Saturday, October 15, 2011

Favorite Book of 2011 (is it too soon to judge?)

I recently finished the latest book by Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism. I believe I can say with some degree of certainty that (so far) it is my favorite book of the year. I posted a review on which states: 

"A marvelously written book. I wondered how much of this would be in PPP's Autobiography. There was some usage of the Autobiography (which is to be expected and required). However, there was a great deal of new information. The authors also did a great job of incorporating PPP's writings into the narrative and gave context to them in relation to his life. The biography of Brother Parley is a worthy companion to the Autobiography. It was clear to me that there is a genuine affection that the authors have for their subject. On the one hand, they did not seek to only share the perspective of PPP that you get from his Autobiography. On the other hand, they are willing to share the other side and what his contemporaries felt, wrote, and said about him. A very honest book. A book written with admiration. I felt it was in the same vein as John Adams by McCullough. I highly recommend reading this book."

I had the chance to have lunch with Terryl yesterday (October 13) with a few other people at the Wheatley Institution. It was a great experience and the conversation was fun. I am sure that I will post my review of my favorite books of the year soon (let's get at least closer to the end of year), but so far, this book is it! I cannot recommend it highly enough. The read was fast and exciting. If you read it, let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


This last Sunday was my first time speaking as a high councilor. It was a bit strange to speak to a different ward after having given so many talks in my ward as the bishop. But I think it went well. Just for fun, I am posting my talk. I believe I took about 14 minutes and didn't use everything I prepared (as usual).

My usual pattern is to study everything I can on the assigned topic, think and pray about it, create an outline with some of the doctrines that I want to include along with scriptural references and statements from the Brethren, then I write everything out. After that I spend substantial time reading and rereading the talk. Once I get up to give the talk, I may refer to the talk but usually I have become familiar enough with the material that I am not absolutely reliant on my written talk. Of course, I still use it but my dependence is lessened.

August 21, 2011
Matthew B. Christensen
Provo Peak 2nd Ward, High Council Speaking Assignment, Provo East Stake

I bring with me the love and greetings of the Stake Presidency. I have worked with them for several years in various capacities and have always been impressed with the depth of affection and concern each of them possess for each of us. I know it is made possible in part because of the lives they live and in a larger measure because of the priesthood keys President Christiansen carries in righteousness.

As you know, the Stake theme for this year is based around 2 Nephi 31:20. “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” My assignment from the Stake Presidency is to focus on the monthly sub-theme for August: “making and keeping Temple covenants.”

I have always found it instructive to note that the word “religion” has its roots in two words, RE and LIG. The LIG is the same root that gives us the word ligament. Of course a ligament is what attaches or binds or connects bones to bones. And so, using that idea, RE-LIGION is a way that re-attaches or binds or reconnects us to God. And nowhere does that happen with more validity and power than in the making and keeping of sacred Temple covenants.  

God our Father has required us to enter into covenants, while other religions and the world asks us to make commitments. Covenants have the force of heaven, commitments are authored by man. Covenants are scriptural, while the word commitment does not find place in the scriptures or ordinances. For example, for many decades there has been a movement in the United States that asked its adherents to “make a commitment for Christ.” I believe these people are honest and devoted to what they believe. However, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is not a commitment that we are asked to make. Rather, God has required that we make a covenant. It is a covenant relationship with our Redeemer and His Father that will save us, not a manufactured commitment.

Covenants are an evidence of the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel. In fact, from the various accounts of the First Vision we learn that the Lord told Joseph Smith that “I must join none of [the churches], for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt because all of them were mistaken in their doctrine and not recognized by God as his church and kingdom [because] the Everlasting Covenant was broken.” (Christensen, “Music Ringing,” emphasis mine, p. 14.)

And then in a process to correct that “brokenness,” those “everlasting covenants,” were restored to the earth by Joseph Smith. I testify that on that early spring morning in 1820, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. It was real and it really happened. The more I testify of its reality the more it becomes a part of who I am and informs how I approach the restored gospel and the world.

The Lord’s People Are a Covenant People
We are the Lord’s people. His people have always been a covenant people. Of course, in order to become His people, we must first enter into a covenant.

The Lord desires that we go to the Temple and enter into sacred covenants through the ordinances there. The Lord told Joseph Smith, “Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.” (D&C 84:2, emphasis mine.) Or in other words, the Lord says that one of the reasons for the restoration of the gospel in the last days was to bring people to the Temple to make covenants with God. It is as simple and as important as that!

Covenants and Blessings of the Temple
It is no accident that salvific covenants are always associated with the ordinances of salvation. Indeed, the only way to enter into a covenant is through a saving ordinance. In the Bible Dictionary we are taught, “God in his good pleasure fixes the terms [of the covenant], which man accepts.” With that knowledge, coupled with the realization that ordinances and covenants are related, there is no reason for us to manufacture our own covenants in an attempt to bind God to them (or us). Indeed, I cannot imagine a covenant and its associated blessings that is not already encompassed in the covenants God has proscribed.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once taught: “If our people could only learn to live by these [baptismal and temple] covenants, everything else would take care of itself, I am satisfied. We would not have to worry about sacrament meeting attendance. We would not have to worry about willingness to serve missions. We would not have to worry about divorce and the many requests for cancellation of temple sealings. We would not have to worry about any of those things.” (Meeting with General Authorities and Wives, April 10, 1996.)

Remember, President Hinckley said these things would not be a worry if we as Latter-day Saints could learn to live our covenants. That is a “bold saying” as the scriptures would tell it. (D&C 128:9.)

While I served as the bishop of the 5th ward, I would have the opportunity to counsel with members. I was able to see first-hand the blessings that came from making and keeping Temple covenants as well as the devastation that followed the breaking of the same covenants.

On one occasion a couple came in and taught me something that I have never forgotten. I had been bishop for about two years. Usually, the member making the confession would come in alone and then, if married and appropriate, I would encourage that the spouse come in the next time. But on this occasion, the husband and wife came in together in the first place. I eventually asked why she came in with her husband—she was of course welcome, I was just not used to it—and her response was profound and sincere, “I made covenants in the Temple with my husband and God. We are in this together. How can I hope that he would help me keep my covenants if I am not willing to help him keep his? I love him and our covenants. They will keep us together.”

I know that because of her willingness to live her covenants, she was able to assist him in the process of applying the atoning blood of Christ in his life and overcome his sin and fully repent. As President Howard W. Hunter taught, “Whatever Jesus lays His hands upon lives. If Jesus lays His hands upon a marriage, it lives. If He is allowed to lay His hands on the family, it lives.” (1979 General Conference.) I believe that one of the most profound ways Jesus can “lay his hands” on us is through the making and keeping of Temple covenants.

An important exercise might be to consider the covenants entered into and their direct relationship with the blessings that will eventually be obtained. For example:
  • As we keep the Law of Obedience there is the promise of a Messiah and forgiveness of our sins.
  • As we keep the Law of Sacrifice and give everything up, we will one day receive everything and become omnipotent.
  • As we keep the Law of Chastity we are promised one day to have eternal increase of seed and posterity, becoming omnipresent.
  • And finally as we keep the Law of Consecration and dedicate all that we are and have to the Kingdom of God and its cause, we will one day have the Father of us all dedicate all that He has to us.
Wlder Bruce R. McConkie has taught: “With reference to temples, it would be a good thing to have a good perspective, which is this: temples are for the living. Now we think that temples are for the dead… but primarily temples are for the living. Temples are so that I can get married for eternity, and my children can get married for eternity. That’s what temples were for from Adam to Christ. There was no work for the dead [during that time]. The thing that’s wonderful about a temple to me is first: that it’s for me. That’s where my interests lie. It’s second that it’s for my dead ancestors. [We would] build temples if we couldn't find a single name anywhere to do work for, because you’ve got to have temples for the living.” (A Man Raised Up: The Teachings of Bruce R. McConkie, 10:362, emphasis in original transcription.)

We often talk about “being born in the covenant,” but rarely talk about what that means. To explain this, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught there were three blessings associated with being “born in the covenant”:

“It may be asked, what is the advantage coming to those born under the covenant? Being heirs they have claims upon the blessings of the gospel beyond what those not so born are entitled to receive. [1] They may receive a greater guidance, [2] a greater protection, [3] a greater inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord.” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:90.)

It is a magnificent blessing that in the Temple when parents are sealed to their children, they are promised everything “as if they had been born under the covenant.”

How We Keep Covenants
There is safety in the covenants of the Temple. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “If we will keep our covenants, the covenants will keep us spiritually safe” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 71). When I was serving as the bishop of my ward, I cannot think of a single instance when a confession of sin was not associated with the breaking of a covenant. On the other hand, some of the greatest joys and happiness’s I ever experienced during those seven years was witnessing the manner in which members prepared for, made, and kept sacred Temple covenants.

We are also expected to keep covenants when it comes to callings in the Church. We keep them by sustaining our brothers and sisters as well as accepting them from our leaders.

[IF TIME PERMITS (it did not): President Boyd K. Packer has shared the following story on a couple of occasions:
“Several years ago I installed a stake president in England. In another calling, he is here in the audience today. He had an unusual sense of direction. He was like a mariner with a sextant who took his bearings from the stars. I met with him each time he came to conference and was impressed that he kept himself and his stake on course.
“Fortunately for me, when it was time for his release, I was assigned to reorganize the stake. It was then that I discovered what that sextant was and how he adjusted it to check his position and get a bearing for himself and for his members.
“He accepted his release, and said, ‘I was happy to accept the call to serve as stake president, and I am equally happy to accept my release. I did not serve just because I was under call. I served because I am under covenant. And I can keep my covenants quite as well as a home teacher as I can serving as stake president.’
“This president understood the word covenant.
“…He… had learned that exaltation is achieved by keeping covenants, not by holding high position.
“The mariner gets his bearing from light coming from celestial bodies—the sun by day, the stars by night. That stake president did not need a mariner’s sextant to set his course. In his mind there was a sextant infinitely more refined and precise than any mariner’s instrument.
“The spiritual sextant, which each of us has, also functions on the principle of light from celestial sources. Set that sextant in your mind to the word covenant or the word ordinance. The light will come through. Then you can fix your position and set a true course in life.” (“Covenants,” April 1987 General Conference, emphasis in original.)]

I believe that it takes faith to accept a call and sometimes more faith to accept a release. But because we have made covenants that is precisely what is expected of us and is what we do. I have wondered what it means about our understanding of covenants when we refuse or moan about our callings. It would seem that the manner in which we serve in our callings reflects our personal understanding of covenants—particularly those of the Temple.

A Challenge/Charge to Make & Keep Covenants
There is no question that at times it is a challenge to not only keep our covenants but to live them. I feel I am being tested right now. It is nothing too serious but for me it is a test and I hope I pass. One of the things that I believe is involved in my own personalized tutorial from the Lord is to see if I am willing to really keep the covenants I have made. For the last seven years of my life, I asked and helped others keep their covenants; and because of the visible and demanding nature of my previous calling it was been relatively easy for me to keep my covenants.

But now, when no one is looking, when no one is expecting me to keep them because I am not under the same scrutiny, will I do it? Will I keep them? Of course, I will keep the “big” covenants (such as chastity, Word of Wisdom, etc.). But will I keep what I consider to be the highly personalized covenants (meeting attendance in relation to my calling, Temple worship, three-hours at Church, consecration)? I hope so. My hope and prayer is to one day gather my family together and look each of them in the eyes and tell them that I have been true and faithful in keeping my covenants. All of them!

President Howard W. Hunter taught: “Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. We should hasten to the temple as frequently, yet prudently, as our personal circumstances allow. We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that is within those hallowed and consecrated walls. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience.” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” May 1995 Ensign, emphasis added.)

Because we are a covenant people, and we make covenants together in front of witnesses and angels and even God, we are also a covenant community. It is proper that covenants are personal. However, it also seems right that covenants are a community experience and as such we have an obligation to help our covenant partners and neighbors keep them. This does not mean we break down doors and check to see if people are properly wearing garments. It does not mean that we demean or unrighteously judge someone when they do not appear to be living their covenants. It does not mean that we take advantage of others because they have entered into the same covenants as us. This is not appropriate behavior for members of a covenant community such as ours.

To live in a covenant community means when a couple we love has a marriage that is falling apart and appears to be salvageable, we encourage them to keep their covenants. When a youth we know is struggling we express love and encouragement. When a dear friend is having a hard time with his or her calling, we step in and offer support and help. And finally, if we are aware that someone in our community we made a covenant to comfort, to mourn with, or to strengthen is falling down in any way—we not only offer our assistance but perhaps go to a priesthood key holder and in love, offer our assistance in the loved ones behalf. This is all part of living in a covenant community.

I know of a group of sisters who regularly attend the Temple in a ward in our stake. They invite sisters that perhaps haven’t been to the Temple in a long time, or a sister that is struggling with the Temple itself to attend with them. A wonderful thing has happened, the sisters (both those who organize the weekly outing and the sisters that are invited to attend) have begun to love one another and the Temple to a greater degree and they attend the Temple often together. From my perspective, all of these sisters understand their covenants and know what it is to make and keep them—both individually and collectively in a community.  

In the end, when I am asked, “What do you remember when you have forgotten everything about covenants,” I can at least say:
  • Covenants are the means by which God places you and me under formal contract that if we keep the covenant, He will exalt us.
  • That we “will receive all that the Father hath.” (D&C 84:38.) That nothing will be withheld from us.
  • That we will be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) and “to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 107:19.)
  • That by being true and faithful to our covenants we may be chosen, called up, and anointed Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses to the Most High God.
That we may all make and keep our Temple covenants is my determined prayer, in the sacred and redeeming name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why the Prophet is so important to LDS

My wife and I and our family are visiting a different state and attended Church today with some extended family. The gospel doctrine instruction was quite good. Though I was surprised by the confusion generated when, in the context of Church organization and government, the teacher asked who would be the most important person. The question (and answer) seemed straight-forward enough): the Prophet, the one who holds and exercises all priesthood keys. Members starting giving the most random answers that the most important person is a child, or the humble, or... Now, these are all good answers, but they are not in context with the lesson (Church administration) and don't answer the question. When the instructor clarified his point (again restating that he is referring to the Church organizationally), some people then said that it would be followers that are the most important in the Church, the idea being you can't have a prophet without followers. I tossed in my two cents, trying to explain the fallacy of such an argument (no followers = no prophet). If anything else, I felt that perhaps this was worth an entry.

I used Joseph Smith as my example. I said that if he didn't have any followers, it would not change the fact that the Father and the Son appeared to him. If no one sustained him as the prophet, it would not change the fact that Peter, James, and John, as well as John the Baptist and many other angels (later) came to Joseph and gave him priesthoods, authorities, and keys. And so it seems that if the Prophet Joseph Smith didn't have any followers, it would not mean that he was no longer a prophet; rather it would mean that he wouldn't have any followers. More likely, if Joseph Smith had't been sustained or upheld by his followers, he could not have been their president. But in the extremely unlikely (and clearly moot) event that this would have happened (for arguments sake), Joseph and Oliver would have been lead by the Lord to another group of people who would have sustained them both as their duly authorized leaders.

Another part of this argument (again, no followers = no prophet) that is inherently mistaken in its line of thinking, is the seeming absence of an understanding of priesthood keys. I wish I had had time to explain this, but not being the teacher, obviously it was not my place. The whole LDS position is based on the principle that there was a general and universal apostasy after the Twelve Apostles were taken from the earth in the Meridian Dispensation (and in the Last Dispensation those priesthood keys were restored to Joseph Smith). With the absence of the Apostles, priesthood keys were also removed from the earth. I do not believe that the sincerity of the early Christians in general wavered. However, sincerity does not make up for the loss of priesthood keys and authority. And so to contend that in a Church administration and discussion on priesthood government, the followers are key is a contention that betrays a lack of understanding of the doctrine of priesthood keys. At best.

Now, of course, it is more likely that the other members of the class simply misunderstood the instructors' question. In fact, it seems that if he had restated his question, or even said it differently, everyone in the room would have nodded their heads and we would have moved on. Instead, people weren't listening and we spent too long going over something that we have all known and understood since we were in Primary. Probably.

In the end, regardless of the reasons for the confusion, it was a very good opportunity to once again think about the reasons for the Restoration and the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ restored through his prophet, Joseph Smith, Jun.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Scriptures are the Standard

It has been my experience that when the Lord wants to hide something from His people, He puts it in the scriptures.

In any case, it is wise to remember the words of our leaders regarding the use of the Standard Works. President Joseph Fielding Smith once said,

"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.
"You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the reveled word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4.)

Furthermore, President Harold B. Lee has taught,

"All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures.… We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works.… If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 148-9.)

And on another occasion he said,

"We have the standard Church works. Why do we call them standard? If there is any teacher who teaches a doctrine that can’t be substantiated from the standard church works—and I make one qualification, and that is unless that one be the President of the Church, who alone has the right to declare new doctrine—then you may know by that same token that such a teacher is but expressing his own opinion. If, on the other hand, you have someone teaching a doctrine that cannot be substantiated by the scriptures, and more than that, if it contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know that that person is teaching false doctrine, no matter what his position in this church may be. The President of the Church alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer nor any other church in the world has this high and lofty prerogative. When the President proclaims any such new doctrine, he will declare it to be a revelation from the Lord.” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 149.)

Brigham Young, once speaking on the principle of the revealed word of the Lord to His people said,

"When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiff-necked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little." (JD 9:311.)

The need for modern revelation cannot be understated. When speaking to a BYU audience in 1959, Elder Spencer W. Kimball said that “Revelation today is common, continuous, and compelling.” (That You May not be Deceived, n.p., emphasis mine.) When considering the importance of the Revelations of the Restoration and their place in the Standard Works, it would be well for us to remember an experience from Church History, as recorded by Parley P. Pratt:

"While visiting with brother Joseph in Philadelphia, a very large church was opened for him to preach in, and about three thousand people assembled to hear him. Brother Rigdon spoke first, and dwelt on the Gospel, illustrating his doctrine by the Bible. When he was through, brother Joseph arose like a lion about to roar; and being full of the Holy Ghost, spoke in great power, bearing testimony of the visions he had seen, the ministering of angels which he had enjoyed; and how he had found the plates of the Book of Mormon, and translated them by the gift and power of God. He commenced by saying: ‘If nobody else had the courage to testify of so glorious a message from Heaven, and of the finding of so glorious a record, he felt to do it in justice to the people, and leave the event with God.’
The entire congregation were astounded; electrified, as it were, and overwhelmed with the sense of the truth and power by which he spoke, and the wonders which he related. A lasting impression was made; many souls were gathered into the fold. And I bear witness, that he, by his faithful and powerful testimony, cleared his garments of their blood. Multitudes were baptized in Philadelphia and in the regions around; while, at the same time, branches were springing up in Pennsylvania, in Jersey, and in various directions.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 260.)

I know those are just a bunch of quotes. But they are really really good quotes. I wish that our teachers would feel more comfortable with reading and teaching from the scriptures. I think the teachers in my ward are actually really good about this. In fact, I think that the more comfortable the teachers are with the scriptures, the more often they will be in the scriptures. I have absolutely noticed that when there is a lesson in my ward that has been doctrinally rooted and scripturally founded, the stronger the Holy Spirit is in the classroom.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts on Priesthood Keys

A week before (July 3, 2011) I was released as the Bishop of my ward (July 10, 2011), our Elders Quorum President invited me to teach a lesson on Priesthood Keys. What follows is my lesson outline. You will notice that I had a forward that asked that the brethren in the Quorum not make comments. I had not done that before and don't that I will ever do it again. However, because of my limited time that day (and ultimately as bishop of the ward) I felt that questions would be more appropriate in this case rather than comments. I hope that there may be something useful here that will benefit you.

I am going to ask that you not make comments. Rather, if you have an honest question please feel free to pose it. Otherwise I will ask that you please refrain from making comments. My time is more limited than we realize and I want to be sure I express myself wholly and completely on this vital topic.

Scriptural Foundation
D&C 43:7 – Keys holders and all others that minister to the Saints must come in at the gate. This is similar in principle to John 10:1-2, though Christ’s words in John are more to the point.

Joseph Smith taught: “The fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” (HC 1:338.)

  • Key: locks or unlocks doors.
  • Priesthood: the power and authority of God.
  • Priesthood Key: the power and authority to lock and unlock Gods blessings. They are the “right of presidency” (D&C 107:8) or the right to preside.
  • Key Holder: one who presides (a president) by right of authority, who oversees and authorizes the specific saving ordinances over which he presides in a geographic area.
    • It is important to note that Priesthood Keys are geographic. This is why it is so important to observe ward boundaries, as silly as that may seem.
Why Priesthood Keys
  • I believe that Keys were lost in the Great Apostasy
  • Keys are what were restored to Joseph Smith (always with a witness)
  • Keys are what enables us to access the redemptive powers of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Without Keys we would just be another Christian church that teaches good things
  • Keys ensure that the Lord's house is always a house of order. Without Keys confusion would reign (D&C 132:8)

Some Examples of Correct Principles
  • Sacrament Meeting (Can all men hold a sacrament meeting? What about when traveling? What if your wife suggests you stay home and hold a nice romantic sacrament meeting?)
  • Revelation (counsel, blessings, direction, etc.)
  • Callings and Announcements—and why they ought to be kept confidential (Law of Common Consent and who has the right to extend calls and releases)
  • Bishops says one thing and Stake Primary Presidency says another… (What to do?)
  • Elders Quorum and High Priest Group Leaders are stake callings, yet they must absolutely check all callings through the Bishop… (Why?)

What does it mean to me to hold keys?
·         Paul and Ananias (Acts 9:1-18) “Jesus had come from the courts of glory to chasten and reprove Saul. Why, then, did not the Lord tell his future minister how to turn from the error of his ways? Why appear to him without delivering the whole message? Simply because the Lord had a servant named Ananias whose commission and work it was to teach and baptize Paul. The presiding officer of heaven and earth would not overstep the bounds of his own laws. He had delegated power to his local officer to handle matters of this sort and to him even the future apostle to the Gentiles must apply for counsel and direction.” (DNTC 2:90.)
·         It means the Lord has asked that I be His steward for a time and a season to act in his behalf for the salvation (both temporal and eternal, both short-term and long-term) of the members of our ward.

What does it mean to me that others do not hold keys?
·         Rights of revelation are limited to spiritual and physical geography.
·         Wilford Woodruff: “The spirit of revelation belongs to the priesthood” (Collected Discourses, April 8, 1894)
·         Joseph Smith, “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” (Teachings, p. 21)
·         What do you do if an angel appears? What should his message be? (The same as Christ’s to Paul to go find Ananias.)

How should we treat those that hold keys?
·         They are men, imperfect and more aware of their own faults than anyone else could point out.
·         With respect and deference to the keys and office and calling that relate to those keys.
·         With prayers and sustaining (D&C 107:22)
·         President John Taylor said with typical boldness, “You cannot say that you submit to the law of God while you reject the word and counsel of his servants.” (Journal of Discourses 7:325.)

Not Observing Priesthood Channels and Keys can lead to apostasy:
·        President Kimball taught the following:
Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people; and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but mete often against the leaders.
They who garnish the sepulchers of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones; they return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present….
Apply this to modern times…. Many budding apostates follow the pattern progressively. They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little “off the beam.” Soon they claim that the leaders are making changes and not following the original programs. Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fal­len. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. He is likely now to join [others and perhaps] groups who are slipping away. He… is flattered by the evil one that he knows more about the scriptures and doctrines than the Church leaders who, he says, are now persecuting him. He generally wants all the blessings of the Church: membership, its Priest­hood, its temple privileges, and expects them from the leaders of the Church, though at the same time claiming that these leaders have departed from the path. He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex and when finally [Church discipline] comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop or strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for him­self; revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifesta­tions are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims. He is now becoming quite independent.
He fails to recognize that if the Church had gone astray, and if its authorities were “off the beam,” that he could get no authority from them or from anywhere else….
Some of these people disappointed, perhaps ignored in their ambitions, hungry for leader­ship, are deceivers of the first order. To them there is little help we can give. (That You May Not Be Deceived, BYU Devotional, November 11, 1959, n.p.)
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line [of revelation], they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders. In this they mirror the modern hostility to what is disparagingly called “organized religion.” Those who reject the need for organized religion reject the work of the Master, who established His Church and its officers in the meridian of time and who reestablished them in modern times.” (Two Lines of Communication.)
  • D&C 124:45-46 – if we do not hearken to the First Presidency and those they have appointed, we “shall not be blest.” This is the same principle found in D&C 1:38 (“whether by my own voice or the voice of my servant it is the same.”)

Keys are Designed to Bless Us
  • Baptism (both of water and fire)
  • Sacrament (D&C 20:77, 79)
  • Repentance (D&C 13)
  • Revelation and Counsel (Heavens continue to be Open and Accessible to us through Keys)

In the end, all keys belong to God. At the last day, all keys will be given back to Christ. For example Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:

“This gathering of the children of Adam, where the thousands, and the tens of thousands are assembled in the judgment, will be one of the greatest events this troubled earth has ever seen. At this conference, or council, all who have held keys of dispensations will render a report of their stewardship. Adam will do likewise, and then he will [surrender] to Christ all authority. Then Adam will be confirmed in his calling as the prince over his posterity and will be officially installed and crowned eternally in this presiding calling. Then Christ will be received as King of kings, and Lord of lords. We do not know how long a time this gathering will be in session, or how many sessions may be held at this grand council. It is sufficient to know that it is a gathering of the Priesthood of God from the beginning of this earth down to the present, in which reports will be made and all who have been given dispensations (talents) will declare their keys and ministry and make report of their stewardship according to the parable. Judgment will be rendered unto them for this is a gathering of the righteous, those who have held and who hold keys of authority in the Kingdom of God upon this earth. It is not to be the judgment of the wicked. When all things are prepared and every key and power set in order with a full and perfect report of each man’s stewardship, then Christ will receive these reports and be installed as rightful Ruler of this earth. At this grand council he will take his place by the united voice of the thousands who by right of Priesthood are there assembled. This will precede the great day of destruction of the wicked and will be the preparation for the Millennial Reign” (The Progress of Man, 3rded. [1944], 481–82; see also Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [1982], pp.578–88).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Priesthood Keys and Callings

I have had the privilege of weekly praying about callings in my ward for nearly eight years while I have served in the bishopric. Almost seven of them has been as the bishop. I have always maintained an awareness of the importance of obtaining the mind and will of the Lord in regards to callings. I know I was “called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands,” and it is my feeling that each and every member of our ward should expect to have the same assurance. (Article of Faith 5.) Likewise, I am constantly impressed that God cares about each of us, even in what some may mistakenly consider minor things such as callings. The Author of the Plan of Salvation, the Architect of worlds without end, the very Father of Christ has time and concern enough to involve Himself in the affairs and lives of the members of the Provo Peak 5th Ward.

Sometimes I am asked why it is that we are to keep the announcement of the call or release private, even from close family members, until it is publicly announced over the pulpit. Some presume this to be a tradition in the Church and is not very important. I have thought about this question for a long time and have come to a few conclusions which deal with authority, revelation, and Priesthood Keys. The following will use callings as the example, but releases from callings should be equally applied. It has been my experience and observation when calls and releases are announced in the proper place and time it promotes increased faith in local leaders and the calling process and that to do so otherwise damages or at least impairs a member’s faith in those same things.

Because the generality of callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are done with the approval of the bishop of a ward, or president of a stake, they are necessarily done under the direction of Priesthood Keys. When a key holder kneels in prayer and exercises the Priesthood Keys given him by one having authority under the direction of the President of the Church, and inquires of God as to what to do about a certain calling and potential candidates that might serve in that calling, he is entitled to and receives revelation. I am a witness of this choice and sacred experience and testify that it is common practice in my ward.

Acting on that revelation and in harmony with counselors, the calling is prepared to be extended. When the key holder establishes that a candidate is worthy and willing to keep covenants, he extends the calling. In my experience, I cannot recall a time when a calling was not accepted when I extended it. I do not know if my experience has been unusual in this regard. I have heard of some bishops who extend a calling and it is declined. I am grateful that my experience has been so positive and give credit to the members of our ward who love, live, keep, and understand their covenants. And so, as is customary and barring any unusual and unforeseen circumstances, the brother or sister accepts the opportunity to serve and thereby recognizes personal and intimate revelation at work in his or her life.

Just as callings ought to be extended with dignity and respect and tact and love, so should the sustaining be conducted. And as the calling is extended by the right authority so should it be announced and asked for a sustaining vote by the same. Any effort to circumvent the Lord’s approved order and channel is at best clumsy, displaying a lack of understanding the doctrines at hand, and at worst a usurpation of ill-gotten authority that really never existed with that person in the first place. When a calling is announced over the pulpit by the right person, exercising the proper authority, under the direction of Priesthood Keys and revelation, it provides each member the opportunity to receive in their hearts the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost that the individual is indeed called by God. When this opportunity is deprived the members, because a member feels the need to share the impending call with friends that have no right to know yet, the Spirit is not given the opportunity to testify to the congregation that the individual being sustained is indeed called of God. A revelation to Joseph Smith teaches us that when someone is called to serve, “he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate” (D&C 43:7). On another occasion Christ taught, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:1-2.) There are a couple of ways this could be taught, but for our purposes and in this context, all callings must come in through the front door and if it is by any other means the Lord is not pleased.

We are blessed to live in a day when we possess the Gift of the Holy Ghost and can receive personal revelation. We also live in a day when Priesthood Keys are on the earth and in our stake and ward boundaries, providing for us the privilege to have institutional revelation. It should be remembered that the Law of Common Consent—the privilege to manifest a sustaining vote—is not a democratic vote but rather a vote to demonstrate confidence in our leaders’ ability to receive revelation and speak for God. It ought to be seen as an opportunity to express our willingness to abide by and follow and accept institutional revelation in the Provo Peak 5th Ward (cf. D&C 26:2.)

Each of us individually and collectively have entered into covenants in sacred moments “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). We have covenanted to love and serve the Master and in turn our families and fellow Saints. We covenanted to accept calls to serve and to magnify those callings to the best of our abilities. We likewise covenanted to sustain one another. Part of that covenant is to allow callings and sustainings to be conducted by those duly authorized to do so. Thus, it is not our place to discuss callings and releases until they have been properly conducted. Rather we should “waste and wear out our lives” serving God. (D&C 123:13).

There are beautiful blessings promised to those who accept callings (no matter the station or location) and do all in their power to see them fulfilled. One of the promises of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood is that those who are faithful in “magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.” (D&C 84:33.) It takes faith to accept a calling or to sustain someone. Sometimes it takes just as much, if not more faith, to accept a release.

If this work wasn’t true and these principles didn’t matter, then respect for Priesthood Keys and confidentiality wouldn’t matter. It is my conviction that the Church is true and is God’s Kingdom on earth. We have many reasons to rejoice. Though it was first recorded in the Book of Mormon, and I feel it is just as true in our day in our ward, “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Nephi 1:16.) My sisters and brothers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness. Priesthood Keys are on the earth and operative in our part of the Lord’s Vineyard. Let us thank God that the heavens are open and pour out blessings upon us the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

- Posted from my iPad

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Naming and Blessing an Infant

It has been my privilege for the last (nearly) seven years to participate in every baby blessing in my ward (when I was not traveling, which is not often on Sunday). My stake president encouraged me, and I agree, that as the "father of the ward" it is a right and a privilege to stand in each baby blessing. It has also been my custom before the baby blessing, to sit down with the Priesthood holder who will be performing the blessing to go over the steps and give some words of counsel and encouragement. I do this with all fathers, regardless of their first time or their tenth. I find it good practice and helpful.

There are a few things that the Handbook encourages and a few things it discourages. One is that large groups are discouraged. In my mind, seven men is the high end of the circle. Ironically, when my oldest was blessed, I counted seventeen men in the circle. Truly, it was ridiculous. There were men in the circle that I didn't even know, men that were invited by other men. Kind of strange. It seems that a small group of Melchizedek Priesthood holders is a better way of doing things. In my mind, it implies a reverence and dignity that the holders possess of the priesthood.

The current (2010) Handbook of Instructions gives five steps to the blessing of a child in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are:

1. Addresses Heavenly Father.
2. States that the blessing is performed by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
3. Gives the child a name.
4. Gives words of blessing as the Spirit directs.
5. Closes in the name of Jesus Christ.

Authority vs. Power:
Even though the instructions in the Handbooks, at least the last two [check this out with the others], state that the ordinance is to be done by the "authority" of the Melchizedek Priesthood and not the "power" of the same, I will still often hear priesthood holders invoke the "power." Is this a big deal? I would say that is a definite maybe. We have been taught that authority is something that all holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood bear. But power is synonymous with righteousness and to state that we are performing the ordinance (and this is true of blessings as well) is to presume that we are righteous when that is a privilege only God Himself can determine. This has been taught most recently by President Boyd K. Packer: "Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants. It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness." ("The Power of the Priesthood," April 2010 General Conference.)

Common ways of the language preceding the naming of the infant:
We often hear something along the lines of, "The name he/she will be known on the records of the Church and throughout his/her mortal life shall be..." There is really no reason to say that. There is no problem with saying that, but it has become more of a customary thing to say rather than something that is proscribed in the instructions. Or at least the Handbooks don't give any preference to this kind of language. On the other hand, a priesthood holder could simply say, "The name we give you is..." With my own children, I have done it both ways.

Either way a father or priesthood holder says it, it seems that we don't really give the infant a blessing. Instead, we state the name of the infant. I don't know that it is a big deal, but it is a little interesting. I wonder if we ought to be giving the name of the baby? It has been my custom when conducting a meeting and I have instructed my counselors to do that same: we announce that the baby will be blessed by the father (or whomever will be performing the blessing), but we do not announce the name of the baby. It seems that if the father has not "given" the name to the baby, it is not my place to preemptively make that declaration.

Blessing or Prayer:
This is the area that I hear the most differing opinions. I must state at the outset that I know good men who see this very differently and I believe that is okay. It is my feeling that good men can disagree on a whole host of things and still enjoy the approbation of Heaven. Having said that, I feel very strongly in one direction over the other. It is my sense that the ordinance of blessing an infant has two parts. The first part is when the father directs his voice to Heavenly Father. Obviously, when he invokes His Holy Name at the beginning of the ordinance, this could be viewed in no other way. But when the father gets to the portion of the ordinance when he is to bestow a blessing, it seems wholly proper for the father to now turn his direction to his child. The language in the 2006 Handbook for this portion of the ordinance is that the man giving voice to the ordinance, "gives a priesthood blessing as the Spirit directs." [check language.] In my mind, this concept was more perfectly illustrated by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. As his son told me the story, when Elder McConkie would travel the Church and speak in Stake Conferences, he would be sometimes asked if, in a baby blessing, the father directs himself to the Father the whole time or half-way through directs his comments of blessing to the infant. I am told that Elder McConkie would respond by saying, "Well, if you want to say a prayer then you had better hand the baby to the mother, because she will give a much better prayer than the father ever will. On the other hand, if you want to give the baby a blessing, you'd better let the father who holds the priesthood do it." Elder McConkie's son, Joseph Fielding McConkie understood this to mean (from other discussions on the topic as well) that when the father begins to give "words of blessing" (2010 Handbook), he is directing himself to the infant, as any priesthood holder would do in any blessing. Another way to look at it is to say the Priesthood is not needed to say a prayer but it is needed to pronounce a Priesthood blessing. If you were the infant which would you rather your father do?

The Handbook (both current and past) also indicates that baby blessings should take place on Fast Sundays. I have been occasionally asked why this is the case. As I have thought about it, I have determined that it is principally a logistical decision. By that I mean because of the flexible nature of a Sacrament Fast and Testimony Meeting; and because a baby blessing often brings larger gatherings and sometimes take a bit of time, Fast Sunday is a better Sunday to do this rather than another Sunday. I am confident there are other reasons, but I cannot think of what they may be at the moment. Another aspect of this is that the ordinance is normally to take place at Church in the Meetinghouse during a regularly scheduled Sacrament Meeting. There are of course exceptions to this, but they are rare and in my opinion should not be sought out. I think the reason they are to be performed at Church in the presence of the ward (other than that is how the Lord told Joseph Smith and the Church members to do it--D&C 20:70), but it is to serve as a reminder to each member present of the purity and primacy of infants and children in the Plan of Salvation.

Therefore, what?:
Beyond all of these rules, policies, regulations, interpretations, and guidelines, there is one question that I get more than any other: why do we do this? Or in other words, what is the doctrine that is involved in giving an infant a name and a blessing? This is an excellent question. In Doctrine and Covenants 20:70 we are commanded to bring infants to the elders of the Church, to have them presented and then blessed. Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon have many stories of Jesus Christ blessing little children and reminding us "adults" to be more like children. And so, beyond offering the infant a blessing, perhaps the ordinance is to also serve as a reminder to us of the special place babies have in the Lord's Gospel.

It has been an absolute pleasure and one of the highlights of my time as the bishop in our ward to participate in these sacred moments. Each father blesses his infant in different ways. However, there has been a consistency that is wonderful: they are always done by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood. They are always done in love. And I have always felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. The blessing of infant in the Lord's True Church is a blessing not only to the infant, but also to the father and mother and indeed the entire congregation.

- Posted using my iPad

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Did Joseph Smith use a 17-point Checklist for the Restoration?

I was asked recently, by one of my Young Men that is preparing to enter the Mission Field (he has received his call to serve in a mission in Texas) about the Seventeen Points of the True Church. He wanted to know what I knew about it and what I thought. I first encouraged him to read it and give me his perceptions. After he reported back, I gave him my perception. First of all, I am not necessarily knocking the man who authored the Seventeen Points, nor am I downgrading the experience of people who have enjoyed reading the story and the Points and have been strengthened by doing so. However, I wonder sometimes if we are thinking this through very well.

When I think of the Seventeen Points, I don't look at them from the authors perspective. Rather, I look at it from Joseph Smith’s perspective. When he asked which church to join, he was told none of them. in fact, in one of the accounts of the First Vision he is told that “the everlasting covenant was broken” and that he would be a part of restoring it. Interesting. Then, four years later, he prays again to know where he stands with God and this time God sends Moroni to teach Joseph Smith. Moroni quotes almost entirely from the Old Testament. Interestingly, among the New Testament scriptures that he does quote to Joseph, none of them are part of the Seventeen Points. Then, when he begins the translation of the Book of Mormon, he is told (and we are too, on the Title Page of the Book of Mormon) that there are three reasons for the Book of Mormon:

1. To remind us the great promises God has given to our fathers,
2. The importance of the Abrahamic Covenant, and
3. That Jesus is the Christ.

Again, none of the Seventeen Points are mentioned. Rather, we are taught the reason for the Book of Mormon is to point the seeker of truth to Covenants, the Temple, Joseph Smith, and Christ.

So, there may be nothing wrong with the Seventeen Points per se, but I think they miss the point. And yes, it is interesting that these guys that had the original Seventeen Points experience used the Bible to determine what was true. It is kind of neat actually. But I hope they moved beyond that. My concern is that I have seen missionaries use the Seventeen Points as a method to try to convince people that the Church is true. How sad. The thing is, anyone can take those Seventeen Points and set up a church. But they would be missing the one major thing that both Christ and Moroni and Joseph Smith all perfectly understood: the Covenants. This important doctrine is taught in the Book of Mormon.

In reality, we could go through the scriptures and find 10, 21, 50, or 100 points of the true Church. Now that I think about it, I remember a guy in my home ward in Seattle gave me a big print out before I left for the MTC. He told me that he had found something like 150 “points of the true church,” and that these guys didn’t find enough. Any evidence or checklist that someone is looking for is always going to come up short. I would worry just as much that someone might be looking for archeological evidence of the Book of Mormon and hang their testimony on that.

So I wonder, if the Seventeen Points are so critical, why didn’t Moroni tell Joseph Smith the Seventeen Points? Or better yet, why didn’t the Father and the Son tell them to Joseph? He was really interested in finding the true Church. Christ could have revealed to Joseph the checklist in the first place, then sent the angels to restore the various doctrines with Joseph and Oliver simply checking the list off, one by one. But as we know, that is not how it worked. Instead, the Lord sent Joseph angelic ministrants to give him Priesthood Keys and restore the doctrines and authorities line upon line. But the doctrines always dealt with covenants and would eventually lead Joseph (and us) to the inevitable: the Temple.

In fact, one more interesting fact: any idea what the missionary lesson plans were in the earliest days of the Restoration? The Gathering of Israel to the New Jerusalem (the Temple) to make covenants with Christ. Interesting that the early missionaries, along with Joseph Smith (not to mention Christ and Moroni), never thought of teaching the Seventeen Points.

So I guess my thought is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the Seventeen Points of the True Church. It's just that, at best, they the wrong Seventeen Points.

- Posted using my iPad

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Sacrament

This last Sunday was our fifth Sunday, combined Priesthood and Relief Society lesson. As is usually the case when I teach or speak, I usually feel pretty confident about my choice in topic until the last moment. Then I change. Luckily, that realization hit me sooner than later and I had time to really think about the doctrine that I felt impressed to teach.

So, as the title of the entry suggests, I determined to speak on the Sacrament. My hope was to get a little deeper than we usually do and help the members of my ward (including myself) really appreciate what we are doing each in week when we partake of the Sacrament. I will only mention a thing or two that I learned, and incidentally, didn't have time to teach or share on Sunday.

I read the transcript of a class that Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught at the University of Utah Institute of Religion in 1970 on the Passover and the Sacrament. One of the points he makes is on the use of the bread and water. He rhetorically asks why is it that we use traditionally bread and water and not something else? He goes on to explain that from the time of Adam to Christ, animal sacrifice was used Biblically as the Passover or Sacrifice to point the minds of the pre-Meridian Saints to the Great and Last Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He reasons that for those 4,000 years our ancestors live in tribal and familial clusters. They primarily raised their own animals and grains for food. Their who survival, for the most part, was based on and around an animal. Therefore, what better way to typify Heavenly Father's Sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son, than to ask His followers to offer a main source of sustenance as a type of Christ? In the same way, in the 3,000-4,000 years after the Meridian of Time (depending how long you look at the "little space of time" when Satan will be unleashed), we now live very different styles of life. We are in largely urban communities. For the most part, we do not raise our own food but rather buy or barter. However, we still require bread and water (or some form of beverage) for sustenance. And because we require bread and water as the most basic source of our survival, what better way than to point our minds back to the Great and Last Sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

The other aspect that I wish I had more time to develop was the doctrinal reasons for the Sacrament and its immediate benefits for our salvation. The key part of the Sacrament prayers is that the end result is that we will have His Spirit to be with us, always. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are promised that with the reception of the Holy Ghost, comes a remission of sins. To me that means in the Sacrament, when partaken of worthily, we can receive a literal forgiveness of sins. Which of course is the whole point of the Sacrament and its pointing us to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

- Posted using my iPad

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A testimony of Joseph Smith...

One of the great things about my life so far, besides my wife and children, is the incredible people I have had in my life. When I first came to BYU ten years ago, a friend of mine was taking a Masters course in Religious Education. At the time he was taking a class from Joseph Fielding McConkie. My buddy encouraged me to come. It was wonderful. JFM taught me things from the scriptures I didn't know were there (which is not really a surprise). He ended up teaching two different courses that I attended.

After sometime I approached JFM and asked him for a job as his research assistant. Thus began what was for me a wonderful and singular experience. I helped him on book projects, we traveled to the East Coast twice for research and paper presentations, and even taught some of his classes. He taught me the tools I needed to read the scriptures, listen to the Spirit, and understand the doctrines of the restored gospel.

Since graduating and leaving his official employ, I have continued to help him on book and writing and research projects. We have become close and I treasure our friendship. The reason for the entry is to share something he taught me a couple of years ago that has had a lasting impact on me.

In sharing this experience, I will be a little vague, but will share the main point that has affected me deeply. I hope that it will you as well.

After returning from a vacation and arriving from a red-eye, he called me when he got home before he went to bed. He met a man while on vacation that shared an experience he had in the mission field. The man had two mission presidents. His first president had a rule to bear witness of the reality of the living Christ with every personal contact. His second president didn't have a rule. But the man reported that he noticed something. His second mission president would begin and end every talk and interview with a testimony of the First Vision. It wasn't long before the missionaries started following suit. Then something really interesting happened: obedience increased, as did baptisms and retention.

After JFM shared this story, he said, "Matt, there is a power when we testify of Joseph Smith. The Holy Ghost will always accompany a testimony of the Prophet." Then he hung up and went to bed. I started thinking. I thought about this experience for days. JFM was so excited when he called, ecstatic. After much pondering, I made a determination that has changed my life.

I decided that I would bear witness of the First Vision in every appointment, every lesson, every talk I give. Because I am the bishop in my ward, I get that opportunity often. I have been doing this for the last three years or so. Everything has changed for me. Everything. Because I am bearing witness of the First Vision, I am necessarily doing three things: I am testifying of the reality of a living God, a redeeming Christ, and a seeing Prophet. I feel the Spirit stronger each time I discuss the First Vision. And because of this, the Spirit is a staying power in my life and I am becoming a better disciple. The reality of the First Vision has become fact and knowledge for me. JFM was right: "There is a power when we testify of Joseph Smith. The Holy Ghost will always accompany a testimony of the Prophet." Furthermore, I have noticed members of my ward doing the same thing. The many members that have been doing this have experienced similar feelings.

If you are reading this, and you have a even a small testimony of the First Vision, or want it to grow, I invite you to do what I have done. Bear your witness of the reality of what took place. Because it is real and really did happen. God the Father was there in the Grove. Our Savior Jesus Christ was there, too. Joseph Smith was there and was called to be a Prophet. They spoke to him, and he spoke to Them.

- Posted using my iPad

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Moses' Keys

I have spent the last several months thinking, studying, and talking to my trusted friends about my last blog entry. I don't know if anyone is reading, but I thought I ought to post my latest idea.

After I learned what I learned, I visited the new online scriptures site. I did a search of "keys" and learned some very interesting things. I will only share one item.

My search took me to D&C 124. I was reading along where the Lord is telling Joseph that His people have no place on the earth where they can perform their baptisms for the dead, washings, anointings, etc. Then, all of a sudden a verse caught my heart and mind: 38.

It reads as follows:
"For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was."

I have read this verse many times, but I realized few things I had not in previous reads.

1. This verse stands out and in a way is unnecessary for the Lord to make His point. In other words, if this verse were missing, the doctrine and concept could still get a across and the verses would still flow. Indeed, verse 38 almost seems as if it were an aside.
2. The prophet Moses is being brought up in this section in connection with a discussion on the ordinances of the Temple.
3. In D&C 84 we are told Moses brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt to take them to the Promised Land. But before that could happen, he brought them to Mount Sinai so they could receive their endowment from On High. We learn from D&C 84 that they would not receive it so Moses and the Melchizedek Priesthood were taken out of their midst.
4. There are other things, but for whatever reason I can't remember them. I will add them later, etc.

My conclusion is essentially a strengthened position that I took in my last post. Which is: Moses brought to Joseph and Oliver the keys and authority to perform Temple ordinances. This makes sense, as the other two ministrants that came after brought Temple-specific keys: Elias with Temple marriage or the Abrahamic Covenant and Elijah with the sealing power. Looking at it another way, the prophets all come back and give their keys to Joseph and Oliver in the same way a member of the Church progresses through the successive Temple ordinances: initiatory, endowment, marriage, sealing it all together.

I am still working through this concept. If you have any thoughts or additional ideas, I would be very happy to hear them. This has continued to be exciting to me. My next plan is to look at each prophet that brought a Priesthood Key to Joseph Smith and examine the meaning of that Key. My thought is that if I had Moses and his Keys wrong all this time, what else am I missing? I suppose this is one of those times when I am genuinely excited about being incorrect on a doctrine; because I am determined to purify my understanding of the doctrine.


- Posted using my iPad

Location:Berkshire Ln,Dallas,United States