Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sending our sons

This is a digression from the series of posts I had planned to make, inspired by a discussion I was having with my Dad last night. He was having difficulty understanding why we LDS people send our sons on missions for the Church, rather than, say, having them skip a mission and continue their education without interruption. Dad said, "What if this kid could become a doctor and start saving lives - it would be a waste to be off on a mission instead." My response was that it is far more important to save souls than to save bodies, and that two years devoted to serving others without pay would make anyone a much better doctor in the long run.

But, as always, I had a hard time explaining my thoughts and feelings on the subject, because my forte is writing, not speaking (especially not extemporaneous speaking about important matters). So, after the conversation, I experienced some Treppenwitz, and decided it would be best to just blog my thoughts on the subject.

First, I had tried to explain that serving a mission is not mandatory, but expected. Nobody is forced to serve a mission - it is a choice. Dad had said that we "indoctrinate" the kids to serve a mission, and I explained that "indoctrination" is fine, as long as the "doctrine" is true. For instance, Dad and Mom had "indoctrinated" me to believe in God, and to try to do what's right. Nothing wrong with that - it's called good parenting.

I want to focus on two words here: expect and hope. I expect my son to serve a mission, the same way I expect him to go to college, expect him to not cheat on tests, expect him to not shoplift, and expect him to treat his mother with respect. I hope he will serve a mission, the same way I hope he will read his scriptures, hope he will say his prayers, and hope he will find a good woman to marry in the temple. In order to help these expectations and hopes come to fruition, I will teach my son what is right, tell him what I hope for, and explain to him what is expected. I will pass along my values to him.

That is one reason I want him to serve a mission.

Dad had said that he would have never sent me out "into harms way" like that. Well, of course not - he doesn't believe the same things I do. But doing the right thing isn't always easy, and worthwhile things always require effort and sacrifice. Personally, nothing would make me more proud than for Seth to serve an honorable mission for the Church.

Serving a mission will better prepare him for life than any two years of college (which he would complete when he got back anyway). Not to mention the immense reward of serving God and his fellow man. Besides, serving a mission is a priesthood duty. And if you have a strong testimony, you want to share it with your fellow brothers and sisters in the world.

I joined the Church too late to go on a mission - a fact I regret. My only consolation is that I will have the opportunity to serve a "couple" mission (or missions) with my eternal companion, Jeanie, when we are older (retirement age).

In the meantime, I will most definitely be spending the next 16 years encouraging Seth to serve a mission. It is a large part of what we are on earth for. Assisting in God's work and glory is a privilege, and those of us who are so blessed as to have the Gospel in our lives have an obligation to share it with others.

I know this concept can be hard to grasp or accept for those who do not have a testimony of the Church. But once you know it's true, it makes perfect sense.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Temple and Eternal Families

This is such a huge subject – I’ll only be able to give a few thoughts here.

It seems to be a virtually universal human desire that family relationships continue beyond this mortal life. It also seems that for most people who do believe in an “afterlife” it is taken for granted that they will see their loved ones again on the “other side.” What most people don’t realize is that this great blessing – the blessing of having eternal families – is not automatic: it is the result of sacred ordinances. And those sacred ordinances can only be performed by those with authority in the house of the Lord: the holy temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are currently more than 125 temples operating worldwide. Our local temple is the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple. Thankfully, it is only about an eight minute drive from our home. Faithful Saints in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, have to travel an hour, six hours, or even three full days just to get to the temple, often at great sacrifice.

In the temple, we receive special priesthood ordinances, including the Endowment (which consists of sacred instruction and covenants), the sealing ordinance, and baptism for the dead. We are sealed as husband and wife for time and eternity – not just “until death do you part.” The “celestial marriage” is one that lasts forever, sealed on earth and sealed in heaven. We are also sealed to our families. Ordinances can be performed by proxy for the dead, so that those who did not get the chance when they were alive have the opportunity to choose to accept those ordinances in the hereafter. This is why researching our genealogy is so important – so that we can perform these ordinances in behalf of our ancestors.

There are many scriptural precedents for these ordinances, as well as much modern revelation to support these activities. I’d be glad to discuss this further at another time.

The things that take place in the temple are sacred. Some people who are not members of the Church, or who are members who have not attended the temple, mistake this sacred nature for secrecy. We do not talk in detail about the temple ordinances because they are sacred. Anyone who wants to know the details is welcome to join the Church, live worthy to enter the temple, and see for themselves.

Worthiness is an important issue: only Saints with a recommend signed by their bishop and stake president can enter. This recommend is obtained by undergoing an interview with these ecclesiastical leaders. The member is asked a series of questions about how they are living their life. This is to maintain the sanctity of the temple – so that it can be kept “clean.”

The temple is a beautiful, peaceful refuge from the world. In the temple, I feel very close to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is calm and quiet. I can perform a special service there for those who are unable to do so for themselves. It takes a sacrifice of time, but the rewards are well worth it.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“Every man or woman who goes to the temple comes out of that building a better man or woman than he or she was when entering into it. That’s something that’s remarkable that happens with all of us. … Do you have problems and concerns and worries? Do you want for peace in your heart and an opportunity to commune with the Lord and meditate upon His way? Go to the house of the Lord and there feel of His Spirit and commune with Him and you will know a peace that you will find nowhere else.”

This is so true.

I am grateful to live so close to a temple, and hope that I can attend more frequently than I do – there is always room for improvement. I also need to do more genealogy. It was a wonderful feeling to perform the ordinances in behalf of my grandparents and great-grandparents and second cousin, Doreen.

I hope to do more, soon.

It is awesome to know that because of the temple, I can be with my family forever. There is great peace that comes with that knowledge. It affords one an eternal perspective. It helps inoculate against the fear of death and brings comfort to assuage the sorrow of loss.

The temple provides real joy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Testimony: How It All Started

First, a little background.

I have always known - always had a testimony - of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It seems that I've always known he is the Savior and Redeemer of the World. I thank my parents for helping me to know that from early on. My mom is Russian Orthodox, and my Dad was raised Church of England. Growing up, we attended a few different churches, focusing mostly on the Methodist church, but sometimes going to the Russian Orthodox church at Christmas and Easter. But overall, we were not very regular in our church attendance. But I was taught to pray, and I believe that went a long way toward helping me to recognize the Spirit.

Once I was a young adult, I searched for the truth in various places. The closest I came, it seemed, was in the non-denominational Christian churches. However, something important was missing for me there - the spirit didn't seem right, and it seemed to me to be more of a group "feel-good" session than a true religious lifestyle centered on Christ and His teachings. The messages promulgated in these settings came from various modernized translations of the New Testament, but could probably have been issued as "good philosophies" from any other source just as easily. They lacked the distinctive connection to the Savior that I craved. I don't mean to speak poorly of these other churches - they just weren't working for me.

Having a desire to know the truth, but starting to lose my direction in life just a little (I'd started going to bars, drinking, staying out late) I ended up gaining my testimony of the restored Gospel late in the summer of 1993, from a very unlikely source. You could say that the truth found me.

The woman I was dating at the time was an extremely inactive member of the Church - in fact, I met her in a bar. Although she was unrecognizable as a member, and had abandoned the Church in practice, she must have still believed at some level, because she gave me a Book of Mormon.

The first thing I read was the prophet Joseph Smith's testimony of the First Vision (found in the Pearl of Great Price). I knew right away that what Joseph Smith said was true. I knew it was true because the Holy Ghost witnessed to me, directly, spirit-to-spirit, with an amazing power. And that knowledge has only grown stronger in me over the years, bolstered by a thorough study of doctrine, careful reading of the scriptures, regular prayer, and undeniable personal experiences.

Since I immediately knew that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, it followed logically that the Book of Mormon was true. So I read it without skepticism, knowing that what I was reading was an inspired translation of actual ancient records.

I nearly finished the Book of Mormon in 1993, but unfortunately, I allowed my life circumstances to get in the way, and I put it aside until 1996.

When I first started attending the LDS church in about 1996, the experience was very different from what I had had in the non-denominational "Christian Fellowships." I quickly realized what had been missing in those other churches: the Holy Spirit. I felt it strongly in the LDS sacrament meetings, and I felt truly at home for the first time in my life. Indeed, I was home.

That year, I picked up the Book of Mormon again and this time I finished it, and felt strongly inspired to call the missionaries and get baptized. So, I took the "missionary discussions" at a friend's house who was a member of the local ward, and on December 14, 1996, I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Since that time, I have been a faithful member of the Church. In December 1996, I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. In the spring of 1997, I received my Patriarchal Blessing. In June 1997, I was ordained an Elder, receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood. On February 27, 1999 I was endowed in the Portland Oregon temple. On April 16, 2002, I was sealed for time and eternity to my beautiful wife, Jean, in the Salt Lake temple. I attend church every Sunday (with practically no exceptions), and also spend some of my time during the week serving in my callings.

I have served in many callings in the Church, including secretary in an Elders Quorum presidency, a counselor in an Elders Quorum presidency, Primary teacher, Ward Missionary, Ward Mission Leader, and counselor in a Branch Presidency for Young Single Adults. I currently serve as an assistant to the Teachers Quorum Advisor, which means that I work with 14 and 15 year old boys who hold the Aaronic Priesthood. (I am also a Home Teacher, and will hold that calling for life.)

This is a summary of how I was introduced to the Gospel, how I came to know it is true, and a general time line of my membership activities. Please stay tuned for some of the many other facets of my testimony, including my testimony of essential Gospel principles including:
I look forward to sharing my very personal thoughts and feelings on these 18 subjects (and many more) over the next few weeks.

Being the first member in my family, it is important to me to share my thoughts and feelings on these things with family, friends, and strangers. But especially my family.

Monday, July 7, 2008

And thus it begins . . .

On Sunday I read an article in the Ensign magazine by Elder M. Russell Ballard in which he encourages members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use the "new media" (e.g., blogs) to share the Gospel.

The article really impressed me to do this: start a blog of my own.

A few things in particular struck me about Elder Ballard's article. First, he said, "There is truth in the old adage that 'the pen is mightier than the sword.' In many cases it is with words that you will accomplish the great things that you set out to do." Since working with words is both my vocation and my passion, it makes sense that I should use this talent and my love of the written word to try to make a positive difference in the world.

Second, Elder Ballard said, the "effort is certainly worth the outcome if but a few are influenced by your words of faith and love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ." He used the word
"influence" a number of times in the article, and that word has special significance to me because of what it says in my patriarchal blessing about my using my influence for good.

And so, here it is. Hopefully I will be able to keep up on this fairly frequently - though it will be a challenge with my busy schedule. And, I hope it makes a difference.

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

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