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.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

LDS missionary finds his own Jr. Jazz jersey while serving in Africa

(by Sarah Petersen 5-5-17)

Parker Strong, a 19-year-old from Centerville, Utah, sat on a tro-tro in West Africa. The Ghanaian public transportation was overcrowded and passengers began to pass their goods back for others to help hold. Strong was handed a goat to keep on his lap. It breathed on his face and he looked out the window at the rain forest he was driving through.

"In that moment it just hit me," Strong said. "'I’m in the middle of West Africa.’"

Strong, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was called to serve in the Ghana Accra Mission in 2013. Although he would eventually get used to the culture and learn several different dialects of the language, upon arriving in Ghana, Strong had some major adjustments.

The first three months Strong viewed as an adventure. Waking up each morning to fetch water, using a bucket to shower and living life without electricity seemed exciting. However, the excitement began to wear off as the reality of his new circumstances settled in. Along with longing for the luxuries he had at home, Strong began to have doubts that Ghana was the place he could share the gospel the best.

"I think it’s natural for most missionaries to feel that way," Strong said. "‘Is this really where I’m supposed to be? Is this what I should be doing with my life?’"

One night in September, such thoughts lingered in Strong's mind as he tried to help teach a lesson with his companion. They sat across from a sewer in a tiny fishing village. The sun was beginning to set when Strong looked up and saw a young boy walking by wearing a Jr. Jazz basketball jersey.

"I looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the Jazz, that’s my hometown team,’" Strong said. "That alone was so exciting because it was something I recognized from home. ... I looked at that and was like, 'Wow, that really speaks to me, that’s so cool. It’s a little piece of home in the middle of West Africa."

Strong asked the boy to come over, and asked if he could look at the jersey. The boy took it off and handed it to Strong. As he held it on his lap, Strong noticed the jersey was a number zero, the same number he had worn many years ago in Jr. Jazz. Strong flipped the jersey inside out to see the reversible side.

"Inside I saw a signature, and there in terrible handwriting, probably the handwriting of a 10-year-old it said, ‘Parker B. Strong,'" Strong said. "That’s my name. It was an out-of-body experience, it was like, ‘Is this real? Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? Is this really in my hands right in front of me?'"

Overcome by emotion, Strong immediately felt love and awareness from God.

"Literally all my fears, all of my doubts, everything was laid to rest," Strong said. "The odds of that happening are extremely astronomical. That just doesn’t happen, that’s not a coincidence. I looked at it and got pretty teary thinking of that and looking at it. Here in my hands was evidence that God loved me and that he was telling me that I was where I was supposed to be. It was in the form of a Jr. Jazz jersey that I’m sure I had signed at the time because I thought I was going to be some big star and it was going to sell for millions of dollars. But no, sitting in Ghana, West Africa, was my jersey and it was more priceless to me than it ever could have been."

Somehow, when Strong had given his jersey to his mother years before, and after donations to the DI, this Jr. Jazz jersey had found its way back to Strong.

"It was really just there to tell me that I was loved and cared for and that my Heavenly Father was watching over me," Strong said. "He knew me and he knew my prayers, he knew everything I had said to him and this really was where I was supposed to be, where I was supposed to grow."

Strong handed the jersey back to the confused boy and tried to control his emotions to continue on with the lesson he was teaching. However, that experience impacted Strong throughout his mission and continues to impact him in his life today.

"My life is going to be directed how God wants it to be as long as I’m willing to pay attention," Strong said. "God really does hear you. He honestly cares and loves you. You may not always feel it at times, but he’s there. I’ve loved having that knowledge, it’s a happy way to live."


Friday, May 12, 2017

'The Benedict Option' or 'The Brigham Option'?

Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia Italy

(by Daniel Peterson 5-11-17)

A just-published book by Rod Dreher, an American writer and blogger on politics and religion, began to garner an unusual level of attention even before its publication. It continues to generate vigorous responses, both pro and con. Titled “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World” (Sentinel, $25), it’s a book that I think members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might profitably read and discuss, as well.

Moreover, given our unique doctrinal perspective and history, I believe that we have something to contribute to the conversation. (So does Dreher himself: “The Latter-day Saints … may not be Orthodox Christians,” he says, “but they are exceptionally good at doing the kind of community building” that he advocates.)

Dreher’s view of the current state of “Christendom,” as it was once called, is distinctly negative: “The light of Christianity,” he writes, “is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.”

“Today,” he continues, “we can see that we’ve lost on every front and that the swift and relentless currents of secularism have overwhelmed our flimsy barriers. Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation’s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians. We tell ourselves that these developments have been imposed by a liberal elite, because we find the truth intolerable: The American people, either actively or passively, approve. … American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture … in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.”

But Dreher’s book isn’t solely or even largely a lament about the decline of Western civilization. (Some critics think his pessimism exaggerated, which would, itself, be a good discussion topic.) Mostly, it’s a set of recommendations and exhortations to Christians concerning how to act and respond in a culture that no longer supports much of Christian morality, let alone Christian belief.

“Could it be,” he asks, “that the best way to fight the flood is to … stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.”

Dreher derives the title of his book not from the recent Pope Benedict XVI, whom he admires, but from the sixth-century St. Benedict of Nursia, who founded about a dozen monastic communities and authored the famous Benedictine “Rule” for monks. Because of his pivotal role in Europe’s emergence from the so-called “Dark Ages” that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, Benedict is considered the continent’s “patron saint.” The choice of Benedict’s name already suggests something of Dreher’s overall advice for Christians, which involves a combination of withdrawal, sinking deeper roots, and re-engagement.

Mormons, who don’t particularly share Dreher’s passionate admiration of monasteries and convents, may think that such advice has little relevance to them. However, in our doctrine of “gathering” and our simultaneous commitment to preaching the gospel, as well as in our focus on local ward and branch communities and on covenants made in very private sacred places and our doctrine of being “in the world but not of the world,” we too believe in a religious practice that combines withdrawal and sinking deep personal and communal roots with lives completely engaged in the world around us.

When Dreher says that, “if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, their faith will not survive for another generation or two in this culture of death,” he’s speaking our language.

I found every page of “The Benedict Option” stimulating even when I disagreed, and I strongly recommend it to my fellow Latter-day Saints for discussion.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Book of Mormon: What is uniquely ours?

(by Nate Sharp 4-24-17)

President Thomas S. Monson’s powerful witness of the Book of Mormon in April 2017 general conference and his invitation to each of us to “prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day” have helped bring a renewed focus on and appreciation for the Book of Mormon into my life this month. President Monson’s message has also helped me recall some of the building blocks of my own testimony of the Book of Mormon.
In his remarkable October 1988 general conference address titled “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” President Ezra Taft Benson taught:

I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon…I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. You must help with this burden and with this blessing which He has placed on the whole Church, even all the children of Zion.

President Benson also quoted Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s statement: “Few men on earth, either in or out of the Church, have caught the vision of what the Book of Mormon is all about. Few are they among men who know the part it has played and will yet play in preparing the way for the coming of Him of whom it is a new witness.”

One of my most memorable experiences with the Book of Mormon came at about halfway through my full-time mission in South Korea. My companion and I were teaching a Korean woman, Sister Lee, who yearned for a testimony of Jesus Christ and had previously been unable to find answers to her most important questions. One afternoon, we were reading from the Book of Mormon with Sister Lee and asked her to read Alma 12:24 out loud:

And we see that death comes upon mankind… which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. After she finished reading, Sister Lee raised her eyes and said, “All my life I have searched for the truth that I have now found in a single verse of the Book of Mormon.” Through that one short verse, Sister Lee finally felt she understood the purpose of this life and the Spirit of the Lord bore witness to her concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Sister Lee later received baptism and joined the Church. This experience on my mission taught me that the power of the Book of Mormon’s witness of Jesus Christ comes not just by what the Book of Mormon says but also by how the Book of Mormon says it.

Several years after returning from Korea, I began making note of short scriptural phrases in the Book of Mormon that didn’t seem to occur anywhere else in the Standard Works. Soon I set out to identify some of the Book of Mormon’s unique contributions:
  1. First, I carefully read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, underlining all the short, meaningful, powerful phrases that stood out to me.
  2. I then typed each of those phrases into a computer spreadsheet, reviewed the list, and narrowed it down to the 685 phrases that I felt were most meaningful.
  3. Using computer software, I searched for matches (including slight variations or similar phrases) for each Book of Mormon phrase in the Standard Works (the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, and Words of Joseph Smith. My intent in searching Joseph Smith’s teachings was to see if he incorporated any of the unique Book of Mormon phrases into his personal manner of speaking or writing.
  4. From the search results, I compiled a chart that indicates where and how often the phrase or any close variation of the phrase occurs in these sources.
After I finished my searching, I was astonished at the remarkable, matchless contributions of the Book of Mormon, both in terms of the plain and precious doctrines it helped to restore and also in terms of shaping the language Latter-day Saints use to understand and articulate our religious beliefs and experiences. Some of the Book of Mormon phrases I identified are doctrinal; some are poetic; some are just unique ways of expressing ideas. All are contributions to the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and many have been adopted into the way members of the Church speak about the gospel in personal or casual conversation—often without their recognizing the unique origin of the phrase in the Book of Mormon. For example, when we speak of our desire to be “an instrument in the hands of God,” most of us fail to realize that this phrase was canonized first in the Book of Mormon.

Of the 685 short phrases I identified in the Book of Mormon, 463 of them (67.6 percent) occur only in the Book of Mormon and never in any form in the other Standard Works or in the writings and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The following list includes some of my favorite phrases that were canonized first in the Book of Mormon:
  • a God of miracles
  • a mighty change
  • a perfect brightness of hope
  • a snare of the adversary
  • a tree springing up unto everlasting life
  • an eye of faith
  • appease the demands of justice
  • arraigned before the bar of Christ
  • baptized unto repentance
  • captivity of the devil
  • clothed with purity
  • due time of the Lord
  • dwindle in unbelief
  • easy to be entreated
  • exercise faith
  • faith unto repentance
  • fall into transgression
  • feast upon the words of Christ
  • full purpose of heart
  • fullness of the Gospel
  • infinite atonement
  • instrument(s) in the hand(s) of God
  • light and knowledge
  • opposition in all things
  • our first parents (Adam and Eve)
  • plan of happiness
  • plan of redemption
  • plan of salvation
  • probationary state
  • procrastinate the day of your repentance
  • ripe in iniquity
  • sincerity of heart
  • spiritual death
  • steadfast and immovable
  • swift to do iniquity
  • the chains of hell
  • the condescension of God
  • the cup of the wrath of God
  • the depths of humility
  • the depths of sorrow
  • the father of all lies
  • the father of contention
  • the fountain of all righteousness
  • the grasp of justice
  • the light of Christ
  • the spirit of revelation
  • the sword of justice
  • the tongue of angels
  • the tribunal of God
  • the wisdom of the world
  • unpardonable sin
  • unshaken faith
  • weary of good works
  • weighed down with sorrow
  • wickedness never was happiness
  • with real intent
  • wound their delicate minds
  • ye have tasted this light
  • yielding their hearts unto God
My lifelong study of the Book of Mormon has strengthened my testimony of its truthfulness and of the Lord’s hand in preserving this sacred scripture for our day. The fact that the Book of Mormon has canonized doctrines such as the plan of salvation and the infinite atonement is part of what makes it such a powerful testament of the Lord Jesus Christ. As prophesied in Ezekiel 37:15-17, the Book of Mormon and the Bible have come together as companion witnesses of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. I am thankful that the Book of Mormon has changed my heart and changed my life through its powerful witness of the Savior and through the amazing spirit it brings into my life each time I open its pages.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An excellent commentary from a friend of a friend on Facebook

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention this now after 14 years, but I'm willing to take a little risk if it will bring a little more attention to this issue, because I feel very strongly about the message here.

I have a personal connection to the Elizabeth Smart story and have always followed it with particular interest because I was the foreman on a federal grand jury assigned to this case in Salt Lake City at the time. There were two grand juries convened at that time and we met on alternating Wednesdays, and I think the other grand jury may have been the primary one on the case, but we were involved because they couldn't always wait two weeks if action was needed.

I don't have any unique information (so don't ask), and I ended my term early when we moved to North Carolina, but I did pray a lot for this girl, before and after she was found, and as the father of three girls am still emotionally affected when I hear about her. I am glad that science and research and empirical evidence are coming around to confirm what our hearts and conscience and common sense have been telling us about pornography all along.

Society is appalled at stories like Elizabeth Smart's, but judging from the continued growth of the pornography industry in the 14 years or so ensuing years, we are apparently not appalled enough to stand against this contributing source of the problem.

There is a fight against sex trafficking, but not nearly as valiant a fight against the industry that finances it and benefits the most from it.

We talk about gun control as a means of reducing violent crimes, but what about pornography control as a means of reducing violent sex crimes?

We talk about being vigilant about protecting our children from potential predators, but are we willing to take steps to reduce the development of these predators in the first place?

Women have made so much progress in improving their rights and roles in society as compared to men's traditional rights and roles, and yet for some reason it is still acceptable (in fact, increasingly so) for women to suborn themselves to (primarily) men by selling provocative images of themselves--and for (primarily) men to buy them--even when doing so can put other women and children (like Elizabeth Smart) at risk.

There was a time when the tobacco industry denied the harmful effects of the products it was selling, even as the science and data piled up against it--until one day the overwhelming weight of the truth brought the entire industry to its knees and forced it to pay billions of dollars to its victims and put warning labels on its products. This backlash against the tobacco industry included acknowledging the danger of second-hand smoke--in other words, that using their products could put innocent third parties at risk.

I hope that as the science and data continue to pile up about the pornography industry, it will meet a similar fate--and that innocent third parties like Elizabeth Smart and other sex-crime victims (and potentially our own children) will get the most protection society can provide them. Denying the truth doesn't change the truth. So let's stop denying it.

Richard Morrell

Monday, May 1, 2017

An early reference to the First Vision

(by Daniel Peterson 4-27-17)

Some critics of Mormonism deny that any reference to Joseph Smith’s First Vision existed prior to 1832. This claim is false: Hostile witnesses had demonstrably heard elements of the First Vision by 1827, and newspaper reports strongly suggest that Latter-day Saint missionaries were alluding to it by early 1831 (i.e., within a year of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

It’s true, however, that Smith’s written accounts of the First Vision don’t come until later. This is scarcely surprising, since his wasn’t a bookish upbringing. His parents, he wrote in his 1832 autobiographical sketch, which is available on, “being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine children and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructtid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which const(it)uted my whole literary acquirements.”

Moreover, he seems initially to have regarded his First Vision as a private personal experience and not as the mighty dispensation-opening theophany that we now treasure for its doctrinal richness. The fire-and-brimstone sermons around Palmyra, New York, had left him worried about “the all importent concerns for the well fare of my immortal Soul,” he wrote in 1832. “My mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins.”

“Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy,” he wrote. Significantly, the first divine words that he quotes in 1832 are “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments.”

His public ministry, he may originally have felt, began only with Moroni and the Book of Mormon. And then, in a revelation given at the organization of the church on April 6, 1830, came the Lord’s command: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1).

The Prophet Joseph presented a document called the “Articles and Covenants” — revealed through him in April 1830 — to a conference on June 9, 1830, and Oliver Cowdery read it aloud during another conference on Sept. 26, 1830. It briefly summarizes the story of the Restoration to that point, including an unmistakable reference to the First Vision. Later, it was published in the non-Mormon Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph on April 19, 1831. It is readily available today in Doctrine and Covenants 20:5-12: “After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world.” So reads Doctrine and Covenants 20:5, which refers unmistakably to the First Vision and to the subsequent “weakness and imperfections” confessed in Joseph Smith — History 1:28-30.

Verses 20:6-8 then summarize Moroni’s visit:

“But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerelythrough faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness; and gave unto him commandments which inspired him; and gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon.”

Verses 20:9-12 continue in historical sequence, alluding to the Book of Mormon witnesses and explaining some of the significance of the book, “which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also; which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.”

This well-documented history poses a potent challenge:

“Therefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work. And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life; but those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Meet Greg Trimble, the California man behind the viral Mormon blog

(by Trent Toone 4-24-17)

In recent years, Greg Trimble's blog posts in defense of the LDS Church have been read by millions.
But at age 21, Greg Trimble wasn't an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A spiritual awakening the night before his sophomore season of college baseball changed the course of his life, he told the Deseret News.

"God had had it up to here with me. He was done 'nudging' me. That night … I had what I would consider a Godly beat down. It was almost as if the next day held some sort of cosmic significance in my life," Trimble said. "It was as strong of a spiritual experience as I have ever had in my life up to that point and even until now. The message? Quit baseball. Drop your scholarship. Enlist in God’s army."
Who is Greg Trimble? The blogger's bio on his website is pretty disarming.

"I’m supposed to jot down a bunch of important credentials here that will convince you that I’m some kind of great writer, but really, I’m just a normal guy, leading a very normal life," Trimble writes.

"Above all, I love God and my family. I love to write and hope that something I say helps someone have a better day. I just want to do some good in this crazy world."

It’s a simple yet straightforward introduction to a man whose blog has received approximately 7 million page views and attracted tens of thousands of social media followers in just a few years. In truth, Trimble has been told his blog has more digital reach than some news outlets. Not bad for a guy who once got a "D" in high school language arts.

Trimble, 36, husband and father of two, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and resides in Riverside, California. By day he runs two companies: a digital marketing agency that helps businesses do better online, Lemonade Stand, and Yalla, a platform for team, task and collaboration management.

By night he writes primarily about his faith and religious topics, although he reserves the right to share his thoughts on business, sports, life and anything else he finds interesting. It’s why he titled his blog, "Life Through My Eyes" (

"If you don’t like what I write … I hope we can still be friends!" Trimble writes.

Trimble’s motivation to be a digital missionary can be traced back to that life-changing decision that led to a mission, a foundational experience that continues to bless his life. While sending his testimony into cyberspace has resulted in some joining the church, a host of negative comments almost overwhelmed him to the point of quitting. Yet the man behind the blog has continued to write, even recently publishing his first book, with two more in the works.

It’s his "authentic voice" that attracts an audience, his wife, Kristyn Trimble said.

"I get why people love reading his stuff," she said. "He has a great testimony. He speaks from the heart, he’s real. He says things in a way that people can relate."

God's Army

At the time of Trimble's religious awakening in 2001, he was preparing to start his sophomore season as a team captain for the Orange Coast College baseball team. He had just accepted a scholarship to transfer and play baseball at Hawaii Pacific University and was even talking to some major league scouts. When he wasn't playing baseball, he was surfing.

Trimble hadn't been active in the LDS faith for a few years and had no interest in serving a mission.
"Life was shaping up the way I'd planned," he said. "I couldn't have dreamed up a better situation at age 21."

Then came the sleepless night that changed his life. What actually happened is hard for Trimble to describe. It was like a spiritual operation on his soul, and what he learned was unmistakable. And had he not walked away right then, he might not have had the fortitude to do so later, Trimble said.

"I learned that 'God will feel after you and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings,'" Trimble said, quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith. "No, the angel Moroni didn't appear to me in my room, but the visions of my responsibilities and foreordination were clear and as tangible as if that angel were standing above me in the air."

As painful as it was, Trimble obeyed. He handed in his uniform on opening day. His coaches told him he was crazy.

When he called the coach in Hawaii, he was essentially told in colorful and angry terms, "thanks for nothing," Trimble said.

Trimble moved home and began preparing for a mission. Within a few weeks he met Kristyn and they promptly fell in love. The soon-to-be older missionary was tempted stay home and marry her, but knew he needed to serve. In time he was assigned to labor in Michigan.

Ready to serve

People who think Trimble is a great writer laugh when he tells them about his struggles with English in school. He didn’t even like reading or writing until he became interested in the gospel. Before reading the Book of Mormon, he would only "skim stuff and try to get by," he said.

As he prepared for his mission, Trimble read the standard works and as many gospel-related books as he could find before writing a book report on each one. The purpose was to better retain information and create notes he could carry into the mission field, he said.

"I wanted to show the Lord I was sorry for being a bum. From the day I committed to him, I wanted to go full throttle. If I was going to give up my dream of playing baseball and leave Kristyn, I wanted to make sure those two years were meaningful," Trimble said. "Now I see the role that a mission has played in everything that I’ve done and am currently doing. The contents of those book reports became the inspiration behind the content of my blogs."
Another future blogging lesson came to Trimble as a missionary in Michigan. A turning point came when he realized people don’t respond positively to confrontational Bible-bashing or doctrinal arguments. A more effective method is to listen, love and share truth, he said.

"The first half of my mission I thought I had to win with the gospel," Trimble said. "I learned to stand for truth, make your point heard, and leave it at that. Don’t argue if someone has a difference of opinion. I’ve tried to carry that over to the blog."

Going viral

Trimble started blogging in 2014 with zero online presence and fully aware of his writing woes. But he was determined to share what he knew to be true. Within a few months, his blogs were going viral. He remembers taking a phone call from a man at a news website who wanted to know his "strategy."

What strategy?

"I don’t know. I was surprised as anything. I just wrote a few not-well-written blogs about gospel stuff and people liked them for some reason. They got shared a bunch, and that energized me to write more," said Trimble, who serves as the high councilor over missionary work in his California LDS stake. "He was telling me you get more traffic than a lot of news stations get."

Trimble wrote about his "10 Most Read Blog Posts" on his website, displaying page views and shares to date.

As he continued to post his thoughts, opinions and impressions related to gospel topics and current events, Trimble began receiving messages from people around the world who had read his words and felt guided to meet with missionaries, to get baptized or return to activity. This both fascinated and fueled him to keep writing.

"I looked at the blog as an opportunity to be a missionary," Trimble said.

But along with the golden experiences came tremendous opposition in the form of brutal, mean-spirited comments. His most viewed post, "Quit Acting Like Christ Was Accepting of Everyone and Everything," drew more than 500 comments, some of which were especially vicious. His wife told him not to read the comments, but he couldn’t resist. It got so bad that Trimble almost gave up blogging, he said.

"You think you can block it out, but it was depressing and affected me in all walks of life. I had experienced opposition on my mission, but never how vocal and mean people can be on the Internet," Trimble said. "My wife told me to 'Man up' and deal with it, that I was doing a lot of good. So I started writing again."

Part of Trimble’s success might be attributed to how he tackles tough topics and fearlessness in sharing his opinions, Kristyn Trimble said.

"Come what may, I guess. I think so many people get sick of hearing from entities. But to hear a personal opinion from a real person can sometimes be more meaningful and touching,” she said.

Lesson and tips

What Trimble likes most about blogging is making friends with people who are critical of the LDS Church.

"My goal has been to reach out, be kind and try to make friends with them. I like getting to know them, hearing their thoughts," Trimble said. "It’s actually helped to strengthen my testimony."

His three-step approach is to first, recognize he doesn’t know everything, so be open to what others are sharing and listen. Second, don’t lose your cool; maintain an open dialogue. Third, show love and find common ground, regardless of differences or disputes.

"What it boils down to for me is I haven’t found anything that can give me a brighter hope than Mormonism," Trimble said.

When it comes to writing a good blog, Trimble has shared these five tips.

First, ignore what others say about your writing; Second, don’t be so technical, write as if you are having a conversation; third, record thoughts and impressions using available technology; Fourth, don’t give up so fast and write consistently; Fifth, be passionate about your topic.

It’s been exciting for Trimble family to see its husband and father be a pioneer in digital missionary work, Kristyn Trimble said.

"I wish so many people would pick up what he is doing, because of the success and people he has helped," she said. "How many more could be reached?"

Champion of fatherhood

Trimble recently released his first book, "For Dads Who Stay and Fight: How to be a Hero in Your Family." It was published by Cedar Fort and comes with a foreword by Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad. Trimble hopes to publish two more books with Cedar Fort in the coming year.

The idea for this book came to Trimble as he and his family were driving across the South Dakota plains on a vacation. He realized it was their first real family outing in nearly eight years. This turned his thoughts to the importance of fatherhood and the millions of American children who grow up without fathers. It also reminded him of several general conference talks on the topic by LDS Church leaders.
Trimble’s book offers information, inspiring stories, insights and ideas for seasoned fathers, future fathers and women who are looking for the right man to marry.
"The reason I wrote this book was so men, women, boys and girls would read it and that it might inspire a dad movement across the globe," Trimble said.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The unexpected Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson 4-20-17)

So you’ve decided to declare yourself a prophet and to establish a new religion! In order to accomplish that, you obviously need to produce one or more revelations and to persuade others to believe in them.

Historically, the typical route is to announce you’ve received at least one message from God. The procedure is straightforward: Simply say that you did — which may perhaps even be true. No corroborating witnesses are required, nor need you supply any confirming material objects or evidences. Your prophetic experience can be entirely personal to you — usually such experiences are. It can be totally subjective and, thus, largely beyond proof or disproof.
Nobody else shared Isaiah’s vision of God enthroned in the temple (Isaiah 6). Apparently, none of Ezekiel’s fellow Israelite captives saw “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” with him during their exile by the river of Chebar (Ezekiel 1). The Lord called the boy Samuel while Eli the priest slept soundly nearby (1 Samuel 3). The word of the Lord came privately to Micah and, although he was “among the herdmen of Tekoa,” it came to Amos alone. Abraham’s revelations were never shared with others. When these prophets announced their messages, they supplied no chorus of supporting witnesses. They offered no physical evidence to fortify their claims.

Likewise, Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could have been an entirely plausible prophet on the basis of just his personal revelations. Instead, his public ministry begins with a very different kind of revelation: the Book of Mormon.

He could have produced a series of short revelatory documents and teachings over an extended length of time — just like the Doctrine and Covenants, in fact. But what happened at first, rather, was the dictation of a lengthy, complex book within the stunningly short period of just two or three months. The Book of Mormon recounts a thousand years of history for a people of whom none of his contemporaries had ever heard. (And throwing in the Jaredites just makes the story longer and more complex.) Joseph Smith's neighbors expected no such thing. They wouldn’t have missed it had it not been provided.

In offering such a history, with its multitudes of interacting characters, scores of place names and geographical descriptions, and complicated story and chronology, a fraud would have exposed himself to a host of risks and possible pitfalls. But to what end? It seems, superficially at least, quite unnecessary.

Ellen G. White, at the foundation of Seventh-day Adventism, claimed approximately 2,000 visions and prophetic dreams over seven decades but produced nothing like the Book of Mormon. Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” — fundamental to Christian Science — isn’t remotely comparable.

What’s more, Joseph provides corroborating witnesses who also claim to have encountered divine beings and to have seen and hefted substantial material objects. (In fact, a remarkably large number of his subsequent revelations are received in company with others — see this previous column "Many of Prophet's revelations were shared experiences," Feb. 24, 2011).

By contrast, the remarkable Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (d. 1772) had no associates with him in his dreams and visions. He took nobody with him on his visits to heaven and hell.

Similarly, during Muhammad’s 22 years as a prophet, his seventh-century Arabian neighbors shared none of his visions or revelations, and the origins of the Quran involved no tangible objects. (For a relatively adequate biography, see Daniel Peterson, “Muhammad: Prophet of God.” ) But Islam quickly became one of the world’s great religions.

None of this is to argue that Swedenborg, White, Eddy or Muhammad — let alone Isaiah, Ezekiel, Samuel, Micah, Amos and Abraham — were frauds. (I don’t believe they were.) It does suggest the claims of Joseph Smith represent a rather unusual challenge to those who would like to dismiss them. In my judgment, it is an unusually formidable one.

Of course, there’s also the question of what price a person setting out on a career as prophet and religion-builder would be willing to pay. In Joseph’s case, the price entailed seemingly endless lawsuits, mockery and persecution, tarring and feathering, substantial periods of imprisonment, being driven from state to state, watching friends and family suffer on account of his claims and, in the end, going — apparently quite consciously — to violent death at the hands of a mob.

There are, a good job counselor might have suggested, better and less demanding career choices.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Paul and the nature of the Resurrection

(by Daniel Peterson 4-6-17)

One of the most sophisticated arguments against the traditional belief that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and that the tomb was empty on Easter morning, centers on a reading of 1 Corinthians 15:42-45. It contends that the apostle Paul, who apparently never met the mortal Jesus and who wasn’t present for the resurrected Savior’s pre-ascension visits with his surviving original apostles, understood the risen body of Jesus Christ to be an immaterial one, not the physical body that Jesus had during his earthly ministry.

If this claim were true, it would be of enormous importance. For Paul, as for the other apostles and for the Savior himself, the Resurrection of Jesus is the miracle the confirms the claims of Christ (see, for example, Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4; John 2:18-21; Acts 2:23-32; 10:39-43; 13:28-39; 17:2-3, 30-32; Romans 1:4). But almost all scholars believe Paul’s letters to have been written before the writing of the four New Testament Gospels — which, if true, makes him the earliest known author to refer to the Resurrection of Jesus.
Did he, though, understand that event in a fundamentally different way from the writers of the four Gospels? Strikingly, although the Gospels are very clear that the tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday, and although they are replete with accounts of disciples seeing the risen Lord, hearing him, walking with him, even touching him and seeing him eat, Paul wasn’t even a Christian at the time, and he never mentions an empty tomb.

Had he not heard about an empty tomb? Arguments from silence are notoriously weak, of course, and it’s easy to think of other reasonable explanations for his silence on the matter.

Usually, for instance, he was writing to local Christian congregations about pressing issues that didn’t revolve around the precise nature of the Resurrection. And anyway, the people to whom he was writing were typically those whom he himself had already taught and converted, and it’s entirely possible that he had told them the story of the empty tomb and that his letters presumed it.

But, argues the evangelical New Testament historian Michael Licona, the claim that Paul believed Christ’s Resurrection to have been immaterial rather than physical seems unsustainable on other grounds. For one thing, as the great British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues in his impressive 2003 book “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” Jewish understanding of the concept of resurrection during the time just before and after Jesus always connected it with the return to life of dead physical bodies, the revivification of — to put it starkly — of corpses. Conceivably, Paul could have rejected that doctrine. But there’s no obvious evidence of such rejection.

In passages such as Romans 8:11 and Philippians 3:21, Paul plainly regards the resurrection of Jesus as a model for the future resurrection of all humankind. Accordingly, we can reason back from his comment about general resurrection at 1 Corinthians 15:42-54 to his understanding of the resurrection of Jesus.

Significantly, a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 shows that what is “sown” and what is “raised” is the same thing, just as the “seed” of 15:36-38, to which Paul compares our bodies, is the same thing that “dies” and then is “quickened,” or “made alive.” Likewise, in 15:53-54, it is “this corruptible” that “must put on incorruption,” and “this mortal” that “must put on incorruption.” This strongly implies the resurrection of the dead body, not merely an incorporeal existence after death.

Perhaps the most important verse to be considered is 1 Corinthians 15:44, which distinguishes the “natural body” of mortality from the “spiritual body” of the resurrection. Some argue that these terms contrast a material body from an immaterial one. But a survey of 11 centuries of Greek usage fails to find a single instance where the word “psychikon” (translated as “natural” in the King James Bible) means “physical” or “material,” nor even one case where the word “pneumatikon” (King James “spiritual”) means “immaterial.” Rather, it refers to a state of being connected with and reflecting the Spirit of God.

In other words, Paul cannot be recruited as a witness against Easter’s glorious news that the tomb of Jesus was empty.

The argument in this column is substantially drawn from Michael Licona’s fuller and more detailed discussion, “Paul on the Nature of the Resurrection Body,” in “Buried Hope or Risen Savior? The Search for the Jesus Tomb” (B&H Academic, Nashville, 2008), edited by Charles L. Quarles, which I recommend.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Take the Benedict Option. Please.

(by Mark Silk 3-31-17)

It’s a little curious that the hot religious title of the moment should be The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher’s prescription for living the Christian life in the wake of liberals winning the culture war.

Because the war doesn’t actually seem to be over, what with states now empowered to lift federal funding of Planned Parenthood, North Carolina just pretending to roll back its transgender bathroom prohibition, and the likely appointment of a Supreme Court judge who strongly supports the social conservative understanding of religious liberty.

Nevertheless, Dreher believes that Obergefell, the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision, signified the decisive defeat of traditional values and the beginning of a new age of darkness. And so he proposes a strategic retreat into morally gated communities of faith.

I say fine. Send your kids to religious schools. Restrict access to TV and the Internet. Make your church your life.

This has been an American way at least since Mother Ann Lee began establishing Shaker villages in the early days of the republic.

These days there’s no shortage of Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Fundamentalist Mormons and home-schoolers of various stripes who, finding themselves at odds with mainstream values, keep themselves apart. Let there now be Ben-Opticians.

But as a sometime medieval historian, I wish Dreher had found another way to pitch his plea than monasticism in the so-called Dark Ages.

After the collapse of Roman authority in the late 5th century the real Christian heroes, for my money, were the bishops of Gaul, many of them married men, who kept their communities together, cared for the poor, and negotiated with the Germanic tribes who had seized power in their neighborhoods.

As for the monks, they were about the business of securing their own salvation. A monastery or convent was where you retreated, often as an older person, when you began thinking of the life to come.

Inside, they lived a well ordered existence — or were supposed to — under the Benedictine Rule. For those who could write, this meant going to the scriptorium and copying not only biblical and Christian texts but also Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, and other ancient Latin authors about as antagonistic to Christian values as one could imagine.

Far from being separated from the existing social order, the monks were deeply embedded in it. Rich people endowed them with lands and workers, and received in return the prayers that would, they hoped, ease their way into heaven.

Within their prosperous walls, the Benedictines came to serve as religious surrogates for the rest of medieval society. They were “those who prayed.” Rarely did anyone else make confession or take Communion.

What the original Benedict Option brought about, then, was a spiritual regime notably different from the way faithful Christians understand their religion today. I don’t think Dreher would have wanted any part of it.


A closer look at ‘The Benedict Option’ yields suggestions worth considering

(by Jacob Lupfer 3-31-17)

Last week I wrote about the imperative to keep the culture war’s losers engaged in public life.

The issue has renewed salience because Rod Dreher wrote a best-selling book about how traditionalist Christians should respond to their loss of cultural influence.

I used Dreher’s book as a jumping-off point for my argument that government, media, business and the arts should be hospitable to the untold millions who will continue to hold traditional beliefs about sex and God.

And while Dreher appreciated my broad-minded tolerance, he challenged me to actually read his book, “The Benedict Option.”

Happily, I did.

Dreher simply argues for cultivating a worldview, spiritual practices and habits of mind drawn from historic Christianity rather than from atomized, relativist and religiously individualist post-modern values.

“If Christians today do not stand firm on the rock of sacred order as revealed in our holy tradition, we will have nothing to stand on at all,” he warns.

Dreher takes readers on a brief tour of Western intellectual history from the smoldering ruins of the Roman Empire to the cultural rot of our own time. Predictably, things keep getting worse, and in his telling we stand on the precipice of a very dark age.

Biblical, revealed religion is just not going to withstand the scientific, philosophical and ethical attacks against it. Post-Christian ways of thinking took root so many centuries ago that by now, even most church people in the West accept them without even realizing it.

The unfortunate result of decayed religion in a secular age is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), a term coined by sociologists but which proves the fiercest enemy in Dreher’s analysis.

Indeed, readers who expect Dreher to lay the blame with same-sex marriage or gender-neutral bathrooms will be disappointed. He is more distraught about how MTD has replaced religion in our society, even infecting most churches.

“Though superficially Christian,” Dreher writes, “MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the self and material comfort.”

Those who think Dreher will defend right-wing politics and conspicuous consumption will also be surprised. He takes aim, perhaps more timidly than some would like, at conservative Christians’ uncritical enthusiasm for capitalism.

In telling the stories of communities that are living out forms of the Benedict Option, Dreher invites readers to think about whether and how they might incorporate some of these principles into their own lives.

The book ends with a stinging critique of the soul-numbing effects of our technology and devices. Here, Dreher channels C.S. Lewis’ critique of scientism in a way that is accessible and compelling.

I came to “The Benedict Option” as a writer engaged in debates about religion in public life. But I could not help reading the book as a man approaching middle age with three young children.

While I spend little time worrying about whether Rod Dreher’s prognosis for American civilization is too dark, I actually worry a great deal about my children’s future and what my wife and I should be doing to prepare them for it.

In vivid ways, my entire intellectual and religious life has been forged in the increasingly irreconcilable conflict between the Christian past and what Dreher sees as an anti-Christian future.

My formation in mainline Protestantism approximated Moralistic Therapeutic Deism more than I would like to admit. And though I feel mostly at home in modern culture, my emphatic opinion that Christianity has self-evidently been more of a boon than a bane to civilization puts me at odds with many secular progressives.

Dostoyevsky said, “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.” “The Benedict Option” got me thinking critically about how I might inculcate better habits in my children.

Dreher has plenty of critics, and many of them have thoughtful objections to his analysis. He generally overlooks nonwhite Christian voices, and his defensiveness and dismissiveness toward concerns about his racial blinders are unbecoming.

I still find Dreher’s assessment of the present situation in “The Benedict Option” too gloomy. But his analysis is provocative and his suggestions merit serious consideration, regardless of how dismal things actually are.

He makes a fairly strong, if unfashionable, case for medieval ways of thinking that are arguably at least as enlightened as our own.

I am not sure whether the Christian past holds the keys to human flourishing in our time. But Dreher gives me reasonable doubt that the future we are embracing will be much better.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Events surrounding world wars had significant impact on LDS Church and general conference

(by Trent Toone 4-3-17)

This spring marks two lesser-known anniversaries in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and both involve wars and general conference.

On April 6, 1917 — 100 years ago — the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. The LDS Church opened its 87th annual general conference on the same day.

In 1942 — 75 years ago — events related to World War II disrupted a special Relief Society celebration and Mormon missionary work, closed the doors of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, limited conference attendance to church leaders and led the First Presidency to release a historic statement.

Christine Marin, an archivist and general conference specialist in the Church History Department, said these conflicts affected everyone.

"There was such a significant impact across the United States and the world, specifically for members of the church around the world," said Marin, whose parents served in the military during World War II. "It was a different time, a time of fuel rations and limited food. .… So many Americans had the gold stars in their windows. … We are still feeling the ramifications of World War II today."

Marin recently reviewed with the Deseret News many of the significant events from World Wars I and II that intersected with general conference.

World War I

About three months after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith spoke in the Sunday morning session of the October 1914 general conference. He said missionaries serving in Germany, France, Austria and parts of other involved countries had been safely evacuated. The prophet also offered a "prayer of peace" for the world.

"We wish this morning to remember the admonition of the president of the United States, to offer prayer for peace to come upon the distracted nations of the world, for peace to abide upon those who are at peace, and to abound more abundantly," President Smith said. "I pray God that this spirit may especially enter into the hearts of this people … and that from them this spirit of peace and love for God and for our fellow man may go out into the world."

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson stood before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war on Germany. That declaration was formally accepted on April 6, the same day Latter-day Saints opened their 87th annual general conference. By June, Gen. John J. Pershing arrived in France with the first American forces, Marin said.

On Oct. 7, 1917, in general conference, President Smith asked members to vote on if the church should buy liberty bonds. The vote was unanimously in favor of buying the bonds, Marin said.

Latter-day Saints contributed to the war effort in other ways. In the October 1918 conference, President Smith said the Relief Society sold years of stored wheat to the government, Marin said.

The Great War Armistice took place on Nov. 11, 1918. President Smith died eight days later, on Nov. 19.

World War II

In April 1941 general conference, President J. Reuben Clark, first counselor in the First Presidency, gave a talk titled "To Be Peacemakers, the Destiny of America." In his remarks, President Clark said entering World War II was inevitable for the U.S.

"It does look as if only divine intervention of some kind can keep our sons on our own soil, fighting for our own cause, in defense of our own freedom and liberties," the church leader said.

Eight months later, on Dec. 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and in the process killed President Clark's son-in-law, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, who was aboard the battleship USS West Virginia. The Hawaii bombing brought the U.S. into the global conflict and changed America's way of life.

On Jan. 4, 1942, church members observed a special fast Sunday in conjunction with a national day of prayer called by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marin said.
Because of the war, the Relief Society was asked to curtail a celebration commemorating the centennial anniversary of its founding. Instead of a large event, smaller celebrations took place on ward and branch levels, Marin said.

In March, the First Presidency announced that for the duration of World War II it would call only older men who had been ordained high priests or Seventies on full-time missions, Marin said.

A state of wartime emergency was declared from March 1942 to August 1945. The Salt Lake Tabernacle was closed to the public, although radio broadcasts were allowed to continue. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's program "Music and the Spoken Word" continued in the Tabernacle. No one was invited except on the Sunday of general conference weekend, Marin said.

Because of fuel rations and limited travel, the April 1942 general conference was closed to general church membership. Only general authorities and presidencies of local stakes were permitted to attend. Conference sessions were moved to the Assembly Hall on Temple Square and the assembly room of the Salt Lake Temple. Some sessions of conference were broadcast on the radio, Marin said.

All radio stations were reduced in power, and KSL was cut back to 39,000 watts. KSL was later increased to 50,000 watts in October 1945, Marin said.

On April 6, 1942, President Clark delivered a landmark statement on war from the First Presidency. The message, later distributed as a pamphlet, gave direction and comfort to thousands of Latter-day Saints and their families who were serving in the military, Marin said.

"The church is and must be against war. … It cannot regard war as a righteous means of settling international disputes; these should and could be settled — the nations agreeing — by peaceful negotiation and adjustment," said President Clark, citing Doctrine and Covenants 98:16, which admonishes members to "renounce war and proclaim peace."

"The church itself cannot wage war, unless and until the Lord shall issue new commands. … But the church membership are citizens or subjects of sovereignties over which the church has no control."
Therefore, when Mormons are called "into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest civic duty requires that they meet that call. If, harkening to that call and obeying those in command over them, they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill, beyond the principle to be mentioned shortly," President Clark said. "For it would be a cruel God that would punish his children as moral sinners for acts done by them as the innocent
instrumentalities of a sovereign whom he had told them to obey and whose will they were powerless to resist."

LDS servicemen were promised the Lord would be with them if they prayed and kept the commandments, and regardless of what country they fought for, according to the Lord's will, they could return home and live happy lives, according to the book "What You Don't Know About the 100 Most Important Events in Church History."

Several future apostles and one church president served in World War II, including Elder David B. Haight, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder L. Tom Perry and President Boyd K. Packer and President Thomas S. Monson.

The First Presidency's position on war has not changed during subsequent conflicts.
In July 1942, church welfare leaders urged members to plant gardens, bottle fruit and vegetables, and store coal, Marin said.

The following month, the USS Brigham Young, a Liberty=class ship was christened, Marin said.
German forces surrendered in Italy on April 29, 1945, and a total and unconditional surrender was signed the first week of May. About a week later, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant died. A few months later, in August of that year, the Tabernacle was reopened to the public. The war in the Pacific ended in September. The first unrestricted conference in the Tabernacle since the start of the war opened on Oct. 5 of that year, Marin said.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Remembering the First Vision

(by Daniel Peterson 3-23-17)

Some years ago, two Latter-day Saint writers arrived separately at the conclusion that Joseph Smith’s First Vision probably occurred on Sunday, March 26, 1820. (See “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning: Sun 26 Mar 1820?” ) In other words, this coming Sunday may mark the 197th anniversary of the commencement of the Restoration.

Of course, we can’t be certain of the date. Unlike most of Joseph’s fundamental visions, it was received alone. (See "Many of Prophet's revelations were shared experiences," Feb. 24, 2011.) Nonetheless, the anniversary must be near at hand, and this seems a good time to reflect on that pivotal event. Fortunately, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made excellent resources available for such reflection, including a collection of various accounts of it that supplement the familiar 1838 narrative found in Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price in "First Vision Accounts" in the Gospel Topics section of For obscure reasons, Latter-day Saints have neglected these other versions of the story thus far. But we no longer have any excuse for doing so.

In this column, I’ll provide a few details from those other accounts that I find interesting:

In a May 24, 1844 interview, Joseph told Alexander Neibaur that, just prior to the First Vision, “his Mother & Br got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible the first Passage that struck him” was James 1:5. This agrees with Joseph's comment, in an August 1843 interview by David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, that he had found that passage “promiscuously” — which is to say, in the language of his time, randomly, without deliberate design.

The earliest formal account of the First Vision, recorded in 1832, has the Lord saying, “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.” This emphasis on personal forgiveness dovetails nicely with the implicit account of the First Vision and the visit of Moroni given at Doctrine and Covenants 20:5-8, which dates to April 1830, if not before.

And it agrees with an account from 1835 in which Joseph describes the details of his vision: “A pillar of fire appeared above my head,” he says, “it presently rested down upon me, and filled me with joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst, of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee.” (Note that, in this telling, the Father and the Son didn’t appear simultaneously, as we often assume, but sequentially.)

Orson Pratt’s 1840 narration of the story is second-hand, but, because of his long and close association with Joseph Smith, it’s of considerable interest: “While thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness.”

Strikingly, both the famous “Wentworth Letter” and Orson Hyde’s German-language pamphlet “Ein Ruf aus der W├╝ste” (each published in 1842) agree that the Father and Son were precisely identical to each other in appearance.

Afterwards, in the 1832 account, Joseph recalls that “my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart.”


Friday, March 24, 2017

What started out as a BYU devotional talk has become a new book on 'grace' for author Brad Wilcox

(by Trent Toone 3-22-17)

On July 12, 2011, author Brad Wilcox delivered a devotional speech at Brigham Young University titled "His Grace is Sufficient."
The message found an audience. Nearly six years later, the talk is the most viewed speech of all time among BYU speeches, and has more than 400,000 views on YouTube.

Because the message continues to resonate, Wilcox, an associate professor in the BYU Department of Ancient Scripture, has written a new version of the talk in book form and titled it "Changed Through His Grace."

"The purpose of this book is to help all of us choose to receive Christ's grace and more fully rejoice in the gift and the giver," Wilcox wrote in the book's introduction.

"We must understand what grace is, what it isn't and its connection to the Atonement," he wrote. "We need to know how a covenant relationship allows us to receive grace in greater and greater abundance and escape the bondage of addictions. Through the Holy Ghost — the messenger of grace — we can be strengthened, saved and transformed. As we more fully value and appreciate grace, we can offer it to others as liberally as it is offered to us."

One of the main questions addressed in the book is the argument about whether Mormons believe in being saved by grace.

"It is not the definition of grace that sets us apart from other Christians, but our larger and more comprehensive view of 'saved,'" Wilcox wrote.

"They see salvation as just getting into heaven. For us, salvation also includes the opportunity to become heavenly," Wilcox wrote. "That is where we are different, not in recognizing our total dependence on Christ, but because we see a bigger salvation."

Another part of the book involves looking at levels of grace.

"If grace is God's enabling power, how is it different from the gift of the Holy Ghost or the power with which we are endowed in temples, or priesthood power, etc.?" Wilcox wrote. "I propose that these are not different powers, but different levels of the same power. We do not do ordinances and make covenants as works in place of faith, but as outgrowths of faith. They are not evidences that we don't need grace, but rather that we are ready and willing to invite more and more grace into our lives."

The book is full of real-life accounts and personal experiences that demonstrate the power of Christ's grace, along with teachings from the scriptures and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In one chapter titled, "Succored by Grace," Wilcox tells about an Australian student named Tyler who had a cancerous brain tumor. While the battle against cancer is still ongoing, for now there is a happy ending as Tyler is preparing to get married in April, Wilcox wrote.

Wilcox has authored several books in recent years, including "The Continuous Atonement," "The Continuous Conversion" and "The 7-Day Christian." He is a popular speaker at BYU's Campus Education Week, Especially for Youth and Time Out for Women. He has served as a member of the Sunday School general board and as a LDS Church mission president in Santiago, Chile.


His Grace is Sufficient by Brad Wilcox

Thursday, March 23, 2017

LDS members assist in returning lost WWII flag to family of fallen Japanese soldier

(by Trent Toone 3-21-17)

A lost and forgotten World War II Japanese flag, found in an Alabama middle school closet 15 years ago, was recently returned to the son of the soldier who once carried it, thanks in part to a few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How it happened is something of a family history miracle, said Dennis Sellers, a Montgomery, Alabama middle school math teacher and Mormon who helped reunite the family with the flag.

"God had a hand in this," Sellers said. "It was special for the son to have something from his father, to keep the memory of his father alive."

It all started when Veronica Hill, a history teacher, found the national flag of Japan, featuring a white rectangle with a red circle in the middle, folded in the corner of a teacher's closet, according to Associated Press. Japanese writing encircled the red symbol.

Hill kept the flag and learned that it was a "good luck soldier flag," Sellers said. It was customary for Japanese family and friends to sign it and for the soldier to carry it with them into battle. Apparently, this flag was taken by an Allied soldier when its owner was killed, Sellers said.

"One of the most common and precious token they gave was a flag from their home or community to be signed by family and friends," Hill told the Montgomery Advertiser. "Many Japanese soldiers, with their dedication and honor knew they would not be returning. This flag was very precious to them."

Hill wanted to return the flag to the family of the soldier. She knew that Sellers had served an LDS mission in Japan and asked if he could help her find the family.

Sellers enlisted the help of the Nozaki family, a Japanese family in his Montgomery, Alabama, LDS ward. With the soldier's name on the flag, they translated what they could and searched. Eventually the group learned that a Japanese government agency specializes in finding and returning these flags. The flag was sent to Japan, Sellers said.

After two years of searching, Hill was notified in February that the family had been located. She received a translated letter from a man named Katsuhiko Hata and cried for two days, Sellers said.

"Reading the letter about broke my heart and I realized that we did the right thing in returning it to them," Hill told the Montgomery Advertiser.

Katsuhiko Hata, 71, said his father, Shigezo Hata, was 35-years-old when he went to war while he was only five-months-old, leaving him with no memories of his father beyond a photo and what his mother told him, the letter said.

His father was killed at the Admiralty Islands in May 1944. News of his death came from a public service announcement by the Japanese government. The body was not returned. There were no dog tags. All the family received was a rock from the area where he died. The flag he carried with him, signed by family and friends, would have been his most prized possession, Hata wrote.

Hata was surprised to learn about the flag's existence because it had been more than 70 years since his father died, he wrote in the letter to Hill.

"I was half in belief and half in doubt," Hata wrote in the translated letter. "When I received and saw the actual flag, I was moved completely. ... I sincerely thank you for returning the flag to us. I would like to thank all ... from the bottom of my heart."

Hata said he got "goose bumps" as examined the white flag and recognized the names of his uncle, aunt, cousins and co-workers written on the fabric. This realization "made my whole body shake and me realize his present strongly," Hata wrote.

Sellers said he was grateful to help and felt he was spiritually sent to help Hill return this flag.

For Hill, whose father and grandfather were soldiers, returning the flag was a journey "to right a wrong and to ease the pain of a family far away," she told the Montgomery Advertiser.