Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Devil's Advocate

I started to make a comment to Rich in the last post, and as usual it turned into another post, since the allocation of words for a comment was exceeded (a common failing of mine). Verbosity can be such a burden.

Your comment about the electronic versions of scriptures is worth expanding. I've settled on the convenience of taking my iPad when I don't have a teaching or speaking assignment. However, what I've observed in others attempting to use them from the pulpit while giving a talk, teaching a class, or giving a presentation in the stake center with the big screen is that there is invariably a technology hiccup of some kind. The downtime while we wait for the interruption to be corrected is always awkward and tends to drive the Spirit right out of the meeting. For that reason I always use my "low-tech" version of the scriptures when I talk or teach.

But even then it's important to be easily familiar with your tools as you transition from scripture to scripture when you are being guided by the Spirit in what you say in your teaching. We've all witnessed speakers fumbling with notes or losing their place when reading their talks word for word, and that too can be distracting. "Read yourself full, think yourself empty, speak yourself clear," is still good advice in preparation for a speaking, teaching or presenting assignment.

Since we're all amateurs in the Church where there is no paid clergy, as I see it the only answer is to become familiar with the tools we use, whatever our personal preference may be, in fact, so familiar that for all of us we can aspire to the day when we're all finishing each others' sentences because we all know what we know from the same sources. That blessed day will come when we all have come to know Him.

Joseph Smith
"This principle" — that of having one's calling and election made sure and of being sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise — "ought (in its proper place) to be taught," the Prophet Joseph said, "for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, know ye the Lord; for all shall know him (who remain) from the least to the greatest. How is this to be done? It is to be done by this sealing power, and the other Comforter spoken of, which will be manifest by revelation." (TPJS, 149).

The scriptural passage alluded to by the Prophet in this statement is from Jeremiah, who stated: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When that day finally arrives, we will have ceased doing home teaching and visiting teaching ;-)

We live in a time when it seems the membership of the Church is being sifted and separated and families are divided in the debate. In case you're living under a rock and unaware, the critics are among you in your own congregations everywhere and even among your aunts, uncles and cousins in your families. There have always been critics of the leaders of the Church - ALWAYS! The great divide that is setting up over LGBT issues and women and the priesthood, while often interesting to observe and debate among ourselves, is really nothing new at all. "Equal rights" is such an appealing notion, isn't it? And because I doubt there's a family left on earth that hasn't identified at least one family member with same-gender attraction tendencies, we're all enlisted in this latest skirmish. The topics may change, new advocates may arise, but the critics never seem to subside. However, I'm going to stand with Joseph Smith and his successors.

The Brethren are not on trial here. God our Eternal Father is not on trial, nor is our Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was already dispatched to a cruel Roman cross and those who opposed Him thought that would be the end of it. But He arose from the dead. He restored His gospel in these last days. He continues to feel after us and invite us to come unto Him through obedience to His laws, His gospel and His humble servants.

It is we as members who are on trial. It is so much easier to be a critic than a contributor when it comes to building faith among ourselves in the Church. When we take the role of the "Devil's Advocate" to spice the debate and do others a service by "testing their faith," we sometimes fail to recognize the Devil already has millions of willing minions who followed him in the pre-existence and they continue to afflict and torment us here in mortality. The earliest reference I've been able to find for the term "Devil's Advocate" is a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic Church appointed to argue against the canonization or beatification of a person. Then as now, the reasoning seems to go, let's doubt the motives and goodness of a person first, question everything they represent and let's stand against goodness as the loyal opposition to everything that suggests righteousness. That is so progressive, so smart, so forward-thinking, or so they say! Those who are already doing that as unembodied spirits easily outnumber those of us here on earth in physical bodies today. Why would we ever volunteer to do their work for them?

Satan and his followers are always willing to welcome new Advocates within their ranks. Hey, if you've got a body, you're going to offer them much more than they have. Those who defect here in the second estate and fail to remain valiant in their testimonies of Jesus, and especially when they're offering commentary about their long-standing tendency as individuals to question everything first are valuable assets to Satan's cause! They are easy targets for deception. (See D&C 76:75, 79). Let us not be blinded by "craftiness".

In the sanctuary of our dedicated chapels and classrooms, may I suggest that we seek higher ground and stand with the living oracles first? We all have doubts, but let's doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith, as President Uchtdorf suggested recently:

"To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
"Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
"Some might ask, 'But what about my doubts?'
"It’s natural to have questions — the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith — even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. (See Hebrews 11:1; Alma 32:21).
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters — my dear friends — please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. (See F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer [1924], 23). We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine).

Since that invitation from President Uchtdorf, some are now positing with the most recent federal court judge in Utah striking down Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution that the judge has somehow nullified the living prophets among us. "If the prophets were truly inspired," the latest reasoning goes, "why didn't they know the Amendment they advocated would be declared unconstitutional?" Similar arguments were made when Proposition 8 and DOMA were also overturned, but with an important distinction. California's governor made the decision not to challenge the rulings there, but in Utah the Attorney General under the direction of Governor Herbert will make a vigorous defense of Amendment 3, since 2/3 of Utahns voted in favor of Amendment 3 and the will of the electorate in defining marriage cannot be so easily ignored. I know good members of the Church who are now taking public stands on their social media platforms in exultation over the courts' rebukes of the Church. Really? Why?

When one makes a moral argument, as the Church did over gay marriage rights, we must be cautious to make the leap that the legal authority may have the last word. Remember, there is a higher unseen tribunal. It is as though some in the Church never seem to have been introduced to the LAWGIVER, you know, the One the Founders accepted in the founding documents for America who has given us our rights as free men and women.

The Devil's Advocates today would like you to believe they have made a clear and logical argument, except what is NOT clear at this writing is how the appellate courts will decide. Will they uphold the first federal judge's ruling or set it aside? The Tenth Circuit Court and eventually the SCOTUS will ultimately adjudicate the law of the land, but the law of the Lord is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. THAT law is eternal, unchangeable, unamendable and immutable.

Upon THAT law of holy matrimony - that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman - rests the eternal plan of salvation. Does one presume to assert eternal law can somehow be altered by popular opinion or a court decision? There is no earthly tribunal in America, even the SCOTUS, that can compel the churches to solemnize a wedding ritual in violation of its religious beliefs under Constitutional safeguards. And certainly, the highest courts in the land will never be able to rule effectively in matters of conscience and righteousness. That's why the Founders were so explicit that America could never be governed except if the people remained righteous. But Satan will not rest. Since the Garden, he has sought to separate the man from the woman, and he has sworn in his wrath he will never retreat.

We are admonished to gather together in our meetings "to AGREE upon my word." (D&C 41:2). When our high priest groups descend into nothing more than a debating society where we mingle the philosophies of men with scripture, and never once during a lesson cite a single sentence from the prophets' teachings that are laid before us, we are opening ourselves up to being deceived. I suspect this is all in fulfillment of sorting out the wise virgins from among the foolish ones. (See Matthew 25). They were all good girls - virgins! - waiting for the Bridegroom. As members the Church in the last days, we are good girls too for the most part. But about half of us tend to be wise, and about half tend toward foolishness.

President Thomas S. Monson
The demarcation line will likely be those who have embraced the word, honored and defended the humble prophets God has raised up from among our congregations to lead us in the latter-days, and who put their covenants ahead of all other considerations. Whenever I am asked who I think the greatest prophet in this dispensation is, most are surprised when my knee-jerk reaction isn't "Joseph Smith," or "Harold B. Lee." They are both dead prophets, and great as they were, the greatest prophet for me will always be the one who is living on the earth and leading the Church TODAY, Thomas S. Monson. And when he is gone, it will be his successor. I find obedience to the covenants we have made with God leaves me no other option in answering that question.

Those who will yet lose their way in the mists of darkness will be those who treat casually the glorious gifts we have received in the Restoration. It's a marvelous flood of light for those who choose to live in the light.

So no matter which version of scripture you favor, electronic or paper, feast upon the word, familiarize yourselves with their contents, and avoid the winds of deception that are blowing at gale force all around you. In this course there is safety, light and LIFE.

Remember - eternal life comes only from the Lawgiver, and it is given on His terms.

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