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A student of the Lord

Our obligation is to conform our opinions to the Lord’s instruction.  That requires us to be careful about how we listen, how hard our hearts are, how much we want to let in, and how loyal we choose to be to traditions.  It is rare for any man to be an eager student of the Lord’s.  The scriptures give us only isolated examples.  Abraham was one of them.  He WANTED to receive and obey commandments.  (Abr. 1: 2.)
 
Resistance to truth prevents us from obtaining it.  The Lord will not force us to understand Him or His ways.  Instead He invites us to come and learn from Him.  Joseph Smith made this remarkable statement: 
 
“We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same.”  (TPJS p. 51.)
 
Closing your mind to the Lord’s agenda before He has had an opportunity to fully instruct you is damnation.  Damnation merely means the end of progress.  So when we fail to progress in our understanding, we voluntarily damn ourselves.
 
The Lord’s system, however, involves gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned.  It requires patience and pure knowledge.  (D&C 121: 40-42.)  Before we can elevate anyone else’s understanding we have to stand on higher ground.  To lead a soul to salvation, as Joseph put it, required the following:  
 
“Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”  (TPJS p. 137.)  
 
Given this requirement for a man to be able to lead another soul to salvation, it would seem that few are really qualified.
 
Choose your teachers carefully.  Accept any truth you are offered and you will be offered more.  Reject a truth given to you and you close down the opportunities given to you for learning.
 
Someone asked the question a bit ago: “Humility = light?” and I haven’t responded till now.  The answer is humility allows someone to be taught.  We are all ignorant, but not all are willing to let in new understanding.  We must be taught about the things we do not yet know for us to be saved.  Without humility we cannot be taught, and therefore we cannot gain light.  Humility is so fundamental a requirement for gaining further light and truth that without it we cannot grow.  The two are so intimately linked together they form a near equivalency.

Violence and the Violent

There has been an abundant outpouring of vitriol by those who disagree with my view about “the battle is the Lord’s” (an earlier post).  The comment moderator has asked me about them, because she’s reluctant to put some of them up.  They claim the view I hold is either Satanic or else I have been deceived by the Devil.  They insist I have a duty to kill people rather than refrain from doing so when there is a threat of violence directed at me or my family.  They claim Brigham Young and Joseph Smith both require me to begin killing enemies under appropriate circumstances, rather than submitting to being killed.

From time to time someone writes something which they later regret and they send another message asking for the comment to either not be put up or to be deleted if it had already been posted.  I reminded her of that and suggested that she wait a few days and see if people decide to withdraw them before making any decision.  Ultimately I leave it to her to decide.

I did want to add a comment about the use of violence.  First, I trust the inspiration of a non-violent man, constrained against his will, when he determines the Lord requires him to act far more than I would trust the judgment of someone prone to violence when they suggest the need to kill, take violent action or attack.  Throughout history all those who have made claims their violence was excused claimed they were “defending” themselves.  There is a chapter on this subject in Eighteen Verses, which covers the topic a bit more than I am inclined to do again here.

I would comment about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and its sad legacy.  The recent publication by the Assistant Church Historian as co-author of yet another new treatment of the unfortunate moment when Brigham Young’s clamor for “defending” the Saints got out of hand.  The book is called Massacre at Mountain Meadows. The book reiterated how mistaken and regrettable that moment was in LDS history.  It is the great example pointed to by anti-Mormon sources as proof that Mormons are capable of all the depredations of Historic Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Puritanical excesses that killed those who offended them.  The church has issued an official apology, and President Hinckley visited the site and dedicated a monument as an act of Latter-day Saint contrition and regret.

That single moment in church history is something which all our prayers cannot take back.  We cannot restore those lives which were taken.  We cannot explain we are really Christ’s disciples to the descendants of that party of victims.  They continue to hold resentments which have festered for generations and still call out condemnation for our act of violence and murder.

If we had suffered then, as we had in Missouri and Illinois we would have been better.  If given the opportunity to suffer again for our faith, we would be better remembered by history if we learn the lesson of Mountain Meadows.  We are ennobled by our sacrifices.  We are detested for our revenge and violence.  In General Conference a few sessions back, President Faust gave a talk titled The Healing Power of Forgiveness.  Unfortunately, his great example came from the Amish, whose young daughters were killed by a murderer, whom they forgave.  It was not taken from our own conduct.  I would commend that talk as a more recent and more reasoned statement on violence and the violent than the comments of Brigham Young who Latter-day Saint historians now admit had some role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Not because he approved it, he did not.  Indeed, he sent a message to let the entrapped party go.  But his message arrived too late.  The violent attack had already taken place.  The violence having been rationalized, at least in part, by Brigham Young’s own militant comments in the preceding years.


I am not trying to persuade anyone.  Go ahead and resolve this issue for yourself.  I am only setting out my own view.  Take it for what you think it is worth.  If you think it is “of the Devil” or “Satanic” then of course you ought to reject my view.  But I have considered the quotes of Brigham Young before reaching my view, and find them in a context which even I believe he grew to regret.

Egypt and Egyptian

The brass plates of Laban were also in Egyptian.  Mosiah Chapter 1, verses 1-4 discuss the education of Mosiah’s sons.  They were taught “in all the language of his fathers.”  That phrase gets explained.  But before clarifying what “all the language” included, the brass plates are mentioned in verse 2.  These plates contained the commandments that the sons of Mosiah needed to understand and were not possible for father Lehi to remember.  Therefore it was necessary for them to possess the brass plates to stimulate their memory of the commandments.
Continuing on with the explanation, and addressing specifically the brass plates, it is written:  “it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children.”(Id. v. 4., emphasis added.)
This somewhat changes the picture of Jerusalem at the time of Lehi’s departure.  The record of the brass plates included what we would recognize as the Old Testament record, from Moses’ five books down to the time of Lehi’s exodus.  (See 1 Ne. 5: 10-16.)  For the entire Old Testament account to have been written in Egyptian onto the brass plates means that Egyptian was a preferred language.  It wasn’t just an efficient language that Nephi selected for his own record, but instead a preference that was widespread among the Jews throughout Jerusalem at the time of Lehi’s departure.
By the time Mormon took over abridging the record, the language had been further modified for efficiency and reduced effort in carving the record onto metal plates.  (See Mormon 9: 32-34.)  It was a more efficient, though less exact, form of language than Hebrew.
The Egyptian influence upon ancient Jerusalem and our own Bible should be studied.  The presence of Egyptian hieroglyphs in our scriptures (Book of Abraham Facsimiles 1-3) also puts us on notice that we need to look into Egyptian matters.  Hugh Nibley has written a number of books on the matter, the most recent of which was released as One Eternal Round on the occasion of Nibley’s 100 year from birth.  Abraham in Egypt was an earlier work also on this subject.  And there has been a three volume set on the Early Life of Abraham published through BYU (quite an expensive set to own).  It is interesting how much Egyptian influence there has been in our faith.  Remember that the Egyptians sought to preserve the faith which existed before the flood and was practiced from Adam to the time of Noah.  (Abraham 1: 26.)  It may have become eroded and drifted, but it nevertheless preserved truths from the beginning.  Abraham was sent to them to help restore the original faith which they originally tried earnestly to preserve.

Whether we like it or not, we have an interest in knowing more about ancient Egypt than any other Christian faith.

LDS Books

I was asked to recommend some books.  I am going to first discuss some of what I’ve read over the years.
The first year after joining the church I was eager to learn what the religion was about.  I began reading whatever I could find to inform me about the new faith.  I started with the following, which I obtained from a bookstore inside the home of a woman in the ward: 
A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by LeGrand Richards.
The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
Life of Heber C. Kimball
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Jesus the Christ
Documentary History of the Church by Joseph Smith (all volumes)
I was transferred by the Air Force to Texas, and continued to read there until my discharge from the military.  While there I read the following:
The Life of John Taylor
Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by BH Roberts (all volumes)
Evidences and Reconciliations
The Gospel Kingdom
Mormon Doctrine
The Promised Messiah
The Articles of Faith
The House of the Lord
The Mortal Messiah (all volumes)
Ensign, Conference Report and Journal of Discourses (not all volumes read)
Doctrinal New Testament Commentary
The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith
Discourses of Brigham Young
Brigham Young: American Moses
Doctrines of Salvation (3 volumes)
Answers to Gospel Questions (5 volumes)
Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F. Smith
Messages of the First Presidency (6 volumes)
By the time I arrived at BYU, I thought I was beginning to understand the faith, at least as it was taught and understood at the beginning.  There was a debate between BH Roberts and the Chaplin of the United States Senate which I really liked.  It was titled “The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts and Van Der Donckt Debate.”  Nibley’s book The Timely and the Timeless came out and I still have my original copy.   During law school I also discovered Hugh Nibley, and found an actual Deseret Book store.  Back then Deseret Book sold doctrine.  In fact, almost everything they sold or printed was doctrine or history.  I bought and read until I couldn’t find an early or contemporary work about church history or doctrine I hadn’t read.  I have acquired a library since joining the church that includes every significant LDS doctrinal book as it became available in print.  I still try and keep up with all the current reading that I believe is worthwhile.  But the new stuff is getting thinner and thinner in material, importance and doctrine.  In fact, it is quite rare that a new book isn’t disappointing to me; particularly when it comes from Deseret Book.  The Joseph Smith Papers project is the exception; however it is coming out under the Church’s new publication arm (a division of Deseret Book.)  A good example of the foolishness to which Deseret Book has descended is that Odds Are You’re Going to be Exalted book that came out a couple of years ago. 
That having been said, I was asked by someone what I thought was absolutely essential reading.  Here’s my list:
The scriptures (first, foremost and without peer)
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Lectures on Faith
Words of Joseph Smith
Approaching Zion, by Hugh Nibley
The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil

I think if you study those six books, you will understand the Gospel.

A Confession

Confession of sins is supposed to be good for the soul.  So I figure I’ll make a confession of my attempted arson.  I offer no defense for this crime, since I need none.  The statute of limitations having run many years ago.
When my friend decided he no longer wanted to make payments on his new 1969 Chevy Nova, I offered to total the car for him so he could collect the insurance money.  As we were speeding along getting ready for me to wreck it into a collection of roadside boulders, he chickened out.  So we never destroyed it that evening.  Within a few days, however, he returned to his despair over making payments.  We discussed it for some time without any resolution to the problem.
Because of some movie (I think with Steve McQueen, but for the life of me I can’t recall what it was about), we came up with a solution:  We’d burn the car.  Surely insurance would total it if burned.
So we parked it behind the Mountain Home Newspaper office, where we worked, and set the plan in motion.  My friend soaked the front seat with kerosene, lit a cigarette, tucked the lit cigarette into a match-pack, set it on the soaked front seat, and we went inside.  We were waiting for the cigarette to burn down to the matches, the matches to ignite, the ignition to set the kerosene afire, and the fire to destroy the car.  We waited.  And waited.  And nothing seemed to be happening.  We stayed in the front of the newspaper office, wanting to appear surprised when the news of a burning car was brought to us, but nothing happened.
I think it was an hour or more before we went to the rear of the building to check on how our felony was progressing, and noticed that in the upper glass block skylight there was flashing red lights, clearly showing flames licking upward from a burning Chevy Nova.  We thought it worked!  Now someone needed to notice it and call the police.  But we couldn’t be the ones who discovered it.  So we retreated again to the front of the building and settled in to wait out the discovery.
When another hour or so had passed we again peeked into the back of the building and again saw that same flickering red light.  We retreated again.
Another hour later and still no sirens, no commotion, nothing.  We checked again and sure enough the red flickering was still underway.  We wondered what it was about a Chevy Nova that would let it burn for hours once ignited.  Then concluded that if no-one else was going to make the grim discovery, we could at least see the results of our handiwork directly instead of through glass block skylight reflections.
So we opened the back door and there sat the Chevy Nova completely undisturbed.  Intact, fully operational and not even singed.  Puzzled, we wondered at what we’d been seeing flickering these past hours.  It turned out to be the outdoor sign of Jovial Jerry’s bar, whose sign was on the sidewalk outside the bar with which the Mt. Home News shared a parking lot.
Well the Nova didn’t burn.  When we inspected our crime scene it turned out that kerosene will put out a lit cigarette without igniting.  The cigarette was there, soaked with the seat, and the matches were unusable as well.  The only damage was a cigarette burn to the front seat upholstery.
Well my friend had suffered so much from the hours of anticipation and was so relieved at the failure, that he determined to just keep the Nova.  However, from that day till the day he sold it it always stank of kerosene.

There, confessing my sin does make me feel better.  Maybe I’ll cover some others in the future.

Forward or backward

I got asked about loss of teachings or practices within the LDS community.  My response is as follows.

 
It makes no difference whether it is an individual or a community, we are all on a single path that goes two ways – forward or backward. We are either gaining, or we are losing.  We cannot stand still.
 
Whether a group or a person, we are either gaining (restoring) light and truth, or we are losing (apostatizing) from light and truth.  This world is a world of change.  Nothing remains the same.  Everywhere you see either growth, or decay.  These forces are at work everywhere. They are also at work within you.
 
You either search out new truth, find it, live it, and thereby become restored to truth, or you back away from it.  If you are backing away, losing it, neglecting it, and discarding it, you are in the process of apostasy.
 
In a restoration process, there are moments along the way which are marked and notable.  Having the inspiration of the Spirit, or feeling the remission of your sins, or receiving revelation, or having a visit of an angel are notable.  The culmination of the restoration would be to return to God’s presence.  Should that happen, through the Second Comforter’s ministry, then you have been restored in full.
 
In an apostasy process, you also have a few momentous events.  Having a loss of sympathy for others, feeling progressively more critical of others, becoming neglectful of prayers, failing to associate with fellow saints, neglecting the sacrament are early along the path.  Ultimately asking to have your membership terminated, engaging is drug abuse, patronizing the sex industry, are strong signs someone has departed from moving in one direction and has begun to move quickly into the other.  (I’m not saying that these are related, nor that someone who leaves the church voluntarily is doomed to addiction, immorality or worse.  There are many people of good faith who struggle with the church.  That is a different subject.)  It is clear, however, than when a person has become a murderer, seeking to kill the saints, as we have seen in history, such a person has finished the course of apostasy and is beyond feeling.
 
These are examples which try to quickly illustrate the point on a personal level.  Quickly, at the institutional level, we have at one end of full restoration, a return to Zion, and the Lord dwelling among them.  At the other we have a society whose wickedness and abuse of children is so far spread that fire comes down from heaven to destroy them.  Complete restorations and complete apostasies are rare.  What history is made up is the description of struggling along the path.  We ebb and flow back and forth, without becoming fully ripe either way.
 
Christ promised at the end of time there there would be a ripening.  “Wheat” and “tares” will ripen.  Then there will be a harvest. (Matt. 13: 37-42.) However, the haphazard manner of the harvesting makes a full return of Zion before His coming seem unanticipated by the Lord’s teachings. (Matt. 24: 39-40.)  Modern revelation gave us that opportunity.  We clearly have not done so, and at present seem clearly not interested in doing so.  That is a subject for another time, however.  As Christ put it, we need to seek for our individual, complete restoration because the group will not.
 
There are two ways – forward or backward.  It is not required that you finish the course in a day; but times are coming in which the environment will require of you a greater commitment as “wheat” on the one hand, or leave you to descend into becoming a “tare” on the other.  So the direction you are on now is quite important.  Either you are restoring truth or you are discarding it.

Mosiah 18: 8-10

I was asked why the language of Mosiah 18: 8-10 related to membership in the church, and not to others outside the church.  Here’s my response.
 
These verses are talking about entering into a covenant and becoming “the fold of God.”  (Verse 8.)  This fold will be “called his people.”  (Id.)  The fold, who have this covenant, and who are called His people, are to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.”  (Id.)  The whole passage is relating to the interrelationship between those who are of the covenant, the fold, and who are God’s people as a result of this covenant.  These are the duties owed internally to the fold.
 
It continues to explain that these people should be “willing to mourn with those that mourn.”  (Verse 9.)  The word “those” should be read in the context of the covenant, the fold, the people and the obligation arising from within the group.
 
These verses are church/fold/covenant people related, and govern the obligations which those who come into that fold owe to each other.  It arises out of the covenant of baptism.  (Verse 10.)
 
The obligation owed within the church membership to one another on the one hand does not eliminate other obligations owed to your fellow man.  Indeed, it is one of the chief obligations owed to all humanity to cry repentance and bring others into the fold.  Christ also extended the obligation to care for others without regard to their status, including in His parable of the good Samaritan.  So to say there is one duty owed within the church is not to say there are not other obligations owed to others outside the church.

The battle is the Lord’s

I had an interesting conversation yesterday.  It provoked this comment.
 
When Julius ended the Republic by crossing the Rubicon with the 13th Legion from Gaul, he established a dictatorship that would change into the Empire thereafter.  The Republic was dead.  The Empire lived on.
 
Julius’ great nephew is regarded as the first fully recognized Emperor of the Roman Empire.  He ruled until his death in 14 AD as dictator for life.
 
Rome dominated the world, subduing other peoples who were considered inferior to Romans.  They believed it was Rome’s right to rule the world.  Roman control was benefiting others. This was the Pax Romana, or peace of Rome.  It came at the point of a spear.  Such is the peace offered by the leaders of this world.
 
Among the lands under Roman control was the Judean province in which Jesus Christ was born.  The place of His birth was directly affected by Augustus’ taxing.  (Luke 2: 1-6.)   He was a Jewish subject to the vassal king of the Herodian family. His life was lived between two Roman controlled provinces.
 
Jesus was asked if it was lawful to give tribute to Rome.  He responded by asking for a coin, noting Caesar’s image on it, and remarking “give unto Caesar the things that are Casear’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”  (Matt. 22: 17-22.)

Jesus never challenged Roman authority.  He submitted to it.  When the time comes for the establishment of Zion, it will not be necessary for us to deviate from Christ’s example.  Those who are in the promised latter-day Zion will be protected by the “the terror of the Lord.”  The residents will be those who “will not take up arms against their neighbor.”  (D&C 45: 66-71.)  There is no need to overthrow the world.  It will overthrow itself.  The Lord will not permit the wicked to destroy the righteous. (1 Ne. 22: 16.)  It is the wicked who destroy the wicked.  (Mormon 4: 5.)

 
We live in a world today in which Pax Americana has established controlled violence the world over.  The fear of destruction holds forces at bay which would gladly destroy one another if permitted.  The key to replacing the current world order with another one, as many insurgencies the world over recognize, is the destruction of Pax Americana by destroying American hegemony.  A lot of people are working on that, both inside and outside the United States.
 
Latter-day Zion will not need to take up the sword to defend themselves.  The Lord will be their shield and protection.  Since the wicked are responsible for killing the wicked, you join them when you decide to take up arms.  You also exclude yourself from those who are to come to Zion – for that group will be composed only of those who refuse to take up arms against their neighbor.  (D&C 45: 68, above.)
 
Read again how Zion was protected in the days of Enoch.  (Moses 7: 13-17.)  It wasn’t an army or arms which protected them.  It was the Lord who dwelt among them.
 
Our challenge as a people is to live so the Lord can dwell among us.  He will “take up His abode” with us as the Second Comforter, if we are prepared to receive Him.  This is why I have written what I have written.  Zion will be a byproduct of a prepared people.  It never has been and never will be the result of a violent, armed, and politically motivated insurrection by people who want to isolate themselves from the world.  Such people will only be a part of those who take up arms, and acting as part of the wicked, join in the destruction of the wicked, including themselves.
 
This does not mean that some righteous will not be required to die.  The Lord’s ability to protect us will require His hand move in “justice and mercy” to fulfill His promises.  Those who die will die unto the Lord.  Those who live will live unto the Lord.  But the battle is the Lord’s.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain had a greater influence on my childhood development than any other writer.  Here are a few of his quotes:

 
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
 
“Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.”
 
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.  Fiction has to make sense.”
 
Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain gave Americans their sense of humor.  Whether you’ve ever read anything written by them or not, they form the underlying basis for our American humor.  Deep inside all their wit lies the truth.