30 May 2009

The Witness of the Book of Mormon, Part 1

There are three recent General Conference talks that relate to this essay. All have to do with the Bible and Latter-day Saint beliefs about scripture. This is an important doctrine because unlike most other Christian religions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in modern and ongoing revelation to prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In April 2008 Elder Holland gave a talk, "My Words...Never Cease" about ongoing revelation. In it he also gave a brief history of the Bible. In October 2007 Elder Nelson spoke on Scriptural Witnesses. In April 2007 Elder Ballard spoke about The Miracle of the Holy Bible.

I'll start with a quote from Elder Holland.
For centuries after John produced his writing [Revelation], the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after A.D. 1000.2

The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be,3 then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease.”4
The Bible did not generally exist in the form it has today until over a thousand years after the Savior's life (although there are very rare copies of the Bible from the 4th century that are similar to what we have today; the Codex Sinaiticus is one example). "The Hebrew Bible-the Old Testament-as Jesus knew it, consisted of from twelve to twenty such scrolls of different sizes. They were never united into what we could call one 'book' until the invention of printing made that possible, in the fifteenth century" (Edgar Goodspeed, How Came the Bible?, p.10 as cited by Robert Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet, p.5). Committees of scholars and Church leaders decided on what they believed to be the most authoritative and authentic books to include in the Bible. However, the books of the New Testament that are accepted into the modern canon were generally denoted as canonical by about 400 AD (Millet, Selected Writings, p.9).

28 May 2009

Truman Madsen Passes Away

This morning Truman G. Madsen passed away at the age of 82 after a battle with bone cancer. He was one of my heroes. I love his lectures and his books. I was honored to have attended one of his lectures while I was at BYU a few years ago. He had a wonderful lecture style that showed his incredible depth and breadth of knowledge. I'll miss his keen insights and his voice; there's something comforting about his voice. I love all of his work, but one that has strengthened and touched me deeply is his biographical series about our modern-day prophets. It is available on CD and as a book. His works about Joseph Smith are wonderful as is his series of philosophical/gospel lectures called, Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights (the link goes to a site where you can purchase the audio lectures digitally {as MP3s}); I've listened to those lectures at least 20 times on cassette. If you haven't read or listened to his works, I highly recommend them. I'll copy en masse what LDS Living wrote about him. You can also read a short biography on his website.
Truman Madsen, well known LDS scholar and educator, died this morning after a long battle with cancer.

Madsen, a grandson of Heber J. Grant, was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City. He developed an interest in his Church heritage at a young age and would eventually become a recognized expert on Joseph Smith and one of the most popular lecturers among Church members on LDS topics.

After serving a mission in Canada and studying at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California, Madsen received his Master of art and PhD in history and philosophy of religion from Harvard University. Part of his legacy includes his work with leaders of other religions to better understand Mormonism.

A prolific author, Madsen has written numerous books, including Eternal Man and Christ and the Inner Life. He contributed to the five-volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of Mormonism and served as an editor for the project.

His most recent project took a similar vein his DVDs called On Sacred Ground, with this series devoted to walks in the Holy Land. The DVDs, called The Eternal Christ, include Madsen’s deep insights into and testimony of the Savior’s life. They are scheduled to be released this summer.

He served in the Church as a bishop, stake president, president of the New England Mission, and executive assistant of the Temple Square visitor’s center. Most recently, he served as the patriarch of the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. He also served previously as director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

“Truman Madsen mastered the weighty matters, the themes of eternity, in a far-reaching range of interests: philosophy, scriptures, Jerusalem, Joseph Smith, and temples,” said D. Kelly Ogden, a friend and former associate director of the Jerusalem Center. “He has left deep impressions in ‘lives without number,’ in a worldwide context—as a professor, guest lecturer, commentator and writer, as a stake president, a mission president, as director of BYU's Jerusalem Center, and especially in his key roles as husband and father. The legacy of his brilliant mind and fervent spirit will live on for generations to come.”

Peter Johnson, who worked closely with Madsen on several projects, including On Sacred Ground and the upcoming The Eternal Christ, recalled Truman’s unique traits. “One of the things I will always remember is his humor and compassion. Everyone who knew him thought they were his best friend. And that tremendous love just reached out and touched any individual he had dealings with,” he said. “He was such Christ-like man.”

“Truman really is an amazing man," he concluded. "He is one-of-a-kind a man of tremendous intellect combined with faith and testimony. I’m so thankful that I was privileged to spend the intimate creative time that I did with such a profound thinker and man of God.”

Madsen and his wife, Ann Nicholls Madsen, are the parents of four grown children.

26 May 2009

A Wellspring of Eternal Life, Part 2

Water is a powerful force - in large amounts it can destroy nearly all life. It can also be used and controlled to bring and sustain life. The Lord's control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: "And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake" (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord's prophet. [Image by Andrew.gd].

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms.

I am always thankful to have clean water to drink and use. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. The Lord gave Moses power to turn water to blood, in the hope that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go free: "And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood" (Exodus 7:20). This blood was symbolic of the Savior's atoning blood that provides the power to free Israel spiritually. The Lord also gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism in part symbolizes the cleansing of our sins but baptism is also a covenant we enter into with our Father and an ordinance He has commanded us to receive. Baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Jesus turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior's atoning blood.

I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. "Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing." We, as we follow the Savior, will become like watered gardens. These promises are both physical and spiritual but mainly spiritual. We will be well watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a wellspring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

Link to Part 1 of this essay.

24 May 2009

A Wellspring of Eternal Life, Part 1

Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and the varsity scouts. On both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification due to the various microorganisms in it, especially giardia. If we had not purified our water, the results could have been drastic and long-lasting. If we did not have water, we would not have survived the hikes, or at least would have barely survived. [Image by Hypergurl].

We preferred the spring water because it did not take as much effort to process as did stream water, which needed filtering or boiling or iodine to be pure. When we were able to get water from springs we did because the ground naturally purified the water. It was water for which we did not work hard to procure but still reaped its benefits and blessings – we were like the Savior's disciples who were told: "I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor" (John 4:38). Even though the spring water was naturally pure, we still filled our bottles as close to the source as possible, to avoid the impurities that enter once the water leaves its subterranean origin.

Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Potable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. "Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh" (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.

When the earth was created, water covered the face of it (see Moses 2:2). The Lord commanded the waters to gather together and the dry land to appear (see Moses 2:9). Water was there from the beginning. Water was used to cleanse the earth of the gross wickedness in Noah's day. Water is used literally, metaphorically, and symbolically throughout the scriptures.

23 May 2009

Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time

For any who are struggling, who feel despondent and hopeless, for those who suffer or sorrow because of sickness, sin, or loss, for those who seem surrounded by stormy seas without lifeboat or lighthouse, the new Mormon Messages YouTube video with a selection from a conference talk given by Elder Cook can provide solace.

Even in our pain and suffering, we can find comfort by helping others in need. The Savior atoned for our sins and sorrows, He provided a Balm in Gilead to heal our infirmities. He showed us the way to hope and happiness. In our trials we can follow the Savior and find the comfort in serving others.

20 May 2009

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 5

Education, as stated previously, is a major focus within the Church. We have been counseled to gain as much education as possible. It has always been a major focus within my family. It was expected that we would work hard in school, well at least do well in school. Both of my parents graduated from college. My father has a master's degree and a JD. All of my siblings (there are 7 of us children) graduated high school, attended BYU, and graduated from BYU. Some of us have advanced degrees as do some of my brothers-in-law (I have a lot of sisters). I'm currently working towards a PhD. However, education does not stop there. Further, light and knowledge and truth do not come with degrees; in other words, you do not have to have any college degrees to learn. In fact, sometimes degrees get in the way of learning, at least learning what is really important.

As I wrote before, the most important education to receive - the most important knowledge to learn - is spiritual. "O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Nephi 9:28-29). Worldly wisdom and learning are good only if they build upon and do not detract from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another reason for the strong focus on education within the LDS Church are the following verses in the Doctrine and Covenants: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:18-19). Just as knowledge we gained in the previous life as spirit children of Heavenly Father continued to some degree with us in this life (i.e., what we have in this life is in part due to what we did in the premortal existence), so will our knowledge and faith gained and grown in this life rise with us in the next. I think it is important focus on the word rise in verse 18. Our intelligence will rise in the resurrection. It will grow and develop. Intelligence is not a static state - it is something that can grow and be nourished unto the perfect day.

The prophet Brigham Young taught much about education and learning. I'll include a few key quotes. "Inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has designed us to know all that is in the earth, both the good and the evil, and to learn not only what is in heaven, but what is in hell, you need not expect ever to get through learning. Though I mean to learn all that is in heaven, earth, and hell. Do I need to commit iniquity to do it? No. If I were to go into the bowels of hell to find out what is there, that does not make it necessary that I should commit one evil, or blaspheme in any way the name of my Maker" (Discourses of Brigham Young {DBY}, p.249).

"Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all science and art belongs to the Saints [i.e., we accept all good and all truth]" (DBY, p.253). "Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular" (DBY, p.258).

"There is no ingenious mind that has ever invented anything beneficial to the human family but what he obtained it from the one Source, whether he knows or believes it or not. There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom; and though men may claim to make their discoveries by their own wisdom, by meditation and reflection, they are indebted to our Father in Heaven for all" (DBY, p.260).

Faith accepts all true science. Further, it is through our faith experiments that we not only nourish the tree of life but also the tree of knowledge. We accept all truth. As we experiment upon the word, the power of the word is revealed. This power is sharper than a two-edged sword; the power of the word is the power of eternal life. This powerful word is Truth. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we love truth. As Pres. George Q. Cannon said, "It is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found" (as cited by Robert Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet, p.13).

18 May 2009

Helping Those in Need

I read a story on CNN.com about a pastor at the Cross Timbers Community Church in Texas who told his congregation that as the offering plate went around, the members should feel free to take some money if they needed it. The church had a recent decline in offerings given purportedly due to the weak economy. Because of this, the pastor decided to allow his congregation to take money if they needed it; he figured some probably needed the help. I thought it was a nice story about people giving even in their need. It is nice to read about others caring for the welfare of their neighbors, just like the Savior asked us to do.

What is interesting is that this is viewed as such a novel idea! One church member said: "You don't hear about a church giving money away." I think it is a sad commentary on many churches, or at least on people's perceptions of churches, if a church giving money away is a rare occurrence. I do not know if that is true or not but for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church giving money to others is nothing new.

One Sunday in every month (typically the 1st) is designated a day of fasting. Church members fast for at least two meals and are encouraged to donate at a minimum the money they "saved" on the meals to the church. This is not a requirement, no church member is required to pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the ward or branch (the smallest, local congregation), then in the stake or district (a collection of wards or branches), then in the broader church (although it might still stay in the general area - e.g., southeastern United States - first). The LDS Church has a lay ministry, which leads to a fairly small overhead (although the upkeep on LDS Church buildings is not "small" but the Church does not pay salaries to any of the local leaders). All overhead for these fast offerings (which overhead is quite small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.

Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Separate from but related to this, the LDS Church has a large Humanitarian Services program that provides aid to those in need around the world. Tithing also pays overhead for this program, meaning that all money donated to LDS Humanitarian Services goes to help those in need.

Here's an example of the LDS Church's Humanitarian Services.

Here are a few statistics about the LDS Church's Humanitarian Services (these do not include tithing or fast offerings).

Humanitarian assistance rendered (1985–2008)

Cash donations $282.3 million
Value of material assistance $833.6 million
Countries served 167
Food 61,308 tons
Medical supplies 12,829 tons
Clothing 84,681 tons
Educational supplies 5,965 tons
Hygiene, newborn, and school kits 8.6 million

While the amount donated is impressive, what's important is that members of the LDS Church collectively and individually try to live the teachings of the Savior and honor His call to take care of our neighbors, wherever in the world they might live.

17 May 2009

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 4

Faith experiments and science experiments are similar in some ways. One of the similarities is that both seek knowledge; rather, through both, the experimenter seeks knowledge. Because knowledge is so important, learning is a major part of both. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are commanded to seek wisdom and knowledge: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). This verse relates perfectly to the faith experiment because it tells us that because "all have not faith" we need to seek wisdom and learning. Wisdom and learning help nourish the seed of faith, helping it grow.

Education is a vital part of life. Education is not just vital, life-long education is vital. We started learning as spirits living with our Heavenly Father. He taught us and had others teach us. We all progressed to various points, some learning more and some less than others. Then we came to earth, receiving bodies that allow us to continue to grow and progress. We also are able to learn spiritual and temporal things. Life-long education need not be formal, although receiving as much formal education as possible is a great goal. We can continue to learn and study on our own by seeking wisdom and knowledge out of the best books. We can and should study the gospel. We can and should study as many good topics as interest us.

Formal education is important because it helps teach you different ways of thinking. Learning in general exposes you to new ideas and new experiences, which help broaden your understanding of the world. Gaining a formal education also allows you to provide better for your self and your family. It also can lead to more free time with which you can do more church service. I've always thought it interesting how educated in general the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are. Most have higher education degrees and many have advanced degrees. Within the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, most have advanced degrees.
  • Pres. Monson has a bachelor's in business from the University of Utah
  • Pres. Eyring has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard
  • Pres. Uchtdorf has a degree in business administration as well as being a highly respected military and commercial pilot
  • Pres. Packer has an Ed.D. from BYU
  • Elder Perry has a B.S. in business from Utah State University
  • Elder Nelson has an M.D. from the University of Utah and a PhD from the University of Minnesota - he is a world-renowned heart surgeon
  • Elder Oaks has a J.D. from the University of Chicago
  • Elder Ballard attended college but I'm not sure if he graduated - he was a successful businessman, however
  • Elder Scott has a bachelor's degree but he also received the "equivalent to a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but due to the classified nature of the work, a formal university degree could not be awarded" (Source)
  • Elder Hales has an MBA from Harvard
  • Elder Holland has a PhD in American Studies from Yale
  • Elder Bednar has a PhD in organizational behavior from Purdue
  • Elder Cook has a JD from Stanford
  • Elder Christofferson has a JD from Duke
  • Elder Andersen has an MBA from Harvard
That's quite a list of education accomplishments (and I didn't even touch their other accomplishments). 11 of the 15 apostles (Quorum of Twelve plus the First Presidency) have advanced/professional degrees or the equivalent thereof. However, the greatest accomplishments these men have experienced are at home and in their church service. Every one of them gave up their careers in order to answer the call to full-time church. They do set a wonderful example of education and the life-long pursuit of learning. Contrast the current apostles' education with that of Joseph Smith. He had little formal education but he continued to study and learn his whole life. He learned new languages; he studied the sciences; but most importantly, he studied the scriptures and the gospel; he was taught directly by angels as well as the Savior. He was one of the most intelligent and understanding men of all time.

15 May 2009

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 3

While the goal of science is to uncover truth (at least in theory) and the goal of a faith experiment is to understand truth, the means and methods to those goals are very different. Further, the goals are also very different, although both science and faith seek truth. Gospel Truths are Eternal. Science truths may or may not be True. Actually, most scientists do not state that they are discovering truths, they state they are seeking facts, as I wrote previously. But facts are manufactured, they are created by humans. That does not mean they are untrue, they just do not happen to be the same as truth. In a faith experiment the goal is Truth but again, Truth is not on trial, the experimenter is. In a science experiment the goal may be truth but that truth is on trial; however, the experimenter is not.

I think that is why Alma's seed analogy for the faith experiment is perfect. Experimenting with faith is not like science, it is like gardening (to which scientific principles can be applied, if wanted). For the tree of faith to grow, it is best to prepare the soil first, to make it ready for sustaining the faith seed. Soil often needs preparation - tilling, softening, fertilizing, and so forth in order to best sustain life. Once the seed is planted, it needs water, additional fertilizer, weeding, and other nutrients and protections. Now, many seeds can grow just fine in hostile environments and even in spite of the lack of care and nourishment but most of the time the plants that grow best with the least care are simply weeds - plants that are unwanted where they are and/or plants that serve little practical use. Some weeds are even noxious on top of just being annoying. On the other hand, most good seeds require much nourishment. The best outcomes occur when the most care is given.

The seed of faith, if given the proper care, eventually grows into the tree of life, which produces fruit that is more desirable than all other fruit and fruit that is bright and pure beyond all other fruit.

13 May 2009

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 2

In some ways, Alma's faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith, "Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow" (Alma 32:28-30; emphasis added).

Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they did this, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, will grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, that which is without end and never spoils.

In a science experiment you seek to falsify your hypothesis; in other words (and in theory), you try to collect all the evidence you can that you are wrong, then accept your hypothesis as supported if you don't find anything that contradicts that hypothesis. Again, in theory that's how science works. On the other hand, a faith experiment is almost the opposite; you try to do everything you can to find evidence that you are right - not wrong. That is how many scientists work, or at least people who are learning to be scientists, but that's very different than what scientists should be doing.

In a faith experiment you plant the seed, you nourish it, and care for it; you don't try to kill it and then, if it survives, call it a good seed - that's a science experiment. You do all you can to try to show that the seed is good - because it is. The truth of the Seed of Faith is not what is on trial in a faith experiment because the seed is Truth; what's on trial is the experimenter! That's why in a faith experiment we shouldn't try to falsify the seed - the seed is True - we should do all we can to support the seed. Additionally, in a faith experiment it becomes necessary to at least suspend judgment on things that - on the face - look like they disconfirm our hypothesis (e.g., doctrines or teachings or statements that we might not currently understand or that seem to not fit with science or general worldly knowledge). I wrote "on the face" because a lot of things or ideas that look like they are at odds with true religion are created or "discovered" by humankind, who are imperfect and sometimes dishonest. However, in science experiments ignoring data that disconfirm your hypothesis is poor science.

11 May 2009

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 1

"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).

The prophet Alma taught the poor on the hill Onidah about faith. He told those who were struggling with their faith to experiment upon the word. The word experiment is only found in the scriptures 5 times. One of those is in the New Testament but its use is not how Alma used it in his teachings (see 2 Cor. 9:13). The other 4 uses of the word experiment are all found in Alma's teachings to the Zoramites (actually, Amulek used the word once when he referred to what his missionary companion - Alma - taught about experimenting upon the word). Alma launched into an analogy of faith as a seed as he taught the Zoramites. Alma talked about planting the seed of faith in your heart, nurturing it, and watching it grow.

This may sound like a science experiment but this faith experiment differs from science experiments in a number of key ways.

One of the tenets of modern science is to seek to discover facts that lead to truth. Scientists study facts, which may or may not be true, while at the same time assuming that facts are Truth. Scientists only study that which can observed or at least indirectly measured. If something is esoteric like love, for example, then scientists have to create a working definition of love - things that are observable and quantifiable - in order to measure and manipulate it. The problem is that a particular working definition (e.g., kisses, hugs, time spent conversing, time spent holding hands, etc.) might not be a good representation of love. Further, if something cannot easily be quantified, it's at best left alone and at worst, attacked as non-existent and not important.

09 May 2009

Honoring Mothers

Mothers have always played a large role in the history of this world - starting with Eve and continuing on through the generations. God gave mothers a special role as the primary nurturers of all humankind. Mothers were given a divine calling in the pre-earth life to play their role as those who would raise and teach and love God's children. Jesus' mother saw an angel announce her role as mother of the Savior of the world; she saw her beloved Son give His own life as she knelt at the foot of the cross. She heard her Son ask His beloved apostle to care for her. Mary was at the birth and death of her Son. She saw Him resurrected. She kept many things in her heart and pondered them.

Mothers are very dear to the heart of the Shepherd for they help Him watch over and gather His sheep. They help raise the lambs by nurturing and protecting and teaching them.

On this Mother's Day, I want to share a few links to blogs or posts about mothers.

Nurture Mama always has great quotes and insights on parenting.

You can view all my posts dealing with motherhood by clicking on the label in my label cloud. Or, you can click on this link.

A few years ago I gave a talk called the Divine Role of Motherhood. I reproduced it on this blog:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Also, the LDS Church released this short video for Mother's Day.

Happy Mother's Day! I'm grateful for a wonderful mother who is still very influential in my life.

08 May 2009

New Website Design

I changed the design of my website. I like the wider text area as well as a number of other changes. Take a look at the LDS Church Links tab at the top for some nice javascript menus (I did not create this). Let me know your thoughts about the new theme, particularly if there are any problems you notice. To me, the fonts look much nicer on my Mac than on my Windows machine.

07 May 2009

BYU Speeches - Elder Holland

I've been enjoying listening to the New BYU Speeches podcast (link opens in iTunes). As soon as I subscribed, I downloaded two of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talks. The most recent was a BYU Devotional given in January 2009. It's called Remember Lot's Wife. It is one of the best speeches/talks I've heard in a long time (and all of Elder Holland's are wonderful). I've listened to it 3 times in the past 2 days.

The whole talk is great but here are a few quotes I think are particularly important (although that's a bit like saying we'll just focus on the eyes of the Mona Lisa while ignoring the whole painting).

"There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life—either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist...."

"When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal..." (emphasis added).

"Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the 'high priest of good things to come.'"

He also threw in one good joke: "Now, as a passing comment, I don’t know whether Lot’s wife, like Miniver, was a drinker, but if she was, she certainly ended up with plenty of salt for her pretzels."

Again, I think this talk is one of the best I've heard (it reminds me a bit of Elder Holland's talk An High Priest of Good Things to Come, which was given during the October 1999 General Conference). It's available in the New BYU Speeches podcast I linked to earlier. It's also available on the BYU Speeches website with a free PDF, free html, and a free MP3 of the talk.

06 May 2009

On Grace

Clean Cut has a new post about grace. I think it is a wonderful post that we all should read. Historically, we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placed more emphasis on works than grace, or least to much of the world it appeared that we did. In the mid-1900s the LDS Church redesigned its logo to place more emphasis on the words "Jesus Christ" in the name of our church. This was not done because we previously did not emphasize the Savior, it was done so that all people (including all of us as members of the LDS Church) better understood the centrality of the Savior and His Atonement in our lives and to our church. It wasn't a shift in focus or doctrine, it was just a subtle way to remind us and all the world that we do believe in the Savior and His Atonement and grace.

With this emphasis of the Savior in the LDS Church's logo came an increased discussion and clarification about LDS doctrines about grace and works. Again, it was not a shift in doctrine, there was simply an increase in the dialogue with people of other Christian churches about LDS doctrines about the Savior. What some members of the Church started doing was trying to make sure members of other Christian churches (and our own!) correctly understood our doctrines. It is in light of that background that I believe Clean Cut wrote his post (if I can ascribe motive to him); in other words, I believe he wrote his post to help members of the LDS Church as well as other Christian churches better understand the role of grace in all our lives.

Clean Cut wrote:

The other day I read an article titled "How to become a Christian" by Billy Graham. I was actually quite impressed. I thought it was good and I couldn't find a single thing I disagreed with. (This must mean I'm a Christian after all, despite the fact that some probably think Billy Graham should have inserted a disclaimer: "unless you're a Mormon, in which case this won't work for you").

I especially liked how he described Christ's free gift of salvation. Naturally, we don't pay anything when we receive a gift. The giver of the gift pays for it and we receive it joyfully, ever grateful for the giver of the gift. Graham writes:

"The word grace means 'undeserved favor'. It means God is offering you something you could never provide for yourself: forgiveness of sins and eternal life, God's gift to you is free. You do not have to work for a gift. All you have to do is joyfully receive it."

He then goes on to talk about how to demonstrate commitment back to Christ as a response to the free gift of grace. (We Latter-day Saints would also have more to say about how to appropriately respond to Christ's grace, namely, through covenant). But in short, I think it was simply an excellent article.

I wrote a comment to his post, which you can read on his site. However, I felt that the topic warrented a post on my blog. I'll use my comment as a basis for my post. To fully understand my comment in its context it is best to read Clean Cut's post first. :)

What I wrote was (with some mild editing):

Great post. I think the only quibble, and it's a very small one (and I even hate to quibble [or use the word quibble] because I don't want to come across as pedantic or dogmatic), we as Latter-day Saints might have with Billy Graham's statement is that we do not have to work for the gift of eternal life.

As Mormons our definition of eternal life is a bit different from our definition of salvation, although the two are highly related (salvation is essentially a superordinate category with eternal life a subset of that category; all eternal life is salvation but not all salvation is eternal life). For most other Christians, they are not different.

While we do not earn the gifts we receive from the Lord, we do need to place ourselves in a position to receive the gifts. Firstly, we all chose to come here to earth and support the Plan of Salvation. Coming to earth is a wonderful blessing we did not earn, per se, but by our choices to come here, we were placed in the condition where we could progress further along the road to salvation.

Similarly, we do not earn forgiveness but we do place ourselves in a position through repentance in which we can receive forgiveness. Further, we do not earn resurrection but we did make the decision to come to earth, which decision placed ourselves in a position where we could receive the blessing of resurrection. That decision also places us in the position where we can additionally all receive some measure of glory in the next life - but again, we did not earn it.

It's the same with eternal life. Those who are faithful in receiving and keeping the necessary covenants and ordinances place themselves in the position where they can receive the gift of eternal life. Did those who receive this gift earn it? No, that's the grace of God, but they did expend the effort, however large or small, to receive that "bicycle."

So, my quibble is with the statement that we don't have to work for the gifts. We do have to work for them but that does not mean that we earn them; that does not mean that we purchase them. We give our hearts, as Clean Cut said, which means we give our wills to our Father in Heaven. That is work but it's not earning salvation. It's like standing out in the sun rather than hiding in the shade. Do we earn the light? No, but we did walk out of the shade.

The Lord gives us everything; all we are required to give in return is our all, especially our wills. That may seem like we are "purchasing" our salvation; we are not. The Lord gave us everything, all we are doing is giving Him what is rightfully His. His grace is free; of the Lord it was written, "Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price" (2 Ne. 25:26; see also Isa. 55:1 and 2 Ne. 9:50). Is there anything more beautiful than that beckoning call?

05 May 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 8

The story of the Good Samaritan reminds me of the scripture in Ezekiel about the shepherds who do not watch over their sheep. "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd" (Ezekiel 34:2-5). We should serve others and emulate our Savior. Of the Savior Isaiah prophesied:

"The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;...to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; tat they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified" (Isaiah 61:1-3). Just as the Good Samaritan cared for him who was broken and poured oil into his wounds in order to cleanse and purify them, the Savior applies the oil of joy for our mourning. He binds up the broken and the brokenhearted, freeing them from the captivity of pain, sin, and sorrow. In our own way, large or small, we too can help bind wounds and free captives. As we do this unto our brothers and sisters we do it unto the Lord.

"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God." (Moroni 7:13). We should do that which is inspired of God - that which invites us to do good continually, to love God, and to serve Him. As we seek wisdom out of the best books, study the words of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, and serve others, we do that which is best - that which leads us back to our Father in Heaven.

Link to part 7 of this essay.

03 May 2009

Six Destructive Ds Video

I previously quoted a portion of Elder Kevin W. Pearson's talk Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave at the April 2009 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It turned out to be a fairly popular post as far as my blog is concerned so I created a simple video of the "6 Destructive Ds" portion of his talk and uploaded it to YouTube.

02 May 2009

Do Good and Love God, Part 7

What are various ways we serve God? The Savior said, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40). How we treat other people is important. Jesus taught that how we treat others is how we treat Him. In other words, if we serve and help others it is like serving and helping Him. Actually, that is not true. When we serve and help others we are serving and helping the Lord. The Savior lived a life of service and sacrifice; He also taught of service.

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee" (Luke 10:30-35).

Samaritans were, to many Jews, unclean, apostate people. However, the Levite - a member of the priesthood class - and the priest - who may have been returning from or headed towards his temple service - both ignored the man in need. The Samaritan man took care of the injured in his immediate needs and paid for his further care. He was the one who served God, unlike the Levite and priest, by serving and saving his neighbor.

Link to part 6 of this essay.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin