22 April 2011

Mercy--as told by the Joseph Smith Translation

The Joseph Smith translation of the Bible is a crucial part to my testimony of the Bible. Second only to the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Joseph Smith translation is the greatest thing that ever happened to my testimony of the Bible.

In a previous post I spoke of the corrections which Joseph Smith made to the parable of the ten virgins. These were a great blessing to my life because of the powerful way in which they corrected my perception of the Savior. Today, I wish to add a very similar experience which I had with a story from John 8.

The story of the woman taken in adultery is one I treasure because it stands as a direct contradiction to the self-righteous. He refuses to give the death penalty to a woman for committing adultery, even though the law of Moses declares that punishment to be just. Those who condemn all sinners to the wrath of justice misunderstand this merciful example from the Savior when He says to such a woman, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

Where confusion enters is that even though the Savior showed mercy to this woman in sparing her life, He did not instantly forgive her of her sins. Former President Spencer W. Kimball taught that lesson in The Miracle of Forgiveness when he wrote:

Note that the Lord did not forgive the woman of her serious sin. He commanded quietly, but forcefully. "Go, and sin no more." Even Christ cannot forgive one in sin. The woman had neither time nor opportunity to repent totally. When her preparation and repentance there complete she could hope for forgiveness, but not before then.

The story as recorded in John ends with the Savior's command to sin no more, but Joseph Smith added a very crucial verse to this story. His translation of verse 11 reads:

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.
John 8: 11 (emphasis added)

Because this story as recorded in John 8 doesn't express the woman's faith, it allows the self-righteous to question her repentance, and the exact nature of the Savior's wisdom and mercy. When they present that the Savior instantly made this woman clean of all sin and forgave her on the spot, they cheapen His mercy and His justice.

They misunderstand the weight of what this woman did, and how merciful it is for the Savior not to condemn her to death. Because she was remorseful for what she had done, the Savior was still able to save her from what she had done. Christ Himself has said:

39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6

The self-righteous also misunderstand the nature of God's justice, and the need for sin to have a consequence.  The punishment for adultery was for the accuser and the witnesses to stone the accused to death. If the accuser or the witnesses had taken part in the crime, then their piety would require them to admit that they also stand condemned with her. When the Savior says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," He is revealing to her accusers that He knows their conspiracy. Because one does not usually catch a woman in adultery without catching a man, he doubtlessly was one of her accusers, attempting to testify against her. Their piety, their desire for justice, was only a deception.

God will not be mocked in His justice, nor denied in showing anyone mercy who will truly receive Him. Justice and mercy are different words for the same love of our Savior, and in His heart there is no distinction between them. Mercy is Justice, and Justice is Mercy--which is the paradox I've come to love about Him most of all. As one who has needed that perfect love, I delight every time I see Him extend that love to someone else. From watching Him do so in my life and the life of others, I know the desire and objective of His heart.

A woman, who has committed sexual transgression--which in the eyes of God is second only to murder and denying the Holy Ghost--finds salvation in His sacrifice. Eyes bright with faith and relief, a heart that rejoices because there is a way back from what she has done. Her mistake, though real, is only temporary because a loving God will not leave her stranded in her sin.

As one who joined the Church as a convert, I struggled for many years to understand that because I repented when I was baptized, I was forgiven of my sins from my previous life. That ordinance was an outward sign I could always look to in remembrance of that repentance and forgiveness. In time, I would begin to realize that I didn't need to hold myself responsible for mistakes I'd made anymore. Doing so was making me into an inward pharisee towards myself. It was keeping me from the wholeness and faith to which repentance was supposed to lead me. My mistakes weren't mine to claim anymore, and justice wasn't mine to exact--even to express remorse for what I had done. The lessons and discipleship were mine to claim, but not the mistakes.

And thanks to the Joseph Smith translation I could finally see the difference, with a fine-edged clarity I have never forgotten. The difference is as clear and stark as between a fire and the ashes.

I know that Jesus Christ has that power. Through the sacrifice of His Atonement, sins become the remnants of our experience--cast off and forgotten. As we give ourselves to Him, to the ordinances which signify of the repentance we seek, the Holy Ghost kindles that fire brighter and brighter in our lives, to the total consumption of all our sin.

To undergo that process is to be baptized by fire, and to receive the perfect brightness of hope which is only received through Jesus Christ. It is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ--to understand and become one simple truth:

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Doctrine and Covenants 50: 24

I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ who makes all things possible, even all forgiveness. Amen.

17 April 2011

Joseph Smith's Correction in the Parable of the Ten Virgins

For over a year now, I've been using a purple composition book to record my revelations from the Holy Spirit. Having bought a larger, more durable leather journal, I'm going through and copying only those things which are most precious. Like Mormon, I get to be an editor to a sacred record. Just because it's my holy experience I get to root through, decipher, clarify, and rearrange doesn't make my task any less sacred than his.

Looking back on the answers I've laid out to many questions that I've asked in the past, I see gaps and holes in thoughts I started but never finished. One particular instance I want to emphasize in this post is on the parable of the Ten Virgins.

I remember reading the parable of the Ten Virgins for one of the first talks I ever prepared. It instilled the fear of God in me like teachers and lesson manuals never really could when I was a teenage convert. The thought of Christ standing before me in a doorway and saying "I know you not," then shutting it in my face--it causes me great distress to think of it even now. It was terrifying and sobering, and it made a lasting impression on me.

I could never give the Savior a reason to do that to me--not EVER. That was my sentiment, and the way in which I've tried to live up to it has brought me both repentance and regret.

On my jounal page for this parable, I absentmindedly doodled 10 young women during a Sacrament Meeting. I then assigned them virtues, and I thought about those virtues as being virgins. In the last days, many virtues and standards would fall, and it wasn't just a matter of principle. When principles die, young ladies perish--and I don't know that my doodles fully developed that thought for me.

But this parable illustrates my fear--making one foolish assumption based on inexperience, and living in darkness as a disappointment because of it. This thought goes beyond sobriety. I've experienced a lot of pain and anxiety because of these four words, four fears: "I know you not."

When I arrived at this page in my purple book, I knew something was missing. Something was wrong. I wasn't sure what, so I began to investigate everything the scriptures had to teach about the parable of the Ten Virgins. It wasn't long before I came across this verse:

And now, behold, I say unto you, it shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter, until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known.
D&C 45: 60

This verse directly followed some brief comments from the Prophet Joseph Smith on the parable of the Ten Virgins, so I followed the breadcrumb trail to my copy of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible.

What I found made my breath catch in my throat, and tears burn in my eyes.

Joseph Smith only changed one verse, which then changes the meaning of the whole story.

But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Ye know me not.
JST Matthew 25: 11

Reading this now, I see years of unnecessary heartbreak I have experienced because I believed a contradiction instead of the truth. I didn't understand the lesson of this scripture because the truth wasn't there to be found.

The foolish virgins were not women of sincere faith who honestly do try, and through delays, setbacks, and honest mistakes show up at the door, late, with an empty lamp--perhaps because they spilled it in their haste to get to the Bridegroom. I think we sometimes picture the wise virgins as being perfectly poised, problemless women who look absolutely stunning, without so much of a hair out of place. Surely they must show up early and have no impediments at all, and we pale in comparison as we struggle to be like that.

I'm learning not to believe this. Like many women, I am a recovering perfectionist. I have to give myself permission to fail, trusting that the weight of my world is not entirely on my shoulders. The light by which I'm led does not depend entirely on the lamp in my hand.

That thought is liberating to my soul. I praise God for that truth, seeing how the Restoration continues to make all the difference in my life.

So who, then, are the foolish virgins?

The foolish virgins are the ones who show up at the marriage of the Lamb, see Him at the door, and do not recognize Him at all. They're the ones who cared more about the wedding than the reason for the wedding. I can almost see them looking over His shoulder or under His arm, wondering when this doorkeeper will step out of their way. They smell the food, they hear the laughter, and their own pleasure and joy is the only thing on their mind.

Meanwhile, they're ignoring the great Bridegroom--the one who has cared for them and loved them all of their lives. The one who watched over them and blessed them so carefully, drop by drop coming from His sacrifice, His pain. He did everything He could to bring them to His wedding. He told them where to go and what to bring--even a lamp, as an indicator that His Coming would be in the nighttime.

But even beyond that temporal usefulness, He was trying to help them understand His role in their lives. Every illuminating experience is provided for by the Atonement, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The lamp represents the state of their repentance--the ultimate measure of their dedication to the gospel. These were those who, at the end of the day, did not come to know Christ with all their effort.

They had not endured to the End--for who or what else is our end, if not Christ?

Their hair might be perfect. Their clothes might be clean and very expensive. All their friends, family, and neighbors may be inside. They might be hungry and afraid of the dark. But in the end, necessity and effort to be clean had not made them good. Preparation had not led to worship, which left them unprepared to meet the Holy One of Israel.

The wise virgins, however, find their joy in the Lord. Their personal interaction with Christ is what makes them wise, and prepares them for the day of judgment. If we love God, truly cherish Him with all our hearts, our weaknesses and imperfections cannot keep us from His presence. In Christ's own words:

41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
D&C 50: 41-42

These teachings work together to be one of the most liberating realizations in my experience as a Christian. From the moment I discovered the parable of the Ten Virgins, I've been afraid that I would do something that would require Christ to act as if He had never known me, to shut the door to me forever. But in the inspired corrections Joseph Smith made through the Holy Spirit, I have learned the truth. I've come to a greater understanding of what Christ is actually like.

Being reassured that He is merciful and compassionate, I have found relief from fear. Believing that He seeks for my well-being more than my punishment, I can approach Him more personally, and not a figment of someone else's imagination.

Latter-day Saints spend a lot of time talking about Restoration--that Jesus Christ gave power and authority to Joseph Smith to perform many marvelous works. The Restoration includes the bestowal of the priesthood, the translation of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, the founding of the Church itself, and the return of the ancient temple. But the Restoration wasn't just a series of events that took place in the 19th century, then ended. The Restoration continues in the lives of Saints everywhere who seek the truth instead of tradition, communion with Christ over sect and denomination.

This experience I've had with the Joseph Smith translation is not the first I've ever had--just the most recent. My ability to rely on that translation to bring me to Christ is a testimony to its truth and divinity--its role in that continuing Restoration. I would not have obtained the truth without the influence on the Prophet Joseph Smith. His critics can defame his name all they like--but doing so does not discredit or explain the powerful influence for good his life has been to millions of people. I would not have my faith in Almighty God if it weren't for the Prophet Joseph Smith. His example, his teachings, his contributions, as well as his genuine benevolence--these invited me to the path of discipleship. Remove his influence, and the transformation which has possessed me from the time of my conversion to Jesus Christ is undone.

Joseph Smith proved himself countless times in life to be a good man--in his compassion, his forgiveness, his friendship, and his charity. No evil man could give to the world the example he left behind. His blood would not be a martyr's blood if his sacrifice was not pure and loving. His life would be meaningless, with no impact on the world whatsoever. If his teachings were deceptions, no person anywhere should be a better person having known him.

Joseph Smith is not forgotten because his contribution is unforgettable. His goodness is attested in the faith of every person who came to Christ because of him. I am one of these--one soul who looked to Brother Joseph and found a teacher and a friend. His life is a rich story, which the empathy of my soul cleaves to, finding charity and benevolence which prove to me forever that he was a prophet.

Everything I am today, I owe to Jesus Christ. But I did not feel the roaring flame of the Spirit ignite until I discovered Joseph Smith and the Church he restored.  I'm grateful to the Lord for the chance to make my stand, to keep my lamp burning brightly until my day of judgment comes. And if I am found wise, able to bow low before my Lord for the redemption of my life, I can never deny that Joseph Smith had a hand in it. Indeed, my faith in Christ depends on Joseph Smith being the prophet of the Restoration.

One of the most significant tests for the men and women living in the latter days is whether or not they will receive a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Restoration he bore has been prophesied of all throughout the Bible, and many are kept from entering into that Restoration because they would not recognize it if they saw it. Even when we tell other people about it, they still may not recognize the importance of what we share.

Knowing the gospel is only the first step for members of the Church. May we be willing to recognize the value and power of what the Lord has given us. May we be willing to share the gospel--not just the Church--with people in such a way that they can recognize what it is and why it matters. As we do so, we will be blessed with a great ability to come to the Savior, recognizing Him and the great love He has for us. Our lives will be inspired, and our influence will change the world for the better for generations to come.

I bear that witness, nothing doubting, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

08 April 2011

Mission Angel Preparation

Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no matter where they serve, use the same manual for everything they do. Whether they're teaching lessons to investigators, training each other to be more effective teachers, mobilizing wards to do missionary work, or planning how to best use their time as missionaries--everything they need to do and become is in Preach My Gospel.

Preach My Gospel derives its name from section 50 in the Doctrine and Covenants. On a whim, I recently decided to read that chapter, to see if it would yield insight into this special resource we've been given by the Lord.

What I discovered humbled me, and I think every prospective missionary should read that chapter before even thinking about putting in their mission papers.

Section 50 is a direct rebuke against the Elders of the Church for hypocrisy--to eliminate it from their midst, to beware of it in other people, to overcome it through their work and the grace of God. In fact, the name Preach My Gospel is an answer to a direct question asked in verse 13:

"Unto what were ye ordained?"

That question isn't supposed to be answered by rote--it's a question that is supposed to dig at our hearts and turn out our pockets. Because the Lord is asking the question, it translates into a much more personal exchange.

Unto want were you ordained?--What power has He given us? Do we even know? What responsibilities go along with the covenants we've already made, and are we meeting them? Have we embraced what it means to be responsible before God?

Unto what were you ordained?

To be lazy? To pass our portion of the work off onto someone else? To entertain ourselves endlessly? To pollute the gospel with political agendas, personal offenses, and pet philosophies? To leave others in the darkness of their own misery, poverty, hunger, and despair--while we use our blessings and resources to live in luxury and comfort? To destroy ourselves through sins of which we refuse to repent?

Unto what were you ordained?--What are you trying to do? Why are you here? What is your motivation for serving a mission? What is your responsibility as a member of this Church? Do you care about that responsibility?

There's a reason this section is on the cover of Preach My Gospel.


{ Note: No one, to my knowledge, is naked in this picture }
Hypocrisy and wearing a fake, pretty Church face doesn't go very far in the mission field. The work is hard and many times unrewarding. The days are long, and extremely structured. The standards are strict, and the questions we must answer in regards to our performance are sharp and often painful. My sweetheart sent me a letter at the beginning of his mission, explaining that being a missionary is like standing naked in a packed football stadium, with all the lights and eyes on you. Any attempt to cover yourself, to sneak away unnoticed, or to be more or less than what you are just makes you feel even more ridiculous.

By nature, the work is designed to beat the hell and evil and hypocrisy right out of us--because to give away that much of ourselves for anything less than sincere faith and sacrifice is madness.

Essentially, I think there's a very specific purpose that Preach My Gospel takes its name from a section that speaks so harshly against hypocrisy. Being a missionary and being a hypocrite do not go together. Eventually, one gives in to the other. But it has been my experience that this manual doesn't just condemn against hypocrisy. Preach My Gospel eliminates hypocrisy from the congregations of the Church when used to its fullest potential.

How does it do so? Preach My Gospel teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity and precision. It makes specific connections between Christ's doctrine and needed behavior changes. It covers both temporal and spiritual stewardships. It delivers the teachings and expectations of Jesus Christ in brief statements of pure truth. Preach My Gospel makes it clear that the Lord, not the Church, has essential expectations for our discipleship. It gives specific instructions on what to do to live the gospel of Jesus Christ instead of simply knowing it. Every ward and branch needs to understand the difference between knowing and living the gospel. That process begins in the life and heart of each Latter-day Saint, as he recognizes the value of his contribution in the work of Jesus Christ. Only then will the purpose of the gospel--not the interests of the members--become the focus of the ward/branch's efforts. Only then can the purposes and objectives of the Priesthood be realized and manifested.

But what are those purposes and objectives?

In the process of preparing for a mission, young men are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. That Priesthood is part of a special holy order. Men and women both enter into that order through the holy endowment of the temple. These men and women are then set apart as missionaries--the final piece of a very special preparation process. The end result--the purpose of the Priesthood--is to enter into the ministry of angels. (see 2 Nephi 31: 13 and Moroni 7: 35-37)



Which is what makes Elder Holland's talk from last Sunday so remarkable--not because it is news, but because it is the truth plainly and unapologetically stated. He called his associates in the general authorities angels because that is what they are. That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ has made of them, after a lifetime of devoted service to the Church. That is what they are ordained to be--joint heirs of Christ and co-participants in His work of salvation for the living and the dead.


And they aren't the only ones. If one goes back and ponders over Elder Holland's General Conference talks from past sessions, this isn't the first time he has spoken of angels. Careful study of The Ministry of Angels and The Tongue of Angels reveals that Elder Holland doesn't just see angels among the general authorities--he sees them among faithful Latter-day Saints everywhere. Indeed, he has taught that to be angelic in our discipleship and our service is evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ. If we are not angelic, we are not becoming the disciples that the gospel, by design, is supposed to make of us.

For eighteen months, I'm going to be an angel. I will have the power and authority to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. The work I do in Brazil will be as binding as if it were done by unseen angels, and that could terrify me where I stand.

But it doesn't.

Why? Because I have Preach My Gospel. Everything I need to know about being an angel, a Saint, and a Sister is already in there. I have no reason to be afraid--only to be believing, and to take my place among the noble and faithful angels who came before me. The ones who wanted to live lives of great consequence and purpose--souls who meet challenges with love and are not shaken by fear and trepidation.

That is my purpose because it is the aim of Jesus Christ. He is my exemplar, the source of every desire for good in my soul. I love Him, I worship Him, and I cannot wait to stand beside Him in ministering to His children. I bear my witness that He lives. He alone atoned for our sins. He performed the Resurrection, that we might rise from death. His coming in glory is nigh, and if we are prepared we shall not fear. I bear that witness in His holy name, even Jesus Christ. Amen

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