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general conferenceToday was the first day of General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons).  For those not familiar with it, I’ll briefly describe it in my own words.

Based on a revelation given to Joseph Smith, found in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 20, verses 61-62, the church is to come together for inspiration and conducting business, which includes sustaining the elders of the church.  The revelation suggests every 3 months, but we come together every 6 months now.

During the conference, all of the highest leaders of the Mormon church speak including all of the 12 apostles, the First Presidency, Many women leaders, and also members of the Quorum of the Seventy.

Each of the people who speaks spends time praying and preparing for what the general membership of the church needs to hear along with people not of the Mormon faith who may be listening in.  It is interesting to learn from the perspectives of the leaders at the highest level, who dedicate everything to traveling around the world to help humanity.

Today one of the members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Robert D Hales, encouraged all of us to reflect and re-read or listen to what was said during this weekends’ Conference.  He said that we would receive personal revelation from the Lord in doing so.

As he spoke, I reflected on an experience I had just a few months ago.

In last Aprils’ General Conference, one of the members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Richard G Scott, spoke about the power of reading scriptures as a family.   We had tried numerous times over the years to have family scripture study.  Over the course of just a couple of days we would get out of the habit and back into our normal schedule.  We would then completely forget about it until the next General Conference, when someone would say something about scripture study as a family again and the cycle would continue.

As I read Elder Scott’s talk, this time was different.  When I re-read his talk a couple of months after he gave the talk, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.  Things jumped off the page at me and I received a simple, but inspired idea to help my family.  A simple, but very profound idea came clearly into my mind.  I knew it was from the Lord because of how clearly and powerfully it entered into my mind.  It was simply this: put a copy of the scriptures out on the kitchen table as a reminder to read.  After saying a blessing on the food, read a few verses out of the scriptures and have a small discussion with the kids.

We started doing it and the results have been great!  It’s been about 4 months now and we are to the point that if we don’t read scriptures, our 4 year old daughter will remind us to.  It has become a habit and part of our routine.

I’m very grateful that God speaks to us individually and through His servants.  It has blessed the lives of my family.

I encourage everyone to listen to General Conference tomorrow and then spend time in the ensuing months to re-read or listen to the messages.  I’m confident you will receive personal revelation.

 

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I was emailing Mormon Heretic who also contributes over at the Wheat and Tares blog and he had a great idea about a Sunday Devotional.  So giving credit where credit is due, this devotional idea is actually inspired by his email.  I thought I would start sharing an evening thought each Sunday about an insight from the week or something I learned in Church.

Receiving Revelation from God

Each Sunday, the men’s group has a 1 hour meeting during the third hour of church right after Sunday School.  The group I am in is called Elder’s Quorum. 

Today the discussion was on how to recognize and receive revelation from God.

One comment that was made stood out to me.  The Elder in our group shared an experience where he felt that as long as we are doing “all the right things” we will be in the position to receive revelation from God.  According to him, the “right” things included going to church, reading scripture daily, praying, and trying to be perfect essentially in word and deed.

I argued that while doing those things is good, God can and will give revelation to anyone based on how He views them and feels that they will respond after the revelation is given and received.

We see in the scriptures (i.e. Paul in the Bible, Alma in the Book of Mormon) where people who were complete sinners who were in complete rebellion towards God.  Yet they received revelations in the form of visions from God.  These examples blow the theory out of the water that we need to be doing  all the “right” things to receive revelation.  Once they received the revelation, they opened their hearts completely to God and were humbled.

I shared a personal example of when I was off track and in rebellion towards God and received a dramatic revelation that changed my life.  This is the main reason why I attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church). 

To be fair to my friend in Elder’s Quorum, I have also received revelation when I was doing all the “right” things such as praying, scripture study, church attendance, etc. and I do think that when we are trying to tune our lives in with God, we will be doing those things.  However, some people who haven’t experienced communication from God are also entitled to revelation from God and God will choose who He wants to reveal truth to.  Just because we are doing all the “right” things doesn’t necessarily guarentee that we will receive revelation. 

What are your experiences with receiving and recognizing revelation?

Recently I was preparing for a lesson with my Sunday School class of 16-18 year olds.  We’re studying the New Testament this year.  I found it interesting that in the early Christian church, there was continuous revelation.  The example in this lesson is found in the book of Acts chapter 15.

In this example, Paul and Barnabas come across some church members who are still requiring circumcision as in the Law of Moses.  Paul and Barnabas are not certain if that should be a requirement, so they go to Jerusalem and meet with the apostles for guidance on the matter.  After the apostles discuss the matter, they make a decision through guidance by the Holy Spirit (verses 19-28) and then they write an epistle for Paul and Barnabas to bring back to the church members for sustaining (verses 22-31).  They also send an apostle (Judas) back with them to deliver the message.

This process of revelation to the church is similar for the LDS church of Jesus Christ.  From what I understand, apostles contemplate an issue, pray for guidance by the Spirit, come up with a decision, then present it to the church for sustaining.  On occasion, there will be a letter sent out to congregations from the apostles and read by the local bishop, or the apostles or prophet may read it to the whole body of the church in General Conference (or General Relief Society Conference as President Hinckley did with the Family Proclamation). 

Rarely will revelation actually be canonized.  Over the last 150 years, I can only think of a few revelations that were canonized: Official Declaration 1: that announced the disbanding of polygamy in the 1890s, Doctrine and Covenants section 138 that addresses a vision given to President Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) regarding where our spirits go after we die, and Official Declaration 2 that announces that the Priesthood can be given to all worthy males (prior to this revelation black men could not hold the Priesthood). 

I have seen Mormon church antagonists take off-the-wall things that a prophet (usually Brigham Young) said or wrote in a book and highlight that as official church doctrine.  LDS apologists will be quick to answer that in that situation, the prophet wasn’t inspired and spoke without the Spirit on that occasion and since it isn’t canonized it is not official revelation.

However, there are many things that Mormon prophets and apostles have officially stated either through a letter to congregations or announced in General Conference that are not necessarily canonized.  Therefore, I can see how it could be hard for members of other faiths to see a distinction between what is revelation and what is opinion.

Personally, I feel that revelation is official as it is outlined in the New Testament example I shared.  If the apostles have gathered together, prayed, and received guidance from the Spirit on a matter, then announced it to the church officially through writing, it is “official”.  If an LDS leader decides to write a book, or say something off the cuff that’s wacky then that is not official revelation.

What are your thoughts?

Because of the recent media on the Fundamentalist LDS group that “got busted” in Texas for abuse and polygamy the LDS church has made efforts to distance itself from this sect.  Below is a recent interview with the LDS public affairs representative regarding the churches current stance on polygamy and how it wants the world to view the LDS church:

 

Polygamy is a huge issue and it is a great concern still for members of the LDS church.  Some have concerns with polygamy and say the LDS church still “practices” polygamy in the sense that it is still a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants section 132.  In addition, people are still married in temples for eternity to spouses after one spouse passes away, so polygamy is technically still a part of LDS doctrine. 

Depending on the Christian you speak with, they will either denounce or embrace polygamy.  Generally speaking, the Christian world claims the Bible to be the only word of God.  The Bible contains polygamy all throughout it’s text and depending on which Christian denomonation you speak with, they can argue for or against it.  Here’s a christian website discussing the issue: http://www.gotquestions.org/polygamy.html.  Here’s another website that has people, including pastors arguing for polygamy and that true Christianity should allow polygamy with other Christians arguing against it: http://www.answering-christianity.com/ntpoly.htm.  As you can see in many cases interpretations of scripture are a matter of semantics as to whether God truly “approved” polygamy in the Bible or not and are up for interpretation.

Those who follow the LDS faith could have an easier time answering the polygamy question than their fellow Christians due to the fact they believe in modern, continuing revelation. 

Joseph Smith stated “I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 324). The LDS website also says polygamy isn’t allowed unless God directs it.  Therefore, God can take away polygamy or ordain it through his prophets as he did through Nathan in the Bible (2 Samuel 12:8).  Currently the LDS church doesn’t practice polygamy on grounds of a reveleation from a prophet named Wilford Woodruff that is contained in the Doctrine and Covenants in the “Official Declaration 1.”

However, there are still some questions that remain for both LDS christians and other Christians who believe in the Bible:

If the LDS church wants to take such a strong stance against polygamy, shouldn’t the church completely take it out of it’s doctrine, since it is still supported in D&C 132?  Why or why not?

Also, if one is to consider himself/herself a true Christian, should they believe in polygamy because it is supported in the Bible?  Why or why not?

 

In General Conference this week one of the Twelve Apostles, Jeffrey Holland said (paraphrased) that many Christians err in the verses in Revelation 22:18-19 that state:

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

  19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book 
President Holland goes on to state that the “words of the book of this prophecy” are pertaining to only the book of Revelation and that having additional scripture such as the Book of Mormon is not adding or taking away from the book of Revelation.  He says many Christians err in that they think the “book of this prophecy” is the whole Bible and that many books in the Bible were written well after the book of Revelation was written. 
If this is the case, one could argue that even though Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon and other scripture, he did indeed add to the book of Revelation in at least five chapters which you can view here (make sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page to view the Book of Revelation translations).  One could argue that the hard life Joseph led and the imprisonments he had to face, the many babies that he and Emma had that died, and ultimately what caused his death were all part of the curses described in the book of Revelation.
The curse in Revelation doesn’t only mention adding to the book, but taking away from the book as well.  One could argue on the other hand that Joseph Smith wasn’t adding anything, but he was restoring the “plain and precious truths” that were taken out of the Bible as the Book of Mormon suggests.  One could argue that the “curses” that came as a result were persecution that has happened to other earlier Christians who translated the Bible or to those who don’t have the “fulness of the gospel.”  One could argue that Joseph Smith was persecuted because Satan was trying to thwart the work from progressing, etc. 
I can see why someone could side on the first option.  Especially those Christians who believe the Bible is all God has revealed and ever will reveal and that further revelation isn’t necessary and that throughout all the years there hasn’t been anything taken out of the Bible.  However I personally disagree with this.  I feel that continuing revelation is necessary and that many truths were indeed taken out of the Bible throughout the years.  In addition, if God had prophets and apostles before why wouldn’t he have them now?
What are your thoughts?

This scripture is in 1 Nephi 2:16:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

Just a little preface for those who may not be familiar with this scripture.  Nephi’s father, Lehi had just had a vision that was difficult for his family to understand.  In this example, Nephi turns to the Lord rather than to science, other men, etc. to learn the Lord’s mysteries.  As a result, the Lord visits him and softens his heart.  This experience serves as a building block for the rest of Nephi’s life as one reads through the Book of Nephi and sees how strong Nephi is in the Lord throughout his life.

As I read over this again this morning I thought about my own life.  What are the “mysteries” that I’ve experienced and what are some that I’ve seen others struggle with?  Examples include: is there a God? Which church is true? Is the Book of Mormon true?  The Bible? Why am I sick? What job should I take? Who should I marry? What school should I go to? Why do we have temples and what is the meaning of what we do in temples? How can I experience God’s love?  How can I love my enemy? How can I trust in something I can’t see (Jesus, God, etc.)? Why did I lose my job? Why don’t I feel happy?

I could go on, but the point is that “mysteries” to me are basically anything we don’t understand (which is about 99% of life!).  Since there are so many things in life that are incomprehensible, that makes it even more important to turn to the Lord. 

In the very next verse (1 Nephi 2:17) Nephi describes how we can know the mysteries of God, which is through the power of the Holy Ghost.  Other scriptures state that the Holy Ghost will “teach us all things,” and by the power of the Holy Ghost we’ll “know the truth of all things.”

Receiving an answer and recognizing the answer from the Lord through the Holy Ghost may not come all at once.  It didn’t for Nephi, but eventually the Lord visited him and said in 1 Nephi 2:19:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. 
 

Notice that the Lord didn’t simply give Nephi an answer, but it was because Nephi was:

1. Humble (i.e. didn’t rely on the philosophies of men and science but relied on the Lord)

2. Never gave up (he didn’t just ask once and call it good and then blame the Lord for not answering.  He diligently sought)

3. He had faith (he believed the Lord would answer him)

I encourage all of us to follow Nephi’s pattern when we have a question or do not understand something whether it be gospel or spiritually related or something else in our lives such as our children, job, friends, spouse, or anything else. 

One thing I’d like to add in conclusion.  Although we can apply this formula to virtually any question we have in our lives, these scriptures are specifically referring to the “mysteries of God.”  People ask questions such as “Was Joseph Smith really a Prophet?” “Is the Book of Mormon a true Book?” “Did Jesus really exist and atone for the sins of the world?” “Is there a God?” “How do I recognize answers to prayer?” “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

Whatever questions we are asking ourselves, I hope we can apply these principles in our lives and turn to the Lord rather than man or science.  I don’t know much about God’s mysteries and many of life’s mysteries, but the little I do know has been revealed to me through the Holy Spirit when I follow this pattern to know the mysteries of God. 

Cleanse your Soul with Grace for Grace “Spiritual SOAP”

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