Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gospel Learning and Teaching

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Gospel Learning and Teaching, by David M. McConkie
First Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency

After everyone else in my house had gone to bed last night, I remained awake, looking through picture albums. I went to look for one picture, but was sucked into the albums containing pictures from my days as a full-time missionary. As I reviewed Brother McConkie's talk on learning and teaching, I reflected on the lessons I learned as a missionary and found direct correlation between what he outlined and what I tried to do.

When I served as a missionary, I tried to be a super missionary (as the picture below attests to).

What qualifies individuals to be super missionaries?

When we think of missionaries, we often consider them as strictly teachers, and rightly so. The scripture that was on the plaque that hung on my meetinghouse's wall while I was away was D&C 31:3-5, which says, in part:

Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation. You shall declare. . . you shall begin to preach. . . yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned. Therefore, thrust in your sickle. . .

While there is much teaching in missionary service, it is important to also remember the counsel, "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word" (D&C 11:21).

Brother McConkie put it this way:

I am not going to talk about the “how” of teaching but rather about the “how” of learning. There can be a significant difference between what a teacher says and what those in the class hear or learn. . .

Successful gospel teachers love the gospel. They are excited about it. . . To teach the gospel is to share your love of the gospel. . .

Attitude is not taught; it's caught.

Brother McConkie shares four principles to develop the attitude of a successful [super] missionary or teacher. Incidentally, each of these were repeated again and again in the missionary training manuals, as well as in the and various meetings I attended:
  1. Immerse yourself in the scriptures.

  2. Apply in your life the things that you learn.

  3. Seek heaven's help.

  4. Exercise agency and act according to spiritual promptings.

While my missionary service was a nice application for me to personally understand and apply Brother McConkie's counsel, it's important to remember that this doesn't just apply to those in full-time church service: the same principles that create super missionaries create super members (or super servants, if you prefer).

As I looked through page after page of pictures from my mission, I relived many memories. Among the pictures of missionaries acting silly (e.g. dressing as Superman), were more meaningful pictures of missionary work, loving service, and smiling converts.

Teaching alone cannot produce meaningful results in the mission field, the classroom, or the home; it takes gospel learning and teaching.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Obedience to the Prophets

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Obedience to the Prophets, by Claudio R. M. Costa
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

If you were to ask what distinguishes the doctrine of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from that of the bulk of Christianity, you may get three predominant answers: 1.) that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ; 2.) that the Church is led by living prophets; and that 3.) there are three separate persons in the Godhead: God, the Eternal Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost.

Elder Costa's remarks focused on the second of these: prophets. In fact, if you were a habitual counter, you would mark 51 times that the word "prophet" occurs in his talk! (That's 3.4 percent of the words in his talk.)

Like Elder Costa, I remember studying Joseph Smith's history (link). I, too, read, pondered, and prayed, and received a witness that Joseph Smith was truly a prophet. After recounting his testimony of prophets, he asked a question:

Why is it important to have living prophets to guide the true Church of Jesus Christ and its members?

By way of answering, Elder Costa recounted points from a "powerful message about obedience to the prophets" that [then] Elder Ezra Taft Benson gave at a BYU devotional. The talk is titled, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet" (audio, pdf). As I repeat the points here, consider which are your favorites, and why:
  1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

  2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

  3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

  4. The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

  5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

  6. The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.

  7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know

  8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

  9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter—temporal or spiritual.

  10. The prophet may be involved in civic matters.

  11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

  12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

  13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.

  14. The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the first presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.

As I reviewed these points and Elder Costa's commentary on them, the few that stood out the most to me are (Note: quotes are from Benson's address):

Living prophets are more important than dead prophets
Many doctrinal arguments can easily be settled by an appeal to the words of the living prophets. This is true regardless of how fun it may be to read BYU students arguing various points in the Daily Universe's letters to the editor, citing the words of dead prophets. (This isn't to say that the words of dead prophets are necessarily in stark contrast to what we receive today.)

Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.

Prophets do not need earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject
If we remember who the prophets are speaking on behalf of, then earthly certificates are moot.

If there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet, and you'll be blessed and time will vindicate you.

Revelation can come on any matter—temporal or spiritual
In Kirtland, Brigham Young asked those opposed to Joseph Smith meddling with temporal affairs to draw a line of demarcation between the spiritual and temporal in the Kingdom of God. None could. (Recall D&C 29:34)

Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be.

Prophets may be involved in civic matters
In times of uncertainty, we question what is to be done. What better source for guidance for the Church (and individuals) than the living prophets!

Those who would remove prophets from politics would take God out of government.

As I consider my feelings of and gratitude for prophets, I always want to say, as does the hymn, "Thank Thee, O God, for a prophet!" (link to music)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stay on the Path

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Stay on the Path, by Rosemary M. Wixom
Primary General President

What we want [our children] to know five years from now needs to be part of our conversation with them today.

This one sentence from Sister Wixom's talk resonated loudest to me. It connected with me, as if an inner-voice were saying, "You know, they're not going to be small forever. If you want them to be what you want them to be, start today. . . or five years ago!"

Sister Wixom has an excellent answer to the how is it done question: it is for adults to say, "Take my hand. Hold on tight. We will stay on the path together back to our Heavenly Father."

We're reminded in this talk that one way that parents can reinforce their righteous actions and desires is through family scripture reading. At a recent trip to the temple and distribution center, we noticed that the Church has a new New Testament Reader for children.

We've long used these readers as helpful supports in our family scripture reading, and this newer version renewed our excitement for scripture study. The children take turns reading the captions underneath the pictures, and then they choose a picture and we read the associated scripture(s) together. (You can order a copy here, or see the chapters online here.)

The sentence quote I opened with has a wonderful implied promise. Since we've been reading together as a family for [at least] five years, we're seeing the fruits already starting to grow; our children often surprise us with their understanding of the scripture stories—but just teaching them scripture stories isn't enough!

What we want them to know five years from now needs to be part of our conversation with them today. Teach them in every circumstance; let every dilemma, every consequence, every trial that they may face provide an opportunity to teach them how to hold on to gospel truths.

One such "every circumstance" Sister Wixom mentioned was after a soccer game. While our children don't play soccer, I thought the description of a "victory tunnel" was great. After the game was over—the players hadn't kept track of who won or lost—the coach called for a victory tunnel:

All the parents, grandparents, and any spectators who had come to observe the game stood up and formed two lines facing each other, and by raising their arms they formed an arch. The children squealed as they ran through the cheering adults and down the path formed by the spectators. Soon the children from the opposing team joined the fun as all the players—the winners and the losers—were cheered on by the adults as they ran the path of the victory tunnel.

If we squint at this visual of a victory tunnel, we may, with Sister Wixom, imagine our children living our Heavenly Father's plan, "running the strait and narrow path through the arms of spectators who love them."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Because of Your Faith

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Because of Your Faith, by Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Monson spoke of couples serving missions, and Elder Holland reminded me of this further. As a child, my grandparents served together in New Zealand. They were a great example to me, and I don't think I ever thanked them for it. Besides setting an example in their mission together, Harold and Bodil Siler (my grandparents) helped me without me knowing it

Similar to how Elder Holland's parents helped him finance his mission, I learned after I returned home that every month, my aged grandparents, who were no longer working, had scrimped and saved for twenty-four months to help pay for my mission. Before I left, I gave all I had (which wasn't much at all), my parents helped as much as they could (they had never been "well off"), and I was somewhat supported by my local ward. While I'm incredibly grateful for all the additional help, for some reason, as I consider what my grandparents did to help, my heart gets tighter, my eyes get wetter, and my smile gets bigger.

The picture above shows my grandparents with my family
(sans my father—taking the picture).

As often happens, after loved ones are gone, those who remain wonder if they adequately expressed thanks. I, too, wonder if I did this. I know I thanked them, but I don't think I did it often enough or sincerely enough. Now that they're both gone, what can I do? How can I show them how grateful I am?

I'm reminded of a story about rock climbing I heard in a sacrament meeting talk years ago. Through the power of Google, I found the story about belaying, or holding the rope for another climber. Here is the summary:

The director of a climbing school, Alan Czenkusch, described his experience with belaying to the author of the article:

Belaying has brought Czenkusch his best and worst moments in climbing. Czenkusch once fell from a high precipice, yanking out three mechanical supports and pulling his belayer off a ledge. He was stopped, upside down, 10 feet [3 m] from the ground when his spread-eagled belayer arrested the fall with the strength of his outstretched arms.

‘Don saved my life,’ says Czenkusch. ‘How do you respond to a guy like that? Give him a used climbing rope for a Christmas present? No, you remember him. You always remember him.’ (source)

An answer to the question, "How can I show my gratitude?" is to always remember them. While it may not seem as thrilling or fantastic as the experience in the quote, I'm convinced that my grandparents (and parents, and ward members) helped to save my life. The expression of their faith made it possible for me to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary, where I had experiences that changed my life forever.

How do I say "thank you"? I'll always remember them! (And try to be like them, too.)

Scriptural Word Clouds

I saw many word clouds from the State of the Union address, and it reminded me of the word cloud I made recently for the Book of Mormon (link). I loved how that word analysis showed God and Lord as central to the text (in this case literally!), but I started to wonder what word clouds for the Bible (KJV) would look in comparison. In addition, I wondered how the Old and New Testaments would look side-by-side. Here is what I found (top 100 words):

The Book of Mormon
The following word cloud is for the Book of Mormon (link to text):

Of note are the words God and Lord, but also interesting is Behold! Intrinsic in this is the invitation look and understand, or to behold.

The Holy Bible
The following word cloud is for the Holy Bible (KJV, Old and New Testaments):

As expected, the Bible speaks of God and Lord, but it also has much to do with Israel and families (children, son, father). Because this is the full Bible, Jesus appears quite small (seen in the D of Lord) because the Old Testament words dominate by sheer number. Do you think this word with grow significantly when viewing only the New Testament? Let's see.

Old Testament
The following word cloud is for the Old Testament (KJV, link):

Here we see Lord and God in prominent display. Family words are large, as are major players in the Old Testament: Moses, David, Judah, and Israel (collectively). Absent is the name Jesus, but He is represented in the all-caps LORD!

New Testament
The following is the word cloud for the New Testament (KJV, link):

The names and titles of deity are large in the New Testament. As expected, Jesus is frequent, apparently replacing LORD (although Lord remains). Unexpected to me is how frequent we find things in the New Testament. Why do you think this is?

The Lord God is central to all of these books. Do these images accurately represent the messages they contain? Borrowing from my Book of Mormon post: Probably not; you can't judge a book by its wordle... and you can't know the fulness of the gospel contained in the Bible and the Book of Mormon by a cursory glance.

Read the books, ponder their teachings, and ask God if they're true (see Moroni 10:3-5). I know the scriptures are true, but the great thing is that you don't have to take my word for it (or my 100 most prevalent words for it): you can find out for yourself!

*NOTE: all word clouds were made at


Bonus Features As you may be aware, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has four books in its canon: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. To complete the word analysis, here are the final two books, for your WORD NERD pleasure.

Doctrine and Covenants
The following is the word cloud for the Doctrine and Covenants (link):

This word cloud gets me excited because it shows words related to the Restoration of the Church: Joseph Smith, prophet, servant, kingdom, revelation, gospel, power. . .

Pearl of Great Price
The following is the word cloud for the Pearl of Great Price (link):

This book presents the stories of the creation, Enoch, Moses, and Abraham, with an additional listing of our Articles of Faith. These are represented in the words, along with the first appearance of Satan in one of these scriptural wordles. This is the result of this book being so short (relative to the others) as well as the reminders of God's power and Satan's attempts at persuading men to abandon faith.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As We Meet Together Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

As We Meet Together Again, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In preparation for a Sunday School lesson I recently taught on "enlarg[ing] the place of thy tent" (link), I prepared a video showing Church growth as a function of temples (similar to on the Church made showing the same by stakes, link). It's amazing to see the dots appear on a map of the world, corresponding to when each temple was dedicated. You really can see the growth (exponential?) of the church through temples.

At the start of this conference, President Monson commented on recent temple dedicatations (Gila Valley, Arizona; Vancouver, British Columbia; Cebu City in the Philippines; and Kyiv, Ukraine) and announced five new temples (Lisbon, Portugal; Indianapolis, Indiana; Urdaneta, Philppines; Hartford, Connecticut; and Tijuana, Mexico)! Isn't it exciting?

The ordinances performed in our temples are vital to our salvation and to the salvation of our deceased loved ones. May we continue faithful in attending the temples, which are being built closer and closer to our members.

In order to justify the many temples that are in operation and continue to be built and dedicated, we all need to prepare to go, and invite our friends to prepare, too! This latter item, sharing the gospel, is something that President Monson says is "a matter close to my heart and which deserves our serious attention." After reminding of the usual charge for young people to prepare to serve full-time missions, his attention and words were turned to the adults: "we need many, many more senior couples." He must have been serious, because the First Presidency message of the Jan 2011 Ensign was an extension of this theme (link).

To those of you who are not yet to the season of life when you might serve a couples mission, I urge you to prepare now for the day when you and your spouse might do so.

As a child I remember listening to a song that said, "Grandma and Grandpa are going away on a mission!" The whole song was about how excited the grandchildren were that their grandparents were going to serve the Lord, just like they (the children) were preparing to do. My wife and I may think that we're young—what with a new baby and all—but we'll be grandparents soon enough! We've long spoke of how exciting it will be to serve together... someday!

I want to prepare to serve the Lord in that someday by serving Him today (and tomorrow, too). This preparation includes going to the temples, and inviting others to go with us.

Won't you come to the temple with me?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pictures of Andrew, Christmas, and More

We've put loads of pictures on our family website from December. We have pictures of Andrew, Christmas pictures, along with pictures of our normal day-to-day adventures.

To see pictures of Andrew, click here.

To see our December pictures, click here.

As always, you can access our picture portal to the past on our photos page (click here).