Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Like Abraham. . .

At the LDS Employment Resource Center on Monday, Garff Cannon quoted Robert Lewis Stevenson: "The two most important books in your life are the one you are reading and the one you are writing." This blog is the one I'm writing.

Three years ago I was serving on the high council in our stake. On Sunday morning, Father's Day 2006, I awoke with three distinct "bullet points" for my upcoming talk about service in the Woodland Ward that day.

In the mercy of the Lord and in yet another demonstration of the marvelous economy of the Spirit, it seemed I was receiving a personal message in addition to forming the foundation for what I was to say in my talk.

Here are the three points, lest they be forgotten:

1. Do not fear the hike up the mountain of preparation.

2. Embrace the Abrahamic tests in your life.

3. Accept the invitation to come in at the front gate of the church of the Firstborn.

I had just finished reading a fabulous book about Abraham, titled The Blessings of Abraham, and I suppose my reading must have laid the foundation for my talk. But all I got was the scant outline and it was left to me to fill in the detail around those three points.

Written over a period of thirty years, this new publication I read by author E. Douglas Clark is the definitive work on Abraham. The subtitle, "Becoming a Zion People," links the theme of Abraham's example to the path we are pursuing in the latter days in establishing Zion throughout the whole earth. It is mandatory reading. He points out the perfect bond of love and companionship Sarah and Abraham exemplify. He expertly weaves recently discovered ancient texts with the Restoration scriptures available to us through the Prophet Joseph. Covenant Communications is the publisher.

Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

"The rabbis taught that Melchizedek instructed Abraham in the laws of the priesthood and transmitted the priesthood to him. Joseph Smith stated that Melchizedek taught Abraham about the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man, and ordained him to the priesthood after the order of the Son of God (D&C 107:2-3), even 'the last law, or a fulness of the law or priesthood, which constituted him a king and priest after the order of Melchizedek.' Abraham's ordination and the accompanying ordinances showed 'in what manner to look forward to [the] Son for redemption' (Alma 13:2). Jewish tradition adds that Abraham was also instructed by God Himself on that occasion.

"In other words, as indicated in the Book of Abraham, Abraham received the remaining temple ordinances from Melchizedek. [Clark asserts his initial priesthood ordination was conferred upon him by Enoch]. When Melchizedek 'brings out' bread and wine, according to Claus Westermann, the Genesis text implies that he brings it out 'from his city and temple.' A midrash identifies Salem with a temple, while Josephus expressly states that Melchizedek had a temple. Pseudo-Eupolemus tells that Abraham was actually ushered into a temple in Melchizedek's city. . . Abraham is a prototype, notes Nibley, for 'every follower of Abraham must receive the signs and tokens.'"

I arose early this morning, and searched for these details so I could share them today.

I began by expressing the wish to elevate our thinking about service. I suggested that no one is opposed to the notion that service is a desirable trait for all disciples to have. I started discussing Abraham's preparations for answering the call to be prepared for the complete consecration of his life by answering the call to go to the land of Moriah to a mountain he was told he would be shown to sacrifice his only son.

It was a three day journey. He began immediately to make the preparations, and he did as he was told to do -- he cut the wood for the pier upon which Isaac was to be offered.

Imagine the thoughts that went through his mind on that three day journey. Imagine what Isaac was thinking. What is unknown from the account in Genesis is what Sarah was thinking. Imagine that faith on the part of all three!

Because he knew God was in it, he did not hesitate.

He was led by the Spirit to Mount Moriah (what is today known in Jerusalem as the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock now sits). His preparation and his willingness to carry out the required sacrifice is what tested him to the limit.

Joseph Smith once said that if there had been a more severe test that God could have devised to thoroughly try the heart of Abraham, God would have given Abraham that test instead. The whole idea of Abrahamic tests in our lives is to test the depth of our commitment to God -- to infuse us with the desire to consecrate our lives to God's work. In order to serve our fellowmen, it would seem, each of us must honor our covenant of consecration -- the sacrifice of all earthly things and desires -- while offering the only thing that is really ours to give, our free will, to God. I always loved what C.S. Lewis said about that -- God is easy to please, but seldom satisfied.

These are high and holy objectives, even "dangerous doctrines" in the eyes of some. But that was the example Abraham set before us as aspiring disciples.

Then I suggested that each of us would have similar tests if we sought fellowship with the saints of former ages. How would you feel if invited to sit down to dinner one night with luminaries like Noah, Abraham, Mechizedek, Alma, Paul, Elijah, and others like them if in your own right you had not been willing to offer the same commitment they demonstrated? Our callings in the Church may never rise to their level, but to think we would someday inherit an equal portion with them without a similar measure of sacrifice and consecration would be haughty indeed!

When those tests come (and surely they do and they will), I suggested rather than blame God for our hardships and trials we should embrace the chastening and accept the tutorial as a gift from God to help reveal ourselves to ourselves. Finding God in the fiery furnace is what it appears to be all about.

To conclude, I suggested that fellowship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, begins at the gate of baptism. Fellowship in the church of the Firstborn, however, is outlined in D&C 76, and is found beyond the gates of the temple within in the covenants we make there.

Many come in at the gate to the outward Church (capital "C"), but few seem to find the fellowship of the inward church (lower case "c") outlined in the revelations. Like these outward ordinances God offers to us with a promise of someday obtaining as joint heirs with Christ all that He possesses, too many members of the Church conclude that nominal membership in the Church is all there is, never looking beyond and deeper into what can only be termed as the "mysteries of godliness," which I feel I am just beginning to understand in part (I'm slow).

I suggested there is a church within a Church that we must each discover by doing the works of Abraham, embracing his example and following the same path he laid out for us. Abraham and Sarah represent the path of true discipleship in modeling concern, service and lovingkindness for all our Father in Heaven's children. This awareness is anchored in humility, kindness and love for others.

I remembered that years ago during the time of President Lee, President Kimball and President Benson, the prophets used to answer the reporters' questions about why the Church wasn't doing more to lift the burdens of the millions around the earth who were suffering with expressions that we simply didn't have the resources to do as much as we would like, although we would do more if we had the resources. Now we do.

I concluded with these inspired words from President Hinckley:

"In the last ten years we have supplied in cash and commodities hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to those not of our faith.

"We have traveled the earth bearing witness of this, the work of the Almighty. During these same years I personally have traveled nearly a million miles visiting some 70 countries. My beloved companion traveled with me until a year ago when she passed away on the 6th of April. It has been lonely since then.

"Our hope concerning the future is great and our faith is strong.

"We know that we have scarcely scratched the surface of that which will come to pass in the years that lie ahead." (Ensign, May 2005, 4).

When it comes to service, we have barely begun as a Church and individuals to do the works of Abraham. We must enlist all "our substance" (as King Benjamin described it -- not just money), everything we have and are, or ever will have or be, to fulfill that ideal to truly consecrate our lives for the building up of the kingdom of God on earth and for the establishment of Zion.

I don't know if anyone else in the audience that day learned anything, but I know the Lord certainly enlarged and expanded my vision.

On another occasion, President Hinckley reminded us: "We must reach out to all mankind. They are all sons and daughters of God our Eternal Father, and He will hold us accountable for what we do concerning them. . . May we bless humanity with an outreach to all, lifting those who are downtrodden and oppressed, feeding and clothing the hungry and the needy, extending love and neighborliness to those about us who may not be part of this Church." (Ensign, November 2001, 6).

I concluded by testifying that there was a living prophet among us. He was no small thinker, this man Gordon B. Hinckley. Indeed, he was a man like Abraham, and we can do no less if we would claim our own place with them in the church of the Firstborn. His successor, Thomas S. Monson, is no less a man whose whole soul has been consecrated in service to his fellow servants in the work and glory of God: To bring to pass the immortality and the eternal life of man. (Omni 1:26; Moses 1:39).

As "firstborns" in the church of THE Firstborn, only by doing the works of Abraham will we claim our rightful place as a joint heir with Jesus Christ, the Firstborn and Only Begotten Son, inheriting all that the Father hath.

And yes, these are all thoughts beyond my feeble attempts to understand, underscoring the source of it all.

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