Tuesday, December 31, 2013

OT #2: "Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born"

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #2: “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born.”

You can read my rather extensive 2010 Old Testament lesson #2 here: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/01/lds-gospel-doctrine-class-old-testament_07.html 

The lesson focuses on the Book of Abraham 3, and the Book of Moses 4:1-4. Both are “translations” from Joseph Smith, wherein the term “translation” is used differently than we use it today. Joseph often used extant texts or items to as catalysts to receive revelation. In studying the Bible, he received a revelation on the Creation that we now have as the Book of Moses. In studying an ancient (2oo AD) Egyptian papyrus that we now know included portions of the sensen or Book of Breathings, Joseph received what we now have as the Book of Abraham.

The Premortal Existence
The concept that God was not alone prior to earth can be a stunning revelation to many Jews and Christians. The concept of God creating everything from nothing (creation ex nihilo) has been a belief of many Jews and later Christians since at least the times of the Maccabbees (200 BC). Yet Joseph Smith taught that matter is eternal, co-eternal with God. Even Spirit is made of purely fine matter. One form of spirit, the Light of Christ, flows through all things (D&C 88, 93, 130). This creation of the spirits of men and women from pre-existing matter means that while there is the hand of divinity in our making, so too is there something independent of God in each of us. It is possible that this duality is what provides us with individuality, freedom to choose, and even choose to reject God and the things of our Creator. This opens up the ability to have “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2), which is necessary for life to exist.

Many Bible scholars now accept the concept of God having a divine council or assembly prior to the earth’s creation. These were angels, cherubim, seraphim, and archangels that stood in God’s presence, worshiping and counseling with God (see Isaiah 1:1-6 for an example). This assembly included holy beings that resembled God, including Jesus Christ. It must have been a great surprise to Abraham to find out he was in that special group at the very beginning. We find that God is surrounded by the “intelligences that were organized”, later calling them spirits.

The question here is: what kind of organization? Were they organized as a special group of angels/divine beings, or were they initially unorganized intelligence/matter that was later organized into sentient spirits? Or both?

The Fall of Lucifer: Two Stories
As we will see next week with the Creation, we often try very hard to reconcile differing stories, or to ignore the differences. Yet, there are differences in the two stories we receive in regards to Lucifer’s fall from grace.

In Moses 4:1-4, we see a contest of wills between Jesus and Lucifer occur:
“And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.” (Moses 4:1-3).

Here we see a classic stand-off between hero and villain. Each presents a plan, but somehow Satan’s plan leads to a rebellion that we do not get clear details on. In what way did Satan rebel? The story is not exactly clear on this. When Lucifer came before God to share his plan, were his followers standing behind him ready to overthrow the kingdom? Was his plan asked for, or did he put it forth as a demand, rather than as an option? Why is offering to “redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” an effort to destroy agency? Wouldn’t everyone want to be saved? And does “saved” mean exalted, or just an escape from death and hell? Or does it mean something entirely different?

Satan demanded God’s glory and power, while God gave his glory and power to Jesus. Is such an attitude all it requires to be in rebellion? Or was something more going on here?

Then, we go to the story in the Book of Abraham. In Abraham 3, the Lord doesn’t ask for options, but just explains the plan of salvation:
“We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:24-26)

There is no second plan offered. The only question left open for discussion by God was: “Whom shall I send (to be the Savior)?” Lucifer does not provide an alternative plan. It does not seem like he may have stepped forward with a demand to take God’s place. He simply offers himself to go. It is only when God chose Jesus as the Savior that we see Satan become angry, rebel and cast down.

We do not know how long of a time it required for this rebellion to occur. It could have been minutes, days, or years in the preparation stages of the world, before the war in heaven finally occurred, according to Abraham’s account. But in Moses’ story, it seems that the encounter between God and Satan immediately created an impasse that caused a rebellion that was probably already in the planning stages.

Why two stories?
So, why are there two stories? Because Abraham and Moses come from different cultures and belief systems, and each were given a different revelation that was adapted to the symbolism and “history” of his day.

Moses was only given a revelation of this earth, because to see more would bring too much glory upon him and cause him to cease being mortal. Abraham was not only shown this earth, but the Sun and many other suns and planets that led to Kolob and the throne of God, yet he continued in the flesh!
According to the early Jewish historian Josephus, Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians. If so, that knowledge of astronomy may have been passed down through several centuries to the days when Moses would walk the courts of Pharaoh as a child. Would Moses have recognized that it came from Father Abraham?

Perhaps it falls into the needs of the two patriarchs. Abraham needed to share great wisdom with Egypt, to gain its trust and power, as an ally and friend. He had but a few hundred servants and followers in his group that wandered wherever there was pasture for the flocks. Teaching the Egyptians from Pharaoh’s throne gave him power and access to teach God’s word to the most powerful people on earth. There probably was no major competition between Abraham and Pharaoh when he received the revelation.
On the other hand, Moses was establishing the new kingdom of Israel from Egyptian slaves. Instead of an ally of Pharaoh, Moses was an enigma and threat to the power and supremacy of Pharaoh and Egypt. His revelation of Christ and Satan would symbolize Moses against Pharaoh: one offering freedom and salvation to Israel, the other offering slavery and death. One represented God and sought the glory of God, while the other held a false priesthood power and used it to build vast cities and monuments to praise and empower himself. Pharaoh was Lucifer to Moses’ Jesus!

Through the 10 Plagues, Pharaoh’s power would be unable to save Egypt, while Moses would deliver chosen Israel through the power of God. One could think that in the premortal existence, God would ask, “Whom shall I send?” and Moses would have answered, “Here am I, send me!” as a symbolic foreshadowing of the coming Messiah to save all of Israel (compare with Isaiah 1:1-6).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

OT #1: This is My Work and My Glory

Amazing how four years go by and we again begin the Old Testament. For those who did not read my last go around on the Old Testament lessons in 2010, you can read lesson #1 here.

This first lesson in the Old Testament actually starts us in the Book of Moses, chapter one. The Book of Moses is a part of Joseph Smith's "Translation" of the Bible. Rather than an actual translation, however, we are benefited by a revelation given to Joseph Smith of things revealed to Moses. Beginning the Old Testament with Moses 1 gives us a truly Mormon taste of what the gospel throughout the ages is all about.

El Elyon
And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless? (Moses 1:3)
In the original sense, "Lord God Almighty" denotes God the Father. God Almighty is El Elyon or Elohim in Hebrew. Many LDS leaders have suggested that it was Christ that appeared to Moses in the stead of the Father. This is possible, for "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:19). However, we are to understand by the terminology used that Moses is in the presence of the Father.
The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. (Moses 1:1-2)

In a time when there are no temples or tabernacles, God spoke to mankind in secluded, special places. Often the secluded place would be at the top of a mountain. To speak to God on a mountain top meant a climb. The person would ascend towards the heavens and God's throne. One ascends out of the common world and into a world that is starkly different and set apart.
As a preparation to speak to God, Moses is then transfigured by the glory of God. No one can see God and still live, unless he is first changed so he can withstand the glory of God. Still, we will see that Moses does not see the full glory of God, but only a part of it. In the ancient text, Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet sees Christ descend through the heavens to the earth. As he descends, he empties himself of his glory, so that the angels and beings on the lower levels of the heavens/cosmos may bear his presence. So we see the Lord explain to Moses:
Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth. (vs 5)
God revealed what he could to Moses. It is possible that Moses, in awe of the things he saw, would not fully understand all that was shown to him.
Satan the Deceiver
And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely? Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve. Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. (vv 12-16)
Once the Lord departed and left Moses alone and weak, the Tempter showed up. Satan demanded that Moses worship him. He is, after all, the god of the fallen world, and claims it as his own. Moses noted that only because he has experienced the glory of the true God can he determine the deceit of Satan. Where Moses was filled with glory and light, now all he experiences is an emptiness and darkness.
This is an important concept for us today. Many people cannot tell the difference between God and Satan, simply because they have not tasted the glory of God, or have forgotten the spiritual experiences they have had. Satan can also climb exceedingly high mountains and provide stimulating experiences to humans, whether through drugs, sex, pride, power, wealth, or other methods.
The differences lie in these concepts: 1. the real God tells us that we are "after the similitude of mine Only Begotten", meaning we are made of the same substance as God himself is. 2. God's glory is an experience that can help us determine the light from the dark. 3. It doesn't matter what logic Satan uses with us, there is only one God.
Finally, Satan's desire is to rule and reign over us as he sees fit, using us as chattel. God has a different goal:
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (v 39)
For those who believe that God is the "Unmoved Mover", who does not feel emotion towards the children of men, we see here and will see through the Book of Moses and the Bible that God is the "Most Moved Mover". He is glorious because of his purpose, which is to save and exalt his creation. In this he gains his glory. To be a being with great power does not necessarily merit worship and devotion from mortals. There are those who see God as a cruel and vengeful God, whose desire is to save only a few, and condemn the rest of his creation to hell fire. Where is the glory in being that kind of God? So were the gods of Egypt, where Moses was born. So is Satan, who was willing to use fear and power to cause Moses to obey and follow.
But the Lord God Almighty, who has created us in the similitude of the Only Begotten, has placed us in a special place. We are his children, and he has determined that true glory comes from focusing on glorifying his own creation.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

And the Gods saw that they were obeyed

I thought I would share some things I've been pondering on regarding the Creation story in the Book of Abraham (chapters 4-5). While much of the story is similar to the Creation stories in Genesis and the Book of Moses (Pearl of Great Price), there are some significant differences.

First, the BoA account not only mentions God, but the Gods as being involved in the creation.  This ties in perfectly with the ancient Jewish (and early Christian) concept of the Divine Council.  God and his divine children (sometimes called angels) work together to accomplish God's great work. Margaret Barker, an Old Testament scholar and Methodist preacher, stated that Jesus was considered by the early Christians to be the Messiah, the Angel of the Lord's Presence.  In LDS theology, many of God's children (including some/many of us were involved in the Creation.

From this Creation event, we learn some possible things about the divine council, and our premortal existence.  First, we see that the Gods go down together to form the earth. In several ancient texts, such as the Ascension of Isaiah, we see angels and Christ ascending up and descending down through the various layers of heaven  to get to/from the earth.

The earth is described as "empty and desolate" and was dark.  These are descriptions of ancient Semitic stories of the Creation, where the Gods create order out of Chaos.  In this scenario, God even must fight the water dragon, in order to keep Chaos (water and darkness) at bay.

Once brought under control, the Spirit was left to "brood over the waters." The Spirit may have been the Light of Christ, which penetrates all of space (see D&C 88, 93), as a controlling force.  One thing to consider is that instead of being a controlling force, the Spirit may have been an influencing force. In such a scenario, the Spirit would not force things to occur, but gently guide them to the final goal.

Interestingly, in commanding or pronouncing their divine will, the Gods were able to command the light, earth and waters.  However, when it comes to living things, such as plants, after the command goes forth, we read, "and the Gods saw that they were obeyed" ( 4:12) or in the case of animals, "and the Gods saw they would obey" (4:25).  In other words, the Gods did not have full and absolute power over all their creation, or chose not to impose their will over all of creation..

This suggests a few things.  First, the Gods had to await things to obey their command.  Second, some things (such as humans) would disobey along the way.  Third, this may have been a trial and error learning event for the lesser or younger Gods.

Imagine the patience it would take for Gods to form the earth, and then await billions of years for the particles making up the Earth to cool down and become solid.  Then, to await the first life to form about 2.2 billion years ago. It would take another 2.3 billion years of trying different life forms until mankind is formed.  During those billions of years, the Gods would find out how to put DNA together to form creations that could adapt and survive in varying ecosystems and disasters. Giant destructions would open the door for new species to rule the earth. 250 million years ago, a destruction would wipe out 90 percent of all life forms, opening the door for the reign of the dinosaurs. A destruction 65 millions years ago would wipe out dinosaurs, and open the door to mammals.  The last Ice Age would leave us with one species of human-like beings, removing the failed versions from the genetic pool and prepare the earth for us today.

So, now that we are mortals and trying to learn to be creators, even as God and the divine council, what can we learn from this? First, that God is very patient.  If it takes billions of years to accomplish his goals, then he is willing to wait for it to naturally come to pass. If this is so, then why are we so impatient with ourselves, our children and others?  We are all works in progress. 

Second, God avoids forcing his hand unless he has to.  Instead, he guides, influences, and leads by example.  I find the more control we attempt to force upon others, the more they tend to reject what we do.  Control is usually imposed because we either lack patience or there is an urgency to get something done. Perhaps we create too many emergencies that require control, rather than patiently working things through.
Third, as with God and his divine council, we are in a constant struggle against Chaos and entropy.  There is opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2), which puts us directly in the path of Chaos. Our work here is to do God's work, and that is to create Order out of Chaos.  It is a process that takes time.  Children are not born as a finished product.  It takes a lifetime for each of us to begin to understand who we are and why we are here.  The key is to create order, even as God does, a little at a time, and not increase the amount of chaos instead.

Interestingly, the over-use of control can actually increase chaos. Doing nothing or little also increases entropy and chaos.  In a universe that tends to move towards entropy, only God and his divine children have the ability to hold it at bay, and perhaps increase order in the universe.

So, what do you get out of Abraham's Creation story?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

D&C 89 - Run and not be Weary

How often have we read or listened to the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) and heard the concept "run and not be weary, walk and not faint"? How often is it described as receiving good health, and an evidence of the gospel's truth?

As that is one way to interpret such scripture, I thought it would be interesting to take a different approach to the concept, by going to its origins in the Old Testament, and see what is meant by the phrase.

The earliest verse that suggests this concept is in Isaiah 5:26-27

And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly: None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken

Here we see in First Isaiah that the concept of not being weary has to do with coming swiftly to the Lord. In this instance, an ensign is lifted to the nations, to which the people hasten to unwearingly. For Latter-day Saints, the ensign to the nations is the fulness of the gospel of Christ, found in the Restored Church. While we see many joining the Church now (more than 250,000 per year), the day of reckoning shall approach, where millions will joyfully flock to the banner of Zion for safety and refuge (D&C 45:66-71).

For Mormons, it is akin to those who flocked to Captain Moroni's banner of liberty, in order to defend their homes, family, religion and freedoms (Alma 46). Moroni created the standard of liberty from his cloak, and marched throughout the land calling others to join him. Many rushed forward and tossed their own cloaks at his feet, as a symbol that they were willing to give all to establish and protect that ensign to the Nephite nation.

Jeremiah shares this thought with us:

But thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.

How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end.

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee. (Jeremiah 12:3-6)

Jeremiah could be speaking to the Lord or his fellow Israelites in stating that if they are wearied by their own people in Jerusalem, how can they be happy elsewhere (and in particular, Zion)? If they are not happy when living in a peaceful land, then how will they be happy when the floods (from the Jordan River) come and ravage the peace and prosperity they do have?

In this instance, they are not called to seek after Zion, because they are already supposed to be there! Yet, in establishing David's kingdom, the temple, and what was to be a holy people, Judah was not Zion. It still leaned on royal kings, other nations and gods, rather than having Yahweh as their Lord and King. They were not happy with the best God had to offer them, and so they lost everything. All the markers of a Zion people: temple, priesthood, the covenant (ark of God's Presence), were lost or diminished because the people grew weary of the things of God.

The most common and most easily spotted version of the phrase is in Isaiah 40:31:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

In this first chapter of Deutero-Isaiah (probably written by one of Isaiah's followers), we see that it definitely sounds like a strengthening of physical health? But let's look closer at the .context.

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Those who actively seek after God do not just receive good health, but they receive an attribute of God: they do not grow weary and faint! God, who has created the earth, does not tire. We cannot find out all that he knows by searching, suggestive of the Word of Wisdom's promise of secret treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In the world, the time will come when the hearts of men will fail. Even the young, who are normally full of hope and energy, will become weary because they have not sought eagerly after the Lord.

But those who run or walk eagerly to join the Lord shall receive not just good health, but HIS strength. As he is not weary, they will not be weary, either. God will impart his strength. They will be lifted up on wings of eagles, suggesting being carried to a celestial level of holiness. It suggests action or movement toward God.

In D&C 84:33-34, it notes that when we accept the priesthood and magnify our callings (something both men and women can do), we become the children of Moses and Aaron, and the seed of Abraham. In rising up to a new holy lineage, we are then "sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies" and become "the elect of God."

While we often see the renewing of our bodies as giving us good health, so we can live long lives and serve, may I suggest a better interpretation: we are changed from telestial beings to a higher spiritual and temporal sphere of existence. Our spiritual body, connected to a physical body, will be changed from the natural man to the spiritual man, even the man in Christ. In so doing, we become as God: not weary or fainting, but able to overcome all things and do great things, even as the Creator does such marvelous things as well.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

D&C 88 - Understanding some of Its Concepts

D&C 88 was given as the "Olive Leaf" after the tragic Prophesy on War in D&C 87.  It has many great concepts in it, and so we'll look at some of them here.

Celestial World vs Celestial Kingdom

vs 2:  "...and are recorded in the book of the names of the sanctified, even them of the celestial world."

Is there a difference between the celestial "world" and the celestial "kingdom" (see vs 4)?  Are they the same?

There are some LDS, including some scholars, who believe there is a difference. The term "celestial" can be both a term referencing physical or spiritual things.  So, God is a Celestial Being, but Saturn is a celestial (heavenly as in cosmos) orb.

Then there are the terms world and kingdom. As we see in the world we live in now, there are a variety of peoples with varying levels of spirituality.  On this one planet, we see sons of perdition (Cain), as well as saints (the prophets).  On this planet, we often see separations between groups, such as when Cain was separated from Adam, or Lehi leaving wicked Jerusalem, yet they are still on the same world.

There is a possibility that on a celestial world there is room for a celestial kingdom, as well as other kingdoms.  If this is the case, then our reading of D&C 131:1 "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees...." be not be entirely correct.  Does a celestial glory (note lower caps) refer to the Celestial Kingdom, or does it refer to a heavenly cosmos location?  This could mean there are three levels in the Celestial Kingdom and/or there are three major divisions in a celestial world, where celestial, terrestrial and telestial beings dwell near each other on the same planet(s).

Light of Christ

Continuing in verses 3-4, we learn about "another Comforter" that promises celestial glory.  Is this Holy Spirit of Promise the 2nd Comforter (Jesus Christ)?  Or is it a stronger manifestation of the Holy Ghost itself. 

Continuing, the section then describes the Light of Christ.  This light is the "light of truth" and is the power by which the sun, moon, earth, and all things operate.  It is this light which enlightens each person on earth.

Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (vv 12-13)
It is possible that this light is what creates or forms Intelligences (D&C 93:36).  If it fills all things, then perhaps it is the power that organizes and determines the functions of each atom, and when atoms are combined, to give greater ability to the molecules that are formed.  So, while oxygen and hydrogen have important qualities, when combined into water they suddenly have remarkably new qualities that neither atom has on its own.

These verses also have us ask some questions.  This light is the law by which all things are governed.  Does this include God?  Is this "power of God"/light of truth a power God has within him because he is God, or is he God because he has full access to this power and light?
And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.  (v 15)

Is this tied to the previous concept of the light of truth and Intelligence? Are spirits created from smaller parts or intelligences, just as our physical bodies are made up of atoms, molecules, and larger components (intelligences)?  Does creating a soul (spirit and body) create the next generation of Intelligence?

Resurrection and the Kingdoms

And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.

"And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;
For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father" (vv 17-19)
Here is an interesting concept in regards to resurrection and atonement.  There is a resurrection and THEN a sanctification through the atonement.  The section continues stating that every kingdom of glory has a law attached to it, and to live in that kingdom, a person must abide that law. 

There comes the question, can a person later choose to abide a higher law and be allowed to dwell in a higher kingdom?  The scriptures and prophets are not clear on this one, but there are some suggestive concepts given to us.

"These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;

 And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial." (D&C 76:86-87)
Why else do those in higher kingdoms minister, except to guide them to a higher kingdom? 

“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”
-James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421

"The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of  advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered unto by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories after education and advancement within those spheres may at last emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake
more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal
progress—have been moving onward, so that the relative distance between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at
the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never where they are.”
B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:391-392

The things I've discussed are concepts to consider.  They are not doctrine, but are possible things from the scriptures we currently have. It is possible that our understanding of our doctrine may partially be based on tradition, and not fully on what the scriptures actually intend.  Does Eternal Punishment mean a punishment with no ending?  Or is Eternal one of God's names, and so "Eternal Punishment is God's Punishment" (D&C 19)?  Digging a little deeper into the scriptures may create more questions than answers, but some of those questions may be worth keeping.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

D&C 87 - Prophecy on War

D&C 87: The Prophecy on War

(Note: this is my current understanding on the Prophecy on War. The LDS Church has not given out an official interpretation of its events beyond the Civil War and the World Wars predicted).

Joseph Smith's Prophecy on War (D&C 87) is a big thorn in the side of those critics of the Mormon Prophet. Some claim that 'everyone knew that the North and South were going to war, so it wasn't that big of a prophecy.' However, the evidence is against such belief. Many believed that the tensions between North and South were calmed down just a few years prior to the Civil War.

Elder Orson Hyde supplemented the prophecy in 1858, claiming the destructions and wars were about to come upon the U.S.  When he made these claims, many eastern newspapers quoted and mocked him. There was no way the States were going to war, according to the papers. In 1862, Elder Hyde commented on this fact as further evidence that the American people did not consider this prophecy valid prior to its accomplishment.

But the Prophecy on War is more than just a prediction of the Civil War.  we shall see that the Prophecy of War goes well beyond the Civil War/War between the States, and down to our own day.  In fact, calling it the Prophecy on War is a misnomer.  It would be better to call it the Prophecy on Slavery, as it deals with slavery throughout the prophecy.

War Among the States and Among All Nations

The section starts by prophecying of the Civil War, a war that will be the beginning point for all great wars . We read in D&C 87:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
Here we see that the Civil War is the beginning of wars to be poured out "on all nations." The Civil War was a great turning point in warfare. With it came modern warfare, which opened the way for wars of mass destruction to be commonplace and widespread. Also, this was the first war where new weapons of destruction were used: repeating rifles, gatling guns, iron ships, railroads for transporting troops and equipment, and telegraph to communicate over long distances, etc. All this added up to tens of thousands being killed in battles, and more than 600,000 dead over the 4 year long war.  It would be a war based upon slavery: the black slaves toiling in the fields, but also for those white Americans who felt the Union was enslaving them with laws that affected their economic choices (states' rights).  To this day, many white Southerners call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression."

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
The South, during the Civil War, called upon other nations for assistance, and "they" or Great Britain and other nations would later "also call upon other nations" for assistance in their own defense. Imagine a nation like Great Britain, which at the time ruled the oceans and had a formidable army having to call upon other nations for assistance! And yet it happened in both the First and Second World Wars, which is exactly the time when war was "poured out upon all nations."  World War II was only a continuation of the First World War, as France and other nations sought to enslave and punish Germany with huge restrictions and even bigger economic stresses.  In 1917, the German Mark was worth 75 cents in American dollars.  By 1921, it required over One Trillion Marks to equal one dollar.  People were starving because of the devastating requirements placed on Germany, causing the Germans to seek someone to save them.  Sadly, Adolph Hitler became their one great hope.  It is easy for starving people to believe the words of the person who is feeding them and giving them jobs.

From the ashes of the Great World Wars, some nations were opened to greater levels of democracy, while others were plunged deeper into the tyranny of slavery.

The Fall of Communism

Now this next portion is very interesting. Many readers think it refers to the Civil War, but it doesn't. In terms of time, it refers to a time after the wars on all nations:

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

The only "slaves" in the days after the World Wars, have been those who suffered under the bonds of Communism and racism. Isn't it interesting to see how quickly the shackles of slavery fell off of the slaves of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and among the blacks in South Africa, and to an extent, even in the United States in its Civil Rights movement. However, since their "masters" are marshaled and disciplined for war, there are few primary choices, except Communism and Socialism where this has occurred.

What took millions of lives in bloodshed during the Civil War and World Wars I and II, then seems almost like a bloodless coup in the collapse of the Iron Curtain.  However, when one considers Josef Stalin slaughtered over 25 million people in the Soviet Union, starving millions (especially in the Ukraine) during his 5 year plans, and sent untold more to the gulags and mines of Siberia, we can see that it was a very bloody experience over 70 years. for the slaves under Socialism. 

It was only three years between the time President Ronald Reagan proclaimed at the Brandenburg Gate, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and the Berlin Wall being torn down by the former slaves.  Since then, millions have had economic and religious opportunities in many of those nations.  We do see tyranny attempting to regain power in some former Soviet states, but there seems to be an equal push to retain new rights that weren't available before.

For Christians, there has been a true evangelism that has swept much of the area over the past two decades.  Bibles are now common place, a variety of churches are erected, and LDS temples are beginning to dot the land.

The Terrorism Connection

In the last decade, we've seen great wars on terrorism. I believe this is discussed as well in the Prophecy on War.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
At one time I thought the remnant referred to is the literal House of Israel, and particularly the Lamanites (Native Americans). It may be that a portion of this part of the prophecy will still be fulfilled by them. Now, however, I feel it is the remnant of the slaves in the Arab/Muslim world that this refers to. Tyrannical dictators of Muslim nations have kept their peoples in poverty and slavery. They have stayed in power by turning the anger of the peoples against the Jews and the Gentile Nations (Western nations).

The events predicted overlap to some extent.  So while the Soviet Union was on the rise, the great world wars brought down those enslaved by Hitler's Germany and others.

Radical Arab attacks have been known for decades: from airplane hijackings, to the terrorism at the Munich Olympics, and to the assault on the cruise ship Achille Lauro.  Over time, they have organized and become more powerful, until we all gasped in horror as commercial airliners were used to bring down the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.

We are now feeling the pain of the remnant of Arab and Muslim slaves in the world, as they continue attacking and vexing the Gentile nations, even as some try to gain freedom from those who have enslaved them. Sadly, it seems that of those nations overthrowing their leaders, many are not gaining the freedoms they sought, but are being placed in a new form of radical Islamic slavery.

Interestingly, many of the tactics the radicals are using are very similar to the terrorist attacks used by the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon (Books of Helaman and 3 Nephi). They gained great power, taking over some lands and nations, and vexing the righteous Nephites and Lamanites.  The Nephites and Lamanites sought to destroy them in their mountain hideouts, but were generally unsuccessful.  After a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, radical Islam is still growing in many parts of the world.  Terror will possibly become a part of the "new normal" in the United States, even as it is in Israel, as we see events such as those happening on Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon occur.

Great Destructions to Come

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.Obviously, when the remnant of the slaves vex the Gentiles, we shall see great destruction and bloodshed begin. So, the times for great destruction may not be too far away.
As the times of terrorism occur, natural disasters and other problems will increase. Since 9/11/2001, we've seen some of the biggest earthquakes to ever occur (including Japan's earthquake that caused nuclear reactors to melt down), global economic disaster, tsunamis that have slain hundreds of thousands, bird flu and other (new and old) diseases, deadly tornadoes (Joplin MO, Tuscaloosa AL), and devastating hurricanes (New Orleans, and the northeast)

In section 88 of the D&C we learn a little more of the disasters to occur:

88 And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people.

89 For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes (Japan, Chile, Haiti), that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.

90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests (tornadoes), and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds (tsunami, hurricanes).

91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people
.A rather bleak picture, to be sure.  So, what can protect us from such terrible premonitions of war and nautral disaster?

Stand In Holy Places

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.

I frankly do not know how close we are to the final destructive days and the beginning of Christ's peaceful Millennial reign.  However, whether it is in 2 years or 200 years, we can see that these are potential signs for us to be noticing.  The solution is to "stand in holy places, and be not moved".

The "holy places" mentioned above are Zion and her stakes. As with the righteous Nephites and Lamanites in 3 Nephi, the time will come when we will see the need to physically gather in places of refuge and safety for sanctuary.  Right now, we are building the stakes of Zion so that we will have an organization and plan ready to receive those who need help.

When Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida in the early 1990s, Mormons came by the hundreds to help people fix their homes.  Two LDS stake center buildings were used by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Red Cross as headquarters.  When the army needed 3000 chainsaws, which would take them weeks to requisition, the Church had them brought in the very next day.  Mormons in Idaho filled a semi-truck full of Idoaho potatoes and drove down to provide food for the people.

When Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, thousands of Mormons were organized by region to travel down to the area and assist every weekend for months.  Saints from as far away as Indianapolis and elsewhere traveled and worked on their own dime to help out where they could. So it is with each and every natural disaster in the United States, and elsewhere.

The LDS Church provided millions of dollars of aid to the victims of the Indonesia Tsunami, dig wells for fresh water in many poor nations, and have inoculated tens of thousands of children in Africa and elsewhere.  But that is not all, bishop's storehouses provide assistance to many struggling to find work, pay the bills, or have food on the table. Anyone who has seen Welfare Square in Salt Lake City is amazed.  But those who visit the bishop's storehouse in Indianapolis Indiana will also be impressed with the program run in that area, far from Mormon central.  It is this organization and desire of the membership to serve and help others that will bring it to the forefront of assistance to those who seek the refuge of Zion.

In D&C 45, we read of Zion and her stakes:

66 And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God;

67 And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.

68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.

69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.

70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.

71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.

Not all will be Latter-day Saints, but all that are willing to keep the 10 Commandments, and perhaps a few other laws of righteousness will be welcome to dwell in safety, while the wicked choose to suffer through the great destructions of the last days prior to the Second Coming of the Lord.

Once again, we see that the Prophecy of War is a timeline of events, many happening in our own day. It truly is an amazing prophecy given to Joseph Smith from the Lord, to prepare us for the last days.

Friday, April 05, 2013

D&C Gospel Doctrine lessons at Mormon Interpreter

As I noted at the beginning of the year, the D&C lessons are set up by themes, very different from the OT, NT, and BoM.  So, I will only occasionally be writing an article regarding a section here or there that has some interesting concepts for us to view.

To quench your thirst for some high quality lessons, I suggest the Scripture Roundtable at the Mormon Interpreter.  Daniel Peterson, Bill Hamblin and others are discussing the lessons much better than I ever could.

You can access the video podcasts here:


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

D&C lesson 11: "The Field is White, Already to Harvest"

D&C lesson 11: "The Field is White, Already to Harvest"

The manual covers the lesson fairly well.  Here I want to invite all my readers to share one or two of the following:

1. Your Conversion Story
2. Your Experience opening your mission call
3. A neat experience from your mission
4. A missionary moment you have had with someone else.

Let me share three of my own experiences.

In the Spring of 1975, my high school in Montana suffered several big tragedies.  Students died or were seriously injured over a 2 week period in about 1/2 dozen incidents.  In one event, friends went 4-wheel driving and turned over their Jeep, with 2 dying.  In another, 4 friends went up a canyon and drank rubbing alcohol, with 3 of them dying, and the girl who survived ending up shriveled up and in a wheelchair.  Then some kids took cow tranquilizers and were found dead at the fairgrounds.  Other events occurred. It shook up our school back in a time when counselors were not sent to schools to help the students.

That summer, my grandfather died.  I remember being a pallbearer with my brother and cousins. As we sat in the back of the car carrying us, one cousin noted that there had to be a better way.  I agreed.  I was shell shocked from all the death I'd seen in just a few months.  That Fall, I met some new friends at school.  Most of them were Mormons, and one of them invited me to play basketball on his church team.  I accepted.  Prior to playing that Wednesday night, the bishop invited me into his office.  He explained to me that to be able to play in the future, I would have to cut my long hair and attend church on Sundays.  Normally I would have refused, as my Dad could never get me to cut my shoulder length hair.  But something happened in that bishop's office to me, which I would not understand until much later.  The Spirit of the Lord was thick in the room and moved me to change my life.  As I attended and studied the Restored Gospel, I began to understand the Atonement of Christ, salvation, eternal families, and the hope of a glorious resurrection that I did not understand when my friends were dying.  Since then, I've always been ever grateful to my friend who invited me to play Church basketball, and to the bishop who introduced me to the Spirit.

From 1978-1980, I served a mission in Bolivia.  On the southern border is a small town, named Yacuiba.  In 1970, when there were no missionaries in the region, the town drunk staggered home in the rain.  Looking down, he found a pamphlet in a puddle of water.  He picked it up, took it home, dried it off and read it.  He then turned to his wife and said, "I don't know what Church this is, but when it gets here, w e're going to join it."  The pamphlet was the Joseph Smith First Vision story.  In 1979, the first missionaries were sent to Yacuiba.  His was the fourth door they knocked on.  By the time I arrived in Yacuiba a year later, he had gone from being the town drunk to a respected businessman with his own logging truck.  Not long afterward, he was called to preside over the congregation as its branch president.  While in Bolivia, I saw many such marvelous experiences of people being led to the LDS Church by the Lord.

Another experience came when the Air Force had me stationed in South Korea in 1985.  A young man,  who had a notoriety for being bad, was moved to my squad.  Korea was very challenging for good people to live morally, as drinking and prostitution were a way of life outside of military bases.  I avoided the scene directly outside the base, choosing to travel to other areas where I could get to really know the people.  I knew the day would come when I would be assigned to work with this other young man, but did not look forward to it.  When I saw we were being stationed together in a solitary post together, I prayed that I would survive what I expected to be an onslaught of obscenities and filthy talk, as this is how the man was described to me by others.  Yet, when we arrived at our post, he said that he admired my standards and my life.  He once had been active in a church and was happy, but fell far from his moral lifestyle.  We spent the night talking about God and faith.  By morning he wanted to talk with the missionaries.  So, I contacted a missionary couple up in Seoul to come down once a week to teach my new friend.  After a month, we took a trip to Seoul to see the temple, then under construction.  As we walked around the temple, I showed him where the corner stone would be set on the first day of the dedication.  He asked me if he could touch the sacred building, and I encouraged him to do so.  "This is where I want to be married someday", he said.  Within a few weeks, I baptized him in the base swimming pool, the temple being a key component in converting a man, whom I would never would have guessed to be wanting to change his life so drastically.

From these and hundreds of other experiences, my own testimony of Christ and his work have grown.  It truly is a marvelous work.  In the early 1830s, Joseph Smith told the few members of the fledgling Church that they were not to only be a congregation, but that someday the Church would fill both North and South America, indeed, it would fill the world.  As people throughout the world find that the LDS Church has solutions to worldly problems and answers to spiritual questions, it will continue to grow, preparing the world for the 2nd Coming of Christ.

Please share your experiences in the comments....

D&C Lesson 10: “This Is My Voice Unto All”

D&C Lesson 10: “This Is My Voice Unto All”

The earliest sections of the D&C contain many personal revelations to people asking guidance of God through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  D&C 25 is the only section containing a personal revelation to a woman: Emma Smith.  Meeting Joseph in 1825 while he was working with Josiah Stowell,  searching for buried treasure.  Joseph would return to Harmony Pennsylvania several times to court Emma.  Her father disapproved of Joseph the treasure hunter courting his daughter, and so they eloped.

Emma must have felt isolated, with much of her family considering Joseph a fraud or crazy for his claims of angelic visits and a book with gold plates.  Yet, Emma was present with Joseph on the night he obtained the plates from the Hill Cumorah.  Later, she would be his scribe and assist him in hiding the plates from others who attempted to steal them.

Emma patiently waited and served Joseph.  She saw Oliver, Martin and David become the Three Witnesses.  Soon after, 8 others would be additional witnesses of the gold plates.  She would listen to Joseph describe receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods with Oliver Cowdery.  She saw these many men come into the home to receive personal revelations from Joseph, many being called to special responsibilities and missions.  She was the woman in waiting, never directly involved in the revelations or events that occurred.  Yet, she was also the woman who patiently went through the many trials: watching Joseph arrested dozens of times or being tarred and feathered.  Seeing most of her children die in childhood. Visiting Joseph in Liberty Jail, Carthage Jail, and other jails along the way.  Escaping Missouri alone with her children, while Joseph was imprisoned and mobs wandered the hills looking for Mormons to harm.  Watching the wagon slowly bring the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum back from Carthage.

So, when she did receive her revelation, the Lord seemed to explain that her position would not include a center position in the early events of the Restoration.  She was told to patiently support and strengthen her husband, and to be a source of joy and good cheer.  Perhaps one of her two defining responsibilities in the LDS Church was her assignment to put together the first hymnbook (the other being the first Relief Society President of the Church).

When we consider how important music is in the Church today, we can owe it all to Emma.  Many of the hymns she selected are still found in our hymnbook today.  The hymnbook inspired many members to write hymns, including Eliza R Snow (O My Father), William W Phelps (Spirit of God), John Jaques (O Say What is Truth), Joel H Johnson  (High on the Mountaintop), Parley P Pratt (The Morning Breaks), and many others.  Today, we have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and many other local choirs and performance groups that inspire millions.  Indeed, “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto” the Lord.

Emma was faithful to Joseph throughout his life, and served the poor and needy throughout her own life.  She definitely is an elect lady.

Friday, March 01, 2013

D&C Lesson 9: The Only True and Living Church

Lesson 9, the Only True and Living Church
D&C 20, 21, 27

The concept that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the "only true and living Church" on earth with which God is "well pleased" (D&C 1:30)) was discussed in Lesson 1.

D&C 20:1
Since Elder B.H. Roberts gave his opinion on this verse about a century ago, many members have understood it to mean that Jesus was born on April 6, AD 1.    However, early Church members, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young never seemed to read this revelation in this manner.  A problem arises when one considers archaeology and history.  According to the Bible, King Herod the Great sought to kill the infant Jesus, and slaughtered all children from 2 years and under in Bethlehem.  Archaeology shows that Herod died in 4 BC, so either the Bible is wrong on this story of Herod, or Jesus was likely born around 6 BC.

With the new Joseph Smith Papers Project, we now see that D&C 20: was not intended to be part of the revelation initially, but was an introduction to the section provided by John Whitmer, the scribe. Somewhere along the line of publishing, it was included as part of the revelation. The question then becomes, does an introduction approved by the LDS membership as doctrine equate to a revelation establishing the date of Jesus' birth?  Thanks to the JSPP and the Church's new 2013 online scripture updates, we will be able to understand the revelations we have even better, and perhaps reduce the amount of speculation on just what the scriptures say.

So, when was Jesus born?  Around 6 BC, and we do not know exactly which day, although April 6 may be as good a day as any.

Church Organization
The focus is on the basic organization of the Church.  The new heading for D&C 20 notes that portions of the revelation were received as early as 1829.  It establishes a foundation for the Church's organization, describing key ordinances, such as baptism, the laws/rules of obedience for the Church, and important concepts for the functioning and organization of the priesthood.

We should not be surprised that many of the revelations in D&C were gathered over a period of time, occasionally changed, etc.  The concept is that the Church is "living".  It is ever growing, changing and adapting, as new revelation are given.  For example, at the Church's beginning, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were established as the First and Second Elders of the Church and as apostles (D&C 20:2-3).  The concepts of "a seer, translator and a prophet" (D&C 21:1), or the current "prophet, seer and revelator" or even the title "apostle" (D&C 20:38, D&C 21:1) had not been fully formalized as it would be in just a few years.  However, by 1835, the LDS Church had grown sufficiently to require major changes in priesthood structure.  The First Presidency, and Quorums of 12 and 70 were officially organized, although their final functions were still in the future. In 1835, the Quorum of Twelve was initially a traveling council, equal to the stake high councils.  Only later in Nauvoo would the Twelve become the predominant council it is today.

D&C 27 The Sacrament

Here, Joseph went to find wine for a Sacrament service.  Along the way, he was stopped and told that wine was not necessary, but water could be used instead.  Here we see that the Lord is a pragmatic God.  If something isn't available, the Lord will often make allowances. 

In the early days of Nauvoo, the saints were allowed to do baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River. The Word of Wisdom was initially given as guidance, and not a commandment.  When Joseph lost the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lord had him translate Nephi's record instead.

What we find in all of these instances is that God will work with us, according to our need and diligence. Can't use the wine? Then use water.  No temple baptismal font? Use the river until you can finish the temple.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson was sent by the Church to oversee the relief effort in Europe after World War II. He noted later:

"The Saints in Europe taught me a new appreciation for the priesthood of God. I heard them bear testimony of their gratitude for the priesthood in their homes. Many families who had been isolated from other representatives of the priesthood during the bombing and during sickness told of their gratitude that they had in their homes the authority and the power to lay their hands upon members of their families, and under the inspiration of heaven invoke God's healing power upon them.
    My brethren and sisters, this is a priceless blessing. I heard them speak of their gratitude that in their homes while isolated from the rest of the members of the mission, they were able to administer the sacred emblems. Yes even at times when they did not have bread, they used potatoes or potato peelings as the emblem but had the sacrament administered to members of their own household." (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Aftermath of War")

The Lord is pragmatic, and will work with his children. If they can't use wine, there is water. If bread is not available, potato peelings are acceptable as an alternative in time of need.

Friday, February 22, 2013

D&C lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood

Lesson 8: Restoration of the Priesthood

The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth by John the Baptist on May 15, 1829.  Between then and May 1830, the Melchizedek Priesthood was also restored by the ancient apostles Peter, James and John.

The priesthood provides two things: power and authority.  Authority to govern the Church, perform ordinances, and organize is very important.  As important as authority is, however, it is impotent without the power of the priesthood.  President Packer recently stated that we do well on distributing the authority, but need to improve on distributing the true powers of heaven.  He also notes in his discussion on priesthood,

"I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected." (Ensign, April 2010, The Power of the Priesthood)

This power is not only for the men, but also for the women of the Church.  Why? Because of the ordinances and covenants attached to the priesthood.

The Aaronic Priesthood provides the outward ordinances, holding the keys of repentance, baptism and the ministering of angels (D&C 13). The greater Priesthood of Melchizedek holds even greater power and promise:

"And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:19-24)

While the Aaronic Priesthood gives the power to have angels minister to a person and to have a remission of sins, the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the power to bring people into the presence of God, to have His mystery revealed to them, and to become not only cleansed of sin, but purified to a divine state!

Moses' goal at Sinai was to take Israel to the top of the mountain, where each one of them would see God personally.  They refused to go, fearing God's wrath and reluctant to give up their sinful ways.  God gave them the lesser priesthood as a preparatory power, to prepare them for the greater opportunities. If mankind was not ready to converse with God, perhaps they could be prepared to converse with angels.

The Melchizedek Priesthood, however, contains the power, primarily through the ordinances, of being in the presence of the members of the Godhead.

First, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is confirmed upon a person, giving that person access to the third member of the Godhead.  In the temple ordinances, which set us apart from the world both figuratively and literally, we learn to walk through the Cosmos and all of Creation, in a journey to return back into the full presence and glory of God.  This is not a journey that is accomplished alone.  It is a journey for both Adam and Eve, husband and wife, who share the power, authority and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood within the temple. In the marriage sealing, husband and wife both receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood, the greatest role in the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Husband and wife are promised that as they are faithful to God, they will receive blessings in time and eternity, to stand in God's presence and be like Him.

This is the purpose of the priesthood in our day: to prepare a people to stand in the presence of God and be holy.  Through the ordinances the priesthood provides, men and women can enjoy the greatest blessings and opportunities of God in heaven.  These promises begin with baptism and find the climax as the believers enter into the Celestial Room of the temple, symbolic of the day when they literally will walk into the Celestial Kingdom and into the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 11, 2013

D&C Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

D&C Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

In Article #4 of the Articles of Faith, we read,

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

This statement is important enough for the Savior to declare it to be the "doctrine of Christ" (3 Nephi 11).  Let's look at these one at a time first.


In the Lectures on Faith, we learn,

Faith, being the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness,  necessarily claims the first place in a course of lectures which are designed to unfold to the understanding the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Here we find that faith is not only the first principle, but it is the foundation for all righteousness.  We cannot be fully righteous without first having faith in Jesus Christ!
The Lectures on Faith teach that faith is the "moving cause" in all action both temporal and spiritual.  Before a person goes to off to work, she has faith that her employer will pay her wages at the end of the week.  We exercise faith in termporal things everyday we arise and do the things we do, because we believe our actions will provide a benefit.  That faith is based upon experience, that which we have observed occur in others' lives, and that which happens in our own.

So it is in spiritual things.  We follow Christ because our belief in him creates a moving power or action within us.  It begins the process of the "doctrine of Christ" in our lives, and without faith, repentance, ordinances and the Spirit cannot work.

So powerful is faith that God used faith to frame the worlds and all his creations. 

Had it not been for the principle of faith, the worlds would had never been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust. It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.  Take this principle or attribute - for it is an attribute - from the Deity, and he would cease to exist.

Faith being so important for the creation of the worlds, how important then is it for us to develop faith in regards to our own salvation?


Once we develop a faith in Christ, we will recognize our weaknesses and sins.  We will want to follow him, as faith is a "moving cause."

Repentance is the actions needed to realign ourselves with Christ and his will.  It requires humility and a willingness to change.  Without repentance, we remain stagnant and unable to develop faith in Christ.  The Lord warned us about the importance of repentance:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit. (D&C 19:15-20)

We only suffer for the things we refuse to repent of.  Yet, the suffering is so intense that we would suffer even as Christ did.  For Alma the Younger, we learn that his suffering lasted 3 days, with a pain that was so "exquisite", he wished to stop existing entirely.  Only when he exercised faith in Christ and repented, was he rescued from the intense and racking pain, and was filled with joy as exquisite as was his pain a moment before (Alma 36).  Those who absolutely refuse to ever repent will be sons of Perdition.  There is no salvation for them, because they would rather suffer the intense pains of hell than to beg forgiveness of the Lord.

The best time to repent is now.  Still, even in the Spirit World, the Lord will open the door of salvation to any who believe and repent.

Baptism and other Ordinances

Many churches do not believe that baptism or other outward ordinances are necessary for salvation.  They are right.  A basic salvation in the Telestial Kingdom only requires faith and repentance, and it seems that repentance and redemption come at the last moment.

And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.

These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.
These are they who are thrust down to hell (in Spirit Prison - until they repent and are redeemed at the last).
These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work....
 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation. (D&C 76:81-88)

However, salvation in a Celestial Glory DOES require baptism.  It is the gate that opens to God's full kingdom and glory. Baptism, the Sacrament (Holy Supper), and other ordinances of salvation are necessary for us, not only because of the covenants made, but also because of what the ordinances reveal to us.

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (D&C 84:19-22)

The ordinances of baptism, the Sacrament, priesthood ordination, temple endowment and sealings, all reveal to us the "power of godliness."  We receive the key to the knowledge of God as we receive ordinances and make the covenants eternally connected to those ordinances.  In the instance of baptism, it opens the gate to heaven, so we can return back into God's presence and know him.

Gift of the Holy Ghost
  While we receive this gift officially through an ordinance of laying on of hands by those in authority, it is significant to see how it works.  No one lays his hands upon the person and says, "I bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost."  Instead, the gift is received by commandment: "Receive the Holy Ghost!"

It is then our responsibility to actually receive the gift and accept it.  The Holy Ghost can be a constant companion, but only when we are ready to have Him as a constant companion.  Until then, he will come and go, as we are ready to receive him or not.

Note that after baptism, the Holy Ghost is received. He is a member of the Godhead.  We now have communication with a member of the Godhead, as the mystery of godliness is revealed to us.

The Holy Ghost's main calling is twofold: to witness of the Father and Son, and to sanctify us (Mosiah 4:1-4).

A Pattern to Live By

 It isn't that we gain faith once, or repent once, or receive an ordinance once, and then we are finished. Instead, we have been given a pattern by which we should live our lives.  It becomes a process:

1. Gain faith in Christ to a certain level
2. Realize we have weaknesses to overcome and Repent
3. Receive the ordinances necessary to move forward at this level of faith
4. Have the Holy Ghost sanctify us to a new level of faith and righteousness
5. Rinse and repeat

 This is a process or pattern established by Jesus.

And I, John (the Apostle), saw that he (Christ) received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;

And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. (D&"C 93:12-14)

As with Jesus, we must proceed from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace.  As we develop a level of faith and repentance, we then receive an ordinance/covenant to that level. Then, the Holy Ghost sanctifies us to that new level of grace.  In this pattern, we can develop perfection over time through Christ, and receive a fulness, even as he did.


Lectures on Faith:  http://archive.org/stream/compilationconta00lund#page/6/mode/2up