Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wife Rule #134: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Ten: The Temple and Eternal Families

I love to see the temple.
I’ll go inside someday.
I’ll covenant with my Father;
I’ll promise to obey.
For the temple is a holy place
Where we are sealed together.
As a child of God, I’ve learned this truth:
A family is forever.
--Janice Kapp Perry

So, my precious children, after nine whole chapters of patiently enduring my thoughts, it comes back to the subject of this song--"I Love to See the Temple"--where Sister Perry eloquently states in two short stanzas the entire crux of my passion.

You have sung this song since you were very young. You were blessed to grow up in the shadow of one of the Lord Jesus Christ's magnificent latter-day temples. When we would drive past the temple as a family, sometimes we would sing these words together. We did it for a reason: there is a message in it that your mother and I hoped would sink deep into your hearts.

Holy places have always been part of true Christian worship. From the creation of the Garden of Eden, where God walked and talked with Father Adam and Mother Eve; to the tabernacle in the wilderness, where Moses conversed face to face with the Savior; to the splendor of King Solomon's temple, built to the Lord in the Israelite's promised land; to the restoration of this temple over the passing centuries as required from time to time; to the claiming of the temple at Jerusalem as "my house" by the Savior when He visited it in mortality; till at last, in these latter days, the Lord again commanded His people to build a house to His name:

"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." (D&C 109:8, see also v 2-9)

The reasons for the temple listed here were but prelude to revealing the further purposes of the temple. In addition to the tremendous blessings promised above, priesthood keys were bestowed upon the prophet Joseph Smith by heavenly messengers in the first temple at Kirtland, Ohio, after its completion. While praying in the temple the following vision was given to the prophet and one of his companions:

1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
2 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father....
6 Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name.
7 For behold, I have accepted this house....
11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
(D&C 110:1-4,6-7,11-16)

It was the bestowal of these priesthood keys--the keys to gather the Lord's people, to take the blessings of the gospel to all people, and to turn the hearts of the fathers and children who constitute the whole family of Adam to each other--that set in motion the highest and holiest purposes for building latter-day temples.

These keys are closely linked with the power that the Savior bestowed upon Peter: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

It is the key to this power--the power to bind or loose on earth and in heaven, or the sealing power--that was among the highest of gifts bestowed upon Joseph Smith as the prophet of this final dispensation. I think it is safe to say that this sealing power is the reason why all other keys and authority were ultimately given. The binding together of the human family is the grand purpose for the earth and our living in it; without this binding power and the turning of our hearts to the blessings that flow from it, the "whole earth would be utterly wasted" (D&C 2:3).

But why? Why is it so important for families--especially for husbands and wives--to be sealed together in eternal bonds?

Isn't it natural for the God and Father of us all to desire that His family, consisting of the entire human race, should be organized according to His pattern? Isn't it marvelous that among all the precious gifts God has given us for our progression--a beautiful world to live in; marvelous bodies to grow with; the freedom to use our agency and advance; a Savior to provide escape from our sins and from death; and a Church with prophet leaders to teach us law and administer God's ordinances and covenants to us with authority--that God also desires that our progression reach literally to the heights and depths of His celestial pattern of life? Our Eternal Father and Mother desire those blessings for their children which can only be shared as a couple--as husband and wife--and which bring the highest of joys and glories possible. Doesn't Almighty God, among all the titles He could be called, choose to be addressed by His children as our "Eternal Father?" Can you see that the summation of His grand work and glory is to bring us to the same condition in which He dwells, to make eternal fathers and mothers of us all, to share with His children the blessings and glories of eternal life?

The continuation of marriage and family ties throughout eternity is the very purpose of our creation. The blessings and challenges of an endless posterity is the work that gives meaning to existence. The concept of family is truly at the center of everything God is and does.

These highest of blessings are so sacred that the sealing ordinances that initiate the process are only bestowed upon God's children who are ready and willing to accept the accompanying responsibilities that go with them, and are only given in the most sacred of all places. The Lord has designated His holy temples as these sacred places in the latter days, just as in former times, and thus it is that the temple is at the center of the purposes of the latter-day church of Jesus Christ. In the temples we receive our ordinances with sacred covenants to live worthy of the blessings we are promised. To become like our Heavenly Parents, we must learn to live and love like Them--something that can only be accomplished through our own experience, by using our agency--and our covenants help us along the way. We are reminded of these sacred responsibilities and blessings each time we return to the temple, and are fortified in our resolve. We use our agency to both keep our covenants and allow the Savior's grace into our lives, and in partnership with Him we slowly but surely cast off our weakness and reach towards perfection and eternal life together, as a family.

It is only through receiving God's sealing ordinance--and keeping the covenants associated with it--that families can be organized according to God's eternal laws and enjoy everlasting ties, reap eternal love, and fulfill the highest purposes of human potential.

Can you see why your mother and I look back to the day we were sealed in the temple as the greatest day of our lives? Can you see why we hope you will look forward to the day you receive these blessings and covenants for yourselves? Our sealing in the temple has everything to do with why your mother and I love each other like we do. We are married for eternity. There is no end to our commitment to each other, to you children, to our God. Can you see how having a goal of eternal union will strengthen every marriage in mortality? Can you see how the little wrinkles in a marriage fade into insignificance when viewed against the glorious possibilities ahead? Can you see how absolute chastity in preparation for marriage, and absolute fidelity after marriage, are no-brainers? Can you see how being eternally bound as husband and wife, as parent and child, swallows up the sting of death when family members are temporarily separated? Can you see how an eternal perspective on family dictates clear priorities in this life; how the most important work your mother and I will ever do is here in our home, with each other, and with each of you? Can you understand why above all other roles in life, the ones we cherish most are husband and wife, father and mother? Can you see what marvelous, motivating goals your mother and I share? Can you see how viewing a beloved spouse in the light of his or her eternal potential, and his or her eternal impact on your potential, will widen your heart to eternity and increase your love, unbounded?

I love the words of Parley P. Pratt, an early apostle in the church and friend of Joseph Smith, who explained the impact of this beautiful doctrine on his marriage:

“It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the very foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness....

“It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore....

“I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling.... I felt that God was my heavenly Father indeed; that Jesus was my brother, and that the wife of my bosom was an immortal, eternal companion; a kind ministering angel, given to me as a comfort, and a crown of glory for ever and ever.”
(Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (1938), 259–60.)

Yes, my children, I love your mother. The love we share emanates from God and beautifies our lives together as we consistently choose to obey His laws related to love. Thus, love is ultimately a choice that we have each made through use of our individual, God-given agency, motivated by our understanding of divine law and our shared, eternal goals—goals that are outlined in the divine ordinances of the Holy Temple, and which are achieved through keeping temple covenants. Sadly, many in the world never come to understand this vital relationship between God, agency, and love—they believe that love is merely something you “fall into” and perhaps later “fall out of.” They think of it as some kind of cosmic Fate that operates on the souls of men and women, independent of choices they make. Thus, when the familiarity of routine sets in, or when the opposition inherent in this fallen world inevitably comes, without conscious a choice to love, relationships will wither and die. But that is not the way it will be with your mother and me.

In my love for your mother is wrapped up all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations for this life and eternity. Our marriage and our family, including each of you, have already brought me joy beyond anything I could have anticipated. In the common, every-day happenings in our home I have glimpsed the glories of eternity. I am so grateful we are sealed together, as father, mother, sons, and daughters. I intend to spend the rest of my life keeping the covenants I made the day I married your mother. I want each of you close to me forever, as we continue on with each new phase of our unending existence. I want to witness your growth and triumphs. I want to honor my parents by becoming all I can be. And I want to become the king your mother deserves as her companion, just as she strives to be a queen for me.

I love the Savior Jesus Christ. It is through Him--and only through Him--that even a glimmer of hope for these glorious blessings is possible. Never forget that. Never forget that you owe everything to Him. Serious discipleship is the only option that makes any sense. Obey Him. Worship Him. It is His right. He is the only way.

I love God our Eternal Father. It is because of His selflessness, His generosity, His desire to perpetuate the glory and joy that He enjoys, that we exist. He loves us unconditionally and infinitely. He wants the best for us. He gave His only begotten Son in the flesh for our salvation. He will always be there for us--always.

These things are true. I know them through the witness of the Holy Ghost. The truth of it burns in my heart even as I write this for you, my precious children. God lives and has a plan of salvation for the human family, and you know where to find it and what it is. You know the truth that will set you free.

But what about the others?

Part ten of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wife Rule #133: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Nine: The Latter-day Restoration

Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!
The heavens have opened their portals again.
The last and the greatest of all dispensations
Has burst like a dawn o’er the children of men!

The dream of the poet, the crown of the ages,
The time which the prophets of Israel foretold,
That glorious day only dreamed by the sages
Is yours, O ye slumbering nations; behold!

Oh, lift up your voices in song and in story.
Let banners of peace in all lands be unfurled,
For truth, heaven-born, in its beauty and glory
Is marching triumphantly over the world.

--Theodore E. Curtis, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 8

The fulfilment of all the promises the Lord has made to His prophets through all the dispensations of this world was to be commenced in the latter days, with the restoration of His true and living church (see D&C 1:30) through a latter-day prophet. Thus, the Lord continues his pattern, established with Father Adam, of bestowing divine truth and keys of priesthood authority upon a chosen servant, who will then be able to spread the blessings of the Gospel to all who will listen and obey, setting in motion anew God's great plan of salvation in its fullness. With the backdrop of centuries of apostasy and spiritual darkness, this promised day of restoration has been anticipated with joyful reverence, being called "a marvelous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14 and 2 Nephi 25:17).

The miraculous accomplishment of the Lord's work in this latter-day dispensation, wherein He is literally and spiritually gathering lost Israel home again to their promised lands in preparation for the return to earth of the Savior Jesus Christ, is so great that the prophet Jeremiah foretold that it would change forever the way we view the Lord. No longer will He be called the Lord that brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, but rather the Lord who gathered Israel home from their literally and spiritually scattered condition (Jeremiah 16:14-16).

The world was many hundreds of years in preparation for this glorious day, however. After the death of the apostles, corrupt political leaders seized control of what was left of the early Christian church and changed doctrines and ordinances for a variety of reasons, including political expediency and power expansion. Multiple schisms occurred as power-hungry church leaders fought for control, further obfuscating the truth on many doctrinal points.

Centuries later, enlightened reformers such as Martin Luther began to recognize that these churches, which claimed to be the true Christian church, no longer resembled the church that Christ had organized. Luther and other brave reformers risked--and often gave--their very lives for their conviction that the church had gone astray and needed to return to Biblical Christianity.

The advent of the printing press and translations of the Bible into modern languages, such as Martin Luther's German edition and John Wycliffe's and William Tindale's English editions, provided widespread availability of God's word for the first time in centuries. This explosion of available truth further exposed just how far the Christian church had drifted from the truths and practices that Christ taught--and some of these valiant men, such as Tindale, paid for this exposure with their lives.

But the truth, once unleashed, proved to be a hydra that could not be contained. From the legacy of these brave reformers sprung centuries of efforts to remodel Christianity back to what it once was. The only problem was that there were nearly as many different ideas about exactly how to fix the Christian church as there were people interested in fixing it. These differences in opinion were further exacerbated as political and religious freedom began their glorious march across the globe, including the establishment of a whole nation founded on the fundamental belief that each person should not be forced to conform to any established religion, but be entitled to worship--or not--as he chooses.

In this new land, the United States of America, the establishment of new Christian sects proceeded rapidly, until there were literally hundreds of different churches. Each had its own unique doctrines and practices, and each had a sincere desire to follow the Savior, but none had divine authority or prophetic revelation. The very existence of these countless churches, when the apostles clearly taught "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) was ample testimony of the great apostasy away from Christ's original church. Never had the world been farther from the "unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13). Never had there been more evidence that the great "falling away" from the truth had occurred (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Never had there been more need for apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11) than there was in the early nineteenth century.

It was at this time that a young, unlearned farm boy from a poor family began an earnest quest to find the truth. Joseph Smith's parents had suffered years of economic failures that forced them to move from place to place until they ended up in Manchester, New York. By 1820, Joseph's interest in finding and joining with Christ's true church was excited by the general uproar on the subject of religion in the area. Joseph correctly reasoned that two preachers holding opposing viewpoints about religious doctrines could not both be entirely right. He wondered how a young, ignorant boy such as himself was to find out the truth about which church to join.

Probably at the suggestion of a preacher from one of the many churches Joseph frequented, he turned to the words of the prophets--the scriptures. In his own words:

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
(Joseph Smith History (JS-H) 1:11-13)

So it was that on a beautiful spring morning in 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith retired to a secluded grove of trees near his family's home, and knelt down to ask God which church he should join. His youthful faith was pure and he fully intended to obey whatever instruction he received.

Satan, who has opposed the agency-giving light and truth that prophets have dispensed from the beginning, and sensing that Joseph was destined to become a serious "disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom" (JS-H 1:20), threw all of his terrible forces at the young boy, causing great fear to come upon him and binding his tongue so that he could not speak.

16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time....
(JS-H 1:16-20)

Thus it was that a young, obscure boy was called upon from heaven and given commandments by direct revelation from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in a personal appearance unmatched during centuries of spiritual darkness and confusion. Thus it was that the heavens were opened again and a prophet of God was called in the last days of the earth, commencing the great preparation of the world for the second coming of the Savior.

There was no deception in the sacred grove, as some unbelievers have contended--Joseph felt and discerned clearly the polar opposites of Satan's hatred and God's love, as one attempted to destroy him and the Other delivered him. There was no mistaking the divine calling of a new prophet for a new dispensation. Joseph Smith, like Enoch, Samuel, David, and others before him, was prepared from the foundation of the world to be a prophet to the nations in the latter days, even if called in his youth.

My dear children, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the reality of Joseph Smith's first vision. The light it sheds on the world is of everlasting value. Its implications are of eternal worth. And it really happened--to this I testify!

The world has, in the Bible, a priceless collection of inspired gems of truth about the reality of the Savior and His doctrine. These gems of truth, to fully enable our agency and facilitate our salvation, must be organized and fit together into a single, coherent system, or Church. But this organization must be according to God's divine designs, not man's. The highly fractured state of Christianity today, nearly two thousand years after the last epistles of the New Testament were written, is plain evidence that the Bible alone is insufficient to unite the people of the world under a single banner of faith. The Bible, while full of precious truth, has been interpreted differently by each sect. It is clear that new revelation through a living prophet--one who could proclaim the truth with authority from God--is the only way to resolve the questions and disputes that have so long fractured the Christian world, and restore that portion of the truth which was changed, or lost, or never included in the set of writings that constitutes our present-day Bible.

Neither can the Bible alone bestow divine priesthood authority on anyone. This takes a direct calling from God, as Paul observed: "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (Hebrews 5:4, see 1-4). And how was Aaron called? By direct revelation from God through the prophet Moses (Exodus 28:1). How was the prophet Moses called? Directly by the voice of God Himself. It has been this way from the beginning, and the pattern has not changed!

But how can we know that Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God? How can we know--among the bewildering array of Christian churches out there, currently totalling over 38,000 different sects--which church is divinely sanctioned, or whether any are at all?

The answer has always been the same: through the power of the Holy Ghost. God's method of communicating with us is the same way he has generally communicated with His prophets (see D&C 8:2-3)--we are just as entitled to inspiration as they are. Surely a loving Father who knows that the progression of His children depends on how well they can identify and follow divine truth, or law, would ensure there was a reliable way to sort out truth from error.

To assist in this quest of eternal importance, God has given us a powerful tool--the Book of Mormon. Three years after Joseph Smith was first called of God in the grove, an angel named Moroni began a series of heavenly visitations (see JS-H 1:27-54). Just as Adam, Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, John the Revelator, and others were assisted and taught by angels in their ministries, so was young Joseph. These visits culminated in the angel bestowing an ancient record to Joseph that he, Moroni, had finished writing and sealed up centuries before, as a prophet-historian in the land where Joseph now lived.

Over a miraculously short period of time, Joseph Smith translated this ancient record through the gifts of prophecy and revelation. The Book of Mormon tells brief histories--as written through prophets' eyes--of several nations of people brought by the Lord to the Western hemisphere over a period of about a thousand years. It shows God's dealings with these people, and how their use of agency for good or evil brought about their salvation or damnation. It expounds upon the blessings and covenants of the Lord relative to the inhabitants of this land as well as the whole house of Israel. Most importantly, it contains the testimonies of numerous prophets of God that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title Page)--including an account of the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to the people of this continent after His resurrection. It was compiled by prophets with a view of our day--the latter day--and written with us as the intended audience. It is of inestimable worth.

The Book of Mormon--that remarkable book--has influenced my life for good more than any other book. As I have told you before, my precious children, it is from reading the Book of Mormon that I first felt the unmistakable witness that Jesus Christ lives and that He is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. It is from reading that book that I first came to know that God loves me and that He has a divine will and plan for my life. It is from reading that book that I first gained my witness that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. It is from reading that book that my love of the Bible, and of all truth, has blossomed and grown. It is from reading that book that springs my entire testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days. Indeed, that book is the "keystone of [my] religion" (see Joseph Smith's quote in the Introduction). It is a gift, directly from heaven, that came to us as a single, seamless revelation of the precise truths we would need in the latter days to combat Satan and fortify our faith in Christ. It is a miracle you can hold in your hands. It teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ in beautiful purity and simplicity. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true! I know it is, and you can too! Read it with faith, ponder it with gratitude, and pray about it with sincere intent to act upon the revelation you receive, as Moroni directs (see Moroni 10:3-5), and I promise you that you will know through the covincing witness of the Holy Ghost, as I do.

Prior to organizing Christ's latter-day church, Joseph Smith had received divine priesthood keys from angelic visitations of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who held the keys in the ancient Christian church. Being now endowed with authority to do so, just months after the English edition of the Book of Mormon was published came the official organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830. During the first meeting of the Church, Joseph Smith was sustained as the first prophet, seer, and revelator in this, the "dispensation of the fulness of times" (Ephesians 1:10).

But the translation of the Book of Mormon, and the subsequent organization of the Church, did not mark the end of the revelation of divine truth. Like all other prophets before him, Joseph continued to receive revelations during his service as the Lord's prophet. Over a hundred of these precious gems of truth are compiled into the Doctrine and Covenants, and others are included in the Pearl of Great Price. I know that these two volumes, combined with the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible, constitute the core of an open and ever-expanding canon of scriptural truth given through the gifts of prophecy and revelation to the Lord's continuing line of prophets. Never has so much of the word of God been so available to so many people as it is today; we are truly blessed!

Nor were the visits of the ancient apostles to Joseph Smith the end of the bestowing of priesthood keys. One of the most sacred of the revelations records the visitation of numerous ancient prophets to Joseph, each of which bestowed upon him authority and keys to conduct the work of the Lord in the latter days (see D&C 110).

But why? Once the authority to organize the Lord's true church, and to baptize and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost was given, what else was there? Well, in answering these questions lies the very key to the reason why I love your mother so very dearly, and we find ourselves on the threshold of the grand conclusion of my thoughts on the subject.

Part nine of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wife Rule #132: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Eight: Prophets, Priesthood, and Dispensations

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone...
--Ephesians 2:19-20

Since the initial placement of man in this world, our Heavenly Father has provided means to give His children here as much truth as "he seeth fit that they should have" (see Alma 29:8). These truths encompass all religious, secular, scientific, artistic, and other types of knowledge. While learning any of these truths enhances our ability to exercise agency and grow, the most important truth of all is the living reality of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, the only One with grace sufficient to enable us to fulfill God's plan of happiness.

As the prophet Nephi said, "we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins" (2 Nephi 25:26). So important is this knowledge that "all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began...[have] spoken more or less concerning these things" (Mosiah 13:33). To ensure that these prophetic teachings endure, they have been written down in the scriptures. In the Holy Bible we have a compilation of thousands of years of precious prophecies about Christ and stories of His people, showing the consequences of obeying or rejecting Him.

A vital part of our knowledge of the Savior--and ultimately what allows us to use our agency to either accept or reject Him--is an understanding of His divine laws. These laws have been carefully crafted for our progression and ultimate happiness. Joseph Smith taught that "[God] never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances" (History of the Church, 5:135).

Among the most important of God's laws for us to obey, and certainly among those that promote our greatest happiness, are the ordinances that God has appointed for our progression. Baptism is the gateway ordinance, initiating a new life as a follower of Christ. Celestial marriage is the crowning ordinance--the one that binds husband and wife together for eternity and makes it possible for God's children to fulfill His plan of happiness for them.

But just knowing about the ordinances isn't enough; God's children must receive them. In order to provide these ordinances, divine authority, or priesthood, is necessary. Divine ordinances have always been administered under one holding the keys of this priesthood authority.

As we saw with Adam and Eve, knowledge of the Savior, knowledge of divine law, and priesthood authority were all available on the earth in the beginning. Their marriage ordinance was performed and their first commandments were given by God himself. Even after they partook of the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the Garden of Eden and shut out from God's presence, God's authority and revelation of truth continued:

4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
(Moses 5:4-9)

This passage illustrates the pattern that God has used throughout the history of the world for dispensing divine truth: He communicates to chosen prophets through angels, through the power of the Holy Ghost, and occasionally, directly in person. God bestows upon His prophets divine priesthood authority, often through angelic ministration. Then the prophets are charged with disseminating truth and administering the sacred ordinances of the priesthood to the rest of us. Through this pattern, God reveals His Son, His laws, and His plan regarding the whole human family, as illustrated in the next verses:

10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
(Moses 5:10-12)

Adam, as the first prophet in this world, taught the truths he learned to his posterity and held the keys of priesthood authority, being authorized to stand in the place of God in performing ordinances (see Moses 6:53-66), including celestial marriage. Thus even in a fallen state, every child of God was given the same opportunities for growth and progression that Adam and Eve had--nothing was withheld from those who would listen to and obey God's representative on earth, the prophet.

Unfortunately, the separation from God and the veil of forgetfulness that are such a vital part of our growth here on earth also mean that many of us will reject the prophets and their teachings and authority. The faith required to accept a living, breathing, imperfect prophet--and especially one that we know well, as Adam's children knew him so well--is simply more than some of us want to swallow. And there is also that ever-present opposing voice to the prophet's:

13 And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.
(Moses 5:13)

So it is that the epic struggle continues, with God's children choosing between the truth--as taught by prophets and confirmed by the Holy Ghost--and the false teachings of the devil. At times when the majority of us listen to the prophets, we enjoy tremendous blessings, including relative peace on the earth, and we progress rapidly towards becoming what God intends us to be. At times when most of us reject the prophets, confusion, contention, and wars erupt, and eternal progression is stymied.

And from time to time, the teachings of the prophets have become so unpopular and rejection of the prophets so widespread that they have been murdered or taken from the earth, and mankind has been left without divine authority or revelation of truth for a time. During these times of rebellion and spiritual drought, mankind has rapidly moved away from God's truths and ordinances. As Isaiah described such times, "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5).

But killing a prophet does not destroy the Lord who sent him, and rejecting the truth does not change God's word. Even during the dark times when the Lord's divine representatives were not on the earth, scriptures they left behind have served as a guiding light to prepare the faithful for their return, when priesthood authority, laws, and ordinances would be restored. And eventually, when the time was right according to the God's wisdom, each period of darkness and apostasy has ended with the sending of new prophets to the earth. Each new revelation of truth and restoration of priesthood authority is called a dispensation, and a special prophet stands at the head of each major dispensation. Among them are Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ himself, the greatest Prophet to ever grace the earth.

Each prophet who begins a new dispensation of truth and authority faces a common challenge: convincing a fallen and corrupt world to listen to his message. Each faces the hurdle of overcoming generations of incorrect teachings and traditions, of refuting those who have set themselves up in illegitimate positions of religious authority during the absence of true divine representatives, and must deal with whatever political circumstances are present.

The Savior spent a good portion of His earthly ministry dealing with the problems posed by the various sects in Palestine. Each of them had claimed to have divine authority, but none of them carried the Savior's stamp of approval. Each of them had developed their own unique teachings, growing increasingly distant from the Lord's truth over time.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He called new prophets and apostles to assist Him, such as John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, and organized His church anew, marking the beginning of another dispensation. Jesus and His authorized disciples taught the truth in purity and used divine priesthood authority to administer ordinances such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost. And even after Jesus was crucified, His church continued through the leadership of his divinely authorized disciples, Christ having conferred the "keys of the kingdom" (see Matthew 16:19), or the priesthood keys for leading the Church and administering ordinances, upon Peter. Paul explained the way that Jesus organized His church in order to provide for the perfecting of His saints, for the spreading of His gospel, and for avoiding doctrinal deception:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-15)

This divine pattern of church organization, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (see Ephesians 2:20), was to continue until all of God's children were in the "unity of the faith." This of course will not happen until Christ comes to reign on earth again, and the earth is cleansed of the wicked and unbelieving. The need for prophets began with Adam and Eve and continues to this day.

After Jesus accomplished all He was sent here to do, in proclaiming the truth and conquering sin and death, He returned to heaven, leaving His church in the care of His apostolic prophets. But the church dealt with unrelenting persecution from the other Jewish sects of the time and constant political and cultural pressure from Rome. Many of His disciples were killed by those whose positions of authority they threatened. Many members of Christ's church buckled under the pressure, and others strayed from pure teachings into various mixtures of worldly philosophy and true doctrines. Eventually, with the loss of the last of the apostles who were authorized to perpetuate priesthood keys to succeeding generations, the church lost authority and prophetic revelation completely and drifted into apostasy. Thus began one of the longest "spiritual famines" in the world's history, as prophesied by Amos, Isaiah, Paul, and others.

But thankfully, this drift into apostasy was not the final end of God's authority or truth on the earth. It was not the last time mankind would receive the life-giving laws and ordinances of Christ's church, including baptism and eternal marriage. It did not mark the end of God's plan of salvation, the blessings of which include a life of joy and eternal life filled with divine love that is only available because of Christ--including the love which I have for you children and your mother.

Those same prophets who foretold this great apostasy also foretold the coming of a new gospel dispensation in the latter days. This great and final dispensation in the world's history would bring the restoration of the all the truths and priesthood keys and ordinances that have ever been available since the world began, ushering in a new age of hope. On that hope hinges the salvation of a ruined world, and the power that gives meaning to my love for your mother.

Part eight of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wife Rule #131: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Seven: The Family in Eden

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.

--Ruth M. Gardner, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 300

After God created this beautiful world, Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden as the final step of preparing this world for human habitation. Their condition there was planned meticulously by our Heavenly Father; they were given all the necessary ingredients for agency to function, and thus for their growth. They were given laws, as we will discuss shortly; they were given the freedom to choose for themselves (see Moses 3:17); and there was in the plan a provision for a Savior for them, as well as a space for repentance, should they use their agency to transgress the law and "fall" from their state of innocence (see 2 Nephi 26:26).

Being so divinely designed to advance together, Adam and Eve serve as the ideal prototype, or pattern, of a celestial marriage. By "celestial marriage" I don't mean that they had a perfect marriage or family here on earth (remember Cain and Abel?). Rather, I mean that together they constituted a family fashioned in the likeness of our own Celestial Parents, and one destined for celestial heights. Like the song above says, their marriage here on earth was built in such a manner as to be eternally lasting--built to endure forever. In my simple mind, this celestial marriage pattern can be boiled down to only two principles, worthy of our emulation: (1) they started out right, (2) they kept the commandments of God, including sticking together.

Adam and Eve started their marriage in the right place, at the right time, and by the right authority. The marriage ceremony was performed by God himself, when they were placed together in the Garden of Eden and commanded to "multiply and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28). It was thus by God's word and through His authority that they were joined.

Beginning new lives together in this way has inestimable value. God's authority is the only authority that has power to reach beyond time and space into eternity. A statement that two people are married, as given by one who has authority from an earthly, political body, only extends as far and as long as that political authority is recognized. A marriage by one with power to bind on earth only extends only as long as both husband and wife are here, in the flesh, on earth.

In contrast, God's authority reaches as far into the future as His dominions do, into the distant brightness of an ever-expanding, glorious eternity. God's words and works have no end (see Moses 1:38, and a neither does a marriage ordained through His power, provided that all the necessary conditions are met for that marriage.

Again, in my simpleminded pattern, the necessary conditions that a husband and wife must keep, if they expect to enjoy the benefits of God's law of marriage, are simply to obey God's laws related to marriage. It just so happens that marriage takes the capstone position in the gospel structure, sitting at the pinnacle of the plan and resting on the foundation of all other principles and ordinances underneath it. Thus, God's laws related to marriage encompass all of God's other laws.

But what are these laws? Well, there's over two thousand pages of scripture related to expounding and illustrating them and the consequences of obeying or ignoring them. However, to keep things simple, let's just consider the first commandments in our scriptural record that were given to Adam and Eve while they were still innocent in Eden: (1) Have children (Genesis 1:28), (2) Don't eat the forbidden fruit if you don't want to die (Genesis 2:17), (3) Work, beginning with "dressing and keeping" the garden (Genesis 2:15), and encompassing the command to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it (Genesis 1:28 again), and (4) Stay together (Genesis 2:24).

It is this fourth commandment, the one about staying together, that is of particular interest. It was becoming lax in this commandment that got Adam and Eve into trouble in the first place (see Genesis 3:1-6). Satan's attempts to deceive Eve may not have been effective if she and Adam had been together during her temptation. However, once Eve had partaken of the fruit and was going to be forced to leave Eden forever, Adam chose to stick by her side and also partook of the fruit.

When confronted by the Lord to explain himself, Adam's confessed, "The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat" (Moses 4:18). This seems to me to be both an admission of failure to stay with Eve during her temptation, as well as rationale for his decision to also partake of the fruit. If he failed once to stay by her side in the garden, allowing Satan to come between them, then he would not repeat that mistake again. If they could not remain together in the garden, then they would still stick together through whatever the wide, untamed world had in store for them.

What a great example for every married couple today! What an example for your mother and me! If all couples would only follow that one principle, to simply stay together, through good and bad, through the ups and the downs, how much less influence Satan would have in our families. Someday, my children, you will marry. Stick with your spouse. Be like Adam and Eve: don't let anyone, or anything, come between you. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, a modern prophet of God, gave this precious counsel: "Choose a companion you can always honor, you can always respect, one who will complement you in your own life, one to whom you can give your entire heart, your entire love, your entire allegiance, your entire loyalty. Determine that there will never be anything that will come between you, that will disrupt your marriage. Make it work. Resolve to make it work. There is far too much of divorce wherein hearts are broken and sometimes lives are destroyed. Be fiercely loyal one to another." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Life’s Obligations," Ensign, Feb 1999, 2)

The other three of the first four commandments given to Adam and Eve serve to strengthen their commitment to obey the fourth, to "stay together." Consider the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). Few things will cement your familial bonds like choosing together to have children. Your mother and I know this from firsthand experience. The Psalmist spoke truth when he said, "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.... Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Pslams 127:3,5).

Despite occasionally feeling like our quiver is about to burst at the seams, your mother and I are eternally grateful for each of you. Each child given to us is a precious gift of unspeakable value, and you truly do make us rich--rich in laughter, rich in love, and rich in learning. You are helping us, perhaps more than any other influence, to gain the experience that will help us grow in the likeness of our Heavenly Parents. You give us opportunities to face choices and solve problems using our agency that I am quite sure we would never encounter without you (You dumped what in the piano?). Each one of you alone is more than reason enough for your mother and I to stay together. And we always will; we have promised God so.

The commandment to work is one of the most valuable God has given us. In fact, when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, God informed them that hard work was going to be a part of their lives, "for their sakes:"

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
(Genesis 3:17-19)

Hard work is a blessing--not necessarily a blessing we would all choose, but one our Father in Heaven would choose for us. A life where hard work is required for survival is a wonderful way to provide opportunities for us to exercise our agency and grow. As we struggle to prioritize occupational work, church and community service, friendship, family, needed rest and recreation, and the hundred other things that require our attention, we learn a lot about who we really are inside. We learn what is really important to us, and whom we really love and serve when things get tight--when we feel we are short on time, short on money, and short on energy. Without hard work, we would never know.

In addition to these benefits, there are few better ways for a husband and wife to draw closer together than to work together. I believe that explains a lot of why young couples who struggle in poverty together while working through school and getting established often look back on those days with fondness. There is something wholesome and unifying and binding about the process of working hard together.

The commandment to avoid the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17), while not literally applicable to anyone since Eden, is still a great reminder to avoid what has been forbidden by the Lord. These opposing choices are one of the necessary ingredients for the exercise of agency (see 2 Nephi 2:15-16). While the "forbidden fruit" may vary in time and place, the choice remains ours to make.

For example, your mother and I try very hard to keep "forbidden" or worldly influences out of our lives and out of our home. We strive to make our family life together a sanctuary from all that is unholy and impure, to live in a spiritual castle of sorts where the influence of Satan, though surrounding us in an eternal siege, cannot penetrate. It takes real work and constant vigilance to maintain such fortifications, but we have not been left without guidance about how to do it. Our daily rituals of personal and family prayer, and personal and family scripture reading, along with weekly church attendance and family home evenings, add more strength to our lives than any of us can truly measure. A key to avoiding the bad is to stay busy with the good.

Adam and Eve kept all three of the commandments I described above, as we read in Moses' account:

1 And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him.
2 And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth....
4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
(Moses 5:1-2,4-5)

It is in keeping these first commandments, as well as all the other commandments, that husband and wife grow together in unity to the point of never separating again, that they learn to become godly and thereby prepare to live the life--the eternal life--that God means for us to live. Adam and Eve, our first prototype of celestial family living, illustrated how exercising their agency to follow this pattern helped them through the Cains and Abels of their lives, eventually completing nearly a millennium of mortality together on earth before being called back home.

They started out right, married by God's authority. They lived right, abiding by God's commandments. God was with them in the beginning, and they stayed with Him to the end. But how do the rest of us, born into a much bigger, more complex world and time, learn of God? How can we tap into God's authority so that we too can begin our marriages by His word and power? How can we know which, among all the competing paths in our lives, is the one true path, marked by God's commandments? How can we achieve the success that Father Adam and Mother Eve did?

There is an answer to these questions, and in fact, it has remained the same since the days of Eden until today: the pattern of prophets.

Part seven of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue