Friday, December 20, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 46: "Zion the Pure in Heart"

Zions National Park (Angel's Landing)
Zion has been used to describe a number of different places, including Zion's National Park (see left).
Enoch's city was called "the City of Holiness, even Zion".
David's city, the ancient city of Jerusalem, was also referred to as Zion for a time.
We are told that the New Jerusalem in the latter days will also be called Zion.

What is this Zion? Reading these two scriptures might help:
Doctrine and Covenants 97:21

"Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is aZionthe pure in heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn."

Moses 7:18
"And the Lord called his people aZion, because they were ofbone heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."
So we learn from these two sources that Zion is the pure in heart, those unified in heart and mind and who dwell in righteousness. Let's look at each of those characteristics a little more.

One Heart/One Mind:
This concept of unity can be hard to embrace in the modern world. Today's world is about individualism and self. If we focus on ourselves we will not achieve unity. To achieve unity we must all be focused on the same external source.
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness within you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things”   Doctrine and Covenants 88:67
Dwelt in righteousness: 
If everybody is focused on the glory of God, they are promised understanding. It would seem a natural conclusion that with that increased light and understanding comes more obedience. 4 Nephi shows such a people in this situation:
"And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost...and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another."     4 Nephi 1:1-2
Notice the factors that helped people dwell in righteousness: formation of Christ's church with the proper authority, humble and sincere repentance, baptism by immersion followed by the gift of the Holy Ghost being received. Here was a people focused on the Lord. And they created a Zion. Compare that with the Saints of the early latter-days who were commanded to build a Zion but failed. Read Doctrine and Covenants 101:6 and Doctrine and Covenants 105:1-5.

The early Saints did not learn collectively what they needed to to be able to create a Zion. One of the things the Lord rebuked them for was not giving to the poor and afflicted.

There was no poor among them:
It would seem that where there is poverty there is no Zion. So should we all be working harder at our jobs? Putting in overtime? Creating more jobs? Trying to pursue wealth and money. The basic laws of economics suggest something like this might help. But look at this scripture:
“But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish"                                         2 Nephi 26:31
Did you get that? "If they labor for money they shall perish!" The way to solve poverty is not pursuing wealth. That will just kill you, spiritually and maybe physically too! Have you ever known people that say they are trying to pursue wealth to be of more use to the kingdom of God or to their family but in doing so end up spending less time with family or church because all they do is spend their time pursuing wealth. Well this seems to clearly indicate those people have it backwards. Notice the same sentiment taught in Jacob 2:18-19. First and foremost your focus should be on God and His glory. The rest will be added to you. Compare this with Mormon's vision of our day in Mormon 8:35,37.

Unlike the world today. there is no poor in Zion because everyone is focused not on themselves but on the glory of God - helping others, loving their neighbour, exalting and saving others. When that happens, you can't help but ensure everyone is provided for - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Pure in heart:
The great blessing of being pure in heart is that you shall see God (see Sermon on the Mount). Pure suggests being free of all infiltration, free of extra elements, all that is impure removed and refined. How do you become pure in heart and what then is the one element that should be left pure in our heart? 
"But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever;... Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love;...that when He shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is;...that we may be purified even as He is pure. Amen"      Moroni 7:47-48
Mormon, through his son Moroni, is teaching us that the element we need in our hearts is charity and the way to get it is to pray for it with all the energy of our heart. This requires removing all thought of self, all selfish wants and desires, instead focusing with an eye single to God's glory on helping others.

One of the things that can help us achieve Zion is temples: the covenants we take upon us and the principles we learn. It is no coincidence that the Saints were continually instructed to construct a temple wherever they moved. Temples are necessary in the building of Zion in our cities and in our homes and in our hearts.

Now we have done a decent job of defining Zion, so the last word goes to President Spencer W. Kimball. In the April General Conference of 1978, President Kimball gave a brilliant talk entitled "Becoming the Pure in Heart". If you click on that title you may read or listen to the talk in it's entirety. I highly recommend a study of his words. But I will leave you with a quote of his from the talk. They are words that many will associate fondly with the prophet:
"As important as it is to have this vision in mind, defining and describing Zion will not bring it about. That can only be done through consistent and concerted daily effort by every single member of the Church. No matter what the cost in toil or sacrifice, we must “do it.” That is one of my favorite phrases: “Do It.”    Spencer W. Kimball
Do it.
Do it right.
Do it right now. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 45: The Family is Ordained of God

From top left: Sumatran elephants, a family, bluefin tuna, Sumatran tiger, hawk-billed turtle
Take a look at the small collage of photos above and see if you can work out what they all have in common.

Answer: Well all of the above are an endangered species!
Many, many species of animal have gone extinct over the years and the pictures above show 4 more animals that are listed as critically endangered. Critically endangered is the highest level of endangerment before extinction. Many people don't care. Many people see plenty of other animals and do not realize the impact the loss of a single species can have on their local environment and surrounding habitat.
Similarly, families are also critically endangered. What was once considered a pillar of society is now often considered a nuisance to careers and a hindrance to individual pursuits and dreams. And the traditional moral code that once held families together is being eroded at an alarming rate. What was once universally accepted as evil is now considered the norm and that which was once considered good and moral is now considered by the masses as intolerant and evil.
Broken homes and uncommitted relationships are increasingly the norm. Having come from a broken home myself I have seen the effects first hand in the lives of my siblings and myself.
"Never before, at least not in our generation, have the forces of evil been so blatant, so brazen, so aggressive as they are today. Things we dared not speak about in earlier times are now constantly projected into our living rooms. . . .
The home is under siege. So many families are being destroyed” 
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “Walking in the Light of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 98,99).
Why are we seeing the family unit crumble so much? What is causing it? And does it really matter? 

In 1995, Gordon B Hinckley, President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints presented a proclamation to all the world entitled "The Family". Today's lesson will explore some of the principles declared within this proclamation and their importance to society today.

To obtain your own free copy of "The Family" just click on the picture of the proclamation to the right and you will be taken to a link where you can print your very own personal copy.

When President Hinckley first presented this inspired proclamation he used the terms "to warn and forewarn" to describe its purpose. What do you think that means? Why did he use two words that seem to mean exactly the same?
I am not sure but I sense there is something in the use of both words together. One seems stern and a fulfillment of legal obligations, the other seems to imply a merciful heads up and opportunity to prepare and change.

Paragraph 1 teaches us that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God" and that "the family is central to the Creator's plan." Meanwhile society teaches us that any marriage is ok between man and woman or man and man or woman and woman. While all are free to choose, this paragraph clearly indicates that the only marriage that God ordains is between a man and a woman. That does not mean that He loves others any less. It just means that is the only kind of marriage to which he gives his blessing.
Why does God only ordain/bless marriages between a man and a woman? As we read on I believe we will find that answer.

Paragraph 2 reminds us that "all human beings are created in the image of God and have a divine nature and destiny". As we summarize each paragraph and principle ask yourself how these principles have been eroded in society over time. How powerful would that be if everyone in society was aware of and believed in their own divine nature and destiny!

Paragraph 3 tells us that "sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for families to be united eternally". Do you love your family? Do you remember your marriage vows? If you were married outside of the temple of God did you notice you were married "until death do you part". If you want the fulness of an eternal rather than a temporary temporal marriage you will do whatever it takes to become worthy to enter a temple of the Lord and be sealed for all eternity to your family rather than just until death do you part.

Paragraph 4 reminds us of the first commandment given to the first parents - "multiply and replenish the earth" and tells us that this commandment remains in force. And we are also reminded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
What damage has been done to society that is warned against in these reminders? Amazingly sociologists and governments are starting to realize, maybe a little too late, that children from single parent and broken families are statistically more likely to end up in poverty, in crime and in broken homes and broken relationships later in life than children in traditional family units. This does not condemn single mothers but rather the fathers who abandon them. This does not condemn the loving parents who strive and struggle despite their circumstances to provide for their children, it merely shows that there is a better more successful, more ideal way. In 1995, 25% of children were born out of wedlock in the US. By 2011, this statistic had risen to 40%. This incredible rise in children born out of wedlock has been seen all across the world. Same sex marriages while very possibly filled with love, deny and abuse the sacred power of procreation granted them.

Paragraph 5 continues on the subject of the power of procreation and "affirms the sanctity of life" and declares "the means by which mortal is is created to be divinely appointed".

Paragraph 6 notes that "husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children". Notice the order in which these two solemn responsibilities are listed. Husbands and wives priority is each other and then their children.
Does this lessen the importance of our children? I believe rather than lessen the importance of children it magnifies the importance of caring for and loving our spouse. Often in the hustle and bustle of caring for the children couples neglect their own relationship. In all families the rules of airplane emergency should apply. When the air masks drop we are instructed to put the air masks on ourselves first and then our children. Why? We are told it is because if we do not save ourselves the children will be helpless. In the perspective of a family unit, it is once again an affirmation of the importance of that sealing relationship between man and woman.

Paragraph 7 gives married couples 9 principles of a successful marriage. Can you find them? One of those principles is prayer. We are often told, the family that prays together stays together. Have a little look at 3 Nephi 17:11-23. This is a beautiful example of family prayer. I wonder if our families feel like this each time we pray. Often times I think we forget to pray or we pray only as a function rather than with the Spirit of prayer and with real intent.
“It is a simple thing to pray, yet how generally this duty is neglected. Parents forget to call together their households and invoke upon them the blessings of God; they are too often in a hurry, or are perplexed so much with the affairs of life as to forget the obligations they are under to the Almighty.”                                      Joseph F. Smith

In 1999, 3.5 years after the proclamation, the First Presidency once more touched the topic of families with a letter addressed to the members of the church (click on picture to left to read the full letter). In it they once more advised families to give "the highest priority" to family prayer, family home evening and wholesome recreational activities.

Why do you think the Lord felt the need to remind the Saints of this focus just 3.5 yrs later? How are we doing in following this instruction? Notice we are to give the highest priority to these things. Where does that put work, tv, school or bed in the pecking order? I wonder if we even realize how many times we put off or hurry these priorities for things that are of lesser importance and what damage it does to the safety of our family and the defences of our children.

Paragraph 8 Do you remember when you got in real trouble with your parents? I don't mean just a little - I mean real trouble. How did you know? For me I always knew because my mother would call me not only by my name but my middle name also. Well in the scriptures the Lord has a code word to let us know when it is past the point of just friendly reminders. "Wo, wo!" There are a few double "wo's" and I believe there may even be one reference in the Book of Mormon that is a triple "wo". Well now read paragraph 8. Notice there are 2 warnings. I believe the Lord is letting us know this is beyond gentle reminders.

Paragraph 9 I find the last paragraph intriguing. The Proclamation is to all the world but the final paragraph calls to two specific groups of people only - responsible citizens and officers of government. It calls on them to "promote measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society"

As Latter Day Saints we have a duty to promote the family from within and throughout society. Despite the wave of malicious and brazen attacks against the family we must and can stand strong by living the principles taught within this proclamation.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 44: Being Good Citizens

I wonder how many people recognize who this prophet is and even more so, know why he was on the cover of Time magazine back in 1953.

In 1952, Ezra Taft Benson was a serving member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. In America, Dwight D Eisenhower had just been elected President and he approached Elder Benson and asked him to be his Secretary of Agriculture based on the recommendation of the farming business community. After initially rejecting the offer, Elder Benson reconsidered, was given permission of the brethren, including then President of the Church David O. McKay and accepted, serving concurrently both the US government and the LDS church.

He said of this opportunity,
"I have been happy in the privilege to serve, in a small way at least, this great country and the government under which we live. I am grateful to the First Presidency and my brethren that they have been willing, not only to give consent, but also to give me their blessing as I responded to the call of the chief executive"
What obligation do we have to serve our country and our communities while also serving our church?
Elder M Russell Ballard said,
“In the Church, we often state the couplet, ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ … Perhaps we should state the couplet … as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved;… Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right. …
“Members of the Church need to influence more than we are influenced… We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it” 
What other guidance to the scriptures give us when it comes to being good citizens?
Read Doctrine and Covenants 58:27; Doctrine and Covenants 98:10; Doctrine and Covenants 134

One of the trials of our current times is the pace at which the world would have us live. There seems to be appointments for this and meetings for that. Our kids have this club and that club to attend to after school and it seems you have to be very dedicated just to get the family sitting together around the dinner table each day.

It is no wonder anxiety is at an all-time high in society. So how do we balance the demands of every-day life with the call to be more "anxiously engaged"? And how should we become more anxiously engaged? The Church Handbook of Instructions gives us some help. It states,
"Members should do their civic duty by supporting measures that strengthen society morally, economically, and culturally. Members are urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families"
If that still leaves you unsure where to focus, maybe have a read of Elder Uchtdorf's conference address from October 2010 entitled "Of Things That Matter Most". It is a great reminder not only to enjoy life more but also to be more focused on those things that matter most.

For those that are interest more in the political side of serving your country Doctrine and Covenants 134 could be considered 12 articles of political belief. This section was actually drawn up primarily by Oliver Cowdery and ratified by the Church membership in Kirtland in response to those accusing the church of sedition and who were unsure what the church's political beliefs were. Joseph Smith was not present when this was ratified by the Church leadership but later let it stand unopposed. It serves as an interesting guideline along with modern day direction as to how we are to act politically.

D&C 134:9 addresses the age old question of mixing state with religion, the same question that could be brought up when any LDS member has been involved politically from Joseph Smith to Reed Smoot, to Secretary Benson, to Harry Reid and Mitt Romney. Notice it indicates the problem is not with mixing religion with politics but with using religious influence to "foster" one religion over another.
The Church Handbook of Instructions also helps guide us in political decisions:
"the Church is politically neutral. It does not endorse political parties, platforms, or candidates. Candidates should not imply that they are endorsed by the Church or its leaders. Church leaders and members should avoid any statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of political parties or candidates"
Some might see this as merely a way to stay neutral but when you look at in conjunction with Doctrine and Covenants 98:10, how else might this instruction be helpful to Saints when it comes to selecting and electing our representatives nationally and locally?
Notice how D&C 98:10 describes seeking "honest men" and "good men" and a double portion of "wise men". It states nothing about voting for people based on a political or religious affiliation. I think we get carried away too much in voting for the party rather than the person.

Could it be that if we had spent more time in recent decades seeking out and electing honest, good and wise people rather than blindly, doggedly supporting one party, demonizing another party and dismissing those not in a party that our lands would be better governed? Certainly the Lord's comment at the end of this verse suggests so. He says that we should choose honest, good and wise individuals,
"...otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil"
It is my hope, that we will be wiser in our political choices and more anxiously engaged in our own personal service to country and community. We are a good people, with good standards. We are taught honesty from an early age while early church service and leadership teaches many members wisdom. Our communities and countries would be well-served if those among our LDS community that are good, honest and wise would be more anxiously engaged in the world.