Monday, April 30, 2007

Frontline: The Mormons
I enjoyed several parts of the documentary. The story about Brigham Youngs's dream of Joseph Smith telling him to listen to the "still small voice" and that if he did that God would always be there for him to direct him and the chruch. I actually had never heard that story before.

My favorite quote was from Kathleen Flake: "It is revelation or nothing for these people." I agree that what set Joseph Smith apart was that he wanted everyone to have the same experiences and relatioship with God that he did. But then it goes on about MMM and falsely accuse the church of expecting blind, unquestioning obedience. I don't think the documentary resolved this seeming contradiction. In my experience, the church has always expected me to "study things out in my own mind" and warns to not "subsist on barrowed light." For example, when others tried to give Brigham Young credit for organizing the mass migration of the saints to Utah, Pres. Young always deflected that praise; instead attributing the migration's success to the "burning testimonies" in the hearts of each individual saint.

I also liked the part about the Mormon's connection with dance and our belief about the connection of the body with the spirit and our belief in a coporeal God. My family and I were fortunate enough to see a dance company from BYU-idaho perform a few weeks ago. I can attest that there can be a wonderful spirit felt in dance as the program was both beautiful, fun, and inspirational.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

God: Our Heavenly Father

1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, merciful, kind, and just. God is also holy (incorruptible, pure).

2. He has a perfected body and spirit, and righteous passions (Most Christians subscribe to the Nicean Creed created by a council of catholic scholars, which says that God is a spirit entity with no body, parts, or passions). This is based on one scripture that says “God is spirit.” And another scripture, which says “God is love.” However, the Bible talks about Moses talking to God face to face and writing the 10 commandments on stone tablets with his finger. Also, other Bible passages talk about God feeling anger, compassion, mercy, love, ect. LDS understanding is based more on just which Bible verses we interpret literally and which we interpret figuratively. The LDS understanding on God is based on direct revelation. Joseph Smith and Stephen the disciple saw Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of a perfect and glorified coporeal Eternal Father.

3. God is our Heavenly Father. The Bible talks about each of us being the spirit offspring of God and entitled to an eternal inheritance in the next life. This special relationship differs from the relationship between God and animals and plants.

4. In spite of our skin color, race, and ethnicities, all humans are spiritual brothers and sisters created in the image of God.

5. Because God is all-knowing, he looks down on us from heaven and sees all our actions and knows all of our thoughts and feelings. We can communicate with God through prayer and meditation. Mormons refer to God as Our Heavenly Father. The Bible tells us to be grateful so we give thanks for our blessings in prayer. The Bible tells us to “ask and ye shall receive” so we ask for divine assistance for what we need.

6. God communicate to us through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit permeates all things and is how God can be omnipresent or in all things. Through God’s Holy Spirit, He can direct us to do his will and manifest his approval of our actions by entering into our hearts. The Bible calls this communication the “still small voice” and says that it will cause “our hearts will burn within us.” This is the spirit of revelation and means that all people can speak with God.

7. Because God is perfectly kind, He not only knows the trials, adversity and pain we experience from moment to moment, but he cares and is waiting to help us. In our greatest trials Gods spirits can enter into our heart and give us comfort and ease our physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. God’s Holy Spirit is also called “The Comforter.”

8. There is no proof of God’s existence or nonexistence. But there are many, many evidences. Some people look at nature and see God in the wonder of creation. To some, the order of the universe, the beauty of the earth, how the physical constants are calibrated perfectly for life to exist testify that there is a great creator and architect of the heavens and the earth. Others believe the accounts of God appearing to certain men written in Holy Scripture like the Bible. And others believe because they have had a personal experience with God, felt his Holy Spirit in their heart, experienced a miracle, or an answer to prayer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Zion and Imperialism

One of the grand themes of the the Book of Mormon is focused on the conversion process of the Lamanites and the the creation of a pure "Zion" people. Wise men have long sought for the creation of a perfect society. Many puritin pilgrams and other christians immigrated to the New World in hopes of establishing just such a Utopian or Zion society. However, these christian immigrants as well as many prophets in the scriptures were left to "mourn out their days" because they felt like "strangers, and wanderes on Earth" (Jacob 7: 26, Alma 26: 36, 1 Chr. 29: 15, Ps. 39: 12, Heb. 11: 13, D&C 45: 13).

The Bible hints at several instances where the perfect, united order, or Zion society was realized. The first was Enoch who was the High Priest over the original city of Zion. He and the city were able to be of "one heart and mind" and arrive at a state of perfection such that Enoch and the entire city was taken up into heaven; translated like the prophet Elijiah. Melchesidek, King and High Priest of Salem, was said to rule over a wicked city who repented and became a righteous city known ever after as "The City of Peace."

Moses tried to establish a perfect order among the Israelites. God desired to again establish his everlasting coventant with Israel declaring, "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19: 6), but the people were fearful . . . "and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die (Ex. 20: 19). So, God established a prepatory law which would prepare them to recieve the higher law at Christ's coming. After Christ's ascention, the higher law and everlasting covenant was revealed and early christians were said to have lived ". . . of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common" (Acts 4: 32). However, the perfect order and everlasting covenant did not endure the persecutions and the coming apostasy (Amos 8: 11, Acts 3: 21, 2 Thes. 2: 3, Acts 20: 29, Rev. 12: 6, 14, Dan. 2: 44-45). If you disagree based on John 15: 16 then where are their christians who live with all things in common other than the Amish?

The Book of Mormon prophets also saught to establish a united order. Lehi, after surviving a long journey through the desert, came to a fertile seashore which they named Boutiful. However, the oasis was not big enough to establish a righteous nation, so God commanded Nephi to build a ship which would bring them across the ocean to the "promied land." After arriving in the Americas, Brothers Laman and Lemuel and several of the sons of Ishmael rebelled against the Lord, forcing the family to split into two groups known as the Nephites and Lamanites.

The Nephites tried despertly to restore the Lamanites to the truth. Mormon comment on their desires and prayers to reclaim the lamanites: "And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people" (W of M 1: 8). Enos comments on their efforts to reclaim the Lamianites but details their fall into great wickedness and superstition:

"And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us" (Enos 1: 20).

Part of the difficulty in converting and reclaiming the Lamanites to the truth was their oral tradition. The Book of Mormon records:

"They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness. And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord. And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him. And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them. And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi" (Mosiah 10: 15 (12-17)).

In the Book of Mormon, there were 2 movements that prepared the Lamanites to recieve and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and reject their false oral traditions. The first was literacy and the second was industry and economy. You will remember that Amulon and the wicked priests of King Noah were set up as teachers among the Lamanites. The result proved to be a revolutionary shift from the how the lamanites were described earlier in the Book of Mormon:

"And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus the language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites. And they were a people friendly one with another; nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi; But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another. And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren" (Mosiah 24: 1, 4).

After teaching the Lamanites bacame literate, and industrialized, they were then recepive to the word of God. But as the Lamanites were converted to the truth, the Nephites began to reject it:

"For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain. . . And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him. And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts. And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words" (Hel. 6: 17, 34-36).

The Lamanites who were converted to the truth were so valiant in their faith that the Book of Mormon says of them: "a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord" (3 Ne. 6: 14). What a stark contrast to the "bloodthirsty" Lamanites described at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

After Christ's apearance in America, there was a perfect, Zion society established on the American continent which lasted nearly 3 generations. The Book of Mormon says that everyone was converted to the Lord:

"And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people. . . And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God" (4 Ne. 1: 3,10,15-17).

However, the Book of Mormon is a record of 2 fallen civilizations. The Nephites and Lamanites again reject the truth. Mormon witnesses the fall of his people comments to his son Moroni:

". . . Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent. Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost. . . . I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them. For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually. . . And if they perish it will be like unto the Jaredites, because of the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge" (Moro. 8: 27-28, Moro. 9: 3-4, 23).

So, what does this have to do with Foreign Policy? Well, there are some who would have you believe that it is arrogant for the West to attempt to industrialize and democratize the 3rd World. They refer to it as Imperialistic. They say things like, "You can't just expect those people over there to accept democracy and that it is not culturally sensitive." They seem to be thinking that those in the middle east like to be oppressed and like they wouldnt know what to do with democracy if they had it.

Also, with this global warming fraud. The movement is discouraging the industrialization of the 3rd World. Such industrializatoin would prove to close the economic inequality gap and end the real war which is not an East-West conflict but a North-South or a Rich-Poor conflict (Zinni, Battle Ready). Truth is that the majority of people want freedom and want opportunity. And it should not be considered imperialistic to make freedom and opportunity availiable to all mankind. That said, we would help ourselves if we did not export sexualized pop-culture and media , and dishonest, cut-throat business practices along with it.

Some people like to travel the world and collect trinkets to put on their walls and shelves. Although beautiful in their own way, they are also a reminder of the impoverished and opressive conditions that most people who live on this planet live under. I take the stand to say that, with all respect to cultural and religious beliefs, all people have the right to be free and to have the opportunity to develop their god-given talents. There is nothing about culture or religion that values oppression, immorality, poverty, and inequality. So, I support any action that seeks to make the blessings and rights of liberty and opportunity availible to more of the human family. And that such actions should not be considered Evil or Imperialistic on the whole but purely charitable.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Testimony: The Highest Form of Knowing

Today in LDS Suday School (Elder's Quorem) we talked about Elder Uchtdorf (Member of the Quorem of the 12 Apostles) talk entitled, "The Power of Testimony" given during October 2006 LDS General Conference.

Our class discussed that a testimony is knowledge or witness gained in a different way than the usual ways we gain knowledge or know things. The knowledge and witness that comprises a testimony is not based solely on man's intellect, reasoning, or logic alone. Although, the substance of a testimony is rightly considered to be composed of the most pure intelligence, reason, and logic possible. The substance of a testimony is instead derived by inspiration, revelation, or direct communication by God through the medium of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it both makes sense to the mind and the heart together, and therefore is the highest form of knowing (Matt. 16: 17)(Num. 11: 29).

A testimony is comprised of 5 basic components but can include any other knowledge that is spiritually obtained. However, these first 5 pillars of a spiritual witness are what God considers essential. They include:

1. The existence, reality, and nature of God the Eternal Father and the relationship of man to God as literal spiritual offspring.

2. Jesus Christ is the literal "only begotten" Son of God and who atoned for our sins and resurrected, recieved eternal life, and now stands on the right hand of our Heavenly Father thereby becoming the only way to return to God and inherit salvation, exaltation, and eternal life.

3. That God reveals his will and plan for his spirit children through chosen men known as prophets like Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah and that he continues to call prophets in these, the Last Days, beginning with Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in vision and was called to "restore" (not protest or reform) the only true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

4. The Book of Mormon is the word of God and like the Bible, it is a testament that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

5. That President Gordon B. Hinkley is God's chosen prophet, seer, and revelator today and speaks the mind and will of God unto us.

Like Peter in the New Testament, I posess a testimony revealed to me by God through his Holy Spirit. My testimony developed through desiring to know the truth, years of study and prayer, and willingness to accept and live accordingly. And this spiritual witness has not just been spiritually confirmed and validated once, but is continually and continuously reaffirmed. Elder Uchtdorf explains in his talk how anyone can recieve their own spiritual witness of these same essential truths. The steps include 1. Desire (Alma 32: 27). 2. Search, Ponder, Pray (Ask Duh!) (Matt. 7:7) 3. Obey, Do, Follow (John 7: 17).

Some evangelicals will on one hand criticize LDS for following our "feellings." But then, on the other hand, they turn around and say they "feel" they have been called and "inspired" by God into their ministry. This is clearly an example of double speak. I have heard many evangelicals go on to argue that their belief in the Bible is purely "logically" based. They then go on to tell me about their several degree, PhDs in divinity school, and about all the archeological evidence to support the Bible. I just am left to think, "You cannot be serious!" I don't know how it is possible to consider the parting of the Red Sea, stopping the Earth in its rotation, surviving being thrown into a furnace or den of lions, surviving being swallowed by a whale, changing water to wine, or coming back form the dead as logical. There are absolutely no scientific evidence that these events actually occured of could occur. And belief based on archeological evidence? "Come on!" This argument couldnt be more flawed. If archeological evidence made a book scripture, then anything historically based could be considered scripture.

In their defence, these evangelicals criticize the LDS concept of "following your feelings" and deny the power of inspiration that comes by the Holy Ghost because they equate it with the Pentecostal idea of the Holy Spirit. This ofcourse creates a false dichotomy. Just because another faith has a flawed concept of the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that ours is wrong too. The LDS concept of inspiration and personal revelation by the Holy Ghost is nothing like the Pentecostal concept. LDS recognize that the most important spiritual skill one can master while in this life is to learn to decern ones own natural emotions, adrenaline excitement, lustful passions from the quiet, patient, warm, happy and peaceful feelings of the Holy Ghost (Gal. 5: 22).

Almost every living person has experienced the influence of the Spirit at one time or another as they have sought the will of God when making an important career, family or personal decision. The Bible is clear that The Holy Ghost testifies of Christ, it will teach us all things, and lead us into all truth. The Holy Ghost is the still small voice Elijah felt on the mountain top, it is the "burning bosom" of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, and it is what caused those on the day of Pentecost to feel "pricked in their hearts" and declare, "Men and brethern, what shall we do?"

The Book of Mormon answers that most important question with regard to gaining a testimony. At the end of the book is a promise by the prophet-writer, Moroni, who exhorts, "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moro. 10:4-5).

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Passover Lesson

The other night, my children and I were reading about the Passover in their illustrated Old Testament reader. According to the Bible account of the Passover, Moses and the Israelites were commanded to smear the blood of a lamb above their door posts of their homes while they feasted upon the meat of the lamb within. Like the sacrament, where we partake of the bread and water in rememberance of the body and blood of Christ; both the blood and flesh of Christ are represented here. Also, like the sacrament; the body of Christ is representative of the letter of the law while the blood of Christ represents the spirit of the law. Now, it doesn't seem that astonishing that Moses smeared the blood on the doorways and he ate the meat instead of the other way around. I'm sure the meat wouldn't smear as well as blood. But, it did seem intersting in considering the symbolism as it relates to our usual belief about the letter and spirit of the law.

Our usual attitude with regard to the letter and spirit of the law is to excuse ourselves in our inability to keep the letter. We say, "I know its obviously apparent that I am not keeping letter of the law, but I have the spirit of the law in my heart and that is what counts." However, according to the lesson of the Passover, the letter should be on the inside and the spirit on the outside.

The passover and the sacrament remind us that we are to feast upon and make the word of God a part of us. We do this by reading the scriptures and likening or applying the scriptures to our lives. We also must pray always; pray over everything we do and ask that God would consececrate it to our good, and always have a prayer in our hearts. The scriptures say we should also enjoy of the words of eternal life in this life (Moses 6: 59). Then if we really make the word of God part of us, then we are promised that the spirit of God will eminate from us. We will reflect God's glory and become spiritually born of God; receiving his image in our countenances (Alma 5: 14, 19).

In this way we will actually start exceeding, in many instances , the letter of the law, through Christ, instead of continually falling short from it. This is how we "light a candle, and put it . . . on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5: 15).