Sunday, January 11, 2009

Joseph Smith & the First Vision

Joseph Smith. Why is he important to us? Is it merely that he was the first Prophet in this dispensation? No, I fail to believe that it is so simple. I think that as we spend the next few weeks studying his life and as we study the Doctrine and Covenants this year in our Sunday Schools that we will gain a much greater appreciation of the man that he was. We have spent the last year studying many of his teachings in our Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. But now we will take the time to strengthen our testimonies of his divine call and sacred duty.

We know that Joseph was a young man of the age of 14 when he had the vision known to us as the First Vision. He was not well educated. At this time Joseph's opportunities for schooling were extremely limited. He attributed this to the "indigent circumstances" he was raised under. "We were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say, I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements." (Joseph Smith History)

He grew up in an area that was on fire with religious revivals. This was a young man who was surrounded by religion. He wrote in his personal history that "at about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul." (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith p. 4-5). He attended many of the revivals during his day and found himself confused by conflicting doctrine and practices. Many of us have also felt that same confusion at one point or another in our lives. I know that I have. That is why I have spent many days in the scriptures studying certain topics, likewise, young Joseph turned to the scriptures. It was there that he found an answer. In James 1:5 it reads, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." Ask and you will receive. It seems as though a very simple answer to his question of which church to join. "Never had any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.  I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know" (Joseph Smith-History 1:12).

It was at this time that a 14 year old boy decided to ask God. We too can ask God. We can ask if Joseph Smith really saw the vision that transpired during that life-changing prayer. We can ask if the Book of Mormon is true. We can ask God for help while at work or within our own homes. We can ask for help in raising our children. And He will not turn us away. He will not condemn us for asking. In fact, He will bless us for seeking His guiding hand in our lives. He will bless us if we seek Him with the intent to follow His counsel. He will answer.

On a clear day, early in the spring of 1820, Joseph went into a grove to pray. There is was privy to a miraculous vision that has changed the course of so many of our lives in these days. He wrote the event as follows:
"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
"At the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction..., I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light  rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph Smith-History 1:15-17).

Persecutions arose from his vision. But his family believed him. According to his brother William, "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and Mother believed him, why should not the children?" (In J. W. Peterson, "Another Testimony, Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph the Prophet," Deseret Evening News, 20 Jan. 1894, p. 11.)

Though many didn't believe and still many others refuse to believe, Joseph did see a vision. He considered himself to be like unto Paul the Apostle. "The reality of what Joseph Smith experienced enabled him to endure the increasing persecution. He compared himself to Paul the Apostle who saw the risen Lord and heard his voice. Very few people believed Paul, and some even claimed he was dishonest or mentally deranged. Yet this did not destroy the reality of what Paul knew he had experienced. Joseph declared, 'So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true" (Church History IN the Fullness of Times, Religion 341-43 manual, p.35). Joseph said, "I was led to say in my heart: why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what  I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it" (Joseph Smith-History 1: 25).

I have learned much from the First Vision. We all, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have learned much from it. We have learned that the Heavens are not closed. In Malachi 3:6 the Lord says, "For I am the Lord, I change not...", in Hebrews 13:8 it states: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." The Lord is unchanging, His methods are perfect even though we are not. He revealed His will through revelation as early as Adam, down through Moses and Abraham. He continued following the death of our Savour in revealing His word to Peter, John, until the truth was taken from us during a long apostasy. The heavens are open, the Lord reveals His will now. We are just as important to Him as those during Biblical times. He is approachable in prayer. He will not condemn us. He loves us and wants for us to know the truth of all things. We have learned that He and the Son have perfect, glorious bodies of flesh and bone. They are one in purpose, not being.

I testify that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. He was called to restore His gospel to the earth again in these days that the fullness of the gospel might be made available again to the reclaiming of His children. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church of God on the earth today. It is His church, led by Prophets and Apostles through continuing revelation from the heavens themselves. I am grateful to be a part of this church and that I have this opportunity to study His commandments to us as found in the scriptures, including those found in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the Book of Mormon and Bible. They are the word of God. We will be better men and women for studying these precepts than we could be without them.  I so testify in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Doctrine & Covenants: A Voice of Warning

The Doctrine and Covenants contains the Word of God to us in these days. It is a voice of warning to all people; whether they be Latter-Day Saints, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Agnostic, Atheists, etc. The Lord has sent a warning out to each of us in the first section, declaring that this is His work and His word. We would be wise to study it carefully over the course of study this year. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated: "If we will put them into practice, if we will keep the commandments of the Lord, we will know the truth and there shall be no weapon formed against us that shall prosper (see D&C 71:9-11). There shall be no false doctrines, no teaching of men that will deceive us. There are many cults and many false faiths, there are many strange ideas in the world, but if we will search these revelations then we will fortified against errors and we will be made strong." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1931, p. 17)

"All members of the Church are commanded to search and obey these commandments. This is also true of all others. If we fail to do so and remain ignorant of the doctrines, covenants and commandments, the Lord has given us, we shall stand condemned before his throne in the day of judgement when the books are opened. It behooves us to search that we may know the will of the Lord and thus grow in faith, knowledge and wisdom." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:256.)

I hope and pray that we all make the time to thoroughly study the Doctrine & Covenants this year in our homes. I know that if we are willing to do so, that we will have a greater portion of His Spirit with us, that we will find at the end of the year that we are closer to our Savior.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


"People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in. First, one must create a state of mind that craves knowledge, interest, and wonder. You can teach only by creating an urge to know."
-Victor Weisskopf

We must create an urge to know in our students. If we do that, if we invite the Spirit of the Lord into our meetings, the students will be touched. They will find that their minds are craving a knowledge that only the Spirit can bring and they will be edified. This is our purpose, to bring the souls of man to Christ. It can only be effectively done when that urge to know Him is created and the Spirit is present to teach. No matter what words we may say as teachers, whether they be plain and simple or flowery, they will be ineffective in changing the hearts of our students without an urge for knowledge from heaven and the presence of the Holy Spirit to testify of the truthfulness and to teach them the mysteries of God.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Am I prepared to attend Sunday School?

I think that this is a topic that does deserve a little bit of our attention. As a Stake Sunday School our main goal is for each individual to have a spiritual experience each time they attend a Sunday School meeting. I know that this is a lofty goal and a little hard to measure, but that is a topic for another time. As members of the Church, are we preparing ourselves for the Spirit to have influence during our meetings?

Certainly you will not hear any argument on the importance of teaching by the Spirit from either myself or my counselors. I believe that we all know and understand how important it is to have that guiding influence and to listen to it as we prepare and teach lessons. However, we often overlook the importance of receiving by the Spirit. As members of the Sunday School classes that is our responsibility. The way that we prepare ourselves prior to entering those meetings can make a big difference on how we receive the Spirit and how well we receive the message.

In October 2006 at General Conference, A. Roger Merrill, the Sunday School General President spoke about this topic. I feel that it bears noting and that it bears another look at his talk. I will include the link following my own comments.

The Lord has told us on many occasions that we need "Ask, and ye shall receive." According to President Boyd K. Packer,"No message appears in scripture more times, in more ways than, 'Ask, and ye shall receive' " ("Reverence Invites Revelation," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21). Are we following that advice. When we pick up our scriptures, do we spend a few moments on our knees that we may understand the message that our Father has for us? Or are we merely reading our ten minutes or so and closing the book? Do we take the time to discuss the scriptures with our family, to discuss how those verses apply to our lives at that very moment or in the not to distant future?

President A. Roger Merrill had this to say during his talk, "In our Church meetings, in our personal and family scripture study, and even this day as we listen to the Lord's prophets and apostles, some of us will receive more than others. Why? I am learning that those who truly receive do at least three things that others may not do."

What is it that they do. President Merrill suggests that they first seek the word of God. In this world where everything is at our fingertips over the internet or the television we can sometimes find ourselves to have an attitude of spiritual passiveness. We expect some great revelation to be given to us without doing the necessary work to receive it. Oliver Cowdery received this direction from the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith, "But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right (Doctrine & Covenants 9:8)." We, like Oliver, need to remember that we first need to seek an understanding and ask the Lord in faith that we may receive the revelations that are held for us within the words of the scriptures and the prophets.

Second, those who receive, feel. If our desire is there, if we truly are seeking further knowledge, truth and light, we will feel the answers to our prayers, the answers to our questions, the revelations that the Lord has in store for us. It may not be the exact answer that another member receives as we may be in a different state at the time. The revelation that we receive will be what we need to continue our journey forward on the "straight and narrow path" that will lead us to exultation. 

Third, those who receive by the Spirit intend to act. I think that James said it well, when he said that "faith without works is dead." Truer words have probably never been spoken. We are saved by the mercy of our Savior only after all we can do. We must be prepared to act upon the inspirations that we receive. If we are not willing to change our ways, to have a change of heart, "that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Alma 5:2), then we will not receive as much of the message as those who are willing to make that change.

I hope and pray that we will prepare ourselves that we may hear the word of God in our Sunday School lessons as we study the scriptures and participate in the lessons taught each week. I testify that you do prepare to hear that message, if you study the scriptures outlined for that lesson, that you will find a message contained just for you to help you through your trials at that time. I testify that we can each have a spiritual experience each and every sunday as we attend our classes. In the name of my beloved Savior, even Jesus Christ, amen.

President A. Roger Merrill, Receiving By The Spirit link

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Everyone is a teacher.

"Every member of the Church teaches for virtually his whole lifetime."
-Elder Boyd K. Packer

We are constantly teaching, whether it be in the home with our children, at church in classes, in the home of other members as we fulfill home and visiting teaching duties, or as we visit those who are not of our faith. We teach by example and by word. It is for this reason that we have a Teaching the Gospel course of study. If it is properly utilized and taught, it can and will make better teachers of us all. It will help us in daily meetings with co-workers as well as within the classrooms of Church.