Tuesday, May 31, 2011

D&C Section Sixty

The men who were commanded to come to Missouri and learn where the place set aside for Zion and the temple were, have done all they were supposed to do and are now commanded to return to Ohio. Some will remain in Missouri to continue the work, and those returning are not supposed to be in such a hurry that they fail to teach the gospel along the way. The Lord indicates he's not happy with some because they will not "open their mouths, but hide the talent which I have given them." I know from my long years of teaching that the best way to learn something is to teach it and that's certainly true of the gospel, just like the saying we've all heard that the way to strengthen your testimony is bear your testimony. When we teach and bear testimony, we not only have to know what we're are talking about and think about what we're are saying, but it is when we do those things that the Spirit bears witness so we not only know intellectually but also spiritually.

As the men preach along the way, they are commanded to shake off the dust from their feet when they are rejected by wicked people. Shaking the dust off of one's feet did three things, it lifted the responsibility to teach those particular people, it indicated that they have been diligent in trying to teach them, and it placed a cursing, usually the loss of the Spirit, on the people. On rare occasions, the apostles in the scriptures have cursed a place with a physical cursing such as destruction. But most often, the people are left to "simmer in their own stew" and lose the opportunity to learn.

Monday, May 30, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Nine

During the trip from Kirtland to Nauvoo, Polly Knight, the wife of Joseph Knight senior became very ill. She refused to let them stop on her behalf because it was her dying wish that she would stand upon the land of Zion before her death. Even though they nearly lost her along the way, she lived long enough to see her dream come true. She became the first member of the church to die since the restoration began. On the day of her funeral, August 7th, Joseph also received this revelation. In it, the Lord blesses the members great promises after this life if they have come to the land of Zion with an eye single to him. The Lord reiterates the ten commandments with some differences. In the first commandment to love the Lord with all our hearts, he adds, "'and in the name of Christ thou shalt serve him." Another thing added is the command to thank the Lord in all things. One important for our day is he says thou shalt not kill, then adds this caveat, "nor do anything like unto it." I think abortion fits that perfectly and believe that those who perform abortions and those who have abortions (with certain exceptions) will be held responsible for the lives they have taken. I believe abortion is the most selfish sin of our time and pornography is not far behind.

Another important teaching in this section relates to the sabbath. The Lord tells us we should do no other thing than worship, be reverent, and have cheerful hearts of thanksgiving. I know I deny myself a lot of blessings for the way I keep the sabbath sometimes. I think if we were to realize the blessings of the sabbath, we would not want to do anything else but keep it in the appropriate way. We would find ourselves more at peace, more prepared for the coming week, more content and happy.

Two other teachings in this section are, the things of the earth are for the blessing of man. Everything that comes from the earth, all plant life, all of the animals, are given for the sustaining and enjoyment of man and as a reminder that God is pleased to provide for us. The second is stated very plainly, that nothing offends God more that those who do not see his hand in all things and refuse to keep the commandments. To me, to deny God is to deny life itself.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Eight

The members of the Colesville saints have arrived in Independence and on this Sunday, services are held and Joseph receives this revelation. I don't believe this revelation was understood by the saints at that time. They had great zeal to build the city of Zion and the temple and assumed it would be in their day. But Zion is such a far reaching principle, stretching well beyond our imaginations today. The Lord tells them that they will not see it with their natural eyes, that there will be much tribulation before the city is built, and he tells them they are laying a foundation for the future work. There is nothing in the revelations that tells the early saints that it will be built in their own time. But who can blame their excitement? They have already sacrificed so much for the cause of the gospel and overall, their motives are pure. The Lord is telling them to buy up land, to dedicate the temple site. It would have been easy to assume it was coming in their day.

There are some wonderful teachings in this section. One is, the Lord is not going to command us in all things but expects us to use our own initiative. He urges us to be engaged in good causes, to be agents unto our own selves. To me, that means he trusts me to make my own decisions and will honor those as long as I'm living righteously. I like the idea that he's not going to tell me every single thing I should or shouldn't do. There is no growth in that.

Another teaching is if a person repents of his sins, the Lord remembers them no more. Now he knows all things, and undoubtedly can remember all things, but he blots these out as if they never existed. Like it says in Ezekiel, those sins will never be mentioned again. That should be the same rule for us. If a person seeks forgiveness, we should offer it and then forget about whatever they may have done. The Lord also says the way to tell if someone has repented is he not only confesses but forsakes the sin and does it no more.

Lastly, I like that the Lord tells the saints to do all things in order. I take this to mean to be patient, not force things, but allow things to take their own natural course. Sitting back and letting things unfold is hard sometimes. It would certainly be hard for these saints because what would unfold would be terrible.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Seven

Joseph and the other brethren have traveled about a thousand miles across three states to Independence, Missouri. It has taken them more than a month to make the trip. To put it in perspective, it is about the same distance the pioneers traveled coming to Utah. The only difference was, there was more civilization for these brethren than there was for the pioneers. When they arrive in Independence, Joseph says it was a place of degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy. He said the people were a century behind the times and it was a land without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion. Independence at that time was basically a trading post where the Sante Fe and Oregon Trails began. The prophet brought the brethren there as a result of the commandment of the Lord. They came with the expectation that they would learn where the city of Zion would be built. Through the Book of Mormon, they knew that it would be built on the American continent.

In earlier revelations, they learned it was in the west. Seeing the primitive conditions, the prophet prayed asking the Lord when the land would blossom in fulfillment of all the prophecies related to Zion. No doubt, they initially had to wonder if such a place as this would really become Zion. But the Lord revealed in this section that this was the place where the city of Zion would be built and for the first time the Lord teaches that where Zion is, there will be a temple also. The brethren are given three assignments, to set a printing business, to set up a store for supplies and earn money to purchase land, and to purchase land. The assignment to purchase land has not ended as their are men assigned by the church to purchase land in Missouri and specifically land in the Independence area. It seems I read once that the church is the largest single land holder in Missouri.

The principle of Zion will taught more extensively in later sections. And while the saints of the early church never did get to experience Zion or see the city built, these verses and sections will become increasingly important as we get closer to the second coming of the Lord. I would guess we will really sit up and take notice when the church gains possession of the temple site in Independence and begins building a temple there. That should stir a bit of excitement, more than any temple that has ever been built.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Six

Ezra Thayer was involved in the problems in Thompson, Ohio. He was one of those who was to provide land for the saints. He was also commanded to go to Missouri as a companion to Thomas B. Marsh. When the time approached, Ezra was not ready to go and rebelled so the Lord revoked his commandment to go to Missouri and appointed Selah Griffin to take his place. There are some who get upset when the church changes something. When the temple endowment sessions were changed from live presentations to filmed ones, there were members who claimed the general authorities had lost their way and were altering something sacred that shouldn't be. It's important to remember that the Lord's principles never change, only his practices and procedures do.

Ezra Thayer rebelled and if there is one sin that is probably repugnant to the Lord it is rebellion. He says his anger his is kindled against the rebellious. Satan was cast out for rebellion. A person who rebels is one who actively and violently resists and fights against something. It would have been one thing for people like Ezra Booth and Ezra Thayer and others like them to just say, "Fine, you do it your way. I'm leaving because I don't believe in what you believe." and then just walk away. But these men couldn't. The Lord accurately labeled the source of Ezra's problems, pride and selfishness. Another example of someone who rebelled in Kirtland was John Boynton. He was educated, had great zeal for the church and became an apostle. But by1837 Boynton was shouting, "Joseph Smith a fallen Prophet!" Boynton joined with apostates in seeking to demean the Prophet in the eyes of the Saints. He tried to establish a new religion, and take possession of the Kirtland Temple. One morning before a temple service, he entered the temple armed with a pistol and a bowie knife and sat in the Aaronic Priesthood pulpit. After the service started, Boynton led other dissidents and rushed into the congregation threatening to "blow out the brains of the first man who dared to stop him from controlling the temple. He was arrested, repented and was reinstated as a prophet. But it was not lone before this rebellious spirit got the best of him and he was excommunicated.

In this section, the Lord also warns the members of the church in three ways. He warns those who "seek to counsel in [their] own ways, [whose] hearts are not satisfied and find pleasure in unrighteousness." The second warning goes to those who are rich and won't help the poor. And the third go to the poor who are not humble, who are never satisfied, but are not willing to work and support themselves but take from others for their support. Those are definitely three major problems in our society today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Five

It's only been 14 months since the church was organized and things are happening at a rapid pace. William W. Phelps arrives from the east with his family and tells the prophet they are ready to do the Lord's will. The first thing the Lord counsels him to do is to be baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, to teach the gospel and provide the same blessings to others. He is also counseled to travel with Joseph Smith to Missouri and begin a printing business and supply school books for the children. A year later, the printing business is established and along with the books, he publishes a monthly church magazine. This is then destroyed by the mob. William and Joseph become very good friends, but later, after William becomes a president of the priesthood, he is rejected by a vote of the various congregations. He becomes bitter and signs an affidavit that results in the prophet and others being arrested and put in Liberty Jail. Following this, he is excommunicated. While the saints are in Nauvoo, he writes to Joseph Smith and asks for his and the church's forgiveness saying he would be happy to be in the lowliest position if he could be among the saints again. His letter, and Joseph's reply, have become famous because they reveal the nature of both men, especially William's humility and Joseph's ability to forgive. In Joseph's reply, he mentions the bitter experience they went through because of Phelp's actions, but he says that all of that is behind them and welcomes him back, closing with the letter with the quote, "Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last." There is an account where Joseph sees a person waling up the path to his home through his window. It is someone who had been out of the church. He leaped out of his chair and ran to him and threw his arms around him and both men wept. We don't know if this was Phelps, but it shows Joseph's ability to love and forgive. William came west with the saints and became a prominent citizen and leader. He helped write the constitution for the state of Deseret. He also wrote some of the most famous hymns of the church including "Praise to the Man Who Communed with Jehovah."

I love the story of William W. Phelps. Mostly because it shows the power of forgiveness. Too many people let a single event in their life, a transgression of some kind, weigh upon them to the point that they do not feel worthy to be in the church or among its members. And so even though they believe in the church, they become estranged from it. They end up robbing themselves of happiness and the freedom from carrying a burden that does not need to be there. I think what they do not understand is, the point of the whole gospel is forgiveness. Everyone is in a repentance process, trying to change, trying to be better. In and out of the church, most people want to do better and be better people. What the atonement does is lift the burden of the mistake and set the person free. This is such a great blessing that is not taken advantage of by enough people. Instead of being free, they keep something hidden in a dark corner all through their life letting it haunt them or weigh them down. I remember a friend, who was a bishop at one time, telling me of a woman who came to him in her sixties and confessed something she had done as a young girl. She had needlessly carried the burden all of those years. Here was a person who had led a good life, was a good person. Her burden was lifted but there was no reason for her to carry that weight on her soul all those years and let it sap much of the joy in life she could have experienced. All of us can take advantage of this. Sometimes we need to talk to a bishop, most often, we just need to talk to the Lord and then trust in his ability to remove the burden. He will forgive us and lift it, and then we only need to forgive ourselves and let it go. William W. Phelps could have stayed in Missouri. But what a difference it made in his life and the lives of others he blessed when took the steps to have his burden lifted.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Four

When the branch of the church from Colesville, New York arrived in Ohio, it had previously been agreed that they would settle on land in Thompson, Ohio near Kirtland. This land was owned in large part by Leman Copley and Ezra Thayer. The saints in Thompson had entered the law of consecration as had the members from Colesville. Soon after the Colesville saints settled in Thompson, Copley and Thayer backed out of the agreement throwing everything into confusion. Newel Knight, who was responsible for the Colesville saints went to Joseph Smith for direction and this revelation was given. The Lord in this revelation tells the saints from Colesville that they are to continue on to Missouri, appoint a leader among them for the journey, and when they arrive in Missouri earn livings and work until they receive further instructions. The saints from Colesville were among the most faithful group of saints in the early church. Probably no group of members was willing to sacrifice more than they did. They are referred to again and again throughout church history.

Friday, May 20, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Three

Sidney Gilbert was an astute businessman. He came to the prophet after a great deal of prayer wanting to know what the Lord would have him do in the church. The Lord first reminds him that as an elder, he is always to be teaching the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel. The Lord doesn't call faith, repentance, baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel. But they are reiterated so often by the Lord throughout the scriptures that the church has given them that moniker. Then the Lord told him he was to be an agent to the church and assist the bishop. By being an agent, he was to apply his business talents in helping the church to manage its affairs. When applied to spiritual purposes, business talents can be as important as spiritual talents. When they get to Missouri, the church will call upon Sidney a great deal. The Lord also assigns Sidney to make the trip with Joseph and Sidney Rigdon to Missouri with the other 28 who were assigned in Section 52. Imagine what you would learn about and learn from the Prophet Joseph Smith walking a thousand miles with him.

The other two things the Lord counsels Sidney to do are to forsake the world and endure to the end. I believe that when the Lord tells us to forsake the world, he means to stay away from those things that would alienate us from him. The apostle Paul tells us to not conform to the fashions of the world, meaning the evils of the world. This also relates to enduring to the end. With each action in our lives, we should ask ourselves, "Where will I end up by pursuing this?" "Where does it take me?" When it comes to enduring to the end, and as I get older, I'm more sensitive to the question of, "Where will I be at the end of my life?" Where we are at that point determines our eternal destiny. As someone said, "Our past, whatever mistakes it contained, becomes insignificant if we have come to the truth, repented of our sins, and are living in harmony with Jesus Christ." Rather than follow the admonition of "What would Jesus do?" I prefer to think, "Is this what I should do?" We always know the answer deep in our hearts. It takes courage, moral strength and self-honesty to answer it correctly and act accordingly.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

D&C Section Fifty Two

Satan manifested himself by overcoming some of the elders at a conference that was held on June 3, 1831. Two of the elders, for example, could not speak. Joseph Smith cast Satan out by the power of the priesthood. This was a strong lesson for the elders who from this time forward, were given the power to exercise their priesthood in various ways. 28 elders in this section are designated to take a mission to Missouri where another conference of the priesthood is going to be held. They are told to preach along the way. This is no small journey as it's over a thousand miles they will be walking just to get there. The Lord gives them counsel in how not to be deceived as they travel. The pattern the Lord gives in this counsel is a description of a person whose actions and attributes are acceptable to the Lord and will identify those who are truly influenced by the Lord. A person who fits this pattern is:

1. Someone who prays
2. Someone who is contrite and humble
3. Someone who receives the Lord's ordinances and obeys them
4. Someone whose language is soft, meek, and uplifting
5. Someone who recognizes the Lord's power and receives it
6. Someone whose works and teachings reflect the truth found in the revelations of God

This is not only a good way to recognize whether someone is a true representative of God, it is a good way to pattern our life if we are going to be followers of the Savior and the gospel.

It's interesting that in this revelation, they are told that land in Missouri will be for their (the saint's) inheritance and they will be told where Zion, the city of the new Jerusalem, and the temple will be eventually be built. But in telling them that land in Missouri is for their inheritance, the Lord also says that is currently the land of their enemies. They had no idea at this point, what the Lord meant by that or the persecution that awaited them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

D&C Section Fifty One

Edward Partridge is the bishop in Kirtland and many saints from the eastern states are coming to Kirtland so he wants to know how he is to provide for their needs. Many of these people have given up everything to come to Kirtland and are in need of help. In this revelation, the Lord explains how the law of consecration is supposed to work. Notice that while a person consecrates everything they own to the church, the person receives "according to his circumstances, and his wants and needs." Then the Lord asks that each person be honest, likeminded and united. If they are, everyone will be provided for as well as having what they want and need. The Lord describes living this law as a privilege. We pretty much do this with tithing and fast offerings today and I believe it is a privilege to participate in such a great work where the church is able to do so much for its members, for the poor, and all of the humanitarian work it does around the world.

There is one last interesting teaching. The Lord explains that they will live in this area temporarily. And even though it isn't permanent, they are to live as if they were never going to move. I think that is a good lesson for not only where we live, but callings we have, and assignments. If we live and act in such a way that we always try to do our best, live our best, and take care of our possessions in the best way possible, then we will not only prosper more and bless the lives of others more, we will receive the promise the Lord makes in verse 19. "And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord and shall inherit eternal life." With our actions, eternal life is as much practical as it is religious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

D&C Section Fifty

As new members came into the church, many of them tried to bring along some of the strange practices of their former churches. Some of them were convincing enough that other members believed them. In this section, the Lord explains how spiritual things are given and received and the thing I like about the way the Lord works is its simplicity and common sense approach. One of the reasons I was initially attracted to the church is the doctrine made sense. There was nothing mysterious or strange. Like Joseph Smith said, the truth tastes good. It feels right and is clarifying rather than confusing. And there are no wild rantings, strange histrionics, or over the top emotional acting with the Spirit. Spiritual experiences are always calm, peaceful, personal and dignified. Even when it becomes necessary to cast out evil spirits, the Lord says it must be done in a dignified manner.

In this section, the Lord gives a pattern for recognizing and receiving truth. He also teaches that those who are responsible for teaching the truth must do it according to his pattern or truth will not be revealed. The pattern he gives is this; if a person is going to teach spiritual knowledge, they must first be ordained or set apart. Then what is taught, must be taught by the power of the Spirit. Teaching that is not accompanied by the Comforter is not truth because the Holy Ghost will always accompany and witness what is true. When something is taught under the influence of the Spirit, the person receiving must also have the Spirit. The wonderful thing is, when the person teaching and the person receiving both have the Spirit, both end up being enlightened and taught. I think that is one reason I love to teach the gospel. Missionaries who teach by the power of the Spirit will literally see the person they are teaching come under the influence of the Spirit. At the same time, they feel it also. Both end up receiving the witness of the Spirit and both learn from the experience. The Lord goes on to say that when a person is free from sin, they can receive all things. At the end of the section, the Lord promises the pure in heart that they will hear him and see him.

Monday, May 16, 2011

D&C Section Forty Nine

The Shakers were a religious group who demonstrated their spirituality by rolling around on the floor, shaking (obviously), crying out and anything else they could physically do so show they were overcome by the spirit. They also didn't believe in marriage so it's easy to see how they would die out after a while. They also abstained from eating meat. Lyman Copely was a Shaker who joined the church and then with Parley P. Pratt and Sidney Rigdon, was sent to preach to them. Lyman felt that if the Shakers were taught, they would accept the gospel like he had. So they went to where the Shakers were near Cleveland and tried to teach the gospel and also read this revelation to them. The Shakers didn't accept them and pretty much kicked them out. This bothered Lyman so much that he left the church.

I think the format the Lord uses in this revelation is interesting. He first declares that he is the author of the revelation and instructs the people to believe on him. Then with that faith, they should repent and be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. He then explains the importance of marriage between a man and a woman so that the earth can answer the ends of its creation. We don't often think that the reason the earth was created was so that families could be formed. Families are the organization of things in heaven and our families here will be continued there. It's not by accident that we turn to our families, stick together as family, and yearn for family when it isn't there. Those without families have a basic yearning for that association. Adopted children have a yearning to know who their birth parents are. People naturally seek to find out who there ancestors were, who they belong to in history. These yearnings are not coincidental or without reason. And the one basic reason that families often fail is because one or more members fail in these principles of the gospel that were given to the Shakers. Undoubtedly, the Shakers felt strongly about their beliefs and flourished for a while. But without faith in and a correct understanding of Christ; without repenting and changing their lives to conform to Christ's standards, without baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, eventually they came up empty just as individual lives will come up empty, missing something they can't put their finger on it. They look for it in different causes and different people. Stars and heros eventually come up short. They seek but don't realize know exactly what they are seeking for. One of my old missionary scriptures in Amos describes it like this, "And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord and shall not find it." Job describes it as "groping in the dark without light."