Monday, July 29, 2013

016. Acacia Wood: The Tabernacle - Part IV

"And he made boards for the tabernacle of shittim wood, standing up." Exodus 36:20

Shittim wood came from the Acacia tree, of which there are more than 1,300 species worldwide. The wood and sap of this tree has been used for many different purposes throughout time: for building, making perfume, paint, and medicines, using it in religious ceremonies and the seeds for food. In many cultures the Acacia tree symbolizes purity, endurance of the soul, as well as resurrection and immortality. Egyptian mythology associated the acacia tree with characteristics of the tree of life, such as in the Myth of Osiris and Isis. The Ark of the Covenant and portions of the tabernacle were made from Acacia wood.

The Acacia tree was native to the area in which the children of Israel found themselves. They were large trees with bent trunks, curled branches, and many knots, hardly straight for easy adaptation as boards or rods for a tabernacle (Chapter 6, 'Made According to Pattern', by C.W. Slemming). These gnarly trees had to be cut down and the milled to create useable wood for construction. For the tabernacle, 48 boards were made, each 10 cubits high and 1.5 cubits wide (thickness unknown). There were also two tenons at the bottom of the boards which fit into the silver sockets. Placed on each board were three rings (high, middle, and low) through which bars also made from Acacia wood were passed to hold the tabernacle's structure or outer wall together. Both the boards and bars were overlaid with gold.

Why would the Lord direct the children of Israel to work with such a difficult material?

We are like the Acacia tree. In our natural form, we are crooked and wild. We must be cut down, severed from our old ways of life and made into something new and useful. Our link and connection to the world must be broken if we are to be used by the Lord. We have often grown up in barren conditions, depleted and distant from the Lord's sustenance. However, the Lord, as the master carpenter, is willing to work with us, and make us straight so that we can stand up(right) on His foundation (the silver sockets). Once, as trees, we stood in the soil of the earth, now as refined beings, we can be set apart from the world and stand upon the foundation of the Lord's gospel. What sets us apart? Silver, the ransom price. He will protect us from the shifting sands of this world and allow us to firmly stand as one with other redeemed individuals. Both of our feet (tenons) should be planted in the gospel, not one in and the other in the world.
"The sap of selfishness must be dried out; the knots of hardness must be smoothed down to gentleness and compassion; and the twists of halfheartedness must be straightened - for they will never allow for perfect fitting and a unity in the Spirit, the state in which the Lord always delights to dwell." (Made According to Pattern, p. 55).
Then, when the boards of Acacia were made as straight as possible, they were overlaid with pure gold. Gold does not perish, wood does. Us, as perishable beings, are made immortal and even eternal, through the process of sanctification, and purified even as gold, clothed with his divine nature. The boards were perfectly balanced and stood in a perfect line so that there were no gaps or unevenness in the walls of the tabernacle, yet they did not rub against one another. They were also all the same height. As members of the church of Christ, we are not to judge one man above another, but we are to stand as equals, shoulder to shoulder, not leaning one way or another, but to be in perfect balance and harmony, to stand firm together in perfect function and service. For added strength, the bars of Acacia wood overlaid with pure gold allowed the boards to stand firm. The iron rod from the Book of Mormon symbolized the Word of God. This is interpreted as 1) the scriptures, which provide the words of eternal life, direction, and stability in this ever-changing world and 2) the Lord Himself, who is the Word by which all things were made, by which we are remade into His likeness through His atonement.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

015. Spiritual Counterfeits

Since the beginning, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the adversary has sought to deceive the righteous into accepting his plan over that of our Father's. He often uses elements of the language of the gospel and portions of truth, admixed with lies, to create a counterfeit version of "light and truth" that can be enticing to those who are seeking the light and knowledge promised by our Father in Heaven. It is virtually guaranteed that those who humbly and honestly seek to know the Lord will experience great tribulation in their quest and that satan will put forth great effort to thwart them. It is a testament that you are on the right path. Revelations 12:7-9:
 7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
As wickedness increases on the earth, so does the power of satan. He can work signs and wonders, transform himself into an angel of light, and has abilities to entice, mislead, deceive, trick, and tempt that are great, even to the extent that the very elect will succumb. His deceptions can be so subtle and can seem so real, like mirages of desert oases that we yearn to reach, but that ultimately result in one distancing him or herself so far from God that they are off the path to eternal life, wandering in strange roads.

The ground cover in our fruit tree orchard is a mix of orchard grass, wildflowers, and weeds. Until one develops an eye for it, it is very difficult to tell the weeds and the wildflowers apart until they bear fruit (form a head). In times past, I have inadvertently ripped out many good wildflowers because I thought they were weeds. I was working in the orchard the other day, trying to clear out weeds, and came across a tangle of large wild clover and alfalfa. I almost bypassed the clover because it was so well camouflaged in the alfalfa (our animals can be fed the alfalfa). It was only for the newly developed fruit (the purple flowers) in the alfalfa that I spared the good and was able to trace the clover to its root and pull it out. The wild clover has a very long and skinny root that grows rapidly, which it can be difficult to pull out if the soil is dry and hard (so does alfalfa by the way). A few lessons to draw from this: 1) for the unexperienced, it takes time before the fruits will appear that will help us to know truth from satan's counterfeits. It is important to be patient, not act hastily, and seek out guidance from the spirit, which will teach us the truth of all things, before acting. 2) It is important to keep our own spiritual ground fertile with soft soil. If we allow the soil of our hearts to become hardened, the advancements made by the adversary will be more difficult to root out when they are identified. 3) No one is immune, regardless of status or background, from the enticements and deceptions of the adversary. These weeds spread and pop up everywhere. They learn how to transport themselves even into the most well-tended gardens. Anyone who thinks they are beyond satan's reach, no matter what they do or how they live, has been deceived.

Alfalfa with flowers (left) and wild clover (right).
Be warned that we are in the last days. There are many people who seem very good and kind, but who are ravening wolves underneath. They have been deceived into thinking they are doing the will of the Lord, but they are following a counterfeit lord and master who wishes to enslave them and receive their worship. These people have seceded part or all of their salvation to others, so called spiritual guides, fallen angels, false prophets, deceived and narcissistic gurus, immoral teachers, and whoremongers. There are many in our day who profess to communicate with deceased prophets and angles, who feel they posses gifts of the spirit that allow them to receive personal revelation and insights for others, who claim to "see" into the spirit realm, who perform healing through energy work, magic oils, crystals, enchantments, and divination, and who entangle themselves in the spirituality of others and play god with the souls of men. They crave the power and fame they amass as they perfect their craft and gain notoriety, writing books, offering seminars, and selling their services for profit. Although many of these are nice people, these diviners, soothsayers, witches, and communicators with familiar spirits are the same which the Lord denied and will deny again and say "Depart, I never knew thee". In the scriptures, there are no examples of such as called of the Lord. Some of the deceived will tell you that their teachings and methods are beyond the scriptures, held in secret and in reserve for those who are truly righteous, that the scriptures are dead. These must repent of their pride and treachery and the damage they have done to so many in our day. They are those who have not learned to wait upon the Lord and practice the simple virtues of purity, obedience, faith, love, and charity. They are seeking out an alternative route to salvation, which seems like the right path, but there is a dead end ahead. It is true that some may have had genuine experiences with gifts of the spirit at one time or another, but then they became a god unto themselves, the spirit became grieved, and they were left to their own devices, or those which satan, the god of this world, gladly provided. Many of these individuals believe that any spiritual manifestation they receive is of God.

There are also many good people who are and will be deceived, even the elect. Many of us are so eager to obtain further light and knowledge that we jump at the chance when something resembling truth comes in our path. We don't even question its source or whether there are elements of error woven in, designed to promote our downfall. How do you know if someone has been approved of the Lord, received spiritual gifts from His hand, been appointed as one of His prophets or messengers, or  has received abilities, insights, so called "gifts" in some other way? How are you able to judge the heart of another or the source of ones gifts and deem them pure? In most cases you cannot entirely. Therefore, you cannot entrust one iota of your salvation to another person, ever. You may listen, take what others offer or say, but before adopting such things into your life or doing what anyone else suggests, take some time to bring these things to the Lord in fervent prayer and perhaps fasting. There is no rush. Take time to seek out the Lord's guidance. This is your eternal salvation we are taking about. If an angel were to appear before you, how would you respond to it? How would you determine if it was a messenger from God? If you met someone demonstrating great insights into your life or offering to help you grow spiritually through their spiritual gifts, how would you respond? Even the best among us will be deceived. Love them, treat them kindly, be compassionate towards them, they can be reclaimed and the Lord will be merciful to them. Some related verses from Doctrine & Covenants 50:
 2 Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
 3 And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.
 6 But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.
 7 Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed;
 8 But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.
 9 Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.
 15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
 16 Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.
Almost every word of the temple endowment will help us understand the threat of deception by satan and his counterfeits, and thus endow us with increased powers to avoid them. Listen carefully to the words of the adversary: "what do you want?", "you can have anything in this world", "you will be like gods", "I will teach you the philosophies/commandments of men mixed with scripture", "these teachings are received quite well". Listen to the words or reactions of Adam: "I am looking for messengers from the Father to teach me", "this man does not believe what is being taught". In other words, when one embarks on the path back to the Father, the adversary will come to tempt and deceive them into worshiping him. When we call out to our Father in Heaven, the god of this world may be among the first to answer, seeking our attention and offering us the desires of our hearts, pushing us towards destruction. It is important that our hearts remain focused, that we do not believe in the teachings of this world or settle for the rewards and things of this world. We must keep the commandments we have been given and then the Lord will send true His messengers to teach us.