Pres. Mike and Debbie Rush
Pres. Chris and Sheryn Thomas

For two families in Highlands Ranch, their summer travel plans do not come with a week or two return date,  nor a promise of rest and poolside relaxation. For both Mike & Debbie Rush and Chris & Sheryn Thomas, on Saturday, June 22 they reported for a 3-year volunteer mission trip.  Mike and Chris have been called to serve as mission presidents for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with their wives serving as their companions. Both couples will be serving in separate parts of Mexico City.

On a day-to-day basis the supervising couples oversee not only the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of their own families, but also assume responsibility for each of the missionaries assigned to their area, which is usually about 160 at a time.  For example, individual missionaries arrive and depart at approximately six-week intervals, as they begin or conclude their two-year period of service. Each missionary is personally attended to, oriented to the mission environment, and then assigned to a companion. By the end of their missions, each couple will have served with 500-600 missionaries.

Both the Thomases and Rushes are grateful for this opportunity to serve. “This is not a position for which we applied or which we otherwise pursued,” Sheryn explains. Nevertheless, after the leadership of the Church approached them about the possibility, she reports that they “felt strongly that this was a journey [they] would like to pursue.”

Mission presidents typically begin service July 1, after being given about 6-9 months’ notice to prepare. This is their time to train, study, and take care of all arrangements at home.   Rush leaves a job as Head of Global Health Policy & Advocacy for Zebra/Temptime – a biomedical device and technology company in the greater NYC area. Thomas is a partner at Ogletree Deakins.  Both must also decide what to do with their home and possessions while they’re gone.

What about their families?

“We love and will miss our kids, their spouses, our grandkids, our extended families, and our friends terribly. But we will also love caring for, encouraging, and serving the 500-600 young missionaries from throughout the Americas and the good people of Mexico who we will have stewardship for,” said Debbie.

The Rushes have 3 grandchildren under the age of 4, and four grown children. Their youngest is currently serving an 18-month mission in Barcelona, Spain, and the oldest 3 are married and living throughout the US.  Notably, one of the Rush’s sons is married to one of the Thomas’s daughters.

“All of our children have been incredibly supportive of our decision to accept this assignment” Chris and Sheryn Thomas report. They continued, “Our older daughters, Mara and Brenna, have served missions in Chile and Mozambique, respectively, and our third daughter, Jessica, is currently serving a Spanish speaking mission in San Jose, CA.” For the youngest child who is still in high school, the situation is a bit different. “For Justin, this mission experience will lead to uncharted territory. He is making a big sacrifice,” Chris and Sheryn acknowledge, “and he will be skipping his senior year at Thunderridge High School.” The combination of leaving his friends in Highlands Ranch and moving into an unknown environment has proven to be somewhat overwhelming. And yet, they add, “Despite those concerns, Justin has decided to trust that God is interested in the details of his life, and that He has prepared something wonderful for him in Mexico.” 

Though they might feel underqualified to take on such a task in so many respects, all newly called Mission Presidents and their wives are being fully trained to do their best. Chris and Mike, who both served Spanish speaking missions as young adults, start off on a strong foundation, having the language requirement met. Debbie and Sheryn, however, have been taking Spanish classes weekly with a tutor from the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT. The couples also participate in weekly discussions with a tutor based out of the MTC around the book Preach My Gospel, the manual for all missionaries for the restored Church of Jesus Christ.  An intensive, four-day seminar is held near the end of June, which marks the end of the couples’ formal training.  

Why do they do it? Their answers are simply focused on their faith in Jesus Christ and belief in His restored gospel.

Mike asserts, “We take seriously the charge that the Savior gave to Peter and His other disciples when He said: “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s…But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time…and in the world to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30

He continues, “Some people who we truly admire here in Highlands Ranch, the Ludwigs, served in this same capacity a number of years ago. They shared that they learned that “a sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it’s a sacrifice.”  And while leaving career and family and friends and home for 3 years is, indeed, a sacrifice, we love the Savior and are grateful for His sacrifice for all of mankind.  So we would ultimately do whatever He and His servants ask us to do.”

“We love our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Chris and Sheryn explain, “and look forward to serving Him and His children in Mexico City.” While all have had moments of feeling inadequate for this type of position, they have also asserted that “with the support of our Redeemer, we can accomplish the work before us.”


This morning, members of the University Hills Ward were joined by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock for sacrament meeting. Expressing thanks for their friendships, Mayor Hancock spoke fondly of Elder Thomas T. Priday, Area Seventy, “who has been a dear friend…and has really wrapped his arms around me and my family” and President Peter Krumholz of the Denver Stake.  He spoke highly of his brothers of faith and Craig McIlroy, a “wonderful brother friend in Christ.” Brother McIlroy serves as Public Affairs Director for the Denver South Area, and is a member of Mayor Hancock’s faith council. He joined the mayor’s companions Nigel Daniels, Special Aide to Mayor Hancock, and Reverend Shawn Johnson, Director of Community Relations, in the congregation.

From left to right: Elder Thomas Priday, Marva Priday, Mayor Michael Hancock, Bertha McIlroy, Shawn Johnson, Craig McIlroy, Nigel Daniels, and President Peter Krumholz

With his personal story of faith and optimism as an example, Mayor Hancock spoke of his shared belief in and love for Jesus Christ. An ordained deacon in the Baptist church, he spoke of his gratitude to participate in the sacrament with ward members today. Speaking of a trip he took years ago to Jerusalem, he shared what was the most “profoundly powerful trip” of his life. He spoke fondly of the way “all the stories came together” by being in Israel, the joy of feeling the spirit of Christ, and His sacrifice for us.  

In looking at the journey that has led to this point in life, Mayor Hancock attributes his faith to the example of his mother and the hand of God. Her tenacity and resilience during his formative years inspired him to work hard. Additionally, seeing the hand of God along his life’s path has brought him to a place of “pure joy and celebration of the power of God.”

  In an illustrative metaphor, Mayor Hancock compared the obstacles that we overcome in the battle of life with Goliath, and the faith we use to go forward as David. “If we have faith in God, if we have the strength to follow his word, we will get through it.” As one of ten children, he watched the struggle for survival his mother exhibited in raising the kids alone. He wondered what kept her going and how she kept coming home.

Recognizing that we may all look or feel under qualified or unprepared for the task at hand, Mayor Hancock encouraged parishioners to follow the example of David and choose to say, “I will go.” David shed the ornate armor. Mayor Hancock taught that we too can choose to place faith in God, not worry about what man can give, only the tools God has blessed us with, and say, “I’ll go just as I am.” He shared testimony of taking the same steps of faith in action, and finding that at the end of the day God says, “I got you.” 

Mayor Hancock closed by sharing gratitude for members of the Denver Stake and their help with Denver Days. He thanked the congregation for their recent service at Inspiration Point and for the time to worship together today. He stated, “I know that I am a child of God. I am honored to be with you as a man of faith. Thank you for your faith and service to this great city.” 


Amid current headlines about the living and enforcing of Honor Code guidelines at Brigham Young University, Roger E. Olson,  Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology of Ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University posted the following essay. We include it here for your edification.

Thank God for Mormons

I’m not a Mormon; I could never be one. I disagree with many teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I disagree with its emphasis on “temple work” and many other things. My own personal opinion is that the LDS Church is not a Christian church, but I have come to know some Latter-day Saints who I consider Christians anyway.

I write this essay in response to an article entitled “Students at Mormon-owned BYU urge code compassion.” (April 13, 2019) The article, written by Brady McCombs of the Associated Press, reported on a controversy about lifestyle code enforcement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah which is operated by the LDS Church. I have no dog in that fight, as the saying goes. However, I do admire much about the traditional LDS lifestyle.

I have been invited to BYU three times now. Each visit was for dialogue with LDS religion scholars and students. Usually there were other Christian theologians and church historians present for these events. It is clear to me that LDS religion scholars want Christians to recognize and embrace the LDS Church as equally Christian with us. I see the LDS Church moving in the right direction and pray that it keep moving “our way” (toward orthodox Christianity).

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

In the meantime, I wish some of us orthodox Christians would move more toward LDS values and lifestyles. Too often we have simply shifted with the secular and pagan culture around us without serious consideration. We tend to either limp or run to catch up with secular-pagan culture. Mormons (excuse me, Latter-day Saints) are much more cautious about that. The church changes, but with caution and consideration.

My LDS friends at BYU invited me to speak at the university’s November, 2017 celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years earlier. Other speakers came from many different Christian traditions. LDS scholars spoke glowingly about Martin Luther as BYU students sat enraptured (I assume) by this new admiration for a great Christian reformer. Some of us who have studied Mormon history and theology were amazed at it. This was not my father’s Mormonism! (He was an evangelical pastor who considered the LDS Church a cult.)

During the breaks between sessions of the symposium I wandered around campus. I also stayed overnight on campus in its pristine and extremely comfortable guest house. Everyone hosted me with grace and favor; I felt nothing “cultic” about the place (unlike perhaps at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City). The “vibe” at BYU was conservative Christian. Clean, nice, modest, friendly—all seemed more than normal there.Of course I didn’t go everywhere on campus, but where I walked and observed, both indoors and outside, I saw every student well-dressed, respectful of the academic environment, clean cut, and friendly to each other and to visitors. I asked a group of male BYU students if I could sit with them in the student lounge area and ask some questions. They were eager that I do so.

I asked about their lack of facial hair. They said they are required to shave every morning. I asked if that bothered them and they said no. I asked if they listen to “contemporary Christian music” on Christian radio and CCM CDs. They asked me to name some artists. I mentioned David Crowder and Matt Redman. Yes, they said, and went on to name Chris Tomlin and other giants of CCM.

Each time I have visited BYU I have been impressed by the ethos of the place. I disagree with distinctive LDS doctrines and find no inspiration in the Book of Mormon or other writings they consider Scripture that I don’t. However, in conversation with LDS scholars of religion over coffee (excuse me, non-caffeinated soft drinks), I have been assured that they are moving away from doctrines most critics bring up to prove them a cult and I have become convinced that their leaders are slowly but surely moving toward orthodox Christianity. I pray that shift continues all the way. But, in the meantime, I wish we more “mainline” Protestant Christians would move back toward a greater appreciation for traditional Christian values such as modesty in public attire and reverence in worship. As an outsider to BYU I urge them to hold fast to their admirable code of conduct while showing compassion to those who violate it and truly repent and return to the lifestyle they agreed to live when they enrolled.

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined.


Steve Collis, Dilpreet Jammu, Elder Thomas Priday, Pastor Del Phillips, Dr. Don Sweeting, and Deacon Geoff Bennett (Left to Right. Not pictured: Rabbi Black)

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new day in Colorado. Governor Jared Polis shared remarks with a standing-room only crowd after signing a proclamation declaring April 12 Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Heralding in the news with prayer and speech were religious leaders representing Jewish, Catholic, Sikh, and Christian faiths. Elder Thomas T. Priday of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducted. An interfaith choir directed by Kent Jones filled the air and hearts of participants with songs of patriotism and gratitude. Local Muslim leaders, who supported the efforts of the day were unable to attend because of their Friday Congregational Prayer, look forward to joining next year.

Rabbi Black of Temple Emanuel opened the event with a prayer soliciting unity. Elder Priday read the proclamation declaring Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Pastor Del Phillips, of the The House Worship Center, and Mayor Hancock’s Faith council, followed with opening remarks. “We not only advertise religious freedom, we practice it. The practice of religious freedom is personified by the presence of so many people here…. We must have the freedom for many types of faith to coexist,” he said. Pastor Phillips further reminded all of the crucial need for a unified front for tolerance. “If men and women of faith don’t know how to demonstrate tolerance, we can’t expect those not of faith to find faith, to respect faith, and to respect houses of worship.” He closed with the reminder for all to “remember when you enter your private space of worship, you are not the only one praising God and praying for Colorado.”

Pastor Del Phillips, of The House Worship Center kicks the event off with rousing remarks.

Following Pastor Phillips was Dilpreet Jammu of the Colorado Sikhs. He focused on the equality of mankind, the attributes we share, and the duty to accompany our prayers with action. “We share far more than we differ. All humans are equal. Our actions matter more than words and belief. What matters is you are a human being and you are hungry. If you are suffering, it is my duty to help you.” He reminded faith leaders of their opportunity to promote civility and mutual respect. Jammu also taught about the power of prayer to provide dignity. He said, “Prayer has the greatest power when it is made manifest. You cannot pray away hunger or pray for compassion without action.” He called all to “move beyond words to actions,” and invited those in attendance to Lunger, a meal they will be sharing with all in need, regardless of faith belief.

Deacon Geoff Bennett of Catholic Charities spoke next. Highlighting the power of unity in action, he invited all to do as is said at the end of each service and “Go live this faith outside of our walls.” Without watering it down, he said, we should “practice proudly and recognize that our faith is what brought us together and makes us who we are.” He called for us to see that it is all about relationships and working together. Highlighting the joint efforts of Catholic Charities and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deacon Bennett shared the good works that have been accomplished by working together, to include furnishing an apartment building built in Broomfield for the homeless, and feeding those in need. Deacon Bennett invited everyone to “celebrate each other and work together so our faith becomes contagious.”

Governor Polis’ remarks, noted the day of religious freedom that would heretofore stand in Colorado. He told those gathered “to reflect on and never take for granted what we have.” He said, “We have a welcoming environment for all faiths, whether they have it or not. Our diversity is what gives us strength. We are all better off because of our diversity before the almighty.”

Governor Polis acknowledges Colorado Religious Freedom Day

Steve Collis, chair of Holland & Hart’s nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group, gave the final remarks. He taught that a lack of religious freedom is what has led to persecution in the past. He said that religious liberty is more controversial today, and we should treat it with reverence. “We all have religious views,” whether or not we identify with a specific religion. Answers to the questions “Is there a God? “Why am I here?” or “What happens after I die?” are all religious in nature, even if the answer is “I don’t know.” Using an example from the early days of the United States, Collis shared the story of the Quakers. Given their bedrock belief against conflict, they sought exemption from the War of Independence. Instead of forcing them to their civic duties, George Washington assured them that the “conscientious scruples of their members must be respected.” They were able to contribute to the effort without conflict. In like manner, today we need to show civility and respect for others’ beliefs. In direct tones, Collis reminded listeners that “if we lose religious liberty, everyone loses, including those who think they have won.”

Steve Collis, of Holland & Hart calls for the need to maintain religious liberty.

Following Collis, the interfaith choir sang “America the Beautiful.” Kent Jones directed, and two soloists were featured, including a veteran Navy admiral who sang the fourth verse. The crowd of attendees were then invited to stand together and sing, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The refrains of our National Anthem echoed in the halls of the state house, as children, leaders, and legislators alike sang together.

The standing-room only crowd sings “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Dr. Don Sweeting, President of Colorado Christian University, gave the benediction. In solicitous tones of reverence and gratitude, he thanked God for the ability to be together, called on all for action, and prayed religious civility going forward.

CCU President Don Sweeting leads the group in a closing prayer.

All in all, the event was a smashing success and a wonderful sign of things to come. Next year’s Religious Freedom Day event will be Monday, April 13, 2020. For further information, see ColoradoReligiousFreedomDay.org


One of our favorite, most oft-repeated family stories goes back to the toddler days of the oldest grandchild. When Abby was 2 years old, my mom and dad (Grammy and Pops) were in Utah visiting my brothers and their families. Abby wanted McDonald’s for lunch. But it was Sunday. My mom reminded Abby that we don’t eat out on Sundays. She said that we follow the prophet, and keep the Sabbath day holy. Trying to keep it on Abby’s level, Grammy started singing the familiar primary song, “Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way!”

At this point Abby impatiently waved her hands, dismissive of any singing sermons. “I don’t need to follow the prophet. I know the way to McDonalds.”

She went on to describe how to get to her dream lunch. Yet the vision she had for her short-term fulfillment was not the vision the adults had for teaching her about the Sabbath day. Precocious Abby is now a beautiful, faithful young woman, and if we asked her why or how she follows the prophet, she would have a different answer. Not to mention, she could drive herself.


This weekend we get to sit at the virtual feet of God’s living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. The 15 months since he’s become prophet have been filled with announcements, refinements, and exciting changes. While we may use the terms “prophet” and “president” most often in referring to President Nelson, we can also interchange his calling with the words “seer” and “revelator.” As Ammon explained to King Limhi, “a seer is greater than a prophet (Mosiah 8:15).” And in terms of our discussion of vision, a seer is just what we need.

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Mayor Hancock, Elder Priday and friends at the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square’s Christmas Concert

It was a big weekend for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Thomas T. Priday, Area Seventy, and Denver South Area Public Affairs Director Craig McIlroy accompanied Mayor Hancock to Salt Lake City for a red carpet weekend. Activities kicked off with a tour of the Bishop’s Central Storehouse.

Shawn Johnson and Mayor Hancock prepare care packages

Not your average service mart, Mayor Hancock was blown away by “so expansive an undertaking.” With the idea that so much of the needed goods are paid for through members’ fast offerings, Pastor Del Phillips, who accompanied Mayor Hancock, said he felt inspired to implement Fast Sundays and Fast Offerings with his congregation. Home to thousands of pounds of food, its own trucking line, and many unique features that enable the Church to be first on the scene at natural disasters, the Bishop’s Storehouse is an impressive sight.

Elder Priday shows Mayor Hancock the Light the World giving machines

Next on the agenda was lunch at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The team got to visit the charity vending machines unique to the Christmas season and used in connection with Light the World. Buyers can choose to give a goat, fresh water, or a myriad of other necessities to people in need around the world. After Mayor Hancock’s introduction to these vending vehicles for good, maybe Denver can be home to a giving machine next Christmas.

 

Mayor Hancock receives instruction at the Family History Center

After lunch, Mayor Hancock was introduced to Salt Lake City’s Family History Center. With one on one attention, he and his associates had access to millions of records, including access to the Freedman’s Bureau. On the trip with Mayor Hancock was Shawn Johnson, Director of Community Relations. She reports being pleased to “have the opportunity to dig deeper into [our] family’s roots.”

Saving the best for last, Mayor Hancock, Elder Priday and their teams rounded out their evening with dinner and a show. Dinner was hosted by Elder Wilford W. Andersen, General Authority Seventy. He presented each couple with their own “Faith in Every Footstep” sculpture. Dinner was followed by the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square’s Christmas Concert. This was a highlight for multiple reasons. Earlier that day, the USOC announced Salt Lake City as the US nominee for a future Winter Olympics games. Mayor Hancock was able to congratulate Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski in person at the conference center.

Elder Wilford W. Andersen, General Authority Seventy hosts Denver guests for dinner before the show

 

Tale of Two Cities – Denver Mayor Hancock and SLC Mayor Biskupski meet

The biggest highlight was of course hearing Christmas music sung by the Tabernacle Choir. While beautiful in and of itself, the icing on the cake was enjoying special guest artist Kristin Chenoweth sing. Her first number received a standing ovation. Brother McIlroy reported, her presence was “breathtaking from start to finish.”

One year ago, Elder Priday and Brother McIlroy first met Mayor Hancock in his office. Since then, their relationship has blossomed with joint ventures in community service, working together on a faith council, and attending musical events together. Said Elder Priday, “We were able to have substantive discussions with the mayor and his team that will build significant goodwill and relationships for the Church in this area for years to come. It was apparent that they had been touched by the Holy Spirit.”

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Colorado Gives

 

For all who have volunteered time, talent or energy to others in need, it’s easy to understand the feeling of wanting to do more. You might wish for deeper pockets or unlimited resources to make your giving more significant. Today is the day where a bit of that wish comes true. December 4 is Colorado Gives Day, which means that as each of us goes online to give, our donations have potential to be magnified by the $1 Million Incentive Fund. You can help through ColoradoGives.org, a year-round, online giving website featuring more than 2,300 nonprofits. Last year brought in $36 million in a 24-hour period.

Wondering where to start? Below are a few JustServe partners who stand in extra need and would benefit from a boost on this day of giving.

 

 

Volunteers of America

The Volunteers of America provides a variety of year-round support to those in need. Areas that need the most right now include serving meals at a daytime shelter and helping with yard clean up for senior citizens. They also have several volunteer from home ideas that include writing letters to veterans, decorating bags for meals on wheels, or even putting together a craft kit for low income preschool students.

Catholic Charities

In like manner, Catholic Charities offer a variety of services and can use volunteers to help pull together. Current opportunities include helping at a women’s shelter, either serving dinner, decorating cookies, or hosting a movie night. You can also host a Christmas party for residents of Catholic Charities housing, or adopt a family for Christmas.

 

Lutheran Family Services

Lutheran Family Services (LFS) is the largest refugee resettlement agency in the Rocky Mountain region. Every year LFS responds to needs of 30,000 people. One simple but constant need is for diaper donations. Clients often have large families and always need diapers. You can also help with creating baby baskets for refugee families who are either expecting or have just had a new baby.

In this season of giving, and as we Light the World, we hope you will consider joining in this day as Colorado Gives.

 


Thursday, September 13 was an inspiring night. Thanks to the joint efforts from the Front Range and Columbine stakes and the Colorado Catholic Conference, 400+ attendees gathered for a Religious Freedom Forum in Columbine. With a full line-up of speakers, Colorado Mormon Chorale’s powerful patriotic numbers, and a timely message – the combined result was one to remember. Attendees learned the importance of standing for religious freedom, and increasing the ability to do so. Presenters tied together both examples of early leaders who created a framework to protect our freedoms, and the efforts that continue to maintain said freedoms. Elder Thomas Priday, Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the evening, sharing gratitude for the opportunity for multiple faiths “to come together in unity.”

Rebecca Jenson, Public Affairs Director, North America Central Area, stands at attention during “The Star Spangled Banner”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are reminded regularly of our civic duties. Elder Bednar said recently, “There is a paradox in religious freedom — if I want my religious freedom to be protected, then I must protect the religious freedom of those who believe in a basically different way from my own. This is our task. And it will be our ongoing challenge. Religious freedom is more than a right; it is a duty.” (more…)