Thursday, May 5, 2016 0 comments

What gifts do you need?

I ran across this block of verses recently and it really touched me:

7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;
9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. (D&C 46:7-9)

The major payload for me here was that the Lord wanted me to seek the best spiritual gifts.  And if you’re wondering what the best spiritual gifts are, they are always the ones that you and I really need right now.

We’re to walk uprightly and consider the end of our salvation, and spiritual gifts can help us overcome the bumps in the road, the obstacles, the storms, the whirlpools, and so on.

I’d venture to suggest that everyone who is reading right now has some sort of difficulty they are facing.  Can you think of what spiritual gift you need to get through that?   Once you know what you need, pray for it. 

One of the purposes of spiritual gifts is that they are one of the many means Heavenly Father uses to save us and to enable us to be His instruments to save others.  They are not to flatter our egos or an excuse to think we are better than others. They are meant to save us, and if we need saving, then we certainly have nothing to boast about.

The rest of section 46 talks about various spiritual gifts: testimony, belief, knowing the differences of administration, suiting mercies to the conditions of men, knowing the diversities of operations, wisdom, knowledge, faith to be healed, faith to heal, working miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation…

But I’m realizing there are so many more spiritual gifts.  If you need patience, you can pray for that. If you need endurance and stamina, pray for that. If you need an open mind, or a loving heart, or nurturing skills, or a calm demeanor, or cheer, or industriousness and love of work, or creativity..  

Whatever you need, pray for it.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016 0 comments

All the prophets testified of Christ

When Abinadi tells King Noah and the wicked priests about he Messiah and how the Law of Moses was to remind of Christ and spiritual duty, he says this:

33 For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?
34 Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?
35 Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted? (Mosiah 13:33-35)

Okay, every time I read that, I would wonder where in the Old Testament prophets testified of Christ, so this time I decided to go to the Topical Guide and look at “Jesus Christ—prophecies about” and see what could be found there. (I should have done this long ago, but you know how things can get put off until they become burning questions..)

So here’s what I found:

Genesis 3:15 – God tells the serpent (Satan) that Eve’s seed would bruise the serpent’s head
Genesis 49:10 – the scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes
Genesis 49:24—from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel
Numbers 24:17—there shall come a star out of Jacob 
Deuteronomy 18:15—raise up unto thee a Prophet
Psalms 2:7—Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee
Psalms 22:1—My God, why hast thou forsaken me
Psalms 22:16—they pierced by hands and my feet
Psalms 24:10—who is this king of glory?
Psalms 34:20—He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken
Psalms 68:18—thou hast led captivity captive
Psalms 69:9—zeal of thine house hath eaten me up
Psalms 69:21—In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink
Psalms 110:4—priest forever after the order of Melchizedek
Psalms 118:22—the stone which the builders refused is become the head
Psalms 132:17—make the horn of David to bud
Isaiah 7:14—a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.. Immanuel, God with us
Isaiah 11:1—there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse
Isaiah 24:9 – this is our God; we have waited for him
Isaiah 28:16—I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone
Isaiah 40:3—prepare ye the way of the Lord
Isaiah 42:7—To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners
Isaiah 50:6—I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks
Isaiah 53:6—he was wounded for our transgressions  [The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ]
Isaiah 59:20—Redeemer shall come to Zion
Isaiah 61:1—anointed me to preach good tidings
Jeremiah 23:5—Raise unto David a righteous Branch
Ezekiel 37:12—I will open your graves
Daniel 9:24—to make reconciliation for iniquity
Daniel 9:26—shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself
Hosea 11:1—I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt
Hosea 13:14—I will redeem them from death
Jonah 2:6—thou brought up my life from corruption
Micah 5:2—Beth-lehem… out of thee shall come forth unto me
Habakkuk 3:13—Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people
Zechariah 3:8—I will bring forth my servant the Branch
Zechariah 9:9—thy King cometh unto thee…riding upon an ass
Zechariah 11:13—I was prised at…thirty pieces of silver
Zechariah 13:6—I was wounded in the house of my friends
Malachi 3:1—Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple

When looked at in isolation, they are pretty clear, but when you look at their context, it seems odd that they would be prophecies of Christ.  That makes me think there may be many more that can be found if we look for them, and there must have been many that were plain, but were removed deliberately to obscure that testimony.
Sunday, May 1, 2016 0 comments

The heavens shall shake for our good

5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory. (D&C 21:5-6)

This was part of a revelation given at the organization of the church, about following the prophet.

I wondered what it meant that the heavens would shake for our good. Happily, there are scripture references to explore for the footnote for “shake.”  Each one has a little something extra to add to the picture, with context and with extra details.

And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:7)

Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish; (D&C 35:24)

The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)

For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble. (D&C 84:118)

Wherefore, be not deceived, but continue in steadfastness, looking forth for the heavens to be shaken, and the earth to tremble and to reel to and fro as a drunken man, and for the valleys to be exalted, and for the mountains to be made low, and for the rough places to become smooth—and all this when the angel shall sound his trumpet. (D&C 49:23)

And then shall the Lord set his foot upon this mount, and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake. (D&C 45:48)

After reading all this, I’m going to hazard a suspicion that the idea of the heavens shaking is symbolic, rather than literal, but I will say that literal fulfillment is also possible too. (How’s that for covering my bases? ;-))

If the imagery of shaking heavens is symbolic, what are we to learn from it?  When I think of the heavens, I think of the place God resides and His angels. But why should the holy inhabitants of heaven shake?  And how could that possibly be for our good?  Shaking makes me think of instability and even a little fear, and are we really to think that the organization of heaven and its inhabitants are unstable and fearful?  The notion is absurd, and I reject it.

So what other possible ways could we interpret heavens besides as the place God resides and His angels?  If these “heavens” aren’t holy, then it must be more worldly. Perhaps it is used here to refer to earthly governments that rule nations, states, cities, etc.  After all, rulers have high status. This would fit with the contrast set up in several of the above scriptures where Zion rejoices, while heaven and earth trembles and shakes.  The Lord roars out of Zion and will be the hope of His people, but the heavens and the earth will shake.

Why go to the trouble of stating it this way?  What purpose could it have? I think it is commonly the Lord’s practice to conceal things from people who are not ready to know it, until the time they are ready.  It is rather uncomfortable to know that governments will be unstable and fearful.  It would be a dangerous thing for the fledgling church to spread about.

But then it is a fact that the Saints’ committed mass of obedience to prophetic direction has always intimidated outsiders and governments. They fear the possibility of the Saints being commanded to do something that would threaten them. This issue was grounds for people accusing the Saints of being undemocratic back in Joseph Smith’s day. A prominent editor of a Warsaw, Illinois newspaper came to Nauvoo to observe the Saints and his alarm over their obedience drove him to write incendiary editorials that wrought up local animosity against the Saints and were instrumental in leading to Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.

So how would this instability end up helping the Saints? I don’t think this is a case where unstable powers that be get intimidated into giving us privileges. Rather, I suspect the unstable conditions will provide an environment for the Saints to develop greater faith in the Lord than they would gain otherwise.  If conditions are shaky and everyone is worried, then you have to choose whether to act out of fear or out of faith in God.

I want to go back to one of the other verses and look at another part of it.

For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble. (D&C 84:118)

What could this mean when it says the Lord would use his servants to rend the world’s kingdoms? 

“Rending kingdoms” to me evokes the idea of something like the Civil War happening in nation after nation. The Civil War started over the ideological divide over slavery and states rights, and it fomented a while before it finally blew up.  And here it seems a future series of rendings will start over a major divide about the Lord’s servants.  (It is also possible that the rending may be political without being violent, such as if there is a peaceful way for nation entities to split. But those kinds of things can still be messy and acrimonious.)

This may sound very scary, but from a certain point of view, it is actually rather encouraging.  For a lot of church history, we have been a tiny minority facing an uphill battle against the prejudices and persecutions from .. well.. practically everyone else.  But if a kingdom is rent to pieces over the Lord’s servants, then that means that there will be enough people in that kingdom for us (or the principles we stand for) to make a significant outcry if we are abused or tyrannized over by those who are against us. And if it happens in multiple kingdoms, then we have more allies across the world.

I don’t know of this having happened yet, so this says to me that this is still future stuff.  But this verse suggests there is significant polarization ahead for the politics of the world’s nations and ideological divides that the Lord’s servants will find themselves at the focus of simply while carrying out religious duty.  I think it is part of how the Lord will test and thresh the nations to see which way they will choose.
Friday, April 29, 2016 2 comments

Which is, and was, and is to come

John to the seven churches which are in Asia:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come… (Revelation 1:4)

I think it is interesting that in John calls Christ “him which is, and which was, and which is to come.”  The reference to past, present, and future gives the sense of Christ’s eternal nature, as well as His mortal ministry and His future coming again.

Also, since the D&C defines truth as things as they were, are, and as they will be, the title John gives Christ is an oblique reference to Christ’s truthful nature.

In contrast to this, we have some description of the beast which the whore sits on in Revelation 17:8,11:

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is….
11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

The beast is described in two different ways. Two times it is called “the beast that was, and is not” and once it is called “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

“was and is not” – This underlines that this beast will have a definite end. It was in the past, but it won’t be allowed to continue. At some point it will be stopped and won’t exist anymore. This should give us hope.

“Was, and is not, and yet is” – The way the present tense contradicts itself is interesting here. It exists, but it doesn’t. It’s like a hologram, a phantom, a false fantasy that people believe in, but it has no right to exist in the economy of reality. It’s a lie. It also has no future.  Wickedness is like that.

By the way, I also notice in the above verses that we are told this beast ascends out of the bottomless pit and goes into perdition. What does that mean?

If something or someone ascends out of the bottomless pit, that suggests it may improve or reform and be good.  But if it goes into perdition, then that means it ascended to great heights of goodness and then falls from grace, like Judas Iscariot. An entity can’t go into perdition unless it had once been at a great spiritual pinnacle. So this tells us there are church members who got involved in this. These people were in an awful state, were converted, reached a level of spiritual greatness and privilege, and then decided they preferred to sin for the worldly advantages they could gain.   That is a definitely warning to the Saints that should give us pause.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 2 comments

Some scriptures and thoughts on being steadfast

I felt like I could use a little edification on the characteristic of being steadfast, so I did some research that I want to share with you.

But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish. (2 Nephi 26:8)

Nephi spoke this about those of his people who would get to see the Savior’s visit to the Americas. This verse teaches me that steadfastness has to be used in the midst of persecution that comes. Even if the opposition is within as well as without, we need to be steadfast and not waver.

 Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them. (Alma 1:25, emphasis added)

In the context of the above verse, church members had to deal with the psychological pressure of many other church members leaving the church and also persecution from outside the church from unbelievers and people who practiced priestcraft. 

So this verse teaches me that being steadfast means doing what’s right even when others of the church are wavering, losing faith, or joining the opposition.

Wherefore, be not deceived, but continue in steadfastness, looking forth for the heavens to be shaken, and the earth to tremble and to reel to and fro as a drunken man, and for the valleys to be exalted, and for the mountains to be made low, and for the rough places to become smooth—and all this when the angel shall sound his trumpet. (D&C 49:23, emphasis added)

This tells us that deception may try to move us from our beliefs and from faith in prophecy that has been given, so we have to hang on to what we’ve been told in the scriptures about what will happen, even if we wonder how it will come about.

Deception is also used to try to get us to sin, so we have to be steadfast in believing that the commandments must be followed and that they will ensure our happiness. Commandments are a great tool for detecting deception.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58, emphasis added)

We will get thoughts floating through our heads telling us that our good work is pointless and has no eternal significance. To be steadfast, we have to ignore these thoughts and keep working, trusting that no good work is in vain.

In that vein I want to include something C.S. Lewis has written about faith in his book Mere Christianity. It has excellent application to how we maintain steadfastness as we face our challenges.

But supposing a man’s reason once decides that he weight of the evidence is for it [Christianity]. I can tell you that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. (p123-124)

How this helps us is it tells us a truth that is passed over by many—that our moods change and can even rebel against the things we have previously gained testimony of or what we’ve covenanted to do or decided must be done. The important thing is not to yield to the mood, but to dig in one’s heels. Once you realize it is a mood, you know that if you resist long enough or pray for help to outlast it and kick it out, it will change.

So, steadfastness is that quality of refusing to be turned from the right path just because of  1) changing mood, 2) a wholesale defection of others, 3) persecution, 4) different beliefs others hold about the prophecies of what is still to come, 5) doubts about the significance of your own efforts in the eternal scheme of things.

I studied this topic last week and it was just in time because I went through a bit of a spiritual blitz over the weekend, and I had to stay steadfast.  In other ways it was like being stuck in a spiritual whirlpool.  I had to dig in my heels, pray hard, and keep praying over and over and over.  I saw the Lord’s tender mercies strengthen me and deliver me.
Sunday, April 24, 2016 0 comments

Excerpt from the Journal of George Q. Cannon

I’ve been reading through the journal of George Q. Cannon, which the church has posted online. I find it interesting and inspiring to see both how normal he was and also how faithful a servant of God he was.

While Elder George Q. Cannon was on a mission to England, he and his presidency wrote the following letter on 8 Nov 1861 to Elders Van der Woude and Paul A. Schettler, who were serving missions in Amsterdam, Holland:
“Dear Brethren,

Your favors of the 18th ult. and 4th inst. have both been received and would have been replied to earlier had not a press of other business presented. On the 2nd. inst a letter was forwarded to you enclosing a Bank Note for £5, which we hope you have duly recd and that your wants have been supplied.

We discover a considerable difference between the tone and spirit of your letter of the 18th Oct. & that of the 4th Nov. In the first you say that there are many honest-hearted people in that country who are seeking after the truth; but in your last you seem, (or at least Bro. Van der Woude in whose name the two letters alluded to are written,) to be almost, if not entirely, discouraged, and think that you cannot do much more in Amsterdam; because but you have turned that city up side down. From reading your last letter we are led to conclude that as your money has decreased your faith has decreased with it, and that the fear of imprisonment &c has had an injurious effect upon your efforts and energies. Brethren, it is useless for you to attempt to open the gospel door to a nation if you suffer such feelings of doubt and fear – feelings so utterly unworthy of you as Elders and messengers to the nations, to assail you. Every man who goes forth to bear this gospel to a nation who has never heard it must meet with difficulties, or at least should be prepared to have them to encounter, and should never think that the Lord would send him on an idle errand. He should have faith that when he is sent the Lord will assist him and open his way before him, and though he may not be so successful in the beginning as he could wish, that if he will only continue faithful, perseveringly seeking to proclaim the message in wisdom with which he is intrusted, he will be successful in magnifying his priesthood and clearing his skirts from their blood, whether he should baptize any or not.

We do not wish you to suffer or to be put to any inconvenience for want of necessary funds; but suppose there were no “Church” for you to call on for assistance, as has been the case in repeated instances before this with our Elders in opening up new countries and places, what would you do? Do you suppose that you would be justified in leaving that people or nation unwarned & the honest-in heart ungathered, because you would be imprisoned for not having money if you remained? That very imprisonment, should that be your fate, might be the means of opening a door for the effectual preaching of the gospel. Prisons have not retarded the preaching of the Gospel in past times, and we do not believe they will in future times. If you were put in prison, we suppose you would be fed, and therefore could live, and they could not keep you very well from telling the truth, & the telling of the truth might convert the jailor (it has done it before) and your fellow-prisoners.

There is another point, mentioned in your letter of the 18th Oct. that we wish to call your attention to. You say, “we would have done much good, if polygamy was not; but this is a very great obstacle,” and add further that it “has stopped Bro. Schettler’s endeavors in this city also.” It may be that our belief in the doctrine of polygamy may be urged against you, and you may think you have cause for believing that you might have done much good if it were not for polygamy; but if polygamy should be unknown, they would find some other objection that would afford them sufficient foundation, in their opinion, for rejecting your message, and illtreating and persecuting you. The messengers of the Gospel were hated, reviled, imprisoned, cast out and killed before polygamy was believed or known by us as a people. Indeed, these effects followed the preaching of the gospel just as much before polygamy was revealed as they have since. You give the Adversary an opportunity to weaken you, therefore, by permitting the thought to enter your mind that God has revealed principle that in and of itself acts as a barrier or obstacle in the way of the people receiving the truth. He will not fail to avail himself of this weak spot in your armour and it will be to your injury. Pure honest-hearted & virtuous people are & will be prepared for the reception of this principle, though it may be opposed to their traditions and prejudices, & they will believe, comprehend & rejoice in it. Do not, therefore, be fearful upon this point, or think any longer that if it were not for this principle you could do much good, for it will carry its own conviction with it.

In writing this to you, dear brethren, we do not wish you to think that we are indulging in fault-finding. We write to you in this strain because we think you have too easily bent before the storm you have had to meet, and because we wish to strengthen you and have you act the part of good soldiers and faithful ministers of our God. We desire to see you magnify your priesthood and do a good work on the earth. Be humble, be wise in your conversation & address, & seek for the spirit and power of your good & you will do a good work, & rejoice in your labors whether you baptize any or not. Remember that a great city or a great nation is not warned in a week or a month. Seek for the Spirit of revelation & wisdom, that you may be directed to the honest-in heart & if you are led to leave Amsterdam and go elsewhere, follow the dictation of the spirit. In relation to printing, be wise & move considerately. Be careful what you publish & that it is correct. May the Lord bless & sustain you is prayer of your brethren in the Lord.

Amasa M. Lyman,
Charles C. Rich,
George Q. Cannon.”

I love the way they use faith and principles to counter the doubts and fears of the struggling elders.  There is a buoyant optimism and hope there that demonstrates how we must use the shield of faith to counter the fiery darts of the adversary.

I also appreciate that he points out that if polygamy had been unknown, some other principle would have been made the basis for objecting to the church. This pattern continues today. Today it is the church's stand on the traditional family. There will always be people objecting to something or other about the restored gospel, and the honest-hearted and virtuous will be prepared to receive the gospel message, regardless of their initial prejudices.

These are not the instructions of one who has not been tested and tried himself.  He wrote a book telling the story of his first mission to Hawaii when a teenager, and his faith-promoting experiences rival the those of Elder Groberg’s to New Zealand. (That book, “My First Mission” is actually available on Kindle. I highly recommend it.)
Friday, April 22, 2016 2 comments

New thoughts on the parable of the ten virgins

I was thinking about the parable of the ten virgins recently and realized some things about it that I hadn’t thought of before.

The main thing the parable seems to hinge upon is whether each virgin has enough oil ready to use to light her lamp and keep it lit.  At the beginning, they all think they have enough, but there comes a time that proves that half of the virgins really do not have enough, and the other half realize that they must draw on a reserve, but they do have enough. 

The question that haunts us is, “How can I tell if I have enough oil?” Because when we get to the dark midnight, it will be too late to buy oil; we must have enough.

In the past, the oil has been interpreted to mean testimony, good works, faith, and so on.  But how do you know if you have enough to get you through the dark times? 

I suspect that this story is actually about grace.  Because grace is that enabling power to do and maintain good works that we otherwise could not do on our own. It is the fuel we need beyond our own works.    The testimony, the good works, the faith—all of that might be compared to the light of the lamps, but Christ’s grace is the fuel that keeps our light burning.

The wise virgins who had the extra oil are those who knew how to access the grace of God.  They knew they weren’t enough on their own, so they accessed God’s grace through the atonement.  They had plenty of practice doing this, and they were prepared.   Counter-intuitively, those who know they are not enough on their own can turn to the Lord for grace and He becomes enough. His grace is sufficient.

The foolish women did not know how to access God’s grace, and when more was asked of them, they had nothing left to give.  They didn’t know how they could go on.  They would desperately ask others for strength, for something that could help them keep going.  But grace has to come from God, not from other people.  People can encourage and lighten burdens, but the power has to come from God.

So here’s where this parable can really help us today.  We have daily experiences that stretch us, and each one is an opportunity to buy oil for our lamps and gain experience accessing the grace of God.   Grace is the power we need, the fuel that keeps us going. Our testimony and our good works is the flame, the light we shine, but grace is the fuel.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 4 comments

Some thoughts about Amalickiah’s flattery and the dangers of “awesome”

4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people. (Alma 46:4-5)

This bit about Amalickiah flattering the lower judges struck me recently after I had gone in for jury duty and seen some of the court proceedings involved.  The point that suddenly stuck out to me in the above verses was that these lower judges were there to settle petty disputes in particular regions. Cases they could not settle would have to be sent to higher judges.

So here we essentially have a group of judges who were aspiring for position beyond their expertise, hoping to acquire it by appointment rather than by gradual accumulation of experience and skill.  By promising them future ruling positions, Amalickiah implicitly flattered them into thinking they were ready for the big time, ready to deal with the hard cases when they most likely weren’t.  But in their unprepared state, they would have made a mess of the Nephite justice system.

I think this tells us something about flattery. It is the voice that suggests we possess skills we don’t really have and are ready for greater responsibility when we really aren’t.  Those who follow the flattery and pursue where the rewards aren’t deserved are set up for humiliating, soul-destroying failure.  That’s what Satan wants. He wants to humiliate and crush us by using our ambitions and aspirations against us.  Flattery is how he starts that, so we have to watch out for flattery.

Here’s a question for you to think about—in the context of the above, what do you think is the spiritual difference between humility and humiliation?


Also connected with this, I want to say a word about the dangers of “awesome” as an overused compliment when we want to say we approve in some manner.

The problem is when messaging of “you are awesome” is thrown around, it becomes increasingly easy to internalize it and believe that not only was the performance awesome, but oneself is awesome in every way, and there is no need for repentance or improvement.  In short, it is too easy for it to feed vanity and pride.  

For us to see past this messaging, we need to have a pretty conscious awareness of all the ways we still need to improve, and we have to have a clear-eyed view of what good was actually done that brought out the approval or admiration.  But if we don’t have that in the first place, how are we to get it without more detailed feedback?  When we need real encouragement, detailed proportionate praise is much more useful.

Suppose I do my duty and then someone tells me I am awesome.  How can I take that at face value?  I know I did just my duty.  Am I to understand that doing one’s duty is so rarely seen that it must be commented on and praised?  I sure hope not.  But if doing one’s duty is widespread, then how were my actions extraordinary?  I have no way of knowing unless more detailed feedback is given.  It would be much more in proportion and helpful to say, “It makes me happy to see you do your duty” or “You’re doing a good job” or even “You’ve been diligent.”

“You are awesome” may seem like a harmless verbal tic of a compliment, but when we remember Nephite history and the trouble that flattering words caused by leading people astray, we see the long-term effects. Consider that pride ultimately was what led to the Nephites’ final destruction, and then these overstated compliments and affirmations can be seen for what they are—a gateway drug.

Since it is likely that this trend of overstating the awesome will not end soon, we need to be aware of it and put in place mental safeguards to keep perspective. We can remind ourselves we are doing our duty. We can remember that we or others may not be in the best position to judge our performance; if it were looked at more closely it might be barely adequate instead of “awesome.”  We can remind ourselves that others may be gushing or flattering us.

So don’t reflexively call people awesome. Use your creativity and fashion more precise ways to express your approval and compliments. Your words will actually mean more to people.
Monday, April 18, 2016 0 comments

Common consent and its blessings

And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith.  (D&C 26:2)

This affirms the law of common consent, when all church members vote on whether they consent that someone be ordained, or set apart of a calling, or maintained in an office, or to ratify a change, such as accepting something new be added to the standard works.

I notice that common consent is not the only thing required. It also enjoins the Saints to use much prayer and faith. A mere consenting vote would not be sufficient to fully sustain someone in his or her calling.  Sustaining comes from continued support and faithful following of leaders.

I learned this some years ago by seeing something different when I was employed by a government agency in Austin, Texas. Our department held periodic lunch parties, and I was chosen to lead the party committee.  I felt honored, but I was inexperienced in leading.  When two older employees decided that my efforts weren’t up to their standards, they took it upon themselves to plan the lunch parties instead, without telling me or asking my help.  They essentially took things over as though they were in charge.

I could have let it bother me, but I didn’t. After all, I wasn’t that great at party planning. I didn’t even know enough at that stage of my life to ask for help. All I really had going for me in the first place was my enthusiasm. But I could see pretty clearly the difference between a church calling, which would be sustained by church members, and a worldly role that others might take over if they decided they could do it better.

The principle of common consent and receiving by faith is a great protection. Knowing who has what leadership calling protects us from being imposed upon by imposters.  Also, stewardship boundaries are pretty well defined.  

Common consent also is a means of growth. I’ve noticed that respecting and supporting other people in their callings helps me grow in charity and long-suffering.  I’ve also noticed that when other people support me in my callings, it gives me room in my inexperience to grow into my duties and see the hand of the Lord help me. 

Ultimately, common consent gives us a chance to help build Zion in people—in ourselves and others.
Friday, April 15, 2016 1 comments

Which fruit is bitter and which is sweet?

I ran across a scripture recently that had something interesting about the forbidden fruit and the fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. (2 Nephi 2:15)
When I was looking at this scripture about the two fruits, I discovered I wasn’t sure which fruit is the sweet one and which is the bitter one.

If we go by the order they are mentioned, with the flavors corresponding to the same order that their fruits are mentioned, then the forbidden fruit was the sweet one and the tree of life had the bitter one.

A forbidden fruit
B tree of life
A sweet
B bitter

And this teaches us something about how temptations and commandments seem at first impression to the fallen man. Temptations seem sweet and commandments seem bitter.

However, it is possible that Lehi may be setting up a chiasmus in the order he talks about the fruit and their flavor.

A forbidden fruit
B tree of life
B sweet
A bitter

If the writing was meant to be read chiastically, then Lehi meant that the tree of life was sweet and the forbidden fruit was bitter.  This corresponds to how over the long term, giving into temptations yields bitterness, while complying with God’s commandments yields sweetness.

Since chiasm is used so much in the Book of Mormon, it is probably safest to read it the second way. Sometimes a western education will put us at a disadvantage in understanding the meaning of the Book of Mormon unless we can learn the manner of prophesying among the Jews, as Nephi did.