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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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

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.

 

Escape to the Mountain: Genesis 19 as a Timely Reminder for Latter-day Saints

Genesis 19 is one of the most sordid, controversial chapters of the Bible. As such, it’s not often seen as a fount of wisdom.

Yet, a perfectly timely spiritual message is in this narrative.

Before “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire,” an angel warned Lot to take his family and “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17)

Was Lot’s response to act like Peter and Andrew, who, upon being called to the ministry, “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20)? Or like Alma, who was abused and rejected as a minister in one city, but after leaving was instructed by an angel to go back and persist, so “he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah” (Alma 8:18)?

No. Lot’s immediate instinct wasn’t obedience, but quibbling and negotiation: “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord…. I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:21-22).

Not only did he decline to follow the angel’s clear counsel, he proposed following his own inclinations: “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (19:20)

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Our Journey Back Home

I’ve been wanting to write a Pilgrim’s Progress-style allegory for young children.  Here it is.  Happy Easter, everybody.

*****

 

Once upon a time there was a wonderful king.  He had very many children and they all lived in a beautiful castle high on a mountain.

One day the king told his children that he was sending them on an important journey.  They had to go on a long walk through the whole world.  The king said that they had to do this in order to grow up.

“Will it be hard?” the princes and princesses asked.

“Yes,” said the king.  “But it will also be an exciting adventure.  And it will help you become ready to be kings and queens yourselves someday.”

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Notes on President Monson’s Teachings, April 2014 General Conference

My notes on president Monson’s addresses at the April General Conference, 2014.  Obviously subjective, and subject to ongoing revision and improvement, but this helps me to pragmatically know how to “follow the prophet.”

 

IMPERATIVES

Priesthood Session: “Be Strong and of a Good Courage

  1. “…put ourselves in places and participate in activities where our thoughts are influenced for good and where the Spirit of the Lord will be comfortable.”
  2. (Quoting) “If you ever find yourself where you shouldn’t ought to be, get out!”
  3. “…do… the right thing even though we may be afraid, defend… our beliefs at the risk of being ridiculed, and maintain… those beliefs even when threatened with a loss of friends or of social status.”
  4. (Quoting) “Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.”

Sunday Morning: “Love—the Essence of the Gospel

  1. “…love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.”
  2. “…love God, the Father of us all.”
  3. “…keep this truth [We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters] in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.”
  4. “…recognize someone’s need and then…respond.”
  5. (Quoting Pres. Kimball) “…remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve.”
  6. “…we must treat each other with kindness and respect.”
  7. “…strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle. Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.”

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Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

It happened again last night, and not for the first time: I re-read a familiar section in the Book of Mormon and noticed something that had never arrested my attention before.

In King Benjamin’s classic speech, a major landmark in the Book of Mormon, he tells the people this about the the coming change of leadership from himself to his son:

…if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land…  (Mosiah 2:31, emphasis added)

Benjamin wasn’t the only Book of Mormon leader to teach about the reason for faithfully following the prophet; Lehi explained it twice:

And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. (1 Nephi 3:5, emphasis added)

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it. (2 Nephi 1:27, emphasis added)

Nephi’s brothers, you may remember, resented being ordered around, against their natural inclinations, by a bunch of old white men in Salt Lake City…oops, I mean, by their younger brother.  (/sarcasm)

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A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

In a 1990 address to Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

In recent years I have felt, and I think I am not alone, that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church. You cannot appreciate how deeply I feel about the importance of this present opportunity unless you know the regard, the reverence, I have for the Book of Mormon and how seriously I have taken the warnings of the prophets, particularly Alma and Helaman.

Both Alma and Helaman told of the church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.

Helaman repeatedly warned, I think four times he used these words, that the fatal drift of the church could occur “in the space of not many years.” In one instance it took only six years. (See Helaman 6:32, 7:6, 11:26)

It’s especially interesting that he mentions the book of Helaman as being a prophetic parallel for our day, in addition to Alma.  The superscription to Helaman–the introductory summary between the title and chapter one of the text–is part of the scriptural record, not an editorial study aid by modern church printers, like the individual chapter headings are.  One of the items in that ancient superscription is this:

An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites.

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Has President Monson Gotten More Serious?

When President Monson was in the First Presidency, I rarely took notes on his talks.  Other speakers at General Conference would get a paragraph or so in my notebook, where I’d jot down the scriptures, doctrinal points, inspirational quotes, and directives given by each. 

But President Monson would usually just smile and tell cute stories that illustrated a simple principle (usually service).  He might frame a talk around a few basic imperatives (kneel down to pray, go forth to serve, etc.), but the bulk of his talks were just charming narrative.  When he’d come up, I’d set my notebook aside and just listen and enjoy. 

I loved the way he worked.  His style had its own value—he seemed content to leave the heavy stuff to the other guys, and he’d come in and be the coach pumping us up, motivating us by building desire to follow the examples in his stirring stories. 

But I think there’s been a big change in him in the last three years since he became president of the church.  I first noticed it in his closing remarks to the April 2009 General Conference.  Continue reading

President Monson’s “Marching Orders”

After every General Conference, my family tries to study the prophet’s talks to see what he wants us to work on, and we make a list of those priorities.  We usually summarize them in our own words, but this list is mostly copied and pasted directly from his text.  You might find more or less than these, but we saw 30 things he directly instructs Latter-day Saints to do:

Saturday Morning–Introduction

  1. May we continue to be faithful in performing such ordinances, not only for ourselves but also for our deceased loved ones who are unable to do so for themselves.
  2. Thank you, as well, for your faithfulness in paying your tithes and offerings and for your generosity in contributing to the other funds of the Church.
  3. May I suggest that if you are able, you might consider making a contribution to the General Missionary Fund of the Church.

Priesthood Session

  1. May we be worthy recipients of the divine power of the priesthood we bear.[start of talk] –> Safeguard it, treasure it, live worthy of it. [end of talk]
  2. May it [priesthood] bless our lives and may we use it to bless the lives of others.
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Idea For Following The Prophet

Thomas S. Monson has been president of the Church for almost two years now–where is his official biography already?  When President Hinckley came into that office, Deseret Book had his biography out in less than one year, as I recall. 

Here’s an idea I had to help fill in that big blank area, as well as to contribute to studies for improving Christlike discipleship, which President Monson may be the preeminent living example of.  This web page lists all of President Monson’s known, published addresses.  I plan to read through each one, and copy and paste the stories he uses about service that he’s rendered to others throughout his own life into a new document, in chronological order.  He loves to tell stories about his life, and has a talent for emphasizing the lives of others and the spritiual lessons he’s seen over time, while minimizing his own steady, selfless services to them.  I’ll make it my business to go back and pay attention to that part. 

After that, I’ll double check all articles by or about him from the Ensign (there will probably be a lot of duplication, but I want to be thorough).  That will illustrate how we could better be serving others, and since so much of President Monson’s life has revolved around service, it should provide a pretty decent little biography of the prophet! 

 Someday, when that study is done, I’ll post the newly arranged material here.

The Teachings of the Bishop

I had the idea while I worked with our last bishop to keep a careful track of his teachings, saving my notes from ward conference and fifth Sunday combined lessons, his ward newsletter messages, etc.  It’s actually strange to think how relatively rarely we hear our bishops address us directly.  Sadly, I never got around to it, so now all I have are a few notes and my understanding of major themes from his ministry (emergency preparedness and priesthood leadership in the home, perhaps paramount). 

With a new bishop in place for about a month now, I’ll more diligently keep track of his teachings.  After all, we’re familiar with taking notes on General Conference and even stake conference, but how often do we keep and study notes on whatever our bishops–our primary, immediate leaders–counsel us to do?  We’re used to books about the teachings of prophets and general authorities, but if everybody is ultimately supposed to be a prophet (Numbers 11:29), and if the words of our priesthood leaders represent the Lord’s will to us (D&C 1:38), couldn’t we think of our local leaders in terms of what their collection of teachings to us would be?  (In fact, I used this as a discussion topic in a lesson once–shouldn’t all of us think of what the collection of our teachings would be like, or should be like, and minister accordingly?)

April 2009 General Conference: 3 Month Review

We have a tendency to take a General Conference of the Church and discuss it, analyze it, work on applying it, and cherish it in every way we know how…for about three weeks.  Then we forget it until the next Conference six months later and by then, that last Conference might as well have never happened.  So instead of posting my notes on April’s meetings along with everyone else, I want to put mine up now, three months afterwards, halfway between that Conference and the next one. 

I hope that we might all be reminded of things we missed before, or have renewed motivation to live up to the teachings given.  Just this week at a home teaching meeting, a man in my ward mentioned that President Monson had taught in the priesthood meeting that every Melchizedek priesthood holder should be studying the scriptures every day.  I didn’t remember that; it wasn’t in my notes.   I looked up the talk and there it was.  The prophet did say that.  I was grateful to my friend.

When I take notes, immediately after each talk I write a title for that talk in the right margin of the page.  This is my way of summing up the most major point or topic.  My titles for each talk are given in parentheses after each speaker’s name.  It’s always fun to compare my titles to those later published online and in the Ensign.  Here are some highlights from my notes:

Saturday Morning

Elder Hales (“Overcome Debt & Addictions w/ Provident Living”)–The most impressive thing here was just the subject.  Along with Elder Perry’s “Let Him Do It With Simplicity,” this is the second consecutive Conference to begin with a talk about providing for ourselves better by scaling back our materialism.  That fact alone speaks volumes.  Perhaps the best things here were his admonition to “joyfully” live within our means, and the subtle chastisement that debt is money that we could have used to serve others.  Application: Have I reduced my longing for physical possessions through Elder Hales’s prescribed cure of service, obedience to the commandments, tithes, fast offerings, and a family budget?

Elder Christofferson(“Covenants”)– Continue reading