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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Three Pillars: Beersheva, Shechem, Hebron, Jerusalem

Jewish tradition says there are three places in the Old Testament where the Patriarchs purchased land which serve as the basis for Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. First is Sarah's Tomb in Hebron or the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Second is Jacob's Well and the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem. Third is the Ornan's Threshing Floor where King David purchased land for the construction of the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Mount Moriah is the location were Abraham bound and was commanded to offer his son Isaac.

Jewish tradition says that these 3 locations: Shechem, Jerusalem, and Hebron represent 3 principles upon which the universe exists namely Torah (restraint), the Divine Service (service to God), and Acts of Loving Kindness (service to man).  Shechem which was the priestly city given to Joshua, was the place where the Israelites entered into a covenant with God at the bases of Mount Gerizim and Ebal.  Hebron was the priestly city given to Caleb which represents acts of loving kindness or charity in that Abraham who is buried there was known as a friend to God.  Ornan's Threahing Floor is the sight of the Ancient Holy Temple and was the place were the divine service was performed.

Interesting that all these 3 locations the previous owners are named numerous times and the exact amount of the purchase price is specified. Sarah's Tomb was purchases for four hundred shekels of silver from Ephron the Hittite. Ephron's name is given 8 times in the chapter associated with the transaction and 4 more times later for a total of 12.  The Theshingfloor of Ornan was purchased for six hundred sheckles of gold.  Ornan's name is given 11 times in 1 Chro 21 and a 12th time in 2 Chro 3. Jacob's Well was purchased for "100 pieces of money" from Hamor the Hivite, the father of Sheckem, in Gen 33. Hamor's name is given 11 times in Gen 33-34 and a 12th time in Joshua 24:32.

There is a forth location where the Patriarchs purchased land and that is at Beershebah where Abraham dug a well and purchased the land and water rights from Abimelech, King of Gerar and the Philistines, for 7 sheep (ewes) and oxen.  Abimelech's name is also mentioned 17 times in the passage (Gen 20-21) and 7 more times in Gen 26.  Abimelech name is given 24 times in total.

1. Hebron: Sarah's Tomb/ Tomb of the Patriarchs, Purchased by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, for 400 pieces of silver. (Gen:23)

2. Shechem: Jacob's Well/Joseph's Tomb, purchased by Jacob from Hamor the Hivite, the Father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of money. (Gen:33)

3. Jerusalem: Ornan's Treshingfloor, purchased by King David from Ornam the Jebusite for 600 sheckles of gold. (1 Chron 21)

4. Beersheba: Abraham's Well, purchased by Abraham from Abimelech, King of Gerar and the Philistines, for 7 ewes and other sheep and oxen. (Gen:21)

Other. Bethel: Burial location of Deborah (Gen 35). Bethlehem: Tomb of Rachel (Gen 35)

Thinking about the 3 Pillars of Judaism. I don't think we can forget about Beersheva as a pillar.  Beersheva is the place where Abraham first purchased land from the king of Gerar.  The Land was desolate and undesirable but blossomed as a rose after Abraham had dug a well, irrigated, and planted a grove of trees.  Abraham built an oasis out of the desert.  Here in Beersheva was the birthplace of Isaac and the beginning of the Family of Abraham. If I had to assign a principle to Beersheva, I think Beersheva represents the principle of work and the role of fatherhood and family.

The German Haifa Cemetary is the burial location of a couple of LDS Missionaries and German immigrant converts who died and were buried in Israel prior to Israel becoming a state. While these grave do show an LDS presence in Israel prior to 1948, they were NOT used as a basis for the LDS Church purchasing of land in Israel for the BYU Jerusalem Center or to receive official state recognition.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

President Eyring Visits the Vatican

President Eyring met with Pope Francis and spoke at a meeting on the family.  I listened to President Eyring's address with my family during dinner and had the following thoughts.

First, President Eyring emphasized how he was a first-hand witness of how to have a happy family.  This is significant in that the Catholic Church does not allow their priests to marry.  I think the Catholic Church could probably better defend marriage if their clegy was also married.

President Eyring related how he first met l his wife. He recounted how the Spirit of the Lord came with great power telling him in his mind and heart that if he were to marry her, he would become all the good things he wished for himself and that God desired for him.  I had the exact same spiritual impression when I met and was dating my wife Ruth. This teaching is significant testifying that marriage between man and woman is ordained of God and inspired by the Holy Ghost.

President Eyring then told the group about LDS sealing in the LDS Temple that LDS couples and families are promised through living faithful that they will enjoy the same sociality that they have built here in life in the next life. Other Christian religions teach that marriage and family ends at death.

Next, President Eyring called for a Renaissance of the Family.  He told the group that the number one factor that seperated happy from unhappy families was unselfishness.  If a couple puts each other first, their differences will serve to complement one another.  If the couple is selfish, the natural differences between men and women will be divisive.

President Eyring then read from the "Proclaimation to the World". After, he said that this wasn't just a matter of logic but when there is temptation to be unfaithful you have to have to soften hearts.  A husband has to have a heart of committment and loyalty to his wife and family.  But also, turning families around involves doing. 

President Eyring said there were 1 million LDS Families in America and more in Mexico and Brazil that pray together daily, read scriptures together and have weekly family devotionals.  These practices serve to unite families and give children hope that family life will bring them great happiness and satisfaction.  In one or two generations great exponential progress can be made.  On the other hand, increasing numbers of young people are loosing faith in marriage.

Finally, President Eyring spoke with authority and promised that families that applied these principles would enjoy greater happiness. President Eyring closed his remarks in the name of Jesus Christ who he said he serves and who he is a witness.  

I really enjoyed President Eyrings remarks.  President Eyring didn't speak as a scientist about research results or trends or what could be expected or projected.  President Eyring spoke as a prophet of God and not a social scientist.  Strengthening families doesn't require a scientific study or calling a commission to study the problem.  The problems are clear and the solutions have been revealed through prophets and known since the first recorded family.

Friday, November 14, 2014

No Man Hath Seen God

Many OT prophets claimed to speak with God face-to-face.  New Testament Apostles John and Paul say that "no man hath seen God" except through Jesus Christ.  Many mainstream Evangelicals interpret this to mean that God cannot be seen and has never been seen.  Yet the disciple Stephen, Joseph Smith and John the Revelator all clearly tell us that they received a vision of both God the Father and God the Son.  So how are we to understand John 1:18?

think many of the prophets and apostles like Adam (after the fall), Stephen, John, Joseph Smith, who claimed to have seen God the Father in fact saw the "person" of Heavenly Father.  But thinking of the temple, I think it may be that the face of Heavenly Father was still veiled in glory.  This veil of glory would continue until man is perfected. This would explain all the "no one has seen" vs. "has seen" scriptures and the emphasis that Christ is the express image of the Father.  In any event, the important point here is none of the prophets have seen any of it without first receiving the Holy Ghost and bearing witness of the Son of God.

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: (New Testament, Colossians 1:15)

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (New Testament, Hebrews 1:3)

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 1:8)

Lehi sees the the face of the "One" or the Son but only "thinks he sees" the Father on his thrown.  There is a suggestion of glory in these cases veiling a clear view. Prophets are seeing the person of the Father but maybe not His face.

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. (New Testament, Revelation, Revelation 4:2)

John says that God was like Jasper and a Sadine stone to look upon. Jasper was the first stone in the Breastplate of Aaron and Sardine was the last stone suggesting a combination of all colors, or white light or great glory.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, (New Testament, Acts 7:55)

Stephen emphasizes seeing the glory of the Father.  But those prophets who spoke with God "face-to-face" were referring to Jehovah (God the Son) and not Eloheim (God the Father).  Again, veil of glory or not, the overarching lesson here is that no one has seen the Father without first being quickened by the Holy Ghost and also bearing witness of the Son of God who is Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not One Will Be Lost

An online poster on a religion forum criticized the LDS teaching that Jesus Christ would never allow the LDS Prophet to lead the LDS Church astray.  This LDS teaching leads to the LDS exhortation to "Follow the Prophet".  This online poster suggested that the assurance that the LDS Prophet would never lead us astray was akin to Satan in the pre-moral existance falsely promising us that if we followed his plan vs. the plan of God, that not one soul of us would be lost.  

So, what about Satan's vs. the LDS assurance?  Are they the same?  Is giving an assurance wrong?  Where was the deception in Satan's plan? 

First, we need to understand that the LDS doctrine does not teach that the LDS prophet is inerrant.  The LDS prophet is a man and imperfect but can and does speak the will and word of Jesus Christ.  Every individual must still depend on prayer, scripture study, and our personal relationship with Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost.  

So, what is the difference berween Satan's and the LDS plan?  Satan never said he would never lead his followers astray.  Instead, Satan taught that not one soul would be lost. Satan taught that all we have to do is choose him one time and then there would no more agency and no more choices-- that matter. We would all make it back to heaven automatically. 

Agency is not having the choice between ice cream flavors. Agency is having a choice between sin and righteousness. Better said, in our present situation, Agency is having a choice for righteousness. We only have that choice to choose right, because we have rules from God. Without rules, there is no law and without law there is no sin or righteousness, no penalty and no reward.

LDS leaders teach that if we continually choose to follow their council that we will not be led astray. But we would always have the option with each decision to follow or not. With the plan of Christ, we continually have to exercize our agency. In Christ's plan we are continually given rules, commandments and directions and choices that matter. If there were no rules or law, there would be no sin or no punishment, and no reward.(2 Nephi 2)

The Satan (no agency) system is the Korihor (no rules, social darwinism) system. There is no agency because there are no rules. Korihor taught, "whatever a man did was no crime" and "every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength;"

The problem with the Satan system is not the assurance, although Satan gave a false assurance (if there are no rules, then there is no sin, and no penalty). The consequence is also that with no rules. there is no reward, and no exaltation. What Satan wanted was to use fear to rob us of our exaltation and steal the honor of God only for himself.  God, on the other hand, desires to share His glory and exalt all His children.

Agency is the ability to choose the right. Choosing wrong is our default (opposite in the garden of Eden). We can't choose right without rules. Rules give us a choice. Without rules we would just follow our appetites all the time. Following appetites makes us an animal.  On the other hand, keeping rules make us human.  Keeping God's rules makes us divine. Human are above animals because of our self-restaint. My stomach wants this, but I choose that.  Rules safeguard our freedom.  Without God's rules the powerful would be left unrestrained to deceive and enslave the weak without penalty and man would act without a hope of reward and exaltation.

No Agency = No Rules = No Sin = No Punishment = No Righteousness = No Reward = No Exaltation = No God. (2 Nephi 2:13)

Again, Satan made the promise that all would return to heaven with no reward by having no rules, denying agency. Christ promises that we will return with a reward if we follow His rules revealed through His prophets.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

D&C 42:30: Covenant and Deed

"The Land Ordinance of 1785 finally implemented a standardized system of Federal land surveys that eased boundary conflicts. Using astronomical starting points, territory was divided into a 6-mile square called a township prior to settlement. The township was divided into 36 sections, each measuring 1 square mile or 640 acres each. Sale of public land was viewed as a means to generate revenue for the Government rather than as a way to encourage settlement. Initially, an individual was required to purchase a full section of land at the cost of $1 per acre for 640 acres. The investment needed to purchase these large plots and the massive amount of physical labor required to clear the land for agriculture were often insurmountable obstacles. By 1800, the minimum lot was halved to 320 acres, and settlers were allowed to pay in 4 installments, but prices remained fixed at $1.25 an acre until 1854."

To understand D&C 42:30 that required members with land to consecrate it to the bishop's storehouse you need to understand the Homestead Acts and Land Ordinance laws of the time. Prior to the civil war, if you were to purchase land from the federal government, you could only purchase it in huge alotments no less than 320 acres. Before the tractor, this plot of land was way too big for any one person to farm. The big plots of land did NOT favor settlement. So in the spirit of creating a city and settlement for the saints those saints who were awarded ajoining 320 or 640 acre land ordinances from the Federal Gov were commanded to consecrate the excess land to the Church for the purpose of making a settlement for all the saints who would be gathering to Zion.

This consecration of land was instead of having the few LDS land owners who had won the land grants from charging the church and the members perpetual rent to settle on the properties.  Similarly, neither the Church nor the bank owned all the land.  Each family was given an inheritance of land that they owned outright.  The emphasis here should more be about individual property rights and not land redistribution.

The reason I point this out is because some look to D&C 42 to understand God's law of consecration and they interpret these verses in terms of socialist-style income redistribution. I think this is incorrect.  The United Order recognized property rights, it satified both wants and needs, emphasized work and personal responsibility, fostered self-reliance, and was voluntary. I think when we see and practice the United Order it its true form and live with "all things common" (not "all things in common"), that we will all conclude, "why didn't we all do this earlier?"

Personal responsibility and self-reliance notwithstanding, we should not forget helping the poor and needy is still a sacred personal reaponsibility and part of true religion.

Reasons For and Against Belief

"For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (New Testament, Matthew 13:15)"

This passage of scripture seems to suggest that Christ taught in parables or a bit cryptically to purposely convince and convert some but not convert and convince others.  This scripture is used by Calvinist to justify the false doctrine of predestination.  If God loves everyone, why would Christ suggest that He would purposely seek to save some but not others?

In the pre-mortal life in heaven, God clearly explained the logic and reasons for everything. Many people believed and choose to follow God's plan not necessarily because they loved it, but because they could not disbelieve it.  Some Book of Mormon prophets taught with this kind of power.

"And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily. (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 7:18)"

This life is a test to find out who really loves God and who really loves truth. So, God doesn't necessarily "spell eveything out" so-to-speak. God allows there to be reasons for and against belief. The reasons for belief are much, much better but nevertheless there are reasons both for and against (oposition in all thing). This goes for belief in Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or Christ or anything.  

Those who really love God and love the truth will hear the reasons for belief and will truely desire that these things be true. Those who love God and His way of doing things will cleave unto God, and cleave unto truth and seek, study, ponder, and pray and then receive a confirmation by the Holy Ghost.  Those who never really loved the truth and doing thing God's way will find plenty of reason's not to believe and continue on living their life the way they wish it.

God really is no respecter of persons. God is inviting all people to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, but God calls in such a way that only those who truely love Him and love the truth will hear His voice. All are invited but God is separating out the valiant followers of Christ from the average but honorable "fair-weather fans".