Friday, June 27, 2008

To Gain A Personal Testimony

June 27, 2008

Dear Son,

As I mentioned in the post recently forwarded to you, your latest email has sparked quite a bit of conversation as to the best strategy in answering your investigator's questions. I needn't go into who recommended what. You don't need any prompting from me to figure that out, considering the participants on the family list. I also definitely don't need to remind you of what you know and practice so well, and have been for the past twenty months.

However, I do feel the need to be of some use to you and your investigator, so have posted on our family journal blog Uncle Alan's references, as well as updated our "Learn About Our Religion" and "Ask A Question" links with sites which may help answer his questions about Joseph Smith. Hopefully, he will realize that quotations can be distorted to seem the opposite of the intent when quoted out of context. Also, I think the best thing for you to do is refer him to Internet sites where the discussion is fair and truthful, rather than get caught up in a battle of wits, rather than invoking the Spirit in your discussions. He (or anyone you like) can use our blog as a jumping-off point, if he likes:

All that said, the discussion both with you and the family has again roused subjects of my own contemplation, and, especially since I've been praying for missionary opportunities, I thought I should share them with you. Thanks for allowing me to spout at you. I know it's a tough job, but someone has to do it, and, lucky you, it's your turn.

First, on prayer: for the past couple of months, since Dallas' wedding, Grandpa's illness, and everything attendant with all that chaos, my temple attendance has been next to nothing. Considering that I had previously been going at least every two weeks, if not every week, I deeply felt the absence in my life but was at a loss to do anything about it. Fortunately, things have settled down again, all my energy isn't poured into getting from one day to the next, and Sister Connors and I have started up again. The difference is indescribable.

During that spiritual dearth, I felt myself slipping into numbness — the best way that I can describe it. My hunger and thirst for righteousness gradually receded. My callings suffered, my scripture reading became sporadic and then stopped, as did my prayers, until I got to the point where I actually did not want to get down on my knees. I avoided making that connection because I knew the results before I experienced them.

I have recently finished reading the Book of Mormon, and the last letter Mormon wrote his son, Moroni, is truly disheartening and tragic, and up until recently, I felt unfathomable. I could not understand how a people so blessed, having not only faith but knowledge of our Lord and Savior, having countless witnesses' accounts of all they had seen and heard when they thrust their hands into his side and bathed the scars on his hands and feet with their tears — when they knew what it was to be moved by the Spirit — how could they possibly turn away from the blessings of the Gospel so firmly within their grasp? How could they commit such atrocities and abominations and embrace the darkness as thick and binding as was brilliant the light in which they once had dwelt? I could not understand it.

But then, I caught myself thinking, 'I don't want to say my prayers. I'll just be prompted to do the things I'm not doing.'

My son, I have had some excruciatingly intense experiences while on my knees, pleading for my Father's blessings and invoking the name of His Son, as is my promised right. I have received confirmation of the Spirit for which there are no words to describe. It cannot be spoken or written because those are physical means of communication, while this surety and rejoicing and humbling experience was spoken spirit to spirit.

I know you know of what I speak, as I know you have been blessed with equal certainty of our Father's infinite love for you. I know your soul has been tuned to the spiritual with the utmost care, and for this I will be eternally grateful.

I had had that experience and countless others in which I knew my prayers were answered, I recognized the promptings of the Spirit which guided and instructed me as our Father's direct response to those prayers, and yet, I did not want to say my prayers out of sheer laziness. I did not want to read my scriptures because the instruction I knew I would receive would be counter to what I wished to do.

Then, it was Sunday and everything seemed to center on prayer and personal revelation, and I knew the Lord was attempting to instruct me through physical conduits, since I had shut off that spiritual, or, at the very least, cranked it down to a trickle. The lessons of the books of Mormon and Moroni returned again to my mind, and I began to understand. How quickly and how easily would the Adversary take over my life if I shunned the light because I felt the Lord asked too much of me, or the promptings of the Spirit were inconvenient?

The Brother of Jared presented to my pondering as another example. Already a prophet of God, he knew the Lord's plan to punish the wickedness of the people of Babble, and I am certain prophesied amongst them by way of warning. When that failed, he pleaded with the Lord to spare from the curse first his family and then his friends, and to lead them into a land more choice than any other. He had that much confidence in the Lord, of the same magnitude and certainty as Jared had confidence in the worthiness of his brother to approach the Lord. The Brother of Jared asked, and because of his righteousness, because he prayed for so long and so well, the Lord blessed him for his faithfulness. (Ether 1)

The Brother of Jared had all that, then prospered, yet, after they had been lead by the Lord for years and reached a land of bounty, he ceased to pray. Why? Surely because he was comfortable. The status quo was good enough for him and his people, and if he should pray, perhaps the Lord's instruction would be inconvenient and difficult, which we know it was.

But the Brother of Jared endured the remonstrance of the Lord with humility and sorrow. He repented and proved his faith so mighty that the Lord could not keep the veil from his eyes. (Ether 3:6-16) His faith ceased because it became knowledge. (Ether 3:17-20) His surety so much prevailed, the faith of his people had grown so strong, that they willingly surrendered themselves to the protection and mercy of God as they thrust ships without rudder or sail into the sea and then sealed themselves inside. For their faith and obedience, the Lord poured out blessings upon them such that they became the greatest civilization the world had yet known. (Ether 6:4-12)

And so, I contemplated these things and knew the Lord was reproving me in his own gentle, loving manner. However, to reiterate the point, for the next couple of days, in Relief Society, in various meetings, every time someone looked around for someone to give the prayer, their eye fell upon me. I took the hint and have already been blessed, as I know blessings will continue to flow as I allow the Spirit to guide me.

I guess I'm writing this because I've also gained a wider vantage in respect to investigators. Often times, I hear "they won't commit to pray" about the truthfulness of the gospel or of the Book of Mormon, and I think, why ever not? I believe that often the answer lies in their comfort and convenience. Perhaps they apprehend a positive answer with all its attendant implications, and it simply is not convenient or simple to make such dramatic changes in their lives. It is quite simply easier to refuse asking and thus avoid any answer, than to ask and then defy the answer given of the Lord. Perhaps this also sheds a bit of illumination as to why people hesitate in reading the Book of Mormon.

On to Joseph Smith.

Indicative of my own self-doubts, rather than any uncertainty of the Gospel, in the past I have frequently wondered if I would have found the Church if I had not been born into it. As you know, I am a very cerebral person. I am also a very stubborn and overly self-confident one. I don't like to give way in my opinions. Admitting myself in error equals humiliation, as much as do less than perfect scores on any type of exam, test, or just-for-fun quiz.

Knowing that about myself, I would find myself wondering, should I have been raised a Catholic or Baptist, or Buddhist, for that matter, how I would act should the missionaries knock on my door. Would I politely listen long enough for the Spirit to speak to me, or would I simply treat them as any other door-to-door salesman pestering me with product I have no use for, or probably worse? If the Spirit did move me, would I heed it? Or would I simply discount it or dismiss the prompting because I was perfectly comfortable as things were?

Too often I surmised that I would have turned away the missionaries, and fearing that about myself, was ever more grateful to Heavenly Father for not making that requirement of me. They say that the Lord will not ask of you anything that you and he cannot accomplish together, and I often pondered the idea that my pride and reliance upon my intellect would be an obstacle too great to overcome, and so he allowed me to be born into a family active in the Church, so that the Gospel would be firmly established in me as I matured.

But, no matter how I was raised, there came a time when I had to develop a testimony of my own, when I had to ask the hard questions and seek my own personal answers from the Lord. I had to learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, not only rely upon the testimonies of others. Such a flame as that cannot illuminate a soul, as it too soon flickers out when removed from the sustenance of another's fire.

As I have grown older, as I have strengthened my spiritual muscles, as it were, as I have come to understand so much more about life and religion and all the traps and pitfalls the Adversary sets in the way of us all, I have reached the certainty that I would have found the Gospel. There are quite simply too many ambiguities and contradictions in other creeds, too many questions left unanswered, and I know I could not have accepted no answer at all as the definitive response to my searching.

What is more, my spirituality is an aspect of my life of infinitely greater import than my intellectuality, and that is as vital to me as breathing. I have to be learning. I have to be seeking and finding. My brain requires the exercise, but without the sustenance to my soul which the Gospel offers, I know I would be driven to seek it out. Knowing who I am, knowing my relationship to my Heavenly Father and my brother, Jesus Christ, defines my sense of self. In the absence of that surety, I know I would feel the message of the missionaries fill that great void in my life and I would hunger and thirst for it. I would feast upon the bounty they offered me.

Truth is truth. It rings in my soul, and I cannot imagine not knowing what I know. I cannot fathom a life without faith and hope.

And all is based upon the Book of Mormon.

The scriptures are there in defense of the Gospel. There are explanations and disambiguations enough to clarify the misinformation and disprove the lies with which adversaries of the Church bombard the Internet and other media. Studies enough offer proof that no one of Joseph's age, education, and background could have possibly written the Book of Mormon. Allowing for context answers every concern, especially when one reestablishes one's perspective from 21st century post-modern society to one of Joseph Smith's contemporaries.

The era in which history played out when the Church was restored is entirely foreign to our own. The boundaries and language may be the same, but one must consider the vernacular, social mores, society and culture in which Joseph Smith lived. One must allow for a youth growing into manhood and struggling with all the challenges fulfilling the role the Lord assigned him. Only then can one even begin to assess him fairly.

But, none of it matters. Nothing proves the Gospel except for the Book of Mormon, and nothing can prove the Book of Mormon but the Holy Ghost.

I have seen it posted that the Church cannot even produce the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was said to have been translated, and this in itself is proof of the fallacy. That question has more than once crossed my mind as I wondered why the Lord did not allow the plates to remain with Joseph and thus prove he spoke the truth. The response that the Lord requires the exercise of our faith seems a pat answer, a catch-all for everything yet to be illuminated, but when one truly considers it, the truth is, it would have made absolutely no difference at all.

Should President Monson call a press conference tomorrow and announce that the Church has been in possession of the plates all this time, and that the time had at last come to reveal them to the world, should he offer them up to be examined by independent panels of scholars and scientists, should all that investigation prove the translation of the Book of Mormon accurate word for word, it would not matter.

Consider: first, there would be a huge lawsuit between the Church, the Community of Christ (the reorganized church), and the Native American tribes indigenous to upstate New York as to whom exactly actually owned the plates. After a decade of legal proceedings, the linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists and theologians would battle for the right to examine them, as has been done with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then, after everything, they would simply become an archaeological and anthropological treasure, and their great worth would be in the evidence of an heretofore unknown North American culture with some Judeo-Christian influences in their traditions and legends.

All that would not more prove that Jesus Christ visited the Nephites following his resurrection than the Bible proves he was resurrected at all. The Israelites fled from the Egyptians on a dry path through the Red Sea, but they still built an idol to worship in God's stead. Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves witnessed the miracles performed by Christ, but they crucified him even still. History is laden with examples of men denying the proofs offered, turning away from the truth it better suited them.

Those prone to disbelief would disbelieve still because all the evidence in the world cannot replace the Light of Christ which dwells in us all, and cannot begin to counterfeit the testimony borne to us by the Holy Ghost. Only he, as the third member of the Godhead, can provide us with the proof and certainty that we need to sustain our faith.

As long as fifty years ago, brass and copper plates inscribed and bound in rings, dated to Lehi's time, began to be unearthed in the Mediterranean, Africa, and North America. Archaeological evidence emerges on a regular basis to resolve questions and anomalies which have been offered in the past as proofs of the fallacy of the Book of Mormon. Anthropologists and linguists trace evidence in the Book of Mormon to middle eastern societal norms unknown to the western scholars in the early 19th century, let alone unsophisticated day workers born and raised in the virgin frontiers of an emerging country. Professors of religion independent of Church influence have stated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nearest to that established by Christ himself, but — but.

But, one has to believe the Book of Mormon is true. One has to believe that Joseph Smith translated it and therefore he really did see God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, the Angel Moroni showed him where the plates and other ancient artifacts were concealed, and he was directed from on high to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Which I know he was and he did, because I know beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is true. Each and every time I read it, the Spirit witnesses to me of it's verity, of the truthfulness of the Gospel it illuminates, and of the divinity of Jesus Christ, that he truly is the Son of God and that he lived, he suffered and died for our sins, and that he rose and lived again. I know these things. Even as I write them, the Spirit again burns within me, further strengthening my testimony and recalling to my mind those experiences testifying of the same which have nigh well overcome me with their intensity and power.

Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He established this Church under the direction of Jesus Christ, who stands at its head. The heavens are not barred against revelation. Thomas S. Monson is his anointed this day and holds the keys and powers necessary to act in Christ's name. The Lord is no respecter of persons, and those spiritual gifts with which he blessed his children in biblical times are ours by right, under the same conditions of faith and obedience.

The Book of Mormon is true, its purpose to testify of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my lord, my savior, my brother and my friend. Of these things I testify in His name, and with all my love.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Joseph Smith's First Vision

Editor's note: to answer questions raised by an investigator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following has been offered by Alan Neves. The post in which the question was raised can be found on Steadfast Faith in Christ: A Missionary Journal, "Witness of the Holy Ghost," June 25,2008 by Elder Paul Freeman.

June 26, 2008

Elder Freeman,

I thoroughly enjoyed your letter that your mom shared. The guy you are teaching that is searching in the wrong places for info, sounds like an honest-in-heart kind of person. The Internet can certainly be a place where many untruths and half-truths are outlined about Mormonism, but there is good too. In a recent talk, Elder Ballard said some remarkable things about how we as members can use the Internet to counter said opposition, and not let others define us falsely. It's pretty good if you are able to access this talk, "Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet".

Further, FARMS and FAIR have some excellent resources on the First Vision accounts, as well as numerous other topics that we sometimes get hard hitting questions to. Not things that Missionaries usually or should delve into much, but some investigators might find helpful, especially after being given or looking at anti Mormon web sites or literature.

Here's the site for the First Vision articles, and the directory has many many more topics.

Glad to hear you are doing so well. Keep up this most important work!

Love ya!,

Uncle Alan


If you look at the link, most of them are Ensign articles.

Here are the relevant ones.

"Joseph Smith's Testimony," Ensign, January 1972, 79.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's Testimony of the First Vision," Ensign, April 1996, 10. The Prophet's accounts of his first vision offer us a picture that is rich in testimony and supported by history. Discusses the revivals in the Palmyra area in 1820.

Milton V. Backman Jr., "Confirming Witnesses of the First Vision," Ensign, January 1986, 32.

Milton V. Backman Jr., "Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith's first vision?," Ensign, April 1992, 59.

Milton V. Backman Jr., "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign, January 1985, 8.

Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., "What was there in the creeds of men that the Lord found abominable, as he stated in the First Vision?," Ensign, July 1987, 65.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Example of Pure Charity

Editor’s note: The following is a talk given by Dan Pearce, delivered at the funeral of his sister, Carissa (above left), on April 20, 2008, who died at the age of 22 of pneumonia, a rare fungal infection of the lungs, and complications of Down’s syndrome.

Carissa – A Pure Heart
by Dan Pearce

Carissa’s shining life and example really cannot be expressed over a pulpit. It had to be felt, experienced, and witnessed, as you all know.

Carissa understood love probably more than I or most of us will ever be able. She could feel inside a person’s soul and somehow, could even feel the pains of a person’s heart. If that person’s heart was hurting more than usual, she could sense it, and she would do what she did best, which was to help start the healing. It usually started with a question of concern, then a big smile, then one of her big Carissa Bear Hugs. Then, the verbal praises would start and not let up until she sensed that your heart was at peace again, even if it took weeks or months. She would laugh, and tell you repeatedly over the course of days, “You’re my favorite.” “I love you this much.” “Hello my beautiful.” “Hello my handsome.” And other wonderful things. Then, when you would leave, she’d get out a notebook and her big bag of colorful pens, and write you a letter or two, telling you how much she loved you, how much she loved her brother Jesus Christ, how much she loved God, and how much They both loved you. You see, Carissa understood God’s love for us, and she never hesitated to share it.

Carissa loved to make people smile. In fact, she loved to make whole congregations smile. Anyone who’s ever been to any ward that Carissa was in on Fast Sunday, has heard her bear her testimony. She was always first to head to the front, and she never missed an opportunity to tell the world of her love for the Savior or the Gospel. Her testimony was simple, and was worded something like this, “I’d love to bear my testimony, I love my mommy. I love my daddy.” And then she’d start looking around, and whoever she made eye contact with, “I love my brother Danny. I love my sister Amy so much. I love Jesus Christ. And I love the scriptures. And I love Joseph Smith. And I love President S. Monson. And I love my daddy.” (Dad always seemed to be mentioned two or three times). And sometimes she’d throw out a plug for the family business or let a few of her frustrations out between those statements of love, “And I love my brother Andy on his mission. And Amy stole the fish crackers and took them to her apartment. And I love Jesus Christ, my brother. And I love Mr. Pool.” Then, after closing, and effectively bringing the spirit strongly into the meeting, she would shake hands or hug each member of the bishopric, as well as anyone else on the stand. As she made her way to her seat, she would shake hands with members of the ward all the way down, waving to people, smiling, and feeling on top of the world. There are a lot of people who are going to miss that.

Carissa was not bound by pride, ego, time, or selfishness, a few of the struggles that many of us so naturally have. She was never too busy to visit or care for the sick. She never received a church calling that she didn’t complete with 100% vigor. She never thought herself better than another human being, ever. Think about that. She never thought herself better than another human being. How many of us can say that? She never hid her talents from the world. She never withheld her praise from anyone. She never compromised her values. She never believed that there was a reason to not show her love to others, and certainly never believed there was a reason for others not to love her. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that since the fall, man by nature became carnal, sensual, and devilish. Perhaps because Satan could have no hold on Carissa’s heart, she was never any of these things, and this is the reason she has so many people who loved her as is evidenced here today.

Carissa had a pure heart, purer than any person I’ve ever met. I am brought to ponder, reminiscing on her perfect testimony and unworldly love for the Savior if Christ’s words weren’t fulfilled while she was still here on the earth, “And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Whether then or now, I am confident that Carissa has seen her Maker and that He has welcomed her back with open arms.

Lastly, I want to talk about Carissa the missionary. I believe with all my heart that Carissa was put into this family, into this community, into this world, to bring souls to Christ and to lighten people’s lives. Jesus taught that the handicap are here for this very purpose. When his apostles saw a disabled man and asked the savior if that handicap was because of his sins or the sins of his parents, Jesus responded, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Carissa was given an extra chromosome so that the works of God could be made manifest in her.

One week before Carissa died, my parents were out of town, and I was summoned to the hospital (where Carissa had just been admitted) to give her a blessing. As I laid my hands on her head, the spiritual pathways between God and man opened and I could not deny that the words coming from my mouth were not my own. It was a very interesting blessing for me. During the blessing, I saw Carissa on the edge of death, hooked to tubes and monitors, surrounded by doctors and family. At that point, none of us had any reason to believe she would ever get to this point, and as I saw this happening, the words of her blessing that came were something like this:
“Carissa, we bless you that your sickness will be a means of bringing many souls to their knees and ultimately to our savior Jesus Christ, for God’s work and glory is the immortality and eternal life of man, and sometimes He uses people like you to carry forth his purposes. Christ will carry you through the hardships you are about to face, so don’t be afraid. Only after those souls have turned to Christ, will things get better for you.”

Then, in her final hours, when her body had given up on her, and we knew that death was upon her, I stood alone in that room holding her hand and pleading with God to please make things better like he had promised in the blessing; it was time to heal her. She had reached the point of her blessing that I knew would arrive, and now it was time for God to do his part as promised. Then, while in my deepest pleadings, the spirit rushed into my soul and my eyes were opened for a few moments. I can’t describe what I saw or felt, I only can tell you that a true look at what Carissa had accomplished on this earth was shown to me, and I also knew right then that her work was done and that things would indeed get better for her, just not here. I stood in tears, stroking her face, and whispered over and over, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to be like you.”

I encourage all of you to spend the rest of your lives trying to be more like Carissa. Promptly forgive those who have wronged you. Sing with all of your heart, even when you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Stop caring so much what you look like. Stop caring so much what people will think of what you say and do. Fulfill your religious duties with excitement and vigor. Love attending church. Love sharing your testimony and be one of the first ones to the front. Serve your neighbor and buoy those who are down. Stop worrying about what others will think! Worry about what God will think and act in such a way. Forget about your job for awhile. Forget about your sports games and time-wasting habits. Look around you and find someone who could use a “Carissa Bear Hug” or maybe just a warm plate of cookies. Don’t judge others. Smile and introduce yourself to strangers. Express your love for all in all times and all places. For truly, these are lessons that Carissa taught all of us.

Carissa was my hero and role model, and I have a testimony that her time here was done, and that her mission has been fulfilled. Just before her death, as Carissa was completely sedated, unable to hear or respond, I found myself alone with her once again, pleading with God for comfort as I held Carissa’s flaccid hand. Christ said, “Blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I leaned over and whispered through choked back tears, “Carissa, are you okay to go? It’s okay if you need to go.” Suddenly her hand squeezed mine with the same love and strength of one of her famous Carissa Bear Hugs and a warm comfort rushed over my entire body. Even in her final moments she made sure to comfort someone else. I know that many others had similar experiences that day.

Brothers and Sisters, Carissa was okay to go. She had no regrets and no reason to fear. She left this world as perfect as when she came into it. She was okay to go.

Let’s all consider our lives and live in a way that will make it okay for us to go when the time comes. Let’s all try to be a little more like Carissa.

I say these things in Jesus name, Amen.