Why I Stand with the Prophet in Every Issue

Some people are bothered by my statement that I stand by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue. I’d like to talk about that for a few minutes, because it seems to come up often.

I think one of the reasons this statement bothers people is because independent thought and conscious choice are such valuable and essential aspects of the plan of happiness. And I agree, those things are absolutely essential, and it’s for that very reason that I feel as I do. Some would say that being so loyal to the church and its leaders is a way of handing my agency to someone else. That’s a valid concern. But remember, this is my agency. I have to choose what I do, choose what I believe, and choose whether or not to act on what I believe. Well, it’s simple. I choose to stand by the church in every issue. That’s my agency in action. That’s what I choose, and I will continue to choose it all my life. It takes a great deal of character and loyalty to make a choice like that. It takes courage, faith, and determination. It takes work. And that’s the choice I am making.

Another concern some have is that by simply obeying, I’m allowing someone else (or perhaps the church itself) to do the thinking for me. The concern is that I’m just being the obedient workhorse plugging away, pulling when I’m asked to pull (even if I don’t know what I’m pulling), and traveling when I’m asked to travel (even if I don’t know where I’m going). That too, is a valid concern. But there’s one thing that this concern isn’t taking into consideration. Who is most likely to be thinking—like, really, deeply, meaningfully thinking about the thing we’ve been commanded? Think about it. Which of these three are most likely to do the most thinking about the particular issue:

  1. The person from the outside, whose not at all interested in heeding the counsel;
  2. The one in the church, but looking for the reasons, wandering and waiting for solid logic and reason before proceeding; or
  3. The person actively doing the thing requested.

I believe those actively obeying are doing a great deal more thinking about the issue than anyone else. They’re the ones who stand by the teaching regardless of the persecution, legal ramifications, or abuse against them for doing so.

I can’t speak for everyone, but when the Lord commands something, or teaches a principle, or proclaims a doctrine, by his living prophet—even if it’s something I don’t personally understand or agree with, and I act on it, stand by it, and teach it, I can assure you I’m doing a boat-load of thinking, pondering, praying, and studying about it.

And while I’m sure both the obedient person and the disobedient person are looking to different sources for their answers, and may come to very different conclusions, I’m confident that almost always, the obedient person has put a lot more time, thought, and energy into the matter than the disobedient.

And every time I’ve obediently proceeded, and simultaneously thought, studied, prayed, and questioned the teaching, I’ve always come to see the deep spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical significance of the thing taught. I’m always left in awe at the wisdom and foresight the Lord has demonstrated in everything He has ever requested of me.

Another factor that can be difficult to explain to people is the matter of personal revelation. Even many who believe mostly as I do conclude that before they will proceed, they must receive personal inspiration from God that the teaching is right. I think it comes down to what kind of testimony a person has. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t call one type of testimony “superior” to another, but I do believe that the closer we come to the Savior, and the stronger our testimony is, the more we will be able to place our faith in Him without reservation. And the more we do so, the faster the further light and understanding come.

I once heard the prophet of God teach a principle, and I immediately accepted it. Not in a shoulder shrugging compliance, but because as he spoke, the Holy Spirit filled my heart, testifying clearly and unmistakably that the principle being taught was true. I had long since received a personal testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost that the prophet was truly called of God, and that His words, if heeded, would always lead me aright. My experience with the Spirit in that particular meeting simply strengthened that testimony. Several days later, while speaking to a friend about the teaching, she said, “But what about finding out the truth for ourselves? That may be what the prophet said, but I can’t believe it unless the Lord tells me personally as well.”

My friend was holding back until she could receive an independent testimony of the principle taught. But I’ve found that when I listen with a believing heart, I often receive that answer the moment the teaching is given. Then, the questions most worth asking the Lord are things like, how should I apply the principle in my own life, for my situation? Or what can I do to best teach this principle to others?

I have heard some suggest that those members of the church prior to 1978 that weren’t picketing against the church’s stand on the priesthood were in the wrong—that they should have been more actively involved in bringing about the change. I see two problems with that. First, it’s the Lord who made the change, not the saints. And second, those in a position to receive the revelation (Spencer W. Kimball and the twelve apostles) never once voiced a single word of opposition to the policy of the Lord’s church at that time. They received assurance from the Lord that the time would come, but they were not told when. They petitioned as they felt moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Only after faithful compliance and diligent prayer did the Lord finally give the revelation that changed church policy forever.

There were previous generations of prophets who petitioned the Lord on the very same issue, and they were turned away. The Lord knew what He was doing, and every church leader stood firm by the policy, because that’s what loyalty is. They didn’t understand it, and though they had questions, and brought them before the Lord, they always stood true to the answers given.

I feel to do the same.

That brings up another important point. Sometimes a principle isn’t intended to be fully understood before the commandment or revelation is given. A good example of this is plural marriage in the early days of the church. Some today are troubled that the church once practiced it. But the revelation to live that principle is not given to us today. We are not to practice plural marriage—and if we make the attempt, we will be excommunicated. We can’t expect a testimony of the full meaning of plural marriage right now because we are commanded not to live it. We accept in faith the fact that the Lord has different instructions to different people at different times.

Many saints in the early days of the church were commanded to live it, and with the commandment came the understanding and testimony. A great example of this was Brigham Young.

Would it surprise you to learn that Brigham Young was deeply troubled by the principle? He thought it had come from an evil source. But instead of picketing against it, or speaking out about it publicly, he prayed to the Lord about it. When, up to that point, it wasn’t enough, he spoke to the prophet himself. He discussed it with Joseph in a private conversation—not in a meeting with other elders, but in the privacy of his front yard one evening after the prophet walked him home. The only reason we know about the conversation is because the night was warm, and Brigham’s wife had her window open to cool her room, and she overheard the conversation.

According to S. Dilworth Young:

Down this road came Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. She (Brigham’s wife) heard Brigham say to Joseph, “Joseph, the doctrine of eternal marriage as you described it to me is not from the right source.”

Joseph Smith said to him, “It is from the right source, and you will know it, Brother Brigham.”

Brother Brigham then moved toward the door to open the latch, and Joseph Smith walked on up the street. Then Brigham stopped. He didn’t pull the latch string. He suddenly called out, “Joseph! Joseph! The Lord has revealed it to me!”

http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1039

My point in sharing this account is to say that sometimes we’re not intended to fully understand or receive a testimony of a principle before the commandment is given. But if we are faithful, and a revelation is given that might contradict our previous views, and we seek the Lord’s guidance, He will provide us with a testimony of the principle. It may not come all at once, like Brigham’s, but when it does come, it will be so clear and sure that we may come to wonder how we could have ever seen things differently. And in the meantime, if we remain faithful and loyal to what the Lord has already revealed, we place ourselves in the best position possible to receive more light and knowledge when the Lord sees fit.

In regards to honest questions, or even doubts, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a beautiful bit of wisdom that I wholeheartedly stand by when he said,

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes…

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

When it comes down to it, I stand with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue because God has revealed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost that the living prophet has been called of God, that he speaks the word of God to the church, and that if I follow his counsel regardless of the consequences, I will be doing the right thing. I will be acting according to the will of God for me. That testimony has been burned so deeply into me that I can’t deny it without calling God a liar to His face. I know it’s true. The Lord leads this church. And what a beautiful thing that is! The Lord speaks to us through the living prophet, and God has revealed the truth of His words to me.

Gazelem

I had an interesting experience that gave me some interesting insight into the word Gazelem. This is a sample from my book, Giraffe Tracks:

Elder Solomon was a great companion, and had the most interesting background. He was from Ethiopia. Ethiopia has very strict immigration laws, and it’s not easy for anyone to enter or leave Ethiopia. For this reason, Elder Solomon was the first Ethiopian to go to the temple and receive his Endowment. He was truly a pioneer of his people.

When I mention that my companion was from Ethiopia, people often picture a small, starving young man with bony ribs and swollen limbs. Actually, Elder Solomon was a tall and rather muscular elder with an almost Polynesian-type build. He had a very prosperous family. Of all my companions, Elder Solomon was the wealthiest. In personality, he was fun and charismatic, a character much larger than life, and I considered it to be a great and rare opportunity to be his companion.

His actual name was Solomon Yimer, but he insisted that he be called Elder Solomon. He even got them to print it that way on his missionary tag.

One evening after dark we were driving through the township on a dirt road, when all of a sudden Elder Solomon shouted, “STOP THE CAR!”

“What?!”

“Stop the car!” he repeated.

So I stopped.

“Backup! Backup!”

I started backing up, saying, “Why, what is it?”

“I think I saw something – stop! Right here.” He jumped out of the car, walked out to the front of the car where the headlights were shining, and scanned the ground carefully. I wondered if he’d seen a small animal or something. By the way he was searching I knew it had to be small.

When he finally came back in the car, I asked him what he was looking for. He explained, “There’s a stone in Ethiopia that glows really bright in the dark. I thought I saw one on the road. But I couldn’t find it.”

Elder Solomon’s native language was Amharic, which is a dialect of Hebrew. I thought this was interesting, but the implications of this fact didn’t drive home until one day when we were reading the Pearl of Great Price. He had only been a member of the church for six years, and had never read the Pearl of Great Price all the way through before. We had been reading it through from the beginning for companionship study, and were now to Abraham 3. We took turns reading columns.

It was my turn, and I was about halfway down my column. Elder Solomon was only halfway paying attention, and was for the moment not following along as I read:

“And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he…”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Elder Solomon interrupted, “what did you just say?”

So I began to repeat the verse, “And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun.”

“Shinehah is Amharic! It means ‘sun’”

“Wow, interesting!” I said. then I thought for a moment while looking at the verse. “What about this? – ‘And he said unto me: Kokob, which is star.’?”

“Yeah!” replied Elder Solomon, still not looking at the verse, “kokob is one of the words for star. Does it say anything about ‘olea’? That’s the word for ‘moon’.”

I read on: “And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon.”

“That’s amazing!” Elder Solomon said, “where are you at? That’s definitely Amharic!”

I pointed to him where I was reading, and he read further, “And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.”

“Yep!” he said, “Kokaubeam means ‘stars’ alright. It’s a kind of old fashioned term, but that’s what it means.”

We read further, looking for more words, but there wasn’t any more in that verse or the next. Then a thought came to me.

“What about the word ‘Kolob’? Is that Amharic too?”

“Kolob… kolob… no, I don’t know that word.”

So we read on. Soon we got to verse 16. “If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.”

Elder Solomon blurted out, “Oh! Kolob-kokaubeam. Yeah, kolob-kokaubeam is Amharic. It’s like when many stars surround one big star.”

We searched the rest of the chapter, and found a couple more words that are in Amharic. As far as he could guess, all the Amharic words in the chapter were also Hebrew. He said hakokaubeam means ‘a gathering of stars’, and the word ‘floeese’ in Amharic only has one ‘e’ in, but means ‘moon’.

The word ‘Elkenah’ had interesting roots, according to Elder Solomon. In Ethiopia, the largest Christian church was the Orthodox church. This was not the same as the Orthodox Christian churches such as the Greek Orthodox church. According to Elder Solomon, the Ethiopian Orthodox church dates back to a time before King Solomon in the old testament. Elder Solomon explained that according to Ethiopian tradition, Queen Sheba was the queen of Ethiopia (which covered a larger area at that time than it now does), and she belonged to the Orthodox church. Though I wasn’t clear from Elder Solomon’s explanation, it seems that Christian beliefs were adopted by the Orthodox church. In this Orthodox church, the priests are called ‘Elkenah’.

We also read verse 18:

Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.

Elder Solomon translated the word ‘gnolaum’ as ‘life’, or ‘eternal life’. He then went on to talk about other Amharic words with similar meaning. The Amharic word, ‘zalelum’ means ‘forever’, and the word “gezea alem” means ‘time eternal’.

The mix of those words caught my attention, and I asked Elder Solomon if he recognized the word, “Gazelem.”

He thought for a moment, and said, “No. I don’t know that word.”

So I directed him to Alma 37:23, which says, “And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem…”

Immediately he stopped, “Oh! Gazelem! Yes, I know that word.”

I had been pronouncing the word, “Guh-zay-lem,” but when he saw it written, he recognized it, and pronounced it, “Gaa-zuh-lem”

“Yeah,” Elder Solomon continued, “it’s a really shiny rock that shines bright in the dark.”

“Really? Have you ever seen a gazelem before?”

“No. But I want to. They are a strange stone. When travelers in the wilderness see one, they sometimes send people up to get them. But when they get there, they can never find it. The people at the bottom can see the gazelem shining brightly on the people looking for it, but those people cannot see it.”

“How interesting!”

I read the rest of the verse.

Alma 37:23

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

Elder Solomon went on, “Remember the other day when I told you to stop the car so I could look for a glowing stone?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what I thought I’d seen, a gazelem.”

It is important to recognize that the things I am sharing about gazelem cannot be considered scholarly research. The only evidence of the ideas shared here are Elder Solomon’s words, and though he was very familiar with Ethiopian culture and lore, it would take a great deal of research to verify what he said – though I have no reason to disbelieve him. But I thought it was a fascinating insight into African culture, and an interesting perspective on the word gazelem in the Book of Mormon.

After our companionship study I read the rest of Alma 37. Alma is talking to his son about the Urim and Thummim, and how these stones will bring to light all the secret works of the wicked one to the eyes of His servants, the prophets. After learning about gazelem, I thought of what an interesting type it is for the Urim and Thummim, and by the same token, how it could be a type or symbol of the prophet.

The prophet is shown the works of evil that are happening in the world around us even though we think we are hidden in complete darkness. The prophet warns the world and strives to guide us to safety, but we ignore, because we can not see what he can see.

I also knew that in the first publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (probably when it was still called The Book of Commandments), many of the brethren had to use code names in some of the sections in order to protect them from opposition. One of Joseph Smith’s code names was “Gazelam.”
I decided that if anyone besides the Savior could be a spiritual “gazelem”, to bring to light secret works of darkness, and light the way for lost persons, Joseph Smith fits the description. We also have a prophet today, and he certainly leads people safely home. We might not see his face light up like Moses’, but he most definitely bares the light of revelation from God, and if we follow his direction, we will find our way safely home. 

Preparing for General Conference

 If you want a great pattern for preparing for LDS General Conference, re-read Mosiah 2. This is the chapter where King Benjamin is about to present his son as the new king and give his last sermon. But the first part of the chapter talks about how the people prepared for his talk. Check out what they did, and notice how it can apply to us as we prepare for conference:

1 And it came to pass that after Mosiah had done as his father had commanded him, and had made a proclamation throughout all the land, that the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them.

The first thing they did? Show up! They came! We’ll read later that the words were written down for those who couldn’t hear, but the people didn’t wait for it to come out in the Ensign. They were present. That doesn’t mean you have to be at the conference center, but it will help a lot if you are at your TV or radio at the time it’s taking place.

3 And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses;

Obviously we don’t do animal sacrifices, but do you remember what Jesus said replaced burnt offerings? A broken heart and a contrite spirit. Approach general conference in a spirit of humility, repentance, and sacrifice, and not only will the experience be awesomer, but you’ll change what the Lord asks you during conference to change, and you’ll be what the Lord asks you to be.

4 And also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, and had appointed just men to be their teachers, and also a just man to be their king, who had established peace in the land of Zarahemla, and who had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.

Carry a spirit of gratitude. If you’re struggling to feel spiritually motivated, either about the gospel or the things taught in the gospel, take a half hour and go for a walk, or find a quiet place to kneel. Pray to your Father in Heaven and just list off to Him the things you’re grateful for. “I thank thee for…” “I thank thee that…” “I’m so grateful that…”

At first it may feel forced, but keep it up until you are filled with gratitude. You’ll be amazed how powerful gratitude is in increasing spiritual desire. Approach general conference with a spirit of gratitude, and you’ll see a huge difference.

5 And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest, every family being separate one from another.


Involve the family. If possible, watch together, and don’t shoosh people when they interrupt to say something relevant to the talk. They are likening the words to you and your loved ones–that’s what you’re supposed to do. Experiencing conference together builds the family up, and reminds all how much the Savior is a part of your family. And, yes, conference bingo is good, too.

6 And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them;

However you are watching, face the speaker. Face the TV, radio, or computer, where the talk is happening. Not only will it send a message to your own brain that this is important (thus helping you pay attention), but it will help others see how much you want to be involved. They are less likely to ask you to come help them clean up the garage, because they will see that doing so would interrupt. If you’re listening passively to the background radio, your likely to get distracted and/or interrupted.


8 And it came to pass that he began to speak to his people from the tower; and they could not all hear his words because of the greatness of the multitude; therefore he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words.

Don’t just suck in the words and expect them to stay. Take notes! Bring a notebook, portable device, or computer to write down things that catch your attention. Even more important, write down thoughts that the Spirit gives you while you listen. That is God’s revelation to you personally. You can trust that the guidance will come, but if you have no way to record it when it happens, you’ll forget. Believe me, no matter how powerful the experience, if you don’t record it, you will forget.

If for whatever reason you can’t be present for conference, take advantage of the many means the church has provided to review it. The Internet archives are available immediately, so you don’t have to wait for the Ensign. The video is up within minutes after the session ends. The audio will be available within a day or so, and the text will be up within a week. Don’t miss conference. If you can’t attend, make sure a week doesn’t pass before you’ve watched or read the entire four sessions (or five, if you’re a guy).

Never in the history of the world has there been such remarkable tools for reviewing the words of God. Even after you do watch the whole program, either live or afterward, go back through and read more carefully. The first time through is a marathon. The second time through, go through carefully, deliberately, taking the time necessary to learn all that you can from the talks. If you have a portable device or laptop, download the audio and listen to it often. Read the words, cross-referencing with the given links.

Do these things, and this may be the best conference you’ve ever participated in.

Why do Mormons Make Such a Big Deal Out of LDS General Conference?

Mormons, which is a nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believe that God has called prophets in our day, just as there were prophets in the old and new testaments. The living prophet today, who holds the same role and call as Peter in the bible, is President Thomas S. Monson. There are also twelve apostles living today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their call is to teach the gospel all over the world.

 

Every six months, in April and October, the prophet, apostles, and other leaders of the church gather to discuss and broadcast a conference where the teachings of Jesus Christ are taught.

 

Members of the church are encouraged to hear their words and live by their teachings, just as the children of Israel were encouraged to listen to and follow the counsel given by Moses.

 

I know that President Monson is a true prophet, called by God to declare His word. I know that the twelve apostles are given the same charge, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church that Jesus Christ established, restored in these days. If you have never heard these prophets speak, I encourage you to do so. I know that their words come from God. How do I know it? Because it has been made known to me by the power of the Holy Ghost. I’m not unique in this. There are millions who share this testimony.

 

To hear what the modern prophets are saying today, go to http://lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2011/04?lang=eng

Listen to them. Pray to God about what they teach. I’m confident that something in what they say will move you for the better.

Does Your Testimony Stop?

I was once talking to a friend about an issue she had with something the living prophet had said in conference that she didn’t fully agree with.

“But he is the prophet,” I said, “his counsel is coming from the Lord.”

“But what ever happened to seeking out direction for yourself from the Holy Ghost?” She said, “We have to ask for ourselves if we should follow the counsel or not.”

Her response troubled me. I realized that she didn’t recognize that God is not going to “inspire” us to do anything that is contrary to what the prophet says. That’s not because the prophet is greater than God. It is because the instruction we receive personally from our Father in Heaven will never supersede the instruction given to the prophet from God. His discernment of revelation is flawless, but ours is not. We can be deceived. The prophet will not be deceived.

It was as if the girl I spoke to had a testimony of God and His Spirit, but it then stopped there. Indeed, we should pray, but it may be more effective to pray for humility to heed the counsel, rather than ask whether or not it’s right. We already know it’s right. It came from God’s servants to us. I sincerely hope the girl I was speaking to (this conversation was years ago) comes to understand that you can’t be selective in your testimony, and expect it to stay firm. If it stops somewhere, fix it!

Does your testimony stop?
Many believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their testimony stops there.
Some believe in the Lord’s words, and stop there.
Some believe in his church, and stop there.
Some believe in his leaders, and stop there.
Some believe in the things they study, and stop there.
Some believe that the Holy Ghost will guide them, and stop there.

Do we stop? Or are we ready to accept every word of God, given at any time by the proper sources? Do we have faith in ourselves, to be able to be guided by the Lord when we are worthy? Do we have faith to accept the words of our local leaders (including bishops who issue callings) as the word of the Lord to us?

This Saturday and Sunday we have the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord through His prophet and apostles. Will we listen – intently? Will we follow their counsel, or will we stop listening when we hear something we don’t like?

I testify that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, and he has been sent here, by God, to further instruct us. I hope we will listen and accept his words as if they are coming directly from God.