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 . . . . .

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 . . .