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, May 30, 2017

'Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel' shares historical, religious insights to early First Presidency letters


(by Lauren McAgee deseretnews.com 5-28-17)

LDS Church historian and recorder Reid L. Neilson joins with associate editorial manager for the Joseph Smith Papers Project Nathan N. Waite to write an invaluable volume for those interested in early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 
 
"Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel: The General Epistles of the Mormon First Presidency" consists of 14 general letters sent by the First Presidency of the LDS Church to its members worldwide between the years 1849-1856 into one volume.

The book begins with two essays written by editors Neilson and Waite, which provide insight into two important themes addressed by the letters, as well as providing observations and historical backgrounds of the different epistles.

Additionally, Neilson and Waite provide religious contexts for the focus for the LDS Church from its humble beginnings in New York to the mass exodus to Utah and the following years of cultivation and settlement. They also discuss how these epistles and the missionary efforts of early church members fit into the time period and Christian perspective in the United States.

The essays written by the editors are interesting and well documented by research, providing important background to help readers understand the context preceding the different letters. The essays also help readers further understand the culture of not only the early LDS Church members but also Christian theology and ideas that existed in the United States at that point in time.

The letters included are presented word for word as they were originally published. However, they are often accompanied by footnotes explaining theologies, quick biographies of important historical figures and other related events from that time period.

Overall this volume of work, written in academic style and filled with research and historical notes, provides interesting facts and insight into the early LDS Church and its members that should satisfy anyone interested in history.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865680871/Book-review-Settling-the-Valley-Proclaiming-the-Gospel-shares-historical-religious-insights-to.html

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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


(by Sarah Petersen deseretnews.com 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."

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865679320/LDS-missionary-finds-his-own-Jr-Jazz-jersey-while-serving-in-Africa.html

Friday, May 12, 2017

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

Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia Italy

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 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.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865679751/The-Benedict-Option-or-The-Brigham-Option.html

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Book of Mormon: What is uniquely ours?

(by Nate Sharp deseretnews.com 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.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865678714/Aggieland-Mormons-The-Book-of-Mormon-What-is-uniquely-ours.html

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 deseretnews.com 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 josephsmithpapers.org, “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

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865678716/An-early-reference-to-the-First-Vision.html