Friday, February 20, 2015

Elder Holland: Be Not Afraid, Only Believe

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses church education system religious educators at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square on Feburary 5, 2015. CES educators include LDS Seminary and Institute teachers. 

The topic of the talk was about keeping the faith, optimism, and testimony of the Church even in troubled times. I think eveyone feels this terrible sense that things are unraveling in the world. Western Culture is economically, politicly, and morally bankrupt.  When it comes to issues of marriage and having a family, we must not "take counsel from our fears".  Babylon may fall, but in this last dispensation, Zion will remain standing strong and emerge victorious.  "No weapon formed against us will prosper".  Elder Holland also shares the quote to "not get stuck in the thick of thin matters."

Elder Holland says:

"With uncompromised confidence in God, I ask you to summon full confidence in yourselves and build full confidence in your students by teaching with conviction and optimism that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most certain, the most secure, the most reliable, and the most rewarding truth on earth and in heaven, in time and in eternity. I ask you to teach that nothing—not anything, not anyone, not any influence—will keep this Church from fulfilling its mission and realizing its destiny set from before the foundation of the world. Ours is that fail-safe, inexorable, indestructible dispensation of the fulness of the gospel. Our youth have no need to be afraid or tentative about themselves or about their future. What they do need to do is believe and to rise up to make the most of the remarkable day in which we live...

The momentum that began in a grove of trees in upstate New York two centuries ago will continue to roll forth, unabated and undeniable—Daniel’s stone cut out of the mountain without hands. That scriptural kingdom will be triumphant, and it will prevail. Unlike every other era before us, this dispensation will not experience an institutional apostasy; it will not see a loss of priesthood keys; it will not suffer a cessation of revelation from the voice of Almighty God. Individuals will apostatize, they may turn a deaf ear to heaven, but never again will the dispensation collectively do so. What a secure thought that is! What a day in which to live! What a way to cut through fear or faintheartedness....

No wonder the Prophet Joseph taught that every prophet, priest, and king in every age “looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; … we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Test and Promise of Tithing

"God requires one-tenth of our increase to be put into His storehouse; and this is given as a standing law to all of the Stakes of Zion.  By this principle (tithing) the loyalty of the people of this Church shall be put to the test. By this principle it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set on doing the will of God and keeping his commandments, thereby sanctifying the land of Zion unto God, and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle, for by it it shall be known whether we are faithful or unfaithful. In this respect it is as essential as faith in God, as repentance of sin, as baptism for the remission of sin, or as the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The law of tithing is a test by which the people as individuals shall be proved. Any man who fails to observe this principle shall be known as a man who is indifferent to the welfare of Zion, who neglects his duty as a member of the Church, and who does nothing toward the accomplishment of the temporal advancement of the kingdom of God. He contributes nothing, either, toward spreading the gospel to the nations of the earth, and he neglects to do that which would entitle him to receive the blessings and ordinances of the gospel. . . 

I have said, and I will repeat it here, that a man or woman who will always pay his or her tithing will never apostatize. It does not make any difference how small or how large it may be; it is a law of the Lord; it is a source of revenue for the Church; it is God’s requirement, and He has said that those who will not observe it are not worthy of an inheritance in Zion. No man will ever apostatize so long as he will pay his tithing. It is reasonable. Why? Because as long as he has faith to pay his tithing he has faith in the Church and in the principles of the Gospel, and there is some good in him, and there is some light in him. As long as he will do this the tempter will not overcome him and will not lead him astray."

-- TPC: Joseph F. Smith, chapter 31.

Malachi 3: 8-10 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.  Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Matt 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.

Doctrine and Covenants 82:20-21 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Hopewell - Nephite Connection

Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 125)

I was watching several lectures on the Book of Mormon by Wayne May which discussed ancient american archeology and genetic migration and was just blown away. I, like Brother May, have always agreed with Hugh Nibley and Joseph Smith that the United States of America was the place of the Nephites and the Great Lakes Native American's were the descendants of the Book of Mormon people (Mitchondrial DNA Haplogroup X2a strongly supports this).  I also believe the Hopewell or "mound builders" were the Nephites, but I never could put all the geography together in my mind until seeing Wayne May's presentation.  

It is like the scales have fallen away from my eyes. The geography is so clear now but had always been right there before me.  Why couldn't I had seen it before?  I remember looking at limited maps of the Great Lakes region and thinking, "that is the place of Joseph Smith's Comorah, but I can't see how all the events of the book of Mormon fit into that small "limited" geographical area."  Now that I recognize the Book of Mormon lands as the Whole Eastern US, It all makes sense to me for the first time.

Book of Mormon archeologists had done a great job retracing Lehi's family departure from Jerusalem and their travels through the desolate Arabian pennisula finally to arrive at a lush oasis called Bountiful on the coasts of the Eastern (Indian) Ocean.  Amazingly, there is a small strip of green on the coast of Oman exactly where the Book of Mormon predicts it to be located in the Dohfar region of Oman. This small oasis of lush green, fruit and timber fed by moisture-rich monsoon winds coming up off the horn of Somalia. There is not another place like this in all of the Arabian Penninsula-- a miraculous scriptural bullseye.

However, when it came to the Nephites in America, I remember hearing that we had lost track of of Nephites in America. We couldn't pinpoint the area of the Nephite's first landing and the Great Nephite Cities of Zarahemla and Bountiful and the Great River Sidon.  

I used to rationalize this conundrum by  telling myself that God would not reveal to us the location of Zarahemla because He wanted us to trust in the words of the prophets and in the Holy Ghost and not in archaeologists and artifacts.  However, Wayne also makes a valid point that the spirit and the body, light and truth, science and religion go together and bring a fullness of joy.

It turns out that my current home of Augusta, Georgia may be very near to the Nephites land of Lehi's first inheritance in the Promised Land. The Nephites would have left the coasts of Oman and ocean currents would have taken them around the Cape of Africa and then up to the Gulf of Mexico or Georgia Coast.  It turns out that the City of Savannah, GA lies at exactly the same latitude as Jerusalem.  

However, Nephi wouldn't have spent much time in thecSavannah, Augusta Jacksonville or Tallahassee Areas.  According to the Book of Mormon, Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, Zoram and their families seperated themselves from Laman and Lemuel and traveled North to the Land of Nephi.  The Nephites would spend 400 years in the Land of Nephi which Wayne May suggests would have been the North Georgia mountains and Tennesee Valley.  The Nephites would have followed either the Chattahoochee or the Savannah Rivers to North Georgia. 

One clue that supports the North Georgia, Tennessee area as the Land of Nephi is that Nephi said that he had found an abundance of gold.  The city of Dahlonega, GA was the location of the second American gold rush in 1829.  Also, it is important to realize that the Nephites would have likely used rivers as their transportation.  Also it is evident from the immediate and continual raids, and war with the Lamanites, that the Lamanites knew which direction they had gone off in and easily followed them.

After 400 years in the Land of Nephi, the Nephites found themselves surrounded by the Lamanites and were forced to move on.  Although the Nephites had discovered the Gulf of Mexico, it doesn't seem like they knew of what is later called the River Sidon or the Mississippi River.however they would've followed the Mississippi drainage which begins in the North Georgia mountains and would have headed further notth and west until they arrived at the Great River Sidon and the City of Zarahemla which was populated by the people of Mulek and is located on the Mississippi river across from the city of Nauvoo. 

All the LDS temples faced East except for one. The Nauvoo temple is the only LDS temple which faces west. Directly across the river from the Nauvoo temple is a site that has been identified which may be the site of the temple at Zarahemla.  The temple had been pointing us to Zarahemla all this time.  Furthermore, radar suggests the ancient temple may be still preserved at the site having been sunk by liquifaction during a great New Madrid Earthquake that occured in Americs at the time of Jesus Christ's death. 

The Mesoamerican areas just don't fit the details of the Book of Mormon.  The book of Mormon people were agrarian, and they built their homes and their churches in their temples out of wood and they built defensive walls around their city out of earth and timber.  The Nephites never use cut stone like the Inca or Maya or Aztecs.  The Nephites mentioned seasons, migrating wild beasts (buffalo), tornadoes, Lamanites living in tents, the several "seas that divide the land" (Great Lakes) and many other details that can only fit the North Anerican geography.

Knowing the location of Zarahemla, we can identify the Land of Bountiful as being located in the Ohio River Valley and the Land of Desolation as the Upstate New York where the golden plates were discovered at the Hill Camorah. 

Now, what is with all the Hopewell burial mounds?  The Book of Mormon tells of the people that preceeded the Nephites in America known as the Jaredites.  Archeologists call them the Adena. The Adena were a powerful and mighty people.  They were great metallurgists and used powerful Mastadons to do most of the earth moving. It is believed that the Jaredites were darker skinned, very tall at 7-8 ft , and very powerful.  

However, the Book of Mormon recounts a terrible war of extermination that may have also resulted in the extermination not only of the Jaredites themselves but of the American horse and elephant. The Mulekites and Nephites likely settled in abandoned Adena cites.  The Nephites likely adopted the "pagan" custom of burial mound building from the Mulekites who picked up the practice from the many thousands of Adena/Jaredite burial mounds.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Purpose of Adversity

"And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions." (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 24:14)

God doesn't promise is a problem-free life. He promises us that He will visit us in our affliction and that His Holy Spirit can be our constant companion.  

1. Not all adversity is because of our own sins, weaknesses and mistakes; but some are.  
2. Other adversity comes from the sins, weaknesses amd mistakes of others.
3. But much adversity is not necessarily because of sin but just a product of mortality. The Lord causeth it to rain upon the just and the unjust. But adversity is not without purpose. 
4. We must know the bitter to appreciate the sweet. If we lived in Hawaii and it was always 70 degrees, we may not appreciate the good weather or even have a concept of temperature if the temperature never changed.
5. We cannot exhibit/develop Christ-like attributes without adversity. You cannot be patient and longsuffering unless you have something to be patient about or something to suffer.
6. In heaven everything was happy and perfect. God wants us to prove it to ourselves that we are not just fair-weather fans. Will we still love God like Job even when there is bad weather.
7. God gives us weaknesses and adversity to keep us close to Him, so that we will turn to Him and He promises to make those weaknesses strengths.
8. Also, like Christ, as we pass through sorrow we can better understand and mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of confort.

Life is like being lowered into a well. We are a bucket and have to be lowered into the well to be filled with water (spirit). Then the Lord promises to draw us back out of the well unto himself. Our responsibility as the bucket is to make sure we are filled with water when the Lord comes to draw us back up out of the well unto Himself.

When the Jaredites were commanded to build barges to the Promises Land, the Lord helped them solve problems of having enough light and air to breath. But He did warn them that in their journey that there would be a furious wind and waves that would crash upon them and even bury them in the ocean. but that the purpose of the wind and the waves was to blow them towards the Promised Land. So it is with adversity in our own lives.

And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Old Testament, Job 1:21)

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; (New Testament, Romans, Romans 5:3)

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. (New Testament, 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 1:5)

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Trek: Mormon Pioneer Reenactment

I grew up in the LDS Church however, doing mini pioneer reenactments which are known as "Trek", came after my time in the Young Men's program.  In fact, the big Church-sponsored sesquicentennial reenactment arrived in Salt Lake City on July 24, 1997 just a few days after I had returned home from my mission.  Trek, grew out of that original 150-year commemoration and celebration.

The Augusta Georgia Stake just carried out a multi-stake Trek involving over 400 participants and over 300 youth from 3 Stakes.  I was excited to participate with my son in both our first Trek experience.  Not having anything to compare it to, I have to say the entire 4-day/3-night event came off as an incredible spiritual highlight for all those involved.  

Pioneer Story:
The LDS Mormon Pioneer "Trek" Reenactment commemorates the great faith and perseverance of the original Mormon pioneers who settled Utah in the mid 1800's.  The LDS Church actually began in Pennsylvania in 1830.  But because of religious persecution, even in the Great Land of Liberty the LDS church body was forced to move from state to state before finding a permanent home.  

The first settlement of the LDS Church was in Kirtland, Ohio.  But after financial difficulties, the church next tried Independence, Missouri.  The Missourians and the Mormons clashed to the point of a conflict breaking out known  as the Mormon War resulting in the State Governor Lilburn Boggs signing an extermination order authorizing the shoot-on-sight murder of any Mormon within the state.  The Mormons were obliged to leave their property and flee to Illinois where they founded the City of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River. 

Nauvoo was a beautiful and prosperous city and at that point the second largest city in the state to Chicago.  However, peace did not last long.  Eventually, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested on trumped-up charges and allowed to be killed while in State custody by a lawless mob with black-painted faces. With not a single shred of protection by the State or the Federal Government, the lawless mobs forced the LDS membership to lock up their homes and shops, place what few possessions  they could in wagons and in the dead of winter, walk away from their city, their homes, their businesses, their orchards, their farms and their temple.

In the Great Land of Religious Liberty that promised its citizens the right to life, religion, and property; the Mormon Saints were forced to leave the United States and settle the barron desserts and mountain valleys of what was at the time Mexican Territory.  The Mormon Pioneers, led by the Lord's prophet Brigham Young, walked 1300 miles to the Salt Lake Valley beginning in the winter of 1846 and finally arriving in The Great Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847.

Trek Impressions:  Unseen Preparation
The first impression I had during Trek was even before the event began.  The amount of preparation that was needed before hand was considerable.  It was not an easy talk to arrange food, water, bathroom, medical and sleeping arrangements for 400 people.  But the spirit of cooperation was wonderful.  Handcarts were constructed, meals were planned and prepared, pioneer-style clothing was sewn and/or otherwise obtained. 

My spiritual feeling on the preparation was that the young men and women who participated saw very little of what went on behind the sences. Like most of the pioneer journals, they left on this date and they arrived on this date with very little difficulty.  I am sure we do not see or appreciate the preparation that occurs on the other side of the veil in our own lives by spirits who love us and are concerned with our safe arrival back to our heavenly destination.

Trek Impressions:  Adversity
There is something universal about being called by God to forsake the world and leave society and be led by God out of the city into the wilderness or desserts to start over.  Abraham was led out of Ur.  Moses left Egypt.  The Brother of Jared left Babel, Lehi fled JerusaIem and Israel returned from Babylon.  God may also call us to endure great adversity, persecution, physical pain and privation, illness, and even pass through a furness of affliction.

A few Mormon Pioneer handcart companies got caught in early winter weather in Wyoming.  The members of these ill-fated companies were later criticized for leaving so late in the season which they had been specifically instructed not to do.   However, one survivor of the Martin amd Willie Company is recorded as saying in response to criticism: 

“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with an absolute knowledge that God lives for we became aquainted with him in our extremities."

“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’” He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there."

Trek Impressions:  Base Camp Heaven
I served as trek Doctor for our group.  I choose to walk the 25-mile route and sleep out with our Trek participants so as to be on-hand for any eventuality.  Of all the youth, only one participant was swmt home before even starting  because of a flu illness she had already had and was hoping was coming to an end.  A very few others at various points developed sore feet or ankles such that we determined that they no longer continue walking.  Several groups put an injured family member on top of their carts and pulled them to the next camp.  In a few other cases a participate was evacuated back to basecamp for closer medical attention.

Base camp was a beautiful Lodge and conference center located at Lake Leitner on Fort Gordon. The Lodge was warm and featured clean bathrooms, fireplace, multiple couches, and a great snack table.  I often referred to Base Camp as "Our Little Trek Heaven".  I visited our heaven several times during the Trek to resupply myself with motrin and ACE bandages.  A few of our Trek participants and adult support staff slept in the Lodge or in RV's nearby.  I had chosen to sleep out with the youth under my own tarp in case a need arose during the night.  

After sitting down on a couch in the Lodge, I remember how difficult it was to pull myself off to go back to camp to sleep out in the freezing cold.  I assume my feelings were akin to what heaven will feel like.  Many Near Death Experiences express similar feelings. When it comes to those pioneers who died crossing the plains coming to Utah, I suppose being taken to heaven is not unlike being taken to our Trek Base Camp. The few participants who slept at base camp still participated in all the games and activities without having to walk in pain or sleep out in the cold. This aspect of Trek reminds me of the last verse in "Come Come Ye Saints":

"And should we die before our journeys through, happy day, all is right.  We then are free, from toil and sorrow too.  With the just we shall dwell.  But if our lives are spared again, to see the Saints, their rest obtain. Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell.  All is well! All is well!"