Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Lamp That Is Trimmed and Burning

There are dozens of places in the scriptures that define the gospel of Jesus Christ in clear and precise language. The fourth Article of Faith states:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In 3 Nephi 27, Christ explains that the gospel is possible because of His Atonement. With that made clear, he defines the gospel in his own words:

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel" (v. 19-21).

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ: because of the Atonement of Christ, we can be saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God despite our imperfection through faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. As Joseph Smith made clear in the articles of faith, however, these are only the first steps.

In D&C 33, Christ commands a group of missionaries to open their mouths and promises that their open mouths will be filled with the teaching of the gospel. After explaining that the gospel is the doctrine of faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, Christ teaches the early missionaries:

This is my gospel... And upon this rock will I build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you (v. 13).

Again, the gospel is only the first step. It is not the end, but the entry way to the strait and narrow path. Our testimonies are build upon the firm foundation-- the rock of Christ-- when they are built upon the scriptural gospel, but then we must continue. We must endure to the end.

Though frequently used, the phrase "endure to the end" and its synonyms (be faithful, be diligent, etc.) have a specific scriptural definition that may not always be considered when thinking of "enduring". Much more than simply surviving, or even actively pursuing salvation, the Lord teaches that there are specific tasks associated with endurance:

Remember the church articles and covenants to keep them... And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things. Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom" (v. 14, 16-17).

Keeping covenants, studying the scriptures, utilizing the gift of the Holy Ghost and praying always are necessary, by definition, for the type of enduring that leads to eternal life. Nephi said it this way:

Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do... If ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do... But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee... for the welfare of thy soul" 2 Nephi 32:3, 5, 8-9).

We enter the strait and narrow path through the gate of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We endure as we study the scriptures, hearken to the promptings of the spirit, pray and keep our covenants. Only as we endure in this way will our lamps be trimmed and burning at the coming of the Bridegroom, who is Christ the Lord.

For anyone who has not yet entered the way, that is the first step-- and it must be taken first. I urge you to believe in God; believe that he is, that he created all things, that he is your Heavenly Father, and that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them. I urge you to believe in Christ, that he is your Savior and Redeemer, and that through him all things are possible. As you act on these beliefs, you will have a desire to be baptized by immersion for the remission of your sins and will prepare yourself to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. You can find someone authorized by God to perform these ordinances through the missionaries of the Church. When you are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, you will be on the strait and narrow path that leads to kingdom of God.

For those who have already entered in by the way and have felt to sing the song of redeeming love-- do you still feel the joy of redemption? Surely we all must re-enter the path from time to time, through the rebuilding of our faith, repentance, the renewal of our baptismal covenants through the sacrament, and the re-sanctification of the Holy Ghost. Are you enduring well? Are you feasting upon the words of the scriptures and praying always in your heart? Are you listening to the still, small voice of the Spirit and fulfilling your church covenants and responsibilities?

This is not intended to make you feel guilty, but if you feel impressed to improve in one area or another, now is the time to act. As you and I strive to improve ourselves-- to enter in by the way and endure to the end-- let us remember the words of Moroni and come unto Christ:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

Our lamps can be trimmed and burning, with oil ready, when the Bridegroom comes if we will accept and live the gospel and endure to the end. Is your lamp burning?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Endless Torment

In the scripture, we often read the description of hell as a place of endless torment. It is described as "a lake of fire and brimstone", "the fire that never shall be quenched", "eternal damnation" and "endless torment" (see Mark 3:29, Mark 9:43, 2 Nephi 9:19 and Mosiah 3:27 for starters). This is to be the eternal fate of those who do not please God.

As we understand it, life after death can go in two general directions. We can go to a spirit paradise-- what most Christians would call 'heaven'-- or to spirit prison-- which is often related to the general condition of hell. Alma, Paul and others have taught that our assignment to paradise or prison is a temporary state (Alma 40 and 1 Cor. 15, respectively); and Peter suggested that those residing in heaven or hell may move from one to the other if they meet (or fail to meet) the given requirements (1 Peter 3-4). Following the resurrection, all who have resided in these spirit dwellings will be given a more permanent allocation to one of three kingdoms of glory-- Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial (D&C 76, 137).

Although we are not alarmed that a person in spirit paradise may quickly move on to live in the presence of God, many are all-too-quick to consider the evil suffering misery and damnation forever. We take comfort in what we suppose to be the knowledge that those who are cruel, vile, wicked, or have wasted their life with lust and drunkenness will suffer for their unkind, irresponsible and sometimes horrifying evil. However, this too is temporary. The Lord explains:

It is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation...For behold, I am endless, and punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name (D&C 19:6-7, 10; emphasis in original).

In other words, 'eternal' or 'endless' is merely the name of the torment, not an adjective for its duration. Our Heavenly Father is a god of mercy.

Despite the numbered days of an endless torment, and my casual use of 'merely', it remains a punishment of the highest intensity. The Lord continued:

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-- and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink (D&C 19:16-18).

We have two choices: we can accept Christ as our Savior and take his name upon ourselves through baptism, or we can reject the Christ and his repentance. Our choice leads us to salvation, if we are saved through faith in the name of Christ, or eternal torment, which is the torment experienced by Christ as the price that must be paid for sin. So we dwell in a state of paradise or a state of spirit prison until the resurrection of all God's children, through the merits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, when we shall be judged and delivered to our eternal glories-- Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial.

Our faith in God can be reinforced by the truth that our loving Heavenly Father is a God of justice and a God of mercy. His goal is glory, not torment; salvation, not damnation. Though we will receive varying degrees of glory proportional to our valiance, and though some will have to suffer the pains of hell for a time, almost all will inherit a kingdom of glory, not of suffering and woe.

We can avoid the endless torment that comes from a life separate from the Savior if we will have faith in him, repent of our sins, be baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. That is the commandment:

Wherefore, I command you again to repent... and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken... walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me (D&C 19:20, 23).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Life Advice from Elder Busche

Elder F. Enzio Busche was a member of the First Quorum of Seventy from 1977 until given emeritus status in 2000.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This Is Your Work

The work of God is glorious. Joseph Smith famously told John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat that "the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."

It is natural for a believing heart to want to be a part of this great work. Without a doubt, all of us have opportunities to share the gospel, sometimes on a daily basis. Yet, at times, we may wonder why we aren't asked to take on what we see as a greater work-- to be something significant in our wards, branches, stakes, or districts-- with a call to be the ward mission leader or the relief society president or the bishop. Are we not faithful enough? Missionaries may similarly wonder why, despite their faithfulness, they are not called to be trainers, district leaders, zone leaders, etc.

In the earliest days of the Church, there was a great need for the faithful to bring about the work of the Restoration. Hyrum Smith, brother to the prophet Joseph, was among those yearning to participate. Though he was among the first to learn about and believe in the Restoration of the gospel, the early work of the Church was carried out in large part by other, newer converts: Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Emma Hale Smith and the Whitmer family all appear to have more 'prestigious' or 'significant' roles in the work of God on earth.

To Hyrum Smith, the Lord said: "Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength." He was further admonished to study the scriptures, seek the Spirit and have good desires.

Hyrum Smith obeyed the Lord. His humble willingness to follow the Lord's counsel-- to participate in the Lord's work the Lord's way-- allowed him to build a testimony that was strong and sure. As troubled times came and even the friends and many early witnesses of the Restoration fell away for a time, Hyrum remained faithful to the very end. He died a martyr for the faith along with his brother Joseph in the Carthage jail.

Sometimes the Lord asks us to do things that seem significant; more often, he asks us to work salvation among ourselves and our families by keeping the commandments with all our hearts, might, mind and strength. This necessary work precedes our ability to effectively teach others; as with Hyrum, the Lord asks us to, "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed."

We do not know what is ahead, but the Lord knows and is eager to prepare us for the struggles ahead. If we will put away our aspirations and humbly seek to do the Lord's work in the Lord's way, he will fortify us against the temptations and trials that will come. And then, when the time is right, our righteous desires to serve will be granted:

Seek the kingdom of God, and all things shall be added according to that which is just... Therefore, treasure up in your heart until the time which is in my wisdom that you shall go forth. Behold, I speak unto all who have good desires, and have thrust in their sickle to reap... As many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name (D&C 11:23, 26, 30).

Friday, September 9, 2011

None Else Save God Knowest

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in modern revelation; that is to say that we believe that God speaks to men and women on earth today. The ninth of thirteen articles of faith, written to outline the pillars of the LDS faith by Joseph Smith in 1842, states:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

Revelation may come in visions, blessings or angelic manifestations, but much more often comes through thoughts and impressions of the Holy Ghost to our minds and hearts. Revelation can provide needed guidance, information, comfort, or warnings. When revelation comes to a prophet for the benefit of the people of God, it is often recorded as scripture.

Given the nature of revelation, consider its ability to guide and protect us as we observe the case of Oliver Cowdery.

In the beginnings of the Church in this dispensation, Oliver Cowdery was among its most prominent members. He worked diligently on the translation of the Book of Mormon and was one of twelve witnesses to the reality of the golden plates from which it was translated. Oliver was the second elder of the Church, like an associate president. He experienced visions, revelations, and many other intensely religious experiences that came as a part of the restoration of the gospel and authority of Christ in our day.

In 1838, Oliver Cowdery resigned from the Church ahead of a hearing that would have questioned his membership. Though he would never deny the spiritual experiences he had, including his witness to the Book of Mormon, Oliver "disagreed with the Prophet [Joseph Smith]'s economic and political program and sought a personal financial independence [from the] Zion society".

After his resignation, Oliver lived primarily in Ohio and Wisconsin and practiced law. He wrote on several occasions between 1838-1848 of his regret of the differences that existed between himself and the Church and his hope to move West to Salt Lake. He expressed his firm belief in Christ, the Book of Mormon and the Church, and that he was hurt by the rejection of the Church. As early as 1842, Oliver Cowdery also sought reconciliation.

Reconciliation eventually came and Oliver Cowdery was baptized back into the Church on November 12, 1848. He died in March 1850.

Oliver Cowdery's experience outside the fellowship of the Church he helped to restore, caused primarily by disagreements with Joseph Smith on various topics including consecration, the role of priesthood leaders and plural marriage, could have been prevented. A decade before any problems arose, Oliver was warned and admonished by the Lord in a revelation given to Joseph Smith and recorded in scripture as Doctrine and Covenants section 6.

This section of scripture is addressed to Oliver Cowdery in 1829. The Lord tells Oliver:

Seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion; Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you (v. 6-7).

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful unto the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God (v. 13).

There is none else save God that knowest the thoughts and the intents of thy heart. I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee--that the words or the work which thou has been writing are true. Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever circumstances he may be for the word's sake. Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him (v. 16-19).

Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God (v. 20).

The Lord knew how Oliver would be tested and warned him well in advance how he needed to prepare. Had Oliver been willing to stand by Joseph Smith "in whatsoever circumstances," it is easy to speculate a very different outcome for his life. Perhaps Oliver Cowdery would have also been martyred in Carthage in 1844; or perhaps Oliver Cowdery would have succeeded Joseph Smith as the second president of the Church. In any event, nearly a decade of regret could have been avoided.

As with Oliver Cowdery, so it is with us. The Lord warns us and forewarns us of challenges that are coming our way. He doesn't often tell us what is coming, but rather tells us how to prepare. We exercise our faith in Christ by acting upon the warnings and guidance that come from God through the Holy Ghost.

Our patriarchal blessings are a special revelation given to us much like D&C 6 was given to Oliver Cowdery. None else save God knowest the thoughts and desires of our hearts, and he will warn and admonish us to avoid pitfalls and tragedies that may be ahead.

God lives. He speaks to prophets on the earth today; he also speaks to each of us, his children, through various means. We should be familiar with the warnings and guidance God has given to us. We should review them often and be humble enough to act upon the revelation given for us. As with Oliver, the Lord has many blessings in store for us if we will be faithful and diligent in our response to revelation.