November 25, 2015

Gratitude & Thanksgiving

One of the things I have loved to do over the last while is to study the commandments of God and then try to see how the Savior and our Father in Heaven obey these same laws. We know that God is perfect and that He would not give us a law that He was not willing to obey Himself. In addition, God does not just give us laws and commandments to bind us down and subject ourselves to Him. These laws are methods that one gains power. God's laws are eternal in nature and are unchangeable.

C.S. Lewis, when deciding if he believed in a God, found that one of the strongest testimonies of God is the fact that certain rights and wrongs exist. For example, why is killing someone wrong in basically any culture in the world? Why is sleeping with another man's wife wrong in any nation of the world? How did we all decide that kindness, gentleness, love, and charity are right, while hate, envy, and discord are wrong? Is it just chance that what is right is right, and wrong is wrong almost anywhere in the world? After pondering this, C.S. Lewis came to the conclusion that there must be a greater Power behind these rights and wrongs. There must be a God.

One of these rights that has fascinated me is that of "gratitude." When I first began thinking how God obeyed this law, I was not quite sure how to answer it. I thought, why would God want us to be grateful? Why does God need gratitude? Is it just to build Himself up? Why would the scriptures say "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments" (D&C 59:21). This is a very strong statement. This would mean that if ingratitude is one of the greatest of sins, gratitude would be one of the greatest acts of righteousness. Of course, God is God whether or not we are grateful to Him, so why gratitude then?

When I study these Laws of God I like to ask myself three questions (try it for yourself, you will be surprised by what you learn). First, how does God and the Savior obey this law? Second, why do They obey this law? And third, why would They want us to obey this law?

First, the greatest example of thanks is given by the Savior. In most of the prayers Christ gave, He gave only thanks. Here are a few examples of thanks the Savior gave to the Father:

Jesus feeds the 4,000 — Matt 15:36 "And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude."

Jesus feeds the 5,000 — John 6:11 "And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would."

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead — "John 11:41-42 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me."

Jesus gives the sacramental wine — Mark 14:23 "And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it."

Notice that each of the times Jesus provides food for the thousands He does it by thanking the father. It never mentions that He asks that a miracle be performed, or that the Father bless the bread and fishes, He only gives thanks.

It is also significant that to perform one of the greatest miracles, that of raising Lazarus from the dead, the Savior likewise gives thanks instead of asking for a blessing. It is almost as if thanks is the sanctifying and blessing power that provides these miracles.

The Father likewise obeys the law of gratitude. This gratitude is focused toward us, in that He showers down blessings on us as we obey His commandments. This is true gratitude. It is one thing to thank someone for something they have done. It is a higher thanks to give thanks through your actions, and in particular, giving thanks by giving something of value to another. We thank God for Him blessing our lives most often through prayer. God thanks us for doing the right, by blessing our lives even more. Note that God teaches us to give our gifts in secret. No other being obeys this more than the Father. He seeks to bless us in secret, so much so, that only when we are deeply looking for His hand in our life, will we see it. He does not flaunt the blessings He gives, He does so on a daily basis, yet we rarely see His works of thanks.

This leads us to the second question of why God and the Savior obey the law of gratitude. Let me suggest that one of the strongest reasons is the power that comes from gratitude. How much more are we endeared to someone when they give gratitude for what we have done. Especially when the gift we have given is nothing in comparison to what they could have done. God sees our meager gifts, brought to the altar, as magnificent gifts of the greatest value. He never belittles us for the imperfect efforts we give, in fact He sees these actions of faith as whole and complete. Why does He do this? After all, a perfect being should expect perfect efforts. Yet, He accepts whatever gift we give. Why? Because He knows that through His gratitude towards us, we will be drawn to Him and desire to bring an even more valiant effort to the altar. Through His accepting our meager gifts, He is teaching us of His perfect patience, long-suffering, and enduring love for us. As we see these true attributes of the Father, we long to be more like Him, we long to be with Him. In short, the power of gratitude, is the power to bring unification.

Finally, why then would the Father ask us to be grateful. Again, it is not because God needs our gratitude, it because we need gratitude. As we look for the hand of God in our life, we will better know and understand the true power of God. As we learn of who God truly is, we will better be able to have a stronger faith in what He can do in our lives. As we see the bounteous blessings He has given us, we will have faith that He will continue to bless us in the future. As we are weak, we will know that by relying on Him—because of the blessing we have seen in the past—we will gain the needed strength we need to endure to the end.

This Thanksgiving season, let us begin the effort of giving thanks on a daily basis. Let us look for the "secret thanks" that our Father in Heaven gives us. Let us count our many blessings for that which He has done for us. Like the Savior of the world, let us learn to give thanks for our blessings, instead of asking for more blessings. I am grateful to live in a wonderful, free nation. I am grateful for an incredible family, for amazing parents, and for devoted friends. And most of all, I am grateful to my Savior for all He has done for me. I am grateful he gave His life for me on Calvary, and that through Him I may return to live with my loving Father in Heaven.

Truly as the Psalmist wrote: "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto [His] name .... For [the Lord] hast made [us] glad through [His] work: [we] will triumph in the works of [His] hands" (Psalms 92:1,4).

November 7, 2015

The Tabernacle and the Temple

The text for this video is modified from the OT Student Manual on Exodus 25-30; 35-40.

"Out of the thunders of Sinai the Lord revealed a glorious plan by which He could redeem the children of Israel. The Lord opened the heavens to Moses and through him [taught Israel how to come back into the presence of the Lord through the atonement of Jesus Christ as represented by the symbolic progression of the tabernacle].

"Deep meaning is associated with the physical dimensions and plan of the tabernacle. They were meant to reflect spiritual patterns that are also reflected in [Latter-day Saint] temples today.

The Tabernacle of Moses
"The tabernacle and its court became a school in which the things of heaven were to be revealed to the Lord’s people. It was originally intended [that all Israelites would be able to progress from the outer court, to the holy place, and then into the holy of holies, symbolically reentering the presence of God]. … This symbolic journey, however, was denied Israel because of her pride and rebellion. Israel lost these higher blessings and became dependent [instead] on the officiating priests who acted as proxy [on their behalf].

"But that loss of privilege in no way implies that the tabernacle lost its significance for Israel. … Though the fulness of [temple blessings were] withheld from Israel, the layout and construction of the tabernacle itself symbolized our progress toward perfection.

"There are three major divisions or areas in the tabernacle: the outer courtyard; the first room of the tabernacle proper, or holy place; and the inner room, or holy of holies. In modern temples three levels of life are also depicted by rooms in the temple: the world, or telestial, room; the terrestrial room; and the celestial room.

"'[The world] room depicts the world in which we live and die. Here instruction is given regarding man’s second estate and the manner in which he may overcome the obstacles of mortality.

"'The terrestrial room is symbolic of the peace that may be attained by men as they overcome their fallen condition through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

"'The celestial room symbolizes the eternal joy and peace found in the presence of God.'

"If we compare the three divisions of the tabernacle with these three levels of spiritual life, we find some interesting parallels and insights.

A comparison of the courts of the Tabernacle with the layout of modern-day temples
The outer courtyard (the world or telestial room)
"The first thing encountered as one entered the main gate [of the tabernacle] was the altar of sacrifice. Here the various animals and other offerings were slain and offered to the Lord [representing the sacrifice of the only begotten Son]. Strict obedience and sacrifice were thus required as the first step in the symbolic progression towards perfection and entry into God’s presence. This first step could be likened to having faith in Christ and repentance. Jesus taught the Nephites that He had fulfilled the law of Moses, and now the sacrifice required of them was 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit,' which would lead to the baptism with 'fire and with the Holy Ghost' (3 Nephi 9:20).

The lavar in front of the tabernacle
"Directly in line next in the courtyard was the laver, or basin of water, which was used for washing and cleansing. …When Solomon built a permanent temple, he placed the laver on the backs of twelve oxen, a symbolism carried on in modern temples. Since the baptismal font itself is a 'similitude of the grave,' where the 'old man' of sin is buried, the symbolism of the laver seems clear. Once the natural man is sacrificed ([or] put to death through a broken heart or sincere and deep repentance), he is cleansed by both the waters of baptism and the fires of the Holy Ghost. Once this cleansing is done, he is prepared to leave the world, or a telestial way of living, and be born into a higher state of spiritual life.

The holy place (the terrestrial room)
"Three articles of furniture were found in the first room of the tabernacle: the table of shewbread, the sacred candlestick, and the altar of incense. Each article had its own significance. The table of shewbread, which had the bread and wine changed each Sabbath day, was a symbol similar to the sacramental emblems of today. They typified the body and blood of the Son of God, of which the spiritual person partakes consistently so that he can have spiritual life in Christ. The candlestick, or lampstand, with its seven branches and its olive oil symbolized the perfect light of the Spirit through which the spiritually reborn person sees all truth.

Furniture found in the holy place
"The third article in the holy place was the altar of incense … which stood directly in front of the veil [representing the prayers ascending to heaven before the veil of the temple]. This altar suggests the third dominant aspect of the person living by the principles and ordinances of the gospel, that is, consistent seeking of the Lord’s power and revelation through prayer.

The Holy of Holies (the celestial room)
"Just as the celestial room in modern temples symbolizes the kingdom where God dwells, so did the holy of holies in the ancient tabernacle. The only article of furniture in this inner room was the ark of the covenant, which the Lord Himself said was the place where He would meet Moses and commune with the people. Both on the veil, separating the holy place from the most holy, and on the lid to the ark were cherubim, or angels. This use of angels provided a beautiful representation of the concept taught in latter-day scripture that one passes by the angels on his way to exaltation (see D&C 132:19).

The ark of the covenant found in the holy of holies
"In summary, the tabernacle and its plan and the ordinances thereof illustrate the grand and glorious symbolism of mankind’s progress from a state of being alienated from God to one of full communion with Him [where we enter back into His presence through the Atonement of Jesus Christ]."

September 22, 2015

Ancient Jewish Wedding Feast

This year I hosted the second ever Ancient Jewish Wedding Feast. It was not quite as big as last year (we had around 80-90 people last year), but we still had a good turnout. With the smaller size, I was able to focus a little more on getting video of the wedding procession (see above), including some video footage using a GoPro and a drone. The evening began with the reenactment of the betrothal ceremony, followed by the one year preparation (or waiting period) where we set the table for the feast, the wedding procession and the actual feast. All in all, I think everyone had a great time!

The groom and bride, parents, friend of the bridegroom, and myself
The bride and groom listening as I explain the betrothal process
The groom pours the 'cup of covenant' for the bride
Women of the group help prepare the bride for the wedding procession and feast
The bride being readied with her gold-coin headdress
Food set out and ready for the wedding feast
Food ready for the wedding feast
Guests light their oil lamps in preparation for the coming of the bridegroom
The parents of the bride head the wedding procession
The bride being carried in the bridal litter (or aperion) to the wedding feast
Guests enjoy the wedding feast
The bride and groom enjoy the wedding feast with their guests
The groom and bride with oil lamps
Some of the wedding feasts participants holding their oil lamps
One of our younger participants with an oil lamp

August 26, 2015

Tabernacle of Moses Camp

Here are some of the pictures I took at the young men's Tabernacle Camp. It was an experience I will never forget, and I hope there will be many more like it in the future. The chance of a lifetime!

The outer courtyard with the altar of sacrifice, the bronze laver, and the sanctuary
The outer gate with the altar of sacrifice
A closeup of the horn of the altar of sacrifice
The Tabernacle bronze laver
The bronze laver with the Tabernacle sanctuary in the background
The Holy Place with menorah, altar of incense, table of shewbread, and the High Priest
The table of shewbread in the Holy Place
The bread and wine pitcher on the table of shewbread
The menorah and altar of incense
The menorah oil lamps lit within the Holy Place
Incense burning on the altar of incense before the veil of the Tabernacle
Altar of incense and the clothing of the High Priest
The ark of the covenant with the veil of the Tabernacle in the background
The two cherubim on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant with the ten commandments in the background
Inside the ark of the covenant showing the blossomed rod of Aaron, the ten commandments, and the pot of manna
A pillar of fire by night lights the sky above the Tabernacle of Moses

August 13, 2015

Tabernacle Camp

This past weekend I was privileged to participate in a historic, first of its kind, Tabernacle camp. During the four days the young men built the Tabernacle, camped around it, then learned about the various parts, services, and symbolism of the Tabernacle. A special emphasis was placed on the Aaronic priesthood, and on how the Law of Moses pointed to the Savior Jesus Christ. Needless to say, it was kind of a dream come true for me! Below is a short day-by-day review of the activity.

Day 1 - Wednesday

The first day began with the young men being divided into twelve groups, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Israel. Each tribe was given a letter of the Hebrew alphabet to differentiate the tribes. The young men were then rotated through twelve different activities throughout the day. Six of the classes focused on the symbolism of the lamb, incense, oil, water, the rod of Aaron, and the Hebrew meanings of several words. During these classes, the young men from the tribe took something with them from the class (such as purified water, oil, incense, etc.) that they would then take into the Tabernacle on the third day of the camp. Two of the twelve activities were devoted to having the young men help build the Tabernacle of Moses. These 'shifts' were spread throughout the day so that each tribe was able to participate in building a different portion of the Tabernacle. In addition to the spiritual classes and the building of the Tabernacle there were four relay-type activities.

Young men lifting the support beams in to place for the Tabernacle (photo by Cordell Moon)
Young men hammering in the stakes for the Tabernacle main structure (photo by Cordell Moon)
Lifting the main canopy covering for the sanctuary of the Tabernacle (photo by Cordell Moon)
The Tabernacle nearing completion (photo by Cordell Moon)
I taught the class on incense and helped the young men understand why incense was used in ancient times, and how it relates to modern-day worship. During the class I burned the specific combination of incense that is described in the book of Deuteronomy.

A young man smelling the incense that would have been burned at the Tabernacle (photo by Cordell Moon)
At the close of the first day, the young men all gathered in the almost completed Tabernacle to bring in the furniture into the Tabernacle. The shofar was sounded and several young men carried the menorah, table of shewbread, altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant inside the sanctuary. It was quite the experience! A symbolic 'last stake' was then pounded into the ground by several of the leaders.

The young men gather as they prepare to bring in the Tabernacle furniture
View of the Tabernacle and campsite from a drone as the young men gathered inside the outer courtyard
Day 2 - Thursday

The second day began with an early morning devotional given by the stake leaders. The young men then again participated in twelve activities throughout the day, three devoted to the more spiritual side of things, and the rest part of an intense eco-challenge designed to help form greater unity within the individual tribes. The three spiritual classes consisted of the bread of life, the Tabernacle pieces, and the clothing of the High Priest. I of course, taught the class on the High Priest. As part of the class, I dressed up one of the young men while explaining each of the eight pieces of clothing worn by the High Priest.

Me explaining the significance of the clothing of the High Priest (photo by Cordell Moon)
The bread of life class, each tribe making a loaf of bread for the table of shewbread (photo by Cordell Moon)
Young men carrying a boulder as part of the eco-challenge (photo by Cordell Moon)
Young men carrying one of the members of their tribe as part of the eco-challenge  (photo by Cordell Moon)
The second day ended with a fireside given by an emeritus area authorities, and one of the stake leaders. The winning tribe of the eco-challenge was also then recognized and given an award of a lobster dinner for the following day.

Day 3 - Friday

The third day began with two groups of rafting for the young men, followed by a full tour of the finished Tabernacle of Moses. During this tour, the young men from the tribe took the various pieces they had collected from the previous two days (such as water, incense, oil, etc.), and brought them to the Tabernacle. They first came to the gate, singing a hymn as they entered the outer court (as was done in Biblical times when an Israelite would enter the Temple). They then took their lambs to the altar of sacrifice where they learned of the symbolism of the Law of Sacrifice and how it related to the Messiah (no lambs were actually killed as part of the camp). They next poured their water (that they had purified from a stream) into the laver, and learned about the importance of being clean before entering the Temple of God. The young men then entered the Holy Place and learned of the menorah (adding oil and lighting the lamps), the table of shewbread (adding their shewbread that they had made), the altar of incense (burning their incense on the altar), and the veil of the Tabernacle. They then entered the Holy of Hollies (adding their 'rod of Aaron' to the ark) and learning of the importance of symbolically entering the presence of God.

Young men with their lambs in the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle
Young men leading their lambs around the altar of sacrifice (no lambs were killed)
View showing the altar of sacrifice, the laver, and the Tabernacle sanctuary
A leader teaching the young men about the menorah found in the Holy Place
The young men being taught about the table of shewbread (or showbread)
A leader teaching about the altar of incense within the Holy Place
A view showing the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Hollies
The night closed with a powerful fireside within the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle. The Stake Relief Society president gave perhaps the most powerful talk, saying that she hoped the young men, having built the Tabernacle, would now bring it home with them, just as ancient Israel carried the Tabernacle with them as they traveled in the wilderness for 40 years. At the conclusion of the fireside, the tribe captains stood and pointed towards the back of the sanctuary, where a huge spotlight shown up towards heaven, symbolically representing the pillar of fire. Needless to say, it was quite the experience! As the young men left the Tabernacle, they broke up into wards, and had individual testimony meetings.

One of the tribe captains speaking during the fireside within the outer courtyard
The stake president speaking to the young men during the Tabernacle fireside
People gathered around the lit Tabernacle and pillar of fire after the conclusion of the fireside
The "pillar of fire by night" lighting the sky during the fireside and testimony meetings
Day 4 - Saturday

On the last day of the Tabernacle camp, they young men took down their tents, took down the Tabernacle, and headed back to their homes. Just prior to taking down the Tabernacle, several groups from the stake came and toured the Tabernacle. The young men, instead of their leaders, took many of the parents through, teaching them the things they had learned during the camp. I also had the opportunity to teach two more classes on the clothing of the High Priest to the parents and families who came up for this last day.

The Tabernacle camp was an experience I will never forget. I hope it will only be the first of many, held throughout the nation and world, teaching young men (and I think young women as well) about the importance of the priesthood, sacrifice, the atonement, and the Savior Jesus Christ.