Thursday, May 31, 2018

Malachi vs. Ezra

I always assumed if someone in the Bible had a book of the Bible named after them, then they must be on God’s good side.  However, I’m just recently pondering the possibility that Ezra and Nehemiah could be bad and I’m now having trouble seeing it any other way. 

Ezra and Nehemiah returned later to Israel from Babylon.  Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem but the second temple had already been rebuilt.  After arriving in Jerusalem they immediately deposed the high priestly lines of Joshua (Yeshua = Christ), son of Josedech, and governing lines of Zarubbabel.  

Ezra claims his justification for usurping authority was because some of the descendants of Joshua had married foreign wives.  It doesn’t say if the foreign wives had first converted unlike Solomon’s strange wives. Anyways it would have been a disqualification according to Lev 21:14. My feeling is the priest’s wives were proselytes/ converts but Ezra rejected them claiming they were “mud-bloods”. 

Ezra the scribe was given a lot of gold and commanded by Artaxerxes (not God) to establish the scribal rabbinical system among the Jews and enforce it.  It was these scribes and Pharisees that led the Jews away from Christ and to crucify their Messiah and their God. The truth of Jesus (without letters) was turned from glorious into offensive for the majority who trusted their Rabbi. Among the Jewish sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Samaritans, Herodians, etc; all were wrong. Only John the Baptist pointed His few followers to the true Christ.

Artaxerxes (not God) decrees: 
Ezra 7:25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.

How could mainstream Christianity adopt the same corrupt scholarly system of letters that led the Jews away from the true Christ? I do not object to scholarship but scholarship alone was never the basis for ecclesiastical authority.  True understanding of the Bible does not come from ecumenical creeds, great and spacious buildings, seminaries, institutes, divinity or theological degrees.  Truth does not come by letters but by the spirit of prophecy and ordination. (1 Tim 4:14, Matt 16:17)

So, LDS Christians do interpret the Bible differently than other Christian sects.  But LDS interpretation comes from revelation, from God’s ordained priesthood authority and not from evangelical seminaries. So, LDS interpretation may be different than you’re used too, but that doesn’t make it untrue.  LDS don’t take a limited number of verses out of the  Bible to formulate our doctrine. All the Bible speaks to us, and not just some of it.  

Malachi was a contemporary of Ezra, and some think Malachi (the messenger) was written by Ezra.  But I totally doubt that. Here is how we might know that Malachi was not written by Ezra but was instead critical of Ezra and Ezra’s newly appointed priests. Ezra ordered that those priests who had married foreign wives “put them away”.  However God via Malachi criticized both Ezra’s Rabbis and divorce by saying: 

Malachi 2: 11-16 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. (irony) 
12 The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master (rabbi) and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.  .... 
16 For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away (divorce): for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

Most Jews will acknowledge that prophets ended with Ezra. When Israel accepted the scribal and rabbinical system set up by Ezra, God ceased to call prophets among Israel until John the Baptist. 

Here is what Christ thinks of Ezra’s scribes and Pharisees:
Matt 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Isaiah on the issue:
Isaiah 29: 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

Mal 2:8 But ye (Ezra’s priests) are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Distinct and Different

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world”

  1. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 222–23.

Redeeming Value

Someone posted online that they were of the opinion of the LDS Church that it was of “no redeeming value"
Let me talk some about the (should-be) value of religion in general. Pure religion is about providing welfare and encouraging virtue. (1James 1:27). If Religion is doing anything else like entertainment or whatever, it is not really religion. virtue is about behavior that does no harm to self or others. Self-harm should be the jurisdiction of the Church and NGO's while harm to others is the jurisdiction of Law Enforcement and the legal system.

Religion should have the primary responsibility to provide welfare. This is because government can tax and redistribute wealth, but they don't rehabilitate. There is rarely ever accountability. The government rarely gets into help people change their situation or deal with potential virtue issues that may or may not be present.

Religion should use the tools of community and covenant to encourage virtuous behavior and service/welfare. Community uses the positive power of peer-pressure to encourage virtuous living. Religion should create a community of safety and caring (fellowship).  

With regard to covenant, life gives people endless excuses to break our commitments. Covenants give people a reason to keep our commitments (like marriage) even when we feel like our circumstances give us justification to break them. This is exactly why doctors, lawyers, military, enter into oaths and covenants. We just forget why we make oaths/covenants and how they can be helpful to the average citizen.

So, to conclude that a person doesn't find value in a religion, they have to then 1. not understand the primary mission of religion, 2. or be of the opinion that they are not fulfilling their mission of providing welfare, or encouraging virtue. 

As far as the issue with the an isolated church leader confessing to sexual exploitation, is that we know as a community what commitment these people have taken upon themselves and what community trust they have accepted upon themselves. Any behavior contrary to this IS a scandal because it runs absolutely counter to what religion and leadership is all about. But thank's to religion, our community still upholds certain values, and recognizes this behavior as a gross/tragic violation of those values.

Any institution is made up of very imperfect people and has plenty of room for improvement. We can debate whether certain violations should be made public in the name of transparency. I think there is a place for transparency. However, I wouldn't say a religious institution that does engage in providing welfare and encouraging virtue is of significant "redeeming value".

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nazarite and the Golden Mean

One of my favorite teachings from Rabbi Richman.  The Nazarite took upon himself extra prohibitions. However at the conclusion he was declared sinful and was made to offer a sin offering to the priest in the temple.  This indicates, fasting too much or being too fanatical is actually sinful. The purpose of the Nazarite vow was to correct addiction or extreme personality problems by living for a short time in the other extreme with the end goal of returnimg to the straight and narrow middle road.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

LDS Prophet’s and Apostles

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.  Outsiders may be tempted to ask, “well if your leaders are prophets, then what have they prophesied?”   Firstly, the first responsability of a prophet is to “prophesy”.  Prophesy doesn’t have so much to do with mystically predicting thr future as it does professing Christ. Every LDS prophet and apostle has tirelessly and courageously testified that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and the divine Son of God.  

The next responsibility of prophets and Aposyles is as a “seer”.  Seers see things as they really were, are, and will be.  Many of the problems we face in this world is due to a corrupted understanding of history which leads to a warped sense of our present reality and perspective.  These warped perceptions lead to an inability to predict the future. True prophets have a clear vision of the true past, present, and future.  Their clear vision can provide the clarity necessary for us to make the best life decisions. 

Lastly, prophets are “revelators”.  This last designation involves reveling things that have never been known and occasionally revealing needed information about future events.  These revelatuons are not common and are not done as some sort of parlor trick to impress people. Flashy miracles in the Old Testament were not daily occurrences.  Signs are promised to follow those who believe, but most miracles are private and individual. Remember that Christ charged most of those he healed to “tell no man”. Christ sought disciples who believed based on faith and not free bread and fishes.

Most doctrine is revealed through the dispensation leader.  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Peter were dispensation leaders that received a greater portion of revelation needed for their time.  The dispensation leader of our day is Joseph Smith. All major doctrines, ordinances, observances were first revealed to Joseph Smith.  Our responsibility now is to share them and live them.  However, in my own lifetime, I have witnessed many great and wonderful revelations and developments in Christ’s Kingdom.  Here is a short list:

1. We are the generation of the Second Coming
2. Area Authority 70’s
3. Portent of Stormy Weather/Housing Crash
4. Family Proclamation - predicted attack on family values
5. Living Christ - predicted attacks on historicity of Christ’s life
6. New Temples - 47 to over 150 temples.
7. Hastening the Work
8. Missionary Age
9. Ministering
10. No more BSA/Scouts
11. Warnings about pornography
12. Use internet/social media to spread gospel and research family history. 

Law of Moses

Christ’s sacrifice ended the law of sacrifice by the shedding of blood.  God’s forgiveness and blessing can only be obtained by accepting the blood of Jesus Christ and in no other way. Certain mitzvot Jews may observe may be more due to tradition than specific commandment.  However, while animal sacrifice is no more, Latter-day Saint (LDS) Christians do observe many other parts of the Law of Moses. 

Firstly, LDS Christians strive to observe the 10 Commandments given by God to Moses in Mount Horeb. While circumcision and observing New Moons and Sabbaths identified you as Jewish, Christ taught that being honest, chaste, virtuous, and doing good to all men identified you as Christian and satisfied the purposes of the Law (Law of Christ).  

As part of keeping the 10 Commandments, LDS observe the Sabbath. However, instead of Saturday, most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday which commemorates Christ’s  resurrection on the “Lord’s Day” or the first day of the week. Keeping the Sabbath restores perspective by putting God first in your life.  

Many LDS Christian’s in the US observe the practice of male circumcision.  This is more a cultural and medical practice and not proscribed by thr LDS Church.  Nevertheless, male circumcision is commonly practiced in the US and Europe for cultural and hygienic purposes.

LDS Christians build and worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in holy temples.  The purpose of temple worship is to dedicate, devote and consecrate one’s life to the service of the God of Israel. 

A big part of observing the Law of Moses involved the celebration of 3 yearly festivals. LDS observe the 3 Jewish Feasts in a related but modified manner: 

1 Passover/Unleavened Bread (Pesach)- Jesus Chriat reapplied the emblems of the passover meal, in instituting the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.  Christ taught that His body is the passover lamb and that only by accepting and partaking of His flesh and blood can we be forgiven, blessed, and saved. 

2. Pentecost/Weeks/First Fruits (Shavuot)-  The Jewish observance of this feast involved giving to the priests tithes and offering. Instead of paying tithes and offerings only once a year, LDS generally pay their tithes and offering weekly or monthly.  However, like ancient Israel, LDS particupate in a yearly tithing settlement where we appear before common judge of Israel (Bishop) and make a self-accounting. 

3. Tabernacles/Ingathering (Sukkot)- Jews observe this feast by constructing a hut in their yards and dining and even sleeping in them for an entire week. LDS preserve a camping/readiness culture through yearly father-and-son’s campouts, scouting, girl’s camp, and food storage.   These observances commemorate the past, provide correct perspective, and preserve a culture of preparedness among God’s people for the future.  A preparedness culture enables God’s people to be ready to “flee Babylon” and gather if called at any time and endure any coming tribulation or judgement. 

Are there any other Law of Moses mitzvot that LDS generally observe?  Are there other  mitzvot LDS maybe should observe but don’t? 

Triumphant Kingdom

“For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. Every previous gospel dispensation has drifted into apostasy, but ours will not. True, there will be some individuals who will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God.”  - Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps” BYU Devotional, 1979.

“if the gentiles on this land reject the word of God and conspire to overthrow liberty and the Constitution, then their doom is fixed, and they ". . . shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant" it should be quite oblivious to all that we are on the precipice of seeing the “abomination of desolation” unfold!” - Ezra Taft Benson

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Letter to Dr. Ehrman

Dr. Ehrman has written several best-sellers and given numerous talks on the Bible and Early Christianity.  Dr. Ehrman himself at one point was a “born-again” Evangelical Christian but says that he is currently both an atheist and agnostic.  Atheism is a declaration of belief, while agnosticism is a declaration of experiencial evidence. . 

Dear Dr. Ehrman, 

I am a theist and a gnostic.  I am also Christian.  I believe in God but I have also had personal and collective experience with Him. Thank you for the excellent explaination on this. I remember you saying that you had a “born again” experience at one time.   I am a published scientist and a physician and in addition to numerous personal experiences (practical and miraculous) with God, I have spoken with several very reliable people who have experienced near-death experiences. I respect science but I am well aware of its limitations.

Practically, I think Christianity is so very useful. I think having a hope of resurrection, anticipation of judgement, the anticipation of heavenly reward, and ultimately a love toward God helps people keep their commitments even when life gives them excuses not to. The “eternal perspective” is more powerful a motivator through love than by a fear of harm, scarcity, and death. Love builds long-term social capital, cooperation and community.

Also, Christianity does better at adressing the problem of “blood atonement” better than any other belief system. Many religions and cultures throughout history teach that somehow by killing certain people or animals, a person or community or nation might receive God’s favor, blessing, forgiveness, peace, safety and prosperity. The US war on terror policy of “kill them over there so they don’t kill us over here” is a form of blood atonement. The practice of abortion is also blood atonement. True Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that only through the blood of Christ can a person, or nation can we receive God’s blessing. This doesn’t apply to self-defense but preemptive/offensive actions.

You commented that your conversion to atheism and agnosticism was based on the “problem of pain”, and the overall violence, seeming injustice, and suffering in the universe.  Yes, the universe is violent, but it is not unjust. 

One important Christian doctrine that addresses the “problem of suffering” is the reality of a pre-mortal existence. Our spirits existed before our Earth life and just like a physician is expected to obtain and provide a patient with informed consent, the Bible is clear enough that God provided every soul the same informed consent before we were to undergo the painful proceedure of mortality. 

Job 38: 4-7 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. ... When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

But not everyone shouted for joy.  A considerable number did not agree to the terms of mortality and rebelled and fell on likely similar issues. 

Yes, the Bible has translation and interpretation issues, and the universe is a violent and painful place. But Christ's blood covers those children who die without law and accountability. “Where there is no law, there is no sin”. Children who have died will be resurrected during the Millennium of peace.  God is just and merciful. The victory of Christ over death has swollowed up death in victory. The future glory will eclipse any past suffering and Christ will wipe away every tear. 

Best Regards,

Sunday, May 06, 2018

House of the Lord

I just recently returned from 1 week in Italy and Switzerland.  My sister planned a trip to Europe and twisted my arm to go.  Ok, it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting.  My trip began in Rome. They say when your in Rome, to do as the Romans.  Well it turned out that there was a big football/soccer game between intracity rivals Roma and Lazio. The game was held at the great Olympic Stadium.  The staium is ringed by giant statues of ancient Roman athletes. The game was quite the spectacle with it ruckus fans, with their flags, banners, song, cheers. smoke and even fire. 

Next I visted other historical, cultural and architectural wonders such as the Pantheon with its domed ceiling and oculus and the and the ancient Colosseum.  I also saw great sacred Christian sights at the Vatican including St. Peter’s Basillica and the Sistine Chapel.  

After several days in Rome, we moved onto Florence and the great Uffizi Museum which houses works from the great Renaissance masters Rafael, DaVinci, and Michelangelo.  Florence also houses the magnificent David at the Galleria dell’ Accademia.  

My trip moved from Italy to Switzerland.  In Italy you visit churches and museums.  In Switzerland, you visit their mountaintops. In Lucerne, there is the beautiful Lake Lucerne, surrounded by lush green hills, dotted by bell-wearing cows, and flanked by the majestic white-capped Alps. Lucerne is neighbor to a majestic Alp named Pilatus. Not do the Swiss build high-speed train tunnels under and through the Alps, they have a system of cog railway, gondolas, and trams to the very top.  And at the peak, they have 2 hotels, cafe and restaurant. 

Finally, I ended my trip in Bern, or Zollikofen to be exact. One of my nephews just received his mission call to Santiago, Chile. He went through the temple in Switzerland for the first time which served as the climax of our trip. Of all the amazing, spectacular, opulent, and majestic sights I had seen; I only truly experienced God’s presence accompanied by a quiet reverence in His Holy House. I am reminded of the story of Elijah who witnessed the fire, earthquake, and wind on the mountain top, but testified that God was not in the fire, earthquake nor the wind, but only a later still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12). 

It’s tragic how the good and honorable of the Earth disagree and dispute with each other based only how to solve the problems of poverty, social justice, and war. But according to Isaiah 2/Micah 2, we learn that in the Last Days before Christ’s Second Coming, God will establish His temple (Mountain of the Lords House). And that it is by this house that nations will finally beat their swords into plowshares and learn war no more. In the Last Days, instead of building temples only to one kingdom, nation, tongue, and people; the everlasting gospel will be available to all kingdoms , nations, tongues, and peoples. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

LDS Ministering

Here is a report from the front lines: 

Writing is just an exercise of thinking about something. It doesn't necessarily represent final conclusions for me.  Nothing is really set in stone as far as what the end product will look like.  Ultimately, I just follow the direction of our stake president, bishop and EQ president (keys).  I try to be a good influence but ultimately— I’m flexible.  I am also brainstorming as I’m writing this. This letter is part of pondering process. Hopefully it leads to a good place.  

Some of what I was trying to verbalize was my hope that 1. we are not under condemnation for failing at HT/VT, 2. I think our social situations really have changed which has made the old HT/VT program more difficult to comply with 100%  3. I see ministering as an improvement and adaptation and not a “lesser law” 4.  I hope that God is not frustrated with us and that we are not under comdemnation because of our past failures. 

Ministering Overlap
We have been talking about the “ministering overlap” and we’re thinking the new ministering guidelines allowed us some greater flexibility. The Augusta Ward needs our best minsters to be focused on the higest priority members. But at the same time, there still needs to be a backbone of assigned priesthood. (see Ministering Q/A).  According to the Ministering Q/A, LDS leadership is requesting a system of ministering coverage overlap for purposes of access to priestood and emergency response. 

Ministering Zones/Districts
The Augusta Ward has had a system of priesthood Zones and Zone leaders used for emergency response. We have many transient members (eg military, students). So, we split the ward into Zones and assigned geographical call lists to brethren who are “permanent party”. Using this framework, we have successfully been able to  contact all contactable members within 2 hours during emergency situations. 

MLS did away with “GeoCodes” and has made printing out a ward “Head of Household” list via “GeoCode” no longer possible via “Custom Reports”. I am hopeful the online MLS LDS tools will again allow “GoeCodes”.  We may have to use something like “HT districts” or assign “Zones” or “Ministering Districts”.  I think we had also put the Geo Code designation in the “Secondary Address”. I would be great if there was an online tool kinda like the missionaries are just now using, where we can draw a “box” on a map and we can create a list and see a graphical representation of all members/Heads of Household within that “Ministering District”. However, I think it still is necessary to have a “GeoCode” designation and the ability to print a custom ward list/Head of Household according to “GeoCode” or “Ministering District” or “Zone” or whatever. Alphabetical lists don’t always work.   We need our technology to support our ministering efforts. 

Ministering Spider-Web
We intend to weave a complex ministering “spider-web” and hope we get adequate coverage. But hope to back it up with a simplified prieshood backbone of ministering district leaders (Captains of 50/10). The fact is, it is easier to minister when your assignments 1. live close to you, 2. live close to or on the way to work 3. all live close to each other.  This isn’t Utah where your entire ward consists of 2-3 streets.

Assigning Experiences Not People
Ruth expressed the opinion that after covering the ward with ministering prieshood district leaders, the real work of ministering should be more focused on the situation (eg pregnancy, reactivation, new-member discussions, illness).  She was seeing This is how the ward council operates.  The Ward Council operates sometimes by “putting out fires” or adressing needs as they arise. But I think its okay to assign people because its people that matter more than whatever they are going 
through. However, Ruth says people appreciate help but don’t want to feel like a “project”. But ultimately, I’ve had self-assigned and assigned long-term relationships with people and seen results on both after short-term and after long-term involvement. Also, ministering district leaders will help with the needed interviewing. 

I am glad you brought up ministering interviews.  This is where we started. I was thinking to report on this, but we already have our plan set up and moving forward. We actually realized, that we are going to need to conduct 2 interviews. Interview #1 is to assess ministering needs and ministering capability. Interview #2 would cover assignments. 

We are going to have the entire EQ and RS leadership together with Ministering Coordinators divide up ward list alphabetically and conduct interviews.  We are formulating a standardized information sheet to be filled in as part of interview #1 so we have necessary data to make assignments which will be given during interview #2.  Attached is a preliminary draft of Interview #1 data sheet.

Not A Program? 
I am not sure I am really getting some of the rhetoric about ministering that it is “not a program” and that members should not “complicate” things as we tend to do.  I see this rhetoric as a shade condescending.  I am not sure how the “not a program” reasoning is supposed to help.  In my mind, ‘A system of assignments to achieve a goal = program’.   So, why insist that it is not?   I do get the “simplification” part, which is encouraging.  But we are still maybe dealing with a complicated ministering “spider-web” with overlapping ministering districts.  On our side, we just need our leaders to 1. understand logistically what they are requesting, 2. clearly explain what they want us to do and 3. have reasonable expectations.  

The truth is, this still sounds like a program, and its still somewhat complicated but has been adapted and refocused on ministering due to shifts in technology, social and family dynamics. (ie people are more open to divulging all their problems publicly on Facebook). 

Remember that our lives are different that our parents.  Many of our wives now work outside the home, and we are expected to watch our kids much closer while carting them around to their various extracurricular activities. Visiting 10 families every month and sitting down to review the “First Presidency Message” and then asking “Are you remebering to do your ....?” and “Is there anything we can do for you” just wasn’t working. Especially when the Church Handbook of Instruction says Church Programs are meant to support families. 

So how can Ministering involve and unify our families? I  think, we would do best to involve our kids and the entire family in our ministering opportunities. I think the while family should minister together.  Assigning the family to give new member discussions or to visit the hospital or to make a meal which might make monistering something that unifies a family and not “Dad’s gone home teaching” or “Mom’s out doing her visiting teaching”. And now both Devin and Faith can potentially be independently scheduled.

Overall Points
1. Condemnation vs Social Adaptation
2. Ministering Overlap
3. Prieshood Backbone vs. Spider-Web
4. Assigning People vs. Assigning Experiences (people projects vs. putting out fires)
5. Interview #1 vs. Interview #2
6. Not a program? 
7. Family Ministering Dynamics