Thursday, June 15, 2017

President Harold B. Lee as a Special Witness of Jesus


            The below information serves as an introduction of sorts to a full and detailed chapter about President Lee’s special witness of Jesus as found in my forthcoming (September) book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ.

            President Harold B. Lee only served as President of the Church for a year and a half before he unexpectedly passed away right after Christmas in 1972. He did, however, spend a long and productive ministerial term as an Apostle. In my researches, I have found it interesting that a number of younger apostles, men who became his protégés, always spoke of him with the highest regard.

            Later leaders like Boyd K. Packer, Marion G. Romney, Bruce R. McConkie, and others of the Twelve referred to their mentor with the highest esteem and regard. They spoke of him as one of the greatest teachers of this dispensation. They also spoke of him as a prophet and seer possessing the Holy Spirit in great measure. Further, President Lee seemed to recognize that one could teach by sharing spiritual experiences without necessarily casting pearls before swine. He was not of the school of thought that nothing sacred could ever be shared with others; in fact, he constantly did so as a means of strengthening the faith of others and bearing testimony that God is active in the lives of those who want Him to be.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Elder Melvin J. Ballard as a Special Witness of Jesus


            This brief review of the life and testimony of Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873-1939) serves to introduce a more thorough and detailed chapter about him and his special witness of Jesus Christ as found in my forthcoming book (due out in September), I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ. Elder Ballard is one of those witnesses.

            Although Elder Melvin J. Ballard is not known to most Church members today, in his day he was known to the Church as great preacher and spiritual giant in the Church. In my opinion, he might be thought of today as something of a cross between President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Bruce R. McConkie, because he taught powerful doctrine with clear explanation and force.

            Though brought up as a farmer, he educated himself with some higher learning, and then magnified his talents while serving missions for the Church. He eventually developed a reputation as a great singer and preacher, both useful gifts in missionary work. He spent most of his adult life on missions, both in the East of the United States, in the Northwestern States, in South and Central America, and as an Apostle.  

Possessing great faith and Spirituality, he received many visions and revelations and performed many miracles, such as healing the sick and bringing wayward souls back to the fold. While serving as a mission president, and working with new members in a native American tribe, he sought the Lord in mighty faith for help and answers regarding how to solve some problems that had arisen. One night he received a powerful and extended dream in which he was introduced to and embraced the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. This experience helped to qualify him to become a special witness of Jesus Christ. Because he spoke of it on several occasions, giving one degree or another of detail, we suppose he was given permission by the Spirit to do so. One of his hearers that was unusually impacted by the power of his testimony of seeing the Son of God was a young Marion G. Romney, who thereafter resolved to go on a mission.

Friday, May 26, 2017

President George F. Richards as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Most latter-day saints today do not know who George F. Richards was. Some of the older generation will remember his son LeGrand Richards, who served as the Presiding Bishop of the Church and also as an Apostle, but died in the 1980s. LeGrand’s father George was a spiritual giant that we might compare to President Boyd K. Packer today. President Richards was a member of a very prominent Mormon family that generationally seemed to possess the gift to dream inspired dreams—and George perhaps stood at the forefront.

            George was the son of Franklin D. Richards, most famous today for having compiled the material that became the Pearl of Great Price, which he did as president of the European Mission. He himself had a dream in which he saw himself conversing with President Brigham Young. In the dream, President Young called him to be an Apostle, and this was fulfilled soon thereafter. This family saw three generations of Richards’s called to the Quorum, with Stephen L. also among that number, and a later Franklin D. being called as an Assistant to the Twelve. Their family proved a great strength to the Church.

            President Richards began his service as a leader in the church as a stake president in Tooele, Utah, a small town west of Salt Lake City. From there he was called to the Twelve, where he served long and faithfully, eventually passing away in 1950 as the Quorum President. His Quorum associates felt he possessed an abundant measure of the Spirit of the Lord.

            Not long before his call to the Twelve, Stake President George F. Richards received a powerful dream, in which he saw the Savior Jesus Christ and felt the overpowering presence of the Holy Ghost as he came to a new understanding of love for His Lord. Along with this dream, he also received one with Hitler in it, in which he was taught that an Apostle must be able to love all mankind, even the worst and most heinous of God’s children.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

President Marion G. Romney as a Special Witness of Jesus


            The below information serves as an introduction to a much more complete chapter about President Marion G. Romney’s special witness of Jesus Christ, found in my forthcoming book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ. Brother Romney was a mighty pillar among the Twelve Apostles of his day (30 years ago plus).

            As a boy I used to listen to Elder Marion G. Romney give talks in General Conference. They seemed less than compelling to my immature mind. By the time I was old enough to really pay attention and understand his messages, he was too old to give them. He spent his last few years largely blind and suffering memory loss.

            After some years passed, I came to recognize what a spiritual and doctrinal giant he was. I read his fine biography and talked with some mentors who had come to know and love him before I was born. Some of them spoke of him as an Apostle’s Apostle; I have found that they were right.

            Marion Romney’s first real awakening to spiritual matters came as he listened to Elder Melvin J. Ballard (grandfather of M. Russell Ballard), testify in a meeting of having seen and embraced the resurrected Savior Jesus Christ in the Holy Temple. This powerful narration electrified him so much that he decided to do whatever it took to serve a mission. He soon thereafter did so, laboring in Australia, where he had another precious and remarkable spiritual experience, firmly cementing his testimony and spiritual roots.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Book Review: The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 5: October 1835 - January 1838

By Trevor Holyoak

Publisher: The Church Historian’s Press
Date Available: May 15, 2017
Number of Pages: 768
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-1629723129
Price: $54.95

(Page numbers are from an Advance Review Copy, and may be different in the published version.)

This volume covers an interesting period of Joseph Smith’s life that includes the finishing and dedication of the Kirtland Temple and the associated visions, work on the Book of Abraham, the Kirtland Safety Society, and persecution and apostasy. Some of the documents included are from Joseph Smith’s journals, and so have already been published in Journals, Volume 1:1832-1839. Others are from Minute Book 1, archival collections, periodicals, other peoples’ diaries, legal records, etc. There are no journals available covering April 1836 to January 1838, so some of the best contemporary sources were chosen to try to fill things in.

The book starts with the usual material for this series, including a timeline of Joseph Smith’s life, maps, an explanation of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, a volume introduction, and an explanation of the editorial method. The book is then divided into seven parts, based on time periods. There is an appendix with blessings to Don Carlos Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, and Sidney Rigdon. And then there is the usual reference material with source notes, a chronology, geographical directory and maps, pedigree chart, biographical directory, organizational charts, essay on sources, works cited, a cross-reference with the Doctrine and Covenants, index, etc. At the very back is a note about resources available on the Joseph Smith Papers website that relate to the series as well as this particular book.

Most of the first and second chapters of the Book of Abraham are included as “Book of Abraham Manuscript, circa Early June - circa November 1835-A [Abraham 1:4-2:6].” There is a historical introduction that explains how the papyri were obtained and what is known about the translation, as well as the publication in Times and Seasons. A footnote points out that “Though a notice printed in the 1 February 1843 issue of the Times and Seasons suggested that JS would publish ‘further extracts’ from the Book of Abraham, there is no documentary evidence that other extracts were produced. All extant manuscripts generated by JS and his associates during their study of the Egyptian papyri, dated circa 1835 to circa 1842,  are available at the Joseph Smith Papers website, josephsmithpapers.org.” (page 77)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Elder Matthew Cowley as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Elder Matthew Cowley was one of the more unique men to be called to the Apostleship in our day. It might be said that he served in his ministry more like one of the three Nephites or John the Revelator, all translated beings, than as a businessman. He in fact disliked working in the business-related aspects of the departments that support the ecclesiastical Church. He preferred to be out among the people, blessing them, which he did by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was his great spiritual gift and was probably the most pronounced way that he demonstrated his calling and authority as a special witness for Jesus (only excepting bearing his testimony)—by exercising his faith to heal the sick and afflicted as directed by the Spirit. During his ministry he healed hundreds of ill people.

            He was also known as a special friend and supporter of the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific, among whom he served for many years. He sometimes hinted that it was from them that he learned and developed his pure and simple but powerful faith in Christ. One of his missionaries, Glen L. Rudd, became an unofficial companion to him as he blessed the sick, both as a mission president and as an apostle. Rudd seems to have had like faith to Cowley and they made a great team, going to hospitals and the homes of the sick to bless and encourage. Glen Rudd, who passed away just this last December (President Monson spoke at his funeral), later became a General Authority himself. Along with his own ministry, and especially after having been released from the Seventy, Elder Rudd spent considerable time and effort keeping the memory of his great mentor alive among the latter-day saints. Elder Rudd often spoke about Elder Cowley and took time to record many precious stories in talks and booklets that he passed out to friends and relatives and work associates. He gave many of these to me, including copyright permission to publish from them.

            Years ago, Cedar Fort published a book that I wrote about healings, Faith to Heal and be Healed, that also contained a chapter by Elder Rudd, adapting some talks he had given about Elder Cowley. Yet he had preserved much more about Elder Cowley than what was included in the chapter there.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Twenty years ago, when I was trying to become an LDS seminary teacher, I did some student teaching, and also some part-time teaching for a few months (till I got cut). I remember that on one occasion, I asked a class of 35 ninth graders if they had ever heard of someone named Bruce R. McConkie. This was in Bountiful, Utah, in the heart of Mormondom. Not one hand went up. He had only been gone for a little over a decade by then, yet the rising generation was unaware of him.

            That was one of many reasons I decided to write a book about him: Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life & Teachings, issued in 2000 and in 2nd edition in 2010. I wanted to help preserve memory of him and his doctrinal insights. I think I helped do that in some small way. As 2 more decades have passed, I find that few under the age of 50 remember him, and I continue to feel a desire to keep memory of him alive, and also that of other apostolic spiritual giants of his generation. Hence, I have now prepared a 300 page work, I Know He Lives: How 13 Apostles came to know Jesus Christ (published by Cedar Fort), slated to be available in mid-September. Among other things, the chapters therein review 13 testimonies of now deceased apostles, with especial and pointed focus on their special witness of the resurrected Christ. Elder McConkie’s chapter is the longest of them, the main reason being because I know the most about him of any of the others and because I have assembled the most precious source material.

            Many of the older generation remember his final testimony given in General Conference in April of 1985. Those spiritually historic words have been quoted and requoted by church members who felt the Holy Spirit witness to them of their truth, in power, at the time they were uttered. And Elder McConkie was dead 3 weeks later. It is true that Elder McConkie’s voice cracked with emotion as he bore that final witness, but that is not the reason they were powerful—anyone can speak emotionally and say most anything. It was because they were perhaps the best wording that can be harnessed from the English language to convey his meaning and were conveyed and enveloped by the power of the Holy Ghost.