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 . . . . .




Monday, August 1, 2016

Family Reunion

Most of the reunion stuff is documented elsewhere, but this one thing belongs here.   During the family Olympics, we chose teams and each team had to create a flag, a name, and a chant, song, or theme.  We were the Spiro-Dragons, with a nice flag, and Angela pushed me to do a RAP.  To her surprise, I did.  It was terribly spur of the moment, and doing it just about ruined my fragile throat, but I grunted it out as best I could.  (Mark Ashurst-McGee says I can't even RAP a present."

There was an awesome dragon, who lived across the sea.
  He came from a magic land they call Hanalea.
Angel is our leader, the coolest gal in town,
   Mark is our tool guy, to nail that sucker down!  Hunh!

Naomi is our artist, the dragon's from her head,
   Roko waves the banner, and hits you in the head!  Hoo ya!

So this is our dragon rap, we hope you are impressed.
Boom chucka lucka lucka, boom chucka DOOM!


Sacredness of the Temple            (5th Ward,  9:00 am)

July 31, 2016

Just before I stood up to speak, the congregation sang: “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.”  I decided to say something about that before starting my talk.
I love that hymn.  It has special significance for my family.  My grandfather was the 14th child in his family, so his father was quite old.  Grandpa’s father walked across the plains from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City in 1851 when he was only 7 years old.  They were among the last of the Nauvoo refugees to make the trip.
The journey was rough on the animals as well as on the people.  Along the way, one of the oxen died during the night.  To keep the wagon going, my ancestors put their milk cow under the yoke with the other ox.  That worked where the going was easy, but a cow is no match for an ox and when they came to difficult parts, the men had to help by pushing the wagon, just as it says in the song.  They definitely had need of willing men!

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 go to the temple because her husband couldn’t go.  We never talked about the temple 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 stand up and leave.  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 stand up. 
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 that same temple.

My assignment today is to speak about the Sacredness of the Temple.  How is it sacred?  What makes the temple so sacred?  Why is it so sacred that we don’t talk about details of the things we do there?
The sacredness of the temple begins with its physical structure. 
Just as today, when Solomon the Wise built the Old Testament temple he brought in the finest of materials.  He took pains to build the temple in ways that were not the usual way, but that emphasized the coming sacred things to be done there.  For example, he built the doors to the temple with olive wood, which is an exceedingly beautiful wood with magnificent grain, and also of great symbolic significance to the people.  Olive trees grow slowly and they twist and bend as they grow.  The grain of the wood is also twisted and bent, which gives it its magnificent grain in vivid colors of all shades of brown and red and yellow.  It smooths out nicely and is amazingly beautiful.  Olive trees are productive for hundreds , or even thousands of years, so there is not a lot of olive wood available, and when some is available it is expensive.
  Solomon built the doors of olive wood, and he carved sacred figures into them.  And then he covered it over with gold leave.   WHAT!?   Why use a precious wood and then cover it up?
Elder Scott D. Whiting Of the Seventy told of a similar thing in his talk in the October conference in 2012, when he described temple officials walking through the Hawaiian temple with the builder after its remodeling, and asking for corrections of things like grit on the walls and a minute imperfection in a stained glass window.  He was surprised that the builder was required to replace the stained glass window and re-finish the walls, especially when he realized that both would be covered over and were unlikely to be seen by temple patrons.
As he left the temple he looked back and saw the inscription that is on all our temples,  “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord”.
He then said,
These sacred buildings are built for our use, and within their walls sacred and saving ordinances are performed. But there should be no doubt as to whose house it really is. By requiring exacting standards of construction down to the smallest of details, we not only show our love and respect for the Lord Jesus Christ, but we also hold out to all observers that we honor and worship Him whose house it is.

He then quoted D&C 97: 15-17
 15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
 16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
 17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.

You see, the pains we take in building the temple reflect the pains we take to make ourselves physically and spiritually clean as we enter the temple.  It is all preparation for the things we do there. 
When I got out of the Marine Corps in 1972 and returned to BYU to complete my education, the Provo temple was brand, shining new.  I had contributed directly to its construction, Because in those days member contributions for temple construction was encouraged. 
I wanted to go to the new Provo temple prepared in every way.
There was a store on Center Street in Provo at that time, that sold craft items, including jewelry findings.  I went down there and bought a silver tie clip and a synthetic white opal stone to go on it.  I still have that tie clip, and I have never worn it anywhere except in the temple.  This is an excess.  It is not required.  I haven’t even told many people about it because it is not a big thing, nor a thing that anybody else needed to know about.  It’s just something I wanted to do to symbolize to myself that the temple is sacred.  We don’t treat it the same way we do other things.

When I became a temple worker, I became concerned that even this little tie clip was a bit ostentatious, so I replaced it with a flat white tie clip that is nearly invisible, and now I keep the opal one in my temple bag for emergencies.  I have no intention of  EVER wearing it outside the temple.
Similarly, when I was still working, and became a temple worker, I used to leave work early so that I had time to shower if I felt the least need for it, before dressing in my temple clothes.  Now I’m retired, I always shower at home just before I leave for the temple.  As I dress in my white clothes, I put on temple garments that I wear only in the temple.
Again, this is not something that is expected.  I do not say that you should do the same.  It is something I do for myself to emphasize, and prepare myself for the sacredness of the temple.   In the temple, first we are symbolically washed.  Then, and only then, we are anointed.
You do not need to do these extra little things I do, but all of us who go to the temple should go there prepared to participate in ordinances that are most sacred.   For it is the ordinances we perform there that are important.
And what DO we do there?  We take earthly families and tie them together into Eternal families.     It is simply said, but the significance of that is Immense,  Huge,  Unbounded.   It is worth spending some time cogitating on the significance of taking earthly families and tying them together into eternal families.
Families are the center point of temple work.  All the building and attention to detail and physical preparation of every kind is only getting ready for the important stuff.  IF we prepare ourselves physically and spiritually, we can do eternal work.

Now,  Consider    I Corinthians 3: 16-17
 “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
And verse 19 is also cogent:

19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

The wisdom of the World says that there are no eternal things to be done.  We reject that Worldly wisdom, because we know that there is an eternity and that we have a special part in it, if we do the things God has told us.
Going back to Elder Whiting, he also said,
We are each made of the finest materials, and we are the miraculous result of divine craftsmanship. However, as we move past the age of accountability and step onto the battlefield of sin and temptation, our own temple can become in need of renovation and repair work. Perhaps there are walls within us that are gritty and need buffing or windows of our souls that need replacement in order that we can stand in holy places. Gratefully, the temple standard that we are asked to meet is not that of perfection, although we are striving for it, but rather that we are keeping the commandments and doing our best to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we live as we should then it WILL be OK, as my Grandpa said.
Now, I want to take a moment to discuss another aspect of keeping the temple sacred.   I coordinate temple cleaning assignments for our stake.  The Plano Stake gets a couple of light cleaning assignments each month, and a couple of major cleaning assignments each year.  The Plano 5th Ward receives several of these assignments each year.  The light cleaning assignments are almost always from 10:00 pm until midnight, or whenever the work is done, whichever comes first.  They often involve vacuuming or dusting.  The heavy cleaning assignment is more likely to be a longer, daylight assignment, and could be anything.
I often hear people complaining that the temple isn’t dirty when they go to vacuum, or dust, or whatever.  The charge is true.  The temple is rarely dirty.
Last year I went down for the heavy cleaning and we washed all the wallpaper walls.  We scrubbed and scrubbed and our white cleaning cloths were still white when we finished.  Now, I was looking closely and I noticed two small spots of soil in the 5 hours I worked on the walls.  Only two spots of soil.
Brothers and sisters, that is exactly how we want it to be.  We want the temple to be spotless at all times.  We don’t clean it when it’s dirty!  We clean it to make sure it is perfectly clean.  We want its physical cleanliness to reflect its spiritual perfection.  We also want to allow the members of the church to experience the physical preparation that reflects the spiritual significance of what is done there.
So don’t feel discouraged if you are asked to vacuum spotless floors.  By your effort in pulling out the occasional mote of dust, you are keeping the temple unspotted.  Spend the time thinking about the spiritual significance of  doing the washing before doing the anointing.  Or perhaps think about what you can do more to become as Elder Russell M. Nelson says, “A Woman of God”, or “A man of God.”
These are the things that make us OK.

And I say this . . . .

Restoration of the Priesthood

Talk given in the Plano 7th Ward on  May 21, 2016

I had an interesting day one time while hunting in the mountains of Utah when I was a teenager.  My father and I had elk tags.  We went up into the mountains with a bunch of Dad’s friends a couple of days before the hunt started so that we could set up camp and do a little scouting.  None of them were active in the church and my father never joined the church, but I was used to that kind of company.  The day before opening we got talking about pine hens and Dad’s buddies started goading me to hunt some pine hens.  I wasn’t enthusiastic, but they organized a drive through the woods.  You know, where you all get in a line and walk along so that if a bird tries to run or fly away the next one in line can get a shot.  I didn’t really want to shoot a pine hen, and they are hard to find that way.          BUT        They had it all set up and they put me at the left end of the line.   Since there were so many trees and heavy cover around we agreed we’d call to each other fairly often to help us stay in line.  I walked 50 yards or so and already I couldn’t see any of them, so I called out.  No answer.  I called again,  louder.  Nothing.  I had lost my companions.  I stood there for a while, looking around and it occurred to me that I was the victim of a snipe hunt.  They didn’t want any pine hens either.  The whole object was to get me out of camp so they could ditch me and get down to serious drinking.
I didn’t appreciate it much, but it wasn’t all that bad, really.  I love walking through the woods and forests.  So I took a nice hike and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon looking at flowers, butterflies, and various small animals.  The only thing that would have made it better was if I hadn’t had to lug that shotgun all over the mountainside.
When I got back to camp, there were all Dad’s buddies sitting around a nice fire.  They were all grinning, and one of them asked me if I’d got any birds.  I told him no with a deadpan face and settled onto a log near the fire.  Nothing more was said.  Nothing could be, really.  If I’d made a fuss I would have really become an odd man out.  By not saying anything about it, I let them know it was OK and it was a good joke.  I was restored to being a member of the group.  
Restoration can be tricky.
===================================================
My topic for today is the restoration of the priesthood.
You may wonder; “Why did the priesthood need to be Restored?”    The question implies that it was here before – If it hadn’t been here before, it wouldn’t need to be Restored.      That being so, what happened to it?  Jesus clearly gave the priesthood to his disciples.  Of the twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot turned to the dark side and lost his blessings and priesthood.  Just as we do today, the eleven chose a replacement for Judas, so there were twelve once again.  And again, after the stoning of Stephen, they chose a replacement to make the number twelve.   As Paul grew stronger in his testimony and dedication to the gospel, he too was chosen as a replacement to join the others in the quorum of twelve. But we don’t have any record that they ever did that again.
It is sad to think that those good men stopped doing what needed to be done, but they did.  As time went on, The apostles were pulled apart trying to keep distant congregations in order.  Eventually they each chose a city to live in and administer the church separate from the others, probably because they could see that without their constant presence, the Christians in those locations would slip back into old habits.  Thomas apparently ended up in India.  James in France.  One of them went south to Ethiopia.  The apostasy took place in the years after they separated.  They sent letters (epistles) back and forth, but it became harder and harder for them to act as a quorum.  I had a professor at BYU who asserted that the apostasy was complete within 30 years after Jesus’ ascension.  We know that it was complete in less than 300 years, because 300 years takes us to when the Romans took over the church for political reasons.  Most LDS scholars believe it took place gradually over more like 60-100 years after Jesus left.   So the priesthood was lost, and the gospel became mingled with philosophy.  Rome held civilization together in Europe for a few centuries, but when it fell Europe entered the Dark Ages.  During that time, the pure gospel became even more polluted and misunderstood.  Most people didn’t know how to read during that time, so books were not valued, and many writings were lost, including early writings about the gospel.
It was not until the 14th century or so that European civilization began to recover, and along with that, people once again had a chance to learn more about the gospel.  The reformation began slowly, but steadily grew until a young man in the Eastern United States received a vision and was promised that the full gospel would be restored.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829, while praying for an understanding of baptism on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Harmony, Pennsylvania.  They received it from an angel who identified himself as John the Baptist.         Section 13 of the doctrine and Covenants gives us his words, the date, location, and the circumstances of how this happened.  John also indicated that he was restoring the priesthood under the direction of Peter, James, and John, whom Jesus Christ had chosen to be the leaders of the early church.  Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdry were told by John the Baptist that they would also receive the higher, or Melchizedek, Priesthood from Peter, James, and John at a later time.
There is a curious thing about this.  We know the date, location, and the very words that were spoken to restore the Aaronic, or lesser priesthood.  We know none of those things about the restoration of the higher, or Melchizidek priesthood.  We do know that it was done a few weeks later, and that it was restored by the angelic Peter, James, and John, as promised.  Section 128 says in an aside that the location was between Harmony, PA and Colesville, PA. on the banks of the Susquehanna River.  Harmony and Colesville are more than 30 miles apart, so that doesn’t narrow it down much!
So we know more about the details of the restoration of the lesser priesthood than we do about the restoration of the higher priesthood.   My son-in-law, Dr. Mark Ashurst-McGee, is a church historian.  He spends his working days in an office in church headquarters in Salt Lake City where he can order up any of the artifacts, books, or documents in the church’s collections.  For example, there was an article in the October 2015 Ensign, including a photo of a Seer Stone.   Like many people, it wasn’t what I had pictured in my mind as a seer stone.   Well, my son-in-law is the one who wrote up the request to have that artifact’s photo published.  He had to write a justification and the case to proceed, because it had never been pubicly displayed  before.        He is currently working full-time on the Joseph Smith Papers project.   I was recently talking to him about Joseph Smith’s diaries and he shared an interesting tidbit with me.  Joseph Smith loved the idea of keeping journals, and wanted badly to have all his actions recorded, however, he wasn’t very good at doing it himself.   So he tried to have someone assigned to do it for him at all times.  That wasn’t always possible, and some of his recorders were not as good as he had hoped.   So working with Joseph Smith’s documents is tough.  It is not unusual to have one event very well documented and another, important, event not recorded at all.   And that is what happened with the restoration of the higher priesthood.  It was unquestionably important, but it just wasn’t well documented.
So here is the question:  “Is that a problem?”  It kind of IS for historians.  But not so much for the rest of us.  We know the most important things about it, that it WAS restored and by whom.

Like all priesthood holders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I can tell you exactly how my priesthood came to me. 
Jesus Christ conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon his apostles and gave the keys of the priesthood to Peter, James and John.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry received it from Peter, James and John
Brigham Young received it from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry.
James E. Talmage received it from Brigham Young.
My grandfather, Hazen F. Stevens, received it from James E. Talmage.
I received it from my grandfather.
Like Joseph Smith, I can’t remember the exact date, or the exact place where it was done.  But the fact of my grandfather laying his rough farmer’s hands on my head and conferring the melchizedek priesthood on me is irrefutable and is a very special memory.
That chain of authority is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to share with you!  Each of the men I’ve listed were acting under the direction of Priesthood authority to pass the power and authority of the priesthood to other worthy men, until it came to me.  We are all mortal, with shortcomings and trials, but all the men on my list were living worthily and doing their best to become Men of God,    acting in accordance with divine instruction as they passed the priesthood along. 

So, now I have the Melchizedek priesthood.   What does that mean?  I have the authority to act in God’s name, subject to my worthiness and priesthood direction, and along with that I have responsibilities.  Here are a few of the responsibilities of the Melchisedek Priesthood, generally:
  • Bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • Ordaining worthy men to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
  • Performing temple work for the living and the dead.
  • Administering to the sick.
  • Attending to the spiritual and temporal welfare of all people.
Notice that many of things can also be done by those who don’t hold the priesthood.  For example, women do almost everything in the temple that men do, anybody can help the sick, and we all do service for others’ welfare.  But priesthood holders have a duty to do so.

The Melchizedek Priesthood has several offices.    These offices have specific responsibilities associated with them, but they are all functioning with the exact same priesthood authority.  Personally, I have held the office of elder, of high priest, and of seventy.                                                     I have never held the office of patriarch or apostle, and probably won’t, but if I were called to one of those offices I would not need any more priesthood than I have now.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry had the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred on them in the 2 or 3 weeks after they received the Aaronic Priesthood, plus they received the keys of the priesthood, but they did not have an office in the priesthood at that time.
HERE’S ANOTHER INTERESTING HISTORICAL TIDBIT:  It wasn’t until the church was formally organized on April 6, 1830, almost a year later, that Joseph ordained Oliver to the office of Elder, and then Oliver ordained Joseph.  Once the church was organized, they began to confer the priesthood on others, and ordain them to offices in the church..

There are some callings that require the Melchizedek priesthood and a specific office.  For example, I am here today in my capacity as a member of the high council, and I have several responsibilities in the stake associated with that calling.  It is required that all those who sit on the high council hold the Melchizedek priesthood, and the office of High priest   I also serve as a temple worker, and while the women in the temple do most of the same things as the men, the men have a few responsibilities that require the Melchizedek Priesthood, such as doing confirmations and acting as temple sealers.
I am very blessed to have had the great opportunity to hold and exercise priesthood power.  I thank the Lord that I can serve in the temple, at home, in my ward and in the stake.

And I say this . . .

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sacrament Meeting Talk given in the 8th ward 01/17/2016

My assignment today is to speak about the Book of Mormon.  I am going to tell you a trivial story and then talk about some outstanding characters to be found in the Book.
When I joined the Marine Corps (about 100 years ago, or so) I spoke with my bishop and he gave me two little books.  One was the Principles of the Gospel.  I was surprised and a little chagrined to see that it contained instructions on how to dedicate a grave.  The Viet Nam war was in full swing at the time, so that hit kind of close to home.  I hoped I would never have occasion to use that instruction while in the service.
The other book was this little Book of Mormon [Serviceman's Edition].  It is designed to fit in a shirt pocket, and I carried it there quite often.  It helped me in one very unexpected way.  While in training, we took two weeks out of boot camp to go to the rifle range.  The rigid discipline we’d experienced up to that point was relaxed a bit and we focused only on learning to use our rifles.  The first week we practiced how to hold the rifle, how to align the sights, and how to squeeze the trigger.  Mostly we practiced the very unusual positions for holding the rifle - positions that stretched muscles we hadn’t known we possessed – positions that hurt to do correctly, but that eventually became easy.   The second week we started actually firing our rifles.  Every day we’d go to the range and we’d fire.  From the most difficult position (standing) we fired at a mere 100 meters, and from the most stable position (laying down) we fired at 500 meters, with various other positions at interveneing ranges.   200, and 300 meters.  Now, I easily hit bullseyes at 500 meters; no worries.  But I had much difficulty at the closer ranges where it was difficult to maintain the position and hold the rifle on target.
We kept track of every shot, including the wind, our settings on the sights, and marking where we thought we thought each shot went.  If we shot perfectly we could get a score of 300.   If you scored 280 or better, you would be rated as an expert rifleman.  If you were under that score, but shot at least 250  you’d be a sharpshooter.  Under that, but at least 220 and you would rated as a marksman, which is where most recruits end up.  Lower than that and you didn’t rate as a rifleman at all and the disgrace was nearly unthinkable.  All of us wanted to be Expert, but as qualification day approached I had settled in to shooting a few points below that mark.  I needed a few more points at the closest ranges to qualify as an Expert rifleman, but it eluded me and I began to put pressure on myself.
The night before qualification, I knelt beside my bunk and prayed.  I was very aware that the Lord had no interest in whether I qualified as an expert, sharpshooter, marksman, or even at all.  But I cared, and I hoped he would care that I cared.
The next morning I put my Book of Mormon in my pocket.  I didn’t have a plan, I was just trying to follow the spirit.
At the range, We didn’t shoot constantly.  We spent part of the time pulling down and putting up the targets of other shooters and marking the holes so they could be scored.  And we spent a lot of time just waiting.  On qualification day we started out with my group waiting.  I pulled out my Book of Mormon while we were waiting and began to read.  I read  -  and forgot about what we were doing.  When I was called to the line, I fired and went back to reading.  When we pulled targets, I marked them and then read while the firing went on.  At the end of the day, I had those few extra points I needed and I qualified as an expert rifleman.   Nice.
I said I was going to tell you a trivial story and this one qualifies as trivial.  There is no eternal significance to whether I got to wear this badge (the Rifle Expert badge) on my uniform.

However,  in my mind this badge is linked to my little Book of Mormon, which I used mainly just when I was in Boot Camp.
The point here is not why I was reading this little book.  It is simply that I was reading it.  The book doesn’t do us any good to have; it doesn't do us any good to have it IN our pocket; or even to hold it – it does us good to open and read it.
What do the prophets and general authorities tell us about the Book of Mormon?    To Read it!

There are many outstanding stories of great men of God in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi’s story is one of great courage to overcome severe obstacles placed in his way by sibling rivalry.  Alma’s story is a case of repentance that is matched only by Paul’s.  Ammon had great physical strength to go with his spiritual strength and he was able to do great things.  Helaman was a great leader of the army as he defended his home and country, and led a group of young men in righteousness.
Probably my favorite story in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether.  The Nephites had had the record of the people of Ether for a long time, but were instructed that it was not to be revealed generally until after Christ came.  Moroni gave us a brief account of their origins and it goes back to the Tower of Babel and a man named Jared.  Jared was concerned about his family and friends losing the ability to talk to each other when the languages were confounded.   So he asked his brother to ask the Lord if they could keep their language.  This is the most curious thing in the Book of Mormon.  Jared apparently had faith enough to ask for help, but not directly.   He had his brother ask instead, and his brother had even greater faith than Jared.     The Lord talked to the brother of Jared and he did many important things,  but his name was lost over time.  Only Jared’s name remained.  So, we have this amazing man, who is known only as the Brother of Jared.  But what, really, is so amazing about him?
Under the Lord’s direction they built some curious barges that were totally enclosed so that they could be driven completely under the water during severe storms.  The Brother of Jared asked the Lord how they would get air and was told to make holes that could be opened to let in the air, and stoppered to keep out the water.  The most curious thing about them was that they could be turned upside down and still keep the people safe inside.  I imagine comfort was no part of that trip!
 Then the  brother of Jared asked the Lord to help them so they wouldn’t have to be in darkness.  And the Lord threw it back at him, asking, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?      For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.” 
This is where it gets interesting.  The Brother of Jared took that as a challenge.  He was not discouraged, and did not take that as a No.  Instead he thought about it, thought some more, and then melted some clear stones out of a rock.  At first this seems unlikely, but today we take fine white sand and melt it down and purify it.  What we call this . . . is  GLASS.

Before we came to Texas, Liz was the stake Primary President and she wanted visual aids for these stones as she taught the children in the wards about the Brother of Jared.  We used to have to go out to Forks, Washington each year for ward conference (You know, Forks, where the Cullens live).   It was so far away, we’d spend the whole weekend out there, and we took the time on our first trip to Forks to walk along the Sol Duc River - looking for stones.  (Kind of like this one, but egg-size.)  We found sixteen nice-sized stones that were a clear, whitish quartz, rounded from being washed down the river.  They were perfect.  Liz used them for her lesson in each ward in the Silverdale Washington stake.   And then we lost them over the years.
The brother of Jared took his stones to the top of a mountain and presented them to the Lord, and said, “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
  This is where it gets interesting.  Notice that he came up with a solution to his problem that only needed help from the Lord?  He thought it through and presented the solution to the Lord.  Of course the solution still needed divine intervention, but he had done his best, and he faithfully expected the Lord to do the rest.  So many times we ask for help, but do not take the time to think for ourselves and do our best.
The Lord did what he asked and the brother of Jared saw his finger as he touched the stones, one by one.  That frightened him because he didn’t  know the Lord really had a finger.   
What the Lord told him next is very revealing.
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. 
Of course, this was long before Christ came to Earth as a man, and he had no physical body at that time.  So the brother of Jared saw what he WOULD look like.  And since the veil was parted, the brother of Jared saw Christ’s spirit body in its entirety, not just his finger.
Christ told him, “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.   Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
  Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.
Of all the men who have had great faith, very few, if any, of them matched the faith of this man whose name was lost.  It is a most-amazing example.  
So we can use his experience as a marker-post for our own progress:  Do we have faith as great as the brother of Jared?  If not, we know we still have work to do, although not everyone will have his gifts.  In D&C 46 we learn that spiritual gifts are not the same for every person:    

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Jared and his brother are like that.  The Brother had faith enough to see the Lord’s spiritual body, Jared had faith enough to believe his brother.  Do we have faith as great as Jared’s – enough to ask those with greater faith to intervene for us.  It’s simple enough to ask for help, but pride keeps us from doing it sometimes.  It is an act of faith to ask for help from church leaders.   Something we should do when we need their help.
Do we have faith enough to read the Book of Mormon?  This is getting very basic.  We are told, over and over, to just read it.  Just read.
My testimony is that reading the Book of Mormon does help us.  It will make a difference in our lives.  It will help us become experts with our spiritual gifts, and not merely marksmen.

 And I say this in the name of  .  .  .