Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:12

Words Of Mormon 1:12
And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.

Not everyone is going to get along.  No matter how righteous the leader.  Speaking of contentions King Benjamin himself had this to say: "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah."

We all know the familiar scripture about contention being of the Devil (3 Nephi 11:29).

What I think is not of the devil is a healthy exchange of ideas, perspectives, and thoughts that two people differ on. If we label too many things contention we may suppress differing ideas that would be very beneficial to consider. When I read the scriptures no one gets condemned for believing too much, or for being open to new ideas and perspectives. It's the unwillingness to consider things, it's the false beliefs and traditions that lead to the devilish contention that get folks in trouble.  I think it stems from fear.

I wonder what the people of King Benjamin were contending over. Was it differing views on religious principles? Was it their politics? Was it money? Relationships? Interesting to see how different, yet how alike we and they may be.  I bet they contended over similar things as we do.

Have you ever experienced an interaction where either you agreed with the other person(s), or else you would unavoidably be labeled as contending against them?  You had two options, either agree, or else be labeled contentious.  I hate it when I encounter this.  It's as if you intended to have a discussion and they were unwilling, so you get labeled as contentious simply because you do not agree. Whether or not you acted in an unkind and disrespectful way, or had any anger, or were at all insecure, it didn't matter.

I think we all know contention, it's angry and will never produce anything that looks like a convert or inspiration. Disputes lead to contention, contention goes right down anger's path, and after that happens learning is unlikely as the mind shuts off.

While thinking about this verse today I came to this conclusion. When insecurity is low, willingness to learn is high, and humility is present, I think the spirit of contention will need to go elsewhere as this environment is contrary to that spirit. Two people can then have extremely different views, discuss them, all while maintaining a friendship and mutual respect throughout. I hope for a culture in which this can happen.  I've had many interactions like this so I know it's possible.  As part of trying to do what the Book of Mormon teaches I'm going to do this as much as I can.

Too often I think we apply the source of our feelings to someone or something else. We want the problem to be external, that way we don't have to address the part of us that may be wrong, the part that may be hiding insecurity, anger, be uninformed, or emotionally immature. If "they" are the cause of our anger, then that convinces the brain we are not responsible for the reaction.

But what if the trigger is actually within us? Within our heart? If someone else pushes our buttons....it's our own buttons, our own reactions that overtake our mind and heart that we are responsible for. Others are going to do what they are going to do, and some cases it could be malicious. But if we are not insecure and are not fighting to uphold some image, it's far more likely we can respond with charity even when we are greeted with bad.

People often carry a lot of hurt inside, there are unseen frustrations, pain, sorrow, and disappointment. Life can be awfully difficult and leave scars. Just approaching situations with that understanding is different than most interactions. Truth may be that people are usually trying very hard to stay happy, or defend a positive image of themselves, or defend a set of beliefs that give them comfort.  Just recognizing that can diffuse contention and help direct the interaction to a much better place.  You may find a potential brother, rather than a potential enemy.

Counterproductive ways to remove contention I think is to create or require uniformity of idea, opinion, and belief. I see that as a pseudo form of "peace". Our article of faith 11 states "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." Our faith article offers the space for a free system of belief, or spirituality for anyone, and hopefully allows for some diversity, yet unity among ourselves. If we truly believed and lived that, I think we would be doing well at applying King Benjamin's words to beware least contention arises and we list to obey the evil spirit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:11

Words of Mormon 1:11And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.
We're going to be judged out of what is written. For Mormon that day will be great. I think both meanings of great apply, both great as in positive, and great as in big or important. The great and last day he says.... For some that day will not be great (Alma 5 17-20). For some it will be dreadful. If that "day" is the last day, then the "day" in which we live is the second to last. The last hour. So.... we should stay alert to that fact.

So how do you know if the judgement day will be great, or dreadful? Scriptures teach if we are prepared we shall not fear. I don't think this refers so much to food storage as much as the preparation of our soul and character. Although food storage is nothing to be neglected, physical survival is one of our basic instincts.  But what good is it if our souls arrives at the throne of God unprepared afraid, naked and ashamed. That's what I'm getting at in this post.  Christ of course can fix those things but not if we don't come to Him. And not if we don't believe him. (Alma 33:20) (Matthew 13:15) (Doctrine and Covenants 112:13)

I think the book of Mormon was given to us to prepare us, or help us be prepared for that day when we have to give an accounting of all our choices. The Atonement alone provides relief. Membership, or having on the wedding garment as the parable of the foolish virgins teaches is no safety net.

Here is the typical list of ways members of the church think of to be prepared:

"If we follow the counsel of the prophet, there is no need to fear." Yet this is not who the scriptures say in whom to place our trust (2 Nephi 4:34). I need to clarify, I think there are people called to lead, and preach repentance, and leaders acting under the inspiration of their calling. I love and listen to them. Therefore when there is a messenger with a true message we obviously heed it. But the message still comes from God, and it's the Lord's church so it's still in Him that we should put our trust.

The questions we usually ask ourselves are:
Am I out of debt?
Do I own my home?
Do I have a year supply of food (and where possible, fuel)?
Do I have an emergency fund (at least a few months' worth)?
To the extent possible, am Self sufficient?

Here's a few more that may be worth considering.
Do I know more about the man called to lead the church or more about the Lord?
Do I seek an encounter with the Lord? Or do I put my trust in mortal leaders? Five foolish virgins had on the "wedding garment" yet were unprepared when the Master came. Five of them.... they had on the wedding garment and yet had no oil in their lamps.
Do we have oil in our lamp? Are we the foolish virgins the parable refers to?
Do we recognize the voice of the Master? Or do we recognize the voices of men?
Do we have oil in our Lamp or just oil in the pantry? No use having food storage, and financial reserves only to arrive at the place appointed after death confused and not quite prepared, wishing more had been done with the time allotted on earth.

Mormon speaks of "great things" which are written on these records. Some things matter eternally, some things matter temporally, and some things don't matter at all.  The things in the scriptures are what matter.  If the judgement day is going to be a "great" day.... it probably means we have gotten the correct priorities straightened out while on earth.  We have taken Christ at His word, taken the Gospel seriously, we have obtained the promises available, not just a passing wish, or fantasy based on institutional membership. The Promise of Eternal life is available on earth while mortal. Christ promises his followers He will come to them (John 14:18),(Doctrine and Covenants 93:1). This would ensure the judgement day would be a pleasing one, because that day would have been advanced. Do we believe Christ? Do we trust in the word of God that has been written? Or do we doubt that He really means it?

Do you hear The Master's Voice?

Some questions going through my mind as I'm going to sleep tonight.

Does the Master's voice require marketing? Or can it be heard alone? Does it require advertising? Or does plain and simple truth persuade on it's own?

Does it require graphic professionals and professional artists to provide pleasing images in the background? Or is the truth beautiful enough? Does it require someone in a suite and tie to speak it? Does it require a big arena? Or can it come from a child?

Are the unlearned able to speak the Master's words? Religiously speaking, could a bunch of degree's and professional titles or social science research and focus groups be used as a covering to hide the nakedness?

Does the Master's voice require an attractive website with easy to use links and layout? Or can the Master's voice be good enough to just speak on it's own, in plain simplicity?

Question of the day is do you hear the Master's voice? He still speaks. He died but is not still dead. He is alive and speaks. The question is do we hear it? Or do we prefer messages that are attractive, well portrayed, well spoken, with plenty of professional editing and proofing, spoken by those with degrees and respected offices and plenty of business skill? Does it require a PR department? Do we prefer messages backed by plenty of social science research and surveys to see if people like it?

Or is the Master's voice something else entirely?
What does the Master's voice sound like anyway?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Loving murder

Mormon 4:11 And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually.

Horrible scene of blood and carnage. People who delighted in the shedding of blood continually. This is a graphic scene, not one Mormon wanted to see, nor enjoyed (Mormon 6:17-22). He's a good example of the kind of military mindset that is worth learning from. His actions were not motivated by revenge, nor by the desire to prove superiority, in fact he said that very thing is what lead to the downfall of his troops.

Since this book was written for our day I have to ask myself how this applies to me. Mormon connects two thoughts together. A hard heart, and delighting in the shedding of blood. Those two things apparently go together. There aren't people today called Lamanites and Nephites, but are there those who delight in the shedding of blood?

I look around at movie previews and I would have to say yes there are those who delight in the shedding of blood. People love it, and pay money to see it.  These graphic movies I think do well to show what Mormon described. These movies make millions of dollars, we watch and pay money to see shedding of blood. Murder killing, torture.... there are even holidays like Halloween where we pay money to watch enactments of people being tortured and blood everywhere. Some movies are solely devoted to it.

Some films are historical, and I think are ok, history in all it's war and death is a different matter.  Mormon says the horrid things he had to endure can't even be put into words. He was still sensitive to it.  However in our day we have become numb to it.  The quantity of just pure mindless, wasteful, murder, torture, and blood and carnage that has such a strong place in the media industry is I think corrosive to our sensitivities. We become numb and may not even be aware of our progressive numbness.  Who notices that they are feeling less. We gradually become desensitized, lead carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21).

The scriptures warn about hard hearts, they warn about becoming past feeling. Feelings and the heart.... teachings on this go way back, and the scriptures are full of stuff about it (Ephesians 4:17-19). We in our culture almost love a good plot with plenty of murder and killing, Hollywood is producing movie after movie about it, full of it with ever increasing doses of it. A recent preview I saw called Spartacus - Blood and Sand is a good example. There was hardly a scene that didn't contain the shedding of blood.

 If there were no demand for this, they wouldn't produce so much of it. Even in the past 5 years the level of profanity, nudity, graphic brutality, sexuality, murder, secret combinations......pretty much everything the scriptures say will lead to a nations downfall has been sharply on the rise. Go to any movie store and look around.  Anyway, a hard heart goes along with delighting in murder and killing. If this book is written for us, and we want to avoid the scene Mormon has to view, I think there is a message here for us and it has to do with the state of our heart.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Correlation

At the beginning of the Gospel Principles Manual the Church has been using worldwide the past 2 years, is a little paragraph that says comments and suggestions about this book would be appreciated. They direct to send such things to the Curriculum Development Department in Salt Lake City.

The idea that there is a department devoted to developing curriculum I found interesting. I decided to e-mail this department and find out a little about them. I asked if they were the correlation committee I've heard of who correlates our material and General Conference talks. I also asked if the positions are paid positions, or if it is a calling in the Church. And just some other basic questions like how many people are on this committee, and just the nature of these departments. I thought at minimum I should be informed of who exactly is coming up with and correlating what doctrine I'm taught, and asked to teach at church. I'll include their response later in the post.

First a quote from the book Eighteen Verses: "To prevent misguided exuberance from embarrassing the Church, which sometimes accompanies the freedom associated with the Spirit, during the term of President David O. McKay the Church adopted a correlation committee to review the content of General Authority pronouncements in General Conference and in publications. It was intended to regulate and coordinate teaching. Some have thought it was carried to far. As one Seventy Lamented :

Since the 1970's, I've seen that drift, where correlation now is telling me, if I write something to get through correlation, "You can't say that.". And I write back and say, "Why?" And they say "Well, because we think this is the interpretation." And I write back and say "You're not the interpreter.".....And that's where we get lost. Today, I see correlation, like the Supreme Court, becoming more and more the originator of the thought, rather than the coordinator of the thought. .... So, while I think correlation is good, I think it's gone past its origin commission." (Prince, Gregory A. and Wright, WM. Robert. David O. Mckay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press: Salt lake City, 2005, p. 156)"


Interesting what can happen without anyone really purposefully causing a drift.

Back to the response I got from Salt Lake regarding my inquires into the correlation Department, correlation committee and who is on it.

"Brother Ward:
We hope the following will answer most of the questions from your recent e-mail.
1. Correlation Committee
The Church Correlation Committee is The First Presidency and the Quorum of The Twelve. There is a Correlation Department that consists of full time employee that prepares materials for the committee.

2. Curriculum Development over sees the following:
Curriculum manuals are written or compiled by a committee whose members are called and set apart by General Authorities. The committee members are ordinary Latter-day Saints working under the inspiration of their call, although most do have writing and educational experience.

Every quote and story and doctrine presented is carefully researched. Editors at Church headquarters meticulously check and double-check each quote and its source for accuracy. From time to time, lessons are sent to areas around the world to be taught to members and get feedback on how well lessons will work worldwide. This is becoming more necessary as the Church grows around the world.


Staffs of professional graphics designers select artwork, photographs, and other illustrations that relate to the topics of the material. They also design the cover and the layout of the manual of book.

Further review continues with staff and leaders in the Curriculum Development, Priesthood, and Correlation Departments of the Church. Preliminary drafts are also reviewed by auxiliary presidencies and members of the Quorum of Seventy, who suggest further revisions. Proof copies are then sent to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Correlation Committee) for final review and approval. The material receives a final proofreading and is then sent for translating and printing. This entire process takes several years to complete.
Sincerely,
Curriculum Department"

There is so much I could say about many parts of this response. I'll let you read it for yourself and conclude what you want.  What has happened with correlation is that nothing that isn't correlated is allowed to be taught by seminary teachers, Sunday school teachers, and if it's not correlated you won't see it in a Church manual or from General Conference.  Reliance on the Spirit, and revelation has been replaced by what a committee approves.  No where does anyone mention God's approval for the content.  Isn't that sort of important? Many topics Joseph Smith taught, like Calling and Election, Second Comforter, being sealed to the Fathers, are not among the list of approved topics by correlation.  Some members have barely heard the phrases verbalized.  It's sad that doctrine is getting lost, but it's true.  If you read the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, vs the Church approved Sunday School manual of his teachings, you'll notice what correlation thinks is vital and what Joseph thought was vital.  One saw God, the other disregards the very doctrine of a person coming to see Him and receive promises from Him.       

Back to my e-mail response from the department.  I guess with a bigger church, you thus need more feedback from surveys?  Is that how we ensure God is pleased with our teachings?  Survey's?  That makes no sense.

More feedback from people around the world it appears becomes the necessary gauge on whether or not you are speaking the words God would have you speak and teaching the correct doctrine. That sounds exactly the way the hospital I work for measures it's success and ensures job security.  These are good business tools. You essentially find out if people like your product and then give them the things that are pleasing to them.  But since when has God's message from a Prophet EVER been required to undergo opinion surveys, and paid professionals for it to be approved?  I guess these business tools work for the Gospel too?  It just doesn't sound right.

With so many professionals, and so much proofing by so many different levels, God must be pleased with the content of our curriculum, right? Surly with all that, and a healthy sampling of peoples perceptions, you could almost cover up nakedness. :)

Second thing here about this committee comes from our very own D&C Sunday School Manual. Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets. Under the subheading: "Section 1. Church Correlation", second paragraph of that subheading. Go ahead and click on that link, and read it for yourself.  The church approved manual tells us that we need to "Explain that the purpose of Church correlation is to preserve “the right way of God” (Jacob 7:7)."  Interesting statement of purpose when you actually read the verse they cite for why they exist.  For your own understanding read it for yourself.  The "right way of God" in that verse is what Sherem, an Antichrist, is in support of and trying to preserve.  He claims to have the "right way of God" while at the same time accuses Jacob, the prophet, of perverting it.  The source for the statement of the correlation's purpose is from an Antichrist. Doh!......

Words of Mormon 1:10

Words of Mormon 1:10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.

So why did Amaleki deliver up these plates to King Benjamin? He said in a previous verse that he didn't have any seed upon whom to pass the records.  We don't know why that was.  The method of passing the records typically stayed in the family.  But not in this verse.  We know from the shorter books of Jarom and Omni not everyone kept the truth like there parents did.  Passing down of sacred knowledge had a lot to do with the recipients and how they did or did not continue in righteousness.  The record isn't totally clear in the case of Alaleki.  I'll give him the benefit of any doubt.  

What we do know is our role is critical in determining how much of a recipient we are of God's words. Some family lines we read about in Jerom and Omni lost truth, and later lost the privilege of keeping, or contributing to the records.  Losing truth, and loosing stewardship of the records are obviously connected.  A few verses before Words of Mormon picks up we read this from Amalaki's father Abinadom, Omni 1:11. "And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end."

Abinadom sounds like he didn't have much revelation to teach his son.

Regarding the above passage here is a fascinating excerpt from the book Eighteen Verses. (Snuffer, 2007). "From an inspired and prophetic parentage have come decedents who neither seek for nor receive any revelation or prophesy. This does not mean, of course, these people did not believe. Quite the contrary, they seem to have believed very much in the importance of the revelations given their ancestors. There is nothing to indicate they are faithless. They continue to be "religious" and honor traditions handed to them. They just lack vitality in their faith which would result in having the heavens open tot hem. The writer confirms "that which is sufficient is written" and sincerely believed this to be true. This thought illustrates what he ancestor, Nephi, condemned when he warned against any who should say: "We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!" (2Ne 28:29). This is an illustration of the kind of religion, which endlessly repeats old inspirational stories while failing to add any new ones. Having faith in what others did long ago, when events in their lives caused their faith to be tested, is no substitute for having faith to see the miraculous in your own life. Joseph Smith had this to say: "Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would be reading all that ever was written on the subject." (TPJS)

Not knowing of any revelation, or prophecy other than what your ancestors had sounds a lot like what is happening to us in our day. It was clear that the previous writers in the Book of Mormon were not confined to the prophecy and revelation of others, although they used them, studied them, and valued them with their life (like the plates of brass). Instead they had such a relationship with the Lord that they got revelation, and had the spirit of prophecy and then were commanded to write a portion of it.  And thus we see how a family line or any body of people can loose the truth, develop spiritual atrophy, loose what records they had entrusted to them and then be forced to rely on deteriorating records which are more and more neglected. Which causes them to loose them in every sense of the word. I see that as a call to not loose spiritual strength in a family line, but be one who repents, changes course, and has the heavens opened to them. To not just say a person believes or has faith, and says they believe in revelation and prophecy, but aligns with God's will in order to qualify personally to receive those things.  

Amalaki specifically says a few verses later that he exhorts people to believe in prophecy, and revelation, but he doesn't share any or say that he had any.  He may have, we don't know.  He shares a beautiful teaching in Omni 1:25-26. We read of his exhortation to come to Christ and believe in angels, prophecy, revelation and all things good and to offer ones whole soul as an offering to God and "as the Lord liveth" ye will be saved.
He like his father, doesn't add much revelation to the record.

Amalaki recognizes King Benjamin was a "Just man before God". He recognized there was something about King Benjamin that made him more than "just" before men, but also just before God.  That is an interesting phrase. "Just before God". Does that mean he was justified?  

Amalaki, not having seed did pass the sacred records onto someone he recognized as just before God.  Someone who would treat them as sacred, and use them in a way which will allow the Lords previous covenant with not only Enos but many other "fathers" to eventually come to pass.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:9

Words of Mormon 1:9
9 And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.

He states that his understanding is from God. Not from man.  There is a difference so big you must experience it in order to fully understand what is being said here.

Mormon here informs us he is going to finish his records with material from the plates of Nephi. This includes the sealed portion of the plates we don't currently have. But Mormon knew about the sealed portion, and knew what content was there. I'm sure it influenced his thinking and much of what he wrote, how could it not? It's been said the Book of Mormon is still a "sealed" book to some extent aside from the sealed portion that Joseph didn't translate. Is the part we have sealed? Sealed in that we don't get it's full message?

Way I read it is there are things we must do in order to penetrate the seals in place on Gods word. The method is the same as it was for Nephi and the Liahona, faith need and diligence to what it says (1 Nephi 16:28). Talking about the directions on the Liahona once a week I don't think worked for them. And that ties into the church being put under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon. It's got to be more than talk and an occasional out of context quote in a conference talk. In the doing, the understanding opens to the mind. I don't know that finding archaeological evidence to support the authenticity of the book is going to remove the condemnation either.  As an analogy, in the medical setting no matter how hard I try and prove that a patient has one illness or another, or how much evidence I present about the accuracy of my position, no matter how much research I do, it would still be possible to completely neglect the patient, and not give appropriate care, treatment.  You have to do something.

I enjoy the research too, don't get me wrong, lots of it is relevant to unfolding history. I just think the neglect the Lord refers to refers to a different kind of neglect than how many books of Mormon we distribute around the world, or whether or not we can prove with physical evidence the books' origins. A testimony of God's word doesn't come via that sort of thing anyway (Moroni 10:5).  This is just my current view.  There are probably other valid views.

"According to the knowledge and understanding the Lord" gave Mormon. I think Mormon followed the instructions in Alma 32. I think the seed was planted, nourished, grew and the knowledge and understanding the Lord gave Mormon increased and increased until he plucked from the tree of life. In fact he planted the seed of his own tree of life which lives now inside him. It is now his. And now he desires to share that which is more precious with us. But won't work well if we just proclaim the book is true and never follow the same steps he did and receive the same eternal perspective and promises.

Words of Mormon 1:8

Words of Mormon 1:8

"And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people."

What does it mean to Come to the knowledge of God, and the redemption of Christ? Life eternal is to know God (John 17:3). So to come to the knowledge of God connects to Eternal Life from God.  To "come to" is a well known phrase for waking up, or regaining ones senses or bearings.  I like that thought in connection to coming to a knowledge of God and the redemption of Christ.  Joseph Smith taught that a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.  This knowledge is linked to becoming a delightsome people.  Someone in whom the Lord can delight rather than morn.

Many folks, including some religious teachers, and many from the sciences assert that converts to a religion or faith merely experience an emotional high which in the mind becomes linked with the organization, missionary, or charismatic leader and that is what comprises a testimony or "conversion" and is the basis for religion and conversion.  That's not a knowledge of God though. A knowledge of God and the redemption of Christ is not an emotional high.  It's actual knowledge.  The individual according to some views will get various social, emotional, and instinctual needs met by the organization, further reinforcing the positive emotions and the correlating mental associations with their "conversion". This is what some people say a testimony is and what a "conversion" boils down to.  To me that is not what the scripture is talking about.

I do agree that such emotional highs and social pay offs occur as a result of organized religion.  They happen, and many people may indeed have a "testimony" that is exactly what is described above. Can't argue with that. However that in my view is not the goal, nor the end, nor what ought to be after or settle for. The scriptures speak of much higher and holier things. If our conversion or spiritual experiences are nothing like those in the scriptures than we should do some evaluation.  It may be us that is off.  And redefining their experiences to fit into the mold and vocabulary of our darkened perceptions is complete religious malpractice.  If a culture that uses the lexicon of the scriptures but with the wrong meaning behind them applies incorrect meaning back onto the vocabulary of scriptures.  That seems like the mess we are currently in.

I asked John Delihn at a Sunstone symposium seminar a few ears ago if he would explain further about the difference between an emotional conversion and the workings or influence of the Spirit or spiritual experiences. He presented the idea that converts to the church are brought into the church by an emotional experience and charisma of a powerful leader. That may be the case with some, but that's not how scriptures define nor suggest conversion should consist of.  He for whatever reason beat around the bush and said that most people cannot describe the "workings of the spirit" or spiritual experiences and that it is usually too vague to really analyze.  So he said it was difficult to differentiate between the emotional experiences and the spiritual ones.  That was the extent of the answer.

Emotions can be difficult to communicate maturely.  I'm amazed people get along as well as they do given the lack of emotional health education in our culture. We prize intellect but later than day those same folks can't sort through our own feelings.  Church general counsel on emotional intelligence has about as much to offer as this: "Avoid anger", "Don't let you temper get out of control" "Cheer up and sing a hymn when we're sad, or lift someone else up", "There are plenty of people who have it worse than you, and if you are feeling down and depressed you need to serve others more", "Don't go to self awareness groups as they can be dangerous and out of harmony with the Gospel".  The Church counsel beyond that is to refer to counseling professionals.  It's no wonder we can't differentiate between spiritual experiences and emotional ones.

And then there's the striking statistic about Utah's pharmaceutical drug use which according to national statistics (http://www.usu.edu/psycho101/lectures/chp2methods/study.html) ranks top state for antidepressant use, twice the national average. If we as a culture are needing so many mood altering drugs.... then I'd also expect widespread confusion about differentiating between emotion, spirit, and knowledge from God.  This post is not addressing medication, or some folks legitimate need for it.

The Redemption of Christ is the knowledge this verse is talking about.  Is there another kind of redemption offered by the world?  In truth no one else has redemption to offer. The verse talks about a delightsome people....that sounds like a happy people, a free people, a converted people (Psalms 37:4) (2 Nephi 9:51) (Psalms 119:174) (Isaiah 54:14) . A city of Zion even. Those who delight in the Lord because they know Him, and what a delight He is.  It's not an emotional conversion with social payoffs.  It's so very much more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stepping away from Zion

This is an e-mail from my friend David Christensen. Thought it was eye opening as well as thought provoking. The end references stunning words from Mormon so I thought it would go well with my current study.

STEPPING AWAY FROM ZION

Every step in the direction of increasing one’s personal holdings….. is a step away from Zion.” Hugh Nibley

Most of the multi-billion dollar “remodel” and construction project being built by the LDS church around the Salt Lake Temple is complete. Some historic buildings have been preserved like the original Zion’s Bank (below right) located on Main Street. It would seem an important building to preserve not just because the architecture resembles Herod’s Temple (photo left) but because of the long history the bank has with the LDS church.


My friend is currently reading Temples and Cosmos written by Hugh Nibley and sent me the following quote from the book.

“In our day, as in various other times in history, the sanctity and the authority of the temple have been preempted in the religion of mammon. For example, our banks are designed after the manner of ancient temples, with imposing fronts, ceremonial gates and courts, the onyx, the marble, the bronze — all are the substances of ancient temples. The sacred hush that prevails, the air of propriety, decorum, and dedication; the pious inscriptions on Zion Bank's walls are quotations from Brigham Young (the one man who really had it in for business). The massive vault door, through which only the initiated may pass, gleams chastely in immaculate metal. The symbol makes the reality of all that is safe and secure — that is, the Holy of Holies…

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. This is the Lord speaking.”


Since I don’t have an account with Zion’s, I had never been inside this historic building until this week. Above left photo shows the oil paintings of the past bank presidents … the men all look familiar since they all happen to be past Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Each one of them have served as director, president and/or chairman of the Zion’s First National. Above right is the newly remodeled Zion’s Bank (with the ZCMI building in the front (gold building). On the 18th penthouse floor of Zion’s Bank in the executive conference room, also hangs paintings of the prophets portraits.

Today, Zion’s bank seems to be still flourishing today (despite recently of being fined 8 million dollars for money laundering totaling over 12 billion dollars). The desire or wish to get rich and dispose of it to our own advantage is counsel given to us by Brigham Young, the founder of the bank. In large letter inscribed on wall when you first walk into the bank is this quote. It reads:

If you wish to get rich save what you get.

A fool can earn money, but is takes a wise man to save and dispose of it to his own advantage.”

Brigham Young, Founder.

It is important to note that no longer does the sitting president of the church act as director since the bank is now a publically traded company. However, the past two Presidents of the Church have used their church position to dedicate the newly built Zion’s Banks. (Hinckley dedicated the one in Salt Lake, and Monson the newly built bank in Provo)… In a recent Deseret News article, it was reported that the new Zion’s bank “was part of the vision that President Nathan Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to ensure the vitality of the downtown area. It's a commitment that the church has continued to uphold, as this Zions Bank Building becomes an anchor for the marvelous new development that will rise up around us.”

“May it ever be a bright and shining star… and may its influence extend and be felt across the nation” are the exact words used by both Hinckley and Monson in their dedicatory prayers referring to Zion’s Bank. Below is the photo of the Brigham Young’s quote inscribed on the wall and the photo on the right is of President Hinckley and Presiding Bishop Burton cheering just after the dedication.



Side note:

From the words of the Prophet Mormon (of whose name we call members of the LDS church):

“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are NONE save a FEW ONLY who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of fine apparel.. . and your churches, yea EVEN EVERY ONE, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love MONEY, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, MORE than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8: 35-37)

It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.. and when Christ comes back to rule and reign, Will he unfortunately have to drive out the moneychangers again in and around the temple?

There is always hope though. Despite the Father knowing that we, the Gentiles, WILL sin against and reject the fullness of the gospel due to our pride, he promises us in 3 Nephi 16:13, “But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, said the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people.”

It is time to repent and return.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:7

Words of Mormon 1:7
And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.

A wise purpose. Interestingly it was a verse in James about lacking wisdom that prompted Joseph Smith to go pray and lead to the bringing to light of this record (James 1:5). The priceless moments I've been privileged to glimpse God's wisdom I've looked at my self and felt extremely foolish, shortsighted, and feel a sense of disappointment at the pride than I should never have had.

I've found God is not only eager to share truth and light with us but feels after us, yearns to communicate with us, and if we will accept it wants us to become sons and daughters of Him (Mosiah 27:25). Mormon acknowledges he doesn't know all things but he knows the Lord does. His humble acknowledgment reminds me of Moses who after had come into the Presence of the Lord says: "Man is nothing, which thing I had never before supposed" (Moses 1:10). When we rely too heavily on our intellect I think we may think we are smart and be every learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

"For thus it whispereth". For thus what whispereth? Why does it whisper? Will those dull of hearing even know they are missing anything? Or will they loudly proclaim their hearing is just fine (Matthew 13:15).

Next line says "according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord." Is the Spirit of the Lord the same as the Holy Ghost? Is the Spirit of the Lord what the brother of Jared saw (Ether 3:16)? Now that's an interesting question. I certainly don't have all the answers but the questions are intriguing. The phrase about the workings of the Spirit reminds me of Nephi, and what he said about the Liahona. He said it would work according to the faith, heed and diligence they would give to it (1 Nephi 16:28).  But this part of the verse also raises the question about the unity, yet distinction between the Spirit of the Lord, and the Holy Ghost.

In the Spirit realm, if we talk about the "workings of the Spirit" from the scriptures it is never defined as an emotion. It may bring with it feelings but it is not just sentiment. Too much of that I think can be a distraction. It could be called a feeling but the workings of the Spirit is not merely a feeling, it can grow, and mature in depth, meaning and experience (1 Nephi 11:1) (Alma 32:42). Information and a message is communicated when God speaks. Emotional stories, and sentiment are different.  Some things are only to be seen and heard by the power of the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:116). The Spirit can make them known, but man can't. For those having experienced such things the words the scriptures use to describe it are perfect. The Spirit is unmistakable. Nephi says he puts this stuff in words as plan as words can be but still people will not understand (2 Nephi 32:7).

For someone with only an emotional frame of reference the words are vague, unclear, and "spacey". However they are not. The Spirit can impart intelligence, light, truth or a stroke of ideas or thoughts the person did not previously have. And then these can grow and mature as well. It can come from outside of them. There are English words that sort of describe it, but they are not descriptive enough often times, but that doesn't mean it's vague.

It's challenging to covey the language of the Spirit to someone who has not had an experience with it. You have to experience it, then you will see with new eyes what before were scales of blindness (Acts 9:18, 2 Nephi 30:6). Without experiences with the Spirit I would be limited to the vocabulary of emotion or maybe words from psychology.  But the Spirit is something different than those.

Well back to the verse... The Spirit of the Lord is dwelling inside Mormon. He says so. What a concept that is. He has become a temple with the Holy Ghost dwelling inside (1 Corinthians 6:19). This is different than being a Child of God based on pre-earth heritage. What Mormon is describing is having been born again in this life. Born of God.

Mormon is caught up in doing the will of God. He knows it. There is no doubt, he is following the Lord. Much of his life if rated by the Motion Picture Association would be rated R. But that doesn't stop him from Following the Lord. A good example to us all. Sin, foolish teachings, and all the errors prophesied in the scriptures are all around us, but we too can follow the Lord in spite of a fallen world, and regardless of what anyone else does or does not do with the Gospel (3rd Nephi 16:13).

Words of Mormon 1:6

Words of Mormon 1:6
But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.

These prophesyings and revelations are choice to him and unto his brethren. Who are his brethren? The Lamanites? The Nephites? Those who to him would be brothers and sisters in Christ? Interesting questions.

Prophesyings and revelations. The modern organized church proclaims apostles and prophets leading it, I look forward to and would expect at some point to hear of prophecies and revelations. They were prevalent when the church began. The writers of scripture were not shy about saying they had a prophecy to deliver, or had a revelation to share. They even declared them as well as mysteries to non believers a lot of times, to folks many would consider totally unworthy for such things. (Samuel the Lamanite, Alma Chapter 12,13, Christ Himself, Nephi to unbelieving brothers) If you look up the words of those folks you'll see for yourself who they taught, it was often the unworthy, those cast out of synagogues, and the "non members".

When I say revelation I mean something that needs to be "revealed" because it wasn't previously known and wasn't floating around in the back of peoples minds already. If I talk about the need to serve the poor, (under how I"m using the word revelation), that is not a revelation because it's well known already and an important teaching to apply in our lives. If I talk about family, about values, about principles that isn't a revelation either, most moral institutions around the world will agree on the importance of traits of character, family, and integrity etc.

To me a revelation is a revelation. Something is revealed that wasn't previously common knowledge. I see a few examples of this in the institutional church, but would love to see more. If someone can point more out than I've been able to find I would be all ears and eager to study it and learn from it. In my lifetime of being a member of the LDS church I don't know of hardly anything that was called a prophecy or direct revelation. I hear promises, which I suppose could be termed a prophecy. Get out of debt I suppose could be called one. But I hear the same thing from financial advisers. Having food storage they themselves call "counsel". The promises given are things already in place in scripture.  But if this is the Lord's church, and I believe it is, I think we can expect this to be a part of it.

There is lots of counsel like debt avoidance and food storage which I'm working on. I think their counsel is wise and I do my best to follow. The times I've heard someone saying they had revelation from God to the church however would also be very limited.  This isn't to say I haven't felt God speak through the leaders, because I have. I support those called to lead. I've gotten personal revelation and heard the voice of the Spirit in the leaders words.

I imagine being a General Authority is no easy or simple thing, and no doubt an all consuming moment to moment responsibility. I support them and none of this is intended as criticism. In my view that is not going to go anywhere nor is it what Christ has taught us to do. I have felt the Spirit and learned important things from all my leaders, however a revelation like was so common in the early days of the church and that make up D&C I haven't heard much of. But I'm looking and hopeful to find. Scriptures speak of a day that will come when there will be all sorts of mischief, error, false doctrine, a lack of Angels ministering, people mislead, and the like (2 Nephi 28). Nephi in 2 Nephi 28:14 says only a few are the humble followers of Christ and even they err due to what they are taught. Nephi's prophecy worries me because according to Mormon it will surly come to pass.

I've read accounts of how leaders words are sometimes restricted to what the correlation committee deems acceptable to present in General Conference. Perhaps some of them want to share more, want to share revelation but are not allowed to due to correlation and someone else determining what's acceptable to present to the church and what is not. That would be extremely upsetting and I'm afraid it happens. But regardless of any of that, it doesn't inhibit the individual from the Spirit of Prophecy which is also listed as one of the Gifts of the Spirit (Moroni 10:13) (Alma 9:21). This gift is not restricted to leaders, or to men, it clearly includes women who may also be prophetesses.

This all brings up a fascinating question. Is The Institutional Church the same thing as Zion? Or the same thing as the Gospel.  I think this is worth some thought. Could the institutional church be more like a tool to become pure in heart? Zion is defined by things like unity and purity (Moses 7:18–21, 69) (D&C 97:21) (D&C 38:4), not so much things like uniformity of belief and mindset and orthodoxy. Am I right? On that note, here is something interesting by Hugh Nibley.  In "Approaching Zion" he talks about Zions bank, and how a Babylonian financial institution has no place being called after a holy city, our culture mixes Babylon and the Gospel and that is...well.... just like history. The juxtaposition of those two thoughts I found very interesting.

I wonder how Mormon knows these plates that he's referencing will be choice to his brethren. Why would they be choice? I think it's because they contain the words of eternal life? Is it because it shows the pattern whereby man can come back into the Presence of God? I think that is worth thought too.  Or perhaps we have we neglected such talk and almost hesitate to bring it up in Sunday school anymore. Deseret book won't sell multiple books I'm aware of on such topics. Many are Books that are totally appropriate, and doctrinally accurate.  Deseret Book has said the reason is because it's "too sensitive" a subject according to the approval committee.

 Hopefully we don't become the swine to whom "pearls" should not be cast because we trample it. If we continue to neglect The Book of Mormon and call things too sensitive for members to have available to them from such bookstores, we may find ourselves in a pigsty so to speak, because we've proven we have no idea what to do with a pearl other than push it around, step on it, and get it dirty. I say we avoid that at all costs.

Words of Mormon 1:5

Words of Mormon 1:5
Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record
upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
He could not write a hundredth part. So if we divided up the things of his people into one hundred parts we wouldn't even have one of them. Less than 1 percent. I've heard something similar in a lot of other scriptures. (3 Nephi 26:6) (3 Nephi 5:8) (Jacob 3:13) (Ether 15:33) (Helaman 3:14) (Alma 13:31) (2 Nephi 31:1) (Jacob 4:1) (2 Nephi 33:1). I guess they are trying to convey that we know very little of what actually went on.  So what they did record must have been chosen very carefully.  We have so very precious little information about these folks. Jacob said it was just plain old difficult to engrave onto metal plates. Given the repeated statements about not recording very much I think it would impose upon those authors something we deal with hardly at all in our day. They had to do more than prioritize. We can record things with so little effort we put no thought into what we write.  Social media has proven this.

I wonder if or how many time Mormon wondered to himself if he should include or not include various things he came across. We learn that his efforts were very guided by the Holy Spirit and he made it according to the knowledge God gave him (W of M 1:7,9). The knowledge God gave him, not man.  He got knowledge directly from God. I think therefore what we have is very important. Those who spend their time trying to disprove the book of Mormon or trying to prove it, or trying to show that is a fraud or whatever.....they are never going to get a dang thing out of it. I think the author's would be more pleased if we experienced and gained the same knowledge they had rather than get involved in debates that don't lead to further light or knowledge (Alma 13:12).

He calls it "my record". What is your record? Whats on it? Has the Holy Spirit prompted you what to include? God is at work in all of our lives. We should come to see it and rejoice in it. Is your record looked up and read by those of another Sphere? (Doctrine and Covenants 62:3) (Moroni 7:3).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:4

Words of Mormon 1:4
4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass--

Prophecy is pleasing to Mormon.... The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy (Revelation 19:10). This isn't a testimony of the church.  Mormon says nothing of the truthfulness of some earthly organization or institution.  He speaks of the testimony of Jesus (D&C 76:98-101). One of these allows you to prophesy, the other testimony does not.  One can save you, the other cannot.

Speaking of prophecy, I wonder why it is that prophecy pleases Mormon? He knows from experience that the prophecies of the past came true, and those that "go beyond" his day will surly come to pass as well. Mormon says many have been fulfilled, many prophecies couldn't be fulfilled unless there were first many prophecies.  Do we have "many" prophecies in our day?  I have trouble finding any in the past 3 decades.

Anyway back to the verse, Mormon's abridgment of these records is a vast missionary effort to both Jew, Gentile, House of Israel, and other semi identified folks who will also obtain this record (2 Nephi 29:12-13). This guys mission is not determined in years. He is on a mission for Christ.

Speaking of missionaries. While talking to my bishop the other day I found out my stake here in Centerville Utah produces more missionaries than any other stake worldwide. This is of course good because missionaries are good, but this fact is not so good in that it would be a tough thing to try and uphold that while not starting to presume a level righteousness based on such figures.  It would be tough to not try and maintain these numbers to seek the pleasure of higher presiding authorities.  It's tough to keep the worldly inclinations out of the Church.  Don't we all want to look good for our superiors?

So many things can be measured by numbers, it's often so alluring to measure success by them in the way the world does and then call it religious productivity. If we are producing good numbers it leads the mind to believe we are producing righteousness.  Christ said "few there be that find it" referring to the Straight and Narrow Path (3 Nephi 14:14). That assessment/prediction/prophecy troubles me very deeply in spite of the amount of missionaries coming from where I live.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:3

Words of Mormon 1:3

3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.

The book of Lehi as I understand it we don't have due to the 116 pages being lost with Martin Harris. Mormon here has been searching for and finds what we learn is 1st Nephi through Omni, which for us we have instead of the book of Lehi. God's foresight and Mormon being in tune took into account future actions of Joseph and Martin many years in the future. If I learn nothing else on this topic it's that God makes provisions for our mistakes and failures. That to me is a comforting thought; my mistakes and failures have been foreseen, and God has made provisions for them.

"I searched among the records".  We don't know how many records there were.  I ask my self what was he searching for? Which then prompts the question: What do we search for among these scriptural records? 

Could God potentially use each of us for his work and glory years in the future due to what we find in the records we have now? Opportunities are there for us if we don't neglect them.  Do we search for historical facts? Do we search for arguments in support of why the book of Mormon is true? Do we search for evidence to support the books historic authenticity? Do we search for for God's word? Do we look for a message to us personally about our own conduct and religious traditions?

If we find what we look for (seek and ye shall find), than that implies that we should take time to consider if we are looking for the most worthwhile thing inside these records. We may find all sorts of interesting things yet never find the truth the authors most wanted us to receive.  If we search for things to only satisfy an argument or things that heighten our pride, or fill a square we may miss the message the author intended.  
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In my own view all the evidence in the world to support the book of Mormon still will not convert anyone. It is just a list of so called facts that will probably always have an opposing argument. On the other hand, the truth inside the book, living what Christ teaches us through it will convert because God was the one who had it written in the first place. (2 Ne. 29: 12). His word will not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11) if we have his word within us, this will be a very good thing because it goes that WE will rerun to God because His word is within us and his word doesn't return to him void.

I think the Gospel is fascinating. There are endless dots to connect and connections to make. But if we are found void of his word, then we should change that now while the day lasts.

The small account of the prophets from Jacob to King Benjamin. A small account doesn't necessarily reflect how valuable it could be. I learned a lot about the book of Enos and found some incredible things in that short but deep book. Covering many books of scripture in a single Sunday school lesson is common. It's a good push start I guess. But that's not going to be enough.  If a Sunday school is the only spiritual nourishment we get during our week than our spirits may become very very malnourished and weak. Least that's been my experience.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:2

"And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them."
Knowing what the Book of Mormon is, knowing the records are true as stated in most fast and testimony meetings is different than living and experiencing the Gospel like the people in the book did. I think we neglect it when we as a people just claim ownership of a record that we chant is true.

Mormon here lets us know about some incredible hindsight, "many hundred years". Imagine what hundreds of years of hindsight would do to your perspective as you compile records! He has a whole stockpile of non tampered with records that include before, during, and after Christ. The guy is well informed of a ton of history. That would give you amazing perspective of what to include and what matters most as you insert words into the "past" as part of your compilation. You'd see clearly what panned out, and what didn't, what held true, and what was lost and forgotten or lead to destruction. There's a common phrase "Hindsight is 20/20" I think Mormon's sight here is therefore worth listening to.

"Entire destruction". Not part, but entire destruction. What does destruction even mean? Is it annihilated? Is it just physical death? Is it also have reference to a spiritual destruction?

Mormon knows the course that will lead to Eternal Life, as opposed to the course which many follow that is broad, and wide, and leads to destruction of lives (3 Nephi 14:13-14). He can thus see that his people are for the most part following the latter one, but of course they probably didn't see it that way. Doesn't mean his people weren't religious, we learn that they were religious, it was corrupt though, and lost it's power.

Next Mormon offers what to me sounds like a prayer. Although the text is addressed to future readers, it makes me wonder who he is actually talking to in this next line. "May God grant that he may survive them"..... Sounds like he's more praying to God than talking to us. I love that phrase "May God grant". A father's prayer for His son. He speaks of survival, no doubt the temporal kind amidst the wars, and no doubt also the spiritual kind of survival as well.

Mormon has Eternal life, he has been visited by angels, seen Christ and knows God, he knows God will grant these things to those who seek it and harken to God's voice. Not "of themselves" but by the mercy, grace and power of God. So is Mormon a true messenger? I think he is.

Reading Moroni's words later in the book of Moroni shows me that the above request was granted, Moroni survived longer than he expected, and would not deny Christ. He saw Christ, Angels and had Eternal Life. Prophets like him held the sealing power and it wasn't restricted to a organizational "office", as we think of it now days.  The power came directly from God, not passed from man to man. We like to point out how men hold Priesthood keys in our day. But can the Lord still use the keys at his own discretion? Or is He to stay in the background now that keys have been given to men?

"That perhaps someday it may profit them".  Perhaps.  It's always up to each individual.  o we profit from simply having these writings? Or does the profit come from doing something else with these writings?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Words of Mormon 1:1


I've been thinking a lot about the scriptures and want to do more about what message they contain.

These next few posts will be just what thoughts, ideas, and questions come to me as I read the verses of Words of Mormon. I've been taught it's best to study one verse at a time, so I'll use what I've been taught.

Words of Mormon vs 1. "And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making, into the hands of my son Moroni, behold, I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites."

Verse begins by talking about the preservation of what matters, records. Sacred records being delivered into someones "hands". That's a neat thought. Why into his hands? Why not into his "care"? Was there more to this transfer of records than merely some family member to provide a storage unit? Does Moroni now receive and hold with him sacred knowledge? I think he does.  Is he now becoming a vessel of truth and light? I think so.  Are there keys or sacred knowledge that we can receive into our hands as well by listening to what this prophet is trying to deliver?   I think maybe he is trying to tell us something.  Something that relates to the Temple.

I don't know how many times I've passed right over those words and not even given them a second though. You don't deliver just anything into someones hands and write about it in scripture when it has no meaning. (T.O. Taylor's Opinion)

Would the record that Mormon is making be considered a sacred record?  Or just a record?  Mormon indicates this record was to be passed down, it was to be kept, it had to be etched into metal plates, it needed to be preserved and the content not lost. The commission came from the Lord thus the record is sacred. Makes me wonder now days what do we pass down? Do each of us have a "sacred" record that we want passed down to our posterity? If our record isn't all that sacred then can we follow and heed the teachings of these prophets and change that? Could it be part of receiving the record into "our" hands? That's the whole reason they wrote and preserved the content, it's for the benefit of others.

Truth endures, if our own record contains truth it will endure.  Despite all the opposition Mormon's record has endured.  Having to cram teachings into as short a sentience as possible then etch it onto plates makes it so each word was probably carefully chosen.

The verse then talks about destruction. Preservation and destruction all in the same verse. Why would his mind go from preservation of that which is sacred to destruction? Do we get destroyed when we don't preserve whats important?  I think perhaps.  I think if we don't do something to preserve sacred things, teachings, and commandments destruction is what follows.

From reading the Book of Mormon, destruction seems to always be among the messages included in sacred writings. It seems to be a prophet's lot in life to witness destruction around them. I don't read of many that don't see a whole bunch of destruction. Destruction is always happening, our world is subject to entropy.... but having that prophetic holy calling I think causes things to be seen for what they really are, which includes the eroding and decay of truth.  That's the kind that seems to pain the scripture authors.

How sad it must be to witness destruction of people you love. Mormon says he has had to be witness almost the entire destruction of his own people. He calls them "my people". He saw them as His (dual meaning with capital "H" intended), he had some responsibility towards them. His calling from God included a stewardship to love and minister to people who may or may not accept it. He became involved in Gods work and glory. He likely linked the preservation of records to the preservation of peoples souls.

I like how he calls them: "my people".  Mormon's calling to me doesn't look very much like what we do now days with callings. Callings now days come from the ward leaders and are limited to a outlined number of available positions depending on geographic boundaries.  I think Mormon's charity had grown to encompasses all mankind.  Moroni's calling had little to do with an institution, or formal organization, yet his holy calling and view of people to me looks like it aligned with Gods.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Credentials



At BYU devotionals, the speakers have their credentials read before beginning their talk. I can see that BYU is an educational institution and this may be appropriate given the setting. At many settings this is appropriate.

What strikes me as interesting is when a religious and spiritual natured devotional follows the same pattern as a worldly meeting. This also happens at stake conference, and announcing new Mission Presidents, which is clearly a non academic context.  I sometimes wonder about our conferences being too much like every other meeting in the world. They list off church callings as though it were part of a resume.  As though succeeding in one of the "lower" callings like Bishop successfully will allow you to be promoted to Stake President... or so the thinking goes.  Mormon resumes are filled with plenty of callings, a mission or two, and other religious credentials. Previous callings I don't think should be used to build people up for credibility. I don't know why they do this.  Just let the guy talk.  If the Spirit is present, great.  If not, well then we've all had the chance to discern.  I bet the speaker is sometimes embarrassed because he/she just wants to deliver a thought-out prayerful, sincere message of truth rather than have their religious credentials read to make them look important.

An introduction is sometimes nice, so as to know at least who it is that is talking.  Don't get me wrong.  But some go way way beyond introducing the person, it's a list of qualifications that by comparison makes others look much less qualified for the Spirit.  Sometimes the list of credentials and church callings is long and impressive. It could almost "add" to the spirituality of the message when someone's resume is so filled with high status positions in and out of church and educational advancements and achievements.  As if the Spirit were impressed by those things....     Interesting that the scriptures say that out of the mouth of babes the wise ones will be confounded.

I think correlating someone's message as "better" or to be given more heed due to their worldly credentials is a mistake.  Speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit requires no degree this world confers. But when we read all these special and fantastic credentials of a speaker we may have a tendency to think they are more spiritual or are speaking more truth due to the list of qualifications. They themselves may think that too. (See the upcoming reference) And some of them may speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, we do know that being learned is good if the person harkens to the counsel of God (2 Nephi 9:28-29).

So what's the difference between someone educated, who thinks they are wise, and someone educated but that harkens to the counsel of God as Nephi said? Attributing God's approval based on their credentials is obviously false.  Christ wasn't one of the "Chief Priests" of his day.  So by a credentialed standpoint he didn't have any credentials.

I'm reminded of Joseph Smith. A 14yr old with little worldly education. In our day we almost want that to be a thing of the past so we can put our trust in leaders who have ample academic and worldly training. They are so much easier to trust and rely on with those things. Given credentials surly they MUST be speaking by the power of God, right? I mean why else would we cite all their qualifications at stake conference?  Isn't the Spirit enough?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Burdens


I've been thinking recently about Christs teaching to "Cast your burden aside". Also pondering about the part where he teaches that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. What it is about burdens that make them need to be cast aside.

Burdens weigh us down, and often actually prevent us from moving forward, or upward as in the spiritual reach towards God. I always laugh when I hear about the "monkey trap". It's a coconut that has a small circle cut into it and then hallowed out. Then the person will put something enticing to a monkey inside and so when the monkey puts his hand through the hole in the coconut (or side of a tree or whatever) and grabs the object he wants, now his hand is too big to get it back out of the hole. Then the person can walk right up to the monkey and capture him. The monkey clinging to the object has a fist which will not fit through the narrow opening. If the monkey would let go, the hand would easily come and and the monkey could escape.

Made me think about the burdens we cling to. About the things we need to unburden ourselves from in order to get unstuck or move forward. It's easy to cling to hurt, to anger, to disappointment, to pride, to jealousy, to pain, to suffering. What a relief it would be to not hold on to these things. There have been times I wasn't aware I was hanging onto such things, but in reality I was. It took some persuasion but when I saw the truth, I actually was the one holding on to things that I at some level attributed to some other force or source outside of myself.  Once they were let go of, suddenly I felt movement forward.  Similar to the monkey who cannot escape the trap unless he lets go of what he clings to.  

I think the truth can be very very liberating. Casting our burdens aside as opposed to in front if us will help ensure we don't stumble on them again.  When we cast them aside and take upon us Christ's yoke and learn of Him, Christ tell us we will find rest. But it's in the doing. The Gospel makes sense more in the doing. You have to actually let go of the burden, and all the secondary pay offs you may be getting by holding on to bitterness, resentment, and anger.  I can write it but doing it has provided more than any amount of words could convey. It's the "doing" (at least my poor attempts) that are usually what lead to what I write about.

Run!



(This is a daily devotional from Maranatha Chapel's website. I found it fun and interesting.)

"Jonah 1:1-3
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.' But Jonah ran away from the Lord."
Ironically, sometimes running away from the Lord is the first step toward obedience. Jonah was faced with a daunting task, which he resented and had no desire to accomplish. Not feeling quite gutsy enough to just say no to God, he booked a passage on a ship and tried to get out of the way, perhaps hoping God would forget? Out of sight out of mind?

Jonah's escapades remind me of Moses. In an amazing, miraculous encounter, God spoke to Moses in a burning bush. Moses took off his shoes, recognizing that he stood on holy ground, heard God's plans for his life – and then began second guessing the wisdom of God in choosing him as the deliverer of His people. He wanted to run away.

If you aren't familiar with what happened to Jonah when he set out sea and ended up in the belly of a whale, you can read the rest of his story in the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. But the point is, I think God sometimes deliberately chooses people who will run at first, because He knows He will meet them wherever they go.

We all run at times, only to discover as David the Psalmist did, that we cannot run from God, and indeed, when we are found, we are glad. "Where can I go from your Spirit?" David asked. "Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (Psalm 1397-10).

David expresses what Jonah experienced, what Moses discovered, what each of us will learn as we walk with God. We can run, but He will there, out of love, helping us to fulfill our gifts and talents and answer His call upon our lives.

Some people just don't discover what is best for them until they try to run away and find that God is a God of pursuing love."

One thing I love about this post is it reminds us just what God does for us, it shows his point of view of how he tries and feels after us. Rather than all the things we lack and the laundry list of things we have yet to become perfect at, this post refreshingly shows the point that God is after us! I like that thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Church Meetings conducted by the Spirit.

I was reading in Moroni during sacrament meeting today. Moroni 6:9. " And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done."

D&C 20:45 has a similar message: "The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God."

In today's meeting the program was announced, what we would sing was announced, when we would sing, then what would happen, and then we would go to this meeting and then that meeting... I mean it was called a "program" after all. Who would speak, when they would speak, and for how long was all pre-determined. The format has been that way all my life. I think the body of members suffers when meetings become totally pre determined in the name of "organization" or "unity". It becomes very formal. But as I've written in another (post) I don't think uniformity and unity are the same at all. In theory there is supposed to be some room for guidance by the Spirit on how the talks are prepared, who is called to speak during the weeks prior, and how the music is supposed to correlate with the themes. I suppose that is a meeting "guided by the Spirit". But how guided is it when speakers are even told what topic to speak on? And teachers what topic to teach on? Even what instruments are allowed to be used in the music.

More and more is being dictated. It requires my mind to stretch to make it fit the style of meetings the book of Mormon teaches. I personally think there is a loss when procedure, policy, outlined "programs", and tradition replace what the scriptures said was to be more spontaneous and alive.

We are the lesser for teachings from the Book of Mormon getting lost. I feel a desire for the kind of church meetings the book of Mormon talked about. I think the wording is crucial.... It said the meetings were conducted by the "workings of the Spirit" and by the "power of the Holy Ghost". We are very good at conducting by the "authority" of the priesthood, we always recognize the "presiding authority" at the meeting. But I think the "power" is lost when we just follow a printed program and then want the Spirit to follow our program.

Elder Packer at a recent conference addressed the difference between the "power", vs the "authority" of the Priesthood (link here). That is good reading in my opinion. Meetings conducted by the "power" of the Holy Ghost sound anything but boring, they sound like what would edify and uplift me. This is something you can't prepackage, and something you can't control, which would make some folks very insecure and very afraid of what would happen. When fear is high, usually along with that comes the need to control. True there would be a lot of differences depending on what congregation you happened to attend, but wouldn't that be great? I mean McDonalds being the same all around the world is kinda cool, but church?? I think that almost defies the definition of conducting meetings as led by the Spirit. I don't know that everything being uniform was really the scriptures goal for church meetings. My opinion.

The meetings I imagine happening in the book of Mormon would be anything but dull. It would have life, excitement, and might be fun. A recognizable and welcomed gift of the Spirit may even show up by a regular old member with no particular level of responsibility during the meeting to the benefit and promoting of faith of all present.

Members are what make up church (D&C 10:67, Mosiah 26:22). The folks spoken of in scripture wanted to meet, they met because they felt a compelling need to fellowship and worship together. They "met together often", and interestingly there was no mention of it only being on sunday, in fact no day of the week was specified. What happened to the freedom to do this sort of thing? Now you'd need special permission to even consier it, and it would likely be frowned upon. The church meetings the book of mormon talked about I think has all but been replaced by a printed program that is the same no matter where you are in the world. Not much different than a business meeting agenda where the participants prepare beforehand for the speech or presentation.

Found out today the church headquarters are now setting the rules about where the primary in my ward meets for opening exercises (in the chapel or in the primary room). I wonder about the loss of freedom to even operate by the Spirit when so many things are outlined, prescribed, and dictated by headquarters. I attend primary because I often find it enjoyable. Church headquarters is now deciding the location of Primary opening exercises which I found odd. I love the bishop of my ward, I wish bishops and the local leaders had increasing rather than decreasing freedom to conduct meetings and make decisions more by the spirit, instead of by a handbook of instructions or what they are told.

We want missionaries to "teach by the spirit" and yet when investigators come to our meetings it's all pre-outlined, pre determined, and according to a program. It's hard to conduct by the Spirit when your told what to do on so very many fronts. I see the ease and organizational benefit of doing things and running meetings the way it's done now, I really do, I've been a participant practically all my life. I just see along with it a growing loss. I wonder if the Spirit enjoys following the printed program week after week or if the structure and tradition becomes grievous. Suppose that's something to consider on an individual level.

And yet with all of this, church provides a place where people of varying degrees of interest can come meet together, learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, participate in inspired programs and hopefully be edified by the Spirit of God. There are chances to love those who may be difficult to love, to learn from those so very different from ourselves, and contribute to meetings in a unique and uplifting way. If nothing else we study the scriptures. Despite all that may have a trend towards the negative, despite human nature, I see the church as a wonderful tool to approach God, love our fellow man, forgive mistakes and errors, pray for those in need of support, develop attributes and receive inspired divine ordinances. One is allowed to progress or not progress at his or her own speed. The more each individual recognizes whats amiss, repents, and comes to Christ, the more successful the Gospel.

Even if the institution is under condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 84:55) an individual can still come to Christ and have the condemnation removed. Isn't that was Christ did? He came to a fallen world, came back into God's presence, and then preached love, repentance and the Gospel to a condemned world and people? Sounds very Chrislike. I think we should follow this example, and find our way back to God, then having received of God minister to people who need to be ministered to. Church has all of it, I for one want to use the tool for it's intended purpose and receive God's intended outcome.

Hearing God's Voice

One of my favorite passages regarding hearing God's voice and finding Truth.

Chapter 18, Nephi’s Isaiah, Denver Snuffer

As we saw earlier in this book, Nephi took the four final chapters at the end of his record to address a final summary warning to us. In it he told us all that was weighing on his mind about our day. These warnings are the product of the visions in which he saw our day and beyond. We have already looked at these summaries in the opening chapters of this book. In this chapter, we are going to look at how you, too, can gather truth through the same revelatory process as Nephi.

Though Nephi was not permitted to share the visions in his own words, he was able to describe them using Isaiah’s words. As we have seen in our interpretation of the Isaiah text, Nephi’s use of Isaiah tells the story of Christ’s mission, our day, the Second Coming, and the Millennium.

As Nephi summarized his final warnings, he was troubled about our struggles in latter-day Zion. Although the ultimate outcome of this season will vindicate those who follow the Lord, there are going to be challenges in our day which vex and perplex the Saints. In particular, he cites our tendency to rely upon the “arm of flesh” instead of the “Spirit.” Unfortunately, there are Latter-day Saint authors advocating the Spirit is an unreliable guide to truth. Grant Palmer writes in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Signature Books, 2002), on page 130-131; 133: “When faced with this evidence, our first impulse is often to resort to personal inspiration as our defense of the Book of Mormon. This is a higher means of substantiating the book’s antiquity, we assume. … Most of us have felt this spiritual feeling when reading the Book of Mormon or hearing about Joseph Smith’s epiphanies. What we interpret this to mean is that we have therefore encountered the truth, and we then base subsequent religious commitments on these feelings. The question I will pose is whether this is an unfailing guide to truth? … The evangelical position of identifying and verifying truth by emotional feelings, which the Book of Mormon advocates, is therefore not always dependable … abundant evidence also demonstrates that is an unreliable means of proving truth. Those who advocate the witness of the Holy Spirit as the foundation for determining the truthfulness of a given religious text need to honestly deal with these epistemological contradictions. … When a person experiences the Spirit at a Protestant revival meeting or when reading the Book of Mormon, it is not my belief that this feeling proves the truthfulness of the doctrines taught, or read.” (Emphasis added.) In this criticism, Palmer presumes “emotional feelings” are the same thing as being enlightened by the Spirit. Of course, they are not. However, it is understandable how he makes this error, for many people do associate emotional feelings as the sine qua non[1] of the Holy Ghost and fail to realize what is before us in scripture.

The scriptures do not either advocate reliance on emotions or give us examples of any prophetic figures doing so. They tell a much different story. They tell us of people who have faith sufficient to receive “the word of the Lord” and then seek for and obtain some confirmation of the veracity of that word. They seek for a witness, not through emotions, but from objectively observable, demonstrable signs confirming the truth of the words they have been given. Faith is required to receive the word in the first instance. And faith is required to obtain objective confirmation. They do this repeatedly in scripture, in a pattern which is commended to us to follow.

For those who have been raised as Latter-day Saints, the process of becoming acquainted with the Spirit can be a difficult one.[2] Palmer’s struggle and failure here is not atypical of some lifelong members’ frustrations in this area. We are now going to consider the process described in scriptures for receiving an answer from the Holy Ghost and confirming it through faith. Though it would require an entire book in its own right,[3] this subject will be addressed briefly here, because this book would be incomplete without it.

Not everyone has the same spiritual “gifts” given them. However, spiritual gifts can be increased, and can be sought after.[4] Each person has some gift which comes naturally as a part of their makeup. God has gone to great lengths to make everything in His creation unique. Every person who has ever lived is one-of-a-kind. Even identical twins are dissimilar. No tree is alike, no flower is alike, no snowflake is alike; all to help remind us that we are unique.[5] In all time and eternity, there has never been another you. Nor will there ever be a duplicate of you, science and cloning notwithstanding. You can “hear” God’s voice, but how it comes to you may be different from how it comes to anyone else. Frequently the description we get in scripture is merely “the word of the Lord came” to the prophets.[6] It comes to the mind, or it is “heard” in the mind, or it is sensed in the impressions, or it is dreamt; or it is a conviction which comes with palpable certitude. However it comes, and in any individual case it may do so in an altogether unique way, it comes from a source outside of you. Often it is surprising, not at all what was expected. It can be inconvenient, requiring from you what you would not voluntarily seek. These are not just “emotions” or “feelings” as Palmer would put it. Rather there is an intelligence to it, which originates from outside of you, and which delivers a message to you; not feelings, but a message.

After receiving the “word,” confirmation follows. The confirmation allows a person of faith to see evidence or support for their belief and trust in God.[7] Again, when it comes to the confirming sign which follows faith,[8] the variety of forms is unique to the person. In a moment, we will look at a few examples to show the pattern.

First, however, remember you are unique, and will have unique experiences in relating to God. Given the care with which you have been organized as an individual creation, how can you expect communication with the Lord to be standardized? Why would the way in which He speaks with you be identical to the way in which He speaks to all others? Why wouldn’t He carry on a conversation with each of His children in ways adapted to the individual child? Do not expect your experience to be like that of another. You are not, and never will be, a duplication of any other person.

We turn then to scriptural examples illustrating confirming proofs God has given to His people: His confirming appearance in the “burning bush” to Moses was singular.[9] In all of history, no one else recounts such an appearance. So, ask yourself why God employed such a matchless form of introduction to the person many believe to be history’s greatest single Prophet. Was it driven by something unique in Moses? Was this how God could reach into Moses’ perceptions, and therefore was the method chosen? Here, a physical object, commonly seen, has an unusual aspect which appeals directly to Moses. It is not “emotional” or a “feeling” but is a visible, physical event, observed by Moses and from which he encounters God. Moses sees this thing, but then must “hear” the Lord’s voice in the same way in which all others “hear” Him. It is recorded: “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses.’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ “ (Exo. 3:4.)

This encounter was not so unequivocal that Moses did not require faith. This “voice” which he encountered from the “burning bush” was not audible.[10] Moses sensed it, and had to develop the faith then to “hear” it. His faith was assisted somewhat by the sign he was witnessing. But there was nothing automatic here. There was nothing without effort. It comes to every man, woman and child the same way, and requires effort and faith to understand. Throughout Moses’ struggles to liberate a captive people, the words often came easy into his mind because of his faith. That was a result of a growing capacity. But even then, the signs which followed required great faith on his part as well. He had to reach out in faith, in the court of Pharaoh, to speak the words given to him, and then trust he heard the Lord and was speaking on His behalf. This was a difficult, trying ordeal for him. Over time it resulted in him, Pharaoh, Israel and Egypt all knowing Moses had spoken with and was speaking to mankind for the only living and true God. But as it was happening with him, Moses exerted effort and faith.

Gideon was another prophet with a unique method for receiving confirmation he could hear the voice of God. In an unremarkable encounter, Gideon is met by a man whom he does not immediately recognize for his true identity. The account states:

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord[11], if the Lord[12] be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:12-14). A perfectly ordinary event, non-miraculous in any way, begins the process for Gideon. He views this conversation in hindsight as something more than what it was at the first. He finally sees this as an encounter with the Lord. It is the beginning of the prophet’s call. This man who spoke to him may have been a friend, neighbor or even Levite whom Gideon respected. He was referred to by a term of respect, so Gideon must have respected the man. It is only through hindsight however, the Divine nature of the communication is recognized by Gideon.[13]

You, too, may be able to see in hindsight how advice from someone else was really the “voice” of God to you. God speaks to individuals sometimes through the voices in General Conference. His voice is heard in the words of your Patriarchal Blessing. Sometimes His words come from an inspirational song, or poem, or from literature. But as you see His “voice” through the eyes of faith, you begin to realize it comes from Him. The ordinary contains the extraordinary. You must see the extraordinary in the ordinary before the truly extraordinary opens up to you.[14] You must have faith before you are shown signs. “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow them that believe.” (D&C 63:9; emphasis added.)

Gideon through faith has “heard” the voice of God in this ordinary conversation. As he realizes it is from God, he asks for a sign: “And he said unto him, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.” (Judges 6:17.) A sign is given which confirms momentarily, Gideon’s faith that this is a message from God to him. However, he is being asked to organize an army, and then lead them into battle. As his faith in this divine commission is budding, Gideon receives another message from God in a dream, that same night.[15]

For this kind of an undertaking, Gideon would like greater certitude from God to give him the confidence to lead an army into battle against a superior host. He would like to see confirming evidence from the Lord sufficient to make certain this is no mere flight of imagination, and he as the faith to believe God will provide that to him. In this respect, he has faith like Joseph Smith, as he awaited Moroni’s visit to answer his inquiry about his standing before God.[16] Gideon was certain in his faith the Lord would provide him a confirming sign. The sign was not to produce faith, but was to confirm already existing faith.

He used the morning dew, and a sheepskin to confirm God’s will for him. “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.” (Judges 6:36-40.) Perfectly ordinary objects (sheepskin, ground, morning dew), get arranged in a way which allows Gideon to confirm the accuracy of his understanding God’s communication with him. This is not “emotion” or a “feeling.” It is drawing God’s communication into the physical world and seeing Him speaking there.

To Elijah, as he watched the unfolding physical signs of wind, earthquake and fire, these signs were not where he found God’s will.[17] These were physical events, observable by anyone who would have been present. They were not “emotional” or “feeling,” but were outward events. They were used to confirm the truthfulness of the inner “voice” which spoke to him. That inner voice, speaking intelligence to the mind, was the voice of God; to him and to you as well.

Nebuchadnezzar[18] heard God speak to Him through a dream. Likewise, Joseph of Egypt[19] heard God speak many times in dreams containing symbols from which God’s “voice” was “heard.” Joseph, Christ’s earthly foster-father, was also warned repeatedly through dreams.[20] It is more likely the lack of faith than the absence of communication which accounts for the apparent “silence” of God in most lives. We just do not believe or trust in Him enough to experience what is available to us all. The great difference between prophets and others is not in God’s willingness to speak, but in the refusal to listen. Some listen; and they are prophets. Others do not; and struggle to believe the prophets. God, however, has and does speak to us all.

In choosing a replacement Apostle for the deceased and apostate Judas, the method employed by the surviving Apostles was to “cast lots.” It is written: “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all mean, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:24-26.) The same method is used here by Apostles as had been used by the Lord’s crucifiers to divide up His clothing, as He was ganging on the cross in the last throes of dying.[21]When we think of the Roman guards using it to divide Christ’s clothing, it becomes less inspired-looking and more homely. It looks more like expediency than revelation as a tool for choosing an Apostle. Yet, at the same time, this same process is built into the scriptures for the Church today, and is used in every disciplinary council to assign roles to the High Council.[22] Without regard to feeling, emotion or desire, the lots are drawn and the assignments are made. These physical objects contain within them the Lord’s mind for organizing a council before whom the hearing takes place.

From Nephi’s casting lots to decide who would go to address Laban,[23] to choosing a scapegoat,[24] to choosing an Apostle, to choosing roles in a disciplinary court, casting of lots has been the way people of faith have determined God’s will for millennia. Through it God “speaks.” But it requires faith to see it in that light. For these are ordinary, even commonplace ways of making a decision. Only through faith does it acquire the “voice of God” in it.

We are unique, and God’s ways of speaking to each of us is as unique as each of us. We do ourselves a great disservice when we attempt to fit ourselves into a singular, stereotypical persona seeking only a singular way for God to talk with and to us. We make ourselves into something we aren’t, in the search to find what cannot be found that way. If we demand only the extraordinary before we will recognize His voice, we run the risk of looking in the wrong way for Him. His voice is there. He speaks to all of us. But we can miss it if we are not attuned to listen.

You may never be able to hear God speak to you in the way in which others hear Him. If you determine He must speak to you in a specific way, you can go a lifetime without ever having a conversation with Him. He longs to speak with each of us. Within each of us there is something uniquely attuned to Him. How He reaches out to you may be as singular and unique as you are and you can be assured He is reaching out. In fact, God is rather noisy, if you will allow Him to be. We were never intended to live without a direct connection to Him. Instead, we should hear His voice, and in time discover He is our “friend.”[25]

Christ’s use of the example of a living “vine”[26] or “branch”[27] or description of His Father as a “husbandman”[28]suggests you should have a living connection to God. A living connection implies you are in contact with Him. You hear from and listen to Him. He is a part of you and an active part of your life and growth. His Holy Spirit should nourish you.

Don’t try to mimic what you think others are. Don’t make yourself a caricature instead of the unique Child of God, which you truly are. The viciousness with which we seek to be the same stereotypic “Mormon” is no less offensive nor slavish than the way in which modern fashion-seekers make themselves silly replicas of rock-stars, movie stars, and ‘gangsta’s.” Wearing gang colors to show you “belong” is very akin to our own efforts to dress alike, talk alike, sound alike, and think alike. One has to wonder how either can contain any virtue as an end. We should all feel comfortable being ourselves. As Brigham Young once remarked: “There is too much of a sameness among our people. … I do not like stereotyped Mormons – away with stereotyped Mormons!” (JD 8:185; quoted by Vaughn J. Featherstone in The Incomparable Christ: Our Master and Model, page 119.)

How each of us receives contact with God, how we hear His voice, and what gifts we possess are unique. There is no single universal way for one to “hear [His] voice and know that [He] is.” (D&C 50:45.) And so it is a mistake to ignore your own unique talent of “hearing” your Father in Heaven. He did not send you here powerless to hear Him. But it will require you to develop the capacity. Relying merely upon your “feeling” or “emotions” alone is insufficient; you must learn to hear His voice. All of the prophets referred to above, from Moses, to Gideon, to Elijah, received contact form God. They were certain Who it was that spoke to them. They obtained intelligence, heard His voice, and learned from Him. None of them relied upon mere “feeling,” but instead “heard” words from Him. He spoke with them just as He did with Nephi.[29]

There is no permanency to men’s lives, nor to the work of men’s hands. There are only two things which will endure here with any permanency: posterity and our words. Buildings do not endure, as history has proven. Today there is only one building from the Roman Empire still in use. The rest are gone, except a few remaining relics which are in ruins. But the words of Cato, Cicero, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Caesar, Terrance, Polybius, Suetonius, and Seneca, to name only a few, endure. Even more importantly, the words of Paul, Origen, Tertullian, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and the other ante-Nicean fathers are timely even today. These writers’ words dealt with the struggle to maintain the truth delivered to the Saints through Christ and His Apostles. So important do these words remain even now that the recent work of Barry Robert Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, (Ben Lomond: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research; 1999), continues the repeated study of their works. Words endure; buildings, even temples, do not. The closer the words are to the will of God, the more likely they are to endure. Revelations are the most enduring of all. But all expressions of faith and hope endure long beyond words of opposition, faithlessness and anger. For the most part, the great critics of Christianity have been preserved only through the words of the apologists who oppose them. History settles into patterns which repeat themselves, and so we should expect the critics of the Lord’s great latter-day work will also fade into neglect, as the works of faith and hope endure.

Get yourself in harmony with God, call upon Him and record His voice to you and you will leave something eternal behind for your posterity. The record of your own testimony, and your posterity, will alone endure. It is one of the reasons for the inspired instruction to us through the Latter-day Prophets to ‘keep a journal’ of our lives. After all, “angels may quote from” your journal.[30]

We need to forget conforming to an imaginary pattern, and allow the unique gifts each of us have been given to mature. Becoming “one” does not require us to become the “same.” There is a great difference between the “oneness” God asks us to acquire, on the one hand, and uniformity on the other.

That having been said, there is nothing wrong with the development of a separate style, as the Saints have done. This style is intended to distinguish us form the world. It serves that purpose, and it reminds us we ought to behave differently than the world. However, accepting such style is not the end in itself. It does not confer any superiority upon us. Its only function is to remind us we are different form the world. But to receive revelation and “hear” God’s voice is a different challenge. That challenge is not met through slavish conformity to what you think someone else thinks you should be. Find out what God wants you to be. Be that. It is “one of a kind.” It will make you free.[31]

[1] This Latin phrase is common among lawyers. It means the “single best proof” of something.

[2] If converts have any advantage, it is here. The process of converting requires some contact with the Spirit, and after baptism the conferral of the Holy Ghost is a distinct experience, usually gained in adulthood. The contrast this brings allows any convert to know, with clarity, they have encountered the Spirit. It is therefore easier to use this to build upon.

[3] See, e.g., Matthew B. Brown, Receiving the Gifts of the Spirit, (Covenant Communications, Inc., American Fork; 2005); as just one recent example.

[4] D&C 46:8: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given.”

[5] Moses 6:63: “all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, … all things bear record of me.” The unique identity of everything in nature testifies to our own unique lives.

[6] See, e.g., Jacob 2:11; Alma 43:24; Ether 13:20; Gen. 15:4; 1 Sam. 15:10; 2 Sam. 24:11; and Jer. 1:11, among many others.

[7] “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TPJS, p. 151).

[8] D&C 63:9: “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.” (Emphasis added.)

[9] Exodus 3:1-5: “Now Moses kept the flock of aJethro his father in law, the bpriest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the cmountain of God, even to dHoreb. And the aangel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of bfire out of the midst of a cbush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God acalled unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy ashoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is bholy ground.”

[10] “Hearing” God’s voice is not just automatic or easy. Even when He is speaking directly to an audience, they must first attune their ears, through faith, before they know it is He and what He is speaking. We see this in 3 Ne. 11:3-5: “And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a avoice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a bsmall voice it did cpierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn. And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they aunderstood it not. And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did aopen their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.”

[11] The word here denotes a respectful address for a man, not God.

[12] The word here denotes God.

[13] Margaret Barker’s work The Great High Priest (T&T Clark; London, New York; 2003) gives a scholar’s view of how mere humans became “angels” as they communicated God’s words to men. One passage is quoted here: “The belief that human beings, as a result of their mystical vision, were transformed into angels, was neither new nor the teaching of an unrepresented minority. … The Gnostic believer changes from unbelief to faith, then from faith to knowledge and love, and then ‘such an one has already attained the condition of being equal to the angels.” (Id., p. 6.) The theme of ancient Israel accepting men as angels appears throughout her book.

[14] This was the subject of my earlier work, The Second Comforter.

[15] Judges 6:25: “And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him …”

[16] JS-H 1:29: “In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to aprayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full bconfidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”

[17] 1 Kings 19:11-14: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a astill small bvoice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very ajealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am bleft; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

[18] See Daniel, Chapter 2.

[19] See Genesis, Chapter 41.

[20] See Matthew, Chapter 2.

[21] Matt. 27:33-36: “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of aa skull, They gave him avinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they acrucifiedhim, and bparted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my cgarments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there;

[22] See D&C 102:12-17: “Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern, it shall be the duty of the twelve councilors to cast lots by numbers, and thereby ascertain who of the twelve shall speak first, commencing with number one and so in succession to number twelve. Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case, the twelve councilors shall consider whether it is a difficult one or not; if it is not, two only of the councilors shall speak upon it, according to the form above written. But if it is thought to be difficult, four shall be appointed; and if more difficult, six; but in no case shall more than six be appointed to speak. The accused, in all cases, has a right to one-half of the council, to prevent insult or ainjustice. And the councilors appointed to speak before the council are to present the case, after the evidence is examined, in its true light before the council; and every man is to speak according to equity and ajustice. Those councilors who adraw even numbers, that is, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12, are the individuals who are to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and binjustice.”

[23] 1 Nephi 3:11.

[24] Leviticus 16:8: “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.”

[25] See, e.g., D&C 84:77: “And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends,” among other places.

[26] John 15:4-5: “aAbide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the avine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without bme ye can do nothing.”

[27] Id., see also John 15:6: “If a man aabide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

[28] John 15:1: “I am the true avine, and my Father is the husbandman.”

[29] Three chapters were devoted to discussing Nephi’s progression in communicating with God in my earlier work, The Second Comforter. Here we only make reference to it.

[30] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p. 351: “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.”

[31] John 8:36: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”