Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kal Ho Naa Ho

I hope you enjoy this song.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Day of Pentecost

The day of Pentecost is a subject that often befuddles the naïve reader. Acts 2 has been interpreted in a variety of ways from the Jew to the Protestant Christian. The popular Pentecostal church, today, claims its founding on it. The great spiritual manifestations found in Acts 2, in a way, coincide with Pentecostal services which usually contain emotional music and “speaking in tongues.”

However, the day of Pentecost as recorded by Luke requires a bit of foundational knowledge in order to extrapolate the meanings of the events that occurred. This knowledge also helps to define the early church and project its growth.

The online Jewish encyclopedia refers to the Pentecost as a Greek term applied to the 50th day of the “Feast of Harvest.” It was also thought as the anniversary of the day that the law was received from Sinai (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 50). One item of certainty, is that those in attendance were not Gentiles, for the vision to preach to the Gentiles has not yet occurred until Acts 10. However, these were “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The day of Pentecost was a perfect occasion to bring many people of different tongues together to witness a miracle of tongues.

F. Bruce describes the experience: “The Galilean accent was easily recognized, as Peter knew to his cost on an earlier occasion; but these Galileans appeared for the moment to share among them a command of most of the tongues spoken throughout the known world” (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 54).

As the people gathered together many tongues were spoken and understood. The event was truly regarded as a miracle for the attendants were saying to themselves, “how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8). This incredible miracle was a unifying factor for the people and a faith builder that would lead to their eventual baptism and membership in the church.

This miracle of the tongues is also a manifestation of the spirit. Just before the people began to understand the words in their own languages, there was a great sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” and it “appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:2-3). Luke then goes on to explain that everyone was filled with the Holy Ghost.

The presence of the spirit at this occasion presents a few major points about the early church. The first point is that all major functions of the church were attended by the Holy Spirit. This can also be seen in the preceding chapter when the disciples prayed for the inspiration to choose the next apostle. Second, the attendance of the Holy Spirit more solidifies the idea that it is the Spirit that initiates or causes miracles to fruition. Another third point is that the Spirit starts and progresses the process of conversion. The audience members were astonished by the miracle and were later “pricked in their heart” after hearing the words of Peter. After inquiring what they should do after receiving such inspiration, Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Note also that the gift of the Holy Ghost is necessary for their complete conversion. Fourth, the spirit in attendance at this meeting proves Christ’s words when he said that the “promise of the father” (Acts 1:4) would come following his departure. It further establishes Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. “This is crucial for the remainder of Acts, since it gives the basis of Luke's view that salvation for humanity is rooted primarily, and deeply, in Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In this way, what Joel promised regarding ‘the Lord’ --that ‘all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ -- can be transferred to Jesus” (Achtemeier, Green, Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 253).

The very fact that all these languages and foreigners were coming together being baptized under one church embodies the growth and mission of the church set out by Christ when he said that the apostles would be His witnesses to “the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Many of the people in attendance would return to the lands of their birth and carry the faith and knowledge they had received of the resurrected Christ. This day of Pentecost, being at the beginning of Acts makes it a key point in the order of the books of the New Testament and the chronological order of events. The four gospels tell of Christ’s life and teachings, laying the groundwork of doctrine. With the day of Pentecost told immediately after the Gospels, we gather the intent and importance of the remaining text in the New Testament. It is deduced that the events succeeding Christ’s mortal life tell the story of missionary work and church organization. It also makes a blatant point that, even though Christ was not physically present, he continued to work among his apostles.

Peter’s eventual sermon following the miracles, centers on the resurrection of Christ. Because the listeners were Galileans, they understood the Old Testament writings. Peter referred to Joel, as was mentioned earlier, and then to David from Psalms. Peter quotes David as saying, “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). David’s sepulcher was known among the people to be in the city. They knew that David was still buried and his body had seen “corruption.” According to Bruce, Peter explains that Christ, being the Son of David, is the one being referred to as He whose soul was not left in hell. “In asserting that Jesus of Nazareth had been so delivered and raised up by God, Peter and his colleagues were making a claim which they could confirm by their personal ocular testimony: 'of this we are all witnesses’" (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 66).

Indeed, the Day of Pentecost set a foundation of doctrine and procedure in the early church. It established a followed leadership and a quick growth in membership.

Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988)

Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, Marianne Meye Thompson; Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Behind the Iron Curtain: Unity

Missionaries work in companionships, lovers become married couples, college students join fraternities, wolves travel in packs, ethnic groups create nations, people of like beliefs establish religions, city teenagers join gangs. People form groups. We can readily speculate on whether certain groups are deemed bad or good, but one thing can be made certain: people gather in unity. Unity is a powerful force and has been a major cause and/or backing for revolutions, movements, and wars.

It has many definitions. Unity is plurality—it is ‚more than one.‘ It is emphasis on the group rather than the individual. It is applied generally by individuals with common traits, interests, goals, or beliefs. In the eternal realm unity itself is eternal. It is a principle that even dates to the Old Testament during the time of Enoch: "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them." Both good and evil forces seek unity in their own sphere—only they promote unity in two opposite ways. Unity can bring either happiness or misery.

Why do people tend to conglomerate in groups? Unit is inherently human—it is instinct. Elder Henry B. Eyring stated simply: "All of us have felt something of both union and separation. Simetimes in families and perhaps in other settings we have glimpsed life when one person put the interests of another above his or her own, in love and with sacrifice. And all of us know something of the sadness and loneliness of being separate and alone. We don’t need to be told which we should choose. We know."

I can readily testify of my own personal need for acceptance. When I first attended Kindergarten I was terrified for a number of reasons. First, I faced the horrible separation from my mom. Then I was thrown into a entirely unfamiliar environment. It was a room with strangely bright colors, little chairs and pathetic red mats. Needless to say, I was alone. I remember that feeling of cold emptiness that accompanies a lonely soul. It was almost instinct for me to begin making friends with other kindergarteners. Suddenly, I had others that knew me and to some extent, respected me. Thus I felt the comfort which results from unity.

Working together for a common goal also builds friendship. It is so much easier to do something that is difficult when you have someone to do it with. Wilfriede Kiessling was a member of the church in the Dresden area just after the war. She had to travel two hours on Sunday to get to church in often horrible weather conditions. Fortunately, she had another good sister, Sister Schibblack, who would go with her to the Branch house. In an interview with Sister Norma Davis she related:

Today we tell one another how beautiful those times were. And they were beautiful. We stood there at the streetcar stop in the winter, freezing. Red tail lights—we had just missed the bus. Waiting. Half an hour. Freezing, freezing. And today we say how beautiful those times were.

N. Davis: Why do you say that?

Wilfriede: The common friendship and the spirit.

The honeybee is an excellent example of unity’s prevalence in nature. A good hive may have up to 50,000 bees. Every bee is necessary for the survival of the hive and each has a different job. Some work on the hive, others scout for nectar, while others work specifically with the queen to provide her eggs with the utmost care. If one bee were to go off on its own and selfishly search for its food it would not survive. Even during the winter all the bees stay in a large mass around the queen providing conserving their heat and energy. They then feed off of a large amount of honey they had stored all through the preceding seasons.

One of the greatest causes of unity is trial and tribulation. Coping with loneliness by finding friends in Kindergarten was an example of this process. History gives us thousands of examples of trial that led to unity. The revolutions of 1848 in Europe were all spawned after years of oppression and a lack of representation. People among the poorer and bourgeouis classes began to unite under as nationalities sought for political rights and more equal laws. These revolutions grew in France, Bohemia, Hungary, and even Austria.

The existence of the United States of America was caused by a people who united under political oppression. In the 1700's America was split between 13 colonies each constituting few common interests and many separate goals. As heavier economic burdens were placed upon the colonists by the British Parliament, the Americans sought for political representation. Unfortunately, it was never granted. This gave the colonies a common goal to unite under. It was inherently understood that they would be more powerful working together against Great Britain than working separately. Washington's small continental army was formed. A declaration of Independence was written and the Articles of Confederation were established America was victorious and subsequently founded a powerfully united federal government.

Trial was also by harnessed tyrants who sought to unite people in order to gain more power. Adolf Hitler used the heavy economic depression after World War I to aid his goal of uniting the German-speaking peoples under the Nationalist or "Nazi" party. People in the defeated central European countries such as Germany and Austria were heavily punished with war debts. The people were in a state of hopelessness, with loss of homes to bankruptcy and very little food. Hitler picked up their broken dreams and promised them jobs and security. Being already so psychologically depressed, the German citizens were quick to follow "Der Führer." Soon Germany became an economic and industrial powerhouse as people united for the goal of a stronger Germany. A propaganda poster from this time contained a statement by Hitler: "I now ask the German people to strengthen my faith and to give me through the strength of its will the strength I need to continue to fight courageously at any time for its honor and its freedom, and to be able to further its economic prosperity. I ask it particularly to support me in my struggle for true peace."

Hitler was very intelligent. Like a master would use a dog bone to attract his pet, Hitler used the bone of safety, strength, and "economic prosperity," to lure the German citizens to rally to his goals. He was very successful, but his tyrannical behavior and continuous deceit eventually led his powerful unification to destruction.

After Hitler's failed political escapade, millions of Germans were desensitized to a sense of unity. They had been deceived and thus any type of future nationalistic movement was seen as evil and tyrannical. Why then did so many German members of the church become so greatly unified under the one banner of the church after the war? Erich Dzierzon of Dresden provided an explanation: "...after the war was over and we had this so-called communist regime, we tried to do our duty with joy, and I had many interesting experiences. I would like to say that during these times when we were so hemmed in, restricted in our activities, the members of the Church really stuck together--not only our members but the other citizens of the country as well. The entire population followed the principle that in trial the people must stick together. We had this togetherness." Even after the bad taste of nationalism left in their mouths, trial still pushed people together.

It is interesting to see how Hitler‘s Germany and the members of the church in Germany both unified. They were both strong organizations and members of both parties received relief from hunger and pain. However, Hitler’s unification failed. After contrasting these two examples it is revealed that one group contained selfish individuals while the other group contained individuals who worked selflessly for the good of others and the whole. This is the basis for the success of a group goal. If any of the members of the group have selfish motives, the group will eventually destroy itself. Although he was claiming with the Nazi party to be doing the good of Germany as a whole, Hitler had his own agenda for the German people.

Another ancient individual had selfish motives for a group. Lucifer provided a nice solution when he told God that he would save all of his children from damnation. Isn’t that what God wanted? He loves all of his children and desperately wants them to be reunited with him. Unfortunately, this plan was concocted not out of love for God’s children, but rather a selfish quest for glory. Satan said: "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (emphasis added). Fortunately, Satan’s plan was denied and the ultimate plan centralizing around a selfless Atonement was chosen.

What is it that makes unity really work? After Christ visited the inhabitants of the America there was a period of two hundred years of peace. The scripture from 4 Nephi explains this period and gives some reasons why they enjoyed such peace:

There were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land. And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.

Clearly the people showed genuine love and respect for one another and thus they were able to live together in happiness. This paradisaical society failed when the people "began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain."

A unity built on selflessness will last forever. Sister Edith Schade Krause relates her experience of the Allied Dresden bombings near the end of World War II. Nearly the entire inner city was laid to waste and many members of the church in Dresden suffered from loss of homes and a lack of food. "It was a time of great testimony because the Lord helped us to help one another. Many refugees from the East were passing through Dresden, and we took up to as many as fifteen people into our small two-and-a-half-room apartment. Everything was shared, many things were sacrificed. Firm friendships were established which still exist today, beyond continents and oceans. We sat in the Church meetings and in the classrooms huddled in coats and blankets--very few brothers there--but we were thankful and full of hope because the Lord will not forsake his own, which includes all humanity."