Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #48 "The Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord"

Zechariah 10-14; Malachi

INTRODUCTION

What do a coin, an argument, and the state line have in common?  (Wait for response.) They all have two sides--which leads us right into our topic, the Second Coming.  "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5).  The Second Coming will have two sides:  it will be great on the one side, and dreadful on the other.

It is reported that President Faust was speaking at a regional Priesthood meeting.  At the end of the meeting he opened up the session for questions.  Someone raised his hand and asked what the Brethren knew about when the Second Coming would occur.  President Faust asked the man what priesthood he held.  The man said he was a high priest.  President Faust said, "Then I will fill you in on what the Brethren know:  (pause)  We haven't a clue."  But then he added, "Go to your High Priest's quorum next Sunday; I'm sure someone there will know."  (Story told by Scott B. Marsh at BYU Education Week, August 2001)

But even though President Faust didn't know when the Second Coming would be, it can't be too far away.  President Benson said, "This is the last and great dispensation in which the great consummation of God's purposes will be made, the only dispensation in which the Lord has promised that sin will not prevail.  The Church will not be taken from the earth again.  It is here to stay.  The Lord has promised it and you are a part of that Church and kingdom--the nucleus around which will be builded the great kingdom of God on the earth.  The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God on the earth will be combined together at Christ's coming--and that time is not far distant.  How I wish we could get the vision of this work, the genius of it, and realize the nearness of that great event.  I am sure it would have a sobering effect upon us if we realized what is before us."  This was originally said in the '80's and was repeated by President Hinckley in 1992 in the October General Conference.  (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 4)

THE NEW APOSTACY

The Second Coming is called "the great and dreadful day of the Lord."  It is two-sided, just like the coin and the argument.  On the one side, it will be great for the righteous, and on the other it will be dreadful for the wicked.  Of course, it's going to be great for all of us, because we are members of His Church, right?  Well, that depends on what kind of members of the Church we are. 

Christ told many parables about the Second Coming and one of them was the Parable of the Ten Virgins.  (Read Matt. 25:1-13.)  The most important thing to remember about this parable is that it is the Parable of the Ten Virgins, not the Parable of the Five Virgins and the Five Harlots!  All ten were members of the Church, members of the "wedding party."  All ten had lamps of testimony.  But five had let their lamps get low on oil, and while waiting for the "bridegroom" (the Second Coming), they were extinguished altogether.  They were drifting off to sleep and didn't even realize it was happening until it was gone!  They were victims of what Lynn Scoresby calls "The New Apostacy" (A. Lynn Scoresby, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 19, 1999).

Malachi warned of this type of apostacy.  "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my [respect]? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name.  And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?  Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee?  In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.  And if ye offer the blind [lamb] for the sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick [animals], is it not evil?" (Mal. 1:6-8) 

What is the accusation?  Perverted obedience.  It's no sacrifice to give the Lord the leftovers, the things that we didn't need anyway, the sick animals that we couldn't have eaten or sold.

"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.  Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.  But ye said, Wherein shall we return? [What did we do wrong?]  Will a man rob God?  Yet ye have robbed me.  But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?  In tithes and offerings" (Mal. 3:7-8). 

What is the accusation?  It's more than just not paying tithes.  It's not recognizing that everything belongs to God and should go for the good of His kingdom; that we are not entitled owners, but simply stewards.

"Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord.  Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?  Ye have said, It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?  And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered" (Mal. 3:13-15). 

What is the accusation?  Envying those who are not members of the church, or who are not active in their membership.  Who would do that?  Most of us at one time or another.  We get tired of church service and look at the "easier" lives of our nonmember neighbors who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings and don't have as many rules to follow.  We don't recognize the tremendous blessings that have entered our lives through our service to the Lord and our obedience to His commandments.  When something happens to us that we term to be a tragedy, we shout angrily at the Lord, "Hey!  I've been active in the church all my life!  I've read the scriptures, said my prayers, served a mission, gone to the temple, lived the Word of Wisdom!  Why did I get cancer?  Why did my house burn down?  Why did my daughter die in a car crash?  Why did my son go astray?  Look at my neighbor:  His life is perfect, and he's never gone to church!  I have been cheated!"  Instead of trusting the Lord's long-term plan for our lives and looking for lessons and blessings in trials, we blame Him for what we view as injustice or inattention.

THE DANGER OF HYPOCRISY

Let's look at another parable.  "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise.  And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father?" (Matt. 21:28-31).

Brother Scoresby defines the First Apostacy as getting angry and leaving the Church in a huff.  The Second Apostacy, he says, is to pervert the Church from within.  The Third Apostacy, or the New Apostacy, is much more subtle.  It's not really new, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years.  It's like a virgin with not quite enough oil.  It's like a sacrifice of a lamb, but a blind one.  It's like paying 8% tithing.  It's like accepting a Church calling and never getting around to doing it.  The New Apostacy is to not do what you say you believe.  It is half-heartedness.  It is hypocrisy.  It is a lack of spiritual integrity.  If the integrity of a building is compromised, it may look fine, but in a hurricane or an earthquake, it will crumble.  So with the faith of one whose spiritual integrity is not solid.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "Some people are weak in their faith and testimonies but are not even aware of how precarious their situation is.  Many of them likely would be offended at the suggestion."  He explains what their problem is: "They raise their right hand to sustain Church leaders and then murmur and complain when a decision [made by those Church leaders] does not square with their way of thinking.  They claim to be obedient to God's commandments but do not feel at all uncomfortable about purchasing food at the store on Sunday and then asking the Lord to bless it.  Some say they would give their lives for the Lord, yet they refuse to serve in the nursery.

"The Savior spoke very explicity about people who 'draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me' (Isa. 29:13).  His words were: 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."  (Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Spiritual Bonfires of Testimony," Ensign, November 1992)

Brother Scoresby notes that when there is a conflict between your belief and your action--in other words, hypocrisy--the action wins; the brain will eventually adjust the belief to match the action.  The value of other beliefs in the brain are also compromised when one belief is overridden by action.  Over time, the individual continues to lose control over his own behavior.  This is why Christ condemned hypocrisy so soundly.  It is a powerful sin because it decreases integrity and eventually leads to apostacy.  It compromises the soundness of the spirit, it undermines the foundation of faith.

DEVELOPING SPIRITUAL INTEGRITY

How can we develop spiritual integrity, or help our children do it?  Most of us as children, if we were in good homes, developed the foundation for integrity, which forms the foundation upon which we can build spiritual integrity.  (This chart is my interpretation of the principles taught by Lynn Scoresby.) 

Keep in mind, these stages overlap, and we are often working on several of them at once.

Development of Personal and Spiritual Integrity
1. Adapting emotional behavior
    First, we learned to adapt our emotional behavior to the situation. 
    As infants we were more excited to see our mothers than to see a
    stranger, for example.
2. Adjusting language to situation
    Then we learned to adjust our language to different situations,
    such as learning to be reverent in Primary.
3. Self-regulation
    And we learned how to regulate ourselves in sports or in playing
    games or in restaurants to adhere to the rules or the social
    expectations.  Most children have reached this stage by about
    age five.  

At stage 4, we can begin to develop our spiritual integrity:

4. Formation and application of conscience
    "Put your trust in that spirit that leadeth to do good..."
     (D&C 11:12)
    The next step is to learn to listen to our conscience and recognize
    the direction of the Spirit.  This is the stage we would hope to
    have children reach by the age of accountability when they are
    baptized.  We continue to build on the ability to hear and follow
    the guidance of the Spirit throughout our lives.
5. Accurate view of self
    "I show unto men their weakness..." (Ether 12:27)
    We must also be able to recognize the truth about ourselves,
    without being afraid of what we might find, and then go to the
    Lord with repentant hearts.
6. Practice and internalize beliefs
    "Write it in your hearts..." (Prov. 3:1-4)
    Over the course of our lives, we must daily internalize our beliefs
    through our experiences; we must practice obedience to God
    until it becomes "second nature."
7. Change circumstances to match belief
    "Faith to move mountains..."  (Prov. 3:5; Matt. 21:21)
    Then we gain the ability to change circumstances based on our
    beliefs, rather than changing our beliefs to fit the circumstances;
    we use our faith in Jesus Christ to work for improvement in our
    world, to heal, to receive answers to prayer, to exercise the gifts
    of the Spirit, to change lives, even to work miracles.
8. Integrity and compassion
    "This is my work and my glory..." (3 Ne. 28:9-10; Moses 1:39)
    Finally, we reach a state of spiritual integrity: behavior that is
    consistent with belief.  In this stage, we truly live with charity
    and peace, wherein we love God so much that, not only do we
    trust Him, but we are one in purpose with Him, meaning that our
    top priority is always the temporal welfare and spiritual growth of
    those within our influence.  This is the effect of a celestialized
    person.

If we look carefully at ourselves, we may be able to find what is holding us back.  Instead of the positive development noted above, we may be stymied by acting in ways that are detrimental to our spiritual integrity, such as in the examples below.

4. Formation and application of conscience.
    We don't always listen to the Holy Ghost, trust what it says to do,
    or follow through on promptings.
5. Accurate view of self. 
    We are too prideful to recognize any error, or don't want to go
    through the storm of repentance to get to the peace of
    forgiveness.
6. Practice and internalize beliefs.
    We pick and choose which commandments to keep, or we keep
    them under our own terms like Cain did when he sacrificed grain
    instead of a lamb (Gen. 4:3-5).  We keep the commandments
    only if it doesn't require us to give up anything important, like
    offering a blind lamb as a sacrifice (Mal. 1:8).  We don't think the
    Brethren know what they're talking about it regarding some of
    their counsel to us, or we think we are an exception.
7. Change circumstances to match belief.
    We say we have faith in Jesus Christ, but we don't believe He
    can or will help us with this particular problem/church calling/
    weakness/sin/relationship. We look at our planner each morning
    and freak out, rather than trusting the Lord to guide us to do the
    most important things.  We second-guess the Lord's wisdom,
    and try to tell Him what to do in our prayers, rather than seeking
    to know His will.  We interpret unplanned events (accidents,
    illnesses, financial losses, etc.) to be tragedies, rather than
    potential blessings and stepping stones in our progression.  We
    look to the future fearfully, not remembering that our lives and
    our earth are cradled in God's hands. 
8. Integrity and compassion.
    We go to church, we read the scriptures, we carry out church
    callings, but we can't stand our relative/neighbor/coworker.  We
    gossip or judge.  We are jealous or judgmental.  We feel a
    constant sense of competition, as if to "win the prize" of celestial
    glory (Mosiah 4:27) we must beat our ward members to it, as if
    the Lord graded on a curve.  We continually break the great
    commandment to "love our neighbor as ourselves."

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRITY AT THE GREAT AND DREADFUL DAY OF THE LORD

Read Malachi 3:1-4.  Do we want the Second Coming to be great for us, or to be terrible?  It's a no-brainer, but it's a question we need to ask ourselves every day in order to avoid the New Apostacy.  Do we want to be one of the five wise virgins, or one of the five unprepared virgins?  The days ahead will be a challenge to testimony, and those that are just a flicker will go out.  Those who have been hypocrites and not realized it will find that their "hearts fail them."  They will not be able to abide the Day of His Coming.  Their compromised foundations will crumble.  But those who have the integrity to stay on the Lord's side, who have built their lives upon the Rock, will be saved. 

"Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.  And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.  Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Mal. 3:16-18).

"And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver" (D&C 45:56-59).

CHALLENGE

The New Year is upon us.  What better time to examine ourselves prayerfully, determine where our spiritual integrity is lacking, and make a resolution to strengthen that foundation?

1 comment:

Linda C said...

Wow, Nancy. I didn't know you were doing a doctrine blog. I enjoy your insight. It was a little "heavy" for my primary 9 year olds, but in essence the lesson we had was the same. Now I just need to reexamine my own actions to have enough oil. Thanks for the thoughts and quotes.