Patriarchs: Conduits of Revelation

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One of my favorite parts of my patriarchal blessing is where the patriarch slips from addressing me directly (“You have…” or “I bless you…”) to referring to me in the third person (“Jared…and his…”). It’s just a half sentence that is third person instead of first but it’s one of the highlights of my blessing.

Why?

It’s an instance when I can see the direct revelation from the Lord to the patriarch. Instead of hearing the words of the conduit of revelation that half sentence of third person narrative is a glimpse at the Source of all light and knowledge. It serves as a witness to me that the Lord knows and loves me. It serves as a witness that the patriarch spoke for God. This small narrative ‘mistake’ was a steady hand on the tiller of the ship Adolescence during a turbulent storm. It still provides comfort.

Patriarchal blessings are beautiful expressions of God’s love for us. If you have not received one, work towards receiving that special blessing. If you have received one, take to to re-read it so that you might be more mindful of God’s love for you and of His hand in your life.

Following the Prophet: Same-sex Marriage

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I made the following reply in response to a comment (see comment by “Stan”) on a post about same-sex marriage. The commenter stated that he felt the church’s position on same-sex marriage was wrong so he felt it okay to support same-sex marriage: “I want gays and lesbians to feel welcome and to have the freedom to participate in our society in every way. Yet, I am told by church leaders that this should not be so. That doesn’t feel right to me. Prophets and apostles are fallible and have been wrong so many times before, especially on social issues like these. Because of that, I am going with my own desire to accept gays and lesbians in every way. I support President Obama on this issue. I too am for gay marriage.”)

My reply (this is all my opinion and I haven’t taken the time to really flesh out my arguments due to time constraints of trying to finish up my doctoral dissertation):

[It’s] an audacious stance to declare living prophets wrong on an issue just because they are fallible and past prophets/apostles have been wrong from time to time. What other current church policies or doctrines are wrong? What right do we have to declare particular policies or doctrines null and void?

Homosexual behavior is wrong (why is it wrong? God declared it so. Could it ever not be wrong? Yes, if God declared it no longer wrong. Has He? No.). So are all other forms of fornication. So is adultery. So are lying and stealing. We shouldn’t promote laws or policies that encourage the behavior. There is a difference between not preventing homosexual behavior and legitimizing it by redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. As a society we shouldn’t place our seals of approval on immoral behavior. What right do we have to dictate morality for others? Well, in the U.S. and now much of the Westernized world criminal laws and many civil laws are based on traditional Judeo-Christian morality. That is changing as our society becomes more and more secularized. Among the many lessons to be learned from the Book of Mormon is what happens to civilizations and societies when the majority of people support wickedness – they have war, misery, and eventually collapse. Should we try to ban all sinful behavior? No, but there are big sins and little sins and sins that undermine the structure of society. Homosexual behavior is a big sin (as is any sexual sin). Allowing same sex marriage redefines one of the main foundations of society – marriage and family. Marriage and families are already close to ruin with divorce and cohabitation and unwed parents. We should not promote laws that at best further muddy the waters of families and, at worst, continue to assault them. Until God – through his prophets – speaks otherwise (I am not saying He ever will but I don’t really know very much), it is our responsibility to support the living prophet.

Any time we sin we are going against the living prophet but more importantly, we are going against God. We, in our sins (I’m talking about willful sins, not sins through ignorance) place ourselves above God by thinking or feeling that we know better than He does or than His prophets do. God is forgiving so we can repent of our pride and all our other sins; He understands the difficulties and confusions of mortality; He knows we all sin and will continue to sin – that’s why we have Christ’s Atonement to bring us back in alignment with God and His laws. Christ’s Atonement also sanctifies us, if we allow it, so that we will no longer have the desire to sin. Hopefully at some point in our lives we cease sinning very much or often. But when we do sin, God’s hand is outstretched for when we repent. The goal is to stop thinking we know better than God and turn our wills over to Him. I’m not condemning you any more than I am myself. All I’m saying is that going against the teachings of the living prophets (and most of those of dead ones too) is crossing over a fine line (again, we all do this whenever we sin but just because everyone does it, does not excuse the doing of it).

Pres. Monson said at the most recent Priesthood session of General Conference, “At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.” (Monson, Priesthood Session, April 2012).

Again, until God reveals to a prophet a change in policy or doctrine it is up to us to support the living prophet(s) regardless of our own feelings (doctrines don’t really change but policies – the implementation of them – can and do change; plus there is more that is yet to be revealed). We can question and have differing opinions but “when God speaks [through His prophets] and a man obeys, that man will always be right.” We do not have the authority to declare when a prophet is right or wrong. It is never wrong to follow the prophet but always wrong to go against him, even if a current teaching or policy turns out to be wrong down the road.

The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: Organization of LDS Church, Part 2; Chart of LDS General Authorities; How Many Children do the Seventy Have?
I’ve been fascinated by the leadership and organization of the Church for many years. I enjoy watching the Church grow and seeing how the structure of the general church leadership changes to meet the needs of a growing church. What is interesting is how the changes made always fit within the pattern Christ established when on the earth as well as the pattern revealed to Joseph Smith. In other words, the pattern of church leadership established in ancient and modern scripture is sufficient for meeting the needs of any size church. I was thus pleased to see that the Church posted an interview between Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Seventy) and Pres. Boyd K. Packer.

At one point in the interview Pres. Packer commented about the foresight of Joseph Smith (the foresight was not his own but rather was from God). “President Packer said it is marvelous that Joseph Smith could have anticipated an organization that would expand to meet the needs of the Church worldwide. ‘The revelations came when he was a very young man,’ President Packer said. ‘How he knew what he knew, I was going to say it was incredible. It is not, because he did not have to know much. All he had to do is follow the patterns of revelation.'”

Here’s the video of the interview with Pres. Packer. It’s a nice video that shows the hand of the Lord as He directs the work of His church.

Is the Bible Infallible?

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While doing a search online to see what people say about whether or not the wise men visited the infant Jesus in the manger (they didn’t), I came across a comment about the Bible that I’ve heard numerous times – namely, that the Bible is literally God’s word given directly to man. In other words, there are those who believe that the Bible needs to be taken strictly literally. It is God’s completely infallible and perfect word. While that is a nice sentiment, it is not the case. The Bible was written by inspired men but men nonetheless. However, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon, if there are flaws in the Bible, they are the flaws of men.

So if we take the Bible literally in everything, we do get wise men who visited the young child Jesus in a house. They didn’t find the mother and infant in a manger. Jesus was as old as almost three by the time the wise men found Him. But this isn’t really the purpose of this post. I want to continue on with the topic of the literality of the Bible.

There are those who take everything in the Bible as strictly literal. They also usually take it as God’s perfect, unblemished word. These same people also balk at the LDS article of faith that states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). “How could the Bible be anything less than perfect?” they argue. I’ve heard this many times from different people. We as Latter-day Saints don’t even claim perfection from the Book of Mormon. We believe it was translated correctly but it is not without error. But again, those errors are the works of men (and are very, very minor). God uses imperfect humans to do His work (at least on this side of the veil).

So, is the Bible perfect? Should we take it completely literally? Since I referred to the wise men previously, let’s continue on in Matthew 2. After Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned from Egypt, they moved to Nazareth: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23). With the slaughter of the children and infants in Bethlehem, a prophecy was fulfilled (see Matt. 2:17-18). With Joseph and family moving to Nazareth, another prophecy was fulfilled. The trouble is that this other prophecy is not found elsewhere in the Bible. There existed a prophecy stating that the Messiah would be from Nazareth but this is not included anywhere in the Old Testament. Clearly then, there are prophecies that are not in the Bible. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from this. So is the Bible complete and perfect? Maybe that particular prophecy wasn’t meant to be in the Bible. But then why was it quoted in Matthew? Maybe the Bible isn’t complete. Maybe it isn’t perfect and infallible.

There are a number of other examples similar to this that can be found in the Bible. There are even times when writers/translators of the Bible seems to contradict one another. I won’t point out any specifics but they exist. There are numerous sites that document contradictions, some from a view of faith and others from a view of anti-faith. There are even sites that seek to point out contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, which might scare some away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but are all non-issues for the believer. I’ve found that the Bible is only clarified by the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelation; any other contradictions are due to errors in the Bible (which is something that I demonstrated is possible) – the doctrines in the Book of Mormon are pure, even if the grammar or particular choice of words in some cases isn’t always perfect; that’s one of the difficulties in translation and in writing down the translation in a time before there were wide consistencies in grammar and spelling.

My point in pointing out that the Bible is not infallible is not to weaken faith, rather it is to highlight that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ more than in the Bible. Truth comes from Christ; what is in the Bible are multiple translations of that Truth. The great teacher Truman Madsen taught about faith, testimony, and prophets in this manner:

“What about witness? That leads us both to the question of authority and the question of our own testimony. Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith] again, ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’?

“Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.'” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).

His point and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s point is that you need concurrent revelation. If we look throughout the Bible, the teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent out His apostles after His resurrection to do that. If we put all of this together, we can conclude that not only is the Bible not perfect, it is also not complete. Yes, I am biased because I believe that we have a living prophet upon the earth – Thomas S. Monson at this time – but I’ve found no evidence in the Bible that the Bible is complete and perfect. It wasn’t even put together in its present form for many years after the deaths of the original apostles. What we have in the LDS Church are Christ’s prophets who speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know.

Now I’m going to shift gears back to talking about whether or not we take the Bible literally. It seems that if we do, we realize that the Bible is neither complete nor perfect. However, if we don’t take it literally then we ignore a lot of important doctrines (such as the literal and physical resurrection of the Savior). Another doctrine we might miss if we don’t take the Bible literally is that of baptism for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for thedead?” (1 Cor. 15:29). Well, maybe we get to pick and choose what to take literally from the Bible. That way we can say it is something just figurative. Well, who gets to make the judgment call on what is literal or not? It sounds like something a prophet would do.

I think other Christians would find (if they give LDS Church members a chance) that we take the Bible very literally; I think to an extent that few other Christians do. There are things that we don’t take literally though (e.g., the Creation story is one because we know that the 7 days were 7 time periods of unspecified length – millions to billions of years, most likely. I’m not saying that we do not believe in the Creation, I’m just saying that LDS Church doctrine specifies that the earth was not created in 6/7 24 hour days).

So, taking the Bible literally is a two-edged sword. On it’s [the Bible’s] own, it is difficult to know what to take literally or not. This is where having the witness of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and modern-day prophets is so important; it allows us to discern what is literal and what is not. Those without this knowledge are in a bind – if the Bible is 100% infallible, why are there missing passages? Why are there some contradictions? Why is there a need for multiple translations of the Bible? Why do the Catholics have a different Canon than most of the Protestants? Further, if the Bible is taken literally, how do you account for teachings that contradict doctrines of many Christian religions? How can you pick and choose what to accept?

I know some of the things I wrote about are not entirely this simple, but I wanted to respond to those who take the Bible as “GOD’S PERFECT WORD” (again, that’s a description of the Bible I read and hear frequently). The Bible forms the foundation of the LDS canon of scriptures, we place it first in our scripture sets, we love the Bible and follow its doctrines. However, we are not limited to the Bible. We have the Book of Mormon and other scriptures; we have living prophets and modern revelation. Our canon is not fixed and closed, it is open and expanding. God speaks to us today, just as He did in Biblical times.

The Church Marches On

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A couple Sundays ago I was teaching the lesson to our Priest (we only have one) when I made a comment about us leaders in the Church being easily replaceable. I meant the comment to be somewhat self-deprecating but honest. Our bishop started to disagree with me so I amended my statement by saying, “Some of us are easily replaceable.” Then we went on with the lesson. My point in making that statement was not to minimize myself or any particular individual; the point I was trying to make is that we are called to positions within the Church. We do not aspire to positions. We are set apart and/or ordained to positions and then released at some point (although there are callings that last for life but those are relatively few). Mainly the point I was making is that we leaders train others to take our place at some point in the future. Maybe not our particular calling but we want to teach the youth how to be leaders. I think a leader is best when the leader becomes largely expendable. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that a leader should be able to train others to replace him or her.

I am not minimizing the talents and particular callings of each individual nor am I neglecting fore-ordination; what I am doing is all church leaders are replaced at some point (it might be through death in some instances but we are all replaced). What this means is that we as leaders need to make sure that we help train others to be leaders. None of the operations of the Church are about specific church members (and yet, the Church is all about specific church members). What I mean is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Jesus’ church. He is its head. He is its Ultimate Leader. The prophets and apostles and all other leaders are called as was Aaron of old – by prophecy and by the laying on of hands. They do not call themselves to the ministry, they are chosen. That’s how all church positions are filled – by prophecy. Okay, I know that’s not always the case but for the most part it is the case that church positions are filled by direct revelation. I also know that sometimes people volunteer for positions but in such instances they do not call themselves. This reminds me of what happened following the death of Joseph Smith.

While the early years of the Church were tumultuous in general, the death of Joseph Smith sent shockwaves though the membership. Some left the Church but most remained. Outsiders prophesied that the Church would die – cut off the head of a snake and the snake dies. But that’s obviously not what happened. It would have happened should some of the church leaders and members gotten their way. A meeting was called where the general membership were invited to hear “arguments” from Brigham Young (who was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve) and Sidney Rigdon (and others) over who would be the next leader of the Church. Brigham stated that Joseph taught that the authority remained with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sidney Rigdon claimed that he, as the sole surviving member of the First Presidency should be the next Church President. Notice the difference – Brigham Young wasn’t claiming he should be the President, he claimed the authority rested with the Quorum of the Twelve. Sidney was seeking the honor for himself. Yes, Brigham would eventually be the President of the Church (in part because he was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) but his argument was that the authority was with the Twelve and not an individual.

Put all of this together and you have a church that is run by a lay ministry; people who volunteer their time to build up the Kingdom of God. Church leaders are called by those in authority over them through revelation. They do not call themselves, which is doctrine that is not only Biblical (see Hebrews 5:4) but was also solidified in the months following Joseph Smith’s death. This is why I stated that we as leaders are easily replaceable – we are called into positions for a while and then released. The Church moves onward with nary a blip. A bishop is release, a new one sustained, and the Church marches on. A Relief Society president is released, a new one called, and the Church marches on. A prophet dies, a new one is ordained, and the Church marches on. We are just part of God’s great work; it will go forward with or without us so it is up to us to choose whether or not we will help it along as best as we can..

Selected October 2009 General Conference Quotes and Thoughts – Sunday Morning Session

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Pres. Henry B. Eyring – The Road of Improvement

Different as we may be, we share a desire to be better than we are. We can and must expect to become better as long as we live. We will all meet the Savior someday and need to prepare for that time. Any believing Latter-day Saint is an optimist about what may come. Even the most humble person can take comfort in the invitation to become like the Savior.

I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His way. I’m trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say.

It is a commandment to become like the Savior. He has prepared a way through His Atonement and example. Love is the motivator along the way to becoming like Him. Love of God will lead us to keep His commandments. The family is an example of the ideal setting in which we can experience love [and service]. Sorrow [in our families] comes primarily from selfishness.

I pray that there will be no empty chairs in your family in the life to come. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own.

[He talked about wayward children]. Orson F. Whitney quote: “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them…Pray for your careless and disobedient children…Love them, reach out to them with confidence…”

Honor thy father and mother – the only commandment with a promise.

You can feel the approval our your Heavenly Father when you do what He asks. I hope you will go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did.

Elder L. Tom Perry – Temple and Missionary Work

Talked about the Manti Temple pageant and temple. There is a special spirit about these older temples that were constructed [with great sacrifice]. I can hear the pioneers saying, “Look what we built with our own hands!”

Stories of the pioneers. Settling in Sanpete and promised to have a temple. They waited and no temple was started so they, with the Church leaders’ permission, started building the Manti temple. They used the principles of ship-building to build a solid roof for the temple (they designed it like a ship and turned it upside-down). The principles of building a sound ship also applied to the temple.

We have all accepted the responsibility to share the gospel with others. The church eliminated the stake missions and brought it down to the ward level; it increases involvement by the members. Pres. Hinckley said: “So many of look upon missionary work simply as tracting…there is a better…wherever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is a built-in support system.”

How prepared are you to give witness and testimony of the gospel…to play that supporting role to the full-time missionaries as they teach investigators?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine way to face the future.

Elder Russell M. Nelson – Revelation

Modern technology is amazing. But more amazing is our ability to receive knowledge from heaven without hardware, software, or monthly fees. This offer to receive personal revelation is extended to all God’s children. We always need to be ready to receive [personal revelation].

To access information from heaven, one must have firm faith and sincere desire. One needs to ask with real intent and with faith in Jesus Christ. Study the matter diligently.

Some revelations have been given for specific circumstances, like Noah’s ark.

A desire to follow the prophet takes much effort because the natural man knows little of the Lord. The natural man is an enemy to God and will be forever unless he [submitteth unto the Lord].

Personal revelation can be honed to become spiritual discernment. This is a supernal gift. It allows us to see things not visible and feel things not tangible. Can detect trends in the world…things that are flashy and fleeting and those that are [worthwhile and lasting].

“None of the callings in the Priesthood are for the personal benefit or fame of those who have them. They are to fulfill the purposes of God.” ~ Pres. John Taylor (paraphrased)

Revelation need not all come at once. It may be incremental. “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” Unto him who receiveth, I will give more.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson – Service

Volunteers in Medicine founder – Dr. McConnell – giving service

Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose in life. Giving service can, in effect, save your life.

“Man’s greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others” – David O. McKay.

At baptism we covenant to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. Too often we think, “oh, someone else will fill that need.” We spend too much time thinking about things that do not matter much in the grand scheme of things.

“I have wept in the night for the shortness of sight that to somebody’s need made me blind; But I never have yet felt a tinge of regret for being a little too kind.”

“Warm fuzzies jar” – based on acts of service. A girl in a ward babysat for free for a family who did not have a lot of money. [Other examples of service were shared].

We have to live a long time to learn how empty a room can be that is filled only with furniture. The memories of the past can burn within our hearts.

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.

If we truly listen we may hear that voice say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”