My Favorite Priesthood Miracle

It didn’t involve visions or angels or moving mountains.

Some years ago, I was serving as an elders quorum president. One Sunday around 10 PM, the bishop called me. He quickly said that a woman in the ward was in need of some emergency help, and that he wanted me to get a dozen men over to her house right away, to do a couple hours’ worth of labor.

I was hesitant. I was supposed to call a bunch of guys late at night on a Sunday, most of whom were in bed or getting ready for it, and most of whom needed to get up for work in the morning, and ask them to jump up and come out to work until midnight?

I started making calls.

Everybody answered the phone. Everybody said they’d be right there. Actually, one guy had the flu and, though he said he’d come over, I told him to stay in bed.

After making enough calls, I went over to help. Everybody I’d called was there, cheerfully working. We actually got the needed labor done early, and were all home before midnight.

Just imagine all the faith that went into getting out of a dozen comfort zones to make that happen for someone in need. I love getting to be a part of such miracles. Maybe Zion isn’t as far away as we think.

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Living On Borrowed Time

Something that often helps keep me on the right track is reminding myself that I’m living on borrowed time, that for all I know, I could have died any number of times and that I owe my ongoing existence to God.  This keeps me from being too lazy or too selfish, and I think helps me stay pretty grateful for life.

For example, two summers ago I was at Lake Powell in Utah.  I thought it might be fun to swim across the channel where our boat was docked.  For some reason, I didn’t tell anyone I was going out, and I didn’t put on a life vest.

About ten minutes into the swim, I realized I might get a cramp or kick some debris in the water or otherwise lose the ability to swim.  It was a pretty tense twenty more minutes until I made it to the other side.  (I’m not a strong swimmer, and apparently I’m not very bright.)

I guess something could have happened and I could have died, but that’s just one instance I know about.  Who knows how many times we’ve escaped a doom we’re not even aware of?

So any more time we get after those things–any time we have at all, really–can’t be squandered.  It’s precious, and we owe it to ourselves and to God to make something of it.

But this view also takes away fear.  If we’re living on borrowed time, then we have nothing to lose: every minute is just an extra bonus minute we’ve been gifted with.  So there’s no reason to hold back in service or sacrifice or any worthy goal, because our days are gloriously extended by a loving Father who lets us exercise our will to make the most of them:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?  

Mosiah 2:20-24

On Living Deeply

I’ve often seen this quote used as an inspiring motivator:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”

Most people would probably interpret that as, “Do a lot of what you want and have as much fun as possible.”  Not me.

I like the sentiment, but I like it because I hope to see myself ending like that as a result of achieving goals, serving others, and leaving a positive mark on the world: stuff that requires sacrifice and consistent hard work.

It reminds me of this quote from Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”

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Serve From Gratitude

Near the end of a truly rousing, inspirational sermon, the Biblical prophet Samuel tells his congregation:

Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.  1 Samuel 12:24

This has now become one of my favorite scriptures.  Why?  because it explicitly links our faithful obedience to God and our work in His service, to gratitude for all of the infinite blessings that have first been poured out on us.

I actually think that the “thankfulness-leads-to-devotion” relationship is pretty rarely articulated in the scriptures.  The next best one that I can think of comes from the New Testament:

We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

It’s good to be reminded of this.  God has shown us great love, and always will.  Obedient discipleship is the least we can do in return; indeed, is precisely the one thing that He does ask of us:

And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,

To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?  Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Live and Die To Make Men Free

There are multiple versions of the Civil War marching song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The original words to the song include this line:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. 

It’s easy to see why this would be inspiring to the Union soldiers singing it to build morale.  They were imitating the example of their Lord, who gave His life to free humanity from the bonds of sin and death.  This same Lord said, memorably, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  The North must have been encouraged by seeing themselves in the role of temporal saviors, risking and often giving their lives to free black Southerners from the bonds of slavery.  (The famous “grapes of wrath” from the first verse refers to God’s righteous indignation at the evil of the slaveholders, which was in immediate need of retribution, through the instrument of the Northern army.) 

Such an analogy was uplifting and appropriate for the soldiers of the time (and, indeed, for soldiers of any time).  However, as much as I like the injunction in the hymn to “die to make men free,” I also like the way those words are modified in the hymn book of my church, the LDS Church.  In our hymnal, that line reads:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.

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The Law of Consecration, As Contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants

During a recent session in the temple, I was hit with particular force that we are to study the law of consecration not in general, not in a vacuum, but specifically as it is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Besides the factual and motivational information I’ve found in this brief project so far, I’ve been impressed that this aspect of the gospel agrees so well with our growing emphasis on charity and service, as per President Monson (best exemplified in adding “care for the poor and needy” to the mission of the Church). 

So I’ve been trying to read up on this basic celestial law, from sources that focus on its development in the D&C.  First, not surprisingly, I looked it up in the index to the scriptures.  This list includes all those in the Topical Guide, plus several others:

See also Common; Devote; Equal; Inheritance; Order; Poor; Property; Substance; United Order; Zion

D&C 42: 30-39 (D&C 51: 2-19; D&C 58: 35-37) principles of consecration explained.

D&C 42: 30, 39 consecrate of thy properties for support of the poor.

D&C 42: 32 consecrated properties not to be taken from church.

D&C 49: 20 one man should not possess above another.

D&C 51: 3 every man equal according to his family.

D&C 51: 5 transgressor not to have claim upon portion consecrated to bishop.

D&C 58: 36 (D&C 85: 3) a law for inheritance in Zion.

D&C 78: 5 order established that saints may be equal in bonds of heavenly and earthly things.

D&C 83: 6 storehouse kept by consecrations.

D&C 105: 5 Zion can only be built up by principles of celestial law.

D&C 105: 29 lands to be purchased according to laws of consecration.

D&C 105: 34 let commandments concerning Zion’s law be executed and fulfilled.

D&C 124: 21 bishop to receive consecrations of the Lord’s house.

The next source I thought of was the CES manual for the D&C.  It has an essay in the appendix which is entirely devoted to teaching the law of consecration.  This may have been the best single source for what I was studying.  One of the many useful things in this section of the text was this series of self-analysis questions:

1. Are you contributing to or detracting from a spirit of unity in your home? in your ward or branch? in the Church as a whole?

2. Is your life in harmony with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost so that you will contribute to a unity of thought and action in the kingdom?

3. Do you truly have an attitude of consecration? Is your primary concern in life to consecrate everything you have or with which you will be blessed to the building up of Zion and the Church on the earth?

4. Do you have enough confidence in your commitment to truly say, “I am willing to sacrifice anything and everything for God”?

The third of the official sources I used for this study was BYU’s Scripture Citation Index, where I looked up the references given in the index, to see how they had been used in general conferences.  Continue reading

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.

No One Can Establish Zion Alone

For me, the scariest verse in all of scripture has always been D&C 103:2: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there…”  It’s hard enough to be a shy introvert now without having to be surrounded by people throughout eternity, too!  But there’s an important lesson in that truth about the nature of real spirituality, and it’s one that I’ve long been trying to learn.

Other teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants affirm that being sealed in the temple is necessary to qualify for exaltation, the highest salvation with which anyone can be blessed.  For example, D&C 131:1-2 reads, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage],” and the very next section contains this even more explicit promise: “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant…they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things…” (D&C 132:19). 

The point is that nobody can be exalted alone.  This supreme gift can only be bestowed on those who have successfully grounded their lives in the service of others–a family.  (I hasten to add here that the Church has clearly taught that nobody will suffer any loss of blessings because of any opportunity that they just didn’t have here on Earth–see, for example, Dallin H. Oaks: “The Lord has promised that in the eternities no blessing will be denied his sons and daughters who keep the commandments, are true tho their covenants, and desire what is right.”)

Just as exaltation cannot be achieved by a lone individual, neither can Zion be established by such.  There is no such thing as a marriage of one; similarly, there is no such thing as a Zion of one.    Continue reading

MSP: Second Class Requirement 4

  4. Participate in an approved (minimum of one hour) service project.

Last Saturday morning I went and did some yard work for a woman and her mother in my area who need help with physical chores around the house.  For those of you who don’t live around here, weeds can take root in this hard ground like an oak tree would!

How Many Hours Does It Take To Run A Ward For A Week?

I want to quantify, or at least illustrate, just how much sacrifice people put into their church communities.  I hope for this to be an opportunity for us to realize just how much we serve each other, and rely on each other.  Let us each remember that we’re not the only ones out there trying to make the world a better place by giving a little of ourselves.  Let this be a celebration of consecration.

Below, I’ve attempted to answer the question posed in the title of this post: How many hours does it take to run a ward for a week?  The answer, obviously, is an educated guess at best.  I’m not shooting for an ideal amount, or those hours put in by people I’ve known, but based on my experience and understanding of the practical operations of all church units with which I’ve ever been familiar in any way, I’m trying to estimate what a realistic average is.  I’m not counting attending Sunday meetings unless a calling involves work during that time, nor am I counting things like family home evening, temple attendance, or home teaching.  I don’t want to artificially pump up numbers to be more impressive; I think they’ll be impressive enough as it is. 

The biggest factor holding this back from being more accurate is that beyond major leadership, the roster of callings and how they’re implemented in sundry church units varies remarkably.  Just as with the hours themselves, I can only give my best estimates.  Perhaps someone with more experience from a higher position in the church could refine my roster and numbers.  But please don’t say, “Hey!  I have that calling and I put in a lot more time than that!”  It’s meant to be an average.

Here are my estimates:

CALLING–AVERAGE HOURS PER WEEK:

Bishop–20

Bishopric counselors–14 (x2)

Relief Society President–12

RS Counselors–10 (x2)

High Priest Group Leader–10

HP Assistants–5 (x2)

Elders Quorum President–10

EQ Counselors–5 (x2)

Primary President–6

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On Being Released From the Bishopric

Today at church our bishopric was released.  After 2 ½ years of being a counselor, I find myself with a huge drop in responsibility, a drastic rise in free time, and a bittersweet ache in my heart.  It’s sentimental and it’s melancholy.  Call it sentimentacholy. 

I didn’t see this coming.  My first reaction when I found out about this last night was profound sadness.  As I explained in church this morning, I deeply loved serving with everybody in my church and I’ll miss it terribly.  And of course, I feel that I left too much undone. 

Here’s what I’ll miss: doing temple recommend interviews, hanging around joint activities at Mutual, being the first person to bring a welcome spiritual message to the home of someone who hasn’t been to church for years, giving priesthood blessings to people with no other access to the priesthood, powerful monthly meetings with the stake presidency, taking the youth to the temple for baptisms, giving the bishopric message in Primary, giving treats to the youth for catching me without my scriptures and having their copies of For the Strength of Youth, trying to set a visible example of obedience to our leaders, sitting in on disciplinary councils (a surprisingly spiritual experience–always positive for everyone involved), being able to give useful information to auxiliary leaders about their work, and just getting to know the real lives of dozens of the best families anybody could ever meet–especially the overwhelming acts of service and sacrifice for each other that I never would have known about were I not in this position.

Here’s what I won’t miss: Continue reading