Saturday, July 27, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 28 "O God, Where Art Thou?"

Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-33; 122

4 Questions for Discussion and Study
1. What do you make of/how do you feel about Joseph Smith's prayer?
2. Why does the Lord take so long to answer some prayers?
3. What advice does the Lord give Joseph at this most desperate and frustrated stage?
4. What can we learn from the experiences of Joseph Smith and others in Liberty Jail?

What brought the Saints to this point?
In 1836 The Saints were expelled from Clay County and given lands in Ray and Davies Counties to settle including a settlement called Far West.
In 1836-1837 two missions were opened - Canadian and British. This brought hundreds of new converts (including a young John Taylor among others) that were eager to be part of the frontier movement and growth of the church.
Additionally, facing apostasy and rebellion in Kirtland, the faithful saints there abandoned their temple and joined up with the Saints in Far West.
By 1838 the Saints in the Far West region numbered over 8000.
Far West temple cornerstones dedicated but temple never built.
July 4th 1838 Sidney Rigdon's Independance Day speech viewed as inflammatory by non-Mormons
Aug 1838 Saints are prevented from voting - a fight ensues
Mormon and State militias are organized.
Battle of Crooked River - apostle David W Patten is killed as is a state militia man.
Oct 1838 Boggs issues his now infamous "extermination" order declaring Mormons must be driven from the land or exterminated.
Oct 1838 Hauns Mill Massacre 17 saints murdered while locked in a barn.
Nov 1838 Under a flag of truce The Prophet is betrayed and arrested along with other church leaders
Dec 1st 1838 - April 6th 1839 Joseph is a prisoner at Liberty Jail
Nov 1838 -Mar 1839 over 8000 saints are forced from their burning lands and homes. They travel east into Illinois to escape Bogg's extermination order.

Question 1. What do you make of/how do you feel about Joseph Smith's prayer?
Is this murmuring, or lack of faith or is it the point the Lord needs us all to reach before he can teach us at the next level?
Imagine Joseph's feelings, the Saints have followed him from pillar to post and still they are persecuted. Just 4 winters ago the faithful Saints were driven from Jackson County in the middle of winter and now they are once again being driven from their homes beaten, killed, separated from family. Still no peace. Still no Zion. And essentially still no temple. And then he receives this letter from his wife:
Dear Husband
…No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken. . . .
“Emma Smith, March 1839”
He must be heartbroken. Frustrated. And in this lowest of lows he cries out "O God, where art thou?"

2. Why does the Lord take so long to answer some prayers?
Have you ever reached a point like Joseph where you still believe, you still have faith but you just don't know if you can go on, where the trials you are burdened with seem to be more than you can bear and you feel alone - all alone. These are watershed moments. By watershed I mean moments where water must be shed - tears must be lain at the altar of sacrifice. The Lord wants us there. He wants us broken and humbled for it is then that we learn and grow. Again I ask - have you been there? Have you been to that place where you cry out and the tears are streaming down your face and you utter a prayer you have prayed for days or weeks or months but this time it is different for it is consecrated with tears and something in your cries reaches just that little bit deeper than before. That is where the Lord needs us to go. That is why the Lord takes so long to answer some prayers.

“When you pass through trials for His purposes, as you trust Him, as you exercise faith in Him, He will help you. That support will generally come step by step, a portion at a time…if all matters were immediately resolved at your first petition, you could not grow ”
                                                         Elder Richard G Scott Ensign Nov. 1995
3. What advice does the Lord give Joseph at this most desperate and frustrated stage?
Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9

Peace be unto you - stay calm, don't panic and whatever you do, do NOT get out of the boat! cf Mark 4:35-41 Sometimes the Lord calms us down and sometimes he calms the trials down. Either way it is all in His time.
Endure it well - how do you endure trials "well"?
Hold on thy way - keep doing what you know is right, don't start doing anything crazy like jumping out of the boat!
Fear not what man can do - in these moments of despair we often feel abandoned to the whims of the devil but here the Lord clearly indicates that his sheep are numbered and he knows them by name. He will not abandon us.

4. What can we learn from the experiences of Joseph Smith and others in Liberty Jail?
There is a great talk by Elder Jeffrey R Holland on precisely this topic. Rather than give my limited insights follow the link to the words of a modern day apostle:

Let me once more remind you of the fabulous quote from Joseph Smith:
“You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God…God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God”
              Joseph Smith as reported by John Taylor, Journal of Discourses
And I always like to finish with a short video. This particular video is also taken from a Jeffrey R Holland talk. If you are unable to open it below on this page, then here is the link
My testimony is that good things will always come to those that are righteous and can wait on the Lord. Just hold on.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 27 "They Must Needs be Chastened, even as Abraham"

Doctrine and Covenants 101, 103, 105.

4 Questions for discussion and study:

1. Why must we be chastened, even as Abraham? What does that even mean?
2. Where is Zion?
3. What is the watchtower that is spoken of in Doctrine and Covenants 101:44-62?
4. What can we learn from the experiences of the Colesville Branch Saints and Zion's Camp?

Colesville Branch
c. Jul 1830   Presumed to be the 1st official branch of the church (65 people)
Jan 1831      Commanded to leave Colesville, NY for area of Kirtland, OH
Apr 1831     Arrived in area of Kirtland, OH in and began planting and sowing and settling
May 1831    Commanded to leave Kirtland, OH and move to Jackson County, MO and set up Zion
Jul 1831      Arrived in Jackson County, MO and by Jul 1832 grown to 500 saints
Jul 1833      1200 saints in Jackson County, MO. Bragging, greed, envy and contention start to appear consistently among the Saints.
Aug 1833-Jan 1834    All the saints persecuted and driven from homes across Missouri River into Clay County (study the Secret Constitution and Battle at Big Blue River etc)

Zion's Camp
Feb 1834    The Lord called for 500 men preferably but minimum of 100 men of Ohio saints to provide for and protect the Saints in Missouri
May 1834   130 sign up and leave Kirtland, OH (growing to 205 along the way)
Instructed not to divulge their identity or purpose
Strict rations and schedule – 20-40 miles march/day, reveille at 4am, morning and evening prayers, 25 wagons but filled with supplies for Missouri Saints (most of the camp walked), feet bleeding, food scarce and water often infested
Discord and disobedience infiltrated the camp as they progressed
Jun 1834     sickness affects most of the horses, kills one of Sylvester Smith’s horses.
Jun 1834     attack of cholera kills 14 of the camp
Jun 1834     Zion’s camp disbanded without having restored Missouri Saints’ lands or homes

Question 1: Why must we be chastened, even as Abraham?
Let's deal with the first part of the question - why must we be chastened?

Doctrine and Covenants 101:2, 4
2. I, the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions.4. Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.

Notice the two words underlined. The Lord "suffered", or in other words allowed this to happen as a "consequence" of their actions. In other words He allowed the laws of nature to take their course. Maybe He truly suffered in seeing them suffer. I do not believe this was punishment in the negative sense of the word. But you say that it says the Lord "chastened" them. Let's look at that word. Too often we interpret that word as punishment - an active action taken by the Lord. While I believe this can certainly be true when it is necessary, I wonder if maybe what is happening is that we fall victim to the consequences of our own actions more often than we receive "punishment" from the Lord. This world is set up with laws. One of the natural laws of this world is the Law of Cause and Effect. I believe that much of what we experience is already built into our mortal experience and is not a punishment but a natural consequence of our actions.  The true root of the word "chastened" is not punishment as we know it today but to make chaste, to purify. So in effect this process of having consequences for our actions helps to purify us and make us more like God. If accepted in the right way, we learn and grow from these experiences in life. I believe it is in that spirit that the Lord told Joseph that the Colesville Saints in Jackson County "must needs be chastened and tried".

So what does it mean "even as Abraham"? That's pretty harsh isn't it?
As we all know, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac who was his heir. Isaac who was promised to Him by the Lord as the heir that would carry the Lords blessings from Abraham throughout all his future generations. Abraham was asked to sacrifice him. This did not make sense. God does not ask for human sacrifice - he forbids it. So why ask Abraham to break this commandment and to kill all Abrahams hopes and dreams and his very future? 
Now would be a good time to cross-reference a couple of scriptures - Abraham 3:24-25 and Mosiah 3:19. Notice any similarities?
 "...And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them."
"...willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."
Did you see it? Not some things. Not most things. ALL things. Not that he will ask us to actually follow through but He wants to test us and prove us to see if we are willing to trust Him and submit to Him. For Abraham his faith had already reached such a level that the only way to test him further was to ask him to sacrifice his son. For the Colesville Saints their faith was so strong, having left their homes in Colesville on the word of their prophet and moved their family and worldly possessions to Ohio only to be moved on another 1000 miles to Jackson County, Missouri barely one month later by that same prophet,...they were that faithful...that the only way to test and prove them was to see how they would react to being forced out of their homes once again. It was indeed a stern test. For Zion's Camp their faith was so strong that they were willing to give their lives for their fellow saints but now the Lord wanted to test whether they would be willing to march thousands of miles for apparently nothing - a failed mission.
And one final thing to note in the expression of "even as Abraham". Abraham hadn't done anything wrong and yet still he too was subjected to these trials. No one is immune. The whole point of this life is to be tested and tried and to prove ourselves. Even the righteous!

The Prophet Joseph Smith, in speaking to the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, said:
“You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God."
For further study and insight read this excellent article "The Abrahamic Test" by Larry Dahl

Question 2: Where is Zion?
Too many times we think of Zion as a place. True, places have been named Zion but I believe the scriptures clearly define Zion as something more.
Read these scriptures and tell me what you think? Moses 7:18, Doctrine and Covenants 100:16, Doctrine and Covenants 101:5, Doctrine and Covenants 97:21

Question 3: What is the watchtower that is spoken of in Doctrine and Covenants 101:44-62
This is not a widely studied or widely known parable among LDS members. That is a shame as it is a gem with a very important message. Read the parable.
So how do we understand this parable? Willard Richards, in his journal recorded something very enlightening from the Prophet Joseph Smith about how to interpret parables. He records that Joseph Smith said,
“I have [a] key by which I understand the scripture. I inquire, what was the question which drew out the answers?”
In this instance what were the circumstances? Well the circumstances were that the Saints had been told to build Zion in this choice land. They were told to plant and settle and organize themselves and among these things, one very key thing they were instructed to do in August 1833 (Doctrine and Covenants 97):
 10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you.
 11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people.
 12 Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion—  
18 And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.
The crazy thing is they were originally instructed to do this in 1831 when they first arrived in Missouri. A temple site was identified and dedicated and the Saints were instructed to build the temple 2 years previous to the instruction in 1833 telling them to now do it "speedily". Coincidence? Cross-reference these scriptures and tell me what you think? Doctrine and Covenants 97:20, 2 Samuel 22:3  To me it seems clear in their direct circumstances the the parable is instructing the Saints to build the temple as previously commanded. The greater significance and interpretation is surely about having God in our midst with the temple as the focal point of that instruction. The blessings are clear and the Lord is very sure in telling them even as late as August 1833 that if they build the temple "speedily" there was still time and they could still discover the power to remain in their lands peaceably. Tragically the Saints in Jackson County did not follow the instruction and were left to be driven from their homes and wander persecuted in the "wilderness" for many years after.

 4. What can we learn from the experiences of the Colesville Branch Saints and Zion's Camp?
Well it is clear that there were many faithful saints back then that endured many things that I could not. But they missed some incredible blessings and were tested with tribulation as a result of silly bickering, greed, laziness and not trusting in God enough to fight their battles for them (contact me for more on this in relation to both Zion's Camp and the Saints in Missouri). We too are being tested - not necessarily in the same way but sometimes with the same results. Do we have God in our midst? Is He in the midst of us individually (in our heart)? Is He in the midst of the family and the home? Do we centre all we do around that focus? Is the temple the focus or do we get lost in the demands of our every day lives (we'll do Family Home Evening next week, or I'll say my prayer tomorrow)?
And when we do have those things as a focus in our lives but are still tried and tested even as Abraham, do we get frustrated and get mad at God for ruining our hopes and dreams, for taking away those things that we love in our life?

Watch this video to finish. I hope this has inspired you to peek further into the scriptures. They are a treasure trove, a map and a guideline.