Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year's Resolution

This past Sunday I was asked at the last minute to fill in for our full time missionaries who had been asked to teach the Elders Quorum about goals (one of our missionaries had fallen ill and had no business being at church). I did teach the class but ended up heading in a very different direction than the missionaries had intended.

As we talked about goals, I suggested that goals are generally linked with repentance, since goals are often intended to help us where improvement is required. I then linked our ability to improve to the atonement of Jesus Christ, since it is that atonement which enables us to repent.

The Book of Mormon includes an account of a famous vision to the prophet Lehi – the vision of the Tree of Life. We learn that the tree bears a most wonderful fruit, which represents the Love of God. Between the prophet Lehi (with his family) and the tree is a rod of iron that serves as a railing along the straight and narrow path that leads to the tree. If one holds to the rod, he’ll arrive at the tree. Along the way is a mist of darkness, making passage without holding onto the rod difficult, and many who let go are lost.

We discussed what happens when we get lost. One of the class members is an expert outdoorsman. He said when we’re lost in the woods, first we yell for help. And second, we stop. I would have assumed that one ought to reverse the order (stop first, yell second), but I’m not going to quibble. The point is that when we’re in trouble, we need to stop doing whatever it is we’re doing wrong, and then get help to find our way home. Getting back to the rod usually means turning around, and that’s what repentance is all about – turning ourselves back to the Lord. As we call out for help, we might call on the Lord in prayer, seek His counsel in the scriptures, or go to His trusted servants for counsel and advice. That help might come from a well meaning friend or spouse, or even a child who reminds us that we need to walk a different path.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – perhaps because my dad always made us write them. But I am a huge fan of repentance, and of goals the help me return to the right path when I stray.

- Paul

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tender Mercies

The prophet Nephi writes that the Book of Mormon will contain a record of the tender mercies that are “over those he has chosen” (1 Nephi 1:20). The Psalmist also refers to tender mercies, praying first for them (Psalms 119:77), and then praising their greatness (Psalms 119:156).

Most believers can cite examples of the Lord’s tender mercies in our lives, for we often attribute good things that happen to Him. Our less believing friends may cite coincidence or chance, but I believe those of us who believe can know the Lord’s presence in our lives. Not only do we see seemingly random events align at times, but we find specific answers to our questions, circumstances that meet our needs, or blessings that come when needed, but not expected. And, for me most importantly, these tender mercies are often accompanied by the witness of the Holy Ghost that they are more than just happenstance.

There are, to be sure, great mercies in my life: the opportunity to repent and improve myself, thanks to the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, the spirit I feel when engaged in a priesthood ordinance. But there are countless smaller mercies – seemingly simple and insignificant moments that, when combined, point to a Heavenly Father who knows me and blesses me.

That is not to say I always get what I want when I want it. And it certainly does not mean that I do not face adversity. But even in adversity, I can look back and see the Lord’s hand in my life, sometimes guiding me through it, sometimes protecting me from further harm, and sometimes simply letting me know He is there, despite my suffering.

I have come to realize a righteous life is not free from trial or sadness. Why would I think so?! The Savior was the most righteous, and His life was not without sadness or pain. In fact, many of the prophets endured adversity somewhere along their path.

The Lord’s tender mercies allow us to find joy even in the midst of the storm. Our prayer to rescue us from the storm may not be answered by a break in the clouds, but by a boat strong enough to cut through the churning waves.

- Paul

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Submitting to God's will

Agency is a key tenet of Mormon belief. We teach that even in the premortal existence we were free to choose the plan advanced by the Savior or the one from Lucifer. The former allowed us to come to this earth, make mistakes, enjoy the blessings of an atoning sacrifice, and potentially return to our Father in Heaven. The latter plan would have forced all to obey (not specified how) and demanded the glory for everyone’s return to our Father be given to the author of the plan, Lucifer.

In that struggle of ideas came the war in heaven described in scripture and in remarkable poetry (See Milton’s Paradise Lost). As actors in that war, we choose sides, and, according to prophetic teachings, are here because we sided with the Lord in that struggle. Those who sided with Lucifer were denied bodies and therefore future progression in the Plan of Salvation.

Now that we are here, we are to learn faith and obedience; we are to submit to our Father in Heaven’s will for us. To some that decision seems a paradox, as we are apparently asked to give up that agency in favor of submitting to God’s authority.

The key is that in so surrendering our will to God’s we act of our own volition. The Book of Mormon teaches we are free to choose (2 Nephi 2:27), but also that the natural man (acting only in our own best interest) is an enemy to God and that overcoming the natural man requires us to yield (my emphasis) to God’s way in order to find true and lasting happiness (Mosiah 3:19).

Some find following the commandments to be restrictive suggesting that freedom should allow us to do whatever we want. Mature thinkers will see spiritual adolescence in this way of thinking. Young drivers may also not see the need to follow speed limits until they’ve paid a fine or two, or, worse yet, have injured themselves or others. Mature spiritual thought suggests the trade off between a life run riot and the blessings of obedience is significant, and that the blessed life is the better choice.

Others wrongly suppose that “I am what I am” (what I call the Popeye defense) and I cannot change. If that’s so, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for nothing. But the atoning sacrifice of the Savior WAS for something, and that something is the gift that we may change, that we may overcome our natural man, that we may be more driven by instinct, that we may learn a better way, His way, that we may prepare to return home to our loving Father.

My experience is that God’s way works. It brings me more joy, more peace, and ultimately, more of what matters the most. And that is in this life, excluding whatever benefit there may be in the life hereafter.

- Paul

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Plan of Salvation

One of the great hopes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can improve ourselves and prepare to return to our Father in Heaven. This ability to improve is part of the Plan of Happiness or Plan of Salvation that the Lord offers us. It is a gift that comes in several parts.

To understand it fully, we need to know how we fit into the “grand scheme of things.” Mormons believe that we lived before coming to this earth, that we are literal spirit children of our Father in Heaven and that we lived in His presence and wanted to be like him. In order to do that, however, we needed to receive bodies and have certain experiences we could not have in our spirit bodies.

So He made it possible for us to come to this earth to receive a body and learn to walk by faith. A part of that learning to walk by faith was that we would forget our prior life, passing through a veil of forgetfulness at birth.

In this life, we have experiences in our bodies that we did not have in His presence. We are tempted by physical appetites. We feel pain and suffer illness. And because we walk by faith, we make mistakes. In order to return to His presence, we must be clean. We therefore have problem: since we all make mistakes (sin) we are not naturally clean. How can we return to Him?

We can return thanks to the selfless gift of our older brother Jesus Christ who came to this earth, lived a perfect life and provided us an example and then offered Himself an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and was resurrected on the third day so that we also might overcome death.

The gift of the atonement comes in two parts – first because of the resurrection, all who lived on this earth will overcome death (when our bodies and spirits are separated) through resurrection (when our bodies, made perfect, will be reunited with our spirits), and second because of His atoning sacrifice which allows us to repent of our sins, allowing His suffering to replace our own. These two gifts demonstrate the grace and mercy of our loving Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.

After the resurrection we will ultimately be judged according to how we lived our lives here on earth. All will have had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ (not just those who hear it in this life). And those judged worthy by God will be able to return to His presence.

When I contemplate the Plan and its implications for me, it is quite astonishing. Though we talk about this subject often at church, when I take time to ponder the magnitude of the Savior’s gift, I am awestruck. And I’m certain that my understanding is still developing, so I suppose when I really understand it, I will be even more awestruck.

- Paul

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Godhead

One of the great truths that came out of Joseph Smith’s experience when he prayed to know which church to join is the nature of the Godhead.

I have non-believing friends who believe that, counter to the scripture, man has created God in his own image rather than God’s having created man in His. I tell myself they do not understand, and hope that one day they will also find peace and solace in coming to know a benevolent Father in Heaven who is anxious to bless them.

I have other friends who characterize God as a three-personed entity, a Trinity including the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in one. I respect their belief, but I do not share it. But I do understand that we each find God in our own way, and in time He will reveal Himself to us as we open our hearts.

When Joseph prayed in the grove, he reports that he saw a pillar of light standing above him in the air, and in the light he saw two personages. One of those called him by name and, pointing to the other, said, “This is my beloved son. Hear Him!” (JSH 1:16-17)

In the New Testament, Matthew records the Savior’s baptism, and reports a voice from Heaven saying “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased,” and describes the Spirit of God descending like a dove (Matthew 3:16-17), also suggesting, as Joseph’s experience did, that there are three distinct members of the godhead.

Later Joseph recorded that the Father and Son each have bodies of flesh and bone, as tangible as man’s, and that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit but does not have a physical body (see D&C 130:22).

Some might wonder what it matters if God has a body or not, or if God the Father and Jesus are separate beings or not. And I suppose on one level it doesn’t matter, except that it is helpful to me to understand whom I worship. It’s helpful to understand that my relationship to God the Father is different from my relationship to Jesus Christ, that I pray to the Father in the name of the Son, that I recognize that it is only through the Son that I can return to the Father, and that I know it is the Holy Ghost which bears record of these truths to my heart and to my mind.

- Paul

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Answers to Prayer

Returning to the topic of prayer: In an early post, I talked about Joseph Smith’s rather dramatic answer to his first prayer spoken out loud: he received a visitation from God the Father and Jesus Christ. Subsequently, Joseph received other heavenly visitations as a result of his prayers, and those visitations played key roles in the restoration of the Lord’s church on earth.

When I served as a missionary in Germany, we taught a gentleman the gospel. He was thoughtful and studious, and ended up not joining the church. When we spoke to him about his decision, he said he had prayed as he walked through a park in a very calm part of the city we lived in. And, interestingly, he prayed specifically not to have a visitation of any kind. At the time I thought that an odd request for at least two reasons. First, it had never occurred to me that I might have a heavenly visitation as a result of my prayers, and second, I would have welcomed the certainty that such a visitation would have brought.

But my prayers, especially when I was a young man, were rarely answered as I expected, or hoped. As a freshman at BYU, I made a half-hearted effort to scale Squaw Peak behind the Provo Temple in an effort to have an “Enos” experience. (Enos is a young man in the Book of Mormon who prays all day and into the night to gain forgiveness for his sins and hears the voice of the Lord.) Looking back, I’m astounded at the hubris that I should dictate to the Lord how He should reveal himself to me.

That prayer was answered, but days later, and in a rather specific way (to me) so that I knew it was an answer to that prayer, though no one else would have known. It was in that answer, given in the Lord’s way and time, that signaled to me what tender mercies the Lord held for me, regardless of my youthful demands that He present Himself on my terms.

Over the years my prayers have changed from lists of wants (albeit righteous ones, I think) with a perfunctory “Thy will be done” tacked on at the end to seeking greater understanding of His will for me and greater acceptance of what comes in my life and more help in knowing how I can and should respond to events I do not control. I find greater peace in my more recent prayers.

It is not a lack of faith that drives me to less demanding prayers. In fact, I think it is greater faith that does so. My doing so is driven by a conviction that my Father in Heaven loves me, and I can have faith enough to trust his promises that He will care for me in the way I need it the most.

- Paul

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


“Families are Forever.”

“No Success Can Compensate For Failure In The Home.”

“Families – It’s about Time.”

These family-related mottos are popular among latter-day saints because families are important to us, just as they are to many of our non-Mormon neighbors. But Mormons believe that the family unit can exist after death as well as in this life. As I discuss this particular teaching with non-Mormon friends, I’m surprised to find how many agree that they think that families should be together after this life as they are now.

I come from a loving family – my parents stayed married all their lives. I occasionally observed as a youth that I was rare among my circle of friends in that my parents were not divorced. (I was really not so unusual then, but it seems my children are more than I was.) I love and get along with my siblings. And I’m happily married after nearly 30 years. And I love my in-laws, too!

At least part of that family harmony comes from the perspective that a belief in eternal families brings to me. (And part of it is that I just have a wife and some great siblings who overlook my flaws.)

It’s not to say that a belief in eternal families solves all ills in a family relationship. Quite the contrary when a member of the family chooses a different path, one that leads him away from the eternal bonds that my church teaches. As my children have matured to adulthood, some have chosen to stay close to the church that is so important to me and others have not, and each has a different story to tell.

I heard a speaker once who suggested that in the hereafter the basic unit will not be a religious congregation, but a family. It occurred to me at that time that I needed to make efforts to help even those members of my family who walked a different way than I did to feel comfortable in my family. It was far more important to me to have my children active in my family.

Another friend read for me an interesting verse of scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants. There the Lord says that if we influence others righteously – with love and kindness rather than coercion or force – then “thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:46). He suggested that our dominion is our family, and if we are to have them eternally, it is because they choose to be with us, not because we force them there.

That lesson was one of many important lessons for me to learn in how to be a father, and it’s one, frankly, that I would have done well to learn earlier in my life. But, having been taught by one who understood its importance by his own experience, I sought to apply it in my life, and I’m forever grateful for the relationships I have with my children.

- Paul

Monday, December 21, 2009


The Lord taught that the power of the priesthood is evident in the ordinances thereof (see D&C 84:21).

Priesthood is the power to perform ordinances, physical expressions of inner commitments that signal a covenant with the Lord. For latter-day saints, there are a number of crucial ordinances, including baptism and confirmation.

The age of baptism in the Mormon Church is eight. Children younger than eight, we're taught, are not accountable for their sins and therefore have no need of baptism. For those eight and over, and for converts to the church, baptism (by immersion) is the ordinance that signifies the entering in at the gate and embarking on the path back to God. I'll speak more about the significance of baptism in another post

Confirmation follows, in which hands are laid on the person's head and that person is confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and given the gift of the Holy Ghost.

These ordinances, performed by those who are ordained to do so, are the beginning of one's membership in the church. There are other ordinances that may be performed: ordination to the priesthood, blessing of the sick, blessings give for comfort, the naming and blessing of children, and perhaps the most regularly performed ordinance: the sacrament.

Sacrament in the LDS Church is the ordinance in which bread and water are taken as tokens of the body and blood of Christ, reminiscent of his action at the Last Supper. The sacrament prayers teach us that these emblems should remind us of the covenants we made at baptism, and the taking of the sacrament allows members to renew those covenants. As a result, with proper repentance, we can start fresh each week in our desire to do the Lord's will in our lives.

The ordinances of the gospel are a chance for us to connect ourselves by covenant to the Lord, to become His and to signal our willingness to walk in His path.

For me, some of my most spiritual moments of my life have been while I’ve been involved in ordinances of the gospel, either receiving them or performing them. Standing in the water with my children at their baptism has been a remarkable experience each time (my seventh was baptized last year). I have felt close to them and close to the Lord, and have wondered if I have caught a glimpse in those times about how He loves me.

- Paul

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I love Christmas. I enjoy all the trappings of the holiday, and I still get caught up in the excitement of anticipation. Writing and receiving cards, singing carols, decorating the house with nativity scenes we've collected from around the world, and even wrapping gifts (on a good day) lend to the excitement of the holiday, which for me has both spiritual and social importance.

There are plenty of scholars who make clear that Jesus was not born in December, and in fact Mormons believe modern revelation confirms this fact. But that does not slow us down from celebrating the Savior's birth with the rest of the world on December 25. Interestingly, we do not have special Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services to attend; instead, we celebrate those times privately in our homes with our families.

We do speak and sing of Christmas in our regularly Sunday services around the holiday. The English-language ward (congregation) we attended in Taipei sponsors an annual Christmas pageant one weekend in December, and over four performances they repeat a live nativity play complete with an angelic choir and Mary riding in on a donkey (well, we used a half-blind horse, but it was a fair substitute). The pageant ha been performed since 2001 in an open air amphitheater in a park near the part of town where many westerners live, and westerners enjoy the traditional Christmas celebration, and local Taiwanese seem to enjoy this glimpse into Christianity, too.

Participating (my wife supervised the sewing and repair of costumes, we've sung in and led and accompanied the choir, and even our children participated as an angel, a shepherd and a member of the children's choir) was a great way to surround ourselves in the spirit of the season while offering a gift to our neighbors.

Having returned to the US this year, we have also returned to home-bound traditions, and will enjoy our own family-style nativity play on Christmas Eve.

- Paul

Friday, December 18, 2009


As I mentioned the other day, Joseph Smith cited faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the first principle of the gospel. The second, he says, is repentance (Articles of Faith 1:4).

Repentance is a remarkable gift offered us through the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is in my mind what allows us to change. We teach our children that it's a process – recognize that you've done wrong, feel remorse for the mistake, confess the error to God (and to others who might have been hurt), restore what was lost in the mistake, and don't repeat the error.

I was teaching a class in church a few years ago about repentance. I had drawn a picture of the straight and narrow path (the Savior taught that baptism sets us on that path; see Matthew 7:14, Matthew 3:15) on the board. I asked what the first thing we would do when we realize we are off the path. The answer: Stop! Then we'd try to find our way back to the path, and repentance is the way to do that.

One might think of repentance as "turning" back to the Lord.

However we think of it, repentance allows us to realign ourselves with God. And it's made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is, to me, part of His gift to us (which also includes His perfect example and His resurrection which gives us power over death).

In a world where self-help books line bookstore shelves, repentance is, to me, what makes it possible. Repentance is what allows us to change, to abandon our past mistakes, to leave guilt behind, and to move forward better men and women than when we started.

The other thing I've found in my own life is that I cannot do it alone, and this is why repentance is not simply another label for self improvement. Instead it is the vehicle through which self improvement is possible. Changing without repentance has not worked for me. The acknowledgement of the need for a Savior in my life to help me overcome my weaknesses has been a key for my own progress along that path.

- Paul

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Borders of Testimony

I wrote the other day of testimony, and suggested that for Mormons it is what we know and how we know it, that is, what spiritual experiences may have led us to our religious convictions.

I listened to a speaker years ago who suggested an interesting puzzle with testimony. Testimony is about what we know, and one might think that the more one knows the stronger one's testimony becomes. And in some sense that it true.

But, the speaker suggested, we might think of testimony as a circle. When the circle of testimony is small, and it may only concern the very most basic elements of truth, the circumference of that circle is also small. As our testimony grows, however, the circumference also grows. If one acknowledges that the circumference of the circle is the border between what we know and what we don't know, then there is a certain risk in a growing testimony, namely the more we know, the more we know we don't know.

For me, there are several approaches I've seen to this apparent dilemma. One, of course, is simply to refuse to learn any more so that the border stays small. While this approach might work for children, it certainly didn't work for me. It has been too energizing for me to learn new things along the way.

Another approach might be to grow the border as quickly as possible, trying to cover as much ground as possible with our testimonies, perhaps in some hope that we might finally transcend borders. The image this approach conjures in my mind is from Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning", in which the speaker suggests that the lovers to be separated have a love that is like gold, which can be pounded ever flatter to cover more and more distance between them. My own worry in this approach is that my gold would wear too thin somehow. (Perhaps I need help in my unbelief; See Mark 9:24.)

And so I find for myself that I tend to make trips from the center to the border and back regularly in my own testimony. I often return to those things I know, particularly when confronted with something I do not know or understand. It is not that I retreat completely, but more like a toddler who grasps for the familiar waiting arm of his parent as he learns to walk. In time, I find my footing and can move more steadily forward toward the border, and often extend it.

But I am not comfortable hanging out at the border all the time. There are others who may prefer that approach, but I yearn for the familiar and comfortable as well as the new and uncharted.

I imagine that my friends of other faiths who learn about Mormonism may be like me; they may feel a desire to learn more, but also yearn for the comfort of what they know (or at least believe). I hope that they will also continue to probe the border and to push that circumference out, even if just a little.

- Paul

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


In his Articles of Faith, written first in a response to a newspaperman about Mormon beliefs, Joseph Smith lists faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the first principle of the gospel. It's easy to see why. Faith seems to be a motivating force guiding believers to action.

Mormons tend to differentiate between belief and faith, with the difference that faith moves one to act, where belief might not. And faith might affect outcomes, as well. The verse from James that Joseph read before retiring to the woods to pray reminds, "Let him pray in faith, nothing wavering" (James 1:6).

So if faith motivates to one to act, it may also signal an expectation for an outcome, as well (faith to be healed, faith to receive answer to prayer, faith to choose well).

I draw another parallel for faith from the business world. I go to work each day in good faith, assuming my employer will pay me at the end of the month. A house seller acts in good faith by taking his house off the market when he has an acceptable offer from a buyer. I pay an online merchant with my credit card in good faith, assuming he will ship the items I have purchased. In each of these examples, I have an assumption of the outcome.

Jesus in the New Testament speaks of faith as a power that leads to miraculous outcomes. If we demonstrate enough faith we may enjoy the blessing we seek.

So here is a small conundrum for me. On the one hand, I believe God to be all powerful and completely capable of doing whatever He determines to do, within whatever constraints He (or the laws under which he operates) has placed upon himself. On the other hand, my earthly father's example taught me that I ought to be humble and not make too many demands on God. So when I act "in faith, nothing wavering," I suppose I need to be cautious about whether my faith is in the potential of God to answer my prayer (absolutely) or in the outcome (maybe not so much).

If I have faith in Jesus Christ, to return to that first principle, then I might act confidently according to His teachings and commandments. Even if I do not have a perfect knowledge, as the Book of Mormon prophet Alma calls it, I can operate with faith, as if I knew.

In my own life, this is how my testimony has developed over the years. I have, from time to time, without knowing the end from the beginning, taken a step into the unknown, with faith (or at least hope) that a promised blessing would materialize. Honestly, my performance in this matter has been somewhat variable. Sometimes I have felt as if I've demanded a blessing, and other times, I've hoped for a blessing that has seemed not to have come. But despite my unevenness, over time, the pattern seems to be that when I act in good faith, the Lord finds a way to demonstrate to me that He has kept his side of the bargain.

- Paul

Monday, December 14, 2009

Joseph Smith

One cannot separate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from it's founder, Joseph Smith. And I cannot begin to discuss him comprehensively here. There are many great histories of him. I'd recommend Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.

Joseph Smith tells his early story in one of the sections of The Pearl of Great Price. It is one of several different accounts of his early experiences. He tells that as a young man he lived in New York State, where there was "excitement" about religion, and how even his own family was divided about what church to attend. On a clear spring day in 1820, he, recalling the verse from James 1:5, retires to a grove of trees to "seek wisdom" directly from God. His intent was not to found a church, but simply to inquire which of the churches of his time he should join.

In the grove, he attempts to pray aloud, encounters the oppressive influence of a "power" of "darkness", and is, after struggling and fearing for his life, freed from the dark power and sees a pillar of light directly over his head. In the light are two personages. One calls him by name, points to the other and says, "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

He is then instructed to join none of the churches, but to wait for further instructions. Those do not come for three more years, when Joseph receives a visit from another heavenly messenger, Moroni. Moroni was the last prophet of the Book of Mormon and appears to Joseph three times during the night and once more in the morning, telling him of an ancient record buried in a nearby hill. Over the course of the next four years, Joseph is taught and prepared by this messenger in annual visits to the hill before he receives the record and finally translates it by the power of God.

It is not until 10 years after Joseph's first vision the grove that the church is officially organized, after the initial printing of the Book of Mormon, and after considerable persecution for Joseph and his followers.

Over the next 14 years, the church Joseph founded in a farmhouse in New York state grows to populate the city of Nauvoo, Illinois – the the largest city in the state. The band of followers has traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, various cities in Missouri, and finally to Nauvoo, driven each time by angry mobs who found reasons to oppose the growing band of saints.

In June of 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred while held in jail in Carthage, Illinois.

During his life, Joseph received revelations on doctrinal issues as diverse as the nature of God, the organization of the priesthood, the establishment of ordinances, the building of temples, a health code for Latter-day Saints, as well as personal instruction for many members. He translated the Book of Mormon and recorded his revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. He was a civic and military leader as well as a religious one.

He was the first prophet of our dispensation. Through him the Lord restored His church, His priesthood authority, and the ordinances with which we can prepare ourselves to return to His presence. Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith, but they do honor him. My own experience is that as I have learned of Joseph and the fruits of his ministry, I have come to recognize him as the prophet that he was.


Saturday, December 12, 2009


Simply put, revelation is when God speaks to man. Ancient scripture includes the stories of Moses and Abraham, great Old Testament prophets who received the word of the Lord. Other prophets fill the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, with doctrine, instruction, and examples of the results of following (or not) the revelations of God to His prophets.

Mormons believe that God has not stopped revealing His word to His children, but that He speaks to prophets today just as He did anciently. We sustain the president of our church (Thomas S. Monson today) as a prophet. Colloquially we refer to him as "the prophet". Other men, ordained as apostles in the church, are also recognized as prophets, though the president presides.

Revelation will come to the general leadership of the church for the church, but it may come to others for their own sphere of influence. A parent may receive revelation (or some might say, inspiration) for his or her family. A church leader or teacher may receive revelation specific to his or her calling.

An individual can – and is encouraged to – seek personal revelation, particularly as it relates to matters of testimony and decision making. Moroni, a prophet at the end of the Book of Mormon, makes this promise to those who read that record:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:4).

Personally I've had that very experience: upon reading the Book of Mormon (and other scripture), I've sought the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost that it's true. That witness has come for me as a feeling in my heart and peace in my mind. Sometimes it has distilled on me as I have prayed. Other times, it has come separate from the prayer, as I listen to or read something else and I realize that my prayer has also been answered.

It is possible for us to receive divine guidance in our lives – either through prophets or through ourselves.


Friday, December 11, 2009


Most of my friends, even non-religious ones, have a sense of what scripture is: the revealed word of God, recorded by someone.

Latter-day Saints use the Bible (in English, the King James Version), and also have additional scripture. The Book of Mormon, an ancient record of God's people on the American continent is the source of our most common nickname, Mormons. We also use the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations surrounding the time of the organization and development of the church, most revealed to the first prophet of our dispensation, Joseph Smith. And finally, we have the Pearl of Great Price, a small volume which contains accounts of Moses and Abraham, Joseph's own account of his early history, and his inspired expansion of Matthew 24 regarding signs of the times.

One of our articles of faith says, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."

Indeed, we make regular study of the scriptures. Families and individuals are encouraged to study the scriptures daily. Sunday School instruction for youth and adults focuses on one work of scripture per year in a four-year cycle (the Bible is divided into two years -- one of the Old Testament, one for the New Testment, and the Pearl of Great Price is divided among relevant years).

High school aged students also study the "standard works" in daily coursework, also in a four-year cycle.

As with all things, members are encouraged to find out for themselves the truth of the scriptures by studying, pondering, praying and applying the teachings in their lives.

I'll write more about my experience with the scriptures as time goes on.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Testimony

Many members of the LDS church (Mormons) will speak of testimony. For the uninitiated, it seems odd, since they may equate testimony with statements made in court, under oath.

For church members, a testimony is a brief expression of faith -- what we know or what we believe to be true -- and why. Sometimes it takes the form of an account of a particularly faith promoting experience, such as an answered prayer or a newly learned principle or doctrine that has brought specific comfort or understanding. Or it may be a simple expression of faith in or first hand knowledge of a principle of the gospel gained over time.

In our worship services, we have testimony meetings usually once each month when members may stand voluntarily and express their testimonies to the rest of the congregation. When a member teaches a class, he or she might also express, or bear a testimony about the subject of the lesson.

My testimony of the church (the institution) and the gospel (its teachings) has grown over time. I felt even as a child when our family was baptized members of the church the stirring in my heart that we often equate with the promptings of the Holy Ghost; that experience was the beginning of my testimony. As I grew older, my testimony also grew.

In some ways it became more sophisticated as I matured, but in some ways, it has always been rooted in those first spiritual promptings.

My testimony has been strengthened by my reading of scriptures, by prayer, and by putting into practice the things I have learned through the years. That I have a testimony does not mean I do not have questions or concerns. In fact, the opposite is true. I heard once that the larger our testimony is, the larger its border with the unknown is, and, therefore, the greater room for doubt. In other words, the more we know, the more we know we don't know.

But I have held to what I know, and found over time that the things I do not know can be clarified and resolved.

And so, my testimony is this: God lives. He loves us, his literal children. He sent his Son, even Jesus Christ, to provide a perfect example and to overcome death through resurrection so that we might also overcome death. The Savior's atoning sacrifice allows us to repent of our sins and prepare to live with God again. The Lord speaks to us through prophets today. Through modern prophets he restored the priesthood keys which allows us to enjoy the ordinances He requires so that we may return to His presence. Our Father in Heaven has done all of this out of love for us, His children, so that we may return to Him. And He has provided for all of his children to enjoy those blessings.



New to the blogasphere, I hope to see if I have something to contribute.

My subject matter here: my own association with the LDS Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the blessing it has been and continues to be in my life.

I'll discuss several times a week, in very small bites, facets of my faith, my experience and my understanding.

I don't speak for the church, but I will speak in favor of it.

I welcome your comments and questions along the way.