Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today, when you think of Rome, what comes to mind? St. Peter's Basilica? The Catholic Church has become synonymous with St. Peter, which strikes me as interesting, as he was crucified in the capital of Catholicism. The history of Peter in Rome runs deep, as well as Paul and Mark.
Mark served for some time as Peter's scribe. In fact, the Book of Mark is perhaps the memoirs of Peter before he died (as written by Mark).
Paul also sealed his testimony with his blood in the same city, not far from the place of Peter's martyrdom. Although well-received by the Saints in Rome, Paul soon found himself under house-arrest for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he most likely died after the two years he spent in the city.
Rome, although recognized now as one of the main capitals for christian worship was once an extremely dangerous place for them to live.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crandall Printing Museum

I had the opportunity of visiting the Crandall Historical Printing Museum last year. For those of you who have never visited the museum, I highly recommend it! The cozy cottage exterior gives the museum a nice environment, and the inside is an amazing display of artifacts, replicas and demonstration materials. If anyone is even remotely interested in the history of the printed word, this place will amaze you. I was quite surprised that this place existed in a town like Provo, and that I had never even heard of it.
As the tour began with the replication of the Gutenberg Press, I was immediately drawn into the discussion. I loved the enthusiasm of our guide, because it seemed to me like the subject matter could have been quite boring. Instead, our guide had some fascinating insights into the press that I had never heard before. The pain-staking work that the pressers put in as they labored over the moveable type and sticky ink. Every individual letter had to be placed in the press separately. Row by row, page by page, the printer worked on making sure everything was spelled correctly. Each letter had to be inserted backward in order to produce a copy that the words could read in the normal direction. I could definitely appreciate the work it took to produce a book. I couldn't even imagine the kind of effort it took to produce a book as large and complicated as the Bible. However, it was because of this unique and important invention that so many were able to read the word of God. For so many, the Bible became an accessible and readable work. Christianity saw some major growth at this time because of the ability for even the most common to have access to the scriptures.
After seeing the Gutenberg Press we were lead on a tour throughout the home-like museum being able to view important technological updates that were made throughout the years. We discussed the importance of these technologies in relation to mass distribution of the printed word. Such technologies became very important to the American colonies as they were distributing their ideas far and wide, promoting a united effort against the tyrannical force of the British.
The printed word continued to develop and technology made it possible for the Book of Mormon to be produced for a relatively inexpensive cost and published in large quantities. The E.B. Grandin Press served as the first publishers of the Book of Mormon, and with a substantial donation from Martin Harris, several hundreds of copies of the Book of Mormon were published over the course of mere months. This kind of technology is a testimony to me that the Lord guides inspired men to do His work. The Crandall Printing Museum is a unique place and a landmark in the city of Provo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Apostasy

As the early christian church was not only facing heavy persecution, but also great separation one from another, the members of the church began to be confused on certain doctrines. The young movement had scarcely come into existence before things began to change. The Apostles were having a difficult time holding everything together, and the new members of the movement were more or less on their own to figure things out.
After the ascension of Christ, the Apostles were charged with the responsibility to go out and preach the gospel to all nations "the Jew first and then to the Greek." As they did so, they faced major opposition from established Jewish leaders as well as the Roman empire, as these new teachings were fairly radical departures from their general customs. Ideas such as equality among men and women, Jew and Gentile, and (in some cases) bond and free were quite different from current beliefs as well as the Law of Moses. As various Apostles began to spread and baptize, they had a difficult time maintaining doctrinal clarity amongst themselves as their previous held beliefs (such as circumcision laws) were maintained. Although apostles, such as Paul wrote epistles and letters, and tried to visit, it seemed as though the moment they clarified a situation, something else would come up. Not only were Apostles charged with clarifying and correcting, but they were also out to preach the gospel and baptize new members. Needless to say, it was quite a stressful time.
Paul began to notice these changes amongst areas of the church during his lifetime. In Acts 20:29-31 Paul warns of false doctrines arising and how the members of the church must keep their guard and be careful not to let these incorrect teachings creep into their beliefs. He says, "For I know this, that after my departing shall agrievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking aperverse things, to bdraw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to awarn every one night and day with tears." Paul cared for the well being of these people. They were his friends and allies. How passionately he must have preached to them and how much love he must have felt for them to preach as he did.
The apostasy did not happen over night, but by the 2nd century the church had pretty much fallen to pieces. The foundation of faith and baptism were still present, but various sects were left to pick up the pieces the best they could. Doctrines had been altered and sacred rites had been changed. Fortunately, faith in Jesus Christ remained the basis for the vast majority of these churches and Christianity survived.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Museum of Art

Every time I visit the BYU Museum of Art, I am taken aback at how amazing it is. It is a beautiful museum with some amazing exhibits. Our New Testament class had a great opportunity of going to visit an exhibit about Jesus Christ and artist's reflections on the resurrection. Many of the pieces had a deep impact on me. One of those was a sculpture about Christ reaching through the vail to a man trying to hold on to a rod. The piece had deep significance in the way the hands of the person were portrayed. Was he trying to hold on? Was he letting go? Was it too hard? Christ always has his hand outstretched to us if we're willing to accept it, but it is a difficult road to follow. So difficult that we often feel like we can't make it and we let go. The rod is always there and so is Christ, and if we're willing to make changes and have confidence in him he will be there to lift us back up.
The picture below is also featured at the museum, and had a huge impact on me. I was very touched by how much I resembled the prodigal son. How often I have disobeyed when I knew what was right and how often I have been so foolish as to do my own will. I felt the spirit as I viewed the painting and I realize that it was something very significant to me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Book of Romans is a powerful epistle from Paul. Although he may not have been the one to actually write down the words, the messages conveyed in the book are both revolutionary and eternal. In the first chapter, Paul bears a powerful testimony and sets up the rest of the book with his authoritative tone. In verse 16 he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto the salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” I remember on my mission, we were asked to look especially for men in ties to talk to. At first I was a little bothered by the idea because I always considered missionary work to be to everyone… especially the downtrodden and humble. As my mission progressed, I was able to see the wisdom in this counsel, however. Although we definitely kept seeking out everyone we could find that would talk to us, we would definitely focus on talking to men in ties. Often, these men had families they were supporting through stable jobs and had stable lives. Although this may sound a bit judgmental, the work progressed as we talked to these people. We were asked as missionaries to seek out families, and if men in ties were the way to do this, then so be it. In this scripture, Paul talks about first preaching to the Jew, and then the Greek. Although this may seem a bit biased at first reading, it makes sense. The Jews were a God-fearing, scripture-reading, covenant-keeping people who understood Jehovah and knew how to keep commandments. The Greeks had a much different, polytheistic view and were thus less susceptible to adapting to a monotheistic, commandment-keeping belief system. That’s not to say that there weren’t any Greeks in the church (there are several mentioned in the scriptures) but they were less likely to join with the young Christian movement than their Jewish counterparts.
Skipping ahead to chapter 8, I think Paul has conveyed one of the most beautiful concepts in Christianity. He says (verses 37-39): “Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, not things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creatures, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus or Lord.” Paul is a man who has had keen experience with suffering and grief. He knows the loneliness of separation and the pains of torture. Yet all these things have not separated him from the love of God. As he says, he is the “servant” of the Lord, and has had experiences feeling the depth of love that Christ has for his children. This is the message that Paul is conveying, and this is the message of the Gospel. No matter what wrongs we’ve done, we are never too far that the love of Christ cannot reach us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

1 Corinthians chapter 13 has become the quintessential chapter in the Bible on the value of charity. In this remarkable chapter the reader can really get a sense of Paul’s eloquence and insight. In the first verse, the tone is set for the rest of the chapter. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” I really enjoy this imagery. Although the sounding of brass and a tinkling of cymbals can be meaningful in a context, they are not nearly as meaningful if used alone. I think this is what Paul is trying to convey in his message, that although we may be doing great things, if we do not have the pure love of Christ in our lives, these things are meaningless. In verse four, Paul changes the tone a bit and proceeds to describe different aspects of charity. In our New Testament class, our professor added an interesting insight into the verses, which I felt really strongly about. He mentioned that one could substitute the name of Christ in for the word charity throughout verses 4-13. I thought to myself, that although we could not use our own name now, it is our hope and faith that allows us to believe that through Christ, one day we can become like Him. As I substituted Christ’s name into the verses, I felt how much I rely on the Lord. In verse eight, the scripture says that, “Charity never faileth.” These three words mean a great deal to me. Though health, relationships and wealth may pass away, Christ will never fail us because he has already suffered for us and stood as proxy for us so that we may succeed through his grace. When we access this atonement, we are succeeding in our goal towards exaltation.
As I read these passages I was reminded of the personal experiences that Paul must have had as he felt this pure love toward him. The Lord, in love reached out to Paul as he was going about persecuting the Christians and trying to destroy what Christ had established. Through his miraculous conversion Paul was able to receive a first-hand understanding of the pure love of Christ. I am sure he continued to feel this love throughout his ministry for both himself and those he taught. As a missionary, I often felt this love towards those I taught, and it was this love, which brought power and authority to the testimony that I bore. If we have not charity, our words are nothing. With charity, our words carry power.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Special Collections

This last week I had the opportunity to attend a unique presentation with my New Testament class in the Special Collections section of the library at BYU. The Special Collections is a seldom-visited treasure on the BYU campus. I was frankly quite surprised at what kinds of artifacts the library had acquired.
The first piece that we were shown was an ancient clay tablet called a Cuneiform. The tablet was only about 4 inches by 3 inches. The engravings on the tablet were most likely created by a reed or piece of the wood. I noticed that the inscriptions bore a strong visual resemblance to Chinese or Japanese. The tablet had a green color and was rounded on the edges. I wondered what kind of finish or treatment that the tablet went through in order to be preserved so well for thousands of years. Our instructor mentioned to us that the engravings contained a message about a land owning transaction. He explained that much of the time, these Cuneiforms were used for law, business, history or other important aspects of life during that time period.
The next artifact to which we were privy, was a set of metal plates. The contents of the plates contained a discharge report of a Roman soldier. These plates must have been very important to him because they contained a written record that this person had Roman citizen and was able to access the rights that went along with that. It was very important that these documents be written on something that would not be easily destroyed. These plates were most likely displayed in a prominent position in the community for all to see. We were told that these plates had a portion of them sealed at first (sound familiar?) and could only be opened by someone who held the proper keys…quite an interesting tidbit.
Soon, people developed a less expensive surface upon which to make records- papyrus. The durable stems of this plant could be harvested, split open, dried and stuck together to make paper upon which a scribe could write. The most often form of record keeping at the time was in scrolls. If kept dry and out of the sunlight, papyrus could be preserved for thousands of years. There are still numerous records preserved on papyrus that have been preserved for over 2000 years; among them: the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Books came next. They were a huge adjustment from the scrolls that were used in the past. They often had very hard, durable covers, made of wood in order to protect the delicate and ornate pages contained in the book. These books were extremely valuable and only the most wealthy and learned people could afford them, let alone read them. The books themselves, with the gold-leaf ornamentation and hand-written lettering sometimes took more than 11 years to create!
Guttenberg made the process easier and more rapid. And modern printing presses are an updated version of those older pioneers. The time and effort people have given throughout history is astounding, and the records they have preserved are an invaluable insight into history.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Explanation of why Paul was concerned about circumcision.

In Galatians chapter 1, Paul begins his epistle with a sharp reproof. He says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel. Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). To what was Paul refer to in this rebuke? The early disciples of Christ often had a hard time making adjustments to their newly formed faith. They often had a hard time reconciling the Law of Moses with the New Law. The disciples in Galatia had a hard time adjusting to the New Law in that they wanted the new converts to Christianity to be circumcised, as was the custom with the Law of Moses.
Many of the new converts in that area were not already Jewish, meaning they had not been circumcised. Not only had the disciples thrown aside the New Law and the Atonement of Christ by forcing new converts to be circumcised, but also they undoubtedly drove a few potential converts away, at the prospect of the pain that inherently accompanies circumcision.
Paul’s mission was to bring all souls unto Christ. This mission was being deterred by the stubborn and prideful converts who wanted to integrate their faith with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the next verse Paul says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). The members of the church in that area were looking beyond the mark. They were going off the path that Paul had already laid out for them.
We can learn a valuable lesson from this rebuke. So many times, we as members of the church look beyond the mark and claim that certain ideas or principles that they regard as important, is actually doctrine. Sometimes they may use words of the General Authorities (often taken out of context) as justification for their ideas. These ideas can be a major deterrent for potential converts to the Gospel. This is why, as missionaries, we were taught to teach only out of “Preach My Gospel” and the scriptures. Apostasy arises when the Gospel is twisted to meet a member’s ideals. The atonement of Jesus Christ is perfect and needs no addition to the doctrine of the gospel, and when some seek to do so, the are, as Paul mentions, accursed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Acts chapter 2 gives an account of the day of the Pentacost. It was on this day that the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the faithful disciples of Christ and they were able to do marvelous things. One of those things was to speak with the gift and power of God. Verse 2 begins, "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost..." It continues to say that they spake in tongues. I've always been a little curious by this phrase. 2 Nephi 32:3 says, "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ..." In the previous verse it talks about how those who received the Holy Ghost could speak in the tongue of angels. I think that this speaking in tongues, generally means that the nature of the matter of which the person is speaking is so sacred that only those who have been blessed by the same spirit will understand. The Lord has shown a pattern throughout the scriptures of keeping things sacred and not revealing them to people unless that person was completely ready to receive it. In 2 Nephi 33:1-2, Nephi says, "for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of he Holy Ghost carrieth it into the hearts of the children of men. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught." When we are receptive and have been blessed with the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the Lord can and does bless us to comprehend truths that would otherwise go unnoticed. Such was the case here on the day of the Pentacost. Many of the saints were open and receptive, but there were also many bystanders who did not believe. They cast away their opportunity to gain a testimony, and resorted to mockery and scorn. Peter, full of the spirit, and having recently repented from his denial of the Savior boldly testified to the scorners. He was a witness and his voice was heard, and it was carried into the hearts of some of those present. He was able to testify of the Atonement, not only because he was present for many of the events surrounding the act, but because he now had an abiding testimony of its power to redeem the soul. Like Peter, I have felt the power of the Atonement. Although I wasn't present to witness the events surrounding the Atonement, I can make my voice heard in testifying of the power of the Savior's supreme act of love.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In John chapter 21:18-19, Jesus describes something that Peter was probably not ready to hear, nor fully understand. "Verily, verily I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst wither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me." Peter, the Rock, like so many others would later seal his testimony with his life, being killed in a most cruel manner, according to legend. The point that struck me is that Peter, although knowing the fate that awaited him, only grew stronger in his testimony and more bold in his ministry. With unflinching faith and perserverence he persued a course that would eventually lead to his brutal death, and the promise of everlasting life.
Jesus taught, "...he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." The scriptures and more modern examples are full of examples of people who lose their lives for the sake of the Lord. As members of the church we covenent with the Lord in the most sacred of places that we will give all we have, even our very lives if necessary for the establishment of Zion. Full-time missionaries pledge to give their lives for two years in the full-time service of building Zion across the world, but is this sacrifice enough? I think the Lord wants more than two years.
Each Sunday in Sacrament Meeting we hear the words, "...and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them...". The commandment clearly extends into the fibers of our character. Are we living to give away our lives to Christ? He wants our agency, but will never take it forcefully, and has promised that if we do so, we will end up finding ourselves and inherit all that he has.
Easter is a good time to reflect on how this blessing is made possible. Christ is not asking us to do anything he hasn't done already. He handed his agency over to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and suffered more intensely then is imaginable. He is the one man who knows what it really means to give one's life for the establishment of Zion.