Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Millennium: A Time (Obviously?) of Revelation

Many Christians believe that Christ will return to the earth in glory one day (the Second Coming) and usher in a marvelous era known as the Millennium, a thousand-year period when Christ will rule on the earth and Satan will be bound until a brief period at the end of that era. Revelation 20 is one of the key texts on this topic. We read of resurrected righteous people living and reigning with Christ during that era (Rev. 20: 4). Mortal saints are on the earth during this era, with Christ in their midst. Wow, what an amazing time that will be. Think of all that we will learn, all the great mysteries that will be cleared up, all the great insights into life and the universe and the Creation and the things of God and man that will be shared with us as we live with and learn from Christ year after year! Think of how He could bless us just with a few words of wisdom on health care issues such as cancer treatment and prevention--is it too much to think that the Master Healer won't offer such blessings to us through His knowledge in that time of joy?

I hope such thoughts and dreams do not offend you. I hope you are in the camp that rejoices at such possibilities and would gladly welcome the chance to sit at the feet of Christ and learn from Him. That its, to learn new things from him, with new information and new answers that go beyond our hopelessly limited current understanding. New things that are revealed. Or do you think that Christ will have to pretty much be silent during that era, just smiling at us perhaps but pretty much expecting us to just turn to Genesis when we have questions about the cosmos and the Creation or to Leviticus and Deuteronomy when we have questions about health care? When we are tempted with a desire to know something more, perhaps we will find comfort by pulling out our tattered paperback editions of Dale Crowley's 1948 volume, The Bible Has All of the Answers. Of course, we'll always have Wikipedia, if its servers and databases survive the chaos of the end times.

Well, I hope that's not your view of the Millennium. That would be a far less bright Millennium than the one I believe awaits us. Christ wasn't silent while serving as a mortal on the earth, He wasn't silent immediately after His Resurrection when he showed Himself to many believers, He wasn't silent during his 40-day ministry a short time later (though not a word of all that He taught and revealed is recorded in the records of the Bible). He wasn't silent when He visited the Book of Mormon peoples in the New World who recorded His words and became further eye-witnesses of Christ, and we proclaim that He is not silent in our day. You may not believe our claims about revelation to modern prophets and peoples in the ancient Americas, but if you believe the Bible, I hope you can envision a Millennium in which the Christ who dwells on the earth is not a silent Christ, but one who can continue to speak and teach and reveal great truths that will bless us throughout that era and beyond.

God, the Ultimate Authority and the Source of all wisdom and knowledge (God, not a static printed volume), has much more to say to us someday, and that means that there are many great and wonderful things yet to be revealed. If you can envision a Millennium in which Christ continues to bless us with teachings and revelations, then perhaps you won't be so offended at the very idea of any additional revelation, now or in the future, besides what has been assembled and published in the Bible. Perhaps you might even understand a little more why we LDS folks have the following as one of our 13 Articles of Faith (this is the 9th):
We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps you will join us in looking forward with joy to receiving more revelation, instead of bristling at the thought and grumbling about "denigrating" the Bible by suggesting it does not contain all the knowledge we could ever need or chanting something about the sin of adding or subtracting from the Word of God. God, of course, is free to speak and reveal more anytime He wants, but we mortals have no authority to change the words of God: that is John's meaning in Rev. 22:18-19, something Moses already explained in Deut. 4:2, right before he added many more words to his scriptural record. Adding scripture is something God has his prophets do all the time, with no indication that the revealed word would ever permanently end, not in our day and certainly not in the Millennium. Further prophets and added revelation is something that is not only possible but actually prophesied in the Bible (e.g., Rev. 11 has modern prophets prophesying in the last days in Jerusalem; see also Isaiah 2 and Matt 23:34), and is something that Christians should look forward to with joy.

I hope you join me in looking forward to many more great things yet to be revealed! And frankly, I hope we don't have to wait until the Millennium for some of that. Call me crazy--or call me LDS. Yeah, I know, synonyms....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Favorite Pro-LDS Videos on the Temple?

Mormon-Temple-Ceremony.com has a page of pro-LDS videos about the temple, but not enough. What are you favorite videos that ought to be included? I'm looking for friendly suggestions here, please.

By the way, have you noticed TempleStudy.com, the site for learning about the Mormon temple? Nicely done--a good resource, IMHO.

Book of Mormon and Evidences of Hebraic Origins: No Ifs, Ands, or Buts (with Apologies)

Interesting Youtube video just touching upon the issue of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. For more details, see Evidences for the Book of Mormon.

Brief Video on Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

Hey, here's a valuable bonus video on the very authentic ancient Mesoamerican nature of warfare in the Book of Mormon. There are volumes that could be said about this topic, but the nuggets discussed here are worth reflecting. How could someone in New York have figured this out and added such authentic twists?

Seasons of Warfare in the Book of Mormon and Teancum's Timing

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Lord's House, the Temple, Prophesied to Be Important in the Last Days

When one considers what reverence the ancient prophets and Jesus Christ himself showed for the Temple, when one considers how it remained important to early Christians who gathered there often, and when one considers that it is prophesied to be important even after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, when the saints will be serving God there day and night (Rev. 7:15), it may seem surprising that so much of the Christian world is puzzled by the importance of the Temple in the LDS religion. To us, it's majestic evidence of the Restoration, of the time of "refreshing" that Paul spoke of in the last days (Acts 3:19-20). One prophecy that may help you realize that the temple is meant to play a vital role in God's work in these, the last days, is found in Isaiah 2. The prophecy is so important that it was "plagiarized" also by Micah in Micah 4 (I use the word "plagiarized" for those of you who take offense at the tendency of Book of Mormon writers and writers in the Bible to quote heavily from older texts). Here is Isaiah 2, verses 2-3:
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
The temple, the house of the Lord, will be established in the top of the mountains. It will be a gathering place for all nations, and a place of learning and of worship. What wonderful news to know that the ancient temple has been restored in the "tops of the mountains" and around the world, and indeed is a place of gathering, learning, and worship, bringing people of all nations to Zion. Wonderful news, and part of God great and wonderful works in the last days.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interesting PBS Interview with Daniel Peterson

If you missed this back when PBS was publishing some stories about the Mormons,, you might enjoy reading an interview with Daniel C. Peterson, one of the leading intellects at BYU and a tremendous defender of the LDS faith.

He makes several interesting points, but the part I'd like to share here is from his missionary experience in Switzerland, where I also served:
I remember when I was serving in Switzerland, we tracted out a Pakistani banker. Now, the Swiss were not always very receptive, which is putting it mildly, to our going door to door. The Swiss home was the Swiss castle, so you just didn't get in. On this particular occasion, this Pakistani banker came to the door and said: "Mormons. Oh, wonderful. I've always wanted to talk to Mormons. Please come in." Well, this just didn't happen to us. We were as thrilled as could be. He explained that he was a Muslim, and I remember thinking to myself in what was I guess 20-year-old arrogance at the time, "Ah, what a lucky man this is, because I'm the only missionary in Switzerland who knows anything about Islam" -- which was a joke. I didn't know anything about Islam. I've since gone on to get a Ph.D. in the subject; I know a little more about it now than I did then.

But I thought that I was pretty much a hotshot at the time, so my mind was immediately going around the avenue of, what would be the best avenue of approach to this guy? So I thought: Post-biblical prophets -- that'll do it. Common ground. Muhammad and Joseph Smith. I said, "We have great news; there's a modern prophet." And he said, "After Muhammad?" And I said, "Yes!" And he said: "Oh. Well, I'm sorry. I can't have you in my apartment talking about something like that. That's blasphemy."

He was very polite about it, very civil. But we had just barely sat down. I mean, we had been sitting in that apartment for 30 seconds, I think, and he ushered us right out and apologized, but we were gone. And I remember thinking, boy, was that a failure of inspiration. That was the worst possible opening line. I could have chosen anything else, except possibly a defense of Israel or something like that, if I had launched into something like that. ...

I remember tracting out a fellow fairly late one night. We were about to go home, and his wife came to the door, and she was nice enough. We were having a conversation. It was pretty clear that they probably weren't interested; that was fine. And suddenly her husband showed up with a pistol and held it about 4 inches from my nose, and he said, "Do you see that, boys?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "We don't want you here." And I remember his wife said in German, "Mein Mann ist nicht so begeistert": "My husband isn't all that enthused." I thought, that's putting it mildly. I mean, what a strange comment to make. Of course he's not; he's holding a gun to my face. ...
The story of the Pakistani banker is particularly instructive. We must better understand the Islam world, as Daniel Peterson has done throughout his life. And with many peoples and cultures, things we might think are common ground may really be uncrossable chasms.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Does the Thought of Added Revelation Make You Angry---or Grateful? Video Insight on a Key Mormon Doctrine

LDS Apostle, Elder Jeffrey Holland, makes a salient point about God's works and words--neither of have ceased.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"I May Not Know Much, But I Do Know Books" - One Scholar's Take on the Power and Depth of the Book of Mormon

Gregory L. Smith over at Mormon Scholars Testify discusses his passion for reading. He's a book addict who needs help, he says. He humbly states that he may not know much, but he does know books.

Brother Smith mentions that Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was an inspiring book for him--a "deeply spiritual experience" when he first read it. Then he compares its power and value to that most despised of books, the Book of Mormon:
I’ve read Lewis’ book twice since. The second time was after my mission, and the third was a few years ago. In both cases, I enjoyed rereading it—but, it didn’t seem to have more to teach me. It had taught me what it could (which was, and continues to be, very valuable), but the spiritual power and transformation of the first reading was not repeated. (Granted, this may say more about me than Lewis.)

I first read the Book of Mormon with any seriousness more than two decades ago. I’ve continued to read it ever since—I’ve lost count, but I’m sure I’ve read it cover-to-cover at least once a year for more than a quarter century, and many sections much more often. Remember, I’m an addict—I can’t help myself. I need help.

As for the Book of Mormon, the truly amazing thing to me is that more than twenty-five years later, it’s still doing the same thing. Lewis was educated in the great universities of the world. He read and spoke multiple languages. He was a subtle thinker and gifted communicator. And, yet, his book seems to have done all it can for me after only a reading or two.

By contrast, this Book of Mormon, produced by a backwoods farm boy with three years of formal education, dictated over a period of about two months—one continuous run-on sentence, no punctuation, grammatical errors and all—continues to enlighten and transform my life.

If it wasn’t helping me, I’d have quit reading it. There’s too much to read—and I love reading too much—to read things that I don’t get anything out of. Life’s too short, and no one knows that better than a book-addict in a library.

Any book that could get me to read it that many times, that often, and still benefit would have to be something special—an astonishing production, a work of staggering genius even if there were no divine claims with it at all. No other book has ever done that, save the gospels and parables of Jesus.

I may not know much—but I do know books.

I occasionally hear critics dismiss the Book of Mormon as trivial, or not terribly complex or impressive—well, there are people who don’t see what the fuss about Bach or Shakespeare is either. Such dismissiveness says far more about the critic than it does the work being dismissed.
My experiences with the Book of Mormon have been similar to Brother Smith's, both in terms of its converting power and its power to satisfy, enlighten, instruct, and amaze day after day, reading after reading, over decades. I think it's fair to say that I know less that Brother Smith, but have a similar love and respect for the intellectual and spiritual depth of the Book of Mormon. To dismiss it casually is a terrible mistake. To exert great energy in ignoring it or in dismissing it, as some critics do, is an even more foolish mistake. It's a book that deserves to be read with an open mind and heart, and to be studied and applied with real intent and care. Then one can have the courage to turn to God for knowledge about the divine origins and power of this sacred text, another witness of Jesus Christ from the ancient New World that confirms and strengthens the witness of the Bible from the Old.

None of us knows much, but if there's one book you really should get to know this year, I would suggest it's the Book of Mormon.

The Problem with Evolutionary Theory as a Guide for Understanding Human Life

I don't know how the earth was created and how God transformed unorganized matter to the amazing creations and ecosystems we find on planet earth today. If the process took billions of years and numerous mutations interacting with selective forces, I'm OK with that. I don't believe the Gospel requires believing in a young earth or that dinosaurs were frolicking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But if they were, I'll be OK with that, too. I'm terribly curious about how the earth came to be, but realize we may have to wait for a lot of details. God will get all the credit as the Creator in my book, even if evolution was a key tool of His in bringing about the majesty of life on earth.

I do have trouble with the theory of evolution, though. Not so much with the facts, extrapolations, interpretations, and guesses that scientists make, but with the applications of evolutionary theory to contemporary human life. When evolutionary theory is used to guide human thought on moral and social issues, the results often are appalling. I just heard the local story of a woman in our part of the world who was told by her husband that it's morally OK for him to have relationships with other women because his evolutionary purpose in life as a male is to spread his genes around, whereas it was her duty to not leave the house and just take care of the kids. Evolution as a justification for immorality has been a factor in so many cases, always making people less than they were meant to be and bringing sorrow. Many vicious and selfish acts are justified with a smug statement like, "Hey, it's survival of the fittest, man." Fidelity, charity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and so much that can be noble about human beings can be dismissed for being out of line with "science." There is a recognition that caring for children and occasionally even self-sacrifice can be explained as (just) a way to fulfill the drive "to pass one's genes along." Ironically, those letting evolutionary thought be their guide are, in my limited experience, more likely to be the ones advocating and practicing abortion on demand and much less likely to be the parents who raise large families. (Yes, there are exceptions, and there are some very loving, wonderful families raised by devout and noble atheists who believe in a purely materialistic, evolutionary existence. I'm talking about trends and averages here.)

When people make decisions that I feel make them more noble and more helpful to the rest of our species--decisions like giving blood, giving a large part of their income or time to a charity, serving on a volunteer mission, or shoveling snow for a widow--it seems to me that they are responding to something within them other than good evolutionary science, even if that's what they say they look to for intellectual explanations about our purpose in life. When evolutionary science is used to inform decision making, too often, in my opinion, we may get things like eugenics, adultery, and violence. Ugly. There's just something about evolution as popularly taught and understood that brings out the beast, not the best, in mankind, if it is not tempered with higher perspectives.

For all its incompleteness on the scientific front, I think the Christian perspective is a much better guide for understanding life and making decisions about how to live and deal with others. We need that foundation of knowing that however life evolved or was created, that there is a loving God and that we are His children, immortal spirit beings in mortal clothing who are and will be accountable to Him for how we live and how we treat others. We need to know that we can overcome the temptations of the flesh and have sin removed from our hearts and lives with the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and become born again--new creatures (or, if you must, more highly "evolved").

Our purpose is not so much to pass our genes along (though still a good thing, within loving family bonds) as it is to pass His love along. In the long run, it is not our physical but our spiritual health that matters most.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

General Conference: Maybe the Priesthood Session Was the Highlight

I enjoyed General Conference this year--so many excellent contributions and inspiring moments. For me, though, I think the biggest "wow" came from the Priesthood session. Maybe it was because there were fewer distractions and I was more focused (what, who said anything about Twitter?), but I also think that it was unusual among Priesthood sessions for the concentrated power and depth in what the various speakers expressed. Anyone struggling with the Church or questioning the motives and hearts of those at the top should have been there, and should carefully listen to those messages now that they are available at LDS.org.

This really is a Church founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the objective of bringing souls to God and making the lives of others better, even infinitely better in end. We have our warts, now and throughout history, but the driving force behind the Church is not a mortal scheme or business plan concocted by men. The people who spoke to us last week were not marketers or politicians trying to manipulate and deceive, but men of God trying to serve and bless us. Well, that's my take. Listen to conference yourself and you decide. Awesome stuff.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The South Milwaukee Stake Wows the Region with Its Mormon Prom: "The Best Dance Ever"

Have you ever been to an LDS event that was so outstanding, so well done, so enjoyable, enlightening and uplifting that you wanted to preserve it and put it in your food storage? I mean, apart from when I’m speaking at church. (Seriously – when I’m speaking, a lot of people tell me that I should can it.) We get a lot of events of that caliber out here in Wisconsin. The latest was the “City of Lights Mormon Prom” sponsored last night by the Milwaukee South Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was simply the most amazing and enjoyable youth dance I’ve ever seen. This is becoming an annual tradition that smart LDS and non-LDS families will be sending their kids to for years to come. It’s just for kids age 16 through 18, and they must agree to follow high standards of dress and behavior. It’s a totally classy event and even includes professional-quality photography where individuals and groups can get beautiful photos taken that will be made available on Facebook.

Toward the end of the dance, I watched in amazement as nearly 100% of the young men were on the floor dancing with a partner. Only a handful of girls weren’t dancing, and I’m sure they would have been if only a few more guys had come. During the fast dances, behavior was wholesome and fun–none of the vulgarity that is often the norm at school dances. During the last slow dance, I looked at the faces of the kids and saw smiles, conversations taking place, and maybe a touch of romance in a case or two, and no inappropriate contact.

I drove a borrowed van there with six kids from the Appleton area (the Fox Valley). We’re almost 2 hours away from the South Milwaukee Stake Center (driving slower than normal), but it was completely worth the drive and I was so glad to be able to help kids, including my youngest son, get down there and experience this event. On the way back, I asked the kids about the dance. The general response agreed with my perception: probably “the best dance ever.” One of the girls said what made it different and great was that the boys were dancing. Others commented on how good the DJ was (they paid serious money for a true professional) and how fun the other kids were. They made friends, had a wonderful time, and were just delighted at what a wholesome dance can be like. Uplifting, well-organized events that bless the lives of youth and foster friendships–what’s not to love about this?

The event was not well supported in our area, for some reason. If other parents knew how important this kind of event was, more would have been there. One of my pet peeves as bishop was the lack of good LDS dances for the youth, and I even ran into trouble when my ward, with the help of my proactive future daughter-in-law in our ward, then a Laurel (who still doesn’t recognize that this was a totally arranged marriage), started organizing our own dances and inviting other wards. This is the model that the Milwaukee South Stake is following: creating a valuable service and inviting other stakes. Thank you!!

Our kids need a healthy, positive alternate to the out-of-control or outrageously uncontrolled proms offered by or through our school systems. Many kids really enjoy special dances where they can dress up, but need a more wholesome environment–an environment where girls are not expected to dress as if they were erotic objects, where young men are expected to behave as gentlemen with self-control and politeness, and where music is more than pulsation and vulgarity. It began with prayer, ended in prayer, and included some very positive and uplifting words from Brother Mortimer of the Stake Presidency at the end.

I knew that the Mormon Prom dance would be something unusual when I heard that “recommends” signed by a bishop were needed to go. Dance recommends?? My mistake—it is actually a “dance card” or rather a one-page form that states the standards of dress and behavior expected and requires the participant to commit to keeping those standards. The form needed to be signed by the participant and the bishop. No signed dance card, no admittance. I’m sure they had backup plans to handle those who lost theirs or didn’t know, but it was clear that they were serious about the standards. So serious that there was even a side room set up with a sign describing it as “The Modesty Room” where I believe several women were ready with shrugs and other means to help any young lady who did wander in with an inappropriate dress. This wasn’t about turning people away, but turning them towards higher standards and behavior, with loving help and guidance.

Kudos to South Milwaukee Stake and their terrific youth who organized the event and created the beautiful decorations. Kudos to the leaders and youth of the Stake and its wards, and to the other wards and stakes that participated, including a big group of kids from the Green Bay Stake, even further to the north of Milwaukee that we are. Kudos also to the photographer, Don Crowther–-also a popular speaker, business leader, master social networker, and marketer. I learned a lot watching him work with the young people, by the way, and got some terrific career advice while chatting with him.

This was a memorable and inspiring event in many ways. Even better than one of my sermons, I suppose. If you’re in Wisconsin, let your kids plan on it for next year.