Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's been a good week.  It continues to be unseasonably warm in Rexburg.  It feels almost like spring, but we know it's not.  Until winter hits, we are enjoying every day.

You don't have to read any farther if you don't want to.  The following is a talk I prepared about the Book of Mormon and my own personal journey with it.  In it, I refer to our graduation roadtrip to the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho, and to an experience I had in Merced when we lived there . . . which included Haley and Colby shooting the neighbors window with a BB gun.  All is well that ends well . . . right? 

Here's my talk,

My topic is the Book of Mormon.  I want to talk about two things today.  First, reading the Book of Mormon as families to help unify the home.  Second, renewing our personal testimony of the Book of Mormon every day. 

President Andersen has challenged all of us to read or reread the Book of Mormon this year, and use it to teach in our homes.

I’m happy to report that many in our community are doing a great job of teaching the Book of Mormon in their homes.  Nancy, my wife, is a kindergarten teacher.  The other day she held up a penny and asked the kindergarteners if they knew whose picture was on the penny.  The first answer was “Moroni”.  The second answer was “President Monson”.  To me, this is evidence that they are being taught the gospel in their homes . . . and that they need to learn more about Abraham Lincoln. 

Go back with me 100 years to April 15, 1912.

As you know, this is the day the Titanic Sank resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people. (RMS Titanic – Wikipedia)

Try to imagine the chaos on the Titanic when it was sinking.  People were probably running everywhere looking for family members and loved ones.  It was noisy and unorganized as people were, or were not able to get to the lifeboats.  It was probably really scary.  Some, I’m sure, gave up all hope.  But in the midst of the trouble, as you know, there was a spot of relative peace, comfort, and hope.  A string quartet played among other things, the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”  I’ve always liked this hymn and the idea of getting closer to God.

 In D&C 88:63 the Savior says “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” 

So, my question is how do we draw near to our Heavenly Father and Jesus? 

In a meeting with the Twelve Apostles, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that “. . . a man would get nearer to God by abiding by (the) precepts (in the Book of Mormon), than by any other book.”  So, one way to grow closer to God and Jesus Christ is by reading the Book of Mormon and practicing the precepts found in it.  (History of the Church, a4:461; see introduction to the BofM)

On average, Christ is mentioned every 1.7 versus in the Book of Mormon (Book of Mormon Study Guide). 

The introduction to the book says “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible . . .  and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” 

As we learn of Christ and the everlasting gospel, we will grow closer to our Heavenly Father.  If we do this as a family, family unity will increase, and Parents, children, and siblings will see more of the divine in each other.

President Marion G. Romney said “I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein.  The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow.  The spirit of contention will depart.  Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom.  Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents . . . ”  (April 1980 Conference or May Ensign 1980, 67)

Every individual, and every family is different, so how to best read and study the Book of Mormon together will also be different.  It is something that should be talked about and decided upon as a family.

Our own family is spread across the country from Copperas Cove Texas to Logan Utah, and Coeur d’ Alane Idaho to Tulsa Oklahoma, and to one daughter in an apartment at BYU-Idaho.  Nancy and I wanted to be a part of their Book of Mormon study even though we were far away.

We gave all of them a set of Book of Mormon study guides for Christmas, and encouraged them to read and study together in their homes.  We thought it would be unifying if they were all studying from the same books.  I’d like to read a paragraph of a letter Nancy wrote and included with our gift.  I’ll get her permission to do this right after church today.

(Nancy quote) 
I know that in order for you to be able to teach your children to love the Book of Mormon you must first have your own personal understanding and testimony of it’s truthfulness.  As you study it individually and with your families it will bring peace to your homes and your lives. You and your children will be strengthened and will be able to withstand the temptations that are all around us today. . . . I know that the principles, doctrines, and teachings found in the Book of Mormon will lead you to true happiness far greater than anything the world has to offer. It will lead you to Christ, the true source of Joy.” (end quote)

Allow me to tell a story of a family that came to Christ and found joy through reading the Book of Mormon.

Twenty years ago we were living in Merced, California.   One day, I had to go across the street to the neighbors and apologize for my daughter and nephew who had shot their picture window, accidentally, with a BB gun. 

We didn’t know the neighbors well, and this was the first time we had spoken.  They explained that their little boy and girl had been under the window, and if it had shattered it would have been disastrous.  They were, understandably, very upset.  Luckily, there was just a nice BB hole in the window, and no glass shattering. 

After the exchange, we knew their names for the first time, but really had no true relationship with them.  They did not appreciate that we had guns in the house . . . and were leery of parents who would let five year-olds play with guns. 

In reality, these neighbors were nice enough.  The grandma would sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes in between planting flowers in the flower beds in front of the house.  The dad would go to work every day at the city refuge plant, and at night would study to be a fireman.   The mom would stay home and take their two children on walks. 

We would watch each other from across the street, but never really talked.  We knew their first names, but not their last, and vice versa.  Because they were all really, really short, I started thinking of them as the short family.

The grandma spent more and more time on the front porch smoking and caring for her flowers.  She became part of the scenery of our daily life.  The smoking flower lady. 

Then one day, she wasn’t there anymore. 

A short time later, I got a phone call.  It was from a young couple looking for someone to conduct a funeral.  They said their mother had passed away, that she had been Mormon when she was young.  Before she died, she told the kids to call a Mormon bishop and he would help arrange the funeral.  So they had gone to the phone book and called around until they found the bishop of the boundaries where they lived.

I was that bishop.

On the phone, I had no idea who they were, and they had no idea who I was.  We had a short conversation, and then I asked for their address so I could come visit and talk in person.

Imagine my surprise to discover that it was my neighbors across the street. 

And, imagine their surprise when about ten seconds after hanging up the phone, I knocked on their door to introduce myself as the bishop they had just called.  They had no idea what a Mormon bishop looked like, but they were pretty sure it wasn’t me.  The irresponsible parent of gun toten 5 year olds.

After the shock wore off, we talked about the funeral arrangements.  Then, through tears, they asked me where she was?  I remember getting down on the floor and sketching our Heavenly Father’s plan in their carpet.  Then I went home and got them a Book of Mormon.

They learned how to pray, and they read the book.  They gained testimonies of the Book of Mormon, and were baptized. 

Then, we moved to Rexburg, and slowly lost track of each other.

13 years later, I was in my office at BYU-Idaho and a good looking, very short, young man came and stood in my doorway.  He asked if I knew who he was.  I knew immediately he was the little boy under the window with the BB hole in it.  He was getting ready to go on his mission.  He told me his dad was in the bishopric and his mom was the primary president. 

Their callings were not important, but the fact that they were strong in the gospel was.

Obviously, back at the time, there were a lot of things going on in this little family’s life, but it was the Book of Mormon that changed their life and their family forever. 

Once they had a testimony of the Book of Mormon through the help of the Holy Ghost, they knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  And, once they knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet, they knew the principles and ordinances of the gospel, as revealed through him, were necessary to be together as a family forever.  It was a game changer, and their lives were never the same.

As Tad R. Callister of the presidency of the 70 said in last General Conference, “That is the genius of the Book of Mormon—there is no middle ground. It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud. This book does not merely claim to be a moral treatise or theological commentary or collection of insightful writings. It claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page.  Joseph Smith declared that an angel of God directed him to gold plates, which contained the writings of prophets in ancient America, and that he translated those plates by divine powers. If that story is true, then the Book of Mormon is holy scripture, just as it professes to be; if not, it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax.” (end quote)

Moroni reminds us that knowing whether it’s true or not comes by the power of the Holy Ghost.  He says in Moroni 10:3-5,

“3.  Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder (them) in your hearts.

4.  And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you.
5.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

Now, let me tell you why I love the Book of Mormon.

I love the Book of Mormon because it is a book with a claim and a book with a promise. The claim is that every word is from God.  The promise is that we can know for ourselves.

When I was 7 or 8 years old I stayed home from church one Sunday with my dad.  Some of you know my dad and you know he is not a member of the church.  As a child, I idolized him and wanted to grow up to be just like him.  And I still do.  I was getting close to baptism age and my mom told me I had to ask my dad’s permission if I wanted to get baptized.  She was a member of the church and would take me my brother and two sisters to church.  He would go sometimes, but would normally stay home.

That Sunday, I remember sitting on our orange vinyl couch in the family room with my dad.  I asked him if he believed in Jesus.  He said yes.  So I asked why he didn’t go to church with my mom.  I remember him telling me the Book of Mormon was not true, and that he worshiped Jesus Christ and not Joseph Smith, so he had a different church. I didn’t ask him if I could get baptized because I didn’t feel ready.

Even at that young age, I knew I had to learn for myself if the church was true or not before I should even consider baptism.

It didn’t take me long.  I liked the idea that I could be with my family forever, so I got baptized when I was 9.  I suppose my testimony was shallow and small and more in the form of hope than anything else.  At the time, all I really knew about the Book of Mormon came from primary songs like “Book of Mormon Stories that my Teacher Told to Me”.

Then when I was almost 12 and about to get the Aaronic Priesthood, my mom told me again that I had to ask my Dad if it was okay.  I still idolized him, and wanted to be like him.  Again, he reaffirmed to me that he did not believe the Book of Mormon and he did not believe Joseph Smith was a prophet . . . but I could do what I wanted. 

This time, I felt a more urgent desire to know if the Book of Mormon was true or not, and if Joseph Smith was a prophet or not.

It was soon summer and we went on vacation.  I remember praying alone out loud in a second story bedroom of my grandmother’s house in Filer Idaho.  I had been reading the Book of Mormon and wanted to know if it were true or not.

I was young, but the Holy Ghost confirmed to me that it was true.  And because it was true, I knew Joseph was a prophet.  I felt peace and calm.  This is the first time I think I really had a testimony of my own.  So, when we went back to California, I got the priesthood.

When I first learned for myself that the Book of Mormon was true, it was like the sun coming up on a fresh spring day.  Everything was better, brighter, cleaner, and clearer.  I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but I also knew it was not about him.

As L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy said in last conference:

“We are grateful for Joseph Smith and watch with wonder as his name is revered and, yes, even reviled ever more widely across the earth. But we recognize that this mighty latter-day work is not about him. It is the work of Almighty God and His Son, the Prince of Peace.” (end quote)

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul taught that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”  I came to believe that the Bible was one witness of Jesus Christ, and the Book of Mormon was a second witness of Jesus Christ.

As Brother Callister said in conference, “Together with the Bible, the Book of Mormon is an indispensable witness of the doctrines of Christ and His divinity. Together with the Bible, it “teach[es] all men that they should do good” and that they should believe and have faith in Jesus Christ.
(2 Nephi 33:10)

My testimony of the Book of Mormon was gradually growing.

When I graduated from high school, I had no pressure to go on a mission, but felt like if it were the right thing to do, then I should do it.  I still idolized my dad, and he still did not believe in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, or missions.  Again, I had to renew my testimony of the Book of Mormon.   Because I knew that if the Book of Mormon were true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet.  And if he was a prophet, then the gospel as restored through him was true and I wanted to share that no matter the sacrifice. 

If it weren’t true, then I had better things to do with my time.
The day after graduation, My brother, a friend, and I shaved our heads and left California in a 1967 red Volkswagen bug for a 6 week roadtrip / backpack trip to the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho.  I remember one day along the way, bucking hay for an uncle to make some money.  We didn’t wear hats.  After a day in the sun our heads were covered with blisters that oozed relentlessly. 

That night, I remember reading the bible and the Book of Mormon as I dabbed at my head with a wet cloth.

I also remember another night in the same small town, being yanked from the car and searched for drugs by well meaning police.  I had never touched a drug in my life, so, of course there was nothing for them to find.

That was my first experience with what we now call “profiling”.  California plates, red Volkswagen, shaved heads, dragging main, unfamiliar teenagers. . . . I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised.  We were good kids . . . just a little lacking in common sense.

That night, after being searched, I remember searching the scriptures again.

When we got to the mountains, over 800 miles from home, we only took one bag of rice, a fishing pole, and a 22 caliber  rifle because our plan was to quote, “live off the land.”  To make a long story short,

We starved.  But I read from the Book of Mormon and the bible every day.

I remember my sleeping bag getting soaked in a rain storm, so I slept under a low footbridge with no sleeping gear while the rain dripped through the cracks and the bridge acted as an efficient refrigerator.  And, the creek rose.  To make a long story short,

We froze.  But I had time under the bridge to ponder the Book of Mormon.

I also remember having no water and hiking high on the mountains looking down on the taunting Middle Fork of the Salmon river for hours.  Finally, after getting to the river and getting a drink, I didn’t have the energy to walk 30 yards to a shady flat area, so I collapsed on a pile of bowling ball size rocks in the burning sun and woke up a couple of hours later.   to make a long story short,

We were exhausted.   But I prayed about the Book of Mormon.

I read the Book of Mormon, and had lots of time to think about it, and I prayed about it.  Again, the Holy Ghost witnessed to me that it was from God, and I felt peace and calm.

As soon as we hit the pavement, our friend, who had grown tired of the advertised mountain man trip that had turned into a religious retreat, hitch hiked home to California in two days.  My brother and I hitch hiked to our car in Stanley and drove home.  It was a great adventure.

Although there were lots of things to talk about and remember from this trip.  The thing I remember most is that,

I recaptured and renewed my testimony of the Book of Mormon.  I knew it was of God, and I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet. 

It was a hard thing for me and my family, especially my dad, mom, and sisters - but I went on my mission to Japan, leaving five days after my brother left on his mission to the Philippines.  Since then, I have daily recaptured and renewed my testimony of the Book of Mormon.  It has been life changing.

Finding the answer to “is the Book of Mormon true?” is something we can only do for ourselves and it takes effort.  But, the effort is worth it.  And, the effort to constantly renew our testimonies is also worth it.

The Book of Mormon testifies that Jesus is the Christ; the bible testifies that Jesus is the Christ, and I testify that Jesus is the Christ. 

I hope that all of us will take President Andersen’s challenge to read and study the Book of Mormon this year.  May we as individuals and as families daily renew and recapture our testimonies of the Savior, and increase the unity in our homes as we read, ponder, and pray.  And, in the process move as the hymn says –“Nearer My God to Thee” . . .

1 comment:

Matt, Haley, and Bennett Hargrave said...

Wow Dad, thanks for sharing that. It was amazing. And you are welcome for shooting that window. I knew what I was doing :)