The Day the Prophets Died, 175 Years Ago Today

Death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith
Death Masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, June 28, 1844

I first learned about the Prophet Joseph Smith when I was 17 years old. Until that time, I’d heard nothing about him until by chance I read his testimony in a missionary edition of the Book of Mormon. Those few paragraphs left a powerful impression on me, but I wasn’t ready to grasp their full meaning until nine months later when I had what I call my pillar of fire experience.

I’d never felt anything like it. It was the most real experience I’d ever had. On that September evening, I was filled with light and hope and peace and a sense of direction for my life, all at the same time. It was the purest, holiest, most redemptive feeling and mental state ever for. It was a spiritual wake up call.

A good friend had testified to me of the divinity of Christ and His restored Church that evening. His words seemed so familiar. They shook me to the core and filled me with a desire to draw closer to Jesus Christ and to learn all I could about the Prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and restored Church of Jesus Christ. I’ve never turned away from that moment. How could I? How could I deny the pure power I experienced?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph this afternoon. He was martyred with his brother Hyrum 175 years ago today, in a jail in Carthage, Illinois. I’ve been in the jail room where he, his brother, and John Taylor were shot. I’ve stood at the window where Joseph fell and died. I experienced the unmistakable pillar of fire there too.

I’ve lived in a home where the Prophet lived with his wife Emma. I’ve walked the very floors he walked, late at night and early in the morning, but never in his shoes. I’ve experienced the pillar of fire there and in 1,000 other ways and on a 1,000 other days.

From the very beginning, I’ve heard mockery and criticism of Joseph. In the beginning, it shocked me. I’d never known anyone to be the object of such bitter accusations. But the contrast of holy fire and bitterness helped me understand that I was onto something very interesting.

Angel Moroni appears to young Joseph
The Angel Moroni Appears to Joseph Smith, by Tom Lovell (Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.)

Today, Joseph seems to be mocked and derided and denigrated now more than ever. This is no surprise. When he was 17, the angel Moroni appeared to him and gave a prophetic message:

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. (Joseph Smith-History 1:33; emphasis added.)

People have the freedom to believe whatever they want to believe. I respect that choice. From my first encounter with Joseph over 40 years ago until now, I’ve chosen to trust God, trust Him to teach me, trust Him to open my eyes, trust Him to lead me by His Holy Spirit. Paul taught that this was the pathway to the “things of God”:

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but [by] the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:11–14; emphasis added.)

As persuasive as the arguments were against Joseph’s story, then and today, I could not and cannot in good conscience turn my back on the Holy Ghost. When I’d experienced fire and light, I wanted to live in that light for the rest of my life, not opposed to that light. I couldn’t bring myself to live a gospel of bitterness.

Satan stirreth them up, that he may lead their souls to destruction. . . . Yea, he stirreth up their hearts to anger against this work. Yea, he saith unto them: Deceive and lie in wait to catch, that ye may destroy; behold, this is no harm. And thus he flattereth them, and telleth them that it is no sin to lie that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him. (Doctrine and Covenants 10:22, 24, 25.)

I’ve sifted through the rubble and let it fall through my fingers. Some say Joseph was a sinner, a charlatan, a seducer, a miscreant. I’ve looked carefully and prayerfully at the claims against him and the vast array of witnesses in his favor and came to my own conclusion: suspicion is not evidence, evidence is not proof, and “proof” does not tell the whole story. It never does.

The reasoning of earth-bound mind leaves gap, gaps I believe we can only turn to God to fill. I’ve gotten faithful answers to my questions, most of which contradict the world’s views on these matters. I decided at a young age to turn away from the spirit of contention and trust God and His Holy Spirit.

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; and then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–14; see also Micah 6:8.)

I’ve done my best to trust God’s promises, weak and beggarly though I am. I trust His words and His ways, and this is what I’ve come to know: Joseph Smith was a latter-day witness of Jesus Christ and a friend of God. Let men and devils rail against him and his legacy. Here I stand, and by God’s grace, here I remain.

Then . . . the Lord hearkened . . . and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels. . . . Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. (Malachi 3:16–18.)

Facing Uncertainty with Faith

Man facing a wall of waterLast year, I wrote a blog post called “Diving through the Waves of Uncertainty.” It’s a personal story of when I was 17. I was faced with a barrage of persecution, contradiction, and what I now call “scornography.” Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find my way. I’m sharing this link here because I feel prompted to share it. It might help someone who’s passing through the same fire.


I see scornography—media that mocks, belittles, blames, slams, and tears down—the same way I see pornography. If you spend time with it, it’s venom will cross the blood-brain barrier and spread like black ink across your mind. It will bind you and block your ability to see and understand God’s hand in your life. There’s not much difference between the two when you consider the damage they cause.

A Mountain to Climb

We all have the same mountain to climb. We’ll climb different faces, hike trails of our choosing, meander from camp to camp at the base. That doesn’t matter much. What matters is that God our Father stands at the peak, offering His help. If we can manage to lift our eyes from the trail we’re on at the moment, we might just see Him there. He is always willing to help when we ask for it with all our hearts. This I know for certain.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11–13.)

In spite of grinding weakness, I keep looking for the top of the mountain. In tatters, bloodied knees, and a broken spirit, I intend to keep climbing. I don’t know if I’ll reach it in one piece or not, but for now, I’m taking one step, one confession, one slice of humble, and one prayer at a time.

Second Coming: Three Questions for Truth Seekers

meme-stanfill-light-1578536-tabletIn the spring of 2005, I had a dream. It startled me awake at 4:30 a.m. Right then, I wrote down everything I could remember in my journal. It was a dream about apostasy preceding the Second Coming of Christ. I also saw and entered a desolate temple, one that had not yet been built at the time, but now stands overlooking a valley.

I only speak for myself, but I believe the apostasy I saw in my dream 14 years ago is starting to happen.

If you believe the scriptures are true and of value, this post may help you. That’s my intent.

The Great and Spacious Building

We’re passing through a difficult season for people of faith. Doubts and dissensions are edging friends, family, and other loved ones closer to and into the “great and spacious building,” the building Nephi saw in his dream many centuries ago (1 Nephi 8:26; 11:36).

Don’t get me wrong. Those doubts are normal and valuable. They’re healthy and part of the plan. They help us to find our way when we seek to turn them over and resolve them. They challenge us and help us discover who we are.

We don’t enter the doors of the great and spacious Airbnb because of doubts. We enter it because of the way we handle our doubts, by letting go of the iron rod which is the word of God (1 Nephi 11:25; see also 1 Nephi 15:23–24).

If we don’t believe the scriptures then we have to face moral relativism with its shifting values and rules to suit those who wish to control us. When we rely on this relativism, we can find ourselves controlled by those in positions of power that rarely have our best interests at heart. There are many lessons about this in history—the Soviet Union, communist China, and Nazi Germany to name a few, where upwards of 100 million people lost there lives on the altar of ideology.

Please take a moment to consider a few questions.

1. Have we humbled ourselves as little children?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–4; emphasis added.)

An adult can be childlike if she is open, genuine, sincere, present, and guileless like a little child, or at least trying to be. If not the doors of the kingdom can seem shut against us when we’re the ones actually shutting those doors through our unbelief.

2. Do we have a broken heart and a contrite spirit?

Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:6–7; emphasis added.)

The grace of Christ’s Atonement is for those who offer broken hearts to Him. The “ends of the law,” the gifts of forgiveness and redemption, can’t be offered to us unless we have a contrite, repentant, willing heart and spirit. If that is missing, pride is likely “the man [or woman] behind the curtain.”

3. Do we bear the fruits of Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23.)

The qualities of God’s Spirit show us God’s nature and qualities. If we’re not in love with His qualities, we’re probably not in love with Him. When these qualities are absent, light and truth, or the perception of them, are absent as well.

Different Motives than Advertised

If we don’t have or have lost these Christ-like qualities, there’s a chance we have different motivations than advertised or we may have hidden desires to set aside the truth so we can pursue other paths. I’m not talking about the honest, sincere, open but struggling questioner. I’m speaking of a different type of seeker.

If there are commandments we don’t want to obey or standards we don’t want to uphold, we sometimes find a way to make it okay to not obey. If we’re resolving our doubts with humility, with a willing, open heart, with heaven-searching eyes, and with the guidance of the Spirit, we’ll also be inclined to obey. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s a struggle. But God’s promises are absolutely reliable. His answers are already there. We just have to find out for ourselves how to find and understand them.

The Spirit of the Accuser

I have plenty of weaknesses, but I want to obey and continue to discover truth. One thing I do know for certain is the difference between darkness and light, between those who are Christlike or attempting to be, and those who are not Christlike.

You may know this already: The word devil comes from the Greek diablos which means “slanderer” or “accuser.” The apostle John calls Satan “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). In my mind, he’s a disbarred attorney now representing the opposition party. This is not like Christ.

If anyone is coming after you and your faith with a pointed finger, accusations, mockery, and is belittling you and your beliefs, please consider the previous paragraph as a possible source for those behaviors, conscious or not. You have no obligation to listen to or follow someone who is not striving to be like Christ.

Back Pocket Scriptures

Throughout my adult life, I’ve kept a couple of scriptures close at hand. I’ll call them back pocket scriptures. They help me clear my mind, be more discerning, and remain in the light.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23.)

God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), not “let there be darkness.” He uses light to destroy darkness. Darkness can never overcome light. It never will. Darkness can only creep into places where light is absent.

Darkness and light are not friends. They never shake hands. There are places where God reigns and where his rebellious son Lucifer dwells. They don’t spend much time together anymore.

Here’s another few verses that have stuck with me since the season when I was first assailed by persecution in my youth. They’re from our Savior:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (3 Nephi 11:29–30; emphasis added.)

I try to steer clear of contention because Christ has asked us to to steer clear of it, for “only by pride cometh contention. . . .” (Proverbs 13:10; emphasis added).

Also, I’ve treasured these words since I memorized them when I was teenager:

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.)

When I remember these words, I know what I need to do to get answers. The Savior will never fail us if we approach Him in the the way He’s asked us to approach Him, looking to Him always and setting our doubts and fears aside.

Finally, let’s end with a few words from Moroni:

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness. (Ether 12:26; emphasis added.)

If you have mockers on every side but you still long for and seek the meekness of Christ, you’ll have God’s unfailing grace to help you.

You’ll know what to do. You’ll know what to say. You’ll have remarkably clear answers. And, you’ll have peace of mind and heart, in spite of earth and hell.

“Behold the Man” Free on Kindle from April 18–22, 2019

20190417 Behold the Man Kindle CoverBehold the Man: The Bible’s Story of Jesus’s Last Days Retold is free on Kindle from April 18 until April 22, 2019. Happy Easter!

Here’s what the book is about from the back cover of the paperback edition:

“The Passion of Jesus Christ is the greatest tragedy and triumph in history. I have never found anything to compare with it. This book began over three decades ago as a study of the events surrounding the Passion—the last week of the mortal life of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament.

“In 1986, I began to piece together the enormous puzzle of the Passion as told in the gospels. The testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each provide unique details about the events leading to Jesus’ death. My goal in writing this book was to: (1) identify the unique details from each of the accounts relating to the Passion; (2) to unify that material; and (3) to present it in an easy-to-read, narrative or story format.

“The source for this book is simply the Authorized King James Version of the New Testament. While completely based on scripture, I have updated the punctuation and paragraphing in the text, altered some capitalization and pronouns, and added quotation marks where appropriate. I have also added conjunctive or transitional words, without setting them off in brackets, and deleted some words, to help the flow of the narrative.”

You can download your free Kindle copy here.

Second Coming: The Mother of Harlots and Abominations

In the the book of Revelation, an angel shows the apostle John a rather disturbing vision of a woman:

Arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:4–5.)

She’s riding a beast with seven heads and ten horns, sitting upon many waters.

Hans Burgkmair the Elder [Public domain]
“The Whore of Babylon.” Woodcut by Hans Burgkmair the Elder, AD 1523 (1473–1531).

What does all this mean? If you do homework on this, you’ll find many possible interpretations, but by now you’ve probably come to understand that I am not a big fan of controversial interpretations. When things get confusing and complicated, that’s when the Holy Spirit steps out of the picture and I don’t want that.

I’ll do my best to lean on what the scriptures have to say, and you can draw your own conclusions. If you know my other writings on this topic, I make an effort to not draw conclusions, but simply and straightforwardly to be familiar with what the Lord has said on the subject. I want to be ready to finally learn the meaning of the scriptures from Him, when the time is right, when the true meaning is evident. My motto: let’s not get wrapped around an axle of contention.

The Beast, the Horns, and the Waters

The woman is riding on a scarlet-colored beast with seven heads and ten horns. We find similar beasts in chapters 12 (a red dragon) and 13 (a beast with seven heads and ten horns; see Revelation 17:3 and compare Revelation 12:3; 13:1.)

The dragon in chapter 12 represents Satan (see Revelation 12:9; Joseph Smith Translation, Revelation 12:8), and we learn in Revelation 13:4 that “the dragon [the devil] gave power unto the beast.” The beast seems to be a symbol of a Satanic order or organization that supports political or governmental leaders or nations.

We also hear from the angel that “the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (see Revelation 17:9), and that the ten horns are ten kings who, at the time of John’s writing, had not yet reigned (see Revelation 17:12).

The seven mountains are commonly attributed to the seven hills of Rome, but we don’t know that the seven mountains are located there. Many cities rest on seven hills. Just a thought: the world has seven continents, each in essence a mountain rising out of an ocean floor.

To me, speculation on who these kings are is not as valuable as just knowing that a succession of political leaders and nations will serve the “great whore,” Babylon the not-so-great.

The water that the woman sits upon represents “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (see Revelation 17:15).

Let me also point out that Daniel had a similar vision. He saw four beasts in Daniel 7, the fourth, having ten horns, was “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (see Daniel 7:7). There are many interpretations about what this beast represents. I’ll just point out that it seems related to our beast in Revelation 17, though not strictly so.

Who or What Is the Mother of Harlots and Abominations?

The angel tells John that “the woman [the mother of harlots] which [he saw] is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18). A city is “a center of population, commerce, and culture” according the the American Heritage Dictionary.

Nephi also saw a similar vision recorded in chapter 14 of 1 Nephi that identifies the mother of harlots as the “great and abominable church” founded by the devil:

The day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil. . . .(1 Nephi 14:17; see also 1 Nephi 14:9, 10, 13, 16.)

It’s more than just a city in ancient Iraq. It’s not just a place or a congregation of worshipers or a group of citizens. It’s a pervasive socioeconomic, political, governmental, and religious system, founded and supported by and inspired by the devil, that is designed to undermine and destroy souls and the future of God’s kingdom.

In closing, let’s think through the harlot angle for a bit. What does a harlot or prostitute do? (I know, ew, but bear with me.) She or he sells for money one of the most precious gifts we can offer to another human being: our fully trusting, unguarded soul. When we give that away or sell it for money, we in effect deny an ultimate truth of our divinity. (This, of course, doesn’t have a bearing on someone sold into sex slavery.)

Maybe that’s the main business interest of the mother of abominations, the great, abominable church: to steal and destroy the identity of men, women, and children, the essence of their direct connection with God.

I haven’t got adequate words to describe what I think of this deplorable enterprise.

The Lord implores us to “go . . . out of Babylon” (see Doctrine and Covenants 133:5, 7; see also Isaiah 48:20). It’s time we high tailed it out of there.