Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Salvation" IS Exaltation

There is a somewhat perplexing doctrinal conundrum that continues to give most members of the Church fits, particularly missionaries when they try to explain the meaning of "salvation" to investigators.  The question usually revolves around how we are "saved" -- is it by grace or is it by works?

There are evangelical Christians who routinely cite several references from Paul's writings to "prove" men are saved by grace.  For example, see Acts 16:31; Romans 3:28; 10:13; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9.

It seems difficult in the minds of members of the Church to reconcile our pronounced emphasis on the need to somehow "prove ourselves" through good works in order to claim the blessings of exaltation.  We were taught as children gowing up that salvation is the equivalent of a "free gift" of resurrection and that exaltation on the other hand must be earned through the demonstration of good works.

We know this much -- because of the Fall of Adam two "deaths" were part of mortality.  One is physical death, defined as the separation of the body and the spirit.  Because of Adam and Eve, the seeds of physical death are sown in all of us -- someday we will all die. 

The second kind of death we all inherited is a spiritual death.  Like Adam and Eve when they were separated from the daily presence of the Father and the Son, each of us now resides outside Their presence in a physical body.  That "spiritual death" is our physical reality in mortality.

Christ's redemption resolves both types of death after the Fall.  Our Lord, the Savior Jesus Christ, voluntarily surrendered his mortal life -- his physical body was crucified in cruel Roman fashion -- but on the first Sabbath morning he took it up again.  He overcame physical death and provided a free gift -- the resurrection.  All the fallen children of Adam and Eve are thus "saved" from the effects of physical death.  It is an unconditional blessing based upon grace, for which no one needs to do anything.

The spiritual death, however, is another matter.  We could rightly say our Lord's suffering might have been even more intense in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was here, not on the cross, the Savior in some miraculous way understood by revelation and truly descended below "all things" -- meaning, he comprehended and he knew in that personal experience all our experiences.  To claim this boon, we would have to do something.  Exaltation, we have been told, comes by our works.

We are saved (or resurrected) by grace, but we are exalted (or redeemed) by our works.  It's the traditional Mormon thought, and it's "neat" and familiar, but it carries with it four major doctrinal problems.  That's why up front I called this a "conundrum."

Problem 1

We always assume "salvation" is something different from "exaltation."  With very few exceptions (Elder Bruce R. McConkie said there were only three in all the scriptures), the scriptures almost always use the words salvation and exaltation synonymously.  If we let the scriptures guide our thinking and reject the convenient explanations, we can perhaps come closer to the accurate definitions.

For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 6:13, the Lord says, "If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation." (Emphasis mine).

Clearly, resurrection is not the greatest gift of God; eternal life, or exaltation, is.  (See D&C 14:7).  To suggest salvation means only resurrection cannot be supported by scripture.

Problem 2

Those who insist the Savior's crucifixion on the cross covered only the effects of physical death and that the suffering in the Garden covered only the effects of spiritual death is not justified by scripture. 

Christ's agony in the Garden and his painful suffering on the cross were both integral parts of the atonement and cannot be so neatly separated.  Nowhere in scripture is there any evidence that supports the notion that the cross overcame physcial death and the Garden overcame spiritual death.

Problem 3

Where in the scriptures do we learn that our works will exalt us?  When Lehi gave his doctrinally-drenched blessing to his son Jacob (see 2 Nephi 2), one of Lehi's fundamental points is that no man can be justified (or saved), by works alone.  Rather, Lehi tells us only by the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah can we be saved (see 2 Nephi 2:8).

Christ tells the Nephites:  "Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up -- that which ye have seen me do."  (3 Nephi 18:24, emphasis mine).  His works are the light, not our works.

Righteous works do exalt us, but the critical distinction is this one -- they are the Savior's works, not our own.  When he comes among the Nephites following his resurrection, the Savior reminds the survivors:  ". . . if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it."  (3 Nephi 27:10).  Later in the same chapter he tells them, ". . . this is my gospel, and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do."  (3 Nephi 27:21). 

There is one quality Lehi singled out in his blessing to Jacob -- the Messiah's grace -- and he said the Messiah is filled with it (see 2 Nephi 2:6).  So when Nephi comes along to conclude his record, what does he say?  "For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis mine).

Problem 4

There is a widespread assumption among Church members that overcoming the effects of spiritual death is conditioned upon how we live.  It's the reason every time I ask for a show of hands in a class by those who expect to be exalted, no one raises their hand.  The idea we can actually become good enough to be exalted is somehow foreign to our mind.  It is because we are root-bound in the law and we all know just how weak we are and how full of sin we have become.  We become easily discouraged in our attempts to live the law perfectly, particularly in the presence of those who "appear" to us to be doing so much better than us on a relative scale of measurement. 

On the one hand we accept without question the idea we have to earn our exaltation, but when confronted with how silly it is, none actually believes it is possible.  We are a strange lot!

The Second Article of Faith states, "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression." 

So follow the logic here:  If we believe coming back into the presence of God (meaning eternal life or exaltation) and thereby overcoming spiritual death is conditional based upon our own good works, when it was the Fall of Adam that originally caused our separation from the Father and the Son, wouldn't the logical extension of that line of reasoning mean we must suffer punishment for Adam's transgression?

That's just nuts.  The resolution is really quite simple, isn't it?  We are saved/exalted based upon the works, merits, grace and mercy of our Savior, not our own attempts at perfection.

Resolution to the Conundrum

The Fall of Adam and Eve did introduce the effects of two deaths into the world -- both physical and spiritual death.  Christ's redemption is unconditional and applies to all.  We did nothing to be under the effects of the Fall, except to come through the lineage of Adam and Eve.  Is it fair or just that we should have to meet any conditions to be free from those effects of physcial and spiritual death?

In 2 Nephi 2:8, Lehi said, "[He] layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit." Lehi mentioned both the suffering of the flesh and the suffering of the spirit as necessary to bring about the resurrection of the dead.  This resurrection is unconditional, and all become immortal.  But two verses later in 2 Nephi 2:10, Lehi elaborates:  "Because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him." (Emphasis mine.)

Isn't that the point?  Christ's redemption brings about resurrection for all without condition.  But what else?  All men are eventually brought to the judgment bar.  They are brought into the presence of the Lord (thereby overcoming spiritual death) to be judged.  What good works does a person have to do to have this happen? Absolutely nothing.  It is unconditional. 

The Savior's atonement automatically redeems us from both deaths introduced by the Fall of Adam.  Each week after we have been baptized, we partake of the emblems of the sacrament to remember what he did for us.

There is much to be learned from Lehi's blessing.  He bears his testimony to Jacob:  "I know that thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer."  (2 Nephi 2:3, emphasis mine).  Note this "inconvenient" truth -- inconvenient only to those who assume we must earn our exaltation.  Lehi did not say, "I know that thou art redeemed because of your righteousness and your obedience in keeping all the laws and ordinances of the gospel perfectly." 

I finally "see" a few more hands going up to my question posed earlier.  That's good.  There should be nothing but hope in your hearts for your eventual exaltation.  It should be an expectation deeply embedded in your souls. 

We came forth to earth from the presence of our Heavenly Parents with divine potential to return home again one day.  When my father conducted the sealing ceremony yesterday for our oldest granddaughter and her new husband, he encouraged them to study their patriarchal blessings together.  He reminded them, "I have never heard of anyone's patriarchal blessing that told them, 'You're a loser.'"

Lehi is very explicit about the law (and he's not talking about the law of Moses here, as some might suggest) who would lightly dismiss Father Lehi's reasoning:

We are reminded, Jacob had "beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.  All men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil.  And the law is given unto men.  And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off.  Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever."  (2 Nephi 2:4-5, emphasis mine). 

Once again, law is not our Savior, and our obedience to the law will not save us.  Then as now, law is only a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.  (See Galatians 3:24).

The foolishness of pursuing this line of thought is (or should be) obvious.  Supposing we could actually live the laws perfectly, it still would not justify us under the laws because Paul tells us emphatically (see Romans 3:23) we are all fallen and have come short of the glory of God, even Pharisees like him who were attempting to be justified by their good works under the laws.  The laws can only find you innocent if you live the laws perfectly.  We cannot be justified, therefore.

However, Lehi offers this important clarification on which we can pin our hopes for exaltation:  "Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered."  (2 Nephi 2:6-7, emphasis mine).

The first doctrine the resurrected Christ teaches among the Nephites is this:  "And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  And whoso [meaning anybody who does this good work] cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.  Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.  Therefore, whoso [meaning anybody who] repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God.  Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved."  (3 Nephi 9:20-22, emphasis mine).   So once again, salvation/exaltation is conditional.

In all these uses of "salvation" or "saved" there is something implicit in the meaing that goes far beyond the single meaning of resurrection -- the implication is always exaltation, or eternal life, and the "earning" of it is linked to repentance as the only condition upon which it is predicated.

I remind you, in 3 Nephi 9:13 we learned these [those to whom he is speaking] were "more righteous than they" [the ones who perished in the physical upheavals of the earth preceding the Lord's coming among them], and to these "more righteous ones," he says, "return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted that I may heal you."  

So, it would appear that those who are members of the Church, those who are "more righteous" because of their adherance to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, still have some work to do -- we, too, must repent and come unto him. 

Then we have this very signficant teaching that illustrates immediately thereafter the linkage between the synonymous use of "salvation" and "exaltation."  "Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life.  Behold mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whoseover will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me."  (3 Nephi 9:13-14, emphasis mine). 

If it's just resurrection, and there are no conditions imposed in order to be resurrected, then is it such a stretch to assume he is speaking of exaltation here and elsewhere?

Look how universal this salvation/exaltation really is:  "For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.  And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance."  (D&C 18:11-12, emphasis mine).

But wait, we just said salvation was unconditional, and Joseph Smith has now inserted a condition.  The doctrine is perfect -- the condition -- the only condition for exaltation is repentance.  Then the promise:  "And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved."  (D&C 18:22, emphasis mine).

Matthew 24:13 -- "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

2 Nephi 31:20 -- "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

Alma 34:15-16 -- "Thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowerth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.  And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."

D&C 127:4 -- "And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. And if they persecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven."  (Emphasis mine above).

Nephi concludes his record as an echo to his father Lehi:  If we "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ," feasting (not nibbling or snacking occasionly) upon his word, and enduring to the end, we have the promise that we will one day hear the Father saying unto us, "Ye shall have eternal life."  (2 Nephi 31:20, emphasis mine).

What are the works?  His works.

Upon what condition is the "reward in heaven" based?  By our coming unto him through repentance, being faithful, patient, diligent, by persevering and enduring to the end.

Through the mercy -- grace -- of our Father in Heaven and His Son, our Redeemer Jesus Christ, there is a conditional path back into their presence, thus overcoming the effects of our separation from them here in mortality.  There is only one condition and it is not our works of righteousness. 

Once a person reaches the age of accountability, sin enters their life.  They fall.  Something thereafter must happen to save them from spiritual death.  Were that person to be brought back into the presence of God prematurely to stand before him to be judged, he would not be permitted to stay in God's presence.

Since there is really no one else to blame but ourselves for our own sins, our ultimate redemption and subsequent exaltation becomes conditional upon our actions.

I believe this is what Lehi meant when he said the sacrifice the Messiah offered to satisfy the ends of the law is viable only for those with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  This condition, which comes through faith and godly sorrow (see 2 Corinthians 7:9-10) is simply repentance. 

That godly sorrow for sin must be in evidence both before and after baptism.  It will bring the individual to participate in the redemptive ordinances of baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, being ordained to the priesthood, and accepting the temple ordinances.

In this sense, then we are "saved" AND "exalted."  The two terms are scripturally synonymous.  Moroni said it best, "Be perfected in him. . . his grace is sufficient for you. . . ye are sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ. . ."  (See Moroni 10:32-33).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End of the World As We Know It

I am routinely disappointed when I hear predictions of the end of the world as we know it.  There has been much fodder for such conversations in recent months and years, I know.

But I have now grown to be an old man.  Not really, really old like my father who is 88 years old, but old when compared to my growing posterity of children and grandchildren.  I say it with some sense of self-awareness, and also with some sense of the ground I have covered to get here.  This week our oldest granddaughter will be married in the Salt Lake Temple.  My father will officiate at the sealing. 

The thought of becoming a great-grandfather is slowly settling in upon my heart.  So with this entry I summarize my observations for the newlyweds soon to be, and all the rest of you may look inside too.

There are still people today (I know this will come as a big surprise to those of you who are hearing it for the first time), who point to the wickedness of the world, the financial meltdown and its aftermath of recent months and years, and conditions in society generally -- and with a loud voice of certitude are proclaiming the end of the world is near.

Someday, the voices of doom and gloom will prove to be correct.  I have no doubt of it because it has been written about and prophesied by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the dawn of Adam and Eve's first furtive steps away from the garden of Eden.

However, it will not be a calendar from the Mayan culture that will prove to be accurate.  It will not be the calendar imbedded in the pyramids of Egypt, or the number of rings on the trees in the Aztec rain forests of South America, or whatever marker yet to emerge that we know nothing about. 

Rather, the living prophets of the living God will prove to be more reliable, as they have always been.

I believe what the world needs today is not more voices preaching doom and gloom -- there are plenty of those and the chorus seems to be swelling in volume. 

I do not believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, and certainly not the Promised Messiah.

What the world needs desperately today is perspective. 

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are uniquely qualified to deliver to our friends and neighbors the certitude of knowing what we know.  We know exactly how this is all going to end.  In two words:  WE WIN.

The hosts of Satan will one day be silenced.  Wars will no longer rage among the children of men.  Disease and sickness will be abated.  The earth and all its inhabitants will rest for 1,000 years, and all will be cleansed, purified and sanctified.  Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

A theocratic government will be introduced, and all nations, dictators, liars, cheats and theives will be twarted in their evil designs.  (See Revelation 19).  "For true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his saints at her hand."  (JST Revelation 19:2).

There are those today who are predicting the end will come on Joseph Smith's birthday +/- a couple of days, 2012.  A popular movie promotes the idea.  I just watched it last night, and honestly, it was the dumbest plot line for a disaster movie I've ever seen.  I was "stupider" after investing 2 1/2 hours in it.  Proponents of that idea, however, find ample evidence to suggest the Mayans could be right after all.

But as members of the Church we offer a calm and calculated perspective based upon the counsel and guidance of prophets living among us.

President Harold B. Lee did not preside over the Church as president longer than eighteen months.  At a priesthood meeting in April 1973, he introduced three former prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.  Each held the priesthood and was a faithful member of the Church.  Doom and gloom permeated that era, but in their release and their subsequent faithfulness, President Lee helped to put it all in perspective during his remarks on that occasion.

"We have here Captain Larry J. Chesley, Major Jay C. Hess, and Lieutenant Commander David J. Rollins. Will you stand up, please? Captain Chesley, United States Air Force, was a prisoner of war for seven years. He comes from the Burley Stake, Star Ward. Major Jay Hess, United States Air Force, was a prisoner of war for six years, from Bountiful East Stake. Lieutenant Commander Rollins, United States Navy, a prisoner of war for six years, is from the San Diego North Stake. . ."

He then developed a theme around his introduction of them to the assembled body of priesthood brethren:

"I have a letter from some man who seemingly has found something in the hieroglyphics of some discovery that is the answer to a lot of the things that lay ahead for the world. And interestingly enough, as I looked at this, my mind reflected back to an address I heard delivered from this pulpit by President Anthony W. Ivins on October 4, 1931. Just why I thought of that — I suppose it was intended that I should — is because he gave an address at that conference and used as his text the recently published book called Our Bible in Stone. Many of you remember this treated principally the erection, the symbolism, and the prophetic character of the pyramid of Gizeh, or in Greek, the Cheops. Students of the pyramid, after a study of the measurements, symbols, and the record of the pyramid, if it had a record, said that the year 1928 would witness the beginning of a period of great tribulation, which would culminate with intensity in 1936. That period, according to the reckoning of the students, would close with the advent of the Lord and the establishment of a period of peace, happiness, and goodwill among men.

"Then President Ivins gave these wise words of counsel with reference to this book: 'Now, my brethren … I have referred to this little book and its contents as I desire that you might understand. It will undoubtedly go into the mission field and our elders may make use of it. I simply want to warn you against sensationalism of any kind. … I do not say that his conclusions are wrong, but I do say that they do not come to us as the voice of the Church, nor are they to be accepted as such.'

"Then he said something that seems very significant to me. He said: 'Brother J. Golden Kimball told us yesterday that he was a great believer in dreams that come true.' I wish you would think of that. That accords with my feelings. I am a great believer in dreams that have come true.

“'I am reminded of the fact,' he said, 'that immediately after the close of the World War these students of the Pyramids announced and published it that according to their measurements and calculations there would begin in the year 1928 a period which would bring tribulation and sorrow to the people of the world; that they would be required to humble themselves before the Lord, and that that period of tribulation would continue until the year 1936. … We all know that a part of this dream at least has come true.'

"After commenting on the financial condition throughout the nations at that time, in the 1930s, President Ivins then concluded his remarks with these profound words of wisdom: 'Well, now, my brethren and sisters, what about it all? Just be calm and turn to the Lord. … I pleaded with the people to put their houses in order and get out of debt, for I knew this was coming, because God himself through his Only Begotten Son had declared it.

“'Now, my brethren and sisters, if the Church has anything to say to you it will come from them direct and not from the writings of other men. It will come to you in a manner that you will understand it. It will not be speculative. It will come to you philosophically, truthfully, and governed by common sense. God bless you,' he said, 'is my humble prayer. …' (Conference Report, October 1931, 87–94.)

"Now this is something that needs repeating to this great body of priesthood, because we have a rash of writings by certain persons who claim to be of good standing in the Church, going into considerable detail as they recite their past and present Church affiliations and activities in the foreword, interlude, and advertising. There are sensational predictions and observations, and to make their writings appear to have Church sanction, they use quotations and addresses from Church leaders, past and present, taken out of context in such a way as to make it appear as though these quotations were the endorsement of the book they wish to sell to Church members, who may thereby be induced to accept their writings as from unquestioned sources.

"Now we have also had some who claim to be in good standing in order to take advantage of the gathering of the Saints at some of our general conferences, and who have gone so far as to program group meetings for their own interest, with the obvious hope that by doing so, many of our conference visitors may be urged to attend their meetings, even if it may have necessitated their absence from vitally important instructional sessions of the conference.

"Furthermore, some designing individuals have solicited opportunities to speak at church gatherings, firesides, priesthood quorums, sacrament meetings. Now, brethren, we feel it is of the utmost importance to lift a warning voice so that our people will be safeguarded against such tactics as an all too obvious self-seeking opportunity to spread their own propaganda for their own interests.

"We must urge that priesthood leaders use careful discretion in screening out those whose motives may be subject to serious questions."  (President Harold B. Lee, “Follow the Leadership of the Church,” Ensign, July 1973, 95).

There are at least two take-aways from that talk:  1) Conditions haven't changed much since the Great Depression days of which President Ivins spoke, and 2) there have been ample prophetic warnings ever since to put our houses in order, and not much more can be said that hasn't already been said.

Rather than give heed to dire warnings of imminent collapse, let us be up and doing the best we can to be positive and to move forward with hope as we build Zion in the midst of a gathering darkness around us. 

The political pendulum (in case you hadn't noticed) is swinging wildly from right to left, and lurching back to the right again these days.  When you live long enough, you have witnessed these swings before. 

The genius of the "intelligent design" embedded in the Constitution is such that despite all the futile attempts of men to change it, the Constitution has always withstood the assaults against it and it will yet prove to be a shining beacon to the rest of the world -- a standard for freedom in preparation for the Lord's coming.

Being the shining city on the hill that could not be hid is what we must be all about.  (See Matthew 5:14).  It was Ronald Reagan who frequently cited that verse of scripture, and likened it to America. 

I doubt he realized the full implications of his hopes for the future when he uttered those words.

But after his death, I like to think he may have been in a Sunday School class taught by Enoch in the spirit world, who told him all about it.

There was a very obscure news story appearing in the Deseret Morning News last week about President Thomas S. Monson, who was in Provo, Utah, to dedicate the newest addition to the fleet of Zions Banks across the many states in which the bank has established its footprint. 

The story reported:

"In addition to offering a dedicatory prayer, President Monson told those in attendance about some of his boyhood experiences in Utah County and also reaffirmed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' confidence in the bank.

"'You can rest assured that this church doesn't put its investments and its confidence in anything that isn't stable, honorable and (having) a record of performance and integrity,' he said."

That simple declaration of fact and faith simultaneously must have struck a blow in the hearts of doomsday prophets everywhere.  While it doesn't rise to the level of an unqualified endorsement of Zions Bank, certainly, it signaled (in my mind at least) a degree of confidence in the future that we see lacking nearly everywhere else.

The prophet's statement comes on the heels of several consecutive quarters of staggering losses for Zions Bank that are well-documented.

So, doomsdayers take heart -- the fate of the world amidst the uncertainty of the times in which we live is still in God's hands.  It would appear the perspective of his living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, is a healthy positive outlook in a sea of negativity. 

The revitalization of downtown Salt Lake City -- the massive investment of time and energy it represents -- should signal nothing but hope for the future to members of the Church.

I have always loved the words of noted poet Robert Frost:  "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life — It goes on."

All the prophets it has been my good fortune to know and love were the same -- all optimists, not a pessimist among them!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth III (cont.)


What did our spirit look like before coming to earth?

I have known several independent witnesses who saw the spirit of our infant daughter Adrienne after she died at the age of seven weeks.

They have told me independently that she is an adult spirit in form and looked like the adult version of a “blend” of her older sisters, Allison’s and Melanie’s, physical features.

I believe that is consistent doctrine so far as I can discern from the scriptures, though there is no definitive revealed answer in the scriptures.

In pre-existence our spirit bodies were organized, when we were born as the spirit children of God our Father. Through that birth process spirit element became intelligent entities. The spirit bodies we were given have all the parts of mortal physical bodies.

The best scriptural example we have is the account of Brother of Jared, who first beheld Christ's spirit finger and then his whole spirit body. The pre-mortal spirit of the great Jehovah declared, "I am Jesus Christ. . .  This body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; . . . and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh." (Ether 3:14-17.)

Our infant physical body grows normally into an adult body, unless it is overtaken by disease or deformity of some kind, taking on the precise attributes of our spirit body as we physically mature.

In a classic analogy, President Boyd K. Packer illustrated the relationship between the body and our spirit with a glove on his hand, the hand representing our spirit and the glove our physical body. When we are born our hand (spirit) enters the body, and when we die the glove (body) slips off the hand into the grave, but our hand (spirit) goes on living and looks as it did before it was born into mortality.

If a baby is stillborn, does it get a spirit and is that spirit too pure to come to earth?

This is a serious question, and this sad experience comes to many, many families whom I have known. A mother conceives, feels the life of her infant stirring within her for nine months, then just before delivery the body she was preparing for that infant dies in her womb and is born dead.

I have long believed personally that those precious babies will come forth in the resurrection.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, shares my view in Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 280-281, in these words:

“There is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us. I cannot help feeling that this will be the case.

“When a couple have a stillborn child, we give them all the comfort we can. We have good reasons to hope. Funeral services may be held for such children, if the parents so desire. Stillborn children should not be reported nor recorded as births and deaths on the records of the Church, but it is suggested that parents record in their own family records a name for each such stillborn child.

“The time of quickening is when the mother feels the life of her unborn infant. (Luke 1:39-41). President Brigham Young has left us this explanation of the time when the spirit enters the body: ‘When the spirit leaves them [mortal bodies] they are lifeless; and when the mother feels life come to her infant, it is the spirit entering the body preparatory to the immortal existence. But suppose an accident occurs and the spirit has to leave this body prematurely, what then? All that the physician says is - 'It is a still birth,' and that is all they know about it; but whether the spirit remains in the body [i.e, in its own body] a minute, an hour, a day, a year, or lives there until the body has reached a good old age, it is certain that the time will come when they will be separated, and the body will return to mother earth, there to sleep upon that mother's bosom. That is all there is about death.

“On other occasions, also, President Young taught that we should have hope for the resurrection of stillborn children. ‘They are all right,’ he said, and nothing in the way of sealings or ordinances need be done for them.” (Personal Correspondence; Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, 143).

The Prophet Joseph, after reading Revelation 14 one day, offered the following reflections on the subject of why so many infants die prematurely:

"We have again the warning voice sounded in our midst, which shows the uncertainty of human life; and in my leisure moments I have meditated upon the subject, and asked the question, why it is that infants, innocent children, are taken away from us, especially those that seem to be the most intelligent and interesting. The strongest reasons that present themselves to my mind are these: This world is a very wicked world; and it is a proverb that the 'world grows weaker and wiser;' if that is the case, the world grows more wicked and corrupt. In the earlier ages of the world a righteous man, and a man of God and of intelligence, had a better chance to do good, to be believed and received than at the present day: but in these days such a man is much opposed and persecuted by most of the inhabitants of the earth, and he has much sorrow to pass through here. The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again." (DHC 4:553).

This thought is certainly comforting to those who have laid away their infants and small children in death. Among the Latter-day Saints the assurance that what the Prophet said is true, and that parents shall have their children again if they are faithful, is a wonderful comfort which the world does not possess.

The Holy Ghost:

How did the Holy Ghost get chosen, who is he, and will he ever get a body?

The simple answer is this: I don’t know, and you can quote me on that. I don’t know anyone else who does either.

This is a fascinating question, of course, that has been asked for as long as I can remember.

The best answer I ever saw about it was this one from President Joseph Fielding Smith:

“Answer: There is so much in relation to the gospel that we are required to do and so many commandments to observe and ordinances to receive in order that we may obtain an exaltation in the kingdom of God, that we should have no time to enter into speculation in relation to the Holy Ghost. The third member of the Godhead has been assigned to certain duties which are essential in the plan of redemption. We, the members of the Church, should so live that we may have his companionship and thus have our minds quickened, our knowledge increased, and our salvation assured. Without this companionship we are nothing; our minds could not be enlightened; and our comprehension of the everlasting gospel would be impaired. Why not leave matters which in no way concern us alone, and devote our time in gaining knowledge essential to our salvation through the inspired guidance of the Holy Ghost?” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 146).

Patriarchal Blessings:

Will you please explain a Patriarchal Blessing? (The House of Israel, lineage of Ephraim, etc.)

Your bishop will give excellent counsel as to how you may prepare to receive a patriarchal blessing. When you decide you are ready, the bishop will interview you and discuss it with you in detail. He will explain that this blessing is different than normal priesthood blessings, because this blessing happens only once in your life.

The patriarch will declare your lineage, naming the tribe of Israel to which you belong. It will be recorded then written down, and a copy will be retained in the archives of the Church for future reference in case you lose the original.

He will also explain that it is sacred and personal, and is usually not shared with anyone else because it applies only to you. No doubt he will encourage you to prepare for your patriarchal blessing by suggesting that you fast in order to prepare your mind for the spiritual experience that you will receive.

I have always liked this explanation given by The First Presidency (David O. McKay, Stephen L. Richards, J. Reuben Clark, Jr.), in a letter to all stake presidents, dated June 28, 1957:

"Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient, and also where so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life's mission, it being always made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord, whose servant the patriarch is. All such blessings are recorded and generally only one such blessing should be adequate for each person’s life. The sacred nature of the patriarchal blessing must of necessity urge all patriarchs to most earnest solicitation of divine guidance for their prophetic utterances and superior wisdom for cautions and admonitions." (As cited in Mormon Doctrine, 558).

President Thomas S. Monson said: “The same Lord who provided a Liahona to Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives, to mark the hazards to our safety, and to chart the way, even safe passage — not to a promised land, but to our heavenly home. The gift to which I refer is known as your patriarchal blessing. Every worthy member of the Church is entitled to receive such a precious and priceless personal treasure. . . Your patriarchal blessing is yours and yours alone. It may be brief or lengthy, simple or profound. Length and language do not a patriarchal blessing make. It is the Spirit that conveys the true meaning. Your blessing is not to be folded neatly and tucked away. It is not to be framed or published. Rather, it is to be read. It is to be loved. It is to be followed. Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s dangers.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 65-66).

You also ask about the House of Israel and lineage.  It is a fascinating thing to contemplate how a patriarch is able to declare one's lineage.  When stake patriarchs are called by their stake presidents, then approved for ordination by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, they are given no formal training about genealogy or even how to obtain that knowledge.  They are encouraged to seek inspiration and revelation.  That is the sum and substance of their "training."

When a patriarch lays his hands upon the head of a member of his stake, he is totally dependent upon the influence of the Spirit to direct him in declaring which tribe of Israel that person belongs to.  The vast majority of members of the Church today, belong to either the tribe of Ephraim or to Manasseh, the two sons of faithful Joseph who inherited the birthright covenant blessings from their father. 

However, the archives of the Church where patriarchal blessings are stored contain blessings to members of the Church today representing all the tribes of Israel, indicating that even those who belong to the "lost ten tribes" are being identified. 

On that topic much speculation abounds.  If you want to know where the "lost" tribes are located, keep your eye on the President of the Church who is calling missionaries to go find them.  Watch where they are being sent and you will know of a surety where the "lost" tribes are today.  They are being gathered to Zion even now. 

Revelation 7:1 declares:  "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree." 

Many have wondered at the expression "the four corners of the earth," which suggests a flat square rather than a round globe on which we live. 

The best sources for a definition of that phrase are the scriptures themselves (see D&C 124:3, 128; Isaiah 11:12; 2 Nephi 21:12).  Other places we read about "the four quarters of the earth" (D&C 33:6; 45:46; 135:3; Revelation 20:8; 1 Nephi 19:16), or "the four winds" (D&C 133:7; JS-M 1:37). These phrases suggest figurative language referring to the extremities or ends of the earth. The Church or kingdom of God will go forth in every direction under the direction of the Lord's anointed servants.

It is that season, figuratively "the lull before the storm," in which we now live.  It is the end of the "sixth seal."  (See Revelation 6:12-17; 7:1-17, where the two grand events of the sixth seal are described -- the great earthquake and the sealing of the 144,000).  The gathering will continue in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

Under the direction of Ephraim the gathering of all the tribes of Israel from the vast reaches of the "four corners of the earth" continues to this day.  This is all in fulfillment of the scriptures which have stated in numerous places that in the latter days all the tribes of Israel will be gathered again.  As a young missionary, I was stunned at how many scriptural references talked about "the gathering of Israel," too numerous to list here. 

The reason it is significant to know your lineage in the House of Israel is that if the patriarch declares you are of either tribe -- Ephraim or Manasseh -- your role in mortality will be to do all you can to assist in declaring that the blessings of the gospel are available to ALL of God's children now living on the earth, and to be instrumental in the delivery of those covenant blessings to everyone with whom you come in contact.

Here is an excellent summary of the topic by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve in October, 2006.

As he concluded his talk, Elder Nelson declared:

The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be "brought to the knowledge of the Lord" without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people "shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise."  "Every nation is the gathering place for its own people." The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is "the pure in heart." Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, and congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances, and blessings of the gospel, regardless of their location.

It is estimated by demographers at BYU that 90% of all people living on the earth today (with a sampling error of +/- 5%) are descended directly from Father Abraham, who received the covenant blessing that all his posterity would be as numberless as the sands of the seashore or the stars in the heaven. 

It is the gathering of that scattered posterity in which we are engaged today.

Temple Sealings:

If your parents get divorced who are you sealed to?

This is a question that I suppose I get more than any other question about families, because so many families have experienced divorce.

The most important sealing that will ever happen in your life, of course, is the sealing to your eventual husband or wife. If parents fail to keep their marriage covenants, that does not need to affect your hopes for eternal life, because those hopes are pinned to your companion, not your parents.

We all need to live the gospel and receive the gospel here and now, and prepare our families here and now for the worlds up ahead.

Sometimes through neglect or sin families here on earth are broken up, but key is always repentance – the sooner the better.

Parents are no different than you, only older. For those of us who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel and of marriage in this life, we are required to repent here and now, not there and later on.

For that reason, we partake of the sacrament each week. Only those in the spirit world who never heard the gospel in this life may hope for eternal glory when they accept the gospel in the spirit world.

If they heard the gospel in mortality and rejected it, then later on accepted it in the spirit world, their fate is clear: “And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.” (D&C 76:73-74).

These verses describe those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom. 

Except as noted in an earlier post to a similar question regarding children who who were born under the covenant then strayed, to parents whose calling and election has been made sure, the general rule is as the Lord stated it here.  As always, swift repentance is the immediate and sure answer to all the questions related to covenant making, and resolves all concerns we can possibly imagine.

Christ among the Nephites following his resurrection was plain-spoken, and left little doubt about the meaning of his doctrine: “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 11:33-35).

We have discussed earlier the implications of procrastinating the day of your repentance, and that is never a good idea.

Do not fret too much about who ends up with whom in the sealing links of the priesthood. The key is repentance, and the sealing blessings are promised only to those who are faithful thereafter to their covenants.

You could eventually be sealed to both your original parents if they were to return to their original sealing covenants to each other through repentance or to a faithful parent who remarries and is subsequently sealed to a new partner.

If both parents remarry and are subsequently sealed to new companions (as is the case with my wife’s parents), the sealing link is obviously going to be retained because of their faithfulness, but the details are best left to the Lord, who judges everyone on this basis: “For I, the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (D&C 137:9).

I always remember this quotation that I saw on the wall of Elder Marion D. Hanks’ office, embroidered and framed by a wonderful single sister who was paralyzed in a wheelchair: “To believe in God is to believe that He will be fair and that there will be some wonderful surprises.”

Word of Wisdom:

What about the Word of Wisdom and meat?

Vegetarian diets espoused by so-called “vegans” these days are very popular. Occasionally, one hears some pretty “quirky” interpretations of the Word of Wisdom, ranging from what it means to use meat “sparingly” to forbidding caffeine soft drinks and so forth.

The classic story about meat that always comes to my mind is this one from the Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 204:

Even gospel principles, like the Word of Wisdom, if I might say it discreetly, are undergoing some strange dietary interpretations which I fancy would startle our early leaders and cause even the Omnipotent to smile indulgently in His dwelling place as He contemplates the spectacle of the many uninspired interpretations of His holy laws and speculations on sacred matters which for reasons of His own He has never seen fit to reveal to man. (51-04, p. 5).

I remember a sister who came into my office from a foreign country. She was working in the bishop's storehouse in Logan, Utah. She had gone storming in to Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve and said, "Why, Brother Merrill, they are distributing pork from the bishop's storehouse up there where I have been working, and it is summertime." Elder Merrill very wisely said, "Go in and talk that over with Brother Lee."

So she came in to me and repeated her comment, since I was at that time working with the welfare program. I asked, "Why are you so much disturbed about that?"

"Why," she said, "the Lord said we should not eat pork or meat in the summertime."

I said, "Oh, where did he say that? I haven't read that."

"Why, in the Word of Wisdom."

"Not in my Doctrine and Covenants, it doesn't say that. Will you open the Doctrine and Covenants and read me what you have just said?"

Well, she tried to justify what she had said. I suggested that she read section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and told her I was not sure what a famine was as mentioned in section 89. We should eat meat sparingly, yes, as the Lord counsels. But when we reach a hard and fast conclusion contrary to what the Lord has said, be careful. (61-04, pp. 32-33).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth III

Questions from the Youth III

March 30, 2008


Always remember that the best answers to gospel doctrine questions come from the scriptures – the four “standard works” – The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. I also prefer The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith.

The next best source is from the writings and sermons of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. All other sources, while they might be enlightening, should only serve to confirm the answers you have obtained from these primary sources. Brigham Young once taught, “Study the word of God, and preach it and not your opinions, for no man’s opinion is worth a straw. Advance no principle but what you can prove, for one scriptural proof is worth ten thousand opinions.” (History of the Church, vol. 3, 395-96).

Life Hereafter:

We know that those who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Savior will have to suffer for their own sins. Once they have paid for their sins, what happens to them?

This is an interesting question because no one who repents ever really “pays” for their own sins. That they will have to “suffer” if they fail to repent is correct (see D&C 19:16-21). But for all it is the same whether soon or late, in this life or the next, the key that unlocks the pain and suffering of the individual is repentance that follows faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect atonement. Christ in His infinite and eternal atonement, according to Amulek in The Book of Mormon, is the only one who could possibly have paid for sins. Speaking of this "great and last sacrifice," he says, it could not be "a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another." (Alma 34:10-11). Man cannot resurrect himself; man cannot save himself; human power cannot save another; human power cannot atone for the sins of another. The work of redemption must be infinite and eternal; it must be done by an infinite being; God himself must atone for the sins of the world.

Because Jesus was the Son of God and had divine power, he was able to say: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. I lay down my life for the sheep." The atonement was a voluntary act on his part; he had power to live or to die — the choice was his. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father." (John 10:11-18). It is written elsewhere in John: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17).

As to the final state of the repentant soul, it can be summed up nicely in these two verses: “. . .mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.” (Alma 42:23-24).

Why don’t people when they die automatically know that Christ is the Savior and accept Him?

The clearest answer is the one given by Amulek again: “. . .this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. . . that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (Alma 34:32; 34). We do not suddenly become something on the other side of the veil that we are not on this side of the veil. That is why repentance is such a vital key to our eternal salvation. It’s always better to repent here and now than then and there.

What are we going to do in the hereafter?

In the “hereafter” there are two major steps: First, the spirit world where we learn most of what we know from Alma, who received his answers from an angel (see Alma 40 – 42). In the spirit world there is “a space betwixt the time of death and the time of the resurrection.” (Alma 40:6). In verses 11–14 of chapter 40 he describes the righteous and wicked spirits and says the righteous are “in a state of happiness” (see verse 12).

In The Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reveals the fundamental principles that will be in force, but withholds the specific details of what we will be doing. The best answer to that question is in D&C 130:2: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” The word “sociality” means how we interact with one another. The family unit will continue into eternity if we live the covenants associated with it that we receive in the temple.

In the same revelation the Lord teaches: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (See verses 18 - 19).

We gain further insight into the spirit world through the revelation that came to President Joseph F. Smith, now canonized as scripture in D&C 138. We learn that those who were righteous during their mortal lives are organized in the spirit world to teach those spirits who did not receive the gospel during their mortal lives. (See D&C 138:29-37).

Of course, the resurrection is the second major step after the spirit world. It is interesting to note that perhaps the most vivid descriptions of life hereafter occur in D&C 76:50-70 when the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon what life is like in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. So what will we actually be doing in the hereafter? The short answer utilizes words like progressing, learning, growing and expanding to become like our Father in Heaven.

Elder John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle many years ago and one of the Church’s truly great “thinkers” also wrote: "There are those who will protest that there is no growth in heaven. In firm answer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that the power of increase or growth is a necessary quality of intelligence. If intelligence remains with us in the hereafter, the power of growth will continue also.

"We can now understand more clearly the real, the ultimate object of life. Growth or progress may be unending. Every onward step, ever so small, is another approach to the ideal of perfection. God is perfect. Therefore, eternally progressing man is ever approaching the likeness of God; ever on the way to perfection. That is the objective of life, here and hereafter, — to approach, eternally, the likeness of our Father in Heaven, on earth, and in the hereafter." (Widtsoe, Understandable Religion, 38).

A strong advocate of the way we will be progressing through eternal increase of our posterity in the resurrection was President Joseph Fielding Smith, who taught:

"Do you not see that it is in this manner that our Eternal Father is progressing? Not by seeking knowledge which he does not have, for such a thought cannot be maintained in the light of scripture. It is not through ignorance and learning hidden truths that he progresses, for if there are truths which he does not know, then these things are greater than he, and this cannot be. Why can't we learn wisdom and believe what the Lord has revealed? . . .

"It is not because the Lord is ignorant of law and truth that he is able to progress, but because of his knowledge and wisdom. The Lord is constantly using his knowledge in his work, and his great work is in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. By the creation of worlds and peopling them, by building and extending, he progresses, but not because the fulness of truth is not understood by him." (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:7, 10).

In the hereafter will we be given the answers to the secrets of the universe, and will we meet all the people and regain memories, and will there be food?

We have this glimpse of the scope of our knowledge when we dwell in the celestial kingdom from D&C 130:9-11: “This earth in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s. Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” Sounds like “the secrets of the universe” to me!

We also learn in D&C 77:6 that we will receive the contents of a “little book” John saw in his Revelation that contains “the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.”

Perhaps more important than what we may someday know in the life hereafter, however, are the current promises in the here and now if we are faithful. The Holy Ghost is the revealer of truth. In The Book of Mormon at the end of Nephi’s record, he says: “. . .if ye will enter in by the way [baptism] and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5).

Early in his work of the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph received this promise: “. . .put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good -- yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; and then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.” (D&C 11:12-14).

The two keys given in this revelation by which we are to know all things center in the mind and the soul. The mind is to be enlightened, and the soul is to be filled with joy. Light and joy are how we chart our course in mortality. Moroni concluded The Book of Mormon with a promise like this. The honest truth seeker who reads The Book of Mormon could know the truth of all things by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:5). This is not a promise that the seeker can know all things immediately in this life or that all truth will be revealed here and now, but that he or she can discern all matters pertaining unto things of righteousness as we chart our course leading to life in the celestial kingdom hereafter.

As for food, there is little dispute about resurrected beings who are able to eat, the Savior Himself being the best example after His resurrection (see John 21:13-15). But as a routine matter in the resurrection, the need for food to sustain a resurrected body appears nowhere in holy writ.

Will we look like ourselves in the hereafter?

Yes. We will come forth in the resurrection, according to Alma, in our “proper and perfect frame.” He tells us “every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost.” (See Alma 40:23). If that is true, we will certainly recognize others we have known and loved here in the hereafter.

How To Vote in the Utah GOP Primary

The nominating conventions are over, now the primary elections loom.  The "Super Tuesday" results from last night are impressive -- the anti-incumbent fever seems to be spreading across the nation, as predicted. 

Arlen Specter (D-PA) five-term Senate flip-flopper who represented the 60th vote in the Senate and made Obamacare a reality, was eliminated, as were others who are being viewed as "too connected" to the Washington establishment. 

Here's an interesting summary from the Washington Post today of what's happening, including last night's results.  It's Dick Armey's attempt to explain the "tea party" movement.  Worth reading.

Utah's Republican primary is "closed," meaning only registered Republicans can participate.  Utah's Democratic primary is "open," meaning anyone from any party, if registered as a voter, can participate.  There are many activist Republicans now who are saying to registered Republicans, "Use your primary vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Claudia Wright," who is opposing Jim Matheson (D-UT), the five-term Congressman from the 2nd District. 

The thought is that by voting for her the Republicans may unseat Matheson in the primary and give Morgan Philpot, the Republican candidate who avoided his primary at convention an easier November election, since Wright is an openly-declared lesbian.  Talk about strange "bed-fellows" in politics!  (No pun intended).

I say, play it straight up -- Philpot can beat Matheson this year in a head-to-head contest.  At least, that's where my vote in the 2nd District is going this year.

Even though the primary election is several weeks away, the deadlines for being able to vote in that election are fast approaching! Here is some important information you need to be aware of.

Voting Schedule

Deadline to register to vote by MAIL: May 24th, 2010! Which is ONLY A FEW DAYS AWAY. You must register to vote as a Republican to vote in the primary. If you are unaffiliated, you can register at the poll locations on Election Day.

In-Person Registration: You may register in-person at the County Clerk's Office by June 7th, 2010. You will not be eligible to vote early.

When to Re-register: Your Voter registration is valid for life, unless you

•Change your name, or
•Wish to affiliate with a different party

You must be registered as a REPUBLICAN to vote in this Primary. To change your voter registration status for any of the above reasons, simply fill out a new voter registration form available here.

How do I register to vote?

Download and print the Utah Voter Registration Form. Once completed, mail the form to your county clerk's office. Must be postmarked by May 24th for vote in this election.

Early Voting

Early Voting usually starts 15 days before the Primary Election Day. Check with your county clerk's office for dates and locations in your county. You can vote at any of the locations that are provided for early voting.

What is an absentee ballot?

An Absentee Ballot is just a ballot that is mailed to your home address. This is an excellent idea to do as the election is held during the summer when many people are away on vacation or otherwise busy on election day.

A separate absentee ballot application must be filled out for each election unless you become a permanent absentee voter. To become a permanent absentee voter, check Yes in the permanent absentee section of the application.

The absentee application form is available online. Must be postmarked by May 24th, 2010.

For regular general/primary elections (held in even-numbered years), this application must be filed by mail or in person in the office of the voter's county clerk.

When is the deadline?

Deadline for applying for an absentee ballot - For regular absentee voting, the ballot application must be received no later than the Friday before the election, June 18th, 2010.

Deadline for returning an absentee ballot - The ballot is only valid if it is clearly postmarked before (not on) election day, and received in the county clerk's office before noon on the day of the official canvass, June 22nd, 2010.

Be sure and share this information with your family, friends, co-workers, and everybody else who can help us elect Mike Lee to the U.S. Senate!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth II (cont.)

The Doctrine of the Second Coming:

When will Jesus come again?

I am sure many people want to know the answer to that question if we could just figure it out. As I have heard that question from many people over the years, I keep thinking there is no better answer to it than what the Lord said in the preface to the revelations. He said:

“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people.” And then He continued, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:14, 38).

Before the Lord comes again, all the prophecies will be fulfilled. We can’t determine that time by using a calendar or a clock. We can measure the nearness of the Second Coming in events, and we must familiarize ourselves with those events in order to know how close we are.

The Gospel Doctrine course of study in Sunday School this year [2005] has been The Doctrine and Covenants, which is bulging with information about the Second Coming of the Savior. At least 40 of the 138 sections of The Doctrine and Covenants allude to the events and conditions attending the Lord's coming, yet no definitive time has ever been revealed.

Not revealing the exact time of the Second Coming is purposeful by our Father in Heaven. (See Matthew 24:42-51; see also JS-M 40-55). Not even the "angels in heaven" know. (See D&C 49:7-9). Our job is to live the covenant, not to speculate on the timing of the Second Coming. When the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed "very earnestly to know of the coming of the Son of Man” he was given a vague answer and told “trouble me no more on this matter.” (See D&C 130:14-17).

If the angels and the prophet of the Restoration cannot find out the time, it is unlikely that anyone else knows.

For those who truly love the Lord, the “when” of the Second Coming really does not matter. We are not faithful simply because He may come in judgment any minute. We keep the commandments because we love the truth and want to do what is right. We look forward to His coming, and pray for it, knowing that the Lord will bring a thousand years of peace and righteousness upon the earth when He does come.

When Jesus comes again are we all gods and goddesses of our own worlds?

No, not yet. When Jesus comes again, we will not have progressed to a point in our knowledge that we are like God. At the Second Coming, Jesus Christ merely activates the resurrection and ushers in the Millennium (see D&C 101:23-38) – a thousand-year period of peace and tranquility - but there is still much ahead of us in our personal progression before we qualify as gods ourselves. The morning of the first resurrection occurs at and then after the Second Coming in a precise order of events, when all the graves are eventually opened. (See D&C 88:95-107).

Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel — you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave. . ." (King Follett Discourse, TPJS, 348, emphasis mine).

The Doctrine of Missionary Work:

When someone asks me what I believe in, what should I say?

That’s a great question, because it suggests your interest in missionary work. The Lord has said:

“And thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing. Amen.” (D&C 28:16).

When people outside the Church ask me your question, I usually respond by organizing my answer along the lines of the Thirteen Articles of Faith. You all learned the Thirteen Articles of Faith in Primary, and when someone asks you what you believe, you can have a very interesting discussion just by quoting to them what you have already memorized.

Every doctrine we believe has its foundation in the Thirteen Articles of Faith, and that’s a logical place to begin when we tell others what we believe.

Remember, no matter whatever question anyone asks you about the Church and what we believe, if Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and saw and spoke with the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove on a spring morning in 1820, as he says he did, then everything else is true.

Every question hinges on whether or not Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and you can challenge anyone who asks you what you believe to prayerfully examine The Book of Mormon then ask God if it is true. (See Moroni 10:4-5). Being a missionary is just that simple.

There are great promises to missionaries who have the courage to open their mouths and declare what they believe. This is just one of those promises:

“Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 62:3).

If someone asked what is different about our church, what would you reply?

My first response would be, “Everything is different.”

Sometimes we like to point out the similarities between our church and everyone else’s church, but remember what Joseph Smith was told on that first morning in the Sacred Grove when he asked which church he should join. “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’” (See JSH 1:19).

Jesus Christ declared The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” (D&C 1:30). We never have to apologize for what and who we are, nor to make ourselves appear to be “pretty much like you” when the Lord has told us otherwise.

Once again, the Thirteen Articles of Faith are a good place to start. I challenge you to find even one church in the world today that believes those doctrines found in the Thirteen Articles of Faith the way we do!

The Doctrine of Prophetic Succession:

Why, when we need a new prophet, is he just the next guy up? Why does the next up have to die if he’s not right for the job?

Before answering this question it is important to understand how authority to do things in the Church really works. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is not a church started by men operating by their own rules.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that certain priesthood “keys” were necessary to run the Church and those keys could only be conferred upon mortal men by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or by His authorized servants.

We know from The Doctrine and Covenants that all these priesthood keys were conferred upon Joseph Smith and others by such angels as John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Noah, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and so forth. (See D&C 13; 27:7, 9, 12; 110 for example). Once Joseph Smith had all these priesthood keys, the question of succession arose only after his death.

The Prophet Joseph began the pattern for succession during the months preceding his death. This he did by teaching the Twelve their roles and by conferring upon them all of the authority necessary to carry forth the kingdom after his death. Commanded by the Lord, Joseph conferred upon the Twelve, as he said, "every key, power, principle, that the God of heaven has revealed to me."

After fulfilling that commandment, Joseph declared to the Twelve: "Now if they kill me you have got all the keys, and all the ordinances and you can confer them upon others, and the hosts of Satan will not be able to tear down the kingdom, as fast as you will be able to build it up; and on your shoulders will the responsibility of leading this people rest" (Times and Seasons 5:651).

President Wilford Woodruff, who received those keys as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from Joseph and heard with his own ears the teachings of the Prophet concerning the relationship of the keys held by the Twelve and the pattern of succession, testified:

We had had our endowments; we had had all the blessings sealed upon our heads that were ever given to the apostles or prophets on the face of the earth. On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: "Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all of the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you."
"But," he said, after having done this, "ye apostles of the Lamb of God, my brethren, upon your shoulders this kingdom rests; now you have got to round up your shoulders and bear off the kingdom."
When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, he sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, "The keys of the kingdom of God are here." They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man – President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.
I say to the Latter-day Saints, the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven to "reward every man according to the deeds done in the body." (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 72-74).

President Harold B. Lee taught:

The beginning of the call of one to be President of the Church actually begins when he is called, ordained, and set apart to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Such a call by prophecy, or in other words, by the inspiration of the Lord to the one holding the keys of presidency, and the subsequent ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands by that same authority, places each apostle in a priesthood quorum of twelve men holding the apostleship.
Each apostle so ordained under the hands of the President of the Church, who holds the keys of the kingdom of God in concert with all other ordained apostles, has given to him the priesthood authority necessary to hold every position in the Church, even to a position of presidency over the Church if he were called by the presiding authority and sustained by a vote of a constituent assembly of the membership of the Church. (In Conference Report, April 1970, 123).

I would suggest that the calling of a President of the Church begins even before he is called to become a member of the Twelve. Joseph Smith taught:

My enemies say that I have been a true prophet. Why, I had rather be a fallen true prophet than a false prophet. When a man goes about prophesying, and commands men to obey his teachings, he must either be a true or false prophet. False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones.
The doctrine of eternal judgments belongs to the first principles of the Gospel, in the last days. In relation to the kingdom of God, the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God. Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. It is the testimony that I want that I am God's servant, and this people His people. The ancient prophets declared that in the last days the God of heaven should set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, nor left to other people; and the very time that was calculated on, this people were struggling to bring it out. He that arms himself with gun, sword, or pistol, except in the defense of truth, will sometime be sorry for it. I never carry any weapon with me bigger than my penknife. When I was dragged before the cannon and muskets in Missouri, I was unarmed. God will always protect me until my mission is fulfilled.
I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. I once offered my life to the Missouri mob as a sacrifice for my people, and here I am. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel. The prediction is that army will be against army: it may be that the Saints will have to beat their ploughs into swords, for it will not do for men to sit down patiently and see their children destroyed. (TPJS, 365-366).

The seniority in the first Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation was arranged by age. Since then, seniority has been determined by dates of ordination, the Apostle who has served the longest being the most senior.

When two or more men are ordained on the same date, the one ordained first is the more senior. This was the case recently with Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar, and in that case their age governs. Seniority determines who presides over the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Lord controls seniority and succession through the natural means of life and death.

President Spencer W. Kimball testified concerning the principle of seniority and its importance in the selection of a new President of the Church:

Full provision has been made by our Lord for changes. Today there are fourteen apostles holding the keys in suspension, the twelve and the two counselors to the President, to be brought into use if and when circumstances allow, all ordained to leadership in their turn as they move forward in seniority.
There have been some eighty apostles so endowed since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him.
The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program. (In Conference Report, October 1972, 29).

If President Gordon B. Hinckley were to die tonight [2005], the next Apostle in seniority, based upon length service since his ordination, is President Thomas S. Monson. If President Monson were to die before becoming President of the Church, then the next senior Apostle, President Boyd K. Packer would become President, and so forth. Each of the Apostles understands this process. It is not a matter of being “right for the job” as you indicate, having to convince each other or the whole Church they deserve to be President.  Rather, it is a matter of the Lord’s preference.

After fifteen [now sixteen] Presidents of the Church have been thus chosen, it should be obvious to us that the Lord places at the head of the Church the Apostle He decides is “right for the job.” We do not need to worry or speculate about it. The kingdom of God will continue to roll forth throughout the earth until the Second Coming. We have the opportunity to be part of those preparations by following the Apostles the Lord raises up to lead us until He comes again.