Archive for the ‘Church Meetings’ Category

1
Nov

Missionary Work…In the Afterlife

   Posted by: John

In Sunday School today, Ryan had someone read the following story:

Frederick William Hurst was working as a gold miner in Australia when he first heard Latter-day Saint missionaries preach the restored gospel. He and his brother Charles were baptized in January 1854. He tried to help his other family members become converted, but they rejected him and the truths he taught.

Fred settled in Salt Lake City four years after joining the Church, and he served faithfully as a missionary in several different countries. He also worked as a painter in the Salt Lake Temple. In one of his final journal entries, he wrote:

“Along about the 1st of March, 1893, I found myself alone in the dining room, all had gone to bed. I was sitting at the table when to my great surprize my elder brother Alfred walked in and sat down opposite me at the table and smiled. I said to him (he looked so natural): ‘When did you arrive in Utah?’

“He said: ‘I have just come from the Spirit World, this is not my body that you see, it is lying in the tomb. I want to tell you that when you were on your mission you told me many things about the Gospel, and the hereafter, and about the Spirit World being as real and tangible as the earth. I could not believe you, but when I died and went there and saw for myself I realized that you had told the truth. I attended the Mormon meetings.’ He raised his hand and said with much warmth: ‘I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart. I believe in faith, and repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, but that is as far as I can go. I look to you to do the work for me in the temple. … You are watched closely. … We are all looking to you as our head in this great work. I want to tell you that there are a great many spirits who weep and mourn because they have relatives in the Church here who are careless and are doing nothing for them” (Diary of Frederick William Hurst, comp. Samuel H. and Ida Hurst [1961], 204).[1]

It is interesting to note that this departed person, having heard but not fully accepting the word of the Lord while living, “attended the Mormon meetings” in the spirit world.  The implication is that missionary work is occurring in the spirit world, just as it is on Earth.  When Christ preached to the spirits in prison (D&C 138:18-19), he prepared spirits to be missionaries to the wicked and disobedient people (D&C 138:29-37) of whom he did not go himself (D&C 138:20-21).

Now consider this story written by Wilford Woodruff:

Perhaps I may be permitted to relate a circumstance with which I am acquainted in relation to Bishop Roskelley, of Smithfield, Cache Valley.  On one occasion he was suddenly taken very sick — near to death’s door.  While he lay in this condition, President Peter Maughan, who was dead, came to him and said: “Brother Roskelley, we held a council on the other side of the [veil].  I have had a great deal to do, and I have the privilege of coming here to appoint one man to come and help.  i have had three names given to me in council, and you are one of them.  I want to inquire into your circumstances.”  The bishop told him what he had to do, and they conversed together as one man would converse with another.  President Maughan then said to him: “I think I will not call you.  I think you are wanted here more than perhaps one of the others.”  Bishop Roskelley got well from that hour.  Very soon after, the second man was taken sick, but…Brother Roskelley did not go to him.  By and by this man recovered, and on meeting Brother Roskelley he said: “Brother Maughan came to me the other night and told me he was sent to call one man from the ward,” and he named two men as had been done to Brother Roskelley.  A few days afterwards the third man was taken sick and died.  Now, I name this to show a principle. They have work to do on the other side of the [veil]; and they want men, and they call them.[2]

Again, the implication is that work is being performed in the spirit world, and it is missionary work.  We don’t know to be sure exactly what form it consists of.  After all, these are spirits which are not subject to the physical limitations or weaknesses that a mortal body straps us with.  But considering the number of people who have lived on this Earth, and comparing how relatively few have been true and obedient to the commandments of God, the workload must be enormous. 

We have all heard and likely used the phrase “called home” when referring to a person who has departed this life.  You never know, it could be that simple.  Perhaps that person was needed there more than here and so left this mortal existence to preach the gospel on a far grander scale. 


[1] Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 39.

[2] Best Loved Stories of the LDS People, Volume 3, page 21.

21
Oct

Lesson 40 and Friendships

   Posted by: John

Sunday’s Priesthood lesson was #40 from the Joseph Smith manual, “How Glorious Are Faithful, Just, and True Friends”.

The premise of the lesson had to do largely with true friendships, those which people build over years of time.  They are the results of trust, integrity, sacrifice,  and many other strong and positive attributes exhibited by regular and sometimes extreme acts of service.  These are the kinds of friendships where one would do almost anything for the other, regardless of circumstance.  For example, an excerpt from the manual, regarding one of Joseph Smith’s true friends:

One such friend was Willard Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who was jailed with Joseph and Hyrum Smith and John Taylor in Carthage, Illinois. While being held in the jail, the men were allowed to move from a cell on the first floor to a more comfortable bedroom on the second floor of the jailhouse. Then, shortly before the martyrdom, the jailer suggested that the prisoners would be safer in an iron-barred cell next to the bedroom. Joseph asked Elder Richards, who was called “doctor” by his friends because he had practiced medicine: “ ‘If we go into the cell, will you go in with us?’ The doctor answered, ‘Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you—you did not ask me to come to Carthage—you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for treason, I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.’ Joseph said, ‘You cannot.’ The doctor replied, ‘I will.’ ”

This is a great example of true friendship, one person being willing to do anything for another.  The verbal exchange was not one of chance, but the culmination of years of knowing, trusting and suffering affliction together.

One of the things that was discussed had to do with convert retention.  Among the things that are crucial for new (and prospective) church members are good friendships with other members.  However, there’s a catch (there’s almost always a catch, right?) to the whole friendship thing.  We are encouraged to become friends with new and prospective members.  But, are we doing it because we are SUPPOSED to or because we WANT to?  There is a huge difference. 

Most intelligent people know how to spot a phony.  A person who has been enlisted to be a friend to another isn’t very often invested in it.  Sure, you can be polite, even charming, and display every outward appearance of friendship, but very soon it becomes apparent that it’s for show.  When the artificiality of the friendship becomes exposed, it can be a major turn-off.  Imagine how you would feel if you found out someone liked you for the simple reason that they were told to, or because it made them look good to someone else.  I like to call these fake-friends, and frankly, they stink.

Likewise, there are those who are so-called fair weather friends.  Good times, parties, you-have-something-I-want-or-need type friendships are shallow and don’t stand up to the test of time or trouble.  These kinds of friendships only last until the good stuff runs out, then it’s on to the next one. 

It could be co-workers, who you are friends with as long as you work together, but never talk to each other again when one leaves.  Or the next door neighbor of several years who moves away and is never heard from again.  Friendships of convenience are common, even necessary, but they do not qualify as true friendships as described of Willard Richards.

Young women especially should be wary of guys who are out to be friends just long enough to talk them into bed.  These types of people are worse than fake-friends.  They are outright frauds, making themselves presentable and likeable, knowing they are going to take advantage of someone.  There is no friendship here, just flattering words and disguised sleaze.

So what to do?  We are not likely going to form hundreds and thousands of true friendships in our lives.  Truth be told, I can probably count the number of my true friendships on the fingers of both hands, and these would include family members.  That’s not to say that I will not and do not do things with and for my friends, because I do.  However, I really can’t think of very many people that I would be willing to replace at the gallows. 

What does that say about me?  Do I just not make true friends?  Perhaps I have grown cynical.  I have had people I considered good and true friends stab me in the back and abandon my family in the past (and there were a good number of them…most of them were church members, some of whom I had known for years).  More likely, I have stepped away from the ability to wholly trust.  I think I have improved some over the past couple of years.  At least I certainly hope so.  I don’t want to be a fake-friend, or a fair-weather one either.  I prefer to be the real deal.

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.

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.