WEEK FIFTY-FIVE July 21, 2014
This week both a lesson I was asked to give in a Gospel Essentials class and a presentation in our bible study group, (we had 19 in attendance), dovetailed nicely with questions and concerns that had been expressed by many of our investigators. Sister H felt the bible study was the best thing we have done.
The bible study was to be about moving from dark to light, using both experiences of Saul) Acts 9, 22, 23, and 26) and Alma (Mosiah 27 and Alma 36). My assignment was the Saul presentation. The more I thought about it, I saw an avenue to teach that scriptures in addition to the Bible were necessary, continuing revelation a requirement, and an explanation for the various accounts of the Prophet Joseph’s first vision. I will attempt to put in first person what occurred to me that night as I was making the presentation.
It appears that Saul was known to God and foreordained to be a minister of the gospel. He was born in Tarsus, a town in Turkey, just northwest of Antioch (Syria). He was a Roman citizen by birth, no mean feat in those days. He was trained in rabbinical oral traditions by Gamaliel. A faithful Pharisee, who believe in resurrection.
Keeping that all in mind, let’s first turn to Acts, chapter 9. I’m of the opinion that we tend to blame Saul for some of the very positions we take when we are unwilling to allow God to make changes in the unfolding of His gospel message. Take a look at verse 1. It reads: “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest…” Was Saul a bad guy, just ornery, or perhaps was there a valid motive in his actions. Clearly Saul is filled with passion in seeking to obliterate the Christian movement.
Consider that among Judaism, oral tradition had been placed on a pedestal. Indeed, to the Jews, oral tradition was held in much higher esteem even than revelation, by the time of Christ. If you recall most of the objections towards Christ from the Jewish leaders grew out of his teachings being at variance with their oral traditions. By the time of Christ, belief in revelation from living prophets had ceased. Instead the doctors of the law, the Jewish leaders, say and counseled together, carefully reviewing oral traditions, and rendering judgments as to doctrine and beliefs. Matthew describes that as “Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29, see Joseph Smith Translation: “For he taught them as one having authority from God, and not as having authority from the Scribes.”) The Savior was not relying upon oral traditions
Due to his training and zeal, Saul saw the Christian movement violating the purity of Jewish oral traditions and the Mosaic law, in other words its effect was to pollute all that was believed and held in reverence. Similarly, many today when hearing the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, recognize the change being required, laying aside previously held beliefs and accepting the authority of an expanded gospel message.
Many, many wonderful qualities are illustrated in Saul’s response on the road to Damacus. Staying just with Acts 9 we see his response as a light from heaven illuminates him and he hears a voice from heaven exclaim. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” he is immediately ready to listen asking “Who art thou, Lord?”
When he who speaks identifies himself as the very “Jesus whom thou persecutes” Saul trembles and is astonished but with an open and willing heart asks, “what wilt thou have me to do?’ He is told to go into the city and it will be told him what he must do. The instructions sound very unspecific. He is not told who to see, who to ask for, or how long he must wait.
Having lost his sight he is led into the city And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. For three days he patiently waits, unable to see, and fasting. Only then does Ananias come to him. We suspect Ananias must have been of some authority among the Christians in Damascus so probably the very type of person Saul had set out to imprison and take back to Jerusalem for punishment. Ananias fearful himself is assured by the Lord in a vision that Saul “is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
When Ananias enters the house Saul willingly is subject to him and receives of him a blessing that restores his sight and is immediately “filled with the Holy Ghost.” He arises, certainly must have repented, and is baptized. Saul willingly accepts the changes in Christ required by His glorious gospel. He willingly sets aside long held and fervent beliefs that are at variance with the new revelation. He choose not to be bound by oral tradition alone.
Similarly today the Lord asks those who are to come unto him to set aside prior belief that the Bible along contains all the words of God, to embrace continuing revelation, including additional sacred writ that further clarifies and adds to previously written words of God, and to accept those who teach with authority. To accept that the gospel is alive, that though God is unchanging, His message is pertinent and specific to the time and place of His children who will receive it.
We read in the account of the vision on the road to Damascus in Acts 22 and Acts 26 very different accounts. In speaking to the Jews in Acts 22, Paul leaves aside the message to the gentiles. Yet in speaking to the semi-gentile Agrippa in Acts 26 that seems to be the central message of his experience. The retelling of this singular event is nuanced by those to whom Paul is speaking and the emphasis he seeks to stress at that time. In a similar manner are the several versions of the First Vision recounted by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Taken as a whole the theme is the same yet the emphasis changes depending up the purpose of the speaker at that particular time and the message he is seeking to impart.
We had wonderful meetings this week with both the Two and Twenty-first families who are all progressing toward the temple. As are Sister Fifty-one and Sister Fifty-two. Brother Fifty-four received his endowment this week in the Newport Beach Temple. We had two visits, including an evening of takeout Chinese with the One family who are getting ready to move. Brother One said he thought they were going to have to put our picture on a milk carton as we were lost. Shared some ideas about our house plan and demolition. Said Brother One, “I had a glass of wine, which I can do not being a Mormon, but the interaction with my meds was terrible. I didn’t like that feeling at all.” I suggested it was a sign from the Lord that he needed to be baptized. “I already was baptized.” “No,” I said, “I mean the right way.” “I did that too. I was immersed.” I said, “Brother you need to be baptized by the proper authority, by me.” He invited us back to share some more Book of Mormon stories saying, “I really like those.”
Had a two bible studies and a dinner with the Four Family this week. He even came to church on Sunday and set in on my Sunday school lesson. Sister Four said to me, “I think Sister Haddock guilted him into coming to church when she bore her testimony at the bible study on Thursday evening. But I’m okay with that.”
Our meeting with the Six family was cancelled as the wife wasn’t feeling well this week. Visited briefly with Sister Thirteen at her work this week. She confessed she has not had time to read the things we had given her or to follow up much on the family history we got her started on.
Sister Twenty-three passed away this week, the only member in her family who were all grateful for what the church had done the past four years as she has been in a nursing home in the Lake Forest Ward.
We got Brother Twenty-one a drummer, hooked up with Brother Twenty-eight, a guitarist, and they will be playing a date this coming week in Los Angeles at a family club and again the following Thursday at the Orange County Fair.
Had two dropped meetings each of the last two weeks with Sister Thirty-nine. Her mother is very ill and she has been going north to visit her. Brother Fifty has not responded to our invitation to continue to visit with him, nor have the Nineteen family, which has concerned us more. Clearly he has a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and should she ever get on board they would be happier and be a blessing to others.
Met with the Sixty family for the second time and they have now been to church three of the last four Sunday’s missing only when she was ill one Sunday. He worked with a less active fellow my dad and I home taught back in the 1950s. When I left on my mission we had finally got him to go with us to early morning priesthood meetings on Sunday. When I returned from my mission two years later, he was my elder’s quorum president. Small world. Speaking of small world, one of the young men in my institute class at BYU used to work with our mission president at FranklinCovey and saw a picture of Sister H and I along with most of the senior missionary couples serving in the California Irvine Mission, which he had posted on his facebook site. See attached if I can figure out how to make it work.