Thursday, February 20, 2020

Handbook of Handbooks

The LDS Church released a new handbook this week announcing it via e-mail to all members and through news outlets.  Various aspects have been covered online by others so I wanted to document a few of the changes that caught my eye.

This is from the Official Church News Room announcement about the new handbook:
The Church of Jesus Christ believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles. “And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” Elder Perkins said. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.” 
“It is so important for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”
Some of that wording is similar to passages found in the Book of Mormon that God has done his work, and has now given his power to men.  Nephi warned:
and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the holy ghost which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel. And they say unto the people, Hearken unto us and hear ye our precept, for behold, there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men. Behold, hearken ye unto my precept.
Handbooks have a tendency to replace the scriptures.  Even in these statements by the Church, the handbook is where the members will see downstream "revelatory" updates that the Church gets.  The Church being "true and living", as the newsroom statement asserts, is at odds with and causes you to ignore what the actual scriptures say and modern leaders have said about the status of the Church.

Were I to ask people why the scriptures aren't the handbook, and why the new LDS handbook is something I need to pay attention to I can confidently say that the most common response would be that the handbook is for OUR day, and gives us instructions specific to our circumstances.  Which suggests that the scriptures don't, which in my view is inaccurate, but it also demotes scriptures to something lesser than the handbook as far as what is relevant to our day.  "Hearken ye to our handbook"

The handbook in my experience often trumps scripture and amounts to a lifeless operating procedure that seeks to ensure you know who is in charge, how you are to behave, and which authority you are to respect.  It creates uniformity and a central authority.  Eternal life is not found in the handbook.  But the scriptures by contrast.... Jesus said: Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  (John 5:9).

But anyway, a few items that caught my eye. 

LDS Handbook 2 says (or rather used to say, as it's been discontinued) this about Scriptures.

17.1.1 Scriptures
The standard works of the Church are the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In many languages, the Church has approved one edition of the Bible to be used in Church meetings and classes. Likewise, the latest authorized edition of the other three books of Latter-day Saint scriptures should be used. No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture.'
This is the new section about scriptures: 

The previous handbook section which had been in place for I don't know how many decades was clear that no other works other than the standard words are to be used or promoted as scripture.  I would often cite this as part of discussions with people at Church as it's common for some to frequently promote other church materials, such as General Conference talks, as if they were scripture.  But that is now obsolete I guess.  I wonder if this may open the door for the members to considering a variety of other materials as if they were scripture.  Like the "living" handbook which changes frequently.  In Joseph Smith's day the scriptures were living, and grew.  In our day it's the handbook that grows and helps people feel like God is leading.

There were also some updates in this handbook regarding what individuals the Church requires disciplinary action towards. The list of what kinds of things require a disciplinary council has been update and some items changed. But per the below instruction from the First Presidency, depending on where you live and the language, you may be under a different policy than other people in the Church.    

Even though policies change all the time, the new handbook states publicly opposing mere policies puts you into the stated definition of apostasy.  So as each policy changes (or gets reversed) your apostasy may be impacted along with it.  Which is curious because it was repeated, clear and deliberate public opposition to some Church policies which actually led to them being changed.

Speaking of apostasy.

Given the wording "must take exceptional care" that has to be taken when issuing recommends, I don't know how else a Bishop or counselors could determine whether a member's parents or siblings sympathize with apostate teachings without adding this as a recommend interview question. And how far reaching does the inquiry go?  Does my brother have to report contact with me if he thinks I sympathize with what the Church deems apostate groups? Does my nephew report what he thinks are my apostate beliefs but then declares he has had no contact with me?  What if someone simply believes differently?  Is that categorically apostate?  This handbook section has inklings of the inquisition era we've seen in other religions of the past.

The next section that stood out is below.  Despite the prevalence of electronic versions of the scriptures on people's personal electronic devices, this statement is still still in the handbook:
To maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in sacrament meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks, they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural references.
I can think of very few reasons, if any, where opening the word of God would be disruptive to atmosphere of worship.

Another interesting item that is now in the handbook but was not previously is this section:

18.9.4 - Sacrament
7. Members partake with their right hand when possible.
I remember this was always stressed during my growing up years but it was never formally written anywhere. I thought it was a myth as more than a few leaders had advised against it over the years as it can turn non commandments into commandments of formalism.  One such source below:

President Joseph Fielding Smith warned of customs creeping into commandments. He said:
These changes and innovations are innocently adopted, but in course of time there is the danger that they will become fixed customs and considered as necessary to the welfare of the Church. For example, let us consider the ordinance of the Sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform, such as we see done in some sectarian and other churches. Then again as they passed the Sacrament they had to stand with their left hand plastered on their backs in a most awkward manner. The priests or elders who administered these holy emblems had to stand in a certain way as the one officiating in the prayer knelt at the table. In some instances the Bishop stood in the pulpit with raised hands in an attitude of benediction. Other customs among the quorums and in the services of the wards were introduced. Members of the Church were instructed that they must not touch the trays containing the bread and the water with their left hand, but must take it in their right hand after partaking as their neighbor held the tray in his or her right hand. In the Priesthood in the wards, we now have “supervisors” directing the activities of the deacons and the priests. How long will it take before these supervisors are considered as a regular part of the Priesthood and it will be necessary to set them apart or ordain them to this office? So we see that we, if we are not careful, will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy.” 
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation Volume 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book Company, 1946), 103.)  Full background here.  

I still think the scriptures ought to be the handbook.  They are God's word.  These other handbooks have the appearance of Godly instruction or God's word to our day but are not.  There is no assurance following it will bring you or others to Christ.

Monday, February 17, 2020

If you are prepared

I saw an soundbite on NPR from earlier this month about how the prepping industry is booming as a result of Corona Virus fears. Link. Often selling out of the emergency essential items. There can be a lot of fear surrounding these types of things.

I don't know how many millions of dollars the phrase "If ye are prepared ye shall not fear" has made the prepping industry over the years, but I imagine it's a lot.  The NYT had an article about how good a business it can be. Link.  They do offer a good service.

If we are prepared we shall not fear we often tell each other.  I went back to the scriptures to see the phrase and it's context.  It's D&C 38.  RE T&C 22.

The year is 1831 at a conference of the Church in New York. A revelation is given which includes, in part, a commandment to go to the Ohio. This is paragraph 3. The first mention of being prepared:
But behold, verily, verily I say unto you that my eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and you cannot see me, but the day soon comes that you shall see me and know that I am, for the veil of darkness shall soon be rent, and he that is not purified shall not abide the day. Wherefore, gird up your loins and be prepared. Behold, the kingdom is yours, and the enemy shall not overcome.
The veil of darkness is to be rent.  That sounds awesome.  However that does also seem to be accompanied by something that people will not be able to tolerate.  Abiding the day is dependent on being purified. Due to that, there was instruction to gird up their loins (tighten up your pants!) and be prepared.  This seems really important.  How does one be purified? These days a lot of people are really interested in the cleanliness of what we consume. We want pure air to breathe, we want pure drinking water, we want uncontaminated food, we don’t like impurities. People sanitize their hands before meals to get rid of impurities. But we often pay much much less attention to the religious content we consume or have consumed.  Scriptures say we live in a dark and polluted world.  According to the Lord we are all in need of purification.

Thankfully the gospel includes ordinances to help with becoming pure, through baptism by water, and then with fire and the Holy Ghost as we come to Christ. But a lot of that is uncommon doctrine, rarely taught in LDS circles.  Despite making little of it, it remains part of the Gospel and of upmost importance to abiding the last days.

Back to the verse and being prepared.  It goes on to talk about not having a king other than Christ. And esteeming your brother as your self.  That was repeated twice.  That the people are supposed to be equals.  God is serious about equality and not looking up or down at each other.  It then says if the people are not one, they are not the Lord's.  Then comes paragraph 8 which has the very familiar Mormon phrase that if we are prepared we shall not fear:
And again, I say unto you that the enemy in the secret chambers seeks your lives. You hear of wars in far countries, and you say in your hearts, There will soon be great wars in far countries, but you know not the hearts of them in your own land. I tell you these things because of your prayers. Wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms, lest the wickedness of men reveal these things unto you by their wickedness, in a manner which shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth. But if you are prepared, you need not fear.
And that you might escape the power of the enemy and be gathered unto me, a righteous people without spot and blameless, wherefore, for this cause I gave unto you the commandment that you should go to the Ohio.
There is an enemy who seeks our destruction.  (There is also the God of this world who says you can buy anything with money.)  There are wars in far countries and even in 1831 the people were informed that they don't know the heats of those people in our own land.  I can only imagine how much worse it is nowadays.  The Saints were told to treasure of wisdom in their bosoms, or else the wickedness of men will reveal the true state of things louder than earth shaking.  But if prepared, there is no need to fear.

The context was all the wickedness of man revealing itself by wickedness.  Wisdom was what the Lord said to treasure up to help combat it.  He didn't say to treasure up food storage, although I believe that is a good idea.  So is gaining long term practical skills in the event of technological or global supply chain issues.  However the entire context of "if you are prepared you shall not fear" was to escape the power of the enemy and be gathered as a righteous people without spot and blameless.  To be prepared in that way to me suggests and merits a lot more thought, reflection on the heart, study of scripture, humility, and more seeking the Lord and HIS righteousness (as opposed to our own).  A new outlook, a new set of skills, not just a basement full of food.

What about wisdom?  How do we treasure that up in our bosoms?  Treasuring something is to value it highly, and treasure up would be to store and save it.  This has interesting feminine imagery with the word wisdom and bosom, and reserves of nourishment.  Jesus also taught where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  What do we treasure in 2020?  Do we treasure wisdom?  What about discernment?  How can we discern the adversary and not be deceived?  If we are deceived, will emergency food storage remedy that?

Zion will be protected by God himself, and the wicked won't want to go there.  It's terrible to them. T&C 31:5
And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it. And it shall be called Zion.
And it shall come to pass among the wicked that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety, and there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven, and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. And it shall be said among the wicked, Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible, wherefore we cannot stand. And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion singing with songs of everlasting joy.
But if we envision massive artillery in order to safeguard Zion in times of distress then how prepared are we for the prophecies? Scriptures say the inhabitants of Zion are those who WON'T take up arms against their neighbor.  So do ammunition's prepare our heart for Zion? Do weapons of war help prepared our minds? If our hearts and minds are unprepared to meet God can anything else compensate for that?

There's a verse from D&C that is typically associated to a temple but it also fits in the conversation about preparing, and can be applied to our own homes:
Organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing, and establish a house. Even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a House of God.
I believe food storage and emergency essential items are intelligent and to some degree common sense.  I do these things as part of being a husband and father.  There are more than a few businesses who will help you towards that end, to whatever degree you are inclined.  Since there is plenty of information and resources on those types of preparing I wanted to write here about the other ways the term prepare is used in scripture, particularly the Book of Mormon.  This often gets far less attention in the Mormon circles I frequent.

BofM Alma 11:6-7
And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance unto the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews. And as many as would hear their words, unto them they did impart the word of God without any respect of persons continually. And thus did Alma and Amulek go forth, and also many more who had been chosen for the work to preach the word throughout all the land. And the establishment of the church became general throughout the land, in all the region round about, among all the people of the Nephites.
And there was no unequality among them, for the Lord did pour out his spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming, that they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch, be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.
That bit about being equal shows up again here.  They had no inequality.  But that's a side note.  When it comes to preparing though, the scriptures say God's spirit prepares the minds and hearts.  The hardness of heart against God's word leads to destruction.  Then the verse raises the topic of entering into the rest of the Lord.  These are important Gospel topics that were occasionally mentioned at Church when I was younger, but are absent now days.  They have been replaced by what I would consider spiritual cardboard, a dead handbook, or spiritual cotton candy.

It's true that often in the BofM preparing has to do with their wars and battles, weapons, strategy, armies etc.  Some groups choosing to lay those things down rather than use them.  But that's off topic.  What I wanted to note is there is a significant amount of preparing referenced in the Book of Mormon that is talking about something different from any of that.   For example:

Alma 3:5
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say — if ye were called to die at this time — within yourselves that ye have been sufficiently humble, that your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not, ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold, ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared. And I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand; and he knoweth not when the time shall come, for such an one is not found guiltless.
These are sobering questions being asked by Alma.  And this book is said to be for us, meaning the Mormons.  There are no businesses or online stores who's service is to provide you the song of redeeming love.  Or to remove your pride and envy and offer your humility.  You cannot purchase the things Alma talks about from Babylon.  They will sell you all the other kinds of preparation but not this kind.  

But Alma says we are not prepared if we are not in line with those things. Even if we own a nuclear bunker and the biggest stockpiles of food available, we are still not properly prepared according to Alma, a high priest after the Holy Order of God.  That gives me pause.  

The purpose of this life was to prepare, prepare to meet God.  If we actually believed that, I wonder what difference that might make to people.  We hear this phrase and then forget about it not really knowing how or what difference it should make in our minds and hearts.    

Alma 16:37:
And now, my brethren, I would that after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that the holy scriptures testify of these things, come forth and bring fruit unto repentance. Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer. For behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation. And therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. Yea, behold, the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. 
Later Alma when teaching his son has this to say with regard to this life and it's purpose as a preparatory state.
And now we see by this that our first parents were cut off, both temporally and spiritually, from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will. Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness. Therefore, as the soul could never die and the Fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal (that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord), therefore it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state. 
The fall brought about spiritual death.  Since we're quoting Alma, here are some things Alma says to do to prepare.   
 And now I say unto you that this is the Order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and everyone that dwelleth in the land — yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free, yea, I say unto you, the aged, and also the middle-aged, and the rising generation — yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again. Yea, thus saith the spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand. Yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the spirit saith, Behold, the glory of the King of all the earth and also the King of Heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men. And also the spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying, Go forth and say unto this people, Repent, for except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of Heaven. And again I say unto you, the spirit saith, Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.
And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Woe unto such an one, for he is not prepared; and the time is at hand that he must repent, or he cannot be saved. Yea, even woe unto all ye workers of iniquity. Repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it. Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men; for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith, Repent and I will receive you. Yea, he saith, Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely. Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be put down and cast into the fire. For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.
We're taught to repent or we can in no way inherit the kingdom of Heaven. We're supposed to turn away from the false beliefs, the false doctrine that surrounds us, the false sense of security, the false teachers, and turn and face God.  The problem is we don't usually see ourselves as possessing any of those false things.  But the scriptures confirm over and over that we do.  We tend to be oblivious to them because they cause us discomfort or make us uneasy in our religious security.  Repentance without fail in my religious meetings is a very shallow concept, it doesn't produce what the scripture say it should, and it more resembles a vague self-improvement program to kick bad habits, or something you generally do when you have made mistakes with morality. 

Alma says if we bring forth no good fruit, nor do works of righteousness, we will have cause to wail and mourn.  I don't want to wail and mourn.  So what constitutes "good fruit"?  What are works of righteousness?  We "must" repent, and "must" be born again Alma teaches.  Born of the spirit.  Since the fall brought about spiritual death, it makes sense our spirits would need to be reborn.  Mormons usually believe being born again is a lifelong imperceptible process.  What if that teaching is so misleading and so incomplete so as to rob you of understanding?  You won't find hardly any teachings in our day among LDS manuals and materials about spiritual rebirth.  You will find even fewer teachers/leaders who will testify that it has happened to them.

Whether or not people in the Book of Mormon survived calamities often had a lot to do with their level of righteousness, and their faith.  When the destruction hit that preceded Christ's appearance to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon it was repeatedly stated that it was wickedness and sin are what brought the people's destruction.  They cast out the prophets.  The last days prophecies in scripture say similar things.  There are many things scheduled for destruction and the context the scriptures put it in is one of wickedness vs righteousness. Not a matter of money or the typical security blankets we are used to in 2020.  God decides what happens.  His view is what matters and what ultimately controls the events. I don't believe people can outsmart God.  As an example, no one can escape God's judgement because they purchased a nuclear bunker. 

So who's righteous anyway?  Laman and Lemual had a testimony that the residents of Jerusalem were righteous (so likely did those residents).  Lehi's view was that they were wicked.  We know what happened.  Lehi was right.  Jerusalem was destroyed and people taken captive.   There are scriptural prophets telling us OUR day is full of religious wickedness and iniquity and abominations.  And by contrast (because there has to be opposition in order for us to choose) there are other leaders telling us we are a chosen generation, righteous, saved for the last days, and we just need to follow the Prophet and stay in the boat and it will all turn out fine.  The two points of view stand in contrast and we are forced to choose.   

Mormon 1:12
And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
How do you prepare to stand before the judgement seat of Christ?  God has told us how to pass the judgement day.  The scriptures give us the keys to passing the tests, they clearly teach the commandments of God and differentiate them from the commandments of men.  If we are prepared to stand before the judgement seat of Christ that would eliminate one of life's great fears.  If you have an enormous stockpile of food, water, money, and emergency essentials that will of course reduce some fear too.  But it doesn't go very far in terms of your preparation to stand before the judgement seat of Christ.  And since none of us know when we'll be called to stand before that judgement seat, and could find ourselves there despite physical preparations, it seems wise to also consider these other kinds of preparation the scriptures talk about.

This is another example revealed through Joseph Smith.  This was the preface to the Book of Commandments, later to become the D&C, later still to become the T&C.  This preface was given by the Lord.  Paragraph 3 says:

T&C 54:3
Wherefore, the voice of the Lord is unto the end of the earth, that all that will hear may hear: Prepare yourselves, prepare for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh and the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in Heaven and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth, and the arm of the Lord shall be revealed. And the day comes that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people, for they have strayed from my ordinances and have broken my everlasting covenant. They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walks in his own way and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol which waxes old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great which shall fall.
These groups are called out:

-Those who will not hear the voice of the Lord
-Neither hear the voice is his servants
-Neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles

Those, the scripture warns, will all be cut off from among the people.  They have strayed from God's ordinances and broken his everlasting covenant.  They seek not to establish his righteousness, but every may walks in his own way, making whatever they worship into God, who's image or appearance is after this word rather than heaven, and whose substance is that of Babylon.  These it says will be cut off from among the people. I'm 100% in favor of reasonable food storage.  What I'm 100% not in favor of is totally neglecting what the scriptures say are important criteria for people getting cut off.

-Those who will not hear the voice of the Lord.  We have to hear the voice of the Lord ourselves.  What does that mean?  Can you ignore the scriptures (the place where God's voice is found) and still hear the voice of the Lord?  What if the voice of the Lord speaks and you're oblivious because you aren't even looking for the Lord's voice?  What if you have spent so little time in study and prayer to even find God's voice that you can't tell if His voice is present in the teachings of the people you harken to?  Lots of people talk or say things as if they speak for God. But we're warned most of them actually don't speak for him at all.

-Neither hear the voices of his servants.  Who are the Lord's servants?  If you misidentify who the Lord's servants are it can be perilous. A Church calling doesn't guarantee a person is a servant of the Lord.  The lack of Church calling also has no bearing.  Many examples of this exist in scripture.  What if God sends a servant and you reject them, and ignored them because he/she didn't come from the Quorum of the 12 in the LDS Church? Do you risk being cut off because you have identified yourself as one who will not hear the voice of God's servants?  How careful should we be in seeking and responding to God's actual servants?  How careful should we be in discerning who's who?  How can you even tell who was truly called of God vs those who instead speaks on their own authority or follow some other spirit?  These seem like pressing and pertinent questions that rarely get discussed. 

-Neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles.  Which prophets and apostles is this talking about?  What if we prefer our Church leaders over dead prophets?  Do we risk not giving heed to the words of the prophets and apostles by reducing the prophets and apostles of scripture as secondary and below the level of our living LDS leaders?  What if living leaders outright contradict prophets and apostles from scripture?  Do we risk not giving heed to the prophets by accepting these contradictions and siding with whatever the current leader says?  Are we at risk of being on the wrong side of this scripture if we do this?   

The scriptures paint a picture of huge peril but only a few seems to care about this type of criteria of being cut off from among the people. 

The Book of Mormon echo's these same themes of people being cut off:

1 Nephi 7:4
For the time soon cometh that the fullness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men, for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fullness of his wrath must come and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear, for thus saith the prophet: They shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire. Behold, my brethren, I say unto you that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come. And it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh, if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel. For behold, the righteous shall not perish, for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
Now in addition to the prepared not needing to fear, this same theme is expanded and it's the righteous who need not fear.  Righteousness and preparedness seem to go together when it comes to not fearing.

Nephi goes on to say:
And now I, Nephi, declare unto you that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness. And the righteous need not fear, for they are those who shall not be confounded, but it is the kingdom of the Devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh. For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world and to do all manner of iniquity — yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the Devil — are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake. They are those who must be brought low in the dust, they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
Nephi adds to the discussion who does need to fear, tremble and quake in the last days. It's Churches built up to get gain, and get power, and popularity... all these as well as those belonging to the kingdom of the Devil, engaging in iniquity are the ones who need fear.  We may never associate ourselves with membership in the Church of the devil but Nephi warns us "all" churches have gone astray.  Is it possible we have attitudes, beliefs, or ideas, or accepted doctrines that are part of the Church of the devil?

We're warned in other places "For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” We're also warned that the devil lulls people to sleep with carnal security, assuring them "all is well".  The phrase "all is well" appears calculated to alleviate fear.  But what happens if it was a lie?  What if all is not well?  I think Nephi is trying to help us prepare and seek the Lord's righteousness and be prepared with God so we need not fear but can intelligently prepare. 

So what is righteousness anyway?  How man measures this is usually outwardly.  The higher the church calling the more the perception that the person must be righteous.  Sometimes wealth will also contribute to perception of someone as righteous.  If that's true than the LDS church is extremely righteous.  Righteousness is also often measured against ones religious traditions.  Possession of a temple recommend, the right haircut, the right clothes, staying in line with the Church, following the current Church leaders etc.

The best explanation of righteousness I've heard is that righteousness is conformity to the Divine Law. God measures differently than man.  Being “righteous before God” may not mean the same thing one thinks “righteousness” means. Man wants outward signs, symbols, dress, grooming, and conformity to religious traditions. If you appease your religious traditions, you are often viewed as righteous. But God looks at the intent of the heart. Righteousness comes by obedience to God, not conformity to man's philosophies or traditions. It's obedience to the Lord’s commandments.  And those are found in the scriptures.

I've recently read a lot of the counter arguments to the BofM's authenticity.  However when I read and study the text, it contains things that bring a person closer to God and contains numerous examples of people ascending to God and coming to know Him.  It teaches how to prepare, so that we don't fear.

When life has endless things to fear, and you have to think about the future, and all the fearful possibilities, my favorite response to that is that we should "Prepare for a full life".  I love that.  Preparing for a full life includes all the common sense things we should do, practical communal skills we should learn, health remedies that make sense, talents to develop, education to gain, with faith rather than last days alarm.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

Come Follow Me Manual - Mormon 8

They were distributing the new 2020 Come Follow Me Manual a few weeks ago at Church.  This year study is focusing on the Book of Mormon.  I randomly flipped through and stumbled upon page 171. 

I thought I would take the manual's advice and go see what Moroni's bold warning for our day was.

It said to ponder whether there are any signs of these attitudes and actions in my life and gave references.  My life of course refers to me personally but my life also includes my Church and what I see and hear around me.  And it asks what I could do differently.  I took this seriously.  

I read some of the verses and in green I have included some musings, as suggested by the manual.

Moroni: 8 35 Behold, I speak unto you (Ok so he's talking to the reader, people who are reading the book.  He's not talking to someone who's not reading his stuff) as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  (Christ showed "us" to "him".  He knows full well what we're up to and what goes on behind corporate closed doors.  Christ of all people showed him.  So whatever he says I accept as representing Christ's view of our day, rather than any other alternative view of our day. He says he's talking to US)  
36 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, (ok, we all know pride is a very common issue warned about in all scripture, but he's saying his readers are proud and lifted up.  That would be the Mormons.  Meaning his readers see themselves above others, or that they are religiously superior, or think the scriptures apply to everyone else except them.  Only a few don't participate in this) unto the wearing of very fine apparel, (so our clothing is an issue apparently.... the way we dress (most likely referring to our Sunday dress) is causing us to have pride. Clothing does have a way of establishing social classes and you're looked down upon if not dressed nice enough.  But there are many other non physical "clothes" one can wear.  We can be clothed with pride, or envy or any manner of things) unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches (Ok, so he's no longer talking about personal behavior, now he's talking macro level, he's talking "Church" level, this is "systemic", institutional level stuff,), yea, even every one, (Ok, no exceptions, got it.) have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  ("every one" of our churches has become polluted! Because of pride of the heart.  It's our hearts, the seat of our understanding, our feelings are puffed up).  Dang, this is a bold message.  Now I'm really concerned, because that would include us since he saw us, is talking to us, and it's Christ who showed him this.  If you want Christ's point of view, Moroni gives us some insight.  Our "Churches" are among those that have become polluted.  That's awful news, and makes me feel terrible, and yet, there it is.  Having now been warned, I need to see if this glove fits.) 
37 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.  (Ok, now he's giving bold examples, and not holding back.  He says we love money more than the poor.  It's a proportion.  He didn't say you don't do anything for the poor, he said you love money MORE than the poor.  Preferring to hold on to the money than help the poor, needy, sick and afflicted with it.  Preferring to spend instead on all the adornments we put on our Churches.  Taking care of all those buildings and the grounds is a very legitimate, enormous, and ongoing cost.  I mean Mormon properties do look very nice.  Those statues made of marble at the temple visitors center in Rome Italy I understand cost many many millions of dollars.  Moroni says we love these types of things more than the poor and needy and afflicted.  That money could be used for the needy if the priorities were different.  But Moroni suggests the priorities are all out of whack.  The world has a lot of poor, the Church itself has a lot of poor and sick members inside it.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported again on the Churches previously hidden fund of  $100B dollars and reported an account executive as saying the fund was kept hidden for fear of tithing contributions slowing down.  It was among the best kept secrets in the investment world.  That fund alone could keep the church running indefinitely without another contribution ever.  As of this writing, that fund is one of the largest financial funds on the planet.  A BYU ethics professor commenting on this even said the Church lacks the infrastructure to even spend this amount.   

The only way to accumulate $100 Billion dollars of excesses is to value it's accumulation more than disbursing to those in need.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also Jesus taught (Matthew 6:21).  The Church publishes and was very public about quantities donated over the years.  The Church reported 2 Billion since 1985.  The proportions are very clear. 
This 100B was reported to be what was leftover and accumulated after operating expenses had all been taken care of.  These are excesses by any definition.  Said be a rainy day fund for the last days).  

James 5:1-3 had something to say about amassing wealth for the last days:
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
38 O ye pollutions, (Is he talking about smog?  Or industrial waste?  Or is he talking about people and pollution inside Christ's Church that amount to errors and false teachings that pollute the Gospel? ye hypocrites, (How rude..... he claims we say one thing, but do another.  What on earth could he be talking about? Do we as a Church say one thing, but do another?  Has this been a pattern in LDS Church history?  To publicly say one thing but do another?)  ye teachers, (ok, so it's the people who are in positions to teach that are now being referred to, apparently not everything taught is true, even if the teaching is received "very well".  The people are misled by what is being taught, so it's not just the low level members who are to blame for all this pollution, it's teachers doing the teaching who inject the pollution) who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? (Wait what?  There are teacher in these Churches that sell themselves for that which will canker? And this pollutes the holy church of God?  So what did these teachers sell themselves for?  We know from other scriptures the big hitters that canker are: Money. Popularity. Prestige. Honors of men. Wealth.  Does this ever happen inside our Church?  Do any of the high level teachers make money?  Or get popularity?  Or prestige? Or Honorary degrees?) Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?  (We take upon ourselves the name of Christ at baptism so surely this isn't referring to us right?  What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ anyway?  Is it possible our traditions assure us we have done this at baptism but in reality we think little of it other than to attend church on Sundays?  Is it possible that instead of seeking Christ and His ways, we as a Church seek for praise or popularity with the world?  Do Mormons seek popularity?  Do we seek a positive public image and hire enormous PR and legal firms to accomplish it?  And call all of this preaching the Gospel? I cannot be prideful after reading these verses because they strip the pride away.  I honestly believe Christ did show our day to Moroni)    
39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?   (He asks a good question, why do we adorn ourselves and Churches with lifeless stuff while the living people in need go without and go unnoticed?  This is a particularly nasty assessment and the question is heart pricking.

After seeing a homeless man downtown one time, the friends I was with said that we didn't need to give to him because the Church will.  All we need to do is give to the Church and the Church will take care of the poor was the general idea.  And besides if the poor would just go to their local leader they could get help, and they passed by the person in need and didn't pay them any notice.  I remember the scene and have pondered it ever since.  I disagree, I believe we should help the beggar and not turn our disciple responsibility over to a Church.  When we donate direct, 100% of it goes to the recipient.  When you give to an organization, they often keep some of it.  The Church won't allow you to see or know what happens to your donation after that.  They take ownership of it, and provide no transparency.) 

The manual wasn't kidding, this IS a bold message.  The manual asked what could I do differently.  Wow.  I think what I could do as a result of these verses is succor the poor, and not ingest false and polluted teachings from cankered religious teachers.  I also want to learn more about what it means to take upon me the name of Christ and go do that.  I bet there are levels of coming to Christ and I'd very much like to take Christ up on his invitation to fully come to Him. 

Other things I can do are not let any shaming fingers pointed at me distract my focus away from Christ and the fruit of the tree of life He offers.  I can avoid praise of the world and seek for Christ rather than popularity.  I can notice the sick and the afflicted and the needy.  Rather than relying on some big religion to take care of them.  I can notice them myself.  I can repent.  There is something deeply satisfying about turning away from pollution and towards the breath of fresh air Christ offers. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hollywood bias, religeous bias

To some degree I think Hollywood and end of the world survival movies (as well as certain aspects of religion) have biased us to see ourselves always in the role of survivor rather than among the millions and millions who are wiped out.

Similar to seeing ourselves as Nephi, rarely Laman and Lemuel. Always the righteous, never the wicked, always the religiously correct, never the religiously blind, always the followers of the true prophets, never the false ones. Always the pure (good-enough), never the corrupt scheduled for disaster.

Pride seems to over-identify with the victors of history and heroes of scripture.  It's blinding.  I noticed this in myself years ago, and have since tried to repent.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The tools we need

Today we had what the news was calling a "super storm" after the Super Bowl last night.  Bunch of snow, cold temps, many schools cancelling classes. 

I went in late to work because the roads were terrible and I had another project going on at home.

I took Legacy Parkway in Davis County and was driving safe for the conditions. But due to snowplows up ahead merging into I-215 south, cars were backing up. I couldn't slow down even though I had plenty of room. It was one of those horrible situations where you just have to watch yourself slide hopelessly towards disaster in front of you. I tried to swerve to the other lane but turning didn't change my direction even 1 degree.  The last ditch effort was to go full turn the other way and end up down the median embankment. That sounded preferable than rear ending someone and dealing with the airbag in my face.

Thankfully there was some tire traction in that direction so I missed the guy in front of me by inches and ended up down the embankment. There was no way I was getting out of that. I called a tow, which was 2-3 hours away.  Due to my position I wondered how dangerous it would be to stay there and possibly get rear ended myself.  Apparently it's very common for slide-off's to themselves get hit. 

Anyway, about 10 minutes in I get bored and a guy stopped to help so I got out to thank him. With my car nose pointed somewhat down the slope and with 10+ inches of snow having fallen in that area there was no chance of escape, but I went to the trunk hoping for at least a coat as I hadn't brought one. While trudging to the trunk in short sleeves I saw a black piece of what looked like roadside plastic garbage under the car and so I yanked it out to throw it. And guess what it was?? haha. A shovel. 

Of all the freeway between my house and SLC I happened to have slid off the road down an embankment, precisely over the top of a dirt shovel. A shovel perfect to dig myself out. If my car hadn't pushed the snow off of it by driving over it, I may have never seen it. It strikes me as damn near impossible such an alignment occurred between my car and a random shovel on the side of a random median drainage ditch during a huge snowstorm. The guy who stopped to help looked at me with my newfound shovel and we just laughed.

Took a few minutes but me and my new friend James got the car out and I canceled the tow. Of the 200 + accidents in SLC this morning and who knows how many tow's, I feel lucky to have probably been their only cancellation all day.  I love it when the tools we need to get unstuck are right there for us.  Undeserved.  But accepted with gratitude.

I couldn't help but think of those for whom there was no magic shovel.  My conclusion was that I needed to be that for someone else.  Helping each other promotes good will quickly.