Archive for January 2009
I have not taken the sacrament over the last few weeks. Each Sunday I was out of town visiting my dad who is in the hospital. I missed taking the sacrament and felt the difference during the week. No, the sacrament isn’t some magic potion that cures all ills, but it is a powerful way to pull down the blessings of heaven upon us.
This morning in bishopric meeting I was asked to share the spiritual thought so I pulled out my file of papers I have collected over the years on the subject of the sacrament. It has always been one of my favorite subjects to address and often came up over the years while I served on the High Council. It is a sacred subject.
An intensely personal experience
I read, and we discussed just one of my favorite quotes on the sacrament. It is from a church news article on the subject dated 25 May 1991. The title is, “An intensely personal experience,” and it is taken from a General Conference address by Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy delivered in April of 1989 to all church members.
Perhaps a few additional excerpts and teachings from the article will be helpful before I present the one quote that I would like to focus on as the subject of this essay. The question I would like to address is “What does it mean to be worthy to partake of the sacrament?” We teach that we should not partake of it unworthily.
The sacrament in scripture
“The Lord instituted the sacrament, as we know it today, during what we commonly call the Last Supper. In one sense, it was the last supper, but in another, it was the first supper – the beginning of many spiritual feasts,” said Elder Groberg. We can read of the Last Supper in Matt 26:20-29, Mark 14:22-25 and Luke 22:14-23.
In those recorded accounts the Savior instructed His apostles that the broken bread symbolized His body and the wine His blood. The Book of Mormon gives further information pertaining to the sacrament, which the resurrected Lord then instituted among the Nephites. Jesus clearly taught how the sacrament is to be administered.
The bread and the water
“Behold, there shall be one ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it…and this shall ye do in remembrance of my body…and if ye do always remember me ye shall have my spirit to be with you. This can be found in 3 Nephi 18:5-7. You can also read more in D&C 20:75-77.
The Savior then instructed His disciples to take of the wine (we use water today) “in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. Read more in 3 Nephi 18:11 or D&C 20:78-79.
The doctrine of Christ
The blessings of this ordinance are available to us again today. But we must do as they did and follow the doctrine of Christ, which is to believe in Jesus, to rely on Him, repent of our sins, take his name upon us by being baptized in His Church, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and faithfully follow Christ all of our lives.”
The Savior knows how much we need help to follow Him. He knows that we will make mistakes, even repeated mistakes. He knows about people who struggle with addiction. That’s why he instituted the ordinance of the sacrament to be repeated each week. That is a key part of this ordinance that is easy to gloss over lightly.
Take the sacrament regularly
This invitation of the Savior to come unto Him is issued regularly and is universal. Everyone is included – men, women and children. Young and old alike participate. None are barred except by themselves. And that is the point I would like to address. Elder Groberg answered that question in a manner that has helped me immensely.
He said, “If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy…the very purpose of the sacrament is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement.” I am of the same opinion as Elder Groberg and believe that we should partake of the sacrament often.
Be in church each Sunday
In fact, we should partake of it as often as possible – every week if we can. That has been my policy over the years. Obviously there are times when we are unable to do so because of General Conference, Stake Conference or other occasions in which we cannot be where the sacrament is administered regularly to members of the church.
It is a sad fact that many members of the church do not understand the purpose of the sacrament and do not feel the need to be in church each Sunday to renew their covenants with the Lord by partaking of the sacrament. To take the sacrament is the primary purpose of our sacrament meetings. Everything else is secondary to that.
Even for recovering addicts
That is why I counsel people struggling with addictions to make every effort to take the sacrament regularly. Some ask if it isn’t mockery to partake of the sacrament by those with addictions who still have not mastered them. I submit to you that we are all addicts to some sort of sin that keeps us from perfection each and every week.
Recovering addicts that I know do not intend to fall prey to their particular sin each time they partake of the sacrament. It is their intention to be free of the addiction and to do all within their power to leave it behind forever. They need the sacrament to witness this to the Lord. I believe the sacrament is definitely meant for addicts.
The desires of our hearts
If we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, if we refuse to repent and have no plans to remember the Savior during the week or to keep His commandments, then yes, it would be making a mockery of the sacrament to take it under those conditions and with that spirit within our souls.
For most sincere followers of Jesus Christ, addicts included, the exact opposite is true. The desire to improve is strong, as is the intention to follow the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord. We want to keep the commandments and to remember the Savior always. Taking the sacrament is essential to making that commitment solid.
Summary and conclusion
The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we and the Lord are the only ones who know if we are worthy to partake or not. Unless the Bishop has instructed you not to partake of the sacrament until he deems you ready, I see no reason not to partake of the sacrament each week. This especially applies to recovering addicts.
There is a real power in the sacrament. It is not magic. It is not a positive thinking sort of thing. It is the power of Jesus Christ – the power of the atonement. Coupled with our repentance and desire to change, we can be strengthened in our resolve and determination to live the gospel and overcome the flesh, in spite of mortal weakness.
We have been invited by a prophet who attended the inauguration ceremony earlier this week to exercise our faith and pray for the 44th President of the United States of America. This is not a strange or unusual request and one that I am sure can be appreciated by people of all faiths. President Obama needs our faith and prayers.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve attended the inauguration and the National Prayer Service the next day. The two represented President Monson as they attended the events.
Hope and optimism
I like what President Uchtdorf had to say to the media after the events. He said that he prays for President’s Obama’s success in leading this country. Compare that to what popular commentator Rush Limbaugh said recently when he expressed that he hopes that President Obama fails. He later qualified that to be his policies.
I have always enjoyed President Uchtdorf’s positive outlook on life. Every time he speaks, he seems to express optimism and hope. I need more of that in my life. As he expressed to the media, these are important principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He pointed out that President Obama is also focused on these high ideals.
Deep emotion and unity
Isn’t it amazing how a person who is full of hope and optimism always seems to see the bright side of life? It makes you want to know that person better and figure out what makes them tick. In the case of President Uchtdorf, I think he was born with that natural optimism. It is a gift that we need more from our leaders today.
After the National Prayer Service, President Uchtdorf said he felt deep emotion and great unity among the people. He said he hoped that feeling of unity would continue through the years of President Obama’s administration. He also said he felt that the people of America are going to unite behind the new U.S. president.
Unity in First Presidency
President Monson said that it is always an honor for the Church to be represented at the inauguration of a new president. “We send our best wishes to President Obama and pray for the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven to be upon him and his administration.” President Uchtdorf reported that he felt those blessing there.
“We felt we were in the right place with all those whom we call brothers and sisters, to pray for this presidency, for this administration, and with them to pray for all the governments around the world to bring again peace and prosperity and unity to all countries.” I join my faith and prayers with our First Presidency.
Difficult economic times
We are facing difficult economic times. Some have expressed that they fear we will move right past a recession and into a depression. That could be catastrophic. In times like this, prayers for unity and success for the leader of our nation and in effect, the free world, are very appropriate. Many hope for a new positive change.
The start of a new administration brings optimism and hope for those who believe in the needed change. I confess that I am not one who likes change. I like routine and steady progress. I’m not sure if a government can bring about the correction to our economic situation but I’m exercising my faith and prayers as we go forward.
A historic transition
A change in power in a nation is always a historic event. In our democracy, we show to the world how that peaceful transition takes place. Liberties, freedoms and justice for all are not just hollow phrases but truly are principles of our great nation that we uphold. This is more than just a racially historic event in America.
President Obama is young and somewhat inexperienced. He has wisely chosen to surround himself with more experienced individuals. Just as we pray in the church for our prophet and those who surround him, we can do the same thing for the leader of our nation. Carol and I often prayed for President Bush and his family.
If you have read many of my past essays, you could probably ascertain that I am very conservative in my political persuasions. I have written previously about Rush Limbaugh and how I enjoy listening to and reading his commentary on the political process and other events in this great democracy we call the United States.
I like many of the things that Rush says and agree with a lot of his viewpoints. However, in this instance, I am going to follow the counsel of a prophet and hope and pray that the objectives of our newly inaugurated president can be met. In fact, President Uchtdorf expressed that we need to help President Obama in his task.
I’m not sure if there is much I can do for President Obama from way out here in California. I will pray for him and his family just as I did for President Bush. Of course I will continue to pay my taxes and obey the laws of the land as best I can. I will contribute to the economy by buying needed goods and services as usual.
I think something else I can do to help President Obama accomplish his objectives is to not criticize. I plan to withhold judgment of the man and his policies until I see how well they work. I confess that I have initially disagreed with his efforts in the economic crisis, but then I also disagreed with what President Bush did there.
I am of the opinion that what is happening in the world around us may be beyond the help of a single nation. It may require the uniting of the world in a way that we have not considered before. I strongly suspect that President Obama is the man to do that like no other president we have ever had before. I will be watching him.
I will probably not agree with some of the things he proposes. But as things get worse, economically speaking, and I believe they will, I suspect that we will be in for some drastic measures that some will interpret as infringing upon our civil liberties. That happened with President Bush and I suspect it will happen again.
Summary and conclusion
I have noticed that I have been somewhat pessimistic over the last few months. My father is dying and I am struggling with what that means in my own life. I have much I want to accomplish before my time is up in this world and my father’s health reminds me that time is a precious gift that we can never, ever get back.
I want to have the kind of optimism that I saw in President Uchtdorf as he invited us to pray for President Obama. I need a renewal of hope and want to believe that things can get better. That would be a big change for me, but then, now is a prime opportunity for that needed change. As President Obama has said, “Yes, we can.”
You Are a Question Mark
You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.
And while you know a lot, you don’t act like a know it all. You’re open to learning you’re wrong.
You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.
You’re naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.
Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.
(But they’re not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)
You excel in: Higher education
You get along best with: The Comma
Hat tip to Megan at Hall Pass
I am more impressed with prophets than I am with scholars. While I know some prophets who are also scholars, I know a whole lot of scholars who know nothing about prophets. Their world of research and peer-review publications is a far cry from the world of revelation and vision-inspired teaching in which prophets excel.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not criticizing or putting down scholars and their ways of getting their message out. Peer-review has its place in the sciences but it is not the way prophets share what they have learned. Just as in ancient times, except to mock and ridicule, the world pays little attention to what modern-day prophets say.
Prophets in Old Testament times were rarely popular, usually because they boldly spoke the word of the Lord in telling the people to repent. That’s not something that most people like to hear, especially if they are enjoying their life of sin. So they drove the prophets away, where they continued to write for our benefit today.
The prophets saw our day
Many prophets saw our day. The Lord revealed it to them. They saw things that would happen in the skies that we simply are not familiar with. They were very familiar with the catastrophes that are about to befall us because many of them also happened in their day – earthquakes, plagues, famines, pestilences and great hail.
Have you ever thought about why the falling of hailstones would be such a big deal? We see hailstones all the time. Sure, they may destroy a few crops and break a few things but why are they mentioned so prominently in prophecies from Old Testament times that foretold our day? I wonder if it was a different kind of hail.
What if the hailstones that the prophets described were not hailstones of ice but of stone? What if the correct interpretation of what fell from the sky was meteorite? Can you imagine meteorites falling like hail? What would cause such a thing? Well, it’s actually quite simple and has a very logical and natural explanation.
Frozen water or burning rock
Meteorites, or more correctly, meteoroids, are simply debris from comets that have passed by. When the Earth passes through the region of space where the comet has been, we have meteor showers. The Leonids are one such example of a meteor shower that arrives every year about November 17th. Another is the Perseids.
We sometimes call these fiery displays, falling stars or shooting stars. But they are not really stars at all, but may be leftover pieces of planets that have broken up. We watch in awe as they shoot across the night sky, sometimes as often as one or two a minute. People travel to desert places to view and photograph them clearly.
But falling rocks don’t burn, do they? Indeed they do. Most of what we see in a meteor shower comes from rocks the size of pebbles and even sand. The friction of the atmosphere causes them to burn up, usually long before they reach the earth. But interestingly, larger ones that do reach the ground are usually cold. Go figure.
Hailstones of fire
The hail that fell in Egypt at the time of the Exodus was described by the Lord as very grievous, such as had not been seen in the land from the foundation of Egypt. I’m sure there had been hail in Egypt, but this was a different kind. It was not hail of ice, but of stone, burning stone, for fire ran along the ground as it fell in torrents.
The Lord has said through his prophets that such an event will occur again as part of the last days, just before the coming of the Lord. Can you imagine the kind of damage that a meteor storm that causes fire to run along the ground can do? The size of these meteorites as they strike the ground is prophesied to be quite large.
Now that’s something that can do some damage, especially if these falling stones are accompanied by fire. We find another description of this phenomenon when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. We call it fire and brimstone. Yes, that’s the sort of thing we have to look forward to before the Lord returns.
Fire and brimstone
What about this idea of fire and brimstone falling from the sky? Did such a thing really happen? Could it happen again? Brimstone is identified in modern times as sulfur, a product of volcanic activity, usually found around the brim or edge of a volcano in vents. Will there be increased volcanic activity before the Lord returns?
Yes, we will see huge amounts of volcanic activity in the last days but this essay is more about fire from the sky. In addition to swarms of meteors like we have never seen before, there is another kind of fire from the sky that has happened in our day, but which scholars have claimed could not have happened as they are the experts.
I’ve mentioned the Peshtigo fires in my essays before, but the subject deserves a second visit. If you are familiar with the fires, you have probably read about the comet theory. I agree with those who claim that fragments from a passing comet probably did not cause the fires. Any meteorites that fell did not cause the fires.
Falling burning petroleum
I’ll conclude this essay by bringing up one last thing to consider. Remember that in the Book of Exodus, the hail that fell was mingled with fire that ran along the ground. We know that the Lord uses natural events to bring about his purposes. Isn’t it possible that the comet could have some other debris besides meteorites?
You go read the description of the nucleus of a comet as found on Wikipedia. You’ll discover there that one of the components that is burned off a comet by solar heating is oil or tar. Hmmm….What if the earth were to pass through the same area in space where the tail of a comet left behind these organic compounds?
As one eyewitness to the Peshtigo fires reported, “It came in great sheeted flames from heaven. There was a pitiless rain of fire and sand. The atmosphere was all afire.” At apparently the same moment, in points hundreds of miles apart, the most devastating kind of fires broke out, so far as we know, by spontaneous combustion.
Summary and conclusion
Scholars over the years have debunked the idea that a passing comet somehow caused the Peshtigo fires. They must know, right? I mean, they are the scholars and they have the credentials to prove that they can speak with authority on this. As our tax-funded experts at NASA informed us, “Meteorites don’t pop corn.”
Forget about burning meteorites for a few minutes. Think about other possibilities of how the scripture in Exodus could be true – hail mingled with fire that ran along the ground. I propose that this is easily explainable by the earth passing through another kind of debris from a comet – not meteorites, but sticky, oily petroleum.
The falling meteorites themselves did a lot of damage, especially as they grew in size, but they did not necessarily cause the fire. The more I have studied it, the more I am convinced that the Egyptian hail and Peshtigo fires were caused by the earth passing through petroleum, heated to combustion by atmospheric friction.
Photo: Lithograph appeared in Harper’s Weekly 1871 and is entitled “At the River.” It depicts families fleeing from the Peshtigo fires.
I am blessed with the luxury and challenge of having a lot of time on my hands. That can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I am able to work from home to provide for my family and still make a good living doing tech support. The curse is that there is a lot of downtime in between support issues.
Being the computer guy that I am, I spend my free time on the Internet, especially in technical forums and on tech news sites. In fact, I used to write for a technical site, but got tired of all the one-upmanship from the other geeks and wanna-be techs. So I have been concentrating on my Latter-day Commentary blog instead.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what is the best use of my time. There is so much information out there and so many sites that one can visit. There is no way that you can read all the blogs, news stories and commentaries that are produced each day. I can barely keep up with reading what my favorite LDS bloggers post.
Bloggers are Information workers
I have tried sorting all my favorite sites by activity so the latest essays are always on the top. That helps. I have also tried using Google Reader but find it too easy to not comment on essays that deserve feedback and participation. I prefer to visit each site to read the posts there and to see what they have added on their sidebars.
I can’t imagine how some people are able to write comments on so many sites. In addition to great essays on their own blogs, they leave dozens of comments each day on the LDS group blogs and on the sites of fellow bloggers. It’s as if they have nothing else to do all day but read and write comments. Don’t they work?
Maybe they’re like me and are already in front of the computer twelve to sixteen hours a day anyway, making a living by what they write. It is an amazing thing that I am paid to answer phone calls and emails. Someone once described my job function as being a hunter-gatherer, only I gather and share information, not food.
Gathering and sharing information
I love this story from Elder Oaks that he shared back in the Sunday afternoon session of the April 2001 General Conference: “Two men formed a partnership. They built a small shed beside a busy road. They obtained a truck and drove it to a farmer’s field, where they purchased a truckload of melons for a dollar a melon.
“They drove the loaded truck to their shed by the road, where they sold their melons for a dollar a melon. They drove back to the farmer’s field and bought another truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. Transporting them to the roadside, they again sold them for a dollar a melon.
“As they drove back toward the farmer’s field to get another load, one partner said to the other, ‘We’re not making much money on this business, are we?’ ‘No, we’re not,’ his partner replied. ‘Do you think we need a bigger truck?’” As Elder Oaks concluded, it is clear that we don’t need a bigger truckload of information, either.
Adding value to information
Like the two partners in the story above, our biggest need is a clearer focus on how we should value and use what we already have. There is so much information that can be found out on the Internet. If all we are doing is bringing some of it back to our site and offering it there, then what value are we adding to readers who visit?
The first thing I always think of when I read that humorous story from Elder Oaks is to wonder why the partners didn’t charge more for their melons than they paid for them. They incurred the expense of transportation and did their customers a favor by bringing it closer to them. Besides, they also had equipment overhead.
They added value to the product they offered because they brought it closer to the market. Likewise, when we gather interesting information about the church or the doctrines or practices, we can add value to it when we offer it on our sites. The best way to do that is to focus our readers on how the information has blessed us.
Information should be prioritized
Some of the most valuable information I have is what I have learned over the years about how to fix computer problems experienced by my co-workers, especially in the specific network environment I manage. I am paid well for this knowledge. I am grateful to have been able to turn raw information into productive knowledge.
I do not spend my time studying, researching, gathering or compiling information about computer equipment and programs that I do not support or intend to support. That would be a waste of my time. While it may be interesting and perhaps useful someday, it is not applicable to the work I do today or in the foreseeable future.
Thus I am able to focus and prioritize the information I seek and gather in regards to the job that I am paid to do each day. I quickly scan headlines and summaries of the many thousands of tech articles that come out each day. But I only read the ones that apply directly to my present work and that will help me do my job better.
Gathering information about the church
I have been thinking about how I can apply this information gathering skill to my spiritual life. I subscribe to RSS feeds of dozens of computer tech publications. I have also setup Google Alerts to certain key phrases that I want to track, so that I can read what is being written about those subjects outside of my regular feeds.
Likewise, I am starting to add Google Alerts to notify me of new essays or articles that contain keywords like: Mormon, LDS, Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, BYU, Proposition 8, Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, Polygamy, Prophet, Jesus Christ, Temple, Joseph Smith and many others. We are very popular in the news lately.
I think I have mentioned before that I am a church news junkie. I love to read the many stories that are published each day about the church. I think that more good comes from these stories than we realize. We work hard to share the gospel, but people learn a lot more about the church than we think from what they read online.
Summary and conclusion
In my conversations with non-LDS co-workers, friends and family, I am often asked what I think about some item they have read in the news about the church. They do not start a conversation by saying, “Tell me how I can best prepare for eternity by having my family sealed in the temple.” I doubt that will ever happen.
However, they do start a conversation by saying, “I saw video of all the protesters in front of your temple. Why did they pick your temple to stage their protest?” I then have the opportunity to explain what the Temple represents to us and that it is a place where we are married for time and eternity. That leads to further dialog.
That’s why I think that it is important that we know what is being said about us in the news and on the Internet. Knowing this information can only help us share the gospel as we turn it into knowledge for our readers. We do this by adding our own positive experience with the subject and then share how it has blessed our lives.
“The Mormons base their religion on the visions of Joseph Smith.” This passing remark I read the other day from a writer who was not familiar with our church struck me as a profoundly simple summary of our religion. Take away the visions of Joseph Smith and what have we got? Nothing – much of our religion is found in the Book of Mormon and yet much of it is not.
Some have compared the LDS Church with the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they are both religions that started in America in the 19th Century. But you can search in vain for claims to visions or revelation in the history of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. His organization was formed as a Bible study group with no special claims of divine authority.
Another American religious group that formed in the 19th century, the Seventh-day Adventists, followed the same path of establishment by the Bible studies of William Miller. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, made no secret to his claims that he had been visited first by God and Jesus and then by angels – lots of them. Now, that’s something that you don’t hear about every day.
Visits from celestial beings
I would say that our claim to visits from celestial beings is very remarkable. In fact, perhaps this claim is one of the most unique things about our church. Sure, other churches teach that you can receive the Holy Spirit and be influenced by angels, but not many teach that angels have come to visit their founder multiple times, providing direction and instructions on how to set up a church.
Since visits by angels are not common occurrences in most people’s lives, it stands to reason that this is both a curiosity and a point of some ridicule or scorn. When it comes right down to it, if a friend were to ask you about angelic visitations and how they work, what would you say? I have never been visited by an angel, at least not that I am aware of, so I can’t say just how this works.
And yet I believe that Joseph Smith told the truth when he said he was visited by God, Jesus, and a multitude of angels. We also believe that Joseph Smith was very much a visionary man who received literally hundreds of visions and other revelations, all inspired or given of God. How many visions have you received? How many people do you know who profess divine visions?
Claims of mental illness
In an attempt to explain away Joseph’s claims to visions, some have suggested that he suffered from seizures of some kind, perhaps epileptic. Others have said that he had a vivid imagination or was just a really good liar. If someone were to present themselves to the world today with claims of receiving visits from angels and visions from God, most of us would say he is crazy.
I know I would be very skeptical if a friend, neighbor or work associate were to share with me that he had seen visions. People just don’t do that today for fear of being placed in the local mental hospital for observation. We would say someone like this is delusional, suffering from some form of mental illness such as psychosis or schizophrenia, causing fantastic hallucinations.
Most people who hear voices in their head don’t like this experience and seek help to deal with it. Yet Joseph Smith claimed that God spoke to him over and over again for years and years as He told him how to set up the church that he formed. I don’t hear voices in my head on a regular basis, but I can say that there are times I think I have felt inspired with ideas, words and phrases.
Joseph Smith spoke for God
So I guess a big part of accepting the claims of Joseph Smith is deciding for yourself if he was crazy, delusional or just an incredibly talented manipulator of the people around him. Most people in the world who are religious believe in some sort of supernatural communications from Deity to man. Most religious people look for ways to understand divine messages in their life.
How much do you agree with the following statement? “Yes, I believe the leaders of my church receive regular communication from God.” How about these? “I know that God has revealed Himself to the founder of my church. I am certain that He continues to guide the leaders who have followed him. I believe that most, if not all of them have been visited by God as well.”
A prophet is someone who lived way back in ancient history, in Old Testament times, right? I can’t imagine someone today claiming to be a prophet. If they did, we would think they were crazy. And yet, so many people are searching for divine guidance that they listen to all kinds of crazy people who claim to be prophets. Wait, the Mormons claim to have prophets, don’t they?
Joseph Smith was a prophet
If someone is going to claim to be a prophet – one who speaks for God – then they had better provide a way for me to know for myself that his claim is true. I’m not going to believe anyone who comes to me and says he has a message for me from God unless I have some evidence that God really did send him to me. What evidence or proof did Joseph Smith provide for his claims?
We teach that the Book of Mormon is the work of a prophet. It is something that we can read and judge for ourselves as a witness of the claim of Joseph Smith that he was called of God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ in our day. Joseph claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates, and that it contains the words of God to ancient American prophets.
Now that is a fantastic claim. If this man was delusional, then he had some of the most elaborate delusions known to man. Visions of God, visits from angels, gold plates and revelations that proclaim what God is going to do in the last days – these are all things that are simply unheard of. Yet that is what we are proclaiming to the world – so all can learn and judge for themselves.
Summary and conclusion
Visions into the spirit world, receiving visits by divine celestial beings and producing new scripture are all things that a prophet would do. In fact, we read in the Old Testament that God speaks to prophets face to face. That’s an astonishing claim for any man to make in our day and age and yet, that is exactly what Joseph Smith claimed as he organized a new church in 1830.
You can read more about the visions of Joseph Smith, not in the Book of Mormon, but in the Doctrine and Covenants, a record of selected revelations that Joseph Smith received during a period of about twenty years. As a church we are studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year in our Sunday school classes. So much of what we believe can be found in these scriptures.
I love reading the Doctrine and Covenants. I often read it aloud in my personal studies just to get the effect of hearing the voice of the Lord. It is powerful and brings a spirit of revelation as I do. Several of Joseph’s visions are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, but certainly not all. He was a visionary man and made no secret of the fact that God spoke to him through these visions.
A long time ago a good friend saved my life. No, my physical life was not in danger, although I have no doubt he would have jumped in to save me if I were drowning or otherwise threatened. I was in danger of slipping away from church because of life’s circumstances. Gratefully, my friend stepped in to save me.
When I returned from my mission, I immersed myself in getting an education. I chose a vocational path and became a computer programmer. Anxious to get out into the world, I jumped at a couple of opportunities to practice my trade just as soon as I completed enough computer programming classes to make a living.
While going to school, I worked two part-time jobs as a computer operator at two different local businesses. When I graduated, I took on yet another part-time job as a computer programmer at one of the companies. So for the better part of a year, I worked three part-time jobs that left me little time for socializing or anything else.
Life forces us to make decisions
So there’s the situation – I’m busy during the week putting my new computer programming skills to work and then working the weekend graveyard shift as a computer operator. The weekend shift was twelve hours at a time. I did not get home until 7am Sunday morning and had to leave for work again at 5pm that night.
Can you see the problem? This was the year the new three-hour block schedule started and our ward met at 11am. I just couldn’t see a way to get the rest I felt I needed, get to church for my meetings and then get back to work all within twelve hours. So I chose to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Sunday morning.
When I woke up in the early afternoon, church was over and I had just a couple of hours to do anything else I needed to do before leaving again for work. I never felt good about my decision, but rationalized it by telling myself that I was saving up money to get married, buy a home and start a family – all desirable goals, right?
It’s so easy to go inactive
Right about this time, I moved out of my parent’s home and into an apartment with another returned missionary. He helped me keep in touch with friends in church and did everything in his power to get me to go out with him to ward Young Adult social activities. Because I worked so many hours, I was tired and often declined.
As long as I worked that extra weekend shift Mike was patient and understanding. Later that year I dropped all three part-time jobs to take on a new career in retail computer sales. I became the store manager for one of the newest Apple Computer stores in Southern California. Mike was then all over me to come back to church.
I now had no excuse but found it so difficult to go back. You see, I had gotten out of the habit. Not only did I not attend church, I also did not read the scriptures or pray on a regular basis. It was so easy to say to myself that I was too busy. As you can imagine I also did not pay my tithing, and let my temple recommend expire.
Results of church inactivity
In less than two years after having been a fired-up zone leader while serving as a missionary in Central America, I was now an inactive member of the church. How quickly things can change without intending them to do so. I did not plan on going inactive. I did not wake up one day and say, “That’s it – no more church for me.”
Carol has an analogy that she used while on her mission to teach investigators and new members about the importance of regular church attendance. When a hot coal is in the midst of a fire, surrounded by other live coals, it is on fire. If it gets moved onto the hearth and sits by itself, it soon grows cold and develops a film of ash.
Likewise, when we are actively involved in the church, attending our meetings and accepting callings, we have a tendency to remain fired up in the gospel. It is easier to keep a testimony strong while bearing it to others at church. Our desire to pray and to obey the commandments is strengthened while associating with the saints.
The call to repentance
Mike would not take no for an answer. I wrote in my journal about an occasion where we were talking after he returned from a trip to Utah to attend General Conference. He was excitedly telling me all about what he had seen and heard when he suddenly became very quiet and still. He then did something wonderful.
In a way that only two priesthood bearers who have spent two years of their lives testifying to the truths of the gospel can do, he looked me in the eye and bore his witness to me that the Lord needed me to serve in His church. What’s more, he reached into my heart and testified that I needed to return to church that Sunday.
I could not resist the power of that testimony. The spirit came into my heart and I expressed back to him that I knew he had spoken the truth and that he did it as a servant of the Lord. He had called me to repentance. My heart was softened and tears were shed. I told him that I would be in church that next Sunday and I was.
The hard road back to church
Mike must have planned something with the bishop because as soon as I showed up in church that Sunday, a counselor in the Bishopric called me into his office and asked me to serve as the assistant to Mike as the ward young adult representative. I started to attend planning meetings for the Young Adult activities for our ward.
It was not easy to return to full activity. I had been gone for almost a year. I still did not make it back to church every Sunday. In fact, you couldn’t say I was a fully active member again until almost a year later when I had received my temple recommend and accepted a new calling to teach the Elder’s quorum each Sunday.
Paying tithing became a habit again as did scripture reading, prayer, regular fasting and full participation in the temple. I found myself smiling and happy again and did not even realize that I had been gone. I felt like my old self and was excited to start dating LDS girls again just as my bride to be returned from her own mission.
Summary and conclusion
I will be forever grateful to my friend Mike who later became the best man at my wedding. He did something for me that changed my life and saved my soul. He called me to repentance. He acted on behalf of the Lord and helped me feel the spirit of the Holy Ghost again in great abundance, which I hadn’t felt in awhile.
You might say I was lucky. Not everyone has a friend like I had who was willing to reach out in love and speak on behalf of the Lord to my soul. It wasn’t luck. It was evidence to me of the tender mercies of the Lord. I would hope and pray that anyone who has left the church has someone come after them to bring them back.
Of course the Lord will not force anyone to rejoin his kingdom on the earth. He will always honor our agency. He does not love us any less if we choose to remain outside the fire, alone and cold on the hearth. But I shudder to think of what I would have missed had I not come in from the cold when invited in love to do so.