My testimony of Joseph Smith so far: Line upon Line

I like to write and give talks. I like pondering the topic, formulating the ideas with inspiration, and presenting–although my knees always shake. I also, pridefully, like the positive feedback. And I like being dependable. When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I arrived at church one Sunday to discover that my name was on the program, but I hadn’t prepared a talk. I was told there were plenty of other speakers on the program and I didn’t need to speak. But I wanted to show I was dependable and could prepare and deliver a talk on short notice, so I checked out a New Era magazine (the church magazine for youth, ages 12-18) from the church building library and prepared and delivered a talk. I was not praised for my talk. In fact, I think some might have been annoyed with me for taking too long, especially since a returned missionary was speaking. Now as an adult with more experience, I realize the folly of my youth. I want to go back to my younger self and tell her to not give the talk, to realize that most people were there to hear the returned missionary. But we learn with age and experience. We learn line upon line.

 

A prophet, Nephi, from The Book of Mormon taught, “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30).

 

I am still learning line upon line. After one of my brothers left the church, he encouraged me to read The Mormon Essays (also called Gospel Topics Essays), a series of essays published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which address controversial topics from the history of the church. I didn’t want to read something that encouraged my brothers to doubt their faith. I wanted to feed my faith, not diminish it, so I continued to study the scriptures, lessons for Sundays, and talks from General Conference. Then as happens as we desire to learn and do what is right, the Lord nudged me “here a little and there a little.” My young adult daughter told me about a religion class she took, “Foundations of the Restoration,” which covered the topics in the essays. I began studying the lessons which are on the Gospel Library app under the Seminaries and Institutes tab. My husband told me he was studying “Revelations in Context” under the Church History tab of the Gospel Library. I’m studying those now too. While sanding, priming, and painting our bathroom cupboards, I listened to the “Joseph Smith Papers” program on the Mormon Channel. What I have learned from more in depth studying of our church’s history is that Joseph Smith was a great man and prophet, but he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes.

 

I’ve had a misconception about our church that it was all restored as is from the beginning. That since the church is true, all programs, procedures, and scriptures were in a perfect form in a handbook for Joseph Smith to easily access, like we have available today. What I’ve learned from my study is that the Lord taught Joseph Smith just as He teaches me, precept upon precept. Many of the revelations came as Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon and had questions. For example, as Joseph read in The Book of Mormon about baptism he had a desire to be baptized. On May 15, 1829 Joseph and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, went to a quiet place on a farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania and prayed. They received an answer. An angel, John the Baptist came and gave Joseph and Oliver the Aaronic Priesthood with the authority to baptize.

 

Instead of weakening my faith, knowing that Joseph Smith was tutored by God bit by bit, increases my testimony of him as a prophet and gives me hope that I can learn and grow, especially as I “hearken unto [the] precepts and lend an ear unto…counsel.”

 

Recently a friend who left the church challenged me to read The Mormon Essays and respond to them in my blog. He wanted to know how a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints felt about them. While I wasn’t ready when my brother asked, I’m ready now. I’ve read a few and am pondering what I’ve read.

 

I am grateful that my testimony of Joseph Smith has increased as I’ve studied our church history. I’m also grateful that the Lord teaches me line upon line, precept upon precept just as He taught Joseph Smith and as He teaches all of us if we “hearken unto [His] precepts,and  lend an ear to [His] counsel.”

Ode to the Locust Grove Ward: What’s in a ward?

Our family became members of the Locust Grove Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when we moved into our first house in Meridian, July 1997. In the past twenty years we had three more children (for a total of five), moved into a different house (January 2002), had five bishops (Jim Brady, Theron Haddon, Richard Van Genderen, Mark Chugg, Casey Butterfield), experienced several ward splits because of continual growth in South Meridian, and experienced our own personal and family growth as we’ve served and been served by the members of the Locust Grove Ward.

 

A ward is a congregation, a group of members who meet together to worship and serve one another. We don’t choose which ward to attend based on friendship or social status. We attend and are members of a ward according to geographical boundaries. As we serve we become friends with those in our ward.

 

In the modern-day church, established in 1830 through the Prophet Joseph Smith, wards were first organized in Nauvoo, Illinois in the 1840s. From an essay by Douglas D. Alder, “The name ‘ward’ was borrowed from the term for political districts of the frontier municipality” (Ward, Harold B. Lee Library). Until the 1890s bishops of wards were also the community leaders and were more responsible for the temporal well-being of the members than the spiritual. Today “the ward is presided over by a bishop and his two counselors. Assisted by several clerks, these men comprise the bishopric. All are laymen and serve without monetary compensation. Bishops of wards extend callings to men and women in the ward so that each may serve in one of numerous offices or teaching positions in the ward” (Ward, Douglas D. Alder).

 

The purpose of a ward or ward family is to help all members and non-members within the boundaries come unto Christ. Jesus Christ served and taught. As we serve and teach one another, we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. As we learn from one another and accept service, we experience the Savior’s love through others.

 

An example of the benefits of service in a ward is from our recent experience on a ward trek. To commemorate the sacrifice of handcart pioneers who pushed and pulled their belongings to the Salt Lake Valley, we pushed and pulled handcarts for three days on private land near Banks, Idaho. The bishopric called a couple, Shane and TeAnn Pratt, to organize the trek. Other adults were asked to plan logistics, music, games and activities, and food. My husband and I were asked to be a Ma and Pa. Youth from the ages of 11 to 18 participated and were divided into families. Our sixteen year-old daughter also went but was not in our “family.” We were asked to prepare physically and spiritually for the trek of 18 miles. My husband owns his own CPA business and was not able to start preparing physically until after the middle of April. His preparation was going well until his foot issue flared up two weeks before trek. As happens occasionally, usually under stressful situations (such as buying and selling a house and moving) he was unable to walk without extreme pain. We didn’t know how he could go on trek, but we wanted to be a part of this event where we would learn and grow along with the youth. We asked our bishop, Casey Butterfield and his son who recently returned from a mission to South Korea, Kimball, to give Alden a priesthood blessing. In that blessing, Bishop Butterfield blessed Alden that he would be healed if he was supposed to be on trek. We prayed as a family and his foot improved, but we didn’t know if it would flare up again as he pushed a handcart. Alden received an impression, “Ask for help.” Alden told the trek coordinators that he wanted to go on trek but he would need help. Ryan Spear and Shane and TeAnn Pratt were prayerful in figuring out a solution. When we reported to the kick-off of trek at 6 am Wednesday morning, we were assigned several strong young men to be in our family. All nine of our trek children (6 young men and 3 young women) worked hard and willingly for three days of pushing and pulling. Alden was able to walk the entire way and push and pull some. Because of the service of adult and youth members of our ward, we learned that we can do hard things when we work together. During daily devotionals we shared with each other that when we ask in faith, the Lord will help us. We also developed a greater appreciation for our pioneer ancestors.

 

As of December 31, 2016 there were 30,304 wards and branches (smaller congregations) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide. At the beginning of August, we are moving to a different house which will be in a different ward, the Mason Creek Ward. Because we are moving only a few miles away and because the ward boundaries have become smaller and smaller over the past twenty years, we will be with some members who were in the Locust Grove Ward when we first moved out here in 1997.

 

Douglas D. Alder explains how the transition should work when we move, “As Latter-day Saints move throughout the world, they typically transfer from one ward to another with ease, finding acceptance, responsibility, and similarity of doctrine and practice everywhere. The ward system is successful partly because wards are kept small and because, ideally, everyone in them is needed and asked to accept a calling. Serving one another, bearing each other’s burdens, is the norm.”

 

Jesus Christ taught, “Love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). Alma, a prophet in The Book of Mormon, taught that when we are baptized we “come into the fold of God, and [are] called his people, and…bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and…stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:8-9).

 

As we were on trek, I felt extreme gratitude for those who have served us over the years in this ward. I felt sad that I would not be directly associating with these people anymore. I thought about the sacrifices of time and service, and I realized that they serve because they love their Savior, Jesus Christ. They serve because they want to be like Him. When they serve, they help others come unto Christ, and they are rewarded with joy.

 

Since the members of the Mason Creek Ward also love their Savior, Jesus Christ, they will accept us and give us a responsibility. We will be surrounded by those who have the same beliefs and values. And we will have further opportunities to learn, grow, and serve.