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 . . .