Archive for the ‘Older Posts’ Category

5
May

Observations on Elder Bednar (May 2008)

   Posted by: John

We were blessed to have Elder Bednar visit our stake this weekend for conference.  Among other things, he taught many truths and principles of the gospel that are familiar, but not entirely correct.  I wish to discuss a couple of these things that I have learned and relearned.

One of the first things Elder Bednar said was that he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  I know that he is, but it is interesting to hear him say it so plainly and without any trace of self satisfaction.  There is no conceit, agenda or self righteousness expressed at all.  Yet, along with that statement of fact, he also said he wanted us to be uplifted, rebuked and instructed during the course of the meetings. 

He then talked about the word “meeting”, and told us he did not want the “meeting” referred to as such, or even a conference session.  Rather, he would that we would view these “meetings” as a revelatory experience.  Along with that, he promised that if we approached the “meeting” in that fashion, we would have things revealed to us that we needed, and those things might or might not be actually discussed during the time together.

He then said, paraphrasing, “When an Apostle reads and speaks the words of a fellow Apostle, they have the same authority”.  I take the term “fellow Apostle” to mean those living and dead.  In the history of the ancient and latter-day church, there have not been that many Apostles.  I am sure that number is less than 150.  Considering the size of the church and the population of the world, the words that Apostles speak must be regarded as the Word and Will of Jesus Christ and certainly special to hear.  Apostles, remember, are special witnesses of Christ and His name.  When an Apostle speaks the words of a fellow Apostle, that word has the same authority as the original speaker.  I could liken it to a corporation where Christ is the CEO, the boss, and all of the Apostles, living and dead, are members of the board with equal authority given to them from the CEO to act and speak as the CEO would have them do.  The catch is, the CEO gets to pick each member of the board, and he will only pick those who are of like mind to Him and are willing to follow His instructions exactly.  That doesn’t mean these board members are mindless robots.  Rather, they are given to charge to watch over the corporation and invite any who will to join it.  Likewise, the Apostles are instructed to watch over the church, preach the gospel, and to minister to those who will join it.

Now, with this kind of introduction, perhaps some of the other topics I will present in this forum will look a little different.  Hopefully, I will be able to present them in a way that does justice to the spirit of their delivery.

5
May

Elder Bednar vs. Reverend Wright (May 2008)

   Posted by: John

There’s a lot of media coverage lately on that Chicago pastor, Jeremiah Wright.  The talk shows, of course, are playing audio over and over with Wright saying “God D—n America”, blaming AIDS on the government, promoting racism, etc.  This is a man who is supposedly a teacher and preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, one who should be engaged in helping and leading his people to higher levels of righteousness. 

I would like to contrast this Jeremiah Wright to Elder David Bednar and make some observations.

First, I would like to talk about the manner of speech.  Jeremiah Wright shouts, and curses, and I’m sure waves his hands fanatically (I have never actually seen him “preach”).  His voice is loud and strong and causes one to listen whether he wants to or not.

Elder Bednar’s voice is your average speaking voice, clear, precise, and strong.  In the 4 hours I listened to him this weekend, I never heard him raise his voice once, but he spoke in clear, animated language devoid of offensive words.  His voice, quieter than Wrights, causes one to listen because he wants to.

Elder Bednar’s words are those of the gospel of Christ.  They are uplifting words from the scriptures.  They are full of explanation and education.  When Elder Bednar speaks, he conveys the power and authority of God and invites the Holy Ghost to bear witness of his words.  The words of rebuke are spoken plainly, then followed by instruction on what should be done for correction.

In contrast, Jeremiah Wright speaks words that are demeaning and harsh.  Instead of power and authority, we hear anger, fear and sometime hatred.  It is difficult if not impossible for the Holy Ghost to be present.  Instead of learning truth and testimony, the people are whipped into a frenzy.  This is not worship as the Lord would have us do.  Instead, the people have become mindless and blind, following a voice that will not lead towards bettering themselves.

Now, after much of Wright’s sermons have been publicized and criticized so much, he is explaining and defending his actions in very public forums.  He does not renounce much of his fanatical preaching.  Instead, he uses these forums to promote the very things he preaches and declares it representative of the so-called ministers and churches of his race of people.  In the course of his defense, he says he was misquoted and taken out of context.  Yet, his own words stand as a witness against that defense.

I don’t see Elder Bednar wanting or even needing to defend the things he spoke about for nearly 4 hours this weekend.  The doctrines and principles he spoke about were given in plain and simple language.  His words were bold yet gentle, and never once was there hateful or foul languag.

Having been to a few meetings at other churches, I must say that I have not encountered one where the pastor has been on a tirade of Wright’s proportion.  I must also say that I have found those services empty, without meaning or passion, and entirely lacking of the spirit.  Few even bothered with the sacrament or communion.  All were happy to pass the plate and collect the money.

I suppose that I could go on and on, but the point of this little piece is to simply show that those who properly teach of Christ do so with meekness and clarity, rebuking when necessary, then showing forth that increase of love as spoken of in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Their words lift and inspire, instruct and edify, showing the love of our Father and our Savior.  They speak with the true power and authority of God, inviting the spirit to testify truth.  What a blessing it is to have the true gospel.

The Saturday Priesthood “revelatory experience” was indeed that, an opportunity to learn and receive revelation at the hands of an Apostle.  Some of the purposes of revelation are to receive divine truth, answers to prayers, or even having your thoughts directed in a certain way. 

In this vein, Elder Bednar conducted a question and answer service, but explained that some questions were better than others.  The questions that don’t have as much to offer in a revelatory manner were not ones he wished to entertain.  So, I will be having a series of posts that deal with these questions and answers, along with some insight, revelation, and in a couple of cases, understanding I received.

Before I begin, I wish to expound on this term “understanding”.  During the course of answering a question, Elder Bednar addressed this term, and had a couple of interesting things to say about it. 

First, he said that the word “understand” in the scriptures does not mean cognitive learning.  It is, rather, related to revelation and sealing of testimony in the heart and mind.  Knowing about the gospel does not mean “understanding” the gospel, or any virtually any principle within it.  There are many people in the world who know scripture inside and out, and can make a serious effort toward claiming they know, understand and live the gospel.   But true understanding is dependent on the Holy Ghost sealing testimony, and the person being converted to the gospel.  I will discuss conversion in another article.

Several passages of scripture stand out in my mind that deal with “understanding”.  The first one that I wish to address is Doctrine and Covenants 9:7.  In this passage, Oliver Cowdery has attempted to translate from the gold plates, but has not been able to.  In answer to his question as to why, the Lord says:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.”

The message is twofold.  Oliver did not understand the actual principle of how the translation worked.  This is an obvious conclusion.  But I think, in light of Elder Bednar’s remarks, that Oliver also did not understand because the testimony of the ancient record had not been sealed in his heart.  He was not converted.  Joseph, at this point having many visitations from heavenly messengers, was very likely fully committed to the will of God, even though the church had not yet been restored, nor the Melchizedek Priesthood.  It is quite possible this occurred before the Aaronic Priesthood had been restored. 

Stepping back to Section 8, the Lord describes what revelation is in verses 2 and 3:

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”

The Lord tells us exactly what revelation is and how it occurs.  I submit that this is the essence of “understanding”, the testimony being given by the Holy Ghost, and sealed in the mind and heart, just as Elder Bednar told us.

How do we get this understanding?  It is not just some thing that comes over us at random or just because it’s nice to have.  Alma 17:2-3 gives us a great example of how that happens.  In these verses, Alma was traveling from Gideon to Manti when he met the sons of Mosiah, who had been prophesying and preaching for 14 years among the Lamanites.  Starting in the middle of verse  2:

“…yea, and they (the Sons of Mosiah) had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

But this was not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with the power and authority of God.”

They had learned the word of God by “searching” the scriptures, not just reading or scanning.  They had fasted and prayed much.  They had been active in teaching the gospel, in this case, for 14 years.  The results of these actions was a “sound understanding”.  They had been converted and the testimony had been sealed in their hearts and minds, to the point of being filled with the spirits of prophecy and revelation, and teaching with the power and authority of God.  Could the sons of Mosiah have been able to do these things if they had merely been knowledgeable about the scriptures?  No.  The evidence of this was manifest by Elder Bednar himself, as he taught in the spirit of revelation and prophecy, teaching with the power and authority of God.  Elder Bednar is no different than Alma and the sons of Mosiah in this respect.  The biggest difference is Elder Bednar’s ability to travel a lot faster to a lot more places.

So, with all of this understanding, and ability to have these blessings, do men such as these have room to grow and things to learn?  Absolutely, as evidenced in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  In this section, President Joseph F. Smith received this vision, apparently one among many, and in verse 11, says:

“As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.”

He continues in this section to describe what he saw concerning the dead, the preaching of the gospel, and the resurrection.  What I wish to focus on is his language regarding how he saw this revelation…”the eyes of my understanding were opened”.  President Smith was the prophet, one who communicates and received revelation from the Lord.  His understanding of the gospel had to be what Elder Bednar was describing.  Yet, his eyes of understanding had to be opened to see the revelation the Lord had for him.  In so doing, the Holy Ghost would have sealed those things in his heart and mind, just as has been described.

Doing a search of the word “understand”, there are many references in the scriptures that provide great examples of this subject, spread among all of the standard works.  Indeed, the Apostles, both ancient and modern, are not covering new material, but are clarifying and expounding on a gospel principle that has existed since the beginning of man.

Now, realize that Elder Bednar did not say all of this.  In fact, he said very little about “understanding”.  However, as I have said, he taught by the spirit of revelation, and with the authority of God.  The meaning of this subject was made clear in the few moments he spent on it before moving on to other things.  When Elder Bednar promised that we would have things revealed to us, he was right.  I realize I have a long way to go to reach this level of understanding, and I never knew exactly what it meant. 

My testimony is that this principle is true.  We need to have this kind of understanding.  The next article is about ministering, and in the course of that discussion, we will see that true ministering and understanding are very related

5
May

Ministering (May 2008)

   Posted by: John

One of the questions asked of Elder Bednar was, “What does it mean to minister”?  Elder Bednar asked Elder Nielsen (I believe our area authority Seventy) to answer first, then he would continue.  However, for the purpose of this discussion, I will not distinguish much between the two.  Rather, the answers intertwine and work well together.

We were referred to the chapters in the Book of Mormon from Mosiah 23 to Alma 15 as an example of what describes the word “minister”.  These are the chapter that talks about Alma’s ministry, rich with examples of what Alma did and said while teaching the people.  Note the word “did” in that previous sentence.  It is important.

We read from Doctrine and Covenants 43:8:

“And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments which I have given.”

Here is a reason for meeting together in conference, that me may instruct and edify each other.  The entire six hours of conference this weekend was incredibly instructive.  The Lord gives the reason for this when he says “that ye may know…how to act upon the points of my law and commandments which I have given”. 

There is an action word here.  Act sounds a lot like Did, except it is the present tense, not past.  Alma, having learned the world of God, preached that word (acted) and established congregations, instructing and edifying the people (acting some more).  Those people followed the instruction (acting themselves) and in many cases, were a happy and delightsome people for a period of time.

I submit that acting upon the word of God, instructing, edifying, home teaching, filling callings, paying tithing, etc. are what it means to “minister”.  We devote our lives to helping and uplifting those around us.  It also means that when we have positions of responsibility, we fulfill those jobs as seriously and completely as we can.

Going to Doctrine and Covenants 61:3, we learn an important principle that will help us minister:

“But verily I say unto you, that it is not needful for this whole company of mine elders to be moving swiftly upon the waters, whilst the inhabitants on either side are perishing in unbelief.”

Joseph Smith and others were travelling down the Missouri river.  The Lord foresaw danger and warned them.  In this passage, special attention was paid to the words “moving swiftly” and “inhabitants on either side are perishing in unbelief”.  In other words, slow down.  We should not be in a rush while ministering.  While it is true that many things have a schedule and deadlines, I don’t think that people and souls do.  Progress is very often measured against time.  If we move along too fast, we may miss something important that can make a difference for good in someone’s life.

Now, to get back to the original question of “What does it mean to minister”, we can answer it with some better detail.

To minister means to serve.  Service can be anything that someone needs in their life, from weeding a flowerbed to changing a flat tire, to giving a Priesthood blessing.  It includes teaching the gospel, baptizing, and giving testimony; taking a dinner to an afflicted family or driving an elderly person to church qualify as ministering. 

In order to serve or minister, one must know how to do it, whatever form it may be.  For example, it is difficult for one who does not know plumbing to do a proper pipe repair job.  The same principle applies to those who would teach the gospel.  One must first learn the gospel and be practiced in it to be able to preach it.  For many professions, before one can practice their learning, they must pass a series of tests to prove their competency.  Is the gospel any different?  Yes and no.  The Bishop is not going to issue a test to prove ability to preach, but in order to be effective, one must have testimony given by the Holy Ghost, and that is only given after one studies, learns, and prays diligently.  In the example of the sons of Mosiah, we have already shown that they first searched the scriptures, learned the word of God, and prayed and fasted.  They passed the test, that of receiving testimony from God, and they were thus able to minister with the power and authority of God.  In similar fashion, if a young person joins the church and wishes to serve a mission, they must be a member for a year prior to going, giving them time to study and learn.

Now, do you have to have the full testimony before you serve?  Part of that testimony is gained by serving.  Like every other occupation, hobby or endeavor, practice makes perfect.  Those who learn medicine practice medicine in increasing levels of responsibility and difficulty while they are learning.  The gospel is no different.  As one learns principles of the gospel, one puts them into practice and perfects them while learning new principles, and the cycle continues.  In order to minister, one learns while they minister, but you always have to start somewhere and spend some time gaining your knowledge and testimony before you start.  As you begin to minister and continue learning, your testimony grows and you draw close to your Father in Heaven.

Ministering means acting on your knowledge.  If you don’t act, your knowledge does you no good.  In the account in Alma 17, the sons of Mosiah had been laboring for 14 years among the Lamanites, and were returning to Zarahemla, where they would serve some more.  That is action.  The results of those actions, as already mentioned, are the spirits of revelation and prophecy, the result of hard spiritual work and ministering.

In the scriptures, it becomes obvious that serving is one of many ways that we earn forgiveness from the Savior.  As we minister to those whom we have responsibility for, and even those whom we don’t, our faith and testimony increase.  The more this occurs, the closer we get to being converted, a subject that was also talked about and will be discussed in another article.

To summarize, to minister is to act and serve.  As Elder Bednar pointed out, talking about action in a meeting does not constitute ministering.  Meetings are necessary and sometimes required for organization, preparation, instruction and training, but the real ministering takes place outside of meetings.

5
May

Prayer (May 2008)

   Posted by: John

There was a question about prayer, and I did not manage to write the question down fully. However, there are some interesting things that came about as a result of that question.

Elder Bednar referred to a conference talk he gave that centered around asking (praying) in faith.  He then talked about some principles of prayer that I am sure everyone knows, but don’t get talked about or even thought about often.

First, answers to prayer may not come immediately.  Everyone knows that, but it is still frustrating when you pray and don’t perceive that you have received an answer.  A great example of this is Nephi, when he goes to get the brass plates from Laban.  It took three tries to get those plates.  Laman and Lemuel were ready to give up after the first failure.  (I suppose it could be said they were ready to give up before trying the first time!)  Nephi was ready to try again.  And then again, before he was successful.

One wonders how many times Nephi prayed about seeing Lehi’s vision before he actually received it.  We don’t know, but I am sure that it was more than once.  What would have happened if he had given up?  Nephi was a man of great faith.  He prayed knowing he would receive an answer, and he did.  When we pray honestly and sincerely, we need to know that our Father in Heaven knows when to answer, and it may not be right that moment.

Second, praying and not doing anything until you receive an answer was described as “faithless prayer”.  This sounds very strange, but think about it.  If you are praying to be led to someone who seeking the gospel, but you never go out to look for that person, what good is the prayer.  Waiting for someone to knock on your door and proclaim they want to hear the gospel is a colossal waste of time.  The chances of that happening are almost none.  Instead, do pray for that blessing of finding someone, then actively work at it.  When we pray AND act in faith, we stand a better change of receiving an answer, as well as the blessings associated with it.

A good illustration of this principle is with Nephi again.  He and his brothers have failed the second time to get the brass plates.  Nephi’s brothers are upset, as usual, and go through their familiar murmuring routine.  Nephi says in 1 Nephi 4:6:

“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”

We know that Nephi approached this task with pray, vocally and in his heart.  In this passage, Nephi admits that he didn’t know what he was going to do, or what was going to happen.  However, he was led by the Spirit.  We know what happened.  Laban was out partying because he had stolen Lehi’s stuff.  He was drunk, unconscious, and in Nephi’s power.  The answer didn’t stop there.  Nephi was able to pass himself off as Laban, wearing the clothes, and speaking in a voice that sounded like Laban.  The servant was fooled, and Nephi got the plates.  The answer still doesn’t stop.  Laban servant followed Nephi out the city until they met Nephi’s brothers.  The servant tried to get away, but Nephi prevented it and the servant decided to go with them.  Considering all the events of the evening, that is a remarkable answer for someone who didn’t know what would happen but submitted to following the spirit’s lead.

Third, prayer does not have to be formal or vocal.  I am not talking about prayers for meeting, the sacrament, blessings, etc.  I am speaking specifically of personal prayer, just you and the Lord. 

 We are encouraged to pray out loud to our Father in Heaven.   In most circumstances, when we go to pray, this is just fine.  There are times, however, when vocal prayer just doesn’t work.  Personal prayer with God should be just that…personal.  When necessary, pray silently.  Further, prayer does not have to be strictly formal.  We should still address God as he is, our Father in Heaven, because he is, after all, God.  But we should talk to him as a friend, and friends don’t too often follow strict formal conversation.

We have often heard the phrase “have a prayer in your heart” or the term “continuously praying”.  How can one do that?  A person has to live, work, eat, and sleep, among many things.  I believe that having a pure heart is a key to praying continuously.  As we drive, work, or shop, we can be pondering the scriptures, thinking about a conference talk, or even just mentally conversing with our Father in Heaven.  While driving to home teach, we can be mentally preparing ourselves to feel the spirit and know what that family needs.  In these kinds of ways, I think we are “continually praying” to our Father.

It cracks me up that prayer, to someone who doesn’t pray, sounds so one-sided.  Many time, I feel like my prayers are one-sided.  I’m doing all the talking.  What we need to do is listen.  If we are in the right frame of mind, the spirit will give us the things we need to pray about.  We need to open our spiritual ears.  It isn’t easy.  There are so many things to distract us.  That’s one reason why the Lord makes reference to praying in our secret places, those locations where distractions and disturbances don’t exist.  When we can concentrate, meditate and pray without disturbance, we will be surprised how much easier it will be to hear our Father in Heaven.

5
May

Conversion (May 2008)

   Posted by: John

Saturday’s Evening conference session brought out another topic in this current progression.  As I have read over my notes, I have realized that there was a flow of topics from faith to action to conversion.  I have already written much about faith and action, but conversion is the next topic to cover.

It was mentioned in one of the meetings that testimony was not the same as conversion.  I thought that a little odd when I first heard it, but it makes a lot of sense after some pondering. 

Testimony is knowledge of truth, revealed by the Holy Ghost.  In order to have an active testimony, one must have faith or confidence in God.  Exercising our faith to action, as mentioned previously, will increase our faith and strengthen our testimony.  As our testimony becomes stronger, we develop stronger faith, and act further.  It is a continuous circle that, as long as we work at it, grows.

But…our testimony can also dwindle, as well as our faith.  Testimonies are sometimes fragile, and if not strong enough, we can forget the truths we have learned and wander off into strange paths, as Nephi saw in his vision of the Tree of Life. 

So, our testimonies and faith are things that need constant nourishment.  At what point do we become truly converted and what does that mean?

We often refer to new members of the church as “converts”.  This is true in the point that they have left behind other parts of their life to start anew in the true church of Christ.  But are they really “converted”?  Are we who have been members of the church for a long time really converted?

In the scriptures, there are several examples of people who became converted, and there is an interesting side effect of it.  In once such example from Mosiah 4 and 5 we read about the effects of the conversion process on people.  King Benjamin is delivering his speech from the tower.  He has just spoken about the atonement and forgiveness, and exhorted the people to repent.  The people had fallen to the earth and prayed for forgiveness.  Then, in Mosiah 4:3

“And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.”

So, the people will filled with joy and the spirit because of their faith, and were forgiven of their sins.  The rest of the chapter is filled with things that king Benjamin exhorts them to do.  Then, in the beginning of chapter 5, the kings asks the people if they believed his words.  Mosiah 5:2 describes a difference in the people:

“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

The words I want to focus on are “mighty change” and “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”.  The mighty change referred to is more than just having a testimony.  Gaining a testimony changes us, but the mighty change is the process of conversion, fully applying the atonement of the Savior and being sanctified by the Spirit.  This is the baptism of fire, or the Holy Ghost, that Jesus spoke of in John 3:5, “Except a man be born or water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”   The result of this sanctification is the desire to do good continually, totally abandoning any desire to sin.  Conversion is the absence of sinful desire, and the fullness of doing good.

Now this begs the question, if you are truly converted, do you still sin?  The answer is, yes.  Unfortunately.  But, think about this in real terms.  If you don’t desire to sin, you will see sin as an abomination.  Chances are you are going to be real good at identifying things that would be called sin and avoiding them.  Never sinning implies perfection.  We aren’t going to be perfect in this life.  But, as we work and progress, we are constantly changing, improving, working on areas we need to “clean up” in our lives.  The better we become, the less we will sin.  Remember, that the definition of sin is knowingly breaking a commandment.  If we are truly converted, our sins will be more ones of omission, rather than commission, and, while serious, they offer ways for us to improve.  The covenants me make at baptism, in the temple, when we obtain the priesthood, those cover the very serious offenses against God and man.  Keep those covenants, and the serious sins of commission are in check. 

Along the way, something else happens to us.  When we become converted, we become submissive to the Lord.  Keeping the commandments is an act of submission, not a great and boastful thing, but something sacred between us and God.  Remember we are here not only to gain a body but to see if we will do whatever the Lord commands us to do.  Following the commandments fully and exactly is an act of humility.  It brings into focus the phrase “a broken heart and a contrite spirit”.  A broken heart is one that is broken to following the will of the Lord.  A contrite spirit is one that submits to the Lord.

One can almost picture people who are converted, with broken hearts and contrite spirits as people who are incredibly meek and mousy.  After all, the world would have us believe that these godly qualities are weak.  Consider Nephi.  He was a man “large of stature”, as he states in his first book, who knew of the goodness of God.  Nephi had visions, saw angels, followed the spirit, and did marvelous things while under the direction of the Lord.  Nephi was converted, and strived to do good continually.  Nephi stood up to his brethren who tried on numerous occasions to cause him harm.  He withstood their taunts and physical blows.  He radiated the power of God at times when his brothers knew to touch him would mean their physical deaths.  I cannot picture Nephi fitting the world’s perception of one who is meek and mousy if they possess a broken heart and a contrite spirit. 

Alma, Amulek, the sons of Mosiah, the later Nephi, Captain Moroni, Mormon; these great and powerful men were not weak.  They were not mental midgets as the world would claim.  They were strong in the Lord and they were strong in mind and body.  The scriptures are filled with their stories, along with others, who were able to teach with the power of God and do great and marvelous works.  How could they do that if they were not converted?

As I listened to Elder Bednar, it because obvious to me that he is in the same class.  He teaches with the power of God because he is converted, having no disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

I submit that this is the goal of this life, to become converted to the Lord.  Having a testimony  is not enough.  We need our testimony, for without it, we will not progress.  But we need to strive for that conversion process, to gain the desire to do good always, and forsake every wrong and bad thing.  It is not easy, but if I believe if we work on it every day, it will happen.  Our lives are but for a short time, but if we earnestly strive for it, the Lord will bless us.  May we become converted to the Lord and desire to do good the rest of our lives.

This weekend is our stake conference.  The major events are the reorganization of the Stake Presidency, and whatever other things necessary for that to happen, as well as various meetings or revelatory gatherings, according to Elder Bednar.  Yes, we have an Apostle of Jesus Christ with us.  All I can say is it is amazing to have him there, and to listen to one who is handpicked by Jesus Himself.  I will be detailing some of the things that were said, taught and felt.

President Olsen has been a Stake President for 9 or 10 years, and has served his time admirably and well.  I have been impressed with his leadership and the style of his presidency.  President Olsen is a truly good man who has magnified his calling and done his very best.  I have grown to enjoy his counselors, Presidents Dopp and Leckie as well.  President Dopp is a seminary instructor, and speaks truth and wisdom with ease, signs of a man who lives the gospel.  President Leckie is not as accomplished as a speaker, but you can feel the power of the spirit in his voice and the sincerity of a truly good man in his actions.  These men have been some whom I have grown to love and enjoy.

Naturally, there are many people who would make good Stake Presidents.  There are a few who would be great Stake Presidents.  One of the things we learned Saturday afternoon was that a new president was not chosen, he was found.  The Lord had already chosen him; the person issuing the call (in this case Elder Bednar) has to find that chosen person.  Another thing we learned was that in the process of finding, the interviews are more formality than the means of finding.  When the person chosen by the Lord enters the room for the interview, the spirit manifests it immediately when the “finder” looks at him.  There is actually scriptural basis for this that I will address in another article.

I don’t know very many people outside of my ward.  I am a little worried that Bishop Keeley will be a part of the new presidency.  I will be happy if this was the case, but I will also be sad, as he has been a fantastic Bishop.  However, his time as Bishop is likely soon over anyway, and I can’t think of a better man to be in the Stake Presidency.

Well, in less than 3 hours, we will know.  Today I am in the stake choir, and will have a seat up front.  I look forward to being so close and at the same time be able to see the audience.  I am walking today.  The sun is shining, the sky is clear, and there will be a lot of cars.  I have made a lot of notes, and there will be a ton of material to post.

I had a rather profound thought today in Sunday School.  The lesson was about King Benjamin (first few chapters of Mosiah) and how he was teaching his 3 sons, then started teaching his kingdom.  We were talking about the narrative of events along with some gospel principles.  One of the verses we read said “…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21).   Brother Miner asked us what that means.  One of the answers given was “An unprofitable servant would be one who uses more than he can put back”.  Brother Miner said something about no Return On Investment.  Then he asked if anyone had ever made money back on their kids.  There were some chuckles, then he asked why we do it.  Why put so much into something that doesn’t give back nearly what we invest in it.

If you look at this monetarily, it doesn’t make sense.  Kids are like cars…they are a drain on money and resources.  Any decent financial advisor will try to keep you from putting money in a long-term “losing” investment.  So what is the Return On Investment in our children?

One of the answers is given in the Doctrine and Covenants, wherein the Lord says “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God “ (D&C 18:10).  President Monson, on a couple of occasions tells a story where he was at a stake conference, and a person in the audience was asked what the worth of a soul was.  After a few moments of silence the person said “The worth of a soul is its capacity to become as God.”  That capacity to become as God does not come from money or any other worldly thing.  The scriptures have many accounts of people who tried to buy their way into the kingdom of God.  It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.  Instead, one must work out their salvation and keep the commandments of God.

I also thought about how the Gospel is all inclusive, yet, at the same time, very personal.  There are some things that every person must do within the Gospel, such as be baptized, receive the Priesthood, make and observe their temple covenants, to name a few.  The Lord has given us these things by commandment.  They are fixed things that all people who wish to live with God must do. 

However, each person is individual, with their own thoughts, likes, dislikes, trials and triumphs.  The Gospel is designed to allow people to be individual.  We all have different things to work on in our quest for perfection.  Aside from the fixed ordinances, we have a common goal…eternal life. 

One asks why God would send us here, knowing many (if not most) would fall short of eternal glory.  As already mentioned, God views the worth of souls to be great.  Even with that divine piece of revelation, there is nobody who will be perfect enough to make it on their own.  In the end, we will not be able to provide God with a decent Return On Investment.  We are unprofitable servants, even those who are called to be prophets. 

Jesus evens the balance sheet.  Because he loves us, he will change us from unprofitable to profitable, so long as we do all we can.  We will no longer be a losing investment.  Our value to God will be realized as we progress towards becoming as He is.  It is up to us to be worthy of that blessing.

In the Book of Mormon, there is a discussion in Alma 10 and 11 about the profession of the practice of law, specifically those who are in it to make massive amounts of money.  In this account, Alma and Amulek are on trial for preaching the word of God and telling those in power that they were corrupt and breaking the commandments.  True to form, those in power took exception to being called on their actions.  They brought Alma and Amulek to court where they were questioned by those who were learned and skilled in the law.  Alma 10:13-16 says:

“Nevertheless, there were some among them (the people) who thought to question them, that by their cunning devices they might catch them in their words, that they might find witness against them, that they might deliver them to their judges that they might be judged according to the law, and that they might be slain or cast into prison, according to the crime which they could make appear or witness against them.
Now it was those men who sought to destroy them, who were lawyers, who were hired or appointed by the people to administer the law at their times of trials, or at the trials of the crimes of the people before the judges.
Now these lawyers were learned in all the arts and cunning of the people; and this was to enable them that they might be skillful in their profession.
And it came to pass that they began to question Amulek, that thereby they might make him cross his words, or contradict the words which he should speak.”

I find this rather interesting that these lawyers were trained and encouraged to be “cunning”.  It sounds as if they were not really interested in learning the truth.  Rather, they were interested in making themselves look good by making sure the person being questioned was tripped up.

Indeed, there were some who were incredibly good at it.  Alma 10:31 tells us of one:

“And there was one among them whose name was Zeezrom.  Now he was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.”Zeezrom was a lawyer who was “expert” at his craft, and was employed to make sure that Alma and Amulek were convicted of their so-called crimes.Now why would someone go to such lengths?  Surely, garnering respect as an honest man would have more appeal than being known as one who was tricky or cunning.  The answers to this question are given in Alma 10:32:“Now the object of these lawyers was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ.”
And in Alma 11:20 we learn more about getting gain:
“Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to rioting, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek.”So, these lawyers became experts in their field, learned to be cunning, very likely learned how to carefully flatter and lead, then used that knowledge to gain advantage over their opponents.  This was not enough.  In order to make more money they actively promoted their craft as a means for the people to gain advantage over each other, to the point of stirring up the people to all manner of wickedness, deceit and false witness.

I find it interesting that the Nephites had this problem and it would be recorded in the Book of Mormon.  We know from the New Testament that Jesus and the Apostles had problems with those who “knew” the Law of Moses and purported to live it, but that was more based on the corruption and mis-interpretation of the Mosaic Law.  In the account in Alma (which teaches in beautifully articulate detail the principles of death, resurrection and atonement) these lawyers were out looking for and creating trouble to line their pockets with gold.  We know the Book of Mormon was written for our day, and many of the stories (as well as the prophecies) are beneficial to us.

In light of this, then, I am convinced that this account of Zeezrom was given to show us that we need to watch out for those who would use us for the purpose of gaining riches.  In this case, it happens to be lawyers, but there are plenty of other professions that employ the same “skills” and cunning to make a buck.  Those who would use young girls as prostitutes fall into this category, I believe.  They are using others, in many cases presenting themselves as great and wonderful people, to make money. 

There is nothing wrong with earning your pay.  In the history of the world, one has needed money or wealth in some form to live and survive.  Every product or service has a value and price.  One must earn in order to spend, and one must spend to live.  Earning an honorable living is not only necessary but expected.  God has ordained that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” and thus man has worked for his existence and substance.  

The problem is there are those who are interested in power and money at the expense of others, and it is solely for their personal gain.  In the past few decades people have gotten so used to being able to litigate over the silliest things that the lawyers are actively looking for frivolous lawsuits and actively encouraging it.  Their take is an exorbitant percentage of the settlement.  They are more interested in their take than they are of a person who may or may not have a reasonable or legitimate case.  Like Zeezrom, they are in it for the money, gaining advantage over whomever they represent and work against.  They advertise and promise that they can get you the money you “deserve”, not mentioning that they will use trickery, deception, and threats to get it.  They will even say they won’t charge unless they collect, showing how confident they are that their tactics will produce results.  In many cases, the amount they collect for themselves is more than the “victim” gets.

In contrast, God has given us light and truth, and counseled us to avoid those who would practice trickery.  Sometimes we can’t avoid it.  In the case of Alma and Amulek, they were dragged into it by those who hated them.  Amulek was able to discern Zeezrom’s thoughts, and Zeezrom knew it.  In the end, after delivering their message, Alma and Amulek were thrown in prison, beaten, watched good people burned to death, and were released from prison when the walls were rent and the wicked priests and lawyers were killed in the collapse.  Alma and Amulek, having the true Priesthood of God, were able to withstand the abuse and torture of their captors and continued to preach and teach.  They endured the injustice by those who proclaimed to be for justice and came out on top.

Contrast this with Abinadi, who contended with people who were of the same mold as these corrupt lawyers, but ended up being killed by fire at the end of his sermon.  The Lord chooses the time and place that his servants shall return to Him.  Abinadi delivered his message and was killed for it, sealing his testimony by his death, not unlike Joseph Smith, whose blood is a witness of God’s work and word.  Both Abinadi and Joseph, and many others known and unknown have given their testimony with their lives.  In some cases, like with Alma and Amulek, the Lord preserved them until He judged their work finished.

It would seem that I have gone off topic, but in reality, the purpose of this little essay was to illustrate how power, influence and money cause people to try and exercise power and authority over others.  In the quest for this power, evil often tries to squash good.  Alma and Amulek suffered at the hands of those who were wicked for daring to preach truth and call people to repentance.  Seeking for unrighteous authority is a trademark of Satan, for he promises riches and power, attractive things of this temporal world.  People who seek worldly things almost never have the glory of God as their purpose.  Those who would make themselves rich at the expense of others have no place in the kingdom of God.  Instead, they are subject to Lucifer, who makes promises he knows he will not and cannot deliver.  Satan is more cunning and crafty than those whom he deceives; after all, in order to trap people into pulling the same tricks and ploys, one must be a master at them, and Satan is that master, having many thousands of years to perfect his tactics. 

Thus, as is said in the Book of Mormon many times, are the affairs of the people.  We live in a world of greed, power and money.  True power lies in the true Priesthood.  In the end, this Priesthood will triumph over every false and deceitful thing.  Those who have employed Satan’s methods will find themselves without the very things they sought after.  The righteous, however, will inherit the promises of God, which He cannot break.  That is the side I wish to be on.

9
Jan

Thoughts on Addiction (January 2008)

   Posted by: John

A couple of months ago, one of the speakers in church spoke about addiction.  She made the point that physical and mental addiction were related to each other, but that mental addiction was the stronger of the two.  While she did not go into much detail about this idea, I have thought about it fairly often since and I think she is more right than she knows.

With physical addiction, one’s body becomes a slave to some thing the body decides it wants or needs.  Drugs are an obvious first thought.  Drugs are tangible, real, and some of them only require one try for the body to develop a thirst or need for it.  People get addicted to all kinds of things, like drugs, exercise, caffeine, sex, alcohol, and so on.  As the need for the addiction rises, the spirit will get dragged down.  We lose focus of the things that are really important.  Our spirit loses the ability to feel the Holy Ghost.  Soon, we are left to ourselves and the addiction controls us and we are unable to get out of the rut, so to speak.  The addiction will affect our minds, often causing us to focus on the addiction.  Can’t wait for the next beer, or hit of speed.  Still, with help and hard work, physical addictions can be overcome and left behind, except for the memories.

While physical addiction snares the body, mental addiction gets the mind.  These kinds of addictions are more subtle, as they do not require consumption of a substance to feed the beast.  There is often not a detriment to the body in the short term.  However, the kinds of things in the mental addiction category are very often more damaging to the spirit, acting quickly, and having a much more devastating effect.  Take, for instance, pornography.  People become addicted to porn.  And, once you are hooked, it is difficult to be satisfied with just dirty pictures.  Soon, the most vile and perverted things will be attractive.

What’s scary about it is that the first encounter with the lightest of porn kills the spirit.  The farther one goes, the harder it is to regain the spirit.  Very soon, it is gone, and getting it back is a long and arduous process.  It can be done, but the images and scenes are there and almost impossible to forget. 

At the same time, this mental addiction to porn causes many people to want to do what they see.  It leads to infidelity, social disease, unwanted pregnancy, broken families and sometimes death.  The mental addiction spurs physical action and reaction.  Many people who are incarcerated for some heinous crimes admit that hardcore porn was the root cause of their criminal activities.  The mental addiction led to physical addiction, the combination of the two causing horrific results.

It is interesting that God does not refer to continually doing good as an addiction.  One can say that a person who walks in righteousness is addicted to the spirit.  The difference, I think, is that there is nothing bad that comes from the Holy Ghost.  Following the commandments and not letting ourselves get tangled up in the addictions of the world keep us free.  Not free from rules and commandments, but free from the snares that keep us down, free from the social ills of the world, free from much of the heartache and disease that make life miserable.   It is a concept that escapes the majority of people, who think of freedom only in the literal sense of being able to do what they want.  Anarchy has no place in the kingdom of God, which is, of course, a kingdom of order.  It, therefore, has rules to be followed.  That does not limit us, but provides us with the means to be successful and reach our true potential.

I have made a mishmash of notes of things that piqued my interest.  These notes are sitting on my phone and 2 computers, mocking me right now.  About half of them I remember, and I put enough information on the note to recall most of the circumstance and substance of what I wanted to keep.  The rest, however, are probably lost forever.  Dangit.

Anyway, one of them had to do with a Sunday School lesson we had a few weeks ago, where in the New Testament (somewhere close to the end), we read some verses that had to do with Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses.  Karen asked the question of how these supposed titles were similar, or rather, how a person could fill both.  Brother Miner thought that was a good question and we spent a few minutes on it.

Kings and Queens are rulers, generally over secular duties having to do with the daily and strategic running of a kingdom or country.  Priests and Priestesses would serve over religious duties, such as running the church or congregation, attending to the spiritual needs of the people.

The separation of these duties is obvious, yet many in history have done both.  For example, traditionally, the King or Queen of England is the head of the Anglican church, the Defender of the Faith.  This dates back to the time when England split from the Catholic church and formed the Church of England, or Anglican faith.  The King was responsible for the division, and took it upon himself to be the head of the new church.  Thus, the monarch of England served in both secular and religious leadership.

In the Book of Mormon, there was a time when the people decided to abandon the monarchy and went instead to a panel of judges to rule, among which was a chief judge.  This chief judge was also the High Priest of the church.  Alma served in this capacity for some time.  Thus, he was the ruler of the country, and was also the leader of the church.  He eventually felt that the two positions did not lend themselves to each other, and turned the secular role to another, devoting his time fully to God. 

These kinds of examples give us some understanding as to the differences between being a King and a Priest.

Consider Jesus, who is both a God, head of his kingdom, and High Priest, head of his church.  He fills both roles.  So does His Father.  In a fully righteous place, one can do both.  The problem with the world is that there is no place that is righteous enough to do it.  It has been close, several times, but never quite there, with the possible exception being the city of Enoch.

In the temple, we are anointed to become Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses, telling us that the marriage of these roles is not only possible, but expected.  I am sure that God does not require us to be such here on Earth.  Rather, we need to develop and learn the attributes that would make us successful in those combined duties, becoming masters of ourselves, able to handle the situations that such a leader would encounter.  What we do and learn here will be added upon in the next life.  Failure to learn here will very likely hamper our later abilities.  Therefore, we should do our best here, and be worthy and ready to fulfill our anointments and eternal potential.

31
Dec

Church Poetry (December 2006)

   Posted by: John

Bishop Keeley taught the combined Priesthood and Relief Society lesson today.  He started off with this poem that I thought was real good.

‘Twas the night before Jesus came and all through the house

Not a creature was praying, not one in the house.

Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care

In hopes that Jesus would not soon come there.

The children were dressing to crawl into bed

Not ever kneeling or bowing a head.

And mom in her rocker with the baby on her lap

Was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.

When out of the east there arose such a clatter,

I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear

But angels proclaiming that Jesus was here!

With light like the sun sending forth a bright ray

I knew in a moment that this must be the day!

The light of his face made me cover my head.

It was Jesus returning just like He said.

And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,

I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.

In the Book of Life which He held in His hand

Was written the name of every saved man.

He spoke not a word as He searched for my name;

When He said, “It’s not here” my head hung in shame.

The people whose names had been written with love

He gathered to take to His Father above.

With those who were ready He rose without a sound

While the rest were left standing around.

I fell to my knees, but it was too late;

I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.

I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight;

Oh if only we had been ready tonight.

In the words of this poem the meaning is clear;

The coming of Jesus is drawing near.

There’s only one life and when comes the last call,

We’ll find that the scriptures are true after all!