Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gospel Topic Essays

Sooo, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything. School has been taking it’s toll on me, which I didn’t quite expect to drain me so much and require quite as much time, but I haven’t stopped writing, just slowed down, so today is a short catch-up post.

Some of you are probably familiar with or have at least heard of the churches new Gospel Topic articles. They are about topics the church usually hadn’t addressed in recent years, or at least as in depth as the articles are. They are very good at giving the groundwork for discussions on these often difficult topics with many references to scholarly work and research on the subjects. I just want to give you links to them here in one place so you can go read them yourselves. If you want more beyond the articles, I recommend you check out the footnotes in them, they are quite good.

Are Mormons Christian?

Book of Mormon Translation

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

First Vision Accounts

Race and the Priesthood

Becoming Like God

Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage

There you have it. Some great beginning resources on the topics, which for many people is all they want or need, so dig in!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Temple

Today was the Ogden Temple re-dedication and I've been thinking about the importance of the Temple to me and want to share some thoughts.

I have good memories of performing baptisms for the dead in high school when we would go the Ogden Temple as early as we could muster and a group of us would go before school--once even ventured to the Salt Lake Temple. I have good memories of receiving my endowments in the Ogden Temple in 2008. As a missionary in the MTC, I was able to attend the Provo Utah Temple, after moving out to Chile as a missionary, I had the privilege of attending the Santiago Chile Temple multiple times and participated in baptisms, confirmations, initiatories, endowments and sealings. I now live in Logan Utah and have spent years attending the Logan Utah Temple. In December 2013, I was sealed to my wife in the Logan Utah Temple. The Temple has been involved in the most pivotal moments of my life, however, I think that my attendance during the ordinary, average, even difficult days, are what keep me moving closer to God as I honor those covenants I have made at the pivotal moments.

I have received answers while serving in the Temple and have found peace in difficult times. I have found strength and been reminded of how much Heavenly Father loves me, ME, Ben Byers, not a general love for everyone (which He does have), but for me as an individual.

I love learning about the Temple. So, a few book recommendations are up! I haven't read some of these cover to cover yet, but I am working on it and they are all sitting on my shelves, so feel free to borrow them, unless I'm currently reading them :-)

"The Gate of Heaven" by Matthew B. Brown--A great book about symbolism and history of the Moses Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple and some on modern day Temples.

"Symbols in Stone" by Matthew B. Brown--Discusses symbolism on the outside of the Temples.

"The House of the Lord" by James E. Talmage--History and importance of Temples. If I remember correctly, this was the first book written about Temples by a Mormon.

"The Holy Temple" by Boyd K. Packer--Discusses the why of Temples in modern days.

"Temple and Cosmos" by Hugh W. Nibley--A wide array of articles discussing the why of Temples, the history of Temples and some things about creation and the plan of salvation--I would say this is the most dense/scholarly of the books on the list.

I know that the Temple is the House of God. I love being there. I love thinking about it. Today, I attended the 10am dedicatory session and when President Monson spoke, he said,
"Love the Temple. Appreciate the Temple. Attend the Temple."
I will.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Some Thought-Provoking LDS Podcast Episodes Part 2

Here is part 2 of my recommended and favorite LDS podcasts!

The Good Word Podcast--this podcast is always from a faithful perscpective. The host, Nick Galietti interviews LDS authors and writers. He is a host for FairMormon as well.

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw Interview, Episode 2.18--This is an interview with one of my favorite LDS scholars on the Pearl of Great Price and Temple imagery. This podcast doesn't go into details from what I remember, but it gives you a taste of what he does--and I think they talk about his job as researcher...which is really cool too!

Matt Meese and Mallory Everton Interview, Episode 2.2--Those who watch Studio C will enjoy this interview quite a bit. Matt and Mallory talk about how they got into sketch comedy and a little about the birth of Studio C and how they work on sketches. Fun stuff.

A Thoughtful Faith - Mormon/LDS--like it says, this is a "thoughtful" faith. They don't always have the most faithful members being interviewed at times, sometimes they have left the church or have been excommunicated, but they try to cover a spectrum of academics and experts. The ones I'm recommending here are from faithful members of the church who specialize in sometimes difficult topics and they discuss their faith, the history, the doctrine and share their testimonies.

John Sorenson on Book of Mormon Historicity, Episode 005--Lots of interesting information on Book of Mormon geography. He talks about his book that was forthcoming, "Mormon's Codex", but has since been released and I am currently trying to dig through, slowly (I read WAY too many books at once), but have enjoyed the bits I have read. It makes the Book of Mormon even more fascinating providing the best model (in my opinion) of where the Book of Mormon took place.

The Wisdom and Faith of Thomas Alexander, Episode 008--This is a faithful LDS scholar who is a professor emeritus of Brigham Young University, specializing in American and Mormon history who probably knows more about the growth, expansion and history of the church from 1890-1930. If you like history a lot and politics, this may be for you.

Terryl & Fiona Givens - Faith, Doubt, and The God Who Weeps, Episode 010--I always enjoy listening to the Givens talk about the uniqueness of the LDS faith and yet it's universality. They talk about doubt, faith and a God who weeps with us and for us. If you want to hear some very thoughtful faithful Latter-day Saints who are extremely well read outside of the LDS world, these are two to listen to. This is the shortest interview of theirs, it's a little taste of their thoughts.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alma On Faith

These are just a bunch of thoughts on pieces of Alma 32-33 about faith in particular. I took up a personal study of this everyday for a month or so and found a gold mine. What I share here are pieces. Please share thoughts or other scriptures that you feel add to this conversation about faith.

Faith is a choice.
Plant a seed, reap the fruits.
Seed of faith vs. Seed of doubt
Both of these are real and produce real, tangible fruits.

32:21--"And now as I said concerning faith--faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true"

32:16-22--These verses focus on the importance of just believing, which appears to be more powerful and important than we give it credit, WAY more important and powerful. However, we don't want to stop here and think this is enough, that would cut the importance of what belief ultimately should lead to.

32:27--"...awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words."
*There is a very beautiful structure here where Alma is showing how incremental growth and understanding in the Gospel can work. Some just simply need to desire to believe in order for the Gospel to become active in their lives. If you try to have someone in this position reach beyond their faith, they will not grow and they won't nourish the seed. We must be patient, we must be willing to work closely with those who are at this stage (including ourselves!) and we must provide an atmosphere where they can flourish. "To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful." (D&C 46:13-14) emphasis mine. There needs to be patience with all in the Gospel because we are all at different levels of belief, faith, understanding and knowledge. These are not things we can expect from anyone, but they are most certainly things to encourage in everyone. I'm a firm believer in fostering what is good, building it up, learning from mistakes, pressing forward and growing (sounds like repentance to me). These things all have a common beginning, belief in the choices that I make. We all show our beliefs by doing (or not doing) many different things (this could be characterized as faith and doubt--which are opposites). If I don't believe I can know something, I won't seek after it. This could be compared to not even trying the seed, which does NOT mean that the seed is not good or that it won't grow if you were to plant it and care for it. 
*The idea of "giv[ing] place for a portion of my words" is fantastically insightful. It is not required that one believe everything off the bat. A portion of his words, just a little bit! I have seen instances where we have judged another for not believing something, this can't be the case since we need to help everyone to increase in their desires to believe, learn, grow and have and exercise faith, no matter where they start. A portion differs for many people as well. Similar to eating food, portion sizes are different.

22 If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.
23 And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.

Alma clarifies that the seed they are to plant is the Son of God. Believe in Christ, believe that He is, believe that He suffered and died for your sins. This is the seed for which one needs to make room, plant and nourish until a tree of everlasting life springs up in you. This takes time and CONSTANT nourishment. You can't selectively nourish the seed, it must be taken care of in all climates of life. Sometimes it may require a little bit more nourishment depending on the weather of the day, week, month or year. Believe and then do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Thought-Provoking LDS Podcast Episodes Part 1

I LOVE podcasts. I listen to lots of them. Megan can attest to that, as well as my dad and a really good friend. They are helpful ways for me to get my "think on". I listen to podcasts about technology and, recently health, but my favorites are, unsurprisingly, LDS related. Some are definitely worth more than others, so here are some recommendations (and explanations) out of the many I've listened to. This is first of a 2-4 part series of suggested podcasts. They are broken up by the podcast that the episodes are from with links to the specific episodes.

I will be recommending specific podcast episodes from the following podcasts over the next few weeks:

  • FairMormon--this has multiple podcasts, which include, but are not limited to the following--which are all aimed at helping us to increase our faith and understanding on a huge range of issues:
    • Frameworks
    • Articles of Faith
    • Keeping the Faith
    • Faith and Reason
    • Fair Issues
  • The Good Word--interviews with LDS authors about their books. I've listened to very few of these since I don't recognize very many of the authors, but I will recommend a couple.
  • Mormon Stories--this podcast has a few amazing episodes where faithful scholars are interviewed (often times, they are drilled more than interviewed), and many interviews with those who have left the church, been excommunicated or struggle with the church. I do not recommend all of these, but some are interesting to provide perspective. I will only be mentioning episodes that have faithful Latter-Day Saint scholars that have potential to help us deepen our faith and understanding. If you want any other recommendations, feel free to ask me in the comments or send me a message/email.
  • A Thoughtful Faith--interviews with LDS scholars usually, but not so much recently.
  • Mormon Matters--this is on the more scholarly end of the LDS podcasts.  I will be recommending some that I really enjoy and think provide some interesting perspectives on the scriptures and doctrine. I'm not a huge fan of how they handle social issues on this podcast. Every once and a while they do a good job, but not my favorite.

FairMormon Frameworks: this podcast has some of my favorite interviews! They are usually about 30-60min, but some go over.

  • FairMormon Frameworks 1a: Brad Wilcox–Changed by Grace: An interview with Brad Wilcox about some insights into the doctrine of Grace. For those who read his BYU Speech in my last blog post will really enjoy this. If you didn’t go read or listen to his talk at BYU, do it! Click here to read it.
    • This is part 2 of the same interview
  • FairMormon Frameworks 2 : Steven Harper First Vision: Steven Harper is currently working on the Joseph Smith Papers project and wrote a book about the first vision accounts, which is the focus of this interview. If you’ve ever wondered about the various first vision accounts, give this a listen.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 4: Brian Hales Polygamy: If you have any struggles with polygamy, this may be a podcast for you. Brian Hales is interviewed about polygamy and many issues that people have with it. He only provides short and quick responses due to the interview format but there are links to his website. I’ve read and listened to oodles of his stuff. In my opinion, Brian Hales is a champ.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 9: Richard Bushman – Helping Those in Doubt: A really great interview about helping those who struggle with perceived issues in the church. I think Richard Bushman has a very good perspective on how faith and reason work together.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 10: Terryl Givens Crucible of Doubt: Another great podcast on dealing with doubts and choosing faith. Terryl Givens is very articulate. This page has links to a few articles and books he has written as well that I highly recommend.
  • FairMormon Frameworks 11: Brant Gardner Gift and Power: To be honest, this is one of favorites! Brant Gardner talks about the translation of the Book of Mormon and the “magical” side that critics like to throw. I’ve read his book “The Gift and Power” and loved it! I don’t always agree with him on some of his conclusions, but I think he is one of the funnest scholars to listen to talk about the Book of Mormon translation and Book of Mormon lands. Highly recommended.

There are more on the FairMormon Frameworks page that are great, but these are ones I love and that have increased my faith as I seek to learn by study and also by faith. Please comment and let me know what you think of these suggestions! If you have any questions, also please ask them in the comments!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some of My Favorite BYU Speeches

I have listened and read many speeches/talks given at BYU over the years and want to recommend a few of my favorites. Many of them I revisited multiple times. This is far from exhaustive (if you have time, listen to all of the Hugh Nibley talks on BYU Speeches or all of the Elder Holland ones! I haven't even done that yet...I have a tendency to repeat ones that I really like...), but these are ones that have resonated with me for years and I think about them quite often--they have just stuck with me. Many of these were given when Elder Holland, Elder Oaks and Elder Bednar were not Apostles yet, so they probably had more time to speak there, but I wish they still gave talks like this on a more regular basis!

Just click on the title of the talk and it will take you to that talks page on (basically, I did all the work for you because I think these talks are worth your time!).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: I have to say, if you think Elder Holland is passionate when he speaks in conference, some of these speeches are much more passionate and straight from the heart. I love listening to these!
--For Times of Trouble--Oh man, this has one of my favorite Elder Holland quotes of all time:
"If there is one lament I cannot abide—and I hear it from adults as well as students—it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that phrase is one that discourages me. Though not a swearing man, I am always sorely tempted to try my hand when I hear that. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.”"
He is so open, so honest and just gives it straight in this talk.

--Remember Lot's Wife--This talk discusses the need to look forward, move on, repent and leave the past in the past. Don't dig it up. There is some great counsel for husbands and wives that applies to all of our relationships.

--"Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence"--Elder Holland relates the stories of Joseph Smith's first vision and of Moses talking with God from Moses 1. He focuses on the attacks of the adversary in these events and how we are not to "cast..away [our] confidence" just because we are in dark times but to remember the spiritual experiences that we have had. Doubts will come, but remember.

--The Inconvenient Messiah--I've listened to this one countless times. Elder Holland walks through the Savior's temptations and applies them directly to our lives and gives counsel on overcoming these difficulties. I always feel his love and concern for each one of us as I listen to this talk and reflect on much of the counsel.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
--Revelation--Just a solid, Elder Oaks style talk (roman numerals and all!) about revelation that reminds us of our part to make decisions for ourselves without being told what can of food we should take off the grocery store shelf.

Elder David A. Bednar:
--In the Strength of the Lord--Before reading/listening to this talk years ago for the first time, I had never thought much about the phrase "in the strength of the Lord", which is only used two or three times in the entire Book of Mormon. Elder Bednar helps us to gain a greater appreciation for going forth in our daily lives "in the strength of the Lord".

--Quick to Observe--Great talk about spiritual gifts that we may overlook but are just as real and poignant in our day to day lives.

--A Reservoir of Living Water--one of the best talks about studying the scriptures that I've ever heard and read. There is a story that Elder Bednar shares about him studying the gathering of Israel for a talk (or something) that I think about almost every week that reminds me that I need to be involved when studying the scriptures and be creative--I don't just need to be "conventional" about it. Listen/read it and you'll see what I mean.

Brad Wilcox
--His Grace is Sufficient--Hands down my FAVORITE talk on grace never given in General Conference! If you aren't familiar with Brad Wilcox, he was the most sought after 6th grade teacher at an elementary school when BYU caught wind of his abilities to really reach the students and inspire them. Long story short, he teaches at BYU now and is a powerful youth speaker and then hit it out of the park with this talk that has helped me to better understand the Savior's grace.

Terryl Givens
--Lightning from Heaven--one of my favorite talks about Joseph Smith and his impact in the world of religion. Terryl Givens is one of my current favorite LDS authors. He is very eloquent and is obsessed with the restoration of what he terms "dialogic" revelation--the concept of us talking with God personally to receive guidance. Good stuff.

Hugh W. Nibley: I love listening to Nibley. I read his stuff very often, but listening to him is WAY more fun! Highly recommended. Actually only one of these is available to read anyway, you have to listen to the others.
--Leaders and Managers--What's the difference between a leader and a manger? Why does it matter? How does it relate to the Gospel? Read or listen for some great Nibley wit and wisdom! This is one I'll be listening to this week :-)
--How to Write and Anti-Mormon Book--My sister Becky and I found this gem years ago. It is quite sarcastic, satirical and biting. Becky and I love it. If you want to listen to Nibley rant about anti-mormon literature, this will provide some interesting insight as well as humor. I have read (and run across) anti-mormon literature every once and a while as I study something and this talk set a baseline for me while I was young about how to consider other peoples motives, desires, sources, conclusions, etc...Some people think Nibley crossed a line here and was too sarcastic. Maybe he did, but I have to tell you, my feelings after reading that stuff almost requires humor and sarcasm out of sheer frustration sometimes. So, I still love this talk.
--Exaltation and Eternal Life--This talk is one of my favorite Nibley talks/articles/speeches of all time! He strings together a bunch of quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (mostly) and discusses the transient nature of this life and what really matters. Listen to it!

Once again, these are only SOME of the talks I really enjoy. I can list others if people show an interest in these. Please comment if you listen to one and like it or even if you dislike it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sin and Politics in the Book of Mormon

This post is different than normal, since I'm WAY behind with my posts (I have several in the pipeline, I just can't seem to finish polishing them) I have decided to share some thoughts my dad shared with me a little while ago about politics and the Book of Mormon and how it relates to sin. I know that this has controversial potential (religion and politics together, sounds dangerous right?) so I'm well aware that people will disagree as is my dad aware of that, so feel free to comment. I think my dad provides some thought provoking insights from the Book of Mormon in regards to our personal responsibilities in regards to politics. On with the article:

In Alma 8:16 and 17 there is an interesting definition of sin, one that I had not considered before.
The angel says to Alma:
8:16- And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them.  Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.  17- For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people.
Their sin is explained as one that could be seen as politics.  They were studying to destroy the liberty of “thy people”.  Since the angel refers to “his people” in his speaking to Alma, I see this as being an effort by those in Ammonihah to take away the religious freedom of those who belong to the church – Alma’s “people”.  It was not adultery or other traditional “sins”, rather, one of plotting to take away the rights of others and possibly in this case specifically religious freedom.  
We see another reference to this in Alma 9:19.  “For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people”.  And then I think we need to note that verses 20-22 describe how they have been delivered from bondage, had all things spiritual made known unto them, had their prayers answered, faith strengthened, visited by the Spirit of God, having conversed with angels, being given spiritual gifts, being delivered out of Jerusalem (he goes all the way back to Lehi) and having been saved from sickness, famine and war.  It is a lengthy outline of the many blessings that the people have received throughout their history and then in 23 we see the warning “And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.”
It may not initially seem related to “politics”.  However, I believe it is related since it deals with the sins of the “people” as a group, and the nation can only fall if the “people” forget God and allow those above them to take control.  Allowing those in power to take over seems to be frowned upon of itself.  
Back in chapter 8 verse 11 we see those liberals in Ammonihah state that they “are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions” and then in 8:13 we see their behavior toward Alma where they “withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city.”  These behaviors are all similar to those we see today from the liberals.  
In our society today, we see a group of individuals who are effectively taking away our right to worship and to have God in our everyday public lives.  God has now been removed from schools, from the work-place, from public buildings and meetings and for the most part from public discourse.  And those who are seeking to remove this freedom from us are not through.  They are still seeking to remove every remaining vestige of religion – specifically Christianity – from our lives and it doesn’t seem that they will be satisfied until they have succeeded in doing so.  
Our liberals today seem to be following the same course as those in the city of Ammonihah.  They ridicule those who believe in God and Jesus Christ.  They revile us and would in many cases spit upon us if they could get away with it.  In our case today, they have advanced beyond studying to take away our liberty and are actually in the process of doing so.  
I keep referring to “they” and “liberals”, but let me point out that these are also people in positions of influence and power.  Our political leaders, leaders in various organizations (for ex. schools) and those who are influential in public opinion.  Note in Alma 10:27 that Alma warns:
And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.”
The leaders and those in positions of influence are identified as those at the foundation of the problem which is also our problem today.  It is a pattern that will also lead to our destruction as it did theirs.
I find it so interesting that in Alma 8 God identified specifically what their sin was.  Now, if we note Ether 8:23-25 there seems to be a parallel warning about our day.  We are warned about our own destruction if we “suffer these things to be.”  Those “things” being groups (and our support of them) who are built up to get power and gain.  To be very specific, verse 25 is very explicit:
“For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies.”
It may seem that the passages in Ether are more focused on general destruction of the people by taking away political rights – but due to verse 22, I believe there is a direct correlation between these groups seeking to take away the rights of the people in general and religious rights in specific.  Ether 22 states:
And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of this saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground.”  
Evidently, these two things go hand in hand.  Those who combine to seek power and gain will, and do, seek to deprive the people of their rights of religion and will in due course kill them to obtain their goals.  We also see that sadly there is a large portion of the population that gets pulled into the group supporting the combination.  Of course we see that happen in the Book of Mormon several times – and it does not end well in each instance.  War and destruction inevitably follow.  
If we return to the account of Alma in Ammonihah, we learn in 10:22 that it is only because of the prayers of the few righteous who still exist in “the land” that the Ammonihahites have not already been destroyed.  So what happens?  In 14:8 the believers – men, women and children, are burned to death – and removed from “the land”.  This was the last bit of protection for those in Ammonihah, and we see in 16:2-3 that all those in Ammonihah were subsequently killed by a Lamanite army – and it is suggested that all of those from Ammonihah were destroyed, with captives only being taken from some of the surrounding areas.  
What an amazing pattern and it begs the question of our day today and what is currently happening within our government and where it is going.  How much longer do we have before the Lord sends judgment upon us?