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

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Ancient Roots of LDS Temple Covenants

In the embedded Pixetell video presentation below, I give share my experience in learning a little about the ancient roots of the LDS temple by reading the works of two non-LDS scholars. They may not have known much about the LDS temple, but what they discovered and shared forever changed my appreciation of the Temple and the Restoration.

Click on the full-screen icon to view this in a larger format, or view this presentation in a separate browser window.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Six Ways the Church Strengthens Families

Our fourth son is about to graduate from high school. As I think of his life and the lives of his older brothers and as I ponder the joy and challenges my wife and I have had in raising our children, I have a growing sense of gratitude for what the Church has done to help us in this journey. That gratitude grows especially great when I think of what the Church has done for my marriage. So much of what matters most in my life has been blessed by the Church and its teachings, and so much has been helped along by its programs and by association with its members.

Here are a few of the ways the Church has blessed me in these relationships.
  1. Foremost, I think, is the eternal perspective the Church gives. Marriage and family ties are meant to be eternal. They are of supreme importance. They are worth great sacrifices to build and preserve. This basic LDS perspective can do so much for parents and couples as they make decisions, face temptations, and plan their lives.

  2. Also vitally important are the Church's teachings and commandments on moral standards. More than just "no sex before marriage" and constant fidelity afterwards, the Church helps young people and adults understand why sexual morality matters and why the powers of procreation are so sacred. It teaches men to respect and honor women as daughters of God, not as objects. It teaches me to cherish my wife as an eternal companion and to avoid anything that would jeopardize that relationship. It teaches to absolutely avoid pornography, one of the most insidious and relationship-destroying vices out there. These teachings have blessed my marriage and my family, and have helped us as parents in so many ways in raising our children that they might have better and richer lives.

  3. LDS teachings on personal revelation have brought so much help over the years. More than just believing in the power of prayer, we are taught that parents can and must receive personal revelation to guide us our duties and decisions. We are taught that the Gift of the Holy Ghost received after baptism can help us receive constant guidance in our lives and ares of responsibility. How wonderful it is when facing a challenge for a couple to prayerfully turn to the Lord and seek His guidance on behalf of a child or family challenge or decision. When a husband and wife are united in this and jointly seek to make inspired decisions pleasing to the Lord, it brings such peace and strength, even when things are difficult. This kind of approach can bring a family together in many ways in addition to finding wise solutions and making better decisions.

  4. The LDS rhythm of life, including daily prayer (including prayer as a couple and as a family), regular scripture study, and weekly Family Home Evening, bring our family together frequently and bless us repeatedly. I love being part of a family that prays and reads together. In addition to the spiritual blessings, the time spent reading with young children helped infuse them with reading skills that have made their lives much better, and made our work as parents much easier.

  5. The programs and people of the Church have provided constant positive guidance and good examples to my children and us as a couple. What a blessing it is to have our children's lives enriched with seminary, Sunday services, Scouting and many other youth activities, wholesome youth outings and dances, inspiring speakers (some of the time, anyway), and loving adult leaders who really care about them and their eternal welfare. Anyone who has the least doubt about this Church would be amazed if they could put on a ring of invisibility and sit in on the leadership meetings of Young Men and Young Women leaders (group, ward, and stake levels), bishoprics and ward councils, and stake presidencies and see what really happens behinid closed doors--I've done all that, but usually in visible mode. You would encounter amazing, loving people who are prayerfully working and planning in their precious volunteer time to find ways to help young people have better lives, to succeed in personal growth and education, to have wholesome growing experiences, to love their families, to make wise decisions about marriage and education, to avoid destructive influences like drugs and alcohol, and above all to find joy by accepting and following Jesus Christ. Yep, that's the big conspiracy behind everything the Church does: plotting and planning to bless lives through the power of Jesus Christ. And it works! I'm so grateful to the numerous people in the Church who gave of their time to help my boys long in so many phases of their lives. So many of my flaws and limitations as a parent have been compensated by the steady stream of help my children have received through the Church and its people and programs. Thank you!

  6. Ultimately, the best thing for families is the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which the Church helps us to make a part of our daily lives. The doctrines of forgiveness and repentance of sins is so vital for a healthy family. It adds to the charity, cooperation, and understanding that can bring joy to family life. We all sin and offend one another in the proximity of family life, but with the teachings and understanding of the Atonement in our lives, we can steer back on course and work together to look past our flaws and strengthen each other after we fall. The Atonement gives us the knowledge and hope that we can change and be better, and that we can be forgiven and have strength to forgive when hurt. We need that so much! It's part of why we need to worship each Sunday, to partake of the sacrament and contemplate our relationship to Christ, and to partake of the doctrines and the Gospel and make them part of our lives. A crowning aspect of all this is the knowledge Christ and the Father intend for families to be eternal, and that through the blessings offered in the Temple make that possible.

I have so much to be grateful for, in spite of all the flaws and shortcomings I've had as a parent and spouse. I can't imagine having had the joy that I've had in family life without the support and blessings made possible by the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I would have fallen apart long ago! My mistakes would have been even more painful and my decisions even more short-sighted. And without the saintly patience of my wife, I would have been single again shortly aften marriage. How she endured those early months when I went through that country music phase (singing it, wretchedly, not just listening), I'll never know. She truly is a saint.

In fact, I have the Church to thank for meeting her in the first place. We were both signed up for a seminary program called "Seminary Bowl"--a competitive Church-based quiz game--and I first set eyes on her at a seminary bowl meeting at the beginning of my senior year in high school. I can still remember that beautiful, flowing yellow dress she wore. What a sweet beginning to a wonderful journey.

From your perspective, what are the most important ways that the Church influences your family for good?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Temple as a Place of Ascent to God: Great Article from Daniel C. Peterson

If you'd like to expand your understanding and appreciation of the truly majestic LDS temple concept, you could begin with Daniel C. Peterson's recent article, "The Temple as a Place of Ascent to God." He touches upon some of the many parallels to ancient religion that are expressed so richly in the restored LDS temple. He does this not by way of apologetics, but to remind us LDS folks of the treasures that we have been given and that we should be enjoying these blessings and living the Gospel to the fullest, not just defending it.

Here is a brief excerpt from the end of his essay:
I'll conclude with a quotation from 3 Enoch, chapters 11 through 13, which is one of the greatest ancient texts that I haven't referred to yet.
"Rabbi Ishmael said: The angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, said to me [Metatron is Enoch, but at this point, he's been changed into the angel Metatron, who dwells before the Throne]: The Holy One, blessed be he, revealed to me from that time onward all the mysteries of wisdom, all the depths of the perfect Torah, and all the thoughts of men's hearts. All mysteries of the world, and all the orders of nature stand revealed before me as they stand revealed before the Creator. From that time onward, I looked and beheld deep secrets and wonderful mysteries. Before a man thinks in secret, I see his thought. Before he acts, I see his act. There is nothing in heaven above or deep within the earth concealed from me." (3 Enoch 11:1-3)

"Rabbi Ishmael said: Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, said to me: Out of the love which he had for me, more than for all the denizens of the heights, the Holy One, blessed be he, fashioned for me a majestic robe, in which all kinds of luminaries were set, and he clothed me in it. He fashioned for me a glorious cloak in which brightness, brilliance, splendor, and luster of every kind were fixed, and he wrapped me in it. He fashioned for me a kingly crown in which 49 refulgent stones were placed, each like the sun's orb, and its brilliance shone into the four quarters of the heaven of Arabot, into the seven heavens, and into the four quarters of the world. He set it upon my head, and called me the lesser YHWH in the presence of his whole household in the height, as it is written, "My name is in him." (3 Enoch 12:1-5)
Now listen to that! "He called me the lesser Jehovah." That's deification. This is a Jewish text!
"Rabbi Ishmael said: the angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, the glory of highest heaven said to me: Out of the abundant love and great compassion wherewith the Holy One, blessed be he, loved and cherished me more than all the denizens of the heights. He wrote with his finger, as with a pen of flame upon the crown which was on my head, the letters by which heaven and earth were created; the letters by which seas and rivers were created; the letters by which mountains and hills were created; the letters by which stars and constellations, lightning and wind, thunder and thunderclaps, snow and hail, hurricane and tempest were created; the letters by which all the necessities of the world and all the orders of creation were created." (3 Enoch 13:3)
In other words, he gives him the capacity to be a creator. He deifies him, declares him to be "the lesser YHWH," and gives him the power of creation. It's a remarkable thing.

It is my firm belief that the temple represents a model, which itself represents a cosmic reality, a reality that involves access to divine mysteries, access to the waters of life, access to cleansing and ascension, access to the presence of God, a symbolic representation of admission into the presence of God, an endowment of power that goes with that, with the ultimate culmination of a blessing of exaltation in the presence of God. That's remarkable stuff, and it's remarkable that Joseph Smith restored these ancient models from the ancient world, living in 19th Century America.

But I'm not making this only as an apologetic point. I'm making it as a point to say that we, as Latter-day Saints, who aspire to defend and sustain the kingdom, should be aware of the riches we've been given. We should not forget what it is that we've been given. It's not only a matter of defending it; we should live it, and observe it ourselves, and treasure what's been given to us. It's a remarkable thing. It's far more than we deserve or merit. It's the grace of God that gives it to us.
The language around deification or theosis from ancient Jewish texts will upset or confuse some people, as do early Christian writings on that topic. Perhaps reading up on the Christian doctrine of theosis will help some of you realize that the Biblical call to "put on the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-10) is not a threat to God's divinity and status as our Father, but an expression of His infinite grace toward His children whom He calls to enter into His presence and share of the fullness of eternal life as joint heirs with His Son (Romans 8:16-17).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New Information on the Kirtland Safety Society (The Banking Disaster)

Banking disasters have been an ongoing problem in this nation. Regarding the banking disaster that affected Latter-day Saints in Kirtland during Joseph Smith's day, critics have accused him of fraud and worse, using the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society to argue that Joseph could not have been a prophet with such a disaster on his hands.

R. McKay White offers an interesting perspective in "The Kirtland Safety Society: The Myths, the Facts, and the Prophet’s Good Name." He provides evidence that Joseph acted in good faith and not as a crook, and that the effort could have succeeded were it not for some unethical actions by others. He deals with many of the charges that others have made to criticize Joseph. Naturally, we can still argue that it could have been managed more carefully or with less risk, and some may still end up faulting the whole idea from the beginning. But White's essay deserves consideration as we explore that controversial era in Kirtland.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Evolving Friend: The LDS Magazine for Children

Have you seen The Friend recently? Many LDS parents subscribe to it, especially those with children under age 12, but many may not have noticed the terrific online resources The Friend now offers at friend.lds.org. Here's a partial screenshot:

Your kids might especially enjoy the relatively new slideshow feature where they can learn about the lives of other children. Fun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"That We May Be Present": The Opening Prayer that Changed My Day

The strangest thing happened at a recent Stake leadership training meeting on a beautiful Saturday. I had settled down in the remote back corner of the crowded Relief Society room with my stack of books, ready to split my time between reading Nibley's One Eternal Round, studying Mandarin from a recent Liahona and a Chinese dictionary, and perhaps nodding occasionally and even taking a few notes from the meeting I was attending, sort of. If I had to spend much of a Saturday in meetings--Saturday, one of my only times to get my stuff done--at least I was going to walk away knowing a little more in some areas that mattered to me.

And then came the opening prayer that changed everything and foiled all my plans, resulting in a "less productive" day that was inspiring and even joyous instead of a grudging sacrifice and waste of time. It came from a High Council member whom I deeply respect as a faithful Latter-day Saint and highly admired corporate leader as well. Near the beginning of his prayer, he said, "Father, help us that we may be present. . . ." Flush. With that phrase, my plans and selfish intentions began swirling and then swiftly descended into the great drain of reconsideration.

"How can you learn if you don't listen? How can you be guided if you don't pay attention? Whom are you here to serve anyway?" Ooops. Uh, right. So I set down my stack of books, got out my notebook, and began paying attention to what was said. A difficult exercise, one that I'm not ready to commit to as a pattern for the future, but one that brought remarkable results that day. I found that the messages that had been prepared really had some meat to them.

The words of our Stake President especially opened up some new things for me and strengthened me in a variety of ways. I found that there were promptings and small bits of guidance that came as I paid attention and allowed the Spirit to influence my reaction to what was taught. My testimony was strengthened by several of the stories and principles shared, and I was faced once again with overwhelming evidence of what really motivates and drives the leaders in this Church: a desire to follow Jesus Christ, to love and bless others, and to bring the joy into the lives of people that only comes from following Christ. It's not about self-aggrandizement, control or power, but about humble service and love. It's a privilege to be part of that, even if it means occasionally losing a precious Saturday morning to study and do things that aren't on my personal to-do list.

Almost five hours after that prayer, as I drove home, I realized that I had experienced a wonderful and joyous day, much better than what would have happened if I were always drifting in and out of the flow, trying to study my own stuff without being present. Thank heavens for that inspired opening prayer with that day-changing line, "that we may be present." I might even try it again next time.

UPDATE, MAY 14: Before people get too offended by my attitudes about attending meetings, I should clarify that my attendance was not required at this meeting. It was a bishopric training meeting, and since I am not a unit advisor to any specific unit, there was no need for me to be there, but it was OK to attend. I was there voluntarily because I wanted to attend to learn more about ward councils since the Young Women's president had asked me to give her group a little training in that area later in the day. So to fulfill my duties later in the day, I felt that I should attend this earlier meeting, but it was hard to completely give up that time without trying to get some extra things done at the same time. But I admit it's a temptation that doesn't go away even in meetings where I am expected to be there. I won't admit to any further sins along these lines, especially not sneaking in foreign language materials to Priesthood meetings. That would be going totally apostate.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Missionary Moms, Happy Mother's Day

On this Mother's Day, I'd like to especially thank mothers who have a son or daughter away on an LDS mission. Thank you for your faith, courage, patience, and support. Thank you for all you did to teach that young man or woman to be able to go into a strange part of the world (and I'm not just talking Utah or Idaho here) to stand as a representative of Jesus Christ in one of the least welcome but most effective ways to serve others. Thank you for helping your child to make a dramatic difference in the lives of others.

Mother's Day is typically one of the few times when that missionary is able to call home, making this an especially exciting time. I hope that call comes through successfully for all of you, and that you are able to share your love and faith with your child who may be in difficult and trying circumstances, and who may need a boost in their own strength and endurance with your love.

While it can be difficult to have that child away for so long, know that he or she is in the service of God and will grow in profound ways. Upon their return, you may be surprised and delighted with what they have become.

P.S.- For those of you who are feeling guilty about not spending enough for Mother's Day this year, you'll be relieved to know that in light of the current recession, the International Mother's Day Standards Board (a subsidiary of Hallmark, Inc.) has lowered the minimum acceptable spending limit for Mother's Day cards from $4.99 to just $3.99, which may relieve some of the guilt. Their sister organizations representing flowers, jewelry, electronics, vacation packages, perfume, automobiles, chocolates, and general merchandise have made similar reductions on the order of 20% for minimum mandatory spending.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Our Spiritual Garage Sales: The Tragedy of Cheaply Selling Precious Gifts

I heard a story recently that left me haunted with an image of how we treat the gifts that God and others have given us. A friend of mine, filled with compassion for a young student whose activities were severely limited by a respiratory problem, organized a campaign to buy a $5,000 portable respirator device that could allow the boy to go outside during recess at school instead of being largely immobilized. I think the device is much cheaper now, but at the time it was quite expensive. She managed to get public funds made available to buy a unit that could bless the boy's life. The unit would belong to the school but be loaned to the boy's family. He could take it home but was expected to bring it with him to school. Shortly after receiving this gift, the young boy quit bringing it to school. He said he forgot it, and would try to remember next time, but the same thing happened day after day. Puzzled school officials contacted the mother to see how they could help, and the truth came out. The boy's mother had sold the device at a garage sale.

I felt the pain of my friend who saw such a loving gift be discarded in such stupidity. It was not only the tragedy of wasting so much for so little, but the fact that she was discarding something that her son needed and was hurting her own family with her foolishness. I almost shook with frustration as I contemplated the scene, and then it hit me how much we all are like that mother when we reject the gifts that God has given us, especially the gift of His Son. The precious gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is meant to free us from the chains that immobilize us in sin and give us the breath of joyous, eternal life. It is meant to bless us and our children and their children, but when we reject it and sell it off as trash in our own spiritual garage sale as we abandon the Gospel of Jesus Christ and remain in ignorance and sin, we always hurt more than just ourselves. We often hurt our children and others in our lives. We may make the precious gifts of the Gospel inaccessible, at least for a while, to those who need those blessings now.

How great the price was that bought us the gifts of freedom and life through the Atonement. How cheaply we sell it off when we sin and when we reject the gift of the Gospel. May we understand how horrific our betrayal is and swiftly seek to repent and daily draw closer to the Lord on the path of faith and repentance.