Wednesday, June 29, 2016 0 comments

Church History: Stories of German Saints in WWII

BYU's Religious Studies Center has posted online the book Under the Gun: West German and Ustrian Later-day Saints in World War II by Roger P. Minert.

We've heard stories here and there in general conference of what it was like for the Saints in Germany during after WWII.  But if you've ever wished you could get a bigger picture, this book is pretty gripping.

From the blurb:
They [the German Saints] did not have ready access to the many conveniences American Saints took for granted—including their local Church leaders, clean places to meet, cars, and temples. In fact, German Saints could only experience the temple by crossing the Atlantic Ocean and most of the North American continent. Germany was one of the war fronts where homes were destroyed and friends and families were killed. Unlike American soldiers returning to their homes, nearly half of the German Saints had no home to which to return. Hundreds of them served in the German military while thousands more stayed home and endeavored to keep their families and the Church alive. Their stories of joy and suffering are presented in this book against the background of the successes and collapse of the Third Reich.
 The book is organized by geographical districts with stories of individual Saints grouped within their branch boundaries. This makes a read of the Table of Contents seem a bit stodgy, but just click on one of the links and after a quick summary of demographics, numbers, and a map, you'll get down into the stories of the individuals as they tried to fulfill their leadership callings and live faithful lives in some pretty difficult circumstances. 

I, for one, am grateful for this book because it shows me how 1) faithfully living the gospel strengthened the Saints in an oppressive regime, and 2) how the Lord preserved his Saints.  It also reminds me of so many freedoms we enjoy that we so often take for granted.  (It might also give some much needed perspective on current events and concerns.)

Since July 4th falls on a Monday--next week, in fact--why not read through and share some of your favorite stories from this book with your family for Family Home Evening? 
Monday, June 27, 2016 0 comments

D&C 73: A Pattern unto the Elders

1 For verily, thus saith the Lord, it is expedient in me that they should continue preaching the gospel, and in exhortation to the churches in the regions round about, until conference;
2 And then, behold, it shall be made known unto them, by the voice of the conference, their several missions.
3 Now, verily I say unto you my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, saith the Lord, it is expedient to translate again;
4 And, inasmuch as it is practicable, to preach in the regions round about until conference; and after that it is expedient to continue the work of translation until it be finished.
5 And let this be a pattern unto the elders until further knowledge, even as it is written.
6 Now I give no more unto you at this time. Gird up your loins and be sober. Even so. Amen. (D&C 73)
This is kind of an odd section. It was given after Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had preached to diminish the unfavorable feelings that had arisen against the church because of letters published by apostate Ezra Booth.

It tells the elders to continue preaching the gospel, exhorting the churches, and it tells Joseph and Sidney to translate again, then preach, then translate again til the work is finished. All of this is ended with the declaration that this is a pattern to the elders until further knowledge is given.

The question I had about this section is about that statement that there was a pattern for the elders.  What is the pattern? 

In searching, I decided that perhaps the Lord was referring to the cycle of “preach—translate—preach—translate.” 

But if that is the pattern, how are we all to apply this, if we are not given authority and power to translate as Joseph Smith was?

 I personally think that for us, the pattern is “preach—scripture study—preach—scripture study.”  After all, Joseph Smith had to study things out in his mind to receive revelation for his translation, and personal revelation for ourselves and our stewardships is still promised, no matter our office or calling. 

So what this pattern tells us is that we will cycle between learning and sharing, over and over.  It’s a process of growth, line upon line, precept upon precept.
Saturday, June 25, 2016 3 comments

Christ as a Sanctuary or a Stumbling Stone

14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. (Isaiah 8:14-16)

Here Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be seen different ways by different people. Some would see Him as a refuge and a sanctuary, but others would be offended and stumble at His doctrine and teachings and then fall and be ensnared by false teachings they resorted to because of their affronted feelings.

Things are still the same today in His church. We have people who see the church (which is led by Christ) as a refuge from the world, and we have others who are offended by church doctrine and policies.  They stumble and fall away.

The Lord’s disciples are those who will bind up the testimony and seal the law, which I take to mean that they stand steadfast, being true to their testimony and keeping the commandments through all hazards and opposition.

And for those of us who stay true, we have much to look forward to, since Isaiah says Christ’s kingdom will spread:

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:7)

The order and peace in Zion is only going to increase from here!  I find that marvelous, and it strikes me that unless we individually prepare ourselves for it, we will be among the ones who are eventually offended and falls away.
Thursday, June 23, 2016 0 comments

The Power of Covenants in Alma 44

In this chapter, Captain Moroni and his army had just cornered the Zoramite-Lamanite armies around the river Sidon. Captain Moroni commands the Zoramite-Lamanite army to surrender, commanding in the name of God, by all the Nephites hold dear, and by the Lamanites’ self-preservation that they surrender and take an oath that they will never fight again. Then Zerahemnah, the Zoramite captain, says he will surrender, but refuses to take an oath he knows his army will break, so the battle resumes until they are willing to take the oath.

One of the features of this story that puzzled me was why Zerahemnah tries to kill Captain Moroni when Captain Moroni refuses to let the Zoramite-Lamanite army go without the oath of peace. It seems like a childish tantrum taken way too far. It makes one wonder why the Zoramites and Lamanites put this guy in charge at all if he couldn’t take it when anyone got in his way and stopped him.

However, I noticed that before Zerahemnah went berserk, Captain Moroni made an oath—“as the Lord liveth”—that the only way the Nephites would let them leave was by taking the peace oath. It is possible that Zerahemnah thought that if he killed Captain Moroni, then the Nephite army would be released from having to carry out the terms of Moroni’s oath and would let the enemy go without requiring a peace oath.

Of course, Zerahemnah failed to kill Captain Moroni, and then many of the Zoramite-Lamanite army made the peace oath when Zerahemnah’s fallen scalp was used as an object lesson to illustrate their imminent danger of death. So, Zerahemnah had to try to avoid the oath by fighting more.

As another case, a Zoramite Lamanite army attacked the city Noah because the Zoramite leaders all made an oath that they would conquer it. The battle continued with great loss to the Lamanites until all the leaders who had made the oath were dead. Then the Lamanite army could withdraw its purpose. (It is also shown as a case study of the problem of making bad oaths.)

Thus, I think one of the lessons of the post battle interchange of Alma 44 is to show us how powerful oaths are, when people are determined to do what they promise.

There is a bit of difficult irony for us to notice here. At the beginning of the chapter, Captain Moroni says the Nephites do not desire to be men of blood or to kill their enemy. The oath of peace becomes their best weapon to disarm their enemy, to prevent them from ever fighting again. (It is possible Zerahemnah feared the Nephites would begin future wars and making a peace oath would preclude Lamanite self-defense.) However, because Zerahemnah refused to make the peace oath, Captain Moroni is forced by his own oath to restart the killing of the Zoramite-Lamanite army. His oath that they will only depart with a peace covenant requires him to do what he was trying so hard to avoid in the first place—kill the enemy.  That is the difficult irony.

But the irony also extends to Zerahemnah as well. The man who didn’t want his hands tied by a peace oath is eventually forced to make one anyway or die. To his mind, he probably felt he would die if he didn’t and eventually be killed by Nephite aggressors if he did.  However, knowing their future history as we do, we see they had nothing to fear from the Nephites except from Nephite dissenters stirring them up to anger.

So I think we need to be aware that in keeping our covenants, we will be put in difficult situations that test our resolve.

But if it is difficult for us, we can always consider God’s position, which might remind us a lot of Captain Moroni in this story.  God wants us to stop fighting Him, and if we enter saving covenants with Him, He won’t destroy us (for our sin) and we can have peace.  The only way out of our predicament is the covenant. If we don’t take it, we face spiritual death.  He doesn’t want any of us to be lost, damned, or destroyed. He doesn’t want the fight.  But if we persist in avoiding or breaking those covenants, He will be forced to destroy us. 

Personally, I’d rather keep the covenants so I can be saved and have peace.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 0 comments

The Remnant of Israel as a Lion or a Bull

15 And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people—
16 Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
17 Thy hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.
18 And I will gather my people together as a man gathereth his sheaves into the floor.
19 For I will make my people with whom the Father hath covenanted, yea, I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass. And thou shalt beat in pieces many people; and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. And behold, I am he who doeth it.
20 And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles.
21 And it shall come to pass that I will establish my people, O house of Israel. (3 Nephi 20:15-21)

I’ve puzzled over these verses a long time and I feel like I’m beginning to understand it better, so I want to share what I’ve learned. But I recognize that I still have a lot to learn, so my understanding may change over time.

There are two different images used here to represent remnants of the house of Israel. One is of a lion that tears beasts of the forest and flocks of sheep in pieces.  The other is of a raging bull with iron horns and brass hooves that beats many people in pieces.

I previously thought that they were meant to represent the same group of people, but I have recently started to realize that they actually represent two different groups, which is a bit of a relief to me.

The first key for understanding is in the nature of the creatures represented.  We have a lion and we have a bull.  The lion is a wild predatory animal.  But the bull is a domesticated animal. The bull is still dangerous, but he has an owner who has given him iron horns and has fitted him with brass hooves.

This suggests to me that we have two different remnants of Israel. There is a wild remnant and the tame remnant.

Evidently the wild remnant does not even know it is a remnant of Israel. Among all the beasts of the forest (who are also wild) this “lion” remnant is the scariest of the scary.  It fascinates me that the Lord doesn’t disavow this remnant.  Even though it is wild and violent, it is still part of Jacob.

The domesticated remnant is referred to as “my people with whom the Father hath covenanted,” which suggests members of the church.  But we have all this violent imagery of trampling (and probably goring too) with iron horns and brass hooves.  What are we to make of that?

I suspect that the iron horn and brass hooves are to represent the spiritual power that the Lord gives His covenant people.  Horns are many times representative of power. They are everywhere used in the Old Testament to symbolize and suggest power. 

What about the trampling and beating in pieces?  I think this is supposed to be connected with wheat harvest imagery, since the verse before it (v18) says the Lord would gather his people like sheaves into the floor.  Once the sheaves are gathered, the grain has to be separated from the chaff, and the trampling is part of that.  To me, this suggests the processes of missionary work, calls to repentance, spiritual refinement, and the making of choices that will either prove the salvation or damnation of those who make them.  The preaching of the Word has a tendency to divide people on one side or the other. Either people accept it, or they reject it and fight it. This might be said to “beat many people in pieces.”

Let’s go back to the lion imagery of the other remnant.  The lion goes among the beasts of the forest and tears them in pieces. These forest beasts might be interpreted as people who are not spiritually domesticated, yet less wild than the lions. The forest beasts have no protection, and they also don’t seek it.  So they simply suffer, which is sad.  The lion also is among flocks of sheep, which are domesticated.. but we have to ask ourselves, “Where is these flocks’ shepherd?”  Based on their destruction, we have to conclude that they either have no shepherd, or their shepherd does not protect them (which means they have the wrong shepherd).

So in these verses, the Lord is trying to tell us that he will use His covenant people to preach the gospel, but He will also use fierce, spiritually ignorant remnants of his people to 1) try to bring the Gentiles to repentance, and to 2) destroy the wicked.

So we members are not meant to be lions. We never were. (Thank goodness!)  We supposed to be the servant bull--doing the harvest and threshing tasks of missionary work (which some people disapprove of and consider mean and violent, but that’s their problem, not ours.)

I personally think the lions sound a lot like terrorists and their attacks, but time may suggest additional interpretations that fit better.

If we’re told there will be lions that tear people in pieces, do we just stand by and watch?  No, the lions must be destroyed when they appear because after all, they are the worst. They can’t be allowed to run amok when they emerge.  But I think the Lord means their periodic appearance to be a reminder that life can be ended unexpectedly and immediate repentance is necessary. 

These scriptures demonstrate the Lord’s foreknowledge of these things. Some might argue, “If the Lord knew these things ahead of time, why doesn’t He stop them?”  He can do that, but that’s not the only way He can save.  He can also allow the evil to happen (letting evil people have their choice) and then He can make good come out it anyway.  He can take evil and turn it into a victory for good, and save people from the evil that has happened to them.  He can do that because He suffered for all those who are killed or torn in pieces by the lions. 
Sunday, June 19, 2016 0 comments

Signs of the Times: Rumors of Wars

One of the many signs that Christ gives is that of wars and rumors of wars. The idea of rumors of wars is simple, but rather opaque to me, so I decided to do a search-and-study to see what context it is appears in.

First there is the New Testament accounts of what Christ said about it:

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. (Matt. 24:6)

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. (Mark 13:7)

Behold, I speak these things unto you for the elect’s sake; and you also shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled, for all I have told you must come to pass; but the end is not yet. (JS-Matt 1:23)

And they shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars. (JS-Matt 1:28)

So this condition of wars and rumors of wars is common, but not a sign of the end. This is why we call it a sign of the times rather than a sign of Christ’s coming.

(Well, if it isn’t a sign of the time of Christ’s coming, then what kind of time is it a sign of?  Ehhhhh…. Probably a sign of the spiritual condition of the societies involved.)

I have heard a rumour from the Lord, and an ambassador is sent unto the heathen, saying, Gather ye together, and come against her, and rise up to the battle. (Jeremiah 49:14)

If a prophet hears a rumor from the Lord, that probably has a lot more credence than rumors from other sources.  The source of the rumor matters.

It is interesting that at the same time Jeremiah hears this rumor, a foreign ambassador goes to the heathen nations to incite them to war. This could be a source of rumors of war.

Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. (Isaiah 37:7)

This comes from the story of the Assyrian king who invaded Israel. The Lord predicted how the Assyrian king would eventually be defeated: he would hear a rumor about what was happening at home, he’d go back to deal with it, and then he’d be killed by his own people.

Reading between the lines, we can surmise that there were probably rumors going both ways. The king probably got rumors about back home, and powerful people at home  probably got rumors of what the king was doing or saying that they didn’t like, so they rebelled.

And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumour that shall be heard in the land; a rumour shall both come one year, and after that in another year shall come a rumour, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler. (Jeremiah 51:46)

What I get from this verse is that rumors cause worry and fear, and when rumors keep circulating, they can bring violence and pit rulers and nations against each other.

Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients. (Ezekiel 7:26)

Here we have mischief, rumors, and a lack of spiritual leadership, which sounds an awful lot like apostasy. So mischief, rumors, and apostasy seem to be connected.

Nephi saw in vision that there would be wars and rumors of wars among his people in the promised land (see 1 Ne 12:2), among the Jews before Jesus came among them in mortality (see 2 Ne. 25:12), and also among the Lamanites after the Nephites were destroyed (see 1 Ne. 12:21). Mormon saw there would be the same condition during the time when the Book of Mormon would come forth (see Mormon 8:30).

Joseph Smith History also has something to say about rumor.

The excitement, however, still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating falsehoods about my father’s family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them, it would fill up volumes. The persecution, however, became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehanna county, in the State of Pennsylvania. While preparing to start—being very poor, and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise—in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris… (JS History 1:61)

“The excitement, however, still continued” – Rumor is a source of excitement, and for bored people who have nothing better to do, discussing rumors, speculating, and spreading rumors is a method of cheap entertainment. 

Joseph Smith experienced how rumor could destroy reputation and provoke persecution that made it difficult for him to even provide for his family. And it was false rumors, intended to raise prejudice and animus against him. We can learn from this how easy it is for rumors of wars to include lies as well.

Nephi also saw wars and rumors of wars to come in the latter days after the establishment of the church of the Lamb.

15 And it came to pass that I beheld that the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.
16 And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things— (1 Ne 14:15-16)

It is interesting that the wars and rumors of wars seem to be part of the wrath of God that is poured on the great and abominable church. 

It another significant feature is that these wars and rumors of wars are among “nations and kindreds.”  That implies conflict and rumors at a national level and at the family level. This sounds like yet another reason why families need to be strengthened.

And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth. (D&C 45:26)

Just an aside—From this verse it seems there will even be some believers that are afraid. Those that say Christ delays are believers, but they clearly think Christ should have come some time ago. Perhaps they have not understood the signs, or perhaps their minds are so taken up with the bad things happening that it speaks in their ears louder than their faith and the Spirit.

Also, what is commotion? The dictionary says it is “a disorderly outburst or tumult, the act of making a noisy disturbance, confused movement.” Synonyms for commotion include disruption, disturbance, flutter, hoo-ha, hurly burly, kerfuffle, to-do, din, ruckus, rumpus.

I’d say the internet facilitates all kinds of commotion. Anything people don’t like can turn into a commotion. Social media facilitates it, as well as the many outlets for venting online. And of course, the internet and social media spreads rumors as well.

The next scripture lifts the curtain on the cause of it all:

And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come. (Helaman 16:22)

Here we see that Satan is the engine of it. He provokes foolish and vain imaginations to disturb people, then he stirs up people to do iniquity, then he spreads rumors and contentions so they gossip and contend about everyone else’s iniquity.  And among all this, he stirs up lies and rumors against good to harden hearts and cement prejudices.

After looking at all these scriptures, it seems clear to me that rumors were how people shared and spread news. There would be official news sources, such as ambassadors and official messengers between countries passing messages, and officials who announced news and proclamations, but there would also be unofficial sources, such as leaks and gossip and rumors.  There would also be groups of people gathering to share opinions about what was happening and trying to figure out what would happen in the future, and those opinions tend to spread as if they are official news with a voice of authenticity. Thus, war tends to come with a cloud of worry, anticipation, discussion, and speculation over it, both formal and informal, both among government decision-makers and among common people of both sides (and even among others not involved).  And the media puts their oar in too.  And often it is the rumors of war that cause so much concern, fear, worry, etc.   If actual war is the eye of the hurricane, then rumors of war is the clouds and storm around it, which stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction.

So it is significant that Jesus tells us to not be troubled.  Probably because being troubled becomes an energy sink. Also, every time war looms, people worry, “Is this the end?” and Jesus said specifically, “The end is not yet.”   Knowing the other signs is supposed to help us identify where the real end is.

Friday, June 17, 2016 0 comments

Clean, but not all

Verily I say unto you, my servant William, that you are clean, but not all; repent, therefore, of those things which are not pleasing in my sight, saith the Lord, for the Lord will show them unto you. (D&C 66:3)

This verse was directed to William W. McClellan. That part about William being “clean, but not all” puzzled me a bit. How can that be? It is like saying, “You are clean, but not clean.”

Eventually I realized it might have something to do with still having the same tendencies to make the same mistakes, or having the same weaknesses, even though one has been forgiven of the sins one has already committed. At some point, the deeper fault of character has to be discovered, repented of, or healed by Christ’s grace. The Lord can show us where those faults are.

The prospect of being shown where our faults are is a little scary, I admit.  But I have observed that there is a difference between when the Lord shows me my faults versus when Satan shows me my faults. (And believe me, Satan would love to rub the noses of conscientious Saints in their faults and imperfections!)

When Satan does so, it is intended to depress and discourage me and make me feel I am so far away from what I should be that I might as well give up all hope because no effort will succeed.

When the Lord shows me my faults, I understand and feel how they grieve Him, and I see that I must take action, but I retain the sense that repentance is possible and worth it. I feel that Christ will help me, and while I know that I am “less than the dust of the earth,” as Mormon observed, I still feel the Lord’s love for me and feel encouraged.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 0 comments

The Light That Can Never Be Darkened

8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death. (Mosiah 16:8-9, emphasis added)

That image of Christ as the light that can never be darkened is more meaningful if you remember the prophet lived in a time when light only came from burning fuel. A light that is never darkened is a light that never lacks fuel, though nobody knows where the fuel comes from. It keeps burning on its own, and that is a great metaphor for how the resurrected Christ (and someday us) keeps living in glory.

This hope of resurrection is the great thing that gives us reason to believe, to repent, to do everything we can to become better so we can be ready for eternity.

Monday, June 13, 2016 2 comments

Who will see signs of Christ’s coming?

39 And it shall come to pass that he that feareth me shall be looking forth for the great day of the Lord to come, even for the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.
40 And they shall see signs and wonders, for they shall be shown forth in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath.
41 And they shall behold blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke.
42 And before the day of the Lord shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood, and the stars fall from heaven.
43 And the remnant shall be gathered unto this place; (D&C 45:39-43)

It impresses me that Jesus says those who fear Him (in the reverential awe sense) will be looking for the signs of His coming.  We can also infer the opposite—that those who don’t, will pay no attention to signs, and probably won’t see them.

It’s neat to me that He promises that those who look shall see signs and wonders in heaven and in earth.

It struck me that maybe He didn’t just mean only those who were alive when He come, but also those who live in the intervening generations would see signs as well that show how close He’s getting, even if they don’t see the specific signs listed that indicate Christ is coming in their day.

In v36-38, Christ uses the parable of the fig tree and how tender leaves shooting forth indicate coming summer to communicate how members may know how close the great day is by looking at certain signs.

I have fond memories of seeing how trees bud. It doesn’t happen all in a day. Little green shoots sprout and unfurl, like a green mist on the trees. Likewise, there are little sprouting signs we can watch for as members, such as seeing how much of the world is open to missionary work and the gospel. 

The specific signs and wonders listed in the above verses are of the violent and destructive variety, meant to wake up the world.  But I believe the faithful who are already “awake” will also be able to see positive signs, wonders, and miracles—compensatory blessings that are meant to help confirm their faith in a darkening age.  You can see this from Joel 2:28-32:

28 ¶And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.

The destructive signs are very similar to the quoted verses from D&C 45, but there is the additional promise of the Spirit poured out, and increased spiritual gifts of prophecy, dreams, and visions.  I believe those gifts are designed to help us find peace and act in faith in the increasing uncertainties.

I don’t know that I can say much about prophecy or visions, but I have some experience with dreams, and I want to take a little time to talk about that particular gift.

 There is a kind of dream that I call at “heads-up” dream. (I’m borrowing this term from someone else who wrote about dreams.) 

Heads-up dreams can come in two forms—they can show us quite literally what will happen, or they can show us a symbolic situation and we decode the symbols to understand what will happen.  When Heavenly Father talks to us in dreams, He will speak according to our ability to understand, so it doesn’t much matter what form the message takes, whether literal or symbolic.  (My dreams tend to be symbolic, and I don’t know whether that means that I can’t handle a literal dream or whether the Lord wants me to do some work to understand what He is trying to tell me. Whatever the reason, He puts them in a form adapted for my weaknesses.)

Heads-up dreams can tell us something that will happen the next day, or they can show us what will happen over larger periods of time.  They may suggest something we (as individuals) must do, or they may prepare us for an experience we must simply go through.  I’ve had some that warned me of something I needed to do immediately, and others that warned me of difficult experiences I would have several years down the line. (Of course, I didn't know that until later.)

Usually I know a dream is important if it is particularly vivid and it stays with me once I’ve awakened.  Sometimes I know what it means immediately, but other times I am puzzled and have to think about it. I have noticed that reading the scriptures brings the Spirit enough that afterward I realize a dream’s meaning.  Or I might have to ponder it over a few days. A few have really weirded me out, but have turned out to be very helpful.

I believe it is important to write in our journals the dreams that Heavenly Father gives us. They are a form of revelation, and if not recorded, they are easy to forget. But if we record them, future readings of our journals will remind us and we will find them verified. Then we can record that the Lord knew what would happen and we can show how we were helped because He told us things ahead of time.

I believe that these dreams have a function of 1) preparing our minds for the future, 2) giving us clarity through synthetic experience, 3) giving us reassurance that Heavenly Father knows all things.   They are not meant to make us feel superior to others.

These spiritual gifts--prophecy, dreams, visions-- don’t come at our will.  Heavenly Father controls them and they are to fulfill His purposes, so they become very personalized signs to help us act and endure faithfully. They are meant to save us, and we need saving. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016 0 comments

Seeking the praise of the world

And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world. (D&C 58:39)

This was written of Martin Harris about the time that Joseph Smith and other church leaders had arrived in Jackson county Missouri to have the land of Zion revealed.

I think it is worth it to ask some questions about this quality of seeking the praise of the world, which the Lord calls a sin.

Is seeking praise the problem, or is it seeking it from the wrong people—the world—that is wrong?

One thing I see is that seeking praise tends to cause us to confine our efforts to things that are the most visible, but the visible is very often not as important as the things that no one sees.  How many godly character traits are developed and practiced inside us where no one can see?  How much of prayer and repentance will be observed by others?  Should we neglect these things simply because we can’t get a pat on the back for them?

Another problem is that not everybody praises the same things, and it is a sad truth that the better a person becomes, the less his or her goodness is appreciated and praised by the masses.  So it matters very much the quality of people we accept praise from.  Joseph Smith was told in D&C 121:1-2 that the pure, wise, noble, and virtuous would seek blessings and counsel from him, while fools would deride him and hell would rage against him.  Could Joseph Smith expect the praise of the world?  No, he would not get it, and if he intended to do the Lord’s work, he could not expect any praise from the foolish or from those who sided with hell.

It is also worth thinking about what appeal praise from the world has and what we hope it will do.  From the perspective of economic survival, we hope that praise from the world (or at least a nice letter of recommendation) will encourage others to accept us, take a chance on us, trust us, give us jobs that will help us provide for ourselves, and increase our influence so we can do good in the world.

But sometimes we take it farther than that and want that praise to be a sign that we have worth, that we are good people, that we are adequate. But can the world really tell us the eternal truth about those things? No. Two of those things we can only really know from God. And as for signs that we are adequate, are we likely to reach out to God for help if we are convinced of our own adequacy?

What do you think? 
Thursday, June 9, 2016 0 comments

Isaiah 23 and the prophecy against Tyre

Isaiah 23 is a prophecy against the city of Tyre, which was a rich commercial port.  I’m going to point out a few interesting things and puzzling things about this chapter.

1 The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.
2 Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
3 And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
4 Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.
5 As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
6 Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
7 Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.  (Isaiah 23:1-7)

If the prophecy is about Tyre, why are all these other places mentioned—Tarshish, Chittim, Zidon, and Sihor?  I suppose those other places had ports that depended upon Tyre to buy their goods, or received the goods they needed from Tyre. You can imagine that if your market for your goods disappeared, you’d be distressed. Likewise, if your main supplier disappeared, you would be very worried.

“she is a mart of nations” – Tyre was like a Wal-mart for countries. 

Verse 4 is very interesting to me. It implies that some of these people needed a reminder that the sea—the way they transported or received their goods—was not as important as their families.  The sea might provide a living, but wasn’t the entity that birthed their children, or taught them, or nurtured them. They might have been so focused on making money, that they forgot their families were the important thing.  This is like an ancient wake-up call for workaholics, isn’t it?

The next section tells us who decided this destruction should happen and why.

8 Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
9 The Lord of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.
10 Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
11 He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the Lord hath given a commandment against the merchant city, to destroy the strong holds thereof.
12 And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.
13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.
14 Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste. (Isaiah 23:8-14)

The Lord decided to bring that destruction in order to humble the proud and the rich. Humbled people are more likely to repent, and the Lord wanted to save them, but their riches had created a feeling of self-sufficiency that precluded that kind of humility.  Sudden destruction and financial set-backs would humble them.

The principles still apply today. Too comfortable circumstances tend to make us more hard-hearted and deaf to the Lord’s appeals.  Financial set-backs tend to humble us.  How much better is it to humble ourselves regardless of our circumstances!

The next part has some puzzling elements:

15 And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.
16 Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
17 ¶And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
18 And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing. (Isaiah 23:15-18)

The puzzling thing here is the idea that Tyre would sing as a harlot, turn to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world—all of which has a very negative connotation—but at the same time the Lord would visit Tyre and her merchandise would be holiness to the Lord (consecrated), and her merchandise would be for them that dwell before the Lord—all of which as a very positive connotation and implies following the law of consecration.

What are we to make of this?  The question we might ask ourselves is, is it possible for people committing fornication to follow the law of consecration?  Probably not.  Even the early Saints of this dispensation had a hard time with consecration, so it doesn’t make sense for people committing sins of immorality to succeed at it.

This means there is an alternate meaning for fornication in this instance.  I suspect Isaiah uses it as a particularly crude way of referring to “doing business” because of the way business contracts and agreements tend to be temporary and continue only so long as both parties want them to.  Kind of a gross comparison, but that makes it a little easier to see what Isaiah is trying to say here.  

So, I think Isaiah’s message is that though Tyre would be forgotten for a generation or two after destruction, eventually Tyre would rebuild itself and regain its commercial status.  It would sing as an harlot (advertise enticingly to get business) and regain status as a center of commerce.  And the Lord would visit it.  This might mean the Lord would favor the city, or it might mean that the Lord would have many believers there.  At any rate, the people of Tyre would have learned an important lesson, and instead of hoarding their wealth, they would consecrate it to the Lord, and that wealth would be used to help the poor.

The overall lesson from this chapter for us today is that financial crashes and destruction are a wake-up call, an opportunity to humble ourselves, reexamine our priorities, and repent.  Then, in the rebuild, if we can keep from setting our hearts on riches and instead consecrate, we will be part of bringing Zion again.