Sunday, May 25, 2014

Organized Religion

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I remember talking with a friend once who told me she does not like organized religion.  She said that she believes in God, but that she doesn't need a church or religion to worship him.  I tried to explain to her why belonging to the church is so important, but finally I just came right out and said, "You say that you can worship God anywhere, but when do you actually worship Him?"  Many people say they feel closer to God out in nature than they do in a church, but how often do they go out in to nature and actually commune with God?  In this age of political and societal tumult, religion is taking a bad rap.  Odds are that those who attack organized religion have never really partaken of the benefits of worshiping together with others of like-minded belief.

The Book of Mormon gives a good description of why an organized religion is beneficial to us:

"4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus."  Moroni 6:4-6 
As mentioned in this scripture, there is great power in nourishing each other "by the good word of God".  As we "speak one with another concerning the welfare of (our) souls", we gain strength from each other's faith.  
In addition to the  nourishment we receive from shared testimonies, there is great spiritual power to be found in singing hymns together.  In Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 the Lord tells us, "12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."  Truly, singing hymns is like a prayer.  I remember one time when I was the church organist, and the responsibility fell upon me to choose hymns for the  next 6 months.  I had been given a list of the topics that would be spoken about during each Sacrament meeting, so I carefully studied the hymns to find those that would best compliment each meeting theme.  After about an hour or so of reading through the lyrics, and humming each melody to myself, I suddenly realized that I was feeling a powerful manifestation of the Spirit.  Truly, the hymns of Zion carry the Spirit of God.  In Mark 14:26, we read that the Savior, before going to the Mount of Olives where He would suffer for the sins of the world, and bleed at every pore, first sang a hymn.  "26 ¶And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives."  I feel confident that this hymn was a comfort to Him.
One of the most important aspects of our worship is partaking of the sacrament.  For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this is the pinnacle moment of our worship.  This is the moment when we really focus on worshiping God.  This is the moment when we truly focus on our standing before God.  This moment of introspection cannot be as effective in any other way.  I love this account in 1 Corinthians 11:23-28: 
 "...That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
When I think about the sacrament, I like to think about each part of the Savior's sacrifice for us.  The bread represents His body, that he sacrificed, and then resurrected so that each of us can be resurrected some day.  That is such a priceless gift!  No one need fear death.  Because of Him, we all can live!
The water, (or as in some religions wine) represents the blood that He shed for us in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for the sins of the world.  Because of that sacrifice, we all have the chance to repent of sins that we have committed.  As we make use of His sacrifice through repentance, our sins will be forgiven.  He has paid a price that we could not pay alone.

I especially like the last verse which says, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."  The sacrament ordinance is the time for us to really examine ourselves.
While admiring the beauties of nature can make us feel closer to God, it cannot supplant the opportunities for reflection that are found in Sabbath church worship.  We can pray anywhere, and we can sing hymns anywhere, but there is power in gathering together and remembering the Savior through the ordinance of the sacrament.
Another important blessing that comes from attending church services is that we are instructed more about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have joined online Christian groups that often discuss the Bible, but I have found that many of them who have rejected joining a formal church have developed incorrect beliefs about Jesus Christ's gospel, and have gone off on intellectual, or political tangents.  When we gather together and are instructed from the scriptures, and from gospel manuals, we are more likely to keep ourselves from deviating from the gospel Jesus Christ taught.
The prophet Alma, in the Book of Mormon, gives us some more thoughts about why we should join ourselves to the church of God:
 "And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
 10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?"  Mosiah 18:8-10
Alma reminds us that part of belonging to God's organized church is taking upon ourselves each other's burdens.  As we "mourn with those that mourn", and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort", we strengthen each other.  In the process of bearing one another's burdens, we become more Christlike.  
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for joining the church of God is the act of entering in to that covenant with God.  When we are baptized, we are covenanting with God that we will keep His commandments, and take upon us His name.  In return, He promises to send His Spirit to be with us to guide and help us.  This is one of the great blessings of membership in the church.
I would like to issue the same invitation that the Savior issued in ancient times.  For those who question about our organized religion, I would say, "Come and see."  Come and attend church with us.  Come worship God with us.  Come sing with us, and pray with us, and feel the Spirit with us.  Come and see for yourself how attending church can bless you.  We welcome you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hugh NIbley's Testimony of Joseph Smith

I ran across this article that talks about how Hugh Nibley testified of Joseph Smith as a prophet.  Hugh Nibley's style wasn't to say "I bear testimony...." but to show through studious thought and logical conclusion why Joseph could be nothing less than he professed to be.  Through his efforts, Hugh Nibley gave great honor to the Prophet Joseph.  This talk chronicles some of his thoughts.  I was originally going to post the entire talk, but it is 12 pages long, so I will simply provide the link here.  

Hugh Nibley Lectures on the Book of Mormon

I stumbled across this video of a class Hugh Nibley taught about the Book of Mormon.  Once you get used to his rambling way of speaking, if you listen carefully, you will find he is a treasure chest of knowledge.  I will also try to post a talk I read about him.  This is a lengthy lecture, but I thought it was great!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Conference Messages: The Prophet Joseph Smith

This talk is a great testament to the reality that Joseph Smith was a true prophet!

The Prophet Joseph Smith

The First Vision

A young boy reads the Bible, and his eyes pause on a singular passage of scripture. This is a moment that will change the world.
He is anxious to know which church can lead him to truth and salvation. He has tried almost everything else, and now he turns to the Bible and reads these words: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”1
He reflects on them over and over again. The first glimmer of light penetrates the darkness. Is this the answer, the way out of confusion and darkness? Can it be this simple? Ask God and He will answer? At length he decides he must either ask God or ever remain in darkness and confusion.
And yet as anxious as he is, he doesn’t run to a quiet corner and rattle off a hurried prayer. He is only 14, but in his haste to know, he is not hasty. This is not to be just any prayer. He decides where to go and when to make the attempt. He prepares to talk to God.
And then the day comes. It is “the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of [1820].”2 He walks alone into the stillness of the nearby woods, beneath the trees that tower above him. He reaches the place where he previously designed to go. He kneels and offers up the desires of his heart.
Describing what happens next, he says:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—[Joseph,] This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!3
Only 24 years later, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum will die because of what began here.


Joseph said that when he was 17, an angel told him that his “name [would] be had for good and evil among all nations, … among all people.”4 This amazing prophecy is continuing to be fulfilled today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spread throughout the world.
Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to the truth. Whenever the truth with regard to the purpose and destiny of man is revealed, there will always be a force to oppose it. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, down to the ministry of Christ, and on down to our day, there has always been and will ever be an effort to deceive, derail, oppose, and frustrate the plan of life.
Look for the biggest dust cloud billowing above the most dirt that is kicked at One who was most opposed, challenged, and rejected, beaten, abandoned, and crucified, One who descended below all things, and there you will find the truth, the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. Why did they not leave Him alone?
Why? Because He is the truth, and the truth will always be opposed.
And then look for one who brought forth another testament of Jesus Christ and other scripture, look for one who was the instrument by which the fulness of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ were restored to the earth, look for him and expect to find the dirt flying. Why not leave him alone?
Why? Because he taught the truth, and the truth will always be opposed.

The Flood of Revelation

The revelations poured out upon Joseph Smith affirm that he was a prophet of God. Let’s just look at some of them—just look at some of the light and truth revealed through him that shines in stark contrast to the common beliefs of his day and ours:
  • • 
    God is a personal, exalted being, an Eternal Father. He is our Father.
  • • 
    God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings.5
  • • 
    You are more than human. You are a child of God the Eternal Father and may become like Him6 if you will have faith in His Son, repent, receive ordinances, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.7
  • • 
    The Church of Jesus Christ today is fundamentally the same Church He organized during His mortal ministry, with prophets and apostles, Melchizedek and Levitical Priesthoods, elders, high priests, deacons, teachers, bishops, and the seventy, all as described in the Bible.
  • • 
    Priesthood authority was withheld from the earth following the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles and was restored again in our day.
  • • 
    Revelation has not ceased, and the heavens are not closed. God speaks to prophets today, and He will speak to you and me as well.8
  • • 
    There is more after this life than only heaven and hell. There are degrees of glory, and it matters a great deal what we do in this life.9
  • • 
    More than having a mere passive belief in Christ, we should “look unto [Him] in every thought,”10 “do all that [we do] in the name of the Son,”11 and “always remember him and keep his commandments … that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”12
  • • 
    The billions who live and die without the gospel and the ordinances necessary for salvation are not lost. “Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,”13 administered for both the living and the dead.14
  • • 
    Everything did not begin at birth. You lived before in the presence of God as His son or daughter and prepared for this mortal life.15
  • • 
    Marriage and family are not conventions of men until only death do us part. They are intended to be made eternal through covenants we make with God. The family is the pattern of heaven.16
And this is only a part of the flood of revelation poured out upon Joseph Smith. Where did it all come from, these revelations which give light to darkness, clarity to doubt, and which have inspired, blessed, and improved millions of people? Which is more likely, that he dreamed it all up on his own or that he had the help of heaven? Do the scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God?


There is no dispute about what Joseph Smith accomplished, only how he did what he did and why. And there are not many options. He was either pretender or prophet. Either he did what he did alone, or he had the help of heaven. Look at the evidence, but look at all of the evidence, the entire mosaic of his life, not any single piece. Most importantly, do as young Joseph and “ask … God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given [you].”17 This is not only how you may learn the truth about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith; it is also the pattern to know the truth of all things.18
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, as is Thomas S. Monson today. Through Joseph Smith, “the keys of the kingdom of God are [again] committed unto man on the earth, and … the gospel [will] roll forth … as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands … , until it has filled the whole earth.”19
God is our Eternal Father, and Jesus is the Christ. We worship Them. Nothing compares with Their creations, the plan of salvation, and the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God. In this dispensation, we fulfill the plan of the Father and partake of the fruits of the Atonement only by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I bear testimony of Them—God the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. And I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Conference Messages: Spiritual Whirlwinds

Spiritual Whirlwinds

I greet you this morning—especially the young people who are both here in the Conference Center and throughout the world. Yours is a chosen generation of destiny, and I speak especially to you.
Many years ago while we were visiting our family in Florida, a tornado touched down not too far from us. One woman living in a mobile home went into her bathroom for safety. The mobile home began to shake. A few moments passed. Then she heard her neighbor’s voice: “I am here in the front room.” Coming out of the bathroom, to her great astonishment, she discovered that the tornado had lifted and carried her mobile home through the air, landing it perfectly upright on the top of her neighbor’s mobile home.
My young friends, the world will not glide calmly toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The scriptures declare that “all things shall be in commotion.”1 Brigham Young said, “It was revealed to me in the commencement of this Church, that the Church would spread, prosper, grow and extend, and that in proportion to the spread of the Gospel among the nations of the earth, so would the power of Satan rise.”2
More concerning than the prophesied earthquakes and wars3 are the spiritual whirlwinds that can uproot you from your spiritual foundations and land your spirit in places you never imagined possible, sometimes with your barely noticing that you have been moved.
The worst whirlwinds are the temptations of the adversary. Sin has always been part of the world, but it has never been so accessible, insatiable, and acceptable. There is, of course, a powerful force that will subdue the whirlwinds of sin. It is called repentance.
Not all the whirlwinds in life are of your own making. Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.
As a young boy, President Boyd K. Packer suffered from the crippling disease of polio. When Elder Dallin H. Oaks was seven years old, his father died suddenly. When Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women general presidency was a teenager, her parents divorced. Challenges will come to you, but as you trust in God, they will strengthen your faith.
In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return.4
You are infinitely more precious to God than a tree. You are His son or His daughter. He made your spirit strong and capable of being resilient to the whirlwinds of life. The whirlwinds in your youth, like the wind against a young tree, can increase your spiritual strength, preparing you for the years ahead.
How do you prepare for your whirlwinds? “Remember … it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, … his shafts in the whirlwind, … when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power … to drag you down … because of the rock upon which ye are built.”5 This is your safety in the whirlwind.
President Thomas S. Monson has said, “Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”6 This chasm, for some, stirs strong spiritual whirlwinds. Let me share an example.
This past month the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve published a letter to leaders of the Church across the world. In part it read: “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We urge you to review … the doctrine contained in ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World.’”7
As the world slips away from the Lord’s law of chastity, we do not. President Monson said: “The Savior of mankind described Himself as being in the world but not of the world. We also can be in the world but not of the world as we reject false concepts and false teachings and remain true to that which God has commanded.”8
While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. In the very beginning, God initiated marriage between a man and a woman—Adam and Eve. He designated the purposes of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults to, more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured. Families are the treasure of heaven.9
Why do we continue to talk about this? As Paul said, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”10 As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the responsibility to teach our Creator’s plan for His children and to warn of the consequences of disregarding His commandments.
Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:
“This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they ‘liked’ the postings. I made no comment.
“I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.
“With my profile picture, I added the caption ‘I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.’ Almost instantly I started receiving messages. ‘You are selfish.’ ‘You are judgmental.’ One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: ‘You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.’
“I did not fight back,” she said, “but I did not take my statement down.”
She concludes: “Sometimes, as President Monson said, ‘You have to stand alone.’ Hopefully as youth, we will stand together in being true to God and to the teachings of His living prophets.”11
Of special concern to us should be those who struggle with same-sex attraction. It is a whirlwind of enormous velocity. I want to express my love and admiration for those who courageously confront this trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God!12 But everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration.13
The Savior taught us to love not only our friends but also those who disagree with us—and even those who repudiate us. He said: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? … And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?”14
The Prophet Joseph Smith warned us to “beware of self-righteousness” and to enlarge our hearts toward all men and women until we feel “to take them upon our shoulders.”15 In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry.
If you have a question about counsel from the leaders of the Church, please discuss your honest concerns with your parents and leaders. You need the strength that comes from trusting the Lord’s prophets. President Harold B. Lee said: “The only safety we have as members of this church is to … learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. … There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes. … It may contradict your political views … your social views … interfere with … your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, … ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you … and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you …’ (D&C 21:6).”16
Another powerful protection from the whirlwinds of life is the Book of Mormon.
When President Henry B. Eyring was a teenager, his family moved to a new city. He initially found the move unpleasant and made few friends. He felt like he didn’t fit in with the students in his high school. The whirlwinds were swirling. What did he do? He threw his energy into the Book of Mormon, reading it many times.17 Years later, President Eyring testified: “I [love to] go back to the Book of Mormon and drink deeply and often.”18 “[It] is the most powerful written testimony we have that Jesus is the Christ.”19
The Lord has given you another way to stand firm, a spiritual gift more powerful than the whirlwinds of the adversary! He said, “Stand … in holy places, and be not moved.”20
When I was a teenager, there were only 13 temples in the Church. Now there are 142. Eighty-five percent of Church members live within 200 miles (320 km) of a temple. The Lord has given your generation greater access to His holy temples than any other generation in the history of the world.
Have you ever stood in the temple, dressed in white, waiting to do baptisms? How did you feel? There is a tangible feeling of holiness in the temple. The peace of the Savior subdues the swirling whirlwinds of the world.
The way you feel in the temple is a pattern for how you want to feel in your life.21
Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you. Take their names to the temple with you.22 As you learn about your ancestors, you will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness; and occasionally patterns that you will want to avoid.23
Later in the temple you will learn more about the Creation of the world, about the patterns in the lives of Adam and Eve, and most importantly, about our Savior, Jesus Christ.
My young brothers and sisters, how we love you, admire you, and pray for you. Don’t let the whirlwinds drag you down. These are your days—to stand strong as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.24
Build more firmly your foundation upon the rock of your Redeemer.
Treasure more completely His incomparable life and teachings.
Follow more diligently His example and His commandments.
Embrace more deeply His love, His mercy and grace, and the powerful gifts of His Atonement.
As you do, I promise you that you will see the whirlwinds for what they are—tests, temptations, distractions, or challenges to help you grow. And as you live righteously year after year, I assure you that your experiences will confirm to you again and again that Jesus is the Christ. The spiritual rock under your feet will be solid and secure. You will rejoice that God has placed you here to be a part of the final preparations for Christ’s glorious return.

The Savior said, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”25This is His promise to you. I know this promise is real. I know that He lives, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.