Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book of Mormon Sampler: Moroni 8:26

"And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God." (Moroni 8:26)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MIchael Otterson: From the Bible to the Book of Mormon: How do Latter-day Saints interpret Scripture?

By Michael Otterson, Head of Public Affairs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, printed in the Washington Post,

"From the Bible to the Book of Mormon: How do Latter-day Saints interpret Scripture?

Sitting between bookends atop a filing cabinet a few feet from my office is an assembly of books, all with the same title and content but each one rendered in a different language. “Le Livre de Mormon.” “Das Buch Mormon.” “El Libro de Mormón.” There are several in non-Latin scripts. Chinese in simplified characters. Russian in its Cyrillic. Japanese with its blend of ancient and modern alphabets. A few are in languages most people haven’t heard of. Quechua. Chamorro. Fante.
The Book of Mormon-- translated fully or partly into more than a hundred languages and with 150 million copies in print to date - may be the most readily identifiable factor that sets members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart from other Christians.
In the 181 years since it was first published, the Book of Mormon has been praised and parodied, vaunted and vilified. To some it is an enigma. To others heresy. To those who have embraced it, it is a powerful, life-changing force -- literally new scripture - that brings people to Jesus Christ.
During this time of unusually high public interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this column provides a forum for explaining key elements of the faith. My objective is not to persuade others to my point of view. Rather, it’s to explain simply and factually some of the basics of the Latter-day Saint perspective for those outside the faith who know little about Mormon beliefs and want to know what makes us tick.
First, what the Book of Mormon is not. It isn’t a book about Mormons. Neither is it a “Mormon Bible” - a substitute for the Bible of the Christian world. It is not allegory. Nor is it primarily a history.
The way Mormons view the Book of Mormon is parallel to the way other Christians view the New Testament, and Jews the Old Testament. It is not a single book. Rather, it is a collection of narratives written by prophets who lived in the Western hemisphere, mostly within a roughly thousand-year period from 600BC. It takes its overall name from one of those prophets who abridged the record. Other than the differing geography and timeline, the idea of the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the same - they are both a collection of prophetic writings set against the historical backdrop of their day, and passed down through generations because of the value of the religious teachings and witness that they embody.
It’s beyond the scope of a short column to analyze the Book of Mormon or even to describe its content and origin in any detail. For those who want more, it’s easy to get a copy, and volumes have been written about it, dissecting its 500-plus pages from beginning to end. To understand what it is and why it was written, and how it has so profoundly affected millions of people who have read it, we need go no further than the title page. It says in part that the Book of Mormon was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” The book is saturated with references to Jesus Christ, but nowhere more so than an absorbing episode two thirds of the way through the book which recounts the literal visit to the indigenous inhabitants of the ancient Americas of the resurrected Jesus Christ soon after his crucifixion. In a ministry with parallels to his sermons and messages in Galilee and Judea, Jesus teaches the people, appoints twelve apostles and establishes his church. The period of his ministry, while short, triggers peace among the previously warring tribes that lasts for 200 years.
So if the Book of Mormon is so important, where does the Bible fit in Latter-day Saint thinking? The subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” And it works together with the Bible to affirm and teach about him. Mormons believe that both compilations were written under the inspiration of heaven and serve us in profound ways. Most Latter-day Saint homes have at least one copy of the Bible, probably several. In homes where English is spoken, it is almost always the long-popular King James Version.
Like other Christians who have made that sacred scripture a central part of their lives, Mormons are literate and knowledgeable about the Bible. We study it a lot - in our four-year cycle of Sunday school curriculum, two years are devoted to the Bible. In addition, it is read and studied in our homes. We move from a verse in the Book of Mormon to a corresponding theme in the Bible and back again with the same ease and comfort that other Christians flick from Matthew to Mark, or Romans to Hebrews. To us, the word of God is the word of God, and having the Book of Mormon delivers insight and understanding of the Bible in the same way that the revelation to the apostle John enhances the gospel of Luke.
When I have an open Bible in my hand, it’s like connecting with a friend. The language is familiar, the spirit of it embracing and the content both motivating and humbling. When I’m reading the Book of Acts or the synoptic gospels - particular favorites of mine - I feel I could never tire of them.
But like most members of my faith I don’t take every word of the Bible literally, Old Testament or New. My embracing of the Bible allows room for human errors of translation or omission, or indeed of interpretation. In that, I’m typical of most Latter-day Saints. What I do take literally is the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the accounts of his ministry and the witness of his resurrection. For Latter-day Saints, those issues are non-negotiable.
Mormons are thankful for the herculean efforts made through the centuries to preserve and propagate the Holy Bible. Our Church leaders have expressed the debt we feel to “those who in many countries and languages have sacrificed, even to the point of death, to bring the word of God out of obscurity. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9/11 Talk on "Finding Peace"

I’ve been asked to talk today about how we can find peace amidst the turmoil and troubles that face us in the world today.
In his first presidency message in March 2004 Ensign magazine titled, “Finding Peace”, Pres. Thomas S. Monson gave some suggestions for how we can have peace in this world. He gave these three guidelines for us:
1. Search inward
2. Reach outward; and
3. Look heavenward.
Let’s look at the first step, to search inward. What can we do to promote peace in our families, and in our own lives?
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) counseled us: “The price of peace is righteousness. Men and nations may loudly proclaim, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there shall be no peace until individuals nurture in their souls those principles of personal purity, integrity, and character which foster the development of peace. Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way.”

If we want peace in our lives, we must be peace makers. We should work to help others to forgive, and to avoid contention.
In the Book of Mormon, in 3 Ne. 11:28–30. We read: ““There shall be no disputations among you. …“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. “Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” In modern day scripture, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said, “…I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”Doctrine and Covenants 38:27 If we want to promote peace, we must be peacemakers.

The next step is to Reach outward. We can do this by serving others. Whether it be in our own neighborhood, or in our community, we can help to promote peace by helping those who stand in need. It is interesting to notice that when we serve others, it inspires them to also reach out and serve. Surely this can bring peace to the world.
Another aspect of reaching outward is that we can try to promote peace and harmony amongst ourselves. We can avoid criticizing others, and seek to build harmony. We can forgive others of their weaknesses, and try to love as the Savior loves.

The third step is to look heavenward. In the scriptures, the Savior is called the “Prince of peace”. He is our true source of peace during troubling times. Pres. Monson said, “On one significant occasion, Jesus took a text from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” 11 —a clear pronouncement of the peace that passeth all understanding.”

I want to share a personal experience. When I was single, I was asked to be a leader for the girl’s camp 4th year hike, which was held before girl’s camp. We hiked up in to the mountains that run along the highway by St. George, Utah. At the end of the camp, I assigned a few girls to properly extinguish the coals in the firepit. I then went about packing up the rest of the camp. We returned home, and rested for awhile. Later that day I went outside to see to the camping equipment. To my surprise, I noticed that the mountain where we had just been, was on fire! While I watched the burning, the girls from camp came walking up to my yard. They confessed to me that they didn’t want to hassle with the coals in the firepit, so they had put them in a bag and hid them in the bushes. I cannot tell you how horrible I felt! I was under so much mental anguish, and also guilt for not supervising those girls better. I knew that if the firefighters can determine who started the fire, they will present them with the bill. I was just sick! I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep. The only thing I could think to pray for was that they would get the fire out quickly. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. The next morning I received some news that the fire had, in fact, been started by another group that had been camping on the mountain. The fire fighters had used our camp as a base camp. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt! The burden and anguish I had carried were immediately lifted! It was only then that I felt peace.

This reminds me of the story of Alma, who was struck by the seriousness of his own sins. Let me read a little about his experience that he related later to his son:
16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” Alma 36:17-21

How many of us are under similar emotional and spiritual burdens? How many among us struggle with anger because of an offense? Are there those among us who are under the burden of guilt, caused by sin? Are there those who struggle with feelings of hurt or loneliness? Are there those who constantly live in fear, or pain? In the scriptures, we learn that the Savior can bring us peace amidst all of our trials. He begs us, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28
He is waiting for us to come unto him. He has already suffered for us, and wants to give us peace, but we have to turn to him.

Have you ever burned your finger, and felt the immediate relief when you put it under cold water? Why would anyone ever hesitate to find cold water after being burned? Would laziness keep them from getting relief? Is it possible that a person might feel they should be punished for not being more careful, and so intentionally wouldn’t find water? Similarly, why do we hesitate to seek the Savior for relief from the burdens that we carry? He has already suffered for us, but if we do not make use of that suffering on our behalf, it is as if it was wasted.

The Savior knows our pains. In the book of Mormon, in Alma we read: 12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Alma 57:12
Part of the peace that the Savior has given to us is to know that when our loved ones die, they can live again. There are many throughout the world who do not believe in a resurrection. Surely death’s sting is great for them. But the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we can be resurrected, and we can say as Paul, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55
The Savior knows how to comfort us, and how to give us peace. But we must be willing to repent, and forgive, and humble ourselves before God. And we must have faith in Jesus Christ.
My prayer is that we can follow Pres. Monson’s advice by first working to be peacemakers by searching inward. Then we must be peacemakers by reaching out to help others. And lastly we must look upward to receive the peace that only the Savior, the prince of peace can give. I know that if we come until him, he will give us rest.

My 9/11 Talk on

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pres. Thomas S. Monson: 9/11 destruction allowed us to spiritually rebuild

Published 09/08/2011 in the Washington Post

"The calamity of September 11th, 2001 has cast a long shadow. Ten years later, many of us are still haunted by its terrible tragedy of lost lives and broken hearts. It is an episode of anguish that has become a defining moment in the history of the American nation and the world. This week, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with Tom Brokaw, will pay its own homage to the unforgettable events of September 11, 2001.

There was, as many have noted, a remarkable surge of faith following the tragedy. People across the United States rediscovered the need for God and turned to Him for solace and understanding. Comfortable times were shattered. We felt the great unsteadiness of life and reached for the great steadiness of our Father in Heaven. And, as ever, we found it. Americans of all faiths came together in a remarkable way.

Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed. Healing has come with time, but so has indifference. We forget how vulnerable and sorrowful we felt. Our sorrow moved us to remember the deep purposes of our lives. The darkness of our despair brought us a moment of enlightenment. But we are forgetful. When the depth of grief has passed, its lessons often pass from our minds and hearts as well.

Our Father’s commitment to us, His children, is unwavering. Indeed He softens the winters of our lives, but He also brightens our summers. Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us. He has promised us that this will never change.

But we are less faithful than He is. By nature we are vain, frail, and foolish. We sometimes neglect God. Sometimes we fail to keep the commandments that He gives us to make us happy. Sometimes we fail to commune with Him in prayer. Sometimes we forget to succor the poor and the downtrodden who are also His children. And our forgetfulness is very much to our detriment.

If there is a spiritual lesson to be learned from our experience of that fateful day, it may be that we owe to God the same faithfulness that He gives to us. We should strive for steadiness, and for a commitment to God that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. It should not require tragedy for us to remember Him, and we should not be compelled to humility before giving Him our faith and trust. We too should be with Him in every season.

The way to be with God in every season is to strive to be near Him every week and each day. We truly “need Him every hour,” not just in hours of devastation. We must speak to Him, listen to Him, and serve Him. If we wish to serve Him, we should serve our fellow men. We will mourn the lives we lose, but we should also fix the lives that can be mended and heal the hearts that may yet be healed.

It is constancy that God would have from us. Tragedies are not merely opportunities to give Him a fleeting thought, or for momentary insight to His plan for our happiness. Destruction allows us to rebuild our lives in the way He teaches us, and to become something different than we were. We can make Him the center of our thoughts and His Son, Jesus Christ, the pattern for our behavior. We may not only find faith in God in our sorrow. We may also become faithful to Him in times of calm."

Thomas S. Monson is president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, September 3, 2011