Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Priesthood Leaders

How Priesthood Leaders Have Blessed Me and My Family And Helped Us Come Closer to Christ

Talk by Scott Vanatter at Oakton Stake Priesthood Leadership Meeting, June 11, 2011

INTRO

Melchizedek priesthood leaders are taught that “…this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth . . . the key of the knowledge of God.” That “…in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”(DC 84: 19-20)

Good morning brethren.

My topic is, “How Priesthood Leaders have Blessed Me and My Family -- and Helped Us Come Closer to Christ.”

My family and I have been blessed by inspired words of ward and stake priesthood leaders. We’ve also been blessed by their dedicated lives– by what they do, by who they are.

Their eternal perspective, and their connection with us, has created within us a lively, real world hope. This ‘hope in Christ’ provides us calm assurance that we can do it -- we can live the gospel, repent and progress and come unto Christ…. [1]

ORDINANCES

As important as inspired wordsand dedicated lives are, the priesthood provides something even more concrete. When priesthood leaders teach core principles with the added focus on the blessings of priesthood ordinances, this combination provides a firm and tangible “anchor to [our] souls.” Ordinances not only hold the promise of future, eternal blessings, they also bless us -- in their very nature -- today. The Atonement itself promises both an ultimate blessing, and also important blessings in the here and now -- or, as the Prophet Joseph termed it, the One Eternal Now. (See HC 4:597)

KEY OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Through the “greater priesthood [we, as priesthood leaders] administer…the gospel.” It also facilitates our ministering to those we serve. In both formal and informal ways, the priesthood also holds not only “the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, [but especially] the key ofthe knowledge of God.” // (See D&C 84:19)

DEFINITION OF MYSTERY

What is the real definition of a mystery? Anciently, and biblically, it is assuredly not something that was unknowable. Something unknowable can best be described as an enigma. A mystery, on the other hand, is something that was or is not known, but can now be made known. Especially by revelation, most particularly based in and around ordinances. Temple ordinances. Previously unknown mysteries – once revealed to the world – are intended to be known by any and all those who are prepared to receive them.

Note: The word ‘mystery’ comes from related Latin and Greek words, whose root meaning is to be ‘initiated.’ Again, think temple ordinances. [2]

WHY ORDINANCES?

Why do ordinances exist? Many entities in the world, churches, fraternal organizations, governments, etc., have their ritual. In the Gospel sense, ordinances create a real-world tangible thing on which the person receiving the ordinance can focus. This tangible thing, or touch by laying on of hands, or contact with water, or oil, or bread, or a veil, etc., has deep inner meaning, and power to focus our mind on the eternal principle at hand. These ordinances stand for “vast realities” in the heavens, in our inner selves, and between our God and our selves -- too vast for solely casual contemplation.

In his first letter, John remarks that this symbolic focal point, quote,

“which ye have received of him abideth in you, and…teacheth you of all things, and [is real] is truth, and is no lie.” He continues, “as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” End quote. // (See 1 John 1:27.)

Lesson 5 of the Temple Preparation Course (which can be downloaded from LDS.org by anyone in the world), says that ordinances, quote,

“help us remember important things . . . [they] can teach us abstract truths that might be hard to learn in other ways. . . . When [ordinances] are repeated, we learn to understand them better. [3]

“In a symbolic way, [temple ordinances] take us on an upward journey toward eternal life, ending with a symbolic entrance into the presence of God. The characters depicted, the physical setting, the clothing worn, the signs given, and all the events covered in the temple are symbolic. When they are understood, they will help each person recognize truth and grow spiritually.

“[Ordinances provide] a visual and tactile reminder of [our covenants…].” End quote. [4]

Joseph Smith spoke of the power of symbolism in the King Follett Discourse, “All things whatsoever God has seen proper to reveal to us are revealed to us in the abstract…” He also reminded us that, “The Holy Ghost is God's messenger to administer in all [these] priesthoods.” (Teachings, p. 323) [5]

MANIFEST [6]

So, priesthood leaders ought to clearly teach, “Therefore, [that] in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest” (DC 84:20). Something is manifest when it is ‘easily understood or recognized by our mind.’ This happens both in our teaching about the ordinance, and when the person actually receives it, or ponders on it afterwards. [7]

RELATIONSHIP

I have been blessed – and my family has been blessed -- by priesthood leaders in and out of the temple pointing us to the ordinances, to the “vast realities” and eternal relationships for which the ordinances stand. We are, indeed, the offspring of God. We are indeed, that close to Him, in our relationship and in our nature. Closer than we usually think: from the seminal King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith revealed, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”

So, then, we priesthood leaders are, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The mysteries of godliness are found both temples in Primary songs, such as “I am a Child of God.” [8]

HELP US COME UNTO CHRIST

Priesthood leaders have blessed me and my family by making it easy to see who Christ really is, and into his heart; that He is real; that He loves us, and cares for us; [9]

A few specific examples:

· Before I joined the church, young men leaders at a ward youth conference, taught me and the rest of the young men in attendance, about the law of chastity. I was blessed with a deep appreciation for their frank and wise counsel.

· At the same ward youth conference the bishop challenged everyone in attendance to bear their testimony. Not yet a member, but recognizing something different in Mormons, I arose, stated that, whatever it was, perhaps someday I could be a part of it. I was blessed by responding to the bishop’s challenge to vocalize what was happening inside me. [10]

· A few weeks later, after the missionaries taught and interviewed me for baptism, the bishop also sat me down and asked pointed and searching questions, ensuring I had a real testimony, and intended to be faithful and active no matter what. I was blessed to recognize his spiritual position and respect it. [11] [12]

· I changed wards, and after receiving the Melchizedek priesthood, the quorum president assigned me, as a 19 year old convert, to be a home teacher to some less active families. I was blessed that he facilitated my learning to stretch and give and serve.

· At the same time a priesthood leader made the decision to assign a stake high councilman to be my home teacher. As a recent convert, and new in this ward, they didn’t know me from Adam. Yet, they took me under their wing, and helped focus me on the priesthood and my responsibilities as a priesthood holder. I was blessed to see that the elders quorum presidency took their quorum responsibilities to heart. They were diligent and thorough and, in a word, real “men.”

· Shortly after this, as I was preparing to serve a mission, my second bishop taught me about the temple ordinances and personally escorted me to the temple to receive my endowment the Friday before I reported to the Mission Home (there was no MTC back then). I was blessed by his emphasis on the spirit and connection of temple worship. [13]

· My family has been blessed to have felt the Lord’s love for us when being set apart by the power of the priesthood. [14]

· Clerks and secretaries have shown that we matter by carefully and promptly communicating with us, personally brining us into the fold, and with those who hold the keys, and via the records. [15]

Priesthood leaders have blessed me and my family in coming unto Christ, because they have made real the hope described by Hugh B. Brown, 

“A sense of relationship and co-partnership with God involves the concept of universal brotherhood; and that will help to develop intelligent tolerance, open-mindedness, and good-natured optimism. Life is really a battle between fear and faith, pessimism and optimism. [16]

HELP US BRING SOULS UNTO CHRIST

Priesthood leaders who help us see, feel and Come unto Christ, make it easy for us to say in our hearts and to our neighbors, with Joseph Smith,

“We don't ask [you] to throw away any good [you’ve] got; we only [invite you] to come and get more. … [17]

CONCLUSION

I conclude with two observations about us as priesthood leaders, one from Joseph and another from Jesus.

Eliza R. Snow recorded Joseph Smith recommending to leaders,

“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people…as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind – [18]

In his Great Intercessory Prayer, Jesus prayed to the Father for us, his priesthood leaders:

“9 I pray for them. . . 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. . . . 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: . . . 23 . . . that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou . . . and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

“24 Father, I will that they . . . be with me where I am; . . . 26 . . . that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” // (John 17)

TESTIMONY

I bear witness that priesthood leaders fit together as one body in drawing down the blessing of heaven, such that if we will receive it, the blessing will come to overflowing.

I thank heaven for these priesthood leaders, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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NOTES

[1] that, with the Lord, we can overcome any obstacle. Their decisions made in council after careful deliberation, or on the fly, as inspired “in the very moment” provide tailored individual direction. They mark the wayand lead us in the paths of righteousness.

Their “power [and] influence... by virtue of the priesthood, [comes to us] by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge….” By their actions and manner, we can tell “that [their] faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (See DC 121:37-44)

[2] We might think of the phrase, the “key of the mysteries of the kingdom” as applying in large measure to how we run the church, the kingdom. We know how to more perfectly organize and run wards, stakes, quorums, etc., around the world. This “key” is held by presidents.

We might also think of the phrase the “key of the knowledge of God” as ultimately referring to temple ordinances. Additionally, we can see how this “key” applies generally to ward and stake priesthood holders, when they point to, speak about, and prepare those they are called to serve to “make and keep sacred covenants.” And not just temple ordinances; all priesthood ordinances point to the temple – and to the Lord – in their core symbolic meaning.

[3] ‘All things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual (Moses 6:63).’

[4] … Each person should prepare to be as spiritually sensitive as possible to the symbolic nature of the temple [ordinances].

[5] What applies to the “fulness of the Priesthood” (see D&C 124:28), also applies to all priesthood ordinances, if we let it. If we foster it. If we, as priesthood leaders, teach it.

[6] When babies are given a name and a blessing, the idea of their being held in loving arms can be seen as representations of God carrying and supporting the babe.

In baptism we can be seen to be washed over completely with the waters of life and fully enveloped in His love. Being gently laid into a soft, watery grave, by a strong arm we are then lifted up by power into a new life.

Hands laid on our heads, for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and other anointing, blessings, or settings apart, serve as a tactile, tangible reminder of God reaching down to touch our very souls. If Jesus himself were in our presence, he would lay hand on our heads and bless us as he did the little children in the Book of Mormon.

[7] The next verse in D&C 84 reads, taking out the double negatives:

In “…the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is…manifest unto men in the flesh; …with…[these ordinances]…man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” // (DC 84:22-23) 

So, power here can simply be thought of as drawing down the blessings of heaven; and authority as providing a means for access to the ordinances.

We can understand the word “live” here, not so much as our being in jeopardy of literally dying in his immediate presence, but to really, and fully live -- to live a godly, aware, connected, full useful life. I might suggest another way to understand this sentence could be, “the power of godliness is manifest unto men in the flesh; [and] with… [the ordinances of the priesthood], man can [live to] see the face of God, even the Father, [‘in the flesh’].”

[8] Often, when a mystery is finally made known to us, we might say within our heart, “Even though I am just now recognizing and seeing this great, yet simple truth, it seems like I have always known it.”

We need to be essentially ‘born again’ -- time and time again, seeing afresh the great eternal truths – and appreciate them in a new way in every phase of our lives. If we see these truths anew, we can help those we are called to serve, also see anew.

[9] that our faith results in a lively, personal hope in Christ.

[10] FIRST PERSONAL EXPERIENCE BEING BLESSED BY PRIESTHOOD LEADER

Before I joined the church, my future priesthood leaders – the bishop, his counselors, and young men leaders -- blessed my life as an investigator.

During wrestling season my senior year, a few weeks before I began taking the missionary discussions, I attended a two-day youth conference, with my future wife, held in the mountains of Southern California. I had pinned my first thirteen opponents, but (stupidly) lost a close match to my opponent at our arch rival, San Marino High School. As I had expected to go undefeated the entire year, I was in somewhat of a humbled attitude at we arrived a bit late at the cabins. The conference included various fun activities, horseback rides, free time in the snow, and also combined conference sessions where various young women and young men leaders spoke. After the opening session, the young men were taken into one room, and the young women in another where we were given presentations on chastity, tailored to the male or female point of view. As a non-member, I appreciated and agreed with the forthright and wise counsel I received in these frank lessons. At the end the conference, the bishop said we would now hold a testimony meeting then announced, “And I expect to hear from everyone.” Becky leaned over to me and said, “That doesn’t mean you.” Nevertheless, towards the end of the meeting, after most all of the youth bore their testimonies, I stood up, and said, in effect, “I don’t know what it is, but, you have something. Whatever it is, maybe someday I can part of it.”The youth of the ward included most every clique you can imagine, jocks, intellectuals, surfers, hippies, loud ones, quiet ones, etc. I had friends like these at my own high school. Still, there was something different about this motley crew. Through my future wife’s testimony and also seeing these leaders and peers live the gospel, and after taking the missionary discussions, I had to be part of it. The bishop’s decision to hold the testimony meeting and, essentially, challenge me to bear a testimony

[11] SECOND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE BEING BLESSED BY PRIESTHOOD LEADER

The week after my wrestling season ended in the CIF southern sectionals, I formally began the missionary discussions. By the second or third lesson I knowingly recognized that I had a testimony. A real testimony. I knew it. I finally knew there was a God. I knew I had to be baptized; I had to join the church. I had to and wanted to honor God, follow Jesus, and keep the commandments. I knew Joseph was a prophet. No matter what.

Now, this same wise bishop made the decision to hold the testimony meeting, and who encouraged, or rather, challenged us all to bear testimony, also decided to carefully interview me after, and in addition to, the district leader interviewing me.

He sat me down in his office and said, after a few niceties,“You should know that most young men who join the church because of a young woman fall away within a year. Are you going to fall away within a year?” For a split second I thought this was a rude question to me, of course I was not joining for this reason. After the split second, I immediately had the thought, No, the Bishop has every right and even the responsibility to ensure that guys don’t join the church, the true church, JUST to get close to a young woman. I calmly replied, “No, I am not going to fall away within a year.” The bishop probes further, “Well, what if you and Becky break up in a few months? What would you do then?” I was being baptized in her ward, twenty-five miles away from where I lived. I replied, “Well, if we break up, I will continue attending but in my own ward.” I almost wanted Becky to break up with me so I could prove to him, to anyone, that I was NOT joining for the wrong reasons. The bishop went on to ask me if I had any questions for him. I asked him only one question, about blacks and the priesthood and whether we proactively sent missionaries into Watts. He replied, in effect, that blacks could not yet hold the priesthood, that one day they would, and that ultimately no blessings would be withheld. As I recall, he did not think that we did have missionaries in Watts. For me, being baptized was not dependent on his answer, however, as he offered, I appreciated his being open to my asking what could have been a tough question. And especially, I appreciated his eternal, generous, point of view –and the spirit with which he offered it.

Now, this bishop’s wise decisions at the youth conference, his pointed questions, and of course, his exemplary personal life, family life, and Christ-like manner -- all of which were carefully and appreciatively noticed by me -- played an important part in confirming my decision to act on the testimony I was sure I had received.

[12] This same bishop advised us all to read the church magazines, and to go to Institute. Though he did not overtly talk to me about a mission, I was blessed by following his counsel to engage in these activities, and then to see for myself that I needed to serve a mission.

He continually emphasized DC 121, “let virtue garnish thy thoughts…” and the all the rest. Including, how the doctrine of the priesthood would descend upon us as gently, as im-perceptively, but a thoroughly as “dews of heaven.”

[13] After my mission, as a young married father, we were blessed in another ward to have the entire elders quorum presidency visit our humble apartment.

In subsequent wards and stakes Becky and I were extended calls to -- and trusted with -- positions where we were needed and where we could make a difference. We were blessed to have the confidence and – in a couple instances with my wife – written thanks from the stake president on a successful Girls Camp. Once, I was called over the pulpit in stake conference to be a 70s president, without being told ahead of time.

[14] I have been blessed at times to have had loving, building, effective PPIs.

We have been blessed by bishops, counselors, and members of the stake presidency who have gone out of their way to get to know us, and greet us with a smile, and interact with us. To personally connect with us, to reach us, to teach us.

[15] I have been blessed by witnessing bishopric members, elders and high priest leaders, high councilmen and members of a stake presidency exerting constant care for years, for, e.g., the stake YSAs.

[16] Fear and pessimism paralyze men with skepticism and futility.” // (Hugh B. Brown (1883 - 1975), The Abundant Life, p. 50)

Faith and Hope make us alive in Christ; they perfect our love of the Father and the Son; and make us one with them.

[17] They would then see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon [them], which is my whole soul.” // (Joseph Smith --Sunday 22 Jan. 1843 at the Nauvoo Temple. Teachings, p. 274)

[18] while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.” // (Relief Society minutes, June 9, 1842)

The Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.” // (DC 93:19)

The Lord encourages priesthood leaders in the concluding verses of D&C 84,

“And verily I say unto you, the rest of my servants, go ye forth as your circumstances shall permit, in your several callings, [in] the great and notable cities and villages…setting forth clearly and understandingly…[the gospel]. . . . For I, the Lord, have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven; ye cannot see it now [but] ye shall see it, and know that I am….” (DC 84:117, 119)

Of his leaders, Jesus said,

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, andthat your fruit should remain: ….” // (John 15:16)

And also,

“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” // (Luke 22:32)

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