Sunday, November 16, 2008

Have Ye Inquired of the Lord?

During the priesthood lesson today and we read this statement from Joseph Smith:
It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.
It is one of the greatest tricks of Satan to convince us that God does not have enough power to save us. Some say in their hearts, 'God can bless others, but not me; He can answer others' prayers, but not mine; He can forgive others, but not me.'

As we discussed this idea that people limit the power of God by their lack of belief, the story of Laman and Lemuel came to mind. Nephi had just finished receiving his own version of the dream his father had shared with the family. Nephi entered the tent and found his older brothers arguing about the dream of Lehi. Nephi records:
8 And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
9 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us (1 Nephi 15:8-9).
Laman and Lemuel had good examples in their father and brother. Lehi and Nephi were men who - by their willingness to obey the commandments of God - paid the price to get answers to their prayers. But Laman and Lemuel didn't believe that God would answer them. Nephi personally knew better. He had just received a remarkable answer to his own prayer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ezekiel 37

I had a chat after institute graduation with one of our institute teachers back in April. He had just noticed some great new insights from Ezekiel 37. I have been meaning to flesh this out a little, so I will try to recreate what he shared with me six months ago.

The chapter seems to be divided into two separate parts. The first half talks about a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is told to prophesy:
Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord (Ezekiel 37:4).

Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12).
The dry bones of ancient Israel is actually its apostasy. When the Lord's people turn away from His covenants they are dead - at least spiritually, if not physically. Only the God who can raise the dead can save Israel from its self-imposed grave. As John records:
Jesus said... I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25).
The final result of the words of Ezekiel is:
And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves (Ezekiel 37:14).
The rest of the chapter, which had always seemed unrelated, is actually how the Lord brings his people up from their graves.
16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand (Ezekiel 37:16-17).
The two sticks are a way for the tribes to recognize each other. Some analysis I had read from BYU said that ancient Israel would use a stick with markings and then split the stick down the middle. Only when the two sticks were brought back together would the markings line up with each other and have any meaning.

The Stick of Judah symbolizes the Bible. It comes from the tribe of Judah and contains the writings of Jewish prophets. For the two sticks to come back together, there must be prophets from Ephraim with their own writings. The only book that meets that requirement is the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Portions of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were led by the Lord from Jerusalem to the American continent. Their writings became the Book of Mormon.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon is
to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations (Title Page)
Only with the Bible and Book of Mormon together can scattered Israel be brought back home.
21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
22 And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:
23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. (emphasis mine Ezekiel 37:21-23)
In order for modern Zion to be built, Israel will have to be gathered from all corners of the earth. The Book of Mormon is the book which must tell Israel who they are and how to gather. Then they will no longer live in a valley of dry bones, but in the garden of the Lord. When there is nothing but spiritual death around them, Zion will live abundantly.

And the best part is that having emerged from the valley of dry bones, modern Israel will be able to show those around them how to put flesh and life into their bones as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Without Revelation You Won't Survive

In Institute class this week, we discussed the importance of being able to receive, recognize, and act on revelation. In the December 2005 Commencement at BYU-Hawaii, President Boyd K. Packer said:
Now, you won't survive spiritually unless you know how to receive revelation...Now I don't know whether you know how to receive revelation, but you won't survive without it...Well now, it's a noisy world, and you're going to have to learn personally, and privately and individually that revelation will come when the Lord can speak to our feelings.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the apostles, I've learned this: the pattern of our receiving revelation is no different than the pattern I had when I was a father teaching seminary - a pattern that is available to you.
Revelation is the great mystery of the Restored Church. It leads the whole Church and individuals. Revelation drives the hierarchical structure of the Church and supports individual freedom and agency. Revelation inspires missionaries in their labor and converts who choose to join the Saints.

There are several keys to receiving personal revelation. Obedience to the commandments, hearkening to the counsels of modern prophets, and practice at listening to promptings of the Spirit all make it easier to hear and recognize inspiration in the future.

One thing my Institute instructor has repeated several times is: never suppress a generous thought. That is one of the most common ways revelation will come: as generous thoughts to serve and bless those around us. Nurturing those generous thoughts - to forgive, to love, to give of time or means, to speak well of others, to share the gospel, or to serve in the temple - will be the key to spiritual survival as the last days become increasingly tumultuous.