6 Favorite Stories From President Monson’s Biography

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-7-04-24-pmBesides these six quotes, two things really jumped out at me from To The Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson:

One is that he has known and worked closely with fully half the church presidents of this dispensation. Think about that. Obviously, it will never be true of anyone else ever again. (He is also the last living Apostle to have been part of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.)

The other is that the tale of his decades of ministry in East Germany is truly astounding. Seriously, someone should make a movie out of this. It’s one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard out of the Cold War.

Here are the six stories in the book I liked the most–they really give a well-wounded view of who he is as a man:

  • Elder Monson’s sense of humor was manifest during one particular visit to Australia in the midst of a sever drought, where he noted with some amusement the names of the stake presidents–President Percy Rivers and President William Waters. He called this to the attention of his traveling companions, one of whom reminded Elder Monson that his name was Harry Brooks. The missionaries who met him at the airport were Elder Rainey and his companion, and when he registered at the hotel, the clerk could not find the reservation until, in searching the cards, he found Thomas S. Monsoon. (page 274)
  • At another mission presidents’ seminar, he set forth a seven-step plan for productive proselyting:
  1. Reports That Reveal
  2. Handbooks That Help
  3. Meetings That Motivate
  4. Schedules That Strengthen
  5. Procedures That Produce
  6. Love That Lifts
  7. Interviews That Inspire (page 356)

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My Conversion Story

An old friend recently asked me to tell this story, and I realized that I hardly ever do. I guess I don’t think it’s very special. But still, it’s mine, so here it is.

It starts in 8th grade, when the emotional problems that had always plagued me drove me to some anti-social behavior so severe that my poor parents had to withdraw me from school and place me in a mental health facility. By the time I was released to go home that summer, I knew that I was missing something and needed some kind of major change.

I’d always been a pretty religious kid, though my family never went to church much. I went to a kind of church class after school in 3rd grade, and enjoyed it. I tried reading the Bible a couple of times. I felt like there was some kind of spiritual truth out there, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

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The Daughter of Jephthah As a Symbol of Jesus Christ

jephthah-s-daughter-jpglargeWhile reading Judges 11, I reviewed some notes from one of my favorite books of pop analysis on the Bible, James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament, where he draws parallels between many figures there and Jesus Christ. Ferrell notes the following about Jephthah, the protagonist of Judges 11:

  • He was hated and expelled by his people
  • The people turned to him when they were in distress
  • When the people turned to him, he became their deliverer
  • He subdued the enemy on behalf of the people who had made him head and captain over them

This pattern of comparison with Jesus is clever and valid, but as I read the chapter, I was much more impressed with the character of his unnamed daughter, and the story of her sacrifice. Consider these points of similarity–the sacrificed person:

  • Obediently agreed to be a sacrifice in accordance with the plan of their father (Judges 11:30-31, 36)
  • Was sacrificed in a way reminiscent of a “burnt offering” (11:31)
  • Was sacrificed as part of the salvation and deliverance of Israel (11:32-33, 36)
  • Was the “only child” of the father (11:34)
  • Was sacrificed despite their loss causing the father great anguish (11:35)
  • Was sacrificed to satisfy the demands of justice (11:35)
  • Immediately before the sacrifice, solemnly went out from the people to a mountain area with their closest associates (11:37)
  • Was morally pure (11:37)
  • Inspired the behavior of those who followed (11:39-40)
  • Had their sacrifice memorialized in a regular ritual (11:40)

It’s not especially relevant here to debate whether her sacrifice was literal or metaphorical (the LDS Institute manual, however, opts for metaphorical), but either way, her position as a Christ figure is strengthened:

  • If her sacrifice were literal–and she died–her symbolism for Jesus is obviously much more graphic. Even Abraham didn’t actually have to kill Isaac!
  • If her sacrifice were metaphorical–and she was put in perpetual service in the tabernacle in some way, for example–then her life of selfless, consecrated service still directs us to think of Jesus.

Jephthah’s story certainly has strong elements that remind the reader of Jesus, but I think the lesson is stronger–more focused on the atonement–if he stands in for God the Father, and his loyal, anonymous daughter is a symbol of Jesus Christ.

“Silent Night” In “A Christmas Carol”

The rest of the world seems to have ignored the existence of this great 1999 film version of the classic story. I really like the use of “Silent Night” to illustrate people’s troubles to Scrooge. (Coincidence: this is the 2nd video with Patrick Stewart I’ve posted this week.)

A Bible Story About Guts And Poop

If you’ve never read the book of Judges in the Bible, you’ve missed this little gem in chapter 3:

17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

So, not only is this king assassinated, but the text makes it as pathetically undignified as possible. We have to be told of the king’s obesity, with the lovely detail that the sword sank into his guts up to the hilt, so that Ehud couldn’t even pull it out again.

And then that bit about “dirt,” a delightful euphemism telling us that when he had been impaled trough the intestines, this king’s last act on earth was to soil himself as his bowels released.

These details are here, and they’re here for a reason. The only thing I can think of is that the author really wanted to humiliate the memory of this king who’d held Israel captive for 18 years (Judges 3:14), perhaps as an illustration of God’s power to deliver his people and punish those who oppose him. Can there be any other reason for including these unsavory details?

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Checklist of 18 Gospel Study Resources from Elder Ballard in December 2016 Ensign

In “By Study and by Faith,” an article based on an address by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve Apostles, in the December 2016 Ensign, he urges church members to study a number of resources until we’re familiar with them.

Some of these resources are already common, like the scriptures, and others were only vague categories, like “the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful LDS scholars,” but he also mentioned 18 specific online resources by name, each of which was linked in the church web site’s version of the article, with each carrying a specific injunction for us to keep in mind as we read.

If it helps anyone to follow up and actually look into these great resources, here they are in a simple checklist:

ballard

Excellent Audio Bible on YouTube

There are a lot of audio Bibles on YouTube, for various translations, but some are better than others. I just finished one of the more dense sections of the Old Testament by reading along with the excellent dramatized audio at the minimalist-named Biblical channel. I’m surprised they have so few views–it’s really great work.

Nephi Really Loves The Bible!

Today is International Day of the Bible, and that got me thinking about Nephi and his love for the Bible. Not only does he absolutely adore Isaiah–he cites, paraphrases, or comments on nearly a fourth of that prophet’s book–but consider this:

In 1 Nephi 17, he tries to teach his brothers about faith, essentially–he corrects their complaining about their lot in life by comparing it to previous precedents. Notice how detailed his metaphor is–Nephi clearly believes their situation is deeply analogous to that of their ancestors’.

Not only does he make several specific references to Old Testament material in one place, he writes that all into his record for future readers, for us–he expects us to be well versed in Bible stories, too!

Here are six references in 1 Nephi 17 to specific stories from four different books of the Bible, with the Biblical books to which he refers added in red:

 27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh. Exodus 

 28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness. Exodus and Numbers

 29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst. Exodus and Numbers

 32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. Joshua

 40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made… Genesis

 41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. Numbers

Notes on the 2016 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

I’m live blogging this conference at BYU today–this post will be updated throughout the day, after each address.

TEMPLE ON MOUNT ZION CONFERENCE, sponsored by the Interpreter Foundation

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

 

9:30 – Jeffrey M. Bradshaw: “By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified”: The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6

Temple themes in Joseph Smith’s translation of Moses 6:59-63 and Genesis 17:4-7. Jesus and Nicodemus–a change of heart is needed to see the kingdom of God. “Marvel not” isn’t a scolding, but an invitation to greater spiritual learning. “Born again” can mean “born from above.” Double meanings–the serpents in Moses’s staff story to heal bitten people represent sin and salvation. “No man cometh to the Father but by me,” like the seraphim who guard the gate to the temple or to heaven.

Jesus was “lifted up,” and we can and should be, too, in resurrection and ascension (3 Ne. 27). “Second birth from above” is reflected in some early Jewish thought (see also Ezekiel 37 and 16–temple imagery).

“Born again” isn’t ended with baptism, just started–the goal is exaltation.

Moses 6:60–three clauses: water, spirit, blood.

WATER: baptism, sacrament blessing. “Stage 1” of temple (1st floor in SLC)= Moses 4 themes, 2= Moses 5, 3= Moses 6. Circumcision is close to baptism in JST Genesis. Genesis 17:3-7 in JST re: Abel and ordinances, clarifies doctrine, has ancient parallels. See David A. Bednar on priesthood ordinance being salvific, interrelated, additive. Truman Madsen: washing and anointing is like a patriarchal blessing on the body itself.

SPIRIT: D&C 20:37 explains that the Spirit cleanses, not baptism itself, which is symbolic. Justification and sanctification are twin blades of scissors–C.S. Lewis. Telestial room / baptism = justification, terrestrial / additional ordinances & consecration = sanctification, celestial = exaltation. D&C 20:30-31 teaches that justification and sanctification both come from the grace of Christ. Blood / anointing makes one both our and royal in ancient settings. British ceremony to initiate a new monarch has echoes of all this old temple symbolism. C.S. Lewis–become “a little Christ.”

BLOOD: Exodus 24 shows symbolism of blood needed to sanctify. Isaac is a substitute king before the ram–a symbol of a symbol. Neal A. Maxwell–we must put the animal *in us* upon the altar and burn it. Endowment depicts multiple births through the grace of Christ. C.S. Lewis- God turns tools-servants-friends-sons. Psalm 2:7 reflected in Moses 6 with Adam. Mosiah 2-5 has same symbolism–disciples are to become “little Mosiahs.” Alma 13 teaches high priest is symbolic of Christ. Moses 6, last verse also teaches of exaltation, leading to Enoch’s ascension in Moses 7. Nibley: scriptures aren’t platitudes, they’re things of eternity. Water in sacrament goes beyond beginning discipleship to a consecrated life: accepting prior blessings and continuing to exaltation; like Christ, must suffer, even unjustly, to serve others and lead to God.

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“St. Matthew Passion”

Today I’ve been listening to a wonderfully simple, old fashioned performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” It’s perfect for a cool, cloudy, windy Sunday in October; and this recording even provides English subtitles of the scriptural text. (I mentioned another performance of this oratorio back in 2009.)

What President Monson Is Reading

512ktnfwjelIn President Monson’s brief remarks at this month’s General Conference, perhaps the thing that struck me most was in the priesthood session when he said, “Recently I read the true account of a dramatic manifestation concerning these promises.” Most of the talk, in fact, is a summary of a story from the book. That right there is already pretty high praise for a book, to have a prophet mention it and cite from it as the core of an address to the world.

It’s great to know what the prophet has been reading. He’s still working full time as CEO of a global organization, he’s several years a widower now, and his strength is starting to decline, but he still reads, and this is what he reads: a book about the inspiring experiences of Latter-day Saints during World War II. As far as I know, there isn’t a team of research interns doing any behind-the-scenes lifting in preparing anybody’s conference talks; when the prophet says he’s been reading this book lately, it’s really something he chose to pick up and spend time with.

Maybe we would do well to follow the prophet in his priorities, his habits, and even in his specific choices in reading. The book he mentions, Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-Day Saints in World War II, isn’t on Google Books, but it’s on sale at Amazon for as low as 14 cents a copy.

14 cents, to do what the prophet does.

You know what would be great? A “Prophets Book Club,” where people read books mentioned by prophets and apostles in General Conference.

At the end of the citation for this book in the published version of President Monson’s talk, a note says, “used by permission.” That’s wonderful: the prophet (or maybe his secretary) reached out to the author to ask if it was OK to refer to the book in General Conference. What a sweet conversation I bet that was.

 

The Book of Moses: Dramatized Audio with Illustrations

This is a complete dramatized reading of the Book of Moses, from the Pearl of Great Price, with various pictures and study aids. The Book of Moses really is a little masterpiece, hidden in plain sight. It’s wise, beautiful, and leads directly to Jesus Christ–a scripture classic!

Another Way To Look At The Sacrament

I’ve always thought of the bread and water of the sacrament–the body and blood of Jesus–as emblems of his death only. That makes sense–the ordinance is to commemorate the Atonement.

But lately I’ve also been focusing on how it could direct us to his life, as well as his death.

The prayer on the water says, “the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (D&C 20:79), that second part explicitly directing us to think of Lord’s infinitely painful sacrifice that last night and day of his life.

The prayer on the bread, however, only mentions “the body of thy Son,” with no added description like there is on the water.

Indeed, the first two of the three Biblical synoptic gospels (John does’t mention the Last Supper), inspires this: both mention the body of Christ, without any further explanation, but then also mention the blood of Christ, with the overt follow-up about it being shed as a sacrifice for us:

Matthew 26:26-28

26 ¶And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

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Favorite Quotes From Lorenzo Snow

teachings-of-presidents-lorenzo-snowBrethren and sisters, there are some things that you and I ought to think about. The time is come when it behooves every man and every woman to know for themselves in relation to the foundation on which they stand. We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little and obtain a full knowledge of those things which we should more fully understand. It is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint.

This is the condition of all men, no matter how well they start out, who allow their thoughts and affections to run after the world and its ways, and it is a plain and indisputable proof that when this is the case with men they love the world more than they love the Lord and His work upon the earth. Having received the light of the everlasting Gospel, and partaken of the good things of the kingdom, and being of the seed of Israel and heirs to great and glorious promises, we should labor with fidelity and diligence to accomplish what God has designed to do through us; we should be men and women of faith and power as well as good works, and when we discover ourselves careless or indifferent in the least, it should be sufficient for us to know it in order to mend our ways and return to the path of duty.

Nothing can be more foolish than the idea of a man laying off his religion like a cloak or garment. There is no such thing as a man laying off his religion unless he lays off himself. Our religion should be incorporated within ourselves, a part of our being that cannot be laid off. If there can be such a thing as a man laying off his religion, the moment he does so he gets on to ground he knows nothing about, he gives himself over to the powers of darkness, he is not on his own ground, he has no business there. The idea of Elders in Israel swearing, lying and giving way to intoxication is far beneath them; they ought to be above such things. Let us put from us every evil and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God [see D&C 98:11]. Let us lay hold of every duty assigned to us with ambition and energy that we may have the spirit of our God, the light of truth and the revelations of Jesus Christ within us continually.

CHAPTER 3: LIFELONG CONVERSION: CONTINUING TO ADVANCE IN THE PRINCIPLES OF TRUTH

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