Do Mormons Worship Joseph Smith?

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This post may be considered part II of the “Are Mormon’s Christian?” post I wrote a month ago. The goal of this post is to clear up any misconceptions there may be, and to attempt to set forth simply our prophetic premise in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As always, I’m not an official spokesman for the church and am solely responsible for this post.

Recently I came across a scripture in the Book of Mormon that I quickly realized was a very important verse, perhaps the most important scripture, at least from a missionary stand point, in the entire canon of scripture.

11 Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant. (3 Nephi 21:11, emphasis added)

These are the words of the resurrected Savior to the people of ancient America. He is talking about the prophet who would bring “these things” (meaning the Book of Mormon) forth. The Savior is talking about Joseph Smith. His message is straight forward, you can’t get to the Savior without going through Joseph Smith.

This aspect of our faith has been attacked and misrepresented by anti-Mormons. The accusation is that we worship Joseph Smith, that we talk too much about him, and not enough about Jesus. Sadly, these accusations cause some members of my church to under emphasize the role of Joseph Smith in an attempt to be considered more “Christian”. But under emphasizing Joseph Smith is not something the Savior Himself is willing to do.

10 But this generation shall have my word through you; (D&C 5:10, emphasis added)

Joseph was told this early in his revelations from Jesus. But this prophetic expectation is not new. Consider what Moses was told when he spoke to Jehovah from the burning bush and was called to deliver Israel and use Aaron as a spokesman,

15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

16 And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. (Exodus 4:15-16, emphasis added)

Even in the dispensation where Christ Himself was among the people, He declared to Peter:

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18, emphasis added)

This is how God has always performed His work with us. He sends prophets. And occasionally there is a reset after a major period of apostasy, where a prophet restores the lost faith. This prophet will act as the head of that dispensation and will be the one through whom all people of that time period must go through to get to Jesus Christ.

I understand that this is a hard thing to believe. But when has faith ever been easy? How many struggled to follow Moses, or the ancient Apostles?

I simply challenge anyone who contests Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims to apply the test Jesus Himself prescribed for determining true prophets from false, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20). You could observe our people and our values as the fruits of Joseph Smith. But his claim centered on the Book of Mormon. By this fruit you will know him. And once you know him, you’ll be invited to join us in this important work.

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We are given enough to believe

jm_300_BOM2.p-P5.tiffOne of my heroes in the Book of Mormon is a man named Samuel. Not because of what this epic painting portrays, especially when you consider he’ll cast himself off that wall (maybe that cape is a flying squirrel suit, you never know).

He’s my hero because of who he was. What the scriptures gives us about his background is actually quite limited. All we know is that he was a Lamanite (meaning he was ethnically different than his traditional enemy Nephite audience). What the scriptures say about him after his wall sermon is equally limited. All the record says is that he went back among his people and was never heard of again. Yet I’m given enough insight into who this man was simply from this event recorded in scripture about him.

1. Helaman 13: 3– He was both willing and able to stand and say whatever the Lord put into his heart. (This is different than simply “winging it”, as this ability requires paying a price. See DC 11:21)

2. Helaman 13: 26-29- He declared truth that was very unpopular to the people he was teaching. He told them what they needed to know, not what they wanted to know.

3. Helaman 14- He was entrusted with the assignment of revealing specific signs concerning the birth and death of the Savior that no other prophet revealed. I’ll talk more on this later in the post.

4. Helaman 16:1-7–  He was willing, but not required to give his life. The Lord very miraculously spared it. (It’s even more miraculous if the wall he was on was more like 10 feet rather than 100 feet.)

These different points of example are enough to write a post on alone. But in this post I want to discuss the signs Samuel was privileged to reveal.

Why does God produce signs when sign seeking is said by the Savior to be the thing that an “evil and adulterous generation” seeks after?

The answer is given by Samuel in Helaman 14:

28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—

29. And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. (emphasis added)

In other words, there is a difference between sign seeking, and sign watching. And that difference is faith. There will always be given enough reasons to believe, enough evidence to choose faith. On the other hand, there will also always be enough reasons to doubt, and choose unbelief. This way, our freedom to choose stays in tact. Since this life is a test to see whether we will choose God or not, we are given enough reasons either way to choose according to where our heart really is.

Recently the Church came out with a new gospel topic page on DNA (you can check it out here). The article is very careful to explain that the Book of Mormon was never meant to be proven by science. A witness that this book is true must come by faith, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4-5). On the same token the Book of Mormon also cannot be disproved by science. There will always be enough reasons to believe if a person chooses to.

President Boyd K Packer (a modern apostle) said:

Science is seeking; science is discovery. Man finds joy in discovery. If all things were known, man’s creativity would be stifled. There could be no further discovery, no growth, nothing to decide—no agency. All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation. Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery.

(“The Law and the Light,” in The Book of Mormon:Jacob through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, eds. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1990), 1–31. emphasis added)

Last night my 19 month old daughter was inconsolable. She has been sick, she hasn’t been eating well, she’s teething, it was king of a perfect storm. Our first bout with her came just as we were preparing to go to bed at 10pm. We stayed up with her for about 30 minutes until she calmed down. Then at about 1am she was once again inconsolable. It was my turn, so I got up with her. She didn’t want to be held and she fought me. I held her tight and gave her a priesthood blessing. She was asleep by the time I was done. I’d like to say she slept the rest of the night, but she woke up once more asking for milk, or “milt” as she says it. But then she went back to sleep. Now I know not all blessings are so immediately answered, but this one was. There is room to say, “it was a coincidence, she just needed to be held, that’s why she fell asleep.” But there is also room to believe that a blessing was answered upon her head by the authority of the priesthood I hold. That’s the one I choose to believe.

An average Mormon guy’s perspective on homosexuality

00 no on 8So this subject has been on my mind for years, and I’ve wanted to write on it, but then it got all heated with what happened in December in Utah and I’ve been hesitant to write on a sensitive topic during a sensitive time. My goal with this blog is not to have debate, or to get controversial. But my goal is to offer an average Mormon perspective on all sorts of things. As with all my other posts, I do not represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I’m fully responsible for these thoughts.

The doctrinal premise for the way Latter-day Saints view same sex marriage involves a plan God has for our salvation. We believe that we lived before we were born. In this premortal life we lived with God who is our Father, and He taught us all about who He was, and who we were, and who we could become. We had the same gender there as we do here. We have unique rolls and responsibilities based on our gender. He taught us His plan which would require us to come into a mortal test where we learn by our experience the good from the evil. Here we must walk by faith, and deal with our fallen condition. Here we would prove by our choices whether we want and can handle the fullness of what God is willing to give us.

Then we were born. Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, our condition is fallen as well. This doesn’t mean that we were born sinful, we do not believe in original sin. But we were born carnal, sensual, and devilish- although innocent for the first years of life. Satan is not allowed to tempt us for our first 8 years but we are still left to deal with our fallen nature. As we grow in accountability, we will sin. We will yield to temptation in varying degrees and severity. We all have tendencies and weakness that can only be overcome in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

If we endure to the end of our life, relying on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and participating in the covenants and ordinances of His gospel (or for those without a full knowledge of Christ’s gospel- living a good, honorable life, and accepting the gospel in its fullness in the spirit world) then we will overcome our fallen condition. Then we can inherit our full potential as sons and daughters of God. This includes an eternal marriage of husband and wife which extends beyond this life.

With this doctrinal foundation laid, I can now talk about same gender attraction. In our premortal condition there was no homosexuality. Coming into this fallen world produces all kinds of conditions. Whether a person is “born that way” or not misses the point. We are all born fallen. Our mortal test is whether we will rely wholly on the Savior, and accept His gospel. I understand that for a person with same gender attraction, this is a severe test indeed. But there is hope. There is a plan. There is always a choice. All the blessings of the gospel are available to them. But God’s laws are unalterable, and “wickedness never was happiness.”

Where does that leave faithful Mormon’s? Honestly I think it’s good that we struggle with our feelings on this issue. Extremes in either direction are inappropriate, whether that be permissive Mormon’s fully embracing the redefinition of marriage in the name of equality, or mean Mormon’s viciously attacking or dismissing those with same gender attraction as lost souls on their way to hell.

I feel we should love as much as possible. We should want to accept as much of these people as we can without accepting a homosexual lifestyle. We should be kind and attempt to understand what they’re going through. I think our hearts should break over the way we must vote on same sex marriage because we truly love these people. But we should stand with the Lord, and with the Apostles that represent Him on Earth by loving these people enough to stand by truth. We should try to explain that truth by what has been revealed to prophets and leave alone the cultural speculations which are not part of the church’s doctrine. We should trust God and His plan.

Are Mormons Christian?

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Are Mormons Christians? Depends on who you ask. And depends on what you mean.

If you mean do we believe that the historic Jesus of Nazareth is God’s only begotten Son in the flesh and the Savior of the world, if you mean do we try to follow His example as disciples in these modern times, if you mean do we get baptized as He was baptized and eat bread and drink water to remember His death and resurrection as a regular part of our worship, and if you mean do we fully expect His triumphal return as King of kings and Lord of lords…then yes we are Christians.

If you mean do we follow traditional Christianity which includes the dogma and tenants born out of the creeds such as the notion of Trinity, infant baptism, the authority of the believers, purgatory, till death do we part marriage, irresistible grace, predestination, a closed canon of scripture etc, etc…then no we are not Christians.

The message that Joseph Smith brought to the world was that Christianity (and really the whole world) was in a state of apostasy, and that this long night was breaking into a day of restored true Christianity. This restoration included angelic ministration, prophets and apostles again on the Earth, revelation, additional scripture, priesthood authority. Through the prophet Joseph Smith the Living Christ brought back His living church.

Understandably, traditional Christianity is dubious to such claims. In fact it’s risky business to accept something so new and disruptive to nearly 2000 years of tradition. But our message to the world is not to just take our word for it, but investigate our claim. And investigation is simple, read the Book of Mormon, ponder it’s message and then ask God with an honest heart, a real intent (meaning you will follow when you know) and faith in Christ. The promise from the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5) and the Bible (John 14:26) is that you can know the truth by the power of the Holy Ghost. Once you know, we invite you to join us in this great work.

So I’m happy proving my Christianity through action and faith even as most of the Christian world rejects me and my church as one of their own

Portrait painting progression

I’m not a great gift giver. I always struggle with what to give my wife. Other people are easier, paint them something and they’re happy. But Bonnie is used to my paintings. To compound the gift giving problem, she is also the CFO of the family so I can’t spend a dime without her knowing about it. The only times I can surprise her are on those rare occasions when I’m commissioned to do a piece and she doesn’t know about it. (Christmas 2011 I surprised her with a KitchenAide mixer. She never saw that one coming!) But I can’t count on that from year to year. So this year I was complaining about my gifting woes, and I told her I just wished she would commission me. Surprisingly, she did.
When my oldest son Haken was about two years old, and an only child, I painted a portrait of him. My thought was that I loved having a toddler and knew this stage is so temporary and I wanted to capture it.

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Since then we’ve had this ginormous painting of him in a prominent place in our home…and we have two other children now. They’re too young now, but eventually they’ll wonder why we have a shrine to the birthright son.
So Bonnie asked that I paint equally ginormous painting of our other two children (both of which are in that toddler stage, so it fits the original idea.) After one week here is the first one. I thought it would be fun to post the progression of the painting as a sort of artist diary. It’s more for me and posterity than it is for you, but you’re welcome to observe.

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It all starts with the right image. I wanted something candid not posed. And even though my kids are big smilers, I didn’t want any smiling. Those type of portraits always look a bit contrived to me. So I found this one from when Jack was 2 and he was watching the polar bear at Hoggle Zoo. He’s so captivated, I loved it. So I did a drawing (but didn’t need an under painting since this was over the top of many failed paintings.) I also had to fake his ear since the photo was cropped further over than I wanted for the composition.

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Next came some flesh tones. Because of the dramatic lighting, this came more easily to me. I also laid down the deep blue background of the polar bear tank so I could get a better contrast to his face.

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I warmed up the flesh tones, and got the rest of the colors blocked in.

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The blue was too intense for me so I blasted it with a more neutral color. Although I could tell this was still too intense.

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So I backed that off as well. I wanted to keep it loose so that nothing would detract from my boy’s beautiful face.

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My favorite part of a painting is when I know it’s successful (this isn’t always the case), and I just need to finish up all the little things. This is a fun time to be all finicky, but I have to be careful not to over do it. And that’s it. First painting down. Time to get after Gracie’s.

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How Prayer Works

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In the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have a lay ministry. That means we don’t have professional clergy in charge of our congregations. This Sunday my bishop (an electrical engineer) nailed it in his talk. Here’s what I learned.

Many are familiar with the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” The wisdom here is that knowing how to get something is more valuable than simply having it. The example my bishop used was his child’s math homework. “They would rather me just give them the answer to the problem, but how will that help them on the test? They won’t understand the concept.” A wise parent or teacher understands that knowing just a single answer to a specific question is not as valuable as understanding the concept behind solving many problems.

It’s funny that we sometimes don’t take this same mindset into prayer. What I mean by this is that when people pray, they often want the quickest answer to their question. Some people will falsely conclude, when such an answer is not given, that either God doesn’t care or that He’s not even there. What is forgotten is that God is the perfect parent, and teacher. If it’s not going to help us be better, or not help us understand more, then He’s not going to give it to us. The purpose of prayer is not to help God see things our way, it is to help us see things His way. This will take time, and patience, and faith.

My bishop began his talk relating the buzz around the 1998 NBA finals when the Jazz were playing the Bulls. He talked about how in his family prayer during that time it was requested that God would help the Jazz to win. If you’re familiar with sports you may know that Michael Jordan had an incredible game where he battled the flu and almost singlehandedly defeated the Jazz. Either he had more faith than we did, or God isn’t super concerned about who wins games. It might be that He has much bigger things planned for us, if we will accept the tutoring.

Being Active

20140112-201816.jpgIn the Mormon vernacular we have a phrase for not participating in the church: inactivity. (Another, slightly modified, use of the term is “less active”. I guess its softer sounding.) The normal use of the term refers to a person or family who doesn’t attend church meetings on Sundays. I think this term could have wider application.

A few years ago I attended a meeting where the speaker was an assistant administrator for the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion within the Church Educational System. He was explaining how the church uses the active/inactive terms for church buildings. Since the church has a global presence, and many buildings are built in developing nations where power options are limited, a building is “inactive” when it doesn’t have climate control. A building is “active” when it does. Thus an inactive building is dependent on outside forces for a comfortable meeting setting, whereas an active building is comfortable regardless of outside forces. (I’m sure I’m getting some details wrong since I’m pulling this from a 7 year old memory.)

This use of the term is insightful to me as activity means being plugged into a power source that makes you impervious to outside influences. Being inactive is a lack of power that makes you vulnerable to and dependent on surrounding conditions.

This condition of being either active or inactive can apply to more than just church attendance. For example, I realized last summer that I was inactive in missionary work. I wasn’t plugged into the power, and was dependent on outside influences (like someone coming to me who was interested) to do any missionary work. I decided I was going to be active as a missionary and had some cool experiences (material for a future post I’m sure).

I’ve really tried to look at all facets of my life in this way. Am I active as a husband? as a father? in my calling? as a member of my ward family? as a member of the community? I believe there’s much good available from our lives and for our lives if we will choose to be active.

My Obligitory New Year’s Resolution Post

00000When I was a Senior in High School working at the local IGA market in Evanston, WY. I had to call my dad to come down and jump start my car. It wasn’t too late, maybe 9 pm. It wasn’t too cold, maybe early October. But my dad showed up visibly annoyed. The reason: this wasn’t the first time I left the lights on and drained the battery. He hooked the jumper cables up to our vehicles, and turned the car on and it fired up. Before he left he imparted one of those bits of wisdom that my dairy farm raised father was legend for saying. “Once is accident, twice is stupid”

I don’t know why that particular dadism has stuck with me over the years. It might be because this wasn’t the last time I needed a jump for leaving my lights on. Nor was it the last time I repeated a mistake which involved a vehicle (like locking my keys in the car, once I locked both mine and my wife’s keys in each of our running cars. I didn’t want them cold or stolen, I just forgot the spare keys for each were on the other car’s key ring). There really are few things in life that make things more frustrating than repeated mistakes.

And so we find ourselves at the end of another year. It’s natural, I suppose, for us to think about the next year with a resolve to be better than we were during this last one. We certainly want to learn the lesson’s of past mistakes and avoid repeating them. The problem is repeating mistakes is so easy to do.

Certainly there are categories of severity with mistakes. My vehicular mishaps, though annoying and stupid, aren’t life ruiners. But some mistakes may precipitate a viscous cycle that can consume and destroy lives. Things can get pretty serious if this cycle isn’t broken.

That’s why I’m grateful for a story that is told in the Book of Mormon. You can read it for yourself here. It’s found in Alma chapters 23-24 (but really begins all the way back in chapter 17). I will summarize since my goal is to keep these posts to 500 words.

A civilization of savage people called the Lamanites live about 100 years before Christ. They have a culture of war and murder. They believe that anything they do is right. A couple of missionaries from the Nephite nation (hated by the Lamanites), who underwent a conversion to Christ in their own lives, want to bring the gospel to these lost Lamanites. How they convert is a great story full of miracles, but I’ll cut to the chase. A whole multitude of Lamanites repent and are baptized, including many of the ruling family. They change their name to the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s. They’re whole way of life has changed as they come unto Christ. But the rest of their nation is angry, and ready to overthrow this monarchy, and kill every last one of the converted group. So what do the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s do? They bury their weapons.

This action has caused some people to ask: Isn’t it permissible to kill if you are defending your family, your country, your way of life? Why would these people not just refuse to fight back, but make it almost impossible to fight back? These people answer that question in their own words.

11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to takethem away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

What they do teaches an important principle about how to avoid repeating a mistake. President Spencer W. Kimball articulates the principle well when he wrote:

“In abandoning sin one cannot merely wish for better conditions. … He must be certain not only that he has abandoned the sin but that he has changed the situations surrounding the sin. He should avoid the places and conditions and circumstances where the sin occurred, for these could most readily breed it again. He must abandon the people with whom the sin was committed. He may not hate the persons involved but he must avoid them and everything associated with the sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness[1969], 171–72).

This is what I know to be true. When I am ready to really stop repeating a mistake, I change the conditions surrounding that mistake. What that looks like must be as inspired as it is specific to each of our individual circumstances. But I know that change is always possible.

Does God give us more than we can handle? Part II

ImageOn Sunday I wrote a post about the false idea that God never gives us more than we can handle. You may read that post here. My premise was that overwhelming trials are given on purpose to help us turn to and rely on the Savior. It didn’t take long for God to use me as an object lesson for this principle.

Yesterday (December 16 2013), just 3 days after his 3rd birthday, my sweet little Jack was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. This diagnosis, as too many know, is life changing. We were instructed to admit him into Primary Children’s Hospital last night, and we spent all day today learning the ins and outs of this disease. We also were instructed on how to give insulin shots and even practiced on each other, and then we actually gave Jack his shots. He was a champion. And I must say Bonnie and I are handling things very well. On the surface, this looks like a win for the “God won’t give us more than we can handle” theory. On the surface.

Here’s what you should know about me. I have anxiety. I’m a hypochondriac. At times in my life I have felt absolutely buried by this condition. There was a time when I wondered if I could ever live a successful, happy life. This full story will need its own separate post. But I am a witness of the enabling power of the Savior’s Atonement. I made it through/to High School, a major adolescent move, a mission, an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree, the death of my mother, a career in teaching teenagers, marriage and fatherhood.

As I’ve moved along on my life’s path, my personal responsibilities have increased, but my anxiety has decreased. That’s not supposed to happen. The fact that I’m able to handle this new challenge in stride (obviously I have no idea how tough diabetes is going to be, but I’m also not losing sleep over it) is evidence that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4:13), not that God gave me a challenge He knew I could handle all on my own.

One more miracle is worth mentioning here. Part of my anxiety has to do with hospitals, blood, and needles. I’ve passed out over cuts, jammed fingers, small finger pricks to get a drop of blood, immunizations, dilation at the eye doctor (no kidding), an epidural (that my wife was given with our 3rd child) and countless other near pass out experiences. I have a weak constitution for such things. Five years ago I began a regiment of allergy shots that have greatly reduced my seasonal hay fever. But this treatment included getting shots, hundreds and hundreds of shots. I prayed a lot, and panicked a lot, and came close to passing out a lot. Little by little, however, I was blessed with an increased capacity to calm my mind and shut down my worries. I went from fearing that my throat was closing off, to not even thinking twice about the shot. There is no question in my mind, that I was being prepared to handle a life of shots. Today was a wonder to me. 5 years ago I wouldn’t have endured very well a day like today, let alone be confident in it. I have been enabled, and it is very much in spite of my own natural capacity. 

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