Monday, February 9, 2009

So Great a Cause II

I have created another site to compliment this one. My intent is to put writings there that I feel are of a more permanent interest. This will leave this site to function more as a journal in the spirit of a typical blog. You can go there by clicking on the link under "Ted's other blogs" I am using Wordpress for the other site because I like the page function there and it also has some stastical tracking available to me that is interesting to check on. My first entry is my conversion story which has never been posted on this site.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mandy's Pure Love

I wrote this and gave it as a talk at a friend's funeral.


Jan. 6,2008

I’ll try to describe Mandy Richerson in a few words. How about playfully serene? Doesn’t that fit? She is definitely artistic, and lived life with flare. She seemed comfortable in her own skin. There was always a bit of whimsy in her smile and yet she was a fairly deep thinker and deeply spiritual. I believe caring about other people comes very natural to her. She loves other people for who they are. Wasn’t it her natural expectation that we would love her for who she is? It seems to me that Mandy wore her life like a pair of comfy slippers.

What was the foundation of her comfort? I’m sure it was partly her experiences in this life and definitely the love she received throughout her life from family and friends. But I believe it was also in the deep understanding she had of who she is and what it means to be a daughter of God.

Like Mandy and Larry, I am a convert to the LDS Church of many years. A friend of mine had been brought up in the church and arranged for me to meet with the missionaries. I’m a bit of a skeptic and didn’t join easily. Larry can relate to that. But there was one brand-new idea I had no trouble with. The missionaries explained God’s plan of salvation for us and outlined the steps we take along the way. I was familiar with the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life, but had never before contemplated the possibility that we had lived as spirit children with Heavenly Father before coming to the earth. The moment I heard it I knew it was true. As if it was something I had once known but forgotten. The veil that is drawn across our minds at birth parted for one brief instant and I could see that this was so.

This knowledge changes one’s perspective in a big way. Now when I consider God’s claim to know each one of His children intimately I better see how this would be. I don’t know if we were ever spirit babies bouncing on Father’s knee, but I feel comfortable in saying that we did not come to Him all at once, but perhaps one at a time. Unless we are blessed with twins, children come to us in this life one at a time. We bond with each one individually and grow to know and love them. We are taught that Jehovah is the first of Father’s children and therefore our elder brother. I can scarcely imagine a more illuminating doctrine. At once, this breathes life into our understanding of all relationships and makes them eternal. Those being the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, between all of us to our Heavenly Father, our relationships with each other as spirit brothers and sisters, and also the very real kinship we have with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We can now imagine that He was there with us in the pre-existence, helping us along as a big brother, serving as an example of what we could become. He too would have come to know us and love us just as our Father does. When the time came for the Great Jehovah to come to the earth as Jesus of Nazareth and offer himself as a sacrifice on our behalf, He was not doing this for strangers, but for his family - for his brothers and sisters that he has long known and cared for. Likewise, it is within our nature to love one another. It is only the veil of forgetfulness that blinds us and forces us to rediscover on our own the underlying principle of love.

The world in which we now live, one torn apart by divisions of race, religion and political boundaries is most unnatural to our eternal spirits. But if we can learn to apply the principle of unconditional love here, where it does not easily fit, we have made a great discovery indeed.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”

I believe Mandy has made this discovery and is prepared to return home to live with Father and to share in this loving relationship in the company of all her brothers and sisters with new-found appreciation. She has learned what the prophet Moroni called the “Pure Love of Christ”, that of Charity.

Moroni 7: 45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Charity isn’t just something you do - it is something you become. It resides in your heart and changes your view. You allow others to be who they are now and see through their imperfections to the person they will become. You ignore the petty irritations and forgive the serious sin. You find infinite value disguised behind temporary rebellion.

I believe Mandy is a most charitable person. Not only could you see this in the things she did for others, you could see it in her eyes. She absorbed the power of this principle, amplified it and reflected it back to us in greater strength.

There aren’t any more Mandys out there. She is a unique individual. It’s not a case of breaking the mold. There never was a mold. But it is not because of her uniqueness or in spite of it that we love her. It is mostly because she loves us.

You may notice that I don’t speak of her in the past tense. That is because Mandy is as alive now as she has ever been. Not to us, but to herself and those loving persons who surround her on the other side of the veil. Of this, I have no doubt.

As Vicki and I visited with Larry and Mandy a few hours before she departed for home, we wondered who might be on the reception committee to greet her and what a happy reunion that would be. When my time comes, I would be most pleased to find Mandy on my reception committee. I would find that… most comfortable.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Conversation with an athiest

You say you are an atheist?
Do you believe in right and wrong?
I'm not sure there has to be a right and wrong.
If someone kidnapped and raped your daughter would that be wrong?
I think you'd have a hard time finding people who would say that is right.
Would the number of other people make a difference there? Is right and wrong determined by the majority?
In practical terms that may be true.
Do you think that majority is always right?
Of course not. The majority might be racial bigots for example. That doesn't make it right.
How do you determine what is right or wrong for you?
I study the issues and go with my gut.
So whatever you come up with becomes right for you?
I suppose you could say that.
One of the functions of God, for people who believe in Him, is to tell us what He thinks is right and wrong. If you get to determine that for yourself, it seems that you are functioning as a god unto yourself.
Well, I'm certainly not going to call myself a god.
Is there any higher authority for you?
There are people I look up to.
But in the end you can overrule them when it comes to your choices and philosophy?
So in effect, you are your own highest authority?
A god unto yourself.
Say what you want.
If you get to be god for you, do I get to be god for me?
Why not? Go for it.
What if there is conflict? What if I want your car? Is your version of right superior to mine?
I'm going to do everything I can to stop you from taking my car. I guess if I win that battle then I get to be right.
You don't really believe right and wrong is determined by the strongest, do you? If I am stronger, you are not going to buy into my religion are you.
So basically, you get to be god for you but you can't really accept me having the same privilege.
Well, I guess that's just tough.
That's some religion you've got there.
Our laws are based on the idea that one person should not hurt another person. That seems pretty basic.
That brings up another question in my mind. What difference does it make if we are happy or sad if we cease to exist at death? If we can't remember a thing, why have laws and go to all this trouble to create a happy environment?
We live in the now.
Do we? Most people live their lives as if it mattered. You seem to be doing that.
Well, it matters now.
Why not go on a binge of some kind and then end it all in a blaze glory? If you are your own god and your life doesn't matter, why not rob Krispy Kreme, rape women and then drive a car off a cliff or get into a shooting war with the police? What if we build a doomsday bomb and blow up the planet? Wouldn't that be just as good an end to humanity?
I don't know what to say to that.
If you are having trouble understanding the appeal of my religion, I am really having trouble understanding the appeal of yours.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Iron Rod in Changing Times

This was written as a talk which I gave in church. For those not familiar with Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life, the reference to the Iron Rod is an element in the dream. A long iron rod or railing represented the Word of God. The fruit of the Tree of Life represented the Love of God. To read the full account of the dream, follow this link -

Last weekend I attended my 40-year class reunion. I graduated from high school in the year 1968. I have always thought of ‘68 as being “my year” - and what a year it was. You remember the Bob Dylan song “the times they are a changing?” In my lifetime, no other year exemplifies the sentiment of that song more than 1968. Magazines and books have been published documenting the whirlwind of events that occurred that year, and I was right in the middle of it. Well, maybe not in the middle, but I was certainly aware of what was going on around me and involved to some degree. I was changing right along with the rest of my world. In the blink of an eye, I woke up the morning of my 18th birthday and realized that I had, through some process of legal metamorphosis, changed from a child into an adult. According to the law, I had suddenly become as accountable for my actions as my parents, teachers or civic leaders. The Vietnam war was escalating and I had to think about the part that conflict might play in my life. I might find myself drafted into the Army and trained to kill other human beings. But Vietnam was only one of the wars being fought in 1968. We were in the middle of a cultural war, the likes of which Western civilization has not seen in long time, if ever.

This past week the History channel aired a program hosted by Tom Brokaw about that tumultuous year. It was a year of assassinations and race riots. I remember spending a night on Capital hill in Seattle, listening to the sound of gunshots in the distance. Civil disobedience was in the air as young people and African-Americans took to the streets to express their rage at racial injustice, an unpopular war and the perceived rigidity of an older generation clinging to outmoded values and standards. Young people thought they had discovered new, more colorful and adventurous drugs than the alcohol favored by their parents. The sexual revolution was changing the definition of morality. Sexual promiscuity was no longer considered scandalous. It was thought that the birth control pill had rewritten the rules. Later in life, a lot of these young people from my generation have changed their minds about a lot of things, but our world will never be the same.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” is a common expression. The reason it is so common is because people keep doing it. Young people are especially vulnerable to such temptation. They see a problem and imagine a cure without having bothered to learn the lessons of history. Many from my generation wanted a full-blown revolution. To some extent, they got it, but they didn’t know what to do with it. The hotheaded never do. Out went the baby.

I watched all of this happening from the perspective of a young person with a good Christian upbringing, but without the authoritative voice we enjoy in this church. I was questioning everything except the very nature of right and wrong. I had been taught from the Bible but had no real testimony of it. I was being carried along by the winds of change. A few times I found myself in places I did not want to be. Places of chaos and selfishness. Dangerous places where young people, who thought themselves clever, were experimenting with things that could alter their lives forever.

I needed help. I needed it more than I knew, which is often the case. What I needed was an Iron Rod; a rod that was really attached to something permanent. Something that extended beyond this world. Beyond the popular movement, the political, the arbitrary, the philosophical. Beyond the myopic vision of the natural man. A rod that extends to a place without remorse for the path taken. A place of infinite order, where satisfaction and success are built upon intelligence and love. I needed Lehi’s rod of iron – the Word of God.

It is the Word that leads us. When we think of the Word of God, we think first of Holy Scripture. The written word. The ancient Word that has passed down through the ages and withstood the test of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the Word of God is worth a thousand pictures. When a simple word is carried to the heart on the wings of the Spirit, it can teach its lesson to anyone, from any age, in any circumstance. It is infinitely adaptive to the person who receives it. No matter our starting point or the obstacles before us, it directs each of us to the place we need to be next. In the 14th chapter of John we read: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” We are each unique. We will have our own place in Father’s house. The words of the Iron Rod can guide us down our own individual path until we reach the Tree of Life.

What is the nature of this magnificent rod? It is solid, durable and stable. It is firmly anchored in bedrock. Like the Valley of Lemuel, it is “steadfast and immovable.” The dream of Lehi describes a lengthy rod that would be round and gripable. It is something we can wrap our hands around and still slide them forward as we progress step by step. As the winds blow and the forces of temptation are unleashed upon us, we can tighten our grip, even as our feet are swept out from under us. We can withstand floods of filthy water and dangle over the abyss until we find our footing. Should we foolishly let go and wander in the mist, the rod is still there, waiting for us to find it again. It is always there, but we must not let ourselves slip into the river and be swept away to drown. There is pain in the mist. Hold fast to the Iron Rod. It is strong and bright and true. It will safely guide us through.

We say that God is omniscient. He knows all things. He shows us that this is true by predicting the future. He knows the end from the beginning. Numerous prophets down through the ages were shown a panoramic vision of the course this world will follow, from the Creation to the final exaltation of the planet and all the truly important events in between. One by one, we have seen that the events foretold are coming to pass just as predicted. We can look to some of the events of our own day and see the hand of the Lord bringing to pass His will. This world is not an accident; it is not random chance. We should trust that the Creator and predictor of all things would know which behaviors will lead us to happiness and which will not. Here too, He has predicted the outcome of our choices for our benefit. We need not learn the hard way. We do not want to try to reinvent the wheel of good and evil; the wheel of obedience and disobedience; the wheel of morality and immorality. Silly as it seems, people are always trying to do just that and the result is always pain. Eventually. Always.

When I was first introduced to the Restored Church I recognized, even before I dared to hope that it might be true, that it offered something worth investigating. I was familiar with the Bible. I knew what a prophet was. It came as no surprise to me when I read in D&C 1:38 what the Lord had to say about them. “…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” A prophet can speak for the Lord. When he does so, it is the Word of the Lord unto us. The ancient scriptures didn’t start out as words written on a scroll or etched on a metal plate. They have their origins in the Mind of God. They were conveyed to the prophets in various ways, whether by thought or vision or by a voice within or without. The words of scripture formed in the minds of the prophets by inspiration and revelation. The words may be given for immediate instruction or endless edification, but there is something that can be learned from every utterance, whether written or spoken.

We live in a day of prophets and apostles, seers and revelators. They speak and write inspired words expressly for us and our day. This too is the Iron Rod. The words of the rod offer us instruction and fact. They teach us true doctrine and speak plainly. In the Book of Jacob we read: “Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” Living prophets give us words of counsel, admonition and warning. They also instruct in our duties and preparations. They tell us what the Lord would have us do today.

The Church of the Lord through all the ages has been one of dynamic change, conditioned to meet the needs of the people of that time and prepare them for things to come. Policies, programs and direction are always changing. This is inherent in a living church directed by living prophets. What does not change is eternal truth and principle. The promises of a loving Father in Heaven do not change. His love and care for us do not change. The doctrines and principles taught by prophets of any age are just as true today.

Someone once said: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Even as we witness radical changes in our own short lifetimes, the frailties and temptations that afflict man seem to be the same in every age. So often the things we think of as new and chic are just a rehash of what has gone before. This is why 4000-year-old scripture can be so instructive. The teachings of our modern prophets is the Word of the Lord to us, even as they echo the ancient Word and clarify it with modern language and contemporary application. They point out the pitfalls that may seem unique to our day, lest we be confused by the changes in detail. I’ve come to believe that one of the important functions of living prophets and apostles is to continually direct our attention to the entire array of instruction given by those who wrote anciently. A common problem in the Christian world today is to focus too much on some scriptures while ignoring others. This can easily result in misinterpretation, an unbalanced view and the teaching of false doctrine.

The natural man is a fairly negative creature. We expect things to go wrong and they often do. We understand negative consequences before we understand positive ones. We understand pain, suffering, problems, setbacks, frustration, disease, punishment and dire repercussions. We’ve all experienced them. We’ve all come to regret stupid mistakes. We’ve all played the fool and we know we don’t like it. The Lord knows this and has supplied us with ample warning of the negative results of not heading his counsel. Some of these warnings offer graphic descriptions of horror and suffering. How about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Or this one from the Book of Heleman: “…drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless woe” . The Book of Revelation speaks of those who are “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” We can’t complain on Judgement Day that the Lord soft-pedaled the consequences of sin in the scriptures. We can’t say we didn’t get the point. Why then are we so tempted to do things that we must know we will have to pay for later?

We sometimes like to play around with our favorite sins like a child plays in a wading pool. The water is shallow so we feel we can easily keep our head above water. Do we not notice that the water is filthy? Sin is serious business and the scriptures treat it as such. "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." This declaration is given to us in the Book of Alma and repeated in the 1st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This does not mean that God cannot love the sinner. It means that he can never give permission for sin. It means that he cannot pretend that any sin, no matter how small, does not matter. Every sin results in pain. Every sin has the effect of separating us from Father. By following the Iron Rod we can avoid the pains of sin. In this life we will experience sickness and loss but so many other kinds of suffering can be avoided or worked through if we are obedient.

As we mature in the Gospel, we will accumulate a storehouse of positive experience that comes through obedience to eternal principle. We come to love the positive and want more for ourselves and our loved ones. We cultivate a garden of peace, comfort, satisfaction and wellbeing. We find that our obedience makes it easier for us to love others and for them to love us. A loving circle grows around us with parents, children, friends and co-workers, along with our brothers and sisters in the Church. We learn to love those we serve and those we serve under. We feel our Savior’s love and are motivated by our love for Him. We bask in the warm glow of righteousness and the knowledge that we are redeemed. We trust in the sealing powers of the priesthood to bind our families together. We have faith and hope for our future state as partakers of the first resurrection, children of the Millennium and royal inhabitants of the Father’s Celestial Kingdom. All this and more awaits at the end of the Iron Rod. The Tree of Life. The Love of God. The white above all that is white. The sweet above all that is sweet. If we are standing at the tree, as was Father Lehi, we will be safe and happy. We will want our loved ones to join us. If they look up and see the smile on our face, they too will see the value of the Iron Rod. I pray that we may all reach out for that delicious fruit.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Critics

We Latter-day Saints are used to criticism. It's part of our Mormon heritage. The most vociferous challenges do not usually come from Jews or Muslims or Buddhist, but from other Christians. This should probably not come as any surprise.

Modern technology provides a new forum for the critics. Most newspapers have an on-line counterpart allowing people to read articles via computer. Many of these also include the opportunity to respond to the article by posting comments. Articles dealing with the LDS Church or its members usually generate a lively series of posts by both antagonists and protagonists. Often the responses degenerate into an exchange of personal attacks against other commenters. The actual reasons why people are drawn into these debates is an interesting subject. If asked, I suspect many of them would claim some hope of noble service rendered in saving their opponents from future grief. I am skeptical of that being the primary motivation.

The missing ingredient from all these debates is the LDS admonition to seek our ultimate answers from God. While there are many members of the LDS Church who have not done so, we are under obligation to pray for divine confirmation of our faith until we receive a spiritual witness from Heaven. Once received, logical argument and worldly evidences recede into the background.

We may study the evidence as means of understanding events and culture pertinent to our belief, but it should never be confused as being proof. We may offer evidence to others as a way of piquing their curiosity and motivating them to further investigation but our missionaries always instruct individuals to pray for their own answer. While divine confirmation does not come all at once, the recipient of knowledge borne by the Holy Ghost should recognize the superiority of God's intelligence over any logical argument devised by mortal man. The critic is arguing from a position of inferior experience, for which there is no logical compensation. The believer can say: "I have had a personal experience," to which the only valid rebuttal is: "No, you haven't."

One other bit of understanding should be obvious to non-LDS Christians but seldom is. If you believe in the God of the Bible - a mighty and all-powerful God - you must also believe that He could easily reveal himself and convince all people of the truth of His existence, but He chooses not to. Why? We are left with the inescapable conclusion (one confirmed by the Bible) that we are being tested here in mortality as to the strength of our character and our ability to walk by faith. God asks us to proceed through life, sometimes stepping into unknown territory, while being guided only by the whisperings of the unseen Spirit. If God were here amongst us it would spoil the test.

This we accept as one of the great challenges and purposes for our current separation from God. He could make belief easy but instead He makes it easy to argue Him out of existence, providing all the circumstantial counter-evidence the atheist needs. We might find worldly evidence that a man named Jesus once lived, but there is no physical or scientific evidence that He ever performed any miracles or ascended into Heaven. The miraculous accounts of the Bible are not logical or reasonable and yet they are accepted by millions without physical evidence. They can be easily argued against by anyone with a disposition to do so.

Now, to come to my point. If we accept this situation as being consistent with God's designs for our mortal probation, should we not expect the same God to present us with the same scenario should He perform a miraculous work in our own time? If He came to the Earth and spoke to Joseph Smith and others, He surely would not spoil the test by making belief in this easy. Those who rely on worldly evidence will naturally come up short. If you go looking for ammunition against LDS claims, you should expect to find it. If the claims are false, any supporting evidence will be purely coincidental. If the claims are true, we should expect God to carefully arrange for the scoffers to find what they are looking for.

The critics, who's acceptance of the Bible should be based on spiritual experience, usually rely on human logic and circumstantial evidence as "proof" of an LDS hoax. Would it not be consistent for God to require a spiritual investigation to discover the real truth of His work? The fact that the LDS message can easily be construed as bogus proves nothing other than the predisposition of the critics. The same is true for critics of the Bible. It is not the work of God that is being tested. It is us. Those who are exposed to what the LDS Church actually teaches will either recognize something good and valuable, or they will not. Either they will be willing to push aside all their worldly concerns to have it, or they will not.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Homosexuality and the Church

We Latter-day Saints will come under intense criticism in the future for our stand on morality and sexual relations as it applies to increasingly vocal gay and lesbian communities. Too often we are perceived as harboring ill feelings toward individuals who choose to live by another moral code. This can sometimes be true of individual members but it is not encouraged by church leadership. When Larry King interviewed President Hinckley, he was asked about the church’s position with regard to homosexuals. President Hinckley said that “we love them and we want to help them.” The beauty of our moral code is in its simplicity and also that it applies to everyone equally. It does not need to identify any one group or type of personality. It does not disqualify a person from activity in the church because of genetics, temperament, upbringing, predisposition, natural tendencies or temptations. It addresses only active behavior. It forbids physical contact for the purpose of sexual arousal outside of the traditional married relationship between husband and wife. Temptations of the heart and recurring thoughts of inappropriate behavior are a private affair between God and man and best addressed on our knees.

Our “law of chastity” is the same for everyone. It is often a difficult law to live. For some, it is much more difficult to live than for others but the law itself does not single anyone out. It does not matter if you are a teenager with raging hormones, engaged to be married, a married couple, divorced, widowed, a middle-aged person who has never been married, a married man attracted to another woman, a woman who is attracted to other women, a man who is attracted to other men, or an adult who is attracted to children. It is God's law and it applies to all.

No matter who we are, we have all lived in a state of being single and without a sexual partner. Many of us who are married will find ourselves single once again at some point in our lives. Living in a state of unmet sexual desire is a natural part of being human. The duration and intensity of this state varies greatly and many seem to suffer through no fault of their own.

The problem of homosexual desire has very little to do with us as a church but everything to do with a person’s relationship with God. If you believe there is a powerful God in Heaven, you must also accept that inequity and the seemingly unfair distribution of pain and blessings is an intrinsic part of this mortal experience. If we cannot abide this inequity, then we must reject God and His wisdom in placing us in the environment we inhabit. We all have different tests in this life. We must believe that God has a great reward in store for those who pass the greater test. According to our belief, those who are called upon to live without a mate in this life will be given that opportunity in the eternities if they live worthy of that blessing.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dr. Dean's Religion

I was listening to Dr. Dean Edell on the radio yesterday. I knew he was a man without religious faith but this time he came right out and said that religion was not real - not based on truth. It is his show so he can say what he wants but I found this astounding for a man who relies on science and empirical evidence to guide him in his quest for what is "truth." Where is the evidence that supports his position? His position seems to be that ALL religion is a hoax. Show me one shred of evidence Dr. Dean. It is one thing to say that you have not found sufficient evidence to support a belief in God. It is hardly scholarly to say that a lack of evidence proves that something does not exist. Now you are preaching your religion Dr. Dean.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ears to Hear

As we LDS attempt to share our message of a restoration of the Christian Church and it’s Priesthood authority, it is only natural that we identify in our minds those individuals who would appear to be most receptive. Often it is not really a measure of receptivity that we recognize but rather some manifestation of supposed preparedness. Who could blame us for thinking that someone who already believes many of the important doctrines of Christianity that we ourselves embrace, should be the one who is most prepared to listen to our message. When a person lives a life that exemplifies devotion and commitment to God, we can easily visualize the necessary transition in becoming a solid member of our church and a valuable asset to the Lord in building up His Latter-day Kingdom. It is these understandable expectations that sometimes leave us bewildered when our, so imagined, prime candidate rebuffs our overtures.

People live such varied lives and have so many unique experiences that we are unlikely to be aware of a person’s true historical makeup. It is partly these experiences that prepare a person’s mind for the planting of the Gospel seed, or preclude its nourishment. Each of us comes here from the presence of God with developed personalities and capacities, and yet many of our capacities lay hidden until some series of events brings them to fruition. I think we all know people who appeared to be unlikely prospects before exposure to the LDS story, but who surprised us by embracing it with zeal. I submit myself as an example. Who knew me well enough to have predicted my interest and willingness to change my lifestyle so radically? Outward appearance and current habits and affiliations seem to be poor indicators of the truly receptive.

The world is filled with many millions of people who are of such character, that when given the right opportunity, they will fully embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “right opportunity” is sometimes too complex for us to provide in short order. It is not always a matter of presenting the message in just the right words or from the lips of the right messenger. I believe most of these good people are simply sidetracked, either by other compelling interests, or by a heavy cloak of misinformation. In either case, something is going to happen to them someday, which will cause them to stop and reevaluate their pursuits and prejudices. The Lord is obviously willing to wait for this to happen and we must be patient as well. Meanwhile, hearts are being softened every day in those unexpected few that are ready now. Our charge is to find them but it is not very often easy. They may be in camouflage, not only to us but also to themselves.

I could not have predicted my own conversion because I could not have imagined the offer. The LDS message caught me totally by surprise and I was ill prepared to accept it. I was, however, receptive. What was it that made me receptive? It could have been a complex set of variables, but mostly, I wanted to do the right thing with this precious mortal existence. Although I did not expect to find a precise plan and reliable guide when I was nineteen years old, I recognized that that was exactly what the LDS message offered. Fortunately, I was not prejudiced against the Church, as so many good people are. I could visualize the significance of the promise of a modern prophet -- if only I could come to know if it was really true. That is a story for another day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Joseph's First Rejection

You may have noticed that when religious people get really hostile toward another religion, it usually isn’t one of polar opposites, but rather one which shares many elements with their own. This has certainly been the case as the LDS have taken the most heat, not from Muslims or Buddhists or Scientologists, but from other Christians. This scorching began even before our church was founded. When the fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith approached his minister and related to him a miraculous personal experience, he was immediately condemned. This reaction would have been expected had he propounded some heretical doctrine, undermining the validity of Christianity and the Bible record. Such was hardly the case.

Implicit in Joseph’s story was physical confirmation that God is not “dead,” that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Biblical account of His life, death, and resurrection were true in literal fact. These same assertions, so fantastic and unbelievable to many, have been accepted as a matter of faith by Christians, most of whom have never received any more than a quiet witness of the heart that they were true. For two thousand years members of the Christian community have looked forward to the day when a physical witness would replace their faith, and the supernatural events foretold in the Bible would unfold as undeniable confirmation that their faith had not been in vain. Young Joseph’s message was that his faith had been replaced by a sure knowledge and that this long awaited unfolding had begun.

Joseph’s innocent and na├»ve attempt to share his experience was rebuffed by the very people he expected would be most glad to hear of it. The reasons for this are a matter of curiosity to me, as I would like nothing more than to share Joseph’s message with others. In 1820, Joseph was not yet associated with the Book of Mormon, golden plates, angels, plural marriage, or any of the other controversial aspects of the future LDS church. His account was simply that he had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ, and that they had directed him not to join any of the existing churches because they all contained some errors in doctrine. He was to wait for further instructions, and he did wait for three long years.

The reaction of Joseph’s minister may have bewildered the boy but it should not be so strange to us. There are several reasons that would explain his behavior. As a graduate of his particular sect’s religious training, he would have been heavily schooled, not just in the Old and New Testaments, but also in the writings of ancient Christian leaders and the more recent Protestant reformers. By the nineteenth century, the Protestant churches had a long history of using language not found in any of the English translations of the Bible. Many of these trained theologians accepted 4th and 5th century creeds with equal veracity. Joseph’s simple statement that he had seen both the Father and the Son would have been viewed as running counter to the creeds.

A more obvious problem that any ordinary man of the cloth would have is that of pride. It would be difficult for him to accept a mere child as having received a greater education in one brief vision than he had gained after years of devoted study and service. If Joseph was right, then his minister was wrong about some important aspects of the Christian faith. Admitting that you have been wrong about something is never easy, especially when you have been vocal in claiming to possess the correct understanding. The Protestant clergy of Joseph’s time had been very vocal indeed. Each denomination was battling for new followers and often resorted to criticism of the other church's doctrines. Each believed they had discerned the real truth.

There are also practical considerations he would need to weigh. The two choices before him would be to either reject Joseph as a fanciful liar, or to hang up his cloth and wait for the lad to receive the promised instructions. The latter would have been unthinkable. A man who makes his living as a preacher would be facing a career change in the middle of his life and might be repulsed by the thought of having to run a plow. His friends and family likely would have ostracized him. This would make earning a living even more difficult.

Another reason to reject Joseph’s story was the then common belief that miracles of this sort had ended with the close of the New Testament period. Although this thinking has since changed for many Christians, it was being forcefully taught in 1820.

Perhaps the most universal aversion people have had to Joseph’s message of modern revelation from God, is that it would require a change in beliefs, behavior, and social standing. Most people resist change and never more than when the path ahead is uncertain. Joseph’s minister would suddenly be well outside his comfort zone had he given any thought as to the possible truth of Joseph’s vision.

While the above reasons make understandable the rejection and criticism Joseph experienced, it remains a curious fact that he was so viciously set upon while still a youth of no importance. He marveled at this himself as he labored under the difficulty it brought to him and his family. It is not without significance that both his parents and all his siblings believed his incredible account, and that they continued to support him through all the terrible ordeals his claims brought upon the whole family. While Joseph's minister was his first rejection, his own father, Joseph Smith Sr., was his first convert.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Article of Faith

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

This is the first Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are twelve more but this is the one on which all the others rest. It serves as the foundation for all that we believe. These three separate entities constitute what the Apostle Paul called the "Godhead." The fact that we Latter-day Saints believe in them and revere them as Divine places us in league with most of the Christians in the world. It is what Christians of the various sects believe about them that creates troublesome divisions in the Christian world.

This is an interesting quote from the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 31:21 "And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen."

We believe that the Father is a father. We believe that the Son is a son. We believe that the Holy Ghost is a "ghost" or "spirit" - without a physical body. We believe as Paul, that these three form a "Godhead." We believe as Nephi, that these three constitute one "God." Nephi's declaration is confusing only if we insist that the word God always describes a single entity, rather than a harmonious trio. Like most words, this one has more than one meaning, and means different things to different people. It is a word loaded with intrigue. It is at the same time, common, useful, important, and dangerous. It is a trigger in the mine field of misunderstanding so prevalent in the Christian world.