General Conference Synopsis: More Diligent and Concerned at Home

The Church’s General Conference (a meeting that is broadcast from Salt Lake City to all over the world) was in October.  It is in October and April every year.  Maybe you are thinking to yourselves “what, exactly, do the prophets and apostles have to say in our day?”  Well, here is a snippet.

Elder David A. Bednar
Elder David A. Bednar

Elder David A. Bednar talked about how we can do better in our families to teach, love and discipline effectively and sincerely.

Here is one of my favorite parts of the talk:

As our sons were growing up, our family did what you have done and what you now do. We had regular family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Now, I am sure what I am about to describe has never occurred in your home, but it did in ours.

Sometimes Sister Bednar and I wondered if our efforts to do these spiritually essential things were worthwhile. Now and then verses of scripture were read amid outbursts such as “He’s touching me!” “Make him stop looking at me!” “Mom, he’s breathing my air!” Sincere prayers occasionally were interrupted with giggling and poking. And with active, rambunctious boys, family home evening lessons did not always produce high levels of edification. At times Sister Bednar and I were exasperated because the righteous habits we worked so hard to foster did not seem to yield immediately the spiritual results we wanted and expected.

Today if you could ask our adult sons what they remember about family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening, I believe I know how they would answer. They likely would not identify a particular prayer or a specific instance of scripture study or an especially meaningful family home evening lesson as the defining moment in their spiritual development. What they would say they remember is that as a family we were consistent.

Sister Bednar and I thought helping our sons understand the content of a particular lesson or a specific scripture was the ultimate outcome. But such a result does not occur each time we study or pray or learn together. The consistency of our intent and work was perhaps the greatest lesson—a lesson we did not fully appreciate at the time.

In my office is a beautiful painting of a wheat field. The painting is a vast collection of individual brushstrokes—none of which in isolation is very interesting or impressive. In fact, if you stand close to the canvas, all you can see is a mass of seemingly unrelated and unattractive streaks of yellow and gold and brown paint. However, as you gradually move away from the canvas, all of the individual brushstrokes combine together and produce a magnificent landscape of a wheat field. Many ordinary, individual brushstrokes work together to create a captivating and beautiful painting.

Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes.

Here are some links to read the talk, listen to it, or watch him as he gave it.

Hearing the words of the Lord’s prophets and apostles strengthens my faith and helps me live my life in accordance to God’s will for me.  I hope you’ll take some time to listen to a talk or two as well.  Here is a link to the whole conference.

Why Did Jesus Die For Our Sins?

Q. Why did Jesus die for our sins?  What would have happened if he hadn’t?

I was thinking about this question early this morning from 3:30 till 5:00 as my toddler was throwing a massive fit.  For some reason, he had decided that sleeping in his crib for the rest of the night was not going to work for him.  He didn’t like sleeping in the portable crib either (but his baby sister liked that better–he was out of the room they share).  My prevailing thought was the importance of law, as a parent, to prevent chaos from ruling the house.  (Bear with me, this will all tie together shortly. )

sometimes lazy, always tired.

See, we have rules, as parents.  Many of them we make up: you need to sleep in your own bed, you need to finish all of your food if you want dessert, you cannot hit anything but the floor, etc.  Some of them are imposed by other people: you have to be buckled in your car seat when we are moving, you can’t take that candy from the store without paying for it, and so on.  Because we are imperfect, lazy or tired, all parents choose to disregard the laws once in a while.  “Fine, just get into bed with me and Daddy”, thinking that just for tonight, that will work.  But of course, it isn’t just for tonight it is now expected every night.  “He’s starving–just give him Chex for dinner tonight”, but for weeks thereafter, when it is time for dinner, the toddler refuses to eat anything but Chex (or Goldfish crackers).  When we disregard these laws, we lose the structure of our family society and everything can come unglued. Chaos reigns.  Once you take a kid out of their carseat while driving they suddenly understand that what they thought was impossible is now possible.  Same with Chex for dinner.  Same with sleeping with Mom and Dad.  There are no more rules and I can do whatever I want!  It is a very dangerous place to be.

without honoring justice, chaos would reign

Luckily, our Heavenly Father has laws and He never deviates from them.  Some of them He has created (the 10 commandments, for example) and some of them are just natural laws that He honors (gravity, rotation of planets, etc.).  The law that applies to this question is the law of justice.  Essentially, if you do wickedly, you will be punished and you are no longer worthy to return to live with God.  If you do well, you will be rewarded.  Unfortunately, every single one of us has done wickedly, and we cannot return to live with God–our righteous works don’t cancel out our sins, I think they are on separate balance sheets, as it were.  So that is justice.  It doesn’t help us at all, but it keeps the universe running smoothly.   And God needs to honor justice fully in order to prevent chaos from reigning.  As soon as He lets just one person in, with just the tiniest sin (like maybe, Moses or Abraham), there is going to be a big line of people demanding to get in too.  They didn’t sin that much.  They aren’t that wicked.  Its a slippery slope.

God is an excellent parent, though.  He can honor all of the demands of justice and still get us back to Him.  His more excellent way is accomplished through Jesus Christ, who offers us mercy.  When Christ came to earth, he was the only person in the history of this earth to ever live a perfect life.  No evil thoughts, no evil actions, not even any selfish motivations.  He lived perfectly.  Before he died, Justice could have looked Him over and said, “Come on back in.  You’re clean”.   But Jesus didn’t just go back to Heaven after His perfect life–instead, He allowed himself to suffer for every person on this earth and every sin that they had ever committed.  He died on the cross between two criminals after allowing himself to be beaten, scorned, mocked, spit upon, tried and convicted all by people like you and I.  Regular justice-breakers. Betrayed and condemned And in this way, Christ broke the law of Justice–but He broke it the opposite way that we break it.  He broke it toward himself–He owned it.  He should not have died and suffered for us in that way–that was not just.  The atonement of Jesus Christ (this suffering and dying in order to reconcile us with God) was merciful and motivated entirely by love.  Christ’s mercy can satisfy the demands of justice and still get us back to Heaven.

So, to answer your question: Jesus died for our sins to get us around the impassible heights of justice.  If we ally ourselves with Him, He will vouch for us and His mercy carries us over the demands of justice back to our Father in Heaven.  He is the only one who can do that.  We can’t do it–we are imperfect.  Heavenly Father can’t do it, He needs to honor justice (though He is, of course, carefully helping us find our faith in Christ so that we can come back to Him).  Without Christ, we are subject to endless death and hell (an eternity without God).

For more information on this fundamental topic, see:

Doctrine and Covenants 45

Alma 42

2 Nephi 2

2 Nephi 9

Alma 34

This priesthood lesson

And this talk

Humanitarian Aid

Q.  What kind of humanitarian work has your church been involved in? Are there statistics or outstanding stories to share?

Excellent question.  Thank you for asking it!  I can think of very few topics that better assert our “Christian-ness” than humanitarian aid.  The Church has been involved in serving others, no matter their religion or nationality, for a long time.  Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society for women in order to “provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor.”  Brigham Young sent agricultural ambassadors to the Native Americans to improve their crop yields.  During and after the first and second World Wars, the Church sent food, medical supplies and clothing to the ravaged nations.  (“Doing Good and Being Good.” Harold C. Brown.  Women’s Conference, BYU 1997) These kinds of efforts continue today — on an even grander scale.

In 1995, the General Welfare Committee of the Church established an organization known as Latter-day Saint Charities, a non-governmental organization (NGO) like the Red Cross or AfriCare or Catholic Charities.  Latter-day Saint Charties has worked all over the world to help people become self-reliant, healthy and take care of basic needs.  You can check out their current list of projects here.  Click around, you’ll be amazed at how far reaching it is.

I want to point out a couple of notable things here:

  • The goal of this organization is to help, yes, but to help with the long-term in mind.  They don’t bring in barrels of water, they help the people dig a well.  Rather than giving money to unemployed people, they pay for job certification or skill acquisition.  “In Guatemala, for example, LDS Charities contracted with an electrician to train and certify more than two dozen Guatemalans in electrical work.  All twenty-five or so young men who took the course got jobs” (Brown).  The goal is self-sufficiency.  That is when aid is really meaningful.
  • Every penny donated to LDS Charities goes towards the projects themselves.  There is no overhead, no administrative costs or salaries.  When you donate to LDS charities, you are directly helping the poor people in the world (not paying electric bills in a high-rise administrative office).
  • All of this service is carried out by volunteers.  Couple missionaries (the older variety) scout out, set up and see through the projects.  Some specialized missionaries – health care professionals, agricultural experts, etc. — are called to serve in their professional capacity for 18 months.  This is why there are no salaries involved in the donations.  Other volunteers assemble as-needed, as in the case of natural disasters.

helping handsThe common anecdote told goes something like this:  In the aftermath of a hurricane, a young lady is being interviewed by a TV reporter and he asks her who she has seen getting involved in the cleanup.  She responds: “There were two groups here right away–the Mormons and the LDS church.”


There are thousands of stories, here is just one.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Experimenting on the Word

summer-peachesThe other day I was visiting a friend and she had the most beautiful peach tree in the backyard.  It grew enormous, sweet peaches—I ate three of them after we had lunch.  I asked her which nursery she had bought the tree from and she said that she actually grew it herself—from a peach pit!  She offered me one of the discarded pits from lunch and told me that if I wanted to grow a tree too, she would tell me what to do and help me whenever I needed it.  I gladly accepted, anticipating an abundant supply of those divine peaches.

Her instructions were to take the peach pit home and bury it in a small pot.  Give it plenty of water and sunlight.  When the seedling gets to be about 6 inches high, plant it in a bigger pot.  When it reaches 2 feet, transplant it outside where it will receive lots of sunlight and water.  It seems like a lot more work and a lot more time than I originally counted on.  I decide to…

the pitA.    Throw the seed out the car window as I am driving home and resolve to just come by her house occasionally and ask for a bushel of peaches. (Go to {A})
B.    Take it home and plant it outside in the spot where I am eventually going to put it in the yard and save myself a few steps. (Go to {B})
C.    Take it home and plant it in the small pot and water it faithfully for a few days.  At least, as long as it’s still interesting to me. (Go to {C})
D.    Take it home and do exactly as she says.  (Go to {D})

{A} As I throw the seed out of my window, I think—how would I know if this particular peach pit was even going to germinate?  I’m pretty sure it was faulty.  If she asks, I’ll just say it never came up, so would she mind just sharing her peaches once in a while?  I just saved myself a lot of trouble.  Unfortunately, my friend moves away the following year and my peach supply ends.  (Matthew 13: 4, 19).

{B} I take the seed home and wonder if it is even a viable peach pit—will it germinate?  Or did she just get lucky with her peach pit?  Maybe she wasn’t even telling me the truth about growing her pit into a tree!  I talk to a lot of my friends about it, we look stuff up on Wikipedia about peaches and what the likelihood is of them germinating.  I go to cherry growers websites, too (they are also stone fruits), to see if they have hints or facts about growing peaches.  I discuss it with people in the supermarket line.  I’m getting a lot of good information about peaches and I think I’m almost an expert on them.  I guess the time is right for me to have my own.

I decide just to plant it in the yard and see if it comes up.  I’m not going to bother with all the fussy details.  I plant it and, mercifully, the rain and sun cooperate.  One day as I’m out playing with my toddler in the yard, I notice a little seedling unfolding in the sun–the peach tree!  The only problem is that it is surrounded by thick Texas grass and weeds.  I check on it occasionally, but after a few weeks, the grass and weeds have won the battle for water and sun and the seedling is gone.  Hmm, I guess I should have just planted it inside like she said.  Turns out it was a good pit.  Unfortunately, my friend moved away before peach season came again and I didn’t get another chance to try it. (Matthew 13: 7, 22)

{C} As I leave her house, I am so excited and empowered by the idea that I couldseedling grow my very own peach tree!  I’m going to start a blog about it!  I’m going to take pictures every day to show the progress!  And maybe I will be able to find a little ruler that I can plant right along with the pit and then I can tell how much it is growing every day.  What should I name it?  Tabitha.  Definitely Tabitha.  Full of adrenaline, I rush right in and find a small pot (my first attempt at ceramics in 9th grade), fill it with potting soil and plant the seed.  I faithfully water it for a week.  Then less faithfully the next week.  Then we go on vacation for three days.  When I get home, I have kind of forgotten about it and it never really gets to be part of my daily schedule, besides, now I am too busy teaching myself Tae Kwon Do from YouTube tutorials.  Two months later, as I do the dishes, I look up and see it there.  Brown and lying in the dirt. The sun and drought has fried it.  Poor Tabitha.  I just got really busy.  (Matthew 13: 5, 20-21; Alma 32: 38-40)

{D} As I leave her house, I am excited about the possibility of having my own peach tree, growing right out my back door.  I already have a pot on my window sill with some dirt in it from another plant that didn’t survive the winter.  Maybe this tree will be luckier.  I decide to empty the old dirt out and put in some fresh, moist potting soil.  The kind with MiracleGro right in it.  This little pit needs all the help it can get.  Then I put it back up on the windowsill and remind myself that every time I make dinner, I will give it a little drink.  As soon as it is part of my schedule, it is easy to take care of.  My kids and I watch the little sprout grow and grow with fascination.

After a few months, we put it in a bigger pot and it continues to grow.  It only takes a year and a half to be hardy enough to plant outside.  A year and a half!  And now we’ll have fresh peaches each summer for the rest of our lives, if I continue to care for it.  I’d say it was a solid investment of time.  Good thing I did, too, because my friend moves away the next year and her peach tree is razed when the new owners take over the house.  We still talk about gardening stuff on the phone though.  It’s so great to have that in common.  As soon as my tree starts producing, I plan to send her a peach pit so she can grow her own again.  This particular variety is sweeter than any other I’ve tasted.  (Matthew 13: 8,23; Alma 32: 28-37).
Our own peach tree

If you are wondering what in the world I am talking about, read Alma 32: 28-43 and Matthew 13.  A gospel-centered life is a lot sweeter than peaches.  I know that it is viable and will germinate if you give it a sincere chance with diligent effort.  You can know the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true fairly quickly (a sprout), but to be able to stand on your own testimony takes a little time (say, a year and a half of dedicated effort) and finally receiving the fruit (a life changed through Jesus Christ) can take even longer, though I promise that it is worth the effort.

“And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.  Then, my friends, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.” (Alma 32: 42-43)


This is a good representation of what Mormons believe about how families should function.  Notice the love and mutual respect and admiration that everyone has as well as a desire to sacrifice for their loved ones.

Its also just a nice little message.