Throughout my many travels I'm frequently asked by persons who don't know much about Mormons, Are Mormons Christians? With a smile I always give the same answer, "Yes we are, very much so."

Mormons quite often are referred to as Latter-Day Saint Christians due to the official name of the church which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But it's more than just a name, Latter-Day Saints strive daily to live the life of Christ and abide by his teachings and those of his apostles.

The Bible tells us the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The word Christian means “a follower of Christ" but the word disciple means “student” or “pupil.” Hence a true Christian is not someone who simply says they believe in Christ but rather someone who ardently follows and studies the Savior their entire lives. Mormons do exactly that, therefore we are very much Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

LDS Church makes large timberland purchase in Florida Panhandle

(by Tad Walch deseretnews.com 11-10-13)

An agricultural company owned by the LDS Church agreed Thursday to purchase 382,834 acres of timberland in the Florida Panhandle.

The St. Joe Co. announced Thursday it will sell the land to AgReserves Inc., a taxpaying company owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for $565 million. The transaction is expected to close by April 1.

The deal is a glimpse into one way church leaders practice financial responsibility with the reserves they set aside against down economic cycles.

The sale is a boon for Florida because it is "a long-term investment in the state's timber and cattle industries," Adam Putnam, the state's commissioner of agriculture, said in a statement.

Land conservation

News of the transfer of nearly 600 square miles in the Panhandle drew responses from a variety of sources.

Conservationists hope the church's company is mindful of the important northwest Florida watersheds it has acquired. The Conservation Fund's George Willson said he was pleased "to see that someone with a record of stewardship is buying it."

"This is not a bad outcome," he told the Tallahassee Democrat. "I suspect the new owners will pay attention to all these rural communities they will be a part of."

Many of the reactions alluded to the way the church has managed another large spread in Florida, the 290,000-acre Deseret Ranches in central Florida, since the early 1950s.

A manager at Foley Timber, a Florida-based timber company, told the Tampa Bay Times the church's track record made him view the deal favorably.

"We're glad to see roughly 400,000 acres will be in long-term private ownership," Bo Taff said. "And based on what we know of the company and their land management practices in central Florida, we believe they will be good stewards of the land in north Florida as well."

Putnam, the commissioner of agriculture, echoed that sentiment: "This transaction between two of Florida's largest and most-committed land stewards is a meaningful reminder of the economic and ecological value of agriculture in our state. For decades, The St. Joe Company has played an important role in conserving the landscape of Florida’s Panhandle, and AgReserves, Inc., will build on that commitment while continuing to support the local economy."

The chairman of the board of AgReserves Inc. said Friday in a statement provided to the Deseret News that the company would remain invested in agriculture and conservation.

"This purchase clearly demonstrates the depth of AgReserves’ commitment to agriculture in Florida," Paul Genho said. "We are farmers and ranchers. We’ve been ranching in Florida for 63 years. We love to grow things. We think agriculture is a noble pursuit, and we are proud to be agriculturists. We help feed the world. We love the land and strive to be good citizens in the communities where we live and work. We preserve and protect our land and natural resources and plan far into the future for the places we call home. It is our intent that this purchase will remain in agriculture for a long, long time.”

A 2011 story in the Deseret News detailed some of the operations at the Deseret Ranches. The story said the land managed more than 40,000 head of cattle. The diverse ranch also is home to about a quarter million citrus trees, timberland, sod and tree farms, some commercial crops and large deposits of fossilized seashells used in road base.

The ranch is centered between Orlando and Disneyworld on the west and Cape Canaveral to the east. Ranch managers are participating in state studies about future transportation corridors in the area. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order last week that created a task force to plan for roads, development and environmental protection in the region.

A church's principles

Agriculture plays a key role in the LDS Church's management of reserves it holds in case of rough economic times, according to church leaders.

The Tampa Bay Times story on the announced sale referred to the church's principles on preparation and financial responsibility.

"The theme is consistent with a broader teaching (for families) within the Mormon Church," Times reporter Jeff Harrington wrote, "to be prepared for adverse times by building a three-month supply of food; storing drinking water; saving a financial reserve; and, as possible, accumulating a longer-term food supply of items like wheat, white rice and beans that can last 30 years or more."

Church finances operate on two simple principles, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve said during last month's general conference of the church.

"First, the church lives within its means and does not spend more than it receives," he said. "Second, a portion of the annual income is set aside as a reserve for contingencies and unanticipated needs. For decades the church has taught its membership the principle of setting aside additional food, fuel, and money to take care of emergencies that might arise. The church as an institution simply follows the same principles that are taught repeatedly to the members."

Leaders set aside a fixed percentage of church income to build reserves for what late church President Gordon B. Hinckley called "a possible 'rainy day.’ ”

"Prudent management requires that this money be put to use," he said during a church general conference in 1991. "In that process, we have purchased and hold some good, productive farms. They are well operated under capable management, and they yield a conservative rate of return. We have felt that good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced, while at the same time they are available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need."

These commercial properties, like AgReserves Inc., pay property taxes and income tax on any profits.

Focusing on St. Joe

The Times said the per-acre price of Thursday's announced deal — $1,475 per acre — appeared consistent with the sales of large timber tracts. AgReserves Inc. is assuming agreements and contracts existing on the purchased timberlands and intends to maintain the timber and agricultural uses of the lands.

The St. Joe Co. is a Florida-based real estate developer and manager. Company leaders wanted to focus on those core missions.

"This sale of timberland will help the company concentrate on its core business activity of real estate development in Northwest Florida," said Park Brady, CEO for The St. Joe Co. "The proceeds from the sale will provide the company with significant liquidity and numerous opportunities to create long-term value for our shareholders."

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590205/LDS-Church-makes-large-timberland-purchase-in-Florida-Panhandle.html?pg=1
 

Media interest in 'Mormon Moment' slows, deepens

(by Tad Walch deseretnews.com 11-6-13)

With the first anniversary arriving for a presidential election that could be seen as the pinnacle of the "Mormon Moment," articles are surfacing that consider the question of whether that moment is over.

Buzzfeed examined the question Wednesday in a piece titled "The Post-'Mormon Moment' Moment," and writer Hunter Schwarz — a former Deseret News reporter and a BYU graduate — declared the moment over but Mormonism "more a part of the national conversation than it was before (Mitt) Romney’s candidacy."

Schwarz produced a graphic of the number of times the terms "Mormon," "LDS" or "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" were mentioned in newspaper and newswire stories in the United States — excluding Utah — in each of the past 20 years. The number spiked at 1,644 in 2012, up from 1,068 in 2011.

This year the number has dropped to 977 so far but is on pace to surpass the 2011 total and still significantly higher than the previous best of 854 in 2008 during Romney's first presidential bid. Church spokesman Lyman Kirkland told Buzzfeed that while the number of calls the church's public affairs department receives is down, the requests are more thoughtful.

“The questions we receive now tend to focus on a broader range of more substantial subjects, whereas a year ago they were most often related to the election,” Kirkland said. “In the weeks preceding the election we received a lot of trivial questions from people scrambling to do almost any kind of story.”

Christianity Today finally closed its web comments section on the story it published this week about a waning "Mormon Moment" because so many Latter-day Saints were responding to the author's assertions about Christianity and Mormonism.

The LDS Church's own position on the "Mormon Moment" has been clear since March 2012 when church spokesman Michael Otterson wrote a Washington Post On Faith blog item that pointed out the cliché "Mormon Moment" already was a dozen years old. From the church's perspective, the "moment" is more of an ongoing era.

"After a 180-year history and 12 years of calling it a 'moment,' we should re-examine the paradigm," Otterson wrote — a position he reiterated days after last year's election when he wrote: "The church leadership has never believed this period is merely a 'Mormon Moment.' They have much more of a long-range view."

And, of course, not all of that 2012 interest in the LDS Church sprang from Romney's campaign.
“For a number of years now there has been a rising interest in Mormonism in academia," Matthew Bowman, visiting associate professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith," told the Deseret News last December. "You saw a surge of interest 10 years ago with the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. More recently there has been the ‘Book of Mormon’ musical on Broadway and a lot of other Mormon stuff on TV and other media. None of that was related to Romney.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590022/Media-interest-in-Mormon-Moment-slows-deepens.html

Friday, November 8, 2013

Joseph Smith and Masonry

Below is a link to a wonderful podcast of a talk given by Greg Kearney at the 2005 FAIR conference.

Was Joseph Smith a Mason? Yes he was.

Are the LDS temple ceremonies based on Masonic rituals? In some areas yes, in others no.

Should Mormons be afraid and have this affect their faith? No they shouldn't.

It all makes wonderful and perfect sense when you put away your fear and listen to the facts and understand the history.

I had heard of the Joseph Smith and masonic rumors for years and was always afraid to investigate thinking I was jumping into the darkness. But once I listened to this podcast I celebrated and appreciated Joseph Smith and his ministry even more.

http://blog.fairmormon.org/2013/07/03/

"This is a parallel podcast to the presentation made by Greg Kearney at the FAIR conference in 2005.  Greg used the title “Message and the Messenger” to distinguish how a teaching, principle or concept can be illustrated by symbols.  There are those who see this system as a secret combination designed to avoid public inspection.  Yet in this podcast we explore the symbolic teaching method used in Masonry and in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints in more detail, to offer insight into what might be considered a deeper understanding of the sacred commitments we make to each other and Deity."

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Here is a link to KSL's Religion Today podcast with Martin Tanner that addresses the same subject but comes to a slightly different conclusion.

http://img.ksl.com/audio/2013_10_20_religion_today.mp3

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Entering the world of LDS blogging

(I decided to post this under the "introduction" section since it has to do with blogging and I have touched on lds blogs in the Introduction section before.)

(by Trent Toone deseretnews.com 10-31-13)

Liz Jensen loves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She relished her time as a full-time missionary in Croatia. She considers her faith to be the most important part of her life.

Yet, a few years after returning home, the 29-year-old wife and mother of three was struggling when it came to discussing her faith. This troubled her.

"Why, after I've been talking about this for 18 months, is it not easier to talk about? Why am I not more natural?" Jensen said. "How can I be friends with people outside my faith like the Savior?"
Through a series of events and spiritual promptings, Jensen eventually found her solution on the Internet. Although it was intimidating at first, she became one of many church members to embrace blogging as a way of sharing beliefs and doing missionary work. LDS Church leaders have also promoted blogging as an effective way of using technology to join in conversations about the church.

"For me the prompting to share my faith online and to start a blog that was centered on faith and its everyday application was unmistakable," Jensen said. "I feel that God is being very active right now in pushing his work along, and it’s been my experience that if we ask him how we can use what we have to be a part of things, he’ll inspire us to know how to do so in a way that is the best fit for us individually."

From church leaders

For several years now, members of the LDS Church’s First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have spoken out more and more about using technology and all channels of communication — including blogs — as a way of spreading the gospel.

In a commencement address given at BYU-Hawaii in December 2007, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said the Internet is the modern-day equivalent of the printing press and urged members to join in online conversations and explain the Restoration in simple and clear terms.

“You can see how important the right words are today. Words recorded on the Internet do not disappear. Any Google or Yahoo! search is going to find one’s words, probably for a very long time,” Elder Ballard said. “Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. … You do not speak for the church as a whole. You speak as one member, but you testify of the truths you have come to know.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, offered a similar message in his April 2011 general conference address, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus.”

“With so many social media resources and a multitude of more or less useful gadgets at our disposal, sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before,” President Uchtdorf said. “My dear young friends, perhaps the Lord’s encouragement to ‘open (your) mouths’ might today include ‘use your hands’ to blog and text the message of the gospel to all the world … all at the right time and the right place.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve encouraged the overall use of social media in his April 2013 general conference remarks.

“For those using the Internet and mobile phones, there are new ways to invite others to ‘come and see,’” Elder Andersen said. “Let’s make sharing our faith online more a part of our daily life.
LDS.org, Mormon.org, Facebook, Twitter — all provide opportunities.

In the LDS Church’s Worldwide Leadership broadcast, Elder L. Tom Perry, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, said technology would play a pivotal role in missionary work.

As missionaries enter this new age where they will use computers in the work of the Lord, we invite the young and the old, the adults, the young adults, the youth, and the children everywhere to join with us in this exciting new work by becoming Facebook friends with the missionaries in your area on your own computers and sharing their gospel messages online and by becoming involved in missionary work yourselves,” Elder Perry said.

Jensen’s experience

As Jensen prayed and sought enlightenment for how to share the gospel more effectively, a friend asked her to read an advance copy of “The Power of Everyday Missionaries," by best-selling author Clayton M. Christensen, and provide feedback. The ideas presented in the book gave her new insight, Jensen said.

“It not only changed my perspective on sharing my faith, but while reading two specific chapters, I felt very strongly that I needed to write and share online,” Jensen said. “It was a stronger prompting than almost any other in my life.”

About six months ago, Jensen created a blog she calls Thesmallseed.com. She didn’t want to be “in-your-face-churchy,” but found a metaphor to be fun. For her, each page view on her website represents a small seed that has been planted with a reader.

“Sometimes we underestimate the small things,” she said. “A daily message that brings someone closer to Christ is a small thing, but 'by small and simple things are great things brought to pass'” (Alma 37:6).

Shortly after she started the blog, Jensen found out she was expecting twins and her pregnancy was high-risk. She spent nearly two months in a hospital bed and it gave her time to work on her blog, which became a blessing in her life during that difficult period.

“It got me through a very challenging time and allowed me to focus on my faith and connect with others on the same topic,” she said. “My testimony was strengthened as I recognized that God is involved in his work.”

As a ward missionary, Jensen takes her blog very seriously. Even with three young children, she spends between 10-20 hours a week managing the site with some help from two friends. They brainstorm topics to address, but Jensen relies mostly on prayer and promptings for inspiration. Trust those promptings, she said.

“I’ve been amazed so often that I’ve felt so inspired in being a blogger,” Jensen said. “It’s evidence to me that God really cares about this. It matters to him. He has been very direct –—write about this, share that — it has been unmistakable. While I still feel insecure in my writing and what I’m doing, I want to make it what he wants it to be.”

As she continues to develop her blog, Jensen hopes to emulate the Savior’s kind example in communicating with others.

“Come see how I live, not because I want you to join my church, but because I’m happy, and I know so many people who are searching for that,” she said.

"In writing I hope I can in some small way help to break down the social pressure that many feel to refrain from talking about their faith and belief in God. I also hope that by blogging I can help create a community where others can connect and interact with others that also believe in God, regardless of their religion."

Thoughts and tips

Larry Richman created and manages a blog called LDSmediatalk.com with the goal of sharing technology ideas for Latter-day Saint parents and youth. Nearly 36,000 unique monthly readers from 144 countries follow his blog.

Richman feels blessed to live in a “remarkable age of miracles.” He finds it hard to believe that the Internet has only been around for 20 years and social media for 10 years.

“God has inspired people to develop methods of communication that were only dreams just a few short years ago. Today, advances in technology are not measured in years, but in months and weeks,” Richman said. “The Lord is hastening his work and expects members to step up the pace, open our mouths, and use our fingers to tell others about the happiness that comes through living the gospel.”

When asked for advice about how to blog or using social media in sharing the gospel, Richman offered several tips:

First, share what inspires you with others. Technology makes connecting with family and friends very convenient, Richman said, so don’t hesitate to share inspiring and uplifting messages with them. The LDS Church and other sources provide countless quotes, scriptures, pictures and videos for this purpose. A quote or scripture may be just the thing a friend needs to hear that day, Richman said.

“When your friend shares that quote with another friend, the effects can be far-reaching.”

Second, when you share, always include some personal comments to help others understand why you feel it is important, Richman said.

Third, use the technology you know. Not all members understand or use every communication method, but every member can share the gospel in his or her own way, Richman said.

“If you post on Facebook, occasionally share a gospel-related message,” he said. “Talk about how the gospel guides your daily life. You may be amazed at how many people will find inspiration from your experiences.”

Fourth, don’t be afraid to learn something new. “There are lots of blogs and how-to videos that can teach you new things,” Richman said.

LDS.org is another source with basic blogging tips. Bloggers are encouraged to promote their posts and interact with readers by replying to comments. Write about day-to-day life, update your blog often and relate experiences or lessons learned with members at church and in family home evening, the website reads.

“Most important," according to LDS.org, "follow the Holy Ghost’s guidance as you contemplate ways you can use your blog to share the gospel.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865589490/Entering-the-world-of-LDS-blogging.html?pg=1

Some Find Path to Navajo Roots Through Mormon Church

(by Fernanda Santos nytimes.com 10-30-13)

Linda Smith lost one son, a methamphetamine addict, when he hanged himself in jail. Her other sons are heavy drinkers, fathered by a man who she said nearly killed her one night in a fit of rage, driving her from her home on this corner of the Navajo reservation to Provo, Utah, where she found solace in the Mormon Church.

Ms. Smith’s narrative echoes an increasingly common theme on this reservation, where unemployment is rampant, domestic violence is common, and alcohol is often used as an antidote to heartaches and hardships. In a land troubled by dysfunction and despair, a growing number of Navajos have been turning to the Mormon Church.
      
Membership at the church’s Tuba City Stake, which covers 150 miles of Navajo and Hopi lands, has increased by 25 percent since 2008, even as churches around it have struggled. St. Jude Parish, this city’s sole Roman Catholic presence, survives largely because of its Filipino congregants, brought here to teach in the local public schools. In September, the Catholic Diocese of Gallup, N.M., which serves the Navajo Nation and six other reservations, filed for bankruptcy protection because of the mounting costs of defending against accusations of sexual abuse by clergy members.
      
To attract followers, Larry Justice, a white man who is the president of the Tuba City Stake, took a page from the lives of Navajo ancestors and began a gardening program to teach people how to live off the land.
      
He and a handful of church volunteers teach gardening techniques, distributing seeds from a plot behind the church building here. The program started with 25 gardens four years ago, each made by Navajos next to their homes. There were 1,800 gardens last month, and by next year 500 more are to be created in Tuba City and communities all around it, Mr. Justice said.
      
Participants learn how to fertilize the soil, parched by years of drought. They learn to build fences to keep out the animals that roam the land. They learn what to harvest and when: melons and grapes in the summer, squash and cabbage in the fall.
      
“Their grandparents knew how to farm. Their parents forgot it. We’re working to make sure the young people learn it,” Mr. Justice said as he escorted visitors through the chapel, which was so crowded one recent Sunday that a divider was removed to make way for more seats. “It’s important to teach our people to be self-reliant.”
      
The Mormon Church has been expanding at a steady pace, primarily in parts of Asia and Latin America, where, Mr. Justice said, there are plans to introduce his gardening program to indigenous peoples, using lessons in subsistence farming as a doorway into the church. The church had three million members worldwide in 1971. Today, there are 15 million, with roughly one-quarter of them in South America, according to the church’s statistics. Its army of missionaries has increased by 37 percent since last October, after the church lowered its minimum age requirements.
      
As converts here on the reservation tell it, becoming a Mormon has brought them closer to the fundamental Navajo values of charity, camaraderie and respect for the land. There is a feeling of “reconnecting to our traditions,” as one of them, Nora Kaibetoney, explained in Navajo through a translator — even though Mormonism often compels them to leave behind rituals that have long defined their identity, like a medicine man’s healing ceremonies or the cleansing in sweat lodges.
“In Navajo culture, the most important things we have are life and our family,” said Ms. Smith, 64, the daughter of a Navajo code talker and hand trembler, a type of diagnostician. She was baptized as a Mormon in high school.
      
Converting, she said, “wasn’t about turning away and embracing an entirely different tradition; it was about reconnecting.”
      
American Indians have had complicated histories with the Christian denominations that have performed missionary work among them, including the Mormon Church, known formally as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the West, where Mormons migrated during the 19th century while fleeing persecution, they and the Navajo worked together on the land and also fought over it, in a relationship defined by alternating periods of cooperation and strife.
 
What set the Mormons apart from other missionary groups is the role they ascribed to American Indians in their holy scriptures as descendants of the Lamanites — rebellious nonbelievers whose conversion could help the Mormons build God’s kingdom on earth.
 
“There’s this paradoxical sense in which the Lamanites are both a rebellious and wicked people, but they’re also key to the consummation of history and they’re central actors in the Mormon scriptural drama,” said Peter J. Thuesen, the chairman of the department of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, whose research explores the role of Mormonism in American culture. “No other form of Christianity gives the native people such a unique place in their story.”
      
In paintings adorning the church’s building in Tuba City, a structure made striking by the modest homes that surround it, American Indians listen as Jesus preaches to them. According to Mormon belief, Indians were the first people to whom he ministered when he came to the Americas after his resurrection.
      
The connection is one of the ways the church attracts people like Wayne Smith, whom Ms. Smith married last year in the church.
      
A retired ironworker, Mr. Smith, 52, is among the tens of thousands of American Indians, most of them Navajo, who were recruited as children for placement in Mormon homes outside the reservation, under a contentious program that was promoted as a way to give the children a chance at a good education — but that removed them from their native culture.
      
The program began just as soldiers were returning from World War II, a time of “profound breakdown of community,” said Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, a distinguished professor in the humanities at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. For parents, the Mormons’ ban on alcohol and emphasis on a measured lifestyle stood in stark contrast to the harsh realities of life on the reservation, and delivering children was seen as “the most realistic way to give them a leg up,” Ms. Maffly-Kipp said.
      
Mr. Smith recalled that the program gave him a sense of self-worth.
      
“Here was an outside group of people telling me I wasn’t just someone who was poor,” he said, “that I had a great heritage, that I have potential.”
      
Mr. Justice and the missionaries who travel the dirt roads here are working to spread the message, knocking on doors and offering prayers. Their encounters usually include an invitation: Come by the church on Sunday to learn more.
      
“The thing about us is,” said Mr. Justice, referring to his flock, “is that we take care of one another.”
 
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