Monday, December 15, 2014

LDS Temple: Symbol of Freedom, Family, and Virtue

Many people in this world hope for world peace in for an end to poverty. However we disagree about the best way to go about this.  Tragically, some of our disagreements about bringing peace often bring differing sides into conflict. Some groups think education alone is the answer.  other organizations are dedicated to speading ideas of socialism or environmentalism. The LDS church on the other hand focuses on spreading the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." 
- Pres. Ezra Taft Benson

But what is LDS understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Some Christians spread the message of grace without repentance.  These preachers spread the popular falsehood that individuals somehow can find happiness in wickedness without repentance.  The true Gospel of Christ teaches that we must first receive the power to repent through Christ and then receive forgiveness after we have repented from and forsaken our sins.

The answer to poverty and suffering in this world and preserving constitutional government is not education alone, or income redistribution or even environmentalism.  Although there are merits in each of these causes.  The only hope we have at preserving freedom and creating a world of peace and prosperity is a return to virtue. 

Freedom, traditional family values, charity, chastity, and sobriety are the ideals that the LDS Church and the LDS Temple represent.  Why can't just anyone enter an Latter-Day Saint Temple after it has been dedicated?  Because, to merit enterance to a temple, an individual must first be living up to the standard of inward purity and sanctification that God has established with regard to His Holy House found in 1 Cor 5:11.  In the Lord's Temple, patrons make covenants to live lives of purity and virtue.  It doesn't make sense to enter the Temple when an individual is not serious about keeping the covenants of self-restraint that are given in the temple.

The secret to world peace and properity is a return to virtue.  Immorality before and outside of marriage results in illegitimacy and broken families which contributes to poverty.  Chemical dependence leads to greater mental and physical illness, decreased productivity and greater poverty.  Just like Rome, Western governments are instituting socialism and ursurping the responsibility of the Church, which is welfare and virtue (James 1:27).  Today, few western churches provide much welfare nor teach much virtue.  And just like Rome we may well see our own nations fractured as a morally and economically bankrupt empire is torn apart from within. 

Nevertheless, I am thankful for being blessed to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The LDS Church and the LDS Temple and the LDS members are standing for he cause of Jesus Christ.  We stand for Constitutional Government.  In fact, Joseph Smith taught again and again that the US Constitution was given by God.  For the LDS, the US Constitution is akin to scripture and part of our religion.  (Shame on Mitt Romney for never communicating this). The LDS stand for traditional family values, and for a return to virtue.  We invite all to stand with us.  Who is on the Lord's side who?  Like Moses, we have drawn our line in the sand and now is the time for us to show where we stand.

The LDS church his little stone cut out of the mountain without hands that is rolling fourth and growing bigger and gaining momentum until it will strike the great image described in Daniel 2.  That stone,  which is the kingdom of God already on the earth will become a great mountain (or temple), and the principles and covenants of the temple will fill the whole Earth.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Unity of the Faith: Parable of the Baseball Game

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by Jesus Christ via a prophet and 12 Apostles just like Bible times.  Christ tells us in modern scripture: "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."(D&C 1:38).   While the LDS prophet speaks the mind, will, and word of God, LDS leaders to do not claim to be infallible.  

The Lord uses imperfect men to lead His church. The same modern scripture that declares that the LDS Prophet speaks on behalf of God also talks about their weaknesses: "And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known" (D&C 1:25).  We are assured that our leaders will never lead us astray, but that doesn't mean they are perfect and don't ever make mistakes.

The LDS Church has been recently addressing difficult issues from its past regarding polygamy and priesthood.  There is nothing new here. LDS leaders are continually asked about these issues.  When the revelation on priesthood was received in 1978, Elder McConkie said at the time "Forget what I or Brigham Young or anyone else has said which is contrary to the current light and knowledge we have now received. We spoke without understanding." Elder McConkie frankly admitted and apologized for his mistake. While the priesthood prohibition was a temporary necessity, the reasons Elder  McConkie gave to defend the policy were admittedly mistaken. 

In spite of the weakness of our leaders, it is a shame when any LDS member loses faith and abandons the Church, their covenants, and their faith over these issues.   The LDS Prophet is like the pitcher on a baseball team.  All the Church membership make up the rest of the team.  Just because the pitcher throws a few balls or even a wild pitch, doesn't mean we should throw down our glove, storm off the field, and abandon the team over it.  Even in spite of a few wild pitches and a handful of balls mixed with strikes, the pitcher can still be throwing a perfect game.  And so it is with our LDS leaders. Also, we should remember that it is not our job to be calling balls and strikes but to play our position.

Another example of what I am talking about is found in the Old Testament.  Israel was wondering in the desert and needed water. Moses was commanded to strike the rock.  Moses struck the rock twice, which was a mistake. But in spite of Moses' weakness, the water still flowed.  We have covenanted and God expects us to sustain our leaders even in their weakness.  And, like Moses, we can have faith, hope and an assurance that notwithstanding the weakness of our leaders, the water will still flow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Faith: Desire to Know and Obey the Will of God

I work in emergency medicine and often interact with families dealing with end-of-life issues.  Sometimes a patient will come to the hospital in the process of dying.  The process of dying may be delayed temporarily by use of a mechanical ventillator and other medicines and technologies.  Sometimes family members of the dying patient may be reluctant to allow the natural process of dying to finish its course and withdraw care because they see it as giving up and exhibiting a lack of faith.  In a few cases family members have expeessed a well-meaning but misunderstood definition of faith by telling me that "if I can just believe enough, God will heal them".

One way Satan has erroded faith in the world is to change the definition of words. Even the definition of faith has been altered.  While the truth of God sits squarely in the middle, Satan seeks to divert us to one extreme or the other.

When it comes to the modern misunderstanding of faith, this essential concept has taken on two extreme and incorrect characterizations. The first mischaracterization of faith is "blind obedience".  According to this  extreme, the believer may ask questions but shouldn't expect any satisfying answers. The faithful are completely submissive and dependent on church authority. In a way, this kind of faith is more of a spiritual Ophelia Complex (see Hamlet). 

The second extreme, faith is ill-defined as our strength of will. If we just believe in or desire something hard enough then our desire and strength of will can make it happen.  The tendency of mankind to stray to the extremes was also taught by Aristotle in his concept of the "Golden Mean."

The true definition of faith has nothing to do with being blind or satisfying our own will.  The true definition of faith is a desire to know and be obedient to God's will even if we do not yet understand the reasons.  Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge but it "the substace of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."

Reason follows revelation and believing is seeing.  Both an atheist and a creationist can look at the beauty of creation and the calibration of the Universe and come to different conclusions about who is responsible.  The atheist's opinions will never change until they experience God for themselves.  Only after a person has had a personal experience with God, will they then be able to see and interpret the data in a new light.  They will interpret the world through the lens of a testimony of the reality of the existence of God.  Faith does not cast out reason. But with a knowlege of God, higher reasons and a higher reality appear.

True faith has nothing to do with the strength of our belief in ourselves or the force of our own will.  Our will, no matter how strong, cannot change the will or truth of God or coerces God to act according to our desires.  Instead, true faith is humility to subordinate and accept Gods will whatever it is. 

Furthermore, true faith is the desire and motivation to know and do the will of God even when we may not be given the reason at first.  God can reveal His will even before revealing the exact reason why.  Knowing Gods will before the reason This tests whether we love Him or not. In the pre-mortal existence, we lived with God and the reasons for everything were continually before us. Reason obliged many to believe. In this life, the will of God is revealed before the reason to seperate out the fair-weather fans from those truely love God and His truth.

The key to faith is to obey even when our knowlege of that principle or commandment is not perfect.  That is, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, he was commanded to offer sacrifice even before knowing why he was commanded to do it.  When Adam was asked why he offered sacrifice, Adam gave one of the greatest expressions of faith, "I know not save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 5:6).   Adam didn't require a reason before he obeyed.  Adam's faith was not blind either. It was enough to know that offering sacrifice was the will of God.  After the trial of Adam's faith, the reason was revealed.  Jesus Christ taught the same principle of faith and obedience: "if any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it is of God or I speak of myself" (John 7:27).  

Recognizing that there is a God, even a desire to know the will of God changes everything about how we see and interpret the world around us.  People of faith do not ignore the data and the facts or deny reason.  Instead, believers interpret facts according to God's reasons, according to our knowlege of the will of God, and according to the potential eternal life and exaltation of all of God's children.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Joseph Smith's First Vision

Joseph Smith received a heavenly visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ when Joseph was only 14 years old.  Joseph was much older when he recorded the event. Until his death, Joseph Smith recorded the events if the First Vision 9 times. 

A few critics of the LDS Church have at times questioned the several accounts claiming there are glaring discrepancies which put into doubt whether Joseph Smith received any heavenly manifestation .  However. Elden J Watson has compiled all the 9 accounts showing the great consistency between all the accounts.

The main criticism that critics make against these First Vision accounts is that in the first written account, Joseph Smith says he saw "the Lord". In all subsequent accounts Joseph clarifies that he saw 2 personages, both God the Father and God the Son. Critics say this proves Joseph is a "charlatan" and made it all up.

Critics are always going to find something to criticize. There will aways be reasons for and against belief. Atheists look at the same beauty of creation and calibrated universe and still deny the existence of God. "Haters are gonna hate".  But just because arguments can be made doesn't mean thise arguments are valid.

So how do believers explain the first account?  First, because I have prayed to God like Joseph Smith did and God has revealed to me that the First Vision is true.  With a witness and testimony of God as my foundation, I interpret the data with an "eye of faith".  Faith is not blind.  Faith is knowing the will and mind of God.  Having had the mind of God reveled, the facts can only then can be properly interpreted.  "believing is seeing" and "reason follows revelation". 

Joseph wrote the first account years after it happened but that is not the first time he told people about it.  In all the 9 accounts Joseph says he was immediately hated by any minister or pastor after telling them of his experience. Believers see that Joseph, in the first account, was trying to make a parallel between himself and Paul.  Paul the Apostle received a visitation from the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, and there is no reason why a latter-day prophet could not also receive a similar vision.

My favorite part in all of the First Vision  accounts is in the first account where Joseph tells us that following the First Vision, his heart was filled with love for many days.  For those who know the Lord, and understand the workings of the Holy Spirit, this glorious detail together with the Holy Ghost, powerfully reveals the truth of Joseph's words.

Critics use their argument to try and pursuade others that the First Vision account evolved over time from receiving a visitation from an angel, to seeing the Lord, and then to seeing 2 personages as Stephen did in the New Testament. While it makes for a crafty argument, it just is absolutely not true. 

The first recorded indirect reference to the First Vision is in a newspaper. "The Reflector," a local Palmyra newspaper reports; "four LDS missionaries (Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson) were publicly teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and had received a commission from Him to preach true religion."  This independent reference proves that Joseph Smith receiving a vision by God was central to the LDS message from the very beginning.

Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Abraham: Father, Worker, Soldier, Priest

I was recently talking with a Jewish friend about the LDS Church's lay ministry.  I said, I thought it must be difficult for religious priests who have never been married or had a family to counsel others.  We also talked about the conflict of interest that arises when you have a duty to call those who pay your salary to repentance.

My Jewish friend shared an experience he had with an out-of-touch Rabbi in New York who was giving a Yom Kippur sermon. The Rabbi had said something like, 'if there is any Jew not willing to devote the first 25 years of his life to Torah study, you should gave nothing to do with them.' My friend said after hearing that he walked out.

That conversation reminded me of the symbolism of the fleur-de-lis. Anciently, the 3-petal lily represented a compartmentalization and division of labor in society. The 3 divisions were: those who work, those who fight, and those who pray. This adaptation of the symbol teaches a damaging falsehood that allows evil better control over society.  As citizens, we just do our job with blinders on and trust that the others are doing theirs without really understanding whats going on.  We can never see the big picture of where evil is leading us because we see only our narrow view.

The thoughts on the problem with compartmentalization reminded me of the example of Abraham. Abraham was both a father, worker, soldier, and priest unto the Most High God. Not only did Abraham raise a righteous family and work as a shepherd; when Lot went missing, Abraham raised an army and went to his rescue.  In addition, Abraham paid tithes and offered sacrifice and performed his duty to God.

These thoughts reminded me of the fleur-de-lis symbol and how it is used in scouting today.  Instead of representing the compartmentalization of society, the 3 petals bound together represent the 3 parts of the Scout Oath which are to do our duty to God, help others, and to obey the scout law.  This symbolism exactly matches the 3 Pillars of Judaism which are Torah (Law), The Divine Service (Duty to God), and Acts of Loving Kindness (Helping Others).

When I read the words of LDS leaders, I appreciate how All LDS leadership have worked and been very successful in one career or another. All have been righteous husbands and fathers, all have devoted their lives to the service of God.  Additionally, many of them have also been soldiers and have had military service. The same can said of LDS local leadership and membership. 

I think this rich life experience as well as a true testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ gives LDS leadership both general and local a clear vision of how things really are.  In addition to the correct priesthood authority, the life experience of LDS leadership helps them magnify their callings as prophets, seers and revelators; to see and teach us things as the really are and will be.