Wednesday, May 5, 2010

1 Thessalonians 5:21

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Today Trillium and I drove to Star Valley, Wyoming, about five hundred miles round trip. My grandfather, William Adelman, died in 1951 when I was nine. I can only recall meeting him once, during a family vacation from California to Idaho about a year or so before then. William Adelman’s eldest child, Ernest, died within a year of his birth. My father said that he had a cleft palate and other congenital defects that facilitated that early departure from mortal life. My Aunt Veda I remember vividly, she and her family having sheltered us for a time while my father was trying to get his feet back on the ground after the war. She was less than five feet tall. My dad passed away in Magalia, California in 2001 and it was almost four months before I was apprised of his passing. He had been cremated, and my step mother had kept the ashes down in my father’s work shed until I was able to fly over and bring them back to Utah. A month or so after that, my sons Christopher and David drove up with me to the Auburn Cemetery to intern him with his parents.

The first time that I had been to the Auburn Cemetery was in 1982. I was on a trip from Indiana to California as part of a series of speaking engagements. I met with one of my uncles, Eldon I think, and he drove me out to the site where I received a tour of all of the family members’ final resting places. The marker for my grandmother’s grave was well placed and readable, but there was nothing indicating where my grandfather, my uncle Ernest, and my aunt Vera were buried. My uncle suggested that maybe we ought, as a family, gather up the money to put the markers there. Twenty years passed and nothing happened, so that when I buried my father’s remains, the plots were just as barren of information as they had ever been. By that time my uncle Eldon was in the ground, just to the left of my grandmother’s marker. Some of my cousins were in attendance at the grave-side service for my father and we again committed to do something about the unmarked graves.

Another eight years or so passed, and still nothing transpired to bring about the purchase of a marker. I determined to do the deed myself. I contacted one of the mortuaries in Star Valley and had him arrange for a stone to be placed for my four relatives. It proved to be a slow moving train, and it was late in the fall of 2009 before the fellow made all of the final arrangements with a stone cutter in Idaho. By then the ground was frozen in Auburn, and the installation of the marker stone was put off until the spring. I received a phone call yesterday afternoon from the stone cutter saying that the marker would be installed today about noon. I persuaded Trillium to accompany me and we made the trip up and back, arriving home about 7:00.

The marker is in exactly the right place because I had spoken directly with the sexton in 2001 about the arrangement of the three unmarked graves. I also knew precisely where I had placed my father. Thus, I knew exactly how to direct the men as they cut the turf and set the stone.

I knew last night that I was going to post this entry on my scriptures blog, and so I spent a great deal of time trying to think of any scriptures that I could remember having been spoken by my father during his lifetime. From my first recollections as a child until I was fifteen, when my parents separated, I cannot ever remember having heard my father cite a verse of scripture. For almost twenty years after that, my father and I did not see each other face to face, although we did talk on the telephone from time to time. And there was the occasional letter. When I did see him again in person, almost thirty years had passed. So in my entire relationship with my father up to that time, little had been said of scriptural or theological matters. As I pondered further along in my memory, I could only recall one instance, and that singular moment of scriptural discourse transpired during a visit with him when I was passed forty years of age and my dad was passed sixty. I do not recall what motivated that scripture. Maybe it came out of the blue, something that he felt that he had to say to me as my father.

“Prove all things,” he said, “and hold fast to that which is good”. I doubt that he could have turned to the passage in the New Testament, but it was an aphorism from one of Paul’s letters that had stuck in his mind such that he had felt it worthwhile to share it with me.

While I accept the truth of the Apostle’s counsel, I think that I would moderate it just a little. The “testing” or “proving” of all things does not have to come by way of experimentation with every possible manner of conduct. In other words, you do not have to kill someone to know that murder is unacceptable and contrary to the will of God. We can see the effects of sin in the lives of others, many examples of which can be found in the sacred writings of the prophets, seers and revelators of the God of Heaven. We do not need to repeat their mistakes just so that we can say, “Yup, that was a mistake!”

As time has passed, the world should have been getting better and better, the inhabitants of the earth learning from the previous generations those things which work and those things which do not, and then extending the cultural and spiritual knowledge further by making their own contributions regarding those things which they have discovered are good and evil. Alas, this has not been the case in general. George Santayana said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This is true in any venue, and those unlearned historical issues which have eternal consequences are at the same time both poignant and tragic.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

As I recall, we did not memorize this whole verse at one time in Daily Vacation Bible School, but we memorized at least part of it. It is possible that we learned the first part of the verse one year and the second part the next.

I was born during the Second World War. I watched the planes fly over our little Canyon on their way back from the various combat zones throughout the world. I served in the military just as the Vietnam War began to heat up, and have watched in horror as the media has presented to us the fine details of man’s inhumanity to man over the last fifty years or so. The fact of the matter is that the world has no peace to offer; this planet is a lost and fallen place, filled with ignorance, degradation, and fear. If the film industry is any indication, the appetite of the public yearns after more and more disturbing portrayals of evil and of conduct unbecoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Even in the days of the mortal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, there was very little peace to be had among the nations. The most powerful nation in the known world at the time loved to boast of the “Pax Romana”, which in reality was the “Phobia Romana”. Roman citizens enjoyed relatively little opposition because the non-citizens were afraid to lift a finger against anyone associated with the greatest military power the world had ever known.

Jesus had said at the beginning of chapter fourteen, “Let not your heart be troubled”, and then went on to give a multitude of reasons why they should not be distressed in any fashion.

The Savior’s departure from the Apostles was imminent; they were deeply disturbed by the prospect of being alone. Jesus comforted them thusly:

ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know (John 14:1-4).

The Savior’s counsel to them is “Believe in me as you believe in God the Father, for what I do now is at His behest”. Jesus must pass through the next few days undaunted, and they must do the same. No one of them can afford to become distracted from the great labor which is about to take place. Jesus must go away, but he promises that in short order he will return having done all that would be necessary to bring them into the eternal worlds without blemish or spot. The work which would prepare them to enter back into the Celestial Kingdom would ultimately terminate in the sacrifice of his mortality. There was no other way by which they could be with their Master forever. He must leave them for a time.

After discussing the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the path of righteousness that has been pointed out to them (verses 5-14), Jesus instructs his brethren regarding the comfort which comes from knowing and doing the will of God. A mighty effectual door is opened through the power and influence of the Holy Ghost.

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:15-16)

Love inspires proximity. Simon Peter was willing to suffer death in any number of ways in order to remain at the side of the Savior. Philip’s question above about whither they as Apostles should go derives from a similar concern. Jesus clearly tells his disciples that where he is going they cannot yet come. They suffer in mind and heart because of their love and devotion towards him; the thought that they might not ever again bask in his wisdom and affection made them almost wild with fear. Jesus’ counsel now is that if they wish to be with him, if their love is such that they cannot bear to be separated from him in the eternities, then they should at all times and in all places do those things which constitute conformity to the mind and will of God the Father.

Jesus then extends another promise, one which anticipates resurrection and exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom.

If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)

Can anyone think of a more peaceful setting than to be in the company of God the eternal Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ? As wonderful as this would be, however, Jesus testifies that there is something of even more worth to the sons and daughters of God as they pass through their mortal probation.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

Through the principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the commandments and covenants of the Almighty, the Savior has provided the means whereby we can enjoy perfect peace in the midst of a world filled with turmoil, trial, and tribulation.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Matthew 4:19

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

One of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood, is fishing with my father on the banks of the streams and rivers near Red’s Meadows. It was primitive in those days. I cannot recall there being any nearby towns. Our tent was pitched in the trees near the river; Devil’s Post Pile was hardly a stone’s throw away. I baited my first hook, caught and gutted my first fish in central California. I think that my father was tickled that he had taught his boy to do something that he loved to do. However, when I first memorized Matthew 4:19 as part of my Daily Vacation Bible School experience, I was somewhat disconcerted and mildly disturbed.

I do not recall exactly how our teachers attempted to visualize the memorization process. In many Vacation Bible Schools today, however, the image of the baited hook is used to help the children understand what it is to be a “fisher of men”. My guess is that there are thousands of little children that are struggling as badly as I did to understand what Jesus had in mind when he began calling his Apostles to the ministry. I fear that internalizing the message and the appeal is, in the end, is too far off of the mark with the image of the line and the pole.

The apostolic call was not to be considered passive; sitting on the banks of a stream with pole in hand, waiting for a indolent fish to rise to the bait, is not the sort of activity that Jesus had in mind when he called out to Peter and Andrew to join him on his quest to invited the children of men to partake of eternal life. The sons of Jonas and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, were net fishermen, arising in the early hours of the morning, sailing to their appointed place, and proactively casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee for their fish. It was hard work; some days there was little to show for all of their labors. In Luke’s account of the Savior’s call to Peter, the circumstances illustrated the nature of the task.

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

Years ago I served as a fisher of men, for two and a half years in southern Mexico. It was a time of joyful service; it was a time that defined much of what I would become as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher. I had a small taste of that which the Apostles enjoyed for the rest of their lives. I learned something about the nature of net fishing that the Savior taught his disciples in one of the parables preserved in Matthew chapter 13.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)

That was a sobering proposition: not every creature that the gospel net enclosed would ultimately be found worthy to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. I knew that I had been successful as a missionary, insofar as the numbers were concerned, but I have not been in a position to know exactly what sort of fish were ultimately brought to shore. How many were good? How many were bad? I certainly wanted all of them to be good, that all of them would find peace, joy, and comfort in the truths to which they had been introduced. For a time I like talking about those who had come into the Church at my hands, but as time passed, I became a little more introspective, hoping that my friends would hold fast to the truth of all things that I had been the instrument in the hands of the Father to bring to them. This brings me to another one of the Lord’s analogies about missionary work.

The prophet Jeremiah devoted a great deal of his writings to the latter-day gathering of the children of God from out of the world.

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:14-16)

There were to be fishers and hunters. I once speculated as to what would be the difference between the two sorts of missionaries. A net fisherman casts his net and pulls in many fish at a time. The hunter finds the object of his search one creature at a time. Numerically, one appears to be extraordinarily successful; the other appears to have squandered his time in a great deal of ranging about. Yet, it is the Lord who calls for the fishers; it is the Lord who calls for the hunters; each is suited to the task to which he is set. There is nothing but folly in making comparisons between the efforts of missionaries in various parts of the world according to the numbers of new disciples that have been brought into the Church and Kingdom of God.

I have learned to be content to do the best I can, looking forward to opportunities for improvement. If I am truly His servant, then I leave the judgment, the evaluation of my labors and that of my fellow men, to Him. I hope that my efforts will one day be approved and I be found acceptable in my eternal Father’s eyes, just as my efforts were momentarily approved on the banks of the San Joachin River more than sixty years ago.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Psalms 23

I do not suppose that I was required to memorize the whole of the 23rd Psalm in Daily Vacation Bible School, but from the time I was a child, this hymn of Israel was as familiar to me as any passage of scripture. Someone has said that the King James version of the Bible is the greatest literary piece in the English language, the most beautiful ever to have been penned. If that is the case, then Psalms 23 is the gemstone in that literary crown. It is hard to imagine that anything could excel it.

During the last few years of my teaching career, I decided to create a series of Paraphrastic Studies (a term of my own devising) which was intended to be a broad, but accurate, translation from Greek into English, each of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. Inasmuch as Greek is a polysemous language (where single words may convey a multitude of meanings), this sort of translation seemed to correct a fault which almost all language translations suffer. Any attempt at word-for-word translation is doomed to failure because of the innumerable nuances that one language has which are difficult to equate in the target language. After completing that particular project, I turned to the Psalms of the Old Testament, creating three volumes of Paraphrastic Studies in the process of time. I cannot speak to their literary value, but I can speak with some authority as to the accuracy of the translation. I include below the Study that was written for Psalms 23, line by line.

1. A Psalm of David.

A mizmor or hymn, of David the King of Israel.

1. The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.

The Lord God of Heaven and of earth is my King, He who watches over me and tenderly attends to me as shepherd cares for His flock. He delights in me, and I in Him; and He holds me to His bosom, and speaks kindly to me. In His arms I will suffer no lack, but shall be in abundance all of my days.

2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

In peace my Shepherd-King brings me into His safe place, to recline in His dwelling, a land of fresh and verdant meadows, grass and tender herbs. The Lord God of Israel sustains me, carefully watching over me, guiding me to gentle streams, deep, cool, and tranquil, the waters of Shiloah.

3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The Lord God has redeemed me from all ill, and has turned my heart from the ways of the wicked; I am freed from the bondage of death and hell. He has encouraged me, has urged me to follow after the faithful, whose course of life has been clearly marked by their righteous conduct, and my blessings are as theirs, for His path is one eternal round. For the work that He has taken upon Himself, and the glory with which He adorns Himself, brings me back into His presence so that I might dwell with Him forever.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Even though I am led through a lowland where the thick darknesses run together as a torrents of fear and tribulation, though pestilence and destruction surround me about, though I pass through the very jaws of hell into the realms of the dead, I will not lose my faith in thee, O Lord God of my fathers, for no inescapable calamity will befall me, for the covenant of thy lips will not let me fail while I am in thy keeping. Thou hast supported me through every difficulty and will continue to do so. The crook of the shepherd who is King will protect and preserve me, bring solace to my soul; the scepter of the King who is shepherd will ward off all oppression, taking revenge upon the wicked and the ungodly.

5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

The altar of thy covenant is set in order, and I am placed in the midst thereof, and make an acceptable sacrifice before thee, while those who would have distressed me look upon me. Thou and I are bound together in the covenant of peace; they are bound over to the day of vengeance. Thou hast blessed me with the good things of the earth, and my joy is uncontainable. Thou hast ordained me to be first among my brethren, and hast made me to be strong, filled with the power of thy arm and hand, having poured upon me the oil of gladness. Thou hast made me to feel welcome in thy habitation, within the confines of thy holy house, and my happiness is full to overflowing.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I have no doubts, either in my mind or in my heart, that the blessings with which I have been blessed will continue, for my soul is merry forever, all that which is beautiful and pleasant thou hast promised me by thy own voice, therefore it will be my happy lot to enjoy thy benevolence toward me, thy kindness and zealous love that thou bearest for me, for the rest of my life. One day according to thy infinitely compassionate will, I will return into thy presence, O Lord God of Israel, to dwell by thy side for eternity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ephesians 2:8-9, Part 3

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

From the time I was a boy, I was taught that no amount of action or good conduct on my part would enhance my prospects in the eternities, other than to accept, verbally, the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I was not averse to saying the words, but even as a child I sensed that that event alone could not prepare me for the presence of God. Someone may say, “Well, that is simply a manifestation of your lack of faith, so you cannot be saved anyhow”. I protest! I did not want for belief; I simply wanted the whole process to make sense to me. Another observer could state, “Well, you can’t get to Heaven with a Ph.D.!” That may very well be true, but I am quite certain that you can get there dumb as a box of rocks either.

Jesus taught his disciples in prayer, thusly, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Can one come to know God intellectually? Is it possible to intellectually perceive that He exists? Can it be reasoned out? Is there any external evidence that there is a supreme being? Perhaps not in an iron-clad objective manner, but there is sufficient evidence in the Scriptures of the world, in the religions of men, in the fundamental nature of the human psyche to suggest that there is a good chance that that is the case.

Once a person has accepted the intellectual possibility of a God, is there any way to find out what He is like? It would seem reasonable that a divine being who thought it was in the best interests of His creations to have them worship Him would provide at least a little information about what constitutes godliness. Those, of course, who reject the notion that God is prepared to communicate directly with men are left pretty much in the dark.

Once the existence of God is acknowledged and something is known of His character, is the worshipper expected to do anything other than adore? What is it exactly that would please God and should we be willing to do it? In conjunction with all of these questions is the most important one of all: What is the point of creation? What is the point of my own personal existence? If there is indeed a point to mortal life, it seems clear that there should be a bit of a divine agenda. Life eternal consists in knowing God. How well do we need to know Him? Should we assume that a passing acquaintance is sufficient? Does not the consummate knowledge of God occur when we do those things which He does? Hence, the commandments. Clearly, something is expected, upon which our salvation from death and hell depend.

Given that something is expected of us by God, can we ever do enough to justify our own salvation? The answer must be a resounding “No!”, or the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ makes no sense at all.

There is no other name given under Heaven whereby a man can receive salvation; only in Jesus Christ is there any hope for immortality and eternal life. No man has the power to bring himself back to life once his spirit has fled his mortal body. No man has the power or the means to satisfy the demands of justice, insofar as his redemption from sin is concerned. Faith in Jesus Christ creates a desire to be as he is, to follow his example as a dutiful disciple. Thus, repentance from all ungodly conduct is a direct product of our love for the Lord. When invited to become a part of his eternal family, to reap the blessings which he has provided through his atoning sacrifice, we willing do all that is required of us in a formal way. Hence, the ordinances of the priesthood represent the outward tokens of our faith in Jesus, our response to his tender love and concern for our welfare.

In terms of personal salvation, anything that a man might do to promote his own eternal welfare is insignificant, even adherence to the requirements incumbent upon a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Thus, baptism by immersion could have no efficacy at all without the realities for which the ordinance stands. The bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands would be in vain if there were no redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ which may prepare a man to be a worthy vessel for that spiritual gift. Man may achieve great things in his own eyes, but when compared to the ministry of the Son of God, any mortal achievement looks like ashes and smells like smoke.

When we are born again, the nature of any obedient act changes. We keep the commandments, observe the statutes, and live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God. A man who professes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and yet is not the purveyor of good works, does not express love for his fellow men as manifested in his daily walk and talk, then that man most surely walks in the paths of the hypocrite and will not find salvation.

The Savior set the perfect example for us. He willingly submitted himself to the demands of justice for our sakes, because we could not do so on our own. He laid down his life that we might live again in his presence. He gave all that he was that we might dwell with him in eternity if we so chose. All this he did because of his personal love for us, a love that came in large measure because of what he accomplished in our behalf. Those things by which we can emulate his conduct toward our fellow men, we ought to do because of our love and gratitude for him. We love as much as we can, as much as our imperfections will allow us to love, and then his love makes up the difference. That is the meaning of the scriptures.