightened up when he came in sight.   He always had a bright smile and a happy word for them, and they responded in kind. 
President Monson used to speak of going out to “Brighten someone’s day”.     The New Era includes “Brighten someone’s day with a smile,” in a list of simple Service suggestions.   I think of it as lighting them up. 
3 Nephi 12
14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house;
16 Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I decided Bob had set a great example I could follow.  I often walk around with a smile on my face anyway, so it wasn’t too hard.  When I’d see one of those people who looked ready to be kicked, I’d give them a really big, friendly smile and say hello.  Sometimes they had their head so far down they couldn’t see me, so I’d swerve into their path and when they looked up I’d give them a warm smile and say hello.  Sometimes  they’d act surprised,  and one time I got a hostile response, but usually it seemed to pick them up.  It picked me up too.
I noticed a thing about this, though.  I couldn’t light someone else up, unless I had the light in me.  If I was down, the light was too dim to shine.  So the first step was to pray and let the spirit shine in me.  Then I could light people up.
A word of CAUTION:  This is not a game to play.  It is serious work.  It is sharing the Light of Christ, or it is nothing.
After I’d been doing this for a while, a big dour guy at work that I’d never spoken to before,  stopped me in the hall and asked me if I was a pastor.  I hadn’t even tried to light him up but I had been smiling, as usual.  His question took me back a bit.  I told him that I’m not a pastor, but that I had been volunteering at the temple the night before, and I explained briefly what that was.  And he said, “Well you looked like you were glowing.”  And then he walked away.  I was surprised by that, but it made me feel my efforts were working.  My light HAD been shining.
Just a month or so ago, I had a similar experience with the guy at the cash register at the local drug store.  He said he had noticed me talking to people in the store and he thought I had a light about me.  I’m a bit embarrassed to share this, because it is NOT about me.   It is only  about letting the spirit of Christ shine through me, just as it does through so many of you.  I often see it in you when I come to our ward.
Our new program of ministering may sometimes be no more complicated than sharing a smile and a friendly word with one another,  Picking each other up, supporting each other.  Usually it will take more effort than that, but it will always be about  Being  brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Conference a couple of weeks ago was an amazing experience.  In my opinion, the most amazing thing of all was how strongly I felt the spirit letting me know that President Nelson‘s bombshells were exactly the right things for the church to be doing and that they came from a Prophet of God.  In this morning’s inaugural meeting of the new High Priest’s  Quorum, President Martin said the same thing.    I think the changes we are making in our ministering efforts will bear  fruit in the most important ways imaginable.
I bear my testimony that President Nelson is a prophet of God, and that we will become more Christ-like as we strive to implement the emphasis on ministering to each other,      and to ALL those around us.
And I say this . . . . .
So, light ‘em up!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Repentance leads us close to Jesus Christ - 01-21-2018

Many years ago, in a ward in a far corner of the country,  I was first called as a counselor in a Bishopric.  I was shocked to receive the calling, but accepted it after committing myself to increase my efforts to be worthy of the calling.  I set aside my feelings of inadequacy and plunged into the work.  The bishop was a physician, a GP who made house calls as well as keeping regular office hours.  Among other things, I resolved to take upon myself as much of his load as I could manage.  All three of us were new to our callings, and we learned how to do them as we went.
Sadly, the time came when we had to form a Bishop’s court.  I was very uncomfortable with the notion of sitting on that court.   I had the notion that a church court was about punishing the slacker.
When that good, young bishop called us together to begin the process of the court, he started by reading a scripture to us.      It is in John,  Chapter 8.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
The Bishop explained few things to us:
·         1st  The woman was guilty of a serious offense in the eyes of God.   There was no doubt.
·         2nd  Her accusers were not interested in the woman.  They were interested in accusing Jesus.  When Jesus asked that a sinless man throw the first stone, they all left.
·         3rd  The Bishop promised that the Savior’s final response to the woman would give us direction in how to approach the court.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord.        And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Jesus was interested in individual people.  For this woman, his interest was that she should stop her sinful actions.  That she should repent.
We don’t know anything more about this woman.  The assumption is that she did repent and mend her ways.   (BTW, there is no evidence whatsoever that she was Mary Magdalene.)
But, my young bishop stressed,  Jesus did not condemn her.  And neither should we condemn the person we were about to meet in our court.  Our purpose as a court, was to help the sinner to repent.
We reviewed the facts of the case with her present.   Then she was invited to sit in the foyer while we deliberated. 
The bishop asked us for our thoughts and he asked us to make a recommendation on how to proceed, even though the final decision was his to make as the Judge in Israel.  The question was never about punishment.  We did not even think about getting even.  The only thing we considered was how to help her repent so she could get back on the path to happiness.
And now we are on the topic I am here to discuss.  That Repentance is the way we, as sinners, draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.    When we are in line with him, we are happy.  When we step out of line, we are not happy, although we may be content in our sins.
Brothers and Sisters:  the way to happiness is a strait line.      The word I’m using here, STRAIT, is spelled without a gh.  The Oxford Dictionary definition is:
Strait:  “a place) of limited spatial capacity; narrow or cramped.
EXAMPLE: ‘the road was so strait that a handful of men might have defended it’

  Now,  Consider 3 Nephi 27: 33
33 And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter ye in at the astrait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it;       but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.
Hence, people refer to keeping the commandments as being on “The strait and narrow”, and a person on that path is sometimes called a “Strait arrow.”
But, here is the thing:  none of us is capable of strictly keeping to the strait and narrow path.  We all fall off it from time to time.  Repentance is the process that allows us to get back on it.  Jesus’s atonement is the marvelous gift that allows us to return to the strait and narrow and he accepts the punishment, just as the woman taken in adultery was told to “go and sin no more” without any punishment.  The catch is that we must follow his path.  There is a process that we are all taught when we first learn about the gospel.  We have to approach the Savior in prayer, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and commit to sin no more.  Sometimes we need to confess the sin to our Bishop.  We have to do the best we are able to make things right.
When we do that, we return to the strait and narrow path that leads to Eternal happiness.
I had a BYU religion professor who told us “If you can’t stay on the strait and narrow, at least cross it as often as possible.”  His thought was that if we are crossing the line frequently we are going the correct way.
To illustrate, I used to go fishing with two fellows who were sailors.  One was a career Navy man, and other was in the merchant marine, a Captain who drove oil tankers all over the World.  We used to go fishing out where the Pacific Ocean enters a STRAIT, another time when strait is spelled without a gh, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in Washington State,.  The waters were very rough, because the huge Pacific waves crashed into the swift currents where the tides were flowing into and out of the Strait.  Waves frequently came from several directions at once.  We used to go fishing for halibut at a particular place – the top of an undersea mount.  The top of this mount was about 300’ down, but the waters all around it were much deeper than that, and there are no landmarks on the sea.  The halibut stayed on that mount.  To catch them we also had to stay on it.  So we steered by compass.  When we left the harbor we knew what direction to steer the boat on a course that would take us over the top of the undersea mount, but the waves would push the boat aside, off course.  So steering by the compass meant making constant course corrections.  We followed that line but the waves made it so we really just crossed it a lot, like an eel swimming through the water.  If we did it well, we eventually found the top of the mountain and caught our halibut.
The point of the gospel  is to help us follow the strait and narrow way that leads to happiness, the place where we can live eternally with our Savior.  If we follow any other path, we will end up some other place.  In my example, the compass was like repentance, helping us regain the correct course.
Last Tuesday, the new First Presidency of the Church held a press conference, shortly after the announcement of their new First Presidency.  I was in Salt Lake, looking after my grandkids while my daughter and her husband took their first vacation without children in 25 years of marriage.  It was very interesting watching our new First Presidency.  First, I did not know that President Nelson and President Oaks were such close friends.  Of course I knew they were acquainted and have worked closely together for many years, but this was something more than that.  They frequently leaned close to each other and shared looks of understanding.   Clearly, they are not just friends, they are very close friends.
Second, President Nelson put his stamp of leadership style on his response to the reporters asking questions.   Representative reporters were each allowed to ask one question.  Several of them asked their question, and in response President Nelson first told that he knew them or close relatives.    They got the personal treatment before he answered their question.  One of these asked him if the church is going to find a way to include LGBTs.
He responded that he knew his parents and grandparents and he came from a fine family.  He said he was delighted to have him there.  Then he got to what was clearly an uncomfortable question to answer. The reporter didn’t specify which parts of the LGBT community he thought were being left out of the church.  There are LGBT members who are following the strait and narrow path.   I’ve been thinking about that issue the past few days as I drove back from Utah with a car full of Christmas decorations and other stuff.  It seems to me that the reporter wasn’t using the language of the church, and he was asking that the church redefine the strait and narrow path to include the non-strait & narrow LGBT path.
I have a stick (hold up the dowel) representing the strait and narrow path to Eternal happiness with our Savior.  It is the path we are trying to follow in the church.  It is well defined.  We know what we have to do to follow it.  It is not easy for us to follow it, but we have repentance to help us get back on the path when we fall off.   “for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.”  It is a difficult path, but one filled with joy and wonder.  We welcome all people to join us on it, even knowing many will not choose to do so.
I have another stick (hold up the thick branch with knots and forks) representing that part of the LGBT path that is not compatible with the strait & narrow path.  It might, for some, start near the first path, and it might even cross that path.  But it does not lead to Eternal happiness.  It leads to some other place.     “… but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein.”
No wonder President Nelson could not give them the answer they wanted.  The question missed the point that we are concerned with individuals, not groups.  He responded to the question by saying, “God loves his children.  There is a place for everyone who wishes to be with us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”   That’s it.  It isn’t about the label they wear – it is about the path they choose to follow.  There is no way to merge the strait and narrow path with the wide and broad path.  We welcome all comers, but it is true that to travel this path (dowel), you must leave other paths (branch).
I do not mean to pick on the LGBT groups or individuals.  There are many fine people in that group.  And there are many other paths I could have used as representative.  I picked that one because it was brought up during the press conference last Tuesday.  The point is that if we are on ANY OTHER path, we are not going to end with Eternal Happiness.  Only this path, the strait and narrow path, leads there.  Other paths may lead to popularity, power, riches, fame, ownership, comfort, or any of numberless places, but only this one leads to Eternal Life.  And in the end, it is the one that leads to all of those other things too.
Going back to President Russel M. Nelson.  I have long enjoyed his Conference messages.    In the October 2015 Conference, He spoke to the women of the church about becoming Women of God.  His talk was entitled, “A Plea to My Sisters”.  I listened to this talk as I drove up to Utah for a Family Reunion and I was impressed with his inspired message.  I had been trying for a few years to become a Man of God, as I thought of it, but really to just get myself even closer in line with the Savior’s teachings.  His message to the sisters resonated with my own search.
Then in April 2016, he spoke to the brothers in what has to be considered as a companion talk, entitled “The Price of Priesthood Power”.   This talk was specifically about how men can become Men of God.  Again, his thoughts resonated strongly with my own thoughts.  So, of course I have a strong testimony that he is the prophet for our time.  It makes me sad to think that his tenure may well be short.  He is already older than President Monson was at his death.  On the other hand, his mind is very sharp and his body is still capable of feats that amaze men much younger.
It is my privilege to sustain him as my Prophet,     Seer,     and Revelator.                     

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Book of Mormon Nov. 19, 2017

Talk given to Plano 9th Ward                       Nov. 19, 2017

 I have been assigned by the Stake President to speak to you today, and reinforce the talk given in the most recent conference by President Russel M. Nelson, “The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?”
  Let me start by telling you a little story.  Almost 50 years ago I joined the U. S. Marine Corps.  This was at the height of the Vietnam war.  I talked to my bishop about what I was doing and asked for his council and advice, which he was happy to do.  He was a veteran of WWII, as was my father, and he encouraged me to be sure to seek my father’s blessing as well.  Then he gave me two little books.  One I lost some time ago.
This one (holding up the book) is a serviceman’s edition of the Book of Mormon and it is the one my bishop gave me.  This version of the Book of Mormon  was first published in 1966, just a few years before my meeting with my bishop.  It is small, as you can see, and the reason is so that it can fit in the shirt pocket of military fatigue uniforms.  What marines call their utilities.
I carried it with me for a long time.  The spine is broken, the paper is turning yellow, and the print is a bit small for my aging eyes, but I still value this, particular little book.  It was a piece of home for me as I went to places I had never seen before, where people seemed a little different from those I had known before.
It was a particular help to me when we went to the rifle range to qualify.  The marines are very serious about making every single marine an infantryman who can shoot straight.  My son, who was in the navy, received about one hour’s training on the M-16 rifle.  In the marines we spent two full weeks focusing exclusively on learning how to take care of and shoot our rifles.  Even when waiting in line for chow, we drilled on shooting technique.  Near the end of that time I had been shooting above average, but not at the top.   I wasn’t happy with that.  I grew up in a rural area and got my very own rifle when I was 12.  I usually hit what I aimed at and I had expected to do better.
There are three shooting badges you can earn in the marines.  Very few marines don’t earn one of them, and those few are not qualified riflemen and are somewhat disgraced.  The lowest qualification level is the Marksman, for which the badge is a square of metal with rings to signify a target.  The vast majority of marines earn this badge.  About 10-15% of marines do better and are Sharpshooters, for which the badge is an attractive silver cross.  The top 10% or so earn the Rifle Expert designation, which badge has a pair of crossed rifles.  I wanted to be a rifle expert.
On the day before we fired for our final scores we did a practice run and kept score.  My score that day was smack in the middle of the Sharpshooter scoring range.  But I was nervous -  Putting pressure on myself.  We had a lot of waiting time between shooting at various ranges and that was when I was thinking too much and putting pressure on myself.  As I thought about it that evening,  I recognized that it was my nerves that were keeping me from doing my best.
That night, I found a quiet spot in the barracks and knelt in prayer.  I prayed that I could do my best.  I knew very well that our Father does not care a whit what shooting medal I got to wear on my uniform.  But I knew that he would care that I cared.
I had been in the habit, during training, of keeping my little  Book of Mormon  in my footlocker, because we never knew if we were going to be in water or mud during our training.   But that night after reading it, I put it in my shirt pocket.
On qualification day, when I was waiting for my turn to shoot  I pulled out this little book and read until it was time to go up to the line.  As a result I was relaxed, thinking about what I’d read instead of about shooting.  I’d shoot and then go back to reading.  It’s not that I no longer cared what score I got, but I was no longer worrying about it.  I found that my attitude had changed sufficient that I would be happy to accept whatever score I got.  And in the end, I got to wear the Rifle Expert’s badge.
So, that’s why I value this particular  little book.  I value it’s message even more, but I can read that in other editions, too.
  (Holding up my sample books, one by one)  
Most of us have some of these paper-backed editions lying around so we can give them away when the occasion arises.  
I have a couple of a couple of these, too, a triple combination, and a quadruple combination.
  But in these days most of us use a digital edition on phone, pad, or computer.  I use all three.    
And most recently, I’ve been enjoying this book (1830 facsimile).  It is a reproduction of an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon .  There are several companies producing these and they are becoming quite popular.  They are not published by the church, but they are interesting.  The first Book of Mormon  publishing, in 1830, was done by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra NY, and the typesetting was done by hand from a hand-written manuscript.  The handwritten manuscript did not have punctuation, as was common in those days.  So, the publisher inserted punctuation as he set the type.  Errors occurred in reading the handwriting and in the punctuation, plus spelling and grammatical errors made by the scribes were usually reproduced.  And errors occurred in setting the type.  These small errors occur frequently in this edition, and they are a minor distraction.  But the thing that seems to be of greatest interest is the fact that chapters are laid out, but no verses.  So it looks like non-scriptural books.          [ opening it and holding it UP]
I just completed reading the Book of Mormon  from cover to cover.  The Dallas Temple has been closed for the 6 weeks prior to this last week and during that time I signed up to man the recommend desk in the early mornings 3 or 4 times per week.  This duty was at a side door nearest where the workers needed to go.  As you may know, a recommend is required before you can be admitted into the temple.  This is true even during a maintenance shutdown.  The contractors have some workers who are not temple-worthy and they only work outside the temple.  Those with recommends do the inside work and it was my job to pass them and turn away the ones without recommends.   Most of the time I had nothing to do, so I read for an hour or two from this book every morning and finished reading it, then started over.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in paragraph form – without verses.  It seems to flow nicely along, and it encourages me to finish a chapter instead of stopping at any convenient verse.                   It is not so great when you are studying, or searching for a particular point or topic.  It has no cross-references, no topical guide, no dictionary, etc.
Well, I’ve talked a lot about these different editions of the Book of Mormon .  There is one overriding fact about the Book of Mormon .  Its value lies not in the edition.  Its value arises when you do this:  [Holding it up and OPENING THE BOOK].
It is only valuable when you open it up and read it.
In the most recent General Conference, President Eyring shared that he has read the Book of Mormon  every single day for 50 years!  What a fantastic example he sets for us.  Of course, he was able to do that because he made it a daily habit.  Once a habit is set in your daily life you do it almost without thinking – it’s just habit.  But even though it is just a habit, you get all the benefits and blessings of daily reading this inspired, and inspiring, book  -  just as if you really had to work at remembering to do it.  That is a habit that is worth working hard to establish in your lives. 
I’ve heard people say that they have times when they are just too tired or distracted to read.  So to combat that distraction from your habit, make your goal to read at least one verse, or if you can’t do that – at least one word.  But do it every single day so you can maintain your habit!
President Russel M. Nelson shared with us three questions to consider for our own personal consideration.  They have to do with appreciating and understanding the blessing it is to have the Book of Mormon  available to us.  He said,
Since President Monson’s challenge six months ago (to study the Book of Mormon), I have tried to follow his counsel. Among other things, I’ve made lists of what the Book of Mormon is, what it affirms, what it refutes, what it fulfills, what it clarifies,and what it reveals. Looking at the Book of Mormon through these lenses has been an insightful and inspiring exercise! I recommend it to each of you. During these six months, I have invited various groups   ---  to consider three related questions that I urge you to think about today:
1.   First, what would your life be like without the Book of Mormon?
2.   Second, what would you not know?
3.   And third, what would you not have?    “
These are excellent questions.   Personally, I think their greatest value is when we introspectively  consider them as it applies to us personally.   They are great questions to ponder when we are relaxed, alone, unlikely to be interrupted, and have pen and paper close at hand.
When President Nelson gave his talk, he did not provide answers to these 3 questions, and I am not going to share my personal answers to them either.  This does not mean we don’t have answers to them.  I means that we have our own personal answers. 
However, if you find President Nelson’s talk in the Ensign or LDS.ORG, you will see that he included the OTHER lists of significant aspects of the Book of Mormon.  These are lists I am certain he has compiled over many years of study, even though their current form is from the last 6 months..  They include answers to the things he mentioned:
   What does it affirm?
   What does it refute?     (Refute means to prove a statement or theory to be false)
   What does it clarify?
President Nelson gives his answers to these questions in list form, and reading his answers can lead to meaningful pondering on our part.  We should all take the opportunity to do so.  It is a rare opportunity to see where a prophet of God goes on his personal study journeys.
Personal study can take us down some interesting roads.  I have long been fascinated that the New Testament is rife with women named Mary.    While I was sitting at the Recommend desk in the early mornings at the temple, after I read in the Book of Mormon each day, I started reading the New Testament, making a list of how women were identified.  In that culture women were not often addressed like men were.  I read one scholar who said Hebrew women were considered to be slightly higher in status than their children and slaves, but only slightly.   Most of the references to women were along the lines of  “Peter’s wife’s mother”,  “certain women”,  “The mother of Zebedee’s children”, or “a woman with an alabaster box”.  But, there are 7 distinct women named Mary, and there are about 15 other women named in the gospels and in Acts (which is far as I’ve gone as of now.)  No other woman’s name is used more than once, but 7 women were named Mary.
As I made my list and paid attention to how these women are referenced, some things became clear that I had not noticed before.
Mary, the mother of Jesus:  In the descriptions of her when Jesus was young, she is described as any other woman except for her status as Jesus’ mother.  But later references to her make it clear that she became a disciple, a close follower, student, and supporter of Jesus during his ministry.
Mary Magdalene:  She gets a bum wrap sometimes.  She was a virtuous woman who came into the picture early in his ministry and became probably the most important of his disciples.  She traveled with him and served him constantly.  Most significantly, she was the only one present continuously through those three days when he was condemned, died, and resurrected.  She, alone, saw and spoke with him before he had gone to his father, and his first words to her after she recognized him were, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father“ .  Isn’t it interesting she had to be constrained?  And, finally, she was the one who was sent to take word to the apostles that he was risen. 
Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus:  Jesus stayed at her house during the last week of his life when he went from idol (upon his entry in Jerusalem), to goat (when he was condemned).  This Mary was accepted as one worthy to learn at Jesus’ feet even when there was woman’s work to be done, which was not a usual thing for them.  When Martha tried to take her away, Jesus defended her and kept her there.  She, too, was clearly an exceptional disciple.  Also Jesus allowed her to publicly unbind her hair and wipe her spikenard ointment onto his feet with it, a thing (unbinding her hair) unheard of in that society.  Again, Jesus defended her in this action when some apostles objected to using the expensive ointment.  We can learn from this that Jesus Christ did not consider women to be lesser beings at all.  He considered them to be equal disciples  -  Individuals who were worthy of his attention, and concern, and gospel.
The other two Marys in the Gospels, Mary the wife of Cleophus, and Mary mother of James and Joses, are mentioned but we don’t have much detail.  They were clearly followers of Jesus though.
And finally there are two Marys who were disciples of Paul.  They were Mary, the mother of John Mark, and the Roman Mary.  These women apparently had means of their own and they supported Paul so that he could carry out his ministry.
So what can we make of the Seven Marys? 
Were there so many Marys in the land that it was pure coincidence that the three most significant women in Jesus’ life were all named Mary?   And that all seven Marys were disciples?  I heard one scholar give his opinion that Mary was not a name at all, but a title, akin to a priestess.  I am no biblical scholar, but I can’t find any evidence for that.   In my mind, it remains an interesting conjecture. 
Nonetheless we know very little about most of the non-Mary named women.  Salome, Anna, Joanna, Susanna, Saphira, Tabitha, Rhoda, Lydia, Damaris, and Drusilla are barely known at all.                  Priscilla, Elizabeth and Herodias are described in more detail.    But most of the women mentioned were not considered by the authors as worthy to even have their names recorded.
And that is where my curiosity in the scriptures led me.
Brothers and sisters, I hope my message is coming through.  We are exceedingly blessed to have so many scriptures readily available to us.  We can read them in book form, large print, fine print, or regular print - or electronically.  We can read them anytime, anywhere, so we have no excuses to ignore them.  We should read them daily.  We MUST read them regularly if we are going to be men and women of God.
And, I pray that we will learn to be men and women of God.  

And I say this . . . . .