Monthly Archives: March 2009

Peer pressure… are we for it or against it?

When I was younger, my Dad used to ask that question all the time… are we for it or against it? It was almost always a joke. I’d talk to him about something, and he’d respond with that. I’d ask about staying out late, and he’d ask if we were for it or against it. I’d ask about going to a church activity, and he’d ask if we were for it or against it. You get the picture.

Anyway, I’ve recently been thinking about peer pressure. Are we for it or against it? As a bishop, I spend a lot of time with the youth. I have yearly interviews with some, semi-annual interviews with others; I meet with the Priests each week; I teach in YW a few times a year; I’m at Church for all of the mutual activity nights. We so often encourage the youth to resist peer pressure. That obviously assumes that peer pressure is bad. But when you think about it, there is a lot of pressure in the Church to do certain things. As a youth, that pressure gets ratcheted up even more. There is pressure to go to Church, to go to mutual activities, to go to seminary, to go to dances, etc. There is pressure to get your Duty to God or Personal Progress requirements/objectives done. Often the pressure is put on by their peers. Add that to the pressure from leaders, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.

Most members would agree that peer pressure that encourages you to drink is bad. Is peer pressure that encourages you to not drink good? I think the answer is, “It depends.” In my experience, pressure more often than not is a bad thing. People know what they are supposed to do. If they are drinking, they know they shouldn’t. If they are not paying tithing, they know they should. It’s a challenge counseling these people, occasionally calling them to repentance, but still being sensitive to their struggles and being there to help. The right amount of inspired pressure/pushing/prodding at the right time can do wonders. The wrong amount at the wrong time can do a lot of damage.

My general philosophy is to get people out to Church and have them enjoy fellowshipping with the Saints. To a degree, I don’t care what you are doing, what you have done, or what you are hiding. Come to Church! I have total confidence that they will feel the Spirit of our meetings. If they keep coming, they will have the desire to make necessary changes. This kind of reminds me of what Elder M. Russell Ballard said in the October 2006 General Conference:

I hope it goes without saying that guilt is not a proper motivational technique for leaders and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must always motivate through love and sincere appreciation, not by creating guilt. I like the thought “Catch others doing something right.”

Pressure may have it’s place, but don’t let it get in the way of the Spirit.

SantaBiblia.LDS.org sub-domain

Along with the announcement of the new Spanish version of the Bible, there is a new sub-domain. Visiting SantaBiblia.LDS.org takes you to a very nice section of the LDS.org web site that has a preview and explanations of the new features.

20090330_santa_biblia_screenshot

I’ve added this to the Official web sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints page.

173rd anniversary of dedication of Kirtland Temple

I am located near the Ontario/New York border, and am 2 hours away from Palmyra and 4 hours away from Kirtland. Since we are so close, I’ve been to both places many times. I love visiting them. The Church does an incredible job in restoring the sites, and making them quality destinations. I’ve always been a fan of Church history (the “wacky” stuff doesn’t bother me at all), and there is something special about visiting these early Church locations. The early saints had such faith in Brother Joseph. They walked with him and talked with him. He must have been quite the charismatic leader.

Today (March 27) marks the anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. The Kirtland Temple itself is a great example of what they would do for their leader. An announcement of a temple today is almost boring. It seems like every General Conference has a couple of them announced. But back then, hearing that they were going to build a temple must have been exciting and terrifying at the same time. They built it at great cost, and were only able to enjoy it for a brief period of time. One of my favourite things is going to the quarry up the street. You can see marks in the rocks where previous people were working. These are NOT marks from the early saints, but it gives you an idea of what they had to do to get the stone out. You can imagine Brother Joseph working shoulder to shoulder with the others to make the vision become a reality.

The prayer offered at the dedication of the temple is contained in D&C 109. The prayer is beautiful, but I particularly appreciate verse 22:

And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;

I do enjoy my time at the temple, and do feel more “powerful” after attending. Those words seem applicable to all temples.

You can see some pictures of one of trips to Historic Kirtland (taken several years ago) here and here, pictures of the Kirtland Temple here, pictures of the Newel K. Whitney store here, and the John Johnson farm here.

Religulous

Have you seen the Bill Maher “documentary” Religulous? I’m generally not a fan of him, but I still went ahead and watched the movie a couple of weeks ago. I’m not really sure what to say about it. I thought there were many thought-provoking things in the movie, but they were all clouded by Bill Maher’ obviously disdain for religion. He blames religion for essentially all the violence in the world and spent much of his time mocking (in a covert manner) the people he was “interviewing”. There is no attempt at all to have any balance in the movie. If you are religious, you must be crazy. If you do not believe in religion, then you are intelligent. It probably wasn’t very fair, but he chose some interesting places to visit and people to interview which made the movie a little more entertaining. He even interviewed his mother and his sister and there were clips of that at a few points in the movie.

Surprising, out of all of the religions that were highlighted, I thought the short segment on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the least offensive. He originally tried to film on Temple Square, but they were told to leave. He didn’t interview anyone official (as he did with almost all other churches he mentioned) and ended up interviewing a couple of ex-Mormons… Tal Bachman and Bill Gardiner. They made fun of the Church, but it seemed easy to disregard the opinion of a disgruntled ex-member.

After looking information on Religulous on IMDB, I found another interesting thing… as of the time of this writing, there were 6 “Goofs” highlighted, and 5 of them had to do with our Church. A member must have submitted some updates to the page, and then a moderator accepted them.

Let me just say, that as a piece of entertainment, it was enjoyable. Religion can be pretty wacky sometimes. However, as a piece of accurate “reporting”, it distorted the truth, spread misconceptions, and is critical of almost all things religious. You won’t miss out if you never see it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

This isn’t really Church related, but I couldn’t resist sharing it. My 4-year-old son is in Jr Kindergarten and there is currently a female student teacher working with his regular teacher. One of the YSA at Church is going to the local university to become a teacher, and we tease my 6-year-old son that she is his girlfriend (he really likes her). Anyway, my 4-year-old son and I were in the car alone the other day going to get something, and I was asking him about school and his student teacher. He spoke positively about her, and I asked if she was pretty (thinking I would tease him about a “girlfriend”, too), and he said, “No, she doesn’t wear lipstick”. I laughed out loud and asked him if a girl could only be pretty if she wore lipstick. He avoided that question, but did say that girls only wear lipstick to Church. I didn’t pursue it further, but it certainly made me wonder… do all females wear lipstick to Church? Do all the females in our ward wear lipstick? If so, does he think they are all pretty? Perhaps he is just thinking of his Mommy. My wife hardly ever wears make-up, but she does put some on for Church on Sunday. I guess since Mommy wears lipstick on Sunday, that’s what makes a girl pretty. Funny stuff!

2009 Ward Conference

This past Sunday was our annual Ward Conference. The stake presidency had decided that the theme of the conferences this year would be from Mosiah 18:21. I think the day went very well. The Primary children sang a couple of songs as prelude music, and did a great job. For the meeting, I was the first speaker, the counselor in the stake presidency over our ward was the second speaker, and the stake president was the concluding speaker. We had 173 people attend, including several non-members, and one couple that hadn’t been to church in years. This is 25-30 more than our average, so we were quite pleased. The combined MP/RS meeting was about bringing the Church out of obscurity. I spoke about missionary work, the stake RS president spoke about services, and the stake Public Affairs person spoke about being involved in the community, and the stake president summarized everything. After Church, we went and visited (prearranged) some members. I havne’t received all reports back yet, but they went also went well. It was a long day, but a good one!

In case you are interested, here is my 10-minute talk from sacrament meeting about contention…


Good morning Brothers and Sisters. It is great to see so many of you out this morning for our ward conference. I, like all of you, look forward to the messages that will be shared with us today.

I thank the Primary for their beautiful singing this morning. My kids love the song Holding hands Around the World. The words of the chorus are:

We are children holding hands around the world,
Like an army with the gospel flag unfurled.
We are led by His light,
And we love truth and right.
We are building the kingdom of God.[1]

What a beautiful message. You can imagine the strength these children will have if they keep that inspiration with them as they grow?!

When I last spoke, I mentioned that the theme of the ward conferences and of the stake this year was taken from Mosiah 18: 21.

And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.[2]

My remarks this morning will focus on the first part of that verse: contention. To contend is to argue or compete over a point; to fight about something. In boxing, the person ranked just below the champion is called the #1 contender. In sports, being in contention is a good thing. It means you are trying your best and you are close to the top. Fans in those cities where teams are in contention are excited and look forward to going to the games. Fans in those cities where teams are not in contention often can’t be bothered to even go to the games. Unfortunately, in most other parts of life, the results of contention are quite the opposite. Christ plainly taught us that:

…he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.[3]

With that as a definition, it seems impossible to come up with a situation where contention would be a good thing. Contention is associated with pride. We contend with people because we are certain we are right and they are wrong. It is also associated with selfishness. We may know we are wrong, but don’t want others to be right. Sometimes we develop a sense of entitlement. Perhaps we have done something for others and feel that they now owe us, and we treat them poorly because of it. This lack of humility can damage our homes, our places of employment, and the Church. The fruits of contention are anger, hatred, yelling, and even violence. Of course, on the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit are

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…[4]

When I was a missionary in Taiwan, we’d often hear about a Confucius saying. It was kind of a long thought, but basically it said that if we wanted to improve the country, we have to improve our states (or provinces). If we want to improve our states (or provinces), we have to improve our cities. If we want to improve our cities, we have to improve our families. And if we want to improve our families, we have to improve ourselves.

So, how do we improve ourselves, so that there is less contention in and around us? I like how it is explained in Helaman. Nephi and Lehi were teaching the people of Zarahemla. They had been cast into prison and protected in a variety of ways. The people saw the hand of God, and eventually the people responded. It says that 300 souls were influenced that day. As Nephi and Lehi continued to preach to them, it says of the people of Zarahemla, that:

… as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.[5]

Reading it just a little differently, it says we need to lay down our weapons, lay down our hatred, and lay down the traditions of our fathers (obviously the unrighteous ones). I think it is pretty easy to visualize someone physically taking their weapons and laying them on the ground. You can imagine the hesitation… that weapon might have saved their life or the lives of their loved ones. It protected them in one way or another, but with courage and faith they put their weapons down. However, as that verse says, we also need to lay down our hatred. Imagine that the hatred and anger you have in you is something that you could actually touch or grasp. Perhaps it has become part of you, and it may hurt physically and emotionally to tear it out. It may be more difficult to rid yourself of this, than of your physical weapons. Just as with physical weapons, our anger and bitterness may have been used as a weapon, as well. We may have used it to cover our weaknesses. It doesn’t really matter how the anger and contention started, we have to take whatever steps necessary to end it. Only then can we truly come unto Christ and partake of his goodness.[6] This may take time, but you will be successful.

One thing that may help is to replace the contention with positive things. Just as “no unclean thing can dwell with God”[7], I’d say that no clean thing can dwell with Satan. Look for the good in others. The other day I heard a report on the radio about a couple of college students who go to a street corner near their school every Wednesday for a couple of hours and give compliments. “Nice shoes. You’ve got great curly hair. I like your sweatpants. I like your smile.” One of the students said,

Days when it’s raining, and days when it’s absolutely frigid out, and people are like, man, thank you for coming out here. We’re not necessarily enjoying our time in the cold, we’re enjoying the responses we get and the interaction we receive with people.[8]

For whatever reason, these young men are trying to bring brighten the day for others. There are those that are still rude to them, but they keep doing it. Remember, just as dealing with someone who is in a bad mood can push us to be in a bad mood, dealing with someone with a bright and optimistic outlet can push us to be the same. It’s contagious!

Once we have taken these steps to improve ourselves, the next step is to improve our families. On our way to the temple on Thursday, Caroline, Marilyn, Lisa and I briefly discussed how it seems to be easier to be nice to strangers and friends than it is to our own families. The amount of time we spend together can be such a blessing, but we also see so many weaknesses and differences. The natural man let’s those differences eat away at us. Don’t let that happen.

Let me share with you one thing that we have done in our family recently. A little more than a month ago we returned from a family vacation in Florida. It was the first time that we had gone away as a family for an extended period of time. It was awesome. Our Family Home Evening lesson on the Monday following our return was about the importance of family and spending time together. We talked about the cost of the trip, and so we made a Family Fun Jar. On pay day and allowance day, we all have a chance to put some money in the jar for our next family vacation. We also discussed the type of relationship we need to have in order to have fun. Our family already had some standard rules about not hitting and listening to others, but we added a rule about not yelling. This rule even applied to Mommy and Daddy. We rarely yelled in true anger, but it definitely would get the kids attention and they would then listen. Of course, when the adults yell, the children yell as well, and we didn’t want. To encourage us to follow this new rule, we decided that our Family Fun Jar would also be a Yelling Jar. Some people have a swearing jar, and whenever they swear, they have to put money in the jar. We don’t swear, but we all would occasionally yell. At first Andrew said he was going to yell so that we could go on vacation again, but when he actually had to put money in the jar as a consequence, he quickly understood that was not what he wanted to do. I’m happy to report that in the 5 weeks we’ve been back, it is working well. We’ve all had to put in a few dollars, but overall, the contention in our home has reduced considerably. We are indeed being blessed.

If yelling isn’t a problem in your home, then you don’t have to do this. Identify where you and your family have issues, and come up with a plan to change.

It is apparent from the scriptures that there are many attributes that we should be striving to develop, but we cannot forget our responsibility to rid our lives of undesirable attributes. It is no coincidence that after Christ visited the Nephites, one of their defining characteristics was that they did not have any contention. 4 Nephi has many references to this:

…there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another

…And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land;

…And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

…And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.[9]

I do not claim to be an expert in living in peace and harmony with everyone, but I’m trying. I know although it may be hard, treating everyone with love and respect is the only way to live. As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, we need:

…supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks… that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.[10]

This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

——
[1] Copyright © 2001 by Janice Kapp Perry. All rights reserved.
[2] Mosiah 18: 21
[3] 3 Nephi 11:29
[4] Galatians 5: 22
[5] Helaman 5:51
[6] 2 Nephi 26:32-33
[7] 1 Nephi 10: 21
[8] “At Purdue, Compliments Are Complimentary” from All Things Considered, March 20, 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102128212 accessed 20090321
[9] 4 Nephi 1: 2, 13, 15, 18
[10] 1 Timothy 2: 1-2

Gospel Art sub-domain at LDS.org

To go along with my post from Friday about the new Gospel Art Book, apparently the Church has had a sub-domain for a while where you can browse the available image libraries. GospelArt.LDS.org redirects you to a part of the Gospel Library. You can view photographs of scriptural sites, Church History sites, and temples, as well as the (almost) complete Gospel Art Picture Kit. I commented in that last post that I figured there were some copyrighted material, and there does seem to be some pictures missing, but the vast majority of them are there.

I’ve added this to the Official web sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints page. There are now 59 different official web resources listed.

New Gospel Art Book

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Quite a few years ago my wife purchased the Gospel Art Picture kit. It was around $30, and seemed like a great resource to have around the house. Now, the Church has released a nice new resource called the Gospel Art Book. I’m sure this will end up replacing the Gospel Art Picture Kit in most homes (this is probably not something that will end up in PDF format on the Church site, because there are some copyrighted images in the book).

This book contains 137 pictures that can be used in the home or at church to enrich gospel teaching and learning. The pictures are organized into six sections: (1) Old Testament, (2) New Testament, (3) Book of Mormon, (4) Church History, (5) Gospel in Action, and (6) Latter-day Prophets.

An index lists the pictures and corresponding references to scriptures and other sources. The book includes the index in each of the following languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The book is spiral bound (like “Preach My Gospel”) and has some beautiful pictures in it. The only drawback I can see is that you can’t show two pictures at the same time, since the pages don’t come out.

It is priced well, too. It is $3.50 for a single book, but only $1.50 when purchased in a box of 20. We’ll probably buy a box for the ward so the members get the cheaper price.

Niagara Shorthills Christian Ministries

Last weekend my family went to the sugar bush. We’ve done this every year for a few years now, and it is definitely something we look forward to each spring (even though it isn’t technically spring yet). This year we went to Agapé Valley Sugar Bush which is run by the Niagara Shorthills Christian Ministries. There was no cost associated with the tour (donations were accepted) as they were staffed entirely by volunteers. The main purpose of the property are some day camps they run in the summer.

Niagara Shorthills Christian Ministries is a non-profit charitable organization whose goal is to ministrer the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to children on the property we like to call Agape Valley. NSCM operates a children’s day camp in July and August called Agape Valley Bible Camp.

We used to have a Church welfare farm in our area and members of our ward put in thousands upon thousands of hours of volunteer work into the farm. As President Monson mentioned in the welfare training DVD, no one ever forgets their welfare service opportunities. I fully agree with this, and think that in a way the members in our region have lost something by no longer having the farm. I kind of have “holy envy” for the people at Agapé Valley. They seemed like genuinely nice people, and are doing a good work.

My co-worker’s response to Big Love

I commented before that I had some co-workers who watch Big Love and I was curious to see if they would ask me about it. Well, I just had a nice conversation with one woman. We’ve talked about religion before. There have been a few members who have worked with her in the past, and she knows that I’m currently the bishop of my ward. She asked if I’d seen Big Love and I said that I had, and so she asked if the temple scene was true. I explained that it was basically true, but that it missed the point of the ceremony, which is to learn about the Plan of Salvation from the beginning to the end. She asked if the “muscle thing” was true, and when I gave her a confused look, she clarified that she was talking about what was said at the veil. I said that most of what was in the episode was accurate. She asked about what the blue apron. I told her it was actually green, and that it represented the “fig leaves” they used to cover themselves. She accepted that without hesitation. She also wanted to confirm that is what we do in the temple in Toronto (I’ve referred to that before), and I told her it was.

Without me trying to justify anything, she said that at first it seemed weird, but then she figured that all other churches have rituals, and it was no different than that, so she thought it was fine. She said she wanted to see the white room at the end. We laughed and I explained a few things she might have to change in her life in order to do that, and she said she was fine with most things other than the gambling (we work in Niagara Falls, and she likes to frequent the casinos). She said she’d let me know when she was ready.

We spoke about the “love court”, and I told her I’d never heard that phrase before. I explained that I’ve had to run a couple of those sorts of things, and that I didn’t think it was portrayed well. That made her think of when the woman was questioned about her garments, and wanted to know what that was. I wear crew neck garment tops, so I pointed to the white “undershirt” I have on, and told her it wasn’t magic underwear, but that I wear them every day. That was good enough for her. She didn’t ask any more about why, or what they represented. She did say she was going to check every day to make sure I had them on!

We talked for a little longer, and I explained a bit about Joseph Smith, and mentioned how he must have been influenced by what he learned as a Mason. I explained that the method was similar, but that what is taught is different. She thought that was very interesting, as her grandfather was a mason and it always fascinated her.

So, based on this one conversation, the episode did not hurt her impression of the Church, and it helped her learn some more about the Church.