Today we celebrate another bicentennial. Two-Hundred Years ago today (December 23, 2005) the Prophet Joseph Smith was born. We know that the USA had only been an independent nation for about 30 years when he was born. We were reminded in the First Presidency fireside tonight that many of Joseph Smith's ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, and were patriots. Thirty years later, after the Revolutionary War was over, the constitution and bill of rights had been adopted, the time was right for the next step in preparation for the restoration of the gospel.
A little more than 24 years after his birth, Joseph Smith organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The significance of the birth and mission of Joseph Smith should not be overlooked. The church he organized has grown significantly. What was once only an American church, centered in the Rocky Mountain West, has become a worldwide church. Now more church members live outside the United States, that within it. The influence of the church will continue to grow and gain momentum. I believe that the growth rate will accelerate at the rate in which the members of the church are able to accommodate growth. The Lord has said: "My house is a house of order, and not of confusion." If the church were to grow too fast, it would outpace the capability to provide proper leadership. Overgrown membership without solid leadership could lead to a state of confusion.
For us, it means that we need to do all we can to cultivate those leadership qualities, in both ourselves, and those around us, that we may be prepared for the growth that is to come. You can see why church leaders plead for more senior or "mature" missionary couples to serve in leadership training positions. They can go into the places in the world where leadership is weak, but membership is growing quickly. There they can help steer the course of the church where leadership is needed the most.
I am grateful for Joseph Smith, and the restoration of the gospel that came through him. I remember two experiences in my youth that helped me to gain a testimony of that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
First, as a young man, I had the assignment to play the piano for the opening exercises of priesthood meeting. I did this from age 14, until I went to college at BYU. My piano talent is not that great. For me to get a hymn ready to play in church, I have to practice it over, and over, and over again. However, that was not necessarily a bad thing. Because each time I would play a hymn, I would also silently repeat the words to the hymn in my head -- over, and over, and over again. (Essentially it amounted to pondering the words of the hymn, while I was practicing it.)
I remember having special spiritual feelings while I practiced "Joseph Smith's First Prayer", or better known in those days: "Oh, how lovely was the morning," in the old Blue (pre 1985) Hymnbook. I felt the presence of the spirit as I played that hymn. I found that I would play it on my own, even if I didn't have to play it in church that week -- just because I loved the way it made me feel. Looking back on it now, I realize that it was the Spirit testifying to me that the events of the first vision were really true! Joseph did go into that grove to pray! He did see the Father and the Son! He did receive instructions from them!
Later, in the weeks prior to leaving for my mission to British Columbia, Canada, I memorized the first discussion. In those days, the first discussion was excerpts of the Joseph Smith story, in his own words. As I memorized his words, I again received a manifestation from the Spirit that what I was memorizing, and what I would soon be declaring to the world, was true!
It is a testimony that anyone can have, if they will study and learn. Ponder and Pray, and listen for the witness of the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of these things.
It all started 200 years ago today, the day that Joseph Smith was born. His work and legacy continues on today. I would expect that we will have a series of bicentennial celebrations over the next few years. (The First Vision in 1820. The organization of the church in 1830, etc.)
While we do not worship Joseph Smith, as some have erroneously alleged, we do respect him, and honor him for the servant of the Lord that he was.
I close this post with the words of John Taylor, who was a successor to Joseph Smith:
"Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it . . . He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!" (John Taylor in Doctrine & Covenants 135:3)