01/20/20

Connecting with Heaven

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

In the October 2019 General Conference Stephen W. Owen of the Young Men General Presidency gave a talk, Be Faithful, Not Faithless, which began with, “We must deliberately take time each day to disconnect from the world and connect with Heaven”. There are so many opportunities to be distracted from the basics which connect us with Heaven; too many to list and most of them we’d consider as time well spent were it not for them keeping us from reading our scriptures, studying the talks given by our church leaders and our time talking to Father in Heaven in personal prayer.

It boils down to priorities; now doesn’t it? How many of us wake up first thing in the morning, lean over to turn off the alarm on our cell phone and then click on the weather app to see what kind of clothing to put on; that is, instead of thanking our Father in Heaven for letting us wake up to begin with? Have we made it a habit to study our scriptures prior to turning on the news or is that one of next year’s resolutions?

Jeffery R. Holland pointed out, “We wouldn’t expect our physical bodies to survive long on one meal a week – even if it is a very good meal. Similarly, if a one-hour Church class, even an excellent Church class, is the main setting for our “feasting upon the word of Christ,” then we are in danger of spiritual malnourishment”.

Getting back to the talk by Elder Owen, he explained how he got sidetracked; checking his messages, email, news items, and social media posts prior to his original intention of reading his scriptures. He’d spent so much time on the unimportant items that he’d run out of time and left for work that day without being nourished spiritually.

The scriptures teach that we’re made in the image of God, that we’re children of our Father in Heaven. In the Temple, we hear the blessings promised each of us as we stay on the covenant path. We begin to understand more and more that the Lord has his hand in our lives and desires our successful return while we travel through mortality.

Are we reaching up to Heaven daily and do our actions match our beliefs? That’s the key to appreciating all that has been done to prepare our hearts and minds to receive all the blessings of the gospel.

C.S. Lewis once said, “If we could recognize who we were, we would realize that we were walking with possible gods and goddesses, whom if we could see them in all their eternal dignity and glory, we would be tempted to fall and worship.”

While talking with Don Mangum, Patriarch in the Houston North Stake, several years ago, he shared how amazed and humbled he was each time he laid his hands upon an individual’s head to give them their Patriarchal Blessing. He was given the opportunity to see the nobility of the individual similar, as he put it, to the way the Lord sees each of us.

Once we’ve decided that we want to reach and partake of the Tree of Life, having entered the path, holding onto the iron rod, the iron rod being the Word of God, we have connected ourselves with Heaven.

As a side note, was it a coincidence that Joseph Smith reached out in prayer to the Heavens while in the middle of a grove of trees, what we now call the Sacred Grove? Just a thought…

Having begun our way toward the Tree of Life isn’t enough, is it? So many fall away down forbidden paths, going through the motions of spirituality; and as Elder Owen pointed out, “They were fed but not nourished”.

We all face challenges; so what works to our benefit, what is required of us? Scripture study, not simply reading the material and be done with it so you can visit your friends on Facebook.

Ezra Taft Benson made an important statement regarding the Book of Mormon, important enough that a friend of mine kept it on a small piece of paper tucked into his wallet so he could read it each morning.

“It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D & C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.”

This year you have a little help in the form of the, Come Follow Me, home study course as it guides individuals through the Book of Mormon. The first week’s lesson directs your attention to the introductory pages and the statements from the Witnesses.

I should mention that I enjoy a hands-on approach to history. We visited several historic church sites one year, to include the Sacred Grove and Smith family farmhouse, rebuilt on the spot where it actually stood. Why is that important?

We made our way to the second floor, where, in the dark of night the angel Moroni visited with Joseph and explained how the restoration of the gospel would take place. Closing my eyes while standing in that room, imagining that moment in time was as real as if I’d witnessed the event.

In my library, there are a couple of ‘museum books’, for lack of a better term. Within the pages of each book are replications of original documents, carefully displayed in such a way as to be able to remove them and handle them. This permits my brain to time travel, to see things from a different perspective.

This would explain why we purchased a copy of the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon when we visited Palmyra, New York a couple of years ago. We found it challenging to read it from cover to cover, but did so while comparing it word for word with the newer edition.

We left this collector’s edition on the table after completing our reading for the evening. When we awoke the next morning we found that our puppy had chewed up the first ten pages completely and so we ordered another copy; it’s kept on the bookshelf and is there pretty much just for show.

As a matter of interest, Martin Harris lost 116 pages of the translated Book of Mormon that he’d been entrusted with. I guess my puppy wanted me to feel more a part of history by destroying those 10 pages.

While I’m thinking about it, with all the technology available, most of us have the scriptures available via the LDS App on our cell phone. It’s so easy looking up a specific scripture during Sunday School and lightning-fast.

That said, I find if more satisfying to pick up my old copy of the Book of Mormon or Bible when studying on my own. There are notes in the margins, verses highlighted and then marked again with dates from when someone gave a talk. These small things make impressions on my mind as I glean what the Spirit intends for me to learn on that particular reading.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of a family that came across the prairie as a member of a hand-cart company or whether you’re the first and possibly the only member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. What matters is that you recognize the importance of your relationship with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ as you find your way back to their presence.

Are you willing to put your scripture studies to the test?

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)

We watched a movie the other night, Field of Dreams, in which the owner of a cornfield hears a voice saying, “If you build it he will come”. Somehow he managed to figure out that he’s supposed to build a baseball field on his property by plowing under the crop that pays his mortgage payments.

If you’re familiar with the movie’s ending, he’s playing catch with his father, who’s been permitted to visit the Field of Dreams through the miracle of following the promptings of the Spirit. His father asks, “Is this Heaven?”

His son, looking about, taking in the setting sun, the baseball field set inside his crop of corn and then back towards his house; see his family sitting on the porch at the end of the day, all this while contemplating the question a little more deeply he replies, “Maybe it is.”

While going through this portion of our existence, the time we call mortality, we need to recognize that we are spiritual beings learning to cope with the frailties of our human bodies. We have to look beyond our current circumstances and reach out to Heaven since that’s really our home.

You must make a concerted effort, regularly connecting with Heaven as Elder Owen pointed out. While doing this you will find life to be brighter and the joy you’re seeking will present itself in the simple tasks of each day.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

12/11/19

Restoration and Repair

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

Recently we found a television show produced by the BBC, The Repair Shop. Talented artisans receive a wide variety of keepsake items brought in for restoration and repair, their owners hoping these treasured items can once again be enjoyed as they had before time took its toll.

Each piece brought to the shop has a story, something which makes it personal and priceless to that individual. Watching the item being worked on creates a link between the owner and the artisan performing his/her skills while bringing it back to life.

Through the magic of Netflix, this television program, along with others, can be viewed as if newly released, opportunities to enjoy shows which otherwise would never have been seen. The Repair Shop is such a show.

Speaking of priceless…not once during the show was the cost of restoration or repair brought up. I’ve no idea how much it would cost on most of the items presented; however, from my own experience in restoring an old Steeple Clock that’s been in our family for as long as I can remember; expert craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap.

On our Christmas tree are several hand-me-down ornaments which we’ve been able to keep safe over the years from the cat’s attempts to destroy. This one is from the 1950s and didn’t cost that much, even when it was brand new; but seeing it allows my mind to travel through time, back to my youth. It’s only for a short trip; but the vision provided is real and no price can be affixed to it.

I was distracted by another thought, one from an old black and white television series; can’t remember if it was from the Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone. If memory serves, the story had an older couple reaching the end of their lives, bent over and disfigured from the process of aging, presented with an opportunity to be restored to youthful bodies so they could enjoy an extension available at considerable expense by a company providing this service.

As the story developed it became apparent they only had enough money to permit one of them the miraculous transformation and it was decided the husband would go first; his coming out of the procedure a handsome man in his early twenties. His wife, encumbered by old age, took his hand and it became obvious the results were not what they had envisioned or intended.

The last scene, at least as I recall, showed the husband, having been returned to his aged body, walking hand in hand with his wife as they return to the life that they had enjoyed for so many years as a couple. They choose to grow old together and appreciated the memories more than the opportunity to extend mortality separated by age.

We re-live pieces of our lives, happy moments from our youth, a wedding or birth of a child by touching photographs or items associated with these moments in time. Our spirits are healed, restored and repaired if you will, by visiting pleasant thoughts related to physical items, items that most of the time have no intrinsic value to anyone other than ourselves.

10/6/19

Congress Searching for the Truth and Absence of Malice

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave these last few months then one of the topics being talked about is how Congress has been involved in trying to impeach President Trump for an as yet imprecise violation of law that would fit the definition of high crimes worthy of removal from office.

Before going into any of the details put forth by those making a mockery of our system of justice; try to define, in such a way that Noah Webster’s dictionary will, in some way, validate your idea of Truth. Is truth a collection of facts, observations or the result of beliefs which fit your opinion; exactly what is the truth?

The other night there was a movie on,  Absence of Malice, which got my attention as it presented a believable scenario showing how Truth is obtained or perceived.  There’s a short synopsis available at Wikiquote’s page; “…a film about the son of a deceased criminal who awakes one day to find himself a front-page story in the local newspaper, incorrectly indicating that he is being investigated in the murder of a local longshoreman union official.”

That short statement really doesn’t explain enough about the film.  It fails to identify that the story that made its way into the newspaper was due to an intentional leaking of information by a government official to a reporter looking to find a good story, and, since the information being leaked came from a supposedly reliable source, it must be true.

As the movie unfolded, having seen it many years ago, the idea occurred to me that current political events could have easily been used as a backdrop for the story; but I’m getting ahead of myself…

The main character, played by Paul Newman, confronted the reporter, played by Sally Field, who had basically destroyed his business and ability to mingle in society.  She attempted to justify her actions as ‘just doing her job’; but he tells her, “…You don’t write the truth. You write what people say. What you overhear, you eavesdrop. You don’t come across truth that easy.”

The news media doesn’t have to prove anything they print or share, as the movie’s newsroom editor explained, “…That as a matter of law, the truth is irrelevant. We have no knowledge the story is false, therefore we’re absent malice. We’ve been both reasonable and prudent, therefore we’re not negligent.”

Isn’t that how Congress has been moving forward with its investigation of President Trump?  They let stories leak to the media, a media that has already proven it’s really nothing more than a propaganda machine for leftist politicians, constantly inundating the public with half-truths, innuendo and presumptions based on what some have properly called ‘Nothing Burgers’. A lie told often enough becomes the same as truth to a gullible public.

But; all their sources are reliable.  Reminds me of Marc Anthony referring to Caesar’s accusers as Honorable Men…Yes, our sources are all reliable.  As far as Congress is concerned, all of their sources are pure with no axes to grind; a few knives to jab President Trump in the back perhaps, but no axes to grind.

As we’re finding out through multiple sources, other than the main stream media outlets, the reliable sources sharing dirt on President Trump just happen to be associated with the Democrat Party, their failed attempt to get Hillary Clinton elected to the Oval Office and the never-ending attempt to remove a duly elected President from office.

If Congress really was looking for truth then it would have been investigating the top most leaders in the Democrat Party, those who have been running a criminal enterprise for several years proving that they are above the law.  Don’t quote me on that; the only reliable sources to validate such an incredulous statement are from conservative pundits; but at the same time, I’m free to make that statement since I can prove… absence of malice.

09/5/19

Following the Prophet at all times is a challenge

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

That’s a heck of a way to start off, Following the Prophet at all times is a challenge.  But that’s as true a statement from me as you’ll get.  The Prophet is the mouthpiece of the Lord and speaks only what the Lord would have said if He were addressing us; this I believe and so I do my best to be obedient.

I consider all the knowledge obtained in my years of mortality, mix in the wisdom of the Lord which I may or may not yet possess as gleaned from the scriptures and Prophets and try to figure out if it makes sense as I move forward in my journey to become more like the person the Lord would have me be.

That brings us to the topic of the day, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recently announced the newest policy regarding the carrying of concealed weapons in church buildings.

“Churches are dedicated to the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”

This new policy is a minor, yet significant change from the previous policy; the previous rule said the carrying of lethal weapons was inappropriate.  Why, I asked myself, why did the policy go from “inappropriate” to “prohibited”?

I ask this for a number of reasons; but there are a few that come mind, some of which are in the form of posters commonly available.

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07/18/19

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

We were watching a movie the other day on one of the regular channels where you get to see a few minutes of the movie followed by several minutes of commercials.  The efforts of the moviemakers got lost somewhere between combining car, house and life insurance, more comfortable jockey shorts and deciding which brand of whiskey best matched the outdoor sportsman in us.

At a certain point, you consider yourself ‘invested’ in watching the movie until its conclusion while attempting to ignore interruptions.  Maybe this is how cable companies have figured how to get folks to pay for adding movie channels; just interrupt the programming on the regular channels enough and people will pay not to see commercials.

The movie was ending as the credits began to roll across the screen, a chance to give individuals who’d put the movie together credit.  Did I say roll across the screen; I meant sprint past at nearly the speed of light.  Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Course had not prepared me for this particular exercise.  To make it more challenging, they split the screen so that the credits for the previously viewed movie, now in a tiny box in the corner of the screen, could play out while introducing the next feature.

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06/25/19

Dwindling Right to Freedom of Movement

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

Hello America, it’s a little over a week until we celebrate our Independence Day and consider all the rights and privileges associated with citizenship.  What did our founders have in mind for this Great Experiment in self-governance and, have we kept that vision?

Some folks call me a dreamer for holding on to my belief that America is the land of promise, that our constitution was divinely inspired and if applied properly would allow us all to achieve the highest level of personal freedom available on the planet; but according to the news media that term should be reserved for young illegal aliens who claim they are immune from immigration laws or that they shouldn’t be deported simply because their parents violated our immigration laws.

Maybe our sense of history needs to be ignited, like the fuse of a 4th of July bottle rocket sent into the night sky, a chance to remind us of battles long ago fought for… for what?  I know they fought for something; must have been for lower prices on Dr. Pepper so we could enjoy grilled hamburgers with a stack of crunchy potato chips.  They fought so we could send a women’s soccer team to represent our country in the World Cup Games; well, most of the athletes on our team acknowledge and stand when our National Anthem is played…

Those battles were fought to define us as a nation that honors and respects inalienable rights of individuals, generally defined as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  These rights were later specifically defined as the Bill of Rights in our Constitution; however, among the individual rights so defined, the individual’s right to freedom of movement within these United States wasn’t listed because our founders didn’t think individual freedom of movement would ever be in question.

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06/11/19

A Very Long Five Minutes

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

Today we got to enjoy the Sunday Session of the Conroe Stake Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as it was broadcast via the internet from the Creighton Stake Center Building to the Madisonville Chapel.  When we arrived, about twenty minutes prior to the actual start time, Brother Simpson had all the equipment set up and had his laptop computer set up to receive the transmission so everyone in our chapel could enjoy the Primary Children’s Choir singing prelude music.

While it may appear to be a simple task; turning on the computer and aiming the projector on the wall to present the image, there is nothing simple about it.  The folks at the Creighton end were responsible for establishing the transmission feed which was sent up to Salt Lake City, it having been assigned a specific URL which could then be sent out over the internet and received by anyone who knows what that URL is.

Everything was working as designed, that is right up until it was time for Conference to actually start.  That’s when the screen went blank and the sound quit.  I observed as Brother Simpson got up rather hurriedly from his seat, went to the front of the chapel and checked on the equipment.

I should mention that at one time I had the calling of Stake Clerk/IT Specialist for the Houston North Stake.  One of my jobs was to make sure internet connections during conference were established and working.  Invariably, if there was going to be a problem, those issues would present themselves at the very moment when conference began in earnest.  All your training and skills would be put to the test as you tried to figure out what had gone wrong.

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05/30/19

What does Exoneration mean?

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

There’s an Associated Press story that stirs the pot one more time as those who can’t stand Donald Trump being the President of the United States continue to spin their disgust at having someone other than Hillary Clinton in the White House. 

That’s not exactly how the article by Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo, explained Mueller’s comments; but since when did facts become important to the liberal news media?

Reading from the opening paragraph of the AP article, “Special council Robert Mueller said Wednesday he believed he was constitutionally barred from charging President Donald Trump but pointedly emphasized that his report did not exonerate the president”.

Mueller went on to say, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said, “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

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05/19/19

Just some stairs in a movie

By: T F Stern | Self-Educated American

This morning I was watching an old black and white movie, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, about a prizefighter, Joe Pendleton, attempting to fulfill his destiny as World Champion when he’s “mistakenly taken to Heaven before his time, and then is given a second chance back on Earth”; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.

No; but this movie had a scene set in the Farnsworth Mansion with his boxing trainer, Max “Pop” Corkle, leaving via a fancy entrance foyer with a set of marble stairs. In the movie, Joe Pendleton was temporarily ‘inhabiting’ Bruce Farnsworth’s body, getting it “in the pink” so he could continue toward becoming the World Champ in boxing; but Farnsworth got murdered which meant Joe Pendleton would have to ‘inhabit’ some other body to complete his destiny.  As mentioned, this isn’t what I wanted to write about; but some details are necessary to get there.

The marble stairs leading to the front door stirred a memory.  My mind was seeing two sets of stairs; the one in the movie and yet another, the image of a similar set of stairs from an old crime scene.  

I remember stepping over a dead man’s body from back when I was a rookie police officer dispatched to the scene of a real murder on Kirby Street in the fashionable River Oaks section of Houston.  As it turned out, that murder became quite a sensation as it involved high society.

“In 1972 (Sept. 24, 1972)  Dr. John Hill was ambushed and shot to death in his home. He was with his new wife, Connie, and his son, who were both left unharmed.”

“The story became a bestseller called Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson and later a TV movie called Murder in Texas, with Farrah Fawcett playing Joan Robinson.”

The senior police partner I rode with that evening assigned me to go to the house next door and stay with the young boy who had been taken in by neighbors upon hearing of the murder.  Just a guess on my part; but since I’d only been a police officer for about six months, he probably didn’t want me mucking up any evidence at the crime scene.

I really don’t remember much about the investigation that was taken over by the Homicide Division and eventually ended up in Criminal Court.  I do remember receiving a subpoena and going down to Records Division for a copy of the report to refresh my mind on details that I might need if I were asked to sit in the witness chair.

Turns out there was almost a book’s worth of printed police report the clerk handed me.  I really wasn’t a witness to much, if anything, that might indicate my need for being subpoenaed; but apparently, the District Attorney’s Office sent a subpoena to any officer whose name appeared in the original police report.

Watching an old movie did all that, just think what the mind is capable of remembering when it’s triggered by a simple image, a familiar fragrance or just about anything.  Isn’t life interesting…

03/20/19

What’s in a Name?

By: T. F. Stern | Self-Educated American

Years ago, while working day shift for the Houston Police Department, one of our regular assignments was to take suspects charged with a felony offense in front of a County Court Judge to have his legal rights read to him.  The jail division would have these individuals placed in the Paddy Wagon, driven across town and dropped off in front of the County Courthouse.

As a matter of historical interest, there was a safe zone for unloading prisoners in the lower level of the County Courthouse; but it was reserved for use by Harris County Sheriffs Department Officers.

Imagine if you will, unloading dangerous prisoners out of a Paddy Wagon on the street, taking the jail-issued handcuffs off and replacing them with our own handcuffs on the sidewalk and then escorting them inside the courthouse, up the elevator and into open court for the sole purpose of having them read their rights and then reversing the order to return them to the city jail.  I’m not saying this was a bad idea; that would be a form of criticism directed at those who were our supervisors; no, this was a very bad idea.

So, each afternoon around lunchtime several of the police officers, including myself, would stand around waiting on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, waiting for the Paddy Wagon to arrive. This being a regular event, we had a following of interested citizens; a polite way of saying these young women wanted to get cozy with police officers.

One fairly pushy young woman would get up close and personal with officers, handling their name tags as she read it aloud and then tried to make a big deal out of each name.  She reached for my name tag and read it slowly back to me, “T.F. Stern…What’s the T.F. stand for?” she asked in a sultry voice.

I shook my head slightly, not wanting to make conversation; but instead explained, “The city got my name wrong, it should be, T.B. Stern”.  I’ve no idea where these ideas come from; they just blossom and I make the best of whatever comes out.

“So then, what’s the T.B. stand for?”  A couple of my fellow officers were curious, seeing as how they’d known me long enough to know I was cooking up a good one.

“Theophilus Bastardo Stern”, I responded.  “Some folks call me The-old Bastard, but you can just call me Theo”.  It must have worked; the woman walked away saying something insulting under her breath. 

The best part about this story, from that day on, one of the officers called me Theo.