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.