Friday, October 31, 2014

Glad Tidings from Cumorah! (Doctrine & Covenants 128:20)

I often wonder, when the battle had ended, and Moroni was sitting in solitude overlooking the destruction which had beheld his people, what was going through his mind? While the people were wicked, I'm sure he had some friends among them, who he wished would simply come unto Christ. I'm sure more than a few tears were shed that day.

Was he sitting on the bluffs, with the plates in his hands thinking, what can I put into this record to help others avoid this? Could the words of Isaiah have been going through his mind: "And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust...And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed" (Isaiah 29:4,11)? Would he have known that the book he was writing is the same one? Might he have been praying with all of his might to see how the book would affect tens of millions of people? In the battle at Cumorah, would he ever have dreamed that Cumorah would be a place causing glad rejoicing among both the living and the dead?

Fast forward about 1400 years. A young man was lost and confused as to what direction he should go in regards to the welfare of his soul. He became convicted of his sins, and went to ask a question of the Lord, following the instruction of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:5). A simple boy went out into a grove of trees, to a place he had chosen ahead of time, after much contemplation of what he should do. He knelt down to ask the question, and it was answered in the most miraculous of ways. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the boy, and he instantly became a special witness of the Lord, was anointed to be a seer, and told that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be restored through him among many other things. And then, it was done. The heavens had opened once more!

Put yourself in Joseph's shoes for a moment here. You saw and felt and were enveloped in the presence of deity for a short time, and instantly, you knew more than the whole of the Christian world combined did about the nature of God and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as a 14 year old boy. Honestly, how would you feel? How would it instantly change you?

For three long years, it seemed that the heavens were closed up once more. Joseph was unsure of exactly how to proceed. I'm sure there were times when he wondered if it might have been a dream. I'm sure many people kept pestering him to forget it all, but his family, particularly his mother, probably put arms around him, and told him not to doubt what he had received. During this time, I am sure also that he began noticing his sins more. I'm sure the adversary was trying to make every effort to stop him from praying again. Finally, one night, he overcame those doubts and fears, and knelt down to ask for forgiveness, knowing that he could receive a manifestation that he would understand was a sign of forgiveness.

As he prayed, the room grew brighter and brighter, without waking up any of his siblings. In the midst of that light, a man suddenly appears, who reveals himself as Moroni, and told him that the time had come for the Gospel to be restored. From Joseph's eyes, he finally felt right again with the Lord amid all the weaknesses he saw in himself. From Moroni's eyes, the record he had spent 1800 years protecting in both mortality and as an angel was finally going to come forth: the Lamanites would hear the covenants of the Lord again, and the gathering of Israel would commence once more! Maybe the battle at Cumorah was not the end! Maybe glad tidings could pour from Cumorah!

Over the next several years, the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. That was followed by many great and marvelous wonders to equal the miracles of the days of old. "Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times! And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept;upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!" (Doctrine & Covenants 128:20-21).

Because the Book of Mormon came forth, "the ten thousands of Ephraim, and...the thousands of Manasseh" have come to push together the outcasts of Israel unto Zion (Deuteronomy 33:17). Because the Book of Mormon came forth, the priesthood was restored to the earth. Because the Book of Mormon came forth, the sealing power was restored.  Because the Book of Mormon came forth, thousands left their homes and settled in a barren wasteland, and made it a place of temples being raised to the Most High! Who would have thought that a book printed in an obscure New York frontier township would have made such a big ripple in the world?

Often in our lives, we will feel like we have our hardest struggles. We may even see everything we have become lost in our Cumorahs. However, glad tidings can come of it! The restoration came not only to fulfill the words of the holy prophets, but to give  you a cause to go forth in, and "shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing" (Doctrine & Covenants 128:22).

Who would have thought that a simple book could change millions of lives? God did. And those millions can now testify that it did. Let it change your life!

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Stand by my Servant Joseph"

Imagine for a minute: you live in a fairly religious community, there seems to be more denominations than there are people. Your family was kind of going to one of the churches, but when your grandfather heard that your father was going to a church, he came over three hundred miles just to throw "The Age of Reason" at your father's face, so your father decided to stop going to church.

You, yourself, are not too sure if the church you are going to is the right one. The preachers all around are preaching sermons like"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", which states things like "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours." Obviously, your standing with God would be on your mind, you would want to know if you were doing alright. Such was the case that Joseph Smith was going through as he was seeking for greater light on the subject of religion.

It was in this period of anxiety and uneasiness that the young man went to "their several meetings as often as occasion would permit...[He] became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect" (Joseph Smith - History 1:8). However, before up and joining them, he felt that he should search from the Bible so he could find which church was the one that God wanted him to go to. Through his studies, he was led to ask of God his standing with God and which church he should join, so he went out to a grove of trees, having faith that God would answer his prayer.

A simple boy asked a simple question, and the God of heaven used that question to usher in the labors of the last days. "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me...When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph Smith - History 1:15-16). Because a question was asked, Joseph listened to the Savior of the World. Because a question was asked, angels came to visit the earth. Because a question was asked, the priesthood was restored. Because a question was asked, nearly 900 pages of scripture were revealed. Because a question was asked, the ordinances of life and salvation were restored in their fullness to the earth. Because a question was asked, the doctrine of repentance was restored, and through that doctrine Joseph and millions of others have tasted of the sweetness of divine forgiveness.

However, even with such miracles and so much good wrought by the Almighty God by the Mighty Prophet of the Restoration, it was revealed, from a very early time, that Joseph's "name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues" (Joseph Smith - History 1:33). The attacks began from the moment he spoke of his experience in the grove, and have not ceased since. Some attacks are true, most are false. He was a man with faults, just as you and I, but he was and is a Prophet of the Most High, and the Lord commands us: "Stand by my Servant Joseph" (Doctrine & Covenants 6:18).

In the coming days and years, the attacks against Joseph will not diminish, but shall increase in frequency and intensity. Regardless of that, our testimonies need not be shaken. Regardless the number of demons who revile against the "choice seer", he remains just that: the "choice seer" (2 Nephi 3:6). Though earth and hell revile against him, he stands as the head of the last dispensation, declaring his witness of the Savior of the World even unto the end of his life. Truly, Joseph Smith "was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ" (Doctrine & Covenants 20:2).

"Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood;" (Doctrine & Covenants 135:3). Any person who seeks to discredit the Prophet must crawl around all the mighty miracles performed by his hands. They were far beyond the capabilities of the most educated preachers of his day, let alone an obscure farm boy who walked with a limp in western New York. All but few of the preachers of his day have faded out of memory, yet Joseph Smith's name sounds in every land and every tongue across this world.

Truly, the days are here that we must "Stand by...Joseph" (Doctrine & Covenants 6:18). Let your testimony sound loud and clear to all who will hear the message of the restoration. Though men revile him, I sing with every fiber of my being:

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Praise to his mem'ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav'n while the earth lauds his fame.

Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know "Brother Joseph" again.

Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We Talk of Christ

Scripture study is one of the more difficult commandments for the Latter-day Saints to keep, not because it's particularly difficult, but because it can be tedious, boring, or sometimes too easy to do for us to put the importance it deserves in our life.

I'll admit, sometimes the passages we read seem as if they have no relation to us. I mean, 2 Nephi 2, we can perfectly see how the Creation of the Earth, the Fall of Adam, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ relate to all of us. On the other hand, how does the feud between Pahoran, Pacumeni, and Paanchi in Helaman 1 actually affect us?

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26) The whole of the scriptures will come to life if we look for Christ in the story or passage. If you seek for such, he will be found.

In Helaman 1, Moronihah ends up fighting the secret band until Zarahemla was reclaimed by the Nephites again. So it is with the Savior, He will fight your battles for you until you have been fully reclaimed. 

No matter the story, the same thing will happen: you can find Christ in any passage. As you look for Christ, the scriptures will come alive. It make take some effort to see: the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize the Savior immediately, but when they did, their sorrow and confusion, turned into great rejoicing. 

He is everywhere in the scriptures. "Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ." (Jacob 7:11). As you read, find Him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Have Ransomed Even Thee

About a month and a half ago, school was starting here at Utah State. With the advent of the school year also came the starting of new wards, and the logistical problems associated with starting a new ward. I got there early to help set up the sacrament; however, when I got there, the bishopric had already set everything up as it worked for them in the previous year, but they asked if I would bless the sacrament.

I gladly accepted the invitation. When the sacrament was passed, the passing of the bread went smoothly with the three trays, but the water ran out a few cups short. The one elder passing the sacrament who was closest to the preparation room stepped in, and added in a row of cups, and I knelt and blessed the water for "all those who would drink of it". I watched as that tray allowed another three people in the congregation and three men passing the sacrament the opportunity to renew their covenants.

Unlike the sacrament that day, our redemption does not have to be done again. The Savior took care of it all in Gethsemane: ALL OF IT.

Often we put boundaries on the Infinite Atonement: often it covers everything that everyone has done, except ourselves. While it might not be in these exact words, individually, we often think, "God has ransomed every one of His children, except me." We put bounds on the power of God, who has no bounds. In one of my favorite hymns, "Reverently and Meekly Now" (which is written from the Savior's point of view), words are sung that I'm sure the Savior is saying to each one of us: "I have ransomed even thee" (emphasis added).

I love the way that the poet put it. If it was just "I have ransomed thee", many of us would think that it was in general terms, at least subconsciously. By adding the simple word "even" in the line, it changed the feel of the line to "I did not leave you out of my atonement".

It does not end there, but also, like we take the sacrament on a weekly basis, we do not just reap the fruits of the atonement on a one time basis. We were all ransomed by the Savior: even the one who feels like they've messed up too many times; even the person who can not seem to overcome that one addiction; even the one who got worthy and fell again after months and years of remaining pure; even the one who feels like they saw the blood of Christ run out on everyone but themselves. I testify that the blood of Christ has not run out on anyone. It is still available to ransom even thee.

That doesn't mean we have no responsibility. In the closing lines of the hymn, we sing, "And be constant unto me, That thy Savior I may be." He wants to save and ransom even thee, and he asks that we repent and come unto Him that He may heal us. I invite you to accept His invitation, and taste of the joy of the redemption.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rosh Hashanah

It is early in the morning, when the sound of the shofar echoes down the mountains of Israel. For generations, Rosh Hashanah marked a time of new beginnings for the children of Israel.

In 1827, Rosh Hashanah fell on September 22 (Rosh Hashanah dates). Interestingly enough, September 22, 1827 is when the Book of Mormon came forth. "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown" (Isaiah 27:13). The trumpet that was blown on this particular Rosh Hashanah was not to be heard in Jerusalem, nor was it to be heard in Egypt, but it was to be heard throughout the world. 

This time, the shofar that would be sounded was the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel found in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. On this Rosh Hashana, the Jews didn't just enter a new year, the world entered a new dispensation. The world could start anew: the "famine in the land...of hearing the words of the Lord" was over (Amos 8:11). 

Those who have read the Book of Mormon, for a moment think. Imagine what you would be like if you did not know the stories of Nephi, Moroni, or Abinadi. Where would you be without Alma's sermon on faith? Would you have less courage to face the world without having the story of Nephi and Lehi in prison? Would less love fill your heart without the image of the Savior blessing the children as they were surrounded in a ring of fire?

For those who have not read the Book of Mormon yet, I invite you to read it, and come to experience the joy that millions have felt as they have read the words of the Lord sent forth in these latter days to gather scattered Israel back to the covenants of the Lord. 

Regardless of whether you've read it once, hundreds of times, or never, the Book of Mormon is the shofar calling out for all men everywhere to repent, and come unto Christ, and have your own personal Rosh Hashanah, your own new beginning. For each time you read from this book of holy writ, prophets and angels speak from the dust, inviting you to repent and start fresh.

Blow the shofar, and let the Rosh Hashanah of the final dispensation change you. It does not sound down the mountains of Israel, but across the whole world.