Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Delight in the Sabbath

                The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been emphasizing the Sabbath Day more in recent months.  At the annual General Conference of the Church held in April 2015, Elder Russell M. Nelson said “The Sabbath Is a Delight.”  He asked this question:  How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing?

                Elder Nelson is a world-renown heart surgeon who gave up a thriving career to become an Apostle of the Lord.  I feel certain that he has no regrets about his decision as he uses his experiences as a surgeon to emphasize points as he speaks to members of the Church.  In this talk he told us that he first found delight in the Sabbath as a busy surgeon.  By the end of each week, his hands were sore from being scrubbed with soap, water, and a bristle brush before each surgery.  Sunday brought a day of relief for his hands.

                The Savior taught that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  Elder Nelson believes the Savior “wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.  God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest form duty, with physical and spiritual relief.

                “In Hebrew, the word Sabbath means `rest.’  The purpose of the Sabbath dates back to the Creation of the world, when after six days of labor the Lord rested from the work of creation.  (See Genesis 2:2-3.)  When He later revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, God commanded that we `remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy’ (Exodus 20:8).  Later, the Sabbath was observed as a reminder of the deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.  (See Deuteronomy 5:14-15.)  Perhaps most important, the Sabbath was given as a perpetual covenant, a constant reminder that the Lord may sanctify His people.  (See Exodus 31:13 16.)

                “In addition, we now partake of the sacrament on the Sabbath day in remembrance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  (See Doctrine and Covenants 59:12.)  Again, we covenant that we are willing to take upon us His holy name.  (See Doctrine and Covenants 20:37, 77.)….
                “How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing?  In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you?  What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?”

                Elder Nelson suggested three ways we can make the Sabbath a delight:  (1) “The Sabbath provides a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family ties.”  (2) In addition to time with family, you can experience true delight on the Sabbath from family history work.  Search for and finding family members who have preceded you on earth – those who did not have an opportunity to accept the gospel while here – can bring immense joy.”  (3) “Make the Sabbath a delight by rendering service to others, especially those who are not feeling well or those who are lonely or in need.  Lifting their spirits will lift yours as well.”

                We had a wonderful discussion at our Stake Conference a couple of weeks ago.  Under the overall theme of “Come unto Christ,” the theme for the Saturday evening “adult” session was “Developing Faith in Jesus Christ through Sabbath Day observance at Church and at Home.”  Our visiting authority was Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  He asked two very important questions:  (1) What change are you willing to implement to make sacrament meeting a more spiritual experience for everyone?  (2) What changes will I implement at home as a sign of my feelings toward Heavenly Father?

                Elder Johnson frequently emphasized that how we keep the Sabbath day is between Heavenly Father and individuals.  He suggested that our Sabbath observance would be better if we understand the doctrine of the Sabbath.  We should understand that the Sabbath is not our day but Heavenly Father’s day just as our tithing is not our money but Heavenly Father’s money.  We can bring reverence to our sacrament meetings by coming into a teaching environment willing to learn, by preparing to actively learn rather than being taught, by starting our Sunday preparations on Monday, and by teaching our children how to be reverent with practice at home.  Elder Johnson said that Heavenly Father gives us commandments so He can bless us with more commandments.  The primary purpose of commandments is to help us become like God.

                I returned from the conference with a much stronger desire to keep the Sabbath Day holy.  I spent the remaining hours of Sunday pondering and praying about what more I could do on Sunday to give Heavenly Father a sign that I love Him and want to keep His day holy.  For years I have worn my Church clothes for the rest of the day and not done any house work or extra cooking.  I have tried to keep my Sunday meals simple.  This time I was impressed to not do any school assignments on Sunday.  This included not reading any Ensign articles that were part of assignments.  I also learned that I could write essays for my blog about anything that I could share in a talk in sacrament meeting or in a lesson in Relief Society.  I am sure there are still ways that I can better keep the Sabbath Day holy, but I think this is enough for me to do for the time being. 

                I hope you will examine your Sunday activities to determine if you are keeping the Sabbath holy.  Remember, our Sabbath observance is a sign to Heavenly Father of what we think of Him and His day.  What sign do you wish to show to Him? 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Setting Goals

                Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when the rising generation knows how to set and meet goals.  Parents need to know the importance of goals and how to set them.  Children and teens should understand how setting and meeting goals can bring success into their lives and feel comfortable doing it.   Even toddlers can be taught how to set and meet goals. 

                Most people think of setting goals at the end of the year, but I believe anytime is a good time to improve ourselves.  I believe that having goals gives us a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to keep going when life is not easy.  I know it is important to be careful about the goals we set – not too many but not too few, not too difficult but not too easy.

                I have been thinking about this post for several days and finally decided to write down some of my thoughts.  I wondered about the proper age to start teaching goal setting and realized it could start very early.  When a child is ready to potty train, a parent could discuss the goal with their child, explaining what needed to be done and setting a date for accomplishment.  An older child could set an overall goal to keep their room clean or to improve their grades at school and accomplish it by breaking the task down into smaller, reachable goals.

                I recently learned again about SMART goals.  SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  A goal “to be a better student” is a wonderful goal to strive for, but when is it met and what are the steps for doing so?  A SMART goal would take just a part of that goal, such as I will complete my homework before dinner each evening.  Is this goal specific?  Yes.  Is it measurable?  Yes.  Is it attainable?  Yes – at least most of the time.  Is it relevant?  Yes.  Is it time-bound?  Yes.

                So, how does one go about teaching SMART goals to toddlers and little children?  How does one teach a youngster what Specific means?  A friend suggested that a parent select a group of toys, such as My Little Ponies, and then have the child choose their favorite pony out of the group.  That would be a Specific pony.  Another Specific goal could be when a child no longer needs diapers.   How does one teach Measurable to a toddler?  Using the potty training example, a sticker chart works great.  Attainable and relevant might be a little tricky to teach a toddler, but the parent should definitely know that a potty-trained child is both attainable and relevant!  Is the goal time-bound?  When will the child be trained?  The sticker chart can be used to show the target date.

                I found many sites on the Internet to assist parents and teachers in teaching children to set SMART goals.  I like this particular site because it shows how to teach character traits.  I like this site because it has many delightful examples of charts to teach and train children.

                “It’s not easy to write SMART goals.  This skill takes time to develop, and it’s especially important to have in place for students at the secondary level.  A goal is an outcome, something that will make a difference as a result of achieving it.  It can’t be too ambitious to be out of reach, but also not so simple that it does not challenge.  A goal has to be realistic with a stretch, requiring effort and focus to achieve it.  That’s why goals need time frames and measurable action steps along the way so that we can keep track of progress and make adjustments as necessary.”

                I believe it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children the importance of goals and how to set SMART goals.  I also believe that most goal-oriented children and teens are happy ones, especially if their goals are attainable and relevant in their lives.  I know we can strengthen our families, communities, and nations by teaching the rising generation how to set and meet SMART goals.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Strange but Free Information

                The topic of discussion for this Freedom Friday concerns some strange facts about America that most Americans do not know.  The information was in an email that was forwarded to me recently.  I have no idea if the numbers and percentages are correct but do believe the information is generally true.  I found it to be very interesting.  If only half the information is correct, we could be in big trouble.

1.    In more than half of all states in the United States of America, the highest paid public employee in the state is a football coach.

2.    It costs the U.S. Government 1.8 cents to mint a penny and 9.4 cents to mint a nickel.

3.    Almost half of all Americans (47 percent) do not put a single penny out of their paychecks into savings.

4.    Apple has more cash than the U.S. Treasury.

5.    The state of Alaska is 429 times larger than the state of Rhode Island, but Rhode Island has a significantly larger population than Alaska does.

6.    Alaska has a longer coastline than all of the other 49 states in the United States put together.

7.    The city of Juneau, Alaska, is about 3,000 square miles in size.  It is actually larger than the entire state of Delaware.

8.    When LBJ’s “War on Poverty” began, less than 10 percent of all U.S. children were growing up in single parent households.  Today, that number has skyrocketed to 33 percent.

9.    In 1950, less than 5 percent of all babies in America were born to unmarried parents.  Today, that number is over 40 percent.

10.  The poverty rate for households that are led by a married couple is 6.8 percent.  For households that are led by a female single parent, the poverty rate is 37.1 percent.  

11.  In 2013, women earned 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees that were awarded that year in the United States.

12.  According to the CDC, 34.6 percent of all men in the U.S. are obese at this point.

13.  The average supermarket in the United States wastes about 3,000 pounds of food each year.  Meanwhile, approximately 20 percent of the garbage that goes into our landfills is food.

14.  According to one recent survey, 81 percent of Russians now have a negative view of the United States.  That is much higher than at the end of the Cold War era.

15.  Montana has three times as many cows as it does people.

16.  The grizzly bear is the official state animal of California, but no grizzly bears have been seen there since 1922.

17.  One recent survey discovered that “a steady job” is the number one thing that American women are looking for in a husband; it also discovered that 75 percent of women would have a serious problem dating an unemployed man.

18.  According to a study conducted by economist Carl Benedict Frey and engineer Michael Osborne, up to 47 percent of the jobs in the United States could soon be lost to computers, robots and other forms of technology.

19.  The only place in the United States where coffee is grown commercially is in Hawaii.

20.  The original name of the city of Atlanta was “Terminus”.

21.  The state with the most millionaires per capita is Maryland.

22.  One survey of 50-year-old men in the United States found that only 12 percent of them said that they were “very happy”.

23.  The United States has 845 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people.

24.  Forty-eight (48) percent of all Americans do not have any emergency supplies in their homes whatsoever.

25.  There are three towns in the United States that have the name “Santa Claus”.

26.  There is actually a town in Michigan called “Hell”.

27.  If you have no debt and also have 10 dollars in your wallet, you are wealthier than 25 percent of all Americans.

28.  By the time an American child reaches the age of 18, that child will have seen approximately 40,000 murders on television.

The author summarized his information as follows:  “Once upon a time we were the most loved and most respected nation on the entire planet, but those days are gone.  We have wrecked our economy, we have lost our values and we have fumbled away our future.  But if you look close enough, you can still see many of the things that once made this country a shining beacon to the rest of the world.
                “This article includes some weird facts, some fun facts, but also some very troubling facts.  If we are ever going to change course as a nation, we need to come to grips with just how far we have fallen.  This nation, in 2015, is badly in need of leadership at the highest levels of Government.

                “`In God We Trust.’  Our Founding Fathers made that a key statement included in much of how this country was originally built!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Prosperity and Happiness

                We hear much talk about prosperity and happiness in our nation today.  The progressives would take the wealth away from those who have it and give it to those who do not.  They believe we would all be happy if we were more equal in our circumstances.  They are right about the end result but very wrong about their methods.

                In my studies of the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ this week, I studied about a society that enjoyed both prosperity and happiness.  In 2 Nephi 5 I learned that Nephi was told by the Lord to “flee into the wilderness” to avoid being killed by his brothers Laman and Lemuel.    Nephi took his supplies, his family, and all those who wished to go with him, and they moved to another area.

                In their new area the Nephites “did sow seed” and “did reap again in abundance” (v.11).  They “began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind” (v. 11).  They made weapons to defend themselves from the Lamanites (v. 14).  They built buildings and did “work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores” (v. 15).  They built a temple (v. 16).  They were “industrious” and did “labor with their hands” (v. 17).  The Lord was with them, and they “did prosper exceedingly” (v. 11).

                What does it mean to “prosper exceedingly”?  Does this term apply only to tangible items or wealth?  President Heber J. Grant (1856-1945) described true prosperity:  “When I say prosperity I am not thinking of it in terms of dollars and cents alone….  What I count as real prosperity … is the growth in a knowledge of God, and in a testimony, and in the power to live the gospel and to inspire our families to do the same.  That is prosperity of the truest kind” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham [1941], 58; also cited by James E. Faust, … Ensign, Nov. 1998, 59; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, [2009], p. 61).

                From the description given by President Grant, we now know that everyone, regardless of the amount of in the bank or stock market, can prosper by learning about God, gaining a testimony of His work on the earth, and teaching their families to do the same.  Anyone with a healthy and loving family is definitely prospering.

                Now let’s talk about happiness.  Nephi wrote that his people “lived after the manner of happiness” (v. 27).  Why were they so happy?  They were happy because they were obedient to the commandments of God.

                Prophets in our day have taught us how to be happy.  The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that we can be happy if we follow the path that leads to happiness.  “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (History of the Church, 134-35; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, p. 61).

                President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) gave similar counsel:  “The Lord wants us to be happy.  Nephi said a great thing:  `And … we lived after the manner of happiness.’ (2 Ne. 5:27.)  What a wonderful thing.  I want my children to be happy.  I want them to do well.  I want them to live well and live rightly, properly; and, in the same way, except that my Father in heaven’s love reaches beyond any power of love that I have.  I think He wants His sons and daughters to be happy.  Happiness comes of righteousness.  `Wickedness never was happiness.’ (Alma 41:10.)  Sin never was happiness.  Selfishness never was happiness.  Greed never was happiness.  Happiness lies in living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (“Fast-Paced Schedule for the Prophet,” Church News, Apr. 20, 1996, 3; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, pp. 61-62).

                So, from the words of these great prophets, the way to prosperity and happiness is to work hard and have families while learning about God, gaining a testimony of Him and His work, and keeping His commandments.  Are you on the path to happiness and prosperity?  If not, what are you willing to do to start moving towards happiness and prosperity?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Decisions and Goals

                My regular readers probably realized weeks and possibly months ago that I do write very often about the current political happenings.  I just cannot seem to get interested in whether or not Hilary Clinton lied to Congress in her most recent appearance before Congress.  I am to the point of “what difference does it make now?”  I wonder if she will have to answer to any charges even though crimes were committed – her email server for one.  We only have to look at the Department of Justice’s unwillingness to bring Lois Lerner to face the consequences of her using the IRS to get back at conservative people to know what would happen to Hilary.

                I would much rather spend my time and effort in improving myself and sharing some of what I am learning with my readers.  I found our lesson on making decisions and setting goals to be very interesting even though much of the basic information was not new to me.

                The entire lesson was based on this scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9:  “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.  But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.  But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong….”

                The Lord spoke to Oliver Cowdery in this scripture and gave him the pattern for making decisions:  (1) evaluate all the facts available on both sides of an issue; (2) make a decision; (3) ask God if it is the right decision.  Then the Lord gave directions on how to receive personal revelation:  If the answer is yes, one will receive a warm feeling – “burning in the bosom;” if the answer is wrong, one will receive a “stupor of thought” or forget it.

                Our instructors gave us some wonderful articles to read while learning more about making decisions.  President James E. Faust reminded us that we face many choices every day.  Some of those decisions are important and some are not; some choices are between two good choices or opportunities; many choices are between good and evil.  He reminded us that our choices have consequences; even if we choose to not make a decision, we have already decided not to choose and may lose a great opportunity.  He stated that we can make good choices, choices that we can live with, grow, and prosper – IF we learn to ask God for divine guidance – and that the best way to learn from experience is to learn from the experiences of others.  He reminded us that if we make a wrong decision, in most cases we can repent and get back on track by (1) recognizing our error, (2) forsaking the wrongful conduct, (4) never repeating it, and (4) confessing and making restitution.  His last reminder is that we do not use our God-given agency wisely if we use it in opposition to God’s will or to priesthood counsel.  Tomorrow’s blessings and opportunities depend on today’s choices.

                President Thomas S. Monson spoke about “The Three Rs of Choice.”  The three Rs of choice are the (1) Right of Choice, (2) Responsibility of Choice, and (3) Results of Choice.  Since we were all given the gift of agency – the right to choose – in our premortal life, we have the Right of Choice here on earth.  In that life we chose to follow the Savior.  We will always have the right to choose no matter the circumstance.  Even in the worst of circumstances, we still have the right to choose how we will let the experience affect us.

                President Monson reminded us that there is no neutral ground in the battle between good and evil.  There is a very thin line separating Satan’s territory from that of God.  We cannot straddle the line or safely take detours into Satan’s territory.  Heavenly Father has however given us some tools to use:  prayer, scripture study, and the Holy Ghost.  Satan also uses tools; he will cause us to be angry, pacify us telling us that everything is okay, or use flattery.

                Using Alice in Wonderland to illustrate his point, President Monson told the experience of Alice asking the Cheshire Cat, “Which path shall I follow?”  The Cheshire Cat replied, “That depends where you want to go.  If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”  When we know that we want to return to the presence of God and live with Him for eternity, we know the path we should follow.  The Savior showed the way and gave us the commandments to help us follow Him.  President Monson closed by reminding us that our decisions will determine our destiny.

                As for setting goals, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told us to first set our priorities and then set short-term goals that support those priorities.  “Set goals that are well balanced – not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low.  Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance.  Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.” 

                Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used his experience of playing football to tell us that we must keep our eyes on the ball, meaning that we have to keep our eyes on our goals if we really want to reach them.  In a different talk Elder Wirthlin suggested that we can have a joy filled life by making “Three Choices.”  Those choices are:  (1) Choose to Repent, (2) Choose Your Priorities, and (3) Choose the Right.  He explained that we cannot live in the past and must not let our past affect our present and future; we can repent and move forward.  We can choose our priorities for each day by writing down the three most important tasks we have each day and working on them in the order of their importance.  Even if we do not accomplish all of them, we will have worked on the most important ones.  Even though we choose to repent and choose our priorities and make good decisions, our lives will still be empty if we do not choose the right.  The right is found in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets.

                Our lesson included instructions on making S.M.A.R.T. goals.  According to Roger D. Duncan and Ed J. Pinegar in their book Leadership for Saints (2002, 94-95):  The best goals are smart goals […] SMART stands for the five characteristics of well-designed goals […] Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.”

                Our lesson material then defined those five words:  Specific:  What will be the specific result of your goal?  What are the specific steps needed to achieve it?  Does the goal sound too vague or too general in any way?  Measurable:  Do you have a way to measure your progress?  When will you review progress?  Attainable:  Will you be able to achieve (attain) this goal?  What are the reasons you believe you can accomplish this goal?  Have you spoken to people that have achieved the same or similar goals?  Relevant:  Does this goal fit in with your larger life goals and your eternal purpose?  Time-bound:  Do you have a specific date this goal should be achieved by?  Is there a time-frame that you will work in to accomplish this goal?

                Our application activity was to set a SMART goal and make sure it is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  In addition, our goal was to be done in a week’s time.  After much pondering and prayer, I decided that my SMART goal would be to set up an organizational system for the paperwork for my two classes.  I am partially completed my goal and am already reaping great benefits from it.  I also shared what I learned with my friend, and she too is benefitting from making SMART goals.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Writings of Isaiah

                I will be studying the writings of Isaiah this week and wanted to learn a little more about the man and how to understand his writings.  The first thing I learned is that there are not many facts about his life.  He was the son of Amos and prophesied during the approximate period 740-701 B.C.  He was married to a woman who is referred to as “the prophetess.”  We do not know if she actually prophesied or was simply married to a prophet.  The couple had two sonsShe’ar-Ya’shuv (“A remnant shall return;” Isaiah 7:3 Shear-jashub) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (“Spoil quickly, plunder speedily” Isaiah 8:3).

                Isaiah lived during the period of time when Israel and Judah were two prosperous kingdoms that struggled with idolatry.  The kingdoms were in danger because the people were unrighteous – “spiritual weakness” and “political peril” (Book of Mormon Student Manual,Religion 121-122, p. 44). The regional bully at the time was the Assyrian empire that caused both Israel and Judah to “cower” under their power.  Assyria began the “scattering of Israel” when they carried away many Israelites from the northern kingdom.

                Warnings from the Lord through His prophet Isaiah came concerning the consequences of wickedness and the calamities that would result; these warnings included the scattering of Israel and “the loss of blessings of the covenant.”  Isaiah told the people that their only escape from the punishments would be to turn to the Messiah, but they did not turn to Him.

                Many of Isaiah’s prophecies had multiple fulfillments - in his time, in the meridian of time, and at the millennial day.  He prophesied of the coming of the Savior and the fact that He would be born of a virgin.  He gave many of the details of the scattering of Israel as well as the gathering of Israel and the restoration of the gospel covenant in the latter days.

                Nephi, an ancient American prophet explained why Isaiah was so difficult for his people to understand.  He gave the following specific reasons for this difficulty:  (1) They did not know “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:1), (2) They were not “filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4), and (3) They were not “taught after the manner of the things of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:5).

                People in our day have the above listed difficulties as well as others.  The student manual lists these additional reasons why people today have problems understanding Isaiah:  (1) “Most of Isaiah’s writings are in poetic form.  The beauty and depth of poetry in one language does not easily translate into other languages.”  (2) “Many of Isaiah’s prophecies are dualistic in nature.  Consequently, the prophecies can be fulfilled in many circumstances at different times in history.”  (3) “Isaiah used extensive symbolism.  Many of the objects and events he referred to were contemporary to his day and are difficult for us to understand today.”

                We should study and come to understand Isaiah.  The Savior commanded the Nephites:  “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things.  Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 23:1).

                Since we have “no greater written commentary and guide to understanding Isaiah than the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants” (Bible Dictionary, p. 707), we would be wise to study what those scriptures say about the writings of Isaiah.  We should also seek the “spirit of prophecy” as suggested by Nephi (2 Nephi 25:1).  We all have the right to seek understanding through the light of Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost.  If we are sincere in our request, the Lord will bless us to understand Isaiah.

                Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985) of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles suggested a third action we can take if we are serious about understanding Isaiah.  “Read, ponder, and pray – verse by verse, thought by thought, passage by passage, chapter by chapter!  As Isaiah himself asks:  `Whom shall he teach knowledge?  And whom shall he make to understand doctrine?’   His answer:  `them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.  For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.’ (Isaiah 28:9-10.)”  (“Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, 83).  

                I realize that I am not alone in my difficulty in understanding, but I know I can.  I had an experience some years ago when I was searching for an answer to a serious problem.  I was just beginning Isaiah in my scripture study.  As soon as the children left for school that morning, I sat down at the kitchen table and opened my scriptures.  I took the time to talk with Heavenly Father, to explain the problem I had, and to seek His divine assistance.  I remember telling Him that I needed the answer that day, and I would continue studying and praying until I received an answer.  I began reading the first chapter of Isaiah and found what I thought to be my answer.  Then I continued studying and praying for several hours.  I found that I actually understood what I was reading.  I also received one of the clearest and most pointed pieces of personal revelation that I have ever received.  I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve the problem I took to the Lord.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Glorious Standard

                The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes to us from President Ezra Taft Benson in a talk given in April 1976 titled “The Constitution – A Glorious Standard.”  President Benson was a staunch defender of the Constitution of the United States and spoke of it often.  In a talk given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he called the Constitution “that glorious standard raised up by the Founding Fathers.  He continued his talk by paying “tribute to those who laid the foundation of our Republic” and testified “concerning one of the most vital principles that makes the work of the founders timeless and inspired.

                “Every Latter-day Saint should love the inspired Constitution of the United States – a nation with a spiritual foundation and a prophetic history – which nation the Lord has declared to be his base of operations in these latter days.
                “The framers of the Constitution were men raised up by God to establish this foundation of our government, for so the Lord has declared by revelation in these words:    
                “`I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80; italics added.)
                “Yes, this is a land fertilized by the blood of patriots.  During the struggle for independence, nearly 9,000 of the colonist forces were killed.  Among those fifty-six patriots who had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor by signing the Declaration of Independence, at least nine paid that price with their life’s blood.”

                President Benson continued his talk by discussing the state of affairs in the American Colonies following the end of the Revolutionary War.  “Who were these delegates, those whom the Lord designated `wise men’ whom he raised up?  They were mostly young men in the prime of their life, their average age being forty-four.  Benjamin Franklin was the eldest at eighty-one.  George Washington, the presiding officer at the convention, was fifty-five.  Alexander Hamilton was only thirty-two; James Madison, who recorded the proceedings of the convention with his remarkable Notes, was only thirty-six.  These were young men, but men of exceptional character, `sober, seasoned, distinguished men of affairs, drawn from various walks of life.’  (J. Reuben Clark, Sand Fast by Our Constitution, Deseret Book Co., 1965, p. 135.)

                “Of the thirty-nine signers, twenty-one of them were educated in the leading American colleges and in Great Britain; eighteen were, or had been, lawyers or judges; twenty-six had seen service in the Continental Congress; nineteen had served in the Revolutionary army, seventeen as officers.  Four had been on Washington’s personal staff during the war.  Among that assembly of the thirty-nine signers were to be found two future presidents of the United States, one the `Father of his Country’; a vice-president of the United States; a secretary of the treasury; a secretary of war; a secretary of state; two chief justices of the Supreme Court, and three who served as justices; and the venerable Franklin, a diplomat, philosopher, scientist, and statesman.

                “`They were not backwoodsmen from far-off frontiers, not one of them.  … There has not been another such group of men in all [the 200 years of our history] that even challenged the supremacy of this group.’ (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Reports, April 1957, p. 47.)  President Wilford Woodruff said they `were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth.  They were choice spirits….’ (Wilford Woodruff, CR, April 1898, p. 89; italics added.)”

                Later in his talk President Benson said, “In the final analysis, what the framers did, under the inspiration of God, was to draft a document that merited the approval of God himself, who declared it to `be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.’  (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77; italics added.)
                “The document has been criticized by some as outmoded, and even a recent president of the United States criticized it as a document `written for an entirely different period in our nation’s history.’  (U.S. News and World Report, Dec. 17, 1962, p. 104.)  The eminent Constitutional authority, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., has answered this argument in these words:  `These were the horse and buggy days as they have been called in derision; these were the men who traveled in the horse-drawn buggies and on horseback; but these were the men who carried under their hats, as they rode in the buggies and on their horses, a political wisdom garnered from the ages.’  (Stand Fast by Our Constitution, p. 136.)”

                President Benson commented, “What those framers did can be better appreciated when it is considered that when the instrument went into operation, it covered only thirteen states with fewer than four million people.  Today it adequately covers fifty states and over 200 million people.  [We now have more than 300 million people in the United States with a Constitution still adequate.]
                “The wisdom of these delegates is shown in the genius of the document itself.  The founders had a strong distrust for centralized power in a federal government.  So they created a government with checks and balances.  This was to prevent any branch of the government from becoming too powerful.”

                You can read the remainder of President Benson’s talk here, but his closing remarks are as follow:  “I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document.  To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed his stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land.  I testify that the God of heaven selected and sent some of his choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government as a prologue to the restoration of the gospel and the second coming of our Savior.
                “May God bless us to protect this sacred instrument.  In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, `May those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 109:54.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sabbath Day Observance

                I enjoyed the Saturday “adult” session of our recent stake conference.  The theme of the conference was “Developing faith in Jesus Christ through Sabbath Day observance at church and at home.”  Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the First Quorum of Seventy presided over the conference and gave great insight into making the Sabbath a delight. 

                The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been emphasizing the Sabbath Day for some months.  The Brethren of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sent word down through proper priesthood channels to the ward level counseling bishops and other leaders to bring more reverence into our sacrament meetings and to encourage families to improve their Sabbath observance. We have listened to talks in our sacrament meetings, and now we have been taught by a General Authority about Sabbath observance.

                We first had a talk by the bishop of one of the wards who shared with us how his ward council implemented some changes in that ward.  Then the ward council came forward to answer questions from the audience.  They were followed by a family – father, mother, teenage son and teenage daughter – who spoke of how they implemented different Sabbath observance in their home and the results.  Again, they answered questions from the audience.

                We enjoyed other speakers about Sabbath Day observance and then listened to Elder Johnson.  He reminded us that the Lord is able to do His own work; He does not need us to do His work, but He allows us to work with Him for our benefit.  He stated that the Lord is hastening His work and quoted two questions from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Those questions are:  (1) Will we keep pace with the Lord?  (2) Will we teach and learn the Savior’s way?  If we always do what we always did, we will always get what we always got.

                Then Elder Johnson asked us two questions:  (1) What changes are you willing to implement to make sacrament meeting a more spiritual experience for everyone?  (2) What changes will you implement at home as a sign of your feelings toward Heavenly Father?  Numerous people in the audience spoke about the changes they would make in their homes.

                In thinking about what changes I would implement in my life and home to make the Sabbath Day more delightsome, a question came to my mind about studying on the Sabbath Day.  I have long determined that I would not study on Sunday, but I learned something new this weekend:  the Lord is very specific about what He wants us to do on the Sabbath.  I have about five Ensign articles – talks by Apostles and Prophets – that I need to read for my classes this week.  I previously thought I could read them on Sunday; I justified doing so because they are counsel from the Brethren.

                Through prayer and pondering, I came to the understanding that I can read any Ensign articles that I want to read – except those that are part of assignments.  I then questioned my scripture study.  Could I study the assigned scripture block and still honor the Sabbath?  I came to the understanding that I can study the scriptures but not work on any particular assignment concerning them. The Lord’s line appears to be the assignments.   I realized that I will have to be very alert as I implement this change in my life because the Lord’s line is a very fine line.

                Then I began to wonder about writing essays for my blog.  Is this an acceptable activity for the Sabbath?  I understand it is as long as I write about things I could teach in Relief Society or speak about in sacrament meeting.  Again, the Lord has a very fine line about what is acceptable to Him for me to do on His day.

                I know that I can keep the Sabbath Day holy in my home if I will follow the promptings of the Spirit.  I also know that it will not always be easy but it will be better.  What changes are you willing to implement in your home to make your Sabbath Day a delight? 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Scriptures and Temple

                As parents and grandparents, we can provide spiritual armor for our children and grandchildren by daily family scripture study and frequent temple attendance.  Our rising generation is growing up in a world with much more wickedness than it had in previous generations.  We must prepare the rising generation to face evils that we did not have to face.

                Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at our stake conference last weekend.  He reminded us that we would not send our sons and daughters off to fight a war in a foreign nation without weapons and other equipment because we know they would not survive it.  He then spoke of the spiritual war raging on earth today, a war that started in our pre-earth life and continues in our day.  It is a war of evil against righteousness.  We won the war in heaven with righteousness and testimony.   The war in heaven ended with Satan and his followers being cast down to earth without the opportunity to ever receive bodies – and they want our bodies.

                The war continues on earth because Satan and his followers are miserable and desire misery to be the lot of all of us.  They wage war on us as individuals and as families.  Elder Johnson said, “If you want your children to be strong enough to survive the onslaught of Satan, you must send them out to battle with knowledge of the scriptures and a testimony of their truthfulness.  This is more important than anything else you can do.  They will not remember what you study, but they will remember that family scripture study was important to you.  Read the scriptures with your family every day.”  He added, we will not lose those who grow up reading the scriptures every day.  Let your children know that family scripture study is important to you.  Search the scriptures because you cannot know the Lord without studying the scriptures.”

                Elder Johnson then changed topics and said, “If you really want to know the Lord, go to the temple as often as you can to be taught by the Lord in His house.  He quoted a statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith with the promise that the eternal sealing of faithful parents will save their wandering children.  He closed his talk with four reminders:  (1) Read the scriptures with your family every day, (2) Go to the temple as frequently as possible, (3) Have an influence for good on your posterity, and (4) Pray for your wandering children.

                I know that family scripture study can prepare the rising generation to face the evils of our world today.  I know that frequent temple attendance blesses and strengthens families.  I know that we can strengthen our families, communities and nations by studying the scriptures in our families and going to the temple as frequently as our schedules allow.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Agency and Freedom

                The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is this simple fact:  each of us is responsible to exercise our God-given agency to overcome our personal weaknesses.  This is true no matter the weakness, susceptibility, or tendency.  God will hold each of us accountable for the way we use our agency in our thoughts, words, or actions.  (See Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Mosiah 4:30.)

                Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught this truth.  “Perhaps these persons, as the saying goes, were `born that way.’  But what does that mean?  Does it mean that persons with susceptibilities or strong tendencies have no choice, no free agency in these matters?  Our doctrine teaches us otherwise.  Regardless of a person’s susceptibility or tendency, his will is unfettered.  His free agency is unqualified.  It is his freedom that is impaired….  We are all responsible for the exercise of our free agency.

                “… Most of us are born with thorns in the flesh, some more visible, some more serious than others.  We all seem to have susceptibilities to one disorder or another, but whatever our susceptibilities, we have the will and the power to control our thoughts and our actions.  This must be so.  God has said that he holds us accountable for what we do and what we think, so our thoughts and actions must be controllable by our agency.  Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim `I was born that way’ does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God.  We need to learn how to live so that a weakness that is mortal will not prevent us from achieving the goal that is eternal.

                “God has promised that he will consecrate our afflictions for our gain (see 2 Nephi 2:2).  The efforts we expend in overcoming any inherited weakness build a spiritual strength that will serve us throughout eternity.  Thus, when Paul prayed thrice that his `thorns in the flesh’ would depart from him, the Lord replied, `My grace is sufficient for thee:  for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ [2 Corinthians 12:9]” (”Free Agency and Freedom,” in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., ed., The Book of Mormon:  Second Nephi, the Doctrinal Structure [1981], 13-14; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, [2009], 60).

                Each person born on earth received the gift of agency in the pre-earth life.  This gift requires that each of us use it wisely because we will be held accountable for what we do with it.  If we use it wisely, we will have greater freedom; if we use it unwisely, we will have less freedom in our lives.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Knowledge and Intelligence

                As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, I know that learning is “good” if I follow the counsel of God.  (See Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 2 Nephi 9:29.)  I know that I can take with me into the next life “whatever principle of intelligence” I gain in this life and it will be to my “advantage” there.  (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19.)  I know that the “glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36).  I know that it is “impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (Doctrine and Covenants 131:6).  I know that continual and lifelong learning is important and can be very satisfying and enjoyable.  I have other references that support my knowledge.

                Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles  began his talk “Learning to Love Learning with this statement:  “Learning to love learning is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, is vital to our ongoing spiritual and personal development, and is an absolute necessity in the world in which we do now and will yet live, serve, and work….”

                Elder Bednar discussed his three aspects of learning and then stated:  “Learning to love learning equips us for an ever-changing and unpredictable future.  Knowing how to learn prepares us to discern and act upon opportunities that others may not readily recognize….”

                From the above information, I know that learning is important to my “spiritual and personal development” as well as my ability to influence other people; therefore, I must gain as much knowledge as possible and love the process of gaining knowledge.  With this understanding, I must ask a question:  what am I supposed to learn? 

                President Spencer W. Kimball asked this same question more eloquently: “What is this knowledge, intelligence, and light and truth that our Heavenly Father would have us receive?  Does it consist solely of the truths God has revealed through his prophets?  What place does knowledge gleaned from secular sources and with secular means have in the scheme of eternal progression?  In considering these questions, we must recognize that secular knowledge alone can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom to anyone….
                “Yet secular knowledge can be most helpful to the children of our Father in Heaven who, having placed first things first, have found and are living those truths which lead one to eternal life.  These are they who have the balance and perspective to seek all knowledge – revealed and secular – as a tool and servant for the blessing of themselves and others.  They know that preeminent among all activities in this life is preparing themselves for eternal life by subjugating the flesh, subjecting the body to the spirit, overcoming weaknesses, and so governing themselves that they may give leadership to others.  Important, but of second priority, comes the knowledge associated with life in mortality.”

                From President Kimball I learned that I am to seek knowledge of God and His kingdom first.  I should seek the many different kinds of learning that pertains to the kingdom of God.  (See Doctrine and Covenants 88:78).  After I gain knowledge of God and His kingdom, I should seek secular knowledge.  This brings another question:  what secular knowledge should I seek?  I found the following scriptures to be very informative in answering this question.

                “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

                “Teach ye diligently and … be instructed … in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
                “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms
                “That ye may be prepared in all things….” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-80).

                “And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:15).

                “And, verily, I say unto you, that it is my will that you … obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion.  Amen” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:53).

                These scriptures tell me that I should learn all I can from “good books.”  This learning would include languages, history of the various countries in the world, astronomy, current events, geology, geography, agriculture, and many more subjects.  I should obtain all the knowledge that Heavenly Father wants me to have.  This is one reason why I should continue to learn for my entire life or seek lifelong learning.

                The scriptures also give warning about being prideful because of my learning.  “O that cunning plan of the evil one!  O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!  When they are learned, they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.  And they shall perish”
(2 Nephi 9:28).

                We all know people who think they “know it all.”  Many people who have college degrees, and especially Masters and Doctorates, believe they are “better” than other people because they have more formal education.  Some of these same people look down on those who are humble and honest seekers of the things of God.  They think their secular knowledge is much better than knowledge gained through the Spirit.

                President Gordon B. Hinckley explained why we should not trust intellect over faith:  “The intellect is not the only source of knowledge.  There is a promise, given under the inspiration of the Almighty, set forth in these beautiful words:  `God shall give unto you knowledge by his holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost’ (Doctrine and Covenants 121:26).
                “The humanists who criticize us, the so-called intellectuals who demean us, speak only from ignorance of this manifestation.  They have not heard the voice of the Spirit.  They have not heard it because they have not sought after it and prepared themselves to be worthy of it.  Then, supposing that knowledge comes only of reasonings and of the workings of the mind, they deny that which comes by the power of the
Holy Ghost….
                “Do not be trapped by the sophistry of the world, which for the most part is negative and which seldom, if ever, bears good fruit.  Do not be ensnared by those clever ones whose self-appointed mission it is to demean that which is sacred, to emphasize human weakness, and undermine faith, rather than inspire strength.”  (See “Be Not Afraid,Only Believe” [CES fireside for young adults, Sept. 9, 2001], 4; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, [2009], 68-69.)
                From all the above information, I understand that I am to gain as much knowledge as possible, both academic and spiritual, but not lose my soul in the gaining of such intelligence. I can maintain my faith while getting a degree by doing those things that keep me close to God.  I can best do this by communicating with Heavenly Father often, daily scripture study (particularly the Book of Mormon), attendance at my weekly Church meetings, and going to the temple as frequently as possible.  By doing these four things, I can keep balance in my life and still gain all the knowledge possible.  I can stay humble by remembering the greatness of God and my littleness compared to Him!