Sunday, December 27, 2009

Old Testament Lesson #1 "This Is My Work and My Glory"

(Moses 1)

OVERVIEW OF MOSES 1

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly..."  (Article of Faith 8)


"To say that the Bible is the word of God does not make its meaning any clearer or solve any of its problems; it simply guarantees that the meaning is worth every effort to find and that every problem is supremely worth solving"  (Alex Motyer, The Story of the Old Testament, p. 21).

One of these "problems" is authorship of Genesis.  Many Bible scholars are divided on how we got this book.  Did Moses write it?  Did he compile it?  Was it just a bunch of oral traditions written down?  Was it a collection of pagan myths transfered to Christian beliefs? 

The reason for the question is that the first chapter of Genesis, which explains the authorship, is missing from the Bible.  This problem was solved in June of 1830 when the Lord gave that chapter back to us as Joseph Smith began work on his Bible translation.  It now can be found in the Pearl of Great Price as Moses chapter 1. 

But why would it have been missing in the first place?  Moses 1:23 gives us the answer:  "And now of this thing Moses bore record; but because of wickedness it is not had among the children of men."  The devil had chapter one removed from the Bible.

Why?

Why did people go to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?  It's a no-brainer: because they knew nothing about the enemy.  There has continued to be difficulty in fighting the attackers because of a lack of knowledge of their tactics, or of even of where they are.

Satan wanted the first chapter of the Bible removed because it is the book of instructions for fighting him and winning.

Moses 1 teaches us the Battle Plan:
1) Who our Leader is and what his characteristics are
2) What the battle objective is
3) Who we are and how we fit in
4) Who the Enemy is, and what his main tactic is
5) That he is less powerful than God
6) How he can be defeated
7) How extensive the Lord's commitment is, and how great His help will be

The Book of Moses is an amazing tool to help us overcome any of the snares of the devil.  One specific battle tactic the devil is increasingly employing today is pornography.  The following notes are from a talk I was asked to give to the Young Women of our ward to help them avoid Internet pornography.  Moses 1 is one of the greatest scriptural tools for combating this great evil. 

MOSES 1 TEACHES US HOW TO DEAL WITH PORNOGRAPHY

v. 6  "I have a work for thee, Moses, my son."  Heavenly Father has a great work for you and the devil knows it.  He'd love to derail it, just as he wishes to stop Moses from being worthy for his great calling.

v. 12  "But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me."  Moses was still standing on holy ground, where he had had such a wonderful vision, when the devil came looking for him.  Moses did not go into a sleazy bar, or to a drug party, or to any questionable place at all.  The same thing happened to Joseph Smith, didn't it, in the Sacred Grove?  Now listen carefully:  There are some people that Satan knows will never go out and get in trouble, so he tries to bring trouble to them.  You, just like Moses, may be standing in a holy place (your own home, where you read your scriptures, where you say your prayers) minding your own business.  You may be on the Internet looking up scriptures for all I know, and suddenly there it is on your screen, as Moses said:  "the bitterness of hell" (v. 20). When this happens to you (not "if"), you need to know what to do. Moses is an excellent example of a person who beat the devil.  So let's see what he did.

v. 12 Heavenly Father called Moses his son, a son of God.  What did the devil call him?  "Son of man."  The devil would say, "You're only human...It's only natural to be curious."  But we know the natural man is an enemy to God.  We are to rise above that to our true potential.

v. 13 "And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten."  So your response would be like Moses':  "I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father who loves me and I love him" (from the Young Women Theme).

v. 13-15 "Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?  Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God."  Moses had never met the devil, I don't believe, but he confidently said, "I can judge between thee and God."  In other words, "I can plainly see that you are not someone worthy of worship."  A former bishop told me that every person who has come into his office to seek help because they were over their head in sin has said, "I knew it was wrong when I started, but..."  Every person has the Light of Christ, or what we call a conscience--even people who know nothing about Christ.  Moses did.  You do.  Even if you had never, ever heard of pornography, as soon as you saw it, you would know immediately that it was wrong.  When you encounter something that you instantly feel is wrong, just get out.

v. 15 "God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve."  This leads straight to another point that you need to know: You cannot live a dual life.  You may think that you can view a little pornography once in a while, and still go to church and do everything else right and that it will be okay.  But it will not work.  The Spirit will leave you.  You may still be doing all the right things, and on the outside you may appear okay, but on the inside you will be rotting spiritually, gradually destroying yourself.

v. 16  "Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten."  Moses said God told him he was made to be like Jesus Christ.  You were, too.  You can say to the devil, "I have taken upon me the name of Christ, and I will not be sidetracked from my goal of becoming like Him."  This is maintaining a holiness inside and out.  Only then can you truly be like Christ and experience the great joy that comes with living a Christian life.

v. 18 Moses said, "I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him."  You also will need answers to prayers to guide you throughout the rest of your life.  To receive those answers, you need to have the Spirit.  At times, you will need it desperately.  Imagine all the difficult decisions in the future.  Imagine all the trials you may encounter.  Don't you think you are going to want to call on God for His help?  Don't you think you are going to want Priesthood blessings, inspiration in how to solve problems, the comfort of the Holy Spirit to bless and calm you?  No matter whether any other ill effects ever should come of viewing pornography, the loss of the Spirit would be so disastrous to your entire life that that reason alone should make you want to stay as far away from it as possible.  Elder Wirthlin says that an ounce of pornography takes away a pound of spirituality (New Era, May 1988).

v. 19   "And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me." The devil will try the same tactic with you that he tried with Moses.  After Moses made it clear that Jesus Christ was the most important thing in his life, he said, "I am the Only Begotten, worship me."  He will try to find out what is important to you, and then he'll say,, "So you want eternal happiness?  Well, that's me!  That's what I'm all about!  These physical thrills are what happiness is all about!"  Or "So you want love?  Well, I can give you love!  Just watch it, right here on the Internet!"  But remember, this tactic only works for people who know nothing about the gospel, and who ignore the Spirit of Christ within them.  Moses knew very well that the devil was not Christ, because why?  Because he already knew Christ!  If you study the truth, you recognize lies.  If you know the gospel, you will not be fooled.  Make sure you spend enough time studying the gospel at Church and at home.

v. 20-22  "And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.  And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not."  It was very difficult for Moses to get rid of the devil.  He prayed repeatedly and received strength, but it took four tries altogether to force the devil away.  In the end, he had to command the devil to leave in the name of Christ.  The devil's stellar characteristic is tenacity--stubbornness.  He never gives up.  You have to be more tenacious than he is--the scriptures call it being "steadfast and immovable."  You may find, like Moses, that you need Priesthood help if you are embroiled in a fight with the devil.  It may be beyond what you can do, but it is never beyond Christ.  Who is his representative in your ward?  Your bishop.

v. 24-25 "And it came to pass that when Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, that Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and the Son;  And calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God."  When Moses won the battle, he once again was filled with the Spirit "and calling upon God, he beheld his glory again."  And then he was given an even greater vision than the first.  And he was able to carry forth his great work in life, that of freeing the children of Israel from bondage.  You also, will receive greater spirituality as you shun the temptations of the devil, and you will carry forth the great work you are destined for.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Measure of Our Faith




WANTING TO BELIEVE

Just a couple of days before Christmas, as I was driving my two 9-year-olds to Grandma’s, Marisha said, “I’m going to stay up all night Christmas Eve and find out if Santa is really real.” But Ammon said, “Not me. I don’t want to know. I want to believe.”

Elder Michael T. Ringwood, in this past General Conference, said he had been drawn repeatedly over the past several months to a statement in the scriptures, Helaman 6:36: “And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.” This is an amazing scripture. These were the Lamanites, who had been led in the opposite direction for centuries by their fathers.

Elder Ringwood puzzled over the question, “What happened to cause a people full of hatred and disbelief to have an easiness and willingness to believe in the word of God?” 8,000 of them had listened to the voices of Nephi and Lehi as they taught by the Spirit, and had been converted. 300 more were converted through the miracle of hearing a voice as they went forth to harm Nephi and Lehi. And many more were converted through the testimony of those 300. As they were converted, they immediately began living the gospel. They cast down their weapons and habits of war, they studied the word of God, and they obeyed the commandments. They had great faith which enabled them to endure to the end at the peril of their lives (Helaman 15:5-9).

Samuel the Lamanite explained that “because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe…because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity,” speaking not just of this individual group, but also of the entire Lamanite nation (Helaman 15:10).

At the same period of time, the Nephites, who had a heritage of belief and obedience, became “hardened, impenitent, and grossly wicked” (Helaman 6:2) and their civilization was eventually cut off from the face of the earth.

Our lives sometimes go through stages of an easiness to believe, and sometimes a hardness of heart. Elder Ringwood suggests that times of significant change, times of intense service, times of trial, times of learning new principles, and times in our youth and childhood are often times when it is easier to believe. We are commanded to create more of these times in our lives, by becoming as little children, that we may inherit eternal life (3 Nephi 11:38). He says that as we reflect upon these times, we “will find what really brought an easiness and willingness to believe were not the circumstances but the commitment to live the gospel during these periods of life.” He says, “Daily living of the gospel brings a softness of heart needed to have an easiness and willingness to believe the word of God.”

A BELIEVER FROM THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS

We are all very familiar with Martin Harris, the third witness of and financier of the Book of Mormon, who at many times of his life had a difficult time believing. This disbelief led to the loss of the Book of Lehi, and it led to many years of estrangement from the Church. Very few of us are familiar with his older brother, Emer. But we should be!

Because Emer had an easiness and willingness to believe. Hearing of the golden Bible, Emer had walked 25 miles to learn more about it from his brother, Martin. When the book was published, Martin picked up the first bound copy off the press and handed it to Emer.

Emer joined the church early in 1831. He was a scribe for Joseph for a short time. He was called to serve a mission with Simeon Carter (D&C 75:30), but switched companions and served with his brother Martin. They baptized 82 people in one place, 100 at another, and organized a branch of 70 in Pennsylvania.

Emer was a skilled carpenter who built the window sash in the Kirtland Temple. Later, he used the same tools to build the winding stairway in the Nauvoo Temple.

He and his family arrived in Missouri just in time to be thrown out by the extermination order. Among the meager possessions he carried with him at the exodus was a chest in which he had fitted a false bottom for the safe transport of copies of the Book of Mormon. The mob did search his belongings, including the chest, but his preparation saved the books.

Emer was 69 when the Saints moved west, and he moved with them. His patriarchal blessing stated, “Thou has[t] not fainted in times of disease and persecution when every evil thing has [been] spoken against the church of the Living God. Thou hast endured in faith. The Lord is well pleased with thee because of the integrity of thy heart.” After he arrived in Utah, he also became a patriarch and was known as a great healer. He died at the age of 88 and is buried in the Logan Cemetery. (You can see a photo of his headstone here.)

JOHN THE BELOVED

And now, let’s examine a great believer from the Bible, John the Beloved. Have you ever wondered where the name “John the Beloved,” came from? Was he loved more than the other disciples? Did Jesus name him that? No. Jesus gave him the title “Son of Thunder.” In the heading of the Book of Revelation, he is referred to as “St. John the Divine,” meaning one who sees the future. He is often called “John the Revelator” because of his visions.

So who came up with “John the Beloved?” Well, you don’t find that particular title in the Bible, but you find the origin of it: Five times in his gospel, John referred to himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” It was not that Jesus loved him more than others; it was John’s own acceptance, appreciation, and emulation of that love that made him into “John the Beloved.”

His perception of this great love led him to desire to labor in the Lord’s kingdom for the salvation of His children until Christ should come again. He’s already been doing that for 2,000 years.

If we were to follow the example of John, we would be looking for evidences of the Lord’s love in our lives every day, and we would be thinking of ourselves in terms of God’s love for us. If we were to do this, we would lose all need for self-confidence or that elusive mirage, self-esteem. Both would be replaced by faith in God. We would also let go of our need to compare, our need to compete, and our compulsion to view our inadequacies in a depressing light that shuts out the Spirit and prevents us from loving others. Imagine thinking of yourself as “[insert your name here] the Beloved.” It would change your life. As John himself wrote, “We love him, because he first loved us.” If we comprehended how much God loved us, we would then want to love Him, and that would make all the difference in our lives, as it did in John’s.

LOVE IS THE MEASURE OF OUR FAITH

President Uchtdorf recently told us, “God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.” He is echoing the words of Elder Maxwell 13 years before: “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.”

Ultimately, for the Lamanite converts, for Emer Harris, and for John the Beloved, it was the love of God and the love FOR God that created the condition of a softened heart which allowed them to believe and to endure to the point of martyrdom in the case of the Lamanites; to the age of 88 in the case of Emer; and indefinitely in the case of John the Beloved.

President Utchdorf said, “Since ‘God is love,’ the closer we approach Him, the more profoundly we experience love.” He said, “God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.” Can we do that?

I love this quote from Sue Monk Kidd: “That’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life—not just to love, but to persist in love.”

President Uchtdorf stated, “The divine love of God turns ordinary acts into extraordinary service…Love is the guiding light that illuminates the disciple’s path and fills our daily walk with life, meaning, and wonder. Love is the measure of our faith, the inspiration for our obedience, and the true altitude of our discipleship.” That’s why we must “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart [to] be filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48).

We need to become like John the Beloved and see the love of God in our everyday lives, that we may also live the love of God. Let’s follow the counsel of President Utchdorf: “In your daily interactions with others, in the words of a hymn, in the laughter of a child, listen for His voice. If you listen for the voice of the Father, He will lead you on a course that will allow you to experience the pure love of Christ.” And this promise brings our lesson full circle: “As we draw near to Heavenly Father, we become more holy. And as we become more holy, we will overcome disbelief and our souls will be filled with His blessed light.”

LIVE IN THE CHILD’S NATIVITY


(You may want to bring a nativity set and ask a young child to arrange it for you before class as an illustration of the paragraph below.)

As children will always arrange a nativity set with Jesus in the middle and everyone else facing him in a tight circle, we must so live our lives. “Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood” (Elder Uchtdorf). We must put Christ at the center of our circle. (See previous post.)

“My dear brothers and sisters, don’t get discouraged if you stumble at times. Don’t feel downcast or despair if you don’t feel worthy to be a disciple of Christ at all times. The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe.” We must “choose to listen.” We must “try and keep on trying” (Elder Uchtdorf).  We must "educate our desires" (Elder Maxwell).  Ammon said he didn’t want to know about Santa, because he wanted to believe in him. With a testimony of Christ, it is the opposite: We first believe so that we may later know.

“An easiness to believe will come when the word of God is etched into our hearts” (Elder Ringwood). In our homes and families, we need to create an environment and live traditions that "educate our desires," and make it easy for us and our children to believe.


(Sources: Michael T. Ringwood, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2009; Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants; Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees; Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1996)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Christmas Messages

THE STAR
By Ruth Dinkins Rowan

The day of the Christmas presentation finally arrived. My young daughter, Jana, was so excited about her part that I supposed she was to be one of the main characters, though she had not told me what she was to do. The parents were all there and one by one the children took their places. I could see the shepherds fidgeting in the corner of the stage meant to represent the fields for the sheep. Mary and Joseph stood solemnly behind the manger. In the back, three young wise men waited impatiently. But still Jana sat quietly and confidently.

Then the teacher began: “A long time ago, Mary…had a baby and…named Him Jesus,” she said. “And when Jesus was born, a bright star appeared over the stable.”

At that cue, Jana got up from her chair, picked up a large tinfoil star, walked behind Mary and Joseph and held the star up high for everyone to see.

When the teacher told about the shepherds coming to see the baby, the three young shepherds came forward and Jana jiggled the star up and down excitedly to show them where to come. When the wise men responded to their cue, she went forward a little to meet them and to lead the way, her face as alight as the real star might have been.

The playlet ended. We had refreshments. On the way home Jana said, with great satisfaction, “I had the main part.”

“You did?” I questioned, wondering why she thought that.

“Yes,” she said, “’cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus.”

How true! To show others how to find Jesus, to be the light for their paths, that is the finest role we can play in life.

THE CHILD'S NATIVITY

By Nancy Jensen

Have you ever watched a small child arrange the Christmas nativity set? If so, you know how children universally do it: Baby Jesus in the center, and all of the people and animals in a tight circle looking at him. Children understand that all the figures are there to look at Jesus, not to be seen of themselves.





The point of Christmas is the birth of Christ, the Wonderful Gift. Do our fun and exciting holiday traditions act as the child’s nativity figures, all directed at Baby Jesus? Or do they try to stand alone, as if they are there to be enjoyed of themselves?

Since school, community, and television programs usually will not focus on Christ, in our homes we must be sure to counterbalance their non-religious, we-don’t-want-to-offend-anybody programs. We need to be sure our families understand that our Christmas traditions are symbols of our relationship with Christ. We must be sure the shopping and partying and interior decorating contribute to our spiritual closeness to the Savior, rather than overshadow it. In our homes at Christmas, we need to be standing in that tight circle around the manger, gazing in wonder at the Baby Jesus.


(Nativity set arranged by Jacob Cutler, age 11.  When his mom, my friend Ann Marie Cutler, saw it, she took a photo and sent it to me to illustrate this blog.  Perfect, huh?  Thanks, Ann!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Addition to D&C Lesson #39 The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

Be sure to check out the December 2009 Ensign, which has a wonderful article by BYU professor George S. Tate on President Joseph F. Smith, his intimate acquaintance with death, the catastrophic loss of life in World War I and the Spanish Influenza, and the great vision of the redemption of the dead.  It is a wonderful complement to the very first entry in this blog, with additional details on the family deaths, and some beautifully poetic journal entries President Smith wrote in his loss.  It also tells us that just before the pandemic mysteriously waned in January of 1919 and then disappeared (with just a brief resurgence the following spring), the Church leaders had designated December 22 as a day of fasting "for the arrest and speedy suppression by Divine Power of the desolating scourge that is passing over the earth."

George S. Tate, "I Saw the Hosts of the Dead," Ensign, December 2009, p. 54-59

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #46 Zion: The Pure in Heart

(D&C 57:1-3; 64:33-43; 97:8-28; 105:1-12; Moses 7:12-19,61-63,68-69; Article of Faith 10; OH p. 37-38,145-146)

"If ye are not one, ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27).

One thing I have struggled with over my life, as you probably have as well, is being one with others.  It's a common, almost universal, problem among anyone over the age of six.  The natural man wants to be an enemy, to compare himself to others, to criticize others if they are different, to be intimidated by others if they seem better than him, to be annoyed by others if they don't meet his specifications, to put others down in an effort to build himself up.  We all do this.  But it doesn't solve any problems or make any situation better.  It creates feelings of enmity, however small the act or thought.  It turns us away from Zion.

As I have battled this tendency of the natural man, and tried to be one with others, I have noticed a wonderful side effect:  Life is a lot more fun when you genuinely like other people! 

Imagine going to a party where all the guests are your best friends.  You know it's going to be a fun time, you are going to feel relaxed and happy, and the time is going to fly.  Now imagine going to a party where all the guests are people you can't stand.  It's miserable and you can't wait to get out of there.  But the irony is that we choose what kind of party our life is.  We choose whether we consider people friends or foes by our reactions to them.  It's entirely up to us.

Most of us reserve some particular neighbors, relatives, ward members, or a whole category of people as our irritants.  Criticizing others feels satisfying; it can even become a hobby.  It's hard to give it up.  Comparing ourselves to others feels gratifyiing if we put them down to build ourselves up.  Noticing a fault in someone that they seem clueless about makes us feel smarter than them.  Sometimes it seems like it would be completely impossible to not be annoyed by some other person--we rationalize that anyone would be annoyed by such behavior. These various attitudes of enmity create a feeling of superiority and it kind of feels good.  But it is a lie, because we are not superior.

Comparing ourselves to others feels noble, if it results in our putting ourselves down.  But this is not humility.  It's just enmity again, with ourselves as the focus this time.  Comparison usually leads to depression, to despair.  And "despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moroni 10:22).  It is another lie, because we are not inferior.

Despite the immediately gratifying feelings enmity brings, it never feels as good as genuinely liking others, despite their faults, their virtues, or their personal quirks.  "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:43), and neither should we be.  Every single person ever born on this earth is a child of God, equal to you and me, even our relatives and coworkers.  There is no way we can ever understand what made each person the way he is, so there is no possibility of fair judgment on our part.  But giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they have a good reason for how they are, being confident that they are doing the best with what they have, and celebrating their uniqueness can bring us great joy in our unlimited friendships.  We can be confident in any social situation if we bring love to the table.  Every encounter is more enjoyable when love is the dominant factor in our attitude, even if the other person has a different attitude.  Considering ourselves on the same team with every other child of God, partly responsible for their salvation and their earthly welfare, doubles our joys and divides our sorrows.  And besides that, it's the truth.

We need to pay close attention to our reactions to others; they will guide us as to how we can achieve more unity.  We can tell if we feel a "wall" go up between ourselves and another person.  We feel an instant hardness inside.  It's a physical sensation.  That's a warning that our attitude is one of enmity.  We need to let love soften and dissolve that wall so that we can be kinsmen, countrymen and "fellowcitizens with the saints."  That is the way to find enjoyment in every relationship.  That is the way to find peace in life.  That is the way to find Zion.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #45 The Family is Ordained of God

(The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children...Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations" (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

Of course, this responsibility to teach our children to joyfully live the gospel is more easily said than done. Each one of our children is different than any other child who has ever lived. The circumstances of every person's life is different than every other person's life. The variety of situations we can come across in raising a single child is staggering. There is no parenting manual that can cover every contingency, so how do we get it right? There is only one way: We must be in constant touch with the Spirit of the Lord. The Lord knows our children, and can tell us exactly how to deal with every situation.

"And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive" (D&C 11:12-13).

To be able to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, we must have faith (1 Nephi 10:17), and hope (Romans 15:13), and charity (Mosiah 3:19). In turn, as we heed the Holy Ghost, he will give us more of these three qualities (Mosiah 3:19). Faith, hope, and charity and the guidance of the Holy Ghost will lead us and our families to Eternal Life (Ether 12:28; Moroni 10:21-21).

THE PROBLEM WITH PERFECTIONISM

During his mortal ministry, Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). After his resurrection, he said, "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48). Of course, the implication here is huge. Even Jesus, who committed no sin, was not perfected in this earthly life.

Why is it important to know this? Because giving up the illusion that perfection is possible in earthly life allows us to be patient, and that attribute is absolutely necessary for the exercise of faith, hope, and charity, and for our eventual perfection. "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:4).

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM BUILDS OUR FAITH

If everything in life went as we expected, as we thought was fair, we would never have need to exercise faith. Conversely, understanding the truth that this life is not going to be perfect, fair, or logical (to our minds), means we won't react with shock and disappointment when something unpleasant happens. Instead we can remember that this unwanted circumstance is an opportunity to trust in the Lord. "We can grow in faith only if we are willing to wait patiently for God's purposes and patterns to unfold in our lives, on His timetable" (Elder Robert C. Oaks, "The Power of Patience," October 2006 General Conference).

In our family, this principle was most powerfully taught to us as we tried to adopt a child from Russia. The short version is that after my husband had spent several years working on a joint U.S./Russian project, we felt powerfully guided by the Lord to go to Russia and look for a four-year-old girl to join our family. The first adoption we attempted became "stuck" as, before the paperwork went through, the child's birthmother decided to try to come back to her daughter after she was released from prison. We were bewildered as we felt the Lord had guided our steps, and now we were at a stalemate. As we continued to ask the Lord what to do, and as the opportunity to adopt other children became available, the answer to our prayers for a year and a half was always the same: "Just continue in the same direction." Then our facilitator emigrated to America, leaving us high and dry without any connection in Krasnodar. This was a great trial to our faith.

But suddenly, a different path opened up: Through an on-line adoption support group, I found a new facilitator in Krasnodar, who immediately took up our case, looked into the situation, and then sadly told us it was hopeless. "But," he wrote in an e-mail, "it is my experience that when this happens, it means God has another child for you." These words went straight to our hearts as truth, and we knew it was finally time to let the first child go. A few days later, we received an e-mail with five photographs of a beautiful little four-year-old girl, with a melancholy expression, who was available for immediate adoption. The first photograph made my heart skip a beat. I felt it was the Spirit telling me, "This is your child." Our facilitator had chosen this child because she looked like the first one. The Department of Education let us easily adopt her despite their opposition to our large family, because the previous administration had already approved us. They believed we were sincere, because we had waited two years without giving up. They were impressed that we were able to speak some Russian, which the two-year wait had allowed us to learn. In addition, the long delay allowed me to study and learn a great deal about foreign and older child adoption and attachment, which was immensely helpful in our daughter's successful integration into American family life. She even fit every article of clothing I had purchased or made for the first child two years before. And there is also the possibility, although we will probably never know, that our persistence in trying to adopt the first child may have actually cleaned up her birthmother's life and reunited the two of them.

The first photo we saw of our daughter.

A situation that was hugely imperfect (in our eyes) allowed us to learn to trust in the Lord, and that trust led to the perfect resolution. "Now faith is the [assurance] of things hoped for, the [proof] of things not seen." (Hebrews 11: 1, using Greek alternate words) The assurance that past problems were resolved successfully proves that other "catastrophies" will work out well, under the Lord's supervision.

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM INCREASES OUR HOPE

"...Neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity" (Moroni 10:21-22). Hope is so important a principle that failing to exercise it is "iniquity!" When we expect perfection, it is easy to give in to despair, because somewhere along the way things will go wrong, at least according to our plan. Then we find ourselves breaking the Savior's commandment to "be of good cheer" and that iniquity brings us to despair (D&C 78:18). But we can "inherit the promises" when we exercise the "full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11-12).

"Hope we have as an achor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 6:20). Inasmuch as Jesus was made perfect beyond the veil in the next life, his Atonement makes it possible to hope that our families may also be perfected there.

GIVING UP PERFECTIONISM ALLOWS US TO FREELY LOVE

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering [elements of patience], by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness [elements of charity], and pure knowledge [the guidance of the Holy Spirit], which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile...Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God..." (D&C 121:41, 45, italics added).

In order to lead others, it is necessary for us to be patient with others, to love them deeply, and to be guided by the Spirit. We are commanded to exercise this kind of patience and love towards all of our family members, not just to those who are presently following the gospel plan (the household of faith). Love is not just the method that ought to be employed in order to influence others; it is the only way we can influence others.

As we look around us, we can see evidence that God loves each person, regardless of where they stand in life and in gospel understanding, and He extends His tender mercies to them. Despite being perfect Himself, He is infinitely patient with His imperfect children, and will keep the way open for them to come closer to Him. Every step, however small, that a person makes toward God will be rewarded by Him, and another step will be encouraged. Though our progress may be slow, He continues His offer to lead us along, to the last day of our lives on this earth. "The scriptures warn us, 'Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.' But, in this life, it is never too late to repent" (Elder Neil L. Anderson, "Repent...That I May Heal You," October 2009 General Conference).

IMPERFECTION BLESSES US

It is an ironic gospel truth that the perfect condition for this mortal existence is imperfection.

The fallen state of this earth and its inhabitants allows us the perfect opportunity to grow in faith, hope and charity, and to rely upon the influence of the Holy Ghost. As we do so, we will be lead with our families safely to exaltation if we "continue in patience until [we] are perfected" (D&C 67:13). For "God...will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" (Romans 2:5-7).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #44 "Being Good Citizens"

(D&C 58:21-22,26-28; 98:4-10; 134; Article of Faith 12; OH p. 133-134)

It would be hard to find a better example of good citizens than Pat and Clyde Braegger.  Pat and Clyde lived one block from my home in Providence, Utah when I was growing up.  During the time when Providence City changed from being a small agricultural town to becoming a bedroom community for employees of large corporations, a lot of conflict developed between the different factions.  Subdivisions were cropping up with no zoning guidelines.  The city officials came under attack of a grand jury.  (Later the charges were dropped.)  Nasty letters were written to the newspaper and to the city government.

At this time, my neighbor, Clyde, was approached and asked to run for mayor.  Nothing had been further from his mind.  He had never been to a city council meeting.  His wife, Pat, quipped that she would divorce him if he did.  Both were very opposed to getting involved in the hotbed of conflict in the community.  But the question was posed to Clyde, "Providence has been good to you.  What have you ever done for Providence?"

So Clyde decided to run.  He won, and he did a great job as mayor.  People got angry at him.  He got anonymous letters.  But he worked well with the various factions, he was honest and upfront, and he was smart.  He felt effective enough that he ran for a second term and got it.  Many of the issues were resolved.  Providence experienced a 63% growth in population fairly graciously.  A new city office and two city parks were built using grants and donations.  One of them, Zollinger Park, was furnished with 125 trees purchased and planted together by families of the community.  The Braeggers formed close friendships with the other mayoring couples of the valley and enjoyed a lot of the aspects of their tenure.

Years later, after Clyde died, Pat ran as mayor, and served for several years.

It adds a little to the story to know that Pat and Clyde were both polio victims.  Clyde was paralyzed from the waist down as an infant and had never walked in his life.  He had a wheelchair, a rollerskate he sat on to get around the house and yard, and a modified car.  Pat was paralyzed at the age of 16 from the neck down, but with some use of one arm.  She was confined to a motorized wheelchair, needed a lift to get in and out of bed, and had frequent lung problems.  She could not even comb her own hair; her neighbor across the street did it for her every morning.  Most people with such physical challenges would not expect to become public servants, but to be served by the public.  Such was not the case with Pat and Clyde, however.  They  necessarily received much service from others, but they always gave back more.

D&C 58:27 "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."


Sources:  Personal knowledge; Pat Johnson Braegger, Clyde, pp. 91-99; Pat Braegger and Marie Olson, "They Said It Couldn't Be Done," Ensign, January 1984.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #43 "Take Upon You My Whole Armour"

THE ARMOUR OF GOD

     Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
     For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
     Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
     Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
     And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
     Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
     And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
                                                              (Ephesians 6:11-17)

THE ARMOUR OF MORONI

     ...Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm–shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing--
     Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites;
     But they were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites.
                                                                  (Alma 43:19-21)

Just as Moroni outfitted his soldiers with armour which Zerahemnah's army did not have, we as Christian Soldiers have armour that Satan and his troops do not have.  It doesn't matter if there are less in the Army of God; the armour makes each member much less vulnerable and much more able in battle than the soldiers of Satan.  With the Armour of God, we are certain to win.

LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH

The loins were considered the seat of the emotions and passions in Biblical times.  Jesus said things such as, "My bowels are filled with compassion toward you." (See, for example, 3 Nephi 17:6.)  The reproductive organs are also in the loins.  The human passions and emotions can be  protected from sin and error by being "girt about with truth," which is a knowledge of things as they were, as they are, and as they will be (D&C 93:24). Truth gives us the ability and the perspective to make virtuous and compassionate choices.  "Girding up your loins" was the action of pulling up the long robe to make a shorter skirt and tying it around the waist, converting the attire to make it suitable for work or battle.  Therefore, it implies action, not just squelching passion or remaining innocent.  We must use our passions and our emotions to reach out virtuously and compassionately, to do the work of the Lord in service to others, and to act in ways of truth. "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:21). 

THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The heart, in Biblical times, refered to thoughts and motives:  "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" (Matt. 9:4)  "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts" (Matt. 15:19).  The protection for the heart, or in other words, the thoughts and motives, is the breastplate of righteousness.  Paul defined righteousness very specifically for us, when in his Epistle to the Thessalonians he refered to this breastplate of righteousness as "the breastplate faith and love" (1 Thess. 5:8). This aligns perfectly with the two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39).  Our motives will always be correct if they are based on faith in God and love for him and for others.  They will always be incorrect if they are based on anything else.

FEET SHOD WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE

The feet symbolize our foundation, and also our motion.  If our feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, there is neither a better foundation, nor a better direction. "And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom" (D&C 39:6).  With the purity provided by the Atonement through repentance, the covenant of baptism, and the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, our foundation is sure, and as long as we continue to repent, continue to keep our covenants, and continue to listen to the Holy Ghost, nothing will be able to shake us from our firm stand, and we will always be moving in a heavenward direction.

THE HELMET OF SALVATION

The helmet of salvation protects the head, of course.  If the heart, in Biblical times, was the center of thought, what would the head be?  One interpretation might be that it is the center of receiving direction from others (the ears), providing direction and focus to the rest of the body (the eyes), and giving direction to others (the mouth).  If we are wearing the helmet of salvation, we are going to be attuned to the voice of the Lord, and we are going to have the things of eternity, or our salvation, as our priority and our direction in all that we do.  Eight times the Savior said, "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear," as he preached his gospel.  He also said, "And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things" (D&C 88:67).  Having ears to hear the Lord, and eyes single to his glory, our words will be as the words of the Lord.  "If ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels" (2 Nephi 31:13).

THE SHIELD OF FAITH

As an active defensive measure, we have the shield of faith.  A shield can protect any one of the other body parts, as an attack is waged against it.  The greater our faith, the larger and thicker the shield of protection against the wiles of the devil.  A shield requires active use, however; it is not simply a force field.  We must watch for the fiery darts, and block them with our faith.  Hard trials may come upon us, injustices may be done to us, or doubts may be inflicted upon our beliefs.  We must actively call upon our faith to endure the challenges, be healed from the hurts, or outlast the doubts.

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

Lastly we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  The sword is the only weapon needed in the battle against evil.  It is the only article of the Armour of God to be used in the offense; its purpose is not just to defend or protect, but to conquer.  "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God"  (Alma 31:5).  The preaching of the Word was very effective for Ammon and the Sons of Mosiah, and brought many Lamanites to become converts to the Church and friends of the Nephites.  "They did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren" (Alma 23:7).  The sword of the Spirit can also be effective for us against our enemies, if we use it in harmony with the breastplate of faith and love, as did Ammon with his benelovent service to the King of the Lamanites.

SOLDIERS OF CHRIST

Every bit of the Armour of God pertains directly to Jesus Christ and his Atonement, and is employed only through his grace.  The words of Alma the Younger to his son, Shiblon: "And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness"  (Alma 38:9).



(For Elder Harold B. Lee's interpretation of the armour of God [some elements of which were included here], see http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=690&tid=2, or the LDS Institute manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, p. 352-353.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #42 Continuing Revelation

(D&C 1:38; 68:1-4; 84:109-110; 107:25,34,93-98; 132:8; OD 2; OH p. 117-119; 125-127)

THE REVELATION ON THE PRIESTHOOD

June 8, 1978 a joyous letter was sent to all the local Church leaders throughout the world stating that "the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple" (Official Declaration--2). Thus ended the 140-year era when the policies of the Church withheld the blessings of the priesthood from the blacks.

Not many people know, however, that there was a very brief time period at the beginning of the Restoration, when the priesthood was denied to no man. Why did that policy of exclusivity arise, and why did it take so long for it to come full circle and allow blacks the priesthood again?

THE FIRST BLACK PRIESTHOOD HOLDER--ELIJAH ABEL (1810-1884)


"A black skin may cover as white a heart as any other skin, and the black hand may be as neat and clean as the white one, and all the trouble arises from want of familiarity with the two." --Willard Richards, 1838

Elijah Abel was a free black man who was baptized by Ezekiel Roberts in 1832, just two years after the Church was organized. He was ordained an elder on March 3, 1836, and a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy within the year. Elder Abel moved with the Saints from Kirtland to Nauvoo and was a friend to the Smith family, being one of seven elders sent to rescue the Prophet Joseph when he was arrested in Quincy, receiving a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr., and visiting Father Smith on his deathbed. He was a member of the Kirtland Safety Society; he helped build the Nauvoo Temple and the Salt Lake Temple; and he served three full-time missions, first in the 1830's, then in the 1840's, and the last in 1884, when he was 74 years old. He returned home from that last mission early because of illness, and he died on Christmas Day.

THE CULTURAL DIFFICULTIES PREVENTING EQUALITY

In 1832 when Elijah Abel joined the Church, both he and Joseph Smith were perfectly capable of understanding the concept that all men were created equal, that, as the Book of Mormon says, Christ "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female" (2 Ne. 26:33). But the rest of the world was not ready. Trouble arose. It quite soon became apparent that the social climate in America did not allow for this kind of equality. Elder Abel, in his position of priesthood authority, chastised some white women in 1843 and they were appalled and affronted. This was a potentially dangerous situation, 100 years before the Civil Rights Movement. In consequence, the Brethren decided to limit Brother Abel's ministry to those of his own race, and segregated the Cincinnati congregation where he lived. Elijah obeyed humbly, and continued to serve in that limited capacity. Later he moved to Salt Lake City. Although he was able to do some baptisms for the dead, Elder Abel's requests to receive his endowments in the temple were denied by several consecutive Church Presidents.

THE LAND OF THE FREE (WHITE MEN)

The gospel was restored in the place best prepared for it: The United States of America, the most religiously free country in the world. But it was a country that still practiced slavery. In the very early days of the Church, when Elijah Abel was ordained, this wasn't a big problem. Only a handful of blacks lived in Kirtland, and Ohio was a free state. But when the Saints moved to the regions in and around Missouri, black Church membership was a very touchy situation. Slavery was legal, and Joseph Smith's Articles of Faith stated that "we believe in honoring and sustaining the law." How does a slave join the Church, obey the Prophet, and gather with the Saints without becoming a runaway, in danger of the death penalty? Sometimes Joseph Smith solved the dilemma by buying the slave's freedom, but that couldn't always work. Surprisingly, moving the Saints to Utah did not eliminate the problem, just changed it a bit.

JOHN BROWN AND THE MISSISSIPPI SAINTS

In 1846, John Brown, a missionary to the Southern states, following the Prophet's orders, emigrated a group of 14 convert families west to join with the Saints. Yes, that date of 1846 is correct: due to lack of communication, John Brown's Mississippi saints actually went as far as present-day Colorado the year before Brigham Young and the vanguard group left Winter Quarters. When it was discovered that the rest of the Saints had wintered over in Nebraska, the Southern saints waited out the winter at a fort, and in 1847, they met up with Brigham Young's wagon train, and finished the rest of the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. And here was the challenge: These 14 families were slaveholders from Mississippi and brought their slaves with them. From day one, there were slaves in Salt Lake City.

Feb. 15, 1851, Elder Orson Hyde addressed the subject in The Millennial Star: "We feel it to be our duty to define our position in relation to the subject of slavery. There are several men in the Valley of the Salt Lake from the Southern States who have their slaves with them. There is no law in Utah to authorize slavery, neither any to prohibit it. If the slave is disposed to leave his master, no power exists there, either legal or moral, that will prevent him. But if the slave chooses to remain with his master, none are allowed to interfere between the master and the slave."

JOHN BANKHEAD

John Bankhead was a slaveholding Southern plantation owner who tried to teach his slaves to be self-sufficient. He provided each family with their own little home, a garden plot and farming equipment. He got medical care for them when needed. If one of his slaves wanted to marry a slave from another plantation, he either bought the mate or sold his slave so they could be united.

John Bankhead joined the Church, moved west with his slaves, and settled in--believe it or not--Wellsville, Utah. His slaves well provided for and looked after. Following the Civil War, he had to force some of his more loyal slaves to leave his service and accept their liberty. "Now the war is over," he said. "You must be free men." He set them up, and offered to help them in any way they needed. They, in turn, promised that they would defend him to the death.

Many years passed, as the Lord influenced people and nations to change the culture of inequality, in order to make it possible for everyone everywhere to partake freely of the full blessings of the gospel.

CONVERTS IN BLACK AFRICA

In 1965 Anthony Obinna, a black Nigerian schoolteacher and convert to Christianity, had a remarkable dream in which a man showed him the rooms inside a beautiful building. In 1971 he saw a picture of the Salt Lake Temple in the Reader's Digest magazine and recognized it as the building from his dream. He wrote to the Church for literature, read it prayerfully, and gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. Then he began writing letters, asking for baptism for himself and a congregation of believers he had taught, including his own family. There were hundreds of non-baptized Latter-day Saints meeting in other various groups in Ghana and Nigeria as well, brought to the knowledge of the gospel by the Spirit in various ways. Petitions from these saints came before President Spencer W. Kimball and weighed heavily upon his mind. As had been previously evident in the South African Mission, the Church's growth and direction would not be possible if local members could not provide priesthood leadership. In South Africa, President McKay had revised the policy from requiring potential priesthood holders to prove themselves free of black ancestory, to allowing ordination unless there was proof that there was a black ancestor. In Nigeria and Ghana, there was no doubt the unbaptized saints were completely black.

President Kimball and the Brethren studied and considered what should be done for many months. He reported, "I prayed with much fervency. I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place. Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. I wanted to do what he wanted."

Finally, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve met and all expressed their views. They felt an outpouring of the Spirit upon them. They knelt around the altar and prayed, with President Kimball as the voice. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley later recalled, "For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren...Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing...Tremendous eternal consequences for millions over the earth are flowing from that manifestation."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who had previously published his opinion that the blacks would not receive the Priesthood until the Millenium) said, "On this occasion, because of the importuning and the faith, and because the hour and the time had arrived, the Lord in his providence poured out the Holy Ghost upon the First Presidency and the Twelve in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything that any then present had ever experienced." There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Lord wanted all men to now have every blessing. And opening the temple to the living blacks also provided for every blessing to their ancestors.

JOY IN AFRICA

Immediately after this revelation was received, three missionary couples were sent to Africa. On November 21, 1978, they baptized Brother Obinna, ordained him to the priesthood, and set him apart as Africa's first black branch president. He baptized his wife, Fidelia, and set her apart as the first black Relief Society President. His two brothers were set apart as his counselors. 19 members joined that day, forming the first branch of the Church in which all members were black.

Within one year these three missionary couples baptized over 1,700 black Africans.

WHY THE WAIT?

Decades passed between the ordination of Elijah Abel (and a handful of other early black saints), and the revelation rescinding the policy that had evolved in the Church prohibiting blacks from the priesthood. Why did the black members have to wait so long for equal blessings? Let's look carefully at what President Kimball said: "I knew we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place" (emphasis added). The fact that black people, including slaves, joined the Church and endured to the end during those 130-140 years of being denied blessings is a testament to their faith and their worthiness. Although the Church leadership has never given a reason for the delay, my personal opinion is that it took much longer for the social climate to evolve in the world in which they lived so that the non-black members of the Church and society as a whole could be "ready to accept it and put it into place."

It took many years for the "want of familiarity with the two" to be alleviated.

But, step by step, it eventually was.

In March 1954, three weeks after his return from a visit to the South African Mission, President David O. McKay stated to Sterling M. McMurrin, "There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this Church that the Negroes are under a divine curse...It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed." Leonard J. Arrington reported hearing Elder Adam S. Bennion say that President McKay "had pled with the Lord without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe."

President Harold B. Lee remarked during a United Press interview, November 16, 1972: "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."

The Lord is patient with his children. He waits and works and influences ideas to change and cultures to evolve in order to bring about His purposes. He touches one person at a time, and eventually moves whole nations. Then He steps outside the constraints of time to make blessings available through vicarious temple ordinances to those who missed them in life. He works everything together perfectly to accomplish His divine plan, despite the faults and ignorance of men, and the persistent efforts of Satan. Sometimes it takes many centuries, as it did for the Restoration of the Gospel. And sometimes it only takes 130 years.


Sources:
Kate B. Carter, Negro Pioneer; History of the Church 4:365;
Leonard J. Arrington, "Mississippi Mormons," Ensign, June 1977;
Garr, et. al, Encyclopedia of L.D.S. History;
Gregory A. Prince, et.al., David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 79-80;
Marjorie Draper Conder, "A People Prepared: Latter-day Saints in West Africa," Ensign, August 1993;
Our Heritage, p. 126-127;
Anthony U. Obinna, "Story of a Nigerian Member," Liahona (Tambuli), June 1981

For the Church's official statement about the history of blacks and the priesthood, read "Race and the Priesthood."

For a brief, carefully documented treatment of this subject, see
http://en.fairmormon.org/Blacks_and_the_priesthood/Origin_of_the_priesthood_ban#endnote_lee2

For a huge and detailed treatise on President McKay's role in preparing the way for the revelation later received by President Kimball, see Gregory A. Price, et. al, "Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood," David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, University of Utah Press.

For more on the Bankhead slaves in Wellsville, Utah, go to Wellsville Historical Society.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Update on Joseph's and Emma's Posterity

I ordered the new DVD mentioned in my Lesson 40 post, and it came within days. It is a half-hour documentary, not really dramatized but with a few clips from the Emma movie. Most of it is Joseph's and Emma's descendants who are members of the Church speaking, as well as other historians, giving the history of the family briefly, and then the history of the gathering they have been doing.

As of the production time of the DVD, which was very recent, there were 129 descendants of Joseph and Emma who have joined the Church, but each time they gather, they find the number has increased. There are only about 1,000 living descendants altogether, so over one-tenth have been gathered back to the Church in these fourth and fifth generations, the generations in which it was prophecied by Elder George A. Smith that their children would return!

A few people claiming, through their family's oral history, to be descendants of Joseph Smith through plural wives have gone through DNA testing, and all have been proved not to be descended from Joseph Smith, so all of the known descendants of Joseph are Emma's children. (See http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Children_of_polygamous_marriages for explicit test results. The results are also noted in the DVD.)

"I believe that Joseph and Emma are deeply involved from beyond the veil in all the things that are unfolding in our lives today." --Gracia Jones, Great-Great Granddaughter

(Source: "Children of Joseph: The Unknown Story" DVD)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #41 Every Member A Missionary

(D&C 1:4-5,30; 65; 109:72-74; 123:12; OH p. 116-117, 124-125)

A LOVE STORY

Every missionary story is a love story, because missionary work is all about love.

"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish,
but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16)

"Beloved, if God so loved us,
we ought also to love one another."
(1 John 4:11)

"And faith, hope, charity, and love,
with an eye single to the glory of God,
qualify [us] for the work."
(D&C 4:5)
This is why we do missionary work: because we love God, we love his gospel, and we love people. But senior couple missionary stories have an extra element of love: the love of the husband and wife companions for each other.

This is that kind of a love story.

My great-uncle, James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt was born in Wellsville, Utah on July 31, 1895. He didn't look like other babies; he had a large purple birthmark that covered the entire right side of his face.  He wanted to serve in the military during World War I but was turned down because of the blindness in one eye caused by the birthmark. This was a disappointment to him.  He wanted to serve a mission for the church instead, but his father would only allow one son to serve, and that honor went to my grandfather, Jim's brother. Despite this double disappointment, Uncle Jim kept a life-long goal to serve a mission one day.

He married a kind and beautiful woman, Janette Bradshaw Bailey, and had a large family, and when that family was raised, they applied for the opportunity to serve a senior mission. With great joy they received the call to serve in the Tongan Mission. The Tongan Mission was made up of many small islands in the South Pacific. Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette were assigned to the island of Niue (nee-oo-ay), a very small land mass of 12 x 18 miles (about the size of Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border). The island of Niue is very isolated, many miles from any major island. Now it's an exotic, although remote, travel destination, served by a weekly flight on Air New Zealand, but in those days, the early '60s, the only transportation on or off the island was by boat. The ship came once a month, and left again later the same day.

In addition to teaching the gospel, Aunt Janette taught the islanders to quilt, and to play the piano for their church meetings, and to use their native fruit to make something completely new and wonderful: banana bread! Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette loved the people of Niue, and the islanders loved them.

"Now therefore, ye are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
(Eph. 2:19)


Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt & James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt
in front of a banana tree on the island of Niue, Circa 1963.

As their 18-month mission was drawing to a close, Aunt Janette was suddenly taken very ill with a heart attack. She was in severe pain.  Uncle Jim and another elder administered to her, but she got no better.  They called for the doctor, who came to their home and then rushed her to the British hospital on the island (Lord Liverpool Hospital), but they could not save Aunt Janette.  Uncle Jim held her in his arms as she suffered. Finally she relaxed in his embrace, said, "Happy birthday, Dad," and took her last breath.  He had not remembered until then that it was his birthday, July 31st, 1963.  (This was, coincidentally, the very day that I was born.  Perhaps we passed each other on the way.)

The boat had just come and gone the day before and there would be no getting on or off the island for another month. The heat of the island required a burial within 24 hours. Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt was laid to rest just outside the island church the following day. Uncle Jim conducted a beautiful funeral service for her, preached a sermon, and dedicated her grave without the comfort of his children and relatives in his grief, but he had a greater comfort, for

Neither death, nor life...
shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

Uncle Jim preached the gospel and served the people of Niue for the remainder of the month.

The boat finally came, and Uncle Jim began the long journey home without his beloved wife. It was a Sunday, and as they put out to sea, some of the sailors asked him to conduct a church service for them, and so he continued his missionary work as he traveled.  When Uncle Jim arrived home, his family and friends gathered around him and held a memorial service for Aunt Janette.

She remained buried on Niue for three years while the Church worked through the necessary red tape to bring her body back to the United States.  The Latter-day Saint islanders made her grave a shrine. They built a little picket fence around it so the animals wouldn't disturb it. They brought fresh flowers to the grave often. They had loved and respected Aunt Janette and they grieved her passing.

After I wrote this post, one of those children who shooed away chickens and dogs from her grave wrote to me.  His name is Joseph Pouha, and he was seven years old at the time.  He added a wonderful perspective to the story which I am including here.

Joseph Pouha with his wife and children

When the news hit the island that the Church hoped to exhume Aunt Janette's body, the nonmember islanders were aghast and opposed, for it was in violation of all cultural beliefs and practices to ever disturb a body, and even worse, to allow an outsider to do it.

The Church members had come through a period of terrible persecution, both physical and emotional, when this happened.  Joseph's mother, Vetesenelia "Foli" Pouha, one of the original 26 converts, had been baptized by cover of night, and was abused and disowned when her family found out.  Then she had been greatly persecuted again when she decided to marry a returned missionary and outsider from Tonga, Nafetalai "Feki" Pouha.  You may have seen a Hollywood movie about Feki's mission on the island of Tonga:  He was Elder John Groberg's companion in Disney's movie, The Other Side of Heaven.  (If you haven't seen the movie, do it! Or read Elder Groberg's book of the same name which is also wonderful and, of course, more accurate.)  Feki spent his adult life gaining the love and trust of the Niueans through his work in the construction arm of the government, his service in the Church, and his kindness and aid to other people, especially ministers of other religions.

Things had smoothed over until Aunt Janette's death and possible exhuming riled everyone up again.  There were heated conversations in meetings between the government, the other ministers and the LDS authorities.  Often it was shouted that digging up a grave was the work of tevolo (the devil), and the question was asked, what islander would dare to do such a thing?  The answer came from Feki Pouha.  He would be willing to do it.  And because of his stature among the people, because they knew his heart and his love, the act was no longer questioned and he was allowed to do it in peace, with no disturbance. A young elder who was serving a mission in Niue named David Huddy agreed to help. Since he was Hawaiian, he did not have the same cultural restraints as the Niueans.

Brother Pouha spent a week in preparation, instructing those who would help him, and making sure that all possible protocol was followed, and all reverence was observed.  A small white linen tent was erected around the grave in the mission home yard.  Little Joseph stood close by the tent and heard his father pronounce a priesthood blessing on the body of Sister Wyatt.  He gave charge to those present, "both on this side of the veil and legions of Aunty Wyatt's family on the other side of the veil to watch and take care that all would proceed with the will of God."

The casket was exhumed at night and transported in a box by bicycle to the ship in darkness, so that any Niueans taking passage on the ship would not be frightened by its presence.

Brother and Sister Huddy

When her body arrived back in Utah, a formal funeral was finally held, and she was re-buried in the Wellsville Cemetery.

"So being affectionately desirous of you,
we were willing to have imparted unto you,
not the gospel of God only,
but also our own souls,
because ye were dear unto us."
(1 Thess. 2:8)


James and Janette Wyatt served their long-awaited mission with faith and love and gave the ultimate sacrifice for the spreading of the gospel to the islands of the Pacific.  Feki and Foli Pouha have also served the Kingdom of God in many ways which are ever increasing.  Foli became the Church's first accredited Polynesian genealogist and also helped translate the Book of Mormon into the Niuean language.  Feki served missions to Tonga and Nieua, and together they served a mission to Hawaii.  Brother and Sister Pouha eventually moved to Utah where Feki, who had been very ill, died two weeks later.  When the government of Nieu heard of the passing of Brother Feki, they closed their offices for a week to honor the man that became their servant leader.  Their children and grandchildren are continuing their legacy and have served missions throughout the world, including Puerto Rico, Uganda, and Colorado.

My great thanks goes to Joseph Pouha and David Huddy for sharing "the rest of the story" with me.  As Brother Pouha wrote in his e-mail, "There is a Niuean saying, 'Koe tagata, koe tagata motu, ka koe nakai koe motu tu taha,' which means in English, 'Every man is an island, but not an island to himself.'  [Two beautiful islands] may seem far apart, separated by miles of water, but if someone could reach down deep and unplug the water, we will find that both islands [are] connected."  So it is with all peoples of the world, in all times, all children of the same Father.

(Source: Carolyn J. Wyatt with Jane Wyatt Salisbury [daughter], unpublished manuscript; additional contributions made by granddaughter, Suzanne (see comments below), and personal correspondence with Joseph Archie Pouha and David Huddy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #40 Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

EMMA SMITH'S EXAMPLE

Joseph Smith taught that "Seeking after our dead is the most important responsibility we have to perform in this life...if we neglect it, it is at the peril of our own salvation." When Joseph Smith introduced the concept of performing ordinances for the dead, one of the first women into the water was his wife, Emma. She was baptized for her father, her mother, her uncle, her sister, and her aunts, all of whom had rejected the gospel in this life. (Later, the baptisms for the men were redone by men, as that necessity had not been understood at first.)

Emma was the first woman in this dispensation to receive her temple endowment and sealing. She was also the first female ordinance worker. Throughout the year of 1843 and into the early part of 1844, she administered temple ordinances to many women, in her home and in the red brick store before the Nauvoo Temple was completed.


Emma Smith with son David,
born after Joseph was killed
from Joseph Smith Papers

ROOTS AND BRANCHES

To live, a plant must have roots and branches. A tree with branches but no roots is just a temporary decoration, and a tree with roots but no branches is a stump. The punishment to the wicked is that they will have neither; they will be as a log, disconnected from ancestry and progeny. They will be without family. "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch"(3 Nephi 25:1). Those who have the spirit of Elijah will live because they will be bound to their ancestors and to their descendants. Family history and temple work goes both directions. This is why without the sealing power the earth would be smitten with a curse (See 3 Nephi 25:6).

While Joseph Smith was alive, he and Emma taught their children the gospel. When Joseph left his family for the last time, he asked, "Emma, can you raise my sons to walk in their father's footsteps?" She cried, "Oh, Joseph! You're coming back!" He asked the same question again and she gave the same response. He asked the third time, and she began to cry. At the time of Joseph's martyrdom Julia was 13, Joseph was 11, Frederick, 8 and Alexander, 6. David would be born that fall.

After that fateful spring, most of the Smith women were widows, including three Smith brothers' wives who were widowed in connection with the martyrdom (Samuel's wife Levire, Hyrum's wife Mary Fielding, and Emma). More than two dozen Smith children were fatherless. All of them faced great hardship. It was at this point that these women made tough decisions that affected their families for generations.

At Joseph's death, Emma understandably entered into a state of depression. She had been a social, outgoing and hospitable woman, but now she withdrew from friends who desired to help her. She remained charitable, continually taking needy children into her home, and constantly serving her mother-in-law, but she kept her feelings to herself and chose to stay in Nauvoo with her mother-in-law, when the Church migrated west.

We could never place ourselves in Emma's shoes to understand or judge why, but she did not raise her children in the faith of their father as he had begged her to do. She did not teach her children anything about the gospel, and all she told the younger ones about their father was that he was a good man. Don Carlos's wife remarried and her new husband moved her away and made her promise that she would never mention that she was a member of the Church, or a sister-in-law to Joseph Smith. This was to ensure her freedom from the persecution of the past. Emma seems to have taken the same approach.


Lucy Mack Smith also stayed behind. She had three older daughters at home, and she continued to teach them the gospel, at great effort, but with no Church unit or Priesthood leadership in Nauvoo, it only lasted for one generation.

For four generations, none of Emma's and Joseph's descendants belonged to the Church, and the majority of them did not even know much about it. The Smith family tree had no permanent branches.

Meanwhile, Mary Fielding Smith took her children on to Salt Lake City amid great hardship, and lived only four years after arriving there. Prophets and apostles descended from her line, including President Joseph F. Smith, President Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

THE PROMISE TO EMMA

A few weeks before Emma died, however, she had a dream, which she related to her nurse. In the dream, Joseph took her to a beautiful mansion and showed her through many apartments. In one of the rooms she saw a baby in a cradle and recognized it as her baby, Don Carlos, who had died at age 14 months. She had previously said that he had been the hardest baby for her to lose because she had had him the longest and had more time to grow to love him. With great joy she rushed to him and snatched him up and held him tight, and asked where her other children were. Joseph replied, "Be patient, Emma, and you shall have all your children." Then Jesus Christ appeared standing beside Joseph. It seemed the heavens were smiling upon Emma for all she had endured. And yet her actions after Joseph's death had a consequence. She would have to wait for someone else to teach her children and grandchildren the gospel before they could be hers again. It would take over 100 years.

GRACIA JONES

On the 17th of March, 1956 a bud broke out on the stump of the Joseph Smith, Jr. family tree when Gracia Jones, Emma's great-great-granddaughter joined the Church. She was a teenager, and a Mormon family for whom she babysat introduced her to the gospel after she recognized the picture on their wall as her ancestor, Joseph Smith. She knew nothing of the Church. As the missionaries handed her the Book of Mormon, before she even opened the book, she was filled with a burning, and she heard the words, "It's true, it's really true."

With the zeal of a new convert, Gracia caught the Spirit of Elijah. She innocently did her four generations of genealogy and submitted the chart to Church headquarters, linking herself to Joseph and Emma. When that chart arrived in Salt Lake City, the Brethren were shocked. They sent a representative to Gracia's home in Montana. Then they encouraged her to seek out the rest of her family and bring the gospel to them, which she has taken on as a life-long mission. She has worked on both roots and branches of this family tree, doing temple work, locating relatives, traveling the world to meet them, taking them to the Legacy movie, putting their names on her huge family chart.

MIKE KENNEDY

Seventeen years later, Michael A. Kennedy, another descendant of Joseph's and Emma's, joined the Church. As a teenager, he was asked to do a school report on an ancestor. He asked his father for information. His dad brought out a box of family photos and records to the coffee table and said that some of their ancestors were famous for starting the Mormon Church. Mike decided that would make a great report, and started spreading out the materials. Just then--just then!--the doorbell rang. It was the Mormon missionaries. They were invited in. The missionaries glanced at the coffee table and were understandably surprised to see a picture of Lucy Smith. “I told them I was writing a report on my ancestry and had decided to pick a topic on some guy who started the Mormon Church,” Mike said. “They went ballistic. I think they tried to give us all six discussions in the next ten minutes.”

It took a few years, but Mike finally joined the Church as a young adult in 1973, attended BYU, married in the Provo Temple, and joined the work of gathering the family. He was the first direct descendant to become a priesthood holder. He is currently chairman of the board and president of the family historical society, which produced the wonderful feature film, "Emma Smith: My Story." (Gracia Jones is also a board member and chief historian.) The society has also produced a DVD, "Children of Joseph: The Unknown Story," about the family after Joseph's death. Their website is http://www.josephsmithjr.org/.

Emma Smith's sacrifice for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was immeasurable, and despite the choices and circumstances that left her posterity adrift from it, the promise of her deathbed dream is being realized. After four generations, the Smith family tree once again has branches. Emma's children are coming home.

(Sources: Ehat & Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 106-107; Stanley B. Kimball, On the Potter's Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball, p. 56; Hyrum L. Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, p. 147; Gracia Jones, Emma & Joseph: Their Divine Mission, p. 292; Gracia Jones, "My Great-Great Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith," Ensign, Aug. 1992, p. 30; Gracia Jones, "Choices and Consequences: Traditions of the Mothers--Lucy Mack Smith and Emma Hale Smith," BYU Campus Education Week lecture, August 23, 2001.)

To read Gracia Jones' conversion story, see My Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith in the August 1992 Ensign.

To read Michael Kennedy's conversion story, go to http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/54186
and http://www.mormontimes.com/people_news/newsmakers/?id=2590

To read Michael Kennedy's testimony, go to
http://josephsmith.net/josephsmith/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=0ec3cddbda088110VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&locale=0

For a fun article about the first huge family reunion of Joseph and Emma's descendants, follow this link.