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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Two tender mercies from the Lord

Events that have happened personally to my wife and me this month have reminded us clearly that the Lord is aware of us, that He is truly a God of miracles, and that in His tender mercy, He puts unexpected events in our path.

As many of you who have followed this blog with any frequency or regularity are aware, in October 2015, we relocated from American Fork and the stake where I had lived for 17 years to Orem. It was so hard for me to move knowing I was leaving behind an area and lots of people I had grown to love very much. This was especially true in terms of the fact that I have not handled change very well in my life.

In the first Church calling we together had served in since our temple service ended in 2012, we were asked to serve as Primary teachers. This we did until some health issues necessitated our release about a year later. We had been shut off from getting to know anyone in the ward. While we are continuing to get our health in order, we had to allow some major things to slip through our fingers. Our temple recommends expired for the first time since either of us had first received one.

When the second week in January found us well enough to attend Church for the first time in about two months, we resolved to find out what was involved in this stake in getting our temple recommends renewed. On January 8, we had our interviews on the ward and stake level within a matter of a few short hours.

Backtrack a bit with me now to when we were preparing to move. It so happened that I had done my research on the leaders of the stake we were moving into. When I heard that the second counselor in the stake presidency (a  man named President Burr) worked for the BYU police department, one clear thought entered my mind. The thought was that my sister Joanna, who worked for several years as a dispatcher for that police department, might know him. I mentioned his name to Joanna, who confirmed that she had worked for him on numerous occasions.

So getting back to our temple recommend renewal, I had hoped for the opportunity to have my interview with that man. We waited in line for a few minutes before I was called back by someone I obviously did not know. When we started the interview, I took the time to explain that I was relatively new to the stake and did not know his name. When he told me what it was, my heart leaped with joy. This was the very man my sister had worked with. So I mentioned that we had a personal connection, but I didn't have time to elaborate on that before he looked at my recommend and said, "Your last name is Stokes? You aren't Lynn Stokes's boy are you?" I told him that no, Lynn was my dad's brother. He was able to tell me that he and Uncle Lynn were still working together, but in a private security company he (President Burr) had started, which was news to me. I had not been aware of that.

But undeterred, I told him we also had another mutual acquaintance. I said, "Joanna Hickman is my sister." He told me that he had loved working with Joanna, and we chatted for a bit about the adventure she is now on with her young family. This was news to him. He knew she was no longer dispatching for BYU, but he hadn't heard why she'd moved on. He thanked me for that, and after the interview, I promised that I would tell Joanna hello from him the next time I saw her, and he pledged to do the same for me to Uncle Lynn.

The way that happened warmed my heart. But the miracle surrounding people we know in our new stake was not limited to that one occurrence. I happened to be looking over the list of the leaders of our stake, searching seemingly in vain for any other familiar name. It was in so doing that I happened upon the fact that there was one other couple in our stake, in addition to those we have become acquainted with in our new ward, that I knew very well. Their names are Lynn and Bonnie Vernon.

I had the happy opportunity to serve alongside them both in the course of my temple service, around the same period of time that my wife started working at the temple herself and as we dated and were married. Additionally, I had found out that Brother Lynn Vernon had grown up with my father-in-law, Gene Nuttall. While we served at the temple, once he knew that I was working with Lynn Vernon, Dad Nuttall would regularly take the opportunity to ask me how he was doing. I was pleased to be able to answer his questions.

One of my greatest regrets in having to be released as a temple worker was that I was thus losing my association with so many good friends. And now, in discovering that Lynn and Bonnie Vernon are members of the stake we moved into almost a year and a half ago, I have this further evidence of what Amy has told me a lot.

She has always said that with my many associates from the temple, we likely couldn't go anywhere in the surrounding area without being sure of running into someone I knew somehow. Once again, big surprise, she was right.

I wasted no time in dashing off an e-mail to Brother and Sister Vernon, and I am hoping to hear from them soon. I hope they are glad to hear from me.

In the meantime, as I said at the beginning of this post, these are two tender mercies from the Lord that I never could have expected or anticipated when this move became necessary. It is amazing to see how the Lord allows us to run again into people who have either associated with other members of our family or with us personally. I now understand more fully what it was Elder David A. Bednar was talking about when he spoke in his second apostolic General Conference address on the subject of the tender mercies of the Lord.

I needed the reminder today that the Lord was mindful of me and will not leave me alone. Thanks for letting me post about this.

Official Church Statement of Concern for Those Fleeing Violence, War, and Religious Persecution

The Church put out yesterday an official statement of concern for those who are fleeing violence, war, and religious persecution. Click here to read that statement. It is brief, short, succinct, and gets right to the point. I want you all to know that I know this statement has been inspired to come out from the Church at this time, and it has never been needed more than now in the world, especially with everything going on. Thanks for letting me share this with you today. Any comments are welcome and appreciated. That said, a word of caution. Any comments that are too critical, impolite or inconsiderate of the views of other people on this issue will be deleted as soon as they are made. Thank you for continuing to keep the comments on my blog post friendly and free of contention or discord. You are all appreciated!

Temple Construction Progress Report Update

This will be a quick update to report on some developments in temple construction progress. As always, after reading the report and noting the updates I have indicated in red print, I hope any one of you who wants to will feel free to share your thoughts on this post. I look forward to the ongoing discussion of these developments. Thanks!

Temple Construction Progress Report (current as of 1/29/17)
Current Temple Status: 155 operating; scheduled for dedication; under construction; 1 groundbreaking scheduled; scheduled for rededication; 2 undergoing renovation; 9 announced. NOTE: With one groundbreaking announced already this year, two more have the potential to be announced and scheduled very soon, and there may be several more groundbreakings than that in the year ahead.

Dedication scheduled:
156. Paris France Temple: Inscription gilded over baptistery; finish work underway on interior; dedication scheduled for Sunday May 21, 2017.
157. Tucson Arizona Temple: Exterior lighting tests underway; installation of interior art glass and millwork nearing completion; president’s home undergoing renovation; dedication scheduled for Sunday August 13, 2017.
158. Meridian Idaho Temple: Interior painting and millwork underway; dedication scheduled for Sunday November 19, 2017.
159. Cedar City Utah Temple: Installing art glass windows; hanging drywall on interior; dedication scheduled for Sunday December 10, 2017.

Under Construction:
160. Rome Italy Temple: Interior work progressing; completion anticipated sometime between early and mid-2018.
161. Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple: Building concrete block exterior walls; roughing in plumbing; completion anticipated sometime between early and mid-2018.
162. Concepcion Chile Temple: Exterior cladding going up on north wall; framing the interior walls; completion anticipated sometime during mid-2018.
163. Durban South Africa Temple: Applying waterproof mastic to temple foundation; setting concrete forms for missionary housing exterior walls; completion anticipated sometime during mid-2018.
164. Barranquilla Colombia Temple: Exterior concrete walls completed; completion anticipated sometime between late 2018 and early 2019.
165. Winnipeg Manitoba Temple: Groundbreaking held Saturday December 3, 2016; completion anticipated sometime between late 2018 and early 2019.
166. Fortaleza Brazil Temple: Setting concrete forms for parapet walls; completion anticipated sometime during 2019.
167. Lisbon Portugal Temple: Excavation underway for temple; structural framing going up for meetinghouse; completion anticipated sometime during 2019.

Groundbreaking Scheduled:
168. Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple: Preparing for groundbreaking; environmental license issued in November 2016; groundbreaking scheduled for Saturday March 4, 2017.

Rededication Scheduled:
8. Idaho Falls Idaho Temple: Closed for renovation; finish work underway; rededication scheduled for Sunday June 4, 2017.

Undergoing Renovation:
20. Jordan River Utah Temple: Closed for renovation; rededication anticipated sometime between early-and-mid 2018.
41. Frankfurt Germany Temple: Closed for renovation; some exterior stone removed; foundation exposed; old meetinghouse razed; rededication anticipated sometime between early-and mid-2018.

169. Arequipa Peru Temple: Erecting construction barrier; clearing and leveling site; awaiting groundbreaking announcement; groundbreaking anticipated in early 2017.
170. Harare Zimbabwe Temple: Approval and construction preparation phase; official site announcement anticipated in 2017, with the groundbreaking anticipated to take place shortly following the site announcement.
171. Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple: Planning and approval phase; awaiting official site announcement. NOTE: The LDS Church Temple website indicates that a potential site has been identified, though it has yet to be officially verified.
172. Bangkok Thailand Temple: Planning and approval phase; awaiting official site announcement. NOTE: As the above-mentioned website indicates for this temple, while no official temple site has been announced, there may be a possibility that a Church office building may be repurposed to function as a temple, meetinghouse, and office building under one roof, in a similar fashion to those temples in Hong Kong China and Manhattan New York. This is most likely to be confirmed sooner rather than later.
173. Urdaneta Philippines Temple: Stalled in planning and approval phase; awaiting official site announcement.
174. Abidjan Ivory Coast Temple: Planning phase; awaiting official site announcement.
175. Quito Ecuador Temple: Planning phase; awaiting official site announcement.
176. Belem Brazil Temple: Planning phase; awaiting official site announcement.
177. Lima Peru Los Olivos Temple: Planning phase; awaiting official site announcement.

Bolded numbers and text denote temples whose numbers already exists (for renovations), or is certain due to a scheduled dedication, as well as information that is certain, such as dedication or groundbreaking dates.
Italicized numbers and text denote temples whose numbers may change based on the order in which future dedications and groundbreakings are scheduled.
Underlined numbers and text denote temples whose numbers may change based on progress towards planning, approval, and groundbreaking.
Red text denotes changes from the last posted temple progress report. 

Apostolic Age Updates

It is time once again for my customary weekly update on the latest information on apostolic ages and tenure lengths. Though it has been a weekly thing at least since this year, it has been three weeks since one has been as extensive as this one will be.

As all of you who have followed my blog so faithfully are no doubt aware, President Russell M. Nelson will mark some major milestones in terms of his tenure as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles this year. As previously noted, assuming President Thomas S. Monson does not pass away before the end of 2017, President Nelson, who is now the 21st longest serving Quorum President, will jump five spots this year, as he will become the 16th longest serving Quorum President on the same day that my wife and I will mark 7 years of marriage, Monday December 18. As far as when he will assume the 20th longest serving spot, that will happen in about three months, on Friday May 5.

At that time, he will take that spot from Brigham Young Jr., the one man who served two nonconsecutive terms as Quorum President. As previously noted, Brigham Young Jr.'s first tenure was his longest, and the two times he did serve in that capacity were interrupted by the week-long tenure of Joseph F. Smith, a counselor in the First Presidency under Lorenzo Snow, in the presidency of the Quorum. At the time the son of our second Church President originally became the Quorum President, he was actually the fourth senior apostle (including the three apostles in the First Presidency). The two apostles senior to President Young Jr., George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, were counselors to John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. If current practice had held, then George Q. Cannon would have been the Quorum President, and Brigham Young Jr. would have been the Acting President. But at that time, that position did not exist.

So Brigham Young Jr. became the Quorum President. George Q. Cannon died almost a full six months prior to Lorenzo Snow. But from what I've learned about apostolic succession, it appears that until the following General Conference, no attempt was made to change the First Presidency. When changes were sustained that October, Joseph F. Smith, the former second counselor, became the new First Counselor, and Quorum of the Twelve member Rudger Clawson was sustained as Second Counselor. So that change made President Young Jr. the third most senior apostle. Again, in today's terms, President Young Jr. would have continued as the Acting President, while President Smith would have been the Quorum President. But that did not happen, and it was not until President Snow's death a mere seven days later (making the first and only time in Church history that I know of when the death of a Church President occurred before the counselors could be set apart in their new roles.)

Sorry for that sidetrack. Getting back to current apostles, President Nelson will mark 1 year and 7 months as Quorum President on Friday of this week (February 3). In the meantime, he will ascend upward among the ranks of our nonagenarian apostles by a few spots this year. Now standing as the 10th oldest among the 17 we have had, he will be the 7th oldest apostle merely four days after he becomes the 16th longest serving Quorum President. And in 5 years, 6 months, and 10 days, he will become the oldest living apostle.

In the meantime, let's talk about President Thomas S. Monson. Our 16th prophet will mark 9 years in that capacity on this Friday, February 3. A 9 year presidency is remarkable (President Monson will become the 9th Church President to have served for at least 9 years), especially given the health issues and the effects of old age President Monson has been feeling for some time now. I am surmising that he is doing better in view of the report of his remarkable address at the funeral for Elder Glen L. Rudd, which I am assuming was of considerable length, given their long association. So it may be that he has improved somewhat in terms of those difficulties. I will stay tuned for more developments in this regard and pass on such news as I am able to.

As far as where he is in terms of tenure length and age, he now stands as the 9th longest serving Church President. He is also the 7th oldest Church President currently. He will only observe two milestones this year. He will become the 8th longest serving Church President in about 5 months. And in just less than 7 months from now, he will become the 7th nonagenarian prophet in Church history. One comment on my blog asked if the Church was planning anything for this milestone birthday of our prophet. I have not heard anything on that as yet, but it cannot be ruled out as a future possibility. President Hinckley's 90th and 95th birthday celebrations were not announced until about two months before they happened. So it may still be too early to tell if such a celebration of life will happen. I will also keep my eyes and ears open for developments in that regard.

Now let's talk about the ages of our apostles. As of today, President Monson is 89.44 years old, President Henry B. Eyring is 83.67 years old, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stands at 76.23 years old. The average age of the First Presidency is now 83.11 years old, with President Eyring being closest to that average.

In terms of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Nelson is now 92.39 years old, Elder Dallin H. Oaks is 84.47 years old, Elder M. Russell Ballard is 88.31 years old (being just over a year younger than President Monson), Elder Robert D. Hales is 84.43 years old (as he is merely twelve days younger than Elder Oaks, though he is considerably less well off in terms of health), Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is 76.16 years old (and is the youngest of the three born in 1940), Elder David A. Bednar is 64.62 years old, Elder Quentin L. Cook is 76.39 years old (and is the oldest of the three born in 1940; President Uchtdorf is right between Elder Cook and Elder Holland), Elder D. Todd Christofferson (who, as noted, just had a birthday on Tuesday) is 72.01 years old, Elder Neil L. Andersen is 65.47 years old, Elder Ronald A. Rasband (who is just about six months older than Elder Andersen and had a much longer path to the apostleship) is 65.98 years old (his birthday will follow Elder Christofferson's by 13 days), Elder Gary E. Stevenson (our youngest apostle) is 61.48 years old, and Elder Dale G. Renlund is 64.21 years old.

These ages put the average age of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at 74.66 years old, and, as I have previously noted, the Quorum is split right down the middle between older and younger apostles. Elder Holland is the youngest of the older half of those 12, and Elder Christofferson is the oldest of the youngest half. In terms of the 15 apostles, the average age of the group of them is 76.35 years old. And 7 of those 15 are older than that average, with Elder Cook being the youngest of those seven. Of the other eight that are younger, President Uchtdorf is the oldest.

And now, for what I believe is the first time I have ever done so, I will give you the total years of life experience our 15 apostles have had. Our First Presidency have had a combined 249.34 years living, while the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have had a combined total of 895.92 years of life. And the 15 apostles overall have lived for a grand total of 1145.26 years.

But there are, unfortunately, some sharp critics and disaffected members of the Church, and even sadly some very active and faithful Church members, who mistakenly believe and teach that because these Brethren are so old, they are in many ways out of touch with what is going on in the world and with the issues that they are discussing and considering and upon which they are preparing to take a position as needed. I personally feel that this couldn't be more inaccurate or incorrect. With almost 1,200 years of life experiences, which have taken them to various and sundry places both before and as a direct result of their callings, they couldn't be more qualified, in my humble opinion, than anyone else to analyze and study the happenings in the world and to announce policies and positions that will apply to all Church members who choose to accept and follow that counsel and those directives.

Many have suggested that some kind of emeritus status should be enacted for our apostles, with all but the prophet being honorably released from active duty at the age of 90 or younger. They can suggest and recommend and promulgate that idea until they are either blue in the face or forced to accept that it is disingenuous, unnecessary, very flawed, and just so plainly in violation of the way the Lord's kingdom has been governed since the restoration of the gospel. Others have suggested that a second Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should be established to spread the workload a bit more evenly.

But that is also far removed from the Lord's plan. The divine pattern of apostolic succession and succession in the presidency of the Church is a perfect plan by which the work of the Lord moves forward under the constant direction of the 15 apostles, the most senior of whom is the prophet of God and the only one who has a right and responsibility to receive revelation from the Lord concerning how His Church and his gospel should be governed and roll forward to fulfill Daniel's vision of filling the earth. And I for one am delighted that these Brethren so willingly put aside any other obligation to fulfill their sacred duty to be emissaries for the name of Jesus Christ in all the world.

Whenever new apostles are called, and especially given the fact that President Uchtdorf is currently the only current apostle who was not born in the United States, some of these same critics and scholars have complained that the Lord's Church, which is gradually expanding to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, seems to be an American Church with American apostles. And they are all too ready to cry foul when another "white and delightsome" brother is called from North America.

What these people fail to take into account is that, though it is true we only have one international apostle, to a man, every one of the 15 have been blessed with widespread and far-reaching opportunities to travel internationally and to meet with members worldwide. That travel fully qualifies them to serve in their capacities.

When the newest apostles, Elders Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund, met the press for the first time following the announcement of their calls, a journalist asked why it seems that the Lord favors apostolic candidates from North America, they handled that question with the same inspiration that had attended their calls. I would have to go back and listen again to that press conference, but if my memory serves me correctly, it was Elders Rasband and Renlund that tackled that particular question.

They referred to the scriptural requirement that an apostle should be a witness of Jesus Christ unto all the world, reminded those in attendance of their service abroad, and pointed out that all of our 15 current apostles had traveled around the world at various and sundry times in the course of their service. Far from being out of touch with things, their international travel and ministry allows them to connect with Church members wherever they go.

I feel to end this post with my absolute witness and sure and certain testimony that these 15 apostles have been called of God. I know this for myself because I have sought for and received my own unshakable testimony on that point. I have no qualms about following these Brethren, and it is my hope that the content of blog posts about the Brethren are encouraging and assisting others to stick to their witness of that if they have it, and to get such a witness if they do not.

In the meantime, I also want to say that I know, without a doubt, that these Brethren are truly servants of the Lord, that their callings have been divinely appointed and sanctioned since before the world was, that they have been prepared through various life experiences for the callings and responsibilties that they now hold, that they will never lead us astray, that safety and security can be found by following their counsel, and that, true to the modern-day revelation on the oath and covenant of the priesthood, each of them has been "sanctified by the Spirit to the renewal of their bodies.

I so testify, and do so joyfully and gratefully, and leave this with you to reflect upon and consider, in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church that bears His name, Amen.