31 August 2009

The Innocence of a Child - Part 2

One of the debts the Savior paid was for little children. Those under the age of accountability - age eight (and older if the mental capacity for accountability is not there) - are freed from the demands of justice by virtue of the Atonement. Jesus suffered in the Garden and on the cross so that little children would be redeemed.

I marvel at the price the Savior paid. The more I think about the Atonement, the more awed I am by it. My pains and sufferings in this life are nothing compared to the Savior's; yet, my sufferings and pains are everything to Him. He came to earth to pay the price for all our sins and sufferings. He paid in great drops of blood. He paid the measure due justice in His 40 day fast, in His fatigue, in His worry and sorrow; He paid with the lashes He received; Jesus Christ paid the debt as He carried His cross to Calvary until He could walk no more; He paid as He hung and died upon the cross. With His death came the end of His mortal work. He finished all His Father sent Him to do. He was the one true Son.

The Savior paid the debt owed justice. Mercy cannot rob justice. However, Christ did not just pay the debt, He also provides enabling power. The great prophet Enoch taught this principle many years ago:
"That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified" (Moses 7:59-60).
We all sin and fall short but the Spirit justifies us. The blood of Christ sanctifies us - we are not only free from blame but also pure and holy and are endowed with power from on high. We are able to act with the knowledge and power of God. We lose the desire for sin and are enabled and enlightened in all aspects of life. The Atonement enables us not only to do good but also be good. It enables us to live godly lives here on earth and prepare to live godly lives in the world to come.

The Atonement is the keystone of the Plan of Salvation. Without the Lord's sacrifice, all humankind would inevitably be lost. The entire measure of the earth's creation would be for naught; it would be but dross and refuse. But the Atonement did occur; Jesus did suffer for us. That means it is up to each of us to choose to accept that sacrifice by choosing to make and be faithful to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel. The Lord stands at the door; we simply need to open the door and let Him in.

29 August 2009

The Innocence of a Child - Part 1

"Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy" (Moroni 8:19).

Anyone who gazes lovingly at an infant sees a spark of divinity. Not all realize what they see but most recognize the innocence and goodness of infants. Some, however, do not fully understand the power of the Atonement (not that any of us "fully" do or will in this life!) and so do not understand that little children are declared innocent through the blood of the Lamb. They are clean and pure before God and absolved as we are all of Adam's transgression. Little children receive the pure mercies of God. For those of us who are older, we receive the conditional mercies of God. Some parts of the Lord's grace and mercy are unconditional such as salvation from death. On the other hand, even that is conditional because we had to keep our first estates and choose to follow God's plan of salvation and come here to earth. God's mercy is also conditional because it is based on the goodness of the Savior's life. In other words, the mercy of the atonement was conditional on the Savior offering himself as the unblemished sacrificial lamb.

There stands a great balance in heaven. When our lives are placed in the scale to each of us it is said, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting" (Daniel 5:27). With that we are subject to the demands of justice. Each of us is weighed down with the chains of justice. Justice is not always negative; in fact, justice is what allows us eternal freedom and progression. However, none of us as imperfect humanity can satisfy the demands of justice. We all fall short. We all incur great debt, a debt that none of us can repay. We are all like the servant who owed his master the king 10,000 talents (Matt. 18:23-35). That is an enormous sum none of us can repay. As merciful as God is, He cannot deny justice. Justice is a law that cannot be broken. The debt must be repaid.

There is One who is willing to pay the price of our sins. He not only is willing but also able to pay the debt that hangs in the balance. He is able to pay the price for all of us; He can pay for all of our debts combined, and then some. In this way is the debt satisfied. He fulfills the law of mercy while paying the debt due justice. Jesus Christ was the only One who could pay the price of sin and death. He only could unlock the way to Heaven to let us in. Cecil Alexander wrote of Jesus' sacrifice for us:

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do. (Source).

27 August 2009

The Curse of a Broken Law

"Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law." (Moroni 8:24).

As I read this scripture recently it really stood out to me. "For repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law." When we sin we go against our Father; we choose to disobey Him and follow ourselves, someone else, the world, or the devil. In sinning we are placed under condemnation. Condemnation is related to damnation but is often used euphemistically and temporarily. For example, we use the word condemned to refer to people who have been found guilty of committing a crime whereas we use the word damned more often in religious contexts. Condemnation thus usually refers to a temporary state of existence whereas damnation is long-term or even permanent (damnation could be short-term but most people tend to view it as chronic and not acute).

By sinning we are condemned; we broke a law and are made to wear cursed shackles. By sinning we turn away from the Lord and become a law unto ourselves. We reject our Father's plan; however, we can correct these errors through repentance. We can turn again unto the Lord. It is only in repentance that we break free of the curse and remove the shackles. Through repentance we no longer are condemned because we show our willingness to keep the commandments, which includes repenting of our sins. Through repentance we invite the Spirit back into our lives; by the Spirit we are justified - we are brought back into alignment with God (see Moses 6:60). Then through the blood of Christ - His Atonement - we are able to become pure and holy, losing even the desire to sin. We can pray for this purity; like Nephi of old we can plead that we might "shake at the appearance of sin" and have "the gates of hell be shut continually before [us]." (2 Nephi 4:31-32). What qualifies us for these blessings? Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 2 Nephi 4:32).

Through repentance we can sing with Nephi, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul" (2 Nephi 4:28). We have great reason to rejoice in the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ and in repentance of our sins.

We came to earth to see if we would be faithful to the truths we accepted in the pre-earth life even though we do not remember that life. Heavenly Father knew we would sin and fall short. He prepared a way through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. It was agreed that the Savior would provide the way to return to our Father in Heaven provided we repent in this life. "And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God" (Alma 42:4). We are all on probation to see if we are faithful to all we are commanded to do. "Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state" (Alma 42:13)

For what do we need to prepare? We need to prepare to live with Heavenly Father again. Even more than that though, we need to prepare to live the type of life God lives. In order to do so we need to be spotless and pure. We need to be sanctified and holy. I'll rephrase what I wrote earlier because it is important. Repentance puts us in a position to be purified by the Holy Ghost and sanctified through the blood and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Moses 6:60). That's the wonder of the Atonement - it allows us to become pure and holy like Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father are pure and holy. We can be perfect as They are perfect (see 3 Nephi 12:48).

Perfection seems such a lofty and unreachable goal for us, imperfect people. Perfection is just that though - a lofty goal. It is a process of becoming as our Lord Jesus Christ is. It is important to understand that although Jesus, when living as a mortal on earth, was sinless and divine, He was not perfect - not yet. He only became perfect after His death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven. While we should strive for perfection we need to realize that we will not and cannot be perfect in this life. Perfection is a holy goal to be achieved in the next life through the grace of Christ. As we repent, we can move out from under the curse of a broken law into the blessing of freedom and fullness that comes in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

25 August 2009

Science and Religion: The Creation

I do not generally write posts like this one but I had to comment about something I read today. Yesterday morning I saw a bumper sticker that had the following words: "Creationism is a product of the Christian Taliban." The inflammatory comparison is obvious but the whole statement is ambiguous at best (i.e., if you ignore the spurious comparison, the statement - according to a very narrow definition of creationism - could be interpreted as true by some).

First, the idea that the earth was created by a supreme being or higher power is as old as religion itself (actually, it's older than "religion"; besides, it is true). The broader term creationism simply refers to any idea that the earth was created. In this sense, that bumper sticker is blatantly wrong. However, the term creationism was not coined until the early 1900s, when conservative (fundamentalist) Christian groups started a major backlash against evolution (more accurately evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, which had all animal life - man included - descended from a common ancestor like branches on a large blossoming tree of life). Today some people equate creationism with intelligent design. However, while intelligent design is a subset of creationism, the two are not exactly the same. In other words, all intelligent design is creationism but not all creationism is intelligent design. It is only in this very narrow interpretation of creationism that the bumper sticker could be viewed as true (again, completely ignoring the inflammatory conservative Christian / Taliban comparison).

This we do know - the earth was created by Jesus Christ. We do not fully understand the process by which He created the earth (and the "heavens"). We can glean a few golden kernels from the book of Abraham. As an example, here is a selection from the creation story:

"And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time" (Abraham 4:17-19).

The first key point is that during the creation, "the Gods [a reference - at least - to the Godhead] watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed." Those involved in the creation watched and were active in the process until what they had ordered obeyed (i.e., finished the process They started and maintained). The creation took time; a lot of time. In fact, that is the second key point from these verses: "it was the fourth time." The creation did not occur in "days" it occurred in different periods of time. The Genesis rendering of the creation using the word "day" is not wrong because "day" can be used to reference a particular span of time - 24 hours on earth - or some other interval of time (e.g., a "work day", which might consist of 8 hours or some other length of time and might occur during the day or night; or, another example is where "day" is used to reference an event and not necessarily an actual time: "the day of vengeance of our God" {Isaiah 61:2}).

At least some scientific explanations of the origin of the universe and the earth can be interpreted as being in harmony with the gospel (one example is the Big Bang but I will not explain here how that can be viewed as being in line with the gospel). I've found that the more I study science, the more I do science, or just about anything, the more I believe in God. Non-believers may balk at that statement but when I see the beauty of the brain or in mathematics or physics or nature, I, like Alma, believe that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator" (Alma 30:44).

In the end, that bumper sticker I saw is nothing but a cheap political shot at Christianity (ostensibly it is only a cheap shot against Christian fundamentalists who deny evolution but it really is an attack on Christianity in general). We do not understand the creation. We do not even understand science and anyone who places his or her trust completely in science (or, at least the preachings of scientists) really does not understand science. It is in God that we must place our trust. Whenever science and the gospel seem to clash, there are at least two explanations: the science is wrong (or at least partially wrong) or our understanding of the gospel (specifically, the extent of what has been revealed or our understanding of what has been revealed) is incomplete. Unlike science, the gospel is never wrong. So for me, if it ever really came down to a decision between science and the gospel, the gospel would always win.

23 August 2009

Lessons from Life - Part 3 - Rappelling

As I was growing up, my family went rappelling fairly often. My father had spent a lot of time climbing when younger and had developed a great love of rappelling. It was not long after I first tried it that I loved it. I remember the first time I went rappelling. I was about 8 years old. The rock we went down was not large - maybe 20 feet tall - but to an eight year old, it was daunting. I was able to make it down under the reassurances of my father and family. It wasn't long before I went down without hesitation. There is something thrilling about bouncing down a cliff at a high speed. There were times that I would jump down 20-30 feet in a single bound, relying on the friction between the rope, my hand (when I planned on going down that quickly I wore a leather glove), and the figure-8 (a metal device that the rope slides around) to keep me from falling to quickly. I even tried going down head-first, which is not recommended if you have a serious fear of heights. [Image by Rescue Dog].

Rappelling is a dangerous activity. Yet, if proper safety measures are taken, it can be quite safe. When we went rappelling, my father made sure we were safe. Whenever possible, he would tie the rope(s) to two anchor points so that if one failed, there would be backup. We used to tie our own harnesses using nylon straps but we preferred to use manufactured harnesses. All harnesses were checked and re-checked to make sure they were on properly. We would use two carabiners to connect to the figure-8 (that the rope went around). These carabiners were set so the gates were on opposite sides. Whenever possible we would use at least one carabiner with a locking gate. As an added measure of safety, we would have someone at the bottom of the cliff who belayed. Belaying is a climbing term to describe the controlling of a rope. If someone were to slip down the cliff out of control, the person belaying at the bottom could pull the rope out away from the cliff and stop the person on the rope. They can also help guide the person rappelling down the cliff. Rappelling is safest when there is a person at the top guiding the person on their journey down the rope as well as someone belaying at the bottom.

Over time rappelling ropes wear thin. The tough outer layer of the rope can weaken with the friction of the people going down the rope as well as when it rubs against the rocks. Rappelling ropes are incredibly strong - they can hold thousands of pounds of weight and force. However, they become unsafe if their integrity is compromised.

As is rappelling, so is life. Life can be and is very dangerous but it can be a lot of fun. However, to survive - physically and spiritually - we need to establish safety guidelines and procedures. We need to establish them early and follow them. Others can guide us and help us remain safe as well. We have parents and prophets who can teach us correct principles. We can have safety in our personal lives, our homes, and within the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can find safety within Zion, the spiritual place where the pure in heart dwell and the physical city where the saints of God will eventually live.

"And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety." (D&C 45: 66-68).

As we anchor ourselves to the rock of Christ and follow the prophets and scriptures as our safety guides, we will be safe even as we experience some of the harrowing heights and even the thrills of life.

19 August 2009

Truman Madsen's Timless Questions, Gospel Insights - Notes Part 1

What follows is a transcript of my notes of Truman Madsen's "last lectures" called Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights. He stated that if he could give one last series of lectures, these are the lectures he would give. These notes come from the first of the lectures. The notes are quite disjointed - they are nowhere near an exact transcript of Truman Madsen's words; however and hopefully they still are interesting.

"What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? It doesn't matter" said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some philosophers speak of man as tripartite - three parts - nous, psyche, and soma: reason, spirit, and body. These three parts constitute the "soul" of man. What is manhood? According to Plato, it goes beyond this world. Truth, beauty, and good are the basis of much of Greek philosophy. These philosophies led to a change in Christian and Hebrew theology. Hamlet's famous musing: "To be or not to be" to a latter-day saint could be phrased "to become or not to become." This describes our potential. God is the ultimate extension of intelligence. God cannot create or destroy this - or Himself. We are all eternally self-existent. "Joseph Smith said, "God never had the power to create the spirit of man, for all intelligence is spirit..." We are beginningless. Greek notion - time is non-temporality. Joseph Smith also said [this is Truman possibly paraphrasing], "God found himself in the midst of intelligence and glory and was infinitely more intelligent. He set laws wherewith these intelligences could become exalted like himself." This is good doctrine; it tastes good and is sweet.

If there is no God [as some people claim], we have to go to the laws of chance to get everything. Start with mere atoms and get these remarkable selves [people]. This is a sad doctrine [in that] there is nothing to look forward to. This leads to existentialism - which is a philosophy formed around human existence. One branch of this is phenomenal logicalism. Sartre was part of this movement. He said that L'homme est une passion inutile - man is a useless passion. You create you from nothing - you are responsible to no one. Sartre also said, "Hell is other people" and he may be right. Existence precedes essence - you exist before you think. Then there is the threat of non-being; this is the ontological shock - we only exist as long as we project ourselves, our nature, on that around us.

We believe that we are stuck with ourselves forever. We must be a pleasant person to live with. You have a body forever. This is bad news if you are hard to live with; good news if you can live with yourselves.

16 August 2009

The Hollow Hedonism of Pride

Pride is ultimately manifest by and in Satan. Lucifer, or "the Shining One" was truly a "son of the morning (2 Ne. 24:12). After his fall from heaven, that son of the morning became the prince of darkness and the father of mourning. Of those who follow Satan it is said, "Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them" (Moses 7:37). We gain some insight into why Lucifer fell from Heaven in the writings of Isaiah. Speaking of Lucifer, "For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God..." Who are these stars? They are us! "I will sit also upon the [mountain of the assembly of the gods], in the [farthest north heaven]; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High" (2 Ne. 24:13-14). Satan said, "I want this, I want that." This is a very selfish and prideful mindset. He wanted to be above all; he wanted God's glory without any effort.

Because of this God said, "Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the [depth] of the pit" (2 Ne. 24:15). For, "the proud and lofty, and...every one who is lifted up...shall be brought low" (2 Ne. 12:12). An apostle stated, "One way or another, the grossly selfish will finally be shattered, whimpering, against the jagged, concrete consequences of their selfishness" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1999, p.25). As a result of his pride, that Shining One became degenerate like an "abominable branch" (2 Ne. 24:19) without root or fruit; yea, he became even "as a carcass trodden under feet" (2 Ne. 24:19). Those who walk a prideful path will find that instead of leading to celestial peaks, it leads only to the dark depths of the pit. The lives of those who follow the tempter's travesty of the truth, end up in tragedy.

What then is pride? "It is an attitude that commences with personal comparisons with others and leads to demeaning thought or oppressive actions directed at other sons and daughters of God" (Dallin H. Oaks, "Pure in Heart", p.96). Pride is as C. S. Lewis said, "the complete anti-God state of mind." God is "immeasurably superior" to us and "unless [we] know God as that - and, therefore, know [ourselves] as nothing in comparison - [we] do not know God at all. As long as [we] are looking down, [we] cannot see something that is above [us]" (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp.109-111). Proud men or women "preach and set themselves up fro a light unto the world" (2 Ne. 26:29). "They put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain" (2 Ne. 26:20). Pride is the great stumbling block. When men walk by the light of the sparks of their own conceit, their lives are full of shadows of darkness (see 2 Ne. 7:11). Christ is the true light of the world and when men walk by the light of any other source, their light grows dim and soon dies out. The proud who set themselves up as lights unto others, only set themselves up to become lost in the tepid mists of darkness. Since pride is self-centered selfishness that is also competitive, those who engage in this hollow hedonism will never focus on the true source of edification, which source is Christ. Those who seek to compete with God will never succeed. Their end will be a pitiful brokenness.

The natural man is a prideful creature, thus, steps must be taken to overcome this great sin called pride. The road one must walk to leave the valley of pride is not an easy path; it is an uphill journey but it leads to the exalted heights of eternal life. Overcoming pride is accomplished by humbly following Christ, even if and especially if that means treading the thorny paths that He forged. As we follow Christ we too need to take up our crosses. We must submit ourselves to our Father's will, even to the point of crawling forward on our knees. King Benjamin taught, "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you" (Mosiah 2:25). This is an important point to focus on. King Benjamin stated that we are less than the dust of the earth because the dust of the earth belongs to God. We are here on earth to show that we are willing to turn ourselves over completely to God. Christ ransomed us for Him but we must submit our wills to God's, else we do not belong to Him and, as Benjamin taught, in a sense really are less than the dust of the earth. Joseph Smith taught us that the earth "abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law" (D&C 88:25). The earth lives a celestial law, do we?

Those who do not humbly follow Christ are "in open rebellion against God" (Mosiah 2:37) for "no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon" (Matt. 6:24). He or she who is prideful and unrepentant is not following Jesus Christ and therefore serves the devil. Of these people the Lord stated, "They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall" (D&C 1:16).

Overcoming pride is essential to our eternal salvation. We cannot trust in the arm of the flesh because flesh is dust and corruptible and must waste away. God will never fail us. He is there as we seek Him. We must pray for humility. We need to repent of our prideful ways and turn our hearts completely to Christ. This is a complete submission of our wills to God's. Only with the power of the Holy Ghost can we create this vast change within ourselves! I was not completely correct with my statement. Only the power of God, of the Holy Ghost, and of Christ's Atonement can make this change within ourselves. However, we need to demonstrate effort. The Holy Ghost will teach us how to humbly follow Christ and submit our wills to God's.

Great power, even greater faith, comes to us as we are humble. With humility and faith we can work miracles. The greatest miracle will be to change from the old man of sin and be reborn as a new creature in Christ. As we are humble we may be instruments in the Lord's hands. The more humble we are, the more effective we may be. I pray that we may strive to live in humility and take upon us the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

14 August 2009

A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 10 - The Two Great Commandments

In this episode I present a talk about the two great commandments. It was originally prepared while I served in Seattle as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wrote it for a zone meeting we held. This podcast is a little different from others in that I sing a song (and play the piano) at the end.

If you've subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it's never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer 10 - The Two Great Commandments.

You can also subscribe directly from the iTunes Store by clicking on this link: A House of Prayer podcast (notice: requires and opens iTunes).

Let me know what you think!

Credit: The short music clip I use as an entrance and exit to the show is an arrangement of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from the album Reflections of Christ. Visit that link to find out how you can purchase the music (I'm not associated with the artists; I just enjoy the music).

The podcast album art is an image by Irwin-Scott. Check out his photo stream on Flickr. I thought his photo of the Salt Lake Temple would be a fitting image as a house of prayer. His night-time photo of the illuminated temple surrounded by darkness has a lovely symbolic meaning of the temple as a light on a hill, an ensign to the nations, a lighthouse shining forth in the darkness.

13 August 2009

Faith of Our Fathers: John Tanner

One reason we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focus so much on family history is because through studying about our ancestors we increase in our feelings of kinship with them. Part of the goals of the gospel include welding generations together for all eternity. As we read about our ancestors we might find our love and appreciation for them growing. I have a great love and respect for many of my ancestors but I'd like to share part of the life of one of them who was quite conspicuous in the early days of the church.

My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Tanner joined the LDS church in 1832 under miraculous circumstances. Two Elders, Jared and Simeon Carter, were in New York preaching the gospel. John Tanner was confined largely to bed due to a terrible and painful disease he had in his left leg. He did have a wheelchair that he used to move around though. When John heard these Mormon elders were going to be in the area, he wanted to attend the meeting to put them in their place and make sure they spoke no heresy or false doctrine. He never heckled them, instead inviting them afterward to his home. After a night of discussion with the brothers Cater, John wanted to be baptized. However, because he could not walk (and had not even been able to put his foot on the floor in six months), he didn't think he could be baptized. The elders asked if he had faith to be healed; he said he believed the Lord could heal him. Elder Jared Carter commanded him to arise and be healed. John said, "I arose, threw down my crutches, and walked the floor back and forth - back and forth, praising God, and I felt light as a feather." Shortly later John walked to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. With that miraculous beginning in the church, John never wavered.

John was a wealthy man with a large family. In the fall of 1834 he had a dream that he was needed in Ohio. He left shortly thereafter, arriving in Kirtland in time to loan the Prophet Joseph $2000 dollars (John came to Kirtland with $10,000 in gold and silver), which was needed to stop the impending foreclosure on the farm upon which the temple was being built. He also loaned the temple committee $13,000 in merchandise (which was worth considerably more there on the frontier in Ohio); in addition, he later gave money directly for the building of the Kirtland Temple. Further, he signed a note with the Prophet Joseph for $30,000 in goods purchased in New York (meaning he was financially responsible, in part, for the loan). Just for the money he directly loaned (he forgave some of the loans and did not get any of the other money back), its estimated worth in 2009 U.S. dollars is anywhere from $500,000 to millions of dollars. The $2000 in cash he directly loaned Joseph for the mortgage of the temple lot is the equivalent of roughly $50,000 today. John loved the Prophet Joseph and the church. John invested much of his money in the Kirtland Safety Society bank in order to support it and give it better financial grounding; the bank failed (along with a lot of other banks at the time) and John, who had gone to Kirtland with many thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise, left for Missouri with a "borrowed team and one old broken down stage horse, and an old turn pike cart, a cag of powder, and $7.50 in cash." John remained faithful. Many left the church after the Kirtland bank failed but John did not. He had participated in the glorious events of the Kirtland Temple dedication and knew and loved the Prophet Joseph. He had a testimony of the gospel and made the sacrifices he was asked to make.

Of the $2000 loaned to the Prophet Joseph, we have the following account. "At the April Conference, 1844, Father Tanner was called to take a mission to the Eastern States. Before starting he went to Nauvoo to see the Prophet, Joseph Smith, whom he met in the street. He held the Prophet's note for $2,000 loaned in 1835 [9 years previously], to redeem the Kirtland Temple farm, and in the course of the conversation he handed the Prophet his note. The Prophet, not understanding what he meant by it, asked what he would have him do with it, and Father Tanner replied: 'Brother Joseph you are welcome to it.' The Prophet then laid his right hand heavily upon Father Tanner's shoulder and said: 'God bless you, Father Tanner, your children shall never beg bread.'" The Prophet Joseph did not live long after that experience. John was able to forgive the loan directly to the Prophet before he died.

John was a faithful follower of Christ. He gave his all to the gospel and the Church and always remained true to the faith. John in no small manner was responsible for the building of the Kirtland Temple. He also donated much to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Among his descendants were at least four apostles (including N. Eldon Tanner and Hugh B. Brown) and other church leaders. His descendants number in the tens of thousands - many of those alive are still active members of the Church. He created a legacy of faith that blesses my life and the lives of countless others every day. I hope that I can continue on with the legacy he started.

11 August 2009

The Organization of the LDS Church - Part 2

Under the apostles is the 1st Quorum of the Seventy. All members of this quorum are called and set apart by the apostles. Like the callings of apostle, all members of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy serve until the end of their lives. However, members of the 1st Quorum of Seventy have traditionally been placed on emeritus status around the age of 70. They are especial witnesses of the Savior Jesus Christ - especial differing from special by an e meaning that they bear the responsibility to witness to the earth of the divinity of the Savior. The responsibilities of missionary work and church administration are the same as the apostles. The Seventy are not apostles or prophets, seers, or revelators though. They typically serve throughout the world, directing the church and teaching the gospel. As a whole, the 1st Quorum of the Seventy hold all the rights and keys to the priesthood, however they are not authorized to use those keys (they could be authorized but have never yet been; the only case in which they would be "automatically" authorized is if all the 15 apostles {1st Presidency and the Twelve} died simultaneously or in a short enough succession that a new prophet and new apostles could not be called. That will never happen though).

Members of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve for 5 years. Their role is the same as those in the 1st quorum, the main difference is the length of calls (1st quorum is for life and 2nd quorum is for 5 years). Members of the 2nd quorum, like those in the 1st quorum can serve throughout the world to call and direct the church in those areas. Each quorum of Seventy can contain up to 70 members. As with the apostles, the most important role of the Seventy is as witnesses of Jesus Christ. They also spend a lot of time training new church leaders, meeting with church members, teaching, and doing administrative tasks. The quorums of Seventy are headed by a presidency of seven men, who traditionally have been called from the 1st Quorum, although members can be called from both 1st and 2nd quorums. These seven presidents of the Seventy hold priesthood keys, unlike the rest of the Seventy.

There are general officers of the church I'll address later and other authorities but only the apostles (including First Presidency) and those in the first two quorums of the Seventy are General Authorities.

Currently there are 6 more quorums of Seventy. All those in these quorums are ordained as area authority seventies (now just called area seventies). They are not referred to as general authorities because their stewardship lies within the area in which they live and not to the whole church and world. The church organizes its members into a number of geographical areas - some are large and some are small (e.g., ones in Utah). Each area is presided over by an area presidency, comprised of three men who typically are members of the 1st or 2nd quorums of seventy. I'll copy from Wikipedia:

"The Third Quorum members live and serve in the Africa Southeast, Africa West, Europe Central, Europe East, and Europe West Areas of the Church. The Fourth Quorum members live and serve in the Mexico North, Mexico South, Central America, Caribbean, South America North, and South America West Areas of the Church. The Fifth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Northwest, North America West, Idaho, Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City, and Utah South Areas of the Church. The Sixth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Central, North America East, North America Northeast, North America Southeast, and North America Southwest Areas of the Church. Members of the Seventh Quorum live and serve in the Brazil North, Brazil South, Chile, and South America South Areas of the Church. The Eighth Quorum of the Seventy live and serve in the Asia, Asia North, Australia, New Zealand/Pacific islands, and Philippines areas of the Church."

Area seventies provide training and teaching to the members within the areas in which they live. They support the apostles and other seventy in their roles. They can call and set apart local church leaders under the direction of the apostles through the area presidency. Similarly to the general authorities, area seventies have a responsibility for missionary work. Until the mid-1980s, the LDS Church had quorums of seventies at the stake level. Men were set apart as seventies with the predominant role as stake missionaries. The role and responsibility of these seventies was markedly different than that of any of the Seventy today. The stake seventies were purely missionary focused. The Seventy today have larger administrative responsibilities.

Each of the six general areas of the church that the area seventies are called to serve in are broken down into smaller areas (the areas were mentioned above - Mexico North or Asia North, for example). Within each of these areas are a number of stakes. Stakes are the largest local unit within the church. Stakes are called stakes in reference to Isaiah 54:2, which reads, "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (emphasis added). In each of the stakes within the church, there are a number of wards. Each ward typically has between 100 and 500 members but some can be a little smaller or larger. There are typically 7-9 wards in each stake. There are a couple caveats to this (i.e., districts and branches) but I'll address those later.

08 August 2009

The Organization of the LDS Church - Part 1

There is no other church on earth like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its organization and growth are inspired. Much of the organization of the church is built upon the following principle: "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (Heb. 5:4). The LDS Church is largely run by a lay ministry. People do not vie for positions; most do not seek office. When a call is received, service begins. The LDS church is organized in such a manner that all have the opportunity in even a small way to play a role in the church. The church is run and directed by and through the priesthood of God. In this essay, I'll provide an overview of how the LDS Church is organized.

I'll start from the "top" and move down. Actually this is starting at the bottom - at the foundation - and moving up, but we more commonly think of it as top-down. The Savior Jesus Christ is the head of the LDS Church. It is His church and is a restoration of the church He established in ancient days. The Savior chooses one man to act as His prophet - to preside over and to lead the church on earth. The current prophet is Thomas S. Monson, who is the most senior apostle and is ordained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. He is the only one authorized to speak definitively for the whole church and to establish church doctrine. He can delegate this authority in specific circumstances but generally does not. The prophet is the presiding priesthood holder on the earth. He holds all of the keys of the kingdom, meaning that he has the authority and responsibility to direct the church as inspired. The prophet has two counselors (although there could be more) who as a whole constitute the First Presidency of the LDS Church. The First Presidency together also hold all the keys of administration of the church. They constitute the highest governing body of the church and serve in a small way as a type for the Godhead - the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (in other words, there are three people in the First Presidency in part to mirror the three personages in the Godhead).

The members of the First Presidency are all prophets, seers, and revelators in addition to being ordained as apostles. While they are currently called from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, their roles are separate from the Quorum of the Twelve while they are in the First Presidency. Upon the death of the prophet, the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the counselors return to their place in the Quorum of the Twelve.

The Quorum of the Twelve consists of twelve men who are ordained as apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ and who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. They are all special witnesses of the Lord Jesus with a special call to bear witness of Him unto all the world. They also serve as the main, under the direction of the First Presidency, administrative body of the church. One man is called as president of the Quorum (with another called as acting president should the president of the Twelve be called as a counselor in the First Presidency). The Twelve, along with the First Presidency, fulfill different assignments throughout the world, including dedicating new temples, meeting with church members, meeting with world, religious, and civic leaders, meeting with the media, and so forth. Each also serve on various committees pertaining to different aspects of church administrations, such as missionary work or education. The Twelve each individually hold all the keys of the priesthood but are not individually or collectively authorized to use those keys except as following the death of the prophet; in that instance, they can only use their keys collectively. The members of the Quorum of the Twelve are "ranked" according to seniority based on how long they've been a member of the quorum. The most senior apostle, following the death of the prophet, is shortly sustained as the new prophet and president of the church. There is no jostling for position or asking of questions about who will be called. The new prophet then calls two counselors. Any voids left in the Quorum of the Twelve are then subsequently filled with the callings and sustainings of new apostles.

06 August 2009

A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 9 - Families and Fathers

In this episode I present an essay about families and fathers. Part of this essay was given as a talk I gave on Father's Day shortly after I returned home from my mission. The text of that part is not online. However, the last part of the podcast comes from my Father's Day tribute to my father.

If you've subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it's never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer 9 - Families and Fathers.

You can also subscribe directly from the iTunes Store by clicking on this link: A House of Prayer podcast (notice: requires and opens iTunes).

Let me know what you think!

Credit: The short music clip I use as an entrance and exit to the show is an arrangement of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from the album Reflections of Christ. Visit that link to find out how you can purchase the music (I'm not associated with the artists; I just enjoy the music).

The podcast album art is an image by Irwin-Scott. Check out his photo stream on Flickr. I thought his photo of the Salt Lake Temple would be a fitting image as a house of prayer. His night-time photo of the illuminated temple surrounded by darkness has a lovely symbolic meaning of the temple as a light on a hill, an ensign to the nations, a lighthouse shining forth in the darkness.

03 August 2009

I Stand All Amazed

"And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you; in an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended, and your souls not saved.
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life." (D&C 45:2-5).

We all sit condemned before the judgment seat of the Eternal God, our Father. He sits there gazing upon His children, who all like sheep went astray. All? Nay, not all. One Lamb is without blemish. He who is without blemish or imperfection or sin sits before the judge - He is the court-appointed counsel for us. Then comes the voice of the Eternal Father, "Where is He who was born in the lowliest of circumstances, He who descended below so that He might comprehend and be in all? Where is the Sacrificial Lamb who took upon Himself the sins and sicknesses of the world? Where is He who died and rose the third day so that all humankind will no more suffer the shortcomings and pains of mortality? Where is He, my most Beloved Son?"

The Redeemer stands up to take on His role as Advocate. As He approaches the judgment seat, he turns to view each of us; we see His glory and feel His love. In an instant He views each of us and loves us, in spite of and sometimes because of our shortcomings. His entire aim in approaching the judgment seat is to sit next to it in the mercy seat and plead on behalf of us.

He says, "Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life" (D&C 45:4-5).

In other words, "I suffered and died as the sinless, unblemished sacrifice. My sacrifice pleases Thee. Because of my blood, let those who believe have everlasting life." Similarly to many prophets in the scriptures, the Lord reminds His Father of the covenant they made. Our Father did not and cannot forget the covenant; the Savior simply is stating the whole covenant: "Here is what I did, here is what you agreed to do." It's a formality between the covenant parties. Restating both sides of the covenant is something we can and should do in our prayers. For example, "Thou hast said that that if I keep Thy commandments, Thou wilt bless me with Thy Spirit. I am striving to live Thy commandments, wilt Thou please bless me with Thy Spirit." Prophets and saints throughout the ages have given prayers like that.

I love the words the Savior says on behalf of us. He stands between us and justice; He is our Advocate, pleading on behalf of us. The Savior experienced all of our sins and sorrows. He understands us perfectly. Is there anyone else we would rather have as our Advocate? No one understands us better or with more love than Jesus Christ. He is not only our Savior and our Creator, He is our eldest brother. He suffered, "even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit - and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink - nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and [He] partook and finished [His] preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:18-19).

I am eternally grateful for Jesus Christ for His Redeeming love, mercy, and Atonement that provides me the opportunity as I surrender my will to His, to stand with my head held high before the judgment seat of God. The words of the hymn I Stand All Amazed are fitting:

"I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully He proffers me;
I tremble to know that for me He was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, He suffered, He bled and died.

"Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

"I marvel that He would descend from His throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine;
That He should extend His great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.

"Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

"I think of His hands, pierced and bleeding, to pay the debt,
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

"Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!"

01 August 2009

Lessons from Life - Part 2 - Leaky Balloons

The other night I sat watching my daughters play with a couple helium-filled balloons. As my daughters played with them, the helium inside slowly leaked out. At first the balloons stayed up on the ceiling but then over time they lost their lift and sank to the floor. The spiritual significance of this was striking. Before I write the spiritual, I'll focus on the physical.

Balloons are usually made out of rubber or plastic or latex. All of those materials, especially when stretched thin, are porous. Being porous, balloons will leak whatever is inside based on the principles of equilibrium (of pressure) and diffusion. Many balloons are filled with helium, which is the second "lightest" element. It diffuses through solids very quickly, up to 3 times faster than air, because it is a small and simple atom. This means that latex/plastic/rubber balloons filled with helium will deflate quite quickly.

We, spiritually, are like helium-filled balloons. Over time we start to deflate spiritually. Remaining pumped full of spiritual helium requires effort and recharging. If we slack off in our spiritual efforts and endeavors, we will lose our lift and sink slowly down. For a time, if we are connected and tied to others, their buoyancy can keep us afloat but not indefinitely. Eventually we will sag and hang down, deflated and dejected. To counteract this spiritual diffusion we need to actively recharge with new helium. We should do some of the soul-searching Alma did and asked his people to do.

"And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

"Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?" (Alma 5:26-27).

I'll repeat the key question: "If ye have experienced a change of heart...can ye feel so now?" Change once is not enough; conversion and salvation and exaltation take a lifetime of effort. We must seek daily for the Lord's mercy and grace to free us from our sins. We must fill our lives with goodness and good acts. We must endure to the end: "Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Ne. 31:20). If we do not: "watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what [we] have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of [our] lives, [we] must perish. And now...remember and perish not" (Mosiah 4:30).

In order to keep our spiritual balloons inflated and buoyant, we must remember what we have learned and endure to the end. We must continually fill our balloons with new helium in order to be lifted up at the last day.

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