Why I Believe – The Book of Mormon

Why I Believe – The Book of Mormon

why-i-believe-bom

I know, I’ve fallen way off the boat with my “Why I Believe” posts, I’ll fill in more someday.  I was asked to speak in church on Sunday about the Book of Mormon.  At first I thought I’d end up just reading what I wrote in this blog post… but as I wrote my talk this came out instead.  It turned out to be part of the series that I hadn’t gotten to writing yet.  I guess sometimes I just need a little encouragement – thanks Bishop!

Our bishop gave us Elder Holland’s talk “Safety for the Soul” for a topic.  I sort of feel like being given a talk from Elder Holland to speak on is like throwing down a gauntlet – here take this amazing talk and find something you can add to it, I dare you.  Seriously, Elder Holland’s talk is amazing and I would definitely invite you to stop reading my post and re-listen to his talk So a little known fact about me – although my career has been in computers I actually majored in Linguistics in college.  If you’re not familiar with what linguistics is – basically it’s the study of language – not any particular language but the study of the mechanics, building blocks, and psychology of language. So when I heard about this linguistic study that was done on the Book of Mormon I thought was intriguing.

So linguists have found that every person has a unique “wordprint” – basically a fingerprint of their particular writing style.  Every person has subconscious patterns of usage for non-contextual words – words like that and, the and, and and, to – they’re words that we use without really thinking and it’s nearly impossible to break those habits.  They’ve found that even people who are very conscientious about trying to imitate another person’s style still actually maintain their own wordprint.

The Book of Mormon presents an interesting case because it’s a book that has 100 individual speakers if it was translated and should therefore have 100 different wordprints.  So they took a sampling of texts from 24 Book of Mormon speakers and 9 texts from other speakers, including people like Joseph Smith who would be supposed alternate authors for the Book of Mormon.  Sure enough, they found unique wordprints for each of these different authors.  This is fascinating as it would be nearly impossible for a single person to really write in that many voices without their own wordprint bleeding through.

(Sidenote: there were some other fascinating discoveries in that study so if you have some time I’d highly recommend reading it)

After reading about this study I have been more attentive to seeing these stylistic differences between authors and it is interesting to me to see that each speaker in the Book of Mormon truly has their own unique style and personality similar to the modern Apostles in their conference talks. You start to get a feel for each of the individual Book of Mormon prophets as you separate out their writings and it’s fascinating to me to get to know them in this way.

I think this is such a blessing, even if you might not connect with what Nephi has to say, you might find that you really love the words of Alma or maybe King Benjamin.  I was thinking recently in a sacrament meeting what a blessing it is that we have a church where we get to hear different people speak each week and get a different perspective on the gospel rather than having a single pastor.  While I’m sure Bishop Peters could give us an excellent sermon every week I love that every person here has their own experiences with the gospel and different things that stick out to them and that we get to hear those perspectives.  I think this helps the gospel to be richer for all of us as we gain different insights through the eyes of different members of the ward each week.  It’s awesome that the Book of Mormon has this same plethora of perspectives to share with us rather than just one person’s interpretation of the gospel.

Every person you meet will have a different take on the gospel.  One of my best friends in college once put together a notebook for me that she filled with some of her very favorite quotes.  It was one of the sweetest gifts that someone has given me.  But when I got it I noticed something interesting – the quotes that spoke to her didn’t speak to me in the same way.  She had selected a lot of quotes that were lovely – they talked about things like you’re loved and beautiful and special – which is great.  However the quotes that I tend to take note of are really bold quotes – “the standard of truth has been erected, no unhallowed hand shall stop the work” type quotes.  Even though this was one of my very best friends the things that spoke to her and the things that spoke to me were very different. When you read through the Book of Mormon you find so many different styles and messages.  Just like it would be hard for Elder Holland to write an Elder Scott talk, I have a hard time believing that one person was able to come up with so many different spins on the gospel and craft such a detailed work.

Another interesting note is the geography of the Book of Mormon.  A few years back my mom read a book called Mormon’s Map which focused entirely on the geographical clues of the Book of Mormon.  As you read the Book of Mormon there are lots of references to different places and how people travelled between the places etc.  In making up a story it’s difficult to keep all the different places in the same places on a map consistently – honestly I’m very directionally challenged and I have a hard time keeping straight where real places are, let alone fictitious places.  My parents joked when I started driving that they couldn’t send me to drive up to BYU on my own because they’d get a call from me saying, “Mom, why are all these people speaking French?  I don’t remember having to cross the border to Canada to get to Utah?”  They were only halfway joking, I’m really that bad with directions.

Anyways, if you read the Book of Mormon and find all of the contextual clues for distances and locations you can actually plot out all of the locations on a map with some accuracy and it stays consistent.  So if from Zarahemla to Bountiful is a day’s journey for a Nephite, it stays that distance through other comparisons. If Sidon is east of Zarahemla it stays east throughout the entire book.  When they use the terms up and down to refer to elevation then the one city stays up and the other city stays down.

This sort of consistency would be nearly impossible to do consistently unless the places actually exist and in writing you don’t have to remember an invention but you’re just referencing where things are.  It’s natural to say something like “I went down to Provo” or “up to Salt Lake” because we know where those places are.  But if you were working off of places that you weren’t familiar with or were invented you would probably be less inclined to use those sorts of terms and would instead say something more like “I went to Bora Bora” which would still sound natural but you wouldn’t have to think through the details.

My mom decided after reading this book to try doing the study for herself – she found that there were SO many geographical tidbits woven into the story that she tried to keep up with them in a Google Document but found she couldn’t keep up through the whole book.  To have that many little details AND keep them consistent is pretty remarkable.

Elder Bednar shared an experience in a religion symposium at BYU Idaho.  He told about how as part of his work as a business professor he wrote books.  One particular book that he wrote was written with the help of a colleague.  He and his colleague were both highly educated and put tons of research into the book.  It was 650 pages long and between the two of them took 2 years to write.  He said this about that experience –

“With eight years of university training, with two years of very dedicated work, with an editorial staff, with personal computers, with spell checkers and thesauruses on-line, with the Internet and the other resources that are so readily available, when I picked up the book that I had written and opened it up, I still found mistakes….

Brothers and sisters, you could take a team of the brightest people on the earth, as large a team as you might want, with all of the support staff, all of the computer technology, and all of the assistance that you can imagine, and such a team could not produce one page of a Book of Mormon.”

I haven’t done any writing in my time that could anywhere near rival writing a book, however I love writing in my blog.  I know that for every post that I write I write it, and then I go through and I rewrite it a dozen times before I’m happy enough with it to publish it.  I consider my personal experience with writing to be just a glimpse of what it would take to write a book like the Book of Mormon.  Then consider Emma Smith’s personal testimony of the Book of Mormon

“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”

To keep all the details of a book as complex as the Book of Mormon straight in your head, as well as to be able to remember exactly where you left off in telling it aloud would be impossible.  To do all that without having to go back and revise things is a pretty strong testimony of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  As you read the Book of Mormon and notice all of the intricacies of the text and consider the ways it fits in with the Bible and other styles and histories – it’s pretty remarkable.  In April conference of 1996 Elder Dallin H. Oaks said –

“Overarching the Prophet Joseph’s entire ministry were his comparative youth, his superficial formal education, and his incredibly rapid acquisition of knowledge and maturity. He was 14 at the First Vision and 17 at the first visit from the angel Moroni. He was 21 when he received the golden plates and just 23 when he finished translating the Book of Mormon (in less than 60 working days).”

I’ve tried at times to really reason through the Book of Mormon and see if I can come up with any theory that adequately explains it – and even with vast conspiracies or anything else I’ve come up with – the only answer that makes sense is that Joseph Smith received the book in the manner he says he did.  As Joseph himself said of the book, it is the keystone of our religion.  If The Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and every other aspect of the gospel falls into line as being true.  If it’s not true, then nothing else in the gospel holds up and the entire work crumbles.

Elder George Q. Cannon said of the Book of Mormon, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”  I love this quote because it accurately describes how I feel about the Book of Mormon too.  I don’t know how to explain a book that claims to be of divine origin, a book that contains so much truth and changes lives for the better – without it actually being of that divine origin.

It’s similar to how I feel about those who say Jesus was just a good wise man, but not the Son of God.  You cannot accept Christ’s ministry without accepting his divinity.  If He was not indeed the very Son of God, then he was a deranged and very confused man for saying so and neither good nor wise, but evil for trying to deceive people. If the Book of Mormon is a good book then it has to be of good origins.

As Christ himself said both to the Israelites and the Nephites, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth for evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18)

What fruits has living by the Book of Mormon brought forth in your life?  Have you tried the experiment on the word?  Have you tried Alma’s challenge of “mourning with those that mourn” and “comforting those who stand in need of comfort”?  Have you stood up in seemingly impossible situations like the Sons of Helaman and found yourself protected?  Have you prayed to the Lord for direction in your life like the Brother of Jared and received an answer?  What results have you seen from living by the teachings in the Book of Mormon?  The wisdom of the Book of Mormon is not simply philosophies of men wrapped up in stories and fables.  The Book of Mormon is true, and it came forth the way Joseph claimed.  The result of living by its teachings is peace, direction and light, and results like that can only come from truth.

I want to share this excerpt from Elder Holland’s talk.  He shared the scripture that Hyrum Smith marked from the Book of Mormon as the last thing he read to his brother Joseph before their martyrdom.  Then followed up with this declaration –

“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.”

Seriously, passages like that are why we love Elder Holland. 🙂 I like Elder Holland’s note that this is “one of a thousand elements of [his] own testimony.”  The research and studies and reasonings that I’ve shared with you are not my testimony of the Book of Mormon, they are simply small facets of my testimony.  In order to have a testimony you can’t stake your whole belief on one small aspect of the gospel, you have to dive in so that you have a thousand different pieces that make your faith immovable.

I went to high school in Southern California, where obviously Latter-day Saints are not the majority.  One day I was talking to one of my friends about some aspect of the gospel (I couldn’t even tell you what it was now) and afterwards I was thinking about what I’d just told her and I thought, “are you telling her things that are really true, or are you just mindlessly repeating things that other people have told you are true?”  The thought gave me serious pause.  I take my integrity very seriously – I didn’t want to be spouting off things that I didn’t know were true.   Almost immediately I realized – of course it is true.  I’d read the Book of Mormon, gone to church, studied the gospel and tried to live it – I could see how much happiness, peace, direction, and joy the gospel gave me and those who lived it, and how much of the opposite came from not living it.  I had tried the ‘experiment upon the word’ and I could see that it brings forth good fruit.

Like Elder Holland these are some of the thousand elements of my testimony – I know that the Book of Mormon is true.  Beyond academic analysis I know the Book is true because I’ve read it, I’ve tried to live it.  I’ve asked, as it says at the end of the book, if the words were true, and I have felt that witness for myself.  I know that as Joseph Smith said we “can get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.”  As I live the things I’ve learned in the Book of Mormon my life is enriched and I’m better for it.  The blessings of the gospel are not coincidental.  If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon and taken Mormon’s challenge yet – then do it.  Start today and get through the book.  The testimony and strength that you will gain from it will be priceless to you.

If you’re struggling with your testimony I would encourage you to go back to the Book of Mormon – re-read it.  Pick one thing that you want to add as a part of your testimony and study that.  As your testimony of the Book of Mormon is strengthened your testimony of other parts of the gospel will be strengthened.  Even if you don’t get the answers to the questions that you might be directly seeking, as you understand the gospel better as a whole you can let your worries wait until you’re able to get the answers you’re looking for.  for.  When I’ve had questions I’ve stopped and taken a step back and looked at the big picture of the gospel rather than focusing on whatever thing might be troubling me.  As I’ve started from an overall position that our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to be happy, and re-examine the plan of salvation and work my way down to the problem I generally find that things fall into place.  And if they don’t, I at least feel like I’m starting on solid ground and I can be patient and wait for those things to fall in place.

I bear testimony that Joseph Smith is a true prophet that the Lord sent to open this last dispensation and that through him the Book of Mormon has been delivered to us.  I know the Book of Mormon is true.  Take the challenge today, read the book and let it bless your life.

Why is Sunday the Sabbath?

Why is Sunday the Sabbath?
Awesome Wonder by Greg Olsen
Awesome Wonder by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.

Recently I was thinking about the Sabbath and trying to figure out why it is that we observe the Sabbath on Sunday in Christendom rather than on Saturday like the Jews. I’ve always been taught that we have the Sabbath because on the 7th day God rested from his labors of creating the world and so we take that same 7th day to rest from our labors. However, that doesn’t explain why our Sabbath is on a different day than the Jews’ – our religious traditions come from the same source so ostensibly 7 days from the beginning of creation should be reckoned the same in either faith. In America we don’t even pretend that Sunday was the 7th day and it is on our calendars as the first day of the week rather than the last.  I’ve often wondered why we couldn’t just agree as a global community that the Sabbath is either Saturday or Sunday and everyone could observe the same day worldwide and make it easier to live together.  It seemed like an arbitrary distinction to me anyways – so long as we were observing one day out of seven did it really matter which of those days it was?

I was pondering this while taking the sacrament a few weeks back and realized that what I’d been told about why Sunday is the Sabbath all my life was wrong. On Sunday we’re not resting to recognize the 7th day of creation when the Lord rested – clearly that happened on Saturday and the Jews continue that tradition to this day.  There must have been a completely different reason for this and I wanted to share my opinion on what that reason is.

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the disciples prepared for the Passover feast that week.  Passover was on Thursday and was observed in what we now refer to as the Last Supper.  Judas was excused from the celebration and went to find the men to whom he could betray our Savior.  Meanwhile Christ went with a few of his apostles to Gethsemane to suffer for the pains and sins of the world.  Just after that the guards came and arrested Jesus on accounts of treason.  He was beaten and questioned all that night and into the following morning.  On Friday, Pilate asked the Jews if they would have him release Barabbas or Jesus to them.  The Jews sentenced Jesus to crucifixion on Calvary and he was taken there and nailed to a cross to die.  In the afternoon the Jews were anxious for the men being crucified to die quickly so they could attend to the bodies before their Sabbath began. Their Sabbath began at sundown on Friday and would be observed through sundown on Saturday.  Attending to corpses on the Sabbath would be a violation of the Law of Moses.  So the soldiers broke the legs of the other two men so they could no longer hold up their weight with their legs and they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies more quickly (truly this was a barbaric way to be killed).  When the soldiers came to Jesus they found him already dead.  His disciples were given his body so they could hastily attend to his body before the Sabbath commenced.  Not to give a full and proper burial but at least to wrap the body and lay it in a tomb until they could attend to it after the Sabbath had finished.   On Saturday, the Sabbath, while they were surely mourning greatly for the loss of our Lord, the disciples focused on their worship and day of rest as they always had. It was the last time that day would mark the most remarkable event in the history of the world as the completion of the creation.

The following day – Sunday – it was no longer the Sabbath and so the disciples were able to return to the tomb to finish the burial they hadn’t been able to make on Friday.  They arrived at the tomb and found it empty – the Lord had risen.  This marked an occasion that surpassed the immensity of the reverence that they had for the creation.  I don’t know when the change was made, whether that day or many years later, but at some point the Christians must have realized that this was so momentous that it was worthy of changing the very foundations of our calendar structure.  No longer did they stop to worship their Lord simply for the blessing of the creation of the world, but they stopped to worship for his sacrifice and the miracle of his redemption.  We stop to remember the price that was paid for our sins, and that through Christ we can live again.

Sunday is the not the last day, it is the first day.  It is the first day of new life.  It marks the day when our Savior forsook the tomb and rose so that we could live again.  We don’t simply rest from our labors on Sunday, we stop and remember our Lord and all that He has done for us.  Of course, part of our Sabbath is still to be a day of rest – to set ourselves aside from the cares of the world and focus on higher things.  Surely there is nothing wrong with remembering the rest of our Lord after finishing the creation and to feel gratitude for all that we’ve been given.  But commemorating the creation is not why our Sabbath is on Sunday.  OnI  Sunday we remember the Son of God, and that like the sun He is risen, and has marked the path for us to rise again.

#HisDay

Hope on the Horizon by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.
Hope on the Horizon by Greg Olsen. Prints for sale at www.gregolsen.com.

The Easter Miracle

The Easter Miracle

On Thursday I saw on Facebook that the 18 month old son of one of my friends had been found face down in her dad’s pool unresponsive.  He had climbed out through a doggy door unnoticed.  Over the next 36 hours I followed closely on Facebook as updates were posted – he was moved to a children’s ICU and the doctors tried everything they could to help little George survive.  During that time his parents posted expressions of their faith with the hashtag #PrayingForEasterMiracle – they knew if it was the Lord’s will that their son could be spared.  Hundreds of people from around the globe were praying for that Easter Miracle for this very deserving family.  Sadly, this was not to be and George slipped into the eternities on Friday night.  Since George’s passing the family has posted an update that two Easter miracles did occur as a result of this tragedy – two of George’s heart valves were able to be transplanted into other children, giving them a new chance at life.

However, as I’ve been watching this I’ve been struck with the thought that the Easter miracle that they are participating in right now is THE Easter Miracle.  The miracle of Christ’s resurrection, that because of His sacrifice for all of us He has paved the way so that we can all live again.

The miracle that because this family is sealed they will be together forever.

The miracle that through this darkest of times the Lord will help get them through.

The miracle that because of Christ this is not the end for little George.

He lives.  Christ lives today and George lives today.  As much as we had hoped and prayed that George would be able to continue with his family, and as real and agonizing as the grief of his passing is, we can say with the angels – “He is not here, for he is risen.”  George is with people who love him, he is free from pain, and he is happy.  He will be missed dearly on this side of the veil until he can be reunited with his family again – but they WILL be reunited.

Christ lives, and because He lives we can all live again.  Hallelujah.

If anyone would like to contribute to help the Matthews family at this time a GoFundMe account has been set up and you can donate by clicking here.

Introduction to CSS

intro-to-css

This morning I’m giving a guest lecture at LDS Business College introducing CSS.  I wanted to post my slides here so the students could have easy access to them for their own review – Intro to CSS Slides.

If anyone is interested in learning CSS here are a couple of websites that I think are invaluable –

  • CSS Zen Garden – This site really shows the power and capabilities of CSS in designing websites
  • W3 Schools: CSS – This site is the most complete CSS resource.  It has a complete reference of CSS properties and values, tutorials, sandboxes and so much more.  This is where I go whenever I can’t remember exactly how to do what I need to with CSS – which despite over a decade of experience is often 🙂
  • CSS Box Model – This is specifically the page in W3 Schools that teaches about the CSS Box Model.
  • CSS Reset – This page discusses the need for and development of Eric Meyer’s CSS reset

Happy CSS learning!

Provo City Center Temple – Turning Destruction to Magnificence

Provo City Center Temple – Turning Destruction to Magnificence

provotemple3

Yesterday morning my family was able to go to the Provo City Center Temple Open House. After LDS temples are constructed but before they are dedicated for regular use they have open houses when people of any age or faith can have the opportunity to tour the temple and get a view of what happens inside.

My family at the temple open house - thanks kids for not making normal faces for the camera... that was really my hope.
My family at the temple open house – thanks kids for not making normal faces for the camera… that was really my hope.

Before we went I told my boys a little bit about the history of this temple.  The Provo City Center Temple was built using the exterior of the Old Provo Tabernacle which had been built a century ago by the early saints on the area.  The tabernacle had been used for many years for large church functions in the area – including a couple of General Conferences.  The building held a special place in my heart as I had attended several functions there during my time at BYU.  I remember going to a few choir concerts and stake conferences, but my most memorable experience was when I was engaged to Eric and we attended a stake conference where President Uchtdorf and his wife Harriet were the keynote speakers.  I don’t remember his exact message but I do remember the feeling of standing nearby as he exited and having the distinct feeling – “This man is an apostle of the Lord.”

On December 17, 2010 the building caught fire after some theater lights were stored incorrectly and when powered on created too much heat in a speaker box, which eventually set fire to the building.  I remember waking up on December 18th and being so sad to see that this beautiful building had been destroyed.  

The inside of the Provo Tabernacle after the fire - Picture courtesy of Provo Insider
The inside of the Provo Tabernacle after the fire – Picture courtesy of Provo Insider

Then in October Conference 2011 President Thomas S. Monson announced that the decision had been made to rebuild the Provo Tabernacle, but this time as a second temple for the city of Provo.  I will never forget the wave of emotion that hit me when he made that announcement.  I couldn’t stop crying for joy for at least 10 minutes, and considering the announcement over the next few weeks would bring me to tears again.  It’s been really cool to watch the progress as it’s been re-built.

As we went through the temple the thing that most struck me was the juxtaposition of the two events.  On December 18th as we looked at the tragedy and the ruins of this once beautiful building there was great mourning and loss.  What a horrible thing to have happen.  But then to see how from that great tragedy they were able to create such a beautiful new building – while still retaining many of the qualities of the old building.  The new temple is magnificent, and it was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to tour it – to see the beautiful stained glass, and furnishings and artwork.  The whole place is simply breathtaking.

As I pondered on this I thought about the way the Lord works with us in our own lives.  So many times as we’re going through trials it seems like the end of the world.  We feel like we’re being completely destroyed in a way that will never be made right again.  But somehow, on the other side, the Lord has takes that destruction to create something new and better than we could have even imagined.  He takes parts of us that we think are good and rebuilds them into something great.  It’s so hard to trust the Lord when it feels like our whole world is burning, but if we have faith and trust in him, He can make us too into something magnificent.

Provo City Temple, Image courtesy of LDS.org
Provo City Temple, Image courtesy of LDS.org