The Allegory of the Olive Tree

 

The longest chapter in the Book of Mormon happens to be one of my favorites.  It’s a beautiful telling of the Olive Tree Allegory which is hinted at several times in the Bible, but missing from that text.  The Book of Mormon quoting this story helps to offer context not only for this life, but also of the story of the Children of Israel that’s so well documented in the Bible.

When I was in High School The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints produced videos to help explain this allegory.  One of these got published online.  It’s dated, but the message is still good.

Also, if one cares this one chapter has over 600 pages of commentary in a wonderful book titled, The Olive Tree Allegory.

Wonderful | Smile

Many things in life are a matter of perspective. Ronald Regan famously quipped, “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Perspective truly makes a difference.

Miracles are also a matter of perspective and understanding the core of the word helps to explain its use over time. Miracles as matter of perspective are not always the actions of brightly singing heavenly messengers. Sometimes they are as simple as a smile or a friendly visit. In our lowest points in life who doesn’t benefit from knowing they have a friend who cares?

An outside observer, or even the friend, might not see their kind action as performing God’s work, but nonetheless it very well could be.

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Miracle as a word has an interesting connected history. It comes from Old French, miracle, which can be traced back to Latin, mīrāculum (object of wonder). Then it can be traced back to mīrus (“wonderful”) and then in Pro Indo European (PIE) smeiros which means to smile with astonishment.

I find the PIE version particularly child like. As humans we love to smile when something surprises us in a positive way. Kids playing peek-a-boo comes to mind.

As adults we’re often less appreciative of surprises. We’ve traded wonder for predictability. What the word origin above shows though is that wonder, miracles, and smiling are all interconnected. As I was reading the scripture/chorus from Handel’s Messiah was in my head.

Isaiah 9

5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

PTSD could easily be described using the description of a warrior surrounded by confused noise in verse 5. I have seen the impact of PTSD several times and know of its caustic depths. If verse 5 is the problem, verse 6 is the cure. And look! There in the verse we see the word wonderful here capitalized, but true to the full depth of its meaning. It’s the amazement of pleasant surprise that causes one to smile.

We see it’s use again when Christ is born in Luke 2:

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Thus the scripture in Isaiah was fulfilled describing the birth of the Lamb of God and the story of that great event is one that should cause us to smile with astonishment.

Revelations and miracles are like playing peek-a-boo with heaven.

The Faith To Repent

This talk was given at the Oak Creek Ward in Meridian Idaho on 23 April 2017.

Often when a member of the Bishopric will ask you to give a talk they will ask you to stay within a theme or reference a talk from General Conference.  I asked for permission to choose my own and my plan was approved.  In previous talks I’ve given I’ve talked about dad jokes, fonts, and oddly specific words.  If those things aren’t interesting then you might as well plan on sleeping through my talk.  As many times as I’ve slept in church, I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through my talk.  I think one of the reasons why I’ve been asked to talk today is so that way there’d be at least one week where I wasn’t sleeping in the pew.

For a habitual church sleeper like me, it was quite refreshing to hear President Uchtdorf’s talk about how Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear.  While it was about that topic, it included a tangential semi-endorsement of those of us who like to sleep in church.  In President Uchtdorf’s words, “I am pretty sure that church sleep is among the healthiest of all sleeps.”  

Sometimes when we learn something new it’s easy to do it wrong or poorly or inefficiently. When baptisms for the dead were announced they were initially done in the Mississippi River. Then it was revealed that they should be done in the temple.  Now many believe they’ve been given permission to sleep.  If this is your inclination during my talk today I would like to present you with a more perfect way to follow what you might believe is a call to nap from on high.  

If you’re one of the one’s blessed with the inclination to sleep today I would like to teach you a trick that will keep those unsightly lines from forming on your forehead.  First, you must commit to being a forward sleeper.  A backward sleeper is a bit rude, but not unacceptable.  Backward sleep tends to lead to more snoring and an unsightly gaping of the mouth.  Forward sleeping is good but the pew leaves a line that makes it awkward to socialize in the hallway on the way to Sunday school.  To fix this you just need to roll/fold your tie and place it on the pew in front of you as a pillow.  Experts will realize that the need to leave enough slack so that their mouth isn’t covered by their tie in case it turns into a drool nap.  This way the drool doesn’t get on the tie.  

If you think this is bad advice you should see what I’ve taught in youth Sunday School over the years.  I’ve taught about multiple sizes of infinity, the math problem in the book of Job, the verb of the atonement, and being fanatically selfish.  You should be cautious about calling me to substitute.

Our brains are hardwired to make correlations, but many of the correlations we make are wrong.  We often associate a route with multiple turns as being longer than one that is straight even though they may be the same distance.  At some point in my life, I associated the repentance process with being something unyielding and difficult.  With Satan’s influence, the awkwardness of admitting I had done something wrong grew into a fear of the repentance process.  For me, this happened when I was younger and it’s taken me years to overcome this false correlation.  Repentance may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Fear and faith cannot coexist.  I grew up afraid of repenting because I had only focussed on the part of the experience that was hard.  I had convinced myself that this part was so hard that it wasn’t worth going through the whole process.  It was a lie, and I believed it.  Today I’d like to tell you how wrong that is.

Admitting your mistakes is hard, but it gets easier with practice.  In team dynamics, environments where the team fails fast are better environments for building the team.  When I was younger I used to work on the Army’s telephone equipment.  It was a cumbersome piece of early 1980’s engineering.  If the equipment went bad it would sometimes take us a long time to get a part and get back up and running again.  I used to adopt the mantra that it was better for me to be what’s wrong with the system not working because I was trainable.  This threw a lot of people off.  Generally, the military thinks so highly of itself that it creates a social stigma for anyone to admit failure.  I was the exception and because of that, I wasn’t afraid to ask more questions and learn faster than my peers.  The result was that I learned the equipment so well that I was able to engineer something that no one else had ever done or will ever do again.  I wouldn’t have been able to count that among my successes if I wasn’t willing to admit my mistakes.

Practice makes perfect.  Repentance takes practice.  It’s not something you do once and you’re good at.  That sort of thinking leads people to apply death-bed repentance, which may be a thing, but it reduces your ability to be a contributor to this world.

Being a contributor is extremely important.  Just take a look at the book of Job and ask yourself, what turned Job’s life around?  The only book in the Old Testament to mathematically demonstrate that families are designed to be together forever wouldn’t have happened if Job hadn’t decided to contribute.

We often talk about the fruits of the gospel, but I like to dissect that phrase a little further.  What is the gospel?  It is the good news of Jesus Christ.  What was Jesus Christ’s role?  To take our sins upon Him so that way we can be clean.  So we can be clean.  That sounds like repentance to me.  That sounds like Christ’s role was to provide the means by which we can repent of our sins.

One of the greatest stories that talks about this is often misread.  It comes from 1 Nephi 11.  Nephi asks to see and understand his father’s vision of the tree.  The vision his father saw was bout the tree of life.  Think of that title for a second.  The tree of life.

For Nephi’s vision, he starts off with seeing Mary and is introduced to her as the Mother of the Son of God.  But Nephi doesn’t record that he understands this phrase.  There’s no typical Book of Mormon explanatory detour.  The vision simply continues.  The key to the conversation occurs in verse 21 which reads, “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Here Nephi is introduced to Christ as the Lamb of God.  Previous to this, Nephi’s relationship with the repentance process has been assisting his father conducting animal sacrifices.  He would literally help with the sacrificing of a lamb.  I wonder how often he must have pondered how the lamb being burned as an offering would translate to a forgiveness of sin.  He likely didn’t have a good answer but proceeded with faith that this is the process he was to follow.  Faith is putting your foot down on the ground in front of you even when you can’t see it.  You have to trust that it will be there.

Later in the chapter we get the explanatory detour as Nephi shares his excitement about how the tree represents the love of God.  What I always find interesting is how the angel one-ups Nephi’s excitement about Christ being the Lamb of God.  The angel describes it as the most joyous to the soul.  It’s not often in the scriptures that we get a dialogue as this!

So Nephi is asking what the tree means, and he’s shown Christ but introduced to him as the Lamb of God.  What did the Lamb of God provide?  The means for repentance!  The fruit of the tree of life is the fruit that comes from repentance!  It’s at the end of the path with the iron rod.  You get there by trusting the word of God and taking steps of faith though your vision is clouded and foggy until you get there.  When Lehi took the fruit he looked around for his family.  He wanted to share.

I had often pondered the scripture in Matthew 11 where Christ says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I used to think this scripture was somehow wrong.  How could Christ’s yoke be easy and his burden light?  He took on the weight of the sins of the world.  That doesn’t sound like a light burden to me.  That sounds like a bleeding out of every pour situation.  But when he was bleeding out of every pore he wasn’t bearing his yoke, he was bearing ours.  He was bearing mine.  His is light because he is without sin.

Article of Faith 4 lists baptism as happening immediately following the repentance process.  In John 3, Christ describes baptism as being born again, and we often discuss taking the sacrament as renewing our baptismal covenants.  When we are born the world is new, and we are excited to explore its beautiful treasures.  Repentance should lead us to the same feelings of joy as those of the angel who one-upped Nephi in a conversation!  It should lead us to a joy so powerful that the awkwardness and fear of admitting failure isn’t an overpowering thought, but a moment of truth that leads to great joy.

Just this morning I woke up to a vivid memory of one of my failures being told me in a dream.  Unlike other times when this has happened this time I conquered it with the confidence that only comes from repentance.  Repentance gives us the confidence to stand before God and the ability in this life to find all the joy possible.

The Individuality of the Atonement

[This post is my farewell talk in the Grafenwoehr Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints delivered on the same day of publication]

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Jacob Roecker and I’d like to talk about the individuality of the atonement.  Everyone of us is marvelously unique.  If I asked everyone to imagine a butterfly and we all had the skills to draw what our imagination sees no two butterflies would be alike even though butterflies are symmetrical creatures.  

Some of us are more obviously unique than others.  I’m sure there’s many of you who fall into this category.  Just for living the gospel’s standards you’re often seen as unique.  For me once you get passed the gospel standards I have a few more quirks that help set me apart.  I’ve made a covenant not to eat chocolate and haven’t consciously touched the stuff since 1999.  

I like computers.  I have a twisted passion for fonts.  They’re the clothes you put on your letters.  They let you dress up or dress down your words.  Everyone loves what Helvetica did to the industry and knows the story about how Microsoft didn’t want to purchase the license for Helvetica on Windows so it modified a few letters and called it Arial.  Arial completely misses the semi-serifed lowercase a and also creates a very unbalanced capital R.  When it comes to resumes, Times New Roman is the sweatpants of fonts.  It’s functional but so worn that it’s just not pretty anymore.  That classic font was commissioned in 1931 by the Times newspaper in England after letters to the editor complained their font wasn’t modern enough.

Everyone makes fun of Comic Sans.  This font should be kept as far away from anything professional as possible.  But interestingly enough it’s design makes it much easier for early readers to develop their language skills and it works well on low resolution screens.  Yes, if Comic Sans has a place in this world than so do each one of us.  In fact, that should be a gospel meme.  I’ll have to write the Church about that one.

Speaking of the Church did you know that fonts are so important the Church commissioned a very specific font for its logo update in 1995.  The Jesus Christ on the logo is a font owned solely by the Church.  If you wanted to explore its cousins you could take a look at

  • Trajan

  • Goudy Trajan

  • ITC Galliard

  • Mantinia (used for the public edition of the The Book of Mormon)

  • Requiem

  • Waters Titling

So, I’m a font nerd.  I bring this up not just because it’s fun to share, but also because if you think inside yourself you each have something unique that you love.  It may not meet the standards for a ward talent night, but nonetheless you’ve got passions that make you, you and that helps make you wonderful.

One of my other quirks is finding and loving unique phrases in the scriptures.  Did you know that the Book of Mormon mentions dragons?  Did you notice how Alma used food words to talk about faith?  The only time the word delicious is used in our scriptures is when Alma talks about growing faith.  

Did you notice that Nephi’s brother Jacob finished his contribution to the Book of Mormon with such eloquence that Joseph Smith had to use a French word to make the translation more accurate?

Harrowed was one of those other words that leaps out of the scriptures at me.  In the book of Job it’s mentioned in the same verse as the word unicorn so that’s pretty cool, but in the Book of Mormon we see it more used to describe Alma’s conversion process.  Harrowing soil is the process of plowing it to turn it over and get it ready for planting.  Ancient plows contain two blades.  The first blade cuts horizontally under the ground lifting the soil while the second blade cuts vertically and turns it over.  My time in Germany has not been without its harrowing experiences.

I’ve read a 500+ page book on Jacob 5, the olive tree allegory, and while my head may be full of facts about olives and early Roman economic depressions due to crop development as a result of olive production, I still maintain my same attitude towards the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon as I did when I was in early morning seminary.  The Lord of the Vineyard loves his vineyard and he takes the time and effort needed to make it fruitful.  He’s not afraid to put his hands in dung if it makes the harvest better.

We should not be afraid when our lives are harrowed at the hands of the master.  When Abraham had his harrowing experience of being asked to kill Isaac he did as the Lord commanded and in the process earned a great promise.  Job is by far one of my favorite bible stories.  In Job 38:7 it we read how “all the sons of God shouted for joy.”  This is in reference to the council in heaven where we were presented with the plan to come here to earth and be tested.  We shouted for joy not just for the good parts of this mortal life but also for the challenges.  That’s why the full conversation reads better as  “Job, where wast thou when,  the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” or Job, I know this his hard, but don’t you remember that you shouted for joy?

Job also teaches us about eternal families, but for the purposes of this talk he teaches us about what to do when our lives are being harrowed and the answer is in the first half of Job 42:10,  “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends.”  Job’s curse was lifted when he prayed for others; when he went beyond himself.

Brothers and Sisters my talk is on the individuality of the atonement.  Luke’s gospel (written as one of the greatest research papers of all time) does a wonderful job illustrating the Savior’s atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Chapter 22 verse 44 reads “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  The active verb in that verse is prayer.  

J Devn Cornish of the Seventy talked about how for our prayers of repentance to work they must be “specific, profound, and lasting.”  If the prayers we use for repentance must be specific then I don’t believe it too difficult to conclude that the prayer that enabled repentance was specific as well.  One way I’ve taught this is to think of the time Christ spent just on you while he was bleeding out of every pore.  How much time were you worth?  Would it be measured in seconds, minutes, or hours?

Each of us occupied a unique amount of our Lord’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane because when he sees us he sees each of us as being valuable to his kingdom.  His time with you says you’re worth it.  You were born to make a difference in heaven.  Whatever you do that makes you you is exactly what makes you so valuable to our Savior.  He spent time with you and I bear my testimony that if you’ll spend time with him by repenting of everything you’ll walk with a contagious confidence of how valuable you really are to his kingdom.

 

 

An Intersting Way to Make Your Home a Refuge From the World

    Today I’ve been asked to talk about how as a father you make your home a refuge from the world for your family.  Anyone who knows me from speaking, knows full well I’m not going to start my talk on topic.  So let’s start with a confession.

    I really enjoy photobombing, but I try not to be mean about it.  In December we were in Nuremberg and I totally photobombed some lady and she called me on it.  I felt terrible and so we bought her some of that cinnamon bread on a stick.  Our next big family trip was this last weekend.  We went to see the tulips in the Netherlands.  Everyone was taking pictures while walking around those beautiful gardens and I really wanted to photobomb.  This time I figured out a way to be nice about it.  

     Large groups have trouble taking photos without a selfie stick and so I’d walk around and volunteer to take the group’s photo.  After taking a couple of shots of them I’d pretend I was having trouble with the phone but really I was switching the camera to the selfie camera.  I’d then turn it around and selfie me into their photos.  Everyone smiled and laughed and I’m sure I got deleted from their album, but for a moment us strangers were sharing a fun memory.  I could photobomb without feeling guilty.

    I’ve been in the Army for 18 years and as we travel we get asked where we’re from.  I’ve almost been in the Army more years than I ever was at home and there’s no place I call home back in the states.  At this stage we can make a home out of anywhere.  We may not hang pictures on the walls, but we can make it a place for fun memories.  Growing up I felt intimately attached to home.  Home growing up was in the Farmington River Valley in Simsbury Connecticut.  Driving home from church we’d pass gorgeous lakes, cross the Metacomet trail, and the oak tree that hid the state’s constitution back in colonial days.  

    As pretty as those things were, the best memories I have of that home are now feelings.  My mother and father worked hard to provide a refuge for their family and it worked.  But it didn’t work perfectly.  There was fighting.  My brothers and I tell a story of a broken door.  My room was in the early stages of a sedimentary experiment with the hardwood floor and a throw rug as the base layers.  Additional layers of clothing and toys were built upon it.

    Our home now is at the stage where it doesn’t work perfectly.  Sometimes I think my kids have been sneaking around rewriting the lyrics to church songs.  One version of choose the right could be:

Choose to fight when a choice is placed before you.  
In the fight the Holy Spirit flees

Everyone else is wrong except you
When you fight there is no peace

At some point in life we all adopt the philosophy that since you’ll be repenting of it afterwards make sure you win.  As parents we also have at least one verse of Love at Home

There is beauty all around when they’re not at home.  
There’s no messes being made when they’re not at home.
You can read and take a nap, you can sit with an empty lap
Oh you feel like your brain is back when no one’s at home.

    I mention this because those of you that don’t know my family may think that we’ve magically got it all together.  Even though we’ve got full verses of a couple of songs we still get some things right.  I love bringing in a sense of humor to our home.  Before my kids got watches they’d yell, Dad, what time is it?  I’d respond with it’s 1000, what time is it where you are?

    We’ve tried various rules for using screen time.  One was that they had to watch a conference talk before getting on their screens.  Although we’re terrible at being consistent with such rules by making them and following them, even for just a short season, we’ve invited more of the spirit in our home and provided memorable references for our children to use as a reference point later on in life.  The more we keep including the gospel in our conversation the more reference points I give them to be spiritually successful.

    We’ve tried to find the magic set of rules that will get us back to heaven together as a loving family only to find there is no magic equation.  Hormones will overrule whatever set of rules we’re trying to adopt.

Dad joke:  Which prophet broke the most commandments?  Moses, he broke all ten at once.

    One of the largest reference points for my life occurred outside of the home.  It wouldn’t have happened with all the smaller reference points my parents provided me growing up.  When I was single I made some extremely poor choices one night and was no longer able to exercise the Priesthood.  I needed to see the Bishop and started working through the repentance process.  If it weren’t for my parents supporting my baptism, youth temple trips and advancement in the priesthood where I had to have interviews with the bishop I wouldn’t have gone as an adult.  Because of these experiences I had a reference point to how Bishops are generally blessed with the right ability to be both firm and kind in just the way the Savior would.

    President Uchtdorf was right.  He said, “Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.”  It was the weekend after I made those poor choices that Chrissy walked into my life.  After a year of working through the repentance process we got married in the Cardston Alberta Temple.  I have a lot of spiritual reference points from that experience on my knees over that year.  Some were awkward and embarrassing, but they’ve helped me chart a course in life that leads to our ultimate home.  

    In order for you to understand this next part you’ve got to realize that we got married in 2000.  After our families left the sealing room in the temple I pulled Chrissy back inside and we looked at our ever repeating reflection in the mirrors.  I looked at her and said “to infinity and beyond!”  I am such a romantic, but she was stuck with me for good after that and my jokes have only gotten better since.  

Dad joke:  What kind of man was Boaz before he got married?  Ruthless.

     When I was working through the repentance process I had to redesign the influences  I let into my life.  I learned something over that year.  I learned that if I invite the good things of the world to come in.  Those good things would fill up the space where bad things can occur.  One good decision at a time and pretty soon you’ll be wondering how you screwed up in the first place.  

     Richard G. Scott said, “be certain that every decision you make, whether temporal or spiritual, is conditioned on what the Savior would have you do. When He is the center of your home, there is peace and serenity. There is a spirit of assurance that pervades the home, and it is felt by all who dwell there.”

     With our home in some sense of order we’ve had a tradition of inviting others to join us for Sunday dinners.  Partaking of the spirit and gospel conversation over time has lead to some long lasting friendships.  There’s been at least two marriages in the temple, a few reactivations and more of the spirit in our home.

      Right now our kids are 14, 11, 9 and 6 ½.  Maybe I’ll have all the answers when they’re out of the house, but for now the method that’s working for us is to just make good choices.  Each good choice we make takes the place where a bad one could grow.  Ok, one more dad joke?

Dad joke:  What’s a missionary’s favorite car?  A convertible.

     Incorporated more good is the a large part of my conversion story and by patterning my home after that model I hope it can be a portion of my children’s conversion story.