Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clinging to the Iron Rod

As I've mentioned infrequently on this blog, I grew up in Utah.

In Utah, unlike much of the rest of the world, high school students attend "release time seminary," where they are "released" from campus during one class period each day to attend the seminary building (usually located in an adjoining building to the campus). Seminary offers Latter-day Saint youth a chance to step back from the hustle-and-bustle cares of worldly study and focus on spiritual concepts such as scripture study, doctrinal discussions and missionary preparation.

Like I said, it's a unique system to Utah (and I believe parts of Arizona and Idaho ... correct me if I'm wrong, somebody). In most stakes, seminary is taught early in the morning, usually around 6 a.m. by ward or stake members who gather a stake-full of youth in a nearby chapel.

I finally had the chance to enjoy one of these early-morning seminary classes. My young single adult ward was assigned a week to provide "security" for the chapel while the teacher delivered his class to these high schoolers, so I went to the chapel at 5:30 a.m. merely to keep an eye on the doors and make sure the building remained secure (as well as provide help in case of an emergency to the classroom instructor).

I was struck by the diligence of these students. I expected a half dozen youth, falling asleep at their table, while some brother or sister droned on about the priesthood, the Restoration, or the Word of Wisdom. Instead, as I occasionally passed to listen to the instructor's lesson, I heard a small gaggle of attentive youths (there were around 20-30 in the room) actively engaged in a lesson outlining church and priesthood organization.The only lackadaisical routine of the early hour came during the opening hymn, when few in the small group expressed vocal intent (although, that may have been for the better, as some of the voices would have been quite underdeveloped).

Daily scripture study is important. Whether it's with a group of other students early in the morning, or personal reading of a few verses late at night, daily "feasting upon the words of Christ" is one thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from the rest of the world. Doing so helps us to "treasure up in [our] minds continually the words of life."

When asked what the main difference is between the LDS church and other Christian denominations, Joseph Smith reportedly said, "we believe and follow the Bible." Such a bold statement stems from our unwavering desire to continually study the scriptures and learn the Savior's doctrine and about His plan of happiness.

I'll admit: my own scripture study has been waning lately. But what a blessing it is to be reminded of my imperfections, so that I can strive to be better.

Even if I am reminded by a couple of sleepy-eyed 14- and 15-year-old youths in Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice

It's the first weekend of October, and that only means one thing for Mormons around the world: General Conference weekend.

The chance to listen to living Prophets, Seers and Revelators for 2-3 sessions per day, two days this week, is a unique opportunity afforded to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like the Prophets of the Old and Testaments, as well as those in our additional testament The Book of Mormon, today's Prophets speak with God, so that they can let us know His will on Earth and in His kingdom. It's also a chance for us to associate with other members of the faith, whether it be in person, on satellite television or on social networking sites such as Twitter, where #ldsconf was the No. 3 hashtag during a busy Saturday morning that included college football and Ryder Cup golf.

One thing church leaders did Saturday was announce five new temples. Temples are sacred buildings, more than simple meetinghouses; they are places where faithful members of the church go to perform sacred ordinances for themselves as well as on behalf of their deceased ancestors. The new temples announced will be built in Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Tijuana, Mexico; Lisbon, Portugal; and Urdaneta, Phillipines.

General Conference also generally carries a few themes, or particular items of faith or doctrine given in talks by various church leaders that members should apply in life. Through Saturday's three sessions, there was a strong theme of obedience and following the Prophet. It's a basic doctrine, one discussed by church members from age 8 to 88, but it's also one of the most complex. LDS church members aren't taught to be mindless robots. On the contrary, we are taught to question and seek answers to life's great questions, including those regarding doctrines we may desire to understand further. Constant study of the scriptures is encouraged, and continually focusing on the Lord's Plan of Salvation is recommended.

Following the Prophet has also been under much debate recently, with certain statements by the First Presidency of the church being dubbed "difficult" and "hard" for many members of the church. But it is something that the Lord would always have us do. President Wilford Woodruff once said, "The Lord would not let me nor any other Prophet lead the church astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me from my place. And so He will any other man who attempts to lead astray from the oracles of God, or from their duty." Later in the same discourse, though, President Woodruff added that if the Prophet ever did begin to lead the church astray, we would be blessed by following his counsel, assumingly while the Lord "removed him."

This post is a short one, merely attempting to explain a bit about General Conference and why it is so important to members of the church. It's a pleasure to listen to the Prophets and Apostles, from anywhere in the world, every six months, and learn of God's plan for each of us.

And if you desire to learn more, click here. Or watch Sunday's conference sessions here.

Here's a taste of one of the talks delivered during one of Saturday's sessions. The man is Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, a member of the church's Quorum of the Seventy, who was called as a witness of Jesus Christ to all the world. Watch it. Learn from it. Ponder it. Otherwise, General Conference is just another October weekend.

For an archive of each General Conference talk, see here.