link click here  Meridian Article   
When Joseph Smith presented the world the Book of Mormon in 1829, at age 23, he was a senior at Oxford studying English, theology, history and philosophy… Hold on. Actually, he had less than 6 years of “book learning” – probably a 5th grade education at best. Instead of school, he had plenty of years pulling stumps and farming, not exactly the resume of a writer. He had little ....   link click here  Meridian Article   

Is God a Loving God?
By Mark J. Stoddard

One statement people constantly make that doesn’t work: “Why would a Loving God allow__________?” You can easily fill in the blank. It is a nonsensical (not nonsense) statement because once again mankind is creating God in their own image and not vice versa.

When we state we believe in a Loving God, we add a formal adjective that doesn’t belong. God is not The Angry God, The Vengeful God, or The Loving God. He is simply God. We either believe and have faith in Him, or, we don’t. When we decide God must be loving, we define God while we’re deciding what is loving and what is not. Our limited ability to judge Deity with eternal perspective doesn’t seem to stop us defining what is limited loving. On top of that we provide agnostics a chance to throw "Loving God" around to support their disbelief. "A Loving God wouldn't do that," they say. 

What they fail to realize, and by extension we fail, is the word "loving" is defined in our finite terms.

If we walked into a room and watched a man take a knife and cut a person, we’d recoil in horror and perhaps do something like attack the man with a knife. In doing so, we’d claim to be loving. To the contrary we’d be harming the man with the knife, a surgeon, and potentially kill the person on the antiseptic operating table with our intrusion.

Yet we do this constantly by deciding what a loving God would do. Isaiah wrote that “my way are not your ways saith the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yet we persist in saying we worship a Loving God. Can we determine how loving that God was to let thousands of Lamanite Warriors descend upon thousands of some of the most dedicated and faithful people to ever live…the Anti-Lehi-Nephites. Some scholars have suggested "Anti" may be a reflex of the Egyptian "nty:" meaning “one of” or “to align with someone.” Those who aligned with Nephi and Lehi had once been blood-thirsty until they accepted Christ. When they did they knew that their crimes were terrible and that should they ever take up arms against anyone – even for a great reason like self-defense, their prior sins would be visited upon their heads when they once again becoming blood-thirsty. They refused to allow that awful state to return to them so they buried their weapons and refused to take them up even though a horde of terrifying warriors was coming upon them.

Those with faith in a Loving God might be tempted to say, “A Loving God would look upon their great faith and miraculously save them from destruction. Surely he could not let such goodness be for naught!”

But the Warriors descended upon them and a Loving God did nothing. The Warriors slashed and murdered innocent men. Where was the Loving God? Firmly in his omniscient state. God’s will contains eternal perspective. Soon the Lamanites could hack and cut no more and broke down and wept at the carnage they’d caused. Thousands that day left their blood-thirsty ways and joined or aligned with the Anti-Lehi-Nephites.

Later we learned of another attack and how the remainder of Anti-Lehi-Nephites and the recent converts again refused to take up arms, even in self-defense. But their sons had not needed to swear such oath so they took up arms and defended their parents with stunning results. How many millions of people have been inspired by their faith in their mothers – surely every ward has a speaker on Mother’s Day read from the Book of Alma where Helaman describes the great faith of these stripling warriors as they attribute their faith to their mothers: “we knew our mothers knew it…”. Perhaps an Omniscient God was indeed a Loving God once we understood a fraction of divine perspective.

Perhaps an omniscient God, as He describes Himself and His Son, knows what real “loving” is: ‘This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the Eternal Life and Immortality of Man.”

He knows the operating room, the doctor, the world completely and asks us to have faith in Him even when life’s trials seem to go against us.

When my first son Alexander lay in intensive care with three strains of E Coli pneumonia threatening his every breath and the doctor giving him a less than 50-50 chance of living. I went to the cafeteria where I thought a little food might help. But, I couldn’t eat as I sat and pondered. Wiping away tears and fears, it hit me hard. “Now is the time for you to decide what your faith in God really is.” The rubber was meeting the road. This wasn’t some ambiguous philosophy class discussion. This was reality. And it came to me as I closed my eyes and said, “Whether my son lives or my son dies, like Job said, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In confidence I arose…not confident my son would live. I didn’t know that. But I knew that I knew God lived and my son was in His hands.

Our son is now a faithful husband and father of six. He lives. His testimony is strong and he and Becky are teaching their children well. But the end was not yet.
Alex with Becky (right), my mother, other of Becky's and our
 family, with Alex and Becky's kids in the back at Thanksgiving.

Within seven years of Alex’s birth, his two brothers died too young. We grieved, but the question of a Loving God or an Omniscient God had long been answered. That answer or foundation of faith, buoyed us up so that we could “Be Still and Know that I Am God.” As we were still, the Comforter was poured out upon us. Our boys were taken, but the faith of our children was strengthened and we were blessed.

How could a Loving God allow a child to die – two dear sons to die? Because He knows how it will build us and where it will lead us in this life and beyond.

The Roots of the Sexual Misconduct Wave Are Clear

     We reap what we sow. Just ask impartial political and social analysts how this spate of men behaving badly started. The answer ought to come back that Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly are just the tip of a nefarious ice berg.
     Did this all start with society’s open cover-up of Bill Clinton’s peccadillos? It didn’t help that his “did not have sex with that woman” line was believed or at least accepted by feminists and liberals because he was their man. Just as President Trump’s crude statements about the fun of promiscuously grabbing random women is tolerated by his admirers. Cue Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man.”
     No, the dalliances of powerful men have long been overlooked. Women have a shameful part in this, but more on that later. Certainly, the brazen affairs of President JFK are now well chronicled. Nude swimming with ladies in the White House pool and Secret Service guards diverting his wife Jackie away from the door that would have revealed what she already knew was going on. Nightly rendezvous with ladies to help Jack with his headaches… yes, that was the accepted rational at the time.  But the affairs of Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and FDR were covered up by the press with the excuse that “boys will be boys.”
     The first time I heard that canard was from my father. He was disgusted by the behavior of his fellow Air Corp officers in World War II. Married men stationed in Hawaii before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 openly dated local girls, and by dating we are talking more than moonlight strolls on the beach! Dad told his sons often that the reasons or rationalization were legion. But the most common one was, “boys will be boys.” He didn’t buy it for a minute.
     Some folks misquote scriptures and say, “you shouldn’t judge.” That too is a discussion for another time, but my father had no trouble looking his sons in the eyes and stating clearly that “that is terrible behavior. Your morals matter. No excuses.”
     So, after hundreds of years of men behaving badly, and way too many women willing to participate in the cover ups, the victims of male predatory and promiscuous sexual practices have courageously stood up, one by one, and said, “I didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it and demanded it stop.” Yes, plenty of women did want the romance or sexual attention. Yes, they did dress immodestly to attract attention. Yes, they’ve contributed to this debauchery. But, that doesn’t excuse anyone. Bad behavior is bad behavior. Men or women.
     The answer to all of this is actually fairly simple and more than a hashtag campaign. Live the Gospel of Christ. Chastity, modesty, and fidelity are not outside the ability of anyone to live. Temperance in alcohol would eliminate a huge amount of the grief.
     In 1983, the Reverend Jerry Falwell who started The Moral Majority, not as a vaunt but a goal, and later Liberty University, was asked at a dinner I attended, “If you were driving down a country road at dusk saw a lady off to the side of the road with car trouble, would you give her a lift into town?” Some in our party were surprised by his answer.
     “Why not?”
     “We both have too much at risk.” 
     He went on to explain that he would stop, try to fix the problem and stay with her until he could flag someone down and drive with her into town to get a tow truck to help her out. But, he would NEVER be alone with a woman who was not his family.
     Vice President Mike Pense has been roundly ridiculed by the same people who are aghast at the randy, stud-ram ethics of Weinstein, He has categorically stated he will never have dinner with a single lady. He’s drawn a moral line in the sand he won’t cross. Considering his detractor’s inability to understand the consequences of moral actions, he’s doing something very right. Needless to say, VP Pense would never invite a woman to his hotel room “just for business.” It’s astounding how many women have fallen for that trap.
     And to executives, here’s a thought. Eliminate closed opaque locked doors. No blinds. Just literal transparency in the work place. Matt Lauer would not have done what he did to women in his office if the complicit bosses at NBC had officially declared “no locked or opaque doors.”
     Women must draw moral lines in the sand even if they think it will cost them their job. You have too much at risk otherwise. And…you may be fired. That’s the price of courage rather than unintentionally becoming an enabler or complicit.
     Complicit. That fits for so many men and women in this necessary purging of bad behavior in our society. But laws, lawsuits, firings and such will not end this spate of bad behavior. Yes, we’ll fire people and demand others resign, but that’s just an ineffective attempt to cure societal woes.  As the Book of Mormon clearly demonstrates, when surface behavior changes without soulful repentance, the disease will return with a vengeance.

Remembering a Great and Gentle Soul They Called Tommy Monson and now President

They Called Him Tommy Monson
By Mark J. Stoddard
            With the passing of President Thomas S. Monson on January 2, 2018, my first thoughts were of sadness to lose such a great and decent person from an earth that desperately needs more kind and gentle souls. But then I’m covered with his joy at being relieved of the difficulties of health and in being reunited with his wife, Frances.
            Immediately my thoughts are taken to my memories of brief encounters with this man.      
            Across the reception hall the tall, well-dressed man left his post in the receiving line and strode straight to me. He reached out and put my tie between his fingers and proclaimed, “It’s a confident businessman who wears a yellow tie. How are you this evening?
            That wasn’t my first encounter with Elder Thomas Monson.
            I first met him as a young teen flying alone from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. Somehow I was put in 1st Class. As I relaxed in my seat, a very tall fellow boarded the flight with a smile as wide as the aisle. I knew who he was. Elder Thomas S. Monson, who had just recently been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Callings didn’t come much bigger than that in this church.
            He smiled down at me and asked him to excuse him as he stepped around my knees and settled his tall frame into the seat better suited for him than me. Instantly, before putting on his seat belt, he thrust out his hand, “Hello. I’m Elder Tom Monson. What’s your name?”
            I presented myself in a stammering way that didn’t matter to him.  He listened and then asked me if I was a Boy Scout. We talked about campouts, knots and scout nonsense for a while. He laughed a lot and asked me more questions about my life. Soon the flight attendant let us know it was time to put our seats up and prepare for landing. We’d spent nearly two hours talking about me. He shook my hand as he left the plane and said, “You’ll be a fine missionary one day. But don’t grow up too fast.” With that he was gone.
            As I sat in the south balcony near the Tabernacle Choir I thought about that chance encounter with a man who had only been an apostle a short time. By now, years had passed and I was at BYU. He was doing what he’d done for decades and was about ready to speak at General Conference. As he spoke I noticed the young man in front of me, not much older than I, starting to breathe heavily and heave his body sideways and then rock forward and back. Suddenly he jumped from his seat and shouted, “That’s enough, Elder Monson, and…” I couldn’t make out what he said as he stepped into the aisle and began ranting as he walked down the aisle of the balcony. Before he got to the bannister, perhaps to leap over it, he was tackled by at least two security guards. I looked up to Elder Monson who had not flinched, nor stopped speaking during this disturbance. As the guards picked up the young man, Elder Monson continued in his Monsoneque fashion as if he’d been unaware of the ruckus. In a Tabernacle where you could hear a pin drop, no doubt the yelling had been noticed, but made no impression on the speaker.
            I reminded him of that ruckus and also my flight with him when I met him as a missionary in Brisbane, Australia. I wondered if he was really good at faking remembrance but he said some things that left no doubt he remembered that scout from the plane – he brought up the scouting stories again. In his sermon to the Elders, Sisters and couples, he began by telling us that he had just come from the Pacific islands where he was met by the Mission President, Elder Waters, his counselor Elder Flood and Elder Reigns and there he was Elder Monsoon. We all laughed and groaned but enjoyed his sense of humor.
That night at the fireside open to all, he spoke in his undulating pattern of amusing and serious applications of gospel service. Perhaps I listened more than night because we’d brought a lady who had been taught by other missionaries before we’d given her the full set of discussions, yet she could not take the next step of baptism. She explained how she loved what she’d been taught, her extensive reading of the Book of Mormon and the Bible; that it all made the greatest sense but she just didn’t “know if it was true.” I had no other answers but to suggest she attend the fireside and listen to an apostle. She sat next to us listening with real intent. After Elder Monson concluded and sat for a moment, he stood and walked back to the podium and said he felt impressed that he needed to shake our hands and meet each of us, so for us not to be shocked when he walked to the rear door of the Kangaroo Point Chapel during the closing song.
            When the final Amens were said to the evening’s closing benediction, the hundreds of people who had filled the chapel began filing out that back door. I could see him towering over the people with a large smile, reaching down to grasp each hand. As we approached I could hear him tell each person, “thank you for coming… good to meet you… thank you for coming…” and so forth. Many had shaken his hand before us so when it came our turn I expected more of the same. He shook my hand and said, “good to see you…” and then stopped, looked down at the sister with us, smiled, reached for her hand and held it a moment. Then quietly he said to her, “Sister, it’s true.” It seemed longer than a moment; far longer. And then he went back to greeting and shaking people’s hands.
            The lady with us managed to get away from us through the crowd and we found her at the balcony rail of the outdoor patio. Tears were streaming down her face as she smiled and nodded her head in affirmation of the witness she had received. Her baptism followed the next week.
            At the open house for the President’s Club of Ricks College, while my wife and I waited for our turn to go through the reception line, I was telling Elizabeth about that fireside more than 30 years before in Australia when Elder Monson walked toward us. After he had finished admiring my tie, I told him the last time I had met him he’d told us about meet President Waters in the Pacific islands, and then he finished retelling the story. He didn’t miss a word from what he’d told us in Brisbane. I think my wife was surprised to find out that I hadn’t made up a single thing.
            When we all finished chuckling over that story, I quickly retold him the story of the sister who he had helped so much. His smile left and in a deeply somber mood he thanked me for sharing that with him, that he hadn’t known the reason for him going to the back to shake hands but did so now. He again thanked me and wished Elizabeth and I all the best.
            I didn’t see him for years after that and only briefly when we drove by his home in Midway, Utah, and waved to him as he was in his yard with a rake, wearing blue jeans and a plaid shirt, doing what everyone else did on a Saturday afternoon, just being the person that he’d been when they used to call him Tommy Monson instead of President.