True and Faithful: D&C 17 (Gates of Hell Shall not Prevail)

8 And if you do these last commandments of mine, which I have given you, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; for my grace is sufficient for you, and you shall be lifted up at the last day.

This section is incredibly reassuring. The three witnesses sought revelation to know if they would be able to see the plates. The Lord reassures them that because they have had faith they will have that opportunity. But more significantly in my mind he gives them a reassurance that if they remain faithful and continue to testify of what they have been commanded, then they will be saved in God’s Kingdom. God’s promise is always sure. If we follow him and keep the “last” or latest commandments he has given us, then we will always be on the right path and nothing can overcome us.

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A Singular Message to the World

If you could delier just one message to the leaders of the world, what would it be?  In October 1975, Elder Ezra Taft Benson delivered a powerful voice of warning and a call to repentance to the leaders of the world. In doing so, he echoed words of warning sent to the world by the Quorum of the Twelve. one hundred and thirty years beforehand.

What impressed me both about both messages is that the eternal truth declared to the great and mighty of the world is identical to the message that I preached on street corners and stairways in Siberia.  It is the same message of the Restoration and the Doctrine of Christ that has been proclaimed since the initiation of this dispensation:

First, from 1845:

“Therefore we send unto you with authority from on high, and command you all to repent and humble yourselves as little children, before the majesty of the Holy One; and come unto Jesus [Christ] with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and be baptized in his name, for the remission of sins (that is, be buried in the water in the likeness of his burial and rise again to newness of life, in the likeness of his resurrection), and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of the hands of the Apostles and elders, of this great and last dispensation of mercy to man.

“This Spirit shall bear witness to you, of the truth of our testimony; and shall enlighten your minds, and be in you as the spirit of prophecy and revelation. It shall bring things past to your understanding and remembrance; and shall show you things to come.

“By the light of this Spirit, received through the ministration of the ordinances—by the power and authority of the Holy Apostleship and Priesthood, you will be enabled to understand, and to be the children of light; and thus be prepared to escape all the things that are coming on the earth, and so stand before the Son of Man.

“We testify that the foregoing doctrine is the doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fulness; and that it is the only true, everlasting, and unchangeable gospel; and the only plan revealed on earth whereby man can be saved.” (Messages of the First Presidency, 1:252–54.)”

Next from 1975:

“To the rulers and peoples of all nations, we solemnly declare again that the God of heaven has established his latter-day kingdom upon the earth in fulfillment of prophecies. Holy angels have again communed with men on the earth. God has again revealed himself from heaven and restored to the earth his holy priesthood with power to administer in all the sacred ordinances necessary for the exaltation of his children. His church has been reestablished among men with all the spiritual gifts enjoyed anciently. All this is done in preparation for Christ’s second coming. The great and dreadful day of the Lord is near at hand. In preparation for this great event and as a means of escaping the impending judgments, inspired messengers have gone, and are now going, forth to the nations of the earth carrying this testimony and warning.

The nations of the earth continue in their sinful and unrighteous ways. Much of the unbounded knowledge with which men have been blessed has been used to destroy mankind instead of to bless the children of men as the Lord intended. Two great world wars, with fruitless efforts at lasting peace, are solemn evidence that peace has been taken from the earth because of the wickedness of the people. Nations cannot endure in sin. They will be broken up but the kingdom of God will endure forever.

Therefore, as humble servants of the Lord, we call upon the leaders of nations to humble themselves before God, to seek his inspiration and guidance. We call upon rulers and people alike to repent of their evil ways. Turn unto the Lord, seek his forgiveness, and unite yourselves in humility with his kingdom. There is no other way. If you will do this, your sins will be blotted out, peace will come and remain, and you will become a part of the kingdom of God in preparation for Christ’s second coming. But if you refuse to repent or to accept the testimony of his inspired messengers and unite yourselves with God’s kingdom, then the terrible judgments and calamities promised the wicked will be yours.”

I am struck by the fact that even those who are born or elected into high station are still subject to the same rules of eternal gravity.  Every individual must repent or be cast off from the presence of God. And what applies to individuals also applies to nations as a whole.

I had one other thought based on this talk that is bound to be somewhat more controversial and bound up in my own limited world view.  I do not claim any divine inspiration for anythingthat follows.   I notice as I read church history that the warning of destruction has been particularly strong at certain moments. In particular, in the period before the American Civil War, and also during the height of the cold war.  Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy is the most obvious example of this for instance.  He prophesied of a sweeping desolation and destruction that would follow the initiation of that war.

And yet at those moments we have also come back from the brink.  At certain key moments we have elected leaders that I believe to be divinely inspired who have led to periods of national repentance and reflection.  The election of Abrham Lincoln fits this paradigm as the nation began to seriously grapple with and overcome the original sin of slavery. Even as republicans fought a war against polygamy, they also laid the foundation, in the reconstruction amendments, for a national commitment to freedom of speech and religion.  And I believe that period of renewal potentially saved the nation from the calamities that Joseph foresaw.

 yPerhaps more controversially, I see the same period of national renewal after a period of deep corruption and decay in the Regan Revolution.  Regan’s rhetoric led to a flourishing and rediscovery of the divinely inspired principles of the Constitution, and in particular to the notion of inalienable rights flowing from a divine creator.

Our nation has been blessed to avoid destruction and catastrophic moral decay. I hope and pray that we will continue to be blessed to elect leaders that will lead us to repentance and help us to avoid the calamities that Prophets have foretold since the restoration.

True and Faithful: D&C 15 & 16 (Of the Most Worth)

4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.

6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.
These verses were instrumental for me as I debated whether to serve a mission. Thought they were written for two individuals more than one hundred and fifty years ago, they nevertheless spoke directly to my soul. I too had long wished to know how I could do the most good for humanity, for my family, and for myself. As I struggled to know whether to serve, these verses answered the question. I could do a lot of God even without serving, but I would never be of as much service as when I would become an authorized servant of Christ. Preaching has the power to heal souls and to transform lives. And as I wrote when discussing the last chapter, I healed and transformed my life as much as I did anyone else’s

I also love the promise that we will find rest with those we serve. I met so many incredible people and am so happy I was able to help teach them. Some have left the church since which has brought me sorrow. But I believe in the promises of eternity. One day I believe I will see them again in God’s kingdom and we will have rest together.

True and Faithful: D&C 14 (Treasure up for his Soul)

3 Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
I can testify from my own experience that missionary work truly does lead to great reward for both the missionary and those being taught. I have written this before, but I firmly believe that all of the success and blessings I’ve received since I served came from my decision to serve. And because of my service I believe that I am firmly rooted in the Gospel and in the church. Add to that the joy that I felt as a missionary helping others know Christ, the empathy and love I felt for them, and the many friendships I developed. Multiply that by the witness of the spirit that helped me know that I was doing the Lord’s will.

I am so grateful for my mission and all that I received from service.

A transcendent vision 

Elder Bruce R. McConkie had an incredible way with words. He was able to convey doctrinal truth in a way that really reached out and grabbed the listener. In October 1975, Elder McConkie spoke about an event of transcendent importance in an utterly unforgettable fashion. He focused his considerable rhetorical talents on explaining the significant of the first vision.

Elder McConkie first noted that events of such sigificance only occur rarely in human history:

“Once or twice in a thousand years–perhaps a dozen times since mortal man became of dust a living soul–an event of such transcendent import occurs that neither heaven nor earth are ever thereafter the same.”

Elder McConkie then mentioned a few such moments. In particular, the fall, the flood, and “most transcendent of all” the atonement and resurrection of Christ.

Interestingly, Elder McConkie emphasized that such events are rarely the types of miracles that occur prominently in the public eye. Flashy manipulations of the laws of nature may be impressive, but they are not nearly as significant:

“Now and then in a quiet garden, or amid the fires and thunders of Sinai, or inside a sepulchre that cannot be sealed, or in an upper room–almost always apart from the gaze of men and seldom known by more than a handful of people–the Lord intervenes in the affairs of men and manifests his will relative to their salvation.”

Turning to the First Vision, Elder McConkie emphasized that many of the greatest miracles from the scriptures could both compare in terms of significance:

“By comparison to what then occurred, the command of the man Moriancumer unto the mountain Zerin, “Remove,” and it was removed; or the decree of the man Moses to the Red Sea, “Divide,” and the waters were divided, congealing on the right hand and on the left; or the command of the man Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still, and thou moon likewise,” and it was so–by comparison to what happened in that grove of trees in western New York on that spring morning, such things as these fade into an obscure insignificance.”

For members of the Church, the First Vision represents the first glorious outpouring of revelation at the dawn of a new day of restoration. Therefore, to understand the significance we must also understand the dark apostasy that proceeded the restoration:

That year of grace, 1820, like the 1,400 years which preceded it, was one in which darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. It was a day of spiritual darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains. Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles, and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted. There were no visions, no revelations, no rending of the heavens; the Lord was not raining down righteousness upon a chosen people as he had done in days of old.”

In the midst of that darkness, God prepared one single child to be a vessel of restoration. He placed that child in a land of liberty and in the midst of religious turmoil. And “[i]t was at this critical point that divine providence caused a ray of living light to shine forth from God’s holy word and enlighten the heart of the troubled truthseeker.”

Joseph’s humble prayer would “usher in the greatest era of light and truth ever to exist on earth.” For “[t]he light of the gospel, the light of the Everlasting Word, would soon shed its rays o’er all the earth.”

That moment changed the world forever. It also changed my life forever.

“Thereupon the heavens parted and the veil was rent; the heavens, long brass, poured out showers of blessings; the age of light and truth and revelation and miracles and salvation was born.

The place, the hour, the need, the man, and the divine destiny all united to usher in God’s great latter-day work. The heavens did not shake, nor the earth tremble. It was not an event heralded by the thunders and clouds on Sinai but one patterned after the calm serenity and peace present before an open tomb when Mary of Magdala uttered the reverent cry, “Rabboni,” to the risen Lord.

This was the occasion when the greatest vision ever vouchsafed to man of which we have record burst the gloom of solemn darkness. The gods of old revealed themselves anew.”

What a glorious vision and what glorious light!

“Great God in heaven above–what wonders do we now behold! The heavens rend; the veil parts; the Creators of the universe come down; the Father and the Son both speak to mortal man. The voice of God is heard again: he is not dead; he lives and speaks; his words we hear as they were heard in olden days.”

 

The Lord Needs You

Amulek is one of my favorite characters in the Book of Mormon.  I love his willingness to drop everything to serve when called of God. I love how he overcame years of doubt or inaction and became a valiant witness of Christ. I mourn with him as he was forced to watch those he love suffer and rejoice with him as his newfound faith give him strength.

I was therefore overjoyed to see President Uchtdorf speak about lessons we can learn from the story of Alma and Amulek. And his talk revealed to me a new dimension of the story that I had not picked up on. In particular, he focused on the trust that the Lord, and Alma, put in Amulek even though he was untested and perhaps even could be said to be inactive.

President Uchtdorf emphasized that like Alma we will regularly need to reach out to those who might not at first glance seem prepared:

“In whatever position you currently serve–whether you are a deacons quorum president, a stake president, or an Area President–to be successful, you must find your Amuleks.

It may be someone who is unassuming or even invisible within your congregations. It may be someone who seems unwilling or unable to serve. Your Amuleks may be young or old, men or women, inexperienced, tired, or not active in the Church. But what may not be seen at first sight is that they are hoping to hear from you the words “The Lord needs you! I need you!”

Deep down, many want to serve their God. They want to be an instrument in His hands. They want to thrust in their sickle and strive with their might to prepare the earth for the return of our Savior. They want to build His Church. But they are reluctant to begin. Often they wait to be asked.”

And then of course, I loved President Uchtdorf’s strong reassurance to those who may doubt their capacity to serve:

“Perhaps, like Amulek, you know in your heart that the Lord has “called [you] many times,” but you “would not hear.”

Nevertheless, the Lord sees in you what He saw in Amulek–the potential of a valiant servant with an important work to do and with a testimony to share. There is service that no one else can give in quite the same way. The Lord has trusted you with His holy priesthood, which holds the divine potential to bless and lift others. Listen with your heart and follow the promptings of the Spirit.”

What a beautiful talk and what a needed reminder that God sees us far differently than we sometimes see ourselves.

Quickly Quickened by the Spirit

In April 1975, President Boyd K. Packer issued a powerful invitation to less active members of the church and in particular to those who had never received the Melchizedek Priesthood. His words however also resonated with me as a convert to the Church. He spoke of compensatory power from the Lord that allows us to quickly overcome time that we have spent away from the divine truth’s of the Gospel. His message was therefore one of encouragement and a reminder that it is never too late to come back.
“If you will return to the environment where spiritual truths are spoken, there will flood back into your minds the things that you thought were lost. Things smothered under many years of disuse and inactivity will emerge. Your ability to understand them will be quickened.

That word quickened is much used in the scriptures, you know.

If you will make your pilgrimage back among the Saints, soon you will be understanding once again the language of inspiration. And more quickly than you know, it will seem that you have never been away. Oh, how important it is for you to realize that if you will return, it can be made as though you have never been away.”

Elder Packer told the story of a 74 year old who had just joined the Church and was filled with regrets:

“Then, almost in tears, he poured out his regret. ‘Why did I not find it until now? My life is over. My children are all raised and gone, and it is just too late for me to learn the gospel.’

What a joy it was to explain to him one of the great miracles that occurs over and over again is the transformation of those who join the Church. (Or I might say of those who rejoin the Church.) They are in the world and they are of the world, and then the missionaries find them. Though they are in the world thereafter, they are not of the world. Very quickly in their thinking and in their feelings and in their actions, it is as though they had been members of the Church all of their lives.

This is one of the great miracles of this work. The Lord has a way of compensating and blessing. He is not confined to the tedious processes of communication and He is not limited to Japanese or English.

There is a sacred process by which pure intelligence may be conveyed into our minds and we can come to know instantly things that otherwise would take a long period of time to acquire. He can speak inspiration into our minds, especially when we are humble and seeking.”

For me these words resonate with my experiences. When I first joined, I felt filled with power and light as I quickly comprehended the truth of the Gospel. And I saw the same transformation in those I taught as a missionary. I take great comfort in that promise when I think about my father learning about the Gospel in the spirit world and contemplate how he must have been changed by his experiences.

God knows that we all have great potential to be transformed through the spirit and the power of the Gospel. It is Satan that wants us to doubt and be filled with apprehension