Monday, November 17, 2008

The Proclamation to the World

I spoke in church yesterday on "The Proclamation to the World". It was a timely topic given the two recent propositions on the ballot in AZ and CA.

Each one dealt with the definition of marriage and each passed. There have been angry protests around the country directed at the church for its participation. In fact, neither is likely to have passed without LDS support, since we provided half the money and 90% of the volunteers. Marissa told us last night that some of her LDS friends in MA are experiencing what amounts to religious harassment from bosses who are gay or at least gay-sympathetic.

I should say here that preparing for this talk was one of the most powerful and moving spiritual experiences I've had in many years. The talk seemed to flow from the very time I began preparing. The key points of "purpose, power, and promise" came even before I began to study. The key points under each of those came almost like I was dictating. The most powerful messages from the talks I read fit naturally into the framework of the talk. Many times when studying, and even more as I was writing, the power of the words and of the Spirit brought me to involuntary tears.

I'm going to add the talk to the next post, but I'd like to call out a couple of impressions I had while preparing that I didn't emphasize in the talk as deeply as I felt them.

First, we are entering a time of separation, where the world and the church will become more and more explicitly separate. Certainly, this has been happening since the church was restored, but it is different now. Until now, I think it has been possible to live on one edge of the church and on the other edge of society and be generally accepted by both, as if the two circles partially overlapped. Those two circles are reaching the point where there isn't an overlap any more. The overlap is going away with respect to the role of the family, which is exactly the point of The Proclamation.

In this and other areas, a darker and darker line is being drawn between what we see as good and what we see as worldly. We are in the days when the members of the church are increasingly going to have to choose between the world and the church. This will cause friction in the church as people, who once were friends, find themselves on opposite sides. In many cases, it will feel like a divorce, with people on both sides of each issues lining up friends and supporters to justify themselves. It is reminiscent of Jesus' disciples who, having heard hard doctrine, no longer walked with Him. In a different sense, it is reminiscent of Lehi's family's departure into the wilderness because righteousness could no longer co-habit with wickedness, except we don't have to move (yet). Kind of like serving a local mission. In the end, it may have been easier to have gotten all the way out. As it is, we must live the gospel in the midst of the siren call of the world.

The separation, and the declarations of our separateness, of our mutual exclusivity, are necessary as a clear warning, to those who have made covenants, that there is no way to live in the world without surrendering to it. The ways of the world, once a gentle stream, have become a flood-swollen river. Once, we could wade along the banks, even swim out in its current and return safely. Today, the currents are too strong for even the strongest to swim against, and the result is to be swept downstream and drowned.

So, the church is posting "no swimming" signs. It is warning people of the danger from the currents. Some protest, saying, "we've always been able to swim here before." Some think it alarmist, some overly protective. Some resent the restriction of freedom.

Those not of the church continue to swim as before. The excitement of riding the fast currents are an added attraction. But from their vantage point, they cannot see the tragic outcome downstream.

They poke fun at the silly people on the bank who are too afraid to get in the water. They resent efforts to close the beach as a public nuisance. For them, it is not enough that they may choose to swim. The beach must be open so there is no wagging finger against their foolish choices.

The point is that the world is becoming too wicked to be a part of and that gap will continue to widen. The difference will become clearer and clearer, even and especially to those outside the church, both for and against us. We may expect the Prophet, the First Presidency, and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to continue to take clear and definitive stands in opposition to the erosion of values in the world. And most important, there is no safety in any other place or position than the one defined by those prophets.

The second point is that, oddly, following the prophet alone may not be enough, and may not even be the purpose.

In these last days of tribulation, when all of the fury of hell is brought against the kingdom and the saints of God, to prevent it from accomplishing its purpose, each of us may be required to work miracles, by faith and priesthood, in order to survive, in order to protect our families.

Here, I need to go back many years to recount an experience that touches on a similar subject.

While a missionary in Esbjerg in early 1974, just as I was starting the second year of my mission, the church extended the call to put away a year's supply to the all the saints in Europe. It was a big deal. Until that point, the saints abroad were under the assumption that when the trials and tribulations of the last days arrived, they would be called to Zion, where the good saints in Utah (not meant to be an oxymoron) would have saved up enough for everyone. They would have been sadly disappointed. The new counsel meant that the Danish saints would be riding out the tough times in Denmark.

For the first time, I came to understand the depth of faith of those Danish saints as they sold precious possessions in order to put away a year's supply. In many cases, it equalled the stories of saints that sold everything to make the trek to a distant temple.

While visiting a young married couple in the branch, they asked two heartfelt questions to a couple of young missionaries that had less experience in this world than they did.

First, where would they put all the food for them and their newborn in a small two-bedroom apartment? We counseled to put it under the bed.

The second question was more difficult. "We believe the commandment that we should love our neighbor as our self. If we store food, when our neighbors are starving, we could not deny them, but that would only mean that we would all starve anyway, just a couple of weeks later." As missionaries, we didn't have an answer.

A month later, in April 1974 general conference, Elder Theodore M. Burton, an assistant to the council of the twelve, spoke on the Spirit of Elijah and of putting away food storage. He addressed the issue of sharing food, as opposed to shooting those who would come to take it. And then he provided the answer.

"I sincerely believe if we do everything in our power to be obedient to the will of God, we and our families will never lack. If we are obedient as true followers of Christ and share what we have with those less fortunate than we, the Lord will keep his promise to watch over us and care for us. I will then be glad that I have stores of food on hand so I can be of assistance to others. Perhaps like the widow who fed Elijah, the meal will then never fail in our barrels nor the oil ever fail in our cruses until prosperity comes again. "

In that moment, as powerfully as the Holy Ghost had ever spoken to me, I felt that the solution God would provide was that priesthood holders in every home would work the miracle of Elijah, and that the sacrifice of putting the food stores aside would create the faith necessary to work the miracle. The food storage itself wasn't as important as the faith required to follow the prophet and obey the counsel.

We were so excited for this answer, so sure of the teachings from the Holy Ghost, that we immediately got on our bikes to ride out to our members apartment to share the good news. We lent them our copy of the Ensign until their copy of Danske Strjernet (now the Liahona) arrived a month or so later.

I had the same feeling as I prepared this talk. The times ahead will become so wicked, so poisonous, that it will not be possible to survive spiritually without miraculous intervention. I don't think we know what trials and threats lie ahead, both physical and spiritual. The miracles may expose threats to our family members, they may intervene in retaining a job, they may prompt us to move. I have this very strong conviction that fathers and mothers will need to live closer to the spirit, and that the priesthood of the fathers will need to be deployed to hold off the powers of evil as they attempt to attack the family.

With that said, I'll post the talk next.

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