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 - http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_ne/8



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.

2 comments:

brother Brad said...

Hi Ted,
"The Iron Rod in Changing Times" is well written, with the iron rod being a strong visual metaphor. There was one line however, that stands out as a puzzle: "I had been taught from the Bible, but had no real testimony of it." My recollection is very different. Wasn't the testimony how mom and dad lived their life?!

Ted said...

Yes, you could certainly say that with much validity. My use of the word testimony here is with a fairly specific meaning in mind. At that time in my life I could not honestly say that I knew without doubt that the Bible was factual in its accounts of miraculous events or that it represented the Word of God. I had some faith that it was but to gain what I would refer to as a "real testimony" one must spend time reading and studying the book. Beyond that, one must receive a spiritual conformation from the Holy Ghost that it comes from God, that the stories within are true and that the principles and commandments contained in it are the will of God for His children. That to me is a real testimony. As a teenager I had not made much effort to read the book, let alone test its teachings and promises by living by living the commandments. My earnest study of the Bible began after gaining a testimony that the Book of Mormon was true. Since the Book of Mormon declares the Bible to be true, the Book of Mormon cannot be true unless the Bible is also true.
Ted