My Near Death Experience

tmb_3387_480I recently purchased a Pit Barrel Cooker. We invited some friends over yesterday so I could try it out on them. It did not disappoint. The meat was so delicious that I just inhaled it, literally, I lodged a piece of meat in my airway.

I have been known to have a panic attack or two in my day. Anxiety and Hypochondria are no strangers to me. Which is why what happened yesterday was so odd. I felt the piece of meat get stuck. I tried to clear it out. Then I really tried to clear it out. It wasn’t going anywhere. Yet, I didn’t panic. I simply turned to the person next to me, made the international sign for choking individuals, and stood up to be administered to. After three heaves into my diaphragm from expertly placed fists, the meat flew out of my throat and landed back on my plate. I thanked him, and we proceeded to enjoy our meal.

I’ve wondered about this ever since. Why didn’t I panic when I realized I couldn’t breathe on my own? Why wasn’t I freaking out that the Heimlich Maneuver was only a theory to me and not something I personally knew actually worked? Why wasn’t I convinced this was the end, like every time I board a plane? The answer? James Noonan.

Just under a year ago I met James for the first time. We became fast friends, and we’ve basically adopted his family as Illinois cousins. We do most things together. James got me into cycling, triathlons, and  Chicago. I’ve personally witnessed that everything James touches turns to gold. Only James Noonan can clog a toilet at an Airbnb rental and end up eating lunch with the founders of the startup. Only James Noonan can win front row tickets to “Hamilton” on broadway. It’s not all luck either, he is smart and talented. He was the first law student to actually win a case while in law school. He’s also deeply spiritual. I’ve been up with him multiple times through the night, watching him minister to young people in serious trouble. Bottom line, I didn’t panic because if anybody could save my life, James Noonan could. And he did. It was a Pit Barrel miracle.

As I took part in the Lord’s Supper today, I thought about all of this. It suddenly occurred to me that this could be something of a metaphor. My faith in Jesus Christ works something like this experience. Life can be great, and life can be hard. The truth is there are some things we are stuck in, we simply lack the ability to get ourselves unstuck. We need a Savior.

Yet many people panic. They make things worse. They trust in themselves to fix what they can’t on their own. They don’t have confidence in the ability of the Son of God to save them because they don’t know Him. They haven’t seen that everything He’s a part of is successful. But I have. I have found that because I consistently spend time with the Savior in personal prayer, personal scripture study, and personal efforts to help others, I know Him. I have confidence in His abilities. I have seen that everything He touches lives. I turned to Him when my mom died. I have turned to Him as I fall short as a husband and a father. I turn to Him in my efforts to change and become better. It’s no surprise to me when miracles occur because I know that He is a God of miracles.

It would be great if everyone had a James Noonan in their life.

It is eternally essential that everyone has Jesus Christ in their life.

 

 

What are Mormons to do now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land?

supreme courtWhat are faithful Latter-day Saints supposed to do about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage? Nothing. Okay I shouldn’t say nothing, obviously it’s a signal that we live in the last days and that Jesus Christ is coming soon, so we should watch and prepare for all that. But on a practical level, since we are no longer voting or advocating because the decision has been made, what is left for us to do now is to be kind and loving neighbors.

Yet it seems to me that Latter Day Saints are caught between two extremes: on the one hand they feel, in the name of love, to completely embrace the choices and lifestyle of homosexuality. (This is evidenced by the many active members of the Church I’ve seen with a rainbow overlay on their facebook profile picture, for example). On the other hand there are those members of the church who want to sustain the Lord and His prophets, but who come across as mean, hateful and exclusionary doing so.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said this in April Conference,

“President Gordon B. Hinckley… told a BYU audience about political commentators “aflame with indignation” at a then-recent news event. “With studied art they poured out the sour vinegar of invective and anger. … Surely,” he concluded, “this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker.”1 In contrast, to be securely rooted in the gospel, we must be moderate and measured in criticism and seek always for the broader view of the majestic work of God.”

As Latter Day Saints we can choose a middle road. We can be tolerant and loving of our friends and neighbors who choose the homosexual lifestyle, while at the same time maintain a consistent loyalty to the Lord and His definition of marriage between a man and a woman. See the letter issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve this week.

Let me use an example to illustrate. As Latter Day Saints we have the Lord’s word of wisdom wherein we do not smoke or drink. I think many of us with young children have had this experience where they witnessed somebody smoking and say (often loudly) something like “he’s a bad person for smoking!” To which you explain (hopefully) that just because somebody has chosen to smoke doesn’t mean they necessarily are a bad person. In saying this we are not advocating that smoking is okay. Nor do we need to worry that our children will become smokers. All we have done is separated the action from the person (who, by the way, God loves just as much as He loves you.)

And so it is with a person who has chosen a gay lifestyle. We can wish them the best as they try to live in a way they feel will make them most happy. But if the right opportunity to share the gospel comes up, we can be firm and clear about the doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman and Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.

I have appreciated the experience shared with me recently by one of my close friends. He works with several people who are openly gay, and has always tried to be good friends with everyone. One day, one of these co-workers came to him very confused. “I just found out you are a Mormon” he said. “Yup I am” was my friend’s response. “So you must not be a very good one then?” asked the co-worker. “I don’t know about that, but I try and am very active in my Church” was his response. “Then I don’t get it. I’m gay, and when I married my partner you sent me a card. You’ve always been nice and accepting to me, but I thought Mormon’s hated gay people.” I love my friend’s response: “If you are asking about what I believe then here it is; I believe in a God who loves us and wants us to become like Him and to be happy. Getting married and having a family is central to how we can do that. He has defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. That’s my belief about marriage. But I also know that God loves you as much as He loves me, and that’s good enough for me to love you too. So I will always try to treat you as well as I know how.”

Obviously that conversation is paraphrased and second hand, but that was the gist. It’s how I feel about it. My relationship with others does not have to be defined by their sexuality. That has nothing to do with me. I stood with prophets when the issue was on the ballot. I teach the truth whenever it’s appropriate. And I love my neighbor as myself. I will not encourage a person who struggles with same gender attraction to give in and live the lifestyle because I do not believe that will bring them a fulness of happiness. But, if my gay neighbor’s marriage were in trouble, and he asked me for advice, I think I’m going to give him the best advice I can to help him.

It’s possible that no other time in the history of our word has demanded people to be more thoughtful and discerning about tough issues as our time. My hope is that we pass this test.

Note: As always, I do not represent the Church and am solely responsible for this message

Goodbye Northern Utah

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When people ask me where I’m from, I always hesitate. How much do they want to know? It would be easy to answer if I were from only one place. Do they want to know where I was born (Kirtland, New Mexico until I was 8 years old)? Do they want to know where I grew up (Springville, Utah until I was 16 years old)? Or do they want to know where I graduated High School (Evanston, Wyoming until I went to college at age 18)? I’m constantly misreading what people are asking because when I assume they want the whole story I can see their eyes begin to glaze over, but when I think they want the short answer they will often follow up with a “is that where you’re from originally?” (and then they still glaze over when I tell the longer story.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the closest place I can call home is northern Utah. I’ve lived there (excepting a 2 year LDS mission in the South) for 16 years. I was educated there, I fell in love there, I began a family there, and I technically “grew up” there. (You can ask my wife, my various bishops, and my colleagues about all my growing pains.) Two months ago, as I drove into the beautiful Cache Valley, I was pondering all my homes, and said an audible prayer of gratitude to Heavenly Father that I could finally settle on saying “this is where I’m from, this is my home.” And then I got a phone call within the week…

So I want to thank the people I’ve met in that place: You met me as young college freshmen, or a recently returned missionary, or a newly wed husband, or a brand new seminary teacher, or a young father… and you were good to me in all my faults. I have often been guilty of a false sense of knowing everything, with a healthy amount of brashness often leaving a  wake of stepped on toes.  And yet you’ve helped me improve, you’ve helped me learn to listen, you’ve helped me hone my strengths and acknowledge my weaknesses. You’ve left me a better man. I’m committed to give Illinois a better version of myself than any of my homes have ever seen, and that’s largely because of your influence in my life. So Northern Utah, I want to thank you.

And now it begins all over again. I will meet many new people who will ask me where I’m from, and I’ll get to decide how much of my story they really want to hear. But I think I will just default to the place I have loved most and called home the longest. I’ll say “I’m from Northern Utah”.

Truth and False Expectations

christ-healing-the-blind-man-carl-heinrich-blochOne of the things the Messiah was prophesied to do when He came was to give sight to the blind, as Isaiah said:

To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I am the Lord: that is my name (Isaiah 42:7-8).

Jesus Christ would perform this miracle frequently throughout His mortal ministry. As recorded in the gospel of John:

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from birth…he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing (John 9:1, 6-7).

As this man’s neighbors saw the results of the miracles, they wondered, eventually getting the Pharisees involved. Surely this miracle, along with so many others, should be enough evidence that the Messiah had truly come. But they got hung up on one small detail in His miracle.

And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.

Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.

Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them (John 9:14-16).

The way many of these Pharisees contented themselves with rejecting the Savior and ignoring His miracles was by using their own made-up standards of righteousness by which to measure Him. Never mind that He consistently fulfilled the Messiahnic prophesies. Never mind that the Pharisaical standards imposed on Him were not scriptural but from tradition. In this story, the real blindness was caused by false expectations.

What does this look like today? It’s easy to reject the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon or the Church of Jesus Christ when they all fail the man made standards the world puts upon them. Joseph Smith made mistakes. A true prophet would never have suffered a bank failure, or trust a scoundrel who would end up betraying him, or struggle to implement the strict commandments of God.  The Book of Mormon can’t be true because American Indians genetically came from Asia, and everyone knows horses were brought to the Americas by Europeans. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can’t be true because it invested in a billion dollar mall in downtown Salt Lake City, or it won’t allow women to be ordained priests, or it won’t sanction same-sex marriages.

The truth is that Jesus wasn’t a sinner in the eyes of God. The Sabbath day standards of the Pharisees were not God’s standards. Joseph Smith was a prophet called of God despite his weaknesses and mistakes, just as was Moses, Abraham and Noah (all of whom had personal weaknesses and mistakes recorded in the scriptural records). The Book of Mormon is true despite the limited human perception of anachronisms (all of which have plausible explanations though that’s not the point). And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true despite societal norms and political correctness which assumes it’s own standards take the moral high ground.  Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will seek God’s expectations both in scripture and in personal revelation. Any honest seeker may discover the truth of God by the power of the Holy Ghost, otherwise, blindness prevails.

Patterns of Faithfulness: A Witness of the Book of Mormon

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The greatest revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith is the Book of Mormon. We know very little concerning the actual process of translation because those who know the most, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, say the least about it. The details of translation (like the rock in a hat for instance) came from David Whitmer and others who were only minor players in the process. And these details were reported many years after the fact. In a conference in 1831, Joseph was invited to give a full account of the translation process by his brother Hyrum, to which Joseph stated:

“it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.” (History of the Church 1:220)

Why is it that the Lord doesn’t want us to know the particulars concerning the translation process? Is it possible that if we were given all these details we might be guilty of looking beyond the mark (see Jacob 4:14)? Would we spend too much of our time studying the wrong things? How ridiculous it would be, if we were so distracted by the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, that we didn’t study the Book of Mormon. It may be for a similar reason we know precious little about the actual geographic location of the Book of Mormon. A testimony of the Book of Mormon is not to be gained in physical evidence.

In March of 1829, while Joseph was under tremendous pressure to show the world the gold plates, he was given this revelation:

“…if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:7)

In other words, faith is not obtained in this way. A person who seeks for a sign before they will believe, or physical proof, will ultimately find another reason to disbelieve. It wouldn’t be hard for people, once they’ve seen the plates, to then accuse Joseph of making them. Even if they could be authenticated through carbon testing and linguistic analysis, to believe that Joseph translated them by the gift and power of God would be excused away. No, a witness isn’t to be obtained in this way.

Instead, the Lord has set up His own pattern for obtaining a lasting witness of the truth. In an instruction to the early missionaries of this final dispensation, the Lord reminded them, and us, what our duty is in proclaiming the gospel. “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7) The way a person is identified as the elect of God is how they respond to the message God has sent forth in these last days. And the instrument of that message is the Book of Mormon.

At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni gives the following pattern:

“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.” (Moroni 10:4).

Any person who desires to know if the Book of Mormon is true will “receive it” (meaning they will give it a chance and study it with an open mind). Then they will ask with “a sincere heart” (meaning the really want to know), with “real intent” (meaning they will do something about it once they know, like join the Church through baptism), and with “faith in Christ” (meaning they believe He can make things known unto them). Even their prayerful question is prescribed, “ask if it is not true.” This may be semantics, but I wonder if Moroni is stating the direction of the inquiry. If a person is asking if something is not true, then they are assuming that it is.

As a missionary in the South, I came across all types of “seekers”. Some were happy with their current situation and had no desire to discover if the Book of Mormon was true. These never received it. Others would receive the book, or had previously received the book, and claimed that after reading and praying about it, God told them it wasn’t true. This, of course, was in direct conflict to what God had told me, so one of us has gotten it wrong. It was clear from further conversation with such individuals, that their investigation wasn’t sincere or with real intent. They read the Book of Mormon, (or perhaps only a small part of it), in a spirit of contempt and ridicule. They neither heard the voice of the Lord in it, nor prevented their hearts from hardening against it. Still there were others who gave the Book of Mormon a chance, read it sincerely, asked with an intention to join the Church, and believed Christ could manifest it, and He did.

A conversion to the faith based on the Book of Mormon, has a more lasting effect on the individual than any other way. Ezra Booth was the Methodist minister in Hiram Ohio for the John Johnson family. He attended a meeting of the Church with the Johnson’s to investigate the claims of the restoration. Upon witnessing the miraculous healing of Elsa Johnson’s arm, Ezra joined the Church. He was soon sent on a mission to Missouri where he tried to convert people to the Church through attempts to perform miracles, since this was what converted him. When he was unable to perform any miracles, he became disillusioned and, after leaving the Church, became a bitter apostate.

Contrast Ezra Booth with Parley P. Pratt. Parley’s conversion came as a result of consuming the Book of Mormon. He related:

“I read all day, eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came for I preferred reading to sleep…I esteemed the book …more than all the riches of the World.” (Pratt, Parley P, Autobiography, 1985, 2)

It would be Parley who introduced the Book of Mormon and the other three missionaries who traveled with him, to his former minister Sidney Rigdon. This mission would change the destiny of the Church as the Lord would command His young Church to gather in Ohio. Parley would spend his entire life serving missions and proclaiming the Book of Mormon. Before his final mission, where he would be murdered in Arkansas, he recorded “I preached my farewell discourse in the Tabernacle, in which I bore testimony to the Book of Mormon and of the calling of Joseph Smith.” (ibid 400).

There are no guarantees when it comes to our enduring to the end, for “great faith has a short shelf life” (President Henry B Eyring, Ensign, Nov 2005). But if we are going to make it to the end, it will be because we followed the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (introduction: Book of Mormon).

Clingers and Foolishness

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Today was stake conference (for those who don’t know, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we hold two types of conferences twice a year; general conference for the whole world, and stake conference for local areas). My stake president gave a couple of great talks that got me thinking.

In 1 Nephi 8, the prophet Lehi relates a dream he had which was prophetic and symbolic. If you’re interested in reading the entire dream you can find it here. Two of the main features of the dream were the iron rod (representing the word of God, especially scripture) and the tree of life (representing Jesus Christ). Lehi observes four main groups of people in the dream, only two of the four groups end up at the tree, and only one of those two remain at the tree. No one found the tree without holding the rod of iron. Which makes sense, the word of God leads us to Him.

But what was the difference between the two groups who made it to the tree? The scripture designates one group as “clinging” to the rod, while the other group “continually [held] fast” to it. This is the difference.

When I was a teenager, I loved taking dates to haunted houses during Halloween time. This was because regardless of the girls personal interest in me, she was going to cling to me in that place. Why? Because she was desperate. Any source of comfort was welcomed when a dude with a chain saw came out of the corn field. Sadly, I also knew, that once the moment of desperation was passed, I would no longer be clingworthy.

It’s easy for me to see the word of God treated in a similar way. If the scriptures are only studied in moments of desperation, and then ignored once the storm is passed, how much will a person actually change? When these clingers got to the tree, they were ashamed because of the mocking world, and they fell away. Those who were consistent with the word of God, when they came to the tree, they fell down. They knew where they were, and they knew Who they were with. They didn’t even notice the mocking world because they were too involved with what the fruit of the tree was doing to them.

So none of these thoughts were unique to me today. The connection I made was to a scripture I recently studied from the Doctrine and Covenants 63:54. Here’s the prophesy it contains concerning these last days:

“And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.”

This prophesy borrows language from the parable of the ten virgins in the New Testament. It’s interesting to me that a difference is placed between being foolish, and being wicked. There is a space of time given the foolish where they may repent and stop being foolish. But there will come a moment when foolishness becomes wickedness, and a separation occurs.

Many today are losing their faith. Some find historical information about Joseph Smith (often out of context) to be inconsistent with what they were taught about the restored gospel. Others become offended by experiences they have with wonderfully flawed Latter-day Saints. Many cannot reconcile the social trends of modern society with unchanging doctrinal positions. These concerns become so loud that the fruit of the gospel cannot compete, and they are ashamed, and fall away.

I would submit that a person with a consistent relationship with the word of God, recognizes where they are, and Who they are with in the Lord’s church. This doesn’t mean they have all the answers. But it does mean they can hold on in darkness, trusting the light will return.

The foolish treat the word of God with casualness when things are good, and only with deep regard when things are desperate. For a while such a person might find themselves partaking of the fruit of the gospel. But such casualness during the good times will become a valuable missed opportunity. The strength needed to stand against the inevitable challenges to faith can only come through wisely being consistent with the word of God. So, to quote one other prophet:

“O be wise, what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12)

Patterns of Faithfulness: the boy Joseph Smith

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We will begin our investigation of faithfulness with the first convert of the restoration, Joseph Smith, and it’s important that he be viewed as a convert. It would be a mistake to assume that once Joseph left that grove in 1820 he was a full blown, mature prophet of God. That process will take years and will be developed further in the next post. For our purposes here, we shall observe what the young boy Joseph did to learn for himself (see Joseph Smith- History 1:20). This pattern may be replicated by anybody who wishes for a personal witness of the truth.

Joseph’s inquiry begins during a great spiritual revival, known as the Second Great Awakening. Since the days of the Revolution, many Americans were becoming slothful in their religious observances. It therefore became a priority among ministers to reinvigorate the faith and bring religious observance back in the people. The scene of these revivals were the classic frontier camp meetings where ministers would set up large tents and start preaching. People could come and go as they listen to the varied messages of salvation, and chose a faith to join. Joseph would descibe this scene as “an unusual exitement” that “ created no small stir amongst the people, some crying, ‘Lo, here!’ and others, ‘Lo, there!’” (JS-H 1:5).

As these meeting progressed, the people began “ to file off, some to one party and some to another” when it became apparent “that the seemingly good feelings of both priests and the converts were more pretended than real” (JS-H 1:6) as contention and strife became common at these revivals.

It is as this point that we begin to see Joseph demonstrate a pattern for seeking answers in faith. For we, like him, live in a day where “all things [are]in commotion” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:91) and the good feelings of so many vying for our trust and belief may be more pretended than real. Indeed, there are many who want to destroy our faith in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, and who feel the ends justify the less than honest means.

We observe Joseph experiencing “serious reflection and great uneasiness” as he is witnessing the Second Great Awakening. Yet Joseph keeps himself unaffiliated with any group as he investigates all their meetings. He is willing to do his homework before he makes any descision that would involve what he would believe. As he does this investigation he starts to form an opinion. He begins to be “somewhat partial to the Methodist sect” and if he had to choose, that would be the one. Dispite this opinion, Joseph was still honest with himself that he hadn’t “come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong” (JS-H 1:8).

A person who wishes to emulate the young Joseph in seeking answers by faith, should recognize what he did. First, his question was a serious one. This was not a passing curiousity. Second, Joseph is willing to act, utilizing the resources he had available. He was determined to investigate all claims that applied to his question. In doing so he began to form an opinion, but was honest enough with himself to admit he didn’t know enough “to come to any certain conclusion” (JS-H 1:8). The honest in heart will always demonstrate their intent by doing what they can, and admiting where they’re limited. Without this intellectual integrity, truth will not be sought, only validation to preconceived notions.

As the young Joseph continues his investigation, he comes across (or is directed to) a particular passage of scripture that changes everything. It’s not necessarily what the verse says that is so impactful, for certainly this message is conspicuous in scripture. What changes everything is what he felt upon reading this scripture. “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power into 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…” (JS-H 1:12).

An impression from God, it should be realized, will cause something of an imprint as the word implies. A person seeking answers in faith would be wise to recognize when an idea becomes powerful to them and they can’t get it off of their mind. This is one of the definitions of the word of God, it’s not just His word to ancient prophets, it literally is His word to us. The Lord is able to make certain passages of His word stand out more impressively to us than others.

What Joseph does following this impression is well known. It is of note to point out that following a still, small communication from God, Joseph “came to a determination” (JS-H 1:13) to act. He did not enter the grove to simply ask which church was true, he asked which church he was to join. Any honest seeker of truth must have their mind and heart made up to act upon the answer they recieve. If they do not “ask with real intent” then they will never know “by the power of the Holy Ghost… the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5). This pattern is available to all, and it is the beginning of faithfulness.

Patterns of Faithfulness: Introduction

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The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, interpreted a dream that prophesied of the last days. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44). This latter day kingdom is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the authority of this church “shall never be taken again from the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1).

Throughout the history of the earth, the Lord has been communicating with and directing His children through revelation to His prophets. Each period of time when this occurs is called a dispensation. “The Bible suggests at least one dispensation identified with Adam, another with Enoch, another with Noah, and so on with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus with His Apostles in the meridian of time. Paul writes of ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’ in which the Lord will ‘gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth’ (Eph. 1:10). The fulness of times is the final dispensation and began with the revelation of the gospel to Joseph Smith” (Bible Dictionary, 56). Each of the previous gospel dispensations ended in an apostasy. Our dispensation will not.

Notwithstanding this prophesied reality concerning the Kingdom of God standing forever, there is no promise that individual members of the Kingdom will likewise never fall away. In fact, the sad reality is that no one is exempt from this possibility (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:32 ). Even the prophet Joseph Smith was warned “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:4 emphasis added). Also this warning, “there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me…if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:3-4, emphasis added). The Prophet was made well aware that his standing before the Lord was not guaranteed and there was another who could be called to replace him. I would propose that if Joseph Smith isn’t safe from falling, then no one is safe to assume they will never fall away.

Some of the sad history of this church is that many did (and still do) fall away, even some of the great ones in our early history. Men who experienced spiritual gifts, served missions, and sacrificed reputation, wealth and health fell away. Men who saw visions, the gold plates, angels, and even the Father and the Son fell away.

At the same time, many stayed true to the faith in the face of so much persecution, opposition, and doubt. Why does this happen? Are their patterns we can observe in those who remained faithful as well as in those who fell away? My goal is to write several more posts highlighting some of these patterns in the early saints, with the hope of giving insight for how we can stay faithful today.

As we approach the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will see “an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked;” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:54). This is a time where there “shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22). Our ability to guard ourselves against the threat of personal apostasy should be one of our great priorities in these last days.