Our Position of Strength

In his opening remarks for the October 1971 conference, President Joseph Fielding Smith struck a powerful and reassuring note that is even more relevant today.

“We the Latter-day Saints are a blessed and favored people. It is our privilege to become “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Ex. 19:6.) The Lord has chosen us, as he chose our fathers anciently, “to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6.)
Our position is one of strength because it is founded on eternal truth. We need not fear the fiery darts of the adversary, nor be troubled by world conditions, as long as we walk in that light which a gracious Father has so abundantly shed forth upon us in this final gospel dispensation.”

It can be hard to feel blessed and favored while living in a society that is moving further and further away from Gospel principles.it can be hard to come from a position of strength when we worry about mockery and scorn both inside and outside the church. And it can be hard not to be troubled when we see chaos in the world around us.

But President Smith makes it clear that we have every reason in the world to rest assured and walk in the light with confidence. He highlights just a few of the ways reasons that we should take courage.
First of all, we are a kingdom of priests. It seems to me that we take it for granted sometimes that all worthy men can, from an extremely young age, hold the priesthood of God. Anciently, very few in Israel were able to hold the holy priesthood. It was a sacred birthright and privilege. But today, all males can have that same priesthood authority which the ancient apostles held. Like them we can call upon the powers of heaven in the Name of Christ. How much more powerful could we be, as individuals and as a people, if we remembered and magnified the gift of priesthood? We should be so much more confident when we face trials and temptations. For Satan does not stand a chance against a worthy priesthood holder.

Second, we are a holy nation. I don’t believe that we current even begin to approach the power that Heavenly Father wishes us to have. We live far below our privilege. But fortunately, all of the tools needed to consecrate and sanctify ourselves are accessible. Chief among them are the ordinances of the sacrament and of the temple. Temple worship in particular is another immense blessing that we can take for granted. I’m ancient times, only the high priest could enter into the holiest part of the temple and only once a year. But Christ’s atonement rent the veil of separation that kept us from God’s presence. He has promised us an endowment of power when we regularly worship I’m the temple. And this power should enable us to stand strong and I’m a position of strength.

Finally, we are founded on eternal truth. The gospel doctrines and principles in the Church are true and represent an eternal yardstick by which as can measure the teachings and philosophies of the world. If we hew closely to the inspired teachings of the Brethren, then we can with confidence reject wordlt philosophies that contradict eternal truths. We can have the eternal vision and perspective to reject false deterministic segments which dominate public discourse. And we need not be afraid when we speak in defense of truth, because we can be certain that we are defending true doctrine. The world may reject us, but we can rest assured that our lives and sacrifices are acceptable to God.

As world opinion turns hostile to core eternal truths, it can be discouraging. But the last days offer compensatory blessings which give us the strength to remain steadfast. I love the notion that we should come from a position of strength. As long as we are on the Lord’s side we need not be apologetic or apprehensive about preaching eternal truth.

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Other posts covering this session of conference

Nathaniel Givens It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
G Working Out Our Collective Salvation
J. Max Wilson LDS Conference October 1971 – What is Failure? Zion’s Camp and Liberty Jail
Chastity Wilson Free Agency and God’s Interference
John Hancock Choose Ye This Day: General Conference or Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones
Ralph Hancock I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now
Michelle Linford Liberty
Walker Wright A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth
SilverRain Sustaining Failure

The Shaded Areas of Our Testimony

This week, as part of the General Conference Odyssey we are writing about the final session of the April 1971 conference. Already, having completed only one conference, I have been deeply struck by the powerful, uplifting, and inspired message that come from general conference. While of the themes have been similar to more modern conferences, I have been struck by many of the vivid metaphors used.

I had been struck on my initial read through by Elder William H. Bennett’s talk, but it took additional resonance for me today in light of some of the new uproar sparked by Elder Nelson’s recent comment that the same-sex policy change was revelation from the Lord.

William H. Bennett spoke of the test for color blindness that he had to take when he enlisted in the army during World War II. Many soldiers were disqualified because even though they could distinguish between solid colors, they had a hard time discerning the shaded areas between the colors. Even though these shades of colors were visible to others, these color blind individuals could not discern the difference.

Elder Bennett noted that this color blindness is similar to “the condition of a member of the Church who claims that he is seeking the truth, is anxious to develop a strong testimony pertaining to the truth, and yet is not willing or able to humble himself before the Lord, to exercise faith, and to live the gospel?”

He noted that in our world, while there are some areas that are obviously black and white, many other areas constitute shaded areas, but “unless aided by a higher power, are not able to see clearly, to interpret correctly, and to come to sound conclusions.” Indeed, we have “some limitations when it comes to our understanding of things as they really are.”

For such spiritual matters, “[o]ur thinking is often highly selective and segmented and our judgment is often faulty.” But fortunately, “we need not walk alone.” God has given us guidance to help us navigate these shaded areas. In particular, the scriptures and the words of the prophets are there to help us. Likewise, seeking the gift of the Holy Ghost can “broaden and extend our horizons and can turn the lights on for us so that we can see more clearly in the shaded areas of life.”

Unfortunately, so many “seem to be more inclined to disbelieve the scriptures and the teachings of our present-day prophets than they are to believe them.” If only “they would put forth the same effort to believe that they do to disbelieve” the holy ghost would help them come to believe “many of the things they now think they disbelieve.”

I particularly loved the metaphor of color blindness to describe this phenomenon. The Colorblind simply are not aware that they are colorblind. They think that they see all of the colors, and are unaware of how limited their perspective truly is. To them, the whole world simply appears to have fewer shades. When we are spiritually blind, we likewise tend to think that we are wise and become puffed up in the certainty of our knowledge. We imagine that we understand things as they truly are and will be. It isn’t until we are made aware of our colorblindness, and have our sight expanded that we can begin to see clearly.

When I hear of members so quick to assume that they know better than the living prophets regarding Church doctrine and policy, I feel sorry. I was once color blind to the beautiful doctrines of regarding the family. I too kicked against the pricks and fought against the teaching’s of God. In my heart, I believed that I could see everything in full color. I believed that I understood as much as the Prophets do.

But as I got on my knees, poured my heart out in prayer, and went to the temple to gain heightened perspective, I realized that I had suffered from colorblindness. I realized that the Prophet had been able to see the shaded areas and had warned us of those dangers that lay within them. I gained a greater appreciation of the divinity of such truths. It was an agonizing process to gain that witness, but once I did I was able to proceed onward with a greater testimony and conviction of the divine truth’s of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I also remembered the words of Amazing Grace which resonated as I thought of this subject:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.”

The power of God’s grace can heal and instruct us. It can overcome darkness and blindness of all kinds. It isn’t always easy to access that grace. Our blindness is deeply rooted in us as a result of the mortal condition. Because we are fallen, we are limited in our sight and perspective. It isn’t easy to root out that natural blindness. And yet that is precisely why God sent his son, and why he sends us prophets and apostles to help to guide us along the way.

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Overview of General Conference Odyssey project

Other Posts this week

Nathaniel Givens The Path Out of Shadows
J. Max Wilson LDS Conference April 1971 – A Really Round and Hairy Look at Honesty
Walker Wright You Have Entered the Twilight Zone
SilverRain Liminality and Shaded Areas, Unborrowed Light
Michael Worley He Lives, and there were gold plates!! (General Conference Odyssey: April 2015 Tuesday Afternoon)
Ralph Hancock A People Blessed by Revelation
Michelle Linford Eyes to see

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 13 (Show of their Countenance)

A few chapters ago, we read of the curse that fell upon the Lamanites. These verses have been highly controversial for their implication that dark skin in a curse.  However, Isaiah’s words quoted by Nephi in this chapter give context to the curse that came upon the Lamanites.

Here, Isaiah speaks of the leaders among the Jews at the time. He notes that because of their lack of faith, they had lost “the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water.” In other words, they had lost the temple covenants and the power of prophetic leadership and were left in their own.

Isaiah then went on to describe the curse that would fall upon them because “their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.” Therefore, Isaiah noted that “the show of their countenance doth witness against them, and declare their sin to be even as Sodom.” Isaiah therefore describes a spiritual curse that fell upon the wicked and affected their very countenance. It is clear that those curse was tangible by Isaiah’s declaration that “they cannot hide it.” Thus, their outer visage reflected their fallen spiritual state.

The reason that these verses seem significant in understanding the Lamanites curse is that Isaiah is describing the very people in the land from which Nephi and his family came. Thus, while it is possible that intermarriage with natives compounded the sense that the Lamanites were cursed, such a curse did not necessarily hold racial or racist connotations. If the people in Jerusalem had a similar curse, that did not prevent Lehi from leaving and from being made “white and delightsome.” Isaiah’s prophecy thus reveals that the curse was first and foremost about spiritual status rather than physical appearance.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 12 (Swords into Plow-shares)

One can easily see why these words would have so resonated with Nephi and his followers.

Isaiah begins by speaking of the millennial day when the temples of the lord would become beacons to the world. As Nephi’s people built a temple in their new land, they could imagine the joyful day with longing. Isaiah also speaks of swords beat into plowshares, comforting promises to a people who had to make swords to defend against their former brethren. and when swords would be beat into plowshares.

Isaiah’s description of the fallen people in Jerusalem would have served as a reminder and a warning. A reminder of why they had left Jerusalem, and a warning to avoid the same pitfalls as they built their new society.

In a land full of abundant riches and “full of silver and gold,” Isaiah’s depiction of the pride cycle would have seemed prophetic. The people in Jerusalem came to “worship the work of their own hands” and refused to humble themselves.  Therefore they were destroyed. In order to preserve their peaceful and harmonious society, the Nephites would have to do otherwise.

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 11 (He Verily Saw My Redeemer)

Nephi provides a prophetic interlude between the words of Jacob and into the words of Isaiah, and explains why he has included both of these accounts into his record at this point.

Namely, Nephi has chosen the words of these two because they both have seen the Savior, “even as I have seen him.” Nephi’s ultimate purpose in his writing is to establish the truth of his teaching regarding the son of God and his coming.

He notes that his “soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ.” Presumably, an extended family coming from Jerusalem would have had varying sentiments about the coming of the savior. Even among those who followed Nephi, it would not be surprising to have found many reverting to older beliefs and growing doubtful regarding Christ. Thus, Nephi emphasizes the importance of Christ’s coming and his “soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish.”

Nephi also returns to the other themes that I have already noted dominated Jacob’s discourse. Namely, “the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” and “his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.”

Nephi finds in the writing of Isaiah and Jacob kindred spirits, united by their shared visions of the Lord. He thus uses their words to enhance his own, as an added witness.

To Save the World

Elder Delbert L. Stapley shared an encounter that he had with a national Scout leader who was not a member of the Church. As he visited Elder Stapley in Salt Lake City, the leader told him that he believed “the church will save the world.” Elder Stapley’s talk from the October 1971 conference focuses on a central paradox inherent in living the Gospel. First of all, our mission, both individually and collectively is global. Second, the most important things that we can do to help fulfill are mission are small and simple things that ensure that we truly live the gospel.

As Elder Stapley notes, “[t]o save the world is a great responsibility. This responsibility rests not only upon the leadership of the Church, but upon the membership of the Church as well.” This is a personal responsibility to preach the gospel to the world, which is empowering in its grandeur and scope.

As we contemplate this purpose, it can transform how we view our church obligations and opportunities. No longer, do the things we are asked to do seem as pointless duties, but instead they are opportunities to reach out and save someone. We are engaged in the vast collective work of building Zion, and of calling people out of destruction in Babylon.

Sometimes, we lose sight of this responsibility. We can become complacent and think that our only goal is to fit in and do the best we can in the world. But our goal is not to assimilate into the world, but to be as the leaven and help to raise the quality of goodness in the world. We know that there are many good and kind people in the world, we must work with them. But we can never forget that our responsibility as members of the Church is not just to be part of the world, but ultimately to save and transform it.

However, paradoxically, the only way to actually do so is to live the gospel in ways large and small. As Elder Stapley notes, “[a]s members of the Church, what are we doing toward saving the world? First of all, we must live the commandments.” In contrast, he laments that “we have not fully kept Satan our of our–or more appropriately, the Lord’s– church,” because we have failed to live up to the commandments and commitments of god. And “The Lord expects us to be different from the people of the world,” because doing so is the only way to truly make people take notice. “Our faithfulness gives meaning to the doctrines we teach.”

In contrast, hypocrisy and not practicing what we preach repulses others. “Each time we let down in living gospel principles, someone is sure to observe our conduct and form an unfavorable opinion about us and the spiritual values of the Church.” It is far more how we live than what we say which influences whether individuals eventually come to learn of the gospel.

Thus, Elder Stapley notes a letter from a recent convert emphasizing the reasons that he joined the church. All of them are practical examples of how we apply the gospel in our lives: 1) Wholesome family life 2) Self-reliance and responsibility 3) Moral and physical discipline 4) Obedience of children to parents 5) Striving for perfection and excellence in all things 6) Chastity and holy observance of the marriage covenant 7) High standards in education and 8) Common Sense.

When I first read this list, I thought it was strange that Elder Stapley didn’t mention any of the distinction doctrines and teachings we hold dear in the Church. Now, I don’t believe that this was a coincidence. For “The gospel only can inspire people to live its standards of moral and spiritual conduct,” and it can only do so when we live according to those principles that we learn. The way, and indeed the only way to successfully save the world is to live according to principles which do not come from the world, but come from above.

Thus, we should not be discourage when we feel that we are not doing enough to save the world. It is our righteousness in Christ which can help do more to sanctify and save the world than anything else we do.

 

 

 

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 10 (Cheer up your Hearts)

20 And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off;

 23 Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

 24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

Jacob’s weaving of the strands of his father’s teaching culminates in this masterful invocation to action. Again, Jacob weaves the three themes of agency, the gathering of Israel, and the power of the atonement with truly moving rhetoric.

Jacob gives the people several reasons to rejoice. First of all, because of what he has taught regarding the gathering of Israel, Jacob can assure them that they are not cast off. Second, Jacob rejoices in the great knowledge that his people has of god’s plan thanks to the revelations of his father and brother. Thus, Jacob can lay forth the Gospel plan with far greater clarity, and unfold things that were not manifest to those in Jerusalem. Next, his people should “cheer up [their] hearts” because they have been made free to act thanks to Christ’s atonement. Finally, they can have access to the grace of God and overcome “the will of the devil and the flesh.”

I love how Jacob (and Nephi) turn Isaiah’s message of the destruction that hangs over Israel into a declaration of faith, hope, and joy. They saw that God’s plan was not concerned with short term outcomes, but with eternal patterns and occurrences. Thus, despite the scattering and the exile of the people of Israel, Jacob could take great comfort from the promise of their return.

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 9 (Their Joy Shall Be Full Forever)

In his masterful sermon, Jacob weaves together at least three seemingly disparate strands into a wonderful harmony. He takes his father’s teachings on agency, his father’s declaration of the Atonement of the savior, and Isaiah’s discourse on the gathering of Israel and combined them into a coherent whole. In Jacob’s hands, Isaiah’s prophecy of the scattering of Israel becomes fertile ground for prophecy of the crucifixion of the savior and Israel’s role. Thus, Jacob.

There’s so much that can be said about this sermon, and I will probably say more over several posts. But I ultimately believe that one verse is a poignant summary of Jacob’s overall message.

18 But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.

In Jacob’s discourse, it is faith in Christ that makes one a member of the kingdom of God. It is through excercised of agency, that we chose to follow him. And ultimately, those who follow them will rise with him to the resurrection of the righteous.

Jacob’s ultimate purpose in sharing his message is that his people “may rejoice” and lift up their heads.” Namely that they may know of the blessings promised to them by God. Thus, Jacob builds upon Isaiah’s words and focuses not only on the temporal blessings of following God, but also on the eternal ones. His discourse thus builds upon the themes of Isaiah and assimilates them in new and innovative ways.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 8 (Her wilderness like Eden)

3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.

Isaiah’s prophecies would have had added resonance to the Nephites. These verses describing the transformation of wilderness into Eden would have not only spoken to a future day, but reminded them of recent history. Had they not been led through the deseret to a garden place? Had they not crossed the ocean and discovered a great wilderness? Had they not built a piece of Eden through the construction of a temple and the consecration of the land to God? They had seen God fulfil these promises in their own lifetime, and therefore could foresee the great day of deliverance with clarity and hope.

“5 My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arm shall judge the people. The isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.”

And when Isaiah speaks of “[t]he isles” waiting on the Lord, I can imagine the joy that these people must have felt. Here was God acknowledging their faith and devotion. He knew them and was mindful of them. Because of Christ. They were saved.