Friday, February 25, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-nine: Continued

There are three or four other important teachings in this section. I think all of this would have been new to some point to the members. One is, all commandments to the Lord are spiritual. I take this to mean that every commandment has spiritual implications and ramifications. Obedience to any commandment increases spiritual power and sensitivity.

Insights into the fall of Adam and Satan are given in this chapter. With Satan, we're told that the issue with him was power. With those who followed him it was agency. I believe, and there is no doctrine to support this, that the third who fell with Satan chose to follow him because he was their only hope in their minds. They felt sure they would fail in mortality and Satan's plan promised them exaltation at no risk. We should remember that Satan held a high position in the pre-mortal life and was undoubtedly convincing and persuasive. He would have known how to manipulate those who were weak into following him, perhaps not unlike how Hitler so easily manipulated the German nation.

With the fall of Adam, he became spiritually dead or separated from God, and would die physically also. God knew this would be the result so he provided the Savior so that both deaths could be overcome for Adam and all of the posterity who would follow him. With this, the Lord gives some important things to remember. He says, many will not be redeemed from spiritual death because they do not repent. These people will receive the "wages of whom they list to obey." Like President Kimball once said, we never underestimate the sin, we underestimate the consequences.

D&C Section Twenty-nine

In this section, the Lord reveals and much the world didn't know and clarifies much the world didn't understand. Everything in this section relates to the second coming and the millennium. The Lord lists some of the very unpleasant things that will happen prior to his second coming when he "will reveal [himself] from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof, and dwell in righteousness with men on earth a thousand years." The "hosts thereof" are the twelve apostles who will be at his right hand, and everyone else who has loved him and kept his commandments. Unbelievers dismiss this as a fable; I see it as a reality. And if you read the scripture closely, you will see how things are moving in the direction of what the Lord tells us will happen. So many signs of his second coming have already been given. What are listed in this section are not all of the things that will occur. There are many more prophecies in the Book of Mormon and Bible. The ones in this section are the cataclysmic ones that will occur prior to his coming. Here are the ones the Lord tells us in this section:

The sun will be darkened.
The moon will become red like blood.
Stars will fall from heaven.
There will be much weeping and wailing.
There will be great hailstorms.
There will be plagues of flies and maggots that will eat the flesh of men and their flesh will fall from their bones and their eyes will fall from their sockets.
Beasts and birds will feed on the bodies of men.

Also at this time, the wicked will be destroyed. And along with that, just as the devil and his angels were cast down to earth from the presence of the Father in the pre-mortal life, they will now be thrust down to hell. No evil will be left on the earth so that everyone will be able to live in peace. We have not lived in a country without peace so we cannot appreciate that as well as others. But according to the prophets, peace has been taken from the earth and the wars and distress will eventually spread throughout all nations.

I think it's important to remember that at the beginning of the section, the Lord instructs us to "lift up our hearts and be glad." A strange instruction maybe, but the Lord reveals the great promises that wait for those who have chosen righteousness. He tells us there must be a gathering so that the righteous are in "one" place. I believe that has two meanings. One meaning is there will be a single place where there will be a physical gathering of saints. This will become the central headquarters of the church and the place from where the Lord will rule his kingdom during the millennium. The other meaning is places of holiness such as temples. Our homes can also be such places. It is in these places that we can have the protection of the Lord. But it is our responsibility to be in the right position. God doesn't create our moral nature, only we can.

More on this section next time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-eight

Hyrum Page and Oliver Cowdery married daughters of Peter Whitmer. It was from the Whitmers that Hyrum learned about the restoration of the gospel and church. Hyrum found a stone that was 5 inches long, three inches wide, a half inch thick and had two holes in it. Hyrum claimed to receive revelations through it that told him where the New Jerusalem would be and how the church should be governed. A number of members believed the revelations including Oliver. When Joseph learned of this he was naturally concerned because if all members began receiving a revelation on how the church should be governed, chaos would be the only result. So he asked the Lord about it and Section 28 was the revelation he received. This revelation was directed at Oliver and the Lord tells him that the Lord will appoint no one other than his prophet to receive commandments and revelations for the church. The prophet is the one who holds the keys for revelation which were bestowed in this case by angelic ministers. To receive revelation for the church, you have to have been the divine keys to do so.

Oliver is instructed to correct Hyrum Page and Hyrum seems to accept it. He becomes one of the eight witnesses to the plates and the Book of Mormon. Hyrum would eventually go to Missouri where at one point he was severely persecuted. Mobs kicked in his doors and windows and then beat him with sticks to the point of death. He never seemed to get over this and left the church believing that Joseph was misleading the people regarding the scriptures, especially with regards to the location of Zion and the New Jerusalem. He never denied his testimony of the plates and Book of Mormon saying that Joseph's abilities were so limited he couldn't even pronounce Nephi's name correctly, and to assume that someone of Joseph's abilities could write a six hundred page book as correct as the Book of Mormon without supervision was impossible. He states that he knew it was true in 1830 and he knows that it's true 1847 (years after he left the church).

The lesson to me is that you have to hold fast to what you know is true, that you can't put yourself and your desires above truth. And while people will fall short, or disappoint, or life brings tragedy and conflict, truth still stands and will continue stand long after at the storms end and our difficulties are gone. It is never easy to remain stedfast in what we know to be true. It's my belief that to do so is at the heart of integrity, and the ability to remain stedfast is what defines true courage. These two traits are never evident until they are tried and challenged. And when the dust settles, where we stand determines the integrity and courage we really have.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-seven

This revelation came about as the result of an angelic visit to Joseph who intervened in Joseph's efforts to find wine for the sacrament. Evidently, the wine that he was going to procure would have caused them physical harm. The Lord tells Joseph that it doesn't matter what they use for the sacrament, what matters is the place where the heart is when they partake of it. What's of more interest to me is the Lord reveals that at his second coming, a great meeting will be held where all of the great prophets will be in attendance from Adam to the present day. Also in attendance will be those who have kept their covenants. These are the members the Lord refers to in verse 14 where he says "those whom the Father hath given me out of the world." People set themselves apart from the wickedness of the world through keeping covenants. How we achieve that is given in verses 15 to 18 where the Lord gives similar verses to those of Paul admonishing us to take on the armor of God. President Harold B. Lee defined the armor like this: the loins represent virtue and chesty, the breastplate represents our conduct because are actions represent what is in our heart, the feet represent having righteous goals, the helmut represents our thoughts, and the sword is the word of God. These are also the parts of our bodies that represent our most vulnerable areas to Satan's influence.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-six

Joseph and Oliver were instructed by the Lord to ordain each other elders but were told they were to wait until they had the consent of the members of the church. This established the commandment that all things done in the church were to be done in the open and by the sustaining vote of the members. This protects the members from deception, the usurpation of the authority, and also places responsibility on the members. If the members had not sustained Joseph and Oliver, it would not have changed the fact of the first vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the visits by Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John and others, but it would more likely have closed the door of the gospel on those who rejected them. The Lord's word would have still moved forward. But that did not happen and the general membership of the church has always and overwhelmingly supported its leaders. If a leader were to fall, it would be known, such as in several of the cases in Joseph's time and like George P. Lee in our time.

I believe this is one reason why the church is sometimes perceived as being slow to move because the leaders are aware of the need for members to have time and preparation for major changes. Even though the technology was there, it was many years before the church changed the temple ordinances to include film presentation. And even though this made it possible for people to receive their endowments in a shorter and more concise format, saving them time, and allowing for temple work to be done for many more people in a shorter amount of time, there were many who complained about changing the ceremony. I believe the Lord is mindful of the members and does everything to protect them from deception and changes that would be rash and ill advised. He knows we will not be without mistakes, but the mistakes of the church are very few when you consider the difficult issues they face on a daily basis. And it is my feeling that when a mistake is made, the general authorities of the church are quick to acknowledge it and make the needed changes. Even at the local level, when you consider the number of wards and stakes now in the church, most run smoothly and are led by sincere and unselfish people. Unfortunately, some leaders at the local level are not always as wise and thoughtful as they should be, and members have to be careful to realize there is a different between the gospel and the building of the kingdom of God on earth and the misguided actions of am individual.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-five

This is the second of three revelations Joseph received in Harmony in July. He'll receive one more that is in the D&C in August. I think (and this is only my personal feeling) that Emma questioned why she could not see the plates. The plates were often right in front of her in her own home, but covered. She had felt them underneath the cloth and knew their size and had a good idea of their weight. This is a perfectly reasonable request in my mind. But the Lord counsels her not to murmur and tells her she is an elect lady. I think the Lord is protecting her. She had burden enough being the prophet's wife without having the burden of being a witness of the plates also. In the future, she would have more than enough to worry about and deal with without having the responsibility to preach. She won't have responsibilities in a church office until she becomes the first Relief Society President in Nauvoo. The Lord's referring to her as an elect lady may be referring to that future calling or it may simply pointing out that she is elect in the same manner that all women who covenant with the Lord are elect.

The Lord tells Emma that her calling is to be a comfort to her husband, with consoling words and to go with him and be by his side. I don't think the Lord means this in a subservient way at all. The Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, is also called a comforter, a being who we can rely on for constant companionship, guidance and support. As a team, as parents, and as the two people all families in the church will look to for an example, this makes sense. Emma is also called to create the church's first hymnal. This is no small matter. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of hymns that were popular at that time. It was different then because people knew the words to all kinds of sacred hymn verses. Whoever led the music would announce the words that would be sung and then the tune the words would be sung to. The words could be applied to a variety of different tunes that were sung in the various churches. So what Emma actually did was select the words of hymns that would be sung. She didn't select the tunes because the tunes were well known and usually chosen at the time the words were sung.

The Lord says that his soul delights in the song of the heart and the song of the righteous is a prayer to him. So many things have been said by the prophets and apostles and other inspired leaders about the power of music in worship. Here's just one example from President Harold B. Lee. "My experience of a lifetime, and particularly in the last thirty-two years as a General Authority, convinces me that the most effective preaching of the gospel is when it is accompanied by beautiful, appropriate music." Some of my most powerful spiritual feelings and experiences have come through music. The sad thing is, today's music often has emotional impact but does not provide the deeper and lasting spiritual experience. It saddens me that most of today's society, and especially the young people, are not familiar with the great music that is available and are missing out on the opportunity to hear and feel what that music can bring into their lives.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-four

Joseph's time has been consumed with finishing and publishing the Book of Mormon. After the church was organized, he visited members in Manchester, Fayette and Colesville. We've talked about where Manchester now being part of Palmyra and Fayette being at the top of Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in central up-state New York, Colesville is now the town of Sanitaria Springs and lies north of Binghamton and was in the path Joseph would take traveling between Palmyra and Harmony, Pennsylvania. The Colesville branch of the church had been formed by Joseph and was one of the most faithful of any groups of saints throughout the history of the church. They stayed together as a group and continue to be called the Colesville branch after they left New York. For example, the Colesville branch made up the majority of members who joined Zions Camp in Kirland. They left as a group to Kirtland and then later on to Missouri and Nauvoo. In Colesville, they came under intense persecution led by local ministers who feared losing members.

It was in Colesville that the first real miracle in the church was performed. At this time, while Joseph was visiting, he was arrested twice for inciting a riot by preaching about the Book of Mormon. He was found innocent but suffered a great deal of persecution and opposition in the process. By the time he got back to Harmony with Oliver, it was getting late in the growing season and Joseph had not been able to tend his crops. As a side note, I was in Sanitaria Springs on one occasion and a man there told me how Joseph had announced to the people of Colesville that he was going to walk on the water of the Chenango River. He said during the night before, Joseph put planks under the surface of the water but the people snuck back and removed them and when Joseph tried to walk on the water he fell in and that's how they proved that he was a false prophet. I also heard a story in that area from an elderly woman how her grandmother used to talk about how Brigham Young sent men to kidnap their girls so he could marry and hide them inside the walls of the temple in Salt Lake City.

Facing the loss of his crops, the Lord tells Joseph in this section that his calling preempts his temporal needs, that the Lord will bless him spiritually and temporally if he will continue faithful. The Lord encourages Joseph to continue writing and speaking, to continue to pray and devote himself totally to his calling. If he does, the Lord promises Joseph that it will be revealed, sometimes in the very instant what he should say and write. He tells Joseph that he will need to endure afflictions, but promises that he will be with Joseph to the end of his life. I think it's interesting how the Lord tells them not to be concerned with miracles, except those of healing and casting out devils. The Lord promises that those who oppose them will eventually fail, and some will be cursed for their persecution of the church. From this time on, Joseph will have only brief respites here and there from the persecution and opposition that will follow him all of his life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-three

Given to five men concerning their desire to know what the Lord wanted of them, there is one phrase (among several) that I think is important. Four times, the Lord says, "Thou art under no condemnation." There is a divine standard given to us to be perfect and because of that, we get caught up in perfectionism. We need to remember that human performance is limited, but divine performance is unlimited. What we do will always be limited; what God can do is not, and understanding the difference between the two is key to our happiness, especially our happiness with ourselves. As someone said, the Lord doesn't require us to succeed, he requires us to try." The author T.S. Elliot once wrote, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." Meaning, the rest is something we shouldn't be occupied with. We live in a mortal world brought about by the fall. But for some reason, we won't allow ourselves to accept the condition that we have fallen into. We can't be perfect, so why condemn ourselves for it? We will fall short, so why berate ourselves when it was fully known we would and that's why there is a Redeemer. The word grace means gift. His acceptance of us, with all our shortcomings, is a gift that if we will receive it, we will learn that we are loved for who we are right now, regardless of our failings. I always have, and undoubtedly always will, identify with these words in the hymn "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing."

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it in thy courts above.

For all my shortcomings, all my wanderings, the Lord still knows my heart and its intentions. If he loves me in spite of myself, why shouldn't I? If we can learn this lesson, then what others think of us has absolutely no significance. We will not be concerned with those who see our shortcomings and dutifully point them out to us. More importantly, since we are our own worst enemy, we will accept ourselves in the way the Lord does and know that through his gift of grace, we will all eventually be where we need to be, and be there when we should be. If he's willing to let the tree take the time it needs to bear its fruit, so should we.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

D&C Section Twenty-two

The church is rapidly growing with new converts. Many of these converts were baptized by immersion in their previous churches and the question came up; did they need to be baptized again? The answer came in this revelation where the Lord compares the previous baptisms to dead works. I believe he calls them this because there is no life in them. What I mean is, the Holy Ghost does not ratify ordinances that are not done by the Lord's authority. There are many instances in the Old and New Testaments where serious consequences were had for doing an ordinance or work of the Lord without his sanction. Even transporting the Ark of the Covenant in Moses' time resulted in death if you were not authorized.

This is an important principle to me. If someone hasn't experienced the "life" that the Holy Ghost brings into the ordinances of the church, they will not know it is of the Lord. I was baptized twice in the Methodist Church. Once as child and again when I was about 18. I don't remember the first time, but I do the second because I had made the decision after conferring with my minister Rev. John McCormick, a man I had great respect for. His counsel was that baptism wasn't necessary, but if I desired to witness to the Lord my desire to follow him, then it was a good thing to do. It was strictly an intellectual decision. There was no relationship between baptism and repentance and the remission of sin as represented in the scriptures. I was simply telling the Lord I wanted to follow him. I was baptized during Sunday church services with my head being sprinkled with a few drops of water. I felt nothing before and I felt nothing afterward. This was far different then the days following my baptism into the restored gospel. After that baptism, and for weeks afterwards, my mind was filled with inspiration. Everything I read was witnessed by the Holy Ghost, whether it was a church book or the scriptures. I couldn't get enough of it. I read things as fast as I could because it seemed like the Lord was pouring pure knowledge into my soul. I don't know how else to describe it. I have experienced that many times since, but not as powerfully or for as long an extended period of time. The Holy Ghost literally brought life to me and opened my eyes to things I would not have understood before.

I have often wondered if Rev. McCormick ever somehow joined the church. More Methodist pastors join the church than any other protestant church. He would have made a wonderful Latter-day Saint. He was unselfish, kind and loving man, someone who was without guile. But he was also a man who was searching and told me so. There were many answers he wanted but had not been able to find.