Monday, December 15, 2014

Rigging Candyland

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Last night we were talking to our youngest daughter about how we'd rig Candyland when she was little. Do you know the game I'm talking about? With characters like Plumpy, Princess Lolly, Lord Licorice, Queen Frostine, and my personal favorite, Gloppy? We played the game with all of our kids and still have our well-worn copy.

It can be a frustrating game for little people sometimes. You can get very close to the end, almost past Molasses Swamp, and then draw a card that sends you back to the Peppermint Forest. We have seen our share of tears over this small tragedy.

So we'd rig it—stack the cards just right so our littlest one would draw only the best cards in succession and reach the Candy Castle without setbacks. I can still see the joy on her face.

I know this ruse did not contribute to the "toughening up" that so many parents feel obligated to provide their kids. But doesn't life do enough of that without any help from us?

After we talked about it last night, I realized how many times my Heavenly Father has "rigged Candyland" for me, stacked up the cards just right so things turn our miraculously well. Maybe He does it just to see the joy on my face.

He is that kind of Father. I could tell you story after story about how many times the cards have been inexplicably stacked in my favor. And you could too, couldn't you?

It happens almost every day, actually. I'm noticing it more and more. It's always been there but now I see more clearly.

Come to think of it, I can't wait to foist this little subterfuge on our younger grandkids.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Second Coming: The Mark of the Beast

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The mark of the beast is represented by the number 666, the number of a person's name
The Book of Revelation, in chapter 13, talks of "the mark, or the name of the beast" which is "the number of a man." I'm sure you've heard of the mystical number 666. Speculation on what the mark and the number 666 mean is endless.

I'm not a big fan of speculation. It feels empty to me. It's overly complex and often shoots beyond the mark, way beyond. But we can follow a higher road by taking the Holy Spirit as our guide (see D&C 45:57), not the wild, overly self-assured, endless speculations of men.

I am only going to cite a few verses that discuss the mark and comment on what those scriptures say. The important thing to me is that we become aware of what the scriptures say about the Second Coming, not what they fully mean. We will know that in time. Everyone will, whether they like it or not.

The headnote of chapter 13 reads:
John sees fierce-looking beasts that represent degenerate earthly kingdoms controlled by Satan—The devil works miracles and deceives men. (Emphasis added.)

Satan's influence will dominate nations, and corrupt rulers of nations, in the last days. This beast mentioned in the passage that follows (and there are lots of beasts in Revelation) appears to be a political leader who makes everyone receive a mark on their foreheads or on their right hand:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six [666]. (Revelation 13:16–18; emphasis added.)
Here's the basic idea: If you don't have this mark, you won't be able to buy or sell—or, rather, to participate in commerce. If you cannot participate in commerce, it will be rather difficult to make a living or to live a normal life. So the inducement to take this mark upon you will be strong, as is the inducement to prepare now. 

But the mark also seems to symbolize an allegiance to idolatry or to the worship of a false god or idol and at the last day, such allegiance will come with a price:
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. (Revelation 14:9–11; see also Revelation 16:2; 19:19–21; emphasis added.)
For those who overcome the beast and his mark, there is a far better destiny, even a place in the celestial world:
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Revelation 15:2; see also Revelation 20:4; emphasis added.)
I am not going to offer an interpretation of these verses, only some advice: Watch to see if political leaders, governments, and nations tighten their grip on commerce in such a way that it forces people to compromise their faith and allegiance to God. I don't even allow myself to guess at this point what countries or who may be involved. I am not implying who and where and when. I am only advising to watch, be wary, and prepare.

I find comfort in these words from the Doctrine and Covenants about standing "independent above all other creatures":
That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world; that you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion . . . . (D&C 78:14–15.)
Now is a great time to prepare.

Note: For an interesting and reliable discussion of the symbols in Revelation, see Richard D. Draper's "Understanding Images and Symbols in the Book of Revelation." See footnote 41.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Angels We Have Heard on High" by the Piano Guys

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I just loved this. I've posted it here so I'll never forget it. My favorite moment is when the angels appear (3:00). I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Second Coming: The Two Witnesses

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Tower Of David (Citadel), Jerusalem by Wayne McLean (CC)
The scriptures tell of two witnesses who will prophesy in Jerusalem for two and half years just prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The apostle John wrote about them in the book of Revelation:
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.  (Revelation 11:3–4.)
Here is a brief summary of their ministry. Fire came out of the mouths of these prophets which destroyed their enemies. (That sounds like some kind of preaching. Wow.) They also shut up the heavens, causing a drought. After they were done bearing testimony in the city, power was given to the "beast" to kill them. While their bodies lay in the street, "people and kindreds and tongues and nations" rejoiced at their deaths and sent gifts to each other. (Could they see it on television or via the Internet?) After the three and a half days, the prophets rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, to the utter shock of their onlookers. Then there was a great earthquake and hail (see Revelation 11:5–12) which we've discussed in earlier posts.

The prophet Zechariah also prophesied of the "two olive trees":
Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:11–14; emphasis added.)
Isaiah also spoke of these two prophets:
These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee. Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as a wild bull in a net: they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God. (Isaiah 51:l9, 20; emphasis added.)
Modern revelation provides the following explanation:
Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation?A. They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers. (D&C 77:15; emphasis added.) 
The appearance of these prophets shows the pattern or law of witnesses:

In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1.)

Two mighty prophets will prophesy in Jerusalem for several years before the coming of Christ. It appears that people across the globe will be aware of their ministry. They eventually will be killed but will in three days be resurrected and ascend into heaven. Not long after this will appear signs of the Second Coming of the Son of Man. What an incredible time this will be. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Conversion Story (Part 2)

Courtesy LDS Media Library
I'd like to tell you more about my conversion story. This is a continuation of a post I shared about a week ago.

I had been thrown out of my house, but I was not worried. I stayed with my friend Tom in the Portland area for about a week. Then, under the inducement of Tom's parents, my folks allowed me to move back home, but only until I graduated from high school the following spring. I was also forbidden to speak of Mormonism in my home. That didn't really work out, because as my family's persecution mounted, we had to talk about this new-fangled faith of mine, often with a lot of tension in the room.

This was a period of intense intellectual and emotional challenge for me. My family was determined to dissuade me from following my intention to be baptized. Because I was still a minor (I was 17), I could not be baptized without my parent's permission and they would not grant it. Interestingly, I was only a few weeks off from my 18th birthday when all this happened, and when I reached the age of majority, I could legally choose for myself.

My family started piling anti-Mormon books and pamphlets on me. I was open to it and read as much of it as I could. I learned all about the "errors" of Mormonism—how their doctrines differed from the Bible, the "folly" of the Book of Mormon, plural marriage, including Joseph Smith's, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Brigham Young's "lust," the Church's "corporate greed," any argument against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that either man or devil could conceive.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Proverbs 18:13.)
It had the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of dissuading me, it persuaded me that what I had discovered was true.

The claims of these anti-Mormon texts were bitter, mocking, and vitriolic. These writers were grumpy for righteousness sake and I was not inured to their dissident voices. They were condemnatory and arrogant, and their writings seemed highly derivative, poorly documented, and sometimes contradictory. I could see, even as a naive teenage boy, the craft of these men and women. They had an agenda, and when you have an agenda, you leave out anything that doesn't support your argument, which impressed me as being disingenuous.

All their claims seemed utterly false to me, trumped up, as if they were concealing something. I started researching both sides of the argument, and the deeper I dug, the clearer it became to me that the path I had chosen was right. This, of course, infuriated my family, but I was absolutely determined to find the truth, to prove to myself what was right or wrong. I wasn't going to leave that to anyone else. No one should.

Every day after school, and for long hours on the weekends, I studied. I set up a small folding table in my bedroom with a desk lamp, and there I read, pondered, cross-referenced, and researched both anti-Mormon literature and the scriptures and other related works. I went to bookstores and libraries. I looked high and low. I left no stone unturned, at least the ones that I could find. The result? I gained a burning testimony that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, had restored His church through a farm boy from upstate New York.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. (1 Peter 3:15–17.)
The key for me was that I prayed constantly, not to prove one side wrong and the other right, but to know the truth and to learn how to live it. I had been backed up against a wall and came out swinging. I didn't back down and I won this street fight, not with fists and fury, but with prayer and faith.

Let me give you one small example. I remember a claim that several books made against the Book of Mormon. They claimed that it was incorrect, even preposterous, for Joseph Smith to use a French word in his translation of the book. The word was the last word in the last verse of the last chapter of the book of Jacob, verse 7 of chapter 27. The word was adieu. Here is the last sentence of that verse:
And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu. (Emphasis mine.)
I didn't accept this assertion (nor any other) at face value. I dove deep for an answer, through prayer and research. I've actually continued my research over the years, and I'd like to tell you what I think of this claim.

The word adieu, an expression of farewell, literally means "to God" in French and that fits well with what Jacob was trying to say. I later discovered that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word first appeared in English as early as 1393 AD. I have since read the Book of Mormon in French and discovered for myself that many words in French found in the book are identical in English and many others vary in spelling only by one letter. If you do a little looking yourself, you'll find that between 28 and 45 percent of English words are derived from French. I concluded that this claim against the Book of Mormon is not founded on a rock.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21.)

Every time I did this, that is, researched a claim against Mormonism, I came up with an answer that strengthened my faith rather than weakened it. It all depends on when and where you stop your research. As a general rule, I learned that if you quit your homework too soon, you'll come up short.

And that really was the bottom line for me: recognizing the difference between bitter and sweet, darkness and light, pride and humility, grumpiness and happiness, agitation and peace. I chose to follow kind, accepting, open-minded, supportive, humble, rather than mean, invective, close-minded, unsupportive, arrogant. Therein lies the difference that made all the difference to me.

I don't have all the answers but I don't need all the answers. The important thing to me is how my heart feels. That is my "mettle" detector. When I follow my heart with integrity, repenting of my sins and leaving them behind, my intellectual questions are always answered. Always. And my inclination is to learn to do good and to be good, to help and not hinder, to forgive and not inveigh.

You can't get grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. By their fruits you shall know them. It is really quite simple if you'll let it be simple. (See Matthew 7:15–20.) This is where I stand and this is where I stay.

I continued to study the scriptures and uplifting books, counter-balanced with anti-Mormon literature. I got answers to my questions through constant study and prayer. I took the missionary discussions. Friday, November 14, 1975, was my 18th birthday. Against the wishes of my family, on the evening of my birthday, I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It turned out to be the best and most important decision I ever made in my life.

To be continued. I want to tell you about a cute girl that came to my baptism.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Second Coming: Gog and Magog, Armageddon, and the Valley of Jehoshaphat

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Jezreel Valley and Mt. Tabor by Joe Freedman (Creative Commons License)
The prophet Ezekiel tells of a great battle that will take place prior to the Second Coming of Christ. It is called the battle of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38 and 39).

Gog is, as best we can tell, a gentile king of the land of Magog. The land of Magog is the land of Scythia which is near the Black Sea—modern Ukraine or southern Russia.

At the time of the Lord's coming, there will be "a great shaking" (or an earthquake) and the mountains will be "thrown down" and all walls will "fall to the ground" (see Ezekiel 38:19–20). There will also be a pestilence and an "overflowing rain":
And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. (Ezekiel 38:22.)
All this will take place in the valley of Jezreel, pictured here from Megiddo with Mount Tabor in the distance. The valley of Jezreel is a large, fertile valley that lies southwest of the Sea of Galilee and northwest of Jerusalem. It is also called the valley of Megiddo because of hill or tell of Megiddo which overlooks it. (A tell is a location which becomes a hill due to many people inhabiting the same spot over long periods of time.) Interestingly, the city of Nazareth, the home of Jesus from his boyhood to early manhood, overlooks this valley.

We also read in the Bible Dictionary that the word Armageddon is:
A Greek transliteration from the Hebrew Har Megiddon, or “Mountain of Megiddo.” The valley of Megiddo is in the western portion of the plain of Esdraelon [Jezreel] about 75 miles north of Jerusalem. Several times the valley of Megiddo was the scene of violent and crucial battles during Old Testament times (Judges 5:19; 2 Kings 9:27; 23:29). A great and final conflict taking place at the Second Coming of the Lord is called the battle of Armageddon. See Zechariah [chapters] 11–14, especially Zechariah 12:11; Revelation 16:14–21. (Bible abbreviations expanded.)
The prophet Joel also mentions the valley of Jehoshaphat (also called the valley of decision), which lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives to the east, in connection to this time:
Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:12–14; see also verse 2.) 
Another battle called Gog and Magog, or the battle of the great God, will take place at the end of the Millennium when "the devil and his armies shall be cast away into their own place, that they shall not have power over the saints any more at all":
And then he shall be loosed for a little season, that he may gather together his armies. And Michael, the seventh angel, even the archangel, shall gather together his armies, even the hosts of heaven. And the devil shall gather together his armies; even the hosts of hell, and shall come up to battle against Michael and his armies. And then cometh the battle of the great God; and the devil and his armies shall be cast away into their own place, that they shall not have power over the saints any more at all. For Michael shall fight their battles, and shall overcome him who seeketh the throne of him who sitteth upon the throne, even the Lamb. This is the glory of God, and the sanctified; and they shall not any more see death. (D&C 88:111-116; see also Revelation 20:7–9.)
In conclusion, we learn from many sources that there will be a great battle prior to the coming of Christ that will take place in the valley of Jezreel and also in the valley of Jehoshaphat. This battle is commonly called the battle of Armageddon or the battle of Gog and Magog. It appears that this battle will end when Christ comes again, which will be punctuated, to put it lightly, with a great earthquake and a devastating storm. Another great battle, also called the battle of Gog and Magog, or the battle of the great God, will take place at the end of the Millennium, where the devil and his armies will be ultimately defeated for the last time.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Conversion Story (Part 1)

Courtesy LDS Media Library
I am a convert to Jesus Christ. I'd like to share my conversion story with you.

When I was 17 years old, I was living on our family's cattle ranch in western Oregon. It was early in my senior year in high school and, quite honestly, I was empty and lost and confused.

I had been raised in a religious home and attended church services regularly. I believed deeply in God and always had, but I felt distant from Him. Though I was outwardly compliant and prayed occasionally, I wasn't really on warm speaking terms with my Heavenly Father, and that was my fault. I doubted my standing before Him. I had slowly, a few years before, begun to set my half-witted choices aside, but I still had a long way to go. I was ripe for a new life.

One weekend that September, my boyhood friend Tom visited me on the ranch. He came to go deer hunting, for the early hunt. He had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints four months earlier, and he had changed.

His face shined with light. He was confident. He was at peace. We were polar opposites.

Something miraculous happened that Friday evening. As he spoke to me of his new life and faith—not in a preachy way but in an open way—I felt something I had never felt before: my heart burned within me (see Luke 24:32). I seemed enveloped in fire, my dormant soul awakened. Those words soothed my troubled mind and gave me hope. I began to see, if only faintly, a new path to the waterfall, as the Raymond Carver poem puts it.

I don't remember the words Tom shared, but I do remember how I felt, a strong mix of hope and joy, resolve and revolution. I had seen the tree of life standing before me and I had tasted the sweetness of its fruit (see 1 Nephi 8:10,11). I was determined to taste it again.

Later that month, I in turn visited Tom on Saturday, September 27, 1975. I had gone north so I could go to a team roping the following day in Vancouver, Washington. Team roping was my favorite high school sport.

That night, Tom sat me down in his living room and taught me the first missionary discussion. He had a flip chart and a small binder containing the missionary lessons. He essentially read the lesson to me and turned the pages of the flip chart as he read. The fire returned. I knew from the moment I heard them that what I was hearing was true. I could see a halo of light in the periphery of my vision. I felt that angels were present

I remember distinctly when Tom flipped down the picture of the modern twelve apostles. I'll tell you why. I remembered some months later that I had had a spiritual experience about 10 years before. I had knelt in a church as a boy of 8 years old. I remember asking God in prayer what had happened to the twelve apostles from the Bible and that if He would bring them back again, I would devote my life to Him.

That day I received the first discussion was a day of decision, a day that changed my life forever.

I called my mother, a woman of great faith, later that night to share my excitement about what I learned from Tom. What she said shocked me. She essentially slammed what I had to say. She said that the Mormon church was a "cult" and she warned me to stay away.

This was my first in many lessons of contrasts. I had just been bathed in the light of heaven and told that what I had experienced was nonsense and that I should run away. It was the beginning of a war with my parents that I would fight for years. Let me just say, in brief, that I preferred light over darkness, and instead of walking away from the brilliant light, I chose to walk toward it and into it and away from my parents. It was a fateful decision that you'll hear more about soon. 

I attended my first Mormon Church service the next morning, a priest's quorum meeting. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was to me, even though I showed up in my Wranglers and boots. I was also taken aback by the frank discussion about religious topics in a class setting. I was not accustomed to an open conversation about faith. It touched me.

Later that afternoon, I went to my team roping event with my good pal Tony. I roped with several partners that day and I have never, before or since, roped better, but I was just out of the money. That was the last time I ever roped on a Sunday. 

A few weeks later, I visited my friend Tom again and attended my first sacrament meeting at the Gabriel Park Ward in Garden Home, Oregon. It was October 12, 1975. I remember singing the sacrament hymn, "I Stand All Amazed," and, though not a member, I took the sacrament for the first time.

A young couple spoke. The woman spoke with some emotion about giving service to someone in need. Again, I was not accustomed to this kind of expression of faith. I was profoundly moved.

I drove home that night to the ranch, aglow and utterly changed. My mother was away and my father, who was an alcoholic, was intoxicated as he usually was. He asked me if I had attended church services that day. I told him, "Yes, the Mormon church." At that he went into a drunken rage.

With a cigarette in one hand and a scotch whiskey in the other, he said to me, "I am ashamed before God." The irony was not lost.

A fierce argument ensued. I declared my absolute determination to pursue my new-found faith and he stood in stubborn opposition. Finding no middle ground, my father threw me out of the house. I packed a few belongings in my car and drove off into the night and an uncertain future.

But one thing was sure: I had chosen my path. I had seen a light and in that light I saw the way back to my Savior Jesus Christ. I have remained on that path from that day.

To be continued.