Monday, January 25, 2010

Family History Talk

This past Sunday I gave a talk during sacrament meeting. The topic was "family history". The talk itself was heavily adapted from the first lesson from the church's family history manual. It's a wonderful book, that I recommend for any member of the church who is interested in family history.

Anyway, my write-up for the talk follows:

Today, I want to talk with you about the reasons why we do family history. When that term, “family history”, is mentioned, I think most of us think about black and white photographs and family trees and weirdos in libraries who stare at microfiche all day. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not really like that anymore. Family history today is all about internet searches and emailing people and downloading stuff. These are the tools that our Father in Heaven has given us to bring His children back to Him in these latter days.

But the mechanics of how to do family history isn’t what I want to talk about right now. If you want to hear about that, you should come to the class I’ll be teaching in the next hour in the relief society room.

Instead, right now I’d like you to consider the following questions:
* What is Heavenly Father’s plan for His children?
* What is the role of family history and temple ordinances in that plan?
* Why do we hear about this guy Elijah so often in the scriptures?
* What can we do to turn our hearts to our ancestors?

To begin, we have to go back a little. Well, we actually have to go back all the way to the time before we were born. Back then, we lived with our Heavenly Father. He created us in His own image. He loved us and wanted us to be happy. He wanted us to become like Him. Indeed, the Lord has said:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

Heavenly Father at that time presented a plan for all of us, His children, to come to earth and then return to His presence. Our lives here on Earth are intended to be a homeward journey to the presence of God in His celestial kingdom.

This journey would be impossible without the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. He told the prophet Ether:

“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people … In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name …” (Ether 3:14)

It is the Savior’s Atonement that makes it possible for all of us to repent, be forgiven of our sins, and be resurrected. We obtain the full blessings of the Atonement by receiving gospel ordinances, as performed by those who hold the proper priesthood authority, and by making and keeping sacred covenants with God. Some ordinances are essential for exaltation. These include baptism, confirmation, the ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men, and temple ordinances. Receiving these ordinances and making the covenants associated with them should be everybody’s goal.

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the role of ordinances and covenants:

“Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into [God’s] presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality. Once we have received them for ourselves and for our families, we are obligated to provide these ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead, indeed for the whole human family.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 27; or Ensign, May 1987, 24).

So, let’s talk about families for a moment. Families are essential in Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. Here on Earth, each of us is part of an Earthly family; what we often forget is that we are also part of a much larger heavenly family. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

“God is the designer of the family. He intended that the greatest of happiness, the most satisfying aspects of life, the deepest joys should come in our associations together and our concerns one for another as fathers and mothers and children” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 98; or Ensign, May 1991, 74).

Most of us here today have received at least some of the ordinances of the gospel. Not everyone in our families has had the same privilege. Many of our ancestors—and perhaps even some of our immediate family members—have died without hearing the gospel or receiving those saving ordinances. Nevertheless, we are greatly blessed to know something of the nature of our Heavenly Father, and to understand that He is just and merciful, and has provided a way for these people, our deceased family members, to have these blessings.

Though they are no longer with us, they are not lost. Right now they continue to live in a place called the Spirit World. There they have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they cannot receive the ordinances of the gospel for themselves, for this is something that must be done with a physical body. Consider baptism – it’s tough to baptize a spirit that has no flesh and bones. Therefore these bodiless spirits cannot progress until others provide these ordinances for them. Our privilege and responsibility is to give our ancestors this gift by identifying them and ensuring that ordinances are performed in their behalf in the temple. They may then choose whether to accept the work that has been done for them.

One of the most wondrous ordinances that occur in the temple is that of the sealing. This sacred temple ordinance unites husbands to their wives and parents to their children. The goal of this process, as the Prophet Joseph Smith once said, is that:

“the whole chain of God’s family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God …” (Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, Oct. 4, 1906, 629).

Seen in this light, the ultimate goal is to seal the entirety of the human family together, that we may all return to our Father in Heaven together. Let me restate the scripture from Moses,

“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

How glorious it would truly be if we were all to return to Heavenly Father again, together.

These keys of the welding or sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood were bestowed upon Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament. This priesthood includes the authority to perform ordinances that bind families together eternally. Ancient prophets foretold the return of Elijah before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself, as recorded in 3rd Nephi, shared this prophecy from Malachi with the Nephites:

“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (3 Nephi 25:5–6; see also Malachi 4:5–6; D&C 2:1; Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39).

This prophecy was also one of the first messages that Moroni gave to young Joseph Smith.

President Henry B . Eyring of the First Presidency taught:

“It is important to know why the Lord promised to send Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet with great power given him by God. He held the greatest power God gives to His children: he held the sealing power, the power to bind on earth and have it bound in heaven… And the Lord kept His promise to send Elijah. Elijah came to the Prophet Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836, just after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the first temple built after the Restoration of the gospel” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2005, 80; or Ensign, May 2005, 78).

When Elijah appeared to the Prophet Joseph, he said,

“Behold, the time has fully come … to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers… Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands.” (D&C 110:14–16)

Since that time, the sealing power has been conferred on men as authorized by the President of the Church. These priesthood holders use the sealing power to perform ordinances in the temple for the living and the dead. Elijah’s return marked the beginning of a worldwide interest in genealogical research that continues to grow even today.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that an outpouring of the Holy Ghost accompanied Elijah’s return:

“Elijah came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to the fathers... Elijah came not only to stimulate research for ancestors. He also enabled families to be eternally linked beyond the bounds of mortality. Indeed, the opportunity for families to be sealed forever is the real reason for our research” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 43; or Ensign, May 1998, 34).

Allow me to repeat that last part,

“Indeed, the opportunity for families to be sealed forever is the real reason for our research.”

Temple and family history work can bless and protect you and your family. President Boyd K. Packer promised:

“The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs. We will be eligible to have the Lord take an interest in our affairs both spiritual and temporal. . . . Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.” (The Holy Temple [1980], 182, 265).

President Thomas S. Monson said:

“In this work, no lock will open without [the key of faith]. I testify that when we do all we can to accomplish the work that is before us, the Lord will make available to us the sacred key needed to unlock the treasure which we so much seek… My brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well doing. If you feel your contribution is small or insignificant, remember that the worth of souls is precious in the sight of God. Our opportunity is to prepare the way, and to accomplish the ordinance work, after faithful research, that these souls may prepare for the glory which is their divine opportunity” (“The Key of Faith,” Ensign, Feb. 1994, 5, 7).

The Lord has said,

“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

Seeking for our family members and performing their temple work is one way for us to contribute to that great work. In doing so, we bring glory to our God in the form of our united families.

This is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

What I've Been Up To

It's been a while since I've posted and there have been very good reasons for that. I'm tempted to say that I have just had nothing to say, but that's not really true. The fact of the matter is that I've just been over-subscribed, and blogging is one of the things that fell off my priority list.

Over the past few weeks I have been extremely busy. At work I'm responsible for some new software and it hasn't exactly been going swimmingly. We're behind schedule, over-budget, and have several technical problems that we're still working through. If you know anything about building new software, you're probably smiling to yourself and saying, "Yeah, that's how it always is, you dope!" which is absolutely true. It is always this way, but that doesn't mean the stress is any lower.

On top of that, I'm working with my primary "customers" for the new software to develop the requirements for the next round of the software that's already behind schedule. They are not being cooperative, and the whole process is literally months behind schedule. I have very little time with them each week, and it seems they find ways to fritter the time away. They aren't excited about moving forward with the new software, but I don't have the resources to keep my software developers in a holding pattern while they hem and haw about how they want the document formatted. I totally appreciate now why some software developers run off and hide in a room to code their software without any customer input whatsoever -- it's easier and a heck of a lot faster.

On top of that, I've been under a deadline to get a paper for a conference written so that it can get through formal reviews prior to being publicly released. That just took a lot of time, but I finally got it out the door and things look good. Now I have to make travel arrangements and get everything cleared with the conference itself. It's not hard, but it requires doing everything deliberately, in order, on time.

On top of that, there's a large group of Europeans coming into town tomorrow to talk about a joint NASA/ESA mission in 2016. I'll be leading a goodly portion of the discussion, and I had to pull together a presentation that walks the very careful line of not over-promising our capabilities while at the same time inspiring them with the utmost in confidence.

On top of that, my computer died a few weeks back. Coincidentally, I was scheduled to upgrade to a new one anyway, so after a week of extensive effort (and lost work time!), I was finally able to recover all my data and get my work legs under me. The new computer is great, but its hardware is different than my old one and it has Windows 7 instead of Windows XP. That's fine with me, but it hasn't exactly been the most opportune time for me to invest in learning a new system and I'm still getting used to it.

On top of that, we had family in town the last two weekends prior to this past one, which wasn't in itself a stress, but just by the very nature of distracting me from other responsibilities, it ended up raising my stress level. I love having family come and visit us -- it's one of my favorite things and it happens far too rarely, so don't read this to mean that I resent that at all. However, I certainly could have used my time differently had they not been here.

Then there's the matter of speaking in sacrament meeting. I was told a month and a half back that I was going to speak in sacrament meeting more than two weeks ago. I spent a ton of time and mental effort preparing for it, only to find out the day before I was to give the talk that I wasn't on the agenda. Apparently, the counselor in charge of talks thought the bishop was kidding when he told him he wanted me to speak, though I took it entirely seriously. It took a bit more straightening things out before I ended up being put on the program for yesterday instead. The mental effort to prepare wasn't ultimately wasted, but the lengthy process to get to the talk itself wasn't helpful. The topic? Family history. I'll post the talk separately in a minute ... Anyway, the talk went well, but it took up more mental energy.

On top of that, I started teaching a family history class at church yesterday. So, not only did I give a talk in sacrament meeting, but I had to scramble immediately thereafter to get a classroom set up for it. I have over two dozen people in attendance and it will be very difficult to meet everybody's needs, but I'm confident it will work out. I arranged for a live internet connection so we could do some good stuff in class, but that took some time and even more mental energy to coordinate.

On top of that, my wife was NOT released from her stake calling, as I was led to believe should would be, which means she's still worrying about things that she shouldn't be. I love my wife dearly, so what she worries about, I worry about. More mental energy expended.

On top of that, the kids are very, very busy right now with schoolwork and life-in-general and every time I come home from work it seems like a constant onslaught of something that needs to be done. I know it's normal, but I just feel so ... weary ... when I get home from work and the last thing I want is to hear kids arguing or bickering or complaining about this or that.

On top of that, my wife hasn't been well lately. As the old saying goes, "When Mom is sick, the whole family is sick." It is absolutely true. She's been diagnosed with what's called "reactive hypoglycemia" and it has really been taking its toll on her. She's trying to manage it carefully, but it seems that everyday is a wild card as far as how well she's going to be. She doesn't ever sleep very well, and right now I can't count on her being healthy enough to get anything in particular done. It took me over a month to find a good time when she had available time and was well enough to actually get outside and do some trimming of the rose bushes. She's very particular about that and insists on doing it herself, but it just wasn't getting done. The bad part is that because she's not feeling well, she's not keeping the house as well as she'd like, which upsets her, which upsets me. More stress.

I've got bills to be paid, taxes to be sorted out, church calling stuff to be done, phone calls to make, books to read, family history to be sorted out, lessons to prepare, archiving to do, and a book that I started writing in 2001 that I really would like to finish. There's things I've been promising to do with the kids that I haven't got around to doing, including teaching my youngest, who is so ready, how to ride his bike without training wheels. I almost never spend time with my daughter and my interactions with my oldest child seem to be a never-ending stream of nitpicking. More stress.

And I put on four pounds over the holidays I can't seem to shed.

And somebody hit our brand new beautiful van and almost got away with it a few weeks back.

Oh, and I need to go home teaching sometime very soon ...

Time is not my friend.

Even so, with my stress level sky high, things are really quite good for me and my family. I have a job, which is saying more than a lot of people can say right now, and I still like it on most days, which is saying more than most people can ever say. Church is great; I love the people there and it is wonderful to serve -- speaking in sacrament meeting wasn't even nerve-wracking because of all the people who I know and love that were sitting in the congregation.

By and large my family is healthy and well and we do have good times together. Tonight's family home evening went very smoothly and the kids have been generally helpful around the house. They still couldn't sit still to save their lives, and it seems all they want to do is read, but they are good people. My oldest is finally old enough that we can leave them all home alone for short periods of time. This is something new for us, but my wife and I are settling into the idea of it pretty quickly.

All told, I've got far more blessings than difficulties. What's that expression? If we all got together and threw our troubles high up into the air, after seeing everybody else's problems, each of us would probably scramble to recover our own. I'm grateful for my life, and while it's a little overwhelming right now, I'll make it through. After all, I've got a little help from Upstairs. I also have a little help from my good wife upstairs, too, who is in bed right now futilely trying to fall asleep and probably unhappy that I'm not there to help her stay warm ...

So, good night!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Youth and Love

My son got in an argument with his best friend from school. He got caught holding hands with the other boy's girlfriend, and things got a little heated. Some emotional altercations ensued and tears were spilled. Apparently, my son is absolutely insistent that he is going to marry this girl and there doesn't seem to be anything that we can do about it!

Okay, now take a deep breath, and re-read that paragraph with the understanding that my son, my youngest son, is only 4. His friend and the little girl are the same age. My son's friend calls the little girl his "mistletoe", a nickname which nobody can explain (not even the little boy's mother), and apparently he (the other little boy) doesn't even know what it means that my son said he was going to marry this little girl, but he knows it's bad and that it somehow excludes him, so things got bad. The little boy cried while my son was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, happy to be the winner in this little love-triangle.

So tonight I had a talk with him and explained to him that he can't decide who he is going to marry right now. He wasn't too happy about that, and didn't really like my explanation when I told him that he needs to wait until he's a grown up. I told him that if he got married to her now, he might grow up and decide he doesn't really like her as they get older, and then what would he do? He didn't like those thoughts one bit, but I soon tickled the little rascal and he ran away happy.

My eight-year-old daughter, ever the emotional sophisticate, was sitting across the room listening to this conversation with a silly grin on her face. She has a not-so-secret crush on a boy from church, who I think is kind of a little punk. She has a tendency to like the "bad boys", much to my great dismay, as evidenced by this crush and also her unceasing fascination with a bully in her older brother's grade at school. This trend makes me very nervous for her teenage years.

My oldest son, as far as I can tell, doesn't care one whit what other people think about him (even us). Well, okay, there is one exception: he doesn't want other kids to think he's a wimp. The other day he twisted his ankle pretty badly at school and ended up coming home early. That very evening he went to a pack meeting with his cub scout group and wore nothing but a smile as he walked and sprinted around the room like there was nothing wrong. At home, however, he was so very injured (the big exaggerator) to the point where he needed to elevate his foot and would wince and whimper every time he stepped on the bad foot. At school the next day, however, he apparently showed no sign of trouble because he was too embarrassed to let the kids see him limp.

One could say that this is bad because he's concerned what others think of him, but you know, it's actually a step in the right direction for him because he is very unaware of how he is perceived socially. He picks his nose at the drop of a hat (any hat), can't be still or silent (ever), has more nervous ticks than you can shake a stick at, and makes weird noises incessantly. As a ten-year-old, I keep hoping he'll grow out of some of this stuff, and he is improving, but at this rate, he'll probably move out first.

Oh, and I'm sure he'll notice that girls are interesting one of these days, but I have absolutely no idea how that's going to go.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Newsletter 2009

Folds in Time Discovered

AP – Saugus An engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced today the discovery of unnatural folds in time that affected the general vicinity of the laboratory. Cited as an accidental discovery, it appears as if the year 2009 was compressed into a series of disjointed events.

Geographically, the phenomenon extended as far south as Disneyland, where visitors to the park couldn’t account for where all their money had been spent. Nearby to the north, wildfires raged during the summer months which seemed to spread far faster than would normally be possible. The Laboratory itself was spared, but the fire burned to the foothills above and adjacent to the facility.

To the northwest, in Saugus, whole households were apparently affected. Many continue to experience confusion as they consider the passage of time during the previous year. “This year just went so fast!” exclaimed Roy, father of three and engineer at JPL.

The first observer of this phenomenon, Roy says he knew that something was different from the beginning of the year. “I just wasn’t able to get things done like I normally do,” he said. “My family was affected, too. For example, I know for a fact that we took a vacation to Yellowstone this summer, but for some reason, all I can recall are vague memories. I mean, we took almost 500 pictures and bought a few trinkets, but this hat with a grizzly footprint on it is a total mystery to me.”

His wife, standing nearby, expressed similar concerns, but her worries were more related to her children, who seem to be taller than can be accounted for. “They just keep growing! I buy my oldest son a pair of pants and within a month or two they’re floods! And his feet, oh, his feet! He’s going to need to start buying canoes soon. Seriously, there is no way a boy can grow that fast!”

Questioning [this son] directly, evidence mounted as his responses were mumbled and he rolled his eyes as only a pre-teen can do. However, his sister, who turned eight this year and was baptized by her father in October, states that she remembers that particular event vividly. She says she also loved going camping at Big Sur, touring the Lighthouse at Pointe Sur, and visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “It was awesome! I loved seeing all the fish – especially the great white shark. It is the only one known to be in captivity!” she says authoritatively.

When asked about how time has gone by so quickly, her younger brother simply said he’s going to be 5 in April and he’ll be bigger then. [These children's mother] indicated that [her youngest son] is in pre-school and has learned all his letters and letter sounds, and can do some basic math. Apparently, though, these and his skills as a master Lego builder have improved unaccountably.

The biggest evidence of change, however, is in the perceptions of those who were caught up in the anomaly. Says Roy, “They say when you get over the hill time picks up speed, but I thought they were kidding!” These kinds of thoughts are clearly inappropriate for one in his mid-thirties, particularly since the life expectancy for males of his age in the United States is 75. His wife notes with a tight smirk that her husband, an amateur genealogist, “has some funny concepts about time. He thinks it’s out to get him.”

In the meantime, local scientists are still studying the phenomenon and expect it to linger into 2010. Some concerns have been expressed among the engineers that the effects of the phenomenon may not remain local. Says Roy, “We just don’t know how widespread this is going to be. It certainly looks like 2010 will be a better year – not to say that 2009 was bad; in fact, it was great – but we won’t know until after 2010 has passed.”

The engineers and scientists all agree, however, that the best advice for those who may experience this phenomenon is to stay with their families as much as possible. This seems to temper the effects and makes more meaningful the time that is actually experienced.

Roy, as the primary discoverer of this phenomenon, is expected to travel to Washington, D.C. in the spring to receive the Nobel Prize in Temporal Science, but he admits that this phenomenon may prevent that experience.

Click here to see the full blog.

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